Agile Feng Shui for Government Innovation

Feng Shui for Creating a Culture of Innovation in the Government

[Guest Post: Paul Boos serves as the software maintenance lead for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP).  His team currently uses Kanban and Scrum to maintain the OPP legacy code base.  Prior to that he implemented Scrum as the Branch Chief for the National Development Branch within USDA/Rural Development. Follow him on twitter: @paul_boos]

This presentation, based on one I will give for the upcoming Agile DC conference, explores how creating a culture of innovation, in particular for a Government organization, needs to follow some of the principles of Feng ShuiJust like you use Feng Shui to create positive energy in a home, we’ll use Feng Shui to address how to create positive energy in an organizational culture.

When you look at the text book definitions of Feng Shui, Culture, and Innovation you find that what we are after is a “system” of inherited ideas, beliefs, and values that lead to organization that continually make change.

Essentially we want to create an order to grow ideas.

In Government organizations, we have some limitations that other organizations don’t have (or have as many of them); things like statutory requirements, Federal policies, budgets that are more constraining in how we make investments (not necessarily size, but how they get planned and implemented), and of course the fact that we are there to maintain the public trust.  All of this is basically designed to ensure we do what is right.  What we must realize though is that we should cautiously add further limitations as they inhibit our ability to innovate (i.e. make changes).

So to sum up the goal of this presentation, we’re going to go over some concepts to help people grow a culture of innovation.  But before we dive into it, let’s rhetorically ask the question of “Why doesn’t the Government innovate?”  As we look at putting our Feng Shui in place to establish positive energy, keep in mind the inhibitors you see that prevent it.  I believe you will be able to understand what you need to do to help yourself do this.

[See the presentation below]:

Feng Shui of Government Innovation

Over the next couple of months, I hope to explore each of these Feng Shui items in detail as its own blog post.  To give you an idea of where are heading to get to our enlightenment, we are going to start at the bottom of the stairs and explore the characteristics we need to grow in our people, the principles our teams need to learn, and the elements we must develop in our organizations in order to produce the two types of innovation we want to occur that are aligned to the organizational vision.  And if that wasn’t a run-on sentence, then I have no idea what is…

You’ve probably heard it said, that people are your best asset; this is true, especially for Government organizations.  The Government produces services or products that are generally information based if they are for direct public consumption.  (Even organizations like NASA who develop spacecraft are essentially doing it to gain information or knowledge about the universe for use.)  They could also be monetary in nature, whether it is funds for that next bridge improvement or a loan or grant to develop better integrated pest management for crops.  Lastly, they could be in the form of insurance; our men and women of the Armed Services and criminal justice arm are there to provide protection to our lives and livelihoods. Because of this importance of people, we’ll begin our exploration around 5 persona characteristics we need to grow; learning, unlearning, experimenting, making commitments, and maintaining one’s passion are these 5 characteristics.

In Feng Shui, the number 5 has a specific meaning; it characterizes change, resourcefulness, and adventure.  Take away one of these characteristics and you are much less likely to get innovation, because your people will be ill-equipped.

From there, we know that people work in teams (sometimes in the Government called branches, divisions, work groups, or some other nebulous title that hides the fact it is a team).  There are 4 values that should be nurtured in the team: the importance of People and Interactions, rapid production of a Working Product that has Value to the organization, Customer Collaboration, and Welcoming Change.  Most folks in the Agile world will notice these are the same values present in the Agile Manifesto (slightly reworded to generalize them more and dropping the comparisons).

In Feng Shui, the number 4 encompasses the meaning of stability, grounding, and security.  I personally think that this is because when undergoing change the idea of working closely with your customer as a single team, you gain stability though shared experiences.

For people and the teams on which they participate, there are 3 seeds a group must grow to ensure innovation occurs.  These are Servant Leadership, increased Authority and Responsibility of the people and teams within the organization, and ensuring that cross-functional structures are embedded within the organization (either at the team level or the higher).

These 3 elements provide creativity, a sense of family and encourage self-expression in Feng Shui.  It should be noted that putting people with different skillsets will bring about creativity and bringing people closer together will bring about a sense of family.  This organizational creativity will also manifest itself into an entrepreneurial spirit within the individuals as well and tap into a person’s self-expression.

Once you do this, you will begin to see innovation.  Innovation is of two types: Kaizen, or continual change/improvements, and Kaikaku, or disruptive change.  Kaizen will help incrementally increase the effectiveness f a current product or service.   Kaikaku will bring about new products or services. Tthe organization needs to be open to both types; if it shuts any of these down without rational, collaborative discussion, it will eliminate the commitment and passion of individuals.  Without this being harnessed, the teams won’t work.  Without working teams, the organization will fail.

The number 2 in Feng Shui carries the meaning of balance, choice, and, cooperation.  You have a choice of the type of innovation to pursue and these should be used in a cooperative fashion.

But how do we ensure the organization can discuss and adopt these innovations rationally?  It is done in the context of the organization’s vision.  This should be a single clear goal the organization is trying to reach. This will ensure innovations will be aligned to the organization and will ensure discussions are objective when assessing the changes to make.

The Feng Shui of 1 is that of unobstructed flow of energy and new beginnings.  Close your eyes a second and feel the energy… Visualize the flow!  There are two types of flow you have actually, one is the flow of your vision, which is the organization’s value stream and the other is the flow of what we are discussing here, innovation.

This flow is represented by a portfolio roadmap which is innovation projects in work.  By visualizing these, you can make assessments on the changes that will be made as well as see progress of items within them.

Putting all these together and doing some quick math, you wind up with 15 items we have covered; for the Feng Shui purist, you generally turn the digits into a sequential addition.  1+ 5 = 6 and the Feng Shui for the number six is calm or patience.  So by having all of these items in mind, an organization can maintain its calm operations as it constantly innovates.  Miss any and it probably won’t feel that calm and innovation will fail to grow.

How do we know what innovations we would want to try?  Well we have our vision which is the way forward, but we also need to understand our opportunities for improvement, which is why we want to innovate.  We gain understanding on this by retrospecting on our past.  This brings the past and future together and the Feng Shui of balance, choice, and cooperation.  Balance in how we approach problems, choice in what paths we take, and cooperation in realizing these choices.

Adding the 2 to the 6 we had earlier yields us 8; the Feng Shui of 8 is infinity, abundance, and success in business, which for us ‘Govvie’ types is success with our organizational’s mission. Missing any of the previous items including regularly reflecting will feel like missing the stones in a stone path across a river; it will make your journey across more difficult.

In the upcoming weeks, I will cover these items in more detail and hopefully by the end, you will be able to Sow, Grow, and Harvest innovation.


12 Responses to “Agile Feng Shui for Government Innovation”

  1. Tommy Ball
    July 6, 2011 at 6:04 pm #

    I wonder is Agile could help with the NFL’s lockout? I don’t even like the Falcons and am excited to watch Hoolio Jones play in the GA Dome on Sundays!

    • peter
      July 6, 2011 at 6:44 pm #

      Not sure how that … relates to Agile Feng Shui … :0)

  2. Paul Boos
    July 7, 2011 at 7:30 am #

    Yeah, NFL players locked out… sounds like a #fail on #fengshui ;-)

  3. Sachin Kundu
    July 10, 2011 at 4:55 am #

    Ah this is interesting viepoint. I like connections between disparate things. Reminds us that nature has a simple scheme of things repeated all over. Excellent post

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