What is agile governance? 

Co Authored by Tony Ponton and Phil Gadzinski

In our last post we spoke of the need for agile governance. In order to write further on the topic we felt it’s best to define, at a much deeper level, what agile governance is, so to that end this post will address that definition. 

Firstly, when we talk about agile governance, we are not talking only about project management offices and project management processes. Whilst they have a place in the governance system, they are only a small piece. Agile governance is about how you govern your entire system of work, at all levels, to enable your organisation, whether it be large or small. Governance is about providing assurance over whether our controls are working or not. In fact it’s about how we control our systems and why.

Successful agile governance requires building a culture of distributed governance and taking authority to the work (reference:Turn the Ship Around – David Marquet), whilst retaining control levers. It demands a sense of responsibility and ownership from all to allow for building greater levels of trust. We know that high performing teams have a greater sense of responsibility for what they see and do collectively and individually. 

To get to this culture of distributed governance, we  need to rethink the role leadership plays in governing the work and the system. Traditional hierarchical management, theory x (reference:Theory x and Theory y- Douglas McGregor)style leadership does not distribute authority – it retains it as a power base. Modern leadership principles are required.

As we move towards what we might deem to be more agile environments, interconnected networks of people and teams with the ability to respond to emerging change and need, we need to rethink governance. Who’s working on what, is it aligned strategically, is it the right work, and how do we know – which always were important questions – demand a different approach. Effective agile governance enables autonomy with directional alignment. So we need agile governance to allow agile teams to succeed. Hence that brings us back to our original quote: (we promise this will be the last time we mention it) 

“Agile Governance applies the values and principles of agile as first described in the Agile Manifesto to the whole of the organisation and how it establishes the mechanisms and constraints by which it can design, execute and control its strategies in an ongoing adaptive fashion.” 

Source: Gadzinski and Ponton 2020 

Now that we have defined governance as we see it, our ensuing posts will use this definition as the  basis to break down and discuss agile governance in depth . 

 

The Compelling Need for Agile Governance

Co Authored by Tony Ponton and Phil Gadzinski

Once upon a time, on a cold snowy day, agile came along and the world hasn’t been the same since. 

Geoffrey Moore in Crossing the Chasm quotes that Disruptive Innovation gets us to change our behaviour and the things we might use to solve problems. He positions that there is a repeatable evolution of an adoption going through a specific life cycle and adoption path. From the Early Innovators seeing the novelty and maybe trying to differentiate themselves, to Early Adopters, then we cross that chasm and start seeing the Early Majority adopt the new “thing”, followed by the Late Majority. The laggards kinda still float out back asking why? A rule of thumb, a heuristic, however you get the meaning. 

When it comes to the large scale, organisational level adoption of Agile, we are well and truly in the Late Majority stage. Alistair Cockburn has talked about this; we talk about this when we discuss and give keynote presentations and workshops about agile and where to next for agile.  

Figure: Crossing the chasm curve, from Moore.

However one thing got left behind in the large scale organisational transformation to agile.

When many organisations make the strategic decision they are going to redesign their organisational structure and operating model with the goal of increasing agility, they go all guns blazing into breaking people out of their boundaries into new constraints –  tribes, squads, groups, nations, you name the term for a collection of people organising around a problem to solve for. Sometimes for a customer. Traditional existing ways of getting things done are ripped apart; people are pushed into working with people they don’t know; around work they don’t yet understand; often without the time to come together as a team and design how they want to work. To set their teaming models so they can start doing something useful. We don’t need to name organisations – there are plenty of public examples. We have  been involved in these kinds of transformations directly a number of times – indirectly many more. 

There is, however, an inherent problem with this story, repeated virtually every time, especially if you take your direction from large multinational consultancies selling you their cookie cutter model. Since that’s the same solution, repackaged and sold all over the planet and never addressing the higher order systemic concerns and quite frankly only ever designed for the organisation it came from. Remember the quickest way to bring another organisations problems into yours is to copy someone else’s model. 

We forget about how we are going to manage and govern this new system of work at a level beyond the small team or tribe – the enterprise level. 

Governance is the forgotten element of organisations adopting new operating models that are based on a goal of enabling agility and more adaptable systems of work. When moving to new working methods it’s important to rethink how you govern your new system of work- traditional governance approaches are ineffective and add waste, overhead and create lack of transparency. They devalue trust. Add the current paradigm of every team being distributed, or at least partly remote for the foreseeable future, things need to change when we adopt agile working methods. You can’t be agile and overlay the same existing governance patterns and norms that didn’t really work before; they will only stifle your transformation.

You need Agile Governance!

Continue reading “The Compelling Need for Agile Governance”

Responsible Tech Summit

My good friend Phil Gadzinski and I were recently asked to speak at the Responsible Tech Summit 2020 recently. Phil and I are very passionate about agile governance, especially now that remote working has become a dominant way of working . This is our presentation:

Creating the next normal: remote agile governance

The spread of COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on the world. Social distancing and lockdowns have forced an unexpected shift to remote working, and many businesses have been caught unprepared.

While some had no remote working capability at all, others were able to successfully enable their whole company to work from home. However, once the initial shift was made, few have clear processes or procedures in place for how to work together remotely over a sustained amount of time. With traditional Agile leadership and governance structures specifically designed to help teams excel when they are co-located, what can you do when that’s not possible?

As the ongoing impact of COVID-19 continues to emerge, organisations with Agile teams are among the best-positioned to succeed, given their ability to adapt to a rapidly changing business environment. With organisations focused on their ability to maintain profitability and survive, effectiveness and efficiency counts greatly. But to sustain the effectiveness of their Agile teams, leaders must now overcome a new challenge.

