Organizational transformations are never easy, especially agile transformations that attempt to solve some deep rooted systemic problems.
This exercise often involves multiple goals and plethora of conflicts. The variables at play and the interactions between them are really hard to make sense of. Even if they are right in front of you.
Charlie Munger in his now famous speech at USC Business School in 1994 stated a similar predicament beautifully.
What is elementary, worldly wisdom? Well, the first rule is that you can’t really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang ’em back. If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form. You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience—both vicarious and direct—on this latticework of models. You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You’ve got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head Charlie Munger
In enterprises, we are working with large complex systems, and models really come handy to facilitate appreciation of the system’s attributes and behaviors. Very rarely a model will explain a system in its entirety but without models it would be impossible to fathom the workings of that system. A systems modelling approach is key to making sense of and solving problems in complex systems. Models help to break our big mountain into smaller more manageable rocks. They are a means to take us from complexity to simplicity.
In the same speech Charlie Munger further goes on to say:
You’ve got to have multiple models—because if you just have one or two that you’re using, the nature of human psychology is such that you’ll torture reality so that it fits your models, or at least you’ll think it does. You become the equivalent of a chiropractor who, of course, is the great boob in medicine. It’s like the old saying, “To the man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” And of course, that’s the way the chiropractor goes about practicing medicine. But that’s a perfectly disastrous way to think and a perfectly disastrous way to operate in the world. So you’ve got to have multiple models. Charlie Munger
This essentially is the challenge with the polarized views we see in the agile world today around the frameworks. Scrum and SAFe, the hugely popular frameworks of today draw equally their share of criticism. There are passionate arguments for and against them. However aren’t we missing the point? We use Agile frameworks to address our organizational challenges. The context, often however, is far too complex to have a predetermined approach work in its entirety. That is linear thinking and it simply does not work. Does not make sense either.
While force fitting these frameworks to all contexts is definitely not a wise idea, discarding them altogether is equally unwise. They do have certain merits. Agile Frameworks like Scrum and SAFe are not our problem. Let us stop blaming them. They are models and they would address certain situations, some better than others. They help us to get started. As a coach or a transformation leader, we will need to have several other models in our bag to extend and adapt these to our context. We need to see which ones are the closest to the problems we are solving.
Solving problems has to be our number one priority, not implementing frameworks.
Using one or several models we need to build a hypothesis of possible solutions and their probable outcomes . Then go about solving problems with experiment. We need to validate or refute our hypothesis in an empirical manner. This is “Being agile”, not adopting a certain framework. Yes the frameworks are good, but that is not the end of it. They are the starting point. Frameworks and models exist as a means to an end.
The real problem to solve then is not to have better frameworks. It is to move out from this pattern of linear thinking and cookie cutter solutions. Systems Thinking and not linear thinking is need of the hour. The legendary Steve Jobs when talking about creativity attributed lack of diverse experiences and linear thinking to the inability in creating well designed products.
A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have. Steve Jobs
Systems thinking leveraging the power of models will help us to be more creative in exploring solutions to our problems. It will help us to find those elusive patterns that connect our dots. It will help us as agile coaches and leaders to get better transformation outcomes. Maybe even with the same frameworks !!