In the Lap of the Agile Gods

Luck

I’ve noticed a lot of conversation recently (mostly on Twitter) debating how prescriptive, or not, we should be when helping teams through an Agile Transformation (i.e. helping them use Agile approaches to be more Agile)? Do we tell teams exactly what to do initially, or allow them complete freedom to figure it out for themselves? Or something else?

Worshipping False Gods

During World War 2, inhabitants of Melanesian islands in the Southwestern Pacific Ocean witnessed the Japanese & Allied forces using their homelands as military bases for troops, equipment and supplies. The troops would often share supplies with the native islander in return for support or assistance. After the war ended and the troops left, it was observed that the islanders would make copies of some items and mimic certain behaviours they had witnessed. For example recreating mock airfields and airplanes. Not understanding the technologies which had brought the cargo, these rituals were an attempt to attract more from the spiritual gods they thought had originally granted them.

This practice became knowns as a Cargo Cult, and has taken on a metaphorical use to describe the copying of conditions which are irrelevant or insufficient, in order to reproduce results without understanding the actual context. Thus we get Cargo Cult Agile, where the methods, practices and tools of successful teams and organisations are copied, irregardless of the original context. What has become known as the Spotify Method is a prime example, as are other attempts to reproduce the approaches used successful organisations such as Amazon, Apple or Netflix.

Trying to be Gods

In the 11th Century, legend has it that then King of England Canute the Great went to the sea shoreline to sit on his throne and command the tide not to come in. Unsurprisingly his orders had no effect and the tide continued to advance. His intent with the piece of theatre was to show that even Kings do not have the power of Gods. He was not, as is often thought, delusional enough to think that he did have such power.

This delusion is known as the God Complex, where people believe that they have the knowledge, skills, experience and power to design and predict solutions to the challenges we face. Further, they refuse to accept the fact that they might be wrong. Thus we get the Agile God Complex, where Agile is imposed on teams and organisations by managers and consultants in the belief that it will solve all problems. If people would just do it right!

Daniel Mezick has also been referring to something similar as the Agile Industrial Complex. And for the Cynefin crowd, this is of course treating a complex problem as if it were complicated. And while the use of expertise is valid for complicated problems, it still shouldn’t be confused with having god-like power!

Leaving it in the Lap of the Gods

This leaves a potential quandary. If we shouldn’t worship false gods, and we shouldn’t try to be gods, what should we do? Leave it in the lap of the gods? In other words, should we just leave it to chance and hope people will figure things our for themselves?

This is where Strategy Deployment comes in to play; allowing solutions to emerge from the people closest to the problem. We don’t need to leave it in the lap of the gods because we can provide clarity of intent and strategic guidance which informs the co-creation of experiments. Thus we can deliberately discover what action we can take to TASTE success.

Put another way, we enable Outcome-Oriented Change. Mike Burrows has recently used this term to described his Agendashift approach, and the following definition nicely sums up for me how we should be help teams through an Agile Transformation.

By building agreement on outcomes we facilitate rapid, experiment-based evolution of process, practice, and organisation. Agendashift avoids the self-defeating prescription of Lean and Agile techniques in isolation; instead we help you keep your vision and strategy aligned with a culture of co-creation and continuous transformation.

Lean-Agile Strategy Days: An X-Matrix and Agendashift Fusion

PhotonQ-FusionI’m really excited by a new venture on June 7-8 with Mike Burrows. Its called Lean-Agile Strategy Days, and will be an opportunity for attendees to explore with Mike and myself how we can combine and synthesise the X-Matrix and Agendashift as approaches to Strategy Deployment.

From the event page:

We’ll be looking at strategy – how to engage people in its development, how to develop and test the thinking, and how to build habits of follow-through. You’ll be learning through practice, and at the same time participating in an exciting collaboration. Together, let’s discover how these important topics interact and amplify each other.

I’ve blogged previously about Strategy Deployment and Agendashift with my early thoughts on the relationship between the two. Since then have I become an Agendashift partner and attended Mike’s workshop as a participant. As we have chatted and collaborated a couple of things have become apparent.

  1. There is a huge overlap in our thinking and philosophy around how we approach helping organisations through change.
  2. There is a huge opportunity for more collaboration between people with similar philosophies but different ideas.

After Mike ran another collaborative Flow Days workshop with Patrick Steyaert earlier this year, we realised they had created a good way of taking advantage of both these points, and Lean-Agile Strategy Days was born. We hope that this grows into a series of events where different people collaborate to combine their ideas – co-operating rather than competing.

If you want to learn about Strategy Deployment, with either the X-Matrix, or Agendashift, or if you want to be involved in innovating ways of combining the two, then please join us. Super Early Bird price is just £535 + VAT until May 8th for two days of learning and discovery with myself and Mike.

Book now – we hope to see you there!

Agendashift, Cynefin and the Butterfly Stamped

The butterfly who stamped

I’ve recently become an Agendashift partner and have enjoyed exploring how this inclusive, contextual, fulfilling, open approach fits with how I use Strategy Deployment.

Specifically, I find that the Agendashift values-based  assessment can be a form of diagnosis of a team or organisation’s critical challenges, in order to agree guiding policy for change and focus coherent action. I use those italicised terms deliberately as they come from Richard Rumelt’s book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy in which he defines a good strategy kernel as containing those key elements. I love this definition as it maps beautifully onto how I understand Strategy Deployment, and I intent to blog more about this soon.

