the mechanism

Becoming antifragile is a choice and a discipline. You become antifragile by developing a bias-for-options using “Option-Based Thinking” and infusing option generation into your processes and culture by applying “Option Kata” throughout the enterprise.

Thawing Your Organization

Becoming antifragile is kind of thawing process, where the rigid dependencies between the people, processes, and components in your organization and systems soften as “heat” is applied. Ultimately this thawing is a phase shift from a prediction and planning mindset to an option-centric mindset that permeates the entire organization. The “heat” applied is low-intensity but consistent thinking and discipline applied by all people in the organization as part of their daily routine.

Complex behavior changes emerge from the interactions of many simple local changes made in response to local conditions. In an antifragile organization, teams, departments, practices, and policies come and go in response to local stress or tension between each other in the context of their shared mission. The authority to respond to these local stressors is distributed uniformly across the entire enterprise. Each person applies analysis and “refactoring” skills to continually improve the design and operations of the work within their purview.

Of course, this is only possible if people throughout the organization have the means, i.e., the knowledge and tools to manage and implement the process. Option Kata (OK) is one approach to infusing your organization with this knowledge and tools.

Option Kata (OK)

Option Kata is meta-skill that everyone can master to increase optionality where its needed most. It creates discipline around options in the same way that “lean” creates discipline around reducing waste. Being a specialization of Toyota Kata, OK is “management by means” where you coach and manage the means of implementing change while trusting in the emergent objectives and outcomes of those means.

In other words, you don’t define a tactical objective and say “Here. I don’t care how you achieve it.” Rather, you describe a strategic goal and trust that, by managing the means by which your people implement change, they will figure our the intermediate objectives and the path to reach them.

The kata links a sense-categorize-respond (see Cynefin) process to determine which “abstract refactoring” needs to be applied with a sense-analyze-respond process to implement the refactoring in the unique business or systems context. Each person implements the initial sense-categorize-respond process by recognizing a symptom and looking it up in simple catalog.

Abstract Refactoring Catalog (ARC)

The Abstract Refactoring Catalog (ARC) is the first of three key elements of the OK. The ARC is the primary tool used in the initial sense-categorize-respond part of the process. You train your people to sense specific symptoms (smells) in their day-to-day work and to look up these symptoms in the catalog. They use the catalog to categorize the symptom within their context and suggests that they respond by applying an “abstract refactoring” to the boundary or its adjacent processes.

The refactorings are abstract because they necessarily omit details that vary based on context. For example, the abstract refactoring “Elevate Request” converts requests from consumer to supplier that include details that are not essential to the consumer’s goal to requests are minimally specified, and articulated in terms of the consumer’s domain. But the details of what this looks when the consumer is a Product Owner and the supplier is a “Development Team” will be quite different than when the consumer is a petitioner and the supplier is a court.

The hard work of making the abstract refactoring concrete in a particular context is a more complicated requiring a more flexible problem-solving discipline. The OK includes another meta-skill, called the “O3” process to achieve this more concrete step.

The “O3” Process

O3 thinking, the second of three key elements of the OK, is a specialization of Toyota’s A3 thinking, focused on implementing abstract refactorings. Remember that abstract refactorings describe general transformation at or around a boundary. But how that general transformation is actually implemented in a specific setting is a more complicated problem best addressed by a sense-analyze-respond process if not a probe-sense-respond process appropriate for complex domains.

Mike Rother introduced us to the Toyota’s ubiquitous scientific thinking process called “A3 thinking” in “Toyota Kata”. OK builds on the Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata by specializing the the five questions to target a specific class of problem, i.e., “How do I apply a given abstract refactoring to my boundary situation?” For example, how do you apply the “Elevate Request” refactoring to a particular boundary between a specific Product Owner and Development Team with unique personalities in a heavily regulated banking industry?

Understanding and being able to execute the O3 process and the OK is a far cry from successfully integrating those into your culture. We need process hooks to give us an operational entry point into the OK.

Process Hooks

Good intentions are insufficient to encourage an organization to include OK routines. Organization already have established routines which is part of why cultural change is so difficult. OK “Process Hooks”, the third key element of the OK, are simple mechanisms that help organizations, teams, and individuals link their existing processes to the OK so that OK behaviors are gradually subsumed into their existing routines.

For example, the “Option-Boundary Retro” is a process hook implemented as an agenda item that can be added to a Scrum Team’s Sprint Retrospective. It inserts a few standard option-boundary questions into the retrospective to help the team get into the habit of inspecting thier boundaries for fragility. The team walks out the the retrospective with a sense of what process or technical boundaries need refactoring attention.

A process hook doesn’t guarantee the team will follow through with the OK. Only that each sprint they have a constant reminder of what needs to be done. Acting on this reminder is a choice and must be supported by the organization’s governance process.

Emergent Governance

With the exception of statutory and regulatory compliance, effective direction and control emerge naturally from the Option Kata meta-process. Combining the OK with an aligning narrative gives people at all scales in the enterprise the tools to make sound judgments aligned to your organization’s true north.

The enterprise is protected by the encapsulation mechanisms in the OK which limit the blast radius, and therefore the downside, of people’s decisions. Conversely, the mechanisms in the OK for sharing option experiment details disseminate the power of the options people create multiplying their upside. Not only can you effectively distribute decision-making using OK, you can’t effort not to.

Organizations and individuals may understand OK theory quite easily. But successful adoption goes well beyond classroom education or mandates.

Adoption Strategy and Tactics

History has shown that education and training are insufficient to foster authentic and lasting cultural change. So we recommend adapting the approach identified and described by Mike Rother in the adoption of Toyota Kata, as the Improvement and Coaching Kata represent a very similar kind of bottom-up, emergent, culture change as is required by OK. Although education is an essential first part of the process, it isn’t sufficient to drive successful change. Option-based thinking and the OK is subsumed into the organization primarily through consistent practiced facilitated by qualified coaches.

Our recommended adoption strategy is mostly about coaching the coaches. First, consistent education and training is introduced through video-based education. This education includes classroom time to socialize concepts and vocabulary, and workshops to understand the dynamics of the process. But the majority of your organization is coached by each other. Much like IK/CK, each person is coached by a more senior individual in the organization on a part time basis.

External companies only serve to help bootstrap the process until there are enough qualified coaches at the senior level of the organization to propagate the knowledge and discipline throughout the organization.

Where can I find help?

Option-Based Thinking is a personality trait you and your organization can develop. Improving this skill holds the key to getting ahead and staying ahead of the next wave of disruption and for seizing opportunities you never saw coming. Make it happen.

Option Kata