2014/01/27 11:30 “John Young: The Challenge of Reflection in Agile Development Systems”, Agile Systems and Systems Engineering Working Group

John Young (Red Elephant Technology), with the Agile Systems and SE WG commentary to improve the quality of working paper to be submitted to the July issue of INCOSE Insight

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker’s presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship, posted by David Ing.

INCOSE International Workshop 2014, Torrance, California

Review articles are at:

Could change the title to be on Work Systems in general, not just Adaptive Development

Importance of reflection

Alastair Cockburn, one of founders of the Agile Manifesto

  • What is it that’s happening when we see a group of people designing?
  • First, people …
  • … communicating …
  • … problem changing ..
  • … languages …
  • … decisions …
  • … resources …

See a complex adaptive system, as per John Sterman.

Worked hard in this essay to not use the word “agile development”

To deal with complexity and change, systems have to include a ongoing process of learning through reflection

  • Learning, double loop learning
  • Alongside the development of a product depending on learning, must be able to change the work environment
  • Have been looking at the organization studies community

Reflective learning can disrupt individual and collective identoty

Traditional approach from Harold Bridger:  system psychodynamics (not used in the essay) based on systems thinking in the 1950s

  • Knowledge creation, but focus on the transtioinal approach
  • Concept of the double path:  primary path, plus second path with reflection on the work
  • Harold Bridger, as psychologist, recognizes antagonistic and conflicting forces
  • Differentiates from other perspectives on organizations
  • Need to set time and space as an opportunity for reflection
  • Build a holding environment:  from child psychology (haven’t included into essay), a safe space, from Norman Kirk on project retrospectives
  • Reflection is anchored to the work at hand; if decouple from work at hand, you’re entering into group therapy, risk of groupthink

Power can usurp learning

  • If power does not engage in reflective process, and usurps learning, then agility will be greatly reduced.
  • People find a way to survive

Manfred says managers today want to be surrounded by people who challenge, mirrored by their staff

  • Integrity of the development system
  • Agile has implications of such a development system
  • Manfred takes it further to deliver a delusion approach to the phenomena


  • Alastair Cockburn’s TED talk, the tiger as the person promoted to the team lead, called his mascot Fluffy
  • A tiger leaping at an emaciated stick figure that is an engineer
  • Agile development movement:  have to learn to facilitate a more open collaborative way of working

Comment:  Would get a lot more out of paper, if less literature discussion, and expanded on last paragraph so that readers would know what to do.  Have explained why it’s important.  What like to know what organizations need to do to implement that.

Comment:  A lot of background material that would be better in a paper

Comment: Liked paper, reinforced the importance of retrospective. As an agile coach, it’s on the of things that gets dropped.  It’s important.  Should address this to the systems engineering audience.  If could make the importance of retrospective, it will give the learning opportunity to the rest of the audience.

Comment: Like content.  Some examples would make it more pointed.  There’s a lot going on.  Systems engineers may not talk about organizational dynamics, e.g. self-censorship is an example of something that would be written about.

Comment:  May have to watch for lengthy examples.

Comment:  Expand on research, to be submitted as an IS paper on engineering leadership.  Influencer in the Covey Seven Habits.

Comment: Visual at end was interesting, could bring up front.  Focus more on encouraging what organization should do.  Reflection cycle.

Comment: Useful if could highlight three tasks:  individual abilities to do reflection; ability to collaborate in group reflection; ability to collaborate in group reflection without external forces (management).  Donald Schon has written about the Reflective Practitioner and Educating the Reflective Practitioner.  Examples in the Julliard School of Music, and in architectural classes.

Fan of Donald Schon.  How much can be squeezed in?

Comment:  It’s an essay where you don’t have to prove what you’re saying.


#agile, #incose, #iw, #systems, #systems-engineering