#Agility and the Art of Peace

The Western World is paralized by the paradigm of order and control. It is the leading thought in all the managerial systems that we have build. It’s a model that we have exported all over the world. This model is insufficient to cope with the challenges of the modern world with its 7,000,000,000 inhabitants connected by the internet. We need to accept that change is coming. Or as the people from Games of Thrones often say: “Winter is coming.” 

Recently I read a beautiful verse out of “The Art of Peace” written by Morishei Ueshiba the founder of Aikido. I’m not a practitioner of this martial art, but still it did inspire me to write this blog. Let me quote this verse, and elaborate on it to see how it can help us to improve our agility.

In extreme situations, the entire universe becomes our foe; at such critical times, unity of mind and technique is essential – do not let your heart waver!

You cannot win from the universe when you are in an extreme situation, although it is our tendency to start solving the problem, perhaps we should consider the alternative. There are times, when things become extreme, that a soution is impossible. Then only one course of action wil work! Not your problem solving capabilities, but instead your patience your ability to stay at one place and to bent with the wind, that wil save you. Unity of mind and technique, now what does this mean?

Let’s start with the technique, this is learned by practice, you need to trust the agile practices: short feedback loops, self-steering, cadance, retrospectives, customer value, just to mention a couple. Even when it doesn’t pay back at once, don’t fall back on the old ways to soon. One important lesson in life is: Don’t make important decsions when crisis enters on the scene. Do not waver, be still. The techniqie will save you. When reading unity of mind I immediately thought about not trying to fabricate some hybrid between waterfall and agile, that will not work. Be still and trust, that’s the main thing. 

Dear Westener, you cannot implement agile, it is something that you need to learn. Again, and again, it never stops and it is never finished.

The #waterfall – #agile controversy

Something has happened in my time-lines on twitter and linkedin. I’m not sure how to make sense of it, but I think it is a remarkable phenomenon. I follow a lot of thought leaders in both the agile and the project management world. The tone of the responses made by those in the project management community are becoming more and more hostile towards the agile way of working. Most of the comments are focussed on waterfall versus short iterations with potential shippable products and, of course the conclusion, that some things can’t be done in such a short time-frame.

I can understand that prophecies from the agile world about many project managers that will loose their jobs are not pleasant to hear, and are threatening when you have build your professional identity around one single profession. But still the tone of voice is disturbing because it closes the dialogue. One that could lead you to a much deeper understanding of both worlds. Now let me clarify something about the agile mindset, because it is much more that abandoning waterfall. It is about:

  • Learning
  • Self-steering
  • Purpose
  • People
  • etc… 

It is an evolutionary change in the way we look at organizations. It builds on the insights of the past century and scientific research in management theories (that mostly fail to have any predictive value). It is not about finding the best-practice or about expressing your opinion. It is about servant leadership, it is about less management, it is about purpose and happiness at work. Agile is a symptom, something that many of the agilists don’t even understand, of a deeper movement that is taking place withing the working force around the globe. Recently a survey was published that revealed that a vast majority of workers are disengaged from their work (on the way of becoming demotivated). This needs to stop and it will stop, agile is just a sign of coming change.

So why object, so why make a fool of it. It addresses many tensions that current management practice has not been able to solve, so why? My choice is to embrace it fully. I’ve done it and let me tell you it is recommendable.

Where will all the project managers go to?

Recently I did a couple of lectures in Vilnius / Lithuania, it was a good and productive time to meet my friends over there. I took some extra days to see the sites togehter with my wife. Next to all the churches, the nice food and beer, the visit to the KGB Museum, or rather the dungeon where they tortured and murdered al those people that had the intellect to speak out, this really left a deep impression on both of us. But that’s not the topic of this blog. In the evening I gave a lecture to the national project management association on the “management of complexity“. 

On one of the slides I quoted a research done by the Boston Consulting Group that from 1955 to 2010 the level of complexity for organisations was multiplied by 6. But also, the level of complicatedness within our organisations has increased 35 times. So for CEO’s the world of business has become six times complexer, opposed to their employees that have experienced an increase of thirty five in complicatedness (that is the complexity for employees). A lot has to do with procedures, processes, standards, methodologies, silly reporting, silo’s, etc. The delta between 35 and 6 is the area of simplification and it is there where we need to start our journey in managing complexity.

Suddenly a number of my project management friends realized, that the consequence of simplifying our organisations will be that less project managers are needed. That came as a shock, because for decades project managers have been fighting the complexity fires lit by senior management. Where will all these competent and dedicated project managers go to? I could give a good answer to this question and it made me think, where to? In the Netherlands this simplification has cost scores of project managers their job. Where to?

The only thing I could utter was: “There will always be a need for good people that are able to deliver results”. But this answer is only half of the full answer, let me elaborate. One thing you need to realize you are not your profession, as long as you remain professional there will always be a path to walk. Some of you will remain project manager, because in those area’s were new things are needed someone needs to create the circumstances in which people can excel. Perhaps it isn’t called project management any more, but what the hack, as long as you have fun and can earn a living. My career started as a math teacher, then I became programmer, project manager, interim manager, trainer/consultant, author and lecturer. Sometimes I like to fiddle about with DTP software, if you would ask me my profession I could same something like Ideas Alchemist

One thing I have come to realize, in order to be valuable to others, you need to posses working knowledge on context. It is highly advisable to become subject matter expert of something. Even when you want to become a leader. I do not think there is a future for generalists any more, you need an adaptable nature in order to survive. Expand your mind and dive deep into something that has your passion. Then and only than there will always be a place for you.