Not Even Wrong: Our current state – Model II expanded 6

June 2014
Stockholm, on a couch @ AgileSweden

Simplicity is complexity rescued
– Constantin Brancusi

So I’d like to expand the model I presented last time I wrote.

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 14.43.43

If you review the image you’ll see that I’ve added colored borders surrounding the “fields”. They signify that the fields represent Sociocratic circles. I will get deeper into Sociocracy further down the road. I add them now, a bit earlier than planned, in respons to input that I received regarding the first version of the model. One reader commented that it was all very interesting but “very top down”. He was referring to the top field where the aspects What we should do, What we can do, What we want to do, Observing and Decision Making live.

The commentator was under the impression that I meant to say that these aspects in the top layer of the model are the responsibility of some sort of top layer of management. I’d like to stress that what you see in the top field is simply stuff that the organisation benefits from doing. I have said nothing about who does it, nor do I suggest a hierarchy. I hope that adding the circles clarify this. I also add a new image illustrating how the organization might look from a Sociocratic perspective. I will explain more later.

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 14.44.01

Onward! Here’s how a work flow might look:

The organisation Observes and finds the question that they would expect to find the most value in finding answers to. The decision to Act is the decision to ask this question to a team, a team put together explicitly for the purpose of finding answers. This group is our best bet towards a quality solution. The team consequently enters the Plan, Do, Learn cycle.

At this point you might find yourself asking why on earth I propose that we operate in this fashion. A backlog of questions? Perform experiments? What fresh hell is this!?

I would ask of you to please put your fears to rest for now. I will – at a future date – explain my reasons for suggesting this. For now, I leave you with a bit of a cliffhanger: my reasons are based on my understanding of the world as it is: complex, in permanent change, and perfectly packed with uncertainty.

So, here’s an for instance: We Observe a trend that tells us that it’s getting increasingly difficult to recruit skilled people. We Observe what capacity and skill we have today, and we Observe our vision. We deduce that in order to reach our vision we will need more, or perhaps different, capacity. This might be a problem worth solving, it might be the most important problem to solve, and it might be worth solving now, not later.

We then Decide that we want to get to grips with this. So we set up a team of people who are asked to answer the question, possible framed as:

“How can we make sure that we will successfully find and recruit good people so that we have the necessary capacity to reach our vision?”

The team dives into the question and flows with the Plan – Do – Learn cycle. It’s quite possible to time box this and say “we are willing to invest X time (X time equals Y monies) in finding good answers”.

The outcome I’d expect from such a cycle, or cycles, are ideas that are of considerable higher quality than the shot from the hip I’d otherwise expect. This is way of working that believes in the power and creativity of thinking together, the wisdom of teams and builds true commitment.

After the cycle is complete, we may, or may not be, satisfied with the answers. We can then ask ourselves if we’d be willing to invest more, or we can stick with the answers we’ve got. If we’re happy, we can move forward and implement the suggestions and a new cycle begins.

The “normal” way this works, is that someone invests heavily in an untested assumption regarding how we might achieve this outcome, usually in the shape of “we did this at my old work place and it worked great”. Or “this is what our competitors are doing, and they seem to be doing fine”. Such thinking fail to take into consideration the fact of different contexts, the ever present change and the trends that we see. These decisions are often very quick, sometime made within minutes, and often by a single individual.

What we have then, is a potentially expensive decision based on the assumptions of one individual, where no options have been explored. It might fail miserably, be a huge success or land somewhere in between. But we have no way of knowing where on this scale the outcome will land. This element of uncertainty leads us to a discussion of risk, and the question whether we’d be  interested in investing in reduced risk. In my mind, this controlled investment that buys us ideas, options and information is most certainly the preferable rout to take.

The obvious objection to this has to do with opportunity cost. Say this investment in reduced risk and potential resolution to our recruitment problem takes away a portion of our capacity to deliver software for an entire work week, as we involve people who write code in the circle. All you have to do to figure that one out is to put a value on both options, find the higher value for the organisation,  and choose. The cost is known in advance, and is the same regardless of the pursued value. So, the value of solving recruitment problem then? Let’s say it’s 100 monies. Impact of delay of software, converted to monies? We’ll go with 60 monies. A win for solving the recruitment problem.

The point here is that if this is important to us, we might consider prioritizing it and giving this important matter the attention it deserves. This means that we do it now, and we do it as well as we can imagine. If we strive to channel our capacity and our money towards solving our most important problems, we increase the likelihood of successfully solving them. You are excused for thinking “no shit Sherlock” right about now. And yet, this is not how we do work, is it?

In the interest of extreme simplicity: What exist, always, is a pile of money, a pile of people, and a pile of desired outcomes, framed as questions that seek answers. Anything injected into this reality that disrupts the simplicity in the shape of cost centers, bureaucracy, hierarchies, structures and silos have to fight to deserve their place in this world. They have to demonstrate how they help us reach our vision, or find themselves removed. The burden of proof needs to be reversed.

Finally, I also added a small dot representing a popular framework for software development. The significance of that is that it’s small. Can an organisation who want’s to capture the benefits of “being Agile” settle for that? It suggests modestly that how we write User Stories may not be the difference that makes a difference for our organisation.

I’ll just leave you with that thought for now.

Earlier posts on “Not Even Wrong”

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