Brisbane Meetup Heart Of Agile Presentation

Recently myself and Phil Gadzinski , one of my fellow Heart Of Agile Consultants were asked to present at the Agile Brisbane Meetup in Australia. We had the idea to interview Dr Alistair Cockburn ( Signatory of the Manifesto and originator of the Heart Of Agile concept) to kick off the session.

The interview resulted in some great insights and explanations of the HOA that even we didn’t expect . The interview and presentation pack are below – please enjoy

The Heart Of Agile

For some time now Alistair Cockburn has been on  the journey to bring back the simplicity of Agile. I can remember discussing with him many times how it had become so convoluted with frameworks and multiple methods, all of them claiming to be the golden cure to creating agility. Yet the more involved they became, the harder the path to agility was to navigate.

I was finding increasingly, that every time I was asked to help somewhere that had a failed or less than optimal Agile implementation, it was because they had ignored the basics. A return to these made immediate and lasting impact every time.

So when Alistair crystallised this into the simplicity that is the Heart of Agile using those four words, Collaborate, Deliver, Reflect, Improve, it gave me voice and premise to have conversations with organisations, leaders and teams in a clear and simple way that is easily grasped and can be implemented immediately.

Following on from this, a couple of months ago,  Alistair quietly launched the https://heartofagile.com/ site as a hub for all things Heart of Agile . Along with this, myself and eight other amazingly talented people across the world  were also selected to help listen and guide those who wish to start the Heart of Agile journey.

I am deeply honoured to be part of this group of people who have such deep expertise and a willingness to  share their experiences. If any if this resonates with you and you want to get back to the Heart of Agile, then wherever you are in the world don’t hesitate to reach out to the guides.

LAST Conference Brisbane 2018 – FailAgility: Recognising and Resetting the Agile Boundaries

My keynote presentation with Craig Smith from the LAST Conference 2018 in Brisbane called “FailAgility: Recognising and Resetting the Agile Boundaries” is available on Slideshare.

FailAgility; we have all seen it and let’s face it, we are all guilty of letting it happen in our organisations. So why is it that so many businesses fail to see the outcomes that the Agile values and principles promise?

This presentation looks at what FailAgility is and the three levels in organisations where it stems from: Organisation, Leadership and the Coaching / Personal level.

We will discuss the types of FailAgility that we see at these different levels, the approaches that cause FailAgility and most importantly what we can do to recognise and fix it.

Here are some Tweets from the keynote:

 

Episode 123: Some Principles of Lean and Product Development Flow with Don Reinertsen

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The Agile Revolution Podcast

Craig and Tony are at YOW! Conference and are privileged to spend some time with Don Reinertsen, who is considered one of the leading thinkers in the field of lean product development and author of numerous books including “Principles of Product Development Flow”

  • Principles of Product Development Flow” book and why there is a waterfall on the front
  • Japanese Manufacturing Techniques was the name before it was rebranded as Lean Manufacturing
  • Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System, hated math and thus preferred to sit on the factory floor and tweak processes, hence it was not a theory driven approach but rather empirically driven
  • Need to understand why things work so you can transfer it to other domains, a big shortcoming in lean manufacturing is that they don’t have much of a mathematical view on what they are doing
  • You can use magic in manufacturing because it is highly repetitive
  • People understand iterations are good to do but do not understand why
  • “Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better” (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)
  • Agile software people are doing a better job at lean product development because software people have already crossed the chasm of inspect and adapt

Continue reading “Episode 123: Some Principles of Lean and Product Development Flow with Don Reinertsen”

Episode 121: Diversity & Frugal Innovation in Africa with Betty Enyonam Kumahor

The Agile Revolution Podcast

enyoCraig and Tony sit down for a conversation at YOW! Conference with Betty Enyonam Kumahor (stands for good for me, on the way there) who is a technology leader in Africa:

  • Tony and Enyo are mutual members of the Alistair Cockburn fan club
  • YOW! Conference talk “Frugal Innovation and Scaffolding Software
  • Software engineering uptake in Africa is very low, need more technologists because it is is not an industry it is an enabler
  • Lots of diversity challenges in Africa – lees than 1% of the South African IT industry is women, but also diversity in languages, education and belief systems
  • Diversity is a multi-pronged issue, need to be patient but not complacent to move the needle forward, give girls the confidence to be competent and to push the boundaries
  • Frugal innovation in Africa – building technology in a space of constraints such as inadequate power, everything happens by mobile…

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Episode 119: Agile (Raccoon) is Dead with “Pragmatic” Dave Thomas

The Agile Revolution Podcast

davethomasCraig and Tony are at YOW! Conference and get the opportunity to sit down with Dave Thomas, signatory to the Manifesto for Agile Software Development and have a great discussion about:

  • Dave’s talk “Agile is Dead (Long Live Agility)
  • Agile as a word has become meaningless, don’t follow the off-the-shelf processes, apply small corrections to move forward
  • Story of Stone Soup is like Agile consultancies, the hard work is done by the companies
  • Scrum is a good starting point due to its simplicity
  • Raccoon is a noun, so not a good replacement name for Agile, because you can buy a pound of it
  • 1,000 working on one thing can never be Agile, you have to make enterprises agile before you can run an agile project
  • The values in the Agile Manifesto hold up well, would have been nice to have had more diversity, had no expectation they were…

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Episode 118: YOW! 2015 Brisbane Vox Pop

The Agile Revolution Podcast

yow_2015_conference_-stacked-pngCraig and Tony are once again roaming the lunch hall at YOW! 2015 in Brisbane, where they catch up with a number of people including:

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