Agile < Lean < Systems Thinking

Agile Subset Low Detail I’m working with a colleague on a client’s organizational design issues. So I started to refresh my thinking with industry resources and reading. I call it “spring training” (even though as  I write this, we are in the dog days of summer in the Sunshine State right now, with a hurricane or two thrown in for fun.) I think of it as the same thing that a pro baseball team does in the spring – making the investment to hone my craft. It’s the third part of my coaching kata: practice the principles, uphold the values, continually improve. (Don’t have a coaching kata? Here’s how to get yours.)

My spring training has validated a core belief. To borrow from Oprah, there is one thing I know for sure:

Low Trust = High Process
Process kills Innovation

Innovation is the life blood of any organization that wants to exist more than 15 years, the average age of a company today. And for innovation to be in the bloodstream of a company competing in our global business world, we can think of cultural agility as the heartbeat, the regular cadence of responding and delivering, responding and delivering. Cultural agility sounds sexy, and for a start-up, it’s as natural and necessary as breathing oxygen into that bloodstream. But for those of us working with mature organizations to move the cultural needle, it’s darn hard.

My spring training also taught me something new. I came across this quote on the agile insights blog:

“Agile is a subset of Lean principles and practices which are in turn a subset of Systems Thinking.”

As an agile consultant, I help organizations understand the different frameworks such as Scrum, Extreme Programming, or Kanban all share agile tenets, and which one to use for their problem. However, I often thought of Agile and Lean as friendly cousins, if you will, borrowing favorite outfits from each other on their way to delight the customer. I’m taking my thinking one step further, and I really want your feedback. Do you find the below to resonate?

Agile Thinking: adapts to changes and is able to seize emerging opportunities. Agile organizations value output, not activities. The delivery teams, no matter if they are non-software or technical, should be focusing on removing impediments at this level. (ProTip: metrics are activities, not outcomes. More on that later.)
Therefore, agile thinking = flexibility.

Lean Thinking: follows a learn-measure-build cycle to continuously improve key processes and create new products. Lean thinking relentlessly eliminates waste. A lean organization will consistently generate new ideas, validate them with data, and pivot. They celebrate the kills as much as the releases. This is where the Product leaders, architects, and business owners should be removing impediments.
Therefore, lean thinking = sustainability.

Systems Thinking: analyzes cause and effect and applies learning to decisions and actions. To scale that thought – a learning organization celebrates mistakes as opportunities for critical learning. This is where the leadership and executives should be removing impediments.
Therefore, systems thinking = agile organizational design = scalability.

Joshua Kerievsky’s work with Modern Agile defines modern agile methods by four guiding principles:

  • Make people awesome
  • Make safety a prerequisite
  • Experiment and learn rapidly
  • Deliver value continuously

Moving from team agile to enterprise agile means moving on from a focus on agile frameworks to the hard truths in an organization.  Are we ready to hear them? Are we ready to solve them? Am I? (Insert more spring training here.)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on my view of the  difference between enterprise agile versus scaled Agile  and my vision of cultural agility. I want to hear your success stories, but I also want to hear about your failures.

~Julee Bellomo
Live your truth; hone your craft; show your thanks




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