Self-Organization Eats Agile at Scale for Breakfast
Ron Quartel

In 2016 my department, located within a highly traditional health insurance company, decided to try something very unconventional: An experiment of Agile scaling in a way no one had done before. We threw the work on a wall and let a tribe of 50ish people self-organize into teams. And we repeated this exercise every two days! The system revealed there were many agile “best practices” that we were accustomed to, that were no longer useful in this environment. For almost two years we continued to evolve, and it worked extremely well. The project continued until some key environmental factors changed, ultimately killing the experiment. This paper outlines what we tried, what we learned, and what I would recommend to others, should they be interested in doing something similar.

Learning Objectives
Most of what I learned was around what makes self-organization possible and what stands in its way. It was a massive growth in my understanding of organizational patterns, group dynamics, the impact corporate culture has on self-organization, and, human nature.

On the people and side:
- the reactions of the masses when you pioneer
- the surprise to find that not everyone is ready for autonomy
- the dark side of self-organization (shadow hierarchy)
- the fuzzy line between self-organization and self-management
- unlearning and relearning agile

On the tools/techniques/process side:
- dynamic reteaming: stable teams aren’t necessary (under the right conditions)
- how to leverage Open Space Technology to self-organize people around work
- using the wisdom of crowds as a forecasting tool
- feature mapping: a twist on story mapping that allowed us to track and visualize work in a dynamic reteaming environment
- using Open Space to facilitate reflect and improve (in place of scrum style retrospectives)
- a model for self-governance: tribe agreements and a guild
- mob programming is a fantastic collaboration tool!
- is Teal the new Agile?
Learning Level
Session Type
Experience Report