Podcast: When Agile Meets Open Space

pilar_podcast

Thanks to Pilar Orti, in London, for capturing in a recent podcast some of the fun we had in the Distributed Agile Teamwork sessions, in the Audacious Salon track, at the Agile2016 Conference, and previously in the Virtual Open Space on Open Space (VOSONOS) I convened last year.

When Mark Kilby, Agile Coach and Agile community leader in Florida/Orlando, joined VOSONOS last year, we discovered we’d been together at the Agile/XP Universe conference back in 2002, where I facilitated an Open Space track and he first learned about OS.

This year’s Distributed Agile Teamwork sessions invited participants into a conversation about the future of working virtually. That conversation continues at VirtualTeamTalk.slack.com. Join us!

Thanks to Mark and Pilar for their invitations to play together!

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More Modern Agile Connections

Thanks to Deb Preuss and Steve Holyer to the first Agile Cocktails virtual (and international) lean coffee meetup today, where a small group of us just had a great conversation with Josh Kerievsky, CEO of Industrial Logic and one of the leading voices in the Modern Agile refactoring of the Agile Manifesto.  I’ve already made a bunch of connections between Modern Agile and my own Inviting Organization work.  Today’s conversation helped me make some more.

The Modern Agile story starts with Safety, on all levels, from personal to technical.  Safety supports Making People Awesome or what I think of as Making People Heroes (in Awesome Stories).  Awesome people are able to Learn Faster via Experimenting, which supports Delivering Value Continuously (or at least more and more often).

The FIRST challenge is moving the needle on each of these things, probably, in most cases, starting with Safety.  Josh shared Stop the Process cards, the knowledge worker equivalent of Toyota’s andon cord, that team members can use in any moment or meeting when they see Safety slipping.  The purpose is the same as Toyota’s legendary tool: raise awareness and make changes while the problem is still new and small.

Exploring other behaviors that reinforce Safety, we mentioned the need to keep returning to the assumption of positive intentions, that we need to find 4-5 more positives than negatives to maintain good relations, and that any targeting of  self-protective withdrawal or responses will be counter-productive.  Invitation, on the other hand, what we called Challenge by Choice in my teambuilding days, seems some kind of bedrock.

Now linking in some practices from pure Dialogue, developed years ago at MIT, here are some of the specific things we can invite:

  1. Listen… to yourself, listen to the other, listen to the center (of the team/group/circle), and listen UP (or beyond or beneath,  for what might be emerging from above or below or otherwise outside of the group).
  2. Suspend your assumptions, especially those negative assumptions that are the basis for mistrusting behaviors.  Let your assumptions be examined and questioned and adjusted separately from your Self.
  3. Slow the inquiry,
  4. Hold the Space for Difference and…
  5. Speak from Awareness… round out the other Dialogue principles, but were mentioned only indirect or passing way.

This reminded me that the oft-cited Cynefin framework can be wired in here, as well, on the way to articulating a SECOND, higher-level, challenge of Modern Agile.   Cynefin describes four decision-making contexts:

  1. Simple, Obvious, Known
  2. Complicated, but Knowable
  3. Complex, Known Unknowables
  4. Chaotic, Unknown Unknowables
  5. (the cliff)

These contexts map well to the “environments” described by Emery and Trist (1965), pioneers of self-managing teams (what Emery called “purposeful and ideal-seeking systems”) and organization transformation via participative (invited!) work redesign:

  1. placid, random (where the goodies are just randomly available for picking)
  2. placid, clustered (where patterns emerge and can be known, learned, used to find more goodies)
  3. disturbed-reactive (competitive, where others are chasing the same goodies, with complex effects)
  4. turbulent (where surprises abound and success depends on adaptive learning)
  5. vortical (an emergent, usually unsustainable situation, think peak experience or breakdown)

The Cynefin view breaks down for me when it’s drawn as four quadrants with a kind of cliff at the far edge of chaos.  In direct experience, my knowns are always a subset of what is knowable, which is then bounded by those things I can see lie just beyond my capacity to know.  Which is to say they are nested wholes, like the levels in Inviting Organization Emerges.  This is important, because it allows for all the levels to be true simultaneously. I know some things and don’t know what I don’t know all at once.

As life and work unfolds in each moment, one of the levels is more important than the others, but they’re all still there.  AND… at each level, a different kind of Listening matters more than the others.  At the most basic, I need to pay attention to my own thinking, then to others, the collective patterns, the emergent, and finally to all of them at once, swirling in a vortical way.

In the same way, the SECOND challenge of Modern Agile is to turn the four steps into a self-reinforcing virtuous practice loop is the second challenge.  That takes means finding ways that continuous delivery reinforces safety and moving toward a vortical swirl that feels like doing all four at a high level and all at once.  That means Inviting customers, business leaders, dev and ops into a Safe, Awesome, Fast-Learning, Continuously Valuable Dialogue.  That means Inviting (vs. driving or grabbing for) more Peak Experiences and practicing the things that help us sustain higher and higher plateaus between those Peaks.

We sticky-note our way through all the knowns and knowables, toward being more and more prepared for anything and everything else, always inviting attention to whatever level of listening, knowing, decision-making and learning that is most important, in that moment and the next and the next.  In this way, the being and doing of Safe, Awesome, Faster and Valuable are continuously developed and refined, same as, inseparable from the actual software product.

At the close of our session today, one of us suggested that we can’t actually make people safe.  I think we can’t actually make people awesome or heroes.  Or make them learn for that matter.  Safe and awesome and learning are individual choices.  Which is what I’ve said elsewhere about Engagement, too.  The best we can do – and all we really need to do – is continually Invite them into these practices, to make it easier to choose these ways of working.

