Business Value – The Holy Grail

Business value delivery is at the heart of Agile, and search for its real meaning has become a sort of Agile Holy Grail.  Yet when you step far enough back from any of our software development practices, we still seem, at the end of the day, seem to mostly operate within the zone of simply “delivering features the customer likes.”  I suppose if you want to stop there and maintain that mindset, then that is one way to play the game.

But if we want to broaden our horizons, move out our sphere of responsibility, and play a trusted role in more organic organizations, we need to look further.  The, for me astonishing, possibility, is that there may be one very simple step that teams and organizations can take to do so.

A good practice is for Business Managers or Product Owners, as a usual part of an initiative, to sort out the leading and lagging indicators that they will track to see if their business objectives have been met.  Methods like impact mapping can help with doing this.  The basic idea is not all that new.  It’s even part of older requirements engineering disciplines, under names like “success measures.”  It was just never much practiced in my experience.

What would be new, at least in many organizations, would be to share these indicators with the development / delivery team as a standard part of the process.  Invite them into the process, at least as observers and perhaps even as contributors of possible lagging indicators.  The idea:  allow the team the opportunity to understand and assume some ownership as well in achieving the actual business value sought by the organization.  This approach could apply regardless of whether the product had to do with software.

With that the picture starts to look more complete.  And to be honest, it resolves a little bothersome thought about Agile that has sometimes nagged at the back of my mind.  In the zeal to flatten organizations and become highly cross-functional, I sometimes sniff a tiny motivation to “finally get out from under the wings of the business” and to seize the opportunity to take the lead role in steering the business.  The fact is there are great business leaders.  They exist.  By broadening our role in the game, as systems people, by the simple step just described, we dramatically improve our ability to collaboratively help them help the business endeavor achieve high goals.  With that comes joint satisfaction.  It also makes gaps in that leadership more transparent, providing the opportunity for them to be addressed, and the opportunity for well-intended business people to evolve to better ways of working, right along with us.

I would love your thoughts on this.  We have all the theory and methods to simply begin doing this and let it become a de facto integral part of any Agile process.  And of course, inspect and adapt on making it work better.

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