Mathias Holmgren

Q & A with Bonnitta Roy on Open Participation

Bonnitta Roy was one of the keynote speakers at last year’s Agile People Sweden conference and she also held a course here at Crisp last February on self-organization beyond the team using Open Participatory Organizations (OPO), which was very well received by our course attendants. She is coming back to Stockholm in November and we got the opportunity to sit down with her and ask some questions about open participation and her work on the future of organizational life.

What is open participation and why does it matter in organizational life today?

Organizations face continuous pressure to “level up” to new social and economic realities. This places enormous strain on legacy structures which are difficult to overhaul, and conventional management practices which are difficult to shed. Instead of offering yet another “off-the-shelf” product, we help people see simple but powerful opportunities to become more open and more participatory in their everyday ordinary work.

In agile software development there is the notion of refactoring when code has become too unruly and is increasingly built up in an ad hoc manner. Refactoring means starting over with clean, elegant code. It releases a tremendous amount of complexity from the system. Open participatory practices do the same for organizational structures. It releases complexity and affords more elegant ways to solve complex problems.

So OPO is basically a location based structure to self-organize and to self-manage in organizations?

Self-organization and self-management are core principles of open participation. Location-based-structure is one way to optimize them. It is the only way I know that also avoids the “law of suboptimization” which states that when you optimize the lower system, you suboptimize the higher (and vice-versa). This “law” leads to paradoxes in incentive systems that have to juggle rewarding individual merit, team performance, and company profits.

Locations are defined as mutually interdependent. No individual location can be defined outside of its context with larger strategic wholes; but the “whole” is not defined other than by the interdependent coherence of all the locations. The language of “location” helps reinforce the synergistic way of thinking. If you renovate your kitchen you are simultaneously adding value to your house, and to the experience of everyone who lives there. Similarly, in the OPO, people focus on making sure that the locations are healthy, and that the relationships between them are synergistic. This simultaneously adds value to the larger whole.

Let’s ask some frequently asked questions, as most readers may be new to these ideas.

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Innovation Talk – an Introduction to Locations

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to give a keynote presentation at an internal innovation event hosted by one of the more pioneering product companies here in the Stockholm area.

The organizers requested the name of their organization to remain undisclosed, but were happy to see a video recording of the talk shared publicly. The presentation was prepared by me and Emil Vikström together and now that it is available I figured I might as well share it here on the blog as well.

So here it is!

Locations are a core concept in Open Participatory Organizations (OPO) which is the work of Bonnitta Roy. This talk attempts to explain how locations are a stable structure that is different from the stable agile teams and departments that we are used to; and how an organization built as a set of locations allow more autonomy, more open and distributed governance and other advantages compared to most of our agile organizations today. Some learnings from the field and tips for how to get started with some of these ideas are given at the end.

If this talk interests you I recommend you take a look at the OPO Foundations 2-day course in November (15-16) where Bonnita Roy comes to Stockholm to visit Crisp. If you are curiously looking for a solid realist viewpoint for finding better ways to practically explore the Future of Work it could be for you.

Bucket Estimation – How to estimate a really large backlog

So you have a LARGE backlog and you have decided that you need to estimate it.

Not on board? Still undecided? Go read my previous post on the tradeoffs between estimating and not estimating large backlogs.

Still reading? Ok, let’s get to it!

You can do larger scale estimation in MANY ways. What I will share with you here is just one way I have found to do it effectively, with enough accuracy at a reasonable cost. It requires some pre-conditions, such as having a team with an established way of working and some way of estimating on the team level, so it may not fit your situation. But if it does it is probably worth your time to check out.

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Large Backlog – To estimate or not, that is the question!

Estimation seems to have gotten a bit of a bad reputation lately.

One misconception I sometimes see is that estimation beyond just a few weeks is “not agile”. Another trend is that some people advocate against doing estimation at all mostly because they view it as a beginner tool, so by not estimating we are no longer beginners.

To me doing estimation or not does not really say much about “how agile you are”. The way I look at it is that we should estimate when the reasons to do so outweigh the reasons not to do so. That simple.

In some scenarios this also includes doing estimation of large backlogs.

So in this article I want to share what I see as some of the reasons FOR and AGAINST doing estimation of a larger backlog. You can then decide for yourself if your situation justifies doing it or not.

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Agile Coach to Team Relationship

The role or function of an agile coach can be be a bit of a challenge to wrap your head around if it is new to you. Depending on your situation and on agreements with people in your organization, an agile coach could work with a wide range of responsibilities. It could be working closely with a team to improving aspects of the whole organization.

When it comes to coaching a team it can be confusing for team members what type of relationship is natural for them to have with an agile coach. What’s in it for us? What is required from us to get something out of this?

Some basic things are needed to establish a good foundation for such a relationship. Getting some of them out in the open can help. To clarify what this foundation can look like I created this image a few years ago. It is meant to be used as a starting point for a conversation or negotiation between coach and team.

If you are a coach yourself I hope it can help you explain to your team what type of relationship you can offer them. If you are a member of an agile team I hope it makes it easier to understand what an agile coach can do for you, what it will mean for you to have such a relationship and what you can expect from it.

If you prefer an easy to print document, here is a pdf-version – My Role as Coach (pdf).