Just as your process must be flexible and adaptive, so must your organization. In Reinventing Organizations Frederick Laloux works through the history, and arguably a maturity model, for organizational design. The premise, which is overviewed in the diagram below (you can click on it for a high-res version), is that over time we’re seeing organizations evolve from tribal and often violent structures (Red) through more formalized hierarchical structures (Amber/Orange) to agile approaches (Green/Teal). Today the vast majority of organizations, believed to be 80-90%, are somewhere on the Amber through Green scale.
There are several important observations we’d like to make about Laloux’s organizational maturity scale:
You Want to be At Least Green
Why does your organization need to be at least Green or Teal to become agile? Green organizations support a participative culture style that enables collaboration within and between teams. Green organizations explicitly align people around common values, so injecting any missing agile and lean philosophies often proves to be straightforward. Teal organizations go one step further and bring it all together by explicitly recognizing that they are complex adaptive systems (CASs). This provides an environment where agile teams are able to experiment, learn, collaborate, and most importantly thrive as they find new ways to delight their customers.
Improving Horizontally is Much More Realistic
Laloux himself is very clear about the importance of top-down support if you want to become a Teal organization, or frankly just to move up the hierarchy (say from Red to Amber). In chapter 3 of Reinventing Organizations he states that for an organization to become Teal that it requires the support of both the CEO/founder and the owners of the company. Our experience is that a third factor is required, the support of the front-line staff (and better yet middle management), for your transformation to be successful.
Laloux believes that it’s much easier for organizations to improve horizontally – become the best Orange or Amber organization that you can be. In many ways this is much more conducive to a lean continuous improvement strategy than an “agile transformation” strategy.
Your Organization is Probably a Rainbow
It’s attractive to think that your organizational culture is consistent across the entire enterprise, but it is far more likely that you have teams or divisions with differing color ratings according to Laloux’s model. This is because the culture of a team (or division) is greatly influenced by the leader of that team, and leaders vary in their style, and because teams face unique situations – sometimes a red strategy is the most appropriate given what the team faces. Context counts!
An important philosophy within both the agile and lean communities is that a team should own its process. In fact, one of the principles behind the Agile Manifesto is “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.” The idea is that teams should be empowered to tailor their approach, including both their team structure and the process that they follow, to meet the unique needs of the situation that they find themselves in. Teams that own their process will tailor it over time as they learn how to work together, adopting new techniques and tweaking existing ones to increase their effectiveness.
As with most philosophies this one is easy to proselytize but not so easy to actually adopt. When it comes to process improvement, teams will exhibit a range of behavior in practice. Some teams see process as a problem and actively seek to ignore process-related issues. Some teams are ambivalent towards process improvement and generally stick with what they’ve been told to do. And some teams see process improvement as an opportunity to become more effective both as a team and as individuals. This range of behaviors isn’t surprising from a psychology point of view although it can be a bit disappointing from an agile or lean point of view. It has led me to think that perhaps some teams choose to “own” their process but many more still seem to prefer to simple rent it.
The behaviors of people who rent something are generally different than those who own something. Take flats for example. When you rent a flat (called an apartment in North America) you might do a bit of cosmetic work, such as painting and hanging curtains, to make it suitable for your needs. But people rarely put much more effort than that into tailoring their rental flat because they don’t want to invest money in something that isn’t theirs, even though they may live in the flat for several years. It isn’t perfect but it’s good enough. When you own a flat (called a condo in North America) you are much more likely to tailor it to meet your needs. Painting and window dressings are a good start, but you may also choose to renovate the kitchen and bathroom, update the flooring, and even reconfigure the layout by knocking down or moving some walls. One of the reasons why you choose to own a flat is so that you can modify it to meet your specific needs and taste.
You can observe similar behaviors when it comes to software process. Teams that are merely “process renters” will invest a bit of time to adopt a process, perhaps taking a two-day course where they’re taught a few basic concepts. They may make a few initial tailorings of the process, adopt some new role names, and even rework their workspace to better fit the situation that they face. From then on they do little to change the way that they work together. They rarely hold process improvement sessions such as retrospectives, and if they do they typically adopt changes that require minimal effort. Harder improvements, particularly those requiring new skills that require time and effort to learn, are put off to some point in the distant future which never seems to come. Such behavior may be a sign that this “team” is not even be a team at all, but instead a group of individuals who are marginally working together on the same solution. They adopt the trappings of the method, perhaps they spout new terminology and hold the right meetings, but few meaningful changes are actually made.
Process owners behave much differently. Teams that own their process will regularly reflect on how well they’re working and actively seek to get better. They experiment with new techniques and some teams will even measure how successful they are implementing the change. Teams that are process owners will often get coaching to help them improve, both at the individual and at the team level. Process owners strive to understand their process options, even the ones that are not perfectly agile or lean, and choose the ones that are best for the situation they find themselves in.
The Disciplined Agile (DA) toolkit is geared for teams that want to own their process. The DA toolkit is process goal-driven, not prescriptive, making your process choices explicit and more importantly providing guidance for selecting the options that make the most sense for your team. This guidance helps your team to get going in the right direction and provides options when you realize that you need to improve. DAD also supports multiple lifecycles because we realize that teams find themselves in a range of situations – sometimes a Scrum-based lifecycle makes sense, sometimes a lean lifecycle is a better fit, sometimes a continuous delivery approach is best, and sometimes you find yourself in a situation where an exploratory (or “Lean Startup”) lifecycle is the way to go.
You have choices, and DAD helps guide you to making the choices that are right for you in your given context. By providing process guidance DAD enables your team to more easily own its own process and thereby increase the benefit of following agile or lean approaches.