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Open Agile Adoption: The Executive Summary

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This is the 2nd in a series of articles on Open Agile Adoption. If you have not examined the first part it is recommended that you view the previous article here: Part 1: Better Agile Adoptions

Open Agile Adoption (OAA) is a repeatable technique for getting a rapid and lasting Agile adoption. It works with what you are currently doing, and can be added at any time.

It incorporates the power of invitation, Open Space, passage rites, game mechanics, storytelling and more, so your Agile adoption can take root.

A hypothesis of Open Agile Adoption is increases in engagement drives increases in productivity, after a brief delay. The purpose of Open Agile Adoption is to increase levels of engagement on the part of everyone involved.

The core concept of OAA is the passage rite or “rite of passage”. A passage rite is a cultural event (and a kind of social game) that helps people make sense of complex transitions. Agile adoptions are complex transitions.

These are the key events in the passage rite:

  • A Beginning: An Open Space meeting
  • The Middle: With experimentation, play, and storytelling
  • The End: An Open Space meeting

(Click on the image to enlarge it)


OAA implements a structured rite of passage of several months duration, which begins and ends with an optionally attended Open Space meeting. In between, in the middle, all work is framed as experimentation. It is framed as playful experimentation that will be inspected by everyone involved, in several months, at the ending Open Space event. In other words, in the middle phase, the teams are encouraged to “play” with specific Agile practices, and to “act as if” these Agile practices can actually work. During this phase they are reminded that another Open Space meeting is planned and that everyone is invited to attend.

The beginning and ending Open Space events are essential, and form the containing structure. This structure has clear boundaries and helps to handle the anxiety generated by cultural change.

After the beginning Open Space, and inside the middle phase of the passage rite, additional components of Open Agile Adoption are used. An Agile coach functions as the master of ceremonies throughout. Executive storytelling is employed frequently, to help define what is happening and to remind everyone about the goal of continuous improvement. Game mechanics are used to help convey clear goals, rules, feedback mechanisms, and reiterate that participation in the Agile adoption game is optional.

This last point is essential: Open Agile Adoption is a technique based on invitation, not mandates. A hypothesis of Open Agile Adoption is that mandates reduce engagement, and that invitation and opt-in participation increase it. Another hypothesis of Open Agile Adoption is that engagement is essential, and that Open Space helps to increase it.

The end of the passage rite is punctuated with an event: the closing Open Space meeting. This closing meeting is the formal end-point in a “chapter of learning” in the life of the organization. It is also the opening of the next chapter.

In Open Agile Adoption, the coach assisting you plays an important role by providing guidance and teaching. The closing Open Space meeting is the place where the role of the Agile coach changes. At the closing the role of the coach must change. The coach may exit the organization, or move away from coaching teams and towards coaching executives. A new coach may replace the current coach. In any event, the status and authority of the coach must decrease. This reduction in coach status (and coach authority) is practical and symbolic.

In practical terms, the organization is now thinking much more independently, and is much more responsible for its own learning. In symbolic terms, this change in coach status is essential, and emphasized throughout the passage rite process, to underscore the fact that the organization is in fact making progress integrating agile ideas into the cultural fabric of the organization.

The Events in January and July

The last aspect of Open Agile Adoption is the twice-yearly Open Space meeting event. Held in January and July, these events are important and essential. They are anticipated by the organization as a whole, and serve as a place of cultural initiation for new hires.


Figure 2: Open Agile Adoption Annual View

By instituting these recurring cultural events on the organization’s calendar, the risk of dependency on any one leader is greatly reduced and might even be eliminated. A typical failure pattern in the adoption of Agile occurs when a highly authorized sponsor and progressive leader exits the company. The ‘safe space’ necessary to do Agile well departs with him or her. By instituting these recurring, twice-per-year Open Space events, the process of Agile transformation can and will continue, regardless of who is currently occupying the formally authorized leadership roles.

Open Agile Adoption and Gaming

Most Agile adoptions are implemented as mandates, with no “opt-out” possible. “Mandated collaboration” is a very serious problem when viewed from a game-design perspective. The mandate reduces the sense of control that are essential for feelings of happiness and well-being. Likewise, the mandate greatly reduces feelings of belonging and membership, feelings that are essential for increasing levels of personal engagement. This predictable set of patterns is completely avoidable.

The Open Agile Adoption technique is a kind of game. It is architected as a cooperative, multi-player game, in service to obtaining a more rapid and lasting Agile adoption. The structure (beginning and ending in Open Space) forms a kind of “container for work”. The “container” is in fact a well-defined game with a clear goal, rules, feedback and optional play.

In my previous book, The Culture Game, I presented the idea that your meetings are in fact games. In future articles in this series, we will look at exactly how Open Agile Adoption can help get everyone engaged in your Agile adoption program, by making it fun to play. We’ll also explore how continuous learning can actually destabilize your organization, and how the game of Open Agile Adoption can help.

About the Author

Daniel Mezick is a management consultant, author and community organizer. He is the founder of the Agile Boston community of practice. He is the formulator of Open Agile Adoption, a technique for creating rapid and lasting enterprise agility. Daniel is the author of THE CULTURE GAME, a book describing sixteen patterns of group behavior that help make any team smarter. The book is based on five years of experience coaching 119 Agile teams across 25 different organizations. Daniel’s list of clients includes Zappos Insights, CIGNA, SEIMENS Healthcare, Harvard University and many smaller enterprises. Learn more and contact Daniel here.

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