Monday, September 25, 2023

The OPEN Transformation Roadmap

When looking at SAFe's "Implementation roadmap," we basically see "Training, training, training, training, do something, training, training, training, bye - have fun!" That looks great if you're a trainer - but it has little to with how I, as a coach, perceive the journey of organizational change.
In this article, I'm trying to give you a short summary on how I personally perceive a change initiative - with "OPEN Transformation roadmap!"

Group Activities Objective
Change Direction
  • Formulate Change Objectives
  • Coalition Formation
A guiding coalition that agrees on clear, relevant change objectives.
Change Planning
  • Change Backlog
  • Change Coordination
  • Organize Calendar
An overview of the predictable activities - what, when and by whom.
Knowledge Foundations
  • Basics Training
  • Self-Study
  • Q+A Sessions
Everyone has a fundamental understanding of the changing principles, practices - and what it means for them.
Role Alignment
  • Role Clarification
  • Coaching Touchpoints
Those actively leading and conducting the change understand their roles and responsibilities.
Flush the System
  • Identify hindering Tasks, meetings, roles & responsibilities
  • Identify incompatible Incentives & Measurement
  • Categorize current hinderances
  • Determine flushing actions
Hindrances to change and suitable resolutions are identified, and resolution begins.
Change Overview
  • Problem-Solution Fitness Assessment
  • Change Recommendations
  • Extend Change Backlog
There's a map connecting Status Quo, change opportunities and the desired future state.
Team Preparation
  • Team Structure Planning
  • Working Environment Setup
  • Tooling Configuration
  • Calendar Revamp
  • Kick-Off Event
Teams are known and have the necessary means to get started.
Content Readiness
  • Content Preparation
  • Feature Refinement
  • Establish Backlog
Content and backlog items are prepared, refined, and established to start development in the new ways of working.
Event Setup
  • Establish Events
  • Prepare Events with Role Holders
  • Coach-led Events
  • Team-led events with Coaching support
Events are set up, facilitated, and embraced by the people doing the work. Collaboration, transparency, and continuous improvement thrive.
Continuous Support
  • Daily I&A Sessions
Regular sessions where the change coalition reviews and adjusts their ongoing application and learning on the new ways of working.
Next Steps
Ongoing Support
  • Active Coaching Disengagement
  • On-Demand Coaching
People receive Coaching support to address situational challenges and needs.
Change Review
  • Change Benefit Analysis
  • Closing Assessment
  • Further Recommendations
  • Update Change Roadmap
The current state is transparent, recommendations for adjustment and further change are acknowledged and pursued.
  • Celebration
  • Retrospective
  • Wrap Up
The Adoption itself is concluded, and the organization continues on their Continuous Improvement and Learning Journey.
And yes, the acronym was chosen deliberately: First, it's catchy and memorable. It radiates confidence that we know what we need to do. And most of all: it makes explicit what needs to be emphasized: The "roadmap" itself is OPEN, and it leads ... into the OPEN!

Sunday, September 24, 2023

No, performance isn't defined 94% by the system.

There's a persistent myth proliferating in the Agile space: allegedly, "94% of an organization's performance is attributed to the system, while only a mere 6% depends on the individuals." This widely circulated belief shapes perceptions about the dynamics of productivity, teamwork, and leadership in countless organizations - but: it's false. And here's why.

The 94% myth

Could it really be the case that we can hire individuals without ambition, experience, or talent and expect nearly identical results as we would from a team of motivated, skilled, and dedicated professionals? Does the concept of "systems over individuals" hold up in the real world of work, where unique skills, passions, and contributions of individuals often drive innovation and excellence?

The reality is more nuanced than the oversimplified notion of 94% versus 6% in performance. To understand what's going on, we must first trace back to the origins of this myth in the writings of W. Edwards Deming, the renowned statistician and quality management guru, and dig out the roots of this quote. In doing so, we'll discover that he wasn't making a case that individual performance is almost irrelevant - to the contrary!

What's the "System?"

Let's start by defining what "the system" actually is - let's take a look at what the systems thinker Russell Ackoff repeated on multiple occasions:

A system is never the sum of its parts; it’s the product of their interaction.
Russell Ackoff

Before we explore deeper, let's sprinkle in a quote from Dan Pink on organisational systems:

  • Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives.
  • Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters.
  • Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.
These are the building blocks of an entirely new operating system for our businesses.
Dan Pink, "Drive"

While we can formidably argue whether Pink's statement is an assertion, anecdotal evidence or fact - what matters it that Dan Pink sees within the individual the building blocks for a better organisational system.

Out of the Crisis

Let's now explore what Deming actually wrote:

I should estimate that in my experience most troubles and most possibilities for improvement add up to the proportions something like this:
  • 94% belongs to the system (responsibility of management)
  • 6% special
W. Edwards Deming, "Out of the Crisis" (p. 315)

As you can see: what he mentioned isn't that performance is (almost) exclusively attributed to the system, but that most of the problems are systemic and require active management attention.

Untangling system and individuals

Let's use these definitions to untangle what "the system" is, versus what "individuals" are in our context:

The System

As Russell Ackoff aptly stated, a system is not simply the sum of its individual components; rather, it emerges as the product of their intricate interactions. In the context of organizational performance and management, "the system" encompasses the collective structure, processes, culture, and interdependencies that define an organization. It represents the holistic framework within which individuals operate, a complex web of relationships, rules, and practices that determine the organization's overall effectiveness and outcomes.

The Individual

Drawing from Dan Pink's insights, "the individual" embodies the human element within the organizational context. It's the unique person, with their aspirations, skills, motivations, and contributions. Within the organization, "the individual" serves as the driving force behind the building blocks of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy represents the urge to self-direct, mastery is the pursuit of continuous improvement in meaningful skills, and purpose signifies the desire to contribute to something greater than oneself. These qualities collectively define the individual's role in shaping and enriching the organizational system.

The misconception

If '94% of the performance can be attributed to the system, and only 6% to the individual' -- then we could hire people without ambition, experience, or talent and get almost identical results as we would get from hiring people who care for what they do, know what they do, and are excellent at what they do. However, that's a massive misconception which is only possible due to a conflation of terminology which tries to separate "the system" from "the people making up the system" (which doesn't work!) - The people making up the system are the basis of the system! And a system comprised of autonomous, highly qualified, purpose-driven individuals has a different basis than a system where these are missing!

The System's Role

According to Russell Ackoff's definition, "the system" encompasses the intricate web of interactions and interdependencies within an organization. It includes organizational structure, processes, culture, and more. If we were to take the 94% attributed to the system at face value, it might suggest that the organization's performance is almost entirely determined by these systemic factors. This perspective can lead to the misconception that individuals are replaceable, and hiring decisions are inconsequential.

