Imposing Agile Practices: Does It Actually Work?

The OpenSpace Agility approach has created some questions. Some of these questions, collected from around the web, appear below. Some of the questions are very specific and very interesting (I think.) I’ve included them here. These particular questions are harvested from recent interactions with professional Agile coaches who are active on Twitter.


Related Links:

OpenSpace Agility  Explained

20 Minute Video of Daniel Mezick Explaining OpenSpace Agility Agile on INFOQ

OpenSpace Agility Client-Interview Videos



The Questions:


Q. Guide them through change, but not impose. What if they don’t want to change?

A. Respect the no. Let the org…the self-organizing system…figure out how to address this problem.


Q. Would you let a developer you were paying personally choose their own approach?

A. This is a non-starter kind of question. The typical context of an Agile adoption is an existing organization with an existing IT department or development team group.

Q. Are there any constraints you’d be willing to impose or mandate?

A. OSA tolerates the “imposition” of an Agile direction, even though that can be a problem. The Agile direction has to be in service to something- something besides Agile itself.

An Agile direction, articulated by formally authorized leadership.

Agile: in service to what?


Q. So you are willing to impose constraints?

A. The idea is to open up a conversation about how Agile ideas can help. We invite the folks to play with the various Agile practices. Iterations, Retros, and so on. We explain to them that they can try any practices they like which do not offend the majority of the Agile Manifesto’s 4 values and 12 principles. We encourage them to know the Manifesto well, and find practices that align with those values and principles.

Practices change, principles don’t. We explain that and turn them loose into a time of “authorized experimentation.”

Q. Deliver working software every two weeks?

A. Iterations are an Agile idea that aligns with the Manifesto: “Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.” Let (aka “authorize”) the teams to experiment with that!

Q. Work in a cross functional team?

A. Once again, allow experimentation. Do not “mandate collaboration. “

Q. Plan in functional slices of the product?

A. Allow experimentation. Do not mandate behaviors. Instead, ask them to align everything they do to the Manifesto.

Q. Those are constraints. They are also agile process. But we can’t say that we are mandating agile?

A. The output from an experiment is learning. In OSA we invite experimentation. We invite learning.

We make the distinction in OSA between the naming of an Agile direction, and the mandating of specific practices. Direction-setting is an important activity for formally authorized leadership. In OSA we stop short of mandating specific practices. Instead we invite the teams to experiment. Martin Fowler in 2006 writes the important essay “The Agile Imposition”. This is essential reading for anyone considering mandates of Agile practices. Quoting that essay: “So I hope I’ve made clear that imposing agile methods is a very red flag.”


Q. I’m starting to wonder if there is a nuance here that I am missing. This makes NO sense to me.

A. The nuance is: human engagement powers successful process change. Disengagement can slow down and eventually ruin your process-change plans. Therefore, engagement is essential. OSA is all about creating engagement on the premise that human engagement is absolutely essential.

Q. Are we really talking about an approach or disposition? We invite rather than mandate? Like non-violent comm.?

A. Invitation is respectful and can create engagement. Coercion and mandates are fundamentally disrespectful, and can create disengagement.

Q. “…I would place constraints on team such as I want X feature in 2 week Quality MUST be high. Outcome focused. “ What’s the difference between that and mandating agile?

A. The difference in the OpenSpace Agility approach is this: we place the people inside a period of time when the primary outcome is learning, through experimentation. The period of experimentation is actually a designed experience.  It is designed as a rite of passage. See also


Q. Is it the social implications of agile we don’t want to mandate? Not the process aspects?

A. OSA is a sociological approach based on opt-in engagement. Remember, the premise is that human engagement is essential. Jeff Sutherland has data on Scrum (see saying teams can double productivity and double again. A central hypothesis of OSA is that higher productivity is correlated with higher levels of human engagement.



Q. Like, I won’t mandate you trust someone? Or be vulnerable in a retrospective? Or create safety for someone?

A. I’m sorry if you think you believe that this kind of thinking and action can be forced on someone by some kind of external authority. I have never seen it done.

Q. I won’t mandate you like each other, or work as a high performing team?

A. High performance is mostly a function of self-organization. Self-organization is a goal of OSA. We create the conditions for self-organization to emerge. We do not pretend we can manufacture or mandate it. In OSA we create the conditions and the conditions always include a legitimate (opt out with no sanctions) invitation.

Q. I’d suggest there is no way to mandate that stuff anyway. You can only mandate behavior or process compliance.

A. In a prison, you can mandate behavior compliance and process compliance. Are workplaces prisons? I guess some kind of are…maybe.

Harrison Owen is fond of saying that the Law of 2 Feet is always active—that is, people are exercising their options, including the option to disengage. A central premise of OSA is that you cannot actually mandate behavior or process compliance, because people “check out” and disengage on you instead of playing your mandatory-to-play game. Good games have opt-in participation. That requires the consent of each player.


