Eliminating the element of surprise from delivery

No one really knows how the game is played
The art of the trade
How the sausage gets made
We just assume that it happens
But no one else is in the room where it happens
My God, In God We Trust
But we never really know what got discussed
Click boom! Then it happened
But no one else was in the room where it happened
- Lin Manuel Miranda, Hamilton 
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Introduction. What happens when you’re not in the room

As today’s fast-moving global economy continues to unearth disruptive new technologies, processes and approaches, agility seems to be the word on every business leader’s lips. And it’s little wonder when the transformation benefits of moving to an agile operating model are growing increasingly clear.
  • Financial
  • Customer
  • Internal Process
  • Learning & Growth
  • People & Culture
  • Product
Where traditional organisations possess a top-down, siloed structure that sees governance bodies at the apex and decision rights trickle down through the hierarchy, agile organisations aren’t as lineal. Instead, they embody a clear, flat and accountable structure – or a network of teams – that support rapid learning and decision making, and, contrary to traditional models, these decisions are made by the teams closest to the information.

As a result, agile adoption has transformed organisations, resulting in cross-functional feature teams that – given the right strategy is in place – can turn delivery into a powerhouse capable of driving significant value outcomes. However, by adopting an agile organisational model, the decision-making powers move.Instead of flowing from the top of the hierarchy down, the speed at which agile teams operates requires rapid decisions to be made within the teams themselves.
This means that agile models require implicit trust from their leaders who in turn forgo a certain level of transparency into product delivery. In essence, they’re forced to leave the room.

Here in lies the issue – when these leaders need to act, they can’t see the signals because their seat at the table was relinquished long ago. And thus, problems that inevitably arise seemingly do so out of the blue.

As a result, leaders are unaware that they are staring down the barrel of launch disruptions, incomplete features and increased time to market.

Suffice to say, it’s time to get back in the room.

Why leaders take no satisfaction from surprises

Surprises are rarely a good thing in business. In the case of product delivery in an agile paradigm, it typically means that leaders have been left in the dark so long that the opportunity for corrective action has passed. Instead, they’re called back to the table when the damage is done.

Compromised product delivery schedules, however, are just the beginning. A number of business-wide impacts can arise from a lack of visibility.
  • Financial
  • Customer
  • Internal Process
  • Learning & Growth
  • People & Culture
  • Product
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Impacted priority decision-making

As a leader, the inability to maintain full clarity of product delivery affects your ability to make timely, data-led priority decisions.Without a presence in the room from day one, it’s near impossible to effectively direct both the work and your workforce to ensure that business critical initiatives are delivered effectively.

Ineffective escalation

While agile transformation allows for rapid learning and innovation cycles, some still apply traditional governance approaches, such as waiting for scheduled governance session to raise issues. With a lag in informed escalation, issues can often reach a critical point before governing bodies first hear about them. With little indication that delivery isn’t going as planned, leaders are forced to make important decisions on the fly with whatever information is at hand, preventing them from being an effective escalation point and making it harder to make the right interventions in a timely manner.

Teams that are busy on the wrong things

With team empowered to make their own decisions, agile models can leave leaders feeling far removed from the work and oblivious to workforce inefficiencies that arise within the independent teams of the delivery ecosystem. Without a consolidated view of your teams, bottlenecks can surface with little warning, inhibiting delivery and diminishing value.

A harmful domino effect

This disconnect between modern engineering organisations working in agile paradigms and the wider business can cause cascading problems. When there’s a lack of transparency around progress, it can make it especially difficult to accurately plan and coordinate the business activities of other areas in the business. For example, a software feature may suddenly be discovered to be months away from launch-ready status, in turn putting a big question mark around the planning and execution of the sales and marketing launch components of strategy.

The warning signs to be aware of

“This is not the beginning of a crisis. This is the end of an illusion.”

- Gerald Weinberg
While it may seem to some leaders working with modern engineering ecosystems that spontaneous issues are the new normal, they don’t have to be. There are a number of early warning signs that things may not be as they seem.

Unfortunately, if you’re not able to spot these tell-tale signs of wayward progress, you’re not in the position to make decisions that will unblock teams, add capacity where required, reprioritise or even pivot away from disaster, putting delivery at risk.

Here’s what to keep an eye out for outside of the room.

Progress on work complete vs work in timebox

A sure-fire sign that things aren’t as they seem is a clear discrepancy between current actual progress and what was expected to be achieved within the committed timeframe. When working within a timebox each team’s capacity is fixed, leaving no room for perfectionism and over-processing. So, if for example they are 80% of the way to the target date, but have only completed 40% of the work, this is a clear indicator that they won’t be able to deliver on their commitments. This may have a cascading effect across the business, impacting other areas including marketing and customer service. To avoid this, leaders should be able to identify when teams aren’t progressing at the right rate, and then re-prioritising, pushing out release dates or descoping where necessary. 

Avoiding disastrous delays requires excellent communication between the development team and senior leaders. Without an adequate overview, leaders lack the capacity to make the cross team or external interventions that teams are not able to do so by themselves. And without visibility of these early signs, there’s a good chance you will not be able to intervene in a timely manner, effectively making it near impossible to avoid missed commitments.

Overly optimistic commitments

By nature, humans are optimistic and may overestimate their ability to achieve. And while enthusiasm is welcome, it may lead to them making unrealistic commitments. As a result, teams may end up with too much planned for release, leading to high levels of work in progress, creating a lag in the overall delivery ecosystem. 

