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  • Writer's pictureChuck Kroll

The Agile Evolution, It Is More Than Process

Many people in IT are very aware of the Agile process of Scrum, XP, Kanban, and many others. In the early years of Agile, we were very focused on transforming teams and potentially organizations to the use of one of these processes or methods. We, as Agile coaches and transformers, focused our efforts on the education and adherence of those processes. But, as we gained momentum, something very curious quickly happened; we noticed that some teams and organizations would reach astonishing levels of success with the transformation while others actually become worse than they ever were before. We all began to puzzle about what was happening?!

We began to sense something was missing in some teams and organizations. And we, as coaches, began to coin the term Agile Mindset. We had a vague idea of what that was. Still, we were so new to this idea that most of what we saw were surface symptoms, and our responses were focused on those surface symptoms instead of the underlying root causes.

About 15 years ago, the industry began to learn more about this, and the Agile industry began to coin the phrase “Doing Agile versus Being Agile.” We first heard this from Lyssa Adkins in her book “Coaching Agile Teams.”

Interestingly, it became evident that most coaches were very focused in the early years on the “Doing” part of Agile. Some teams were just naturally able to shift to “Being Agile.” It was those teams that naturally shifted to “Being Agile” that began to have astonishing results.

Fig.1 Traditional vs Agile Mindset
Fig.1 Traditional vs Agile Mindset

What has become very apparent is that while the processes are simple, they are very hard to implement successfully. Many of us in Agile coaching began to recognize about 15 years ago that there seems to be a big chasm between “Doing Agile” and “Being Agile.” Doug Decarlo helped us understand this with the table (fig. 1) from his book “eXtreme Project Management.”

At the core of the Agile Mindset are the shorter feedback loops where we can adjust our behaviors and focus based on the team’s empirical results and changes in the marketplace. Instead of attempting to plan everything out to the minutest detail and trying to maintain the perfect schedule, we recognize and embrace the chaos that is software development. Instead of waiting until the end of the project to change our misbehaviors, we adjust early and often. Instead of making the scope change process painful, we work from a prioritized list of requirements to maximize the rate at which we deliver value to our consumers.

Over the last few years, we have validated these ideas. Yet, there seems to be a truly big BUT in the realization of the significant difference between “Doing Agile” and “Being Agile.” The BUT? Well, many of us could not clearly define what “Being Agile” is really about. What do we mean when we talk about the Agile Mindset? Over the last 12 years, I (the author) have been on a quest to try to begin to answer that question. The interesting thing is that I quickly realized I had to go outside and beyond the Agile industry to really gain insight into this idea of the Agile Mindset. Early in this quest, I happened upon a book by Daniel Goleman titled “A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama's Vision for Our World”. As I read the book, I began to become aware of a new curiosity about the inner workings that make us who we are. I began to sense the difference between the inner game and outer game and that it was aligning with the difference between the Being and doing agile chasm. So, I then picked up Daniel Goleman’s book titled: “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ”. This reading created awareness and realization that I was on to something; the picture of this mindset concept was beginning to form and become much clearer to me.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is a set of emotional and social skills that influence the way we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges, and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way. It is a set of balanced skills of self-awareness, self-expression, interpersonal relationships, decision-making, and stress tolerance. This created an awareness for us that there was an outer game and an inner game that make up who we are. I began to feel that I had made a great discovery, well, at least in my mind.

Fig.2 Emotional Intelligence Pinwheel
Fig.2 Emotional Intelligence Pinwheel

The discovery? No matter how intellectually smart someone is, their success is still governed by how well they can communicate their ideas and interact within their relationships. Viola! The first value in the manifesto came to clarity! “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” The connection was made! This truly hit home for me as the core of the so-called Agile mindset. Much of my coaching was focused on the outer game, our skills, knowledge, experiences, and capabilities. The Agile Mindset is much more aligned with our inner game, which consists of intent, integrity, trust, honesty, transparency, courageous authenticity, and empathy.

The Multi-Health Systems Inc. (MHS - (figure 2) EQ 2.0 model that we use begins with the composite of self-perception. This is all about the journey you are on in life and having a clear understanding of the destination. Self-perception is the ability to KNOW one’s self regarding your values, goals, desires, concerns, and most importantly, what motivates and demotivates you, leading to a happy and productive life, whether personal or at work. Knowing one’s self opens the prospect of expressing one’s self honestly and authentically using just the right amount of independence and assertiveness.

This leads to the ability to interact with others positively and productively, allowing you to connect without the clutter of self, be empathetic, and be aware of your social responsibility to others and the world around you. This then leads to the ability to make better decisions, controlling your reactions and impulses with truth and understanding of what is going on in every interaction. Your ability to clearly see the problem opens constructive possibilities to solve all problems in a way that does not destroy your relationships. All this then results in better stress management, leading to each of us becoming more tolerant of stress. We become more flexible and tend to interpret events positively.

