The following diagram is a powerful mental frame to help understand change efforts within organizations. It makes the discernment between tactical, strategic and cultural levels. One way to use the diagram is to position each change item or activity on the line to show what aspect it is focussed on.
More importantly, I use the diagram to engage with clients to explore what they want to achieve, why they want to achieve it, and how invested they are in the outcome.
Some typical benefits are listed above the line. Most importantly, break-through results only come from culture – not tactical or strategic approaches.
- Tactics – “How do we work?” is about day to day practices and process elements. These are things that a team or organization can adopt.
- Strategy – “What do we want to achieve” is about aligning the company around key goals and initiatives.
- Culture – “Who do we want to be?” is about clarifying the organizations reason for existing as well as it’s values and vision.
Relationship between the levels
Culture is the foundation that Strategy and Tactics sit on. But culture is like an iceberg – a powerful force that is underwater where you can’t see it. Sure it’s possible to work at the levels of tactics and strategy, but that is unlikely to make any lasting change or draw great benefits. Lasting change requires working at all three levels so that the tactics and strategy support the culture.
Relationship to Leadership Agility
Bill Joiner has identified a number of distinct mindsets that can be found with managers/leaders. and his work on Leadership Agility. The following are one to one mappings from types of leaders/mindsets:
- Experts focus on Tactics: problems and work execution.
- Achievers focus on Strategy: outcomes and the system.
- Catalysts focus on Culture: vision and break-through culture.
The deepest inspiration comes from Bill Joiner and his work on Leadership Agility and the different levels of focus. This served as the basis for my model.
I would like to thank a variety of sources for the notion of Culture being mostly hidden – I have seen or read this in a number of places but most vividly from the folks at Crucial Conversations and their book Influencer in particular.
I am grateful for Mike Cottemeyer for helping me understand the difference between Agile Adoption (Tactical) and Agile Transformation (Cultural).
I am very grateful to New England Agile (and Ron Verge in particular) for videotaping my presentation. For those of you who haven’t heard me speak about culture and adoption, I believe this is a crucial message for anyone acting as an Agile change agent. Enjoy.
P.S. I am actively working on an eBook for those who prefer print. Drop me an email if you want to help review it before it comes out.
P.P.S Slides are here.
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.
What is Agile Culture? In an earlier post, I talked about Schneider’s model for understanding culture – How to make your culture work. (Hint: this post will make more sense if you read the earlier post.)
What do we discover about Agile culture when we apply the Schneider model? How does this inform us about approaching Agile adoption or transformation?
Michael Spayd has done the community a great service by undertaking a culture survey of Agilistas. The results are very striking: it shows that the two dominant cultures are collaboration and cultivation, with competence a distant third and control barely even on the map. So one can say clearly, Agile is all about the people. Interestingly, the survey included Scrum, XP, as well as Lean-Kanban folks. So thanks, Michael!
What does the Agile Manifesto and Principles informs us about Cultural?
I took a look at all the values and principles and plotted the ones that show a cultural bias on the following chart:
The chart illustrates the same finding as Michael Spayd’s survey – Agile is all about the people. It is aligned with a company cultures of collaboration or cultivation.
An Explanation Please!
Some of you may be curious as to how I arrived at my result.
For each value or principle, I analyzed how well it was aligned with each of the cultures. If there was a strong affinity, I associated it with that culture. For example, Customer Collaboration was very easy since it has the word collaboration in it and identifies success through people working together.
Some items seemed to be orthogonal to culture. For example, working software, didn’t really seem to suggest one culture over another. Well, it may weakly suggest competence culture, but only a bit.
Other items were a best guess based on my current understanding. It would be great to have a workshop to see if we can come up with an even better model.
I could go through each item and argue why I placed or chose to omit it. But that’s pretty boring and wouldn’t really change the result much.
So, there you have it: Agile is about people!
Consider for a moment what happens when foreign cultural elements are injected into an organization. Well, it’s like the human body: unless the body can be fooled into accepting the foreign tissue, it will be rejected.
More on what this means for Agile adoption and transformation in upcoming posts.
Agile has crossed the chasm and things are different over here. Really different. And not so good.
It feels like we have landed at Dieppe (Canadian/British Military WW2 Failure). The bad news is that there is significant failure successfully adopting Agile. The good news is that we can recognize it and learn from it.
Technology Adoption and The Chasm
Geoffrey Moore’s crossing the chasm introduces the notion of phases in technology adoption.
Consider the diagram below:
As a community, we have experienced a lot of success working with Innovators, Early Adpoters. Here we are working with visionaries that have a high tolerance for change and provide strong management support.
The problem is that we are now working with the Early Majority. The recent announcement of PMI certification is pretty strong evidence of entering the early majority.
So what’s the problem? “75% or organizations do not get the benefits they expect.” – Ken Schwaber. These are pragmatists. Their goals are to avoid risk and change as little as possible. They want to buy some off-the-shelf Agile so they can get the benefits, with the least effort. They have heard good things about Agile and want the Agile Tooth Fairy to come in wave a magic wand.
Agile is not an out-of-the-box solution. I don’t there will ever be one, but we can build more around Agile to change the world of work.
We all have a pretty good idea (more or less) what Agile is. The problem is that the whole product is only partly defined by our community. For example, tools that do not scale to Enterprise needs. Some level of agreement about when to use Agile and when not to. Sorry, that I can’t paint a clear picture of what the whole product looks – still figuring this out. (If you have one, let me know).
There are for sure many talented coaches who have something that approaches whole product thinking. We need to do better communicating and growing our ideas around this or we will fail as a community.
External Related Blog Posts
- Agile’s Second Chasm (and how we fell in)
- Agile is Here to Stay… Now What?
- Agile @ 10 Years – Elephants in the Room
Epilog (Apr. 12, 2011)
I am thinking more and more that Agile is so tightly bundled with modern management culture that this is less about the whole product and more about organization evolution.