Monday, July 11, 2016

A Brief History of the Learning Consortium

The Scrum Alliance has had a bumpy two months, with a total of 4 out of 10 directors resigning and 2 new directors coming on board -- with specialties in Corporate Governance and Ethics(!). Some of the discussions have centered around the Learning Consortium, and apparently ethics and governance are hot topics as well. To help people understand what the Learning Consortium is about, I have attempted to summarize the goals, purpose, history and probable future of the Learning Consortium.

I have known Steve Denning since he started looking for reviewers for what became 'The Leaders Guide to Radical Management'. I attended his Radical Management Gathering in Washington, DC back in 2011, and he and I were among the hosts of the Stoos Gathering in 2012. if there is a common theme to these events, it was about building bridges across compatible schools of thought.

The Story of the Learning Consortium

In 2014, Steve -- by then a director at the Scrum Alliance -- was arguing that to transform the world of work, it was necessary to transform the organizations where people work. He wanted to reach the business schools and thought leaders, to get Agility on their radar screens. In November, he launched the idea of the Learning Consortium (LC):
"'We have arrived at a turning point,' says the launch abstract of the Global Peter Drucker Forum 2014. “Either the world will embark on a route towards long-term growth and prosperity, or we will manage our way to economic decline.... While there is a broad consensus emerging on the direction of change, there is less reliable information on the 'how' of making these shifts. What are the opportunities? What are the constraints? How much change is actually happening on the ground? What are the benefits? What are the costs? What are the risks? The Learning Consortium is designed to shed light on these questions."

-- November, 2014 draft of the call for participation Exploring A Learning Consortium For The Creative Economy
The idea was to identify companies that were systematically facing the challenges that Scrum helps them address, document their cases, and publish the results.

The leadership was provided by the Scrum Alliance, and the three principal organizers were:
  • Steve Denning, a board member of Scrum Alliance
  • Jay Goldstein, Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University,
  • Michael Pacanowsky, holder of the Gore-Giovale Chair in Business Innovation at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah
I attempted to recruit some Swiss companies to participate. I did not succeed for reasons that have more to do with local market than the Learning Consortium itself, so my direct involvement was limited to the beginnings. I have however talked to Steve Denning and Jay Goldstein about the progress of the Learning Consortium from time to time over the last year and half or so.

My recollection is that the Scrum Alliance Trainers and Coaches ("TCC") Community did not react strongly to the LC initiative. Perhaps 10% or 20% participated in the webinar. So the LC got started as a board-level initiative without much support (nor AFAIK much resistance) from the TCC Community at the time.

The LC started building the bridge between Agile management and classical management - One aspect was the Scrum Alliance LC webinar series. Quite a number of thought leaders appeared, including Gary Hamel, John Hagel, Rod Collins, Roger Martin and Curt Carlson, as well as CSTs like Joe Justice, Simon Roberts and myself. (Man am I honored to be on the same page with these people!) The series was quite popular: iirc about 4000 people signed up for the webinar I participated in.

The Learning Consortium also created a group of companies, whose purpose was to share knowledge at the leadership level among companies who were facing the challenges of the Creative Economy. These companies included:
  • agile42
  • Brillio
  • C.H. Robinson International
  • Ericsson
  • Magna International
  • Menlo Innovations
  • Microsoft
  • Riot Games
  • SolutionsIQ
They organized a series of site visits so they could learn from each other. After a year, they held a members-only conference to share results. Due to the sensitive nature of the information they were sharing, they made working agreements about what to share and how to communicate that information beyond the LC. Out of this conference, the principals wrote the concluding paper.

The concluding paper was presented in November, 2015 to the annual Drucker Forum, while the Scrum Alliance was a sponsor of that event. Imagine, the thought leaders of management thinking listen to how Agile was being used to successfully master the challenges of the 21st century! AFAIK this is the first time Agile has been on the radar screen of the thought leaders of management.

BTW - If you haven't read the report, I recommend it. You can download it from the Scrum Alliance (officially) or without going through their registration wall. The paper is "Presented by ScrumAlliance", authored by Steve Denning and two others. It is licensed under the Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share-Alike license. The essential message is that Agility is a mindset. Just applying the tools and processes is not sufficient to give you the results you are looking for.

What is planned?

My understanding is that the company visits were very well liked by the participants. The NPS scores were very high and the participants decided to continue. The members have founded a new non-profit organization. The Scrum Alliance is a founding member, is making a significant financial contribution and is represented on the board.

The new LC will participate in the 2016 Drucker Forum (scroll down to "Large-scale Organizational Transformations Enabling Rapid Business Innovation"). Executives from Learning Consortium members will join Steve Denning and management guru Gary Hamel to discuss innovative management practices. (Note how they avoid the "A-word" -- this is speaking the language of business leaders).

My analysis of the situation

I don't understand why the Learning Consortium is controversial. The alignment with the Scrum Alliance mission is clear. Surely the Scrum Alliance board has approved this every step of the way, especially given that the Scrum Alliance is a dues-paying member of the new LC and has seats on its board.

The Learning Consortium was and continues to be non-profit. AFAIK Steve Denning has worked and continues to work on a pro-bono basis, i.e. without any financial compensation other than reimbursement of travel expenses. Rumors of people using this to launch their consulting practice seem unfounded.

The mission of the Scrum Alliance is to "transform the world of work." This transformation is first and foremost a change in mindset, not just introducing a set of processes and tools. To be effective and sustainable, the leadership of an organization must adopt the mindset. The Learning Consortium has a plan and a vision for taking that message to the top leaders of business, via the schools and thought leaders who influence that leadership.

I hope the Scrum Alliance and its former board members will resolve their differences quickly, without a long, messy and expensive divorce. The Scrum Alliance is doing great things for the transformation. The Learning Consortium is doing great things for the transformation. Any differences between the people in these organizations should not detract from the more important mission of Transforming the World of Work.


Update: 11.Jul.2016: Added Ericsson, which I had somehow not included. Thanks Erik Schön!

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