The Individual's Role

On the other hand, Dan Pink's insights highlight the critical importance of individual motivation, skills, and purpose in driving performance. If we consider individuals as mere cogs in the system, the statement implies that their personal qualities and contributions are almost irrelevant. However, if that were the case, that contradicts the notion that individuals require autonomy, mastery, and purpose within the organizational system!

Shaping effective systems

Great systems of work are shaped by motivated, gifted individuals who interact and collaborate to maximize the entire system's performance. They uplift one another, and won't tolerate being dragged down by someone who neither can, nor wants to contribute.

A high performing system of work is synthesized by optimizing the interactions of the individuals therein, while carefully paying attention that individuals wo have no place within that system don't get to negatively impact the Drive of those within.


Everyone can have a bad day. Even a bad week or month. And we all have our strengths and weaknesses. And nobody's omniscient. That's not what we're talking about.

But when you go out claiming that it doesn't matter whether people are qualified or motivated - you're sending an utterly destructive signal: It means that you don't respect those who put in the hard work, the learning, and the passion.

So: just don't.

You can only build great systems from people who pursue autonomy, mastery and purpose.
And you can't let people who have neither interfere with them.


Maybe you will disagree.

But as long as you wouldn't get major surgery from a belligerent teenager who doesn't even care to learn how to make an incision - I hope you're not seriously going to claim that most of the performance is the hospital, and the doctor themselves is almost irrelevant to your well-being.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

The power of stakeholder promises

In the dynamic world of product management, one thing remains constant: the importance of stakeholders. Whether they're customers, employees, investors, or partners - stakeholders play a key role in the success of your product. How can you ensure that you're meeting their expectations and delivering on your commitments? The concept of "Stakeholder Promises" gives you an answer - so let's explore.
And since we're at it, let's start out with an example of stakeholder promises for this article:
Our promises to Product Owners:
1. You will build better products.
2. You will enhance your professional credibility.
3. You will have more effective stakeholder interactions.

The importance of Stakeholder Promises

Stakeholder Promises play a crucial role in guiding your product development journey. They are more than just commitments; they are the pillars upon which trust, credibility, and alignment with organizational goals are built. Focusing on Stakeholder Promises empowers Product Owners to navigate the complex landscape of stakeholder expectations effectively.

Alignment of Goals and Needs

Stakeholder Promises reflect on your values and your commitment to various stakeholders. By aligning your product with these promises, you keep the work in sync with the broader objectives of the company.

Trust and Credibility

Fulfilling Stakeholder Promises demonstrates your dedication to meeting stakeholders' expectations. This, in turn, builds trust and credibility with your customers, employees, partners, and investors.

Effective Prioritization

Defining Stakeholder Promises helps you prioritize features and enhancements that truly matter to your stakeholders. It's a compass that guides you in making informed decisions about what to build next.

Transparency and Communication

Promises serve as a foundation for transparent communication. You can openly discuss how your product aligns with these promises, fostering a sense of inclusivity and cooperation among stakeholders.

What Are Stakeholder Promises?

Stakeholder Promises are explicit commitments made to various stakeholder groups. These commitments are derived from the vision and encompass a wide range of areas - from customer satisfaction over employee well-being all the way to ethical business practices. Essentially, they represent the organization's pledge to contribute positively to the well-being of all stakeholders.

Take the example of Yamaha, where you see promises made to customers, employees, business partners, communities, and even the environment: These promises form the foundation upon which their products and operations are built.

Defining Stakeholder Promises

Here's a simple process that you can apply for defining meaningful Stakeholder Promises:

Step 1: Identify Product Vision

The foundation of Stakeholder Promises lies in your product's vision. Start by clearly defining your product's vision, which serves as the guiding force for all your commitments.

Step 2: Identify Key Stakeholders

Identify the primary stakeholder groups relevant to your product. These may include customers, employees, investors, partners, and other parties with a vested interest in your product.

Step 3: Relate Vision and Stakeholders

Establish a clear connection between your product's vision and the needs, expectations, and aspirations of your identified stakeholders. This step ensures that your commitments align with your product's overarching goals.

Step 4: Define Everyone's WIIFM

For each stakeholder group, define the "What's In It For Me" (WIIFM). In other words, articulate what value, benefit, or impact your product promises to deliver to each group. Be specific and consider how your product addresses their unique needs and concerns.

Step 5: Make Specific Promises

Make your promises effective and actionable:

  • Make your promises specific, so there's no ambiguity about what you aim to achieve.
  • Quantify your commitments wherever possible. This allows you to track progress and measure success objectively.

Step 6: Collect Feedback

Before finalizing your Stakeholder Promises, share them with the relevant stakeholder groups and seek their input. Such an initial round of feedback provides valuable insights and ensures that the promises resonate with your stakeholders.

This step-by-step guide will equip you to define Stakeholder Promises that are clear and actionable, and also well-aligned with your stakeholders' expectations and your organization's mission.

Successfully using Stakeholder Promises

Here are six tips to support you in maximizing the impact of your stakeholder promises:

Align your strategy: Your product and any work done on it should directly contribute to fulfilling your stakeholder promises - or at least: not contradict them.
Prioritize: Stakeholder promises help you prioritize what matters: Features that directly address one or more stakeholder needs or expectations have more impact on your product's success.
Communicate: Use Stakeholder Promises as a basis for transparent communication. Regularly update stakeholders on how your product aligns with these promises and any progress made.
Seek feedback: Actively seek feedback from stakeholders, especially those for whom promises have been made. Act on what you learn to improve your product.
Continuously improve: Frequently revisit your stakeholder promises, keep them up to date, and use them as a benchmark for improving both your product and pactice.
Be Responsible: Actively align your actions and outcomes with the standards outlined in Stakeholder Promises.


Never underestimate the power of Stakeholder Promises: They serve as a guiding light, directing your product development efforts towards fulfilling commitments to your customers, employees, partners, and the broader community. By understanding, defining, and leveraging these promises effectively, Product Owners and teams can build products that meet and exceed stakeholder expectations, while simultaneously contributing positively to the well-being of all involved parties. By paying attention to your stakeholder promises, you'll not only create better products - you also build trust, credibility, and sustainable relationships with your stakeholders.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Test Coverage and Fermentation

Measuring test coverage makes sense - but maybe not in the way you think. Here's why:
Test Automation coverage is like fermentation bubbles

1. Seeing it doesn't mean things are going to be fine
- but not seeing it may indicate that the process itself may not yield good results.

2. could see it and still get an unconsumable product:
Coverage only tells you that code was executed by tests, not whether there are quality risks or issues.

3. When you don't see it on new stuff, this most certainly tells you that you'll have problems:
Your testing process and your development are out of sync, and that's a pretty good indicator that your development process itself is low quality.

