Handbook Cover

Book Cover

This is a brilliant how-to book. It addresses the problem of resistance and poor engagement in agile adoptions and organisational change. Why is it, for instance, that the majority of agile adoptions, despite huge investments, fail? The approach presented resolves root causes and offers a completely fresh and novel way of implementing agile. And while this new book focusses on ‘agile’, it applies equally to organisational transformation overall.

The title, The Open Space Agility Handbook, sounds pretty inconspicuous and unobtrusive. And in one sense that’s all it is, as the title says it’s a handbook on how to adopt agile practices, using an Open Space Technology framework; a step by step how to guide on implementing agile. What the book’s title does not betray, however, is the transformative power of its approach. It represents a revolutionary approach to large scale agile adoptions, and beyond; it tackles head on one of the key challenges of organisational interventions and change management itself. As innocuous as the book may seem, don’t be fooled by its simplicity. It describes an elegant solution to one of the most difficult challenges of management, that of scaled organisational change. What’s more, it is completely fit for purpose in the age of distributed leadership, it follows the principles of opt-in and it walks the talk of self-organisation.

On the surface the book is for agile coaches, trainers and leaders wanting to implement agile into their organisations, using a scalable process of invitation and co-creation, rather than dilapidating mandation and imposition. The book describes in immaculate detail, yet in very clear easy to understand language, how this can be done. The book is supported by beautiful diagrams step by step in a highly practical way, with very easy to follow hands-on instructions. The diagrams all form part of a larger diagram representing the overall road map. As a guide it is beautifully presented.

On a deeper level it is far more than a handbook. While the book illustrates the how, it represents a fresh way of adopting agile. Although concentrating on agile only, the principles and philosophy behind it have ramifications beyond agile, and the book should appeal to a wider corporate audience, in fact to anyone seeking to introduce system change in an organisation. The approach could just as easily apply to the adoption of lean, teal, peer-to-peer learning, distributed leadership, conscious business, environmental sustainability, beyond budgeting, reinventing organisations or indeed any other form of organisational transformation.

But why do we need a different approach to agile, lean, teal etc adoptions, or to change management? Simply put, because the majority of agile adoptions, lean implementations or change management interventions don’t work (the statistics vary from 60% – 80% failure rates depending on how one defines failure, anything from simply not achieving expected results to catastrophic breakdown). One reason is that these interventions are mandated or imposed, without consulting those doing the work. This leads to unintended consequences of resistance at best, silent internal sabotage at worst.

In the case of agile those doing the work are software engineers, people who are both   very intelligent as well as often introvert in nature: they resist imposed change, but do not articulate their views. Instead they either simply ignore directives (‘internal sabotage’) or walk away completely (and they can afford to).   Corrective notions of “improving communications” and “achieving better buy-in” completely miss the point. What is needed is to invite the relevant work-force to co-create the change together, as a collaborative iterative effort, with everyone’s perspective valued.

How can one invite a whole department or even a whole large company to co-create change at scale? Through a process of self-organisation in a framed structure of iterations and experimentations, which fully engage the relevant workforce constructively in the process. This is achieved by applying the principles of Open Space Technology at the beginning and the end of the timed iterations. Open Space Technology is a self-organising large scale counter-intuitive meeting of minds format which has been tried and tested over the last 30 years in over 150 countries, always with great success. However, if you want to know the details of how it all works and how to do adaptions and transformations, read the book!


This review was originally posted as a review on Amazon on 17 Dec 2015