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First Things First: Agile Principles Revisited

As an organization begins its journey to a more nimble way of delivering quality products that customers love, it is important to know the underlying pinning of an agile mindset as a reminder of why you are starting this voyage and also how to use the principles as a litmus test against how well are you actually progressing towards a new way of working.  Taking the 12 Principles from the Agile Manifesto is the simplest approach to conducting an assessment of your teamwork, collaboration and user-centered approach to product development. To that end, I will be posting a different principle to use as a foundation of discussion to grow a community and challenge how products are delivered.   Principle #1: Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through the early and continuous delivery of valuable software. <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/es3LJFH_crw" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe> Innovations in technology and delivery platforms are rapidly improving and the expectations of customers are increasing and competitors are looking for an opening to disrupt any slow-moving behemoth that has not realized that slow and perfect will put you into early retirement. Speed, with a focus on value-added outcomes and quality are required to keep pace with marketplace and economic demands.    We have to look at ways to optimize our environment and capabilities to decrease lead times and increase customer satisfaction.  There are standard practices that help meet these objectives and while it is important to understand and engage in foundational practices (TDD, DevOps, XP/Scrum, etc.), it is more critical to keep a keen eye on the principle and then adjust your practices as you mature and as the environment changes, as long as the principle remains intact. There are four key points of this principle that I feel can be broken down to: Our Highest Priority: Not “my” multiple priorities, not “your” lowest priority, “our highest priority”.  It is a collective and agreed upon initiative that will move the needle for the business.  This takes discipline and focus, which is hard, which is why it easier to put 50 projects in flight so people look busy, but are they productive? Are they moving the needle?  Enterprise leaders must set the tone to prioritize the portfolio on a frequent cadence so that teams are executing on the most important strategic initiative and leadership is giving the team what they need to move as quickly as possible and not overburden the team with activities and administrative overhead that adds no value. Satisfy the Customer: Rid yourself of the “I Think” mode in trying to identify customers’ needs and utilize something the Japanese refer to as “gemba” or “the real place” of where the problem exists.  Usability practices fall into this realm in making sure what we deliver is actually meeting the needs and delivers real value that will solve a problem the customer was having and do it in the shortest cycle time possible to start the feedback loop.  Getting out and talking with your customers and observing the real issues will give you a much better insight into what work needs to be prioritized to meet the minimal viable product in solving the problem.  Until you get a product in customers hands it is all just assumptions, and only the customer can tell you if they are satisfied with what you delivered. Early and continuous delivery: Learning fast is critical in experimentation and feedback gathering. Getting to a point where we can do multiple releases a day should be our target. Is it hard? Yes! However, if companies do this already, what is keeping you from doing it?  One approach to achieving this is Preserving options through set-based design which will reduce variability by looking at more than one option that can meet the need and defer a final decision until enough data is gathered that will allow the right decision point to release. Another is the more familiar building incrementally to start the feedback cycle.  Faster the cycle, faster is the learning and lower is the risk of delivering something that does not meet your customer’s needs.  Valuable Software: This really goes hand in hand with satisfying the customer, because if it is not adding value it is not going to satisfy your customer, and the only person that can decide the true value is the customer.  Of course, the value can extend beyond your typical “customer” such as if we are delivering a module that will keep the company in compliance which will eliminate fines, adds value and the enterprise is the customer in this scenario.  Value can be finicky based on the particular customer and timing as well and as such it can fade quickly which is why we have to deliver fast to capitalize on the value quickly as the image below illustrates: What can we do to support this principle? Decrease the time from Identity to Satisfy: When a customer identifies a problem to the time we can satisfy that request is the critical path in our world—the shorter the lead time the better the outcome (at least we hope so), at least the quicker we can learn.  We can do this by leveraging micro-services, APIs and other lean processes, such as paper prototyping or interactive prototypes to help us deliver quicker and frequently to satisfy a customer’s needs and meeting them where they are in their customer journey.  Inspecting every step of the customer journey to identifying potential waste is a job each of us must do daily.  When we encounter a process or step in our cycle, we should ask ourselves the following questions: Does this help make us more agile? Does this help us learn quicker? Does this help deliver more value? Does this increase quality? Who is it for? Who Cares if it we remove it or leave it? Build Small, Deploy Fast, Learn Quickly: There is generally always a discussion on “How Big Should a Feature Be” and from my perspective the answer is “The smallest amount of value to generate feedback”.  Waiting too long because you think you need all the features before you can release, will delay the feedback cycle starting, which is how you will actually learn if what you are building is what will solve the customer’s problem. What Doesn’t It Support The principle? Overproduction (Extra Features):  Building in too many features that don’t meet the minimal marketable feature definition will cause delays in getting to the marketplace.  In every sprint you should be asking yourselves the following questions-  What problem are we trying to solve? What is the smallest amount of functionality we can deploy at the end of the sprint and start a feedback cycle on? What is the worst that will happen if we don’t put this feature in? If we take time and effort to work on this, will this solve the customer problem? If we take time and effort to work on this, what will the ROI be? Remember the saying, 20% of features create 80% of the value. Wait Time (Delays): Large tightly coupled features require long wait times for development, testing, and validation, which in turn increases defects and you run the risk of what you deliver no longer actually solving the problem. This also means our customers are waiting longer for their problem to be solved and that will cause them to look elsewhere.    To determine where your longest delays are, you should start measuring lead time, response time and cycle time and use your retrospective to determine areas and steps to reduce these delay points. Focus on increasing your throughput through smaller batches. If you are dogmatic about your practices and “checkboxes”, that will always be your focus rather than solving the problem at hand.  Don’t get me wrong, you should stand up for what you believe in but keep an open mind towards thinking about what you feel is right and will it actually solve a problem or will an experiment with a different practice be better served as long as the principle remains intact?   Let us know how you are supporting this principle today.  

