Podcast: Agility

In this podcast I talk with Rob Paterson and Neil Perkin about agility in organisations. This was sparked by Neil’s post about agile planning – ways for organisations to respond more effectively to the speed of change in a networked economy.

It’s the usual non-linear kind of conversation exploring what makes for agility in organisations and what gets in the way. We wander off into wider topics of education and innovation along the way.

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Show notes

This is not a transcript, just a rough guide with approximate timings.

0.00 Introductions

0.40 Neil: agility is a philosophy as much as a process. Traditional business approaches involve big goals, lengthy cycles and rigid processes which don’t necessarily work in a fluid environment where things change rapidly.

2.00 Rob recalls working in a bank where every project was 5 years and 50 million dollars. It didn’t really work very well back in the day and certainly not today. We’re often dealing with issues we can’t fully understand, eg health care reform in the states where the old system is breaking down but no-one can know what will emerge. The process of iteration is the only way to discover the really new. “You’ve got to sit around the campfire and talk about stuff and try things.”

3.40 R agreeing with N, it’s about what your philosophy is. Conventional planning only good for simple things like building a 1000 square foot bungalow.

4.05 Johnnie asks Rob to say more about budget process in organisations, how this gives power to those with the biggest budget and works against those with lower cost, faster approaches.

4.35 R talks about how innovation was squeezed out in an oil company because the big money and the big budget was lodged in oil.

5.05 N The process of budget setting in organisations is very laborious and budgets are out of date by the time they are approved.

6.00 N talks about alternative budgeting process which allows much more rapid revisions

6.40 R talks about KETC St Louis. They decided that the meta-project is transformation; that’s the criterion by which they evaluate projects

7.30 N refers to IBM research confirming many CEOs felt their organisations weren’t ready to keep up with the pace of change. Reacting to change very different from being hungry for change.

8.40 R: most businesses today are set up to not change. You see this in the school system, in the conventional media. People would rather kill the newspaper they work for or own than change.

9.40 N many organisations don’t know who their competitors are going to be in a few years’ time.

10.10 Johnnie talks about this YouTube video by Dan Brown: how the education system needs to change or risks dying. Not good enough just giving students content and then testing to see if they’ve remembered it.

11.10 We now have technology that allows us to do for ourselves things we used to rely on instutions for. The way we’ve organised organisations doesn’t reflect that change.

11.30 R: If your local college’s Professor Paterson is a third-rate physics professor and you can get the best physics guy in the world on YouTube at MIT, there’s something wrong. And that’s assuming lectures are still the way to go.

12.00 J: And some of those online lectures reveal the weaknesses of the system.

12.45 J: Our education system, more than anything, has taught us that the way to learn is to sit in serried ranks and listen to an expert. And that doesn’t work any more. A lot of business meetings and conferences are still organised around that idea.

13.15 N: Contrast with conversation. In conversations, thing change and you need to react, change your position. That’s what businesses need to be able to do.

13.45 R: Play’s an important part of this. Imagine early humans sitting around a campfire and things happened by accident. Discoveries were made that way. Learning by playing.

15.00 N: Play doesn’t work by setting a big fat hairy goal; the requirements are barely sufficient. All things to change as they go. End goal may not be the one you set out with at the start.

15.45 R on writing a book without knowing he’s writing it.

16.10 N on how iterative development mitigates risk.

16.25 R: depends if you think change is going to be more of the same, you may not have to go down the agile route. But I don’t think that the way things are going.

17.25 N: a lot of organisations in marketing, my career area, the marketers are falling behind the audience, they’re playing catch up.

17.55 J: A lot of the BS talked about innovation misses that it’s already happening, doesn’t need to be invented, just needs to be noticed.

18.40 J: problem for organisations set up around achieving shareholder value is that they exist to perpetuate themselves, whereas disruptive technology is not about perpetuating institutions. “Social software is here to speed the creative destruction of dinosaurs” (getting a bit carried away I think.)

19.20 N talks about time and speed; technology is about things happening in real time; organisations are slower. It’s a scary prospect for them, they’re used to having time to plan and react.

20.00 R: when he became a consultant, had to match his pace to that of his clients. Corporate time is very slow.

21.00 N: Agile methods are changing the rhythm of work

21.20 R: Dinosaurs will die because power comes through the budget process which gives a lock on power and prestige.

22.20 J: Hierarchy is toxic to innovation

22.30 Good improv relies on the ability to change status, not keep it fixed

23.30 N expands on the idea of toxic assumptions in organisations eg that change will be incremental, that they’re entitled to a certain market share or that things will be the same next year

24.20 J has a go at the notion of having to get “management buy in” and how it blocks innovation

25.10 R talks about the role of benevolent despots at eg wikipedia and wordpress. They’re concerned about the health of the system.

26.15 N on the wikipedia as one part anarchy, one part democracy; one part aristocracy; one part monarchy.

28.00 J returns to the idea of getting agile around a philosophy rather than a profit margin

28.20 N talks about the agile manifesto

29.50 R: Paint by numbers or be a painter.

30.05 End

One thought on “Podcast: Agility

  1. Ivan Webb

    Hi Johnnie,

    Enjoyed the podcast. I sent the Dan Brown video to a Theory U education group I am interested in. It was well received although today I sent the following caveat. Thought you might be interested. – Ivan

    ————————————
    I am always a little concerned are the potential for such material to distort and mislead our responses. Not because there is anything faulty in the content, but because of the assumptions that we might bring to the content.
    In particular, we are a pattern making species. Rather than being rational creatures, we tend to be rationalising beings. Thus, when we see such content (if we see it!!) we compare it with our existing patterns, respond, and then rationalise our response. Indeed, the less well any new content matches our existing patterns, the less of the content we actually see at all.
    And then there are the surrounding patterns (our existing structures, processes, practices, arrangements, organisations… the way we do things around here). The less well these match the new content the less likely it is that there will be genuine engagement with the new content. My favourite example of this phenomenon is Larry Cuban’s paper: “Computers Meet Classroom: Classroom Wins” – 1993. It is my favourite because, despite all the wonderful examples of using computers to transform education, to a large extent, Larry’s paper is still valid today.
    I expect similar experiences with Theory U.

    Reply

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