It has been 3 years since I wrote “An Agile Adoption & Transformation Survival Guide: Working with Culture” to help the Agile community increase success in spreading Agile. In this video, I share the highlights of what I have learned. Some of it is around thinking tools such as the Laloux Culture Model and some of it is around my inner journey to reach a place where I can really help people and organizations. My goal is for you to take away some practical tools as well as inspiration for your own journey.
Delighted to share the slides from my and Soo Kim’s presentation at Spark The Change.
An insider’s account of a manager’s journey of cultural transformation. How our beliefs and assumptions radically shifted. How we found the courage to fully see what is there and accept it. Being vulnerable enough to speak our truth to allow new options to emerge. Developing the boldness to choose them.
There is a huge world of difference between Enterprise Agile and Agile Enterprise. They are both valuable and accomplish very different things.
Enterprise Agile addresses the question – “How can we use elements of Agile to improve typical corporate environments while staying within the existing paradigm of traditional (Tayloristic) management. This is Orange level in Laloux Culture model.
In the diagram we see that traditional management practices are in part replace by Agile ones. In this case we are adopting Agile practices and may well have small pockets of Agile culture as well. SAFe is a good example of practice adoption. We typically see a very structured approach to orchestrate activities that are all about top-down steering and control.
The industry term Scaling Agile is about how can we scale Agile practices to support the Enterprise. It is essentially Enterprise Agile that is focused on adoption in large-scale environments. In contrast, Agile as a mindset or culture is about a way of being and does not require specific practices to scale.
With the Agile Enterprise the we are evolving an organization that is very adaptable and resilient to change. Anti-fragile is a good description for this type of organization.
In the Laxoux Culture model this would be represented by Green or perhaps even Teal levels.
In an Agile enterprise, there is leadership at all levels. The people who are closest to the work are the ones driving decisions. Here we replace top-down control with a clear organizational purpose, shared values, visibility and trust. Since everyone is contributing to the shape and direction, the results are emergent. Like a living organism, everyone is sensing and responding to the environment. The intelligence that emerges from the collective is what allows our organization to be ‘Agile’.
Fostering an Agile Enterprise will usually require a complete reboot of the cultural operating system of the organization. As such it is a much more significant undertaking that adopting Agile practices.
Both Enterprise Agile & Agile Enterprise Have Value
It is important to re-iterate that both Enterprise Agile and Agile Enterprise have value.
Enterprise Agile allows organizations to improve their operational capability so they may execute better.
Agile Enterprise is about creating an adaptable future-proof organization.
It’s not about which is better. It’s about what is right for your context.
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.
- 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:
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.
Looking for a way to help evolve your organization’s culture? Frederic Laloux’s model provides a clear picture of how culture may evolve in an organization.
The model comes from Reinventing Organizations – a landmark book in the development of organizations that unleash the talents of people to get astonishing results. The book is grounded in case studies from around the world of organizations that are succeeding in a new way of working. The book has inspired me and helped me see much more clearly what is possible for myself and the clients I work with.
Laloux Culture Model
Frederic has a really awesome model for understanding organizational culture. It looks like this:
It shows how our society (over thousands of years) has evolved new ways of working together. Each stage has value: more advanced is not necessarily better – it’s about fit for context. It is derived from other models such as Integral, Spiral Dynamics, etc. Note that Laloux does not call this a culture model – he refers to it as stages in evolution of consciousness and organization.
Centralized Power & Structure [Red & Amber]
Red is about power: I am the leader – do what I say or else. Key innovations are the division of labour and authority. Examples include street gangs or tribal militias.
Amber organizations channel power through a hierarchy with formal roles and reporting lines (command & control). They establish stable processed that allow them to scale to a large size. Current examples are: military, government agencies, public school systems.
Orange is about a shift to focus on achievement: bigger and better. Innovation is key: how do we evolve our process? What projects do we need to improve things? With orange, we create plans and hold people accountable for results (predict & control). Since the focus is now on results, a meritocracy is formed based on who actually delivers. The organization is seen as machine to be exploited. Examples are multinational organizations and charter schools.
