Erik de Bos – Agile is a paradigm shift

Join Murray Robinson and Shane Gibson in a conversation about Agile as a paradigm shift with Erik de Bos. Most organisations are slow moving bureaucracies defined by authoritarian hierarchies, rules and contracts. Agile is a completely new way of thinking and a new vocabulary which makes new concepts and information available. Agile is part of a broader social movement that’s about workplace democracy, experimentation, change, empowerment, decentralisation and local ownership that is changing how our society works for the better. Its an evolution that produces organisations that are fast, flexible and lean. And in an uncertain and rapidly changing international world nimble organizations are far more likely to survive and grow than traditional bureaucracies

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Podcast Transcript

Read along you will

 Shane: Welcome to the no nonsense podcast. I’m Shane Gibson. 

Murray: And I’m Murray robinson. 

Erik: And I’m Eric de Bos.

Murray: Hi, Eric. Thanks for coming on. So today we’re going to talk about agile as a paradigm shift, which I’m really looking forward to. Can you kick us off by telling us a bit about who you are and what your experience is? 

Erik: I live in the Netherlands and I’ve been a ScrumMaster for the past 10 to 12 years. Before that I was a programmer and way before that I was a biologist. If you put all those three together, you get a strange kind of analytical, playful scrum master. The playfulness makes me a very curious person. And I really like to think about all the things in agile. Agile as a paradigm shift is a concept which I find fascinating. It covers so many different aspects of what we are as a human species where we’re heading towards where we’re coming from. 

Murray: So I think we should start by getting you to define what is a paradigm shift. 

Erik: A paradigm shift is a completely new way of thinking about a problem. You have to develop a new way of thinking a new vocabulary and that new vocabulary makes new information available. Take the middle ages, the futile societies you had back there. Imagine having a conversation with them about democracy. That wouldn’t work because it’s such an abstract concept for the way society was organized back then the vocabulary they had. So you really have to make the complete development of the French revolution and all this stuff that happened after that. Before you can get to the point that you have a working democracy, cuz the whole culture, the whole society needs to develop the understanding of the new language.

Another example is Einstein with theory of relativity before he came along and invented this new way of communicating about the galaxies and what’s happening with gravity. People just had no idea.

Murray: My understanding of it is that a paradigm is a way of thinking. It’s a model of the world that you are operating in that works. That’s why you have that model, or at least you think it works anyway. And it’s not just a model that you have, it’s that a whole group of people around you have. You all agree that this is how the world works like Newtonian physics, for example. And over time, the model starts to break down. People start to see more and more situations where the model doesn’t work.

And then there’s a small group of people who come up with new ways of thinking. But the new way of thinking in science has to account for all of the results of previous scientific experiments, as well as providing an explanation for the new things that the old model can’t explain. So it has to encompass and re-explain the world in a way that’s superior to the old model.

Erik: It’s a kind of evolution. And the interesting thing is it happens at different levels. So the way you often talk about agile is we have industrial evolution and then you have tailor and he starts looking at a factory as a model. And he starts figuring out how the factory works. And that was the model we had that developed at that time. And it took a hundred years, to reach the format it has now, where we are really efficient in organizing factories and managing that whole process. And what happens in any E evolutionary sequence is that you get to a point where you reach the maximum benefit, and then, it breaks down and something has to take at place. I like to look at it as evolution in the sense that , you have continuous competition between ideas. And what I feel that’s happening now is we’ve reached the maximum benefit that you can reap from the whole mechanical, empirical waterfall approach. And we have this new level of competition being discovered. And for me, that is a very interesting way of looking at agile because it makes it clear that it’s a lot wider than people realise. 

Often if you talk with scrum master, it’s all about scrum. And you might talk about processes and frameworks. And some people might be aware about motivation and the scrum values, but it’s so far reaching in its implications that you can actually think of agile as a social movement, as a cultural change that is going to completely change the way our society works.

Murray: One of the things about a paradigm shift is that people who are in the old paradigm cannot understand the new paradigm. You have to pay attention to the gaps and the holes in the current way of thinking and get frustrated with them and want something new. And then you can start to learn about a new way of thinking and develop a new way of thinking yourself. But people who are in the old way of thinking just don’t understand at all. They can’t, there’s a communication problem because they have fundamental assumptions that are different to yours. And while you can say I’ve changed my assumptions, they can’t. Because the thing about assumptions is that you don’t know that you have them quite often. when I talk to a lot of managers about agile, I feel sometimes like we have this fundamentally different way of looking at the world and I try and explain things to them. Like uncertainty. For example, there’s a lot of uncertainty. We can’t perfectly write the requirements because there is an inevitable amount of uncertainty in them. and they just reject the whole idea. 