 

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Inviting Agility

Still churning through all the ideas and connections that popped up at the Agile2016 conference in July.  Collaborated with Mark Kilby on the design and facilitation of a two-part session on distributed Agile teamwork, in the Audacious Salon track.  Flew drones in the hotel with Tim Ottinger and friends.  Josh Kerievsky’s keynote presentation of Modern Agile sparked an exciting update of my Inviting Organization Emerges work.  Got to kick around the SMARTer Agile approach I’ve been developing from Sandra Walsh’s OpenXP.  And I met (and reconnected with) a bunch of great folks, whose videos and materials I’ve been devouring.

I’ve shared much of this (but not the drones) on a new Agile Practice Library page in WorkSpace.  Inviting Agility is how I’m understanding my ongoing cross-pollination of Open Space (and other inviting practices) and Agile methods.

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Best Wishes and Big Pictures for the New Year

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Open Space for Rapid Agile Adoption

what happens when agile adoption runs on invitation and self-organization, more like open space? here is an interesting case story

walmart has 4000 core IT employees and another 6000 contractors — and four agile coaches. they’ve gone from 10% agile to 80%+ agile in about 1.5 years. they don’t mandate scrum, XP, kanban, SAFe, etc. they’ve done 30 open space meetings for 300+ people each in about 8 months. until just recently, they considered OS an important competitive advantage and did not speak about it publicly.

when i talked with one of their coaches in an agile learning group, he shared that his SVP keeps asking him “what does the agile store look like?” (they have 11,000 stores). i sketched him a back-of-the-envelope, invitation-based, open space plan to touch all 11,000 stores in a year. he thinks it might take five. (probably we have slightly different done criteria.)

either way, agile in open space looks fast and effective, in IT and beyond. and, of course, this same approach would work with any other enterprise-wide transformation.

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Developing Agile Culture in an Agile Way

Tana Linback and Chris Daily told a good story in their presentation to the APLN agile users group meeting last week. They titled their talk “Culture Eats Agile for Breakfast,” meaning the organization’s native culture will always be bigger and more powerful than any agile team or adoption initiative.

The brilliance of what they did, as an IT leader partnered with an HR leader, was to apply an agile approach to culture change. They created a culture change “backlog,” a vision, broken down into goals and then tasks that mirrored the usual Scrum backlog in software development. They created a “culture owner” as the analog to Scrum’s product owner. They formed teams, worked and experimented in sprints, and learned and adapted in retrospectives, and so on. And they seem to have achieved some enviable results, especially as measured by employee engagement surveys where key metrics more than doubled.

That said, I think they missed one deep and important distinction and opportunity: they started from the view that the customers of an organization’s culture are its employees. I think the customers of an organization’s culture is it’s actual customers – anyone who buys their products/services (consumers), plus job candidates AND spouses and families. For each of these groups, culture matters because of what it supports outside of the organization, in the real world. Culture determines what consumers can do with their purchases, what kind of people employees can be when they get home, and what job candidates can achieve if they buy in. This matters because agile and a Scrum backlog must be about delivering value AND because customers, hiring targets, and families are the ultimate arbiters of the value of the organization’s culture.

Once hired in, employees are ALL part of the development team, in Scrum terms. Culture is what we all create and evolve together. To say that employees are the customers of culture, automatically cuts the organization into culture-makers and culture-takers, the latter absolved of responsibility and limited in their ability to contribute to shaping the organization’s culture.

This defeats the point of using Scrum to suggest, and guide work in, self-managing teams. Cultural is a whole piece of work in which all employees are necessarily involved. The ideal to shoot for is having them all engaged in shaping and adapting it. The organization owes all employees, and requires of all employees, an active membership on the culture development team, continually learning and adapting together – not a finished “culture” product produced and delivered by a small, select, or senior team.

Tana and Chris described their ultimate result in terms of high engagement and widespread self-organization in their organization’s culture development work, exactly what you’d want and expect. So my comment is really about the way they tell the story, and how we might approach it from the beginning in other enterprises, rather than about the quality of their work.

The common experience is that corporate communications gets the story exactly perfect and the whole thing falls down in practice. This would seem to be just the opposite, where the story was a little bit off, but good results were borne out by sound practice.

Join the meetup group for their presentation.

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OpenSpace Agility

Congratulations to Daniel Mezick and friends, who’ve done some great work to connect invitation, engagement, Open Space and Agile software development.  The OpenSpace Agility Handbook, v.2.0 has just hit the shelves at Amazon.  This is practical, powerful stuff – for every kind of change in any kind of organization.

OpenSpace Agility™ is a repeatable technique for getting a rapid, genuine and lasting Agile adoption. OpenSpace Agility can be used to effectively introduce any kind of change into any kind of organization. It works with what you are currently doing, and can be added at any time.

OpenSpace Agility encourages very high levels of human engagement. It incorporates the power of invitation, iteration, Open Space, game mechanics, passage rites, storytelling and more…so that real and authentic change in your organization can actually take root.

The Open Space meeting format is a primary tool of OpenSpace Agility. The OpenSpace Agility method leverages the amazing power of iteration and the Open Space meeting format to help you get genuine and lasting success with your Agile adoption program.

With this handbook, you will learn how implement the OpenSpace Agility method. You’ll learn about how invitation, iteration, Open Space, game mechanics, passage rites, executive storytelling (and more) can be used to achieve a rapid and lasting Agile adoption. Inside this book, you’ll find specific, actionable step-by-step guidance on implementing the method. You will discover:

  • Why people power the Agile practices, not the other way around
  • Why engagement is an essential ingredient in any successful Agile adoption
  • How invitation increases engagement, passion and responsibility
  • How to immediately put the OpenSpace Agility method to work … in your organization
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