May 1, 2015

Causal loops. Picture this..

“If I can picture it, I can understand it” – Einstein

Anyone who has used Excel enough, will know what I mean when you realise the problem you are trying to model is a recursive loop problem and you get the dreaded ‘circular reference’ error.

Modelling our organisations and their processes can be equally frustrating when we have complex relationships that positively or negatively effect each other in a recursive way.

How do we know what effect making a small change such as extending the length of a sprint or standup might be?

For example: As we decrease the batch size or iteration length of our sprints, we find that the pressure to cram features into the sprint reduces. As the pressure reduces, quality increases. As quality increases, less defects come back in future sprints. As less defects are detected, it takes less time to finish features and we can decrease out iteration length further.

This is a positive cycle in a causal loop.

You can add more loops to it to map a wider picture and then you can visualise the effect of making small changes on a whole set of interactions, possibly spanning many teams.

There are many such loops both positive and negative in the any process. These loops can be expressed in a light weight model called the Causal Loop Diagram. These diagrams are taught in the 3 day Large Scale Scrum workshop by Craig Larman and Bas Vodde when we talk about organisational redesign.

They are a key tool in visualising and improving process. In this respect, a Scrum Master, Agile Coach, Architect, Development Manager or any leader who wants to improve their process can benefit hugely by this simple but powerful tool.

Learn more and watch Shaun Smith’s interactive workshop on Causal Loops at Adventures with Agile in London.

Simon Powers
Simon Powers is an Agile Coach specialising in large scale transformations and agile adoption. He has a background in very large enterprise architecture which has led on to organisational design and agile process refinement. Simon is the founder of Adventures with Agile.