Category Archives: Agile

A Talk on Agile Organizations

Agile New England‘s monthly meeting (May 3rd, 2018) featured author Niels Pflaeging talking about “Complexitools: How to create the truly agile, complexity-robust, high-performance organization”. It was a well attended affair, high energy, with Pflaeging as a humorous, engaging, provocateur. His statements, a mix of his own insights and those of others, were designed to make you think and evoke a response. Overall, despite the title, there was little to do with here-is-what-should-to tools (as I had imagined) and more of a laying out of broad ways of thinking about organizations, agile and the future. Well worth sacrificing an evening for…

Pflaeging’s fundamental thesis is that entities can either be controlled from the outside or the inside — and one’s belief as to the right approach for dealing with, say, an organization determines failure or success. Traditional companies as an example, are structured top down as command-and-control with the assumption of control from the outside. The paradigm is that at the top are the thinkers, and at the bottom the doers.  The top must figure out what the bottom must do to make the company grow — the more deterministic, the better.

The contrast is today’s Agile paradigm of  self-organization. There are problem solvers and “people with mastery” in a particular domain (the knowledge creators). These are the engines for innovation and creating the future that Pflaeging feels must be given the needed empowerment  to make things happen.  He views almost every current company construct: Job titles, HR, Project and Product Management, MBOs, forecasting, salary ranges, strategic planning — you get the picture — as anathema to creating the truly agile organization.

As the evening progressed, many thought provoking statements flew around. A sampling: “If you want to kill innovation, incentivize it”. “It takes 18 months to make any organization agile”. “To make the future you need people with ideas collaborating on projects in a socially dense way”. “Data to Information to Knowledge (which makes sense of Information) to Mastery (to make Knowledge)”.

One of Pflaeging’s statements was that “Assumptions about human nature must be made explicit for agile to exist”. To illustrate this, he used McGregors Theory X and Theory Y covered in McGregor’s book, “The Human Side of Enterprise”. The audience, after being shown a list of X and Y styles of management characteristics was asked to first note which of the two they personally ascribed to. Then they were asked to think of their entire organization/company and come up with a percentage of people there who believed in theory X. The two results were contrasted and quite insightful. I will leave to the reader to explore the two theories — articles and YouTubes abound.

Pflaeging has a couple of books available on Amazon, “Complexitools” and “Organize for Complexity“. I have not read either yet, but plan to do so.  I expect them to be as entertaining and insightful as the author was at Agile New England. Niel Pflaeging’s web site is here.

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