Neil Cook

Neil Cook

Neil Cook is an agile coach, organisational wrangler, pragmatist, geek, and rule breaker. Having worked in various roles across test, development and product, means I come with a relatively unique perspective of being able to see the impact of change from many angles.

The Value Responsibility shift – Evolving Beyond the SAFe and LeSS frameworks

Are you struggling with improving at a fast enough pace? Perhaps you started your Scaled Agile journey by applying SAFe, parts of SAFe, or maybe even LeSS. 

What I’ve found is that once companies have started to apply a certain model, which represents one school of thought. they fail (or struggle hard..) to evolve beyond the basic cookie-cutter recipe. Sometimes it takes close to an existential crisis to force a leap in evolution. So improving beyond the basics, is undoubtedly hard. Yet, wasn’t the whole point with applying Agile to create the capability to continuously improve, to adapt?

The point with this blog is to give you a visualization, of how you can improve beyond SAFe (or any scaled agile framework for that matter). 

Imagine that you are on a field trip visiting different companies with a camera on your shoulder. What would you see? We created this illustration by extracting empirical examples from companies, on different stages on their improvement journey (but not describing just one). We hope that this inspires you to try things out beyond the basic cookie-cutter recipe. 

[Neil]: “The idea for this post came about during a recent discussion between myself and Mattias. We recently engaged with Jan Grape & Mattias from Crisp to help us look at the next phase of our Agile journey and it was during this that Mattias shared some of his observations about the path along which companies like ours often evolve.

When Mattias summarized  them by sketching up the Value Responsibility Shift, I immediately said, “‘that’s it, that’s exactly what I have been trying to communicate’. This put my thoughts it into context and improved upon it because it went beyond the time horizon I had been looking at. I said to Mattias ‘we need to share this’, and so here it is.”

First a reminder:

Or as I would phrase it  – “Mind over matter”. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the model.

The Value Responsibility Shift

How to read it

As you improve over time, a responsibility shift happens. Agile teams improve their responsibility towards value, while the reliance on process and governance to deliver this, decreases. Think about it: Can a process create value? No, people do. Yet, what we govern and measure, is often processes. We rarely measure the number of hurdles put in place that makes creating value virtually impossible. As our knowledge grows, we can (and should..) simplify the effort required to deliver one unit of value. And we shift our expectations of responsibility.

In the center ribbon, are a few examples of evidence you can look out for that proves that you are there. This is of course not a linear journey. We are not trying to say that you cannot increase your focus on the customer and usability until you have the ability to release on demand, but more that until you can release at any time with little fanfare, releasing consumes so much of your focus that it is hard to fully shift your focus to the customer and usability.

The Challenge: Taking things away

One important aspect during the value responsibility shift is that you are ready to take things away. Stuff that you considered important before, needs to be removed. One example of these things are metrics. Once your speed gets quick enough, or your delivery becomes predictable enough, it’s pretty useless to measure it. There is simply very little information gain there in it. It’s more important to measure value outcome instead. To be able to throw things away as we improve matters, since we have limited mental bandwidth (Team Topologies book calls this “team cognitive load”) thus deciding how we spend it, matters.

A few similar models

There are other models that describe similar thoughts. By knowing them, this allows you to steal the best of all 🙂

Take it from here!

We hope that this inspires you to improve beyond the basics of frameworks.

Mattias & Neil

This blog is co-authored with guest Neil Cook who works as an Agile coach and RTE for SimCorp, a financial software company based in Copenhagen, Denmark.