Agile Fluency model and Adjacent Possible

In the agile community, most agile practitioners keep saying: “Hey, you need to have fully self-organized, self-direct agile teams; you should delegate all decisions to teams; they should make all decisions about the market and …” And start to blame leaders. I wondered who should care about readiness and the possibility of a change.

In the agile fluency model, we call this type of team “fluent in Optimizing zone”. Fluent Optimizing teams understand what their market wants, business needs, and how to meet them. Or, as in a startup environment, they know what they need to learn and how to learn it. Optimizing teams have the ability to deliver to the market and also know what to deliver to the market.

It’s a cool idea that your team is in this stage, but this stage is not free, and it depends on huge Organizational Investments, like 1- Dedicate teams 100% to particular products or markets. 2- Incorporate business and subject matter experts as full-time team members (Don’t assume one person will be enough.) 4- Give teams responsibility for their budget, plans, and results; judge them on results, not adherence to plans. 5- Enable and expect managers to work collaboratively across the organization to remove obstacles to team performance. 6- Provide coaching to managers about how high-performance, self-organizing agile teams change the nature of management work.

But the huge investment is not the only problem; sometimes this zone is not an adjacent possible. The main question is, “Is it possible for all teams to unlock or reach this zone? What about the readiness for change?”

What is Adjacent possible?

In his excellent book, “Where Good Ideas Come From”, Steven Johnson wrote: “Four billion years ago, carbon atoms mulled around the primordial soup. But as life began, those atoms did not spontaneously arrange themselves into complex life forms like sunflowers or squirrels.

First, they had to form simpler structures like molecules, polymers, proteins, cells, primitive organisms, etc. Each step along the way opened up possibilities for new combinations, expanding the realm of what was possible until, finally, a carbon atom could reside in a sunflower.

Great leaps beyond the adjacent possible are rare and doomed to be short-term failures. The environment is not ready for them yet. Had YouTube been launched in the 1990s, it would have flopped since neither the fast internet connections nor the software required to view videos was available then.”

If your environment is not ready for a new idea, you can not transform; evolution tends to happen within the bounds of the adjacent possible, in other words, the realm of possibilities available at any given moment.

The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself…the adjacent possible captures both the limits and the creative potential of change and innovation.

Steven Johnson

For most companies, Fluent Optimizing teams are not an adjacent possible; it’s not a shadow future for the present context. The idea is not coherent with the current belief system and structures. Political forces or informal networks make it difficult to think about these changes. Possibilities are limited based on our current state. Still, Each step along the way opened up possibilities for new combinations, expanding the realm of what was possible until, finally, a team could be fluent in optimizing zone.

The main idea here is, don’t over-focus just on optimizing teams when it’s not adjacent possible, Don’t just blame leadership or managers, and Don’t waste your energy on fighting against system tendency. Sometimes current belief system is not coherent with optimizing zone and focuses on lower zones; based on my experience, Focusing is an adjacent possibility for many companies; it opens new doors and enables you to discover a new way of working. Upon opening this door, you’ve unlocked new possibilities. Each improvement unlocks even more improvements.

Don’t hesitate to share your idea with me :)


Asad Safari

Originally published at on May 9, 2021.



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