Q. Like, my desired result is you work in a team & deliver a working tested increment of product every two weeks?

A. Yes, this is much closer to the idea of OSA: we name the issues we are facing , we suggest some experiments with Agile practices. We inspect the experiment. The constraint is “use any practice that supports and is not obviously in conflict with the 4 values and 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto.”

Q. Again, we must be arguing some semantic nuance I don’t understand

A. Again, the central idea is very simple: Engagement is essential. Great teams, great products and great organizations exhibit very high levels of human engagement. Engagement is essential. Mandates tend to dampen engagement while invitations (such as an invitation to attend an Open Space meeting) tend to increase it. Engagement is essential.


Q. If you are willing to mandate team based iterative and incremental delivery, how is that not mandating agile?

A. First, learn to differentiate between mandating an Agile direction and mandating specific Agile practices. The constraint is is “use any practice that supports and is not obviously in conflict with the 4 values and 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto.” From there, common sense governs. Quote from Martin Fowler, Agile Manifesto signatory: Imposing Agile methods on a team is in conflict with the principles of Agile and have been since inception.” See also and


Q. (say) they are failing now doing ad-hoc or waterfall. What if they want to do an 18 month waterfall process? Can I ask them not to do that?

A. See the above question. In OSA we start and end in Open Space. In between we experiment with practices, using the Agile Manifesto for guidance. Make sense? Quote: “An important consequence of these values and principles is that a team should choose its own process – one that suits the people and context in which they work. Imposing an agile process from the outside strips the team of the self-determination which is at the heart of agile thinking.” – Martin Fowler, “The Agile Imposition”, see

Q. Okay, you’re willing to mandate producing value every two weeks?

A. No. There is no mandate, there is an invitation to experiment and create learning. Again, the Agile Manifesto is the guide: Is the idea of producing value every two weeks consistent with the Manifesto? Yes, it is. The difference in OSA is that we are inviting people to play a game, we are not mandating this or that.

Q. What kind of result then can I mandate? Valuable software on some regular interval?

A. Why mandate a specific outcome like iterative delivery when you know you need the human engagement of the team? In OSA we teach the Manifesto and invite the teams to try an experiment, for example experimenting with Scrum. The difference between the mandate and the invitation is huge. The mandate is experienced as command-control and coercion, both of which reduce engagement. The invite is experienced as a respectful request to engage in a game. Every good game has opt-in participation. See also


Q. What if they want to do an 18 month waterfall process? Can I ask them not to do that?

A. In OSA, we “explain the why” of the Agile experiment, in an invite to attend an Open Space meeting. That invite is an invite to explore a theme, a theme like “Agile: In Service To What?” or “What Do We Want Agile to SOLVE?” We then schedule another Open Space about 12 weeks out. In between, we authorize experimentation with Agile, defined as using practices that support the Manifesto principles. Is an 18-month waterfall process consistent with that? No. And in this scenario, the folks themselves will not go that way, because an 18-month waterfall would not be in alignment with the Manifesto principles.

Q. Can we mandate that people show up and do work or do I have to invite them and coach them on that 2?

A. This is a silly question.

Q. I am desperately trying to understand the POV here. I am trying to understand that nuance. What is the difference between mandating agile and mandating some of the other outcomes that folks have suggested? Maybe you can do a post for me or something, because honestly, I am really, really confused.

A. A central premise of OSA is that engagement is essential. Mandates reduce the sense of control and belonging. This kills engagement. It is really, REALLY this simple.

Q. Is the nuance I am missing that people have to be invited to participate, but if they don’t I can coach them out?

A. The nuance you are missing is that the very people who are allergic to your mandate are often the people who have the very best ideas on how to make Agile work inside their team and inside their company.  Inviting all the people to experiment and then inspect the results has a way of getting people in. Those who do not get in receive feedback from peers on what is working and what is not. A goal of OSA is to get everyone in.


Q. Is the nuance I’m missing that we have to take a disposition of invitation, we have to lead, coach, and help people along…

A. Yes, a premise of OSA is that engagement is essential and that mandates can kill engagement. Therefore, we replace that disengaging mandate with an engaging invitation to play a game: the game of experimenting with Agile practices to see if they actually work.

Q. …we all agree that they can’t do waterfall, not produce incremental value, allow defects to carry forward, else they leave?

A. We issue an invitation to attend a themed Open Space meeting. After that we play with practices and see if they serve. Quote: “Not just should a team choose their own process, the team should be control of how that process evolves.” – Martin Fowler, The Agile Imposition. See

Q. I’m not pushing a side, i am trying to understand and no one can explain to me what it means not to mandate.

A. To not mandate means to invite. To be inviting. To replace the coercive command-control mandate with an invitation to play a game of experimentation which will be inspected. This tends to engage people. The premise is that engagement is essential.

Q. Dan explicitly asserted that you cannot mandate an agile transformation. We have done this many times with great success.

