In my last post, I looked at how Agile Culture is about Collaboration and Cultivation.
Today, I am likely to ruffle a lot of feathers by observing that Kanban aligns well with control culture. So, if you are a consultant or coach, this is good news since Agile plays badly to companies that have a control culture. I view todays post as a refinement of my earlier post – Scrum or Kanban? Yes! – where I argued that some situations are a better fit for Kanban vs. Scrum.
What is Kanban?
I am choosing a recent and very insightful post by David Anderson – The Principles of the Kanban Method as the basis for my analysis. David is arguable the leader of the Kanban/Software school with his book, very active mailing list and Lean Software and Systems Consortium.
Kanban is mostly aligned with Control Culture
The cultural model used in the analysis below is based on the work of William Schneider. If you are not familiar with it, I suggest you check out my summary of his book. The terms I am using have a very precise meaning, so please refer to this for additional context.
As you can see the main focus is about Control. Control cultures live and breathe policies and process. Kanban has this in spades. Control culture is also about creating a clear and orderly structure for managing the company which is exactly what Kanban is about.
Control cultures focus on the company/system (vs. people) and current state (vs. future state). This is a good description for the starting place for Kanban.
What is really interesting from a cultural analysis perspective is the principle: Improve collaboratively using models and scientific method. These two concepts really don’t mix, so how can this work? According to Schneider, other cultural elements can be present as long as they support the core culture. So having some people focus is fine as long as it supports controlling the work.
The notion of evolutionary or controlled change can also be compatible with a control culture if it is used to maintain the existing organizational structure and hierarchy.
Wait a minute, Kanban is Agile, isn’t it?
Mike Burrow’s made a very influential post: Learning together: Kanban and the Twelve Principles of Agile Software. In it he argues that Kanban satisfies each of the Agile Principles. Now that I am studying this from the perspective of culture, I see that this is in fact not the case or perhaps only weakly the case.
Agile and Kanban for sure share a common community, and many practices may be cross-adopted, however, they are fundamentally promoting different perspectives. Agile is first about people and Kanban is first about the system. Yes, people are important in Kanban too, but this is secondary to the system.
So is Kanban Agile? I used to think so. I don’t any more.
This is an update to this post where I need to clarify a few things:
- I love Kanban and think it is great. We need more of it in the world.
- I am not saying people who use Kanban are control freaks or prefer command and control. What I am saying is that if your client has a control culture, then Kanban is a good thing to talk to them about (vs. Scrum).
- I am not saying Kanban is incompatible with Agile. I am saying that they are complementary perspectives.
You may be burning with curiosity about what the implications of this are. Stay tuned for upcoming posts.
2018 UPDATE: The post is out of date!
I do NOT recommend following what is written below …
An updated and more effective description of how to work with culture is here:
I finally had time to read The Reengineering Alternative: A plan for making your current culture work by William Schneider. If you are at all concerned about successful Agile adoption, then this is a must-read.
Before reading the book, I already had a pretty good idea about it thanks to a private seminar with Michael Spayd and a conference session by Israel Gat – How we do things around here in order to succeed. But when reading the book, I crystallized my thinking about a whole number of disparate experiences and open questions.
In this post, I will cover the key concepts of the book. Analysis and connections to Agile will follow in subsequent posts.
Schneider Culture Model
In the diagram below, there are four cultures depicted – one in each quadrant. Each has a NAME, a “short quote”, a picture, and some words the characterize that quadrant. As you read through this, you may will get a sense of where your company is.
There are also two axis that indicate where the focus or an organization is:
- Horizontal: People Oriented (Personal) vs. Company Oriented (Impersonal)
- Vertical: Reality Oriented (Actuality) vs. Possibility Oriented
This provides an a way to see relationships between the cultures. For example, Control culture is more compatible with Collaboration or Competence cultures than with Cultivation culture.
Key points about culture
- Management guru Peter Drucker says “Culture … is singularly persistent … In fact, changing behaviour works only if it is based on the existing ‘culture'”
- No one culture type is better than another. The book details the strengths and weaknesses of each so check it out if you are curious to learn more.
- Depending on the type of work, one type of culture may be a better fit.
- Companies typically have a dominant culture with aspects from other cultures. This is fine as long as those aspects serve the dominant culture.
- Different departments or groups may have different cultures. (e.g. development vs. operations)
- Differences can lead to conflict.
How to make Culture work
The starting point for making culture work is understanding it. The book describes a survey you can give to staff (Example Survey from Book in Survey Monkey – N.B. You can’t see the results). The book suggests using this as a starting point for culture workshops with a diverse group of staff.
There are several suggestions for using cultural information to guide decision-making:
- Evaluate key problems in the context of culture. Sometimes changes are needed to bring the culture into alignment with the core culture.
- Sometimes the culture is too extreme (e.g. too much cultivation without any controls – or vice versa!), and elements from other cultures are needed to bring it back into balance.
- Consider the possibility of creating creating interfaces/adapters/facades to support mismatches between departments or groups.
Well, that’s the book in a nutshell. More to follow on how this relates to Agile.
2016 – Update
About a year ago, I stopped using the Schneider culture model. Instead, I have been using the Laloux Culture Model. Why? It works better for my clients. The Laloux Model provides not just a sense of where we are, but where we might go. It helps crystallize the benefits of change.
In the last 4 years since I wrote this post, I have been exploring ways of helping organizations navigate culture change. In addition to the Laloux, model, I would invite you to check out these posts:
- Tactics, Strategy, & Culture – A Model for Thinking about Organizational Change
- Culture is the Core of Your Organization – V2
- Culture Change: Reinventing Organizations
- How to Build a Culture Bubble
We have learned so much more over the last 2 years since this and want to invite you to check out our recent calendar to see if there is a Certified Agile Leadership Training in your area: