Get out of tactical and focus on strategic

by | Jul 21, 2020

Many people that “do” agile have differing interpretations of how to address planning. In the end, it turns into a tactical exercise to deal with the current situation with very little strategic planning involved. In contrast, being agile will have the right mix of both that allows the organization to adapt and grow. The reason? They understand the need for both and use agile values as a guide to execute and make changes when needed. Those that are “doing” agile tend to fly by the seat of their pants, partly because they misinterpret what being agile means.

Planning Doesn’t Have to Be the Enemy of Agile

by  Alessandro Di Fiore

https://hbr.org/2018/09/planning-doesnt-have-to-be-the-enemy-of-agile

Alessandro provides a great example of how ING used planning to have the right strategic initiatives in place for the marketplace while continuing to have multiple agile teams work on producing products and services.

As you look at that example, you can also see how a large organization, over 3500 employees, can become an agile shop. My last blog about people using size as an excuse not to start the effort needed is defeating themselves before they even begin. Employees will sense that, and also though they created development teams to use agile methods to develop, they will not achieve being agile. That is another story for another time.

What I wanted to point out is that Alessandro shows how planning for a larger agile organization is more structure and discipline using a collection of data and allowing them to react faster to adapt plans than using traditional organizational governance. Everyone deals with “red tape” or waiting for information to go up the chain of command to get an answer on what to do. The process is slow and can turn biased as now emotions and control driven individuals can take information to manipulate it or exclude it to get the decision they want.

In an agile organization, there is still a strategic direction and planning needed from senior leadership. In being agile, it ensures that people are involved throughout and give guidance to the teams to make the appropriate decisions so that they have ownership and takes additional worries off their shoulders. As an example, a good software quality assurance lead will have a high-level strategy that the analysts follow. It will guide how they can make decisions on their own to complete the work. This high level “plan” allows for the lead to keep focused on more strategic concerns and not distracted with tactical issues.

Another example would be an organization’s vision and mission statements. They are not pleasant paragraphs on the organization. They guide all that work there with a reasonable decision process.

In anything we do, there needs to be some planning. If not, it is a recipe for disaster in product quality, time-frames and employee satisfaction. For senior leaders setting up agile organizations will make planning relatively easier than traditional ways. One extensive program that I was a part of the initial “plan” was for a phase to take eight months. Two years later, it was finally completed only to be put on the shelf to collect dust five days before it was to go live. Initially, this program was an industry-wide initiative with an overall council from different companies making decisions. The amount of governance around it made it next to impossible to make decisions promptly. Everyone that worked on the program grew frustrated with the progress. Once there was light at the end of the tunnel, the opening shut for good because one team did not share information on what they built. The flow of information was not forthcoming, and there was no ownership from anyone below a without a VP or higher title; there were millions of dollars wasted. Now organizations that are doing agile are under the false impression that the work will be done faster and have the teams push through the same amount of work in a scheduled timeline they provide. This type of planning is what kills agile because it is not agile; it is a waterfall.

Now imagine that program in an agile view. Self-managed teams are working together with the one goal in mind. Using the ING planning model, there is a steady stream of information about what other internal and external teams are doing. The sharing of information regularly along with impediments that they can all work together to remove to continue to build the need. Risks identified sooner; plans could easily change; adapting to what is going on would be like a typical day. The senior leadership would be aware of the tactical work going on, yet trusts the teams to work through it while they have their eyes on the strategic. The distractions on “firefight” meetings are a thing of the past. Disciplined planning and adaptability of working with plans are what will make everything work.

As Alessandro finishes off, “The traditional planning approach needs to be revisited to better serve the purposes of the agile enterprise of the twenty-first century. Agile planning is the future of planning. This new approach will require two fundamental elements. First, replacing the traditional obsessions on hard data and playing the numbers-game with a more balanced co-existence of hard and soft data where judgment also plays an important role. Second, introducing new mechanisms and routines to ensure alignment between the hundreds of self-organizing autonomous local teams and the overarching goals and directions of the company.”

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