The challenges with waterfall delivery are clear. Organisations can no longer absorb the risk of a solution which is either outdated or no longer required by the time they finish delivering their project. Using a waterfall approach can also:
- Be inflexible due to heavy governance layers
- Have complex yearly capital allocation processes
- Result in unforeseen delays caused by solution dependencies
This means organisations cannot keep up with the continuously evolving requirements, customer needs and technology landscape when using a waterfall approach. This has resulted in wasted time, cost, effort and unrealised revenue.
Agile delivery promises and has demonstrated the ability to overcome many of the problems brought about by a waterfall delivery approach. The question raised by many organisations experimenting with Agile is “why are we not seeing the benefits promised even though we are 1-2 years into our Agile journey?”
Agile and Organisational Constraints
The challenge of building Agile success extends much further than Agile delivery of each project. Organisations must understand the impact of broader constraints across the business processes, which flow through to the:
- Software delivery lifecycle
- Governance layers
- Funding model
- Reporting approach
- Culture and mindset
Understandably, organisations are typically not prepared to invest in this amount of change until Agile has proven its fit. This further complicates the challenge of being Agile when coupled with other traditional constraints.
Design Slice to Navigate Organisational Constraints
Using a Lean/Agile approach to tackle this challenge, a framework called “Design Slicing” has been developed to help organisations improve the success of Agile projects. This is achieved by “Slicing” projects to navigate organisational constraints and ultimately break down large pieces of work into independent value components, providing a customer/user experience when released. This approach can be a key differentiation point for an organisation on their Agile journey. It varies from more common approaches where requirements are gathered and retrofitted into user stories and features, or an entire solution is just split into multiple pieces and “things” which may yield little standalone value to customers when delivered incrementally.
Design Slicing provides an approach to shifting the mindset and tackling some of the constraints to adopting and delivering independent pieces of value in a truly Agile way of working.
The Design Slicing framework is customised to each organisation’s unique constraints and is iterated using a Lean optimisation approach, paired with Agile test and learn implementation.
Below is an example of the Design Slicing approach across four key constraints in a typical large organisation:
Idea and Requirements Slicing
To overcome a siloed or large divide between business units and IT, a business Idea can be “Sliced”. Design Slicing, in this example, is across both the business and IT requirements and is an approach to ensuring independent pieces of customer value are being delivered.
“Idea Slicing” is achieved by identifying the business value or different types of customer experiences as part of the business idea and introducing layered slices of value into the requirements story hierarchy. With this approach you can trace the business value to the customer experience, down to the outcomes that collate through the development stories. This ensures you are iteratively delivering capability to provide a customer experience.
Business Case / Funding Slicing
The annual business case and funding model, commonly used across organisations in all industries, is considered a constraint to developing iteratively and incrementally. How do you deliver incrementally when you need to put forward a view of exactly what you’ll deliver and how much it will cost at the start of a financial year? How do you pivot if you determine the solution isn’t right?
Until organisations adopt an Agile business case model with a pool of funds and prioritisation mechanism (like one demonstrated in SAFe), a way to approach this is to complete a high level business case for the overall solution (at ±50%) when requesting funding upfront. From there, iterative funding is requested by each business value slice or defined customer experience set (at ±10%), with a very clear mapping of change, cost and expected improvements.
This will reduce the time and effort spent in developing full business cases for one large, multi-year project upfront where your understanding of the business objective, benefits and customer value is not yet completely clear.
Architectural Solution Slicing
Similar to the business case and funding model, an architectural solution definition is commonly required in an early phase to navigate the IT delivery governance processes at most organisations. By developing a high level overarching solution document you can ensure your solution is considered from a holistic perspective, ensuring no solution gaps.
Using the Design Slicing approach you would then incrementally evolve the document by business value slice to be a more detailed, granular view as you begin to define in depth the individual customer experiences. Like the Business Case example, this approach minimises wasted time and effort in developing the documents and provide transparency of dependencies across the multiple projects.
Test and Delivery Slicing
At the point when breaking down the Architectural solution, consider how you can move away from the traditional delivery method using the large enterprise release capability (which can be as infrequent as quarterly or twice yearly). Consideration points for Test and Delivery slicing include:
- How can you ensure technical independence to deliver the customer experiences?
- What are the testing vehicles available which are more frequent and enable faster and incremental delivery?
- What is the most effective manner to ensure business processes, information flows and application stacks are all tested?
- How can you leverage technical capabilities such as virtualisation and stubbing to complete Unit Testing and Application Testing individually for each system and only test integration points during final phases of testing, all while maintaining a high quality outcome and low risk?
Use Design Slicing to move from Waterfall to Agile
Considering these four ways of “Slicing” or breaking down your solutions, is one approach to help navigate your organisational constraints while on the transition to being Agile.
Design Slicing is not intended to be a single, rigid approach to an end state. Rather, a customised Lean/Agile framework to assist organisations move from traditional waterfall to hybrid and towards the Agile end of the Waterfall-Agile spectrum.
While your organisational delivery processes and governance undergo the Agile journey, Design Slicing will also allow you to;
- Understand the critical pain points across your organisation impacting and inhibiting Agile
- Focus delivery of customer value to production faster
- Ensure clear visibility of business benefits being delivered, and
- Maintain traceability of the business objectives/benefits and customer value of initiative