Just because you hate guided tours doesn’t mean you need to hate SAFe!

(This post is based on content which originally appeared in an interview I gave InfoQ for Lean Kanban France 2014)

A pattern I recognized on enterprise agile transformations is the difference between the guided tour and guide book approaches to change management.

This pattern basically talks about this choice that people have to make between following big, organized, prescriptive framework or basing their decisions on principles and then choosing the different practices that make sense along the way.
Let’s say you go and visit Paris or London or Moscow or Tel Aviv, how do you run your visit? Some people would take a guided tour that goes through all of the highlights and does all of the thinking and decision making for them and doesn’t give them any options. Some other people would read some guide books or use Yelp or the local time out in the city or ask friends or even make decisions along the way, have some plans, some options that they would like to look at. For example, I use bookmarks in Yelp or a Google Map with the things that I’d like to do but they don’t tell myself what would happen in each day. I don’t make those decisions up front. I come to the city, see what is going on, and choose from the options along the way.

Now, let’s try to apply this thinking to the world of Scaling Agile. Let’s look at SAFe™ (The Scaled Agile Framework™) for example. SAFe can be seen as a classic guided tour aiming to satisfy the need of the mainstream masses for minimal choice and maximum safety by following in the footsteps of others (“Best Practices”). When seen as a guided tour SAFe is well-designed for the purpose and does its job well. Maybe too well, because as the ecosystem around it grows there are more and more people practicing/preaching SAFe that ONLY see SAFe this way. This is actually a turnoff for people that want a guidebook rather than a guided tour. I’m seeing more and more of those people that are turned off of SAFe by this perception.

I think SAFe can be used as a great guidebook as well. And that is how I typically use it on my AgileSparks engagements. The most typical use these days is bringing in some great ideas from SAFe into an engagement. Growing in popularity is looking at SAFe for inspiration and using its key aspects as a skeleton for how agile is going to look like in the organization. And even those organizations that want to “Do SAFe” still go through some customization period that makes sure they are starting off with a reasonable approach. The “Inspect and Adapt” aspect of SAFe anyhow should take care of adjusting the approach based on what happens in the trenches after starting. From a change management perspective all of these approaches have “some” ingredient of fair process/engagement of people in deciding how they are going to work (rather than management/a central change agent mandating the practices to them – see here for some more discussion of the value in inviting people to agree on practices to try rather than mandating the practices)
One of the things I am realizing is that as a change agent, what makes it complex is that what you should consider is not just your own personal preference for guided tours or guidebooks. It’s even more important to figure out what would be more effective for the client. Sometimes the thing that they actually need is the guided tour despite our preference for the guide book. And vice versa. And in most cases the right answer is a middle-ground or a mix. Like that time we took a short Architectural Walk of Barcelona which was one of the highlights of our otherwise unstructured getaway there last year…

SAFe Invitations – Part 3/3 – Combining Open Space Agility and SAFe

In parts 1 and 2 of this series about bringing Invitations into the Scaled Agile Framework implementation approach I talked about various ways to switch from Mandates to Invitations when choosing the timing and the how-to. In this post I describe an even more Invitational style using an approach called Open Space Agility. Consider this an experimental suggestion that combines two field-proven practices into one mashup that is just looking for the first opportunity to get its field test (If you’re interested to go for it, let me know…)

In this approach the leader would say something like “We decided to use SAFe in order to XXX insert Commander’s intent here XXX. We know this is the direction we want to take but we need your help figuring out how this would work here in our group. Scaling Agile is a complex thing and while we the leadership team believe SAFe is a good starting point we also believe there are many open questions and risks and we want your help figuring this out. We also want to do Continue reading SAFe Invitations – Part 3/3 – Combining Open Space Agility and SAFe

SAFe Invitations – Part 2/3 – Management Workshop and Vote-of-confidence-driven open space in QuickStart

In part 1 of this series about inviting Invitations into the implementation approach for the Scaled Agile Framework I described the issue I have with Mandates and started to describe the Invitational style focusing on inviting groups to go SAFe but not forcing them to.

Local leaders Mandating the Direction once they’re convinced of it

  • Once a leader decides that it is the right timing to consider SAFe for his group I typically recommend she run a “management workshop” where she basically invites leadership team to learn more about SAFe together (using the “Leading SAFe” as the content).
  • They then decide if/how to actually go about implementing it rather than mandating SAFe based on his decision. This is her involving her leadership team in the decision whether to mandate the direction or in other words create a Commander’s Intent around SAFe for the group. They discuss implementation details but but leave lots of them open. They’re avoiding mandating the practices to their people. 
  • In other cases where a leader wants to start using agile or scale it and is not sure about the approach I would still recommend she go through a “management workshop” but in this case that workshop would look at the various alternatives/options and help the leadership team choose the best fit for their context whether it is one framework or a mix of practices from a couple of frameworks or case studies.

Continue reading SAFe Invitations – Part 2/3 – Management Workshop and Vote-of-confidence-driven open space in QuickStart

SAFe Invitations – Part 1/3 – Pull-based Change

As I wrote before, there’s a lot to like about SAFe™(The Scaled Agile Framework™). One of those things is the way some pro-level facilitation techniques are weaved into ceremonies such as the PI Planning and Inspect and Adapt workshops. SAFe™also leverages one of my favorite change management patterns which is starting with leaders.

