JOURNALThe Big Picture

Is there a play for that? Really?

Posted by Gareth Evans . Sep 28.20

We’ve written ‘playbooks’ for our solutions to provide insights into how we help organisations uplift their ability to compete in the Golden Age. Feedback by our teams and customers typically included the rhetorical question, “But are these really playbooks?” We think we should answer that…

Is there a play for that? Really?

In a sporting context, a playbook contains a set of predetermined responses to a situation that’s evolved or evolving in the field of play. Imagine the All Blacks are four points adrift, 10 metres inside their opponent’s 22, centrefield and with scrum advantage. But with less than a minute left on the clock.

We all know there’s a play for this situation. It will have been carefully rehearsed; the players know exactly where they need to be and what they need to do. On both sides of the play.

The playbook, of course, does not guarantee points. Even if followed to the letter, it will still take creativity, awareness and brilliant execution to get results.

Dangers in determinism1

We need to be careful translating the use of playbooks into the transformation of businesses on a few counts, but the one that matters most is ‘determinism’. In writing our playbooks, we wanted to avoid giving the impression of the predetermined response to organisational situations (challenges). In the process, of course, we somewhat change the meaning of ‘playbook’.

Our thinking on determinism is born of experience. We’ve seen too many pre-programmed technology transformations trip up and fall short of delivering promised outcomes. We don’t believe there is any ‘tried and tested’ approach that fits everyone. There is no standard ‘play’.

Organisations, of course, are vastly more complex than sports teams and, with complexity, comes greater degrees of difference. While we might be able to describe organisational patterns at a broad, top-line level, looking deeper reveals orthodoxies, systems, processes and cultures that are entirely unique to an individual enterprise.

If we can’t bring deterministic improvements to all the challenges which that organisation faces, how can we be truly sure that the solutions we deliver are specifically relevant?

Better to have a toolbox

To counter any determinism, we never go into a client engagement with a set play. Rather we bring along a toolbox of useful models, proven patterns that have emerged in our work and a deep knowledge of organisational, technological and human complexity.

The toolbox is designed to shine a light on an organisation’s challenge through different lenses and always with a bigger picture in mind. This helps the client consider what’s truly important for their (first) play, how solutions might be arrived at through experimentation and creativity, the pitfalls that need to be avoided and the outcomes we can all strive for. Our playbooks hopefully describe those things.

While our playbooks do indicate certain approaches to an engagement, they are always ‘transitionary’ approaches that evolve and adapt to what emerges – something that’s never predictable.

The toolbox is designed to shine a light on an organisation’s challenge through different lenses and always with a bigger picture in mind.

The closest our playbooks come to determinism might be in Scaling Lean-Agile, simply because we are supporters of the SAFe® Framework. But even then, SAFe® is a framework which is intended to flex to your context.

Playing brilliantly

So our thinking is that our playbooks inform how we see problems and make good decisions about where to start. As we engage in delivery, we create room for creativity and experimentation. And we then adapt to what emerges. It is the combination of these things that leads to the best results – playing brilliantly.

Our playbooks are free to download and share (no contact details required). If they cause you to pause and think more about the challenges you’re up against, then they will have served a decent purpose. Even if the name still bugs.

1 Definition of determinism

Get the Big Picture and discover how to pursue relevance in the Golden Age

Our playbooks are freely downloadable – no contact details required.

Our headline playbook The Big Picture sets the scene for improving your organisation’s ability to deliver value. Learn more about:

  • The Golden Age of Digital & Software
  • Stages of digital maturity
  • The innovation landscape
  • Four dimensions of ability
  • Successful transition (or why transformations can fail)

Gareth Evans

Co-founder of HYPR, our chief engineer and solutions expert and one of the first fully-certified SAFe® Programme Consultant Trainers (SPCT). Above all, Gareth is a fantastic technology mentor to our team.