First Things First: Agile Principles Revisited

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  • by Bruce Nix
  • 05th Dec, 2017
  • Last updated on 27th Aug, 2019
 First Things First: Agile Principles Revisited

As an organization begins its journey to a more nimble way of delivering quality products that customers love, it is important to know the underlying pinning of an agile mindset as a reminder of why you are starting this voyage and also how to use the principles as a litmus test against how well are you actually progressing towards a new way of working.  Taking the 12 Principles from the Agile Manifesto is the simplest approach to conducting an assessment of your teamwork, collaboration and user-centered approach to product development.
To that end, I will be posting a different principle to use as a foundation of discussion to grow a community and challenge how products are delivered.

 

Principle #1: Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through the early and continuous delivery of valuable software.


<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/es3LJFH_crw" frameborder="0" gesture="media" allow="encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Innovations in technology and delivery platforms are rapidly improving and the expectations of customers are increasing and competitors are looking for an opening to disrupt any slow-moving behemoth that has not realized that slow and perfect will put you into early retirement. Speed, with a focus on value-added outcomes and quality are required to keep pace with marketplace and economic demands.   
We have to look at ways to optimize our environment and capabilities to decrease lead times and increase customer satisfaction.  There are standard practices that help meet these objectives and while it is important to understand and engage in foundational practices (TDD, DevOps, XP/Scrum, etc.), it is more critical to keep a keen eye on the principle and then adjust your practices as you mature and as the environment changes, as long as the principle remains intact.

There are four key points of this principle that I feel can be broken down to:

Our Highest Priority: Not “my” multiple priorities, not “your” lowest priority, “our highest priority”.  It is a collective and agreed upon initiative that will move the needle for the business.  This takes discipline and focus, which is hard, which is why it easier to put 50 projects in flight so people look busy, but are they productive? Are they moving the needle?  Enterprise leaders must set the tone to prioritize the portfolio on a frequent cadence so that teams are executing on the most important strategic initiative and leadership is giving the team what they need to move as quickly as possible and not overburden the team with activities and administrative overhead that adds no value.

Satisfy the Customer: Rid yourself of the “I Think” mode in trying to identify customers’ needs and utilize something the Japanese refer to as “gemba” or “the real place” of where the problem exists.  Usability practices fall into this realm in making sure what we deliver is actually meeting the needs and delivers real value that will solve a problem the customer was having and do it in the shortest cycle time possible to start the feedback loop.  Getting out and talking with your customers and observing the real issues will give you a much better insight into what work needs to be prioritized to meet the minimal viable product in solving the problem.  Until you get a product in customers hands it is all just assumptions, and only the customer can tell you if they are satisfied with what you delivered.

Early and continuous delivery: Learning fast is critical in experimentation and feedback gathering. Getting to a point where we can do multiple releases a day should be our target. Is it hard? Yes! However, if companies do this already, what is keeping you from doing it?  One approach to achieving this is Preserving options through set-based design which will reduce variability by looking at more than one option that can meet the need and defer a final decision until enough data is gathered that will allow the right decision point to release. Another is the more familiar building incrementally to start the feedback cycle.  Faster the cycle, faster is the learning and lower is the risk of delivering something that does not meet your customer’s needs. 

Valuable Software: This really goes hand in hand with satisfying the customer, because if it is not adding value it is not going to satisfy your customer, and the only person that can decide the true value is the customer.  Of course, the value can extend beyond your typical “customer” such as if we are delivering a module that will keep the company in compliance which will eliminate fines, adds value and the enterprise is the customer in this scenario.  Value can be finicky based on the particular customer and timing as well and as such it can fade quickly which is why we have to deliver fast to capitalize on the value quickly as the image below illustrates:

What can we do to support this principle?

