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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).

Klaus Leopold