Using Sociocracy 3.0 to Scale Lean and Agile

Molood Noori

Are you trying to use agile with many teams across several locations/countries? Agile Coach Molood Noori have used Sociocracy 3.0 to successfully adress this situation. Check out the interview below with her by ProAgile's Henrik Berglund.

ProAgile: Hello Molod! Really looking forward to be talking about some interesting experience you have with Sociocracy 3.0 and scaling agile.

Molood: Hi. It’s nice to be here and have the opportunity to share my experience regarding Sociocracy 3.0 in a distributed organization.

ProAgile: Before we get into that, could you just tell us a few things about who you are and what you do?

Molood: Sure. My name is Molood Noori. I’ve been practicing agile coaching for a few years now. I’m a big advocate of remote work and geographically distributed teams in the agile world. I believe that remote work is the future of work.

I help people in agile organizations to re-think and re-shape their governance structure in a way that would enable them to gain more freedom, become happier and hence more productive.

ProAgile: So, you recently coached on organization as they applied Sociocracy 3.0. From your point of view, what was interesting about this experience?

Molood: My last project was with King. They have offices in over 10 countries.

This is where I used Sociocracy 3.0 to help one department change their structure to scale in a sustainable way.

I’m gonna give you three insights that I gained through that experience.

  • While Sociocracy 3.0 can seem like a heavy framework at first, it feels like common sense after you start putting it in practice. I’ve seen it happen not only with product owners and developers, but also with managers as well.
  • Despite the threatening appearance of the idea of collaborative governance - as suggested by Sociocracy 3.0 - for people in leadership positions, they were indeed the ones that benefited the most from an S3 way of working. In my experience, a big load of work got lifted off of the leaders’ shoulders and they could focus on high impact work that really mattered.
  • I learned an important lesson as the facilitator of the self re-organization workshop using S3: do not get stuck in planning, execute the plan immediately after it’s good enough for now and safe enough to try. Then observe the impact and re-iterate to refine and improve the plan based on the feedback you receive in action.

ProAgile: That sounds great! So, what where some of the challenges that triggered this work?

Molood: There were quite a few challenges that triggered this work.

  • A fundamental problem was a lack of vision or what I call having multiple visions for the product.
  • The developers had too much work all the time. New customers meant new feature requests and more time spent on supporting the internal customers i.e. game developers and game artists. A few people had multiple responsibilities that were sometimes competing with one another which was causing conflict of interests.
  • The development teams were located in different countries and verbal conversations about design decisions or working agreements or any other decision that required consensus was time consuming and frustrating. Some decisions were dependent on the input of people with the required authority but not necessarily the needed knowledge to make those decisions.

All of these challenges affected the pace of development, the quality of the product and clearly the overall motivation of people who were creating a product that was used over one billion times every day.

I chose S3 to improve the situation.

ProAgile: Could you give an example on how S3 helped you work on these challenges?

Molood: It’s rather difficult to be specific answering this question, because S3 has made an impact on the overall structure and way of working of the organization.

Let people grow to take responsibility

Actually, before I even knew about S3, I had a mentality that was totally compatible with S3. From the very beginning of my coaching journey, I questioned the value of meetings. I therefore made attendance to all meetings optional. This suggestion helped the organizations to identify the meetings that were not adding value so they could remove or improve them.

What S3 promotes is that decisions should be made by people who are affected by the decision. With S3, decision making became so much easier for all roles in the organization. On top of that, people grew to take responsibility 

Handling multiple visions

For example for the challenge of having multiple visions, (which people often call lack of a product vision), I facilitated a few meetings/workshops with the product owners, architects and developers. In these workshops, they visualized their unique take of the product vision and roadmap and I designed a few steps in the workshop for them to combine those into one unified roadmap and vision using consent decision making promoted by S3.

This way of creating the roadmap and making decisions about adding features and improvements as time went by, became the foundation of a smooth scaling of this organization.

Making it easy to bring in new people

Another example for how S3 improved the way of working was helping the distributed teams to collaborate together.

Bringing new people onboard the organization became really easy as the organizational structure as well as agreements and processes were documented, visualized and always up-to-date. Roles and responsibilities became clearer, knowledge sharing became an innate part of the DNA of this organization; and the most important of all is that productivity and code-quality got improved as people took responsibility much more easily. 

The organization adapts to current needs

Also the organization became more dynamic as the need of the product became the defining factor for the organizational structure rather than some random governance group’s thoughts and decisions.

ProAgile: A lot of people are looking at frameworks like SAFe, LeSS and Nexus for scaling their organizations. How do you think that approach compare to this experience?

Molood: S3 is a not a replacement for any of those scaling frameworks. It’s a complementary framework that makes it easier to adopt those.

S3 allows organizations to sustainably scale

The S3 techniques for decision making and communication allow organizations to sustainably scale using any of the scaling frameworks you mentioned.

Let your needs drive your use of frameworks

However, in some cases it might seem counter intuitive to have a collaborative governance side-by-side a hierarchical management structure. What is important to remember is that S3 and SAFe (or LESS or Nexus) are frameworks and that means they are not prescriptions. Therefore organizations should pick from them what works for their specific needs.

Get more value from frameworks using botttom-up intelligence

I think if an organization understands the principles of collaborative governance using S3, they would have an easier time with scaling frameworks such as SAFe. S3 potentially enables everyone in the organization to directly impact the decisions that affect them.

ProAgile: So, if people want to learn more about this experience, I know there is an opportunity to hear you speak about it.

Molood: Yes. I will be speaking at the Agile People Sweden Conference on October 25th.  There I will share more details about how I facilitated the transition to S3 for a distributed organization. I will share about the challenges and also what I learned from the experience.

ProAgile: And for those that want to learn more about S3, we have james Priest and Liliana David coming in to do a Sociocracy 3.0 course in Gothenburg on October 27-29. You know them right?

Molood: Yes of course. Having used S3 to this extent, it’s not easy not to know James and Lilli. They are the biggest promoters of S3. They go to different countries to teach it. I owe the majority of my learning about Sociocracy 3.0 to James and Lilli. They have come to Sweden a few times to offer a course in S3 and I saw on your website that they will be in ProAgile soon for the same course. I think it's fantastic. More people need to learn about S3!

ProAgile: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us Molood. I think it will be quite interesting to see what can be done once these patterns start to spread to more organizations!

Molood: Thank you for having me!

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september 16, 2016


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