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LeSS Newsletter - August 2020

August 19, 2020

COVID 19 and LeSS


Our last newsletter was in February, but it feels a lifetime away. We hope you are doing well and please keep safe, wear a mask, and stay healthy! We have been keeping track of the worldwide crisis and been trying to predict what will happen in the next months/year. Unfortunately, we believe we've might not have been through the worst yet. In this newsletter we'll share what decisions have been made related to the different events and trainings due to COVID... and why.

LeSS Conference - 24-25 September 2020 Amsterdam

LeSS Conference AmsterdamWe were looking forward to the LeSS Conference's return to Amsterdam. It didn't take a lot of thinking to conclude that a self-designing team workshop with 500 people in one large room is probably not a smart idea. However, we didn't want to make it an online event as we felt that it would affect the conference atmosphere too much. Therefore, we had to decide on whether we want to cancel it or have a scaled-down version. We've decided on the latter.

Thus, the LeSS Conference will go ahead at the same location and date, but it will be a scaled-down event with only one track of speakers and an open space. There will be no self-designing team workshop, instead, people will sit in predetermined teams. With a maximum of 80 people we can fulfill the social distancing guidelines. The participants will be mostly invitation-only though there are still a few available seats. If you are interested in this smaller version of the conference, you can check on the conference site for availability. The sessions will be recorded and made available later.

Most of the conference program has been decided - or planned for, let's see what will happen. Instead of the usual self-designing team exercise and regular team experience sharing, we will experiment with an alternate reality game that will be played within the pre-determined teams during the conference. For the one main track, we plan to have four experience reports and four experiments sessions. The experience reports are, (1) an update from the Belgium Pension Funds, (2) an overview of two LeSS adoptions at Deutsche Bank, (3) an adoption at CACI, a company building student information systems, and (4) an adoption at PandaDoc, a company building document automation software. The experiment sessions are (1) team self-design in COVID-19 times, (2) the impact of sub-conscious human behavior on your agile adoption, (3) applying systems thinking on diversity in our industry and community, and (4) Lean IT, the Toyota Secret

We are sad about this, but feel the scaled-down conference is still better than no conference at all and are excited about what we managed to plan for considering the situation.

Do online courses or not?

A big discussion in the community, in the past couple of months has been whether to allow for an online Certified LeSS Practitioner course or not. This has been a super insightful discussion that has led to several changes and might lead to more changes in the future. We would like to share a bit of what it was about and why we ended up making the decision that we did.


Two courses can be done online, (1) LeSS Basics, (2) the new provisional Certified LeSS Practitioner (pCLP). The latter is content-wise similar to a LeSS Practitioner course but must be online and doesn't include 'certification.' This can later be received by joining an in-person course or joining the new LeSS & Learn workshop, which is a workshop intended only for people who joined a LeSS course before and want to share experiences or talk about specific contextual problems.

Initial Context

In February, it became clear that the rest of the year will be different and that in-person courses will be difficult. The Scrum certification organizations, Scrum Alliance and, both responded immediately with allowing online Scrum courses, initially for a limited period. The LeSS Company responded by allowing the LeSS Basics course to be done online but delaying any decision related to the LeSS Practitioner course. The reason for this was that (1) the LeSS Basics course is often done together with a Scrum course and trainers wouldn't be able to do this anymore if the Scrum course can be done online and the LeSS Basics course cannot, and (2) our perception was that the LeSS Basics course is more about knowledge transfer than about creating a shared experience and therefore it is easier to do online.

Some people applauded our initial insistence on in-person courses and some people criticized it. A frequent remark was that we ought to be more agile and respond to the changes in the world. This allowed us to reflect a bit more on the meaning of agility. Though agile development is about responding to change, to us, it is not about responding to changing without thought and reflections. Continuously responding to change without having a vision and doing reflection is not likely to lead to great products. It is not something we wanted to do.

To Online or Not Online ?

