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Agile IQ®

Stage Five

Agile IQ® Score: 165+

What is a "stage five" team?

A team at this stage of its agile journey is in the Ri stage of Shu Ha Ri. A Stage Five team has an Agile IQ greater than 165.

Teams at this stage are optimising their agile practice with metrics and Systems Thinking. This focus maintains their agility at the top level of capability maturity. They look beyond their own team to support others to be agile. They lead by example.

Granting these teams opportunities to lead is the key to sustaining this level of agility.


Archetypal behaviours

The types of behaviours that are commonly seen in Stage Five include:

  • Leading by example – they should have practices and approaches that other teams can use to fast-track their agility.
  • Leading the agile community of practice.
  • Systems Thinking – they look at the bigger picture and help to optimise for the whole by looking to help other leaders improve downstream and upstream bottlenecks and flow issues.

What to expect in Stage Five

  • Cost Savings: Medium-High.
  • Improved Productivity: High. 
  • Improved Quality: High.
  • Improved Transparency: High.
  • Improved Speed to Market: High.

Stage Five teams are rare. Those that make Stage Five typically evolve to Stage Five for brief periods of time having optimised the way they deliver specific outcomes.

It can take up to 2 years for teams to reach and sustain Stage Five behaviours. Many teams will not reach Stage Five.

Stage Five teams should be able to pivot to disruptive change within a 1-2 Sprints.

Teams at Stage Five should have the trust of leaders and should have greater decentralised decision-making power, particularly when it comes to supporting guilds and chapters.


Diagnosing agile and delivery problems

Issues most often occur in Stage Five when:

  • Leaders don’t invest in time for teams to undertake capability development and improvement experiments.
  • Leaders and managers don’t support teams to take leadership roles and responsibilities. 

Where to focus

Systems Thinking

Support these teams to help optimise the value stream, create alignment in other teams

Chapters & Guilds

Support teams to mentor others and improve their agile capability maturity.

Investment in time

Product budgets must include investment in time to support improvements in Time to Market and Ability to Innovate.


Keys to improvement

  • Drive investments using value-based (EBM) metrics – Actively reflect how the team, upstream and downstream processes, can become more effective using metrics from Lean such as cycle time, lead time, work item age, and then tune and adjust behaviour accordingly. Invest in capability development with EBM metrics to drive improvements in the whole ecosystem of work.
  • Lead Communities of Practice – Encourage team members to lead Communities of Practice, Guilds, Chapters and Agile Release Trains, to actively share their knowledge with others. Investment in capability is
  • Support alignment – Use the team’s expertise to improve alignment of other teams to organisational goals.
  • Think more about the “team of teams” – The team is part of a bigger system of work, including other teams. Understand how work arrives at your team through Value Stream Mapping and identify opportunities to reduce waste and improve flow.

Action #1: Encourage Systems Thinking

What is a “System”?

A system is a set of related components, such as people, processes and tools, that work together in an organisation to perform a set of functions required to achieve the organisation’s objectives.

What is Systems Thinking?

Systems thinking is a way that high performing teams make sense of the complexity of product management by looking at delivery in terms of:

  • The bigger picture.
  • The relationships between teams, upstream and downstream.
  • Dependencies and whole of product risks.

Systems thinking draws on and contributes to systems theory and the system sciences to help teams consider how to solve problems from thuis big picture, rather than focusing exclusively on small details.

Actions for Scrum Masters

  • Look for interconnectedness – A systems thinker uses this mindset to untangle and work within the complexity of product delivery.
  • Use synthesis over analysis – Synthesis is about understanding the whole and the parts at the same time. When it comes to systems thinking, the goal is synthesis, as opposed to analysis, which is the dissection of complexity into manageable components. Analysis fits into the mechanical and reductionist worldview, where the world is broken down into parts.
  • Understand and apply emergence to design – Emergence is the outcome of the synergies of the parts; it is about non-linearity and self-organisation. The term ‘emergence’ is used to describe the outcome of things interacting together. 
  • Apply causality to metrics and improvement actions – Understanding causality leads to a deeper perspective on agency, feedback loops, connections and relationships, which are all fundamental parts of systems mapping.

Action #2: Support Chapters & Guilds

What is a Chapter?

A chapter is a collection of people who share a similar skill set and work in the same tribe. The chapter is led by a line member, who is also a squad member. Spotify popularised the term, using chapters as a way to build capability across different teams and to discuss ways of improving their specialised area.

Chapters and improvement of specialised capability areas should be a key part of a manager’s responsibility under an organisation’s operating model. Talented individuals in Stage Five teams should have leadership responsibilities in Chapters.

Example Chapters:

  • User and customer experience.
  • Business analysis.
  • Software development.
  • Testing.
  • Agility.

What is a Guild?

A Guild is a wider community of people who share the same interest. While Chapters typically span multiple teams in a single Agile Release Train or Product stream and focus on capability development of a single skill area, a Guild often includes members from all over the organisation and focuses on knowledge areas outside of common skillsets.

Stage Five team members make excellent guild coordinators. Their responsibility is to help:

  • Unite all the different members.
  • Bring people together to share their knowledge and best practices.

Example Chapters:

  • Monday Coffee Club.
  • Knowledge management.
  • Emerging technology.

Actions for Leaders

  • Don’t delegate tasks to people in the Guild. Manage work through backlogs across teams based on investment guardrails set at the portfolio level.
  • Be accountable for the capability the Guild contributes to delivery.
  • Seek investment in capability development, capital and operational, to strengthen the capability.
  • Lead work collaboratively across all teams to improve technical/skills excellence for the product.
  • Use EBM metrics – Time to Market and Ability to Innovate – to understand the impact and outcome of capability improvement actions.

Action #3: Invest in Time to build capability improvement

EBM metrics reinforce:

  • Investment in time and money is needed to improve a capability.
  • Improvements in capability should reflect improvements in Time to Market and Ability to Innovate.

Improve Time to Market (T2M)

A Guild’s ability to quickly deliver new capabilities, services, or products is measured by “time to market”.

The reason for looking at T2M is to minimise the amount of time it takes for the organisation to deliver value. Without actively managing T2M, the ability to sustainably deliver value in the future is unknown.

Improving T2M helps improve the frequency at which an organisation can potentially change the current value of a product.

Actions for Leaders

Use Lean metrics to understand:

  • How fast the organisation can learn from new experiments and information?
  • How fast can teams adapt based on the information?
  • How fast can the organisation test new ideas with customers?

Improve Ability to Innovate (A2I)

A Guild’s The effectiveness of an organization to deliver new capabilities that might
better meet customer needs.

The goal of looking at the A2I is to maximise the organisation’s ability to deliver new capabilities and innovative solutions.

Actions for Leaders

  • Understand what prevents the organisation from delivering new value? What capability is needed to deliver new value?
  • Understand what prevents customers or users from benefiting from that innovation.

Stage Five Learning Areas

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