Agile Culture –> Self-Managing People

Four years ago, I argued that Agile is a Culture System focussed on Collaboration and Cultivation. We may build on and refine this understand to see that Agile points towards a higher level of organizational consciousness and the benefits that come with it. In particular, Agile is about valuing people and setting them free to deliver.

The Agile Manifesto & Principles

Let’s use the Laloux Culture Model as a lens for understanding the Agile Manifesto. If you haven’t read about this yet, it is fantastic – go read it now – otherwise this post will not make much sense.

When we colour code each of the manifesto statements to match various stages of consciousness we get:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools (Green)
Working software over comprehensive documentation (Orange)
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation (Green)
Responding to change over following a plan (Teal)

We see that the Agile manifesto is a mix of ideas from different levels.

Agile Principles

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. (Green)
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in  development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage. (Teal)
  • Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale. (Orange)
  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project. (Green)
  • Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done. (Green)
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation. (Green)
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress. (Orange)
  • Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely. (Teal)
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility. (Teal)
  • Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential. (n/a)
  • The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams. (Teal)
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly. (Teal)

Note: Some principles are not colour coded since I didn’t really see how they fit. If you have ideas, please post a comment.

Agile is Teal/Green

When we tally up the results, we get the following for Agile Culture:

  • 6 – Teal Stage – Self-management, Distributed power, and emergence. 
  • 6 – Green Stage – People: purpose, values and empowerment
  • 3 – Orange Stage – Achievement

In a diagram, it looks like this:

Agile Culture

The Agile Manifesto is pointing to a way of working that is at the Teal/Green stage. Elements of Scrum such as emergence and self-organizing teams are very closely connected with the Teal stage.

In summary, Agile Culture is about organizations operating at a higher level of consciousness with self-managing people.

Implications for Using Agile

For organizations at the orange stage (most large companies) Agile will be experienced as a disruptive force. As all the elements of culture need to shift together, Agile will by necessity be watered down or contained. This is what we typically see – Agile Adoption – with Enterprise Agile or Scaling Agile.

The main challenge for Agile Culture is that it is only a partial specification for operating at a Teal/Green stage. As can be see from Whole Agile, we need to consider other cultural and organizational elements for a holistic solution. We must look beyond Agile to allow Agile to succeed. This is the path of organizational transformation.

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3 responses to “Agile Culture –> Self-Managing People”

  1. I would suggest that principle 3 about delivering frequently is orange (TTM is an achievement). Principle 6 about face-to-face communication is probably a green as it is about effective communication between people including non-verbal and emotional communication. Not sure about the simplicity one.

  2. Great post Michael!

    I agree with Mishkin’s suggestions.

  3. Michael Sahota says:

    Mishkin, Declan – thanks. I have updated to reflect your suggestions.

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