The Lean Enterprise genie has been out of the bottle for some time now, but for most organizations he’s still a long way from granting three wishes
The Lean Enterprise … Enterprise Agility … DevOps 2.0 … BizDevOps … the list of monikers and descriptors for this concept is becoming a lengthy one, but there’s no denying that lean and agile concepts and practices are now mainstream, and pushing to break out of their former boundaries within software development.
Reflecting on this, I came across a very apt description (in, of all things, a conflict simulation design blog) of what seems to be happening in this realm of late:
“Most new ideas, however fresh or spontaneous they may appear at first glance, usually represent an evolutionary synthesis of previous ideas; in other words, when it comes to most things, history really is “preamble”.1
The idea of bringing business, development and operations people to the same table to act as a tripartite coalition from the very start of product development has been gaining exponential momentum of late. As far as ideas go, it is not an entirely new one of course. Encouraging collaboration from the get-go has long been a hallmark of Agile approaches – in development for example, George Dinwiddie is believed to have coined the term “the three amigos” around 20092 to describe the interplay of developers, testers and business analysts / product owners from an Acceptance Test Driven Development (ATDD) perspective. However, other than describing a tripartite arrangement, the 3 amigos analogy differs from the most recent crop of expressions in that contrarily to say, BizDevOps, it only actually plays on two of the required three planes.
Another oddity that struck me is that one of the first high visibility discussions that I can remember describing the interplay of business, technology and operations actually framed the debate in terms of an antipattern: to wit, a July 2011 Forrester whitepaper which coined the expression “Water-Scrum-Fall”3 as a way of describing the very lack of cross-enterprise collaboration which bedevilled most organizations’ agile efforts.
The need for systems thinking
Unsurprisingly, a silo mentality is the biggest single impediment to achieving true Enterprise agility. Everyone involved in the creation and delivery of business solutions needs to collaborate across the breadth and depth of the organizational structure. Team-level agility in the delivery space alone will not deliver on the promise of the Lean enterprise; nor is DevOps enough. Business, IT and operations all need to break out of their silos and embrace systems thinking.
In both my practice and my teaching, I constantly strive to come up with metaphors that can convey the underlying meaning of concepts in ways that overcome resistance by reframing the issue at hand in a very different manner than what people may be used to. I would now like to share a metaphor that I have recently been using which has shown a lot of promise in terms of getting everyone thinking in terms of the whole system when it comes to the concept of the lean enterprise.
As discussed above, the system in question can be simplified as having three planes:
This however is merely … a triangle, and does nothing to convey the importance of intense collaboration. We need something more evocative.
Something with three parts, yet an indivisible whole. There is actually quite simple that we can use to convey this:
That’s right. True Enterprise agility is neither a sprint, nor a marathon … it’s a Triathlon.
What makes this metaphor work is simply this:
Although a triathlon is made up of three events, it is performed by a single athlete who must excel at all three to win. In this case, the “athlete” is not an individual nor a team, but the whole enterprise.
So, if our organization is reaching a point where it is proficient in delivery, there isn’t much more to be gained by continuing to concentrate all of our improvement efforts in IT alone – the Business side of things must be brought into the game as a full partner. The same goes for operations – even careful, collaborative prioritization backed up by competent delivery will not win the day if ready solutions must then linger for months in pre-production environments. Nothing ground-breaking here, just a fresh way of looking at the issue … no serious triathlete would sign up for the Ironman in Hawaii knowing that she faced daunting challenges in terms of her swimming, or was a less than competitive cyclist. The same must go for our “lean” enterprises. Until we can let go of the silo mentality and learn to act as a single “athlete”, we will continue to be bound by the shallows4 of Water-Scrum-Fail.
- Available at https://www.forrester.com/report/WaterScrumFall+Is+The+Reality+Of+Agile+For+Most+Organizations+Today/-/E-RES60109
- Shakespeare of course. Julius Caesar, Act 4, Scene 3.