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  • Toby Sinclair

Book Summary: Sooner Safer Happier by Jonathan Smart | BVSSH

Updated: Jun 3, 2021

Better Value Sooner Safer Happier Summary

⭐ Toby's Rating: 6/10 - Recommended For: Senior Managers

3 Big Ideas

  1. Optimisation - In order to succeed in the Digital-Age, organisations must optimize for Better Value Sooner Safer Happier (BVSSH)

  2. Patterns - To optimize for BVSSH, there are Anti-Patterns which will give you a head-wind towards this outcome, and Patterns that will give you a tail-wind.

  3. Practices = Context + Principles - There are no one-size-fits-all solutions, but several principles are shared within the book to guide the improvement journey.

2 Sooner Safer Happier Quotes

The most tweetable quotes from Sooner Safer Happier

Are you currently doing an Agile, Lean, or DevOps Transformation? If so, my best advice is: Don’t. Instead, focus on the outcomes you want to achieve. Then you will achieve agility.
Impediments are not in the path; impediments are the path.

Toby’s Top Takeaways:

The Sooner Safer Happier authors have found an effortless way to articulate the outcomes organisations can focus on: Better Value Sooner Safer Happier. This tag line is very easy to understand which is important when communicating across the enterprise.

The authors claim: "I’ve yet to find an organization where Better Value Sooner Safer Happier does not encapsulate the desired outcomes from better ways of working in the Age of Digital."

This isn't quite my experience. For example, some digital organisations that are largely delivering commodities might have a different set of outcomes to optimize for. Perhaps in this case, "sooner" is not a worthy optimisation instead "scalable" or "standard" might be better?

Also, I wonder if there is a broader encapsulation of organisational outcomes. For example, I'm increasingly referring to Adaptive Capacity as a possible focus area for organisational effectiveness:

Adaptive Capacity relates to a systems ability to respond to a stress trigger. This response could be for protection, safety or to take advantage of a new sudden opportunity.

By increasing, Adaptive Capacity organisations will be better able to adapt and respond to changing conditions within their context. Delivering Better Value, Sooner, Safer, Happier might be one way to do this.

A final question I've been pondering for some time: Is it even possible to "optimize" a complex-adaptive system?

My current thoughts are you can encourage a "sense of direction" but this will be influenced by the systems current disposition and the energy required to change. For many enterprises, the system will not be disposed towards BVSSH outcomes and the energy gradient to change is huge.

The Sooner Safer Happier book is aimed at business leaders and I'd certainly recommend it due to the simplicity of the messaging. Be careful though, this might become the new Spotify Model so ensure the importance of context is not lost!


Big Idea 1 - Optimize for Better Value Sooner Safer Happier (BVSSH)

Better Value Sooner Safer Happier BVSSH

“BVSSH contains two sets of outcomes. Better Sooner Safer Happier are the how outcomes. They measure the improvement in the system of work. Value is the what, the business outcome hypotheses that the system of work produces. The two sets of outcomes form a virtuous circle.”

Big Idea 2 - Practices = Context + Principles

The Sooner Safer Happier book shares several principles which can help organisations optimise for Better Value, Sooner, Safer, Happier.

“The successful pattern is to identify the top ten or so principles that you feel are most important to encourage across your organization, communicate them relentlessly, and recognize behaviors in line with them.”

Better Value Sooner Safer Happier BVSSH Principles

Big Idea 3 - Anti-Paterrns & Patterns

Based upon the context of optimising for BVSSH there are patterns that can help organisations build momentum.

  • Anti-pattern: Common solutions to common problems where the solution is ineffective and may result in undesired consequences.

  • Pattern: A pattern is a repeatedly applicable solution to a problem that arises in a specific context.

It is again highlighted that context is key. A pattern could be an anti-pattern within a certain context.

A full list of Anti-Patterns and Patterns explored in Sooner Safer Happier


  • Doing an Agile Transformation

  • Using Old Ways of Thinking to Apply New Ways of Working

  • The Bigger the Capital “T” Transformation, the Bigger the Change Curve

  • Scaling Agile Before Descaling the Work

  • Grass Roots Hits a Grass Ceiling

  • One Size Fits AllInflict over Invite

  • Do as I Say, Not as I Do

  • Psychologically Unsafe

  • Deterministic Mindset

  • Local Optimization

  • Milestone-Driven Predicted Solutions

  • Headless Chickens

  • Start Starting

  • Lack of Safety within Safety

  • Role-Based Safety Silos

  • Fixed Mindset to Risk

  • Going Faster Leads to Going Slower

  • Agile Hollow Shell

  • Misalignment of Teams and Architecture

  • Tools over People

  • Information and Learning Silos

  • Outputs over Outcomes

  • Bubble Effect

  • Applying a Deterministic Approach to an Emergent Domain

  • Weaponized Metrics


  • Focus on Outcomes

  • Start with Why; Empower the How

  • Achieve Big through Small

  • Descale Before You Scale

  • Scale Agility, Not Agile, Vertically Then Sideways

  • Not One Size Fits All

  • Invite over Inflict

  • Leaders Go First

  • Psychological Safety

  • Emergent Mindset with Servant Leadership

  • Optimize for Fast End-to-End Flow

  • Outcome Hypotheses

  • Intelligent Flow

  • Stop Starting, Start Finishing

  • Safety within Safety

  • Organize Safety by Value Stream

  • Intelligent Control

  • Go Slower to Go Faster

  • Continuous Technical Excellence

  • Architect and Organize for Flow

  • Smart People and Smart Teams with Robot Friends

  • Optimize for Learning

  • Nested Learning with Built-In Feedback Loops

  • Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

  • Be Comfortable with Uncertainty

  • Measure for Learning

Blinkist Wide


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