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The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) [LinkedIn]

August 31, 2014

After having received many queries inviting my thoughts on the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) . . . (read more)

We are Alive!

August 11, 2014

I love Robin Williams! Not merely for what he did as an artist (actor, comedian, etc.), but for the quintessential truth he endlessly echoed in everything he did — We are Alive! He fully embraced the mystery called life through caring, being aware, expressing appreciation (for the bad, the good, the happy, the sad, etc.), being so intuitive and improvising in every situation, …, so free!

Reminded of David Foster Wallace

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.

And as Robin Williams struggled with his own daemons — as much as we each struggle with our own daemons — he and his whole life were cathartic to/for others…

You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.
(Robin Williams)

Thank You dear Soul for reminding us each of our own little “spark”!

What will your verse be?

Seize the day!

Real lose… love somethign more than you love yourself!

When did you know? … I don’t regret…

His wife, Susan Schneider…

This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken. On behalf of Robin’s family, we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief. As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.

The White House…

Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most – from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets. The Obama family offers our condolences to Robin’s family, his friends, and everyone who found their voice and their verse thanks to Robin Williams.

The Ownership Pyramid

May 23, 2014

Throughout our individual journeys, we encounter many people whose contributions readily go unnoticed. I’ve had the privilege of working with Peter Simon whose Ownership Pyramid is definitely worth exploring. Herein are a few questions that Peter addressed…

Ownership Pyramid_v1

What is the Ownership Pyramid?

The Ownership Pyramid is the result of an attempt to address a bigger socio-economic problem that has become apparent over the past 10 to 15 years. Whether it’s big government or big business, the end result has always been a stripping of an individual’s ability to own. As we enter a new age of politics and economics, the importance and understanding of ownership has been lost and needs to be restored. The Ownership Pyramid is a framework to guide people in understanding how to achieve and maintain ownership, without abusing its power.

What is the purpose of the Ownership Pyramid?

The Ownership Pyramid stemmed from my experiences in technology Project Management, where I experienced and was actually trained to collaborate with multiple application users and developers to gather requirements, but speak to each group separately, while trying to communicate a clear picture of what each group needed.

Looking back, project managers should have been called magicians, because after taking pieces of information from each group without anyone actually speaking directly to each other, it was expected that 6 months later, a product working to perfection was to magically appear. The only real magic performed was making project budgets disappear and changing project status colors from green to red. Presto! After pulling a rabbit out the hat during one too many stakeholder meetings, I felt it was time for a change in how the whole process works.

I wasn’t aware of Agile development or Agility at the time, but when I was first introduced to the Agile values, principles, practices, and frameworks, I embraced them and never looked back. Agility involves many paradigm shifts from the traditional model, but the one that stood out for me was the concept of the Product Owner (in Scrum, or Customer in Extreme Programming).

As a Libertarian, it hit me hard, and I became somewhat obsessed with the concept of ownership in general. Over time and through personal experiences, I realized how little ownership actually exists in society. Did the level of ownership change over time? How can ownership be measured within a society?

These were difficult questions to answer, but I thought that a fundamental framework could be valuable to guide a person in understanding ownership, maintaining ownership, and assessing whether ownership has been achieved or even existed. And that’s when the Ownership Pyramid concept was born. The Ownership Pyramid allows an individual to take steps to achieve greater ownership, assess their level of ownership, and practice actual ownership; with the widespread purpose of promoting and realizing humanities strengths through the process of achieving ownership.

What are the guiding organizing principles (how are the concepts organized)?

The Ownership Pyramid is structured to provide the steps for achieving ownership. Each building block of the pyramid is in an input/output relationship; meaning that the inputs in a particular level result in the outputs in the subsequent higher level. I tried to keep the structure as simple as possible, yet streamline it into a story with a continuous purpose and goal, the process doesn’t end when you reach Self-Assessment, rather it is only beginning.

