Oh! The *Humanity* (OR: Meatloaf Industrialism and the Organizing Principle of Agility)

It’s why Scrum devolves into a two-week death march with a soul-sucking daily status update.

It's why Clean Code gets twisted into a way for frustrated senior devs to exert control over the codebase—because they have no say in anything that happens outside of it.

It's why SAFe is simultaneously a whole career path and every snarky agilist’s new favorite whipping boy.

Something is wrong in The Agile Space™, and I think I've put my finger on it. Let's talk about industrialism, agility, and humanity, to see if we can't agree on the problem before we dive head-first into solutions.

 
 

Outline/Structure of the Talk

This is a pretty straightforward talk with slides, some crowd interaction, and Q+A afterward. Here is an approximate timeline of its contents:

0:00 Opening. The Agile Space isn't much of a space anymore. I ask the audience to raise a hand if they've used any of the dozen or so agile frameworks on the screen. I then take them through the DOD's 6 questions for detecting Agile BS. Typically, no hands remain raised by the end. :)

0:05 Overview. I introduce myself, and explain the three sections of the talk to come:

  1. Industrialism, in which I highlight the cultural reason Agile frameworks and tools are generally not resulting in agility.
  2. The Organizing Principle of Agility, in which I put a fine point on the problem that agility is meant to solve.
  3. Humanity, in which I describe practical ways to apply our uniquely human qualities to counteract industrialism and unleash real agility.

0:08 Industrialism. Frederick Taylor wasn't a bad guy, he was just solving a different problem than we are solving in modern knowledge work. The principles of work required for industrial greatness (show up on time and follow instructions) were so thoroughly taught that they are impeding our ability to respond correctly to the problems of knowledge work. Even the traditional organizational chart almost every company uses imposes a mental model that hinders agility. I bring in the classic story about cutting the ends off a meatloaf ("because that's just how my mother did it") to illustrate that our unquestioned cultural habits are holding us back.

0:20 The Organizing Principle of Agility. I introduce the notion of First Principles thinking, and point out that the original 12 Agile Principles are not First Principles--that there's an assumption about work hidden in there. Using 5 whys, I drill into a few of the principles as examples, concluding in the Organizing Principle of Agility: That the value of our work is unknowable until it is done and delivered to people. When everyone on a team or company is on the same page about this fundamental condition of knowledge work, agility is made possible. If like most organizations, however, anyone operates from a place where each Jira card is sacred and valuable, agility will not happen even with the finest frameworks, tools, and effort.

0:30 What can we do about this? A few things.

  1. Stop talking about "Agile". Instead, discuss the underlying problem: the work on the board isn't necessarily valuable.
  2. Use a strongly stated purpose to align team(s) efforts and allow for autonomy in their work.
  3. Identify aspects of industrialism in your team's work.
  4. Normalize uncertainty, instead of attempting to hide or remove it.
  5. Managers, make space more than you make decisions.
  6. Makers, show up. Use the space your managers make and put your ideas on the table.

0:40 Closing. A quote from poet Tony Hoagland about humans coming with a warning label: "Disorganized Narrative Inside". The final few slides illustrate some of the messier qualities of human beings (awkwardness, inconsistency, nerves, etc.) as a way to celebrate them, because they are the very thing we need in order to do the work of the 21st century.

Learning Outcome

  • Expose the relics of industrial thinking
  • Shine a light on the madness of trying to build the perfect machine out of people
  • Learn some strategies for embracing our humanity at the organizational, team, and individual levels, so we can meet the work of the 21st century like only humans can

Target Audience

Anyone who has struggled with Agile, Scrum, or "Transformation".

Prerequisites for Attendees

If you've worked on a software project/product professionally, come on in.

Slides


Video


schedule Submitted 7 months ago

  • Charlotte Chang
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    Charlotte Chang - Creating Systems of Compassion

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    Keynote
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    The way we’re working isn’t working. At best, people act with chaotic complacency, at worst creative problem solving and critical thinking are punished - resulting in burnout, anxiety, depression, apathy, helplessness, and hopelessness. In short, not for humans. Our businesses, organizations, departments, teams, and people cannot innovate, adapt, or evolve. 

     

    Today’s leadership and organizational norms limit peoples’ ability to make valuable contributions.  We are at an inflection point where we each have a choice.  The future holds promise! The path forward? Together, we can nudge towards a System of Compassion.

  • Tara Scott
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    Tara Scott - Showing Up: Building Better Behavior on Collaborative Teams

    45 Mins
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    Psychological safety is directly related to performance and is something actionable that can be practiced every single day, as certainly a lack of psychological safety is often felt by people every single day as well. Scoping projects, creating stories, roadmapping sessions, code reviews - let alone performance reviews and tracking velocity - all require us to interact with other people. Real psychological safety is something we can build a consciousness around  within our ecosystems.

     

  • Matt Barcomb
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    Matt Barcomb - What no one says out loud about transformations.

    Matt Barcomb
    Matt Barcomb
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    Tackboom Shift
    schedule 7 months ago
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    45 Mins
    Talk
    Beginner

    Want to know a secret? That “transformation” your company is working on will likely not be transformational. An even better-kept secret is that it probably doesn’t matter! But, for now, that large-scale, likely-to-fail change probably does impact you.

