Whole-Team Dynamic Organizational Modeling – Agile 2012


Catherine Louis of Cll-Group and I will be facilitating a three hour workshop at Agile 2012 in Grapevine Texas on Monday August 13. The topic; Modeling Large, Complex Agile Organizations. Over the past year and a half we have been developing and refining a modeling method that allows teams to create “preto-types” of their organizations to test ideas and solicit feedback rapidly on what might be an appropriate organizational design for a business given different types of constraints. Below is a reproduction of the abstract for our workshop.

In large geographically distributed organizations where the size of the product exceeds what a single Scrum team can build, we think through the best way to organize teams and work. Over the past year, we have been working with large projects (over 100 people), distributed in several countries and helping them develop organizational models that they can use to visualize how teams and work could be best organized to maximize agility. In this workshop, we guide the participants through the process of assessing and developing large organizational models. The models provide business stakeholders with a tool to assess the trade-offs of different organizational models visually and rapidly. Whether you are responsible for building a large scale global Agile organization, or are a team member with ideas on how to organize teams and work, this workshop provides you with tools to develop organizational “preto-types” to use for communication and troubleshooting large-scale Agile organizational design.

We invite you to join us at Agile2012 on the Adoption and Transformation Stage and take part in a highly interactive and fun workshop. Complete details can be found here. Oh yes, I nearly forgot, we get to play with Lego. See you there!

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Trading One Silo for Another


I think we have silo busting all wrong. Well… partially wrong. I recall a story about a university campus. When buildings were put up on campus, there was a deliberate choice to not build any sidewalks or walk paths. Students, staff and faculty moved freely from building to building and over time, paths were worn into the ground where people had walked. The worn paths were the natural walking routes between buildings. Sidewalks were built on the beaten paths.

The usual approach to sidewalks and walk paths is to make straight lines, usually perpendicular or parallel to buildings. They look nice, neat and organized. But they are often not the way people choose to walk from point A to point B. Traditional organization design creates a neat, easy to understand model of how things should work. When it doesn’t work, we re-organize in the hope we are busting a silo. What happens instead is that we create a new silo. Silos are impossible to avoid. We trade one for another.

If instead, we could focus on the paths, we might have a chance of finding something better. In large knowledge-worker enterprises, the flow of information is the real organization. The rules and policies and containers we build are often not respected when something just has to get done. We use our network of trusted colleagues who have access to the right levers and information. When designing an organization, think about the flow of information. Go out into the organization and look for the beaten information paths. Find the “natural networks”, the ones that actually get things done and reinforce them. The challenge is to reinforce them without inhibiting natural change, or without constraining them.

Cultural Architecture


Last week I had the opportunity to present at Agile2011, which was attended by 1604 registered participants and over 250 talks. The conference was a wonderful opportunity to connect with old friends and make new ones.

The talk, titled Cultural Architecture was about how culture influences the way we work and interact differently depending on our cultural biases, rules and filters. Each culture presents unique challenges, and as change leaders, coaches, and practitioners, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves on how cultures influence what people do, why they do it, and how. As teams become increasingly cross-cultural and global, cultural knowledge becomes more important than ever.

What does it mean to have a 100% Agile organization?


This is a question that comes up from time to time and to me, it’s like asking; “What does it mean to be 100% Chinese, Indian,  German or Italian?”

If we have everyone doing Scrum, does that mean we are 100% Agile? That’s like asking, “If I listen to Italian music, eat Italian food, drink Italian wine, and live in Italy, does this make me Italian?” Maybe it does…maybe it doesn’t! If you  have read about my talk at Agile-2011 know where I am going with this. Being 100% Agile to some extent means we cannot explain why we are Agile, we simply are. Why am I Italian? I just am.

I come from a Punjabi culture. While  preparing my talk for Agile-2011, I asked my sister why we value respect and deference to our elders. Her comeback was “The culture of guilt and shame.” We laughed. She reminded me of how if we failed to accord the appropriate respect to our elders, which included our parents’ best friends, we were taken aside and admonished with, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? Go say sorry to your Auntie!” Mom and Dad never explained WHY we should feel ashamed, only that we should…
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Leadership and Process Principles for Agile Finance


I’ve been reading “Implementing Beyond Budgeting” by Bjarte Bogsnes. Finance is sometimes a neglected area in terms of Agile Transformation and Bogsnes’s book offers rock-solid advice. The first element is the set of leadership and process principles.There are 6 of each:

Leadership:

  1. Customers. Focus everyone on improving customer outcomes, not on hierarchical relationships.
  2. Organization. Organize as a network of lean, accountable teams, not around centralized functions.
  3. Responsibility. Enable everyone to act and think like a leader, not merely follow the plan.
  4. Autonomy. Give teams the freedom and capability to act; do not micromanage them.
  5. Values. Govern through a few clear values, goals, and boundaries, not detailed rules and budgets.

Process:

  1. Goals. Set relative goals for continuous improvement; do not negotiate fixed performance contracts.
  2. Rewards. Reward shared success based on relative performance, not in meeting fixed targets.
  3. Planning. Make planning a continuous and inclusive process, not a top-down annual event.
  4. Controls. Base controls on relative indicators and trends, not on variances against the plan.
  5. Resources. Make resources available as needed, not through annual budget allocations.
  6. Coordination. Coordinate interactions dynamically, not through annual planning cycles.

These are difficult principles to live by without trust, transparency and simplicity in your organization. Adopting these principles takes time and effort, and a rather gargantuan mind shift. Eventually you’d want them all, but if you had to start somewhere, which principles would start acting on tomorrow?

Can we apply Pareto to the budgeting process, focusing on the top 20% of financial decisions and issues aligned with the Product Backlog?

Decisions on what to STOP doing are as important as the decision on what to START doing. Are you making the hard calls? Can you apply Pareto to both decision types? What will we fund? What will we kill?

More to follow on this topic in a future post.

The Colors of Change – Tools for Change Management


Leading change requires change agents to exercise influence. Understanding individual motivations and assumptions matters. People come in different colors. Understanding each color and the motivations and assumptions that drive each one can help you get into the shoes of others, and consequently, help you understand how to best help them embrace change. There are five colors. There is no bad color or good color. Each color brings a different perspective, thinking style, and work style to the table.

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Speaking @ Agile 2011 – Salt Lake City, August 8-12 2011


I’ll be presenting “Cultural Architecture” at the Agile2011 Conference in Salt Lake City this August. Here’s an overview of the talk.

If our business culture was a product, how would we re-architect it? Culture influences everything. So how can we influence culture? What tools help us understand cultural influences, from the implicit, the elements we don’t even think about, to the visible, the artifacts that lead to stereotypes? Adopting an Agile culture, when it is under-laid with the cultures of the world is challenging. Reconciling cultural dilemmas drives collaboration and innovation. Culture is the core of it all. Knowing this, you can create a pull for cultural change in your organization.

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