Simplify before moving

"More with LeSS" is one of the LeSS principles and is at the heart of LeSS. It means to have more responsible teams by having less (fewer) roles and less (fewer) installed processes, as more roles and installed processes lead to less responsible teams. In fact, Scrum has the equal focus on self-managing team, while LeSS keeps this focus and points out the key to make it happen in large-scale context.

Simply move it to teams

As we move towards self-managing teams in both Scrum and LeSS, what happens naturally is that much responsibility goes to teams. Who should take up the so-called management work, e.g. planning, coordination and reporting? Surely self-managing teams. We simply move it to teams.

However, let's first look into the management work. It is usually connected to processes - certain ways of working. Some processes are within the team boundary and support team's internal working, other processes are used to interact with the outside. When teams are self-managing, the first type becomes more of team's own working agreements, which are dynamic and updated during retrospectives when needed. While the second type often remains intact as the outside still expects the same ways of interacting with teams, and this is where most of the management work is.

Here are two examples:

  1. We used to have weekly project status meeting, where team leaders attend and report status on behalf of their teams.
  2. We used to have project managers coordinate the dependencies and negotiate the priorities across teams.

And "Simply moving it to teams" means:

  1. Teams write status report and have representatives attend the weekly meeting.
  2. Teams have representatives to work out the dependencies and priorities across them.

Usually, there are concerns before the change. Does team have the capability to do the work? Team may have a member who did the work before, thus has the capability and may further spread in the team. If not, some team members have to learn those skills. Does team have the capacity to do the work? If the amount of management work remains the same, then the more time on management work, the less time on development work.

Then, if we move forward with the change, this is what I have often seen occurring. Team spends much time on learning and doing non-development work. "I am a developer, and I like doing development work. I don't like spending half of my time in various meetings." We hear comments like these, team morale gets low, and some good developers even choose to leave.

Aren't these just impediments that we shall resolve? Indeed, and most of them are organizational impediments involving others rather than the team itself. ScrumMaster may choose to remove them by herself or coach the team to do so. How? by simplifying the processes and making the management work less needed. However, removing organizational impediments takes time, thus it is a challenge for change management - it does harm to the change momentum when we can not resolve those impediments promptly.

Simplify it via organizational design

LeSS takes a different approach. LeSS first focuses on organizational design, by which the processes are simplified and the management work is less needed.

Getting back to the previous examples, we first ask why those processes exist, then ask how we can simplify them.

  1. What is weekly report for? It is to check the progress against project plan. How does Scrum achieve this purpose? Scrum shifts the focus from project to product, thus we inspect and adapt on product goal every sprint. Therefore, we get rid of the weekly project meeting, while let PO/APO share the status on sprint basis, and invite stakeholders to sprint review.
  2. What are the challenges for cross-team coordination, and why? Dependencies, different priorities, etc. and they are caused by having various silos and many backlogs. Therefore, we first reduce the complexity of cross-team coordination, mainly with the structure of feature teams and one shared Product Backlog.

Self-managing teams still need to learn management skills and do management work, especially with the outside. However, it would be less wasteful for teams when we first simplify management work via organizational design.

In summary, when we face the challenge in doing management work, there are three possible solutions illustrated in the below system model.

simplify before moving.jpg

B1-loop: have managers do management work
B2-loop: have teams do management work
B3-loop: simplify management work

B1-loop illustrates the traditional approach, but more roles lead to less responsible teams. Thus, we want "more with less" - both B2-loop and B3-loop. Moreover, instead of starting with B2-loop, we'd better start with B3-loop. Simplify management work before moving it to teams!

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