Let’s begin with a couple of questions:
Q. How agile are you now?
Q. How agile do you want to be?
The ‘Agile-ometer’ is a simple visual tool to help you reflect on such questions.
- Select the target of your agility assessment. This could be an individual such as yourself, a team, a team-of-teams, or an organisation.
- Using the Agile-ometer image below, refer to the annotations on the right and then simply choose the level, from 0 to 5, that most closely depicts the current level of agility. It may fall between levels, e.g. 3.5 (halfway between levels 3 and 4).
- Optionally, you can also repeat for the desired level of agility – is there a gap?
Try it now:
The Agile-ometer is intended to be self-contained and self-explanatory. The rest of this article provides some supporting commentary and suggestions for how it may be utilised with individuals, teams or other groups.
A tour of the Agile-ometer
Sometimes we can get lost in the agile trees and undergrowth and lose sight of the forest. We can become fixated on a multitude of agile metrics, behaviours, concepts, tools, techniques, frameworks, etc. The Agile-ometer is a visual tool to help us zoom out and self-reflect on the level of agility in a simple and rapid way. Note that it has no judgment and says nothing about how agile you should be – that’s a decision for you and will be dependent upon your domain and context. However, this tool may help you reflect on how agile you want to be as well.
In the Agile-ometer we are focused on two key considerations:
1) How quickly and frequently is value delivered to the customer
2) How quickly and frequently is feedback from the customer obtained and act on
The ‘customer’ here is intended to mean the people that are the intended beneficiaries of the value being delivered.
Of course, acting on customer feedback and delivering customer value are closely intertwined. A common trap is to deliver what we think is value only to discover on delivering it that it’s not as valuable to the customer as we had envisaged, for a myriad of potential reasons. So clearly, seeking out and acting on customer feedback is critical to our understanding of what truly constitutes customer value.
The Agile-ometer can also serve as a frame of reference for continuous improvement, helping us to reflect on how to improve the ways in which we engage with customers, act on feedback and deliver true value.
Let’s examine each level of the Agile-ometer:
Level 0 is a linear Waterfall development approach. It’s the archetypal antithesis of agile development and hence has a value of zero on the Agile-ometer. It’s largely what the agile manifesto signatories and the ‘rapid development’ community prior to agile, were rebelling against. Many of us had already learned the hard way that creating a set of requirements up-front and following a largely pre-defined plan in a complex domain rarely resulted in positive customer outcomes. The Agile-ometer is only here to frame how agile you are and not suggest how agile you should be. If your problem domain is simple, low-risk and predictable then a linear, predictive (non-adaptive) approach may serve you well.
Level 1 is what could be referred to as an “Incremental Construction” approach or a “Staged Build” approach. It begins with some up-front requirements analysis and solution design, possibly under the guise of a protracted Sprint 0, and then proceeds in a largely linear fashion of incremental construction. Backlog and User Story refinement sessions may be very thin on the ground since the Backlog was fleshed out to a ‘sufficient’ level of detail at the outset.
Level 2 is what some may recognise more ‘apparently’ as a ‘fully agile’ approach. The Scrum Framework, for example, may be being followed from the outset, at least superficially. Development may begin with a vision, a roadmap and a high-level backlog, possibly consisting largely of Features/Epics/Enablers. The backlog is being refined just-in-time for each increment/iteration/sprint. However, both customer value delivery and customer feedback are left until very late in the day when it may be too late and too costly to adapt to such feedback.
Level 3 differs from level 2 in one distinct way, customer feedback is captured each increment/iteration. Customers may be working closely with the team on a continual basis or with the Product Owner / Business Owner who is continually seeking customer feedback on the product or service as it is being developed. Customers may be present at the Sprint Review / System Demo/ SolutionDemo or equivalent. Crucially, of course, this feedback is acted on. Feedback without action is waste. Development adapts based on the feedback (inspection by the customer as well as the people doing the development). This is empiricism which lies at the heart of the Scrum Framework for example.
Level 4 steps up an agile gear. Not only is customer feedback obtained and acted on with each increment/iteration, but value is also delivered to the customer incrementally as well. The customer does not have to wait until late into the development, which might have been months or years.
Level 5 delivers a truly continuous flow of value and learning from feedback. Value is delivered continuously as soon as it’s available and not restricted to any increment/iteration boundary. Indeed, such development timeboxes may not even exist in this context. As such, value may be delivered many times a week or many times a day. Customer feedback is continually sought and acted upon also. ‘Continuous Delivery’ has been embraced and executed. ‘Continuous Discovery / Exploration’ too.
Agile-ometer in action
To recap, the Agile-ometer is purely intended to serve as a reflective tool for individuals, teams, team-of-teams and organisations.
It helps to reflect on:
- The current level of agility
- The target level of agility
With a team or group of people, you could put this diagram (or draw it yourself) on a wall or virtual whiteboard and ask people to ‘dot vote’ by placing a specified colour dot or symbol to represent what people believe reflects the current level of agility. And repeat with a different colour or symbol to reflect what people believe is the most beneficial level of agility. This can then be used to provoke insights, evidence, debate and actions for moving forward.
This could make for an interesting team level or team-of-teams retrospective or futurespective.
Below are some more nuanced questions that may arise or could be asked, e.g. by a facilitator or coach.
Customer Value delivery:
- Q. What would be the impact of delivering value more frequently?
- Q. Are we delivering value to customers quickly enough?
- Q. Are we delivering value to customers frequently enough?
- Q. What are the barriers to more frequent value delivery?
- Q. Should we be doing more to deliver value to customers sooner and more frequently?
- Q. Have we invested enough in ‘continuous delivery’ skills, activities and technology?
- Q. Are we keeping technical debt under control to ensure repeated frequent delivery of value to customers in the future?
- Q. Are we keeping quality under control to ensure repeated frequent delivery of value to customers in the future?
Customer Feedback acted on:
- Q. What would be the impact of acting on customer feedback more frequently?
- Q. Are we learning enough by frequently or continuously engaging with customers?
- Q. Have we invested enough in obtaining and acting on customer feedback?
- Q. Have we invested enough in ‘continuous discovery’ skills, activities and technology?
- Q. Are we doing enough to obtain feedback from customers?
- Q. What are the barriers to more frequent customer feedback?
- Q. Who should be responsible for capturing and acting on customer feedback?
Identifying a level on the Agile-ometer may not result in a discrete number. The number may fall between two whole numbers and so you may have a level such as 2.2 or 3.5. For example, you may not deliver value to the customer every iteration but on average, every other iteration, so you may conclude a level of 3.5.
You may also wonder, as I did, whether to include an option whereby value is delivered every iteration or more continuously but no feedback is sought or acted on. I’ve excluded that, for now at least, in order to keep the permutations down and keep the model simple. You could also argue that if you deliver value but do not seek feedback, how do you, in fact, know you have delivered value? Strictly speaking, however, you could envisage this as another level (or two) on the Agile-ometer.
I actively encourage rapid and frequent feedback too 🙂 So please do let me know if you find rapid and frequent value in the Agile-ometer reflective tool. Do you have any suggestions for how the value of the tool could be increased? Or ideas for how this tool could be used to derive value in different ways and settings? You could do this by leaving a comment.
Many thanks and best wishes on your value delivery journey, whichever path you take.