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.

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.

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 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

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.

Open Space Anywhere

I recently reviewed the basic conditions, preparation, and mechanisms/patterns for Open Space practice at 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

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

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.

Short OS for 400?

“We have a group of 400 people. We want to use Open Space. We have 90 mins or maybe up to 2 hours. How would that work?”

My short answer? “Not very well!” With many groups, especially that large, we’d normally take the first 90 minutes of 2 or 3 days to create the agenda for the whole program.

My better answer? A Lean/OS/Cafe.

The first alternative to OS that came to mind in this situation was a World Cafe sort of program, small groups meeting and mixing, through several rounds of pre-determined questions. The next iteration was something I’ve done before, where the first Cafe question is something like, “What are the most important questions for us to be thinking and talking about?” This effectively makes all the table tops into the equivalent of the marketplace wall where topics are posted in Open Space.

The most interesting and promising design springs from this modified OS/Cafe approach, with inspiration and a little logistics borrowed from something called Lean Coffee. The Lean technique is most commonly used with small groups, almost like a one-table Open Space where issues are identified and then the top one or few are addressed in order of importance, as determined by voting.

The Lean/OS/Cafe design envisions 40 tables of 10, perhaps with an extra chair at each table to facilitate some moving about. It starts with each table identifying a set of issues that’s most important for our participants, based on their context and purpose for gathering. At each table, the top issues are identified, posted up on a little table tent, and discussion begins.

In the opening briefing, participants are given the right and responsibility to participate at their table, or move about and find new table(s) where they can maximize their own learning and contribution to the overall purpose and question. Harvest all the issues raised, those chosen for discussion, any notes that might be taken for sharing, and as many closing comments as their might be time for.

And so, Lean/OS/Cafe was born, to tap the expansive spirit, personal freedom and sense of ownership that are characteristic of Open Space, with a dash of the quickness of Lean Coffee and intimacy of World Cafe.

Lean Coffee

For years I’ve been doing and suggesting others try running small meetings in a style informed by open space. The approach is simple: invite the people into some purpose (even if it’s the weekly staff or team meeting), show up for the meeting, create the agenda (issues and issue owners), and then just start picking off the issues, one by one. Choose the most important ones, the easiest ones, the most complex, according to group preferences, informally polled. Sometimes we’ve created two agendas by tagging some issues for “whole group” and others for “anyone who cares.” The latter sessions are then run in parallel, more true to open space, rather than in series with the whole group’s attention.

The way I understand it, Lean Coffee, a marriage of Kanban and Open Space (the coffee), adds timeboxes to the process, which apparently keeps the work clicking along and engagement high. The group votes more formally on which issues to discuss. Each discussion gets a 5-7 minute timebox and the potential to be voted into a 2-3 minute extension of that. If conversations need to continue, they can spin off into a separate table. Usually this would be done with a group small enough to sit around a single table, cafe or conference room size, and the whole affair might last 60-90 minutes. It’s guided by two Kanban principles: visualizing the work agenda (on a tabletop or in an shared online posting tool for virtual coffees) and limiting the work in progress at any one time. Use for learning community meetings, agile retrospectives, and quick status checks in community meetings or other working groups. Online tabletop tool options include trello, etherpad, hackpad, and google docs. Harvesting takeaways at the end is one option for closing.

Thanks to Harold Shinsato for this learning.

Short Open Space inside Larger Meeting?

I answer a lot of open space design questions, mostly about departures from standard practice. Here’s one from a recent email exchange, about doing a small/short open space inside a larger meeting/group:

…great that you’re reading the [ost] user’s guide [by harrison owen]. You’ve got too small a time slot to do anything but confuse people if you call what you’re doing “Open Space” but it’s very fair to tell them that you’d like to invite them into a process that’s *informed* by OST. That said, the things to focus on are the basic mechanisms… invitation, circle, bulletin board (post what’s most important), marketplace (room to move around and make choices for themselves), personal passion and responsibility for maximizing their own learning and contributing.

Forget about everything else, like going around and having everyone introduce themselves. If you ask what’s most important to everyone, what they want to be sure to discuss and address with some of the others who’ve gathered with you, read those out with their names, and post them on the wall — the group has done exactly that usual going around exercise, focusing on those folks most likely to take the lead (cuz they already have). Also, since you’ve appeared to ignore doing this obvious going around exercise, everyone will do some tiny version of that in their breakouts, all by themselves. No need for you to impose it on them and slow the beginning of the work. I say this as just one example of all the other things to NOT do.

