Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools. What is this value and what would be the consequences when we ignore what was written in the "footnotes" of the Agile Manifesto?


Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools
What is this value and what would be the consequences when we ignore what was written in the “footnotes” of the Agile Manifesto?

I hope everyone knows the origins and source of the above value, no attributes are needed. The reasoning behind that value and the genesis for this value is brilliant and helped to break dysfunctional organizational behaviors during that time where it was common, and that still exist today, for some people in management and leadership positions to hide intentionally or unknowingly in organizational silos under guise of protecting teams and organizations through some predetermined and never changing processes.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools though appear as a primary condition, and it is a good attribute that everyone must have, is NOT a sufficient condition in any situation to instill certain set of attributes to make teams and organizations to display characteristics of agility.

As context and time change, and the context evolves and the time flows like a river, and like in a telephone game, a typical human nature, this value has been distorted and this value has became and will become an abnormality in larger organizational context and never bring attributes of agility to teams and organizations.

You can not achieve an aim unless you have a method. “ - W. Edwards Deming

When we see reality from a different perspective and attempt to understand at a deeper level how individuals work together in teams or groups in organizational environment, we will realize that a process is a vehicle that we have in our possession to carry from one state to another. You may call that process a method, or intuitive method or whatever name you would like to give, and that process or method must be repeatable to produce predictable outcomes; in addition, you must also have in your tool kit another method or another process to continually improve that process that you have designed or conceived at the outset.

At some other times you may need to redesign and adopt a new process altogether as context and time changes.

As all this involves deeper thinking, you would run into risk of putting your teams or organizations in a path that could spiral down to disaster if you have not inculcated deeper ‘thinking process’ and ‘thinking tools’ to understand and to explore better options for processes in your context. In addition, how could you conceive a set of processes that should be emergent through engagement of the people who would be key players in delivering value which would most likely put your teams and organizations on a path that shows attributes of hyper-performance?

Standardization, Processes, and Continuous Improvement.

Process is the vehicle that can carry you to generate desirable and aspirational outcomes and make your team predictable, and this process or method can penetrate any thick fog of uncertainty. One good quote that you can think of a process or standardized process is as follows (By the way, without standardized method/processes you will never be able to be on a path of continuous improvement. How would you view the standardized process depends on your thinking process, not on the technique) :

“Today’s standardization is the necessary foundation on which tomorrow’s improvement will be based. If you think of ‘standardization’ as the best you know today, but which is to be improved tomorrow – you will get somewhere. But if you think of standards as confining, then progress stops.” – Henry Ford

Mr.Henry Ford had achieved this hyper-performance in his organization during the early part of the 20th century and had brought a paradigm shift of change to the entire Automobile industry. In the modern times, we have seen similar competitive-edge success stories through process innovation by Toyota Motor Company in the Automobile industry and Zara in the fashion industry, for example.

An organization can easily copy frameworks, tools, and methods, but can never copy a process innovation because it must be built with innate intelligence of the people working in a certain culture that was cultivated through a set a values that organizations build over time and this should never be replaced by outside fad ideas.

Process is also a Double Edged Sword

For those who hate processes and think of not having a process in their system reveals an implicit process and that could help drive an emergent design of systems and products or could turn into a never-ending ‘firefighting’ and appears to naked eye as so called being Agile; it is much wiser, sustainable, and more predictable when you think and plan for an explicit standardized process, and then develop a cadence and a set of explicit techniques for continuous improvement of those standardized processes through explicit and defined process through scientific thinking. This type of thinking at the outset of your journey for your teams and organizations is a lot better and wiser than not thinking of any process or hating a process.

A process is also a double edged sword, being aware and being explicit is the first step to become agile!

Double-Loop Learning

Organizations and teams can show attributes of hyper-performance when they can incorporate and adopt double-loop learning as part of their cultural DNA. When you adopt double-loop learning as conceptualized by Argyris (1978), you will be better positioned to ever changing VUCA organizational ecosystems (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity). What is this double-loop learning? It is not only about learning and improving product, but also about improving the process that you have adopted to develop product and manage organization as one system. To illustrate in a simple equation: Product and process = double loop learning.

