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moses_ma_agile_innovationAgile Innovation: How to Scrum Ideation


I’m very interested in the growth and evolution of the Agile process, and its eventual mainstreaming into types of work beyond writing software. In particular, I’m very interested in the intersection of Agile and innovation. Some critics of the Agile approach say that where scrum begins, innovation ends. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Both Agile and innovation are based on the simple act of learning how to see reality clearly, and on adopting a nimble approach to implementation.

A new book came out last year, Agile Innovation: The Revolutionary Approach to Accelerate Success, Inspire Engagement, and Ignite Creativity, which offers a new approach to innovation – by blending the key aspects of the Agile development process with the tenets of classical innovation methodology. I could joke about it being like chocolate and peanut butter, but this approach deserves serious consideration.

The authors, Langdon Morris, Moses Ma and Po Chi Wu, focus on three critical drivers of innovation success: accelerating the overall process by shifting to self-organizing teams; reducing the inherent risks by empowering teams to intelligently self-optimize to enable scaling the Agile process to transform your entire organization; and finally, to propose that it is possible for these team to self-actualize.

In the first few chapters, the authors explain the necessity for both agility and innovation, and show how this new approach to innovation is an extension and natural evolution of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. And then they describe in detail how it actually works, by transitioning to self-organizing innovation teams to a new fundamental unit of collaboration called the IdeaScrum. It’s a thought-provoking approach to transforming ad hoc ideation teams to use iterative techniques to drive better brainstorming.

The following sections deal with the concept of self-optimizing teams. One of the hardest parts of moving to an Agile model is that when you break up your highly controlled monolithic development project into 50-100 “scrum teams” that are all “self-organized” – how is that different from herding cats? In other words, how do you make Agile scale? The authors discuss the continuing need to manage risk, via portfolio management, in an age when autonomous teams are allowed to “pivot” at will. Their ideas about pivotable portfolios, using methods for ensuring strategic alignment, are thought-provoking.

The final chapters delve into Agile leadership. The authors tap Abraham Maslow’s Theory Z as a map for creating self-actualizing organizations, and many of the concepts proposed in this book dovetail with my own work and theories around emotion waste, happiness metrics, and behavior change. The chapter on Open Innovation offers a truly breathtaking vision of the world as it could be someday, complete with futuristic collaboration technologies like non-binary trust models and the vision of a global innovation smart grid – are nothing short of mind-bending.

The bottom line is that this is a very important book, and makes a strong case for a paradigm shift in the methodology of innovation, based on the Agile approach. This must read book is successful in practicing what it preaches – in not just preaching innovation but by demonstrating innovativeness – and deserves to be read carefully and digested thoroughly.

-- Jeff Sutherland

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