Less copying, more learning

I started to work with a new organization and its teams recently. During the first sprint retrospective, developers and testers in teams discussed about how to collaborate more effectively. The same discussion has happened in other organizations of the same company, isn't it too slow to go through it over and over again? Why not simply copying solutions from elsewhere?

Copying != learning

Copying could mean simply adopting best practices from the industry. As they are best practices, we only need to focus on executing them well in our environment.

Pilot then spread is a slightly different form of copying. We realize that our context is different. Thus, we first pilot in small scope and create solutions fitting into our context, then, we spread those solutions throughout the whole organization. For example, we pilot in one team, then, spread to other teams; we pilot in one organization, then, spread to other organizations within the same company.

The process of effective problem solving and improvement goes something like this:

  1. Experience the problem
  2. Create options to experiment
  3. Inspect and adapt

What are problems with copying regarding this process?

  1. While copying, motivation is not in place. In particular, the intrinsic motivation is often missing, even though strong execution may bring extrinsic motivation.
  2. We can copy to create options. However, the associated thinking on essential elements may not be developed. This leads to practicing without deep understanding and clear focus.
  3. After copying, it is done. We do not continue to make necessary adaptation for our context.

In short, copying does not develop the motivation and the understanding. Furthermore, when people is part of the context (thus, you never get the same context), simply copying does not work. To be clear, I am not suggesting that we should reinvent the wheel, but copying without learning does not work.

Speed up learning

Often, I hear comments from clients saying that "I feel slow in our transformation". We need to understand the real constraint here. In my view, it is the learning that decides how fast we can make in our transformation.

Copying essentially puts the focus on execution, rather than learning. On the contrary, in order to go fast, we need to speed up learning.

Learning involves developing the motivation, creating options, and inspecting & adapting.

  1. Motivation

Strong execution in many cases only brings extrinsic motivation, while intrinsic motivation comes from seeing and experiencing the problem themselves. To speed up the learning, we speed up the exposure of the problem. "Scrum is like your mother-in-law, it points out ALL your faults." Shorter iteration and faster feedback help further.

My coaching focuses on helping people see and experience the problem. Through visualization and powerful questions, people think and relate. That creates the motivation to act.

  1. Best practices as inspiration

Speed up learning by facilitating to create experiments. Take best practices as inspiration.  Understand deeply on why and what essential elements are.

My coaching focuses on increasing awareness on essentials behind various best practices. For example, scaling involves making choices with lots of variables. Systems thinking helps people see the dynamics and possible leverages.

  1. Retrospective

Give the learning priority. While coaching a company with strong efficiency and delivery focus, I have seen a common mistake in adopting Sprint among organizations within that company. They do not end Sprint on time, when there is unfinished work. The default priority for them is to finish the work and deliver, while retrospective and associated learning are delayed and even skipped.

My coaching focuses on making retrospective happen. After facilitating many retrospectives and following what happens later, I come to think that the spirit of learning and improving is far more important than retrospective techniques.

Coaching plays an important role in speeding up the learning. With my past experience in Agile organizational transformation, coaching capacity is often a constraint. In this regard, more and better coaches are helpful to the progress. However, I also think that more or better coaches can not speed up the progress indefinitely, as learning inevitably takes time.

In LeSS, there is a rule regarding LeSS Huge adoption. "LeSS Huge adoptions, including the structural changes, are done with an evolutionary incremental approach." The relevant guide in new LeSS book is called "One Requirement Area at a Time", which distinguishes from the "pilot & spread" approach. Why? One reason is that it is hard to provide enough education and coaching on that scale.

The end

My friend and former colleague Janne Kohvakka experienced LeSS Huge adoption twice, and afterwards wrote an article "Will Your Second LeSS Adoption be Easier?".

Perhaps I just want to set the right expectation...

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