Dr. Klaus Leopold is a computer scientist, Kanban pioneer and has many years of experience as a lean and kanban consultant. At a conference, I heard a talk from him and then exchanged ideas with him. I would like to blog about his way of thinking about agility and summarize the dialogue.

Once upon a time… a flight level

The story begins with Klaus Leopold having to teach about 300 teams kanban to a customer in 2011. “I counted the predictable days and before falling asleep I was already thinking about what color my new Porsche should have. From the consultant’s point of view, it would of course have been very lucrative to agility 300 teams.“, Leopold jokingly says.

But Klaus Leopold had the vision not to act from the point of view of the consultant, but from the point of view of the company: “There would have been an enormous amount ofcoal invested, the employees would have been frustrated and the bottom line would have resulted in a great sub-optimization, which would not have been successful. ” says Leopold. In order to ensure this added value, Klaus Leopold wanted to introduce agility in a sustainable and cross-team manner. But how could this succeed, he wondered.

An organization is more than the sum of its teams.

Klaus Leopold

An organization is a keyboard

Instead of configuring his Porsche, Klaus has designed a great metaphor. The aim is to bring customers closer to the agile way of working faster: “Let’s say our organization is a keyboard. Every team serves a button and we have to write a letter. Fast teams don’t finish the letter faster! Rather, we need to make sure that the right team presses the right button at the right time. If we only optimize the teams locally, that doesn’t mean that the entire organization is optimized.“, says Leopold.

The organization is a keyboard and it’s about pressing the right keys at the right time (source Leanability)

The origin of flight levels

The idea behind the flight levels originated precisely from the formalization of the keyboard metaphor. “Depending on how high you fly, you see different things. If you fly deep, you can see a lot of details, but not very far. If you fly up, you have an all-round view, but the details are lost. The important point for understanding flight levels is that whether you fly high or low does not include a rating. If you want to fly fast from Vienna to New York, you will fly quite high in a fast plane. If you want to enjoy the landscape, take a helicopter and fly deep. So, a “high” flight level doesn’t mean it’s better – it just solves another problem.“, says Leopold.

The following figure shows the flight levels. Level 1 visualizes the operational business of the teams (press keys), Level 2 the value stream of multiple teams (writing letters) and Level 3 the strategic level (Which letters should we write?).

The three flight levels in the display (source Leanability)

Flight Level 1: Press buttons

Flight Level 1 stands for the introduction of agile methods and is already underway in many companies. At this flight level, it is important that the operational work is done as the day-to-day business is value-added. This means that the keys on the keyboard are pressed correctly.

It strikes me that it is absolutely important for most companies that their employees work. “Yes, I’m working on it” is the answer you want to hear. Honestly, I would get totally nervous if I heard from my staff all the time that they were “working on it”. Working is far too expensive! I don’t want work to be done, I want it delivered!

Klaus Leopold

Flight Level 2: Writing a letter

I often see Flight Level 2 in agencies in the sense of an operational portfolio. There are a bunch of customer projects that need to be done simply to make money.Leopold said. Flight Level 2 deals with the operational implementation of projects and initiatives. It is therefore the end-to-end coordination of value creation.

The operational portfolio is primarily about coordinating: the right team is working on the right initiative at the right time. We don’t care about the strategy in this case, we just have to do it.

Klaus Leopold

Flight Level 3: All the letters we write? or not?

Klaus Leopold tells me that he is constantly thinking about his concept. He remembers a change in particular. In 2011, he described Flight Level 3 as: All the letters we write. He now believes that Level 3 clarifies another question: “What letters should we write?”

My original idea was to make the Flight Level 3 board explicit about the initiatives that are being worked on, which are, of course, aligned with the strategy.

Klaus Leopold

But why this turnaround? In 2015, Klaus was a consultant in an IT subsidiary of a large bank and asked about the current strategy. The answer was: “We do not know a strategy. We get the projects assigned by the bank.” This is fundamentally not bad and of course strategies would have to be mapped holistically and cross-functional, but Klaus Leopold replies:“Everything is good and right, but this usually does not help the customers when they are facing very concrete problems.” He has therefore more delineated Flight Level 2 and 3.

Conclusion

In the end, Klaus concludes that his concept is a constant work-in-progress and not yet “finished”. He is constantly occupied with new questions such as Is it Flight Level 2 when several identical specialist teams (e.g. test teams) coordinate their cross-team work on a board? Or is it just a local optimization? Maybe you have an answer? Please write them in the comments!

Personally, I notice that many companies are currently stuck at Flight Level 2 and agility is being implemented more as an agile method in the operational business. That’s why Flight Level 2 is finally to be tackled in a purposeful way. Klaus Leopold also confirms me in this opinion: “Flight Level 2 actually describes the end-to-end coordination of value creation. However, many companies have not yet come to this point.

I would like to thank Klaus for the great dialogue and the exciting content. You can also take a look at my other article:Dialogues with agile minds!

My tip: Take a look at Klaus Leopold’s book or on his website.

Genderhinweis: Ich habe zur leichteren Lesbarkeit die männliche Form verwendet. Sofern keine explizite Unterscheidung getroffen wird, sind daher stets sowohl Frauen, Diverse als auch Männer sowie Menschen jeder Herkunft und Nation gemeint. Lesen Sie mehr dazu.

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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