Agile Forest

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For those that have been on the Agile journey for a while this post will hopefully come as no surprise, but if you are fairly new on the journey I wanted to take the opportunity to clarify what I feel is a common misconception about Agile.

In the early days of Agile we made it a Waterfall versus Agile war. It was one or the other. One over the other. This when ‘x’, that when ‘y’. We spent time explaining the pitfalls of Waterfall and why Agile was better. Maybe that was right at the time. Maybe we did it because we didn’t know better. Whatever the reason the concept of an Agile transformation being replace old process with Agile has stuck around.

But I don’t think that the point of an Agile transformation is a process shift.

I have a suspicion that where Agile has succeeded, it did so not because of the process shift but because of something else – a thinking model shift.

What was the problem that we were trying to fix with Agile? Was it really the process or the mindsets that people had? The manifesto articulates it somewhat – “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. It isn’t that process isn’t important it is that the thinking model that process should always trump was broken and that some slack should be given to humans who may have felt that the process didn’t make sense given the complexity of the situation.

Somehow, despite the manifesto, when we began Agile transformations we ignored the “over processes and tools” somewhere along the line. Frameworks and certifications are springing up everywhere – SAFe, Kanban certification, Disciplined Agile Certification, ICAgile, Scrum, etc. How many of these are focused on process and technique over the ability to shift thinking models?

What I feel Agile should be is different now than it once was. What I feel the manifesto should be now, is more along the lines of:

We are uncovering better ways of working together as human beings to deliver value  to shareholders and delight to customers whilst at the same time improving the engagement of employees. Through this we have come to value:

  1. Synergistic thinking over mechanistic/analytic thinking
  2. Servant and situational leadership over command and control management (alt: unleashed human potential over apathetic or toxic environments)
  3. Full value stream optimization over sub process optimization
  4. Process experimentation over defined process
  5. Aggressive feedback controls over prolonged feedback controls
  6. Stimulated neurological pathways over stagnant neurological pathways (alt: learning culture over sole focus on delivery culture)
  7. Breathing space to enable creativity and innovation over 100%(+) utilization

That is to say whilst the things on the right are our current behaviours, we want to shift to the items on the left


4 thoughts on “Agile transformations: Process model or thinking model shift?

  1. Wanted to keep the blog tight and add in a few points in the comments:
    1) It was unfortunate that the original manifesto content was a left over right… it would have been nice to align with the concept of “rightshifting”
    2) I wouldn’t consider myself a rightshifter but maybe that is because I don’t feel like I understand it enough to make a confident stand on it
    3) The one that I debated over most was number 4. Defined process is perfectly fine based on the complexity of the domain that you are working in. I’ve just never seen knowledge work hit “simple”. Having a process is good, knowing when your experiments are realizing a better way is much better, approaching a Kaizen culture of seeking true north is best. In this respect I would never expect a process to “solidify” for long.

  2. Ian G says:

    I’ve always felt that Waterfall was a legacy of the Henry Ford era where process dominated and assumed the lowest common denominator of human capability and responsibility.

    Its a small point but I saw Agile as being different and never really bought into the “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools” – I saw this as somewhat of an over-reaction to the Waterfall “process is king” approach – it was the word “over” that I took exception to. I saw Agile as more about trying to strike the right “balance” between process and people.

  3. Brett Gibson says:

    Thank you for this post.

    I feel so very strongly about this topic that I wrote a 4-part series on where we keep going wrong. We are addicted to production line hard systems. Agile is a shift towards Checklands soft systems-thinking model, but at every opportunity to change, we take an engineering approach versus a people and culture approach.

    Software is a human activity system, but we are addicted to “solutions”. Not only because they pay, but because we love the internecine debates. The ‘x’ versus ‘y’ mentality is where we fail and push non-IT people away.

    The logic error is actually worse than you outline – we are guilty of racing to the fallacy of the alternate disjunct. We believe we have to choose between institutions revealing that we are in fact, extremely poor systems-thinkers. We only understand the exclusive OR condition.

    We are at times our own worst enemies.
    You can find the rest of my thoughts here:

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