Being Agile in Practice – Part 5: Speed to Decision

Being Agile in Practice – Part 5 Speed to Decision with McKenna Agile Consultants

The penultimate instalment of our Practical Agile Coaching series is focused on improving your speed to decision. We are frequently asked by leaders how an agile mindset and methods can help to speed up teams and projects. In this post, we will offer some tips and tools that agile leaders can implement today to accelerate your decision-making process.

Tips to Improve Your Speed to Decision

Use “High Velocity Decision Making” Principles

One of Amazon’s Leadership Principles is Bias for Action which states that “Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.”

What does this mean to you as a leader and how can you implement this?

  • Understand that not all decisions are set in stone – most decisions are reversible. Govern certain kinds of decisions with a lightweight process. We have also observed that decisions are often exaggerated into big decisions. Break decisions down by asking “what is the smallest step we can take towards this?”.
  • Avoid analysis paralysis – We will never have all the information and if we wait for it, the decision will take too long and thus be ineffective. If you’re agile enough and fast enough to respond to changes, an incorrect decision is not as costly as it may seem.
  • Accept that you cannot please everyone – Agree to disagree but agree that taking a risk is the right thing to do considering the context and information that you have.
  • Faster decisions will drive greater innovation and reward – Get feedback on the decisions quickly and iterate through all options until you get to the right decision (you’ll be moving so fast that you’ll have long forgotten the decision in the first place).

Decentralize Decision Making

Not all decisions have to (or should be) be made by leaders. A key element of a great agile leader is understanding which decisions could be decentralised to the team. Understanding and trusting this is a key step in speeding up the overall decision-making process.

Letting the team make decisions will help you to reduce delays, improve the flow and your delivery of value. An additional, tangible benefit is also increased levels of empowerment, accountability, and morale across the organisation. Leadership trust and support are critical elements to successful adoption of a decentralized decision-making framework.

The Scaled Agile Framework offers a handy tool for quickly assessing which decision should be decentralised. The components are described as:

  • Centralise Strategic Decisions
    • Infrequent – Decisions that are not made often, nor time-critical and may require a deeper, more strategic consideration.
    • Long-lasting – Once the decision is made, it is unlikely to change during the short term.
    • Provide significant economies of scale – These decisions could lead to larger economic benefits.
  • Decentralise Everything Else
    • Frequent – Decisions that are needed to be made all the time, such as User Story execution, or taking a break (sadly yes, we’ve seen teams who’ve had to request a break!)
    • Time-critical – How urgent is it that we make this decision? What is the impact of delaying it?
    • Require local information – Who has the best information to make the decision? This is often the people who are directly involved and/or impacted.

A more collaborative and discussion-based approach is to use Management 3.0’s Delegation Poker. Using Delegation Poker, teams vote on the level of autonomy that they feel comfortable with across a range of decisions.

Be Ruthless with Prioritisation

If everything is top priority, then nothing is a priority. If everyone understands what the top priority is, then they can ensure that they are working on the right things at the right time. When multiple priorities are at play, they eventually begin to compete against one another for time and attention. This leads to tension between people and teams, delays and quality issues.

A great tool to use to understand the different elements at play when assessing priority is Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF). In our experience, running a WSJF workshop over a set of features (or anything that’s reasonable in size) is not only a prioritisation exercise, but also is great for alignment and validation of assumptions.

What’s Next?

This blog post is our 5th and final element of Practical Agile Coaching. In the final instalment of the series, we’ll share a summary of our model and our key takeaways for you to consider.

Take the time to explore the previous blog posts in the series too:

Part 1: Healthy Backlogs

Part 2: Stable Teams

Part 3: Deliver Often

Part 4: Technical Excellence