New Ways discussion series

New Ways discussion series

Join the Teal Unicorn webinar in real time or listen to the podcast, on New Ways of Working and Managing, where Cherry and Rob and our guests talk about our views and experiences on :

Agile thinking is transforming IT, enterprises, government, and society. Its impact is far reaching enough to talk of it as a renaissance in thinking, a refresh or step change that comes only once or twice a century. This is not an exaggeration, or hypothetical. It is observable fact..

This is leading to New Ways Of Working: iterative, incremental, experimenting, exploring complex systems. These are displacing the conventional principles/myths of work: big-bang projects; zero risk; certainty and accuracy; plan once execute perfectly; failure is not an option.

It is not just Agile: there is a suite of ideas transforming work. Along the way, Agile is resurfacing (and standing on the shoulders of) the ideas of Lean, the leading methodology for work flow; and Agile is drawing on the principles of complex systems theory; and on the modern understanding of human behaviour and social constructs. Most of all, it seeks to open the organisation, to restore humanity to work, to make the workplace a more natural community. They all aim for what Jonathan Smart calls “better value sooner, safer, happier”.

The new ways free people to be knowledge workers, to design the work and make the decisions. We treat them like they are over 18 and on the same side. We build capability and confidence. Conventional management too often treats people like clerical workers, plug-compatible wetware, “human resources”; who can't be trusted, who are evaluated numerically, who need to be shaped and standardised, who are an overhead to be minimised, who need to be told what to do and how to do it. That approach is not productive, nor conducive to satisfaction and mental health. New ways of working are a tonic for unhealthy organisations, or if you prefer a coarser analogy: a laxative.

These ideas aren’t new. Some are a century old. Most are decades old. What is new is the synergy, the coalescence, the synthesis of them all. Especially, what is new is their increasing adoption and impact, the wave that is building, the renaissance.

At its heart, the agile way is about being able to adjust and change in a constantly changing world. Faster, more efficient, higher quality work is a by-product of agility, not the goal. The goal is to meet the changing needs of our organisation faster, though iteration, increment, experimentation, and exploration. We can build this culture, through attention to leadership, happiness, space, empowerment, community, and communications.

At least as important, though, is New Ways Of Managing. Too often, management views the advancement (we avoid "transformation") to New Ways as something done to improve the practitioner workforce, not to management. This can't be. For an organisation to change, the management must change.

So at Teal Unicorn we combine the two into the phrase New Ways Of Working And Managing, NWOWAM. It is cumbersome but we leave it like that to make a point. This is one of the biggest issues facing organisations moving to agile ways of working. Managers must understand and focus on empowerment, collaboration, agility, and flow.

Alternatively, we use the term Human System Agility. "Agile"is the most widely used word, but it is way too narrow to encompass all the new ideas:

Human: people, humanity, wholeness, culture, sharing, empathy, diversity, inclusiveness, egality, trust, integrity, authenticity, open, transparency, teams, mastery, empowerment, freedom, authorisation, servant manager, safety, wellbeing, health. [states]

Systems: customer, value, flow, lean, streams, networks, complexity, chaos, antifragile, shift left, collaborative, sharing, fluid, resilient, human error, holistic, data, science. [artefacts]

Agility: ambiguity, uncertainty, iterate, increment, experiment, explore, curious, quality, pride, embrace failure, fail fast, small, simplicity, flexibility, pragmatic. [actions]

We searched far and wide for a collective term for all these ideas of the new ways. We found no generally agreed word or term for what is happening. This renaissance in social thinking, this new age of work, this confluence of a century of work and social philosophies, has no name (yet). Isn't that bizarre?

What to label “new ways of managing” specifically? Anything with “new” in the name gets old, and always sounds like hype. We decided on “agile management”. We don't like "agile", but it is so widely adopted as the portmanteau that we have to go along until something better emerges. In our up-coming book, we use capital-A “Agile” to refer to the specific Agile movement, and small-a “agile” to refer to the behaviour of new ways of working and managing in general, so the book’s title has a small “a”.

We could have used “Open Management”, and almost wish we did, but that is the next generation, what comes after agile Management. We are talking here about management ideas in existing conventional organisations on the journey to higher culture.

So, we call the new ways of managing small-a “agile Management” and the new ways of working and managing collectively “Human Systems Agility”.

These new ways of Human Systems Agility are universally applicable, so long as you use intelligence. There are no templates, no formulas. We apply common principles to guide us in our designs and decisions, but we must think to understand their applicability in each context.

For example, some of the Agile ideas work best when you build something fungible, like software. It is cheap and easy to rebuild, to change, to improve, to copy, to throw away. Tangible physical constructions are less forgiving: you must get them right first time, they’re expensive to fix.

Some Lean concepts work best when you are making the same thing repeatedly, incrementally improving quality of a stable standardised flow, like cars. Intangible work is harder to observe, and is usually different every time, so smooth repeated flow is harder to achieve – we need more buffering and other mechanisms to deal with variability.

Some systems are simple, such as… Actually, we think all real-world systems are complex, because they all have humans in them somewhere. Sometimes a simple system model or a linear flow model is a useful approximation, so long as we remember that it is – like all models – wrong.

None of these things preclude using the new ways of working and managing, and none of them mean that the new ways aren’t better. Because they are. This stuff works a charm in creating the fluidity, the responsiveness we need for an organisation to be constantly reinventing or at least adjusting itself in the volatile, uncertain complex and ambiguous modern world.

We will unpack these ideas further in more articles, and videos on our YouTube channel, and of course the book.

Especially, we will look at:

  • the three insights we have been given that point to management as the key to unlock advancement.
  • our experiences in advancing organisations in New Zealand and Vietnam.
  • our Unicorn Management Model for driving advancement.
  • developing your own personal journey.
  • new ways of thinking, managing, and working.

The first discussion of the series is here

The second one is here, recording in 30 degree heat in HaNoi night traffic because... you'll see.

or you can follow along with the "book" links at the bottom of this page.