Two areas for potential improvement (On top of my earlier ideas) based on my experience with enterprise-level agile transformations are:

  • How to go about convincing people in the organization to start using SAFe.
  • How to go about deciding about the details for what aspects of SAFe to use and how.

For both of these aspects there is a pretty strong default approach in the market today – The Mandate/Push approach:

  • This is the “Easy” way where a central group decides for people both when they will “Board” the SAFe train as well as exactly how their train should look like.
  • “Easy” because it might seem to be faster, require less of those “softer” discussions with people, and come up with a better solution because you as the SAFe Program Consultant (internal or external in this case) took the longer class and know best what to do.

I don’t think SAFe™advocates this approach explicitly but it is simply the common way most agile transformations (or change initiatives in general for that matter) happen. See http://www.infoq.com/news/2014/10/kickstart-agile-kanban and http://www.infoq.com/interviews/lkfr14-yeret-kanban-agile for some more details about my issues with this common approach and my suggestions for alternatives.

I’m just one voice in a growing community of concerned agilists that have seen too many of those mandated agile transformations fail to deliver real agility over the long run. Daniel Sloan wrote recently: “Any organizational transformation must be fueled by a collective sense of urgency for change”. Or go to one of the fathers of agile, Martin Fowler, who wrote in 2006 in an article called The Agile Imposition “…Imposing an agile process from the outside strips the team of the self-determination which is at the heart of agile thinking.”. Or Mike Cottemeyer on the topic of Can you mandate an agile transformation:
If you view agile as a set of practices, or as a way of performing your day-to-day activities, or as a set of ceremonies and artifacts and roles that people are required to perform… I’d suggest that, while probably not impossible to mandate, at best you’ll get malicious compliance if you try. (Note: If you’ll read Mike’s post you’ll see he actually believes the overall transformation CAN and SHOULD be mandated but that the PRACTICES should not. I agree. Wait for parts 2 and 3…)

I use a different approach in most of my enterprise scaled agile engagements. In this first part of a 3-part blog series I will focus on the “When” decision where I prefer Pull over Push. Or Invitation over Mandate. What does it mean exactly?

  • Based on some trigger like successful pilots, conviction, mandate from a client, Organizational leadership together with probably a central change agents group decide upon Scaled Agile as a strategic transformation direction. We can say they are Mandating the Direction or providing a “Commander’s Intent” to use Maneuvering Warfare terms.
  • They DON’T specify who should transform when and they don’t specify nitty gritty details of the how. They mandate the direction AND invite people to choose that direction and find their way there.
  • Some of the leaders in charge of what can become Agile Release Trains  then accept the invitation and pull the change (rather than be pushed or forced to run through a mandated change at a mandated time that fits the “Gantt” for the overall transformation)
  • Note this doesn’t mean the central agent is passive. It means she is pro-actively marketing/selling the change but not forcing it.
  • The timing for the “buy/pull” should be the group’s timing not the change agent’s timing.
  • Marketing/Selling can involve things the SAFe implementation best practices already recommend like running SPC/Leading SAFe classes internally or providing the opportunity for possible candidates to join a public class sponsored by the change champion’s budget.
  • It can mean publishing internal case studies/success stories from early adopters. (I provide some more ideas and details in my several talks on the subject. Go here for a pull-based-change-management index).

Coming up next in part 2 – Using the Management workshop and a twist on SAFe’s great “vote of confidence” technique to continue the invitation theme inside the group starting their SAFe journey. Part 3 closes the series with a discussion of Open Space Agility and how it can connected to SAFe

Open Space Agility Handbook Book Review

I’ve been playing and experimenting with the idea of pulling people into agile transformations instead of pushing them for several years. I find the idea holds great promise and these days I try to integrate it into my work as an enterprise lean/agile consultant whenever I can.
I found the Open Space Agility movement/framework headed by Daniel Mezick pretty useful as a way to structure/guide my way.

Daniel and a couple of colleagues just released a short and sweet handbook about Open Space Agility.

OpenSpace Agility Handbook on Amazon

Tho book provides very useful introduction and guidance for those interested to move from the Push/Mandate world to the Pull/Invitation/Opt-in/Consent world that is much more aligned with Lean/Agile thinking of “Respect People”, “Individuals and Interactions” and “Self-organized teams”.

Especially as this idea is disruptive to how agile transformations typically happen these days (as do other types of changes/transformations), having a “big picture” and a book, especially one so clear and instructive will help the idea “cross the chasm”.

If you’re already familiar with Open Space Technology you will find the “Open Space Agility” specific extensions coverage most interesting. If you’re new to Open Space Technology this handbook provides an “executive summary” of what you need to know if you’re considering inviting it into your organization.
Even as an early adopter and a follower of the Open Space Agility movement I found some illuminating details in this book so I highly recommend it for anyone considering launching a lean/agile initiative or is frustrated by the oppression and lack of energies around an existing initiative.

Here’s some of my previous materials around this theme:

Pull-based Change Management Blog Post

Lean Kanban France 2014 Interview around using Kanban/Pull as an enterprise change management approach

Boosting Agile through Invitations