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The Mother of invention is the war – also for Agility

By 21. März 2020 No Comments

Do you feel like being in a landscape you do not know and it is no sight, all fog?

Most people these days believe in doing everything agile. If I ask myself today, is agility the hit in organizational development? What do I/you think of it? Well – I think a lot of people mix up a tool and methodology which is SCRUM and the mindset which is agile. Most companies want just a tool and hope to be quicker. But this is a bad trap. You cannot be agile without a mindset.

So it is interesting to me – how did the agile movement start and what was the reference frame to it. As so often, it was the war. I like to introduce to two American heroes who are connected to agile. The first is John Boyd, he was in the Korean War. The second is Jeff Sutherland who was in the Vietnam war. Both were pilot fighters in the US Airforce. Both refer to their experience in combat and created methodologies from it. John Boyd focusses on the combat and how to disorientate your enemy. Jeff refers to the moment, when the pilot has to bring the airplane down again.

So what is the source of agility?
The mother of invention is the war

I was introduced to a pilot from the Air Force, John Boyd (1927-1997) by a friend Klemens Köhler who searches gamification strategies for games in cyberwar. John Boyd was a maverick, a superb pilot in the Korean war (1950-1953) and of course he was an excellent strategist. His story is a good example of mindset and transfer into agile action.

John Boyd argued that to win in a competitive environment we must operate at a faster tempo or rhythm than our adversaries. We must get into the adversary`s Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action time cycle (O-O-D-A). Boyd defined the ability to “operate inside an opponent`s OODA loop” as agility. What does that mean? Well it is the timing of the OODA loop – as all goes in one moment, simultaneously. Orientation is the way we observe, the way we decide and the way we take action. We act in accordance to how we perceive the world and not how it is. So the process is very much personal and driven by culture we live in.

Boyd defined agility as the one side in a conflict that is more agile than its opponent. If it can change the situation more quickly than the other side can update its orientation. Agility therefore depends on keeping one`s orientation better matched to the real world than one`s opponent during times of ambiguity, confusion and rapid change. Some people get disoriented – but if you can still observe and have the competitive advantage which is time to think and sense. It is not about speeding up by doing things faster because doing the wrong things faster is not a strategy of success. When Boyd speaks about “orientation” he means processing the new information, use cultural traditions and previous experiences, make analysis and synthesis and use your genetic heritage. That is a wild mixture of components and I think it was hard to find words for it. It is gut feeling and sharp mind, it is trained reaction and quick processing. This is not the way recruits where trained in the US Army. (Read the full story about John Boyd “What lessons can the agile community learn from A maverick fighter Pilot?” by Steve Adolph – University o British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)

The ideas of Boyd resonate with me and I like the loops. This is a bit like the  mindsets of William Edwards Deming (1900-1993) – who also had the circle of Plan-Do-Check-Act. He had created a philosophy of 14 points for Total Quality Management which leads to the Toyota model of Lean in the end. More 

I remember Edward Demings story of the fire. „If there is a fire in a building and you manage to put it out, you did not change the cause. You just put out the fire. If you want to really do something for the future, you have to investigate and find out why it happened and change that.“ It is also the recipe of Taiichi Ono from Toyota: Five times why. This leads to the improvement of the processes. And the basic for this is the mindset of quality – also known as Ikigai in Japan culture.

Again it is also more mindset than a methodology … but Boyd said: “a strong cohesive culture reduces friction.” And friction is disconnect – unable to observation, we feel disappointed as the seemingly easy is so difficult. “Friction is a quotation from Prussian strategist Karl von Clausewitz in his famous book: Vom Kriege (on War) 1873

And from here we are not far to the German „Auftragstaktik“ and “Blitzkrieg” which is also mentioned in connection to agility. And as a German, I am so astonished, that American writers have so much interest in this. I was first hit by this word when I followed Mary Poppendieck, who is a senior expert in software development at 3M. „Auftragstaktik“ was introduced by General Moltke in the Prussian Army. It is also called the Concept of mission. And I see a great link to how we do business, how we talk to our bosses and how we find solutions. It this really German?