The base of the pyramid is crucial, I place great importance on Respect and Forgiveness. Without these inputs, the entire pyramid eventually collapses as ownership is lost. To begin, understanding of the human spirit, nature, and potential is critical in progressing towards achieving ownership. Next is setting a course and absorbing enough information to begin formulating processes to produce the desired output. Finally the resulting product is created and continuously perfected using self-assessment techniques. The Self-Assessment is the final and most important step; if one can be strong enough to assess themselves as a human being they are able to discern value from cost and lead in a direction that is best for them and others impacted by their process, product and actions.

The Ownership Pyramid can be thought of as a base process that can spawn processes within processes, all seeking the same resulting goal. For example, the pyramid can be used to solve a problem, then used to create the concept for a product, then be used to develop the product — all while fostering ownership.

There’s an intersection point in the pyramid as well. Where the People come together, so do each of their pyramids. When each of the people effectively utilizes the pyramid, a masterful team emerges; at times we are fortunate enough to witness this achievement in sports, business, and relationships.

How do you use the Ownership Pyramid (in practice)?

The Ownership Pyramid can be used in a variety of industries. My expertise is in product delivery, specifically software applications. Because these types of delivery processes are highly dependent on the level of ownership within a team, I use the Ownership Pyramid as a means to assess the team’s strengths and weaknesses, and each individual’s sense of ownership relating to the overall goals of the team. For example, if the team members lack respect for each other, there are most certainly larger obstacles waiting around the corner.

Why “Ownership” not “Leadership” (especially when there is some much being talked about and done around leadership today)?

I’m really glad you asked this question. I personally believe that today’s concept of leadership is a dangerous mindset to promote. The idea that there are born leaders has been repeated to us for so many years now, its almost embedded in our DNA that their are those among us that will lead and all others must follow. When people are expecting a leader to be named, it can lead to a lack of commitment from the “followers” and a sense of hopelessness in having control over one’s destiny.

In too many circumstances, today’s definition of Leadership negates the concept of ownership; you don’t have to look far to see where ownerless leaders have taken over industries and governments. A leader lacking ownership can be identified when witnessing people using leadership as a control grab for their own benefit, at the expense of the group as a whole; when a corporate or government policy causes harm to the masses, and no one is held responsible.

Many of the today’s concepts regarding leadership reside under the pyramid. A leader lacking ownership is an enforcer, the leader achieving ownership is a coach, a promoter, a mentor. I do believe we are all leaders in our own way, and the Ownership Pyramid thrives on this underlying concept. Some lead quietly, while others are able to reign in a crowd through public speaking. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, so its important as leaders to recognize that we are human, and because of that we all have human potential. I believe the characteristics of a leader will evolve from someone who dictates and enforces to someone who looks to help all people realize fulfillment and leadership through ownership.

This can be applied to a parent and child relationship, to a teacher and student relationship. Again, where the People intersect, if ownership has been achieved by all members of the team, then everyone on the team is a leader of their respective role and responsibility. And they in turn can coach others in their respective fields to understand and practice the steps to attain ownership.

Another way to conceptualize the ownership-leadership relationship, is by perceiving the pyramid as an engine, with one of the many outputs being Leadership; unfortunately today, the engine behind leadership is missing in today’s leadership concept.

An important tangent to leadership is Identity. Identity, like leadership, is also an output of the pyramid, and in many instances is missing from today’s leader. Foundational steps (respect and forgiveness) lead to direction, focus, effort, knowledge which involve responsibilities being combined among People and their roles; culminating to reach Identity. Each step in the pyramid, along with iterations through the pyramid, ultimately leads one closer to understanding their Identity; and at the intersection among People, one’s identity becomes clearly visible. Combining a sense of Identity with Leadership ultimately results in a true understanding of Ownership, and that will allow for Self-Assessment to be incorporated into one’s daily process, enabling that person to maximize their agility and human potential. Committing to practicing the principles of the Ownership Pyramid is the beginning of a journey, a journey worth taking.

Agility Schmagility & Agile Schmagile

May 10, 2014

Reminded of Piet Hein’s The Road to Wisdom?

