Why Do Engineers Like BOSSA Nova?

This article is the second in a series looking ING, Ericsson, Spotify, Statoil, Titansoft (of Singapore), Walmart, and BOSSA nova. “BOSSA,” a synthesis of Beyond Budgeting, Open Space, Sociocracy, and Agile, provides an overall framework that can guide probes and experiments for implementing company-wide nimbleness and agility.

Hendrik Esser of Ericsson contributed to the new book about BOSSA nova called Company-wide Agility with Beyond Budgeting, Open Space, & Sociocracy.  He reports about Ericsson’s ongoing program of experimentation that drives their product development. The 140-year old Swedish electronic systems engineering company holds more than 40,000 patents and employs about 100,000 people operating in 180 countries.

Hendrik worked in the leadership team of a 2000 person international division that started early agile adoption in 2006 and went full-bore in 2010.  Using a mixture of Scrum-of-Scrum and a homemade portfolio management process to manage our complete product development, their core strategy was to decentralize decision making and truly embrace change. While Scrum and Scrum-of-Scrum were relatively easy to adopt, the Portfolio Management process was a challenge.

“It started with a workshop into which I called all stakeholders of Product Development: Product Management, Product Development, Test, System Design, Deployment. In that workshop we went straight to the main issue we had at that time: all our releases were significantly delayed. Through an intensive debate we found two core problems: Product Management could not predict what customers would need in the future, and  Product Development could not predict precisely how much effort would be required to develop a feature before feature development started. Based on this insight, we created a process that uses ranges for estimates of cost and time. These ranges are an expression of our uncertainty at a certain point in time. We agreed that using ranges is a good way to communicate the current best knowledge.”

This pattern of group reflection followed by tryouts is core to their development process.

“When implementing this approach, we of course faced some adoption issues as several people who had not been part of the workshop did not understand the idea behind the ranges. But as a communication tool the ranges idea is meant to stir up discussions (“What do you mean: the delivery is between August and November? The customer needs it in July!”). The new approach gently directed us into the mindset shift we wanted. That shift took us in total about a year and a half.”

They then conducted a retrospective on why their transformation was successful “…because in retrospectives, it is good to not only focus on why something didn’t work out, but also why something worked!” Their reflections led them to further investigation into experimentation methods and they found Human System Dynamics (HSD), VUCA and Complexity Management including the Cynefin Framework and the related experimentation approach – all of which are included in the BOSSA nova framework.

They also realized in their retrospective that focusing on communication and continuous retrospectives at the leadership/organizational level are key ingredients for driving change. Formulate change experiments (knowing that there will be always side-effects) and monitor whether they lead to the desired outcome via retrospectives. They have since then started many more such initiatives.

Their recent experimentation has made them realize that to unleash the full potential of the people in Ericsson, they need autonomy to take own decisions and drive things forward. But how to avoid chaos if there is not sufficient alignment? They carefully avoided developing policies meant to drive alignment! Instead they have developed a Community of Practice structure. These communities are cross-organizational and fully empowered to take decisions within their area and manage alignment in a dynamic way.