Agile is about shipping fast

shipping fast


One of the most debated elements of agile is shipping fast aka the need for speed in agility, but it really shouldn’t be. Agile came to be by offering solutions for the speed of delivery, among other things, in contrast to some other work management practices. Agile is about shipping fast.

Today, let’s explore what we mean when we talk about speed in agility, 5 reasons why your team isn’t shipping fast, and questions you can ask as an agile coach to help speed up the current delivery of results.

If you’d rather watch a video than read, check out my Youtube video on topic:

What is speed?

There should be no confusion about what speed is. It is the ability to get to YES faster. in a marketing campaign, you want to get your clients loving what you are producing, faster. In software, you want to deliver software sooner rather than later. It is okay to want speed. Your customer wants whatever it is you do, faster. Think about it – you want your email to arrive within seconds and you love Amazon’s fast, same day delivery. None of that implies that you have to forgo quality or burn out the people in the production process. 

Speed is not only an agile thing either. You can do it even in more traditional forms of work and project management. You can gain speed by adding people to a project, or by decreasing the scope to honor deadlines. One of the key things to understand is that speed is the product of capabilities. Let’s take running as an example: if you want to become a faster runner, you could just double your speed by running twice as fast, although you might pass out half way through. But you could also slowly and gradually tweak your capabilities like starting a new diet, implementing a different training session, slowly increasing your distance, etc. Averages exist so you know how fast a “fast” person runs, but even if you can’t even get close to that right now, you can still work on increasing your pace. The same is true for your product delivery. You can look at the averages that exist in the market and compare yourself to them. Or in any case, you can look at yourself and your processes, and investigate what capabilities are not working properly. 


5 reasons why your team is not shipping fast

Use these 5 things to help identify what might be slowing down your teams and move the needle.

#1 You’re team lacks technical abilities

Lacking technical abilities is not uncommon. It can be surprising though, especially in the world of software development where you could be deploying and integrating the code to production, delivering it to the hands of the customer on their phone, on the web, no matter where, every hour. The technology is out there allowing it to be so. But often, your team might be lacking the skills to execute, the infrastructure, or a combination of both. As a coach, you should create this awareness and advocate for your team to have access to those things. The more aware the team is, the more they will join forces in asking for those resources as well. 

#2 You have red tape

Sometimes the amount of socialization needed, especially in big organizations, can really slow things down. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. I remember working in a financial institution where there were a lot of approvals needed from the development side, the production support side, and from the executive level, every time some code was reaching production. We couldn’t remove these levels of approvals, but what we did do was implement a meeting where in one hour or less, everyone gets together in a call, looks at the changes, and approves it right away. For you as a coach, this is your prime spot to foster the element of self-organization and operating as a team.

#3 No one is focused on the client

Ask the customer what their preferred speed is. Most customers want things fast, but either the developers, analysts, or others find reasons why things can’t move any faster. Remember though, keeping value and customer satisfaction at a high rate is a key value in agile. Slow delivery only puts the customer at a disadvantage. This reason could be chained to the status-quo or because we give a lot of importance to volume instead of delivering less but more frequently. This can create burnout in workers when nothing is really being delivered. Operating in sustainable development and focusing on more fast, frequent delivery is what you should emphasize as a coach. 

#4 You didn’t optimize your value stream or chain of value

This is a more strategic point in that you must understand how value is added from beginning to end, the end being your customer. First, understand that everything you do is focused on the value crossing that stream, unimpeded. Second, any impediments must be removed. If you’ve heard from your team that they have problems because a tool is not working, everyone should be rallying to figure out how to help them and what needs to be done to make sure everything is running smoothly. Third, if you understand your value stream, you should also understand if there are any constraints in your system. Is there a machine that needs to operate at full capacity, or is there a person who has sole responsibility for approving something? If it is machinery, you can work on improving technicalities. If it is a person, make sure they are never operating at max capacity to avoid burnout, and don’t let others pile too much on them. They are the constraint so you can’t do more than that person can absorb. However, don’t let those other workers sit idle – think about who else you can upskill so that the constraint person is no longer a constraint. This helps eliminate bottlenecks, but remember, once you remove one constraint, another is sure to appear.

#5 You are concerned about what “has been” vs. what “could be”

This reason is related to culture and mindset so it could be a bit more difficult, but it needs to be worked on regardless. This usually has nothing to do with one single person, but rather a whole organization or system. Think about it – have you ever imagined that you would be buying things over the internet? What about receiving things with same day shipping or having your favorite movies streamed to your computer no matter where in the world you are? No way! All these things are a result of what has been dreamed of and speed is part of this equation. What is it about speed that keeps people thinking that they can’t push forward or be better? There can be more emotional and historical reasons here, but as a coach you can introduce these discussions. 


Questions to ask to speed up shipping

These questions can help cross that bridge from what was possible to what could be possible as far as shipping fast.

#1 How fast do you want to be?

There are no absolutes or comparisons here. Shoot for a number that is what you wish for. Then, and only then can we critique. How did you reach that number? Why not more or less than that? What is the reasoning behind that? What makes that speed the ideal? 

#2 How fast are you today?

Simply understanding their numbers is a big thing. You know, many teams and departments sometimes don’t even know how long they take in average to deliver anything. If anything, attempting to understand that speed will let them investigate their current ways of doing and maybe even get closer to some predictability.

#3 What is the gap between the present and where you want to be?

There is a bit of creative destruction here – no need to be realistic. Now that they know how long in average they take to produce anything, they can then look at the gap and strategize how to bridge it.

#4 What are your landing zones?

Maybe you want to deliver great software every single day, but are currently having difficulties delivering every quarter. So, what about delivering every quarter first? What about every month? Every week? What would make you happy?

#5 What prevents you from being fast today?

Think about what is around you, the people, the processes, that impedes or propels you forward. 

#6 What can be easily changed to adopt that speed? 

What can’t be easily changed, but if changed, will knock out most of the impediments that you have today?

#7 What does speed mean for you?

Have this conversation as a team, as a department, as a whole organization before you set a number. How do we understand speed? For me, it’s to get to YES faster. But faster in what? Faster in getting prototypes? In the whole chain? 


Start asking questions like these that make people think and you can have some fantastic discussions. As an agile coach, helping people get past their preconceived notions, understand what agile really is, and helping them see beyond what they have deemed possible, is where we can really shine. 

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