The road to wisdom? — Well, it’s plain and simple to express: Err and err and err again but less and less and less.

In 2009, we encountered “Agility Schmagility,” (Julian Keith Loren @jkloren) which inspired clarifying our approach to agility (Agility Distilled). Now, in 2014, we again encounter “Agile Schmagile,” (Tweet this!) (Nassim N. Taleb @nntaleb per Elinor Slomba @artsint via a tweet) which likewise inspires clarifying our approach to agility and even more-so antifragility (Conscious Agility with @brad_barton and @mark4ro — and Anti-fragility Distilled coming soon!) — Antifragile / Antifragility is a post-agile / post-agility concpet. The road goes on and we may contribute . . .

Scaling Agility with Conscious Agility & SAFe, DAD, LeSS, Agility Path, or ScrumPLoP

May 3, 2014

As many organizations continue to confront the challenges of achieving greater agility (Agility Model and Manifesto for Agility) at scale in a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world (which arouses fear), various options have emerged (and are gaining recognition), including:

While each of these approaches advances a particular world view, they don’t particularly provide a means for adopting, scaling, and sustaining agility.

Conscious Agility

Conscious Agility — which emerges from Conscious CapitalismBusiness Agility, and Antifragility with experience fully rooted in decades of practice across many industry domains — is a design-thinking approach for business ecosystems that integrates awareness with intuition, orientation, and improvisation so that individuals and collectives may benefit from uncertainty, disorder, and the unknown.

Conscious Agility intentionally uses the concept of a fresh Canvas, a description of reality that reflects how stakeholder work together (are being and doing) within an ecosystem. Each Conscious Agility initiative begins with a fresh canvas which:

  • First gains shape, perspective, and breadth (for example, as a sketch);
  • Then contrast and depth (for example, shading the sketch); and
  • Finally detail and focus (for example, texturing the shaded sketch).

And within a Conscious Agility initiative, the contents of these approaches (SAFe, DAD, LeSS, etc.) may be appropriately used to evolve the canvas.

See Conscious Agility: A Brief Introduction for more information.

Conscious Agility for . . .

Alternatively, Conscious Agility could be used more explicitly while focusing on one of these approaches (SAFe, DAD, LeSS, etc.) — Conscious Agility for SAFe (CA-SAFe) or Conscious Agility for DAD (CA-DAD) or Conscious Agility for Lethe approaches (SS (CA-LeSS) — while offering a proven options for adopting, scaling, and sustaining agility.

For example, SAFe clearly acknowledges that “SAFe does note implement itself and indeed makes no attempt to describe the significant organizational change management, cultural impacts, implementation strategies, and training and services provisioning that are typically required for successful implementation” but offers brief “recommendations for implementation,” Conscious Agility or Conscious Agility for SAFe (CA-SAFe) would fill this void and guide an implementation team in exploring the various elements from the Team, Program, and Portfolio levels that might be implemented as well as consider the significant organizational change management, cultural impacts, implementation strategies, etc. required for successful implementation.

Keeping the “Human Element” Paramount

Additionally, not only does Conscious Agility offer a means for adopting, scaling, and sustaining agility, but it also offers the ability to

  • Integrate aspects from any of the above approaches (among others) together
  • Explicitly recognize and appreciate the nuances of the context in which adopting, scaling, and sustaining is to occur.

And Conscious Agility’s uniqueness in being agnostic and embracing an all-inclusive viewpoint, integrating relevant perspectives yet keeping the “human element” paramount, makes it only that much more essential for successfully adopting, scaling, and sustaining agility.

The Agile Model, Agility Model, and Manifesto for Agility

April 5, 2014

We live in a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world where we are challenged to be thriving on chaos in an age of discontinuity — where the past is plagued with incoherence & inconsistency, the present is plagued with chaos & ambiguity, and the future is plagued with unpredictability & uncertainty!

The Agile Model (Nick Horney and Tom O’Shea), our notion of Agility (The Agility Model) (Si Alhir), and The Manifesto for Agility are well aligned.

