Social Systems Agile

While you can see Agile as a machine - a proces flowchart that delivers value with roles, meetings and artifacts - I think it is more valuable to apply systems thinking and see the social system of people that interact, collaborate, deliver and learn together.

I want to contrast two perspectives on Agile:

  1. Agile as a machine: The Process Perspecive
  2. Agile as a living organism: The Social Systems Perspective

Agile as a machine: The Process Perspective

You view the team or organization as a value creation process. You view the world as predictable and controllable. The key to success is a proper implementation of a best-practice process (i.e. Scrum). Sure, the process may be adapted somewhat to the organisation, and it might take a few iterations to get things right - but a controlled, step-wise implementation of the best-practice process remains the backbone of your operation.

Key areas of focus:

  • Roles
  • Meetings
  • Artifacts
  • Process flowchart

Agile as a living organism: The Social System Perspective

You acknowledge the Volatile, Ambgious, Uncertain and Complex (VUCA) world we live in. You view the team or organization as a Complex Adapative System. In this system, humans are the elements, and their relationship are the interactions. As every action creates a complex reaction, skillful intervention requires continuous sensing and responding. Improvement is not a stepwise journey from A to B, but a dance in which you nudge the system towards a new equilibrium.

Key areas of focus:

  • Team coaching
  • Developing skill in problem solving, decision making and collaboration
  • Cultivating empathic and generative listening
  • Systems thinking

Topic Social system perspective Process perspective
Mode of operation Be Agile Do Agile
Emphasis Humans & Relationships Processes & Results
Primary activity Develop people Implement process
Primary result metric Employee satisfaction and performance Frequent delivery
Ground overview of employee skills and capacities overview of the process
Primary reason for effective change The quality of awareness, attention of consciousness The wisdom accumulated in verified and proven methods.
Problem-solving Teach problem-solving skills to people Offer solutions from a proven method
Reflection Teach reflection skills to people Teach various formats for Retrospectives
Language Lead change based on awareness Lead change based on a method
Implementation Observe, then implement Implement, then observe
Problem diagnosis Go and see for yourself Compare current situation with prescribed solution
Cause of failure Insufficient capacity/skill to diagnose root cause and solve problem Did not fully implement the process fully (Scrum But)
Control (1) Control through facilitating self-organization Control through inspecting metrics
Control (2) Facilitate decentralized self-organizing systems Centralized overview to inspect metrics and adapt
Results Transformative, Cultural, Qualitative, Multi-facated Quantitative metrics, focused, delivery.
Frameworks Theory U, Crystal, Heart of Agile Scrum, SAFe, XP, DevOps