Open Space Technology

"The utter simplicity of OST contrasts starkly with the results commonly achieved." - Harrison Owen

The largest amount of disbelief that FAST Agile™ could possibly work comes from individuals that are unfamiliar with Open Space Technology (OST) or uncertain in the power of self-organization. Please spend some time to familiarize yourself with OST by reading the recommended book below or even better, attending an Open Space Conference.

History of Open Space Technology

Harrison Owen is the inventor of OST. OST was first used in 1985 as a way to organize a conference with hundreds of attendees. To Harrison's surprise: "Virtually all the theory and practice relating to organizing meetings, to say nothing of organization in general, indicated that OST could not work. But it did!"

Wave Rider: Leadership for High Performance in a Self-Organizing World  by Harrison Owen

Wave Rider: Leadership for High Performance in a Self-organizing World

by Harrison Owen

Conditions for use of Open Space Technology

  1. A real business issue
  2. High levels of complexity (the issue itself)
  3. High levels of diversity
  4. The presence of passion and conflict
  5. A sense of urgency
  6. Voluntary self-selection

So - does not this sound like every software project you have been on? Can you see why Open Space Technology is such a great fit for Agile development?

Wave Rider Quotes

On Peace

Well-functioning self-organizing systems are naturally productive of peace and superior performance.

On attempting to fix systems by asserting more control

If our organizations lack purpose and power, it is obviously time to reorganize - and reorganize again. And when events show every indication of spinning into oblivion, we redouble our efforts to assert or regain, control - layering controllers upon controllers upon controllers. I propose that it is not that we are doing something wrong, but that we are doing the wrong things.

On the failure of systems approaches to creating high performance

Enter Systemic Thinking. When searching for enhanced performance, we must consider the whole system, including all of its relations with the surrounding environment. This marvelous idea has enabled us to begin to comprehend the mind-blowing complexity of the Human Systems of our lives. However, when it comes to the successful conclusion of our search for high performance, the systems approach in its various manifestations (e.g. Business Process Re-Engineering) leaves something to be desired. In fact, it might actually be seen as an exercise in futility.

On Authentic Leadership

First-time participants in an Open Space often find it very confusing because everything appears to be happening in an orderly, productive fashion and no one is in charge. And yet somehow orderly and purposeful work takes place. Issues are raised, groups are formed, useful discussions occur, ... actions are initiated, all without the benefit of The Leader, or indeed anybody - Taking Charge

Leadership emerges at the confluence of Passion and Responsibility

On the relationship between self-organization and high performance

Self-organization drives inexorable toward High Performance

On System Design and self-organization

In the world of self-organization, all the "heavy lifting" of system design and implementation is taken care of by the system itself.

OST Case Study - AT&T Planning for Pavilion in 1996 Atlanta Olympic Global Village

AT&T had spent ten months designing a pavilion to be built on the outskirts of the Olympic Village. Unexpectedly, an opportunity was offered of a prime location but they would have to move quickly to take advantage of the opportunity.

Using OST, a $200,000,000 structure was designed, starting with a blank sheet of paper, and ending with working architectural drawings. Actually, this was a re-design, occasioned by major changes in plans and circumstances. The previous effort had taken 10 months, and thus the group had managed to do in the two days what they knew, on the basis of prior experience, would take 10 months. Figuring roughly, this comes down to a 15,000% increase in productivity, and the executive responsible described the outcome as "magic".