Flight Levels Blog
Manage Flow, Not People – #FlightClub with Rochelle Roos and Mike Freislich Manage Flow, Not People – #FlightClub with Rochelle Roos and Mike Freislich
Cliff Hazell

Last night we had the fun privilege of talking with Rochelle Roos and Mike Freislich for Flight Club.

Check out the recording

Our conversation covered some of our thinking on this topic, and we mixed in some excellent questions from the Audience.

Below is a short summary of what we discussed

Why not people?

In short… Too often we focus on keeping our people busy as if thats the top priority, when its actually delivering value to our customers.

Being busy doesn’t mean we’re creating customer value.

We say Flow is better, but of what?

“Customer Value” is perhaps too generic, usually this takes the form of a project, or initiative of some kind. The point is more that focusing on individual tasks or stories for example, isn’t as helpful.

We need to complete all the parts of a project before we can deliver it.

What does managing flow look like?

First we need to know whats most important. Specifically having 1 things at the top, not 17. Second we focus on keeping that moving, and not waiting. So not handing off between enormous backlogs, but switching to #1 as soon as it arrives.

So if we need Marketing, and then HR to help with something, we should have number 17 blocking number 1.

How does Flight Levels help in establishing flow?

Usually many teams are required to build something for a customer.

When we build Flight Level 2 Systems, we bring multiple folks from each team together and build a board that visualises all the work across these multiple teams that are needed.

This way we can see what is #1, and through regular syncing keeping #1 moving and upblocked as much as possible.

How would we know if it’s working?

#1 should move more consitently, and faster.

Typically number 17 should move slow. But this is good.

Also, most of us should now be clear on whats #1, and it’s less of an issue if someone doesn’t know what #17 is.

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System Architecture or Board Design: What’s best for me?
Klaus Leopold

Maybe you are just toying with the idea of signing up for one of our Flight Level workshops. If you want to attend a public course, you currently have two options: Flight Levels Systems Architecture (FLSA) and Flight Levels Board Design (FLBD). What is the difference between these two workshops? Very briefly:

  • Flight Levels System Architecture answers the question: Which boards (work systems) are needed in the organisation and how do they fit together?
  • Flight Levels Board Design answers the question: How do we build these boards or working systems?

Boards play a significant role in the Flight Levels model because we have to make the current situation of an organisation explicit to understand what we are dealing with. That works best with visual boards. But physical or electronic boards are only the most visible part of a “Flight Levels System”. A system also includes the so-called “flight items”, i.e. the work that can be found on the boards. The system also consists of the persons or teams involved in the processing of the flight items and the forms of interaction between these participants – this primarily refers to regular meetings, retrospectives, etc. 

Because such a board is supposedly built quickly, many organisations fall into the trap and want to start immediately. But my first question when I come to a company is not “HOW do we build a board”, but “WHICH boards do we have to build at all? If we don’t ask “Which boards” then this is what happens: The equation “Board = organisational structure” is the assumption. We need boards for teams, departments and divisions.

Well, what can I say: this equation is wrong! Boards should help to improve the FLOW of work through the organisation. Boards that follow the organisational structure, on the other hand, only cement the existing silos. But a company’s customers don’t care how well the silos of the organisational structure work – they want to consume excellent products and services. Therefore it is imperative to think carefully about which boards should be built in terms of serving the customer best. This is what we deal with in Flight Levels Systems Architecture (FLSA).

Flight Levels System Architecture (FLSA)

The Flight Levels model sounds very simple, and that’s probably why it is so popular and successful. In almost every organisation there is at least one strategic and operational level, and we try to bring these levels into a regular, coordinated exchange. So far, so easy. 

But what does it look like when an organisation has not 10 but 1000 employees or more? Not so easy anymore. Where do the Flight Levels run, where do they start and where do they end and which systems are required at which Flight Level? You read that right: Almost always, there is not only one Flight Level system on a level, but several.

In FLSA, we use case studies of the participants to ask ourselves the questions: 

– What are flight level systems needed in the organisation to provide the service for the customer? 

What is the relationship between these systems? 

– How is the work distributed across the individual systems? 

– How do the people in these systems exchange information with each other? 

We record the answers to these questions in a visualisation that shows us all the systems required and their interrelationships.

