#3 The Cost of Simple

#AgileDoesNotHaveToBeThisHard. Insight #3.

The Cost of Simple
How the focus on simple frameworks puts the onus on the adopters.

The idea that you need a simple framework to help people in product development is incorrect.

If a framework is simple but puts the onus on its users, the overall combination of people and framework is not simple. We must take a systems approach here and look at the whole.

Simple is not the point. Effective is.

Effective means you provide the right information at the right time.

And since we’re talking about Agile, this should be information that helps people make better decisions, not telling them what to do.

There is an irony that we rail against management when they tell people what to do but accept so many Scrum trainers that tell teams to “follow until they understand.”

We all know how it’s easier to tell people what to do. Simple frameworks must resort to that.

In the same way want managers to guide instead of telling, we want our frameworks to guide instead of telling.

Frameworks need to be designed to bring forth people’s dormant knowledge – that is, what they know intuitively – that takes advantage of their experience. They must help us build a mental model of what to do to guide us.

This simplifies people’s work because they will discover they already know most of what’s needed.

This requires more than a simplistic approach.

Being purposefully incomplete merely means more work for the adopters.

The content is always incomplete.

The guidance system doesn’t have to be.

Like a GPS, only part of it needs to be displayed, but if it’s not there when you need it, work gets complicated.

“A good tool improves the way you work. A great tool improves the way you think.” Jeff Duntemann

An approach that doesn’t provide a model to understand why it works will be more difficult to use than one that does.

Kant – “Experience without theory is blind.”

Maybe that explains why you have to hit impediments in Scrum instead of avoiding them.

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Stop conflating the complexity of what we’re creating with the complexity of how we create it.

Agile does not have to be this hard insight #1.

I continually see comments like: “in complex work, more is unknown than known.” And then a discussion about complexity is used as a way to limit what can be done. But there are two fallacies here.

The first is that the complexity of what we’re building has the same nature as the complexity of our methods used in building it.

The second is that we need to worry about complexity in the first place. Our real enemy is non-linearity. A non-linear event is one where a small change creates a big result – usually detrimental. The focus on complexity is often counter-productive because of a “what’s the point, it’s all complex anyway” attitude.

But this is the wrong attitude to take.

Human-centered design and a focus on the customer journey can help in seeing what to do regarding creating value.

Regarding our work process, we must turn to a scientific approach – blending empiricism with continually building a theory that explains things. This theory already exists in the form of theories of Flow, Lean, and the Theory of Constraints. All of which are based on systems thinking.

Fortunately, even though the nature of what we’re building and how we are building it are different, the solution to staying on track is the same – quick feedback. The quicker this feedback is the better. And the ability to use what’s learned quickly is essential. This is why a flow model is often more effective than an incremental one.

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Forthcoming insights:
#2. How the focus on simple frameworks puts the onus on the adopters.
#3. How a lack of theory sets up resistance in management.
#4. Use alignment to lower coordination costs.


Two Kinds of People Promoting Frameworks

George Box once said “all models are wrong, some are useful.”

A paraphrase of that could be “all frameworks are wrong, some are useful.”

Some people take that to mean that comparing frameworks makes no sense since they all are wrong. That it’s up to the people using them to make the best of them.

Unfortunately, this takes away incentive to continuously improve a framework. Instead, we see a justification to accept a framework as is.

Another group of people take it to mean “my framework is not as good as it can be, I’m going to strive for it to be more useful.” This attitude incorporates a sense of responsibility for the framework – one of looking to see how it can be used and misused and working to improve both.

Attend to the attitude of the people promoting frameworks. That will tell you a lot about whether you will be on your own with it or if those promoting it will be there to help you with improving it.