The Agile Model

The Agile Model focuses on “five characteristics needed for organizations to be capable of anticipating and responding to changing demands and adapting to new requirements . . . in real time.” That is, these critical capabilities across three enterprise domains (people, processes, and technology).

For the Agile Model, “pay attention to multiple dynamics” . . .

Anticipate Change: Interpret the potential impact of business turbulence and trends along with the implications to the enterprise. — Visioning, Sensing, and Monitoring

. . . “address issues” . . .

Generate Confidence: Create a culture of confidence and engagement with all stakeholders especially associates in effective and collaborative teams. — Connecting, Aligning, and Engaging

. . . “ensure there is a shared mindset . . . urgency for getting stuff done . . . positive accountability for doing so” . . .

Initiate Action: Provide the fuel and the systems to enable things to happen proactively and responsively, at all levels of the organization. — Bias for Action, Decision-Making capability, Collaborating

. . . “ensure openness” . . .

Liberate Thinking: Create the climate and conditions for fresh innovative solutions by empowering, encouraging, teaching and expecting others to be innovative. — Bias for Innovation, Focusing on Customers, and Idea Diversity

. . . “identify critical metrics for success . . . learn . . . to improve.”

Evaluate Results: Maintaining a strong focus and feedback system to continuously learn and improve from actions and changing dynamics. — Creating Expectations, Real time Feedback, Fact Based Measures

The Agile Model is holistic: “A comprehensive approach, meaning each driver is a vital force only when combined with the others. Applying one or two drivers in the absence of the others is an incomplete solution and will not result in Agility.”

The Agility Model

The Agility Model focuses on “Responsiveness and the ability to continuously Re-orient as we Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. Agility is not merely about Speed . . . not merely about Reactiveness . . . is about Responsiveness!”
For the Agility Model, the essence of Agility is expressed using three aspects (as patterns).

The Results/Value-oriented pattern:

To maximize Value, foster Focus, leverage Feedback, and foster Balance. This must blend opportunity-seeking with stability-creating.

Focus on results, which can only be achieved by iterating and leveraging feedback within context such that people balance competing forces.

The Context-aware pattern:

To foster Focus, lead through collaboration (contribution and confirmation). This is opportunity-seeking.

Lead within context, which can only be achieved by collaborating with people such that they contribute to and confirm results; leadership is essential for focusing on results.

The People/Team-centric pattern:

To foster Balance, empower people. This is stability-creating.

Empower people who are able to achieve results within context; empowerment is essential for balancing competing forces.

These patterns are interdependent:

These patterns are interdependent. Without Leadership through Collaboration, we jeopardize Focus; without Empowerment, we jeopardize the ability to Balance; without Iterating, we jeopardize the degree of Feedback; and ultimately we jeopardize Value!

The Manifesto for Agility

The Manifesto for Agility emphasizes that “Agility is a value system (mindset) that emphasizes people, results, collaboration, and responsiveness.”

The Agile Model, Agility Model, and Manifesto for Agility


The Agile Model and the Agility Model consider Agility or Responsiveness as emergent properties from the capabilities/drivers or aspects/patterns while the Manifesto for Agility identifies Responsiveness explicitly.

The Agile Model’s People domain relates to the Agility Model’s People pattern.

The Agile Model’s Anticipate Change capability relates to the Agility Model’s Context pattern. The Agility Model’s concept of leadership is congruent with the Agile Model’s concepts of potential impact, turbulence, trends, and implications.

The Agile Model’s Generate Confidence, Initiate Action, and Liberate Thinking capabilities relate to the Agility Model’s People pattern. The Agility Model’s concepts of empowerment is congruent with the Agile Model’s concepts of engagement, enablement, empowering, encouraging, and teaching.

The Agile Model’s Evaluate Results capability relates to the Agility Model’s Results patterns. The Agility Model’s concepts of focus and feedback are congruent with the Agile Model’s concepts of focus and feedback.

