E29: Interview: Trond Hjorteland on a radical approach to organizational transformation

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Open Systems Theory (OST) is an approach to organizational transformation that dates back to the late 1940s. It's been applied a fair amount, but hasn't gotten much mindshare in the software world. It has similarities to Agile, but leans into self-organization in a much more thoroughgoing way.

For example, in an OST organization, 
  • teams aren't given a product backlog, they create it themselves.
  • if a team decides they need to slow the pace of delivery to learn new things or to spend more time refactoring, their decision is final.
  • pay is based on skills, not productivity, so as to encourage multi-skilled people.
  • team work is organized so that there are career paths within the team, rather than advancement depending on leaving a team and rising up in a hierarchy.
OST is even more radical at the levels above the team. Unlike scaled-agile approaches like SAFe or LeSS, OST changes the jobs of the people higher in the org chart just as much – or more? – than people at the leaves of the tree. Specifically, the shift is from order-giving to coordination at different timescales. Individual "leaf" teams are responsible for the short term, the next level up is responsible for the medium term and external partners, and the CxO levels focus on the long term.

This episode is an interview with Trond Hjorteland, who – after experience with Agile – did an impressively deep dive into OST.

As noted in the podcast, there's not much accessible documentation about OST. However, Trond and his merry band of (mostly) Agilists have begun work on a new site. Trond has also written "Thriving with complexity using open sociotechnical systems design", originally published in InfoQ.

Trond's blog.
Trond is on Mastodon at @trondhjort.

Image credit
The image is from the cover of the Marvel Comics graphic novel Captain Marvel, Vol. 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More.
E29: Interview: Trond Hjorteland on a radical approach to organizational transformation
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