It also tells you that the team is definitely not practicing TDD - because just like fermentation bubbles, test coverage is a side product, not a goal, of TDD.

If you ran a pickle factory - what do you think would happen if you set a target for amount of fermentation bubbles?

Focus on the pickles - not the bubbles.
But when there are no bubbles (tests) - you need to investigate.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

10 signs your Scrum Master doesn't understand Scrum

As an enterprise Coach, I meet a lot of Scrum teams. Despite its widespread adoption Scrum is rarely done well. Many Scrum Masters, the pivotal role responsible for fostering a high-performing team, aren't even prepared to grasp the essence of their job. Being an advocate for continuous improvement and a firm believer in the power of sarcasm to make a point, I'm not here to cast blame or ridicule anyone, but to tigger a discussion. I genuinely believe that most Scrum Masters who find themselves in these situations came there unwittingly, and want to do better. But they may lack the right understanding or guidance to see what's wrong. So - here goes my Top 10 list of common pitfalls and misconceptions how a Scrum Master could get in their own way of fostering an environment of growth, learning, and continuous improvement:

10 Signs that Your Scrum Master Doesn't Understand Scrum

Are you walking off a cliff?

Customer Focus? Maybe Later - For Now, Let's Get Scrum Straight!

A Scrum Master who prioritizes "getting Scrum straight" over customer focus misunderstands the core value of delivering value to the customer. Scrum emphasizes customer collaboration and responding to their changing needs, ensuring that the team builds products that meet their expectations and bring maximum value.

Team Dynamics? We Had a Team Building Workshop at the Kick-off, So We're Good.

Believing that a one-time team building workshop is sufficient for effective team dynamics disregards the continuous effort needed for building and maintaining a high-performing team. In Scrum, fostering a collaborative and self-organizing team is an ongoing process, requiring consistent support and attention from the Scrum Master.

Transparency and Openness? Nah - Nothing Beats a Great Hidden Agenda!

A Scrum Master who drives a hidden agenda undermines the essence of Scrum's core foundation of trust. Transparency allows for honest visibility into the team's progress, challenges, and achievements, fostering trust among stakeholders. Hidden agendas defer problems caused by misalignment into the future, at which point they may have grown significantly.

Facilitation? Servant Leadership? No, They Need Someone Who Gives Them Clear Direction!

While there are reasons for being directive, that should be a last resort. Facilitating collaborative discussions and informed decisions improves understanding, and thereby reduces risk. By taking a directive stance as a default, the Scrum Master introduces themselves as a dependency into the team and hampers their growth and collaboration.

Focus on the Sprint Goal Now - We'll Talk About Impediments in the Retro!

Let's be clear - it's not an impediment unless it significantly impacts the team's ability to deliver value. What would you think about a car mechanic who told you, "Just ignore your flat tire, go to work and come back, you can always fix the tire later." Most likely, you won't be going anywhere with a flat tire - and even if you will, the price, cost and duration required to fix a broken hub will exceed the cost of the flat tire by orders of magnitude. While this could be necessary for survival, it should be an informed Product Owner choice, and definitely not a default strategy.

You Want Time for Learning? Just Look at All That Unfinished Work in the Product Backlog!

The Product Backlog is infinite, as it gets replenished in line with demand. A team deferring necessary learning in favor of Velocity loses their edge, and will eventually lose both. Learning isn't a luxury that competes with unfinished work, it keeps the effectiveness of the team up, and trades a bit of time in the short term for improvements to quality, scope and risk in the long term.

Releasable Product Increment? Once a Quarter - otherwise, it's Too Much Overhead.

Delaying the delivery of a releasable product increment contradicts Scrum's principle of delivering value with minimal delay. Even in settings where releases are scheduled at a low frequency, a failure to keep the Product in a releaseable condition introduces risk into the process: as long as our product isn't in a releasable state, we neither know how much work it is to bring it into this state - nor whether we will have the capacity to do so when we need to.

We Wouldn't Need Feedback if you Just Learn to Write Better User Stories!

Creating a false dichotomy between writing user stories and collecting feedback is a thorough misunderstanding of Scrum's empirical approach. User stories only inform us what we believe a priori about what users need, whereas feedback validates that we did indeed solve their problem. Just think of the last time you went to a restaurant and didn't like the meal: Would you have liked the waiter to blame you for not correctly specifying what you like?

That's the Standard Process. You Can't Change It Just Because It's Stupid.

Scrum is a vehicle for enabling the team to find the process that allows them to perform at their optimum. A broken or ineffective process leads this ad absurdum. Scrum encourages continuous inspection and adaptation to optimize processes and outcomes, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and innovation.

Definition of Done? Yeah, we have one ... somewhere ... Let me find it.

The DoD is one of Scrum's core commitments, as it defines how the team is committing to work. Lacking transparency, clarity or commitment to the Definition of Done is a common source of poor quality and conflict. A good, transparent Definition of Done builds shared understanding both within the team and with stakeholders.


Having a well-informed and capable Scrum Master is essential for a successful Scrum team. I have deliberately phrased the above signs with some sarcasm and hyperbole. In practice, they're often much more subtle. Recognizing them enables you to take proactive steps to improve the effectiveness of the collaboration between Scrum Master, team and stakeholders.

If you spot any of these signs in your team, maybe ... try raising it in the next Retrospective?

Let's Scrum better!

Saturday, August 5, 2023

10 signs that your Transformation has failed before it started

"Agile transformation" is a popular buzzword these days, and the promises improved efficiency, better collaboration, and increased customer satisfaction are too hard for any enterprise to ignore. However, the transformation journey is not without its pitfalls. Let's take a tongue-in-cheeck snipe at some of the common causes of transformation failure.
Are you walking off a cliff?

You Know That Your Agile Transformation Has Failed Before It Started, If you...

Brought in consultants to prescribe the details of what everyone must do, when and how.

An Agile transformation doesn't come with a one-size-fits-all approach. When consultants define roles and processes without considering the unique challenges and context, we'll get a "square peg, round hole" solution. Successful transformations rely on collaboratively progressing on the Agile journey, letting teams experiment and adapt based on their own understanding and experience with a continuous interplay of opportunity, ideas, execution and feedback.

Spend more time documenting the Future Mode than experimenting or talking to people.

Agile transformation is about establising a habit of growth and learning based on iteration and continuous improvement. An overreliance on assumption-driven documentation without enough actual interactions and experiments achieves the opposite.

Already know the perfect solution, before having made a single change.

Agility is only required because we have to deal with uncertainty. An agile approach needs to acknowledge that perfect solutions rarely exist. Assuming that a "perfect" solution can be found without experimentation, learning or adaptivity will lead to missed opportunities for improvement and won't make the future organizational system any more flexible.

