Predictable innovation is often times an oxymoron—after all, true innovation shouldn’t be bound by the constraints of predictability, and very purposefully can’t be held subject to the physics of R&D as dictated by resources, time and scope.
But if this were true, then how would great innovators like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Tesla have pushed the boundaries of technology in such significant ways? While the answer is multifaceted, there is no doubt that an effective, disciplined agile strategy played a part.
Agile was created by engineers for engineers, and in part designed to apply order and predictability to the chaotic experiment that is software development. Going into a sprint, there are relatively immovable constants—like resources and time—and what ends up being less than ideal variables—i.e. scope. A typical sprint comprised of feature stories/epics, bug fixes and possibly technical debt stories can be completed with relative predictability if the scrum team is disciplined during planning. But, when innovation is the goal, even the most disciplined team can falter. So how can an agile team make innovation a consistent staple of their sprints?
It’s important to recognize that innovation by nature can be unbounded by time, where agile scrum cannot. To bound innovation, you must first identify a tangible objective. At BetterWorks, we define the desired outcome in terms of OKRs (Objective and Key Results). The objective of the research—in this case, innovation—would be specific and measurable, and the specific milestones and metrics to achieve the objective would be defined in the key results. Even if the outcome were non-ideal, it would still be an outcome we could measure and then feed as input into subsequent sprints.
Each key result would be defined as a story or task within sprints, bounded by a reasonable number of story points that could be completed within the timeframe of the sprint. Once the work is broken down and scheduled, the innovative work would be prioritized within the sprint and associated backlog and then scheduled accordingly.
At BetterWorks, we take it a step further by linking our sprints in Jira to our OKRs in BetterWorks. We track each sprint as an objective, with specific key results tied to stories/tasks, bugs, technical debt and optionally innovation (when it’s included in the sprint). This allows us to track at a level above epics and really understand how well we are executing at a greater macro level.
With your Agile team using OKRs, unlocking the key to predictable innovation is less of a mystery. To learn more about the right types of OKRs for Agile teams, download our Goal Examples for Agile Engineering.