Different Worlds, Different Roads

Different Worlds, Different Roads

Three roads diverge

“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”

~ Buddha

With our thoughts, we make the world. Indeed.

Through my own work, I’ve become pretty sensitised to folks’ thoughts, and the way they make their worlds. Their different sets of assumptions – illustrated by the words they choose and the solutions they propose for “making the way the work works, work better”, a.k.a. “Rightshifting“.

Just now, it looks to me that the sometimes-cosy, always fractious Agile consensus is beginning to implode. Let’s face it, results have been less than stellar, less than promised, even. And many folks who really care about this stuff have become pretty much sick and tired of all the hype and misdirection and crass commercialism now the norm in the Agile space. I know I have.

Three Roads

From my vantage point, I see the future opening up along three distinct and mutually exclusive roads. Three distinct choices for people and organisations to follow towards “doing things better”.

The High Road

I see some folks select “poor or inept management” as the core problem holding back progress, and thus a focus on making management better. Through education and re-education, training, selection, taking managers to the gemba, and so on, travellers on this road assume that if we “fix managers”, then progress can be made. Travellers on this road seem to hold in common the belief that “management” is something than can be fixed.

The Low Road

I see some other folks place their faith in “big process”. Process is good, right? So bigger process (wider scope, more things controlled, more emphasis on process compliance, more detail) is better, yes? And of course that implies much “process improvement”, too. Scaled agile (SAFE, DAD, LeSS, etc) is one example of this natural progression from structured methods, through RUP, ERUP, CMM, CMMI, Prince2 et al.. The common denominator I see amongst folks on this road is the belief that knowledge work (and workers) do best when they have a map to follow at all times. And the more detailed that map, the better.

The Road Less Travelled

We might choose to signpost the third road as “the people way”. Some folks have decided that people are at the heart of knowledge work, and so progress is predicated on better understanding of people – through e.g. group dynamics, psychology, neuroscience and so on. The common theme I see shared here is that people are generally trustworthy enough, and interested enough, to figure things out for themselves, together, as they go along.

You probably know where my sympathies lie, and have some idea of the world that my thoughts have made for me. I feel no need to rank these three separate roads. I’m sure each has an appeal for various folks.

Which road resonates most with you? For which road will today’s organisations want to pay the toll? And along which road would you prefer to travel?

– Bob

Further Reading

Why We Don’t Sell Process Improvement ~ David Anderson
Description Of The Scaled Agile Framework ~ SAFe Website
The Antimatter Principle ~ Bob Marshall
Product Development for the Lean Enterprise (“The Blue Book”)  ~ Michael Kennedy

  1. I’ve been thinking about this from what’s called “Organizational Mindfulness”, which I think is in-line with your current thinking. In fact, you’ve mentioned mindfulness in passing a year or so ago (Aug/Sept 2012), but you haven’t touched on it since then. I recently re-encountered Org Mindfulness (OM for short, ha-ha) from this paper: http://resource.owen.vanderbilt.edu/facultyadmin/data/research/2350full.pdf. Curious as to your thoughts around this?

  2. This “three vistas” model is intriguing, but I feel myself mapping to a hybrid of the “high” and “less-traveled” paths, wherein ‘better management’ recognizes that all knowledge workers make management decisions and that the individuals’ needs are fundamentally far more aligned than opposed.

    • Hi Erik,

      Thanks for joining the conversation. Do you believe that folks’ needs (specifically, workers’ needs) can be best met in a system where “management” – in the form of e.g. a hierarchy of managers – still exists (and holds sway)?

      – Bob

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