The Agile Model’s Generate Confidence, Initiate Action, and Liberate Thinking capabilities relate to the Agility Model’s patterns interdependence.

  • That is, “leadership through collaboration” (The Agility Model, Context-Results pattern interdependence) is essential to “create a culture of confidence and engagement” (The Agile Model, Generate Confidence).
  • That is, “empowerment . . . ability to balance” (The Agility Model, People-Results pattern interdependence) is essential to “create the climate and conditions for fresh innovative solutions” (The Agile Model, Liberate Thinking).
  • That is, “iterating . . . feedback” (The Agility Model, Results pattern interdependence on iterating for feedback) is essential to “provide the fuel and the systems to enable things to happen” (The Agile Model, Initiate Acton).

Fundamentally, Agility is realized by

  • anticipating change, generating confidence, initiating action, liberating thinking, and evaluating results; or by
  • fostering focus by leading through collaboration in context, leveraging feedback by iterating on results, and fostering balance by empowering people.

Zappos and Holacracy: No Holy Grail and No Silver Bullet!

January 12, 2014

By Si Alhir (@SAlhir), Brad Barton (@Brad_Barton), and Mark Ferraro (@mark4ro)

Zappos has had an exciting history — inception in 1999, growth from 1999 to 2009, acquisition by in 2009, and continued success.

In 2010, Zappos’ Tony Hseih’s Delivering Happiness (and more) book shared Zappos’ story and lessons learned from its journey so others could benefit from Zappos’ experience (@TonyHsieh). In 2008, Zappos championed Tribal Leadership (2008) and fueled CultureSync’s Tribal Leadership book and CultureSync‘s success (@CultureSync and @DaveLogan1). And now in 2014, Zappos is championing Holacracy and may ultimately fuel some “Holacracy book” and HolacracyOne‘s success (@HolacracyOne and @h1brian [Brian Robertson])!

While these techniques are valuable, there is no “holy grail” or “silver bullet” for success! As Tribal Leadership gained popularity, it often became the end versus a means to an end for far too many people! And now as Holacracy gains popularity, it may also often become the end versus a means to an end for far too many people! Additionally, as valuable as these techniques may be for Zappos, they may not necessarily be as valuable (in the same form) for other organizations!

Success and transforming to becoming more successful requires a journey of discovering what works best for an organization or enterprise, its various collective groups, and its individual people. Success and the transformative journey to become more successful cannot be reduced to a mere few bodies of knowledge or experience but may practically leverage the wisdom of many — for example, Judith E. Glaser (@CreatingWE) (WE-Centric Leadership and Conversational Intelligence (C-IQ)), Leandro Herrero (@LeandroEHerrero) (Viral Change), Peter Fuda (@PeterFuda) (Transformation and Leadership Framework/Model/Cycle), William Isaacs (Dialogue), Edgar Henry Schein (Humble Inquiry), David Rock (@davidrock101) (NeuroLeadership Institute), Barbara Trautlein (@btrautlein) (Change Intelligence (CQ)), Tim Kuppler (@TimKuppler) (Build the Culture Advantage), Carol Dweck (@mindsetworks and @Brainology) (Mindset), and many others (Human Leadership, Human Enterprise, etc.) — while embracing the imperative of being open versus closed in that journey of discovery around a community.

For example, CultureSync’s “process” and Holacracy’s “implementation” approaches are rooted in their perspectives and philosophies versus being open to discovering what may be best for their clients, etc.

To be clear, we are not against or for any perspective (Tribal Leadership and Holacracy (with roots in Sociocracy), etc.) but are for being agnostic and embracing an all-inclusive viewpoint, integrating relevant perspectives yet keeping the “human element” paramount (rooted in “human nature”), and embracing a journey (Conscious Agility (Conscious Capitalism + Business Agility = Antifragility) and A Brief Introduction) to discover what works for an organization or enterprise or community, its various collective groups, and its individual people — “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” (Aristotle) and “Life is a journey, not a destination” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)!


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