Reflections on Agile Fluency Model

2021 06 01 head

Agile fluency model is a powerful abstraction to better understand your agile transition. It does not matter which flavor of agile you are deploying in your organization; the agile fluency model can be applied in all cases.

The agile fluency model has a powerful message about agile and technical excellence. The second zone of the model is all about software craftsmanship and eXtreme Programming.

One key lesson of the fluency model is it takes time until you are professional at your chosen level.

Time measured in years not in days. Your organization needs years to transition to more agile ways of working. Do not rush it.

Zones

The model defines four zones in which your company could thrive. You are free to choose the zone best suited for your organization. Remember the zones are additive. If you target the third zone, your teams shall also be fluent in all practices of the first and second zones.

Shift Team Culture: Focusing teams produce business value (6 months)

The team generates their own day-to-day tasks and plan based on their business representative’s needs. Team members consider their plan to be the team’s work, not individuals’ work. Team members share accountability for getting their plan done. Management considers the plan to be the team’s work rather than assigning accountability to individuals.

Select team members with appropriate skills, background, and willingness to work together. Allocate them 100% to their single team.

  • Create a productivity-focused shared workspace, strongly preferring a physical team room. If a physical team room is infeasible, provide a rich interactive virtual workspace [1] instead, and accept that this will be less effective.

  • Ensure that someone with expertise on business priorities and customer value is available to act as the team’s business representative.

  • Remove impediments to effective teamwork such as competitive ranking, individual rewards, and part-time membership to teams.

  • Coach and train team members in focusing proficiencies.

  • Train managers to create an environment that supports teamwork and how to manage the work system rather than individual contributions.

The Scrum defines roles and events enabling a team to achieve the goals of the first zone.

The organization focuses on agile values and fosters the nurturing of agile teams.

Shift Team Skills: Delivering teams deliver on the market cadence (24 months)

Increase External Quality Productivity

The team has low defect rates, so less time is wasted fixing bugs and more time is invested in making improvements.

Increase Internal Quality Productivity

The team’s codebase has low technical debt, which makes changes cheaper and faster.

Increase ROI

The team ships on the market cadence, capturing value as often as the market will bear.

When working with code and similar artifacts, team members leave its technical quality at least slightly better than they found it. Production releases are automated and take no more than ten minutes of manual effort. The team produces production-grade code without requiring a manual testing phase. All team members are aware of how their professional and technical skills affect their ability to accomplish the team’s goals. They understand these skills decrease their maintenance costs. They proactively seek to improve those skills.

The LeSS people have documented a huge set of experiments helping teams to improve their delivery skills and technical excellence.

The organization focuses on technical agility and improves timely delivering quality applications.

Shift Organizational Structure: Optimizing teams lead their market (5 years)

Fluent optimizing teams understand what their market wants, what your business needs, and how to meet those needs. Or, as in a startup environment, they know what they need to learn and how to go about learning it. In contrast to delivering teams, Optimizing teams not only have the ability to deliver to the market. They also know what to deliver to the market.

The organization focuses on value and improves the delivery of highly successful applications.

Shift Organizational Culture: Strengthening teams make their organizations stronger (unknown)

Where Optimizing teams have the ability to understand and fulfill the needs of their market. Strengthening teams also play a larger role in their organization.

Strengthening teams contribute to their organization in three ways. First, they understand how they are part of a larger system. They understand how their purpose aligns with other teams’ to achieve a greater strategy. They actively work to make that strategy more successful.

The organization is a key player and has no real concurrency. Employees, customers and stakeholders satisfaction is high.

Choose Your Zone

Table 1. Table Zones
Zone Benefit Investment Learn From Time to Fluency

Focusing

Greater visibility into teams’ works; ability to redirect.

Team development and work process design.

Scrum, Kanban, non-technical XP

2-6 months

Delivering

Low defects and high productivity.

Lowered productivity during technical skill development.

Extreme Programming, DevOps movement

+3-24 months

Optimizing

Higher-value deliveries and better product decisions.

Social capital expended on moving business decisions and expertise into the team.

Lean Software Development, Lean Startup, Beyond Budgeting

+1-5 years

Strengthening

Cross-team learning and better organizational decisions.

Time and risk in developing new approaches to managing the organization.

Organization design and complexity theories

unknown

Learnings

When Introducing Agile

One of the biggest factors affecting team fluency is an organizational support. To continue the bus metaphor, the team has to ride the bus to their fluency zone. No one can do it for them. The organization has to buy the bus tickets. An organization that expects fluency without providing appropriate support is bound to be disappointed. Even worse, insufficient support can cause turnover and create a cynical corporate culture that hinders improvements. Before embarking on your fluency journey, be sure your organization is prepared to offer the support the journey needs.

When Sustaining Agile

It is rare for stable teams to lose fluency on their own. In our experience, external disruptions cause fluency loss. The most common cause of fluency loss is when new management decides that agile approaches do not fit their vision. Without organizational support and the ability to continue practicing what they have learned, team fluency erodes quickly. This is often accompanied by loss of expertise as dissatisfied team members seek new positions. Turnover is a related cause of fluency loss. A team that gains or loses too many members may have trouble sustaining what it is learned. This is a particular problem for organizations that assemble new teams for every project.

Agile Fluency and Scrum

Agile and Scrum requires long-living and stable teams. A team should work over years on one product development and improvements. Agile at organizational level can only work if the upper and middle management transitioned to agile thinking and handling. The LeSS community is vocal how destructive wrong management decision can be. Agile development is a team sport, so fluency is a trait of the team, not individual team members. Fluency is more a matter of habits than skills. Discipline is king.

You find a detailed description of the model under Agile Fluency.


1. Each team member has a high-resolution camera, a professional headset, and a 4K display. Chat and collaboration tools are mandatory for effective working performance. Buy enough licenses for all team members for tools such as GitHub, Slack, Mural, collaborative IDE, etc.