Category Archives: Invitations over Mandates – Open Space Agility

My Agile 2016 Talk – How to make SAFe really SAFE Scaling Agile using Pull/Invite rather than Push/Mandate

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Here are the final slides (including live session polling data) from my Agile 2016 talk last week. If you want to read deeper into this I suggest you look at my blog series from earlier this year.

PS Sadly enough the session wasn’t recorded. If you’re interested in to see this talk leave me a comment here. If there’s enough interest I might do a webinar/periscope/whatever at some point.

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

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

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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.

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

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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