Mental Leaps — More, Faster, Better, Happier, and Innovative (2nd Edition)

It’s All About the Journey

Photo: Erik Schön. LEGO® is a trademark of the LEGO Group, which does not sponsor, authorize or endorse this article
  1. From methods and tools to principles and mindset. Tools and methods can work in some contexts, but not others. If you have your own principles and mindset, then you can adapt or create your own methods and tools to fit your context. Once we realized this, we made a mental leap from a focus on methods and tools to a focus on principles and mindset.
  2. From resource efficiency to flow efficiency. With a need to reduce both costs and time to market, we were looking for alternatives to a resource- efficiency focus (i.e., to keeping people and equipment fully utilized at all times). We realized that our ability to innovate around state-of-the-art algorithms for optimizing packet data flows in mobile radio networks was also applicable to our product development processes. So we made
    a mental leap from resource efficiency to flow efficiency (i.e., to a focus on keeping work items moving through the process without waiting times, thereby delivering value as quickly as possible).
  3. From scattered experiences to continuous innovation. We were solving problems as they occurred using taskforces in fire-fighting mode, lacking corporate memory and a common direction. By creating a shared direction, a common purpose around the need to improve, and learning how to scale our innovation efforts, we made the leap from scattered experiences to a culture of continuous innovation.


Context, Heritage, Why

Initial Inspiration

Figure 1: Inspiration from our colleagues in Finland — Continuous Integration. Illustration: Ari Jouppila

What Worked Well Early On

  • A pull-based approach for product discovery using the Kanban method to visualize early phase studies, as well as one product owner and one product backlog with strict priorities.
  • Requirement areas (collections of customer needs from an outside-in perspective) with 20 or more teams each, enabling:
    - Independent prioritization in backlogs per requirement area.
    - Transparent development capability with a set number of teams per requirement area, changeable on a quarterly basis.
    - Easier domain competence building for teams.
  • Continuous programs instead of traditional projects for each new release, enabling continuous feedback, learning, and improvement to ways of working in the programs.
  • Colocated, semipermanent, end-to-end, cross-functional feature teams, which, by avoiding handovers and waiting, would improve quality and lead time; teams could choose to use Scrum or Kanban at the team level.
  • Gradual ramp-up of cross-functional teams to enable feedback, learning, and adjustments.
  • Heavy investments in continuous integration with automated, continuous, and fast feedback to the teams, which would improve delivery speed, team learning, and product quality.
  • Thorough, hands-on training in Agile/Lean principles and practices from the beginning, with a two-day certified scrum master course for all in the organization.
  • A more defined coaching stance for managers, including asking questions rather than providing answers, achieving results through transparency and trust rather than control and micromanagement, and daring to be patient and persevere, rather than going for quick fixes and silver-bullet thinking.
  • Expectations, support, and concrete targets for change and improvements from the head of the business unit who was also a member of the senior executive team.
  • A global leadership model and corresponding training of all leaders since the late 1990s based on situational leadership (i.e., that managers are expected to adjust their behavior to each individual’s needs in the context of the situation at hand, see Hersey and Blanchard). This model was complemented in the mid-2000s by hands-on coaching training based on the GROW model and later on additional coaching training based on David Rock’s book Quiet Leadership.
  • A global product development doctrine evolving since the mid-2000s and a corresponding training program for senior technical leaders based on self-assessments, followed by extensive sharing and learning in teamwork exercises focusing on the current needs of participants and their organizations. The doctrine was formulated as 12 principles for large-scale, world-class product development and was influenced by internal experiences and external inspiration, such as Lean product development and Agile software development.

Mental Leap 1: From Methods and Tools to Principles and Mindset

  • Our initial focus on our needs and the direction we wanted to go,
  • Inspiration from thought leaders like Mary and Tom Poppendieck and Don Reinertsen, and,
  • A company culture of always thinking for ourselves,

Point to the Destination and Explain Why

  • Quadruple value to exceed customer expectations
  • Halve time to market to be more responsive to customer needs
  • Improve quality tenfold to secure customer trust
  • Have at least 75% of our people fully motivated and engaged

From Large Batches to Smaller Batches

  • We originally planned a feature for two teams.
  • We split the feature into two parts after a dialogue involving the cross-functional development team, the product owner, the customer unit, and the customers.
  • After this, we split the sub-features into subparts.
  • One team could do subparts 1 and 2 in half the time compared to the original feature lead time, and it turned out that customers did not need subparts 3 and 4; hence, they were not developed. Moreover, it seemed that subparts 5 and 6 were crucial to one customer, whereas subparts 7 and 8 were not important to any customers, so they were not developed. In fact, subparts 5 and 6 were so vital that the product owner decided to reprioritize a team from another feature to this feature, hence adding one more team so that subparts 5 and 6 could be developed twice as fast as would otherwise be possible.
Figure 2: Slicing a feature to secure faster value delivery and quicker feedback and learning. Illustration: Peter Eriksson and Erik Schön

From Local Suboptimization to Global Awareness

Figure 3: Visualization room with key stakeholders and video conference link to other sites. Photo: Håkan Forss
Figure 4: A visualization board securing global awareness at a glance and hinting what to do. Photo: Håkan Forss
Figure 5: Mindset, values and principles over practices. Illustration: Ahmed Sidky

Mental Leap 2: From Resource Efficiency to Flow Efficiency

What Is Efficiency?

Figure 6: Examples of high resource efficiency (steel mill) and high flow efficiency (emergency service). Source: Niklas Modig and Pär Åhlström. Photo: Håkan Forss. LEGO® is a trademark of the LEGO Group, which does not sponsor, authorize or endorse this article

Storytelling Around Flow in Our Products

Mental Leap 3: From Scattered Experiences to Continuous Innovation

Plan for Innovation

Figure 7: Planning with less than full utilization creates an environment for innovation. Illustration: Mårten Pehrson and Erik Schön

Continuous Innovation Toward the Vision

Learning Days

Figure 8: Learning Days — hands-on workshop (left) and example schedule (right). Photo: Erik Schön

Remaining Challenges

  • Crystal-clear line of sight to customers. There are still too many organizational layers between teams and customers and almost no interactions between customers and teams.
  • Collaboration with global support functions (e.g., with HR for speedy recruitment with quality and with finance for more collaborative and flexible budgeting practices).
  • Software “craftership.” Despite several tries, we have yet to see sustainable, self-organized communities of practice working on areas such as clean code and refactoring.
  • Coaches and managers for the future. Several team/organization coaches and managers with experiences from this journey left the company or were let go during downsizing, meaning we have lost many people with suitable leadership skills for the future.
  • Battles from within. How do we continue evolving without becoming a UFO, an alien life-form that other parts of the business want to shoot down?
  • Cross-enterprise sharing. How do we spread our insights to other parts of the company, where many feel they are too busy to learn and improve?


Photo: Erik Schön. LEGO® is a trademark of the LEGO Group, which does not sponsor, authorize or endorse this article





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Erik Schön

From hacker, software researcher and system engineer to leader, executive and strategizer. Writer: #ArtOfLeadership #ArtOfStrategy