Can show the future on a slide deck, but not in a team.

Agile transformation is built on "individuals and interactions," not on a top-down declaration by some smart folks who know it all. A vision that exists only on a slide deck without any backing of teams who can tell "war stories from the trenches" doesn't instill much trust.

Have defined the correct process that everyone just needs to follow.

Rigidly following predefined processes is what got us into the mess that agility tries to address by fostering adaptability and flexibility. Imposing a "correct" process without degrees of freedom undermines autonomy and the opportunity to take advantage of domain specific benefits, leading to decreased motivation and ultimately, failure to realize any significant improvement potential.

Declare a mandatory universal "Agile Standard" for all teams.

Each team and organization has its own unique challenges, needs and potential. A one-size-fits-all Agile standard that disregards context stops teams from effectively practicing Continuous Improvement. Successful agile organizations treat the diversity of teams as an advantage.

Consider teams deciding their own ways of working to be a problem.

Empowering teams to self-organize and make decisions that impact their work is the means by which organizations reduce risk of failure and coordination overhead. Treating team autonomy as a liability annuls this advantage.

Apply so much rigor that Team Retrospectives don't let people change, experiment, or learn to do it better.

If the rigor and formality tells team members that their ideas aren't welcome, they'll quickly stop highlighting opportunities for improvement. When teams can't figure out how to improve in their context, "Agile" will merely become a new status quo without any sustainable benefits.

Believe that "people are doing it wrong," without giving them any leeway to do it better.

Agile transformations often involve a shift in thinking and culture, not just the mechanics of Agile practices. Blaming individuals without understanding the systemic barriers causes demotivation and resistance. A successful transformation acknowledges that there is no single "one right" approach, and focuses on enabling teams to find what works best - for them.

Your Coaches can recite the doctrine by heart, but don't understand the psychology of change.

Coaches play a crucial role in guiding teams on their transformation journey. Reciting Agile frameworks, values or principles without understanding the human aspect of change and the psychology of team dynamics alienates people and deprives them of the meaningful support and guidance they require. Successful coaches empathize with teams, create a safe space for learning, and tailor their approach to the needs of the individuals and teams they work with.

Closing remarks

Although this list might be slightly humorous, it highlights some serious pitfalls that can seriously derail transformations. Understanding these reasons for failure will help you become more successful on your Agile Journey. Being agile, fostering collaboration, and living agile values and principles is as essential for the teams doing the work as it is for the change towards Agility itself.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

An Organizational Measurement System

"How can we create a measurement system for an agile organization?"

There are more and less helpful approaches, and there's also a lot of situational context to consider. And yet, in the big picture, there are numerous metrics that (almost) universally make sense, at least to consider.

"Metrics" by

Metrics Context

Before exploring the metrics, we need to consider that each of these metrics applies in a specific context. For example, Strategy metrics are of secondary concern to team members, whereas Team metrics might be of secondary concern to strategic management. When talking about "secondary concern," that means: "We understand what's being measured, and we should be informed about relevant information coming out of these metrics, but our focus is elsewhere."

While in traditional enterprise contexts, these levels are often staffed with separate individuals, the contextual structure of the metric levels doesn't necessarily coincide with a hierarchy: In a startup, a single individual in a 1-person company might have to make decisions at any of the respective levels, and separation of concerns helps to clarify the context.

The measurement system

Different metrics are applicable at the different organizational levels, and they are only of limited value at others. We discern Leading Indicators and Lagging Indicators. The key difference between these two is that leading indicators enable predictions, whereas lagging indicators provide information that could trigger further inspection and potentially adaptation. A balanced mix of leading and lagging indicators in all core domains (Technology, Organization and Product) provide a solid basis for data driven decisions.

To keep this list somewhat manageable, some metrics, such as for example, "Flow," are comprised of an entire set of standard metrics encompassing this performance indicator.

A potential KPI system for an Agile organization
Layer Technology Metrics Organization Metrics Product Metrics
Technical Capability
Development Flow
Strategic Risks and Impediments
Strategic Information Quality
Initiative Alignment to Strategy
Budget Allocation
Employee Empowerment and Engagement
Execution Capability
Market Share
Market Analysis
Innovation Index
Development Value Stream Performance
Technology Attrition
Value Chain Performance
Plan Execution Rate
Investment Efficiency
Strategic Risk and Impediment Resolution Flow
Communication Effectiveness
Employee Retention
Customer Retention and Growth
Revenue Growth from Initiatives
Objective Achievement
Technical Investment Plan
Strategic Execution Alignment
Initiative Pipeline
Capacity Forecast
Portfolio Health
Portfolio Risks
Key Person Risks
Competence Index
In-process Inventory
Lifecycle Horizons
Product Health
Value Differentiation
Customer Satisfaction
Investment Decision Criteria
Revenue Forecasts
Product Releases
Risk Variability
Ability to Execute
Portfolio Delivery Flow
Portfolio Risk Flow
Strategic Initiative Budget Variance
Portfolio Resource Utilization Efficiency
Initiative Health
Hit-Miss Ratio
Benefits Realization
Customer Satisfaction
Long-term Financial Performance
Delivery Frequency
Delivery Cycle Time
Deployment Frequency
Deployment Success Rate
Dependency Map
Risk and Impediments Flow
Risk Escalation Frequency
Product Backlog Size
Feature Lead Time
Release Frequency
Release Quality
Service Quality
Delivery Flow Efficiency
In-Process Inventory
Constraint Performance
Product Risk Flow
Product Usage
Net Promoter Score (NPS)
Feature Time-to-Market
Customer Growth and Churn
Continuous Delivery Performance
Mean Time To Detect (MTTD)
Mean Time To Restore (MTTR)
Code Quality
Automated Test Coverage
Skilling and Competencies
Innovation and Ideation Rate
Process Throughput Rate
Known Risks and Impediments
Impediment Resolution Throughput
Impediment Escalation Rate
Process Flow Efficiency
Customer Proximity
Feedback Quality
User Research
Continuous Integration Performance
Technical Debt
Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF)
Ability to Execute
Meeting Effectiveness
Team Morale and Satisfaction
Employee Retention Rate
Process Throughput Yield
Dead Features
Customer Engagement
Customer Feedback

The organizational levels

This section contains information about the various organizational levels referenced above.

Strategy level

The Enterprise Strategy level defines the long-term direction, vision, and objectives of the entire enterprise. It plays a crucial role in setting the overall course for the organization and aligning it with its core values and mission. This level focuses on making strategic decisions that guide the allocation of resources, determine key initiatives, and ultimately drive the success and growth of the business.

In addition to defining the strategy, this level is also accountable for communicating the strategic direction throughout the organization. Effective communication ensures that all employees understand the vision and are aligned with the organization's goals. It also enables teams at lower levels to make decisions that are consistent with the overall strategic direction.

