Three Level Agility

Three Level Agility is a recognition that the general approach to agility is too shallow and overloaded with “my agile is better than your agile” squabbles.

At its core the concept of agility rests on common values and principles – examples include Toyota’s House of Lean and The Agile Manifesto for Software Development which was subsequently reviewed in the Declaration of Interdependence. These serve us well as a good starting point. They have much in common and point us in a good direction.

There are two aspects to agility. The most important one being a mindset. More than anything else agility is a way of approaching things and one another. Only once this is understood can real value be driven from the second aspect – the practices and methods we use to do the work.

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I see agility existing in three levels:

Level 1 Individual Agility which is foundational. It’s about “I”.

Level 2 Team or Group Agility which is connective. It’s about “We” or “Us”.

Level 3 Organisational Agility which provides governance. It’s the environment within which “I” and “We” operate.

The numbers mean little beyond 1 is single so points to the individual, 2 is more than 1 but less than 3 so here hints at the team or group and 3 is the biggest so indicates the organisation or the broadest context. There is no other significance.

Level 1

Level one is the individual level. This is all about how we think and act as individuals. It is about the tools and techniques we use day to day to make ourselves as effective as we can be.

Level one agility is a foundational mindset, a way of thinking about and approaching our work and our broader lives. To this end we look in detail at the underpinning values and principles that inform existing agile practices as well as look at personal motivations. We provide tools to help untangle the all too common knotted relationship between each of us as an individual human with the job(s) we do – gently teasing apart person and position. This is a liberating experience.

Self-awareness and intentionality are brought into focus.  We help you look at, question and uncover your areas such as personal purpose and motivation. Tied in with this we may also look at communication and listening skills that help us as individuals.  Aspects of non-violent communication (NVC) can be useful so might be the listening skills used by professional coaches. The seeds sown here in individual capability grow to flower in TLA2 as we look at group work.

In terms of other techniques and practices we might consider GTD or ZTD as a personal productivity framework working with Pomodoro as way of executing alongside Personal Kanban to bring visual management and opening the door to transparency and collaboration.

While not exclusive to this level, and already hinted at above, a co-active coaching approach may be taken to help individuals unlock their own talents. In addition, and to help with being present in the moment and not getting caught by the swirl of day to day life, meditation techniques can be helpful.

Level 2

The second level is connective – it is about transitioning to work productively within teams and groups while retaining and building on the mindset, skills and approaches of individual agility. It looks at finding ways to bring groups of people together to work effectively to deliver a collective positive impact.

Dealing with multiple human beings brings with it an inherent level of complexity. Indeed groups of people are complex adaptive systems. In TLA 2 We work to accept complexity for what it is and through this understand and get comfortable with what we can control and what we can’t. In complex systems we faced with uncertainty as a matter of course and so things will emerge as we go. Tools such as the Cynefin sense making framework help here and at the other levels.

In building effective teams or groups issues of conflict resolution, collaboration, negotiated outcomes and so on all have to be addressed. One of the first steps will be to reuse some of the tools from TLA1 such as expectation mapping to get clear on communications and mutual expectations. We also look at communication tools such as the Ladder of Inference. Other models may be used such as the McCarthy’s Core Commitments and Roger Schwarz’s Ground Rules for Effective Teams.

Techniques from lean and agile software development are used in single team and multiple team contexts. In the former case this might be Scrum or Kanban and in the latter Larman’s LeSS model or Scrum.org’s Agility Path or where a more structured approach fits and there is less desire for agility then Leffingwell’s Scaled Agile Framework. Kniberg & Ivarsson give an example of scaling in their work at Spotify – see Kniberg’s March 2014 video This is a great example of an evolutionary approach using kata experimentation and following a shu-ha-ri path.

Level 3

The third level is about the full organisation. Here nothing less than a fundamental shift will do. Anything less is simply a ‘bolt-on’. Shake the organisation with the buffeting pressure of commercial reality and bolt-ons tend to drop off; people and things revert to their former patterns of behaviour. Deeper confusion ensues.

This is a level that recognises that the majority of current organisational models have not significantly changed for half a century or more; that they are flawed to the point that they are more of a hinderance than a help. A flat structure isn’t enough and in some situations may be even worse. We need autonomy throughout the enterprise. We don’t need traditional management but we do need governance. Clear authority boundaries and freedom to act with autonomy within that authority.

We need the entire enterprise to explicitly work as a complex adaptive system. We need the sensors of the organisation, its people, to be able to provide immediate feedback so that the enterprise can rapidly inspect and adapt. Less of a structure and more of a creative network. We do this not by scaling processes up but by scaling the organisation down. Aligned with common purpose, with clear but dynamically adaptable authority structures, we can have autonomy at every point while still retaining alignment, focus and value delivery.

In TLA3 we may use a model that fundamentally shifts the organisation such as Holacracy or Sociocracy 3.0. We borrow concepts and approaches put forward in Management 3.0, and Lean Change. We take an integrative approach and set in place a way to have autonomy without losing alignment. An increasing number of organisations are adopting flavours of these concepts – you won’t be alone!