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A Holistic View

A few weeks ago, lying in bed, waiting for my mind to turn off, my thoughts carried me to think about an Agile enterprise.  What would be important?  What would it look and feel like?  A diagram of concepts formed to define the general areas of focus for an Agile enterprise.  The next day I excitedly documented my thoughts over lunch.

A Holistic Enterprise View

The whole enterprise can be thought of as a circle.  This circle is divided into three areas of focus.  These three areas are almost never equal and will vary based on size, age and needs of the enterprise.  Yet all three are present, if sometimes neglected in turn.  The picture is like this:

Work

This is what the enterprise does, what it is paid for.  Work is the product and all the production performed to create the product, tangible or digital.  Work is the sum of the actions, the designing, writing, testing, coding, speaking, drawing, etc. that create what the customers buy.  This is the highest focus of the enterprise and rightfully so, for without this, the enterprise cannot sustain itself.

Information

This segment of the circle represents the data or artifacts either produced or needed to do the Work.  This is be source code, documentation of all types, emails, invoices, meetings, logs, procedures, accounts payable or receivable, etc.  All enterprises large or small have and produce this data which must flow efficiently for the enterprise to do well.

People

This third segment represents the people and their interactions as they do the Work.  This is management, hierarchy, social behavior, teamwork, conflict, collaboration, politics, disagreement, personality, etc.  In order to accomplish the Work, people must communicate and interact.  It is a huge, yet intangible, component of the enterprise.

Focus Areas

Each of these three areas, Work, Information and People, must function together.  Work is always there, it is the reason for existing.  When a company first starts it may be only one person or perhaps a few more.  In such a situation the Work dominates all thought and effort.  This is OK because a small group can usually move Information quickly and get along well as People.  As an enterprise grows, difficulties within the Information and People areas more significantly impact the Work.  From cultural habit, the enterprise will want to continue to focus on the Work but there must be people designated to prevent neglect in the other two areas.

  • How long does it take for a developer to learn about a field problem in a product?  The answer to this question is one measure of how will the Information area is doing.
  • Does a person on the low end of the hierarchy feel safe to tell his supervisor or even division manager about a problem?  This is a check on the People part of the enterprise.
  • When the lab needs new equipment, how hard is it to get?  This can touch on both Information (purchasing procedures and documents, etc.) and People (asking the manger to change the budget).

Keeping these three areas balanced according to the current needs of the enterprise is the primary function of mangers.  They have the authority, position and mandate to ensure that the Work does not suffer because of neglect with the Information and the People.  A great enterprise, dare I say an Agile enterprise, makes sure the Information moves quickly to the right place at the right time and that the People are interacting in high performance!

A Holistic Team View

This discussion started with a view to the enterprise but let us conclude by boiling it down to the Agile team.  What do these three areas of focus look like when we use them to view a small working group?

  • The Product Owner pushes Information flow about what the Work should be.  Features, progress, vision and direction are controlled by Information in and out of the team.
  • The ScrumMaster focuses largely on the People part of the team.  He helps them resolve conflicts to create constructive outcomes.  He creates environments in and out of the team that allows for trust and truth to be visible.
  • The Team of developers focus on the Work, the product and the components that make it.  With the Product Owner providing Information direction and the ScrumMaster maintaining a People friendly environment, the Work gets all the attention it needs for high quality and speedy production!

Note that each of the Agile team roles must keep the whole circle in mind and overlap, for all three areas are important.  But each role as the area on which they focus the most.

For me the point of this view is simply another way to look at enterprises and teams.  For me it brings more clarity to my roles as ScrumMaster and Agile Coach.  Us it as a tool help you think about where you are and where you can create more value for your enterprise and team!  Let me know what you think about it.  I’d love to learn more!

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4 Responses to “A Holistic View”

  1. Robert Dempsey December 23, 2009 at 9:00 AM # Reply

    Great post Alan. Everything is interconnected, and your diagram helps to show where everyone fits into that picture. When you say that everyone needs to keep the big picture in mind, that is very true. I’ve spoken with managers and executives that believe their people don’t look at the big picture. I see this as dysfunction in another part of your circle that needs to be addressed to allow for the more holistic view to occur.

    • dayleyagile December 23, 2009 at 2:01 PM # Reply

      Thanks, Robert.

      No one can keep everything in detailed view at once and so we have roles or functions that define the scope of our responsible vision. However, it is a big mistake if the ScrumMaster thinks he need not care about the Product Backlog because “that’s the Product Owner’s job.” It is also a big mistake for a developer to not care about manufacturing because “that’s the job of someone else.”

      The opposite of developers not seeing the big picture is also true. Many executives don’t want to understand the work at the developer’s level. Worse yet, many executives don’t share the high view with the people doing the work. The vision of the company must be shared with everyone in a deeper way than slogans and presentation slides. It is a grand disservice to all when anyone refuses to share or refuses to learn outside their designated role.

      Surprising how much we seem to forget that everyone in a given enterprise is in the same boat. We all win or lose together, so we must balance our responsibility with the desire to win together.

  2. Jan Beaver September 11, 2010 at 10:48 AM # Reply

    Very nice description of the overlap and interdependence that is all too often hidden by traditional organizational structures, but which Agile makes explicit. Giving the human element equal billing is both vital and generally overlooked.

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