Green organizations focus on the empowerment of workers (within the hierarchy) as the key for driving success. There are explicit shared values that guide behaviour and decision-making. Green organizations have family as a guiding metaphor. They also have a clear purpose to support coherent activity. Green organizations see a bigger picture beyond profits: workers, customers and their role in the community. Examples include Southwest Airlines, Zappos, Ben & Jerry’s.
Shared Power [Teal]
Teal organizations are decentralized into autonomous teams or groups. Power is shared and people are self-managing. Decisions are made independently – there is no centralized group telling people what to do. Decision-making independence is enhanced with visibility and advice. Trust replaces process. People’s whole selves (mind, body, heart, spirit) are welcomed. The organization evolves through an emergent process since everyone can make decisions. The metaphor for Teal is that of a living system. Examples include: Patagonia, Morning Star,… (more in the book).
Go Read The Book
This is the best book I have read in years. It has helped me tremendously in getting a deeper understanding of the work I have been doing with culture for the last few years and helped me see the larger pattern of organizational evolution much more clearly.
In upcoming posts, I will write more about how to use this model and the Teal stage.
Agile is incomplete. We need to augment it to create the “whole product”. But what is it?
There are many ideas: transformation approach, culture, leadership, but something is still missing.
In order to fully unleash the potential of workers we need to augment Agile with Valuing People and rewire the Organizational Model.
Valuing People is about building a place where the whole person is welcome so they are fully engaged in work. A place where there is safety, trust and authentic connection.
Organizational Model refers to the approaches we use to run organizations: organizational structure, planning & control, roles & titles, compensation, performance management, information access, leadership and power. These need to shift for us to reinvent our organizations to unleash people’s capabilities.
This is essentially what I have been doing the last few years. Now I have a good name for it. I will be writing more about Whole Agile in the coming weeks but in the meantime, here is a video summary and slides.
Why “Whole Agile”?
An obvious question is: Why do we need something more than Agile? Why make up a new name?
One answer is that Agile is great at a team level but provides no guidance at an organizational level. We need to replace burdensome organizational processes and with lightweight ones that foster self-organization and engagement.
The most important reason for selecting a name is that we want to create a movement within the Agile community. Not everyone will be interested in building whole organizations and that’s OK.
Here are some alternative names:
- Holistic Agile
- Conscious Agile
- Evolve Agile
- Beyond Agile
First, I would like to thank my dear friend and colleague Olaf Lewitz who has been deeply involved in developing this. Other key contributors include: Melanie Meinen and Laura Powers. Thanks also to those who responded to my online survey: Clint, Jeff K, Fanny, Olivier Gourment, Shyam Kumar, Geir, Peter Trudelle, Frank Olsen, Alistair McKinnell, Justin Reyna.
I have discovered the truth of this with Agile. The one time in my whole life I truly surrendered my attachment to Agile, it resulted in a beautiful transformation starting. But most of the time I was too attached to Agile to let it go.
This post is about how we may accidentally harm organizations with Agile and how we can let go so that we may succeed.
Accidentally Harming Organizations
Here is the basic thinking:
- Agile is a good thing.
- We can help companies if they use Agile.
- Let’s do it!
Trap #1: Accidentally introduce cultural conflict
Agile for me is basic common sense – this is how to get stuff done. BUT Agile does not work in most organizations due to culture. Sure there are some small pockets where Agile just works but this seems to be relatively rare – especially now that Agile has crossed the chasm.
Agile is a different culture from most companies, so the first trap is to accidentally introduce organizational conflict. That’s why I wrote “An Agile Adoption and Transformation Survival Guide: Working with Organizational Culture” – to help people notice this trap and avoid it.
My suggestion was to look at two options:
- Adopt elements of Agile that fit with the culture.
- Transform the organizational culture.
For many, option 1 is like giving up on Agile since they key part of it is missing so many Agile folks don’t like that option.
Increasingly Agile experts go for option #2 instead: Transform the Organizational Culture. I sure did. I set out to learn how to change organizational culture. And I figured it out. But there was a problem. A big one.
