If you know the way broadly, you will see it in everything.
– Miyamoto Musashi
This is the executive summary of Frontline Agile.
Frontline Agile is an agile method based on economic optimization and tier-one military leadership principles, and its purpose is to deliver wins from powerful, adaptable and highly cohesive elite teams.
The logic is simple:
- Agile prioritization and execution maximizes results.
This is because agile expects and manages the pervasive uncertainty inherent to complex and rapidly evolving situations.
- Focus on leadership and constrained optimisation thinking.
These are the two key factors for successful agility and advantage.
- War and market economics are the best sources of wisdom.
These proven disciplines focus on optimal risk-return decision making, and winning team leadership.
The economics of maximizing creativity and productivity:
In brief (more details below):
WINNING Results are the value derived from achieving objectives. Results are maximised when creativity and productivity are maximized. 1. High Quality Constrained Objectives a) Always top of mind b) Constrained c) Purposeful: create pride 2. Maximize Creativity a) Competitive advantage = innovation b) Creativity from everyone, everywhere c) Explore, experiment, pilot 3. Maximize Productivity a) Everything has a cost and an opportunity cost b) Minimize waste c) Review, be creative and follow-up LEADERSHIP MISSION FIRST, TEAM ALWAYS Leaders maximize creativity and productivity through relationships and standards that optimize communication and ownership. 1. Ownership a) Enshrine a culture of Extreme Ownership* b) Everyone understands and owns the mission c) It is always the leader's fault 2. Relationships a) Humble, respectful, disciplined b) Lead in all directions c) Give autonomy, mastery, purpose 3. Standards a) Demonstrate the standards b) Make standards a source of pride and value c) "Discipline = freedom"* EXECUTION Creativity and productivity are maximized when actions are prioritized, agile and constantly improved. Understanding the objectives are imperative to tactical agility. 1. Optimize Prioritization a) Objective focus b) Plan for uncertainty c) Optimize estimation and tracking 2. Optimize Tactical Agility a) Bias to act b) Minimize high impact risk exposure c) Iterate and evaluate 3. Continuously Improve a) Continuous improvement = competitive advantage b) Learn and improve from after action reviews c) Efficiently track and evaluate improvement .
Detailed narrative – the above expanded with some key value driving points:
Everything you do is either effective or ineffective. Be effective. - Leif Babin WINNING Results are the value derived from achieving objectives. Results are maximised when creativity and productivity are maximised. 1. High Quality Constrained Objectives a) Always top of mind - All decisions and actions are based on the objectives so they must be communicated clearly by the leaders. They must be understood, agreed, and always top of mind. - Knowing the strategic intent optimizes agility by aligning and empowering tactical decision making at every level. - Clear objectives drive first-principle creative design thinking from everyone. b) Constrained - Objectives are always constrained (time, effort, cost, capability, quality, exposure) and the constraints must be as clearly stated and as well understood as the objectives. - Knowing the constraints optimizes agility and drives creativity and productivity improvements. The leader must communicate the constraints. - Quality is always a constraint, and the standard should always be very high. c) Purposeful: create pride - Objectives phrased with reference to meaningful purposes that create pride have the best chance of being achieved. - Efficient progress towards achieving measurable objectives is motivating but beware of choosing measures that give counter productive incentives. - The strategic (value) objectives should be clearly reflected in the tactical (deliverable) objectives. The strategy should be in the tactics. 2. Maximize Creativity a) Competitive advantage = innovation - Ideas start losing value before they are even thought of, so be the first to think of them. - Optimize capturing, organizing, evaluating (roughly), and sharing ideas. - Be mindful of problem space vs solution space but don't expect the design process to be linear. b) Creativity from everyone, everywhere - Creativity and learning, must be part of the culture. Ideas are welcomed from everyone, on any topic, and should be given and assessed without ego. - Never neglect a source of creativity or feedback, or discard an idea. Acknowledge all contributors and if practical explain how their idea will be handled and potentially prioritized. - Knowledge share across business units, and look for new ideas everywhere. c) Explore, experiment, and pilot - Make trials effective; everything has a cost and an opportunity cost. - Invite everyone to fortnightly showcases, these are a great source of ideas. - A picture is worth a thousand words; make them useful and clear and imaginations will be stimulated. 3. Maximize Productivity Productivity is maximized by leadership, not measurement. a) Everything has a cost and an opportunity cost - Ideas start losing value immediately so being the fastest to market minimizes costs and maximizes value realized and potential value discovery. - Efficiency is driven by communication, a prioritized focus on objectives, and an understanding of the strategic context. - Maximize the productivity of those on the critical path to actually delivering the work. Don't force management, or analysis and design work onto engineers who want to focus on execution. ('A great PM/BA is worth their weight in gold.') b) Minimize waste - Excellent quality assurance is imperative to overall productivity. - Beware of communication failures, including unclear objectives, as these are the biggest source of waste. - Monitor and minimize over-tasking, under-tasking, and task switching. Especially task switching. c) Review, be creative, and follow-up - Productivity improvement requires creative ideas. Question process efficiency, old habits can be bad habits and changes should make things simpler. - Enshrine productivity reviews and improvement practices. - Minimize high impact risks when optimizing productivity.