The Enterprise Strategy level contributes to the organization's success by providing a sense of direction and focus. It helps prioritize initiatives, allocate resources effectively, and avoid wasteful activities that do not align with the long-term goals. This level fosters a cohesive and unified organization that works towards a common purpose. It provides a roadmap for other levels of the organization, allowing them to plan and execute their work in alignment with the broader strategic objectives.

Portfolio Level

The Portfolio level in an organization is responsible for managing and optimizing the collection of projects, programs, and initiatives that collectively contribute to achieving the enterprise's strategic objectives. This level exists to ensure that resources, including financial, human, and technological, are allocated efficiently and effectively across various value streams and projects, aligning them with the overall business strategy.

Portfolio management plays a vital role in evaluating initiative proposals, assessing potential risks and benefits, and determining their strategic fit. This includes analysing factors such as expected outcomes, investments, resource requirements, and potential impacts on other ongoing initiatives.

Additionally, a portfolio fosters alignment and collaboration between different business units and departments by coordinating initiatives and ensuring they complement each other. The Portfolio level avoids duplication of efforts and helps maintain a clear focus on the enterprise's overall strategic direction. This enables the organization to invest in the right initiatives at the right time, and make informed decisions about staffing, resource allocation and project prioritization. This level also provides visibility and transparency into the status and performance of the entire project portfolio, helping stakeholders track progress and make data-driven decisions.

Portfolio agility facilitates strategic agility, allowing the organization to adapt its portfolio in response to changing market conditions and emerging opportunities. By regularly evaluating and adjusting the portfolio based on business needs and performance data, the Portfolio level ensures that the organization stays on course to achieve its strategic goals while remaining responsive to dynamic market forces.

Product Level

The Product level in an organization is focused on delivering value to customers through the creation, enhancement, and management of products and services. This level is dedicated to understanding customer needs and preferences, translating them into actionable product features, and ensuring that the delivered products meet high-quality standards and align with the overall business strategy.

At the Product level, product managers, product owners, and cross-functional teams work collaboratively to design and develop products that address customer pain points and fulfill market demands. They define the product vision, strategy, and roadmap, taking into account market research, customer feedback, data analytics, and business objectives.

The Product level is responsible for understanding market trends, customer preferences, and competitor analysis. They use this information to identify market opportunities and define a clear product vision that aligns with the enterprise's strategic goals.

At the product level, people work to deliver customer-centric products that create value and drive customer satisfaction. Through effective product management, this level ensures that products meet customer needs, are user-friendly, and stay competitive in the market. By continuously iterating and enhancing products based on customer feedback, the Product level helps retain existing customers and attract new ones.

The Product level plays a pivotal role in organizational success by bridging the gap between customer needs and business strategy. It aligns product development efforts with the overall enterprise goals, enabling the organization to build and deliver products that provide value, gain a competitive advantage, and sustain long-term growth and profitability.

Team Level

The Team level in an organization is the operational level where work is executed and tangible results are produced. Each team comprises collectively works towards achieving specific product goals.

Successful teams focus on continuous delivery of working, high quality, shippable product increments. Constant and early feedback from stakeholders and customers enables them to iterate and improve the product rapidly.

The Team level contributes to the organization's success by being the driving force behind the actual creation and delivery of value to customers. By embracing Agile principles and practices, teams become more adaptable and responsive to changing requirements and customer needs. An iterative approach allows them to identify and address issues early, reducing the likelihood of costly late-stage defects.

Ultimately, the success of every organization depends on its teams. Teams are those who have to deliver products on time, operate within given budgets, and meet customer expectations. Self-organised, highly motivated, capable individuals are the keys to excellence in product development.

Closing remarks

While on the one hand, additional metrics mean additional effort - on the other hand, inattention to crucial metrics may lopside and bias decisions and lead to a "Cobra Effect" - that is, people do what makes sense based on the metrics to the detriment of an organization's success. Hence, choosing the right metrics and adequately balancing them is a delicate process.

Setting up a measurement system suitable to your specific organization can't follow a universal recipe - considering context, such as market influences, industry specific constraints and organizational culture is highly relevant to successful measurement. Likewise, abstraction levels should only be institutionalized where necessary.
Are you looking for further guidance? Don't hesistate to reach out to me!

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Dealing with Organizational Debt

"Organizational debt" is a metaphorical term used to describe the accumulation of inefficiencies, shortcomings, and suboptimal practices within an organization over time. Similar to technical debt, it refers to the consequences of choosing expedient solutions that will require revisiting and improving the situation later on.

Organizational debt is often created by a desire to "just make it work:" when people opt for quick and convenient solutions to address immediate needs or challenges, they often ignore the long-term consequences. Effectiveness, scalability, and sustainability are often not considered in the heat of the moment. While shortcuts and compromises keep things going, a failure to address the systemic impact of these decisions will eventually take a massive toll on the organization's ability to operate efficiently and adapt to changing circumstances in the future.

How can we deal with
Organizational Debt?

The following table is a guide which you can use to determine whether you have organizational debt, and how you can address it.

How to identify and address Organizational Debt
Organizational Element Organizational Debt Indicators Potential Remedial Actions
Purpose and Mission
  • Lack of clear mission statement
  • Vague objectives or conflicting goals
  • Disconnect between company mission and daily work
  • Clarify the organization's mission and objectives
  • Communicate the mission effectively to all members
  • Align goals across departments
  • Identify and explore gaps between vision, mission and execution
  • Complex and rigid hierarchy
  • Unclear reporting lines
  • Overlapping roles
  • Make the hierarchy less felt
  • Streamline the organizational structure
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities
Leadership and Governance
  • Lack of transparency
  • Poor decision-making processes
  • Leadership conflicts
  • Foster transparent communication
  • Implement clear decision-making protocols
  • Address leadership issues promptly and proactively
  • High turnover rates
  • Low employee morale
  • Skill gaps within the workforce
  • Create open feedback channels to proactively resolve dissatisfaction
  • Improve employee engagement and recognition programs
  • Invest in training and development opportunities
Culture and Values
  • Unhealthy work environment
  • Lack of shared values
  • Lack of identification with values
  • Cultivate a positive and inclusive culture
  • Reinforce core values through internal communication
  • Lead values by example
Processes and Methods
  • Inefficient workflows
  • Lack of process clarity
  • Outdated procedures
  • Identify and resolve bottlenecks
  • Frequently revisit and improve processes
  • Document and communicate standards
  • Limited budget
  • Inadequate technology
  • Inefficient resource allocation
  • Analyze resource allocation and prioritize essential investments
  • Seek cost-saving opportunities without compromising quality
  • Embrace innovation to optimize resource utilization
  • Poor customer satisfaction
  • Strained vendor relationships
  • Disengagement
  • Collect feedback from stakeholders and act on it
  • Enhance customer support and engagement strategies
  • Involve communities in decision-making
  • Ineffective communication channels
  • Information silos
  • Miscommunication
  • Optimize communication channels and protocols
  • Encourage open and transparent communication across all levels
  • Use collaboration tools to facilitate information sharing
Adaptability and Innovation
  • Resistance to change
  • Reluctance to embrace new technologies
  • Outdated practices
  • Foster an intrapreneurial culture of innovation and risk-taking
  • Institutionalize grass roots innovation
  • Invest in ongoing training and education
Measurement and Evaluation
  • Inadequate metrics
  • Unsuitable performance tracking
  • Not relying on facts
  • Identify relevant success metrics
  • Conduct regular reviews to inspect and adapt
  • Adopt data-driven decisions-making and improvements
Ethical Responsibility
  • Embellishing outcomes
  • Passing the Buck
  • Failure to address concerns
  • Provide "psychological safety"
  • Encourage opennenss and non-judgmentalism
  • Develop and promote a code of ethics