Online Learning
Bored little schoolgirl looking at camera while using laptop at home -

As the extent of the COVID pandemic became more clear, there were more frequent requests to have online LeSS Practitioner courses. This led to a lot of discussion, reflection, joining online courses to see how they are, and eventually a decision on how to proceed. At this moment, we do not think it is a great idea to offer the Certified LeSS Practitioner course as an online course for four considerations;

1) Quality of online courses vs in-person courses

Our own experience joining online courses was that they were not of the same quality that we would expect from in-person courses. We didn't experience them as bad but as lower energy and a less good learning environment. We do want to point out that there is no consensus on this and several trainers and participants have reported that they considered an online course to be of a higher quality than an in-person course. We do acknowledge that online courses have several benefits over in-person courses. Some of these advantages are that they do not require travel and that the learning sessions can have time in between which has proven helpful for reflection.

2) Experiencing LeSS in the course and the LeSS focus on co-located teams

The Certified LeSS Practitioner course ought to not only convey LeSS knowledge but also create an experience. This experience ought to be as much as possible like working in a LeSS environment. This is often done by having systems modeling exercises together in front of large whiteboards, the usage of facilitation techniques that are commonly used in a LeSS environment, and lots of informal cross-team discussions. Our current opinion is that the experience of an online course would be significantly different. Like the first point, there is no consensus on this and we are not saying that online courses provide a bad experience, just a different experience.

Closely related to this LeSS experience in courses is that the LeSS rules still contain the requirement to have individual teams co-located. Obviously, in the current situation, you have to prioritize health over LeSS rules :) However, the current situation does provide a good time to reflect on this part of the LeSS rules and ask whether it is still valid or should be changed. We approached this by asking two questions, (a) is the current change in working practices permanent?, and (b) has the reason for adding it to the LeSS rules changed?

Is the current change in working practices permanent? Some people do think there is no way back to working together in offices. Remote work saves office space costs, saves travel, and makes work more flexible, so why change it? Other people (including us) do think (and hope!) we will be back working co-located in the office. We are not denying the advantages of remote work, but we still believe (and experienced) that on average, a co-located real team still operates in a way that is hard to achieve online. That said, we do hope that this situation will permanently lead to more flexibility at work.

Has the reason for adding co-located teams to the LeSS rules changed? Probably no. When we created the initial version of the LeSS rules, we had a lot of discussion on whether it should be a rule or a guide. We decided to make it a rule because we discovered that the most common reason for organizations to not have co-located teams is organizational sub-optimization -- we sometimes refer to it as organizational stupidity. Many organizations never bother to consider co-location and treat 'resources' everywhere the same and then distribute the 'resources' over products without considering where these people are located. By making co-located teams a rule, we hoped this would trigger discussion and reflection in how organizations decide on teams and locations. It has definitively triggered such discussion in many LeSS adoptions. And yes, there are good reasons to not have co-located teams and there are times when rules are there to be broken. The difficulty of changing the current organizational sub-optimization is not a good reason though... So, in the post-COVID time, has the reason for this rule changed? Probably not, in fact, it might even become more important as organizations could falsely conclude from this situation that co-location doesn't matter. While we want to keep learning about how to build great teams remotely, our experiences so far... co-location still matters.

3) Does the market want online courses?

Many initial requests for having online training came from the trainers. Obviously, this is a hard time for them considering they cannot do in-person training anymore, which in some cases was their main income.

However, we feel that the decision on whether to do online training or not ought to be more influenced by the people who join training than the people who give training. We received mixed messages from companies interested in LeSS. Specifically, (1) given the current situation, we won't have the budget for training, (2) given the current situation, it is a good time to do training and do it online, and (3) given the quality of online training, people are not allowed to do online training. This was far from a consistent message and an important input to decision making. It isn't obvious that "the market" wants training online.

4) If we offer training online, is it ever possible to restrict that again?

Is the decision that we make related to offering courses online a temporary one based on the current situation, or will it be a permanent one? Thinking this over, we felt that it is likely to be difficult to go back to not having online courses considering the expectation of the trainers and the market. Therefore, it seems to us that this is not a temporary decision but likely to be a long-term permanent one.