A. I love success stories and I am sure you have many. Let’s run the numbers. Since 2001, the year of the Agile Manifesto, that’s about about 13 years, I’m guessing there have been over 10,000 attempts at successful adoption of Agile. (That’s probably low). I’m also guessing that 99% of these have been implemented as mandates of Agile practices. Right? Is that a fair and reasonable assumption? By that measure, the 500 or more legitimate success stories are actually outliers! Those 500 success stories represent about 5% of the sample, meaning there is a 95% lack of success is this hypothetical example.

Say there were actually 1500 verifiable success stories out there, about the mandate of Agile practices. In the language of wagering, that means you’d still be about a “6 to 1 dog” (with odds about 6 to 1 against you) when making that bet.

There’s loads of experience data. Where in that data is the overwhelmingly positive evidence that mandating Agile practices actually works? There is a lot of data from organizations like Gallup which shows that engagement is correlated with things that are really good, like employee retention and employee morale and better products.

Question: Where is the evidence that these mandates of Agile practices are actually increasing employee engagement?

Q. So I am trying to understand what he means. There is some nuance I am clearly missing. Trying to understand what that is.

A. The nuance is very simple. People have to be willing. You can create indirect opposition, resentment and so on by forcing agile practices on people without their consent. The clear solution is to replace the mandate of practices with a genuine invitation to experiment with them.

Q. I think you can mandate going to agile, but then have to win the hearts and minds of the people involved.

A. Almost. You can win the hearts and minds of the people involved. Mandates create feeling associated with a loss of control and belonging. In his book DELIVERING HAPPINESS, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh explains how the senses of control and of belonging are essential for human happiness. See page Appendix A page 233. When people lose a sense of control, they may tip into the state of Learned Helplessness. Martin Seligman did experiments that exposed this dynamic. It stems from a lack of perceived control. Is this what we want to start happening inside our Agile adoption programs? See also: and


Q. But if they choose not to participate, and that is their choice, they may have to find employment elsewhere.

A. This is true. However, in OSA, the adoption is emergent and adaptive—not prefabricated and forced via a mandate or coercion. This is a very big difference from the mandated approach. In the OSA approach, the adoption has emergence baked in from the beginning. Everyone is invited and those who opt-in are co-creating it.  Everyone has a decent sense of control and strong sense of belonging. The group senses things together, along with the person who no longer fits. Authority does not tell the person they are fired. Instead, emergent order creates a shared sense of agreement about reality by and between the members. When the new culture of learning takes root, the unengaged person and the tribe both realize what is no longer working.

Q. I’m not suggesting we enslave people, but if I decide to run my company using an agile approach that is not debatable.

A. As the owner, if a command-control approach works for you, great. Keep doing that.

Q. I will teach, coach, mentor, help them understand, be kind and gentle along the way and give them time to learn.

A. That is a good idea, consistent with the Open Agile Adoption approach.

Q. But if there is no option but to do agile or leave, that is fundamentally a mandate.

A. In OSA, formally authorized leadership works from a belief that people actually want to do great work, and will do great work if you create the conditions for it to emerge. Essential elements of these conditions include a sense of control and a sense of belonging. Invitations to engage can encourage both. The sense of control and belonging show up when people are actively making decisions about the customization and tailoring of practices they are choosing with others in the group. The co-created agreements associate with a sense of control and membership.

Q. Maybe as you suggested the word mandate carries some baggage for people that I don’t have. Like calling people resources.

A. What it is called does not matter: if you reduce the sense of control and sense of belonging below a certain level, or lower, the participants will stop playing the game and check out. When that happens, it’s “game over” and the Agile adoption is dead in the water.

Q. Ah, so mandate implies one-way communication. That is insightful… I didn’t interpret the word that way.

A. Yes, and an invitation is a two-way communication. The OSA approach replaces mandates (which can feel coercive) with an invitation (which can feel inclusive.)

Q. Okay, so that is insightful for me too. I think agile is a way of working, but it doesn’t require an agile mindset.

A. Yes, and if there is no Agile mindset at the beginning, that probably means the folks at least have to be consenting to what is happening. If there is no mindset and there and no consent, what is there? Answer: compliance, resentment, learned helplessness. See also

Q. If I act with agility, the feeling of agility will follow.

A. Maybe. If you are willing. If you are experimenting. If you have actively consented to play the game. If you have AGREED to “act as if”, to “suspend disbelief”, to “pretend this might work” for a little while.

Otherwise, maybe not. The feeling of agility is probably not going to happen if you are feeling compelled, coerced or forced. If you are feeling a low sense of control and a lower sense of belonging.

Where there is no consent, there is often a general feeling that something just ain’t right. At first, you may have difficulty being able to name and identify these feelings.

Q. I don’t believe that it is an effective strategy to transform 6000 people through cultural indoctrination

A. Open Agile Adoption is not a cultural indoctrination program. There are NO  attempts at “persuasion” to get  “buy-in” from teams, in OSA. This is because genuine engagement is deeper than that.

The OSA method is a way to introduce process-change through a consent-based approach that uses invitation and the use of Open Space to create an experience. The OSA experience is designed to encourage self-organization at scale. It creates the conditions for a rapid and lasting Agile adoption.

