Principles First

I’ve been asking event list members for questions, and Jason Luchtefeld, DMD responded with a suggestion to do a deep dive into Simon Wardley’s Doctrine graphic. Since I’ve been teaching quite a bit about the topic lately, it seems like the perfect time to share what I’ve learned so far.

Here’s the graphic in question:

Tweet by Simon Wardley: swardley/status/1285537490858848260

Simon’s tweet recommendation to ignore strategy and skip straight to Doctrine may be surprising, but it’s actually a reflection of how entangled Doctrine is with every other facet of Wardley Mapping.

The other four factors of the Strategy Cycle are distinct from but part of Doctrine.

As you might be aware from reading his book, the five factors in Simon’s Strategy Cycle are: Purpose, Landscape, Climate, Doctrine, and Leadership. Before we talk about Doctrine, let’s first discuss the other four factors.

Purpose is our big “why” — the game we are playing, and why we show up every day to do what we do.

Landscape is our model (or “map”) of the situation — a visual representations of the system of dependent capabilities that come together to produce value for users, where physical position conveys meaning (e.g., about evolutionary characteristics).

Climate are the external forces acting on the Landscape, over which we have no control. As Simon Wardley puts it, “These are the rules of the game, the patterns of the seasons, and competitor actions.” They are often anticipable, which means we can prepare for them and flow with the change they bring.

Leadership integrates Purpose, Landscape, Climate, and Doctrine into an intent that prompts deliberate action. This process of decision-making (“why here, over there?”) is less about strategic “genius” (Carl von Clausewitz) and more about Taoist Conditions-Consequences philosophy (Derek M.C. Yuen).

Each of these four factors is distinct from Doctrine while also being part of it. For instance, it is a doctrinal principle to provide Purpose in an organization, and Landscape implies the performance of several other doctrinal principles, such as knowing users, focusing on user needs, and focusing on high situational awareness. The same goes for Climate and Leadership, which makes Doctrine both a factor and meta-factor in the strategy cycle. In other words, by paying attention to Doctrine, you’ll inevitably encounter the rest.

Now that we’ve covered everything else, what is Doctrine?

Doctrine is about organizational fitness.

As Simon Wardley describes in his chapter on Doctrine:

Doctrine are the basic universal principles that are applicable to all industries regardless of the landscape and its context. This doesn’t mean that the doctrine is right but instead that it appears to be consistently useful for the time being. There will always exist better doctrine in the future.

In my view, doctrine is about organizational fitness. You wouldn’t attempt to run a 5k before first learning how to exercise and eat right. You’d want to train, get stronger, and practice for the real thing. Similarly, Doctrine is about becoming an organization capable of dealing with strategic concerns.

Here’s Simon Wardley’s full strategy cycle, to sum up what we’ve covered so far:

strategy cycle.jpg

First, stop self-destructive behavior.

Wardley has a list of 40 or so doctrinal principles that he breaks down into categories like Communication, Development, Operation, Learning, Leading, and Structure.

These principles are sequenced into four consecutive phases:

  1. Stop Self-Destructive Behavior
  2. Become More Context Aware
  3. Better for Less
  4. Continuously Evolve

The idea of the phases is to help you focus on a few important principles at the start, gradually expanding to others as the organization gets better. The diagram Simon shares is intended to help facilitate conversations and awareness about the state of an organization’s doctrinal fitness, ideally leading to intentional improvement.

Tweet by Simon Wardley: swardley/status/1285538675443609601

You can run your own doctrinal self-assessment here. Take your time, mouse over each cell to read the detailed descriptions, and then click to rotate through weak, warning, good, and neutral / undetermined statuses. Consider focusing only on Phase 1 for now.

Once we know where we’re weak, how do we improve?

Getting better is about gradual behavior change.

In How to Change a Culture: Lessons From NUMMI, John Shook proposes a behavior-centric model of culture change, which coincidentally aligns with organizational development leader Edgar Schein’s own model for the same:

How to Change a Culture: Lessons From NUMMI, John Shook

Shook states:

Schein proposed that the way to change culture is to change cultural artifacts — the observable data of an organization, which include what people do and how they behave. Anyone wanting to change a culture needs to define the actions and behaviors they desire, then design the work processes that are necessary to reinforce those behaviors.

What we’re dealing with, however, is not culture but Doctrine. We’re concerned with principles and how to improve their practice inside the organization.

I think Doctrine lives in between “Values and Attitudes” and “What We Do,” which to me suggests that changing our principles is even more readily achievable than changing our values or culture. We need only change our behavior. Easy, right?

As Andrew Clay Shafer states in DevOps Progressions: Teaching Old DevOps New Tricks:

It’s not enough to collect trivia… You haven’t learned anything until you’ve changed your behavior… STOP READING. TAKE ACTION.

It’s easier than you think.

Want to practice your Doctrine? Here’s an exercise for your next work meeting.

  1. Pick a principle from the list.
  2. Ask a question related to the principle during the meeting.
  3. Be curious and sincere.

It’s that easy. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Principle: Use a common language.
Question: “I’m curious about ______. Could you tell me a little about what that means?”

Principle: Know your users.
Question: “Who are we serving here?”

Principle: Focus on user needs.
Question: “What do our users need from ______? How will it help them?”

Principle: Remove bias and duplication.
Question: “What does the rest of the industry do for ______?”

Not all principles lend themselves to this approach. In those cases, just ask yourself, “What action would cause the principle to be practiced?”

For instance, to focus on high situational awareness, you might start by reading Simon’s detailed description on the doctrine page, which says:

There is a reasonably strong correlation between awareness and performance, so focus on this. Try to understand the landscape that you are competing in and understand any proposals in terms of this. Look before you leap.”

“Understand the landscape” sounds an awful lot like “make a map,” so you might try to sketch one out while in the meeting (even if it’s just on your own, in your notebook).

It’s not about making heroic efforts or attempting a big transformation. It’s an investment in small-scale behavior change — a little bit at a time, a little better every time.

I want to again thank Jason Luchtefeld, DMD for a great topic suggestion, and if you have your own questions or ideas, send them my way!

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