In an early conversation with Mike when I was first experimenting with the assessment, we were exploring how Cynefin relates to the approach, and in particular the fact that not everything needs to be an experiment. This led to the idea of using the Agendashift assessment prompts as part of a Cynefin contextualisation exercise, which in turn led to the session we ran together at Lean Agile Scotland this year (also including elements of Clean Language).

My original thought had been to try something even more basic though, using the assessment prompts directly in a method that Dave Snowden calls “and the butterfly stamped“, and I got the chance to give that a go last week at Agile Northants.

The exercise – sometimes called simply Butterfly Stamping – is essentially a Four Points Contextualisation in which the items being contextualised are provided by the facilitator rather than generated by the participants. In this case those items were the prompts used in the Agendashift mini assessment, which you can see by completing the 2016 Agendashift global survey.

This meant that as well as learning about Cynefin and Sensemaking, participants were able to have rich conversations about their contexts and how well they were working, without getting stuck on what they were doing and what tools, techniques and practices they were using. Feedback was very positive, and you can see some of the output in this tweet:

I hope we can turn this into something that can be easily shared and reused. Let me know if you’re interested in running at your event. And watch this space!

Strategy Deployment and Agendashift

Agendashift is the approach used by Mike Burrows, based on his book Kanban from the Inside, in which he describes the values behind the Kanban Method. You can learn more by reading Mike’s post Agendashift in a nutshell. As part of his development of Agendashift, Mike has put together a values based delivery assessment, which he uses when working with teams. Again, I recommend reading Mike’s posts on using Agendashift as a coaching tool  and debriefing an Agendashift survey if you are not familiar with Agendashift.

After listening to Mike talk about Agendashift at this year’s London Lean Kanban Day I began wondering how his approach could be used as part of a Strategy Deployment workshop. I was curious what would happen if I used the Agendashift assessment to trigger the conversations about the elements of the X-Matrix model. Specifically, how could it be used to identify change strategies, and the associated desired outcomes, in order to frame tactics as hypotheses and experiments. Mike and I had a few conversations, and it wasn’t long before I had the opportunity to give it a go. This is a description of how I went about it.

Assessment & Analysis

The initial assessment followed Mike’s post, with participants working through individual surveys before spending time analysing the aggregated results and discussing strengths, weaknesses, convergence, divergence and importance.

Strategies

Having spent some time having rich conversations about current processes and practices, triggered by exploring various perspectives suggested by the survey prompts and scores, the teams had some good insights about what they considered to be their biggest problems worth solving and which required most focus. Getting agreement on what the key problems that need solving are can be thought of as agreeing the key strategies for change.

Thus this is where I broke away from Mike’s outline, in order to first consider strategies. I asked the participants to silently and individually come up with 2 to 3 change strategies each, resulting in around 20-30 items, which we then collectively grouped into similar themes to end up with 5-10 potential strategies. Dot voting (with further discussion) then reduced this down to the 3 key change strategies which everyone agreed with.

To give some examples (which I have simplified and generalised), we had strategies around focussing collaboration, communication, quality, product and value.

Outcomes

Having identified these key strategies, the teams could then consider what desired outcomes they hoped would be achieved by implementing them. By answering the questions “what would we like to see or hear?” and “what would we measure?”, the teams came up with possible ways, both qualitative and quantitative, which might give an indication of whether the strategies, and ultimately the tactics, were working.

Taking the 3 key strategies, I asked small groups of 3-5 people to consider the outcomes they hope to achieve with those strategies, and then consolidated the output. One reassuring observation from this part of the workshop was that some common outcomes emerged across all the strategies. This means that there were many-to-many correlations between them, suggesting a messy coherence, rather than a simplistic and reductionist relationship.

Some examples of outcomes (again simplified and generalised) were related to culture, responsiveness, quality, understanding and feedback.

Hypotheses

Once we have strategies and outcomes, the next step is to create some hypotheses for what tactics might implements the strategies to achieve the outcomes. To do this I tweaked Mike’s hypothesis template, and used this one:

We believe that <change>

implements <strategies>

and will result in <outcomes>

With this template, the hypotheses are naturally correlated with both strategies and outcomes (where the outcomes already consist of both subjective observations and objective measures).

I asked each participant to come up with a single hypothesis, creating a range of options from which to begin defining experiments.

For example (vastly simplified and generalised!):

We believe that a technical practice

implements a quality related strategy

and will result in fewer defects

Actions

This as far as we got in the time available, but I hope its clear that once we have hypotheses like this we can start creating specific experiments with which to move into action, with the possibility that each hypotheses could be tested with multiple experiments.

Results

While we didn’t formally go on to populate an X-Matrix, we did have most of the main elements in place – strategies, outcomes and tactics (if we consider tactics to be the actions required to test hypotheses) – along with the correlations between them. Although we didn’t discuss end results in this instance, I don’t believe it would take much to make those explicit, and come up with the correlations to the strategies and outcomes.

On a recent call with Mike he described Agendashift in terms of making the agenda for change explicit. I think that also nicely describes Strategy Deployment, and why I think there is a lot of overlap. Strategy Deployment makes the results, strategies, outcomes and tactics explicit, along with the correlations and coherence between them, and it seems that Agendashift is one way of going about this.