Jan 092012

January 2012. The Agile Manifesto turned 10 years old, and in Stoos some thinkers gathered to discuss how the world’s predominant management mindset can be changed into a new one (unfortunately without much involvement of those whose beliefs are to be changed).

With all this, what’s currently moving the minds of the people? One of the most popular posts sent around on Twitter these days is “Kanban is the new Scrum“. The other hot topic of course is the Stoos Gathering. Even before any real output from there had been published, some people already felt that Scrum didn’t get the necessary attention there.

Watching this I can’t deny some doubts that even the agile or radical management community is really ready for a new management paradigm – one that is pragmatic, naturally effective and on solid grounds.
At least some of us seem to be completely absorbed by the discussion about practices, or in other words, about WHAT we believe in and want other people to do and use. We take our chosen practices’ universal applicability for granted and think that non-believers just need to be converted.

The mere attempt to convince people of a WHAT will always lead to ideological discussions. I don’t think that will take us much further. In fact the sole focus on practices differs in no way from the traditional tayloristic thinking of having “one best way” of doing things, dictated by some being (or pretending to be) smarter than others.
We silently assume that all projects are basically the same, and Scrum is the way of doing them (well, may be it’s Kanban, and history now finally came to an end).
That is missing the point. In fact, in 2001 the Agile Manifesto was already one step further, putting processes and tools second after people and interaction.

A contribution

If we want to change other people’s thinking, we first need to sort out our own. And we need something catchy to communicate. I understand this is the purpose of Stoos, and here’s a contribution to it:

For Stoos to become an effective movement we need to answer first the WHY, then the HOW and only lastly offer some WHATs.

1. WHY do we want to change the traditional thinking in management?

  • What is the core issue, and what is it that needs improvement?
  • We ideally need a “Steve Jobs slide” for this: 3 bullet points, and you get the message and buy it. The graph produced in Stoos is certainly interesting, but it’s too complicated to get much across.
  • This is the main selling point, so it needs to be agreeable for all those whose thinking we want to change.

My input for this point:

  • We found the productivity in performing knowledge work is often suboptimal. We tend to apply management practices that were taken over from other areas such as manufacturing, and we found them not to be effective for problem solving and team work. We pursue a new management approach that uses learning and social interaction to enhance productivity and execute control more effectively.

2. HOW do we want to achieve the benefits?

  • What are the essential values and principles of the new management? (Note, it’s not about practices)

Some input for this point:

  • Knowledge work (such as software development) is about acquiring new knowledge, required to turn problems into solutions. We understand that feedback and learning are key to success and facilitate this with suitable practices.
  • We understand that effective governance is based on outcomes, and not on processes.
  • We recognize that all projects we work on are unique – the problem that needs to be solved, the individuals working on it, and the team emerging from the individuals make it singular. It is a project team’s responsibility to choose, develop and establish practices that they find useful and which enhance their individual productivity.
  • We recognize that a project always has two results – a product and a functional team.
  • We recognize that a team working on a problem has more knowledge about problem, solution and the team itself than some remote management.
  • We understand that only the customer can judge the usefulness of a solution.
  • … to be continued

3. WHAT is there that can help us?

  • There are many methods and diverse practices out there (Scrum, Kanban, Pair Programming, Fedex days etc….). We understand them as tools – each such tool has a specific purpose and requires certain conditions in order to be effective. Understanding the purposes, and recognizing the conditions helps us to make wise choices to enhance the productivity of individual teams and projects.
  • … following a list of practices describing their primary value add and required preconditions…

Comments welcome.