Erik: It’s fascinating how that works. You can agree that you have to change the way you work and then everybody understands that in their own way. And then you immediately see people fall back on the old way of thinking. Value is one of my favorites. As soon as you start talking with a team or with management about what value is from an agile perspective, you accept the fact that it’s a complex concept and that you can control it and that you have to define it together. It’s a conversation. It’s a mutual understanding. It’s a playful discovery of what you want to achieve. 

Murray: How would you describe the current paradigm that people are working in before they, begin to understand the agile way of thinking? 

Erik: I think we’re stuck very much in a bureaucratic way of working. It took me a long time to figure that out. And I read the book human and for me that was the moment when I realized that is the old way of thinking, cuz we talk about, for example, waterfall, but waterfall is just the process and you could have an agile team using waterfall in an agile way. So it goes further. I think that the concept of bureaucracy, encompasses everything. encompasses such a wide perspective of society in the way we organize ourselves that it’s comparable to the perspective that agile has. And in bureaucracy, you see the hierarchy, you see the top down control you see the fundamental need to have everything covered. Everything is done with contracts. Take the agile manifesto. When we look at the agile manifesto, we always value the things on the left, more than the things on the right. As soon as you take a bureaucratic point of view, you can turn it around and suddenly everything on the right has more value than this stuff on the left.

Murray: The current paradigm is one where we value plans. We value contracts, we value processes and tools and we value documentation. Those are the things we value most. I think the other thing is certainty versus uncertainty. 

Erik: the, The whole paradigm shift is fueled by the discovery that we can’t control everything. Our technology has created the complexity, which leads to uncertainty. That is the fundamental change, which nullifies the bureaucratic approach and creates the space for the agile way of looking at things To evolve and to take its place.

Murray: Maths and physics, went through a revolution around the 19 hundreds, where they said physics and maths can no longer be fully determined and fully authoritative. So in mathematics there was a young mathematician who was able to prove that in every mathematical. System, you can always have a statement saying this statement is untrue, which if it’s true means that it’s not true. And if it’s not true means that it’s true. So, it introduces uncertainty into the very fabric of mathematics itself and says that it’s inevitable. And quantum physics and relativity are both rejections of the certain rule based order of, newton, which was really this idea of, God makes the laws and they’re unchangeable. And we are just trying to discover them.

Erik: In science we can still manage to, maintain the illusion of control. Because in science we make our assumptions. We create our experiment and the whole job is to simplify the situation , to such an extent that you can control the results. We have a control group when we work with statistical experiments. So it’s in the language, the control over the experiment to be able to draw conclusions. In agile we are also very fond of empiricism. But it goes further than that. We have to realize that we can use empiricism, but we are at a disadvantage because due to the complexity it’s a lot harder to create experiments where we can really focus on individual parameters.

Murray: Maybe scrum could be considered a transitional step towards a new mindset or a new paradigm rather than the new paradigm itself. 

Erik: Definitely. 

Murray: We see agiles much broader than scrum and something that’s evolved beyond the agile manifesto.

Erik: I find it very ironic that we’re all so fond of scrum and it’s the leading framework, but it’s actually quite prescriptive. And at the same time, we are also negative about safe. But if you look at them, if you compare them , to other frameworks safe compared to less is a little bit like comparing scrum with extreme programming. At the team level, we can use scrum as a way to get people to, get used to the whole new way of thinking. We’ve reduced the complexity by having a maximum amount of people in the team. So suddenly it’s a little bit like in science, you can simplify the experiment into the basic parts, which are the scrum events and the roles. And then you can empirically develop as a team, but it doesn’t work in safe because there you have so many people involved it’s too complex. And then the experiment breaks down. 

Murray: Safe is very bureaucratic as well. like to say that Scrum was developed by people who didn’t trust managers and Safe was developed by people who didn’t trust engineers. 

Erik: I had a meetup recently where I created a quadrant and in the quantum bag I have I think the horizontal axis was control and freedom. And of course the people based here in the west and in Europe, they put safe all the way at control site, but there was a number of people from India and they put safe all the way, on the freedom side. In their culture, which is more controlled for them safe was actually a step towards freedom. And it stressed for me, that it’s just tools even safe is just a tool, which in a particular situation might actually be very effective to taking that first step towards agile.

Shane: That’s an interesting lens on it in that the place they’re starting from is so fundamentally different from each other.

Erik: The moment when we start having conversations about whether safe is good or bad, we’re actually following back in that old way of looking at things, trying to control it, trying to be able to predict what it is. And that is against the whole agile mindset, because agile tells us you have to be open minded and you have to be playful. If you have a company which is completely agile minded, I think they would be able to use safe effectively. 

Murray: That is what some of the SAFE anthropologists say. So how would you describe the new paradigm? 

