Lean-Agile owes a great deal to quantum physics, behavioral economics, and the Toyota Production System. It should not be surprising when our language about teams, programs, and value streams find themselves caught between the science of lean-agile and the metaphors of organic systems.
The metaphor side is crucial, because spoken language is processed by the emotional “side” of brain, while critical thinking and logic is processed by the cognitive “side” of the brain. Especially in a context of uncertainty and optimism toward innovation, the ability to inspire critical thinking through appeals to emotion and narrative becomes essential.
Lean-Agile Art & Science
The metaphors are easy to spot: release trains, delivery pipelines, product portfolios, architectural runways, branches, and streams. These are highly useful for an emotional connection of highly complex cognitive issues, because it is easier to imagine a tree, an airport, or a morning commute than it is to imagine vectors, superposition, and wave functions. The poetry of lean-agile is crucial to learning.
Simply: The art of transformation is the science of The Jolt.
The scientific language of lean-agile is also easy to find, because the burden of proof in any transformation effort is placed fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the system builder who wants to move from periodic marginal utility to long-run economic optimization.
The science begins rather simply. We move from Newtonian laws (hours, dollars, dates, and ROI) to Einstein and Quantum Physics (relative size, value creation, continuous delivery, and probability). Along the way we begin discussing velocity, process control, production systems, and acceleration.
There is a small problem, however. While the science of lean-agile relies on cognition and learning, one scientific construct lies in the realm of emotion and personality:
The physics are not hard to summarize, but they tend to work for us only in hindsight, in a retrospective moment of privilege. Treated like a particle, a system with position and without momentum is a point. With momentum (mass that is in motion), it becomes a vector. We call the change in position over time velocity. When we want to guide the velocity to an improved velocity, we must act upon it from the outside to cause acceleration. Velocity is the derivative of position (a line). Acceleration is the derivative of velocity (a curve). The Jolt is the derivative of Acceleration, when an external force accelerates acceleration. Lean-Agile transformation is the art of causing The Jolt.
Transformation is the art of causing The Jolt.
While the science of Lean-Agile deals with velocity and acceleration, average completion and standard deviations, plotted on charts and easily analyzed using the Nelson Rules, probability theory, and behavioral economics, the art of transformation lies in cultivating a simultaneous Jolt for the enterprise as an engineered complex adaptive system of systems.
Like any of the great story-tellers of history, our Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches, Program Consultants, and Solution Train Engineers play an essential role in crafting the narrative that inspires changes in acceleration. Such narratives must restore the humanity of our workers, because the postmodern era has decentralized the alienation of labor – today more than ever, we alienate ourselves from our essence and its labor in ways no system ever could.
So the Art of The Jolt can take many strange forms, counter-intuitive to the development of a culture of innovation prior to its existence precisely because the naïve organization sees optimism, hope, and effort as simultaneously extrinsically and intrinsically rewarding. As philosopher Alain de Botton emphasizes, such optimism is the source of all rage in society. It should be no wonder that lean-agile efforts predicated upon optimism often die on the vine due to the rage of its sponsors.
Crisis, tragedy, alienation, loss, and pain are common among all of us. Confusion, separation, fear, and anxiety are integral to the human experience. Is it any wonder that the tendency of firms toward homogeneity (Oliver 1997) is simultaneously the alienation of all heterogeneous sentiment? Thus, to advance as a manager requires suppression of such feelings except as political economy, but to advance the transformation as a system of adaptive systems builder requires existential psychoanalysis, enough tragic story-telling, vulnerability, and authentic emotion to finally Jolt the rigidity of the system toward a new valence and equilibrium narrative (Hoff & Stiglitz).
How does The Jolt happen?