Don't hesitate to reach out if you need coaching on how to do this in practice.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Why Agile Coaches need to care about Delivery Speed

I often come across the sentiment that "Agile is not about speed of delivery." I believe that claim is a severe misunderstanding on what makes a team agile - and worse: it's already an early warning sign that at some point in the future, the Agile Coach will struggle to explain what exactly they're doing. Posing a false dichotomy between Agile and Cycle Time sets up their teams to underperform in comparison to teams coached by someone who understands both the impact of Cycle Time, and how to actively reduce it.

An Agile Coach setting themselves up for failure

Cycle Time Matters

Many traditional organizations I encounter still apply outdated delivery models, often stage-gated with various in-process queues and handovers. When a company takes half a year from demand to release - I'd say they're already well above average. In fact, a one-plus year delay from idea to value isn't uncommon. In such scenarios, managers and stakeholders often request their coaches to actively address time to market as a key success metric. For good reasons.

When we talk about agility, speed of delivery plays a crucial role. Cycle Time, which measures the time from development to production, directly impacts an organization's ability to respond quickly to customer needs, market changes, and emerging opportunities. An organization's agility is closely tied to the ability to rapidly deliver value to customers. The quicker they can do this, the more responsive and competitive they become. It's essential for Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters to recognize that optimizing Cycle Time is not a deviation from Agile principles but rather an integral part of fostering agility.

Reducing Cycle Time has several benefits to agility: First, it allows us to obtain customer feedback faster and more often, enabling them to validate assumptions, make adjustments, and iterate more rapidly. This feedback loop facilitates continuous learning and ensures that the delivered software meets customer expectations and quality standards. Shorter Cycle Times also reduce the delay between occurrence and resolution of risks and issues. Additionally, short cycle times reveal potential bottlenecks and delays. All these factors reduce rework and improve our ability to create value.

Furthermore, actively minimizing Cycle Time enhances adaptability and responsiveness to changes in the market. Rapid delivery enables organizations to iteratively experiment, learn, and adapt their product or service offerings based on real-time feedback. This fosters innovation and competitiveness. Agile Coaches who understand these aspects will guide their teams to optimize Cycle Time as a means to promote agility.

Don't make it a false dichotomy!

Assuming that "Agile Mindset" and "Delivery Time Optimization" are at odds would be a false dichotomy, but let's entertain the thought and see what the long-term consequences would be for a team whose coach would make an either-or decision, and focus on either one, or the other. In our scenario, we will assume that the Delivery Time is currently so slow that management is correct in being concerned - i.e., that the team is struggling to deliver one releaseable increment per month, and that Delivery Time Optimization would orient itself on Minimum Continuous Delivery requirements. These given, let's take a look at business relevant outcomes and how they'd develop over months and years:

Metric Explanation "Delivery Time" Focused Coaching "Agile Mindset" Focused Coaching
Time to Market Timespan between idea and value. Strong - More deliveries, reduced batch sizes and shorter wait times. Faster commercialization. Variable - "Results not guaranteed."
Product Quality Software meeting standards and expectations. Strong - High delivery frequency requires effective quality practices like automated verification. Possibly - No direct measurement or systematic approach to address quality.
Customer Satisfaction Maximizing feedback points while minimizing low-quality experiences. Strong - Rapid delivery with definitive quality verdicts enables better control of dissatisfaction factors. Limited - Limited opportunities to improve customer satisfaction through controlled delivery points.
Feedback Integration Collecting input on ideas and Working Software. Strong - Abundant and timely feedback, potentially multiple times per day, depending on stakeholder availability. Uncontrolled - Feedback effectiveness unquantifiably tied to delivery process effectiveness.
Adaptability and Agility Speed and accuracy in acting upon learnings. Strong - High delivery frequency fosters adaptability and enables effective change implementation. Poor - Limited means to determine the level of adaptability.
Collaboration and Alignment Staying in sync and acting in unison. Strong - Continuous Delivery exposes lack of alignment or collaboration through pipeline failures. Difficult to quantify - "Soft" collaboration with unmeasurable outcomes.
Risk Reduction Minimizing impact of issues and delays. Strong - Mitigation of risks through proactive risk analysis and automated testing. Poor - No inherent risk control mechanisms.


Agile Coaches who discount speed of delivery will struggle

Agile Coaches who primarily focus on promoting the Agile Mindset without actively driving speed of delivery and its enabling technical practices and processes, such as Continuous Delivery, will likely struggle when asked to show clear, measurable outcomes. Here's why:

  1. Lack of Transparency: Stakeholders and decision-makers often require evidence of improvements in key metrics, such as time to market, product quality, customer satisfaction, or change failure rate. Without indicative metrics that demonstrate the effectiveness of technical practices like Continuous Delivery, it becomes challenging to achieve significant improvements in these areas, making it harder for the coach to showcase the impact of their work.
  2. Inability to Improve: Sustainable speed of delivery is a lagging indicator for the adequacy and quality of a team's technical practices. The Agile Coach ignoring speed will limit their ability to help teams meet stakeholder expectations. This leads to missed opportunities, increased lead time, and decreased competitiveness, rendering their coaching ineffective.
  3. Limited Control over Quality and Risk: Teams that don't implement the practices supporting a rapid succession of deliveries will struggle to address quality issues and effectively manage risks. Systematic quality control mechanisms and risk mitigation strategies are essential enablers to consistently delivering high-quality products, hence scrutinizing and optimizing sustainable speed of delivery creates a strong focus on implementing the necessary supporting practices.
  4. Inadequate Feedback and Collaboration: Rapid feedback and effective collaboration are essential drivers of agility. The Agile Coach who solely focuses on the Agile Mindset may overlook the importance of technical practices that enable fast feedback cycles and promote collaboration.
  5. Limited Adaptability and Agility: Agility relies on an ability to adequately respond to changing market dynamics. Sustained delivery speed, supported by its enabling technical practices, is a powerful leading indicator for the level of adaptability and implementing effective change. Without leveraging practices that support rapid delivery and iterative improvement, the coach may hinder the team's ability to learn, adjust, and continuously improve.


