Charlie Rudd, CEO of SolutionsIQ, a Conteneo customer and partner, just published The Third Wave of Agile, a very insightful post that compactly describes how Agile has progressed from single teams, to multiple teams (Agile at Scale), to the entire enterprise (Business Agility). As a leader in the Agile movement since 2003, I find myself agreeing with his insights. More importantly, I also believe that his graph on industry maturity applies to the changes a single organization realizes as they pursue business agility: they start with teams, move to scale and then focus on the enterprise.
In this post I’ll build on his insights and show the multidimensional collaboration and increasingly advanced decision making processes support organizations through their transitions to increasingly greater agility.
Individuals are no longer the “unit” of work. Teams are now rightfully considered the core unit of work, something I first explored in 1996 in my book Journey of the Software Professional. And in the past year, we’ve had a number of books support this thesis, from Team Genius to Team of Teams. Wherever you look, it is clear that organizations now accept that the team is the heart of effective Agility.
Individual teams enhance performance through collaborative frameworks. Consider, for example, a single team will align on their goals faster if they create a Product Box to capture their vision of their product or service; they can improve their performance through a Speed Boat retrospective; or they can engage in strategic prioritization and roadmapping through Prune the Product Tree and tactical/near-term prioritization through Buy a Feature.
I find it curious that although I originally created Innovation Games® as collaborative frameworks to help teams “get outside the walls” to collaborate with customers organizations adopting Agile typically start by using the frameworks with a team-focused mindset. I attribute this to the fact at in the early stages of Agile adoption, which parallel the adoption of Agile in our industry outlined in Charlie’s post, teams are just learning how to be more effective as teams. There are some progressive Product Managers and Product Owners leverage the frameworks to collaborate externally in this stage, but at this stage of Agility many teams are primarily inwardly focused.
We also see many teams starting their journey to more effective collaboration focusing more on in-person techniques. This is quite natural: we naturally seek co-located teams. Fortunately, our industry is growing up, and we’re now recognizing that even small teams can be high-performance when some team members are distributed. Indeed, Conteneo’s own development teams are distributed over three locations. These teams need the ability to collaborate with the same frameworks, which is why cloud-enabled, multidimensional collaboration is critical for both teams and the next stage of business agility.
Agility at Scale: Team of Teams Collaboration
Agility at scale is the natural and straightforward extension of team-based agility: Instead of one team using a framework to improve their performance, multiple teams are engaged to improve the performance of the enterprise. Here are three examples – which are still inwardly focused (e.g., focused within the organization).
[table_cell_head] Enterprise Retrospectives [/table_cell_head]
[table_cell_head] Enterprise Prioritization [/table_cell_head]
[table_cell_head] Enterprise Alignment [/table_cell_head]
Instead of a single team conducting an in-person Speed Boat retrospective, every team conducts an online Speed Boat retrospective, generating the organizational data needed to improve the performance of the enterprise (this process is explored extensively in this post).
Instead of a single team prioritizing their backlog using Buy a Feature, the strategic planning or portfolio management organization engages the entire organization through Buy a Feature online. This use of the Conteneo Collaboration Cloud Decision Engine is so common that we’ve designed special features scheduling and data analytic features for large scale prioritization (which is also common in our philanthropic work at Every Voice Engaged Foundation).
High-performing organizations are aligned on common values and objectives while allowing individual variation in pursuing these objectives. Alignment Engine, also known as Knowsy®, is specifically designed to help organizations build alignment within and across teams.
Inwardly facing organizations can’t sustain themselves, and it is in this second wave of Agility where we see organizations moving to leverage the frameworks as originally conceived: tools to help Agile teams collaborate with customers, stakeholders, partners and other entities outside the company walls. This matches the increasingly common use of our frameworks in Lean Startups and helps explain why noted strategy guru Alexander Osterwalder included them in his ground-breaking book Value Proposition Design.
Third Wave Agile Decision Making
In his post, Charlie characterized the third wave of Agility by emphasizing management and leadership practices. In addition to the leadership practices that Charlie outlined, I’ll add that the Third Wave of Agile includes expanding the decision-making focus of the organization from the more technical problems of the first two waves (e.g., how to we create roadmaps, improve planning, prioritize budgets) to include a new class of wicked problems.
As I outlined in my Agile 2015 keynote, Technical problems tend to be clearly defined, have shorter, often repeating time horizons. “Failure” is not catastrophic (because we can often take the decision over) and the decision making process is dominated by knowledge and economics. Prioritizing a backlog, creating a roadmap, and even Remembering the Future are all examples of frameworks that are leveraged for technical problems.
Wicked problems, on the other hand, tend to have long time horizons and involve multiple actors with different value systems. Unlike technical problems, this leads to inertia and catastrophic outcomes, because many times the only thing we know will happen is that things will get worse through inaction (even when we’re not sure of a better action). Urban planning, childhood obesity, and key aspects of corporate strategy, such as how to deal with massive technical debt, are all examples of wicked problems.
A key distinction in the third wave of Agility is how the organization tackles wicked problems. Historically, organizations have failed as often 50% of the time in strategic decision-making because they lacked the decision-making processes and collaborative platforms that enable deliberation at Scale. This is precisely why we created Strategy Engine: it is the first scalable platform for team-based deliberative decision making.
The Next Agile Wave
Although Charlie didn’t posit the next wave of Agility, I propose that the fourth wave is societal agility: the ability for communities, at multiple levels, to create more vibrant and dynamic ecosystems. Like the first three waves, this wave will be powered by small teams leveraging multidimensional collaborative frameworks. Instead of prioritizing features, cities will expand Participatory Budgeting so that every citizen has a greater voice in their budget. Instead of building alignment on corporate goals like cutting costs or increasing market share in growing economies, we’ll use Alignment Engine with our neighbors and discover that we share priorities for our communities. And instead of avoiding wicked problems, we’ll find Common Ground for Action.