„The German concept of mission can be thought of as a contract, hence an agreement, between superior and subordinate. The subordinate agrees to make his actions serve his superior’s intent in terms of what is to be accomplished, while the superior agrees to give his subordinate wide freedom to exercise his imagination and initiative in terms of how intent is to be realised.“ (From „Pattern of Conflict“ by John Boyd) No need to say that the American Military never liked this concept. Their mantra is control and order.

„As part of this concept, the subordinate is given the right to challenge or question the feasibility of mission if he feels his superior’s ideas on what can be achieved are not in accord with the existing situation or if he feels his superior has not given him adequate resources to carry it out. Likewise, the superior has every right to expect his subordinate to carry-out the mission contract when agreement is reached on what can be achieved consistent with the existing situation and resources provided.“

Boyd even used the original German terms to describe these talents, as the English has not the right translation for it: Einheit (unity or trust), Fingerspitzengefühl (skill of expertise), Auftragstaktik (Intent) and Schwerpunkt (vision). All Germans will see immediately that you cannot translate it this way, you miss the point. I tried to look a bit deeper into this – what is Blitzkrieg? Of course it has to do with the speed to act – and in this article Vladimir describes it wonderfully. “Blitzkrieg Principles for Visionary Companies”, by Vladimir Oane in 2016 in Medium. 

According to Boyd you become agile by a quicker execution of your OODA loop. Agility is a cultural phenomenon and organizational practices on the principles for operational success (mutual trust, skill, intent, and vision). Unfortunately, these talents are not taught in seminars. This is culture: “The way we work here”. You can get an awareness of impact and you must train by doing and exercise every day. You need a lot of practice before your intuition is loaded right. (Like the sward fighters, Shogun and martial arts practitioners). So perhaps Germans are closer to all this? This would be a very special research for Anthropologists …. keep an eye to it. Is the German agile manifesto already written a century ago?

Jeff Sutherland – Scrum

Now comes the second pilot: Jeff Sutherland, the inventor of SCRUM and agile. He was a pilot in Vietnam and took all his examples and learnings from how to fly and land the aircraft. The TED Talk is so brilliant. Perhaps we should look behind the methodology and find the mindset. But it is not easy to learn from listening – as you see in all the comments … impressed but lost. Scrum: How to do twice as much in half the time | Jeff Sutherland | TEDxAix.

I wonder, if he comes from the same experience like Boyd, why did he create such a rigid and structured methodology like Scrum? It sets more points of communication and orientation for sure – but is this agile? Where is the intuition, the past experience? Perhaps it is just the workable and scaleable tool most companies need? I heard of many German teams that gave up the rigid way and found their own – combining proven project methodology together with other tools that worked ok the last decades. You do not need to through everything over board … and of course, not all teams who use Scrum program software! So it is not Jeff and not the methodology, it is perhaps just the reference frame. Do not use it everywhere. Better have a look in the Agile Manifesto – it is a mindset and not a methodology. And if Germans are so good in „Auftragstaktik“ find your own way how to do it – if you are clear what to do.

Agility and training – Agile move

It is mindset and it is feeling, it is the use of intuition. So why not test out, if your teams have it? Beside all the tools and processes you use – they all might have the right guts to see what to do in the next situation. Celemi has created a tool for that moment: Agile move and I will train teams with it.

People will go into situations that are tricky and the question is: What do we do? We find classical situations from product development to software development. They are new and uncertain situations. You need experts who are rare. Go through this experience in teams – in a classroom or online with Zoom. Small teams will make their own decisions and share this in the plenum with the facilitator. Find out about your mindset and share it.

Find out if there is some genes of a fighter in your team and do not regulate it into a box. Understand the background of agility as a gift of mind, senses and intuition combined with experience and good practice. Test it – try out and challenge your teams to get over the tools and create the mindset you are looking for.

I am German and this English might not be perfect – forgive me. I think it is more important to communicate and spread the ideas  than to discuss hours with an editor, I do not even have.

Yours Claudia