Are you stuck in a rabbit hole of blinding new methods?

We humans have always been fascinated by new bright and shiny things. Who wants old technology or an old way of working, when we can have new ones? Not many people. That new technologies, most of the times, are better than old ones are obvious. But where is the proof that the new way of working is better than the old one? In fact, it can take many years in organisations, until we see any result of the new way of working, not to mention that we have organisations in many different domains and contexts. And when we talk about proof, let us be scientific which is context independent, and not try to show any evidence by measuring, which is 100% context dependent. And do not forget the Hawthorne effect, stating that any change will always be perceived as positive. To copy is to invite disaster, Deming’s well-known quote, is still valid (even though it is old). So, let us be critical here, about that new way of workings, without scientific proof, should be regarded as better than old ones, with some reflecting questions. A reminder is that new technology always needs to fulfil the science, otherwise it is not new technology per se. Another reminder is that this science that new technology needs to fulfil, is old, it is not new science. This means the same for methods and frameworks, they still need to fulfil the current, and old, fundamental science.

Have you ever thought about why new methods and frameworks often have the VUCA* word (which boil down to uncertainty of what product to develop) as an argument, to claim that the new methods are necessary to get awesome results? If we use our critical thinking and common sense, we should move the focus from the promised awesome results of the new method, to what the argument really means instead. In short that means that in order to claim the validity of a new method, we need to prove that it is solving the root causes, that the old methods apparently did not solve, since it is only the symptoms we see, and we of course also need to look into the whole life-cycle of the product as well. But, since symptoms are insolvable, this makes the VUCA term not only insufficient, but it is also misleading us since it is pointing in the wrong direction, pointing on the problems of today as being unsolvable. But more data, big data or rich data, or any combination of data, will never give the solution to symptoms, they are still insolvable, only the root causes, which we only can reach by asking why on the symptoms, are solvable. See also this blog post about critical thinking and common sense, for more details.

Have you ever thought about why new methods and frameworks look so neat and tidy, as well as systematic, compared to the old ones? If we reflect about this, it means that even if the claim is, that the market has changed to one with higher uncertainty of making the right product, we still are developing a product and we need to develop the product right, which still is a complex context, nothing has changed there.

Have you ever thought about why new methods and frameworks fully discard the old ones, and often also in every aspect? Because, if we use our critical thinking and common sense, we should instead wonder how on earth we could travel to the moon at all with the old methods.

Let us now dig deeper into the questions above and take them on one by one.

Our first question was:
Have you ever thought about why new methods and frameworks often have high uncertainty as an argument, to claim that the new methods are necessary to get awesome results?

The first question to ask ourselves should be if our organisation is affected by high uncertainty at all? Organisations, like those in the public sector, using tax money to develop (more and more by themselves) service products for the people, has no competition like in the private sector, where the uncertainty today often is higher than before regarding what product to develop. This means that these organisations are not affected by this uncertainty in the same way as the private companies that always need to develop the right product that the customers are willingly to pay for, in order to survive. So already now, for a big share of products developed around the world, this uncertainty argument just alone is not enough for changing way of working to a new one, especially without evidence if it will work at all, when scaling up to big organizations with big products. If your organisation is really affected, the second question should be: How is this uncertainty affecting us when we are using our old method? If we have high uncertainty, we need fast feedback loops from the customers, so we know that we are developing the right product, which of course need some changes regarding old methods like traditional waterfall development. But, for all products, old or new, we have inherent complexity in our product, meaning that we need fast feedback loops that we are developing the whole product right. And since we have constructed plenty of products with our old method, we have plenty of examples that this feedback loop seems to work to an acceptable extent, and prototyping is a common way to achieve several feedback loops. The VUCA world argument by itself is therefore not an enough argument to change to a completely new way of working, since the old method already develops the product right as output, i.e., good at eliminating the complexity in a systematic way. Hopefully, also the “everybody else is changing to new fancy methods, so we need to follow them, so we are not left behind” argument, will the not be enough on its own, but probably still cumbersome.

