SEACon 2019 - Study of Enterprise Agility

The title doesn’t really sell it does it? In the same way that the ‘DevOps Enterprise Summit’ doesn’t sound great either I guess - the word ‘Enterprise’ in these has immediate connotations, and one always questions (even as part of an enterprise) how ‘agile’ or ‘DevOps’ an enterprise can actually be. One wonders if 'Enterprise' and 'Agility' in the same sentence is an oxymoron?

I was lucky enough to get a last minute ticket (thank you!) for this conference, and given the speaker list, I jumped at the chance.

Key Takeaways - the TL;DR (Too Long, Didn’t Read)

This is, unfortunately, not short, but I thought it worth going over. There were repeating themes today from all speakers and it was clear that there is now a ground shift (as conferences 10 years ago universally talked agility, and 5 years ago universally talked DevOps), and it seems the themes of transformation are universal in todays talks. I suspect I’ll not relay anything in the findings that you didn’t already know, but it solidified for me time and again today with multiple speakers, from many different backgrounds, with regulation, compliance, risk, and non-tech all being part of the landscape, but the messages repeating time and again.

Customer Focused

This has become the new mantra for value delivery. Is it customer focussed? Where does the customer fit in this? What are the outcomes for the customer? They cropped up time and again. Real customers, proto-customers - customers are at the heart of everything we do, and many of the talks highlighted their importance - there is no value chain without them.

Feedback Loops

Moving quickly, rapid iteration, experimentation, fail fast - these are all the key messages, and it’s all about improving our feedback loops on delivery. Waterfall has had its day, water-scrum-fall is heading the same way. If we want to maximise our agility, we need to create shorter feedback loops on everything we do.

Value Streams, Value Stream Mapping, and Theory of Constraints

As you’ll see further down, there is a major shift towards product thinking. To really understand your products, you have to understand your value streams - from idea through all systems to the customer, each step needs to be understood and fully mapped out if you are to improve it. There were many speakers focussing on Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints too - in each system, there is one and only one constraint. Once identified, you must elevate that constraint and focus all improvement effort on it until it is no longer the constraint (then rinse and repeat with the next constraint) - permanent and ongoing improvement.

Projects to Products

Nobody today talked projects (other than to highlight there was a better way). Product rules the roost now, and for good reason. The idea that teams are formed around a problem (project), build the thing, ship the thing, then move onto something else is becoming more and more a competitive disadvantage. Long lived teams, on long lives products, working with long lived value streams is the new currency. Your competitors are likely working like this, or adopting this approach, so identifying your products and forming value streams around them with product teams owning them is a huge competitive advantage.

Silos, Cross Functional Teams and Autonomy

As you can imagine when the subject is Enterprise, silos were called out many times. Silos are a barrier to agility, they are a barrier to value delivery, and generate queues throughout your value stream that have to be managed. Thankfully, the antidote to that was also called out in cross functional autonomous teams. Do you have all of the people delivering the product around you to do so without passing to downstream silos? If not, can you do so? Avoiding hand-offs wherever possible is the goal here. Autonomy received regular call outs too - teams that are empowered and autonomous, as per the shift to product thinking above, were the ones making the biggest impact.

Measurement, OKRs, Outputs to Outcomes, Alignment and Visibility

All of the above leads to significant change, and measurement and alignment were ongoing highlights during the talks. OKRs featured heavily across the day. Teams moving away from outputs (ship the thing!) to outcomes (impact behaviour on the thing in a measurable way) is the undercurrent here of that change. Where they were delivered well, they provided alignment, visibility, and a more focussed goal oriented empowered workforce. They’re not easy, but they provide purposeful and meaningful direction to those who follow them.


All of the above was not, of course, highlighted as easy. Change is hard, mindset shifts are hard, organisational change is hard. Culture received many call outs during the day - be it psychological safety, the role of leaders in creating environments that foster change, and the roles of us within the org both top down and bottom up in orchestrating and living that change. Servant leadership (inverting the pyramid) was highlighted in some of the case studies as a workable model to maximise buy in.


We had a great lunchtime talk with Mik Kersten (Project to Product) and talked about organisational challenges to this change - how fortunate to be in an organisation that can have a chat at lunchtime with an author that blows you away in terms of his thinking!

All of this (as we know) is change - and change is hard. If you are in this position within your org, focus the efforts and give them some leadership and direction. I feel the discussion can bring together communities of practice, war stories of things gone well, and gone awry, and an effective north star and story for all to align behind.

I’d recommend the conference to all - it spoke the language of transformation, it understood the challenges, and it had some suggestions for ways forward.