Considering these four perspectives, we decided (for now!) that we do not think it is a good idea to start offering the Certified LeSS Practitioner course online.

What alternatives do we have?

Doing nothing and only having the LeSS Basics course as an online course didn't seem right either. LeSS Basics provides an introduction to LeSS, but many ongoing LeSS adoptions do not need a basic course but need a more in-depth course. They need the LeSS knowledge shared in a LeSS Practitioner course. So, what alternatives are there so that we can provide online courses without using the current Certified LeSS Practitioner course? After exploring different options, we ended up with the following decision:

1) New online course: Provisional Certified LeSS Practitioner course

A new only-online course has been added to the training offerings: Provisional Certified LeSS Practitioner (pCLP). This course can only be held online and roughly contains similar content as the Certified LeSS Practitioner course. It must be spread out over 5 days and one course can contain a maximum of 12 participants. Participants completing the course will get a "provisional certificate" which can be converted to a normal certificate by attending an in-person training (see below). The participants will get access to the LeSS books and other member learning resources. Currently planned pCLP courses can be found here.

2) New in-person workshop: LeSS & Learn

We used this opportunity to introduce a workshop we had been thinking about for a while. A workshop that is aimed at people who already know about LeSS and want to share their experiences, hear from other's experiences, and want to discuss specific practical questions. This workshop is a 2-day in-person event and participants must have already joined a CLP/CLE or... pCLP. We ended up with the name LeSS & Learn (thanks to Markus Gartner). Joining this event will also lead to a renewal of the CLP/CLE certificate or for a pCLP to be converted into a CLP certificate. The actual workshop content will be very trainer- and participant-specific. Current planned LeSS & Learn workshops can be found here.

With these two changes, we hope that we can offer online courses for the current COVID situation and beyond and have strengthened the learning opportunities for people currently involved in LeSS adoptions.

More with LeSS Principle

In March, we published a blog post related to the More with LeSS principle. We feel it is an important post and have included it in the main LeSS content on the site and we would also like to reproduce it in this newsletter.

More with LeSS: Simplifying Organizations with 7 Design Principles

More with LeSSWhy adopt agile or LeSS? Unfortunately, many organizations aim to increase individual or team productivity, activity, outputs, velocity, or resource utilization without realizing this usually leads to lower overall value delivery, longer cycle times for customer features, and less adaptiveness. LeSS does not focus on local optimizations such as increasing individual productivity, but on optimizing an organization for maximizing customer value delivery and organizational agility (adaptiveness)—the ease, speed with which an organization of people can change direction based on learning.

How to achieve agile, flexible, adaptable organizations? By creating simpler organizations!

Complicated organizations with many roles, processes, departments, and artifacts are slow to adapt to changes. Simple organizations have the potential to adapt quickly. In the LeSS community, we refer to this as descaling organizational complexity. It is the essence of one of the LeSS principles, the More with LeSS principle.

How can we design simpler, agile organizations? We use the following organizational design principles to descale into LeSS organizations:

  1. From Specialist Roles to Teams
  2. From Resource-Thinking to People-Thinking
  3. From Organizing around Technology to Organizing around Customer Value
  4. From Independent Teams to Continuous Cross-team Cooperation
  5. From Coordinate to Integrate to Coordination through Integration
  6. From Projects to Products
  7. From Many Small Products to a Few Broad Products

1. From Specialist Roles to Teams

Traditional organizations have single-specialized roles and elaborate processes on how these roles ought to interact. Individuals are responsible for their individual specialization. They are hired for that and might spend their entire life in that area of specialization. When all individuals perform their defined role, the organizational performance is maximized, in theory. Adaptiveness is likely to be low.

LeSS organizations have teams that have a shared responsibility for achieving a customer-centric goal, by self-managing—they themselves decide how they work and who does what. Team members are not stuck in the false dichotomy of being a generalist or a single-specialist. People naturally have preferences, yet they are not limited to a single specialization. Many specialist roles, such as tester or interaction designer or business analyst, cease to exist as these responsibilities become team responsibilities. Broad responsibility and self-management increase adaptiveness.

