By Doug Knesek, Flexion
At Flexion, we are committed to delivering excellence daily to every client. Our high-quality standards and commitment to Agile methodology, with its inherent expectation that continuous improvement occurs from one sprint to the next, demand nothing less.
A few years ago, this commitment inspired senior leadership to explore how we could add even more value to the delivery of client services. We agreed to look at one aspect of our service delivery crucial to organizational evolution: how can we improve the efficacy of our teams?
We pursued this goal by delving into three areas:
- Current literature about decision-making under uncertainty
- Flexion’s hiring practices
- The value of defining our operating principles
Why look at uncertainty theory? Controversial risk analyst Nassim Nicholas Taleb inspired this path. He has written many books dealing with uncertainty from the stock trader’s perspective. We were curious about what his theories might contribute to our quest.
In his book Antifragile, Taleb discusses the importance of seeking multiple options in complex situations to reduce risk and fragility–precisely what evolved organizations do continuously. Taleb thinks it is impossible, even reckless, to predict the future. Instead, he advises that we should reduce our exposure to uncertainty to succeed.
This practice requires creating multiple possibilities or options for success. Philosophically, Agile methods, which we rely on, support the creation and retention of options during any project. Whatever ideas we eventually settled on had to pass the “increases optionality” test.
Flexion’s hiring practices
In the past, Flexion focused on hiring for technical talent—which we expressed through the concept of technical athleticism (as an indication of on-the-job versatility).
During our exploration, we noticed that Flexioneers fell into two groups: those with Agile and those with Waterfall tendencies. Agile practices assume unpredictability and achieve efficiency by keeping options open. However, Waterfall practices assume predictability and achieve efficiency through careful planning and execution.
Based on our commitment to Agile practices, it made sense to focus on attracting option-aware people. But what was the best way to do this?
The value of defining our operating principles
Many major players in the industry have a unique set of leadership principles by which they operate. Flexion’s senior leadership team reasoned that by stating our philosophical touchpoints, hiring people whose values aligned with our thinking would be more straightforward. Then, we could all pull more productively in the same direction. It was with this goal in mind that we developed the Flexion Fundamentals.
Once we achieved consensus on our collection of operating principles, we shared them with job applicants. It was like we were saying: “This is us. If you like this, you are the right person for Flexion.” We observed that some job candidates resonated well with these fundamentals, while others seemed less enthusiastic and often opted out.
These fundamentals now drive how we shape our organization and guide us as we evolve our training and management practices. For example, in keeping with several of our fundamentals, we established Flexcerate Thursdays. During this time, we learn and share across teams by participating in different presentations and guild meetings (a.k.a. communities of practice).
The willingness of leadership and staff to participate at this level is an active demonstration of our company-wide commitment to these core values. Since instituting these practices, we have observed that team effectiveness and productivity have shown steady improvement across the company.
These benefits resulted from Flexion’s determination to evolve steadily and consistently to achieve more for our clients. We started out looking for one way to do this and ended up with twelve ways. Explore our Flexion Fundamentals.
Next installment: The story behind Flexion Fundamental 1. Embrace diversity.
Next up, we’ll dig into our first fundamental and demonstrate how it relates to our core value of maintaining options and optionality.
For the past six years, Doug Knesek has supported Flexion as an agile coach and delivery leader. Over the past thirty years, he has worn nearly all technical and project management hats in the custom applications development domain. Over the last decade, Doug has used his experience to apply the concepts of agility and self-organization to organizational design and evolution.