February 5, 2018

I’m experienced enough in the Scrum community to remember several early attempts at assessing the maturity of agile and Scrum teams.

My point in taking you down “history lane” is that agile assessment tools and frameworks have been thought about since ~2007. So, for the past 10+ years.

The problem is, that none of these, and the ones introduced later, have really done an effective job of helping teams improve.

Here are some of the problems I’ve generally encountered with all of the assessment vehicles:

  • They are perceived as binary, off/on or win/lose, tests in nature; and they often are misused by company leaders and/or gamed by the individuals and teams.
  • The commercial companies providing them are often caught up in creating proprietary models and frameworks and/or (revenue-driven) certifications. So more about the money and less about improvement insights.
  • They mostly do not capture the lean thinking or agile mindset aspects of the agile manifesto. Instead, they focus on basic tactics or the simple things that often don’t get you to high-performance.
  • Often, the companies providing the assessment vehicles do not “walk their talk” when it comes to agility. They view themselves as a tool or a frameworks provider, rather than an agile company who just happens to have excellent coaching and assessment experience.
  • Many, if not all of these vehicles, drive “metrics dysfunction”, either directly or indirectly. This leads to dashboards with hundreds of “metrics” or KPI’s that don’t really matter or are disconnected from real outcomes.

A Healthy Shift

So, imagine my surprise when I encountered Lean Agile Intelligence, which was created by Michael McCalla and his team. Before using the tool, I spoke to Michael to understand the history and his intent in introducing – yet another assessment tool or framework. What I discovered was a passionate agile coach who was focused on trying to provide the goals, guidance, and data that empowers the outcomes for high-performance agile teams.

LAI starts from a principles perspective (lean culture, agile mindset, manifesto focus points) in trying to influence improving the understanding and essence of agility to drive results. So, there is inherent balance in the set of measures that LAI supports and there is a focus on outcomes over simply providing metrics.

It’s methodology agnostic, able to assess and guide Scrum, Kanban, and XP teams with equal skill and even-handedness. And you can mix & match between them. For example, I’ve been coaching Scrum + XP Practices for over 15 years as the baseline for Scrum execution. That is, Scrum done well needs some technical help. LAI supports that.

Sure, the LAI team is interested in creating revenue, while delivering value. But they aren’t setting up a certification Ponzi scheme that is solely revenue focused. Instead, they take a coaching and guidance perspective first. Asking themselves, what sorts of insights can help this organization and their teams improve? Be more effective? Deliver higher value? And have fun doing it?

The LAI is open and configurable. That is, you can select what to assess and what not to assess. For example, from a scaling perspective, you could assess SAFe, DAD, Nexus, LeSS, or a combination. That is up to you. You can even add your own criteria. Another example is that I’m planning to add my Scrum Product Ownership maturity assessment, from my upcoming 3’rd Edition SPO book to the LAI. That way, I have a very consistent base for all of my client assessments.

Finally, the tool is highly data oriented. But there is a strong focus on discovery, learning, and improvement over grading, comparison, and team-level review. In fact, Michael and the team go out of their way to focus on the healthy leadership aspects required to properly install, leverage and interpret results. I think this comes from his deep agile coaching background and experiences around assessment data misuse.

A Hearty Recommendation

I’ve been coaching agile organizations and teams since the late 1990’s. That’s about 18 years and still counting. During that time, I’ve used a wide variety of assessment vehicles. And I’ve home-grown many of my own along the way as well.

I’m truly excited about Lean Agile Intelligence because I’ve finally found a flexible, thoughtful, and agile mindset grounded tool that I can use for all of my clients. I can tailor it as required and I can coach towards data, learning & improvement rather than to carrots & sticks. I can also count on the “intent” of the framework being clearly communicated to all users so that we avoid misuse and dysfunction.

So, I heartily recommend LAI to anyone practicing agile approaches who want to gain insights for healthy and balanced improvement. If that’s you, then I encourage you to take a look. Not only at the framework, but at the philosophy and the team behind it. I’ll bet you’ll get as excited as I am.

Stay agile my friends!

Bob Galen