Oh, and just have fun with it. As long as you don’t call it “Open Space Technology” (complete with drumroll), then it doesn’t “have to” be anything… it can just be a process that you cooked up, informed by, inspired by, OST. Simplest process that could possible work… for your meeting, at this moment.

How do we get Action?

This is a common question about working in Open Space. It’s easy to have a great conversation, but what about action? How do we get to Action?

First, we need to notice and acknowledge that everything that happens DURING an Open Space meeting or event IS action. When people raise issues, call meetings, work out solutions and so on — in an office — we call it real work. When it happens anywhere else, it’s still real work. It’s still action.

After the meeting or event, I think it’s not so much a challenge to “get” action as to “notice” it. Yesterday, I met with a woman who’s here in Chicago for a science education conference. She wanted to learn more about Open Space. A colleague of hers had heard about the work we did in Open Space for the Ocean Leadership program three years ago. Now they will chart an Open Space-informed course to organize a global network of polar regions educators, starting with the session they’re running this morning. They’ll follow with one in Norway later this year. Sounds like action to me, even though it’s three years later and nobody in the original meeting has even heard of it. Yet.

Invite, connect, inform… and the action just happens.

Manifesto for Agile Open Space Organization?

Revisiting the Agile Manifesto recently, in conversations with Daniel Mezick, extending and expanding connections with Open Space. This isn’t a perfect translation. The third line could be tweaked to include internal customers and negotiations. Some might say that “learning and contributing” or other key Open Space terms need to be included. Even so, it’s true enough to show how easily Agile and Open Space fit together.

Manifesto for Agile Software Development Open Space Organization

We are uncovering better ways of
developing software working in organization
by doing it and helping others do it.

Through this work we have come to value:

1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
2. Working software Open invitations and working marketplaces over
comprehensive documentation corporate communications and scripted meetings
3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
4. Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.

Devoted and Disgruntled, an Open Space Roadshow

Improbable Road Movie from Improbable on Vimeo.

Here is a fantastic video made about an “open space roadshow” put on by Improbable Theatre Company in the UK, led by friend and colleague Phelim McDermott. Their theme was “Devoted and Disgruntled” and it all began as a single event seeking to rekindle the “community” in “the London theatre community.”

The roadtrip that emerged ended with Wosonos 2012 (World Open Space on Open Space practitioners’ conference) last year. This year they also did a mini roadshow so in all D&D Roadshow has done over 30 different open spaces nationwide in the last year and a half! Over 800 individual intertagged breakout session reports about theatre issues are posted online.

This particular video pulled together footage from three events, plus WOSonOS, but it’s more about Open Space than about theatre. This sort of open space roadshow could be replicated on any issue, in any sector or community, anywhere.

Supporting Dynamic Alignment

This is a cool physical demonstration of what it feels like to work in open space. Thirty-two metronomes start out clicking away discordantly. On a static surface, think rigid, static organization structure, they stay that way: discordant.

On a moving surface, however, the more fluid, flexible foundation, allows the vibrations of each to inform and be informed by those around it. The synchronicity that results is surprisingly quick. That too fits my experience in working with the flexible foundation that open space provides in groups, organizations and communities. Open Space is a flexible “platform” that quickly and easily supports synergy and alignment in action.

If you’ve any concerns about falling into lockstep and getting stuck, we have only to recall how many different inner and outer disturbances there are to keep reintroducing discord and turbulence. The danger usually lies not in getting stuck in sync, but in not being able to achieve or sustain it, being stuck on a static platform in a world that demands coordinated movement.

revisiting self-organization: the view from jakarta

still thinking about something i posted to the OSLIST a while back.

