What if only small works?

· February 9, 2016

In my church, Vasakåren of the Salvation Army, there’s some amazing work being done for people outside the church. All along the lines of William Booth (founder of the Salvation Army);

Soup, soap, Salvation

One of the more impressive ones are led by my good friend Johan. It’s a program that helps people to get job. It’s called “faith, hope and work”1.

They have had amazing results. About 75% of the people that comes to “Faith, hope and work” gets a job!

My mind was blown away. I learned that the governmental job-finder facility has a hit rate of about 10-25%.

And I did the same erroneous assumption as many of the organizations where agile is started to be used, does. I tried to scale it.

What I did, which I think that many of you just did too, was to say to Johan:

That's just amazing! How if we throw in many more people like you? Imagine how many more we can serve

At this point Johan looked a bit uneasy and was shifting in his shoes. He then told me that he think that it would work:

It works just because we are small. We have time to sit with everyone and make a customer solution for each and everyone of them

And it dawned on me: what if it only works when it small? What if we need to rethink the problem instead of making the solution fit our problem?

Of course we could run many parallel small teams like this (they are two people running “Faith, hope and work”) but after awhile it will be complicated to coordinate, make sure we’re not competing for the same work etc.

Agile at scale

This is the same kind of reasoning which trips “agile at scale” up, as I’ve mostly seen it implemented. Instead of fixing the processes, organizations and roles - we tweak agile, Scrum (tm) or Lean to fit our current organization, our current process, tollgates, contracts with outsourcing partners etc.

I’ve many times seen new ways of working fail because it is shoehorned into the old ways. Maybe instead we should let the new ways of guide us towards better ways.

My recipe for this is based on the one place I’ve seen agile at scale work Spotify. Not the Spotify-model or what it is called, because they will change that soon. That’s what it’s there for.

But rather the mindset. Summarized in:

Agile at scale requires trust at scale

Let each team, each group of team, each suborganization find their own best ways of working. From the top management give the room for exploration, permission to fail and a clear vision about where we are heading.

Because maybe the large-scale thinking we are used to doesn’t fit the problems we are solving today. Maybe we need to rethink the solution to the current situation.

  1. With a hint towards this famous passage 

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