Trap #2 Attempt to Transform to Agile Culture
The core of the problem is that Agile is not an end in itself. It is means to an end. Some common goals (ends) are: a quality product, time to market or engaged staff. The problem is not that Agile doesn’t help with these goals (it certainly does), the problem is that people confuse Agile as the goal and often act in ways that undermine the real goal. We see Agile being used as a Whip or a Shield. That is why it’s a good idea to Stop Agile Initiatives. A better alternative to an Agile initiative is to have an initiative around the real goals. One way to get at the real goals is to run a workshop to clarify why people want Agile.
It is a good thing to change culture in service to what organizations really want for themselves. A specific culture is not a goal in itself, but a means to accomplishing something. We may seek a culture of engagement and innovation not for itself, but because we want our organization to thrive in a competitive landscape.
There are many many beautiful, productive organization cultures all over the world that have nothing to do with Agile. The implication is that there are many ways to get to a place where people love what they do. If we really want to help people, then the best move is to work with them to evolve a wonderful culture that is right for them. And for sure it will not be exactly “Agile Culture” (especially since this is not completely precise). If it is a progressive culture, it will likely be Agile-compatible and using Agile to get benefits will be very natural. It’s a win – win.
Agile Culture should never be a goal. If it is, we will likely just cause harm.
Let Go of the Outcome to Find Success
Here is my secret to success: Let go of the outcome.
I wrote a couple of years about about how leaders have a choice between the red pill (deeper reality) and the blue pill (surface reality). I stated it like I gave people a choice. But I didn’t. The only choice I wanted was the red pill. I wanted so much to help the people in organizations I pushed for the red pill. The truth is I cared so much for the outcome which I assumed was best that I didn’t really give a open choice. In subtle and more obvious ways I was attempting to coerce leaders into taking the red pill. Ooops! Coercion is not any part of Agile, but here I was wanting my outcome for others. And it is not just me. I have talked to dozens of professional coaches and this is pandemic in the Agile community.
The solution is obvious. If we really want to stay true to Agile values, we can’t coerce. We have to let the people (especially management teams) make their own decisions and their own mistakes. We have to help them find and walk the path that they choose. This means letting go of the outcome. This means letting go of Agile.
This business of learning to let go is not new. In fact, letting go of attachment is a central message of Buddhism.
To close, the one time I fully let go of Agile it came back in such a beautiful sustainable and lasting way. Time to rinse and repeat.
“If you want Agile very, very badly, let it go free. If it comes back to you, it’s there forever. If it doesn’t, it was never meant to be.”
(Stay tuned for a follow-up post on Agile as a means of creating freedom by Olaf Lewitz.)
I helped a lot of people see Agile as a culture system and learn how to stop causing accidental conflict.
Unfortunately, I also energized a lot of people to seek culture change with the goal of growing Agile. As clarified in this blog post, this was a mistake. I am sorry.
What’s the alternative? For those who want real change, let’s help them meet their organizational goals with culture transformation and let Agile come willingly.
(This is goodbye letter shared with the department Paul Heidema and I have been working with for the last few months).
This is a goodbye letter since we are at the end of the main part of project Cocoon.
Why the Bobs?
Someone identified us early on as kinda like The Bobs from Office Space. We like that and think this is really funny.
We hope by now that you see us differently.
We are not here for Agile
If this hasn’t been clear, we are to help you succeed with project Cocoon – which is about re-inventing your department. It’s not about being Agile or using Agile practices. Sure that helps support the goals of Cocoon, but Agile stopped being a goal in April. The goal is helping everyone here be fully engaged and unleashing talent.
Are we Done?
We all wish we had more time. But we don’t. We have made an explicit decision with your leadership team to balance work between tactical, strategic and cultural to best move the needle forward on the Cocoon Vision. We wish we had more time to work with teams, but that would have taken away from sustainable change.
Lasting Change Takes Time
Real and lasting change takes time. It takes everyone working daily to make healthier and more loving interactions.
So sorry, if you were expecting a big TA-DA celebration of success, you are not going to see one. There is a lot of hard work ahead and it takes time to turn the ship around. This is an all-hands type of change.
