Achieving Sustainable Predictability Chapter 1: How to Set and Manage Explicit Policies
In this 4-part series, we’re going to take a sneak peek into the realm of achieving sustainable predictability. The first and foremost step to take towards reaching that goal is using explicit policies. The aim of this strategy is to bring transparency and alignment to the way you manage your work.
Welcome to Chapter 1 of the Sustainable Predictability series, where we will talk about what it really looks like to adopt a stable delivery system that enables you to consistently hit your targets.
I couldn’t hide my amusement when Max Verstappen came to the first Dutch Grand Prix and exceeded everyone’s expectations with a win that reclaimed the championship lead. The Red Bull team has had its ups and downs through the years, but they are showing up in their best shape for 2021.
For the 23-year-old, the race at Zandvoort was surely the most special of his career. That was the first time F1 has raced at the circuit in 36 years. A weekend crowd of more than 200,000 people, 99 percent of whom seemed to be wearing an orange T-shirt, waving an orange flag or brandishing an orange flare, raucously cheered every lap.
After Verstappen nailed the start, you didn’t even need to see whether he was on track; you could hear the roar of the crowd every time he passed a grandstand on the 4.3km layout.
The race was under his control, the home hero relinquishing the lead for just eight laps following his first pit stop.
Did you know that the Red Bull’s crew broke their own world record for the fastest pit stop of 1.82 seconds in 2019? That was the third time they set the record that season.
Can you imagine how efficiently the Red Bull team works together to be able to consistently achieve such amazing results?
The team has a total of 16 people ready to service the car when it stops. Each has a specific role: there are eight tire carriers, four to take off the old tires and four to put on the new tires.
Then there are front and rear jack men, two-car stabilizers, and four tire swappers, who use pneumatic wheel guns to screw the wheels on and off. These pneumatic wheel guns are powered by compressed air or nitrogen and operate just like the ones in an average garage, except they spin at 10,000 rpm.
While I was watching the Red Bull crew, I was amazed by how strikingly obvious their definite way of working is. Everyone knows what to do at any one time. It’s so efficient and predictable.
What we all want is for our business processes to be guided by policies as relevant and effective as those of the F1 pit team. How can our development teams achieve such a high level of efficiency and alignment? Well, it all boils down to setting up and managing explicit process policies.
What Are Explicit Policies?
Our work moves through the workflow following the activities to deliver customer value. In a stable system, how quickly each work item will be released will depend on the explicit policies associated with it.
We’ve all happened to be in situations in which decisions need to be made regarding how to handle certain scenarios. Think about what we should do when a high-priority item enters the workflow, or how we should deal with any bugs popping up as the work moves further.
In a stable delivery system, we set rules that the team follows to move the work towards completion. We call these rules explicit policies. The explicit policies dictate what should happen in different scenarios, in order to ensure that the tasks move smoothly through the process. The main focus of the team will be to tackle the obstacles that would slow them down.
There are two main goals that come with this concept. Firstly, we enable autonomous teams who know what to do in every situation on their own (especially in emergency situations). And secondly, the policies are specifically designed to optimize our delivery workflow for predictability.
How to Set Up and Manage Your Explicit Policies
When you are setting up your explicit policies for the first time, to map out how the work moves through your workflow, you have to become intentional. Expose how the activities are actually happening, not how they should happen.
Explicit policies are all about having a common understanding of how the work is done. As such, this exercise should reveal the way everyone works. Remember, this has to be a common effort of the whole team.
To get started, create a new document and answer the following set of questions:
- How do we handle urgent items?
- How do items with different priorities move through the workflow?
- How do items with the same priority move through the system?
- What happens when an item gets blocked?
- How do we manage defects in the workflow?
- What are the criteria to move work items from one activity to another?
- What are the limits of the amount of work that can be in progress at any one time?
- What should idle team members do when they are not able to pull new work into the process?
This list of questions is a great starting point. Feel free to expand it based on your own context. The answers to these questions will become your explicit policies.
Make your policies visible to make sure everyone is on the same page and understands how the work should be managed to be aligned with your goals. As time passes by and the teams are getting used to the policies, these practices will become second-nature.
In a stable delivery system, we introduce policies that address many other scenarios. The goal is to make it clear what the team needs to do to make sure they avoid delays and deliver on their commitments. If you’re striving to enable a supportive environment and build stable delivery systems that produce consistent business outcomes, I’d be thrilled to welcome you to our Sustainable Predictability program.
Furthermore, these are not set in stone. In a stable delivery system, the sources of your explicit policies are, first and foremost, driven by your continuous improvement efforts.
As you identify the bottlenecks that cause delays, you have to take action and adjust the process policies to address the obstacles that hinder your performance. Your policies should constantly evolve as you’re optimizing your system for predictability.
As a rule of thumb, don’t introduce more than one policy at a time. This will make the transition to the new working practice smoother and give the space to everyone to adjust to the new way of working.
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Having explicit policies in place means that you bring awareness and a common understanding of how the work flows through your delivery system to everyone involved. Essentially, you are getting intentional about the way you manage the work to ensure you deliver results in a consistent, predictable manner.
You’re setting up a system that self-optimizes for predictability and consistent business outcomes. As you continuously improve your management practices, and one improvement leads to another, you will reveal what actually makes you successful and your team will feel empowered to keep achieving.
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.