Introduction to Integral Agile

October 12th, 2014

These are amazing times we live in. We are facing a flurry of contradicting ideas and differing perspectives each day like never before. And there is no sign of things slowing down anytime soon. This is true for the world at large, but especially for people working in Agile environments at the cusp of technological advancement.

As the world, our culture, our technology, and our minds evolve, so must our tools for addressing the growing complexity. We use theories as lenses in order to reduce the complexity of reality and make it more manageable. And since there is a staggeringly large amount of tools and theories which help us on our way as coaches and members of Agile teams, one cannot help but wonder how they all fit together.

Agile brought about an increased focus on values and culture within teams and companies, offering frameworks with barely enough information to set up a process. The long forgotten treasure troves of direct communication and self-organization were dug out of the hardened ground of project management. It was finally important to stop command-and-control management, to bring trust and openness back to the workplace. Things improved and thousands of worker drones (also known as "resources") were freed from their shackles and they sighed in relief. Great things were achieved and the rest was supposed to follow soon. "Motivated teams create their own processes!", they said.

In a next wave, insights from systems theory were incorporated. "Manage the system and everything else will follow.", they said. And indeed, managing networks, looking for patterns instead of predefined solutions, probe - sense - respond, interactions between parts, and functional fit opened up a whole new dimension of possibilities.

Lessons from psychology and coaching have always been part of the mix. And XP practices. And now there’s Lean Startup. And NoEstimates. And constellation work. And storytelling. And mental models. And SAFe. Visions and constraints and Continuous Deployment. Story Maps and Get-out-of-the-way-management and Kudo boxes. Tribal Leadership and Facilitative Leadership and Servant Leadership. Beyond Budgeting and Holacracy and Sociocracy. There are endless options. Which ones to choose to finally get everything done the right way? "There’s a lot of bad Agile out there.", as Jeff Sutherland likes to say. So, what’s the correct approach here? Do we need an even bigger focus on values? More management of interactions instead of people? And what about "the old way" of measuring and controlling? Is all of that obsolete now or is it time to go back to tried and trusted methods?

Using the Integral Agile framework, we can take a step back and not simply look at one true way to solve all problems. Rather, we will be focusing on a meta view of things. We will widen the lense we use to look at the world to include several theories and see how they fit together. This will be the lense that looks at lenses. We will see how these theories all supply a very important truth, but we will also examine their partialities and biases (which most theories don’t think they have, they’re simply the truth). Instead of widening the trenches between competing approaches, we will build a map of mutually enriching paradigms. Instead of upholding a culture of "Either or…", we will gently reply with "Yes, and…" If you are wondering what makes this framework different from other frameworks, then the answer is that Integral Agile doesn’t replace other theories and frameworks, it complements them.

The Integral Agile framework was created to give you fresh ideas. We will help you widen your lense, make you curious to learn from other disciplines, and increase your awareness of your own bias (of course, you don’t have one, but hear us out first). Hopefully, by learning more about the Integral Agile framework, you will be able to handle more complexity and make more sense of the Agile world around you. We will address pathologies you probably weren’t even aware of and show ways towards a healthier and more balanced Agile ecosystem.

This is not (yet) a lightweight, easy-to-use framework. Fully grasping and utilizing the framework requires changing yourself. You'll be falling into the same traps again and again. You’ll catch yourself thinking in a decidedly non-integral way. And that’s fine. Be patient. We’ll be there to help. And in the end, you might just find yourself with your heart full of newfound compassion, your thoughts organized and walking in a new direction.

And this framework itself will grow. Both through the constantly changing environment around us and through our increased understanding of reality. It won’t be the same a couple of years from now. Chuckling, we will look back and see clearly how what we were saying wasn’t necessarily false, but definitely partial. How we were blinded by our ignorance. And that is exactly the way we want it to be. An ever-changing reality requires a framework that is ever-adapting.

This is the framework for self-transforming minds within Agile. The kosmocentric hearts yearning for depth. The ones who not simply look, but look at the way they are looking. Let’s not be alone anymore!

About the author:
Johannes Schartau is an Agile Coach from Hamburg, Germany. He is passionate about his work as a Scrum Master and Kanban Coach, Integral Theory, meditation, Kung Fu and weightlifting. You can follow him on Twitter @IntegralAgile.