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InfoQ Homepage News How Engagement Models Support Agile Adoption: Q&A with Karl Scotland

How Engagement Models Support Agile Adoption: Q&A with Karl Scotland


Engagement models are approaches to transformation that actively include people in the assessment of the current situation and the exploration of new ideas. By using an engagement model, people can participate in deciding and defining what an agile transformation will look like.

At FlowCon France 2019, Karl Scotland will present why leaders and managers should be deliberately choosing engagement models, with which they can align people in discovering what changes need to be made. FlowCon France 2019 will be held in Paris from December 12-13.

According to Scotland, people should know what the intent behind the agile transformation is, and understand what important goal they are trying to achieve. In addition, everyone should participate in the creation of new ways of working. He describes this in terms of coherence, constraints, and curiosity.

InfoQ interviewed Karl Scotland about his upcoming talk.

InfoQ: Your talk is titled "Imposing Agile with Coherence, Constraints, and Curiosity". Why this title?

Karl Scotland: It’s my thoughts on the movement against imposing agile and the idea of Engagement Models which are a reaction to badly imposed agile. My argument is that even engagement models are imposed, and this is an exploration of what it means to impose something in a healthy way.

InfoQ: How does imposing agile practices and methods make things worse?

Scotland: In three ways, related to the 3 C’s of coherence, constraints and curiosity. Firstly, the imposed practices and methods might not be appropriate for the given context so that they are not coherent with the overall goals of the organisation. Secondly, the imposition might overly constrain people to the specific practices and methods and thus close down alternative possibilities. Thirdly, the imposition might also shut down people’s curiosity as to what those other possibilities are for fear of being seen to fail. This usually involves someone senior, or an external consultant, deciding on a specific method or framework, and implementing that by the book, where success is defined in terms of adherence to the practices rather than the business outcomes delivered.

InfoQ: How do engagement models work?

Scotland: When we impose practices and methods we are often telling people how to do their jobs, sometimes in a judgemental way. In other words, what you have been doing is wrong and I know better. This isn’t very engaging for the people involved.

Engagement models take a different approach by including people in the assessment of the current situation, the exploration of new ideas and the elaboration of hypotheses which can be tested. Thus everyone can participate in the creation of new ways of working and no single person is assumed to have the right answer.

For example, Agendashift is an engagement model which engages people in discovering what success looks like, exploring the current situation, mapping out options for removing obstacles and elaborating on what action to take.

InfoQ: How would you define coherence and why does it matter?

Scotland: By coherence I mean doing the right things for the right reasons. We should understand the strategic intent behind the work that we are doing, be working towards shared outcomes and striving to achieve the same wildly important goals (a term from the Four Disciplines of Execution, or 4DX, which could be described as another engagement model). If what we are doing is logical and consistent with helping move towards those things in the right direction then we can say it is coherent. Without coherence, then when we ask people to self-organise, we risk them pulling in different directions, solving the wrong problems, and creating even more chaos.

InfoQ: What kinds of constraints in adopting agile do you recognize?

Scotland: We can think of two basic types of constraints: enabling constraints which open up new possibilities in unique contexts, and governing constraints which shut down possibilities and are context-free (i.e. they ignore context).

Enabling constraints allows people to use their skills and experience to solve problems, whereas governing constraints force people to follow instructions. We do want some constraints, however, otherwise there will be no coherence!

I like to use improvisation as an example. The simple rules of an improv game allow participants to be creative in playing the game and exploring multiple possible scenarios. If a script and instructions are provided, then there is no creativity or variety of possible results.

An example for an agile transformation might be to reduce feature cycle time - the elapsed time between starting work on a feature, and deploying it into production. That constrains the problem to something specific, while still enabling people to figure out what the right solution is for them to achieve it.

InfoQ: How can "even over statements" help to get change done?

Scotland: "Even over statements" are a simple way of articulating the hard choices that we need to make in strategic decisions. They define the trade-offs between two positive and desirable outcomes.

The "even" element helps emphasise this. For example, should we focus on delivering more billable work, or helping with more sales enablement? Both would be good uses of our time, but we can make the strategic decision that we should focus on sales enablements "even over" billable work.

InfoQ: What role can curiosity play in agile transformations?

Scotland: Curiosity is what helps organizations learn and improve. It means assuming that we don’t know all the answers, and that we need to discover new things, and that we will inevitably make mistakes in the process. Information theory suggests that we generate the most information when there is a 50% probability of failure. Thus we need to befriend failure, be aware of our biases and run experiments to both prove and disprove our hypotheses about what we think will or won’t work.

InfoQ: What’s your advice for increasing the chances of success in agile transformations?

Scotland: I’d recommend choosing an engagement model through which people can participate in deciding and defining what the transformation will look like. That might be Agendashift, the Four Disciplines of Execution, or even my own TASTE model which identifies the True North, Aspirations, Strategies, Tactics and Evidence. Whatever the approach, everyone should understand the intent behind the transformation and your wildly important goals, the strategic choices you are making and the leading indicators of progress, and the knowledge you want to acquire and the action to generate new insights and information.

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