The Agile Coach who neglects Sustained Delivery Speed and its incorporating technical practices, such as Continuous Delivery, is much more likely to struggle in demonstrating significant long-term outcomes. They may miss critical gaps in quality practices, feedback mechanisms, collaboration, and adaptability, thus leading to predictable challenges in meeting stakeholder expectations, driving improvements, and effective agility.

Important: This article consciously emphasizes "Sustained Delivery Speed." Our concern isn't the speed of typing, but the inherent capability of minimizing the time required for turning an idea into a high quality release candidate. Cutting corners to get one shipment through the door will quickly undermine a team's ability to maintain a high pace of deliveries - this tactic always results in incidents and failures which devastate a team's ability to maintain their pace. Hence, sustained delivery speed is an aggregate measurement that requires observing many technical metrics "under the hood," such as build time, build failures, incident frequency, recovery rates, and many others.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Leading by Absence

You may be familiar with classical leadership approaches - such as leading by doing (being in the trenches, doing the same as you expect others to do), or leading by example (which is slightly different, as you show patterns for others should follow) - but have you ever thought about "leading by absence?" This technique is very important for Scrum Masters and Managers alike to grow teams and personalities. If you're a parent, you may be familiar with how necessary, yet difficult this approach is.

Let's explore how this approach can positively impact leadership dynamics and enhance team dynamics.

How to Lead by Absence

The concept of "leading by absence" refers to a leadership approach where a leader intentionally creates space and provides leeway for their team members to take ownership and make decisions in their absence. Leading by absence means you steps back and allows others to take the lead and responsibility, while still providing guidance and support as necessary.

Leadership by Absence is a delicate act of balance

"Leading by absence" recognizes that effective leadership isn't about being at the forefront or making decisions. Instead, it acknowledges the importance of empowering others and fostering a sense of autonomy, trust, and accountability within the team. By giving team members the opportunity to lead and make their own decisions, leaders focus on nurturing their growth, developing others' skills, and building a more self-reliant and resilient team.

These are some key aspects of leading by absence:


To lead by absence, team members need to be clear which tasks and responsibilities they are expected to take over. The leader trusts their team's capabilities and gives them the autonomy to make decisions within their assigned roles.

Support and guidance

Those who lead by absence deliberately step back and create space, while still providing support and guidance when needed. They offer assistance, clarify expectations, and provide resources or feedback to help their team members succeed.


Leaders who choose to be absent aim to empower team members by fostering a culture of ownership and accountability. It encourages individuals to take initiative, make decisions, and contribute their unique perspectives.


Leaders who practice leading by absence build trust with their team members. They demonstrate confidence in their abilities and create an environment where individuals feel valued and supported, which increases motivation and engagement.

Continuous learning

This leadership approach relies on opportunities for learning and growth. Leaders encourage their team members to learn from their experiences, both successes and failures, and promote a culture of ongoing improvement and development.


Leaders who practice "leading by absence" promote collaboration, innovation, and individual growth within their teams. They leverage the diverse skills and talents of their team members while fostering a sense of ownership and shared responsibility for achieving goals.

Note of caution:
Despite the similar name, "Leading by Absence" is the opposite of "Absence of Leadership:" It's a deliberate choice that requires careful consideration and patience. Wheras it empowers and enables teams, an absence of leadership implies a lack of guidance, direction, and support.
To put these into contrast: Leaders who lead by absence create a space for others to step up and become more successful, whereas an absence of leadership puts others into turmoil and endangers their success. Effective leaders strike a balance between providing autonomy and support, ensuring that team members have the necessary resources, guidance, and clarity to thrive in their roles.

Friday, July 7, 2023

Flush the System for Agility!

A key activity that needs to stand at the beginning of every Agile Journey: "Flush the System." What that does? Well - it lays the groundwork so that working in an agile way is even possible.

Areas of investigation

The following areas can be considered "the usual suspects" where flushing activities may be necessary. Please be aware that terminating something is often the easy part - the challenging, and time-consuming part, is obtaining stakeholder support (and potentially: permission) to do so.


Often, at the beginning of an agile journey, people are highly overburdened and it's not even clear who is working on what for how long. That makes it difficult to get anything done - so we need to clean up!

Itemize ongoing work and complete or cancel tasks accordingly.
Hand over tasks and responsibilities outside the scope of the Agile team.
Terminate processes that aren't aligned with Agile ways of working.


In many organizations, meetings are so rampant that there's no time left to do any work. And the more knowledge a person has, the more likely they're in this dilemma. Without sufficient focus time for getting any meaningful, valuable work - there's not going to be much "Agile" delivery.

Cancel unnecessary meetings, such as status or reporting meetings, Jour Fixes, and others.
Cancel meetings with intended outcomes that should be achieved during Agile events (e.g., Planning, Refinement, Review).
Cancel meetings with unclear or irrelevant outcomes.

Roles and Responsibilities

Roles and responsibilities need to be clarified and aligned with Agile principles and be made consistent with the new way of working. Unnecessary or counterproductive responsibilities lead to confusion, overhead and conflict.

Hand over responsibilities that aren't in the scope of the newly coming Agile team.
Remove unnecessary or counterproductive responsibilities.
Eliminate "telephone games" in roles and responsibilities that impede information and decision flow.

Incentives and Measurement

Incentives and KPI's often surface as an impediment for collaboration and a focus on value. Historically, these are often founded on beliefs that don't coincide well with Agile Values and Principles, hence cleaning these out will become critical to shaping a better system of work.

Eliminate KPI's and management metrics distracting from value creation.
Cancel irrelevant or counterproductive goals.
Minimize the impact of (or preferably eliminate) incentive schemes and bonuses.

Take action!

As you embark on your Agile journey, "Flushing the System" creates a supportive environment that helps Agile teams to thrive. The above checklist is a powerful guide to streamline work, optimize their calendars, clarify roles, and align outcomes.
This list isn't exhaustive - merely a starting point, and you may find a lot more items you can flush as you look around in your organization.
Remember: "Flushing the System" isn't a one-time event, but part of the greater process of continuous improvement. Regularly assess and refine your system of work to ensure you're not missing "flushing" potential that will lead to better flow.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Navigating Hidden Agendas

We are constantly striving to create thriving organizations where collaboration, productivity, and innovation flourish. However, one of the most challenging aspects in organizations is the presence of personal agendas - both overt and hidden. Oftentimes, people say that if we could just eliminate those personal agendas and focus everyone on the overall goal and mission, we would have a lot fewer problems. But that "just" is a major problem - let's explore.
How are the pieces and the Big Picture connected?