Erik: think it’s playfulness. It’s self-confidence curiosity, a slight arrogance maybe. I have a picture of my daughter when she was three and a half years old. I gave her a hammer and a nail and a piece of wood. And I told her that she had to get the nail into the piece of wood. And in the picture she’s holding the hammer in a way that’s oh my God, this is not gonna work. But within 20 minutes, she managed to get the nail into the piece of wood. For me that symbolizes the agile way of thinking the self confidence to say, I can do this. I just have to find out how to do it. And I’m just gonna try out and play around with it until I get it done. And I’ve tested this with scrum teams. I had the opportunity a year ago to help a management team to adopt scrum. And the interesting thing about this situation is they had no idea about agile. They really didn’t know what agile was and scrum was completely foreign to them. I just gave them the events with minimal explanation and the roles, and I just let them go at it. They were using scrum at the simplest level just to organize their communication and their cooperation. But they weren’t using it, as you often see with scrum teams where they have all these conversations about, oh, how should we do this according to scrum. Now they were just looking at a problem and saying like how we’re gonna solve it within the structure that, scrum provides at the most basic level. Within two months. They didn’t need me anymore. We estimated in hours simply because for them, that was the best way of working in that moment. It made me very aware of the responsibility we have as scrum masters to be very careful with how much brainwashing we try to do so to speak. 

Murray: The other things that I think are part of this new paradigm as I said before, is uncertainty. So an acceptance that’s not possible to be certain about the requirements, the solution architecture, the technical design, the coding. I like to say to teams that if you can get it 70% right, then you’re doing it well.

But if you get the requirements 70%, right that means that a minimum of 30% of your architecture is gonna be wrong cause you’re gonna be building the wrong thing. And then out of the architecture, that’s right. You’re gonna get 30% of that wrong. By the time you get to the end, only about 25% of what you’re doing is right and the rest of it is all wrong. And the problem with traditional way of doing things, it’ll take you two years and millions of dollars before you find any of that out. Whereas the key to agile is that we build in rapid feedback loops. So you’re finding this out within, a few weeks so that you can, make change at a relatively low cost. And I think it’s all to do with acceptance of uncertainty. And this is one of the things that I find very challenging to get management, to understand, because I think very often managers get promoted on the basis of appearing to be very sure about what they’re doing. 

Erik: I completely agree. That is the, challenge with the agile movement that everybody has to embrace the paradigm shift. Everybody has to learn this new way of thinking. And that is the big problem with a bureaucracy that a bureaucracy is so grand. And so self-enforcing that it’s really hard to break through. I have had situations where I had two or three teams really doing scrum the way it’s supposed to do where you could really feel that there was change in the air, like we’re gonna make it. And then one manager got replaced and just because of their position and the power they had on the whole organization, they would be able to stop that development. And that is the whole challenge of agile.. 

Murray: The other big paradigm shift, I think, is from authoritarian to empowered teams, cuz traditional bureaucracies are authorities that are implemented through structure and goals and rules. So it’s a rules based order. So this is the idea of tailorism and the factory and Henry Gant and all those people. What’s interesting about them is they came out of slave plantation culture in the south of America. Some of them were anti-slavery, but they still, I think inherited some of those ideas. And the core idea of tailorism is that, workers are lazy and stupid and will do the minimum amount of work possible if you let them. 

Erik: One of the best teams I work with at certain moment we had an evaluation of the scrum approach and they told me that they could really appreciate this new way of working, but man, what was it hard work? They felt like before we started doing scrum and they became empowered and self organizing work was easy and relaxed and having to take all that responsibility of self-organization taking ownership of the product. It was just really hard work. I asked them like, so is that a problem? They said no, it’s good. Years later I read Daniel Pink’s book about motivation. And then I realized okay, because we were doing scrum and this was such a great team they were actually living the three pillars of motivation. And , it really got me to thinking about the fact that, the whole challenge with agile, especially in big organizations, is that you don’t become agile from one day to the next it’s a process. You can’t just let go of control and expect teams, to suddenly self organize. 

Henrick Berg from Spotify. He has a really cool drawing about crossing the river. We have four quadrants and it’s about alignment and autonomy. And what I notice is that when organizations go into agile, they just let go of the alignment because they’re like, okay, teams have to self organize now. And so the teams they’re like, oh my God, how we supposed to do this? And they’re doing their best, but of course it’s a learning process. So at a certain moment they fuck up. And the management’s like, oh this, is a problem. So they, go completely to the other quadrant where it’s full alignment, but minimal autonomy. And then you get the demotivated teams and then management trying to control everything. And this just keeps flipping from one quadrant through the other. And in fact we have to learn that we have to find our way to the other quadrant where you have full alignment and full autonomy.

And that is the big challenge because nobody gets how to do that for management things, alignment and control are the same thing. And that’s the book the fifth discipline about systemic thinking. What I found most fascinating about that book is the first chapter is about systemic thinking.

But the rest of the book they’re all about shared vision. How do you create that alignment? How do you create that balance between the autonomy of the teams and the alignment as a company? Self-organization can only happen if you have accountability. And that is a balance that we have to discover. 