We visualize work based on totems, cards, and digital boxes meant to represent relative size. The weight of ideas we have not tested must be felt or we never develop the discipline to conclude. Information capital requires we shift the view of information inventory – there is immense cost to holding onto knowledge without market validation, even though traditional cost accounting cannot see or audit it. Again, metaphor prevails, because sticky notes are a totem for pain previously suppressed out of optimism – we may use imagery like rusting mechanical assembly parts and pieces in a warehouse due to overproduction and bullwhip effect. The critical Jolt is artistic and emotional, and it force the system to recognize how much cost and pain is being hidden on hard drives and cloud servers.
We can then trace lines of completion and progress, burn down charts and cumulative flow diagrams, to show that no matter how much pain we find in the world, our sanity is predicated on the rate at which we heal, not the rage with which we retaliate. We put on display our average rate of forgiveness, altruism, and cooperation, because the best way to alleviate individual selfishness is to treat family-system anxiety.
Next we fight for continuous funding, because learning is impossible in a state of anxiety. Well-formed teams create a support network for experimentation, the freedom to fail together, express our fears, take the time to understand and forgive the shortcomings of compatriots, and mourn our losses. The team must be large enough to make it clear that we are not alone in our pain and anxiety, but small enough that our relative exposure to new experiences can be felt personally despite the support of the group. So Retrospectives start as outward-blaming complaint sessions and do so with good reason – the supply-side person in pain has onto their rage at disappointed optimism and betrayal of promises with no demand-side action to listen systematically.
Retrospectives then mature over time, and the Scrum Master (or corollary role) must shift between therapist to the individual and therapist to the team. First is the need to convince each person’s pain and anxiety should not be alienating, but that it is human to feel lost and hopeless. Next is the process breaking apart intrinsic worth from external valuation – without anyone being responsible, the system and the individual arrive presenting symptoms of co-dependency. Then, the group is taught in isolation from their system how to forgive, relate, and reach out to others who are equally scared, anxious, and in need of help.
Only then can healthier mental schemas be taught – external forces that appear outside of our control can and should be mitigated and accounted for, every rule has exceptions and those processes are worked through to ensure adaptive behavior, functional “family”-system interaction, and long-run inter-personal resilience.
Finally, the team can harness the energy of the market, understanding that innovation is a process of solving for pains in better ways than before ( . The discipline of stoicism and scientific method finally keeps optimism focused on learning to ask more intelligent questions rather than feeding the enterprise’s prototypical, pervasive, and ongoing gambling addiction, betting big on technical hype rather than sustainable growth.
Essential to all of this is the ability to tell personal stories of disappointed hope, fortune wiped away by mere chance, fear of loss, anxiety toward being good, strong, and brilliant enough not only for ourselves but for our network, families, and legacy. If we run out of stories of our own, of course, fiction has always been the best place to find the stories of tragedy we need in our times of greatest optimism and reciprocal anxiety – Oedipus, Socrates, Othello, Madame Bovary, and The Jungle, along with a slew of tragic film stories should give us more than enough stories when our failed products, projects, relationships, and companies leave our audience wanting more.
The art of transformation lies in The Jolt, one that must reverberate through every level of the system in the form of tragedy and emotional re-connection. It is only in such somber moments we can let down our walls enough to reflect, exposed to our own alienation and disappointment, about what we are part of, how little we have changed, and how slowly our hopes are achieved. Only then can the system as a whole take the decisive shift into a new stage of transformation economics.
Do not wait to tell your story – someone, somewhere, less strong, less courageous, or less willing to risk humiliation is out there, and they desperately need you to let them know that none of us are alone.
Hoff, K., & Stiglitz, J. (2016, 6). Striving for balance in economics: Towards a theory of the social determination of behavior. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 126, 25-57.
Johnson, B., & Hernandez, A. (2016). Exploring Engineered Complex Adaptive Systems of Systems. Procedia Computer Science, 95, 58-65.
Oliver, C. (1997). Sustainable competitive advantage: combining institutional and resource-based views. Strategic Management Journal, 18(9), 697-713.
Svare, H. (2016, 6). User-Producer Dialogue, Workplace Innovation, and Knowledge in a Regional Innovation System. Journal of the Knowledge Economy, 7(2), 565-586.