…some years ago, at one of our chicago open space trainings, a music therapist friend (louise mitran), brought a couple cases of music-making things.  in a session she convened, we tried to make and sustain “chaos,” a state of no rhythmic pattern.  we found it pretty much impossible.  so i think maybe why we don’t see it happening in open space is that it is so fleeting.  it’s just changes happening, being made, shapes shifting and then new patterns emerging so quickly that we notice the new, enduring patterns and it’s pretty much impossible to notice, much less sustain, any “chaos.”

thinking about a spectrum from chaos to control, my first guess was that chaos and not-caring were somehow connected to the same end of the spectrum, opposite to control.  today i’m thinking that not-caring IS what makes control possible, and maybe even necessary.  a wandering philosopher of sorts once told me that totalitarian dictatorship required three conditions:  widespread apathy, control of the media (story), and generalized insecurity.  open space works to directly undercut all three.

as often as not, i think, as more people step up and express more active caring, those “in control” can relax (unless being in control of others is their main intent).  managerial ease happens long before real chaos shows up.  and chaos probably never shows up, because no captain or crew members, excepting the sociopathic few, want it to go there.

the balance between caring and control would seem to be a sort of self-balancing thing, like the number of breakouts and size of the large meeting room in open space.  that is, the more breakouts we have, the smaller they get, the closer people sit, the quieter they can be… so the room size can be pretty much the same, and hold more or fewer breakouts.  if the room can hold 100 people, it will work no matter how many ways the group divides.  as passion increases, responsibility increases, managerial control can decrease.  as less caring and attentiveness allow breakdown, those who
still care must work harder to hold things together, to maintain control.

i guess the far end is that too much caring, everybody cares, is where stalemates and conflicts emerge, spats, fights, even wars.  but then there’s also the question of WHAT it is that everyone is caring about.  this is why purpose matters.  this is why we convene open space around the future of the company rather than something like “what are the issues and opportunities for raising your (own) pay, reducing your workload, and improving your benefits package.”

so maybe the dance is really between individual caring and organized control, and the thing that holds it all together is our continual reach for the biggest possible theme, question and organizational “self.”

as i recall, the only way to (almost by chance) sustain any sort of chaos in that musical exercise, i think, was to actively NOT listen to any others and concentrate fully on my own (noise).

this morning, coming out of a two-day open space in jakarta, indonesia, i’m understanding it this way…

it’s not that control is better than chaos, or vice versa. no more that passion is better than responsibility or learning better than contribution. nor questions better than answers. they’re all akin to breathing out and breathing in. it’s not that working in open space is better than traditional managing, planning and conferencing methods. (and in the context of our work with USAID here in jakarta this week, not that american way is better than indonesian way of development.)

it’s the going back and forth that strengthens us, in the realization that complete chaos and total control are equally untenable, unsustainable, impermanent. so the one will always nudge us, gently or firmly, back in the direction of the other. self-organization is the inescapable play between these two ends of everything and open space doesn’t oppose formal organization, it depends on and supports it, and vice versa.

the more we practice backing and forthing between the two, our work in open space can handle all kinds of technical, analytical, conflicted, complex decision-making challenges and the results get more measurable, far beyond mere “brainstorming,” while traditional management and planning work can become more adaptive, flexible, inviting and engaging. it’s the going back and forth that strengthens our organizations and communities.

putting this in terms of the inviting organization story, this is the backing and forthing between what matters on the inside and what can be observed and constructed on the outside, and also personal caring and action as processed through organizational culture and process. in this going back and forth, all “techniques” become part of a larger body, called practice.

Out of the Sewer

Found this archived bit of wisdom today in the Esquire politics blog. Reflecting on the nature of hope and absurdity, Vaclav Havel tells a tale of his falling into a sewer hole full of shit then somehow finds his way out of that telling to explain:

…history is not something that takes place elsewhere; it takes place here. We all contribute to making it. If bringing back some human dimension to the world depends on anything, it depends on how we acquit ourselves in the here and now.

The kind of hope I often think about (especially in hopeless situations like prison or sewer) is, I believe, a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don’t. Hope is not a prognostication — it’s an orientation of the spirit. Each of us must find real, fundamental hope within himself. You can’t delegate that to anyone else.

Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy when things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something to succeed. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. It is this hope, above all, that gives us strength to live and to continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now. In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.

History, yes, but also “organization culture” and most all of the real work that gets done in the world, it seems to me, depends on “how we acquit ourselves in the here and now.” Some talk of “culture change” but culture is what we all create together, what we all agree and reinforce with each decision, what is good and right. We can make grand plans and designs, but it’s the absurdity of taking immediate next steps, into those designs, that depends on hope, stepping into the absurdity of doing this one little thing in the face of the great need or plan or vision.

This reminds me of opening space in organizations. It’s not about some theory of how things work, or some conviction that open space is some sort of magic. It’s about inviting and leveraging our innate ability to come together, hope together, and do the first things, the most important things, even if we only have a couple days or hours. We make a beginning, purposefully not pointlessly.

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