Part I: The Theory Underneath FLEX

< Introduction to FLEX     ToC     Why We Need an Attitude Adjustment in Agile >

FLEX is first, and foremost, based on the scientific method

Although it’s not usually discussed, frameworks reflect the personality of their creators. Everyone has a particular set of beliefs, thought processes and heuristics that frame how we view things. This causes a bias in how we see things. This ‘cognitive bias’ results in distorted thinking that is hard to overcome. I am well aware that I am not free of these statements any more than any other authors.

The challenge with succumbing to cognitive bias is not so much that the bias may avoid seeing better solutions it’s that it often locks the focus of a framework into a limited perspective. This can have the framework make it harder to find solutions that live outside of its normal range.

While FLEX definitely has a cognitive bias that reflects its author, FLEX is based on the scientific method to overcome it. The scientific method is a combination of empiricism and rationalism. It uses empiricism to support or invalidate hypothesis while using rationalism to enable it to create conjectures (i.e., new hypotheses) about how the world works. This combination is more powerful than empiricism alone while being less risky than relying just on academic reasoning. It mirrors my paraphrase of Edwards Deming’s work – “Theory, without practice is useless. Practice, without theory, is expensive.”

Several Agile methods, particularly Scrum and most of its derivatives, are based on empiricism, which, while simple to explain, misses many opportunities for a deeper understanding of what is happening. This is not to say you can’t apply the scientific method to Scrum, but doing so requires examining its immutable roles, events, artifacts and rules, possibly leading you to move away from Scrum.  Not that that’s necessarily bad, of course.

There are a few significant implications of a framework taking on a scientific approach to itself. These include:

Everything we put forth in FLEX is a hypothesis

To say something is a hypothesis means that it is something we believe to be true but something we also know may be wrong.  The development of software, products and services as well as most project management efforts, are complex and have great variance – even among similar efforts. Attempting to have a perfect approach is a fool’s errand. The best we can hope for is to find practices that are useful in our situation. As George Box once remarked – “All models are wrong, some are useful.” He did not mean we should not have models, but that we had to distrust them and to challenge them. We should not be defending our models – we know part of them is wrong.

Instead of defending our methods, we welcome, even request, dissent

Neil Tyson remarked “the difference between science and religion is religion can’t abide being wrong science seeks to be wrong.” By this he means there is no attachment to the hypotheses put forth. As we attempt to disprove our hypotheses, we improve our understanding of what’s effective whether the hypotheses stand up or thrown down. Too many approaches now border on religion.

There cannot be any immutable aspects to the framework

Immutability implies whatever is immutable is always applicable or that when it isn’t applicable, it’s not the best approach. This doesn’t mean one can’t start with a limited set of practices and state when to go beyond them, but if the framework doesn’t allow going beyond them then we lose the scientific approach in the framework. This has significant implications which will be discussed later in the book (the chapters on using FLEX to enhance and simplify Scrum and SAFe).

The Philosophy of FLEX

By “the philosophy of FLEX” we mean its belief system or mindset. This involves approaches and believe systems which may or may not be able to be disproved by science. For example, FLEX takes the attitude that the overwhelming majority of people are good and, when put in a good system, will achieve good results. This is difficult to prove scientifically, of course. But it is a key part of FLEX.

FLEX embraces the mindsets of Theory of Constraints, Lean and Flow, seeing no inconsistency between these. While these may be focused more on what we do, FLEX also incorporates models of personal and organizational development.

These go well beyond the Agile mindset, or at least how it currently manifests itself. We’ll discuss this in the chapters. In particular, FLEX is not based on how to take Agile and scale it across the organization. It starts with a holistic view of the organization to begin with.

FLEX Takes a Pragmatic Approach

This is really a rephrasing of FLEX taking a scientific approach. Both means to focus on what works. FLEX diverges from other methods in a variety of ways. These are covered in separate chapters of this section: