From Agility and Scale to Antifragility

Dave Snowden (@snowded) has been quite critical of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) — SAFe: the infantilism of management and Agile – sound practice, poor theory.

SAFe . . . It is only fair to see that I was appalled by the retrograde nature of the approach. To be honest the criticisms I had heard were mild compared with some of the tweets I launched during the session. One comment makes my overall point SAFe is to Agile as sick stigma was the BPR. BPR in its early days had clear utility, it drove a needed change to horizontal product and customer focus in contrast with the previous hierarchical models. But then it got applied inappropriately and finally taken to nonsensical excess with the sick stigma obsession with measurement.

Put brutally SAFe seemed to be PRINCE II camouflaged in Agile language. SCRUM as an approach was emasculated in a small box to the bottom right of a hugely overcomplicated linear model. The grandiose name of a dependency map was applied to something which is no different from a PERT chart and in general what we had is an old stale wine forced into shiny new wineskins.


Regarding Agility, Dave emphasizes the importance of Theory and Practice.

Agile is practice and Complexity is theory . . . Without sound theory, practice will not scale. Without good practice, theory will not develop . . . Reflective wisdom and practical wisdom, both have to co-exist, both have to co-evolve, we can’t afford to abandon either.


Regarding Scale, Dave emphasizes the importance of Decomposition and Recombination vs Repetition and Aggregation.

You don’t scale a complex system by aggregation or repetition . . . nor drawing hugely complex diagrams with thousands of boxes using every trendy word you can ever find which has ever been associated with agile . . . You scale by allowing radical recombination with partial copying . . . You don’t scale by imitation or aggregation, you scale by decomposition and recombination.

From Systems Thinking to Complexity Thinking to Antifragility Thinking

As Complexity Thinking vs. Systems Thinking and Sonja Blignaut‘s (@sonjabl) 5 Differences between Complexity & Systems Thinking and here and here explore Systems Thinking and Complexity Thinking, perhaps Systems Thinking focuses on the complicated domain while Complexity Thinking focuses on the complex domain . . . and perhaps Antifragility Thinking focuses on the chaotic domain!

SAFe, LeSS, DA 2.0, and more!

As Dean Leffingwell’s Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Craig Larman’s and Bass Vodde’s Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), Scott Ambler’s Disciplined Agile (2.0), Jeff Sutherland’s Scrum at Scale, and Ken Schwaber’s Evidence-based Management demonstrate “repetition and aggregation,” their challenges only fuel our transformation work (Conscious Agility) towards exploring and fostering Antifragility . . . and our continued conversations!


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