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Posts Tagged ‘Arie de Geus

Startups should be Built to Learn

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Eric Ries has published a few great posts (click here, here, and here) on his April 1st lean startup presentation at Web 2.0 Expo. The title of this post is actually borrowed from his response to a comment made by one of his readers. According to Eric:

[This] point is the one that seems to have had the biggest impact from the talk as a whole: that startups should be built to learn. That’s the essence of so many of the lean startup techniques I’ve evangelized: customer development, the Ideas/Code/Data feedback loop, and the adaptation of agile development to the startup experience.

As learning and learning through experimentation are central themes in Agile, I encourage readers of this blog to take a good look at what Eric writes.  I would also like to add a few quick reflections:

  1. It does not really matter whether you are part of a tiny startup or working for a $100B company. Eric’s heart seems to be in startups, but his insights are broadly applicable.
  2. Jean discusses the “goal of improving my notion of learning” in a recent blog post and accompanying dialog. Her thinking as well as many of the references she cites nicely complement Eric’s ideas.
  3. In The Living Company, author Arie de Geus strongly emphasizes institutional learning as a critical capability. Learning to de Geus is about sensitivity to the surrounding environment and willingness to change to be in harmony with it.

All these threads about learning indicate a company is more likely to survive for the long haul if it has the capacity to learn. The threads are linked in a fascinating manner to Jared Diamond’s book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. It seems that learning as a survival imperative applies equally well to the individual, the team, the corporation and society.


Written by israelgat

April 16, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Persona of the Agile Team

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Many of us encountered situations in which the spread of Agile in an organization came to a halt. It was quite successful at the project level, but did not spread to the product line; it worked well for the product line, but did not get accepted by the business unit; or, it proved itself in the business unit, but success did not lead to adoption at the enterprise level.

I recently read The Living Company by Arie de Geus. His perspective is that a company has a persona. To quote de Geus:

… as a living entity, a company is always insecure, never stable, always subject to shifting relationships between the company and the outside world.

Furthermore, de Geus suggests a company has its own ladder of personae: Individual –> Team –> Work Group –> Division –> Company –> Corporation –> Society. According to de Geus, the persona of an organizational entity satisfies the criteria (cited by William Stern) for a living persona. Like live human beings, organizational entities:

… must find their place in the world; they must develop a sense of relationship between their own persona’s ethical priorities and the values in the surrounding world…. The Persona has an influence on the world around it as an example, a “role model,” but it can never equalize the world’s view with its own.

If you accepted this premise, implications with respect to spreading Agile are intriguing.  A mismatch between the involved organizational personae might be the obstacle to broader acceptance of Agile. The mismatch might be related to Agile. Or, it could equally well be unrelated. For example, it might revolve around the need of one organizational entity or another to self-preserve itself.

I find it fascinating that Ken Schwaber has actually discussed Agile success and failure along somewhat similar lines, as follows:

I estimate that 75% of those organizations using Scrum will not succeed in getting the benefits that they hope for from it… The intention of Scrum is to make [their dysfunctions] transparent so the organization can fix them. Unfortunately, many organizations change Scrum to accommodate the inadequacies or dysfunctions instead of solving them. [AgileCollab interview of February 19, 2008]

The corollary from the observations of Stern, de Geus and Schwaber might seem counter-intuitive. If the spread of Agile in your company has stalled, providing qualitative and quantitative data on the benefits of Agile might not be the best way to win over support for broader adoption. Instead of hard sell of Agile benefits, focus on cross-organizational dynamics, pathologies and development.

Written by israelgat

April 12, 2009 at 8:43 pm

Addition to the Social Contract

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Readers of the post A Social Contract for Agile might recall the recommendations to the executive championing Agile roll-out amidst layoffs: Commit to invest in Agile training ; apply the training to employees who  might be affected by forthcoming layoffs just as you apply it to those likely to be kept with the company.

Having just read The Living Company by Arie de Geus, I am much impressed by his suggestion how to handle layoffs. He proposes the following line when employees must be laid off:

Yes, the institution is in dire times, and we have to so something about it. One of the things we have to do (having taken some care to reshape our cost structure everywhere) is to eliminate some jobs, including yours. Having said this, we still have an implicit contact with you. Are there other ways to develop your potential that do not stand in the way of developing the potential of the company?

These words of wisdom are anchored in an overarching view of the employer-employee relationship in an enlightened  class of companies de Geus calls river companies. I would contentd his words could be effectively used in any company on two conditions:

  1. The Agile executive is 101% sincere. He/she will do his very best to implement this modus within his sphere of influence. 
  2. The company understands and accepts that the benefits of the Agile executive doing so exceed any downside legal risk.

Written by israelgat

April 11, 2009 at 10:41 am