Chaos Theory vs. Agile Task Management

The Chaos Theory has been a functioning term for over 3 decades now. It indicates, that in each organized system, there will be a time and place for a sporadic manifestation of a disrupted pattern, irregularity, chaos.

When looking at company management, this pattern does not have to be a bad thing. Man-filled businesses are non-linear systems, in which small action can cause great delay and an enormous change may have no effect whatsoever.
Chaos theory, when applied to such, has been known to cause panic and was initially dubbed “a step back” from day-to-day micro-management. Nowadays, we’re finding, that it can be beneficial to allow people to retain the chaos and self-organize.

Self-organize

A kind of organization, that allows for people and groups to self-organize can be known as a “fractal” organization.
From a traditional standpoint, they would be impossible to maintain, as business owners require plans, estimations, accountability reports, pure structural organization implemented and so on.
By allowing teams to create their own order and system, management fears loosing control over what the workforce are doing. But that does not have to be.
With a little effort, people can indeed be left to themselves, self-organize, self-manage and self-assess, to cultivate creativity, free will, self-motivation and great job satisfaction. And what follows these is high productivity.

What needs to be done to make this happen?
- a vision that is consistent throughout an entire organization must be clear and known to all within its reach
- effective leadership should be in place. Leadership meaning a person or people directing teams towards a goal common for the organization, not micro-managing them
- the keeping of a culture of respect and trust should be prioritized
- lines of communication on all organizational levels should be open and accessible

There is a distinct link between Chaos Management and Agile Kanban method.
Agile Kanban teams are self-organized by design, meaning that a well-functioning Agile Team is effectively running chaos management. Doing Kanban is a perfect facilitator of experimenting with chaos theory in an organization.

Kanban Boards

The idea of using the pull method to self-assign work as and when required, pairs with the clarity a Kanban board brings to the onlookers. The ongoing tasks are readily available in the system, and people availability can be visualized just as well. After an iteration, there is an opportunity to analyse the happenings and see how well the team did, what can be improved upon and what didn’t work at all.

Thanks to a good task visualization, managing unforeseen jobs is also easier. Whether you assign a person to do all “unplanned” work of a day, and let the others carry on uninterrupted, or use a priority or color-coding system to notify of an emergency, it’s much easier to manage chaotic environment by placing a visualization of it in front of everybody.

A Seemingly Chaotic Pattern Can Still Work

In other words, chaos is fine and perfectly manageable, for as long as the people facing it know what they’re doing. It matters not if a by-stander cannot make heads or tails of the process by watching it.
The point is to let the people think and decide for themselves.
By letting them be and pick their own work, you are empowering them to take action and feel personally responsible for the result.

First published on the Kanban Tool Blog.