Murray: So we’ve talked about three fundamental different assumptions in this paradigm. One is that it’s about playful exploration. Another one is that it’s about empowered teams and the other one is it’s acceptance of uncertainty and change. Are there any other fundamental differences in this mindset that you can think of.

Shane: I think , one that we just mentioned was the alignment of goals. I think that’s the fourth one. So it’s moving away from these are the tasks being done to, this is the goal we have to achieve. Let’s all move together to achieve that goal as best we can. So I think that’s the fourth one we need for the paradigm shift. If we don’t have the same goal, if the goal’s not well articulated, then that paradigm shift won’t happen.

Erik: And I think ownership is underrated. I think that ownership is the one thing that leads to all the other. If you have a team that has ownership for a product, they will automatically have the motivation they need to have the discipline to follow the scrum framework, to set up the feedback loops.

Shane: I wonder whether that is where scrum breaks some of the agile principles, cuz we put that role of product donor in , cuz it’s in the book and really when I’m working with teams, I talk to that role, being more about a stakeholder conduit. I see it as a way for the team to not have to talk to a committee, not have to wait to get answers, to carry on and do the work they need to do. There’s a whole balance problem we have then where often the team’s not talking to the customer, they’re talking through one or two people, and then that causes a problem. But that idea of giving one person, the term product owner I think causes some problems because it kind of infers that the ownership of delivery or ownership of the value produced is outside the control of the team. And so I think again, we should probably re refine those roles or those terms when we make this paradigm. 

Erik: I think that the biggest problem is that we don’t realize that scrum is just the stepping stone. As the agile mindset develops there will come a moment where everybody laughs at scrum and they look at it and they think how could you work like this? And I’ve seen that few times in my career as a scrum master, where I tried to introduce scrum in a company where there were a couple of very senior developers who really felt constricted by the framework, because for them, all the steps that were taking place were so obvious. But in such a way that, that they didn’t need to have it organized in all these events. They found that inflexible. Biggest challenge is to get to the point where you can’t recognize it as scrum anymore. And that you should be proud of that. You see so much energy going into discussions about the scrum framework and how it should be improved. It’s almost like people don’t wanna let go of it. They want it to be perfect even for great teams. 

Murray: I feel like I’m post scrum. I still do scrum cause people like it and I quite like it too, but I just see it as being one of many agile patterns and I find it quite constrictive to my thinking about things. So what is this new mindset beyond the scrum? Where are we going?

Erik: I think we’re going to the point, where you just have a team of people who take ownership over, a specific product, call it the alignment the vision, the constraint, and that you have a high enough level of motivation. And ownership, craftmanship that they will just get it done. It’s a little bit like the guardians of the galaxy, there are a bunch of idiots and they spent most of the film trying to kill each other and doing stupid things. But in the end they saved the galaxy. That’s the way I see that happening. There’s a company in China called higher and , they split the whole organization into mini enterprises and I think maybe that’s the way we should look at a scrum team. It’s a small company.

Murray: Some people, are arguing that there is something much bigger than scrum and it is what you might call workplace democracy. Worker owned cooperatives, mutual organizations. Hire is radical capitalism, because you have an enterprise divided up into small companies and the people working for each one has a small ownership. The majority, ownership is still owned by the main shareholders but still it’s a radically decentralized capitalism. 

Erik: I think that the important thing to realize is first of all, these are experiments. This is part of the paradigm shift. It’s not the end point. It’s examples of where we might be heading. And the second point is look at the way we talk about it. Radical democracy capitalism. These are all words of the old language. It is through these experiments and these conversations that we start developing that new language. And eventually 10, 20 years from now, we will look back at higher and we will discuss it with a completely new language. 

Murray: But there is an old idea here. And that is the idea from Proudon in the French revolution. The idea that you can’t trust the state because power corrupts absolute power corrupts absolutely. So you can’t actually accept the bureaucracy of the state because it will always go towards bureaucracy and centralized power. So we have to actually develop systems of decentralized local power. 

Erik: I think that is very important to separate the idealism from the practicality of agile. The evolution is driven by the fact that it’s, it gives you a competitive advantage and not by the fact that it’s better for the workforce. And it sounds really hard, but like you say, the only way that this change will continue is because it gives us that competitive advantage. That’s just the reality of the world. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be idealistic about the things we’re achieving. We should just realize we can create a competitive advantage by having motivated employees. It means that we can be idealistic about it, but we can also trust that it will happen almost automatically

Murray: People who are libertarian capitalists are very distrustful of bureaucracies. And when you think about it, most large organizations, banks, telcos, if they were states, they would be Stalinist, bureaucratic dictatorships cause that’s what they’re like inside. Heavily centralized, heavily controlled. It’s an iron hand in the velvet glove these days. You have to be nice while you’re exercising your authority. Cuz people can actually leave. Unlike in Soviet Russia, 

Erik: When I was a student I studied ecology and one of the subjects I found very interesting was the way monkey societies. Self-organized and how the environment defines the social structure a species will have. So for example, orangutans they’re solitary, and that’s because they have trees spread out throughout the forest, and each tree has a very limited amount of food.

