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Flight Levels for Business Agility

Why do few companies reap the benefits that agile transformations promise? Even when the transformation is “successful” in the sense that there are a lot of agile teams? Maybe, because “having agile teams” is not the point at all. Companies usually want business agility such as shorter time to market. And sorry, you don’t get these by having agile teams. You get these from agile interactions between teams across “flight levels” and especially through ruthless prioritization at the top level.

Klaus Leopold created the concept of Flight Levels to help conceptualize how different levels of an organization need to work together and what you can and can’t improve on each level:

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Content of 1-Pager:

Flight Levels for Business Agility

The levers for improvement on each level of an organization

Even with a “successful” agile transformation, many companies fail to reap the benefit of better business outcomes such as faster time to market. According to Klaus Leopold that is because these initiatives focus on the team level, whereas they need to focus on company-wide coordination if they want to increase business agility.

  • Flight Level 3 – Strategy: Prioritize
    Manage the portfolio mix and connect strategy with delivery. There are always more good ideas than capacity to implement them. Make the limited capacity explicit. What initiatives are running? Can you start a new project or do you have to finish another one first? Where will you invest?
  • Flight Level 2 – Coordinate: End-to-end Value Stream
    Make sure to do the right work at the right time – manage dependencies and bottlenecks. Big improvements are possible here while affecting the daily work of only few people.
  • Flight Level 1 – Operative: Deliver
    Where the actual work is done. Typically, you need multiple teams to create customer value. That’s why it’s less important how many agile teams you have and more important how agile the interactions between the teams are.

The Flight Levels are not about hierarchy but about the type of work you do. The higher you fly, the better your overview but you can’t make out details anymore. Flying lower, you get more details but you can’t see the big picture anymore. This also translates into time frames: The higher you fly, the longer the time horizons you are thinking about.

It doesn’t matter which method you use on which level. Business agility is a strategic topic that you can’t solve with agile teams on the operative level. It’s a company sport, not a team sport. Having a top management that manages their portfolio strategically and in an agile way is more important than lots of individual agile teams. What matters is the cooperation between levels and between teams on each level.

The main way to achieve this is to visualize the work and limit work in progress on each level in order to surface and manage bottlenecks.


Klaus Leopold had used the concept of Flight Levels before but I learned it in his excellent book “Agilität neu denken” (“rethinking Agility“). Klaus saw the beta version of this 1-pager and added some important details – Thank you, Klaus!

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1 Comment

  1. Emanuel Kessler 2023/11/18

    A very good introduction into flight levels. Thank you for sharing

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