Pie chart. One third for conceptual work. Two thirds for all other work

The search for a good concept is and remains important. Agile approaches do not change this. The article “A plea: 1/3 for conceptual work” describes an approach that in my view fits well with the Agile Manifesto.

Actually, I was planning to describe the concept for my little HexaFour program. But then I remembered that last year I was involved a very little bit in an article that also deals with concepts. The article is called A plea: ⅓ for conceptual work. When you hear the term “concept”, you might first think of Big Design Up Front: Someone analyzes all the requirements, comes up with a solution, writes a thick document, a concept, and this concept is then implemented step by step. But that is not what is meant. The article is about colloborative work on innovative and good concepts. And this is probably more important today than ever before and should have a high priority in a project.

For this reason, I will briefly describe the main points of the article from my point of view. All of the following quotes are taken from the article.

This is the starting point: We are in the midst of the digital transformation, things need to be rethought:

Questioning the existing and thinking new and better against the backdrop of digital possibilities – that is the core of digital transformation.

Trying to find the perfect solution right away is not a good idea::

Especially in innovative environments and in the early phases of a project, striving for immediate perfection leads to exactly the opposite. The demands of immediate faultlessness and immediate perfection inhibit exploratory progress and the articulation of new ideas. We prefer to stick to supposedly proven models instead of questioning them and, if necessary, rethinking them.

First start with any solution and then improve it is also not good, because:

We often overestimate the supposedly quick adaptability of solutions in the digital space: »You can adapt it quickly, it’s only software«. It must be understood that changes of fundamental nature to digital solutions are as costly and time consuming as changes to physical products and processes are.

How to do it then? An analogy helps to illustrate this:

Imagine that a group of people are in a completely dark building and have to leave it together. All participants take their flashlights and start to illuminate the nooks and crannies of the building. Then they report on their perceptions. Which places seem suitable for finding an exit? Where do there seem to be dead ends? Where is it safe to move around? Where do dangers lurk? Are the observations perceived in the same way when someone else looks at the same place? What changes if you use more light? …

This analogy can be used to describe how to arrive at good concepts in complex times on an agile path: On the one hand, you need Conceptional Leadership. In the analogy above, the conceptional leaders have selected the people, equipped them with tools, put them in the dark building and defined the problem. In order for all the people to work well and properly together, they need a Conceptional Mindset. Finding the best solution is Conceptual Work. And in the end, everyone has a common understanding of the solution, they have a Concept.

So the whole thing starts with Conceptional Leadership:

It is about creating the most ideal environment possible in which solutions for a given task can be successfully designed. This includes guard rails and clear framework conditions for creative processes.

Conceptual work leads to the involvement of many participants from different areas and perspectives of the company. For successful and targeted interaction, this must be organized and orchestrated through Conceptual Leadership (in terms of tools, paths, cadence).

Conceptual leaders are responsible for ensuring that all necessary decisions are made. It is important that only those decisions that the team cannot or may not make on their own responsibility are made by the conceptual leader. Decisions that the team does not want to make should not be taken over by a conceptual leader, but the team should be encouraged to make them themselves.

The search for the good solution is Conceptual Work:

Conceptual work is an ongoing and continuous activity that begins before implementation and accompanies the entire implementation. Conceptual work is independent of process models such as waterfall, agile, lean startup, etc.

It overcomes organizational and professional boundaries. To solve the tasks, all participants work together collaboratively.

The »usual suspects« such as software development (development, testing), product management (product owner, project manager), operations (Ops, DevOps) and user experience (UX)/user interface (UI) design must be involved in the conceptual work. In addition, sales, pre-sales, business strategists and support as well as all other relevant roles and functions, and of course potential users, should be involved.

For this process to work well, everyone involved needs a Conceptional Mindset:

Conceptual Mindset is an attitude and a way of behaving in order to design the best possible solution with given framework conditions (e.g. time, money or resources).

With Conceptual Mindset, one acts in the awareness that the process of creating a solution is a highly collaborative cognitive process. The focus is on experiencing possibilities and limitations as well as gaining collaborative insights with the available resources

The greatest common denominator of all parties involved is the Concept:

It is crucial for Conceptual Mindset to coordinate activities and resources and to transfer findings into a common understanding: The concept.

In the Conceptual Mindset, designing a concept with its continuous adaptation is firmly anchored. A concept lives as long as the solution is being worked on. This means that for the duration of the implementation, it is continuously developed and adapted to the needs in order to make the current state of knowledge transparent to the solution

If all this sounds coherent and sensible, what’s the problem? The problem is that Conceptional Work does not have the necessary status today. That is why this Plea follows at the end:

Therefore, in this paper, we advocate that 1/3 of the total available budget be invested in conceptual work. This investment, especially in the early phases of digitisation initiatives, has a high return on investment!

You can certainly argue about whether it has to be exactly 1/3 of the budget. But as a reminder, this appeal is helpful: We should occasionally check in our current projects: Are we really investing enough energy in Conceptual Work?

You can find more detailed information in the original article.

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