Flight Levels is a concept introduced by Klaus Leopold as a way to detect opportunities for organizational improvements from different levels or flight “altitudes” — Level 1: Operational, Level 2: Coordination and Level 3: Strategic Portfolio Management. They allegorically illustrate the point of observation. In a high-altitude flight, we have a broader and strategic view of the organization. And, as we lower the altitude, we get a more detailed and operational view.
The big question aimed to be answered is: “What opportunities for improvement do each organizational level offer?”. It is important to highlight that this concept should not be used to measure the maturity level. This is because Flight Levels are an instrument for the analysis and discovery of organizational improvements assuming a certain point of view. In this case, from each of the 3 flight altitude levels proposed.
At Flight Level 1, we are at the lowest observation altitude: we are able to observe details of the daily life of a team, for example. However, we are left with a very limited view of how this team’s performance is linked to a value chain. When it comes to the value chain, Klaus presents as an example the satisfaction of customer wishes — depending on the size of the organization or the complexity of its business model, satisfying a customer’s wish can involve several teams or areas of the organization. Improvements implemented only at the team level may not directly reflect on the customer experience. To better illustrate this concept, Klaus uses the following example:
Assuming that each team in the organization is responsible for a line of characters on a keyboard, even though one of these teams improves the speed of typing the characters on their line, if the client wish is to write a letter, he will only benefit if all teams are able to perform well their lines of characters and if this occurs in an orchestrated way. In other words, the interaction between the teams must be agile! To observe the interaction between the teams, we must raise the flight altitude to level 2: Coordination.
Having coordinated workflows beyond team boundaries, so that each team works on the right things at the right time. This is the primary objective of Flight Level 2.
Following the example of the keyboard and the rows of characters, orchestrating the different teams so that each one activates its key at the right time and in the correct sequence is fundamental to satisfy the client’s wish to write a letter.
Typical Kanban strategies for flow optimization, such as limiting WIP/work and reducing queue time are perfectly applicable at this Flight Level (regardless of the teams involved are using Scrum or Kanban), however, with an impact on customer value delivery much bigger.
The larger the size of the organization, the chains of value delivery are also generally larger. And more critical will be the observation and metering of Flight Level 2 for effective efficiency gains. Even though at this Flight Level, the performance of teams individually is not observed (treated at Flight Level 1).
Strategic Portfolio Management Level
More demand than the organization is capable of delivering is fundamentally a good problem. From this, arises the need to carry out a more macro-management of actions and priorities at the portfolio/major initiatives level, which should project the organization for the future. If what is experienced is the reverse, delivery capacity must be reduced.
Obviously, the level of detail is quite low. The breadth of vision occurs at a strategic level. Flight Level 3 is the strategic heart of the organization. Decisions taken at this level in most cases directly impact Flight Level 1 activities, which will therefore require Flight Level 2 activities. For example, the decision to prioritize an initiative will generate activities for the team of experts responsible for this initiative. For this team to perform (Flight Level 1) and reach the full value delivery, it will most likely need to orchestrate its dependencies with other teams (Flight Level 2).
Here’s an overview of the 3 Flight Levels according to Klaus:
Reinforcing the thesis that the concept of Flight Levels is not a maturity level measurement instrument, Klaus reinforces that a team problem cannot be solved in the strategic framework (level 3), just as a strategy cannot be implemented by a single dispersed team (level 1).
Agile teams are a preventive measure for the uncertainties of the future, and an organization capable of making strategic decisions and having a structure capable of responding quickly to these changes is essential to navigating the increasingly unstable and mutable markets. In other words, we need to create or transform organizations so that they are responsive and evolutionary.
What may generate some kind of confusion on the subject is due to the fact that some organizations in the early stages of transformation begin to implement agile strategies and principles at the team level (observable from Flight Level 1), and the big challenge is to scale the mindset to portfolio management. In an ideal and effective scenario in terms of results, they should start from Flight Level 3. Everything follows from here, from an agile top-management team_ lead by example.
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By Saulo Esteves, Technology Director, Invillia
Klaus Leopold article
Klaus Leopold “Rethinking Agile” book