Kurt's Blog

May 4, 2013

Agile Business Thinking

Filed under: agile, rightshifting, scrum, stoos — Tags: , , — Kurt Häusler @ 7:06 am

So I went along to a new event yesterday. Apparently the Agile community have taken a bold new step and finally written a new manifesto to address agility outside of software development. Essentially this could be the most significant thing to occur in the history of the workplace since Frederick Taylor invented Scientific Management. (One could perhaps consider the original Agile Manifesto if the scope wasn’t restricted to software development). After years of false starts and dead ends from Deming to Stoos, could this finally be the beginning of the end of command & control in the workplace?

The event I attended yesterday was called Darmstadt SPIN, a forum and network for “Vordenker” (which Leo translates as mastermind, mentor or prophet). They meet regularly to discuss various topics. Yesterday was my first time there so I don’t know what the usual topics are or what sort of people attend. There were actually a lot of newbies like me there yesterday.

We started off with an introduction to the new Agile Business Thinking Manifesto. I tried to find an english version but couldn’t, so here is a lazy Google translation of it:

Manifesto for Business in a New Century

We develop better ways organisations to lead by doing it yourself and help others to do the same. Thus we have learned to appreciate the following values:

We value personal responsibility and self-organisation 
more than hierarchical control.

We believe that personal responsibility, self-organisation and agile teamwork enable organisations to deliver higher performance. As a result, employees find more meaning in their work.

 

We appreciate interdisciplinary and efficient team structures 
more than labor.

We believe that interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation capacity and allows more employees bring their personal strengths.

 

We appreciate growing organisational knowledge 
More than individual expertise.

We believe that collective learning and action strengthens the organisational success and employee capable of personal development.

 

We value partnership 
more than formal customer-supplier relationships.

We believe that a partnership creates added value for customers and employees to connect to the customer’s wishes.

 

We value responsiveness and agility 
more than stability and continuity.

We believe that an agile and responsive organisation better use of opportunities in the market and its employees empowered to change themselves and their businesses.

 

We are convinced that the above values of a powerful organisation and employee satisfaction are important.

 

Why a manifesto? The point is to formulate a compelling and emotionally provocative promise that forms the staple of the “followers”. The aim of the manifesto is to bring about a “Yeah, right” reaction in the reader.

 

Why values in a manifesto? Agile enterprise management is to control and align a set of interconnected values that organise the behaviour and culture of organisations and the individuals in them.


I hope it is ok to post a translation here like this. I didn’t see any copyright or license information, so just let me know if it should be taken down. One bit I didn’t past in was, due to formatting, this note:

All values in this set are important to us. We estimate the values in the first row as more important than those in the second line. 
(This applies to all 5 pairs of values)


They actually indicate that e.g. “hierarchical control” is important.

The only other thing on the page is a link to the Xing group, where we can get a clue as to who is behind this manifesto (two consulting companies) and how old it might be (the Xing group was created in April 2011). 

When i read this manifesto I am reminded of  a critique I once heard of the software craftsmanship manifesto. To me a manifesto should send tingles up one’s spine and make one’s blood curl. They should passionately and almost violently challenge the status quo, and present a serious threat to our fundamental beliefs. My reaction to this manifesto is a little different. To me it reads more like a cautious compromise between the status quo and common sense. Where is the rage? Where is the earnest plea? Where is sense that someone is putting it all on the line for the sake of a better future?  I find it decidedly not emotionally compelling.

And hierarchical control is still important? Cmon! In the age of betacodex, rightshifting and Stoos, this reads exactly like what it is. An advertisement for German consultants that don’t want to appear too radical so they can still peddle their wares to senior management mostly concerned with preserving their place in the analytic machines they think they drive.

Anyway, back to the event. After being introduced to the manifesto we heard a case study that we were then to use as a basis for discussion on how to apply this manifesto to the problems mentioned in the case study. I had expected to hear about an actual case of organisational change or at least an attempt to “agilize” something not related to software development. Unfortunately the case study was about a software development project that used Scrum for a year or so before giving up on it. There was very little about the business or organisational context. As a result, the discussions sounded exactly like every other discussion about agile software development over the last decade. Most people were focussed on the idea that the goal was for this single team to do Scrum properly, all the suggestions were too focussed on the team and anchored in the language of software development and Scrum. To really get a feel for how this manifesto could be relevant for actual business thinking, they should have focussed on a case study that had nothing to do with software development, and focussed more on the business and organisational issues.

I found it frustrating. Also the discussions felt a lot like ineffective meetings at work, where everyone knows they will only get a sentence in before getting interrupted so everyone is rushing, complicated ideas cannot be introduced, and the loudest voices dominate. It would have been a lot more productive in written form on twitter or via mailing list.

I did note that the Darmstadt SPIN will be meeting again in September, and that Agile Business Thinking will be on the agenda again as it has been selected as their topic of the year. I thought the Stoos community really has to get involved as they seem a few steps ahead. Then I noticed that Darmstadt SPIN itself is also organised and sponsored by the same two consulting companies that are as far as I know, behind the manifesto. It would make sesne to me for everyone with goals in this area to work tgether a bit, and see what others are doing, rather than reinventing their own ecosystems to address the issues alone. (A quick glance at some of the names associated with the manifesto indicates mostly people who I have not yet seen engaging with the wider community on the issue).

Anyway, what are your thoughts? Have we finally produced an artefact that can guide us towards a noble future of business agility? Or is this just another attempt, and a weak one at that, for agile software development consultants to add something to their portfolio? Do you have a favourite collection of values or principles that attempt to achieve a similar goal, yet do provoke an emotional response?

