Flight levels.

Just a decorative image for the page.

Agile makes the organization slower. Wat?

Klaus Leopold is an experienced agile consultant. He made the observation that changing your teams towards an agile methodology like SCRUM won’t make your organization faster. In many cases your organization and delivery gets even slower (!) after such a change.

But why is that?

His conclusion is: Don’t start on the team level with your agile transformation - start on the highest level possible. Then align all other levels below. This led him to develop the notion of “flight levels” in an organization.

I think that makes a lot of sense. Let’s check out some key ideas from Klaus.

Three flight levels

Klaus Leopold simplifies an organization to three flight levels:

  • Level 1 is the team level (delivery)
  • Level 2 is the coordination level (many teams)
  • Level 3 is the strategy level (think C-Suite)

Flight levels are a concept for thinking about the organization. The flight levels for your organization might look differently.

Determining the flight levels

A first step to find your flight levels is a work level topology. The work level topology depicts all systems inside your organization. From HR, Core, Tech to Strategy. It especially defines how these systems interact with each other.

You can then map these systems to their flight levels. HR might be level 2, the tech department as well, but all teams of the tech department will be level 1. While strategy will be level 3.

These flight levels do not necessarily map to the org chart - it really shows how the organization works. Start at level 2 when identifying the flight levels - this is where the interactions are.

Visualize your work on each level

Once you got your flight levels you can create boards (or any other visualization) for that level.

In general you will have something like Kanban or Scrum boards on each level. On each level you will have work items that will sounds similar if you already work with agile methodologies.

  • Flight level 3: Initiatives
  • Flight level 2: Initiatives / Epics
  • Flight level 1: Stories

We are already using special terms like initiatives, epics, stories. Make sure everyone inside your organization knows the meaning of these items.

In the examples Klaus Leopold shows boards with higher flight levels also visualize the progress of the level below. So on the level 3 board you’ll also see the progress of items in level 2 (and maybe even level 1).

Five important and ubiquitous activities

These activities are the core of everything! Make sure you apply them regularly on every level!

  1. Visualize (flow of items, flow of information)
  2. Create focus (use WIP, timeboxes etc)
  3. Establish agile interactions (teams have to talk to each other regularly)
  4. Measure progress (Do you improve what you want to improve?)
  5. Improve

Some real world takeaways

When building all flows and interactions keep in mind to involve your employees - always and early. You build all of that for your people. And start thinking from the top. Then map the strategy map to each individual level.

How initiatives are created

Initiatives defined in level 3. Then move into level 2. Concrete ideas are being created in level 2. Ideas being then pushed up to level 3 - that’s the pool of ideas. Organization then creates focus and each team pitches what to do. Then it is decided what is being worked on out of that pool of ideas.

The interaction between level 2 and level 3 also makes sure that subdepartments don’t optimize for their won wellbeing, but that the company value is always being taken into account.

User - centric

Everything must flow from the user. When creating the work level topology always ask the questions: How is user value created there? And how can we make sure that user value is created consistently?

From initiatives to epics

After an initative is committed in level 3 it moves down to level 2 and gets cut down into epics.