Why Agile Work Is Opportunity-Directed

One of my favorite Agile/Scrum discussion topics centers around the Agile Manifesto’s[1] 10th principle, Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential. Whether the discussion arises in a classroom training, a private coaching session, or a conference of Scrum Thought Leaders, the discussion surrounding ‘work not done’ is always a rich one. Many questions emerge, such as:

  • Why Agile Work Is Opportunity-Directed - Undone Work - 3BackWhat does ‘work not done’ look like?
  • How do we maximize the amount of ‘work not done?’
  • What activities happen that do not add value?
  • How can those activities be eliminated?
  • How do we minimize the amount of work done?
  • How do we still maximize the work done with higher Business Value[2] to deliver high customer satisfaction to our customers?
  • How can the Team be open to all this change and still meet the expectations set by the Stakeholders?

These discussions and the emerging questions, lead me to “analysis[3] and how you figure out what to do. Most of our Agility[4] lives in how you manage analysis. You could say our work unfolds in an opportunity-directed manner that falls straight out of our analysis effort.

What Is Opportunity-Directed Work?

I like to say our work is “Opportunity-Directed.” Work becomes focused on avoiding unnecessary things and seeking opportunities. The purpose of analysis is to find an opportunity to proceed. When we proceed, our steps often reveal more information about the problem space, which means moving is a form of analysis as well. We learn to “Move early and move often.”

We are moving in order to find a way forward — often in a complex, chaotic situation — but there is no guarantee that we will find the right opportunity right away. Sometimes you are taking a random walk through a problem space until sufficient information emerges that allows you to move towards success. In this case, you seem lost… and then, almost magically, an opportunity emerges.

Once an opportunity emerges, you can pursue it more directly. You can put it to the test by releasing it or getting some other form of feedback. Doing this assumes you can identify an adequate test and that might be difficult to do. Maybe the universe will just provide a fitness test through prolonged use, but maybe not.

It is likely that you will need to do explicit hypothesis testing to see if your opportunity is viable. There are many ways to do explicit hypothesis testing… and here is an an “Explicit Hypothesis Test Card” that you might find useful. (This is provided courtesy of Get To Done.)

Explicit Hypothesis Testing

I/We speculate that with <this capability>.
We would see <this result>.
These observations support our speculation
<raw observation 1>
<raw observation …>
We should prioritize development of <this capability> because
<interpreted observation(s) listed as supporting indicators>

Bake Agility Into The Bones

Keep looking for, and exploiting, those opportunities. Rinse and repeat. Doing this gives you the chaotic Rhythm[5] that pervades product development. There are no recipes, just techniques that have proven successful, to help us move forward.

It is because of that last statement that I don’t like the word principles. I prefer adages or Agile Attractors. Principles tend to convey more truth than we actually have about the universe. Therefore, I feel it is a disservice if I don’t point out that the principles won’t guarantee results or success. The principles are just ways to think about the universe.

Wrestle with the principles like you wrestle with every thought that comes at you, this is required in order for “thinking to triumph over recipes.” Bake Agility[6] into the bones.

Does your Team need help baking Agility into the bones of your work?
We’ve got training for that.

As Always, Stay Agile.

Notes and Sources

1 “Manifesto for Agile Software Development.” Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Accessed September 22, 2017. http://agilemanifesto.org/.

2-3 “Business Value,” “Analysis.” ScrumDictionary.com. Accessed Oct 23, 2017. https://scrumdictionary.com/.

4 “Agility: A 3Back Scrum White Paper.” 3Back. Accessed September 22, 2017. https://3back.com/agility-scrum-white-paper-download/.

5-6 “Rhythm,” “Agility.” ScrumDictionary.com. Accessed Oct 23, 2017. https://scrumdictionary.com/.