LEADERSHIP MISSION FIRST, TEAM ALWAYS. Leaders maximize creativity and productivity through relationships and standards that optimise communication and ownership. 1. Enshrine Extreme Ownership a) Enshrine a culture of Extreme Ownership* from the book by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin - Extreme Ownership means that whenever anything goes awry everyone takes it as their fault and suggests how they could fix it and prevent it happening again. There is no blame, instead there is transparency, trust, and a flow of ideas for every issue. - To make the team take Extreme Ownership, the leader must always demonstrate Extreme Ownership. - Beware, your ego will fight this constantly. Check it. b) Own the mission - Everyone owns the responsibility of achieving the objectives subject to the constraints because the leader has communicated them clearly and worked with the team to put in place an agreed execution plan. - Everyone owns optimizing creativity and productivity, including design and especially quality assurance. - Everyone owns the problems and is beholden to find solutions. c) It's always the leader's fault - Leaders never blame anyone, do not complain, and do not make excuses. - The leader is responsible for turning the plan into the win, regardless of who designed the plan. - Leaders always gives all the credit to others. 2. Build Relationships and Teams a) Humble, respectful, disciplined - 'Listen, thank and follow-up.' Be humble but not meek, respectful but not passive, disciplined but not inflexible. - Relationships are driven by communication so lead people not resources and bind the team. - Always beware your ego, and be very calm. Out-flank instead of attacking fortified positions, and take ownership. b) Lead in all directions - Listen to everyone, get to know everyone. Productivity comes from this. - Lead in all directions: make your boss look great, make your team able to take over your role, make everyone in the team a part of the team. - Build trust and respect by being present, on the ball, and capable of helping and making the decisive when required. c) Give autonomy, mastery and purpose - Autonomy - Have the team make the tactical decisions and plans as much as possible but remember it is always the leader's fault, and clear objectives and strategy are essential to decentralized command optimisation. When necessary mentor closely (this is different to micro-managing), then step back. - Mastery - Always try and provide the team with the opportunity to learn something new as part of achieving the objectives. A variation on this to to give them side challenges (with value and purpose) in the breaks between product evolutions. - Purpose - Purpose can be difficult to highlight and will vary from person to person but, regardless, make it visible and find a way to give everyone pride. Showcases are a great way to generate pride and should be presented by the workers, succinct, and open to all who may interested. 3. Maintain Standards a) Demonstrate the standards - Standards are set by the leader. - Standards are not what is stated but what is demonstrated and accepted. - The standard of Extreme Ownership means always saying "it was my fault, here is how it can be fixed / improved / prevented." b) Make standards a source of value and pride - High performance standards are a source of purpose and should directly contribute to achieving the objectives. - "Take the high ground or the high ground will take you." Ignore this at your peril. - Implement new standards progressively, don't boil the ocean. c) "Discipline = Freedom"* - Details and thoroughness do matter but the goal is always to optimise creativity and productivity; so be disciplined but adaptable. - Agile is a response to uncertainty. Without a disciplined approach to managing the uncertainty the uncertainty will overwhelm. With discipline creativity and productivity will thrive in the face of uncertainty. - Regularly evaluate performance against standards and look to mentor when they are not met. Standards not being met is the leader's fault.
