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.
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.
Who decides and how can good decisions be taken? For a long time, this question did not even arise in many hierarchical organizations. In case of doubt, the decision is up to the boss or a small high-ranking leadership circle, which in the best case features a high degree of diversity and honors disagreement but which in the worst case scenario only consists of claqueurs. As more and more organizations try to become more agile, new answers to the question of who decides and how to decide are of central importance. After all, agility means subsidiarity, i.e. that decisions must be made as decentralized as possible in self-organizing teams. Only how?
Agile organizations are lean, flexible and adaptable. This is accomplished less by “agilizing” existing structures and processes but rather by consistently questioning these. The solution, of course, is not to fall victim to the cognitive bias of Maslow’s hammer and to apply the shiny new agile methods to all existing calcified organizational structures and their wasteful procedures. Rather the motto is “Don’t scale agile – descale your organization!”
When it comes to agility, many people think in terms of methods such as Scrum on a small scale, frameworks such as LeSS on a large scale or tools such as JIRA. This perspective leads to a multitude of cargo cult, i.e. artfully celebrated actions without any effect. Agility is first and foremost a question of stance, which is best captured by the notion of sailing by sight. While classic plan-driven companies always strive to analyze, plan and then implement as comprehensively as possible, agile companies pragmatically ask themselves periodically what they can do here and now to improve and further develop their product.