Q. I believe you have to get the systems in place to enable agility and that will allow the mindset of agility to follow.

A. A core premise of OpenSpace Agility is that people want to be part of creating the solution (sense of belonging) and want to consent to that (sense of control). When you force Agile practices, there is no experimentation. There is no belonging as there is no shared-agreement. There is simply a forced march to collaboration. A forced march to “mandated collaboration”. This is a terrible idea.

Q. I do believe [OpenSpace Agility] is very contextually sensitive, not impossible to do it the other [mandated] way.

A. Almost every big change in almost every organization is context-sensitive. Right?
A core premise of OpenSpace Agility is that engagement is absolutely essential. Another core premise is that a mandate of practices can quickly reduce levels of engagement by reducing the senses of control and belonging. If this is true, then OpenSpace Agility is widely applicable. It is applicable in almost any enterprise that wants a rapid and lasting Agile adoption.

Q. Dan just happened to say that my way doesn’t work and there were no examples of it working. I disagreed and offered to introduce him.

A. I say that mandates reduce engagement, and that engagement is essential for a rapid and lasting Agile adoption. If your way is to mandate, I am doubtful it creates rapid and lasting Agile adoptions.

I am sure you have some success stories in your sample. However, the sample size across the entire Agile experience is at least 13 years of mostly-mandated Agile adoptions, worldwide! That might be 10,000 or more attempts at mandated Agile adoption. So, if Agile-practice mandates are a good bet, and actually work, we’d by now  be able to point with pride to thousands upon thousands of verifiable and unmitigated success stories.  Right?

Thirteen years and thousands of attempts to force Agile practices. Where are the thousands upon thousands of verifiable success stories?

Why is it a crime to ask this question?

Where is the “mound of data” with verifiable results that strongly support the mandate of Agile practices?

Q. The only thing I wanted to assert here is that both ways can work.

A. If Approach-A works 15 time out of 100, and Approach-B works 85 times per 100 trials, both can be said to work. At issue is the expectation. One, Approach-A, has very negative expectation, we can expect on balance to fail (LOSE MONEY) most of the time. The other, Approach-B, has very positive expectation; we can expect on balance to succeed (WIN MONEY) almost every time. Both can be said to work some of the time. They have widely different “expected value.”

The mandated approach might work maybe 15 times per 100 attempts. Are those actually good numbers? Are we actually happy with that? Today, we are collecting data on a NEW approach. An approach that focuses on engagement, on the premise that human engagement is essential from the very beginning.


The OSA approach assumes human engagement is essential. It replaces the mandate with the invitation. It is an approach that attempts to improve the odds for success in getting a rapid and lasting Agile adoption, by acknowledging the reality of imposed mandates and replacing those mandates with opt-in invitations. The method includes leadership storytelling, the use of Open Space, deliberate experience design, game mechanics and more, all in service to the creation of rapid and more lasting Agile adoptions.









Storytelling Inside Open Agile Adoption, Part1

Open Agile Adoption is a technique for getting you a rapid and lasting Agile adoption. One essential aspect is the storytelling that leaders need to engage in, for Open Agile Adoption to take root. Storytelling is an essential part of Open Agile Adoption.

I noticed this during the 1st attempt at doing an Open Agile Adoption in the role of Agile coach. During this first experiment, the people in the situation had a great Open Space meeting, the theme of which was “What Does it Mean for [Company Name] to be Agile?” Proceedings were collected and processed in a timely manner. Management went to work on the proceedings directly after the event. But that wasn’t enough.

The signal event of the Open Space meeting and the processing of proceedings generated buzz and strong interest in what was happening. The whole organization was attentive and expectant for lots of communication, guidance and signaling. When the supply of storytelling did not meet demand, guess what happened? People in the situation started making up assumptions (that is: making up stories) about exactly what the duly authorized leadership was intending, was thinking, was doing…

I observed, taking careful notes. I learned that a designed experience that included Open Space was not enough. I learned that a focus on deliberate, intentional storytelling was essential for getting a solid start… and a lasting Agile adoption. Luckily I have some good friends who are experts in the domain of storytelling. I started sending and receiving emails to and from these expert colleagues. In the end, a well-defined storytelling component was added to the Open Agile Adoption technique.

And after a bumpy start, we were able to get that Agile adoption back on track, by instructing leaders to tell very, very specific kinds of stories.


Why Storytelling is Essential in Open Agile Adoption

It is not enough to do a great Open Space meeting. Leaders need to be actively engaging in narrative and storytelling before, during and after the Open Space meeting.

The primary reason is very simple. The people who do the work look to formally authorized leaders for strong signals about intentions, and about how to behave.

The people in high-authorized roles are presumably doing the will of the organization, after all. And the organization is, after all, the source of authorization for the CEO, CIOs and CTO roles. It is therefore reasonable to assume that these high-authorized leaders are carefully aligning their behavior with the organization that authorizes them.

And this is where the storytelling comes in. When you bring process-change into a culture, you can think of the culture as a very dry sponge, prepared to receive and absorb stories. The people in the culture are looking and listening for as many signs and signals as they can find, regarding leadership intentions, and how to behave.

