Discipline (or lack thereof) is a criticism often levelled at Agile software developers, and the Agile approach itself, too. This is a fallacy, at least in the case where Agile principles are in fact actually being followed – as opposed to some kind of faux Agile. BTW I have seen some developers and managers claim (faux) Agile chops in an attempt to avoid “discipline”.
Discipline contributes much to organisational effectiveness – we may prefer to label it “professionalism”, “engineering” or even “craftsmanship” – but there are at least two different forms of discipline, the one much more effective, from an organisational perspective, than the other.
Continuing a Conversation
This is a post partially in response to a request from Zsolt Fabok and Kev Austin, arising from something Zsolt learned at the excellent Lean Agile Scotland 2012:
Learning From Transitions
Each transition, from one mindset to the next (to the right, on the chart), implicitly teaches an organisation the value of certain things (most often, these organisations only realise they have learnt something in retrospect).
The Ad-hoc to Analytic Transition
From this transition – when successfully accomplished – an organisation and its people have learned (primarily) the value of discipline. Discipline in Ad-hoc organisations is generally conspicuous by its absence.
Ad-hoc organisations may contain some individuals with their own self-discipline, but even these individuals remain mostly unaware of this talent, and the organisation overall sees little or no value in discipline per se – even though the few folks with some self-discipline may be seen as “star” performers. with an “amazing” ability to get things done.
After the transition, the discipline Analytic organisations come to appreciate is almost always “external” discipline – coercively imposed on people and teams through things like command-and-control management, processes, process conformance, audits, standards, inspections and the like. Because this is imposed, however benevolent the intent, the Analytic mindset form of discipline significantly diminishes folks’ engagement and joy in their work.
“We all pay dearly when people respond to our values and needs not out of a desire to give from the heart, but out of fear, guilt, or shame. Sooner or later, we experience the consequences of diminished goodwill on the part of those who comply with our values out of a sense of of either external or internal coercion.”
~ Marshall Rosenberg
I believe that a large part of the improved effectiveness afforded by the Synergistic mindset comes from the removal of this coercion.
The Analytic to Synergistic Transition
This second transition – for those organisations fortunate enough to achieve it successfully – teaches, again mainly in retrospect, the value of a shared or common purpose.
Note that dwelling in the Analytic mindset for a while affords at least one advantage – the instilling of an appreciation of discipline. Folks get to see how e.g. being organised and disciplined, as a group, helps them get things done more regularly and predictably. It’s just a shame that aspects of the Analytic mindset (e.g. Theory X) are seen to require coercion and compulsion.
Discipline in the Synergistic organisation transforms from external to internal, from coercive to collaborative. Language transforms from manipulative “Jackal” to heart-felt “Giraffe”. And motivations transform from extrinsic and joyless to intrinsic and joyful.
“As [we] replace our old patterns of defending, withdrawing, or attacking in the face of judgment and criticism, we come to perceive ourselves and others, as well as our intentions and relationships, in a new light. Resistance, defensiveness, and violent reactions are minimised.”
~ Marshall Rosenberg
Note: Internal discipline is probably more commonly known as self-discipline.
The Synergistic to Chaordic Transition
Discipline in the Chaordic mindset looks a lot like the internal discipline learned by an organisation whilst in the Synergistic mindset. The distinction, if any, is that the Chaordic organisation applies its discipline not least to acquiring and applying a capability to move rapidly and confidently into new domains and new markets, almost literally overnight. (What I refer to as “Positive Opportunism”).
Ad-hoc organisations generally have little or no appreciation of the value of discipline.
Analytic organisations most often develop Brasil-esque coercive discipline, and accordingly become somewhat more effective for their pains.
Synergistic organisations retain their appreciation of the value of discipline, but change its form and compound it with a shared common purpose, seeing a further uplift in effectiveness.
Chaordic organisations build on self-discipline (of individuals and the organisation both) and on common purpose – and apply these to the ever more effective exercise of “positive opportunism”.