Balance framework focus with experiment focus

In the article “Beyond adopting LeSS”, I advocated for more balance between framework focus and experiment focus. In this article, we shall explore the key factors and dynamics involved in them.

“framework focus” means:
- adopt frameworks, which are more prescriptive and introduce a big batch of changes. For example, as a rule in LeSS framework - “for the product group, establish the complete LeSS structure ‘at the start’; this is vital for a LeSS adoption”, the change is clearly prescribed, and it is a big batch, including creating feature teams and having them share one product backlog, etc.
- often organized as a change initiative, though a cycle of continuous improvement may be created as part of it.

“experiment focus” means:
- try experiments, which are less prescriptive and introduce a small batch of changes. Each experiment is presented as an experience and a reflection; it takes more ownership and own thinking to put it into practice.
- often integrated into the cycle of continuous improvement. Some experiments are big, and others are small; organizations decide their own pace of change.

Framework focus

The LeSS frameworks emerged from the experiments, in response to the need of novice groups in the large-scale domain. When you are new to large-scale product development, the high degree of prescriptiveness coming from frameworks helps reduce the required domain expertise to get started. Then you grow your expertise from practicing, until you don’t need that degree of prescriptiveness any more - you shift the focus from frameworks to experiments.

The LeSS frameworks consist of many rules that are expected for adopting at once. Why adopt a big batch of changes? Assuming that those changes are proven solutions with high certainty, by introducing them at once, we expect to achieve desired outcomes faster. However, a big batch also requires high change capability. When organizations lack this capability internally but still want to adopt frameworks, external help will be necessary. When they can’t get it due to some restrictions, they have to find ways of developing it on their own. In this case, experiment focus can be the starting point.

Experiment focus

The original evolution path in LeSS was starting with framework focus, then shifting to experiment focus over time. However, based on the above analysis, we may start with experiment focus due to lack of change capability.

Change ownership and thinking skills are two important aspects of change capability. When we experiment, we not only own the change but also improve our thinking skills by understanding problems, forming hypotheses, doing actions, reflecting and adapting. We increase our change capability along the way, so that we will be able to tackle the challenge associated with the big batch of changes from frameworks. On the other hand, experiment focus also increases our large-scale domain expertise through practicing and thinking, while that can reduce the need for frameworks - we simply keep experimenting forever in continuous improvement.

There are other noteworthy interactions between framework focus and experiment focus. The high degree of prescriptiveness coming from frameworks may reduce the change ownership of organizations, as well as the likelihood of thinking on their own. To address these potential negative impacts, LeSS advocates a “own not rent” mentality and promotes the development of a deep understanding about why via system modeling.

Summary

With framework focus, we try to accommodate the lack of large-scale domain expertise as well as achieve high change speed. However, the associated big batch of changes require high change capability. If you have developed it, go for frameworks; if not, experiment focus can help you first develop change capability.

When you experiment, you also develop large-scale domain expertise. With higher domain expertise, adopting frameworks becomes less appealing, thus, you may or may not return back to framework focus. Either way, experiment focus eventually becomes your major focus.

P.S. Here is one version of the system model about this topic. Again, it went through many iterations, which helped clarify my existing thoughts and emerge many new ones.

System model about framework focus and experiment focus

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