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November 13, 2020

Pattern 1.1: Focus on Outcomes

By Jon Smart

In our last post, we looked at Antipattern 1.1: Doing an Agile Transformation. Now we’ll look at the corresponding pattern: Focus on Outcomes.

Focus on the outcomes, on Better Value Sooner Safer Happier, as the goal, not on Agile, Lean, or DevOps as the goal in order to achieve true business agility.

In his 1962 book Diffusion of Innovations, sociologist Everett Rogers described how innovation tended to spread first to a small number of Innovators, then reached Early Adopters, was taken up by equal numbers of Early Majority and Late Majority, before finally being used by Laggards. 

As we passed the midpoint at Barclays and were getting into the Late Majority and Laggards, we recognized the need to pivot. The A-word (Agile) was an anchor, not an accelerator. It was like a magnet. The Innovators, Early Adopters, and Early Majority had one polarity. They were attracted to the new ways of working and had embraced the support the firm was providing. It helped them do what they had long been trying to do in the past. The Late Majority and the Laggards had the opposite polarity.

We pivoted to focus on outcomes. We changed our headline focus and all the visible, cultural signposts. We replaced the posters and floor-standing ­banners, changed the name of the team, the internal communications, and so on. We were already measuring BVSSH outcomes; however, we hadn’t made them the headline. With the benefit of hindsight, I would have started with a headline focus on the outcomes, on Better Value Sooner Safer Happier.

We had previously avoided imposing a particular agile framework or approach, preferring to empower teams to decide the how for themselves according to their context, while we supplied support and the minimal viable guardrails that are discussed in Chapters 5 and 6 of Sooner Safer Happier. Pivoting to focus on the outcomes further increased empowerment and reduced resistance. We weren’t imposing a way of working, and especially not one that might have had baggage.

My narrative when speaking to leadership teams changed from: “Hi, I’m Jon, and I’m here to make you adopt agile; you choose how.” to “Hi, I’m Jon, and I’m here to help you deliver Better Value Sooner Safer Happier if you want to and if you want help.”

As you can imagine, those two opening sentences generate very different responses.

No one in their right mind is not going to want to improve on Better Value Sooner Safer Happier outcomes. There was an incentive to improve, without mandate and without targets. The optionality at the end is full autonomy and hence intrinsic motivation. Resistance dropped away as there was nothing to resist. I’ve learned that the words “convince” and “resistance” should not enter the vocabulary when improving on outcomes.

It doesn’t matter if you are delivering value on a mainframe with fifty-year-old code, experimenting with a new mobile app, producing an internal audit report, processing payments, or onboarding new customers, no one is exempt from choosing to improve, to be the best at being better. It’s not about agile for systems of innovation and waterfall for systems of record. I find this to be an irresponsible approach. Think Big, Start Big, Learn Slow is never okay. A key part of an agile and lean mindset is continuous improvement. Irrespective of starting point and context, everyone can and should continually improve on delivering Better Value Sooner Safer Happier.

We made BVSSH outcome data transparent across business units. We showed an improvement trend (or not) over time and went from push to pull. We dropped targets and agility levels and made improving outcomes a strategic priority, looking at trends over time rather than absolute values. There was incentivization to improve the system of work; it was no longer about agile or lean for their own sake. Having removed targets, there was empowerment in how much to improve or even to not improve at all. Making the BVSSH data transparent was key. It’s hard data and it’s hard to argue with it. And human nature means that no one wants to be the one improving the least.

The level of pull from the late majority and the laggards shot up almost overnight. After issuing the outcome data trends twice, I got a call requesting support where previous efforts had stalled. In my view, this was entirely because the focus was on the outcomes, on improving Better Value Sooner Safer Happier, rather than on adopting agile.

Based on this learning, from similar learnings at a range of organizations, and from case studies at conferences and sharing in the community, I’ve yet to find an organization where Better Value Sooner Safer Happier does not encapsulate the desired outcomes from better ways of working in the Age of Digital.

- About The Authors
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Jon Smart

JONATHAN SMART is a business agility practitioner, thought leader, and coach. Smart leads Deloitte’s Business Agility practice, helping organizations deliver better value sooner, safer, and happier through the application of agile, lean, and DevOps principles and practices organization wide. Previously Smart lead Ways of Working globally for Barclays Bank, helping to triple productivity, where he and his team won the Best Internal Agile Team at the Agile Awards in 2016. Smart is also the founder of the Enterprise Agility Leaders Network, a member of the Programming Committee for the DevOps Enterprise Summit, a member of the Business Agility Institute Advisory Council, a guest speaker at London Business School, and speaks at numerous conferences a year.

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