Agility in Governance: Organisational Transparency


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Co Authored by Tony Ponton and Phil Gadzinski

As we wrote about in our previous posts, after twenty years of working in agile, non-agile and transitional organisations, we have distilled what agile governance is into a key metapattern and four archetypes we believe are needed to effectively govern any modern system of work – whether we use agile methods in the work or not.

Icons made by Vitaly Gorbachev from

In the spirit of symbolism we see them as the symbol of a “Guiding Hand if you like, “Four fingers and the thumb to lead and enable them”. In this post we will talk to the first of the Fingers  – “Organisational Transparency”. 

The key to agility lies in the speed at which information flows around the organisation, followed by how this information is used in decision making. Transparency is an essential component of speed and also a key enabler for building trust between people and teams. Share everything. Often. This means both the good and the bad information, don’t spin it, be honest , as they say “The truth will set you free”(the Bible, John 8:32) or in this instance will create a culture of trust.

We often talk about transparency as the key to success in agile operating environments, however it’s always hard to lock down in reality. Often it’s just an evolution of scarcity – we don’t have time to communicate or collaborate openly, we focus locally. Sometimes it’s a function of the operating models we create – we create functions based on hierarchy and optimise for them and don’t reward transparency across the walls. We then measure and reward silos individually. This breeds competition between functions and reduces the amount of collaboration we might do instead. Occasionally it’s intentional – machiavellian, corporate politics – protection, ego, status and power. Survival instinct for some is about self preservation and that can often be at the expense of others safety and security.

So what does this need for transparency actually mean for an organisation? There are four key imperatives to consider: 

  1. Transparency scares and intimidates people when it’s not the prevailing culture  – it creates a double edge sword. We get immense value from the accessibility to information. Yet that accessibility, in a culture which is pathological or blame based (per the Westrum Organisational model) can actually lead to negative outcomes for people and their levels of safety. What we want to move toward is a culture where transparency invites inquiry and failures are an opportunity to reflect and improve.
  2. Directional decisions and expedient interventions are often based on limited information, existing mental models and experience and “this is the way we always do this” kind of responses. Increasing the transparency of information, data becoming ubiquitous and accessible, means we can use this for dynamic decision making. 
  3. Embodiment of strategic alignment  – increasing transparency makes it more obvious what our level of clarity is in linkages between strategy and execution – with no transparency there is less clear or no alignment.
  4. Bi Directional flow makes transparency work. Asynchronous flow of information in multiple directions, not planned and sequenced in a single direction, is a key outcome from increasing transparency of the system. Radical transparency not one way flow is key to organisational speed and agility. The world is too complex and fast to rely on a single path and information flow. Too much information; too many insights; too many opportunities can emerge from anywhere at any time to restrict and control flow of information. The explosion of data and our ability to bring it together in a meaningful way can hinder the speed of executing the right things at the right time. The overhead is immense and so is the cost. Radical transparency costs less and is more efficient and effective. 

Building this flow of information to increase quality of decision making, by enabling the collaborative connective tissues of an organisation to create those conversations both horizontally and vertically is a key activity of leaders and managers. This can only be addressed by purposeful organisational and operating model design that is specifically focussed on accelerating the flow of information and the flow of work leading to value. 

Therefore with an accelerated flow of information we get speed to value from better, faster, high quality decision making. 

In our next post we will talk to the Second of the fingers – Work Patterns

What is Agile Governance trying to achieve?

Co Authored by Tony Ponton and Phil Gadzinski

Having talked about what “Agile Governance” is and why we need it, we thought it best to discuss what we are trying to achieve when we change our system of assuring work. The following quote from Kent Beck really describes it well:

 Silence is the sound of risk piling up” (Kent Beck Extreme Programming Explained).

Not knowing what is truly occurring, where the work gets done, creates and invites risk. Delays in elevating information increases risk. To solidify that point, let’s take the example that we make 35,000 decisions a day (many internet sources quote that number). Whether that number is correct or not, leaders and teams are making many, many decisions a day per person. Even if we significantly reduce this lets say for argument’s sake individuals in teams are making up to 10 directional impacting decisions every day; 5 days a week; 46 weeks per year. Per person. That’s 2,300 potentially wrong decisions every year per person – compounded. 

Each wrong decision increases the misalignment on top of the previous incorrect decision. If the information flow is truncated or delayed then the error rate of decisions that are based on gut feel, the highest paid person’s opinion, or pure guess become exponential. We need to better manage that risk.

Continue reading “What is Agile Governance trying to achieve?”

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. 

Continue reading “What is agile governance? “

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. 

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 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


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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