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!

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.

 

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.

Best Wishes and Big Pictures for the New Year

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.

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.

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

Online Conference Report

The most remarkable thing about the four-day, online Open Space conference I ran with Lucas Cioffi at QiqoChat.com last week is how strongly it replicated what so many of us have experienced in face-to-face open space meetings and events.  See the complete proceedings document here. From my Summary…

The intention was to extend and expand the best of the Organization Transformation symposium (where OST started), Open Space on Open Space, and OSLIST and support the sharing of all manner of practices, innovations and learnings. The invitation was to bring forth what’s been working – and learn together how to make more of it…

The plan was simple: Invite the world. Do three Openings, with start times spaced evenly around the clock, around the world, each one followed immediately by a Discussion Session with multiple breakouts possible. Then twelve more Discussion rounds evenly spaced over forty-eight hours. Finally, we’d close with a series of three Closing Circles, starting eight hours apart in our fourth day. All sessions were scheduled for two hours, space evenly across all time zones. We didn’t know if we’d have four, forty or four hundred participants…

The invitation went out just about a month before the start of the event. Forty-five participants were registered by the first Opening and sixty by the first Closing. Together, they created, managed and documented 22 working/learning sessions to address their most important issues and situations. The live action was a rich mix of voices and faces, participating by phone and computer, audio and video, reading and typing, link and file sharing. Notes were taken in a Collaborative Notes tool available in every breakout session. The Openings and Closings, and really the entire event, unfolded in ways remarkably similar to how face-to-face gatherings do. We made several important technical adaptations to the platform, and how we used it along the way, each time making it even more like face-to-face gatherings…

The conference agenda wall and proceedings document were open for public viewing throughout the event, and remain open at vosonos.qiqochat.com.

Virtual Open Space on Opening (All Kinds of) Space

Please join us for an experiment I’ve been working to organize…

Inviting Community, Sharing Learnings, Evolving Practice
Everywhere, July 8-11th or 9-12th (depending on where you are)

Conference Schedule | QiqoChat Platform and Registration | Questions

We have learned so much about bringing people together. We have imagined, invited, and unleashed. We are agile and appreciative, artful and improvisational. Our media is social, our networks are linked, and upstart movements can have national and international effects. We mix the newest technologies and the oldest human patterns. We work on peace AND high performance, passion and purpose, sharing and storytelling. We focus on what’s working, why it works, and how we can make more of it.

So what? And now what? The world is under pressure, in every time zone, maybe like never before – socially, politically, economically, environmentally, spiritually. Everywhere, complexity, diversity, real and potential conflict, and urgent needs are more obvious than ever. What is the opportunity here? What is our responsibility? What are the possibilities – and the practices that are working now – where you are? Full Invitation

Invisible but Undeniable Impact

Very fun to discover that an event I facilitated, the Open Space portion of the 2008 Scrum Alliance conference here in Chicago, had a big impact.

I just recently met someone who was among 200+ participants. After that event, he and two colleagues went back to their organization and ran a 2-day Open Space to save the day for a large software development project. What they did seems a textbook-perfect application of Open Space. But it’s just crazy lucky that I got to hear about it, for the first time, seven years later!

This sort of invisible impact highlights why it’s so hard to “track,” in conventional ways and terms, the value of Open Space.

Lean Startup

Just finished Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup and posted my notes in my WorkSpace section. Minimum Viable Product, Validated Learning, Small Batches, Five Whys, Innovation Sandboxing and Management Portfolio are all worth exploring in any size/kind of organization. The Five Whys is included in the Liberating Structures book mentioned in a recent posting here.

Open Space Anywhere

I recently reviewed the basic conditions, preparation, and mechanisms/patterns for Open Space practice at openspaceworld.org. Here’s a quick summary…

The conditions are about turbulence and change: complexity, diversity, passion (even conflict) and urgency. The preparation is simple and easy, an invitation, invite list, a place and time and few materials, and anything needed to support the products required. As for basic mechanisms, invitation makes the purpose clear and participation voluntary, circle is the team that volunteers. Bulletin board holds the portfolio, transparently accessible to all. Marketplace, platform or meeting space is the ground of self-organization, where learning and contribution trade. Iteration establishes practice, enabling long-term results.

Business Agility Boston

Looking forward to being a part of this on June 30th…

BUSINESS AGILITY BOSTON is the 1-day event for executives, directors, managers and #Agile transformation leaders who are responsible for implementing BUSINESS AGILITY across the entire enterprise. The concepts of invitation, facilitation, Open Space and opt-in participation are prominent aspects of this edgy conference event. Agile Boston, an agile community of practice in Greater Boston, is the conference organizer. Details and Registration

Immersion eclipses engagement

Paul Levy told me this week that a group of young people in Brighton UK are using open space in something called “creating our future.” It looks a lot like open space, but the invitations that are issued for their gatherings are apparently, intentionally, and invitingly rough. Then they are openly edited by anyone who’s thinking about attending. Effectively, the whole conversation about what the invitation should be IS the invitation. And it’s not over until the people start to gather which is to say that it’s not over until it really just begins. Brilliant. Inviting inviting itself. Immersion eclipses engagement.

Inviting and Unleashing

This morning I read David Holzmer writing recently suggesting that mechanistic order, stability and rationality, the core assumptions underlying what we think organization is and how it should function, are crumbling under the pressure of increasing change and disruption.

Our bias for order and stability shows up in what Harold Shinsato described this morning on our OSHotline call, from a book called The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures. Our limited default menu of meeting structure options looks like: (1) formal presentation with questions, (2) open unmanaged discussion, (3) managed discussion where a facilitator is charged with herding the group to a desired outcome, (4) status reports that would also include going around a circle giving names and titles or suggestion box style of information gathering, and (5) brainstorming.