2. From Resource-Thinking to People-Thinking

Traditional organizations manage people as resources, assuming the skills of individuals are relatively fixed. They are structured to maximize the utilization of these resources against the goal of increasing individual productivity. This requires significant management effort to resolve these complicated resource allocations.

LeSS organizations manage people as people and assume that the greatest skills of individuals are acquiring and developing skills. LeSS organizations are structured to purposely cause a mismatch between existing skills and knowledge and those needed, for the benefit of increasing adaptiveness. This requires people to learn, which causes both joy and discomfort… but all the complicated resource management disappears.

3. From Organizing around Technology to Organizing around Customer Value

Traditional organizations structure their organization around their technology. Many people identify themselves with their technology specialization and organizing around this seems to maximize their individual productivity. Delivering customer value often requires more than one technology and that causes additional coordination effort and reduced adaptiveness.

LeSS organizations structure their organizations around customer value. Deep understanding of customers is essential for solving their problems using technology. Bringing teams close to customers by organizing them around customer value increases this understanding and leads to greater adaptiveness and more customer value.

4. From Independent Teams to Continuous Cross-team Cooperation

Traditional organizations prefer independent teams that can focus on their part of the product. These teams avoid continuous interruptions by specifying well-defined interfaces to which other teams must adhere to. Change, review, and approval processes avoid frequent changes to these interfaces. Often independence is achieved by hiding and delaying genuine dependencies. This isolation of teams reduces organizational flexibility.

LeSS organizations prefer multiple teams with shared work. These teams continuously cooperate to contribute to one consistent product. They function like one larger team, even though each team has their goal and own identity. Change, review, and approval can be greatly simplified or even disappear.

5. From Coordinate to Integrate to Coordination through Integration

Traditional organizations coordinate to integrate the output of many teams. Because the teams deliver their outputs asynchronously, the coordination responsibility is external to the team, leading to coordination roles (such as project and release managers) and coordination events. Coordination conflicts are common, leading to re-evaluating and shifting priorities.

LeSS organizations have teams that continuously integrate their work. Through continuous integration the teams discover opportunities for cross-team collaboration—a surprising and powerful idea. Because of the synchronous nature of cross-team integration—the teams have shared work right now at the same time—the coordination responsibility can be integrated into the team. External-to-team coordination roles disappear.

6. From Projects to Products

Traditional organizations manage development as projects or programs—big projects. Projects have clear start and end dates, clear scope. People are allocated to them for a predetermined amount of time. Budgets are decided by the expected value of the predetermined scope. This leaves little room for responding to changes. Myriad and varying projects cause complicated project portfolio management to synchronize the re-allocation of resources to projects.

LeSS organizations manage development as products. Products have a clear purpose but no fixed end or scope. People are allocated to them for an undetermined amount of time. Budgets are decided by potential value without tying it directly to a specific scope. This leaves lots of room for responding to change. A product is continuously developed and therefore a regular rhythm of re-allocating the people to products will suffice. Complicated project portfolio management disappears.

7. From Many Small Products to a Few Broad Products

Traditional organizations prefer managing small technology-based products such as services, components, applications, or platforms. But no such small product is an island and they need to interact and be integrated together to deliver customer benefits. This leads to complicated cross-product management structures for coordinating, prioritizing, and budgeting.

LeSS organizations prefer managing broad customer-centric products. The services, components, applications, and platforms belong to one product with one Product Backlog and one Product Owner. Teams create customer-centric features and work across these components. Complicated portfolio management disappears, and complicated cross-product management structures disappear or become significantly simpler.

Each organizational design choice requires a significant shift in organizational thinking and they have a large impact on people, teams, organization structure, and management. These changes aren’t always easy but they lead to simpler, adaptable, purposeful, and more fun organizations that deliver higher value.

Learning Resources

We recently updated the videos and articles section on the LeSS site. Here are some new selected learning resources and experiences. Structured in a new way that is hopefully easier to consume.

Videos and webinars:

Featured posts from the selected list of LeSS-friendly blogs: