Whole-Team Dynamic Organizational Modeling a Success at Agile2012

Yesterday, Catherine Louis and I delivered our three-hour workshop on “Whole-Team Dynamic Organizational Modeling” at the opening of the conference. It was well-attended–standing room only. Our colleague, Neil Johnson wrote about in his AgileSOC blog here. InfoQ wrote an article about it here. Thanks to Shane Hastie of InfoQ for attending and sharing our work with everyone.


Engagement, passion – the big WHY.

Only one in five employees are fully engaged. (Deloitte’s Center for the Edge: The Shift Index).

I personally view this video as a warning; the perils of over-rotating on a left-brained, rational approach to life, which removes context, meaning, and the big WHY of what we do.  Passion and vision are largely missing in the world of work, and when they do exist in doses that are sufficient to stir our emotions, we often fail to realize their potential. We don’t connect the WHY with the HOW and the WHAT.

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift…and the rational mind is a faithful servant. – Albert Einstein.

We need both, not only to survive, but to thrive.


Let’s Play!

Polar bears playing with dogs. Attuned right brains. Play as a driver for innovation. Great problem solvers are good with their hands. Full of interesting information that points to play as a practical tool for work and life. Tired of boring meetings? Try play – an out of the box suggestion in this video. Playing helps you think and do better – and helps build better teams.


Bad Decision Making

I tried an experiment with a few colleagues over the past couple of months based on Karl Popper’s famous experiment for confirmation bias. The results have big implications on how we can easily head down the path to making bad decisions.

The experiment goes like this. The experimenter gives the subjects a 3-digit pattern, “2 4 6” and asks them to write the rule that makes any other pattern conform to the same rule. The subjects may ask questions in the form of another pattern. For example, a subject may ask if the pattern 1 2 3 conforms, and the experimenter will answer either yes or no depending on whether or not the pattern conforms. After several attempts, the subjects write their “rule” for the pattern.

For example, subjects may ask:
“Does 4 8 12 conform?” The answer is yes.
“Does 6 8 10 conform?” Yes.
“Does 3 6 9 conform?” Yes. And so on…

Confirmation bias guarantees that you will ask more questions that get answered with a yes than with a no. The reason is that you start to build a model in your head of what the pattern conforms to, and you go about proving that you are right.

The answer to this puzzle is that the numbers must be increasing in value from left to right. (a < b < c). All someone has to do is offer the question “Does 2 3 1 conform?”, and you quickly start to converge because the answer is NO. One of my colleagues supplied negative integers (-2 -4 -6) and the answer was no. This led to some debate among the pair and they were far faster at converging than when they got yes answers.

I did the experiment with a pair of programmers and another pair of people, a programmer and a tester. The programmer-tester pair won. Why? Testers have the mindset of disproving rather than proving. Programmers like to prove their design works. Testers like to break features. Ironically, two testers in a pair don’t always do as well as a designer-tester pair. The diversity of the pair is what helps create the conditions for rapid convergence. Try this simple experiment yourself and share the results. The experiment is described in detail at the Developmental Psychology web site here.

Confirmation bias implies you filter and interpret data to support a belief you already have. The debate on Gun Control is an example of how the same data is interpreted different ways by people with differing perspectives. To increase government spending or reduce taxes to stimulate the economy is another debate where confirmation bias plays a role. There are huge implications for decision making. Human beings try to fit data to support their beliefs. Forcing yourself to disprove a hypothesis is powerful.

If you are responsible for delivering high quality products, what are the implications of confirmation bias on how you work? What can you do to create healthy team diversity and conflict which leads to better collaboration, and ultimately, better products?

Adapt or Die – US Military develops Agile Leaders

I read a very interesting paper on why the traditional Command and Control, plan up-front approach steeped in military history must change.

“Operating within an uncertain, unpredictable environment, the Army must be prepared to sustain operations during a period of persistent conflict—a blurring of familiar distinctions between war and peace.” This is a protracted war against adversaries employing irregular, unconventional, and asymmetrical means. The implications of this new context are clear: “Adapt or Die.”

The landscape of warfare has changed. More uncertainty, hidden enemies, and unpredictability. Training leaders to respond in this context requires a different approach.

The Army’s Training and Leader Development Panel (ATLDP) Officer Study concluded that, because of the ambiguous nature of the future operating environment, leaders should focus on developing the “enduring competencies,” or what they call metacompetencies, of self-awareness and adaptability. They recognized that the two were symbiotic; one without the other is useless. These metacompetencies are the essential building blocks of learning. Agility embodies this symbiotic relationship between self-awareness and adaptability. In this paper, agility is a metaphor for self-awareness and adaptability in action, the essence of learning.

Adapting fast requires changes in doctrine and the evolution of rapid organizational learning.

The process of rapid, effective organizational learning is the essence of organizational agility.

Senior leaders have the authority and resources to drive this change into their organizations, be they military organizations, or otherwise. The organization’s culture must be tuned to allow Agility to take hold. Differences between British and American military culture is telling.

Culture is unique; it is the organization’s personality based on its own set of experiences. Nagl’s study, as well as others that he cites, show the differences between the American and British military cultures and the impact on their ability to innovate during conflict. His conclusion is that differences in organizational culture allowed the British military to adapt and learn during its irregular warfare experience of counterinsurgency in Malaya, while the U.S. Army’s culture prevented it from learning during its similar experiences in Vietnam. Culture, an organization’s conventional wisdom about its essence, is a powerful lens that organizations use in interpreting their experiences and determining how or what to learn from these experiences.

The change in mindset required is the adoption of the “culture of innovation”

The training approach recommended in this paper is a move away from the traditional master-apprentice approach to that of co-learner and facilitator. I’ll close with this quote from the paper which says it all.

Rather than operating in a paradigm that perceives certain determinable linear cause-and-effect relationships, students will operate in a context that sees holistic, open, dynamic, emergent, complexly organized, rationalistic relationships that are too complex to be absolutely known. Applying knowledge and skill sets in this complex and ambiguous environment, dealing with the unexpected, operating with incomplete information, and making calculated decisions of risk all increase individual agility.

You can find the paper here.

March 29 2010 – Dinner with Jeff Sutherland

Monday, March 29, I had the opportunity to have dinner with Jeff Sutherland and other RTP leaders. The dinner was a fundraiser for CITCON, which came to RTP in April. This was an opportunity for Agile practitioners and experts to have an informal chat about the challenges and opportunities of using Agile in the world of work.

I was interested in learning more about Systematic, a CMMI level 5 company that implemented Scrum across its entire business. One thing that sets Systematic apart from other companies is that it has really good data to prove that Scrum works, and it is a software company that can execute perfect waterfalls every time. Systematic created hyper-productive teams, and by Jeff’s definition, they are at least 4 times more productive than industry average. They cut TTM in half and the development costs by the same as well.

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