When process-change is introduced, you can expect more and more interest in signs that signal what is going on, and how to navigate the new situation. When you start to introduce changes in how people work, you can expect (and must in fact plan for) very strong demand for meaningful signals from leaders regarding what is going on.

When leaders tell stories, they are providing the necessary signaling that the organization is watching and waiting for.

In Open Agile Adoption, therefore, deliberate and designed storytelling from leaders is essential. Leaders tell stories before, during and after the kickoff Open Space event. These leaders communicate stories about the past, the present and the future of the organization’s work, and culture.

Without the storytelling, Open Agile Adoption with Open Space can easily fail, just like any other well-intentioned Agile adoption program.

In Open Agile Adoption, frequent and deliberate storytelling by leadership is absolutely essential.

Subsequent posts will explain exactly what kind of stories need to be told, and how to time them, and how to deliver them.


See also:

Open Agile Adoption




















Open Agile Adoption: Why It Matters Now

This is a note to organizational leaders and my friends in the Open Space community, folks who want to bring Open Space to every organization that is stuck, and every organization that needs help in getting movement towards a more open culture, whether they actually know it– or not.

Open Agile Adoption and the Current (Uninviting) Workplace

Lifeless work with no meaning is a recipe for depression or worse. We all seek meaningful connection to each other, and our work. An inviting workplace connects us to the work… and each other. People all over the world are signaling that they are not longer willing to tolerate an uninviting workplace.

Creating an inviting workplace is a game. The best move now is to exploit any available entry points.

Where are these opening located?

A perfect and readily available entry point is the now-mainstream adoption of Agile software development methods. The perfect tool for cracking open the world of work is Open Space. By using Open Space meetings inside mainstream Agile adoptions, we can crack it wide open. This is because the Open Space meeting format is super-effective at generating engagement. Open Space meetings, as used in the Open Agile Adoption method, are attended by many key business people who are patrons and sponsors of IT. My experience doing numerous Open Space events inside Agile adoptions shows that from 50 to 65 percent of the attendance is business people with some connection to information technology.

Does that shock you? What might this mean?

These are the facts:

  • Organizations need IT to be more responsive, and correctly look to Agile adoption as a solution
  • Most Agile adoptions are far from robust. That’s the polite way to say it. The way these Agile adoptions are currently implemented does not produce rapid and lasting improvement. Many Agile adoptions are train wrecks.
  • Agile is going mainstream even as traditional ways of implementing Agile are producing marginal-at-best results on a repeatable basis
  • Open Agile Adoption (OAA), based on invitation (instead of mandates) creates at least the potential for much more robust Agile adoptions.
  • OAA is built upon the Open Space meeting design, a design that optimizes increasing levels of engagement.
  • Business people connected to the IT department attend the Open Space meetings via the Open Agile Adoption technique. These people can and carry back very positive and uplifting stories about what is going on in IT into the wider organization as a whole. They will carry and spread the open culture/ Open Space meme.

Open Space Small
This is the secret leverage point: once the business people experience the inviting vibe of Open Space and the good results that can come from a rapid & lasting Agile adoption, the cat is out of the bag.

The horse is out of the barn.

The genie is out of the bottle!

The wider conversations that need to be taking place actually start happening. Beyond the IT department!

The business people who attend tell very positive stories about that meeting.

Open Agile Adoption (OAA) with Open Space is the technique to help you make this happen.

OAA is a tactic in a wider strategy, a means to an end.

Our cover story is that OAA is about Agile adoption, when in fact Agile adoption is actually about cultural change.

Therefore, OAA is about igniting the start of enterprise-wide cultural change, starting in the IT department.

This is where it starts!

OAA addresses the crisis in IT, and the now-mainstream adoption of Agile methods, to usher in a new era of openness in organizations, using the IT crisis as an opportunity, and using Open Space to address it.

If We Cannot Do It Here, It Ain’t Gonna Happen

Now, what this means is very simple: if we cannot successfully bring Open Space into the huge opening created by failed Agile adoptions, it is unlikely any headway can be made whatsoever.

Agile has gone mainstream. Meanwhile, the crisis of weak and failing Agile adoptions represents a huge opening to bring in a new way of implementing Agiity. If we cannot exploit this opening, we probably have NO SHOT at bring more openness into the wider enterprise as a whole. We need to execute well in Agile adoptions if we are to have any shot at the enterprise as a whole.

On Wider Ambitions

We need to do this in steps. I’ve been talking to people who want to just flip some kind of switch, skip the 1st 10 steps, and change the world with Open Space. That just is not going to happen until and unless we are able to routinely get good results using Open Space in the obvious opening: the crisis of failed Agile adoptions. Which is occurring just as Agile itself is going mainstream!

We need to recognize this wave, and ride it.  Harrison Owen’s book Wave Rider pretty much spells this out. We need to identify the waves, and ride them.

