Multidimensional Collaboration and Multiple Waves of Agility

SolutionsIQ
Three Waves of Agile – From SolutionsIQ

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.

Team-Centric Collaboration

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.

SolutionsIQ
A Product Vision Box for a Coffee Maker

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).

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

Three Waves of Agile Decision Making – Adapted from SolutionsIQ

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.


Getting Through Awkward to Awesome

By Luke Hohmann

We’re just a few days away from releasing Idea Engine 2.0, the most significant release ever for our platform that supports visual collaboration frameworks like Speed Boat, Prune the Product Tree, and many other agile and Gamestorming games. Our development team has rewritten the entire user interface, and over the next few weeks we’re going to have a lot of fun introducing its many improvements.

The experience of creating Idea Engine 2.0 has me reflecting on a mountain of important management thinking, ranging from Lean Startup and Minimum Viable Products to Value Proposition Design and Crossing the Chasm. And because I’m a dad with two teenage boys and two soon-to-be teenage girls, I’m also reflecting on that awkward-to-awesome stage known as adolescence.

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The Early Years

When we first introduced Idea Engine in 2009, it was with one framework, Prune the Product Tree and a very limited set of functionality. So limited that I often referred to Idea Engine 1.0 as the best example ever of a Minimum Viable Product. However, we continued to enhance the product, and with care it grew from infancy to childhood, helping more than 50,000 teams solve problems in new ways.

And while Idea Engine 1.0’s growth was really awesome, Alexander Osterwalder’s brilliant work, Value Proposition Design*, shows us that even when you have a growing product and a product-market fit, changing needs, competitive forces and maturing customers can create new demands. What was once “great” becomes “not good enough”. And if you’re not more than good enough, you’re just not going to cross the chasm.

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The Awkward Phase

In the case of Idea Engine 2.0, it was as if my kids’ dentist noticed that their teeth weren’t growing in quite as straight as needed and that corrective action was needed. In a word, Idea Engine needed braces to get back on track.

Idea Engine’s braces weren’t entirely visible. But they were needed, because under the covers, Idea Engine needed a complete overhaul to take advantage of modern Web standards and touch-first devices like iPads. So, bending a few metaphors, and hopefully a few smiles, our Development team went to work, adding braces to Idea Engine 1.0, overhauling and aligning, rewriting, testing and rewriting again.

Next week, we get to take our braces off, and share with you all of the ways in which Idea Engine 2.0 is making us smile. We suspect that once you experience Idea Engine 2.0, you’ll be smiling too!

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Launch

You can begin to experience the new Idea Engine next week with our soft launch. We’ll cast off the retainers (Couldn’t resist!) and officially launch Idea Engine 2.0 at the Collaboration Confab on February 19. In the meantime, we will be capturing all of the ways Idea Engine 2.0 makes you and us smile and share them at the launch event.

 


* The Value Proposition Design book (Wiley) includes and recommends using Innovation Games as part of its recommended process.

**Photo credits: Monica Y. Garza, Unsplash.com, Helen Bae


Budgets Are Not Broccoli (or, Why Surveys Suck)

In my last post on the San José Budget Games I promised a brief overview of why Surveys SUCK and why collaborative games are better. This expands on my Agile 2015 keynote and will help the Participatory Budgeting community in creating even more participation for our sessions.

Let’s start with a story. I was in Paris this week, teaching a master class on serious game design and attending Playcamp Paris. Produced with our partner, Raphael Goumot, a Black Belt CCA and owner of creagile.fr, we spent the entire evening discussing Participatory Budgeting, our Budget Games and our Budget Investor.

Through an amazing coincidence, Tarang Patel (an Agile specialist from Adobe and another Black Belt CCA) was in Paris. Tarang has personally facilitated San José Budget Games sessions in 2013 and 2014 and told this story:

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What is amazing about collaborative prioritization, in which citizens have to work together to purchase projects, is how collaboration can change the minds of the other participants. In 2014 our table was not interested in funding any items. And yet, near the end of the session, a girl from the youth commission who strongly believed in addressing what she felt was an increasing problem homelessness, invested a substantial sum of her money on a project designed to address homelessness. The other participants at her table really took notice and started to explore the issue. By the time they were finished, the table had changed their minds and joined together to fund this project.”

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This story is not unique. As near as we can tell, every single collaborative forum changes the opinions of the participants. Here is another story, this time from Laura Richardson:

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At our table one woman from an affluent neighborhood started the negotiations by purchasing code enforcement. She wanted to make sure the City was looking as good as possible. She changed her mind, however, when a mother from a less affluent part of the city described the dangers her children faced from gang violence — just walking to school wearing the wrong color jacket could leave her child harassed, beaten, or even worse. The emotional impact was visible because both woman were crying by the time the ‘negotiations’ were finished. The table quickly aligned on purchasing projects to designed to address gang violence.”

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We see similar outcomes in our platforms when used for prioritizing features in product roadmaps and project portfolios inside corporations: collaboration provides a forum for understanding complex issues and making better choices. Here is a story from my own experience in helping VeriSign prioritize a set of potential customer projects:

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One of the projects under consideration was a self-service support website, in which customers could form a community to post questions, share best practices and help each other configure and use VeriSign products. In every forum junior customer service agents would purchase this project because it promised to make their lives easier. And in every forum a more senior and experienced agent would gently explain that this project would actually increase the amount of work because every comment by a forum member would have to be reviewed and verified by a VeriSign employee. The reasoning was simple: VeriSign provides complex, sophisticated security solutions. Hackers and other nefarious types could provide incorrect advice to make it easier to exploit a website.”

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But Why Broccoli?

Let’s compare these stories about shared prioritization of a budget with broccoli. I happen to like broccoli. A lot of people don’t. And no matter how much time I spend trying to convince you that you should like broccoli, I’m not going to change your mind. And no matter how much time you spend trying to convince me that I shouldn’t like broccoli, you’re not going to change my mind.

Broccoli isn’t a budget. At one level, it doesn’t actually matter if you like broccoli, or you don’t like bananas. Conversations on these topics aren’t going to change your perspective and they certainly aren’t going to affect your job or your city.

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This is why surveys suck when you’re dealing with complex issues like corporate or city budgets. The results of the survey are subject to change once you start talking about the items with other people.

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This change is what draws people together instead of pushing them apart. In my next post, I’ll outline how surveys evolve from being something that just plain sucks to being something that is downright harmful.