Amplio Foundations

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Systems Thinking

Dealing With Complexity

Attending to Value Streams

First principles and Guidance

Factors for Effective Value Streams

The Attitude of an Effective Coach

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Amplio is based on a 2-decade study of what works to improve the capability of an organization to deliver value to their customers and other stakeholders. It is not a framework in the normal sense, but provides the advantages frameworks provide (quick starts, clear ways of working) without their disadvantages (pre-ordained practices are not universal). It includes practices from most of the Agile approaches available but is based on deeper roots. It is based on an integration of Evo, Flow, Lean, and the Theory of Constraints. This provides flexibility while providing an immense body of knowledge to avoid having to reinvent practices.

These roots include the work of:

Dr. Russell Ackoff tells us that systems are not defined by their components but rather by the relationships between their components.

Dr. Christopher Alexander (“Timeless Way of Building”) extends this by saying we don’t create quality systems by combining pre-formed parts. Instead, we must look at the whole and see how the parts interact with each other. These interactions, which he calls “forces”, are essentially the relationships Dr. Ackoff talks about.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming takes this a step further by recognizing that systems create the behavior we see. While we may intend the behavior of a system to be one way, the behavior we see is what it is really designed for. This is the true acceptance of empiricism – we have what our system is designed for, not what we want our system to be. Dr. Deming tells us that most of the challenges we face are due to the system – including people misusing it.

Don Reinertsen gives us 175 principles that can improve our value-creation efforts. This number is, of course, overwhelming. Some people use this to claim we can’t understand what’s happening because of the complexity involved.

Fortunately, Dr. Eli Goldratt provides us with the concept of Inherent Simplicity. This tells us that “reality, any part of reality, is governed by very few elements, and that any existing conflict can be eliminated. If we take that as a given, as absolutely correct in every situation, we’ll find ourselves thinking clearly.” I have taken this attitude to create what I call Amplio Foundations – a set of first principles of knowledge work, guidance, and a set of factors for effective value streams. This enables us to see the complex world of knowledge work with clarity so that we can navigate it with fast feedback to eliminate most of the work we would otherwise create.

Last but not least is Tom Gilb’s Evo system, which begins with the requirement to identify our key values and success criteria. Not just for a team but for the entire organization.

These pillars of systems thinking (Ackoff, Alexander, Deming), understanding how they work (Reinertsen, Goldratt), and how to decide on value (Gilb) provide for a cohesive approach I call “Success Management” and have branded it Amplio.

The mindset that we need to be adaptive using only empiricism to drive us only takes us so far. To truly be effective, we need to add systems thinking and understanding of our system of knowledge work.

Systems Thinking

Whatever our approach is it must attend to the human nature of the people involved, the organization’s culture and where they are at the moment. This implies attending to the following:

  • The rate of adoption. Going too slow or too fast will cause resistance and other problems.
  • The depth of adoption. Should you start lightly or go deep into the issues involved?
  • The scope of adoption. This reflects who is sponsoring the change as well as where your challenges are.
  • Be fit-for-purpose. If a framework has pre-ordained practices they may create more effort for the team than is necessary. This creates both waste and resistance.
  • Support materials for new adopters. We shouldn’t expect people who are learning new methods to go on the path alone
  • Constraints put on the transition by the sponsors of it.

Not properly attending to these creates resistance, lowers effectiveness, and requires more motivation to be successful.

Dealing With Complexity

Whatever our approach is it must attend to the human nature of the people involved, the organization’s culture and where they are at the moment. This implies attending to the following:

  • The rate of adoption. Going too slow or too fast will cause resistance and other problems.
  • The depth of adoption. Should you start lightly or go deep into the issues involved?
  • The scope of adoption. This reflects who is sponsoring the change as well as where your challenges are.
  • Be fit-for-purpose. If a framework has pre-ordained practices they may create more effort for the team than is necessary. This creates both waste and resistance.
  • Support materials for new adopters. We shouldn’t expect people who are learning new methods to go on the path alone
  • Constraints put on the transition by the sponsors of it.

Not properly attending to these creates resistance, lowers effectiveness, and requires more motivation to be successful.

Attending to Value Streams

Whatever our approach is it must attend to the human nature of the people involved, the organization’s culture and where they are at the moment. This implies attending to the following:

  • The rate of adoption. Going too slow or too fast will cause resistance and other problems.
  • The depth of adoption. Should you start lightly or go deep into the issues involved?
  • The scope of adoption. This reflects who is sponsoring the change as well as where your challenges are.
  • Be fit-for-purpose. If a framework has pre-ordained practices they may create more effort for the team than is necessary. This creates both waste and resistance.
  • Support materials for new adopters. We shouldn’t expect people who are learning new methods to go on the path alone
  • Constraints put on the transition by the sponsors of it.

Not properly attending to these creates resistance, lowers effectiveness, and requires more motivation to be successful.

 

First Principles and Guidance

The first principles of knowledge work are like the laws of what makes knowledge work efficient. First principles stand on their own. They are not defined but are discovered through observation and relentless evaluation. Violating them has consequences, typically creating waste and lost opportunities. They can be used to provide guidance as to what individuals, teams, and organizations should do or avoid. Those listed are Amplio’s best discernment of the most useful first principles. Suggestions requested.

Leonardo da Vinci “He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast.”

Deming- “Theory without experience is useless. Experience without theory is expensive.”

Selected First Principles

  1. Most of our challenges are caused by the
  2. We can complete a subset of a large item faster than the full item. Smaller is typically faster.
  3. People learn faster when they can relate their own experiences to what’s being conveyed.
  4. Local improvements don’t necessarily result in global improvements.
  5. Delays in workflow, delays in getting feedback, and delays in taking advantage of lessons learned cause waste.
  6. People working beyond capacity cause delays that create additional work to be done (waste).
  7. Handoffs risk a loss of knowledge and
  8. We only see what we think and talk
  9. We can’t manage what we don’t see.