    This session will briefly cover what a transformation is and why they are generally needed. Then we’ll discuss the five main reasons most large-scale change efforts typically fail to meet expectations. Finally, we’ll provide a few tips for surviving a “transformation” and a couple of practical tools that might even allow you to make some use of them!

  • Kevin Sivic
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    Kevin Sivic - Flow Metrics for Predictability and Forecasting

    Kevin Sivic
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    Industrial Logic
    schedule 8 months ago
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    45 Mins
    Talk
    Intermediate

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    These can be critical questions in helping decide if we should do something, along with starting a conversation with customers and stakeholders.

    Since we don’t have a crystal ball, we don’t know exactly what the future holds. But all hope is not lost. There is an option.

    Kevin will share an introduction to how flow metrics can be collected and then used to improve predictability and allow for effective forecasting. He’ll share some real-world examples of how powerful this data can be, how it can be introduced within an organization, and how it can be used to help teams improve discussions with their stakeholders and customers.

  • Jon Fazzaro
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    Jon Fazzaro - How to go fast in software without really trying (and other stories from the backlog)

    Jon Fazzaro
    Jon Fazzaro
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    Industrial Logic
    schedule 7 months ago
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    45 Mins
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    “I just don’t know what else I can do, man. I’ve tried everything.”

    Roger had my attention. The only emotion he'd shown me before now was *I’ve got this, I don’t need your help*. The development team he led just would not deliver fast enough. And, at first glance, it did look like he had tried everything in his power as their manager.

    But before long, Roger's team became known for their quickness, all but erasing their old reputation.

    Wait, what happened? Come hang with me for an hour, I'll tell you all about it.

    Software is a game of insight. And stories are the best way we have to share our insights with each other. By sharing them, we elevate our work, our industry, and our lives as software professionals.

    I've got stories to tell you about the teams I've worked with. You'll see yourself and your team in theirs. You'll ride the ups and downs with them from the safety of your chair. You'll walk away with the lessons they lived. And you'll probably realize how many stories you have to tell, too.

  • Paige Watson
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    Paige Watson - Fluid Scaling Technology: When you want to go FAST!

    Paige Watson
    Paige Watson
    Sr. Technical Coach
    Industrial Logic
    schedule 7 months ago
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    45 Mins
    Case Study
    Beginner

    In 2014, Ron Quartel had a vision of teams using processes based on Open Space Technology to self-organize around work.  Starting in 2016, I was part of an amazing experiment of 40+ people who self-organized and dynamically reteamed around our work, using two-day iterations to produce amazing high-quality applications for a large healthcare insurance company.  Our process became what is now called Fluid Scaling Agile (FAST).

    In his book, The Art of Agile Development, James Shore called it: "One of the most promising approaches to scaling I've seen".

    Let me share why it was the most amazing, highly productive, cohesive team that I've ever been on, and the lessons that I carry to every team since.

  • Charlotte Chang
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    Charlotte Chang - Rethinking Product Strategy

    45 Mins
    Talk
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    In many organizations product ideas often lack customer or business validation. Products or features tend to be a manifestation of a HiPPO (highest paid person’s opinion) or blind feature matching of a competitor. Likewise, product strategies are often pithy phrases, uninspiring targets, or contain too many goals to be actionable. Neither of these needs to be true! Using lightweight, evidence-based approaches that guide product discovery with demonstrable outcomes is key to finding customers and generating business value. Once a product idea has been refined, a well-designed and deployed strategy will provide focus, alignment, and purpose for an entire organization. Attendees will be introduced to key concepts and provided with practical tools that allow product leaders to guide product discovery and create meaningful product strategies. Participants will be introduced to a Product Strategy canvas that focuses on the deployment of a successful strategy.

  • Matt Barcomb
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    Matt Barcomb - WTF is a PDO (aka Becoming a Product-Driven Organization)

    Matt Barcomb
    Matt Barcomb
    Principal Consultant
    Tackboom Shift
    schedule 7 months ago
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    45 Mins
    Talk
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    There are a lot of companies talking about or working on becoming a “Product Organization” - but what does that really mean? How do structures, roles, responsibilities, and key business processes change? What are the impacts on a company’s operating model or overall organization design? If you have similar questions, you’ll probably enjoy this session!

    This session will provide a practical definition of a product organization and contrast it against other common organizational modes. Next, we’ll explore the many terms and concepts used by proponents of product organizations. Then we’ll go a little deeper into some major changes to the organization design, specifically how strategy, structures, roles, portfolio, and key processes. Finally, we’ll wrap up with some of the typical pitfalls that can have a negative effect on becoming a product-driven organization.

  • Matt Barcomb
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    Matt Barcomb - Workplace Design For Leaders Who Give a Damn

    Matt Barcomb
    Matt Barcomb
    Principal Consultant
    Tackboom Shift
    schedule 7 months ago
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    45 Mins
    Talk
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    Most organizational change is slow, painful, costly, and delivers poor results.

    Why?

    Because as companies grow, they focus more on the mechanisms they need now, and less on the future environment they will want. When this happens, organizations are built like machines, not designed like social systems. This unintentionally leads to structures, processes, and cultures that are resistant to change and foster complacency.

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  • Paige Watson
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    Paige Watson - Process Experimentation for Fun and Profit!

    Paige Watson
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    Industrial Logic
    schedule 7 months ago
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    45 Mins
    Talk
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    I'l use some example from working with large and small companies, and the outcomes and take aways from both. 

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