Agile Coaches, Here’s How to Reveal More Options to Influence Your Business Outcomes
“What can we do to influence our business outcomes?” That’s probably the #1 question every agile coach should ask themselves all the time.
And it’s not a trivial one, especially when you don’t have the means in your hands to provide reliable data-driven answers.
Today, I’m going to reveal a strategy to you I wish someone had taught me from the very beginning when I was just getting started working with agile teams.
The fastest and easiest way to come up with a decision to the “How to influence our business outcomes” questions lies down in the connection between your flow metrics – cycle time, throughput, and work in progress.
Here’s the kicker:
To achieve better business outcomes, you actually have the power to influence each of them by changing the others.
The three main flow metrics are connected to each other in an equation called Little’s Law.
Strategies for Improving Time to Market
In essence, Little’s law states the following:
Cycle Time = Work In Progress / Throughput
Now, hear me out on this.
It’s easy to slip up, put two of the numbers into the equation, and come up with the third one. Don’t fall into this trap. That’s not what the law is about.
The truth is that the numbers in the equation are beside the point. What’s important to understand from Little’s Law is how the three main flow metrics are connected and how changing one will inevitably affect one (if not both) of the others.
Why is that important?
So let’s say that you want to improve time to market (check this very simple strategy to achieve a quick win!). The main goal now is to reduce your cycle time.
Looking into Little’s Law, you have two choices:
Option #1: You can keep WIP consistent, and increase throughput. To increase your throughput, you’ll have to increase your capacity and add more people to the team so they can deliver more work.
Option #2: You can keep your throughput consistent, and decrease WIP. What this means is that you’ll have to introduce management practices that will enable your teams to stop multitasking and focus on less work at any one time.
The first option is more expensive and more time-consuming. It also doesn’t require any shifts in the way you manage the work.
The second option doesn’t demand adjustments to your team size or request additional budget. Instead, it calls for a shift in perspective and some fine-tuning of your existing management practices.
It’s up to you to make your choice now. I trust you went for Option #2.
Actionable Insights for Better Business Outcomes
So how can we reduce work in progress?
There is an approach called WIP limits that will enable you to get there.
Implementing WIP limits might become challenging if you let it. And it doesn’t matter whether you are a Kanban practitioner, Scrum practitioner, or anything in between.
What matters is your goal (improving time to market!) and how the concept of WIP limits will fit in your business context. Here are several approaches that will enable you to successfully implement WIP limits →
Now, let’s visualize how this works so that you have the proof in your hands when you explore this idea with your executives. Let’s look into the following examples:
Use the Executive Dashboard to track how WIP, Cycle Time, and Throughput trends build over time for all of your teams. Try it for free for 30 days →
This is the Executive Dashboard of all the teams of a fintech startup that visualizes how their flow metrics develop over time.
What I love the most about this picture is that it clearly visualizes how a decrease in throughput directly leads to an increase in cycle time too (look into the shape of the curves in September).
What we’re also observing is that there was a jump in the WIP and WIP Age trend in that period which is exactly what the team focused on to get back on track.
Using the Executive Dashboard trends, you reveal smarter, tactical, and effective options to improve time to market. You provide the actionable insights you need to improve your business outcomes.
The best part? Through these decisions, you’re not optimizing locally, you’re going after setting up organizational standards throughout the entire operations which is exactly what your executives care about.
Knowing how your flow metrics affect each other gives you choices. There are faster, easier and cheaper alternatives to achieve your business outcomes and you and your stakeholders need to be aware of them to make reliable decisions.
Don’t miss out on these opportunities!
Here’s your action item: If you haven’t started just yet, make sure to try the Executive Dashboard (it’s free for 30 days!) →
Track how the trends of your main flow metrics develop over time and identify patterns that showcase how the decisions you make influence all of your performance indicators.
The most important thing:
As an agile coach, you now possess tangible evidence; it’s no longer subjective. Having concrete proof strengthens your position and builds credibility.
I hope this was helpful and applicable in your context! Meet me here next week, same time and place for more managerial goodness! Bye for now.
Meet the Author
Sonya Siderova is a passionate product manager and a driving force behind Nave, a Kanban analytics suite that helps teams improve their delivery speed through data-driven decision making. When she's not catering to her two little ones, you might find Sonya absorbed in a good heavyweight boxing match or behind a screen crafting a new blog post.