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Business Agility in Action: Using Flight Levels Boards

Klaus Leopold author of “rethinking Agile” describes Flight Levels as a “thinking model” that can help you discover and highlight where in an organization you need to focus on to achieve your desired objectives.

Flight Levels is not an organisational model or a maturity model. It is essentially a tool to help you think and communicate collaboratively at different levels of an organisation. The Flight Levels model represents the different levels or perspectives of an organisation as Flight Levels 1, 2 & 3.

Each Flight Level has a different focus:

  • At Flight Level 3 – the focus is on prioritising initiatives according to the direction of the company and monitor how those initiatives are helping the organisation achieve its strategic objectives. This is where strategy turns into action.
  • At Flight Level 2 – the focus is on breaking down the chosen initiatives into actionable pieces and coordinating the work across multiple teams and services.
  • At Flight Level 1 – the teams involved in operational work break down the work into smaller items and are focused on delivering them.

In this blog we are going to look at Flight level boards, highlight their value and how they interact with each other to ensure end-to-end business Agility through your organisation. Whether you are using a physical or a virtual board it doesn’t really matter as long as it visualises your work effectively.

Flight Levels 1 – Operational Level

At this level you will typically be utilising a Kanban or Scrum board for teams.

This is the board for teams to complete their daily work. There are no strict rules or limitations in designing boards or tickets, each team should design theirs in accordance with what’s best for their context. However, Flight Levels suggests the following essential activities to ensure an optimised workflow:

  1. Visualise situation
  2. Create focus (often by controlling the Work in Progress)
  3. Establish agile interactions (team meetings, reviews, retros, etc)
  4. Measure progress (using flow and business metrics)
  5. Operate and improve

These five key activities are present at every Level.

Flight Levels 2 – End-to-End Coordination

With Flight Level 2, we zoom out from the team level to visualise the value stream. This is where a product or service is ideated and designed.

The focus at Flight Levels 2 is on:

  • The coordination of end-to-end value generating activities.
  • Optimising the interactions between teams.

The key to a product board is getting the right team to work on the right thing at the right time.

Many organisations will have multiple teams working on multiple products or services. To ensure value is being delivered across the value stream, you need to recognise that no team is an island and problems with one team can impact others. In this case we can have a tool that helps us:

  • Make dependencies visible and manage them.
  • Manage dependencies between teams.
  • Managing dependencies between products.

If your organisation works on multiple Product Boards then to help with coordination, planning and most importantly managing your dependencies you could use a portfolio board that allows us to manage the collective backlog.

Flight Level 1 and Flight Level 2 boards must communicate with one another in order to create the effective flow of work across the organisation.

At Flight Level 2, the five key activities also apply, but they are adapted to needs of this level:

  1. Visualise situation
  2. Create focus (often by controlling the Work in Progress)
  3. Establish agile interactions (coordination meetings, planning, reviews, retros, etc)
  4. Measure progress (using flow and business metrics)
  5. Operate and improve

Flight Levels 3 – Strategy

A strategy board is normally comprised of elements such as the company strategic themes, objectives, key results and the initiatives that should enable the organisation to be set-up for success.

A Strategy Board helps you:

  • Gain an overview of everything happening within an organisation.
  • Know the status of services and strategic initiatives and track their progress.
  • Evaluate whether a product, service or initiative pays off strategically.

And answer the following key questions:

  • Can a new initiative be started? or should you wait until another one has been completed?
  • How much parallel work can be sustained by the organisation? and is the work aligned with the strategy?

The principles for building a strategy level board are the same as at the other levels. First, you identify what type of work is done in strategic portfolio management. Second, you ask yourself how this work is to be completed? Together with senior management, you identify the initiatives and investments and then finally, depict the steps that individual work types must go through on the board.

The same five key activities that you apply to Flight Levels 1 & 2 apply to Flight Level 3:

  1. Visualise situation
  2. Create focus (often by controlling the Work in Progress)
  3. Establish agile interactions (coordination meetings, strategic planning, impact reviews, retros, etc)
  4. Measure progress (using flow and business metrics as well as confidence metrics)
  5. Operate and improve

Establishing good communication and visualisation of workflow across the organisation, as well as managing your dependencies through routine feedback loops at every Flight Level is the key to good Business Agility.

Want to Learn More?

If you are interested in gaining a deeper understanding about Flight Levels, learn how to design boards effectively and want to better visualise your workflow, then I would highly recommend attending the Flight Levels Flow Design (FLFD) training course delivered by Actineo’s Jose Casal and Jean-Paul Bayley. Once you are comfortable with the design of these board, then you can learn how to connect together as a system in our Flight Levels System Architecture (FLSA) course

Further reading and source: Klaus Leopold “Rethinking Agile”.

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