So it’s not possible to have orangudan forming groups. Same thing that applies to chimpanzees. They live in an environment where there is concentrated amounts of food and there’s rivalry between groups, which leads to these great clans. I think that is very interesting how in agile we use these kind of pragmatic practices to create a behavior. Scrum, creates a setting which independent of the ideas the participants might have. It pushes them to adopt a certain kind of behavior, which is agile.

Murray: So I wonder if we can connect this paradigm shift with things outside of agile. So looking outside of agile in the agile community, there is something called game B. Have you heard about game B

Erik: no, I, haven’t.

Murray: Daniel meek talked about this when we interviewed him, but there’s a group of people who are trying to develop some quite radically empowered new way of thinking and doing things. Called game B, which is quite aligned with what we’re talking about. There’s a guy called Jim rut who publicizes it. The whole open leadership movement seems to be beyond agile. I’m wondering what other connections in this new paradigm shift to other things outside of agile? 

Erik: I see agile as a new way of organizing ourselves. It goes much further than just the work floor. I see it in politics at my school, the way my daughters are being educated. I was a brewer during the beer bubble and all these small little brewing companies were communicating with each other and sharing ideas and having this collaboration brew. It felt very much like that agile approach in which sure you compete with each other, but somehow you realize that the motivation, the enthusiasm that is important part. The competition is not something that you take personally is you can still do things together and learn from each other. At the same time, competing. The whole DIY movement is also an example for me of agile, where people just don’t wanna stick to the normal way of doing things. And they just say, I’m just gonna do it myself. And you have these whole movements, to organize festivals and restaurants and it’s all very open-minded and the self confidence the ownership and the playfulness to just try it

Murray: So if we go back to the traditional bureaucratic mindset. I would call it a managerial mindset. Who benefits from that? Who wants that mindset, who doesn’t want to change? Why do we have that mindset? What are the vested interests that benefit from it? And how do they benefit?

Erik: It’s a massive status quo E everybody who fits in that system has got it relatively easy for themselves. They can just stick to what they know. They don’t have to deal with the fears. It’s a lot easier. I understand people who just wanna, do the job they were taught to do and what’s all this about uncertainty and trying to figure things out. I think bureaucracy is a self-reinforcing system. Think about the way we have discussions of the career path of scrum masters. It’s so hard to be a dedicated and, idealistic, scrum master, but at the same time participate in the whole career path.

It boils down to the simple fact that if you wanna, become more than a scrum master you have to become an agile coach. This is reinforced and encouraged by the whole bureaucratic system. They’re gonna give you more money. So therefore you forget about your ideals which you learned as a scrum master and you say, Okay. become an agile coach. And what you get is that the agile coach loses contact with the teams. And it becomes manager simply because not working with the people anymore. They’re not seeing the problems anymore. And this reinforces that whole bureaucratic system.

Murray: I’m currently writing agile processes for people because I’m working in a bureaucratic order in which the current processes say, you must do things in a particular way, which is very old school. And in order to get permission and protection, I have to write new procedures that say, we’re gonna have standups, and this is how you do a standup. I’d rather not write those, but I have to cause the bureaucracy demands it. In order to get the flexibility that agile requires within a bureaucracy, I have to rewrite the rules of the bureaucracy from the middle, which is a strange to do it from. 

Shane: You should have just printed the safe menu out and give it to them.

Murray: I find safe a bit too limiting. I don’t wanna do it exactly as it says in the safe manual. 

Erik: You have to be so strong in your idealism and in your principles and it boils down to your salary and your pension, and these are very strong motivators to get in line. And you see it all around you. If you are an idealist for too long, then you don’t fit anymore in the structures, which are required in the bureaucracy. And then you lose your authority and eventually you don’t have any place anymore for your idealism.

I Ask a scrum master if I go work at a company, I know what I have to do. I am a scrum master. I know what my value is and what my purpose is. And the only thing I require from a company is give me the space to do it. And if I do something which you think is wrong, let’s have a conversation about that. But I have scrum masters around me who take the time to memorize the whole text. And they’re actually having a conversation about what they’re supposed to do according to the rules that they were given when they were given the job. It’s absurd, but it is the way the world works.

Murray: You get a whole lot of scrum coaches who treat scrum as being the new bureaucracy. So they argue about the meaning of individual words in the scrum guide and they get really cross if you don’t follow the rules of the scrum game. I think scrum is a step in the direction to this mindset. It’s not, by any means end result because of the limitations of scrum itself. We had Tobias mayor on a while ago. He’s somebody you should look into. He’s a Christian anarchist is the way he describes himself.

