For me, the motto for 2019 was going with the flow. A lot has changed and a lot has simply emerged from the present situation and the existing possibilities. The Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership completely unplanned became a book and I thus became an author by accident. The demand for the book stimulated interest in the topics of our agile transformation and vice versa. And this resulted in more presentations, workshops, discussions and new connections than ever before. Looking back, I am very grateful for all this.
Author by Accident
It all began almost two years ago with this tweet. A few day before, there had been a workshop in the BMW Group IT in which people from four hierarchical levels contemplated how leadership had to change as a result of the transformation towards more agility, self-organization and subsidiarity. At the end of this workshop there was somehow the idea to summarize our unfinished thoughts on leadership in the style of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Exactly that’s what I did first on Twitter and LinkedIn and then in February 2018 in the form of the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership here in the blog.
As the first anniversary of the Manifesto was approaching in February of this year, I initially wanted to update the Manifesto and add, for example, “Asking question over giving answers“. But somehow I stumbled across Leanpub and decided to publish the manifesto with all the articles I had written about it since then as an e-book.
The overwhelming response to the e-book gave me the idea that a printed book would also be very appealing, not least because you can hand it over to someone. So I dusted off my LaTeX skills that I hadn’t used since my graduation (like riding a bicycle one doesn’t really seem to unlearn such things, though) and completely reworked the e-book into a paperback that is available since April 10, 2019 at Amazon (currently only in the German version; an English translation is still available on Leanpub).
I was already very proud of the first 100 copies sold, as well as the first five stars at Amazon. But I would never have expected nearly 3,000 copies sold and 51 star ratings with an average of 4.7 at Amazon so far. And least of all, I would not have expected such talented readers as Sabina Lammert to share this great poster with us. By the way, you can find it as an A0-printing template in German, English and Spanish on Sabina’s page.
Agile Transformation and New Leadership
In addition to the continuing high level of interest in our agile transformation, which I was already able to present and discuss at various events in 2018, this year there was also an increased interest in the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership. Accordingly, my many talks and workshops this year have always focused on both agile transformation and new leadership, such as in this video (I also gave several English keynotes, but unfortunately I don’t have a video of any of them; this is clearly something I will fix in 2020).
Speaking of workshops: The Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership is not only intended for self-study, but also as a framework for reflecting jointly on leadership principles and leadership behavior in workshops. As a small inspiration, I have made freely available two corresponding formats: One for several smaller groups and one for a larger audience.
The Top-5 Articles 2019
It’s now the tenth year, that I am performing the “art of the gradual fabrication of thoughts while writing” in this blog (in the style of Heinrich von Kleist’s “Über Kunst der allmählichen Verfertigung der Gedanken beim Reden”, i.e. “About the gradual fabrication of thoughts while speaking”). And so, also in 2019, 50 articles appeared in German and English. And these led in 2019 (together with all other articles of the last years) to well over 200,000 page impressions with more than 130,000 visits, thus almost doubling the numbers compared to the previous year. The most read articles were the following five.
Not everything that has transformation in neon letters on its cover actually is a transformation. It all starts with the erroneous assumption that agility can boost employee performance just like some sort of concentrated feed. Misguided by this promise of greater efficiency, an agile transformation is then ordered from the top and proven blueprints (Spotify and Co.) are evaluated and rolled out. This ultimately leads to an “agilization” of the existing encrusted structures and processes without rigorously questioning them. In the end there is hardly any transformation left but only agile label fraud: Same same but different.
In order to understand agility from a historical perspective, it is important to go back to the principles of lean management. Agility in the sense of the Agile Manifesto from 2001 can thereby be seen as the application of the five principles of Lean to software development. The focus of agility is on the rapid delivery of customer value through working software. And the optimal flow for this comes from an interdisciplinary and self-organizing team that covers the complete value stream from the idea to operating the software.
After my switch from our small but fine start-up esc Solutions to the BMW Group IT in 2015, I was asked more than once whether I really was serious about this move. To be honest, I asked myself this question also more than once in the first half of 2015. A short story full of pictures about the pain of adaptation in a large corporation and how it helped me find my role as corporate rebel and court jester.
From his decades of experience with the agile transformation of organizations and in particular with the introduction of the LeSS framework developed by Bas Vodde and himself, Craig Larman has summarized several observations as “Larman’s Laws of Organizational Behavior“. These “laws” nicely describe in various facets the inertia of hierarchical structures that implicitly always tend to preserve the status quo of middle and top management and established power structures in general. This hits the misunderstood and underestimated role of the Scrum Master particularly hard.
Times of change are times of uncertainty. A typical reaction to this uncertainty is the call for heroes and strong leaders who bring order into chaos and show the way. On a societal and political level, we are therefore witnessing a strengthening of nationalist tendencies and the increasing popularity of politicians whose contribution consists essentially in unduly simplifying the complexity of the world by dividing it into black and white, good and wrong, us and them and other false dichotomies. In times of digital disruption, fear also increases in companies. And while in many places a strong leader is then desired, really strong leaders like Vas Narasimhan at Novartis do the opposite: “Unboss your Company!”
Honestly, I don’t know. It will emerge in the sense of Wu wei (無為). This is the central concept of Taoism. It is first mentioned in the Tao Te Ching, which according to legend goes back to the sage Laozi (ca. 6th century BC). Literally translated “Wu” simply means “not”, thus being a negation, and “Wei” means doing, acting or effort. Literally translated Wu wei therefore means non-action. However, this does not mean inactivity or laziness, but rather the refusal to act against the nature of things. The translation that I like best is the one I heard from Alan Watts (see this video): act without forcing.
Act without doing;Daodejing
work without effort.
Think of the small as large
and the few as many.
Confront the difficult
while it is still easy;
accomplish the great task
by a series of small acts.
Wu wei therefore means – completely in the spirit of agility – recognizing and using the possibilities available here and now, making small steps and then learning from these steps, which eventually leads to great accomplishments. This is how it will be in 2020 and in retrospect I will hopefully be able to connect the dots again in a meaningful way, even though I don’t know here and now exactly what they will be. In this sense, I wish all my readers relaxing and happy holidays and a good start into the year 2020!
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.Steve Jobs