Rahul Baji writes:
Do you think that when practices are commoditized, they lose the essence of the practice?
I see it in Agile practices where in certifying bodies like Scrum Alliance and Scrum.org have made Scrum popular to the extent of calling it commoditized. There are certified Scrum masters by the hordes who have learnt the 3 roles, 5 events and 3 artifacts but forget the 4 values in the agile manifesto. The practice becomes a pale shadow of what it originally was.
Is this evolution? Stage1 to Stage4 …the practice is more in use, but losing its essence.
This is such a good question, and I think it points at something important about mapping in general. Let’s say this is our basic map:
The map states that humans need “the practice,” be it Scrum, Wardley Mapping, or whatever you like. We assert that the practice is in stage 4 of evolution — “Best Practice.” This map is wonderful in its simplicity, but terrible in how much of the system it hides from our view. Let’s try “zooming in” and increase its granularity, for the practice is not just a single component, but many components that all come together to produce benefits for humans.
Now we’re getting somewhere. Humans either get some (as-of-yet undefined) meaning from the practice, or at the very least social acceptance that comes along with adoption (“Oh you’re doing agile? So are we!”). People like to be liked, and while our need for acceptance is valid and universal, perhaps it isn’t always the best way to make decisions about how to invest our human effort in terms of practices.
My guess is that the scenario Rahul describes is not a failure of the practice itself, but a partial adoption for reasons other than the meaning that’s possible when we confront the ambiguity of in-context use and the experiences that come along with it. It’s all too easy to adopt the easy bits and assume that’s all there is, especially when there are plenty of others who are doing it. (Nobody got fired for buying IBM, nobody gets fired for adopting agile, etc.)
And if you’re new to the practice, how would you even tell the difference between an authentic and inauthentic expression of the practice?
Jargon is accessible. Certifiable knowledge can be studied. Artifacts and ceremonies can be performed. But experiences in-context cannot happen as readily. It’s all too easy to stay in the land of the theoretical and knowable, and until you have the actual experience it’s impossible to know what you’re missing.
There is an alternative possibility, I think. Our practices can center themselves on the value of those real experiences, of using the the practice in-context. I think we can even imagine ways to limit adoption-as-fashion, but that may need to be the subject of another post. An alternative emphasis might look like the following.
The artifacts, the jargon, and certifiable knowledge are all still valuable. But it’s their combination with actual use that unlocks the meaning the practice seeks to create.
So glad so many are entering the world of #WardleyMaps!
Start reading, start sketching, start sharing. The value is in the experiences you gain doing the work in-context and what what you come to know as a result. Keep pushing. pic.twitter.com/w9oordP0dW
— ben at hiredthought (@HiredThought) July 23, 2020
Even I have to re-learn this lesson time and time again. I find myself staying comfortable in the land of the known. I neglect opportunities to have new experiences, so I stop learning, and I stop finding the meaning the practice helps create.
From a process philosophy standpoint, I think we’re probably always either moving towards overemphasis of the knowable (in stage 4 above) or overappreciation of the ambiguous (stage 2 above). But both are necessary in their own ways.
Perhaps ponder these questions as you consider the practices in play in your context:
- What are the signs we are overvaluing the knowable stage 4 activities?
- What are the signs we are overvaluing the more ambiguous stage 2 activities?
Let me know what you find.
Thanks to Rahul Baji for suggesting we explore this path!
Moreover, it looks like the ones who won the war (like great consulting firms proposing all-in-one Safe frameworks, training companies proposing certifications) are again (mostly) not the ones who promoted the essence of Agility when it was custom (like me ;)).
It could also mean that innovations could spawn from “commoditized artifacts, certifiable knowledge and jargon” (without forgetting “social acceptance”). If anyone has an idea 😉 ?
I love this piece of knowledge, it’s very insightful and useful. Many thanks Ben!