Tag Archives: business value

Something Agile Leaders can learn from Steve Jobs

Ok – maybe there are lots of things that Agile Leaders can learn from the  late Steve Jobs, but here is just one particular example.

Focus to bring business value …

Steve JobsIt is reported that when he returned to Apple in 1997 Steve Jobs reduced the number of Apple products from 350 down to just 10.  Why did he do this?  Surely a company would have more chance of penetrating the market with over three hundred products rather than just 10. Well, no.

One of the main values of Scrum is focus.  The creators of Scrum understood that there is only a certain amount of meaningful attention that an individual or a team can apply to a problem in any given time, otherwise the level of noise in the team just increases.  The same is true for organisations also where the cost of maintaining a product or service continues to demand attention long after the product has been created and delivered.

Focus as a cornerstone value for Agile business practice

One of the important things a leader must do in their organisation is to continue to critically appraise which products they want their teams to work on.  I was asked to by a senior manager in an organisation to sit in on their weekly review board and provide some Agile consulting to her and the other attendees.  I made an observation about the number of change projects that they had ongoing.  There were over fifty projects of varying sizes and complexity.  Her comment back to me was “well that’s what’s expected to be done around here”.  We had some more discussions on this point but in short the organisation continues to fail to meet all of its targets and is continually playing catch up on meeting its commitments with its clients.

Why wont leaders change?

There is a fear that prevails in many senior managers that they must be seen to be doing more, yet they will have heard the expression “less is more” but they will continue to respond to their fears rather than the needs of their customers. Customers may not often want more, but they do want quality.  This is why Apple excelled at what they did.  (I use the past tense because I’m sure there are many like me who are waiting to see if the Apple culture of creativity and quality will continue in the absence of one of the most inspired leaders the world has known.)

The solution …

Prioritise.  Again experience informs me that is an often uncomfortable conversation I have with senior managers who believe they want it all and they need it now.  I explain about focus and attention; I talk about sustained pace of the team; I implore on the basis of better quality and motivated teams;  but the justification that I am given is that they don’t want to fall behind the competition; or certain stakeholders will expect these features or changes or some other form of rationalisation that make their demands right.

In short by asking a senior manager to prioritise  I am asking them to take more time to think about where their priorities lie and as a result what they should focus on. But all too often it is easier to to put more pressure on the product delivery teams to deliver more and quicker.  This keeps the managers from making painful choices and having uncomfortable conversations that involve saying no to stakeholders.  This is not leading but passing the buck and the consequence of these types of decisions that put more pressure on the delivery teams is poor quality and as a result poor customer satisfaction.


It makes me wonder what would have happen if Steve Jobs would have allowed his executive team to continue working on over 300 different products.  Would we have ever seen the ipod, ipad, iphone or itunes? And if we did would we have seen lesser versions of these products that would have annoyed us?  In short there is much business sense in focusing our resources on doing a few things well rather than a lot things mediocre. Remember less really is more.

About the Author

Mark Buchan is an Agile consultant  with experience of delivering organisational transformation for his clients.  He has worked with organisations such as Rolls-Royce, Nokia, Bupa and BT.

You can view Mark’s profile on linked-in

You can also follow him on twitter

On Time, On Budget, Happy Customer

When I first came up with the idea of this website I thought it might be rather hypocritical of me to look at its delivery as anything other than Agile.  So I looked at the “Iron Triangle” of time, cost and features and decided that my budget and time were the two elements to remain fixed while I flexed on the features delivered.


To my mind the core of Agility is the ability to flex the requirements in the face of changing environments (both internal and external).  This doesn’t mean that I wont get the features I want – ever.  No; what it means is that I prioritise what’s important to me up front and make a decision to focus on the features that deliver most business value.  This is a common misconception about Agile delivery; business think that unless they prioritise everything in the product as a “must have” requirement, then they wont get it at all.  The reality is we focus on fewer items in the short term to order to deliver the right thing for our customer.  We can then successively or incrementally add those set of features in future releases of our product.

Delivering Business Value

A key question that was important for me to address as the Product Owner of my website was “what delivers greatest value?”.  In the past I had convinced myself that sexy websites with all the bells and whistles were what would sell the services that I offered.  Wrong! As I have become to understand my market a little better I have learned that there is no value for my customer in an attractive website that tells them how brilliant I am.  What actually delivers value for my clients is providing information or content that can help them make more meaningful decisions or improve their business or personal performance in some small way.  Yes usability is important, but that is something that I can improve over time with enough feedback from the marketplace.  Again my experience informs me that my customers value content quality content over sexy graphics.

Lessons learned?

Now can I honestly say that I became enlightened overnight? No; I have made many mistakes overtime and repeated some of them because I wanted to be sure they were mistakes in the first place.  And who knows: maybe this latest product in my evolution will also tank, but at least this time I know I have done something different and changed my behaviours and attitudes in the meantime.  For this at least I can feel satisfied and continue to be informed by reality rather than my own biases and patterns.