Business agility alone is no longer enough to succeed in today’s rapidly changing digital age. To compete and thrive, companies need to deliver value at speed and remove anything that gets in the way of seamless workflow. SAFe® flow accelerators can be the key to unlocking this momentum – but how do you successfully apply them to consistently deliver value?
SAFe methodologist Rebecca Davis sat down with Easy Agile's Jasmin Iordanidis to reflect on the concept of flow and business agility. In this article, we share their tips on how to accelerate flow in your organization. You'll learn:
- Why you need a flow mindset for flow accelerators to be successful
- How improving flow improves customer outcomes
- How to work with flow accelerators
Why flow begins with having the right mindset
Under the SAFe® framework, flow is present when a company can quickly, continuously, and effectively deliver quality products and services that deliver value. This requires all individuals and teams in the value stream to be working optimally with minimum delays and rework, an approach that is significantly different to the traditional ways of work.
“Mindset is big when it comes to working in this way,” said Rebecca. “Rather than simply following policy or the way things have always been done, people need to have conversations and ask questions to find ways to improve. And that means everyone in the company, whether you’re at the team or solution or executive level, needs to really understand and live these principals”.
This makes cultivating a flow mindset of open communication and information sharing across all teams and levels essential. It helps pave the way for accelerated feedback loops that help identify blockers early, rectify issues fast, and facilitate continuous, seamless workflow.
How improving flow improves customer outcomes
SAFe® flow accelerators help work flow through the system without interruptions so your company can deliver continuous value in the shortest amount of time as possible. They do this by helping to remove interruptions, progress work quickly, and create a smooth workflow, which together improve productivity across the value stream. “Accelerators are tangible levers you can pull to improve flow,” said Jasmin. “You can apply metrics to each accelerator so you can quickly assess whether it’s working and adjust accordingly”.
This improved productivity generally leads to improved output from your people. “By removing blockers, you can give people in your business more time to do the work that makes them happier and that makes a difference,” said Jasmin. “They can do more deep work - in whatever form that looks like for them – and ultimately, this leads to improved customer outcomes”.
What are the eight SAFe® flow accelerators?
The SAFe® framework includes eight flow accelerators, with each designed to address a specific activity that interrupts value flow.
- Visualise and limit WIP: Too much WIP confuses priorities, overloads people, and reduces productivity. Continually adjust WIP to better match demand to capacity and help increase flow through the system.
- Address bottlenecks: Bottle necks cause the value stream to operate well below capacity. Focus on eliminating dominant bottlenecks by adding additional skills, people, or other resources.
- Minimise handoffs and dependencies: Excessive handoffs and dependencies can cause rework and delays. Create teams and ARTs with all the knowledge, resources, skills, and decision-making authority to create an end-to-end flow of value.
- Get faster feedback: Fast feedback helps speed up learning and improvement. Build mechanisms and processes to collect, analyze, and evaluate data early in the development process.
- Work in smaller batches: The smaller the batch size, the faster teams can collect and evaluate feedback and adjust. Optimize size by balancing the trade-offs between holding cost and transaction cost.
- Reduce queue length: Long queues lead to waste, delays, and information decay. Start tracking queue length and keep backlogs short to create flexibility to work on new high priority tasks.
- Optimise ‘time in the zone’: People and teams in the zone demonstrate higher creativity, productivity, happiness, and fulfillment. Focus on creating an environment where workers have time and space free from interruptions.
- Remediate legacy policies and practises: Legacy policies can become part of the culture and inhibit flow, even when they are no longer fit for purpose. Take steps to identity these policies then eliminate, modify, or mitigate.
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4 steps to winning with SAFe® flow accelerators
1. Build a hypothesis
The first step is to build your hypothesis. Clarify what you believe will change and think about when you might first see if flow is moving in a different way to how it was before.
TIP: Start conversations and gather insights from the teams that will be directly impacted by these changes.
2. Choose high-impact accelerators
When choosing which accelerators to focus on, you’ll need to start with reading, digesting, and understanding them all. You can then take these learnings and start conversations with people on the ground to get an idea of where improvements can be made. “There are no sequential steps to follow when it comes to the accelerators,” said Rebecca. “Once you’ve found areas of improvement, you can self-select which accelerators you think will have the most impact and start working with those”.
TIP: Remember if you can’t see it, you can’t accelerate it. So, if you don’t know where to start making improvements, look out for any friction points or gaps in the value stream.
3. Decide when to check progress
“There’s no one-size-fits all answer as to when to check whether an accelerator is improving flow,” said Rebecca. “How long you need to wait depends on the action and the insights you gathered when building your hypothesis”. This means that for some actions, you can check whether flow has improved the next day while others may take a few weeks to see results.
TIP: Identify the earliest moment you can look back and see that something has changed and note this as your time to check in.
4. Use flow metrics correctly
It’s important to remember that flow metrics are not to be used as punitive measures but instead as a marker to measure whether an accelerator has improved flow. For many people, this requires a mindset shift away from thinking that if something goes wrong or if it fails, it didn’t work. And that means that sometimes, there may be a risk that the metrics may be used in a negative way.
“It helps to understand that sometimes people fall back on old behaviours when things get hard – and that includes people in leadership positions,” said Rebecca. “So be honest and courageous if you see metrics used in a negative way. This can help the team get back to the reasons why the metrics are being used in the first place”.
TIP: Build and maintain trust by clarifying how each metric helps improve outcomes and deliver value. If there is no clear link, then consider dropping it.
Accelerating flow helps teams focus on delivering value
Creating time and space for teams to focus on producing value can help your organization respond more quickly to changing customer needs and business conditions. SAFe® flow accelerators can help remove unnecessary work and blockers to create an environment of continuous improvement, optimization, and consistent value creation.
To improve flow across your organization, learn how Easy Agile Programs empowers your organization to visualize where you may have conflicts or risks to work not progressing and to easily unblock these so teams can maintain momentum and continue to deliver value.