Once you become aware of and begin to improve your entire EQ spectrum, you will find yourself more productive and happier with your internal and external self. Both at work and at home, the EQ 2.0 model calls this overall well-being. This general well-being will make you a much better teammate at work, a family member at home, and in every social interaction, even in tough situations. Consider for a moment a team full of emotionally intelligent members. Can you begin to imagine how resilient to change and conflict, resulting in a truly astonishing team that this team could be?

This discovery of the inner-self allowed us to begin to mature our conversations about the Agile mindset and led us to many more innovative ideas. One of the more important ideas came to us from Frederic Laloux when he released his book entitled; “Reinventing Organizations”. In this book, Fredrick takes us on a journey of understanding the different organizational evolutions and how they match up to the social human evolutionary stages. These stages are given color codes: Red, Amber, Orange, Green and Teal. (Fig.3)

Fig.3 Stages of Organizational Evolution
Fig.3 Stages of Organizational Evolution

Before I start to describe this system, I feel it is important to note that you should be careful to try to state an entire organization or all individuals in an organization as performing at any particular stage. It has been discovered that we can see various stages show up in individuals and organizations given different circumstances.

Impulsive-Red organizations can be described as a wolf pack; there is always an alpha leader, and only through violence can the alpha leader be overthrown or removed. Currently, recognizable examples of red organizations are the mafia, street gangs, and militias. The key breakthrough in the evolutionary cycle for red was the division of labor and command authority – it was through this evolution that great projects such as the pyramids, cathedrals, and many of the world's wonders were built.

Around the time of the industrial age, conforming-Amber organizations began to come into power. Their guiding metaphor is “the army,” with examples of the Catholic Church with the Pope at the top, Cardinals, then arch-bishops to Bishops, then priests. The pyramid and hierarchy are clearly defined. But you will notice the absolute power in Red is now a bit distributed through a proxy from the leader in this evolution. The key breakthroughs were introducing repeatable processes and formal roles and titles in the workplace.

The information age brought yet another evolution described as achievement-Orange. In these organizations, we find what is described as a machine, results-oriented and repeatable. Laloux -described it as a predict, track, and control model. Many of our Fortune 500 companies today are perfect examples of this evolution. Key breakthroughs include Innovation, Accountability, and Meritocracy.

As we are now moving out of the information age into what many are calling the knowledge-innovation age, we find our organizations beginning to evolve again. In this case, we see more and more companies like Southwest Airlines becoming pluristic-Green. The guiding metaphor is the word “Family,” and their culture, not their process, drives them. Key breakthroughs at this level are empowerment, value-driven culture, and the stakeholder model. A great example of this organization is the CEO describing his company as a village, where all the employees are citizens of the village with equal rights, and he is simply the mayor of the village.

Finally, we have evolutionary-Teal. It is the top of the scale that I will discuss. There are others, but I will stop with Teal because it is where our concrete evidence of these types of organizations truly exists and ends. It is considered the achievement of Maslow's self-actualization level. Teal Organizations will strive for wholeness and community and will be places that support people’s longing to be fully themselves at work and yet be deeply involved in nourishing relationships.

The founders of Teal Organizations use a different metaphor for the workplaces they aspire to create. With surprising frequency, they talk about their organization as a living organism or living system.

Key breakthroughs for Teal Organizations are self-management, wholeness, and evolutionary purpose.

Self-management: Teal Organizations have found the key to operating effectively, even at a large scale, with a system based on peer relationships, without the need for either hierarchy or consensus.

Wholeness: Organizations have always been places that encourage people to show up with a narrow “professional” self and to check other parts of the self at the door. They often require us to show masculine resolve, display determination and strength, and hide doubts and vulnerability. Rationality rules as king, while the emotional, intuitive, and spiritual parts of ourselves often feel unwelcome out of place. Teal Organizations have developed a consistent set of practices that invite us to reclaim our inner wholeness and bring all of who we are to work.

Teal Organizations' evolutionary purpose seems to be having a life and a sense of direction of their own. Instead of trying to predict, monitor, and control the future, these organizations seem to invite their entire membership to sense and respond to what the organization will be and what purpose it wants to serve. Can you place your organization’s culture? How about your own thinking? Can you imagine the power of understanding this to create a true understanding of the journey to an agile organization? A Teal organization?

As I came to understand these ideas more and more, it became apparent that Agile is not the flu but just a symptom of the flu, if you will. Human social and organizational evolution is moving beyond the information age and entering a new age (some call it the knowledge age). In this new age, the workplace will be filled with new generational people from the millennial and Generation Z groups. The meritocracy-based systems of the past will not rule these new workers. Relationships and human experience is more important than ever.

I often hear the phrase, "Waterfall is dead, long live Agile!" I have come to think of this a bit differently … I would like to share a new idea; "Predict, Command & Control is dead, long live ever-increasing change based on interpersonal relationships!" As a call to action, I invite you to begin your own exploration of the true meaning of the Agile Manifesto to our new world. Maybe it isn’t even what the authors intended it to be, but as it is with human nature, we have begun to form it and change it to be our own. My guess is that the authors would be encouraged by the simple fact that they no longer singularly own this amazing collection of world-changing words, it belongs to us, and it is up to us to realize its eventual impact on ourselves and the world around us.


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