Thursday, April 26, 2012

First Principles

Holacracy exposed to me a number of first principles that I never noticed before. Once my eyes were opened, I see them everywhere. That is why I call them first principles as they seem universal.

One, I will talk about in this post, I will call "reduction." Reduction to me says that if you break up a job or task or project into very small next steps (you only need to identify these as you go, another first principle under dynamic steering) it is easy to get started and easy to maintain momentum towards completion of the larger project. The smaller the step, the easier it is to attack it.

We see this in nature when a very small stream of water can cut a huge boulder in half by removing a single grain of sand at a time.

There is a saying that "a journey of a thousand mile begins with one step." If you look at the thousand miles it is so overwhelming that you cannot even begin. But one step is easy. Then the next step is easy. And so on. With each step you will see something new an interesting that you would have missed if you only concentrated on the whole journey.

In my job, computer programming, we used to plan out an entire project in fine detail, in very specific order, creating very complex charts to find critical paths, etc. This made it very difficult to get started, it was difficult to do and manage, people always took short cuts and it usually fell apart with much suffering by everyone involved. Agile software development applies the reduction principle, making software development much more productive and efficient, easier to start seeing results and remove most of the unnecessary suffering that we used to experience. Agile makes it easier to adjust to changing requirements, which almost always happens as projects take many months or years and reality is a moving target.

Holacracy expresses this principal explicitly by saying: "find the smallest next step and deliver it fast, see what you learn from that and repeat." Agile focuses this reduction principle into practices specific to developing software: pair programming, test driven development, refactoring, time box planning, etc.  Holacracy expands the reduction principle to more general organization practices: meeting structure/purpose, integrative decision making, power distribution, organization structure/restructuring, etc.

Given the dynamic nature of Agile it is often at odds with traditional predict and control organizations.  Grown from some of the same first principles, Agile fits well within a Holacracy organization. Agile provides specific software development practices that seem to be activity specific specializations of the same more general principles that for the foundation of Holacracy.

Every day I see more examples of the reduction principle.  Once I started seeing them and realized the value in this first principle, I started actively looking for them. My life has become much richer from this change in perspective.  Try to see these things and see how it works for you.