For example, a team may commit to delivering 200 user stories per quarter, even though historically they’ve only ever been able to deliver 90. Without this knowledge, the rest of the business has a reasonable expectation that those 200 stories will be delivered and will prepare accordingly. When less half of the value that was committed a quarter ago is delivered–and this repeats quarter on quarter–it ultimately compromises the business’s ability to execute on its strategy. And as a leader lacking visibility of the early warning signals, you risk only find out about it after the fact when it is too late to intervene.

This is where probabilistic forecasting can assist by giving insight into reasonable capacity based on historical forecasts and signalling if teams are at risk of missing their commitments so you can act earlier.

Gold Plating

‘Gold plating’ is the tendency to keep working on something past the point of diminishing returns. Not only does this mean overdelivering on what is actually needed to deliver the desired value, but it prevents that extra capacity from being reallocated elsewhere to create additional value. 

When gold plating happens, it usually indicates a misalignment in goals. For example, say the objective is to Increase conversion of shopping cart checkouts. Teams may come up with multiple solutions, which could include adding a chatbot – something that adds time and cost but may not actually achieve the overarching business objective, which should be anchoring all activity.

Gold plating has a tendency to lower productivity when too much focus is devoted to trying to perfect something, when that capacity could deliver greater value by moving on to another task. This may as well as have downstream impacts on other initiatives for which capacity is planned.

Increase in unplanned work

As already mentioned with the issue of timeboxing, introducing more work to fixed capacity teams is a clear early indication that delivery will undoubtedly miss its commitments. By adding stories or chasing targets rather than distilling down and refining planned work, teams are moving the target, which means they’ve likely misunderstood the problem that needs to be solved. Here’s where feedback loops are a priceless addition to product delivery. At this point prioritisation and trade-offs will need to be made, and that’s where leaders can step in to help

Lack of action on risk and dependencies 

Teams to raise and identify risks as they arise, making efforts to immediately address them. However, as a leader, if you don’t see those issues being resolved by the teams themselves, you need the visibility and foresight to know when to step in and help mitigate the risks.
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Eliminating the element
of surprise

Unfortunately, unpredictability is inescapable. External events may happen, peripheral situations may occur, and genuine errors may materialise. That being said, it’s still possible to avoid being blindsided and increase your ability to be more resilient; all it takes is the right approach.
  • Financial
  • Customer
  • Internal Process
  • Learning & Growth
  • People & Culture
  • Product

Accept that the unexpected may happen

In a world of rapidly evolving technology, project teams are being asked to deliver even more at an even faster rate, regardless of increasing uncertainty and change within the wider commercial landscape. For this reason, you should expect bottlenecks, delays and unexpected issues, because by anticipating them, you’re better prepared for them

Replace estimating with forecasting 

The development of new value stream management tools means that the forecasting process can be completely automated, improving project transparency and empowering you to make better decisions about where interventions are needed and how people should be allocated. Opting for forecasting over estimating also allows you to quickly access evidence-based data to manage dependencies, enhance workflow, and focus on delivering value.

Continually assess and reprioritise work based on value 

Having the ability to order tasks by importance and allocate your workforce accordingly will ensure business critical initiatives get the appropriate resource allocation, maximising the value that can be achieved.

Communicate proactively

Make it your mission to align stakeholders from day one. Set their expectations early, and continue to engage as you progress, replanning as required. Discuss and make the right interventions early so that you can maximise the value delivered in the time you have. This will also ensure senior leaders are kept up to date and do not have to contend with their own surprises.

Harness the power of insightful tech

By implementing value stream management and therefore adopting robust software like a virtual Obeya room, you’re empowered with a consolidated view of your entire value stream from a single dashboard equipped with role-based views. This will infinitely improve leaders’ real-time visibility and help you refocus your teams on what’s working, shifting them away from what’s not. 

Champion strategic understanding

Getting everyone on the same page from the get-go is invaluable. A platform like a virtual Obeya room can create shared strategic alignment across the board, ensuring all work aligns with the organisation’s top-level objectives and creates an overall environment that supports careful and consistent decision making across a network of empowered teams. Supported by real-time tracking, an Obeya room also affords you the ability to adapt dynamically as the system changes, optimising value and efficiency from development to delivery.


In an era of rapid innovation, agility has become synonymous with success. But as companies increasingly take up agile business models in the pursuit of unlocking greater value sooner, leaders are being increasingly ushered out of the room to make way for more autonomous networks. And while the benefits of agile transformation are priceless, having little clarity over your delivery ecosystem is extremely costly.

The trick to extracting the most value from agile working is retaining a single ‘big room’ view of how your delivery teams are progressing. With a value stream management platform that offers feature like a virtual Obeya room, powerful insights on value, cost, progress, risks, dependencies and blockers will give you a seat at the table once again.

About Flomatika

Flomatika is a value stream management platform focused on helping mid-market and enterprise organisations pursue faster and more predictable value delivery. We quieten the noise of business by providing a consolidated view of your entire value stream so you can reliably identify and support the teams that are delivering the biggest impact. 
In a post PMO world, Flomatika makes agile working more valuable by improving speed to value, proving ROI, removing bottlenecks, boosting productivity, forecasting accuracy, understanding capacity, and – most crucially – empowering clarity.

Now with the addition of Obeya – a new feature – leaders will have a complete and real-time view of product activity, ensuring they clearly know how delivery is performing, which projects will launch on time, which are struggling, and which teams are providing the greatest value.

Ready to get back in the room?