If we can routinely improve weak and failing Agile adoptions with the Open Agile Adoption technique, the Holy Grail of enterprise-wide transformation (with Open Space) might be within reach. But: if we fail in using Open Space to successfully reform the way Agile adoption is currently done, we have NO SHOT at the enterprise.

For typical organizations with soul-sucking culture, Open Agile adoption with Open Space represents our best step now for beginning a wider process. A wider process of creating rapid and lasting enterprise-level change beyond software.

To be clear: the OAA technique is a tactical play, and a mere means to an end. It is the right way now, to get the right conversations going, across an entire enterprise. OAA has the potential to reliably and repeatedly bring rapid and lasting change into IT departments in organizations around the world.

Agile adoption as currently practiced gets very weak results, because culture change is hard. Open Agile Adoption represents a different approach: a people-first approach based on invitation… using Open Space. As such, it has the potential to get much better results than current approaches are getting.

It is very hard to argue with great results.

There is an Agile adoption wave. We can get on, and ride it. Right now.

Open Agile Adoption with Open Space is the way to get on.


Related Links:

Open Agile Adoption Home

Open Agile Adoption Explained

Deviation from the Norm

Wave Rider (book) by Harrison Owen









Open Agile Adoption Explained

The following is a brief executive-level summary of the Open Agile Adoption process.


Skip to short video interviews from people who have DONE this


Open Agile Adoption (OAA) is a repeatable technique for getting a rapid and lasting Agile adoption. It works with what you are currently doing, and can be added at any time. It incorporates the power of invitation, Open Space, passage rites, game mechanics, storytelling and more, so your Agile adoption can take root. A hypothesis of Open Agile Adoption is that increases in engagement drives increases in productivity, after a brief delay. The purpose of Open Agile Adoption is to increase levels of engagement on the part of everyone involved.


The core concept of OAA is the rite of passage, or “passage rite”. A passage rite is a cultural event (and a kind of social game) that helps people who have membership make sense of complex social transitions. Agile adoptions are complex social transitions.


These are the key events in the passage rite:


1/ The Opening: An Open Space meeting

2/ The Middle: With experimentation, play, and storytelling

3/ The Closing: An Open Space meeting



 Figure 1: The Open Agile Adoption Timeline; the Rite of Passage view


OAA implements a formal rite of passage of several months duration, which begins and ends with an optionally attended Open Space meeting. In between, in the middle, all work is framed as experimentation. It is framed as playful experimentation that will be inspected by everyone involved, in several months, at the ending Open Space event. In other words, in the middle phase, the teams are encouraged to “play” with specific Agile practices, and to “suspend disbelief”  and “act as if” these Agile practices can actually work.

During this phase they are reminded that another Open Space meeting is planned and that everyone is invited to attend,  and most importantly, to speak their mind.


The beginning and ending Open Space events are essential, and form the containing structure. This structure has clear boundaries and helps to reduce the anxiety generated by cultural change.


Inside the middle phase of the passage rite between the two Open Spaces, additional components of Open Agile Adoption are used. An Agile coach functions as the master of ceremonies throughout. Executive storytelling is employed frequently, to help define what is happening and to remind everyone about the goal of continuous learning. Game mechanics are used to help convey clear goals, rules, feedback mechanisms, and reiterate that participation in the Agile adoption game is optional.


This last point is essential: Open Agile Adoption is a technique based on invitation, not mandates. A hypothesis of Open Agile Adoption is that mandates reduce engagement, and that invitation and opt-in participation increase it. Another hypothesis of Open Agile Adoption is that engagement is essential, and that Open Space helps to increase it.


The end of the passage rite is punctuated with an event: the closing Open Space meeting. This closing meeting is the formal end-point in a “chapter of learning” in the life of the organization. It is also the opening of the next chapter.


In Open Agile Adoption, the coach assisting you plays an important role by providing guidance and teaching. The closing Open Space meeting is the place where the role of the Agile coach changes. At the closing the role of the coach must change. The coach may exit the organization, or move away from coaching teams and towards coaching executives. A new coach may replace the current coach. In any event, the status and authority of the coach must decrease. This reduction in coach status (and coach authority) is practical and symbolic.


In practical terms, the organization is now thinking much more independently, and is much more responsible for it’s  own learning. In symbolic terms, this change in coach status is essential, and emphasized throughout the passage rite process, to underscore the fact that the organization is in fact making progress towards actually weaving (integrating) Agile ideas into the cultural fabric of the organization. This progress is taking place with less and less reliance on the coach, with more and more self-reliance coming from the organization itself.

Cultural Integrations

The last aspect of Open Agile Adoption is the twice-yearly Open Space meeting event. Held in January and July, these events are important and essential. They are anticipated by the organization as a whole, and serve as a place of cultural initiation for new hires.


 Figure 2. The Open Agile Adoption Timeline; Annual View.


By instituting these recurring cultural events on the organization’s calendar, the risk of dependency on any one leader is greatly reduced and might even be eliminated. So long as policy authorizes the Open Space events on the January and July calendars, Agile is integrated into the company culture and is not leaving anytime soon.


