Why are Agile, Lean and New Work Getting Stale?

Because they ignore power. Take the Agile Manifesto:

  • Individuals and interactions > processes and tools
  • Working software > comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration > contract negotiation
  • Responding to change > following a plan

There is nothing in there about power.

Or take the main underlying of one of the main expressions of Agile, Scrum. It’s main six underlying principles are iteration, self-management, empirics, collaboration, value, and time boxing. Only one of these, self-management, is about power but merely on team level. It ignores the power dynamics that teams are subjected to in organizations. Yes, there are approaches to scale Agile to multiteam level, namely LeSS, SaFEE and Nexus, but these approaches are nothing more than prescriptions for multi-project management.

It speaks volumes that Scrum, which for many is the epitome of Agile, strangely ignores the first line of the Agile Manifesto.

How on earth can one put individuals and interactions over processes and tools and at the same time slavishly obey SCRUM processes?

A silly, obvious contradiction. But that is the state of Agile. It becomes more and more captured by the powers in charge as just another set of management processes which are to be adhered to. Most companies “upgrade” their project management processes from waterfall to agile by replacing one set of processes and measurements with another. Still, the operating system that these processes are running on remains the same, the organizational hierarchy. 

In a conventional organizational hierarchy Agile is an impossibility at any level above the team:

  • Processes > Interactions: 
  • Control > Results
  • Adherence to your manager > Collaboration
  • Execution of a plan > Sensing & Evolving

A hierarchy expects adherence and submission. It is basically built on control. Individuals and interactions are secondary concerns.

There is just no way you can scale Agile in purely hierarchical organizations. Instead we need an update not of this or that process, but on the underlying operating system that agile runs on, the hierarchy. 

No, that does NOT mean that all companies need to become self-managed. Neither does it mean that middle management needs to be eliminated.

To liberate companies we need to (i) update the mechanisms to distribute power between people in (ii) a manner that is much more complex than just exchanging hierarchy for self-management.

 As Nobel prize winner Elinor Ostrom and many others have shown, there are many more alternative models of governing. These are not even new, we just got to rediscover them. We are better equipped in bringing to live these new, progressive organizations than ever before in history: Digital Technologies and the transparency they offer, enable forms of human collaboration, that are much closer to the needs of organizations, people and technological progress itself. 

We are more than ever before in human history able, ready and in need of new ways of collaborating with one another. 

If you like to learn more, sign-up for “Liberated Companies”. You will receive regular updates my upcoming book about configuring progressive organizations.

And: Spread the word, if you like the concepts you find on www.liberated.company.

P.S. I expect the book “Liberated Companies” to launch by end of November!

Sources

  • Agile Manifesto https://agilemanifesto.org/principles.html
  • Keith Sutherland (2015) Scrum: The Art of Doing twice the work in half the time
  • Elinor Ostrom (1990) Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action

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