What is agile consulting at an organization?

Back with an article from a consulting standpoint about agile consulting! I’ve spoken about software delivery concepts such as Dora metrics, WIP Limits, reducing cycle time and more. However, I’ve spoken mostly non scenario based. Today, I’ll speak about how an agile consultant might help you in your journey when you’re a new CTO or perhaps scaling your organization. I’m not talking about someone trying to sell you bullshit frameworks for days with their team of 20. I’m talking about customer value and how to deliver that. I’ll go over a few scenarios and if you have any questions you can reach out to me. Let’s begin

What if I’m a CTO at a new company? Why would I need agile consulting or software delivery advice? We need to get stuff done

As a CTO of a startup, resources are typically limited, and it’s crucial to make the most of every hire and every dollar spent. Lean software delivery, which shares many principles with Agile, can be incredibly beneficial in this context. Here’s how:

  1. Reduced Waste: One of the key principles of lean software delivery is the elimination of waste. This means identifying activities that do not add value to the customer and minimizing or eliminating them. By focusing on value-adding activities, you can make the most of your limited resources and potentially avoid unnecessary hires. Explained in very simple terms, If I’m very efficient at software delivery. My 3 engineers can deliver the same value of 6 engineers potentially.
  2. Faster Time to Market: Lean methods emphasize delivering value to the customer as quickly as possible, enabling your startup to get your product in front of customers faster. This can give you a competitive advantage and allow you to start generating revenue sooner. It’s all about shortening the customer feedback loop.
  3. Incremental Development and Learning: Lean principles support building products incrementally, gathering feedback, and learning from it. This reduces the risk of spending a significant amount of time and resources on a product or feature that doesn’t meet customer needs. As a result, you can make more informed decisions about who to hire based on the skills needed to deliver the most valuable features. If you’re a startup and taking weeks to months to ship something, something might be wrong. Delivery quickly and often. Learn those lessons!
  4. Build-Measure-Learn Cycle: This fundamental Lean Startup principle means you’ll build a minimum viable product (MVP), measure how it performs in the market, and learn from the results. This will help you iterate your product effectively and efficiently without wasting resources on unnecessary features or personnel. If you want to take it a step further, if you’ve validated product market fit. You can create an amazon prototype similar to MVP. Instead a minimum lovable product. MVP’s focus too much on an engineering standpoint, not necessarily what a customer might use.
  5. Empowered Teams: Lean encourages decentralized decision-making and empowers teams to solve problems on their own. This can lead to higher job satisfaction and productivity, and can help attract and retain high-quality talent.
  6. Improved Quality: By emphasizing quality from the beginning and integrating practices such as continuous integration and continuous delivery, Lean can help ensure high product quality. This reduces the time and resources spent on fixing defects and improves customer satisfaction.
  7. Increased Flexibility: The Lean approach is flexible and adaptable, enabling your startup to pivot quickly in response to customer feedback or changes in the market. This can help you stay competitive even as your needs change.

The saying measure twice, cut once applies here. IF you’ve hired an onshore / offshore team and you’re not even sure if they’re doing a good job, it might be time to re-asses what you’re looking at.

I’m a VP of Engineering and I want to benchmark my teams. I am new to the role and am unsure if we’re high performing

A few scenarios to help you potentially. As a consultant, I’d first analyze and understand the needs of the organization and yourself. You have a need to understand what high performance might look like. You could adopt DORA Metrics and rank organization to understand where you’re doing well and not so well. DORA as a refresher is the following four key metrics:

  1. Deployment Frequency: High-performing teams typically deploy updates to production more frequently than lower-performing teams. Frequent deployments suggest that the team is able to deliver value to customers quickly and respond to changes in the market or customer needs.
  2. Lead Time for Changes: This metric measures the time it takes from code commit to code successfully running in production. Shorter lead times indicate that the team can deliver new features and improvements quickly. This definition is different than a normal cycle / lead time approach. I would adopt it to suit your own needs, Ie, we use cycle time (eng start to done).
  3. Time to Restore Service: This is the time it takes to restore service after a failure or incident occurs. High-performing teams are able to recover quickly, minimizing the impact on customers.
  4. Change Failure Rate: This measures how often changes lead to failures in production. High-performing teams have lower change failure rates, indicating that they build quality into their work and are effective at catching and addressing issues before they reach production.