A typical failure pattern in the adoption of Agile occurs when a highly authorized sponsor and progressive leader exits the company. The ‘safe space’ necessary to do Agile well departs with him or her. By instituting these recurring, twice-per-year Open Space events, the process of Agile transformation can and will continue, regardless of who is currently occupying the formally authorized leadership roles.


In the final phase, the organization moves to mastery. In this phase the culture is open, and being in the culture feels like being in an Open Space meeting.  In the open culture, the organization values and understands how to sense and respond. When this phase arrives, the Open Space meetings are no longer scheduled on a regular cadence. Instead, Open Space events are arranged as needed.

Only a few enterprises actually reach this phase.


Skip to short video interviews from people who have DONE this


Related Posts:

On Invitation

On Liminality

On Communitas

On Passage Rites

On the book, “SPIRIT: Development and Transformation in Organizations”











The Global Scrum Gathering Keynote: Paris 2013

I am grateful to have been invited into (and have accepted) the opportunity to deliver a plenary (keynote) address at the Global Scrum Gathering in Paris, France. The event runs from September 23-25 and the keynote is scheduled for Tuesday, September 24. I am honored to be part of this event with Henrik Kniberg and Dario Nardi, who also are delivering keynote addresses on Sept 23 and Sept 25 respectively.

You can learn about the 2013 Global Scrum Gathering in Paris here. If you click the [Keynotes] tab and then the right-arrow, you can examine the three keynotes, including the description of my talk.

I also list it here, for your convenience:

Open Agile Adoption 
The Agile journey may be best characterized as a rite of passage. Those who are taking the next step always do so as a group. During the journey, all the participants share the same basic status. Successful participants find themselves in a new and very unfamiliar place. And lastly, anyone who wants to complete the journey must also be willing to leave many things behind.

  • In tribal societies, passage rites from start to finish are facilitated and in fact led, by a “master of ceremonies.” What has changed?
  • Is the modern journey into agile actually a passage rite… for modern tribes?
  • Is the Scrum Master in fact the master of ceremonies in a modern rite of passage for teams and organizations?

In this session, together we explore the surprising answer. We also explore how to specifically leverage Open Space as a tool for helping to create authentic and lasting Agile adoptions.

I plan to explain Open Agile Adoption, an approach to implementing Agile that I have developed over a three-year period during which I have coached inside over 20 organizations. I have coached Agile since late 2007 and began experimenting with new approaches in 2009. At that time I noticed how some very intelligent people became disengaged during Agile adoptions. I began to ask why.

I began experimenting with the use of Open Space to help encourage more engagement, in service to rapid and lasting Agile adoptions. These Open Space experiments  generated some very surprising results. I’m grateful to the many organizations in and around Boston that have allowed me to experiment with sociological approaches to solving the Agile adoption puzzle.

Sociology First, THEN Practices

For my part, I value practices…because sound practices are very important. Yet solid, sound practices implemented with disregard to what people want, what they think and what they feel is, at best, misguided. It tends to generate disengagement.

I have learned the hard way, through experience, that the people who do the work are telling themselves a story. And that story is:

  • I get paid for thinking, and
  • I get paid for solving problems, and
  • I get paid for being creative.

That’s the story. This is one reason why it is essential to value sociological factors: if we mandate specific practices, the thinking and the problem-solving and the creativity that people bring to work is suddenly dampened. Squelched. Discouraged. Even killed off. Further, and more importantly, any sense of control is diminished. A sense of perceived control is essential for any sense of well-being.

Result: The prescription of specific practices becomes a topic for resentment…and eventually, disengagement. In my experience, it doesn’t take too long for people to “check out” on mandates and prescriptions. This disengagement is death to any honest attempt to bring improvement to an organization.

In Paris, I plan to tell you the wider story of Open Agile Adoption. The story includes many interesting people…and more than one courageous leader who took a legitimate shot of greatness with their Agile adoptions. I’ll tell the stories, and present several case studies. I’ll also provide a toolkit, free to the world… that anyone, anywhere can use to repeat the Agile adoption results I am getting.

I hope to see you in Paris. If you cannot attend, you can follow the Open Agile Adoption story on Twitter and here on my blog. As we head into September, I’ll explain more and more about the concepts and facilities of Open Agile Adoption. I’ll also explain the specific components, which are firmly rooted in sociology and cultural anthropology. On September 24 in Paris, I’ll present the actual case data and experience reports, and numerous testimonials on video.

More importantly, on September 24 2013, the date of the Paris keynote, I will make available to you and everyone, worldwide, a free, comprehensive, open-source toolkit for implementing a rapid and lasting Open Agile Adoption.

Frank Zappa, the offbeat musical genius, once said: “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.” I believe he is correct.

I hope you will join me in learning more and more about the details of the Open Agile Adoption technique, incorporating Open Space Technology, as we head into September. You can stay up-to-date on my writing about it by bookmarking this link.

