Five emerging concepts in Agile

In this post, I would like to give a brief overview of five emerging tools I find interesting. I often refer to these in conversation, presentations, or blog posts and I would like this post to act as a cheat sheet of sorts.

Please keep in mind that I’m not advocating the use of these tools above the ones you might currently be using. I am not disparaging any other tools either. Context is everything, and the right tool to use will depend on that context.

MODERN AGILE

Agility has been around for a bit over 15 years now. Modern Agile, presented by Industrial Logic’s CEO Joshua Kerievsky, acknowledges what has been done in the field in that time and the lessons that were learned. It moves away from frameworks, roles and artifacts to bring back agility to four principles to act as True North; the direction we should strive to keep.

Make People Awesome: “People” includes customers (yes, YOU have to make THEM awesome), employees, managers, clients. When you aim to make people awesome they will want to work with you or for you, and stay.

Make Safety a Prerequisite: Safety is the foundation on which everything else can be build. We protect people’s time, information, reputation, money, health and relationships. Without Safety people don’t dare to experiment, take any kind of risk or speak up against problems.

Learn & Experiment Rapidly: This is a combination of Classic Agile’s Continuous Improvement and of Lean Startup’s short experimentation loop. Making it safe to fail is a prerequisite here. Small, controlled experiments will help you learn fast at the cost of very little risk.

Deliver Value Continuously: To make people safe or awesome, value needs to be available for consumption. It is not about scaling up anymore, it is about rethinking how we architecture work so we can scale OUT, and deliver value continuously from everywhere without having to deal with dependences. The faster you deliver and the smaller your deliveries, the smaller the risks taken.

Because they are very high-level, those four principles can be applied to different domains from different industry. The goal of this approach is to foster a better culture and guide agility across the whole organization.

For more about Modern Agile see www.modernagile.org.

VUCA

The world is not only accelerating: it becomes more complex and far less predictable than ever before. That is why Context & Situational Awareness are essential survival skills to have. You need to know where you stand and understand what is happening around you.The changes are constant, so your efforts to understand your context should be constant as well.

VUCA (for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) is a technique developed by the US military to quickly make sense of any given situation. It helps soldiers figure out how much of a situation they might not understand as well as how fast and drastically that situation can change. It is a handy technique to master when everything around you can quite literally blow up in your face.

The VUCA approach has since been adopted in diplomacy and business. A high VUCA world is now seen as the “new normal” and that new reality is well represented in Quantum Monkey’s trainings.

ANTIFRAGILITY

In his book Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder, Nassim Nicholas Taleb suggests that the opposite of fragility is not resilience but antifragility.

In a nutshell, a system that is damaged by stress is fragile. A system that is not bothered too much by stress is resilient. A system that thrives and grows from stress is antifragile. The quest for efficiency and predictability has led us to fragile systems and a lot of self-delusion. We suggest that rather than trying to predict variability, let us make sure we can survive and benefit from the unexpected.

Again, the reflex of so many companies is to scale up, which creates more and more fragility by adding steps and work dependancies. It is trying to solve a tower’s instability by adding more, wider floors on top of the existing ones.

The key steps to resilience are relearning how to organize effort to scale out, removing system dependencies, partitioning work in much smaller independent doses and making sure one group’s problems do not contaminate others. Antifragility goes one step further by adding short learning loops and a strategy for constant, relentless improvements across the board.

NETWORKED ORGANISMS

In The connected company, Dave Gray brings the notion that complex systems should not be seen and designed as machines (efficient but prone to obsolescence and too complex to truly be controlled), but rather as networked organisms or ecosystems, to be grown and guided rather than controlled.

He presents Podularity, an organizational model that uses the notion of platforms to grant more leeway to connected groups and to enable a true form of distributed leadership without compromising the company’s safety.

Platforms bring tools, services, expectations and boundaries in one system. Smaller systems (such as teams), called pods, can adopt the platform and are free to self-organize independently within the boundaries set by the platform. This grants a lot of freedom to these pods while controlling the risks. The learning done by any of these pods can improve the platform to the benefit of all. Even the catastrophic failure of a pod will positively improve the platform rather than contaminate other pods.

Not only does this approach help bring antifragility to a large organism (like a whole division or an entire company), but it can also be implemented at a small scale first and spread progressively across the organization.

TRIADIC RELATIONSHIPS AND NETWORKED LEADERSHIP

The Triadic Relationships of Tribal Leadership is a great approach to create those networked connections and balance relationships and the spread of information by making relations and conversations three-way rather than two-way affairs. It makes systems more resilient by improving transparency. It also fosters safety and fast learning, two key elements in making people awesome. Awesome people form into awesome groups, or tribes, that have a better attitude and can accomplish a lot more. The role of a leader is to create other leaders, and networks of leaders across the organization. By doing that, they create a widely distributed system of decision-making that is faster and better by virtue of being closer to the problem, and still be accomplished by trusted people.

The saying “too many chiefs and not enough indians” does not apply here. A leader is not a boss: the former empowers others while the latter concentrates power. A bellhop can be a leader even if he has no one to lead but himself: all that is required is initiative and reliability, an inquisitive and open mind, trust and trustworthiness as well as the desire to make others reach their potential.

WHERE TO GO FROM HERE

Networked relationships & systems, situational awareness, experimenting & growing from challenges, distributed leadership, safety: these ideas are not new, but they matter now more than ever.

If you want to experiment with these ideas, do not hesitate. Most of these concepts are high level and you can explore them within your context with little effort and little risk, as long as you follow the Learn & Experiment Rapidly principle: small scale, well-defined experiments with clear goals within a limited time frame.

For larger experiment or organizational transformations, make sure to talk to a professional first. A bit of planning can go a long way to ensure success and reduce risk, stress and trauma on a system.

Quantum Monkeys is Montreal’s premier Business Design studio, devoted to bring a human-centered approach to companies of ANY size and turn them into world-class organizations for the world of 2017 and beyond.

My name is Maurice Lefebvre and I am a Business Designer, coach, trainer, and speaker at Quantum Monkeys, as well as the editor for the Quantum Monkeys’ publication on Medium.

This post was originally published on Linkedin in December 2016.