It was a sunny Sunday afternoon in Seattle when I pulled onto his drive. These days his wife and he spend their time divided between summers in Seattle and the winters in Scottsdale Arizona. As I was driving the rental car from the airport, I regretted not having the presence of mind at the Hertz rental depot to ask for a Ford, instead of the GM Chevy Impala which I was driving. Duh! I travel a lot and had been in my normal auto-pilot zone of de-plane, rental-car-shuttle, gold-member aisle, jump in car, show driving license, drive away. I figured, oh well, maybe I could park off to the side and by the time I rang the door-bell he wouldn’t notice. Not so, as I got out of the car I heard a voice welcoming me and jokingly he pointed it out immediately! We laughed it off and went inside. It was a great start to a great afternoon I spent with Alan Mulally, the former CEO of Ford, at his home in Seattle comparing notes on his “Working Together” system and my work on Agility. It was a continuation of a conversation we had started a couple of months prior: “Working-Together” Meets Agility.
You know you are in the presence of mastery when complex things seem so elegantly simple (Agility Masters: Alan Mulally). Alan had printed out the Power-Point file of his “Working Together” system, which he now uses at Harvard, MIT and Stanford, and he talked me through it. He used this system throughout his 45 year career. Starting with Boeing in 1969 and working on every Boeing aircraft program ultimately as the Chief Engineer for the 777 (1992) and as the CEO of the Commercial Airplane Division of Boeing (2001) – we will call that “Working Together 1.0”. Then as CEO of Ford from 2006 to 2014 – we will call that “Working Together 2.0”, which implicitly embeds the principles of agile. Alan had asked me to bring my materials on Agility to talk him through those and we saw so many parallels. So, more explicitly defining the agile elements, we will call “Working Together 3.0” or “AGILE Working Together”.
Working Together 1.0
Alan is a testament to the fact that while most people think that AGILE started with software companies, its actually started with hardware companies (read more: Agile Started with Hardware Not Software!) as reported in Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka’s 1986 Harvard Business Review’s article entitled “The New New Product Development Game”. In that article, the authors contrasted the old way which they called a “relay-race” approach (which we now call “Waterfall”), and the new way which they called a “rugby/scrum” approach (which we now call “Agile”). Read more: Waterfall vs Agile/Sprints/Scrum – Pivoting to the future of Agile-Teamwork. Here’s what Alan said about that:
Most people assume that bringing an new airplane to market is a fundamentally linear, waterfall process. They would be wrong, that’s not the nature of design. Its fundamentally a circular, agile process in which you are constantly iterating. It has never been a linear approach to me, because the way that a designer thinks is, they’re always designing and they’re always verifying, and they’re always validating. They’re never done. The most important thing about hiring an engineer is that you’re really clear about what it is that you want them to do. Then they’ll start creating, because it’s a creating process, they’ll see what it looks like against the requirements, and then they’ll just keep iterating and iterating until they get there.
I was kind of the leader for this at Boeing, to recognize that it wasn’t a linear process. Everybody used to get mad, because they laid out a linear process and would point and say, “well, you’re supposed to be done with this at this stage,”. But the problem is that you don’t know you’re done. You don’t even know if the airplane works until you have your first flight. You can go for five years until you know this thing works, so you do everything you can all the time to reiterate it.
That’s where the Thursday morning Business Plan Review came from as the core of that iteration process working-together.
Working Together 2.0
When Alan became the CEO of Ford, he was truly applying these principles to a complete enterprise, enterprise wide and enterprise deep, with share-price outcomes, in an organization that went from record losses in 2006 when he started to record profits in 2014 when he finished. All driven by the discipline of his “Working Together” approach. Here’s what Alan said about that:
I really don’t know of another corporation or anybody else that operates with this discipline. It’s an agile process in which you constantly look at the plan, constantly looking at the statistics and constantly look at the world, all from the outside in. You’re looking at the world every week, every month, every quarter, then you’re looking at your strategy and your plans to check they are still good with what you see, and if not, you deal with that by adjusting and adapting. Then you grind away at the delivery plan as a whole team. And so on.
Agile to me is exactly what the word means. In terms of business, that means that you have a vision for your organization, you have strategy to achieve it, you have this relentless implementation process, but you’re recognizing that things are going to change, and so the agile phase is, do you have a process that everybody knows what the plan is, everybody knows what the status is, everyone knows the exterior world and you’re dealing with that together. It unleashes all the creativity of the entire organization, but you’ve got to recognize you have to move to a place where it’s not a static thing, that you have to have an iteration process, but you also have to have a really clear goal about what you’re doing, or you never know whether you’re accomplishing that.
This is a system and I’m an engineer – it’s a design job – I figured it out. Its a system with these elements – the governance process, the leadership team which you agreed to, your principles and practices which are your culture, the creating value road map, the business plan and ongoing review process.
Working Together 3.0 (AGILE Working Together)
What an honor it was to talk Alan through the Agility Operating System that my colleagues and I have developed over the years to help other CEOs, Executives and their teams follow his insights on the transformation journey to mastery of Enterprise-Agility.
We talked about the 3 core-concepts of agility:
- Jet-Fighter Planes (Finding-the-Agile-Middle)
- OODA Loops (Shrinking-Your-Organizational-OODA-Loop)
- Journey-Orientation (Doing-the-Work-of-Crisis-without-the-Crisis)
We talked about the challenge of Fully-Triaging a Business from C2C (Conversation-Flow to Cash-Flow) and how the Quantity, Quality and Cadence of your Conversation-Flow becomes the Quantity, Quality an Cadence of your Cash-Flow, with corresponding share-price out-comes.
We talked about the central role of meetings. To optimize your future you have to optimize your agility. To optimize your agility you have to optimize your conversation-flow. To optimize your conversation-flow you have to optimize your meetings, agile-meetings that is. Agile Meetings are at the heart of your Enterprise-Agility. That’s the core of everyone “working together” with the agility required. Agile Working Together.
“Isn’t that funny, that we ended up in exactly the same place. Fantastic. Most people can’t get their heads around it. It’s going to be interesting to see where you go with this next on your journey of discovery. Its going to be fun to see what you do with it”