Keeping in Contact
If you want to stay in touch, you are welcome to connect with us via LinkedIn or email.
When will we be Back?
Paul and Michael will be back together in late August and Michael will be back in Sept/Oct to provide follow-up support.
Happy & Sad
We are so happy to have been able to work with all of you. We are proud of all that has been achieved together. And we are sad to go as we have enjoyed traveling on this road together with you.
You are in good hands
I am glad that you are in good hands. You have a very courageous management team – they are working on themselves first so they can lead by example. And starting to tackle difficult decisions. And of course Corey who has grown so much through this process and enabled all of this to unfold the way it has.
Michael & Paul
Photo: In our support center with Corey
A key success factor in any Agile transformation is understanding WHY Agile – why we want “Agile”. What do we really want?
Here is how to run a one hour workshop turn your “Agile” initiative into something valuable, sustainable and open the door for real change (transformation).
This may be the most important hour in your whole change effort.
Setup: One Hour to Clarify Goals
Get the senior managers and stakeholders together for a one hour workshop to clarify the purpose of the Agile initiative you are leading or participating in or hope to undertake. Also consider including key influencers from the organization.
Remember that the higher up you go, the bigger the scope of possible change. See How to Build a Culture Bubble for why the choice participants is crucial.
Step 1: Ask Why Agile?
Give everyone sticky notes and sharpies and ask them to brainstorm Why are we doing this Agile Initiative? Ask people to work on their own for three to five minutes before sharing as a group.
I find with senior management, I usually need to explain How to go Fast with Sticky Notes. If they will not use sticky notes, then real change has little hope and focus on adopting Agile practices or use stealth Agile.
Step 2: Data collect around What, Why, How
Once they have finished writing sticky notes, then setup three flipchart pages with labels What, Why and How. Ask them to put each sticky note on the spectrum made by these three words and cluster based on matching concepts. Circle each cluster. See diagram below.
Explain to people that we are using this model to help clarify thinking around why we are doing this.
As you can see from the photo, I sometimes add the label Outcome to help clarify meaning of “What”.
THE TRICK: It is really important to ask WHY when brainstorming and only during playback separate the reasons into What, Why, How.
Step 3: Explain What, Why, How
Here is my explanation:
- What/Outcome – This is about the result: what we want want to achieve. The outcome we are looking for as an organization.
- Why – The motivation for this undertaking. You may also see here leading indicators of success.
- How – This is about the mechanism or means that support getting to the outcome. How we actually do things.
Note: it doesn’t really matter where things go as long as it generally makes sense to participants.
Defend the What/Outcome. It is really important that the What or outcome only contains the end result that is sought after by this group. If it has means and intermediate elements, then expect unhelpful distortions in your initiative.
Step 4: Pick most important Elements
Important: Have them vote in reverse seniority order to avoid hierarch bias. See Highest Paid Person in the Room (HIPPO) bias problem for why this is very important.
Summarize the results to check for understanding: “So it seems like the outcome for this initiative is X and we see Y and Z helping us get there?”
Step 5: “Agile” is Not the Goal
Let them notice that Agile is gone! The outcome that they seek has nothing to do with Agile! Agile is not the goal.
Help them notice how Agile will help with the What, Why and How (if that is true).
Step 6: Replace the “Agile” Initiative with something else
Suggest officially dropping Agile as a goal and instead re-brand the initiative to focus on whatever their desired outcome was.
This will help people focus on the outcome, and not on “doing Agile”.
In a recent transformation, this turned out to be a key element in our success. Do not underestimate the value of a name and the stories we tell about ourselves.
Being Agile & Transformation
It probably seems scary to let go of Agile as an official goal.
It turns out that this is necessary to Stop Agile from being used as a Whip or a Shield.
My experience is that the only way we can really get to an Agile mindset is to let it arrive of it’s own free will. Coercing a system as an evangelist (I have done this) guarantees limited results.
If you love something, set them free.
If you want to learn more, come to one of our Certified Agile Leadership Trainings.
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