Towards the wholehearted organisation, outside in

It’s one of those often-cited, non-enough-read books, Christopher Alexander’s The Timeless Way of Building, the classic book on architecture and the built environment that inspired the patterns movement in software (think Gang of Four Design Patterns, PLoP, etc).

It’s a rewarding read – philosophical in a way that is both surprising and delightful, and (whether intended by the author or not) full of ideas that are just asking to be carried over to other domains. I read it with organisation design in mind.

This favourite quote isn’t specific to building but it is loaded with metaphor:

Screenshot 2018-05-26 11.52.59

It got me thinking that I would love to be known for being in the business of helping organisations to be more wholehearted – less at war with themselves, their contradictions identified and owned so that they can be resolved in some pleasing way. If squeezing out excess work-in-progress is a key strategy for improving our delivery processes, perhaps squeezing out the contradictions is the way to improve our organisations for the mutual benefit of all concerned.

In my keynote talk Inverting the pyramid, I use this quote to introduce a section on outside-in reviews – for example the strategy reviews and service delivery reviews that follow the kind of outside-in agenda as described in chapter 5 of the Agendashift book:

  1. Customer
  2. Organisation
  3. Platform
  4. Product
  5. Team

Juxtaposing these different perspectives – each one presented by the people who are best equipped represent them – increases our chances of not only bringing our inner contradictions and misalignments to the surface, but of finding better ways to meet external needs too. Within each agenda item, a right-to-left [1] structure: what we’ve recently learned about how things are, what we’re beginning to learn through experimentation, and what experiments we plan to conduct as capacity permits.

Some context and an invitation: As mentioned a few days ago, I have just begun work on my third book: a no-nonsense, leader’s guide to Lean-Agile, organised around the three themes of right to leftoutside in, and upside down. Join us in the #right-to-left channel in the Agendashift Slack to monitor progress and to discuss any of these three themes.

Related posts:

[1] Understanding Lean-Agile, right to left


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We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…

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