The TameFlow approach rightly SYNTHESIZED the flow of work through models like Kanban, Theory of Constraints, Thinking Tools, Mental models, and Throughput Accounting that could help in your journey of process innovation.

The TameFlow Approach to Process Improvement Through a Metaphor: the Jeep, the Jungle, and the Journey

The TameFlow approach provides unique insights for process innovation though double-loop learning and illustrates the concepts to develop hyper-performance in teams and organizations: (the metaphor) The Jeep, the Jungle and the journey and these are the corresponding respective terms for the Work Process , the Work Flow and the Work Execution.

As mentioned earlier in this document, a process is a vehicle that can only take you from one state to another. In a knowledge world of work places, when we cannot turn that implicit invisible structures to explicit visible structures, no visible ceremonies or frameworks will help you to traverse through time in a VUCA ecosystems. How can you build hyper-performance in teams and organizations? When you intend to build a hyper-performance in an organization or a team, where should be your focus, taming the flow or focus on managing ceremonies through roles and responsibilities? What should be your highest preference? Adopting ceremonies through any of the frameworks will only take you a little further in your journey, but to build great teams and organizations process innovation is the only option that you have to build hyper-performance in organizations.

Can you find a better approach for your process innovation than the TameFlow Approach? “TameFlow will ‘tame the flow’ of work, money, information and even well-being throughout your organization.” - Steve Tendon.

Conclusion

Have you ever thought that there are invisible structures that are mainly responsible for creating value and the path through which the value flows is also invisible? The value never flows though traditional organizational structures and RACI matrix. Traditional organizational structures and RACI are like gauges on a pipeline that appears to control, influence, and measure flow of value; what you should expect from organizational structures and RACI if the pipeline that creates and ensures flow of value was not envisioned, constructed, and managed properly to the evolving context and that has lot of holes which only let value seeps out instead of advancing towards the vision

When we focus only on individuals and interactions over process and tools, and ignoring the “footnotes” as well, and without thinking through the above arguments, we may put our teams and organizations into never ending firefighting mode; teams and organizations need to think holistically and plan for key outcomes for their whole system. However, be aware that there could be several systems - concentric and overlapping- within a broader system; in addition, as mentioned above, all structures that could create value and the path through which value flows are invisible, making those visible is also a critical element that needs deeper thinking and planning.

About author:

Sri Garapati is the founder and Principal of The Agility Mind Inc and an independent freelance consultant and researcher in organizational design, social systems, and its underlying challenges. He has more than 18 years’ experience in IT, healthcare, and the technology industry at various levels, from executive to program/project management. Mr. Garapati’s work has focused on strategic planning, business unit development, IT applications, software product development, and organizational design. His unique skills allow him to take raw ideas/concepts through to product development and fully functioning business units; he has developed four different business units in startup mode. Mr. Garapati also brings to his work various concepts and models from Agile, Lean, TOC, and systems thinking, as well as from the sciences of complexity, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, human nature, and several others, to help in designing organizations agnostic to models/ frameworks and tailoring these ideas to the organization’s environment. His strengths foster the designing of a learning organization that will evolve through shared understanding, values, principles, and problem-solving tools. Mr. Garapati holds a patent for a software product through Xerox Corporation. He can be reached at srini@theagilitymind.com and www.TheAgilityMind.com

Acknowledgments:

I would like to express my deep and sincere gratitude and thanks to Mr. Daniel Doiron, Author of ‘Tame your flow’- Ultimate Agile/Kanban Book on Financial Throughput for Immediate Exponential Returns and VP of TameFlow Consulting Limited, for reviewing this article from the initial draft stages to this final shape and also suggesting to include double-loop learning in this article.

I would also like to express my deep appreciation and thanks to Mr. Steve Tendon, The Creator of TameFlow and Managing Director of TameFlow Consulting Limited, for reviewing the article and giving feedback and suggestions.

References:

  1. The Agile Manifesto www.agilemanifesto.org
  2. Double Loop Learning https://hbr.org/1977/09/double-loop-learning-in-organizations
  3. Hyper-Productive Knowledge Work Performance: The TameFlow Approach and Its Application to Scrum and Kanban by Steve Tendon and Wolfram Muller
  4. Tame Your Work Flow by Steve Tendon and Daniel Doiron