We go to our second question:
Have you ever thought about why new methods and frameworks look so neat and tidy, presented like the highly efficient flow of fast-driving cars on Autobahn in Germany, as well as systematic, compared to the old ones?

If we think about this, it means that even if the market has changed to one with high uncertainty, we still are developing a product where we need to eliminate the inherent complexity. And complexity is never neat and tidy, instead it is always hard to reduce, which is often done in steps, where experimenting can be needed in each step, i.e., we should think in the same way as research. Altogether this can look quite messy and not straightforward. Already here we should be hypervigilant to methods claiming they take care of complexity in each time frame and still look systematic, neat and tidy, with the ability to predict the scope within a given time frame. This because the solution to complexity is not never able to predict, neither in time nor to judge if you even can find a solution.

Once again, if we use our critical thinking and common sense, especially regarding product development that is in the complex context, we realise that we still need to develop a product, even with the new method. And when we are developing a product, we need to eliminate the complexity, meaning some kind of systems design done systematically, recursively and iteratively, even in a fast-changing world. This systems design results in an architecture, level by level, with parts that not only fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, but also systems designed requirements on the respective parts, so they can interact as a united, unified and well-functioning whole. Of course, the systems design also are the starter for all the test activities to be able make a system verification not only on the whole, but also on parts and important flows through our product, where the latter can be verification of certain critical user functions regarding cybersecurity and safety. So, with our old methods for product development, we are already taking care of the complexity, which is still necessary to do, no matter low or high uncertainty. So, if the new method does look neat and tidy as well as systematic, it is doubtful that any organisation should buy it without evidence that the method really is working. This goes especially for agile scaling frameworks, that often copy Scrum, but does the scaling bottom-up, which directly means that the complexity on the whole is never properly reduced. In small scale with a few agile teams that have the responsibility for the whole system, the agile approach can through the possibility of refactoring, revise the systems architecture, achieving an acceptable level, i.e., all due to the low complexity in smaller systems.

And now we have come to our third and last question:
Have you ever thought about why new methods and frameworks fully discard the old ones, and also in every aspect?

A common argument is that the old methods were made before there even was a VUCA world is a valid argument, but as concluded above, it is invalid to argue that this therefore need to discard all old methods in a VUCA world. If we not even reflect on this, we have for sure lost some of our critical thinking and common sense. One way to dig deeper into this is to change the question to what it would mean if the new method took advantage of the strength of the old method in the organisation. This means that a consultant for the new method, need to fully understand the strength of the organisation’s current way of working as well as the weaknesses, that the new method will fix. This is hard work and will take time, but most important of all, there are no clear answers to the management in the first sell meetings. Any consultant firm knows that at these sell meetings, the path to success needs to be shown, and that is too difficult when the organisation’s context needs to be considered. So, presenting a new method claiming its awesome effects, maybe with some counterfactuals, means avoiding the organisation’s actual problems, i.e., the organisation’s context. This is a very common strategy and probably the most successful strategy when someone need to sell a method that is not even proved to be working, and therefore is a very high risk for the organisation. With that said and with the other conclusions above, hopefully the argument that we in our organisation need to have a modern way of working, is by itself, not enough due to the very high risks.

To ask ourselves the question, how on earth could we travel to the moon, is really an important question, to make us more judgmental to a new way of working. The question together with the conclusions above, also raises the question if not a combination of aspects of the old methods that take care of complexity (a unified whole) and aspects of the new methods taking care of uncertainty of what product to develop, is the right way to go.

After this series, a coming series that present methods that are built on organisational principles, will be presented. These principles are context-free (context independent) and therefore need to be fulfilled by any method or framework, meaning the principles always need to be fulfilled, otherwise the method or framework will fail to a certain degree. Which principles that actually are activated, depends on the context, which indirectly means that the fewer principles that are activated, the less complex is the context. It is also then very easy to see in which contexts old or new methods will fail, and why they fail.  More to come.

C u soon.

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