Harnessing Innovation: Lightweight Governance Models for High Performing Agile teams

I recently gave this presentation (harnessing-innovation) at a private, in-house agile community gathering for a large software enterprise. The focus was obvious from the title, how does the larger enterprise harness the agility, innovation (and yes, entropy) of all those newly empowered agile teams? Can they apply governance models that provide for some effective controls without killing the goose that lays this golden egg? Perhaps this quote sums up our agile strategy best:

“Although project teams are largely on their own, they are not uncontrolled. Management establishes enough checkpoints to prevent instability, ambiguity, and tension from turning into chaos. At the same time, management avoids the type of rigid control that impairs creativity and spontaneity. Instead, the emphasis is on “self-control”, “control through peer pressure” and “control by love”.

By Toyota’s Takeuchi and Nonaka, The New New Product Development Game, Harvard Business Review, 1986 (see note (1) below)

A few key highlights from this presentation are highlighted below.

In the agile enterprise, managements need for results must be greater than the need for control

  • But it is appropriate to create agile guidelines as governance documents
    • What agile means in this company
    • Expectations for agile behavior
      • Define unambiguously agile mandates (Examples: unit testing, retrospectives, daily standup)
  • As lightweight as possible
    • 3-5 pages
    • Serve as templates for additional site-based or project specific guidelines
  • Recommend, but don’t over-prescribe
    • Especially around the more controversial practices, like pair programming, TDD, tooling, requirements management, intentional architecture

Note (1): this seminal article in the Harvard Business Review in 1986 is the best article I’ve ever seen on the principles and practices of concurrent engineering from the Toyota perspective, and is further described in the post The New New Product Development Game and the Roots of Scrum. https://scalingsoftwareagility.wordpress.com/2008/06/05/the-new-new-product-development-game-and-the-roots-of-scrum/.

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