Cadence and synchronization limit the accumulation of variance.
—Don Reinertsen, Principles of Product Development Flow
Principle #7 – Apply cadence, synchronize with cross-domain planning
Solution development is an inherently uncertain process. If it weren’t, the solutions would already exist, and there would be no room for the next generation of innovations. This uncertainty conflicts with the need for businesses to manage investments, track progress, and have sufficient confidence in future outcomes to plan and commit to a reasonable course of action.
To address this, Agile development functions best in a ‘safety zone’, where enough uncertainty provides the freedom to pursue innovation and react to events, while also providing confidence the business needs operate. The primary means to achieve this balance is through the objective knowledge of the current state. It’s just easier when you know where you really are. This knowledge is gained by applying cadence, synchronization, and periodic cross-domain planning.
Cadence is a rhythmic pattern of events that provides the steady heartbeat of the development process. It makes routine everything that can be routine, so developers can focus on managing the variable part of solution development. Synchronization allows multiple solution perspectives to be understood, resolved, and integrated at the same time.
The benefits of cadence and synchronization are highlighted in Figure 1 below.
Taken together, cadence and synchronization help development teams proceed confidently despite the inherent uncertainty.
Aligning Development Cadence
Agile teams naturally apply cadence via short iterations (or Sprint) cycles. However, even when working together, these cadence-based cycles may not lend themselves to effective synchronization, as Figure 2 illustrates.
As Figure 2 illustrates, each team is “sprinting” on a cadence, but the cadences are different, and the system itself may or may not be evolving as planned. Operating on a common cadence—and adding the synchronization of routine system demos—addresses this concern, as illustrated in Figure 3
In Figure 3, the system is now truly ‘sprinting’, as is illustrated by the objective evidence from the regular system demo.
Synchronize with Cross-Domain Planning
In addition to common cadence, periodic cross-domain planning (example: PI Planning in SAFe) provides the opportunity for the various aspects of a solution—business and technical —to be integrated and evaluated together at one time. This has the net effect of managing variability be frequently revisiting and updating the plan. In other words, cadence-based planning limits variability to a single interval, as Figure 4 illustrates.
In this way, the ‘plan is far closer to the reality’. Business conditions are significantly improved when everyone is operating in accordance with a current and realistic plan, which is tuned and adjusted as new facts emerge.
There’s no cure for the inherent uncertainty of solution development. If there were, it would surely be worse than the disease. However, applying cadence and synchronization, along with periodic cross-domain planning, provides the tools needed to operate in the safety zone.
Learn More Reinertsen, Donald. The Principles of Product Development Flow: Second Generation Lean Product Development. Celeritas Publishing, 2009.  Kennedy, Michael. Product Development for the Lean Enterprise. Oaklea Press, 2003.
Last update: 12 October 2018