This podcast covers Chapter 5, “Anti-Project Thinking and Business Agility” of “12 Steps to Flow: The New Framework for Business Agility,” by Haydn Shaughnessy and Fin Goulding, developers of the internationally acclaimed workshop, Flow Academy. This chapter argues that Agile techniques could be improved by moving away from Epics and User stories to Flexible Business Goals, Areas of Work, and Units of Work.

The reason for this is workplaces change with regards to technology and market dynamics. The situation is highly complex with multiple intangible assets such as relationships with customers. There also is the vast array of digital assets that come into play along with multiple interfaces presenting different messages or incentives. This means a vast amounts of data come from various sources.

To compound the situation companies are faced with the prospect of doing multiple new things all the time which the authors refer to as “atomization”, which fragments old value chains into hundreds of interrelated units of work that make up matrix innovation. Traditional and agile ways of work cannot cope with this level of novelty because they are built on replicability, i.e., doing the same task multiple times.

This is where Flow comes into play. An example is provided using Patty Power Betfair, a gambling institution in Dublin, Ireland. The deals with more than 3.5 billion API requests every day and handles up to 30 million transactions daily. This is a circumstance where the flow philosophy is superior to project management. For success, it is critical to prioritize goals over Epics and User Stories. Goals are defined as flexible statements of what a good outcome of work should look like. These goals are broken down into areas of work and then units of work each of which have their own specific goals. Working in this manner and monitoring performance allows for quick adjustments early in order to continue producing value.

This approach epitomizes the Business Agile mindset. By atomizing the work the mystery is removed from dealing with such monolithic endeavors as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. The atomization of work into small work packages allows for maximum flexibility in terms of necessary changes based on immediate performance feedback.

Working in this manner is the antithesis of traditional project management with its work breakdown structure (WBS). This essentially is the Waterfall method. The Agile approach provided some improvement with the Epics and Stories, but these Epics and Stories are delivered in Sprints that come together in periodic Scrums which are supervised by Scrum Master.

Sprints have their own problems because work progresses for a period of time before determining whether or not it integrates with the work that other individuals are doing. Reworked and delays occur which encourages people to go off and work on other tasks causing a subsequent collapse of the culture which leads to more problems. Epics and Stories have their own problem, i.e., the product owner becomes a stand-in for the customers. Flow goes beyond this by having a different cultural perspective centered on interaction and collective intelligence. The authors do note the formal project management techniques are appropriate when physical materials and multiple parties are involved, e.g., construction. With intangible products the situation is different because a consistent flow of innovations may be required to provide services and products that are unique to various customers. Because the work is not constrained is in a physical situation, e.g., construction, codesign of work is possible. Value seeking behavior is prioritized in an environment where goals and work codesign rule.

A key aspect of Flow is keeping work fluid so that battles do not break out, the kind of battles that occur when a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is being defined in a large organization. With Flow there is a focus on fluidity rather than rules, processes, and boundaries. Value is the goal. Innovation is continuous.

The key is:

– focus on business goals with real value

– training people to adapt to shifting goals is more knowledge of customer needs his acquired

– perform units of work in short bursts in order to check in frequently with customers and colleagues

– be ready for multiple, micro-pivots as you create a matrix of features to put in front of the customer

An appropriate work breakdown it is visualized on a wall is required for successful Flow. Because of the newness of the work and the lack of repetition team members will be asked to invent new methods of working along with features and products or services that have value for the customer. This is why the social interaction is so important because the work may change as new information is gathered. This is why visual techniques are so important in order to provide maximum value in the shortest period of time. Constructing the work breakdown and laying out significant independent deliverables to achieve the business outcome is critical. It should be done in an area where all stakeholders can observe and comment. The closer the work is to today more detail is required. Is the workflows out into the future it can be left to be more free-form and become more detailed as the team approaches it. It’s all about connecting the work breakdown to identified value. It’s also about shorter cycle times.

The work breakdown process comprises 11 steps:

1. There is a pressing business objective

2.  A series of goals (business outcomes) are defined

3.  Which goals will deliver value first is the first significant social interaction

4.  Goals are broken down in terms of a user journey or workflow steps

5.  Is workers describe the stories in terms of the value users can acquire from the features of the product or service

6.  Later goals are left on the wall to be assessed and commented on his people think about them and domain experts share their knowledge

7.  The work breakdowns become story cards for developers and testers

8.  Story cards are intended to be completed within 1 to 2 days the output bundled into a Minimum Sustainable Delivery Matrix (MSD) the customer will engage with

9.  Minimum viable features can be created to test value and overall fit with the project

10. The aforementioned features may lead to more enhanced features or they may lead to features being dropped based on feedback

11. Along the Walls many dependencies become apparent to people over time. This is where the used of Post-It’s is superior to a planning document

An example of high-level goals is provided. The example shows the importance of bringing in all areas across the business which are affected by or can contribute to the project in addition to the IT shop. This is one of the key benefits of Flow.

The authors then describe the benefit of Flow over Agile. Flow is based on direct user experience and feedback rather than the development of User stories and Avatars and the associated “Agile prison” that can be created the removes the developers from contact with client. The very short cycle times of Flow give immediate user/customer feedback which the team can use directly.

One of the keys and Flow is to have work codesigned by IT and business unit. Which critical when doing work this way is to think beyond one’s own selfish culture and the focus on the customer and how they feel when we are successful in addressing their needs. Working this way is referred to as a holistic team.

The chapter closes out with a good example of how this multidisciplinary work is performed with regards to a car dealership.

Here are the link for:   

episode 0037 of Wrestling with Chaos. the Introduction, The Value Seeking Enterprise, and Chapter 1, Talking About Business Agility:

episode 0042 of Wrestling With Chaos. For Chapter 2, The Customer In The Agile Business.

episode 0043 of Wrestling With Chaos. For Chapter 3, Disrupting The Cadence of Work

episode 0045 of Wrestling With Chaos. For Chapter 4, Taking Advantage of Visible Work

For more on the various “Walls” using Post-Its refer to their excellent book, “Flow.”

In line with Business Agility and dealing with complex situations, you can download CMC’s free e-book MINDSET – 5 SIMPLE WAYS TO LOOK AT COMPLEX PROBLEMS and learn how to find a simple vantage point from which you can resolve challenges.

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