The problem with hidden agendas

Hidden agendas arise when an individuals' have personal interests, motivations, or goals don't align with their environment. Such hidden agendas are often considered to be impediments to decision-making, execution and teamwork. They also erode trust within the organization. 

Acknowleding and understanding the existence of hidden agendas is crucial for effective leadership and organizational success.

The Impact of Personal Agendas

Personal agendas significantly influence the dynamics, communication, decision-making processes. When individuals prioritize their own motives over organizational goals, this can spark conflicts, damage collaboration, and hinder progress. Hidden agendas pose a particular challenge here as they aren't openly acknowledged and addressed, so everyone besides the agenda's owner is kept guessing. This can undermine trust, transparency, and alignment within the organization.

The presence of personal agendas can indeed have a substantial impact on organizational success by affecting alignment, transparency and collaboration. Acknowledging and managing personal agendas thus becomes essential for fostering a positive and productive work environment.

Why are there Personal Agendas?

As soon as you have more than just a handful of people, the diversity of individuals' motivations, aspirations, and goals becomes more apparent. We see the difficulties this brings even in marriages where only two people need to align their needs and desires with each other. And with growing organizational size, the problem of alignment grows.

While some agendas may be openly expressed, others are hidden or not immediately apparent. In some cases, this happens on purpose. In many cases, though, it happens because people themselves are either unaware of the impact of their goals on overall goals, don't know how to communicate their own goals, or there's no forum where they could address the discrepancies. 

Complex organizational structure with multiple stakeholders and diverse roles are thus a fertile ground for the emergence of personal agendas. 

Can't we eliminate Personal Agendas?

In short: No. Eliminating personal agendas from individuals within an organization is practically impossible. Humans naturally have their own motivations, interests, and aspirations, based on their needs, expectations, assumptions and reasons. If we were to successfully remove all of these, it would turn people into soulless drones without. Autonomy, creativity and engagement would be massively constrained.

Minimizing the negative impact of personal agendas requires effort into aligning people's objectives with one another and the overall organization. We can achieve this by fostering open communication and respecting the individuals' motivations.

The consequences of suppressing Personal Agendas

When individuals are unable to express their personal agendas openly, they will develop hidden agendas instead. Lack of a forum for discussion and transparency creates an environment of mistrust, where individuals resort to covertly pursuing their own interests. It could take a long time until the impact of the resulting actions on communication and collaboration becomes tangible. The gap between overall desired actions and executed actions in this case is "communication debt."

Communication Debt: The conversations we should have had, but failed to have.

Similar to other forms of debt, this communication debt comes with an interest attached, and will grow exponentially over time when unattended.

Permitting Personal Agendas

Should we then make a space for personal agendas? Yes.

While we might believe that systems permitting personal agendas would perform worse in the long term, that doesn't match the evidence. Even people like Steve Jobs famously said, "We don't hire smart people and tell them what to do - we hire them so they can tell us what to do." Books like Dan Pink's "Drive" have collected overwhelming evidence that systems giving people the autonomy to decide the best course of action by themselves create superior outcomes.

Creating a space for personal agendas within a structured framework harnesses every individual's talents and creativity. Systems recognizing and accommodating personal agendas fare better on engagement, ownership, and innovation. The challenge is striking a proper balance between personal agendas and their potential to override collective objectives or causing conflicts.

When managed effectively, such systems can leverage the diversity of individual perspectives to drive organizational success.

The Growth of Hidden Agendas

Without a platform to openly express their personal agendas, hidden agendas tend to proliferate. The absence of open communication channels will foster resentment, lack of trust, and covert pursuit of individual interests. Over time, the resulting hidden agendas may undermine communication, collaboration and organizational cohesion.

Whereas providing a forum for sharing personal agendas is no guarantee for the absence of hidden agenda, without such a forum, hidden agendas are likely to grow. Opportunities for open dialogue and transparent communication are essential in mitigating this risk.

The effect of Hidden Agendas on decision-making

There are two kinds of decisions: those that the individual makes, and those that the organization makes in their official channels and processes. Organizational decisions are based on various factors, such as goals, collective input, expertise, and external considerations. 

In some organizations, hidden agendas dominate daily operations. Official decision-making processes in such environments are mostly a show: "the real decisions" were already made, in different forums, with different actors, before anything is openly brought to the table: The hidden agendas determine the course of action. Strategy and organizational goals are reduced to being the pretext for the predetermined decision. 

In the grand scheme of things, this may go unnoticed - but it may also lead to massive failures. as the source of the discrepancy often can't be traced, this creates confusion as to why decisions were ineffective. Many organizations respond by introducing additional checks and balances which leave even less room for personal agendas, while also slowing down future decision making and incurring extra costs, which renders the organization even less effective. Instead of solving the problem, they exacerbate it!

Repairing Systems Dominated by Hidden Agendas

We have explored that one of the main reasons for the emergence of strong hidden agendas is a discrepancy between an individual's motivations and the constraints of the system. The absence of a forum that respectfully enables people to reveal their personal agendas and address agenda conflicts openly and constructively gave rise to the need for hidden agendas.

The consequence is "organizational debt," which consists of all the communication and collaboration structures and learnings that led people to form hidden agendas.

Organizational debt: The entirety of all communication and collaboration structures, processes, rules and learnings that impede organizations from effectively reaching their goals.

Repairing the system isn't as easy as creating a forum for open communication. Hidden agendas often involve unaddressed motives, intransparency, and conflicts of interest. Building a more effective system requires a comprehensive approach involving open communication, trust-building, active problem-solving and reestablishing a shared sense of purpose by offering meaningful organizational values with which individuals can identify.


Recognizing and addressing personal agendas is crucial for building a healthy organizational culture where collaboration, innovation, and productivity thrive. Instead of trying to eliminate personal agendas, we need to create an environment that encourages open communication, transparency, and alignment. This will mitigate the negative impacts of hidden agendas. A culture that values diverse perspectives and aligns individual aspirations with organizational goals, will be more resilient and cultivate an empowered workforce that drives long-term success.

Navigating the complexities of hidden agendas and proactively working towards building an environment that enables transparent and collaborative organizations is everyone's job. Enabling individuals to contribute their best while advancing the collective goals requires them to pursue their own agenda in line with the organization's agenda. Transparency and alignment of everyone's goals are keys to unlock the true potential of our teams and organizations.

The TOP Structure is one specific approach that can be applied at any level, in any organization, independent of state or size, to actively reduce organizational debt and build a better organizational system.