EXECUTION Creativity and productivity are maximised when actions are prioritized, agile and disciplined. Understanding the objectives are imperative to tactical agility. 1. Optimize Prioritization Prioritizing is agile planning. a) Lean objectives focus - Where are you right now? First of all, determine the current situation. Make sure the objectives, the constraints, and the strategy are all understood and then make an efficient, deconflicted, approximate road map. Don't make the road map as big as the road. - Break each feature down into use cases that would take roughly 1-3 days to deliver. This effort is always worth it. Classify each use case as into: Must Haves for achieving the objective, Should Haves - worth the effort but objectives can be achieved without it, Could have - every other idea. Estimation and planning is done by simply counting the Must Haves done vs the Must Haves remaining. - Prioritize the work so as to maximize the effectiveness, given the objectives, of the next immediate actions. b) Plan for uncertainty - Consider prioritizing actions that reduce uncertainty and minimize exposure to high impact risks. - Have a plan for re-prioritizing if a constraint threshold is reached. - Have a plan for re-prioritizing if an objective is achieved or changed. c) Optimize prioritization, estimation and tracking - Remember that every action has a cost and an opportunity cost, so make estimation and tracking methods highly efficient, and free of moral hazards for the estimators. - Prioritization is reprioritization, so determine optimal cycle times for iterations, evolutions and strategic reviews to best fit the expected change horizons. - Optimized the lead time for analysis and design, so that it is sufficient for execution. Avoid being too far in advance, rather aim for the design to be freshest when ready for actioning. This means iteratively selecting items that are likely for development soon so need design done ('on-deck') as well choosing the items to develop ('in-play'). 2. Optimize Tactical Agility a) Bias to act - Ideas start losing value as soon as they are conceived, so have a bias to act. - Balance planning and design effort verses learning from doing. Lean towards learning from doing but track rework and quality metrics. - Being "default aggressive" requires being prepared to tactically pivot and this requires a clear understanding of the constrained objectives. b) Minimize high impact risk exposure - Understand the uncertainty risk landscape and use the appropriate agile tactics. Keeping things simple and minimal will always reduce risk. - Embrace uncertainty, it is expected and it is a source of value as well as risk, then look to reduce it with each action. - Coordinate and deconflict. Minimize risk impact exposure through a shared ownership culture and communication of objectives, execution plans, and progress. c) Iterate and evaluate - Execute, evaluate, reprioritize, and keep executing. - Iteratively showcase and re-evaluate effectiveness, reprioritize and decisively adapt. - The velocity of delivery per iteration is the basic input for estimating future deliveries. 3. Continuously Improve a) Continuous improvement = competitive advantage - Improve objectives, creativity and productivity. - Improve leadership. - Improve execution, and improving improving. b) Learn and improve from after action reviews - Regardless of the situation never fail to hold an after action review. - Properly implement changes based on the learnings from the after action review, then track and review the impact. - Broadcast and demonstrate ideas that have led to improvements between teams and business units. c) Efficiently track and evaluate improvement - Track, celebrate, and reward improvements, not only deliveries. - Team improvement is a great measure of leadership. - Improvements must be sustainable.
This field manual is evolving, is based on twenty years of practical experience, and it borrows from everywhere, especially Jocko Willink’s podcast and book Extreme Ownership (with Leif Babin), and the Unforgiving 60 podcast, and Andy McNab‘s books.
* This is Jocko Willink’s mantra and most excellent book.
Do also get Extreme Ownership and read it and listen to The Jocko Podcast.
This page is the executive summary of the Frontline Agile Field Manual.
Please also see our field manual for user interface design:
(c) Tightship Software (2005-2020)