leanpizza.net - tasty Agile… one slice at a time – by Olivier Lafontan

Large Organisations

October 21, 2010

A Metabolism analogy, or where coaching acts as enzymes.

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From wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metabolism)

Metabolism is the set of chemical reactions that happen in living organisms to maintain life. These processes allow organisms to grow and reproduce, maintain their structures, and respond to their environments. Metabolism is usually divided into two categories.

Catabolism breaks down organic matter, for example to harvest energy in cellular respiration.

Anabolism uses energy to construct components of cells such as proteins and nucleic acids.

The chemical reactions of metabolism are organized into metabolic pathways, in which one chemical is transformed through a series of steps into another chemical, by a sequence of enzymes. Enzymes are crucial to metabolism because they allow organisms to drive desirable reactions that require energy and will not occur by themselves, by coupling them to spontaneous reactions that release energy.

As enzymes act as catalysts they allow these reactions to proceed quickly and efficiently. Enzymes also allow the regulation of metabolic pathways in response to changes in the cell’s environment or signals from other cells.”

Seeing companies as living organism is not new, and many things that happen in corporate life can be compared to what happens within some organisms, or indeed species (evolution, extinction).

As far as the metabolism analogy is concerned, organisations need to go through exactly the same process of “breaking down” complex inputs (catabolism) into smaller components that in turn are used to “build” larger and more complex forms of outputs (anabolism): taking a Vision and Strategy and breaking them down into smaller forms of plan (Financial, Operational, HR, Marketing, IT…), breaking these down into even smaller achievable chunks, some of them requiring projects to be delivered, then breaking down these projects into smaller deliverables and requirements, each requirements understood at the level of their respective Acceptance Criteria. That’s the catabolism part done.

The anabolism process can then start, with a good understanding of tasks that need to be performed to deliver the small chunks of requirements. The energy needed is assessed, the burn down of this energy is planned, monitored and replanned. The release of larger valuable elements are also planned and motivate the order of the build (Releases on the Release plan). Simple tasks take place, building and testing the integrity of what is being built and delivered back to the system. Each building step is checked against the level of non-negotiable quality, every part is continuously integrated with the rest, and finally, from complexity – the business need, arises a different type of complexity – the solution.

As you can see, this described the process: this entry is not really about the process, it is more about what makes the process happen. In the case of a metabolism, what makes this possible is enzymes. In the case of a company, what makes a process work is people, the right people.

To companies out there, transitioning to Agile is not just about embracing the “process”, it is also about ensuring you get the right enzymes, the right catalysts in at the right time: getting coaches that can act at the different levels of complexity (from Strategy down to building the product) will be required.

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