Anyway, he talks about mortgage driven, coaching. If you have this big mortgage, you’ve gotta pay, then you’ve gotta tow the line. You’ve gotta tell manager what they want to hear you. You’ve gotta back off. You’ve got to not rock the boat too much. You’ve got to not empower the team too much. You’ve gotta write a whole lot of processes that you can fit in. Otherwise I’ll tell you to fuck off. 

Erik: Exactly. I had a training a couple weeks ago about the scrum values by Gunter Verheyen a guy from Belgium. He’s the one who introduced the scrum values to scrum. We talked about different subjects and he asked us to evaluate them from the perspective of the scrum values. I realized that there were so many subjects, which I was accepting instead of fighting. That have been taken up in that need to compromise. That need to find your way in the bureaucratic world that had lost touch of the fundamental importance of the scrum values. And I was encouraging behavior, which went against the grown values simply because you have to navigate that whole bureaucratic world and it’s so important to have colleagues with the same ideals around you to keep each other awake about, where you are and how much compromise you’re making. 

Murray: I think Shane and I have a similar view in that we, see all this, different ways of working as a set of patterns. You go into coach people, you see a problem, you’ve got a patent, you ask the team to try out the patent. Might not have anything to do with the rules of the scrum guide, cuz they might be technical patterns that are more aligned with XP, or CanBan or some of the new ideas around product development and Juergen’s ideas about how to structure your organization. So there’s a whole lot of patterns you can try out. And my view is that you’ve just gotta go step by step. It’s a real process of continuous improvement. Often you’ll try out a pattern and the team is only going to implement half of it cause that’s all that they can do at this point, given the bureaucracy they’re in, but halfway to the right place is much better than nowhere towards it. As long as you don’t stop there, as long as you keep improving. 

Shane: I think one of the best patterns I’ve ever found is to make sure there is a person above the team in the hierarchy holding the umbrella out and taking care of the shit that’s raining down from the organization while the team reform the way they work. And then the second pattern that’s really important is to help the team understand that after a period of time, that umbrella gets full of shit and it’s very heavy to hold. So the team need to help the person holding it by showing some success to the organization. They need to prove that the ability to experiment was gonna pay off of value in the organization in some way. And that helps the person holding the umbrella to car on holding it. And it becomes a symbiotic relationship between them, but organizations where there hasn’t been a shit umbrella I found helping teams change the way they work much harder.

Murray: I wanna talk about this language of shit umbrella, Shane. My wife is a director in the public service and she found that this phrasing very offensive as a senior manager. She’s the, who would be holding the shit umbrella, but she’d much rather you said, that they are providing support and protection for the team.

Shane: It’s certainly on the spectrum of inappropriate language. But it’s very visual And it’s very true. and I do think that organization and people’s reactions to it, do tell you how open to change they are.

Erik: Going back to what you said about having the team eventually help hold up the umbrella. In my experience, you don’t even have to tell the teams. I think it is part of the evolution, the process of becoming agile, that at a certain moment, you take so much pride in the work you’re doing it just happens. 

Murray: I agree. It’s a natural way of working. It’s entrepreneurial. It’s communal it’s something we would do if there was a fire and we all got together and had to fight the fire in our local area, or if there’s some other sort of emergency or there’s a war or something, we would all get together and organize ourselves and we iterate and improve and it would go well. It’s a natural way of behaving as opposed to bureaucracy, which is not natural. But the people in bureaucracies particularly higher up are very defensive of it because that’s where they get their power and their status and their legitimacy from .

Erik: Yeah. It’s what Shane said. You have to choose your battles. It’s a wave that will gather power. Let’s choose the easier battle so we can create the mass. And eventually the wave will be massive enough that we can start chipping at the harder targets, the banks, the corporations

Shane: And also, for those people in senior leadership roles, they have a whole lot of risk, they’re gonna get when they enable parts of the organization to change their way of the work. Cuz we know as change happens, it doesn’t always go swimmingly. It’s never perfect bad things do happen as we change the way we work. Who’s holding their umbrella, who’s making them safe to enable their teams to take this risk. Often There is nobody. Often, they’re the ones that get the consequences of things that go wrong when we try and change the way we work. I feel for them. They wanna make these changes, a lot of the time. And then they wear a lot of the risk. It’s their mortgage.

Erik: That’s really important because we create a bit of us and them atmosphere, the way we talk about it. I worked at a company where management wanted to embrace agile. But they had to deal with clients who wanted fixed scope the deadline and everything, the old fashioned way. And every time we ran into problems, because of the uncertainty they had to fix it.

Murray: So what don’t we say to executives then? Why should they change from this bureaucratic hierarchical rules based order, which, gives them a lot of power and authority and income and status. Why should they change from that, to this new paradigm? 

Erik: I think the biggest problem with agile is we just talk about agile, but we don’t spend enough time talking about the problem we’re trying to solve. We take the responsibility of convincing these organizations that they have to change. And we use all kinds of arguments and often they’re external, it’s a changing world. There’s more complexity. And therefore we place the responsibility on ourselves for the success, for the failure, for the change and management is left powerless and confused and weakened and they just have to trust us. We should be focusing on giving management ownership over the problem. We should be helping them to understand the problems they’re trying to fix. And then talk about possible solutions.

Shane: The problem at the moment is we seem to now be talking about agile as the thing we want to achieve, where it’s gotta come back to, there’s some value the organization wants and needs to get. And agile is probably the best approach we have right now to achieve it. I’ll give you an example. I was talking to somebody today and they’re looking to do some technology changes where the customer we are working with is reliant on those changes happening. And they said, oh, so this is gonna be delivered in November, which means march. They don’t trust what they’ve been told. And I’m assuming it’s because nobody ever met the guesstimate they gave. So there’s a problem if you talk to a senior person. How often are they told something was gonna happen and it doesn’t right. And agile patterns help us get more certainty over time about what we can deliver when. About removing those impediments about descoping so that we get some of the value in front of them. So , I’m with you. We should talk to the people that lead the companies about the problems they have and see where agile patents may help solve those problems .

Murray: I agree with you. The managers who engage me to help them on their agile journey are doing so because they’re having serious problems with the way that they’re working right now. They can’t deliver things. Everything costs far more than they thought. Things are chaotic and there’s a choice you make when you get to that position. Either you double down on the old school way of doing things, or you try something 

Erik: Yeah. 

Murray: And, once you’ve doubled down a couple of times and found that didn’t work, what else are you gonna do? You have to try something new if you’re gonna be open minded about it and not just simply engage in backstabbing and politics, which is what a lot of people do. I agree with you. We can talk to executives about what are the problems you are having now, how is it working out for you now? And if they’re gonna be honest about it, they’re gonna say it’s not going too well. Everything’s taking far more time than anyone ever said in costing far more money. And the result we get out of the end is pretty terrible. So lets try something different.

Erik: And that is the irony that we gotta talk to management and they say they have this huge problem and what happens next? We start analyzing it. And then eventually we go back to management and we say, okay, you have to implement less or you have to implement safe. And this is the old way of thinking. In the agile way of thinking we should have a conversation with the management. It’s like, okay, give me a list of all your problems. Okay. Which is the most important one. Let’s start with that one. And then we’ll learn from it. That is an agile approach, but it doesn’t happen because we’re so stuck in that old way of doing things where you have to have a prepackaged, reliable reputable product so that you can cover the base and make sure nobody’s gonna get pissed off at you. And you can just sell it. And it happens in everything. 

Murray: Yeah, Management consultants and their playbooks. We’re gonna transform your organization to agile in 18 months. And it’s only gonna cost you 50 million. We are gonna implement the Spotify model and safe Spotify safe. We’re gonna fire 20% of your management cause agiles more efficient and besides that’s how it’s gonna justify our massive fees. We’ll roll out our playbook with lots of videos and singing, and dancing, and then we’ll go away before the shit hits the fan. 

Why don’t we do summaries Shane? What do you think about this?

Shane: All righty. So I came away this idea that, paradigms are based on a shared set of beliefs and experiences. So for a paradigm to exist, there’s gotta be a bunch of other people that live in your paradigm. They have the same beliefs and experiences for you. There’s almost like an ecosystem around that paradigm for it to be a true paradigm. And that we’ve gotta recognize that our paradigms may not be the same as somebody else’s. We may be living in a completely different world than they are. And that’s okay. We’ve just gotta be clear that we aren’t in the same place and therefore we have to adapt the way we behave because of that. 

And then when you talked about the environment impacts the paradigm. We’ve seen the move from Hial based behavior to self organizing community tribal team based behavior, which is the paradigm I think agile fits within. But all of that work was done when we were co-located. The paradigm the patents are all based on us being next to each other. And with remote working, I’m really starting to wonder whether we’re about to have another paradigm shift. 

I’m not convinced that scrum is the best set of patents or remote teams. It’s always been hard and we can make it work. The idea of batching time boxing are all valuable patterns. But when we are remote working, our behavior is different. I’m becoming more and more convinced that flow based patterns gonna be more suitable for remote working than batch orientated one. So , more of a, the discussion this week, but enjoy none now know more about quantum physics. I wanted to know. Thank you very much, Murray.

Murray: I could go on. I think the core idea here is that we are working within a bureaucratic paradigm in organizations, which is very self-reinforcing with its hierarchy and its rules and its processes and its levels. And that’s hard to challenge cuz, everything in that bureaucracy reinforces itself.

But the thing is it’s not working very well. And that’s why we are trying to do something different. It’s not working well for the individual employee who doesn’t enjoy being told, copy paste this. Write this proposal by the end of the day or else. There’s a lot of soul destroying work in bureaucracies.

And I think particularly for people who come out of a highly educated problem solving domain, like people who work in software development we all see huge problems, huge batches of work, huge queues. It’s immensely frustrating for skilled engineers to have their ability to do good work sorted by the bureaucracy that they work in. And I think that’s why engineers, the ones who’ve been developing this agile way of working, I think bureaucracies are failing and organizations that are not bureaucratic. Organizations that are entrepreneurial empowering decentralized and fast moving are gonna kill all the bureaucracies. They’re just gonna outcompete them. Like higher like you were talking about all the Silicon valley companies, all the ones that have been developed since 2000 are very different types of organizations. They still have a fair bit of bureaucracy in some of them. But the basic assumptions they make are really different I think. They, they understand that you need to play an experiment, that’s one of the Spotify rules. They understand that there’s uncertainty and change in everything. There’s a lot of value and empowerment and, we United through common goals so you can empower people. If you have common goals. I think agile is part of something much bigger. I think it is part of a new enlightenment. I think it started with the scientists, with quantum physics, relativity. And , it has moved very slowly into the world of organization. You can see it in that book, humanocracy. There’s a company called ber Zog in the Netherlands which is quite famous for these new ways of working. It’s a nursing organization, which is heavily empowered. They talk about it in human. You got Ricardo similar and what he did in Brazil with radical empowerment of his people. We are still experimenting with lots of different ways of doing this. On the one hand you got radical capitalism, which is you break the organization down into small companies. You give the workers in that small company, a share of the ownership of the company and they run an internal marketplace. That’s a radically different way of organizing it, which I think HYA does, which is odd that it comes out of communist China. And Ricardo SIM also did that with his organization. And that means that you have to allow those small companies to fail and go bankrupt and people to lose their jobs and their livelihood. But then you have this evolutionary experiment where some succeed and I guess that they then go and pull in the people from the ones that fail. You have to allow things to succeed and fail. That’s one model that another model, which is quite popular is the mutual organization, which is effectively, everybody owns the organization in a broader sense. That’s the way insurance companies started, for example, the policy holders own the organization. So there’s a lot of different possible experiments, but what unites us all is that we see the need for something very different. Cause what we have now is immensely frustrating for those who have talent and vision and want to do good work.

I see a direction in the open leadership movement that Daniel meek talks about open space, open agility, open democracy. I think that’s really interesting. And there is this movement called game B that Jim rut talks about, which is even more radical, which I dunno much about, but I’m slowly reading bit about.

So agile is for me, part of a much bigger paradigm shift. And that’s also why it’s so difficult to get it through to managers because the thing about. People who’ve got a new paradigm is you have to understand the old paradigm and the new one so that you can move to the new one. But the people in the old one don’t have to understand the new one and they don’t wanna understand it. And so you get these discussions about basic assumptions. Can you nail down all the requirements or not. In bureaucracy? They say, yes, you’re just not trying hard enough. It’s your fault. You haven’t nailed down all the requirements and agile, we say it’s impossible, cuz they’ll always change. They’ll always be uncertainty in learning. And you say that to a manager in the bureaucracy and they just think you’re an idiot and they start treating you like a child and ignoring you. Other times they’ll say, oh, that’s why we’re having so much trouble. And you’ll be able to take someone on the journey. So , I think what we’re doing is part of something much bigger and I find that quite inspiring. So thank you for discussing that with 

Erik: It was a pleasure. I really enjoyed it. I’d like your summary. I guess I’d just like to add one of my favorite writers, Yuval, Arai. He explains humanity as we are the only species who are able to make up stories and convince a whole group to believe in them. And that’s what it boils down to. Agile is just the next story and we’re inventing that new story and it’s gonna be tough convincing everybody else to believe in it. And the beauty of that idea it’s goes back to the basis. That’s the fundamental basis of our species. Self-organization through communication and the stories we tell each other.

Murray: Why we should persist in this is because evolution is on our side, 

Erik: Yes 

Murray: Organizations that adopt these new ways of working just work much better. 

Erik: And there’s nothing more beautiful and seeing a team really bloom. The pride they take in their work. That is the reason why it became a full-time scrum master, cuz that’s just beautiful.

Murray: All right. Thanks very much. It’s been great having you on Eric now, where can people find you? Where do you write? How can they connect with you? 

Erik: You can always find me on LinkedIn. And I publish all my articles in serious scrum on medium. 

Murray: Okay, great. Thanks for coming on.

Erik: Yeah. Was a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Exit: That was the no nonsense agile podcast from Murray Robinson and Shane Gibson. If you’d like help with agile contact Murray evolve, that’s evolve with zero. Thanks for listening.