Using the SPINE model helps teams clarify their purpose. 
Do you need it? 
 
How many times are we sold on a gadget because it looks cool, or you believe the marketing hype that it will somehow make you happier? Someone close to you might ask, ‘do you really need it?’ Often the truthful answer, accompanied by a shrug is, ‘well no, but who cares about needs?’ 
 
Should it surprise you that we often think about needs in the same way in the workplace? A few years ago, a pair of Agile Coaches, Kevin Trethewey and Danie Roux, shared the experiences they gained when working with Agile teams who couldn’t get out of first gear. Too often they found these teams grumbling about their gadgets, in other words their software (Jira or Dev Ops tools) or their meetings and artefacts (Daily Stand-ups or Kanban/Scrum Boards) without ever discussing the overarching NEEDS these gadgets were underpinning. 
 
Flipping the triangle 
 
Trethewey and Roux had a background in XP and recalled Kent Beck’s structure for modelling ideas which identified a team’s VALUES, PRINCIPLES and PRACTICES. The thinking was that each of these three things informed the other and it made sense to start at the top and work down. Some further collective thinking decided it made sense to start by identifying an organisation’s NEEDS and work down. Gadgets (or TOOLS) were added at the bottom and the SPINE MODEL was born. 
 
The SPINE MODEL recommends identifying the following things in order: 
 
NEEDS – simply put what is the purpose of the organisation, or the team? Why do they exist? What outcomes are they set up to achieve? 
 
VALUES – which things underpin the NEEDS? These are often single words such as ‘feedback’. If the NEEDS of the organisation is to deliver to their customer’s own changing needs, then valuing feedback underpins this. 
 
PRINCIPLES – these are often longer statements such as ‘delivering early and often.’ Adhering to this PRINCIPLE underpins the feedback that you VALUE. 
 
PRACTICES – Now we move into gadgets. Trethewey and Roux talk about ‘finding a way to’ satisfy each PRINCIPLE. In our example we might PRACTICE Kanban in order to ‘deliver early and often.’ 
 
TOOLS – We are now well and truly in gadget territory. To support our PRACTICE of Kanban we have a physical or virtual board which limits work in progress (WIP). 
 
Do you see the benefit of flipping the gadget conversation on its head? Now when someone asks you whether you really need to purchase that TOOL you can justifiably say, ‘yes, I do!’ 
 
It's not as easy as it sounds 
 
Starting with the Spine Model sounds easy enough. You simply ask the organisation the following question: Why do you exist? 
 
As you can imagine, most organisations think they can answer this question succinctly, but the reality is often very different. Individuals bring their own biases to the fore (of course they do, it’s what they’ve always known and what they think they are employed for). But when you peel back a few layers and individuals begin to understand how they input into making the overall system work, these individuals begin to understand WHY they work together, and the creation of a NEEDS statement normally follows. 
 
It's by no means easy and it takes time, but it’s worth it. 
 
Because now you have a starting point to work down through the Spine. By knowing what NEEDS the organisation fulfils, they can ask what it VALUES to give itself the best chance of fulfilling the NEEDS. How does a VALUE (i.e. transparency) inform a PRINCIPLE (i.e. making work visible)? 
 
By asking these questions the organisation becomes better aligned and gains clarity of purpose. 
 
If you’re interested in learning more about the spine model or would like help facilitating a spine model workshop, please get in touch at hello@clearrockprojects.co.uk
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