Once we have created this diagram, we take the first step of detail: What flight items and flight routes are there in these systems? In other words, we consider how the individual systems interact.

As already mentioned, flight items are the work that flows through the flight levels systems. So the question is: what work is managed in each system? On a strategy board, for example, we will not see the tasks of an operational level team. That’s obvious, but some things are more challenging to allocate: For instance, what belongs on a Flight Level 2 board? How do we break the 5-year strategy down to tasks and does that even fit together? Where and how can we measure what successes we have?

Flight routes answer the question of where in the overall context of the organisation, the work is created. Where is it decided what is being worked on? Who is affected by the decision? How does the management of work from a decision to delivery look like? In this context, we also discuss the interactions between the individual systems: Where are which meetings useful? 

The designed Flight Levels architecture is of course, not an end in itself but should be anchored in the organisation. In the last part of the workshop, we, therefore, discuss the take-off plan – an agile change plan. We won’t go into detail, but you will learn what you should pay special attention to.

Here is a summary of the most important topics of the Flight Levels Systems Architecture Workshop:

  • Building the Flight Levels Architecture
  • Defining the Flight Items and Flight Routes
  • Define the most important agile interactions
  • Development of a first take-off plan

Flight Levels Board Design (FLBD)

The title of this workshop is actually not correct, because it does not include everything you learn here. However, we have deliberately chosen this name to show that it refers to the actual, daily work with Flight Levels systems. Naturally, this is much more than just the artefact “board”. The following steps are repeated again and again during the commissioning of and subsequent regular work with flight level systems:

How these steps work in practice, we will look at these two days. Of course, we build boards, namely Flight Level 2 systems. The central question is: What is a proper workflow, and how do boards help to create this “flow”? 

Especially relevant: Both workshops require basic, but preferably, advanced knowledge of agile working methods. 

In Summary 

  • Flight Levels System Architecture asks the question: Which boards or work systems are needed in the organisation?
  • Flight Levels Board Design asks the question: How do we build these boards or working systems?

It’s ok to start either end, but we usually advise to start with Flight Levels Board Design (FLBD).

Flight Levels Academy Officially Launches
Cliff Hazell

Flight Levels Academy is launching today. Following the successes with Flight Levels described in “Rethinking Agile”, and strong demand from customers and practitioners, we’re announcing our:

  • Practitioner Community, to connect and share personal experiences and knowledge.
  • Foundational Education Program, for leaders and operators on their journey.
  • Hand-picked World Class Guides, for when you want an expert’s practical guidance.

Flight Levels is a method agnostic thinking model that connects all parts of your organisation. Most companies use a combination of approaches from Lean, Agile, Scrum, SAFe, Kanban, Prince, Design Thinking, etc. Flight Levels helps you design the interactions between teams, across functions and layers of the hierarchy.

Klaus Leopold, Keynote Speaker and CEO of Flight Levels Academy says: “Organisational agility is not achieved by making teams agile in isolation. We must have agile interactions between the parts of the organisation. It’s not a team sport, it’s a full company sport.”

The Flight Levels Academy is focused on providing a place for those in pursuit of Customer Centered Agility. Our Guides collectively have over ten decades of relavent industry, teaching and coaching experience, having helped guide hundreds of companies on achieving agility that matters to shareholders and customers. 

Flight Level Guides help you:

  • Understand where targeted improvement will offer the most benefit.
  • Avoid long costly training programs that deliver little customer outcomes.
  • Connect the (agile) islands of your organisation together.

We’re excited to introduce our founding Guides from 5 continents:

  • Klaus Leopold, Lukas Schmidt and Michael Rumpler from LEANability, based in Austria and Germany
  • Siegfried Kaltenecker from Loop-Beratung, based in Austria
  • Cliff Hazell from Cognician Group, based in Sweden
  • Kulawat Wongsaroj and Kamon Treetampinij from LeanIn, based in Thailand
  • Jose Casal and Jean-Paul Bayley from Actineo, based in United Kingdom
  • Florian Junglas, based in Germany
  • Jose JR, Luis Rodrigues and Marcos Garrido from Knowledge 21, based in Brazil, USA and Portugal
  • Paul Klipp and Justyna Pindel from Wawel Hill, based in Poland
  • Troy Magennis from Focused Objective, based in USA

For more information visit: www.flightlevelsacademy.com


Katrin Dietze