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8 Comments »

  1. My strategy is to collect hard evidence for the change I want to see happen and then communicate and encourage organisations to set up an experiment with a team or project. A common theme in everything agile, lean, rightshifting etc is that of empiricism. A manifesto may hold our beliefs, but I don’t want to introduce empirical techniques relying on their proponents faiths.

    Comment by Ola Berg (@olaberg) — May 4, 2013 @ 7:32 am

  2. Stoos is a ‘false start’? Could you expound please?

    Comment by Anthony Green (@anthonycgreen) — May 4, 2013 @ 7:35 am

  3. Hi Anthony, that was just sarcasm (that whole paragraph is basically). The implication being that the manifesto authors were intensely and passionately involved in everything else the community has been working on lately, and this is just the latest attempt to bring together everything that was learned previously.

    Comment by Kurt Häusler — May 4, 2013 @ 7:42 am

  4. Hi Kurt,

    Great post. I agree with your assessment – it looks like they are trying to adapt the form of the previous manifesto to the detriment of the actual message.

    Now all that said, Scrum can and does work outside of software development. I ran a team for about 12 months using this approach. You can read more about my experiences at http://bounds.net.au/node/104 if you’re interested…

    Comment by Stephen Bounds (@smbounds) — May 4, 2013 @ 9:31 am

  5. Hi Kurt,

    I think one of the great contributions of the Agile Manifesto was that it created a common identity to many different approaches of doing software development. This created a movement that was bigger than any one person and increased the legitimacy of Agile approaches enormously.

    Stoos is trying to do something similar for management – build bridges between many compatible schools of thought and become a common identity for those people looking for a better way and who want catalyze that change. Agile, Rightshifting, Lean, Radical Management, Guided self-organization, Holacracy, Beyond Budgeting, many home grown approaches… the list of people and approaches that embrace respecting people and the importance of learning is endless!

    So my reaction to this is positive and non-judgmental: “Good stuff! Please join us in our big tent. Let’s change the world!”

    There is more energy coming out of 1 huge tent then a 1000 little ones, so that makes easier for all of us to get the message out and catalyze that change we are looking for.

    Comment by Peter — May 4, 2013 @ 12:33 pm

  6. Hi Kurt,

    Thank you for your post. I can understand your feelings about the Agile Business Thinking Manifesto and the set-up of the meeting.
    You can always ask: do we really need a new manifesto? And if we need it, should it be proposed by a single consulting company (or two)?
    Wouldn’t it be better for those people to join one of the already growing communities like Stoos?
    Yes, you can ask these questions!
    But on the other hand: I do not think, that it is bad to have meetings like the Darmstadt SPIN Forum. As you already stated, the people joining this meeting are not only “agile insiders”, you would normally meet at an ALE unconference or at a Stoos Stampede. These are people who want to learn about Agile and combine it with their personal experiences – perhaps they are even very sceptical about Agile. And for me, it is always a challenge to “sell” my Agile beliefs to these persons. And by trying to convince them, I’m forced to listen carefully and find answers to their concerns.
    This Darmstadt SPIN Forum was my second one. And what I like very much about this event, is the method mix, which is presented. Every event has it’s own set-up, once there is a fish-bowl, another time we have these market places. And all this works, even with this diverse set of participants. For me, this shows, that our Agile approaches work, even in not so easy environments.
    Agile is becoming main-stream (or you could say: we are crossing the chasm). And the recipes which work well for the early adopters do not work well for the early majority. Perhaps events like this one help us to spread Agile thoughts to a wider audience.
    Having said this, I think there is always room for improvement. The facilitation in the groups could have been better and, as you already said, the “problem” was to much software-specific.
    I will join the next Darmstad SPIN Forum again and will use it as an opportunity to improve my facilitation skills (from the back of the room), to influence the discussions I’m attending to let it not become to frustrating and to spread the word about Agile.

    Comment by Christoph Oberle (@OldAgile) — May 7, 2013 @ 9:53 pm

  7. Hi Christoph, thanks for your comment. I agree with everything you say. I have to say some people might have misunderstood the point of my post. I was not trying to criticise that people are thinking about the wider business context, or that meetings like Darmstadt SPIN exist. For me they are all great things. One analogy is a book review. Imagine someone wrote a book review and only gave 2 stars, and said the book wasn’t interesting. Then people replied and said “wait a minute, it is good and important that people write books”. The reviewer knows this of course. He wasn’t trying to claim no one should write books.

    Comment by Kurt Häusler — May 8, 2013 @ 4:41 am

  8. I think it is all about reaching out to people. If we want to get an idea going, we need many people who transport the idea. This is what the Darmstadt SPIN is about: sharing ideas that are not yet in everyones head. I think there are two kind of meetings: one for spearhead of thinkers, advancing ideas. And then there are broader meetings which are about multiplication. Just like there are books for high-end thinkers and books for others interested. For momentum, we need both. Both books are good, they are just for different audiences. And we need to respect and foster both: we need ideas which go forward, and we need multiplication. And actually, having written several books myself: for me it is much harder to write a book everyone understands than a book for experts.

    And that is what I like about the Darmstadt SPIN: I get new ideas every time. So, if the SPIN is your spearhead thinking topic: rise to the challenge of multiplication (these are smart people, it is not just their spearhead topic). If it is not your spearhead topic, rise to the challenge of adoption (these are smart ideas, it is just not your spearhead topic). For people who go there every time I think the most interesting thing is that there are different viewpoints, different topics every time. It the connection that makes the DarmstadtSPIN interesting.

    If the Darmstadt SPIN can cooperate with anything like Stoos or the like – this is very welcome.

    Comment by Malte Foegen — June 6, 2013 @ 5:48 pm


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