Guidance

  1. Use systems thinking. Don’t blame people first.
  2. Focus on delivering the greatest value soonest.
  3. Identify the criteria for success of your primary stakeholders and the values needed to achieve it.
  4. Attend to the quality of the product.
  5. Innovate by attending to the customer journey.
  6. Take steps to avoid multitasking.
  7. Keep workload well below capacity.
  8. Strive for quick feedback to eliminate waste.
  9. Have an explicit workflow.
Factors for Effective Value Streams

Factors for effective value streams are derived from first principles and enable us to discern how effective our value streams are. They are based on Eli Goldratt’s theory of inherent simplicity that suggests “If we dive deep enough, we’ll find that there are very few elements at the base – the root causes – which through cause-and-effect connections are governing the whole system.” They are framed as questions to ask and can be used to decide between optional practices.  See Amplio books. successengineering.works/books for more

 

  1. Are all levels of critical stakeholders, suitably motivated to cooperate in delivering – successful and sustainable, system values and costs?
  2. Have we identified our key stakeholders, and do we know what success is for them?
  3. Are we working on the most valuable items to achieve success for stakeholders?
  4. Are we building the right product in the right way?
  5. Have we designed and optimized our processes with strategies to minimize waiting?
  6. 6. Are people being overloaded with too much work?
  7. Are we getting actionable feedback at all levels?
  8. Is there a focus on cost-effective continuous improvement of the eco-system, process, and product?
  9. Are we managing the ecosystem and not micro-managing the people?
  10. Is all work in process visible? This includes how it is being done?

The Attitude of an Effective Coach

Being a Visionary

A visionary believes that there is a better way. They think they can take people from where they are to something better. A visionary sees this future even when others don’t. A visionary inspires others to see it as well.

Taking responsibility

Responsibility is not blaming yourself or others. It is your way of being when there are miscommunications or something does not go according to plan. When what a coach has said is not understood, they take responsibility for the lack of communication. They are committed to achieving a better understanding. Instead of blaming others for the miscommunication, they look to see how to be more precise in what they are trying to say. A visionary must take responsibility to avoid getting sidetracked quickly. A visionary with responsibility will keep looking for better ways despite a lack of agreement.

Rational optimism

Knowledge work is complex. There is no claim we can see forward with a crystal ball. Discovering what is needed, responding to surprises by the outside world, and the unpredictability of how people will react to change will always keep us needing to validate how we are being and our actions. But when it comes to moving forward with how we work, we should have an attitude that we don’t have just to run experiments; we can create a model of understanding that we convey to those we’re coaching and leading. We are rationally optimistic about finding a path forward. While we may only see a bit ahead, we are confident we can find where we are going. 

Humility 

Humility is an acknowledgment that everyone has value. We may be experts in one area, but no one is the best at everything. People with humility can still have self-confidence and know they are good at accomplishing things. Humility is not a put down of oneself but more of an uplifting of others. People with humility realize they do not have all the answers and must work with others to achieve them. People with humility can put their egos aside. This is particularly important in recognizing that unless the coach is already an expert in a particular domain, they will have to accept the judgment of those with more expertise in that domain. It also means that if you are leading an Agile Transformation, regardless of your experience, you remain open to other coaches and are willing to acknowledge when their idea is better. Having humility enables a coach to continue to learn and embrace the value of others.

Empathy and compassion. 

Empathy is walking in someone else’s shoes and seeing the world from their perspective. It means understanding their emotional sense of being.  It is critical to all the roles we have specified for a Coach. Empathy facilitates excellent communication. Compassion goes beyond empathy. It takes someone’s concern for the suffering or well-being of others, hearing everything they need to say, and/or taking committed action to alleviate the suffering or promote the well-being of the person in need. This requires authentic kindness and a desire to make a positive difference without disempowering the person you support.

Congruence, integrity, and authenticity.  

Good leaders must “walk their talk.” This means that your words and actions are consistent with each other. Coaches can influence people by modeling behavior. This goes beyond how to do things. It includes your way of being when things get tricky.  This requires integrity – focusing on helping your clients more than easing your ego. It often takes courage. Being authentic means being honest about how things are. In particular, admitting when you don’t know something or are dealing with something. This creates the space for others to be authentic.

Trust is essential in any leadership or coaching relationship. It allows people to share with you what they may not be sharing with their leadership, be mentored by you, and be coached which provides multiple opportunities to impact the system and the individual positively. Congruence means your energy, body language, tone of voice, words, and actions line up consistently and over time in various scenarios. 

Systems thinking

Coaches know that most challenges occur due to the system people are in. The system itself can cause interpersonal and communication issues. A good coach looks at the system first. This perspective gives them empathy. This also has them look for patterns both where they are working and in organizations similar to where they are working. Edwards Deming said that 94% of errors are due to the system. Many have said, “A bad system will beat a good person every time.” It is essential to know that most of the time, the problem is not with the people being coached but with the system they are in. 

Systems thinking shifts our focus to the bigger picture instead of taking the easy way out of blaming people.

In summation

When people have a vision, remain committed to it regardless of what they encounter, are responsible in how they achieve it, believe it can be accomplished, have confidence in themselves, are congruent, and know they must include others, great things are possible. People who take responsibility for their actions do not blame those they are trying to help. Regardless of the circumstances, people who are committed to their vision don’t give up. Finally, congruent people powerfully influence others. This is required to make a positive difference for others.