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Sooner, Safer, Happier at Omnitech

This fall, we continued our practice of book studies together. We had a variety of engineers, project managers, and quality assurance members read and discuss Jon Smart's Sooner Safer Happier: Antipatterns and Patterns For Business Agility. It explored ways of helping businesses discover how they can provide Better Value Sooner, Safer, and Happier (BVSSH) by applying agility across the entire organization. It's a book that will put you at the front of change and ahead of the competition.

Sooner Safer Happier was a hot topic at DOES 2021, where there were many discussions around different antipatterns and patterns commonly seen in businesses. Another great feature of this book is the ability to use it as a reference book and jump or revisit certain chapters that will help you with issues you may be experiencing. For example, if your team is struggling with leadership, you can jump right to that chapter for ideas on how to help.

There were many great takeaways on how we at Omnitech can grow as individuals and as a business while also providing better outcomes for our clients. Below we have outlined some of our favorite points from the different topics.

Chapter 1: Focus on Outcomes

Don't focus on an Agile/Lean/DevOps transformation. "Instead, focus on the outcomes you want to achieve. Then you will achieve agility. Focus on: BVSSH." [Chapter 1, first page)

Better Value - Quality, We all work to create value. That might be revenues, improving lives/environment, becoming more efficient. We need to create the right value better.

Sooner - Not faster. Get the value to the market with better flow, shorter lead time, less wait time means sooner to enable learning faster to improve.

Safer - Security, compliance, Agile not Fragile

Happier - Colleagues, Customers, Citizens, and Climate

We need all of these attributes to succeed in today's digital age. BVSSH

Chapter 2: Achieve Big Through Small

Many organizations think, "once we get to X technology, all our problems will disappear." This is rarely the case. BVSSH breaks down the difference between big bang transformations and achieving a big transformation through small ones.

With a big bang transformation, all of our risk of failure happens at once, and if it doesn't succeed, there can be catastrophic implications for the business. This type of change creates shock, anger, and denial amongst people working in the current system.

On the other hand, if we have multiple small transformations while measuring the success of each transformation, we avoid front-loading all the risk of failure to one big change and can create more small wins that add up to the same effect as a big bang transformation. This approach also makes it easier to get people on board with the small changes since you are not upheaving their existing workflow.

Chapter 3: Optimization Over One Way; Invite Over Inflict

We often look for a "silver bullet" to the issues we face, but there rarely is one. A business's context is always unique. Applying a set of processes to one business will not work the same way in another. Moving a bank's technology to the cloud looks a lot different than moving a healthcare system's. A few factors to consider are cultural type (see Chapter 4 for details), scale, safety, etc.

One of the key factors of job satisfaction is autonomy. People who feel they can make their own decisions - within minimal guardrails - enjoy their jobs much more than those with strict guidelines imposed upon their work. There is no one way to do work, and unnecessarily inflicting ways of working onto teams degrade outcomes. You will find better results from people who willingly participate in practices than people forced to work a certain way.

Chapter 4: Leadership Will Make It or Break It

Leadership happens at all levels. You don't need to be in a position of power to be a leader. Leadership qualities include self-awareness, humility, and ownership. Leaders need to go first, lead the way, role-model desired behaviors. You need to be courageous, humble servants that are open to others.

Psychological safety is a key part of success. Everyone needs to feel safe to share feedback and ideas, especially when things aren't going well. Leaders create environments that allow team members to share feedback without concern for retaliation or ridicule.

In today's environment, organized human endeavor is increasingly emergent. Problems are complex and change is constant. Adaptation is key and good leaders embrace change and remove barriers for others to accept the change. Organizational cultures that can create psychological safety, support servant leadership, and adopt change quickly are more likely to succeed in our fast-paced, ever-changing work environments.

Chapter 5: Build the Right Thing; Intelligent Flow

Deadlines and milestones are constructs of the past that imply we know the future. We don't. We need to optimize for experimentation, quick feedback, learning, and agility. This will help us learn the right thing.

We need to optimize for the flow of work across the whole organization, not just software/IT. Making work visible helps identify waiting states that sometimes can creep up to 90% as there gets too much work in progress (WIP).

Chapter 6: Build the Right Thing; Intelligent Control

Many problems could easily be avoided through a culture that promotes psychological safety. If people feel that their feedback does not matter or will be punished for reporting problems, they typically don't speak up. Fostering psychological safety provides an environment where there is shared ownership and learning.

Teams also need to be vigilant to include safety in the normal flow of work. This allows them to be proactive instead of reactive. Working as a team, they can all learn from and help each other build a better understanding to increase productivity and buy-in to their success.

Chapter 7: Continuous Attention to Technical Excellence

Software systems will move toward entropy unless people are continually learning, working together, and improving. We need to constantly reflect on how we can improve, even if it's only for a few hours every week so that we don't get into a habit of operating with technical "good enough" rather than technical excellence. We have to go slower to go faster.

Chapter 8: Creating a Learning Ecosystem

Silos of knowledge create problems. Just like the game "telephone," knowledge is lost each time it is passed on. Some knowledge can only be transferred effectively through shared experience and conversation, like our book clubs!

Identify learning silos and find ways to share your learning with others to avoid single-person dependencies. Communicate, be ok with uncertainty, learn quickly, and measure for learning.

Chapter 9: The Best Time to Plant a Tree is Twenty Years Ago; The Second Best Time is Now

This is the summary of the whole book. Start with why. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, so use the patterns described in this book to find what you can implement in your context.


We recommend reading this book with as many people as you can get together of departments of all types, not just engineering and technology. You'll have the most possible impact if you can get some C-level execs on board.

We had great conversations and came away with applications from this book. We plan to continue to discuss why and how we do what we do. This will help us to always keep improving. We hope others will join us so we can all work to deliver Better Value Sooner, Safer, and Happier.

"Alleviate, Repeat, Forever"


Additional Resources

Here are summary videos of each chapter from the author to help you learn more.

VOICE: Applying an Agile Mindset to Organizational Agility - IT Revolution is another resource that includes a free poster. and

Start with Why, Empower the How:  Simon Sinek's TED talk illustrates this idea and is mentioned in the book.