Decrease the time from Identity to Satisfy: When a customer identifies a problem to the time we can satisfy that request is the critical path in our world—the shorter the lead time the better the outcome (at least we hope so), at least the quicker we can learn.  We can do this by leveraging micro-services, APIs and other lean processes, such as paper prototyping or interactive prototypes to help us deliver quicker and frequently to satisfy a customer’s needs and meeting them where they are in their customer journey.  Inspecting every step of the customer journey to identifying potential waste is a job each of us must do daily.  When we encounter a process or step in our cycle, we should ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Does this help make us more agile?
  • Does this help us learn quicker?
  • Does this help deliver more value?
  • Does this increase quality?
  • Who is it for?
  • Who Cares if it we remove it or leave it?

Build Small, Deploy Fast, Learn Quickly: There is generally always a discussion on “How Big Should a Feature Be” and from my perspective the answer is “The smallest amount of value to generate feedback”.  Waiting too long because you think you need all the features before you can release, will delay the feedback cycle starting, which is how you will actually learn if what you are building is what will solve the customer’s problem.

What Doesn’t It Support The principle?

Overproduction (Extra Features):  Building in too many features that don’t meet the minimal marketable feature definition will cause delays in getting to the marketplace.  In every sprint you should be asking yourselves the following questions- 

  • What problem are we trying to solve?
  • What is the smallest amount of functionality we can deploy at the end of the sprint and start a feedback cycle on?
  • What is the worst that will happen if we don’t put this feature in?
  • If we take time and effort to work on this, will this solve the customer problem?
  • If we take time and effort to work on this, what will the ROI be?

    Remember the saying, 20% of features create 80% of the value.

Wait Time (Delays): Large tightly coupled features require long wait times for development, testing, and validation, which in turn increases defects and you run the risk of what you deliver no longer actually solving the problem. This also means our customers are waiting longer for their problem to be solved and that will cause them to look elsewhere.   

To determine where your longest delays are, you should start measuring lead time, response time and cycle time and use your retrospective to determine areas and steps to reduce these delay points. Focus on increasing your throughput through smaller batches.


If you are dogmatic about your practices and “checkboxes”, that will always be your focus rather than solving the problem at hand.  Don’t get me wrong, you should stand up for what you believe in but keep an open mind towards thinking about what you feel is right and will it actually solve a problem or will an experiment with a different practice be better served as long as the principle remains intact?  

Let us know how you are supporting this principle today.

 

Bruce

Bruce Nix

Blog Author

Bruce Nix, one of the highly experienced Agile coaches at Lokion, applies two decades of experience in information technology and innovation management to his projects. He trains and leads cross-functional teams in innovation practices, ensuring the best possible outcomes for teams. An avid researcher of leadership and innovation principles, he continually strives to make processes leaner and more efficient.
As a Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) 4.0 Program Consultant, Certified Scrum Professional, and Scrum Master, Bruce provides improvements in processes and project delivery for clients. He has years of daily experience in Agile project management methodologies and helped found the Memphis Agile Practitioners Group.His deep experience in technical operations management and business analysis has allowed him to manage multiple projects involving enterprise scale ecommerce  initiatives, user experience, web and mobile design, and process improvement.

 

