At Clear Systems we embrace core Agile principles of communication, collaboration, iteration, inspection and adaptation, transparency and trust. We also apply Lean principles of monitoring flow of work-in-process and elimination of waste.

We apply these practices in our internal operations and our models of client engagement. We operate off prioritized backlogs of work. We empower, collaborate and iterate, and we measure and provide transparency with regard to our work. And we regularly reflect, both internally and with our clients, and continuously improve.

But there are some key aspects inherent in being Agile that can get less attention in the rush to empower and avoid being prescriptive. Among these are purpose, competence and discipline. The beauty is that the various agile practices can actually help foster these, but they do not automatically bring them into being. There is a definite place for these – in establishing organizational structure, building agile at scale, and in succeeding with Agile at any level. We are rigorous in achieving and continually improving on clarity of purpose, structure, measurement and the skills to function within them, both internally and with our service delivery.

All of these values and principles are extremely fundamental and essential, but perhaps no characteristic is a better indicator of organizational health and potential for agility than communication, as evidenced in a team or an organization’s information flow.

As Westrum put it:
“Information flow reflects culture… Cooperation and information flow both respond to trust.”

R. Westrum, The Study of Information Flow: A Personal Journey

A primary focus for us then organizationally, with clients, and in facilitating any improvement, is the establishment of effective information flow. It is what measures, dashboards, information radiators are all facilitating. And it, in turn, is what facilitates and is the “canary in the coal mine” with regard to collaboration and trust.

Westrum characterized cultures in this way:

Characteristics of Cultures

Pathological Power oriented Bureaucratic Rule oriented Generative Performance oriented
Low cooperationModest cooperationHigh cooperation
Messengers shotMessengers neglectedMessengers trained
Responsibilities shirkedNarrow responsibilitiesRisks are shared
Bridging discouragedBridging toleratedBridging encouraged
Failure leads to scapegoatingFailure leads to justiceFailure leads to inquiry
Novelty crushedNovelty leads to problemsNovelty implemented