Agile Methods and the Rise of Mass Collaboration
March 04, 2007
Last week I attended a great presentation by Don Tapscott author of “Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything”. It was organized by Cambrian House (full disclosure: a company I have an investment and advisory role at) and spoke to the rise of peer collaboration over command-and-control management shown by the explosion of user-generated content sites and new work models. For me it generated some “ah-ha” moments and connected several ideas related to agile methods and new organizational structures.
Don Tapscott writes ahead of his time (either that or I’m just slow on the uptake), in his previous book “Growing Up Digital: the rise of the Net Generation”, he explained how modern generations are growing up comfortable with new communication methods. Instead of gamers and internet junkies having poor communication skills and few friends, most youngsters who use the internet have stronger social networks, large groups of friends (Facebook, MySpace) and can readily connect with others of similar interests. As I wrote in my post on Verifying Motivators the Gen. Y and Millennial generations value “feeling in on things” and “social values” more than say, “job security” and “good working conditions”.
People (especially younger workers) want to work on agile projects because techniques like empowered teams, increased communication, and shared leadership better match their internal values of inclusion, openness, and equality. When we align working practices with individual values we getter better involvement and commitment. Try to engage team members with a misaligned model and you will see poor commitment, detachment, and resistance. This is not just naive idealism either, youngsters have a healthy scepticism and a good radar for BS, spotting phoney claims and representations that often fool the majority of older workers.
Another of Don’s books “The Naked Corporation: How the Age of Transparency Will Revolutionize Business” addresses how tools like the internet make it almost impossible for organizations to hide dodgy dealings and bad behaviour. People communicate and share information more than ever and organizations will need to be more open and transparent in their practices in order to prosper in the future. Innovative companies like Semco described in "The Seven Day Weekend", use worker empowerment, collaboration and total transparency to attract the best talent and successfully blaze trails into new markets.
Agile projects practice "naked metrics" and process transparency. No longer is project status hidden behind process phase names like “in analysis” or “75% through coding” that mean little to most project stakeholders. Instead business features are delivered and demonstrated at the end of every iteration. The customer and business are included within the team and development process. To some this can seem good and bad; good when things are going well as the business can sing the praises of the project, but bad when things go wrong or progress is slow. However, we all know that sharing bad news, while hard, is best done early too. When project velocities indicate that the project will not be done on time, or unanticipated feature complexity is causing rewrites and problems, often the business folks on the inside have power and credibility with the project sponsors that is hard to achieve. Once they see that the team in not jerking around, but working hard and some stuff takes a long time, they can be great allies in scope and budget discussions.
Listening to Don’s explanation of mass collaboration I started to build a mental model for worker engagement evolution and its possible impact on project work.
While there have always been exceptions, most knowledge-workers 50 years ago were employed in hierarchical, command and control type organizations that followed Tayloristic ideas of a manager telling people what to do. More recently, agile methods latched onto more effective collaboration based work practices that were used in isolated pockets by high performance teams, and have popularized empowered teams, increased collaboration, and shared leadership as best practices. Companies like Goldcorp, Proctor and Gamble, and Cambrian House are now collaborating outside of their organizational boundaries, leveraging Flat World enablers to connect with more talent to solve problems and build products.
I think agile methods have so far been focussed at best practices within the organizational project team. Most agile conferences have sessions on geographically dispersed teams, but less on engaging workers outside the enterprise. Sub-contractor management and contracts in general have been a stumbling block in agile methods (despite DSDM’s sample contract). Open source projects are an example of remote mass collaboration, but few have been purely commercial endeavours. To make mass collaboration more accessible are we need better tools, fresh team engagement models, and new remuneration and tracking schemes. I am keen to learn how companies discover and codify successful methods.
One thing I am sure of is that more and more companies will use collaboration, empowerment and transparency in the future. The generation that is now growing up digital will expect and require it. There will still be a high percentage of traditional, command and control organizations that never make the transition. However, they will find it progressively more difficult to hire and especially retain good staff as these new work models spread.
Enjoyed this comprehensive overview of the case favoring the convergence of a new generation of workers in the new model of work. The new model emerges before Gen Y takes to the worrkplace in any great numbers, but as you suggest, this is the genration that will put the traditional model to rest, simultaneously elevating the open and democratic model to a position of prominence. Not only do most Gen Yers prefer collaboaration, they can stand in the place of chaos and randomness, as the first truely quantum generation, without heading for the rule books. A great asset these days in any organization.
Posted by: russ eckel | March 08, 2007 at 05:32 PM
Thanks for your confirmation, I am very hopeful that we are seeing and new era of working.
Posted by: Mike Griffiths | March 08, 2007 at 08:24 PM
I am one of the Gen Y/Millennials to recently enter the workforce. I can't tell you how often I hear friends complain of the top down hierarchical structure in their companies. I struggle with these same issues. After researching and now writing about the topic myself, it has become painfully obvious that my generation will completely revolutionize the current corporate structure. Not because we want to rebel, but rather because it just does not make sense to us. Thanks for explaining this topic so clearly.
Posted by: Ryan | March 10, 2007 at 10:31 AM