What are Flight Levels and its 5 activities?

Welcome to the first article of an exclusive series! For us to get started and grasp things well, I would like to start with a reflection on Flight Levels.

About 7 years ago, the market started to become much more competitive than it used to be. Customers began to change their habits, too.

Technology has become more accessible, and competitors arose. And they keep on coming and trying to find their place in the sun among a growing tide of consumers.

More than ever before, companies are aware that whatever process took them to where they currently are cannot carry them any further since old processes simply do not work as well as they used to.

Now, let’s take a look at major corporate structures that are swamped in bureaucracy. Such structures seek to be in charge of everything and aim to control people. They have been valuing hierarchy over the past 20 years of projected work.

Such structures cannot service the current market, given how fast everything happens nowadays. Businesses that still use such structures are now under threat — or already were, since the market started to change. 

The market changed, and so did consumers

Companies are starting to seek ways to accomplish their desired outcomes. With that in mind, they design a transformation plan. Ideally, it would be a straightforward plan that only has to be followed.

The IT industry’s methodologies and frameworks are extrapolated into other areas of the company, sometimes even successfully resulting in new teams and occasional good results.

This scenario is much more common than we think. And this happens not only in Brazil but all over the world. However, this type of transformational mindset brings a wide array of problems within it.

When companies fail to understand such problems, they blame the method or framework they chose to use. In some cases, they do so publicly, thus “canceling” and banishing the methodology!

Trauma may cause those companies to revert to their previous working ways and give up on transformation altogether.

Worst case scenario (at least in my perspective), companies simply ignore any problems. At the end of the “transformation” process, the organization may even state that it has agile teams. However, the actual business results never show up.

Local optimizations vs. Improving the system as a whole

The type of problem mentioned above is often caused by focusing too much on local optimization. This means considering teams/areas as if they were islands. Often unintentionally, one team improves isolated from other areas.

This is what happens when the focus is only local and doesn’t consider the system as a whole. As it often does, local optimizations may increase the efficiency of one area or team. On the other hand, more silos arise, and the result requested by the final client ends up not being delivered.

An example of that is dependencies. One team builds, the other validates, a third area documents, and a fourth delivers. Even if all the systems are agile, system improvement won’t necessarily happen.

The thing is, those teams/areas only contemplate their own internal processes, ignoring the value chain flow, dependencies, and relationships altogether.

However, how to envisage good communication and alignment of the organization as a whole? How to make sure that the right team develops the right product at the right time?

From then on, how to promote improvements across different levels of the organization? How to generate real value flow optimization?

What are Flight Levels, and how they can help to boost results

Analogy of aviation to achieve good results
Flight Levels uses the analogy of aviation to achieve good results for the company.

Flight Levels is a thinking model that helps to find the points that need to be transformed within an organization so as to reach the desired outcomes. This thinking model uses the Flight Levels analogy from aviation to help deriving results.

Check below the Flight Levels themselves and their 5 activities. 

Flight Level 1

This is the lowest flight level, focusing on product and/or services development teams/areas. Usually, it is at this level that most transformations within companies take place, even nowadays.

Once endowed with the Flight Levels perspective, starting to understand the dependencies that exist at this first level is critical.

Flight Level 2

The second flight level goes a bit higher. It takes a look at coordination focused on collaboration, communication, and coordination between the parties that operate in different steps of the value chain, end to end.

At this level, portfolio management may emerge. Here, dependencies between different areas are more easily identified and handled.

Flight Level 3

This is the highest flight level, and it focuses on the alignment between prioritizing different initiatives (projects, products, and services) and strategic guidance of the company.

Here, the C-Level also becomes Agile, that is, truly adapted to the markets’ and customers’ realities.

5 activities for each flight level

The Flight Levels thinking model does not focus on the methods or frameworks used by your teams/areas. Instead of local optimizations, it focuses on the continued optimization of the value chain.

Thus, it is vital to understand the organizational context and design proper Flight Levels architecture. This will allow better visualization and management of the entire flow and enable a better understanding of each Flight Level’s metrics and cadences.

There are 5 Flight Levels activities:

  1. Visualize the situation
  2. Create a focus
  3. Establish agile interactions
  4. Measure progress
  5. Operate and improve

All those 5 activities must be applied in all 3 Flight Levels, and not only in visual management boards! Despite the simplicity, many elements must be taken into account because deploying this thinking model will lead to a deep and relevant cultural transformation.

Thus, mid- and long-term results are created, making the company more adaptable to changes in the market and customers. Once this is reached, the organization finally starts to enjoy some *real* business agility.

Continue your learning journey!

Congratulations! You did learn something by reading all this post. Read more about this topic and many others in the book Rethinking Agility. Or, also, what about reading just one more post on Flight Levels for today?

Flight Levels and Business Agility



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