Reading the Holzmer post, it seemed to me that rational planning itself is not to blame, but rather that we engage such a small slice of an organization or community in planning, and coincidental awareness and responsibility. I’m encouraged to see Liberating Structures identifying 35 approaches, ranging from simple techniques to robust practices, with the potential to involve and engage more and more people in more and more thoughtful, interconnecting, and active ways.

Looks like a practical language for deepening and diffusing the practice of Inviting organization, what the LS folks call including and unleashing. I find “including” a little flat, preferring the practical tension inherent in “inviting and unleashing,” where each side makes the other side possible.

Thanks to Chris Corrigan and Diana Larsen for pointing to the Holzmer post.

Noticing and Remembering

…some key principles, teachers, and ideas while doing a bunch of thinking and learning, writing and designing last week. I sorted some old and new ideas into a rough framework, named the biggest buckets, and discovered they were an excellent update to the four dimensions I first outlined in Inviting Organization Emerges, 1998. Either I’m still crazy or this view is still true: (personal) passion, (shared) purpose, (learning) practice, and (high) performance.

Here are some of the bits that came up along the way…

  • “people are purposeful and can be ideal-seeking. you don’t have to agree with someone’s purposes, but they surely do have them.” merrelyn emery, in a search conference and participative design training, 1995.
  • imposing democratic self-management or how do we teach responsibility? i posted this topic in my first-ever open space conference. “i don’t! i just ask what’s working. and then i ask how to grow more of that.” my first brush with harrison owen, in open space, 1996. this works just as well for individuals and oneself.
  • “if a living system is unhealthy, the way to make it more healthy is to reconnect it with more of itself.” a quote from francisco varela that i carried in my wallet on the back of a business card, for about 10 years.
  • standing around a campfire at an Outward Bound instructor training… how are we going to remember all the details of how to brief all these different teambuilding exercises? “these kids don’t care about the initiatives. they just want to know if you love them.” we never quite outgrow that need for love or circling up around a fire.
  • in the beginning there was change. then it got spun up more hopefully, as transition. when it got deep and potentially uncomfortable, we called it transformation. now that we’re beginning to really understand it, i hear more and more people talking about evolution. the main benefits of this view is that we can’t evolve other people and we don’t waste as much time trying escape or avoid it.
  • in agile development, the purpose of individual scrum sprints is to produce value, but the purpose of sprinting is learning and improvement. and yes, these things happen to be distinct and inseparable.
  • the best games have four elements: a goal, some rules, a scoreboard, and they’re opt-in, says game designer and ted talker, jane mcgonigal. this aligns surprisingly well with the essential elements of an invitation and inviting leadership.
  • after one of the championship games michael jordan won with a last-second shot, an interviewer asked him what he was thinking about during the timeout right before that shot. “i was thinking that nobody knows what’s going to happen. all the people in the stadium, all the people watching on TV, nobody knows. i thought that was really cute. (big smile)” in agile terms, this is the essence of valuing responding to change more than following a plan.
  • we can mandate performance, but high performance is invitation only. mandates can set minimum standards, but will almost always limit the upside or be completely unreasonable and irrelevant. invitations express ideals in ways that call people to their pursuit.

Open Space as Trim Tab

I was talking last week about Open Space serving as a “trim tab,” pointing to its use in guiding transformational change in organizations. Along the way, I discovered that Bucky Fuller, according to Wikipedia, “is often cited for his use of trim tabs as a metaphor for leadership and personal empowerment.”

In the February 1972 issue of Playboy, Fuller said:

Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary—the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab.

It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go.

So I said, call me Trim Tab.

—Buckminster Fuller

Free Speech, Free Listening

This is a remarkable little experiment with huge implications and potential. Lucas Cioffi took some dining room chairs down to the local pedestrian mall, put signs on the back offering “Free Speech,” reminiscent of Fran Peavey’s travels and invitation as “American willing to listen.”

When Lucas wondered if he shouldn’t add more rules or guidance to shape the dialogues that have emerged, I said I didn’t think so. Though as he had already used signs and the phrase “Free Speech,” I suggested “Free Listening” would be a powerful addition to the signs. The combination of the two, right and responsibility, seems like robust and complete guidance for these small groups, all the way up to our federal government.

Prime Moment for OS?

Daniel Mezick’s been doing with what he calls the Prime/OS™ approach, where two Open Space meetings bookend a 100-days period of intense experimenting, to create a rite of passage process in support of transformation in organization. Prime/OS is a generalization of his Open Agile Adoption practice, wherein the “transformation” being achieved is the understanding and embrace of Agile software development. Daniel’s approach effectively broadens and deepens the Inviting center of Open Space. This Agile Coaching Institute points to the needs served by Daniel’s approach:

…Many companies are responding to the turbulence of today’s world by adopting agile development in their product and service delivery. And for good reason: Agile provides well-­‐tested practices and frameworks that improve a company’s speed, customer satisfaction, and quality of delivery.

As many organizations are finding, however, Agile’s focus on team delivery alone is not enough. Consider a recent Version One 2013 “State of Agile” survey: respondents cited “inability to change organizational culture” and “general resistance to change” (at 54% and 42% respectively) as the two largest barriers to sustainable agile adoption.

These two issues have nothing to do with agile delivery methods per se. More and more, companies are already quite good at the nuts and bolts of agile team delivery. What they lack are new skills and practices at the management and organizational level to create an overall environment of agility…

The paper goes on to describe a “Sense and Respond” approach to leadership that fits well with what I called “Post and Host,” way back in 1998. Like my Inviting Organization story, they also rely on Ken Wilber’s work.

The Agile Leader, by Michael Hamman and Michael K. Spayd, Agile Coaching Institute.