Disciplined Agile

Guideline: Change Culture by Improving the System

Peter Drucker is famous for saying that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This is something that the agile community has taken to heart, and this philosophy is clearly reflected in the people-oriented nature of the Agile Manifesto. While culture is important, and culture change is a critical component of any organization’s agile transformation, the unfortunate reality is that we can’t change it directly. This is because culture reflects the management system in place, so to change our culture, we need to evolve our overall system.

In Thinking in Systems (2015), Daniella Meadows argues that the system is both the sum of its components plus how they interact with each other. In the case of an organization, the components are the teams/groups within it and the tools and other assets, both digital and physical, that they work with. The interactions are the collaborations of the people involved, which are driven by the roles and responsibilities that they take on and their way of working (WoW). To improve a system, we need to evolve both its components and the interactions between those components in lock step.

To improve the components of our organizational system, we need to evolve our team structures and the tools/assets that we use to do our work. The Disciplined Agile® (DA) mindset guideline, create semi-autonomous, self-organizing teams, addresses the team side of this. The Improve Quality process goal captures options for improving the quality of our infrastructure, which tends to be a long-term endeavor requiring significant investment. To improve the interactions between components, which is the focus of this book, we need to evolve the roles and responsibilities of the people working on our teams and enable them to evolve their WoW.

To summarize, if we improve the system, then culture change will follow. To ensure that culture change is positive, we need to take a validated learning approach to these improvements.