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What is the format of the exam?The SAFe® certification exam is in the Multiple Choice Questions format2. How is the exam delivered?The exam is Web-based (single-browser), closed book, no outside assistance, timed.3. How to get access to the exam? Once they have completed the Leading SAFe® course, candidates can access the exam. For this, they will use the SAFe® Community Platform. 4. How long is the exam?The exam duration is 90 minutes.5. How many questions? The SAFe® exam consists of a total of 45 questions.6. What is the passing score? 34 out of 45 (75% passing score). 7. What is the exam language?English. 8. How much does the exam cost?The course registration fee covers the first exam attempt, provided that the candidate takes the exam within 30 days of course completion. Then, it will cost $50 for any additional attempt.9. What are the exam prerequisites? There are two main prerequisites to take the exam. First is to have an experience using the Scrum framework, the second is to have more than five years in one or several of these fields: project or product management, business analysis, software development.10. What is the exam retake policy of the exam?A first retake, meaning a second attempt on the exam, can be done at any moment after a first attempt. In case of a third attempt, candidates have to wait for 10 days and in case of a fourth attempt, they have to wait for 30 days.Leading SAFe® 4.6 Exam preparation SAFe® Agilist Certification exam questionsHere are some of the questions that might be helpful in exam preparation- How to run agile on multiple teams?How to synchronize the work of these teams?How to prioritize organizational demands?How to scale an agile architecture?How to deal with risks in an agile way?Agile and governance, is it possible?Can you highlight the addition and changes in 4-level with 3-level SAFe® 4.0?Can you define a System Team?Can you explain the difference/relationship between a Value Stream and an ART?What is the key to crossing back in forth or connecting the various levels of SAFe®?What is the difference between a Capability and an Epic or Theme?Why would you decentralize decision making? Doesn’t this disempower the product owner or cause confusion about who is the final decision-maker?Are there any reasons that Scrumban would not work with SAFe®?We have some applications that use Scrum delivery practices and some that are milestone driven (waterfall). Can SAFe® 4.0 support both epic and user story management planning, backlog prioritization for Scrum teams, as well as requirements management for our waterfall teams (until they transition to agile)?Some teams may run continuous integrations while others not. How can we balance this if we have a fixed Program Increment timeline?Is SAFe® making it more complex and less agile (e.g., more rigid, additional control)?Exam study materialsKnowledge and skill required by the job role are primarily measured by the exam. In order to prepare well for the exam, candidates can use various online resources like these ones:The course materials are one of the most important components from the course because they offer an opportunity to refer back to the content delivered during the class. All candidates can access to it within the SAFe® Community Platform.The Study guide delivers comprehensive details about the job role and the exam, like a reading list. Here again, it is accessible via the Learning Plan in the SAFe® Community Platform.Another element of the Learning Plan in the SAFe® Community Platform is the Practice test. It offers predictability of success on the exam because it works with similar time duration and level of difficulty and provides the same number of questions.You can go through the SAFe® sample test that contains 8 questions that will help you in SAFe® 4.6 certification exam preparation.Ways of earning Leading SAFe® 4.6 certificationAttend the courseCourse completion is the first step toward SAFe® certification.Scaled Agile training classes are designed with the learner in mind. Incorporating active learning techniques with a robust role-based curriculum is a great start to the SAFe® learning journey.Receive access to the SAFe® Community Platform after the class, which provides access to study materials & the exam.Study for the examDetailed exam study guides are available to help prepare for the exam and are part of the Learning Plan provided to candidates on the SAFe® Community Platform. Each study guide provides relevant and content-specific exam information, such as the certification role description, prerequisite skills and knowledge, exam objectives, and a comprehensive reading list.Practice tests can help prepare for the exam and are part of the Learning Plan on the SAFe® Community Platform. With a practice test, candidates can ‘test before the test.’ It simulates the actual certification exam in duration, difficulty, and topic area. Passing the practice test does not guarantee to pass the certification exam, but it provides a testing simulation, and the score report can be used to identify an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. Practice tests are available at no additional charge, delivered through the Learning Plan in the SAFe® Community Platform, and can be taken as many times as needed. Note that the testers will receive the same bank of questions each time, but the questions will be randomized.Sample tests provide the examples of the type and format of the questions to expect on the certification exam. They are publicly available for all exams under Exam Details on each certification detail page.Leverage experience. It’s more than being book smart. Scaled Agile exams test specific knowledge, skill, experience, and attitudes related to each SAFe® job role. Combining a person’s learning and studying with their real-world experiences is a key to becoming SAFe® Certified.Take the ExamA link to the exam is included in the Learning Plan on the SAFe® Community Platform.Candidates have 30 days after course completion to take the exam at no additional charge. However, once they start the exam, they’ll have a fixed time to complete it.Complete exam information, including exam time limit, number of questions, and a sample test, is available for all the exams under Exam Details on each certification official page.What will you get on passing the SAFe® 4 Agilist exam?Becoming a Certified SAFe® 4 Agilist requires an exceptional range of skills and is a career path for many servant leaders (Scrum Masters). SAFe® 4 Agilist certification includes:Getting the Certified SAFe® 4 Agilist PDF certificateGetting the Certified SAFe® 4 Agilist  digital badge. Any candidate can promote their accomplishment onlineNote: Digital badge permits individuals to share authentic certifications online through email signatures, digital resumes, and social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Digital badging consists of metadata that indicates a Certified SAFe® professional’s qualifications. Scaled Agile has partnered with Acclaim to provide digital versions of SAFe® certifications.Getting one-year membership to the SAFe® Community Platform. It also includes access to the SA Community of PracticeGetting access to Meetup groups and events that connect you with other SAFe® certified professionalsNote: SAFe® Meetups provides opportunities to the SAFe® certified across the globe. SAFe® Meetups allows to connect with each other face-to-face, share best practices (sometimes SAFe® experts attend or speak in these sessions to enable learning), and gain knowledge on Scaled Agile Framework in a local setting.Getting access to a variety of learning resources to support you during your SAFe® journey.Summing It UpFor professionals who are looking for career development in the Agile field, SAFe® certification can be the most relevant option today. It gives a guarantee to the companies that they hire individuals with the skills required to scale Agile and a strong knowledge of the SAFe® environment. On top of that, it is important to know that a large majority of big enterprises have implemented SAFe® and that the hunt for SAFe® certified professionals is still very active.
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