However, this may not give you the whole picture. So potentially what you could also do a VP of engineering is also look into the following:

  1. Program and operating meetings: Discussing as a team is important. Having a biweekly or monthly cadence to discuss the latest in the org is vital. Getting on the same page is key. Doing this at a program level is also super important.
  2. Work in Progress (WIP) Limits: Limiting work in progress is a fundamental principle of Lean. It’s based on the understanding that multitasking and context-switching can lead to inefficiencies and delays. By limiting the number of tasks a team is working on at any given time, you can reduce these inefficiencies and ensure that work flows more smoothly through the process. WIP limits can also help surface bottlenecks or issues in your process, as work will tend to pile up in areas where these exist.
  3. Lead Time: Lead time measures how long it takes for a task to go from inception to completion. This includes both the time the task is actively being worked on and any time it spends waiting (for example, in a queue waiting to be started or waiting for review). Reducing lead time is a key goal in Lean, as it enables you to deliver value to the customer more quickly.
  4. Cycle Time: Cycle time is a subset of lead time. It measures the time a task spends actually being worked on, not including any waiting time. Reducing cycle time can help improve your throughput and make your process more efficient.
  5. Throughput: Throughput refers to the number of tasks a team completes within a certain time period. Increasing throughput means you’re delivering more value to the customer in less time. However, it’s important to balance this with quality – simply pushing more tasks through the process won’t help if it leads to more defects or burnout.
  6. Continuous Improvement: In Lean, the work is never done. High-performing teams continuously look for ways to improve their processes and performance. This often involves regular retrospectives where the team reflects on their performance, identifies issues or opportunities for improvement, and comes up with actions to address these.
  7. Visual Management: Lean teams often use visual tools like Kanban boards to represent their workflow. This helps everyone on the team see the status of work and understand the process. It can also help surface issues or bottlenecks, as these will show up as areas where work is piling up or not flowing smoothly. You would do this on the team level + a rollup into a program or organization level. The importance is to make work visible as possible.
  8. KPI’s / OKR’s can help focus and prioritization. By defining what is most important to achieve (the Objectives in OKRs), you can help your teams focus their efforts on the most critical tasks and projects. This can help ensure that everyone is working on what’s most important for the organization’s success. In addition, OKRs can help align the efforts of different teams and individuals with the overall goals of the organization. By cascading objectives down from the organization level to the team and individual levels, you can ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals.

How can a consultant help you if you’re scaling?

Every organization is unique, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to scaling. A consultant should work closely with you to understand your specific context, challenges, and goals, and provide tailored strategic guidance based on my experience and industry best practices. We’ll focus not only on scaling your teams but also on maintaining and enhancing quality, productivity, and agility as you grow. Here are some additional considerations!

1. Strategic Planning and Execution: As a company grows, strategic planning becomes increasingly critical. A consultant can assist with formulating and executing strategic plans that align with the company’s goals and growth trajectory. This may involve scaling Agile practices across the organization, introducing new processes and structures, or even shifting the organization’s culture.

2. Building Scalable Processes: As teams grow, processes that worked at a smaller scale may no longer be effective. Consultants can help identify processes that need to be adapted or redesigned, and guide the development of new, scalable processes. This might include introducing practices like Lean or DevOps, improving continuous integration and continuous delivery pipelines, or setting up metrics for tracking performance and progress.

3. Navigating Organizational Changes: Scaling from Series C to IPO often involves significant changes in the organization’s structure, culture, and ways of working. A consultant can provide guidance on how to manage these changes effectively, preserving what works while introducing new practices and behaviors that support growth. Going public is a significant milestone, and it requires careful preparation. As you scale, operational efficiency and excellence become even more critical. I can help you implement lean and agile practices, improve your delivery processes, and establish metrics to track and improve performance. This can enable you to deliver more value faster, meet the increasing expectations of your stakeholders, and position your organization for successful growth.

4. Training and Coaching: As the organization scales, it’s likely that new skills and capabilities will be needed. A consultant can provide training and coaching to develop these skills, helping teams and individuals adapt to the new demands of the organization. This might include training on Agile or Lean practices, coaching for leadership roles, or facilitating learning across teams. Scaling isn’t just about growing your teams; it’s also about preserving and strengthening your culture as you grow. I can help you build a strong, agile culture that promotes collaboration, continuous learning, and customer focus. This can help you attract and retain top talent, boost team morale and productivity, and ensure your organization remains adaptable and innovative as it grows

5. Ensuring Quality and Performance: As the pace of delivery increases, maintaining quality can be a challenge. A consultant can help implement practices that ensure quality is built into the process, from automated testing and continuous integration to reviews and retrospectives.

6. Risk Management: The transition to an IPO can bring new risks, from regulatory compliance to increased scrutiny from investors and the public. A consultant can help identify, assess, and manage these risks, ensuring that the organization is prepared for the challenges of being a public company.

7. Facilitating Communication and Collaboration: As teams grow, communication can become more complex. A consultant can assist in developing effective communication strategies, fostering collaboration between teams, and ensuring that everyone is aligned with the organization’s goals and strategy.

Agile consulting – closing

So there you have it. A few scenarios which agile consultants can help you potentially. The goal is to get faster and delivery more value in a high quality way. It’s not about boring your teams to death with frameworks that they dont understand or 1000 rules. I’ve implemented this at various organizations so if you have some questions please leave a comment below or reach out to me privately for consulting or discussion.

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