Four Years of Open Space

(NOTE: This is a guest post from my friend Jay Vogt, author of RECHARGE YOUR TEAM: The Grounded Visioning Approach.)

Rex and Bruce, two managing directors at Cyrus Innovation, had planned their big quarterly company meeting down to the last detail, but they still weren’t happy with it. They went back and forth, trying to find better ways to cater to employee needs, and really engage them. Finally they said, why don’t we just let them decide what they want to do? Let’s toss the whole agenda, and meet in Open Space.

Open Space is a self-organizing meeting method that allows participants – in this case the whole company – to meet without any preset agenda. Participants, guided by a few simple principles, create their own agenda, convene their own discussion groups, and produce their own proceedings. Participants use their time as they see fit.

Cyrus, with twenty employees, held its first company meeting using Open Space, and it went well; after that people asked for it. It became a company standard, and they’ve been doing it consistently, once a quarter, for the last four years. Today Cyrus has nearly fifty employees.

Cyrus maintains an open climate. Any topic in Open Space is fair game. “No one has ever put anything on the table that made me wince,” says Rex Madden, Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer. “It has run the gamut. From policy-type things – like the receipt and expense process is too hard – to how we can keep attracting top talent, to technology-specific things, to client-specific stuff, like how we can convince this client to do X. Even pay scales got raised, and after that, we opened them up. We have always believed in transparency. Open communication is one of our core values, and Open Space reinforces that.”

How has it changed our culture? We tried to move toward getting teams to be more autonomous, giving people more responsibility to do things. Our attitude has been, ‘Go forth and do it, and let us know how it goes, and what you need.’ There is part of that embedded in Open Space. We are following the employees.”

Doing Open Space gives us a sense of what people are interested in, what they want to do now, and how they want to approach something. You can learn a lot about people. When we see people are interested in something, we support it. One time, a guy went to a conference, and wrote up great notes. We said, ‘This is great, let’s share this with our clients.’ A gem of an idea grew into a marketing piece. This guy was really passionate about it. There is a lot of that. We have learned to recognize what people are interested in – where they excel – and we nourish it.”

My advice to other companies? Read Harrison Owen’s book (Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide), get a facilitator, pay for some decent space so you can leave the office, and do it. Invest a full day, and be sure you follow up on action items. Retrospect it to improve it, and add value. On the first one, you will uncover a lot of stuff – better be listening for that. You will find out anyway, through other mechanisms, what the problems are, so you might as well get it straight, deal with it, and move on. Whatever it was we used to do, that came up as stuff at our first meeting, we don’t do anymore, because we fixed it.”

It takes some courage to throw your whole company into a day long meeting with no preset agenda, but Open Space, also known as Open Space Technology, rewards the brave. It challenges participants to connect with what they really care about, and are willing to make happen. It challenges managers to trust their people, and let them step up. The folks at Cyrus would say that a company that meets in Open Space over years enjoys a more open climate, with more autonomous teams and more passionate people.

Jay W Vogt is president of Peoplesworth, and author of Recharge Your Team: The Grounded Visioning Approach and Board Roles to Board Goals: Creating an Annual Board Workplan. Jay has facilitated hundreds of meetings with at least a hundred participants, and regularly facilitates meetings in Open Space. To see a four minute video of Open Space in action, visit: 

Open Space (Part 1)

Open Space is about an invitation. It is an invitation you can opt-out on. “Whoever comes are the right people”. If you show up, you are one of the right people. You opt-in to Open Space. No one makes you show up, except YOU.

The Agile community uses Open Space the same way kids play with matches. It’s acknowledged that the thing has power, and by playing with it, we admit we do not how to use it.

Open Space is about the transformation of teams, departments, divisions and entire enterprises. It’s about the transformation of entire groups of people; this includes volitional, intentional communities of practice.




Agile and Open Space

Open Space is being used in the Agile community for education. We sit in a circle, we lay out the basic idea, and off we go. In this sense, Open Space is not much different than a BarCamp or a Unconference.

At most Open Spaces I have attended in the Agile community, proceedings are not produced. The definitive book on the subject entitled Open Space Technology, a Users Guide, from Harrison Owen, clearly states that proceedings are part of the canonical Open Space meeting form.

A good introduction to Open space is at

In Boston on September 29, 2011, we convened the Agile Day in Boston event in collaboration with Agile NYC. Our Open Space theme was “Freedom At Work” and over 245 people attended. We produced a full proceedings. The proceedings we produced were transcribed so as to be searchable. The PDF we produced included over 45 Open Space sessions on all kinds of Agile topics. You can downlaod and examine these Open Space proceedings in full searchable PDF format here.

Open Space is a wonderful meeting format, and useful for so much more than just  education and socializing. In the Agile Coaching, I use Open Space to help my clients get better and better. In the posts that follow, I plan to explain in detail the role that Open Space can play in an effective Agile Coaching practice.

The Opening Circle, Agile Day in Boston, 245 attending
The Opening Circle, Agile Day in Boston, convened 09/29/2011, 245 attending under the theme: "Freedom At Work".