Lean Government & Holacracy: the Video

Here’s an hour-long video of Michael DeAngelo‘s presentation on Lean Government & Holacracy in Washington State:

Highlights from his talk:

Office of the CIO

  • Roughly 4,000 IT professionals in Washington State.
  • About 80 agencies run their own IT teams.
  • Office of CIO sets strategy and provides oversight.
  • Transform government through technology and culture.
  • Created the small business hub: business.wa.gov
    • Run as a Scrum project, with 1-week Sprints.
    • Adopted customer-driven design.
    • Successful example of using Lean Startup methodology.
  • Driving the use of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).
  • Practice and “open office” style.

Lean Government

  • Started in Washington State with Governor Christine Gregoire.
  • All agencies are required to have a Lean focus.
  • Challenge: how to be an “employer of choice” for IT professionals, given stiff competition from Amazon, Microsoft, etc.
  • Several agencies have an active Agile/Scrum practice, but this is still in pockets within state government.
    • Office of the CIO
    • Department of Licensing
    • Department of Labor & Industries
  • Impediments to adopting Agile:
    • Having the right tools
    • Having the right sort of contracts
  • Agencies adopting Agile are largely implementing this in a software development context.
  • Developing the Agile QA Scorecard.
  • Developing Agile Procurement for more flexible contracts with vendors.


  • Goal: empower employees to organize themselves.
  • There are no managers.
  • Washington State is first government anywhere to practice holacracy.
  • Washington State is also the first organization anywhere with a represented workforce (i.e. with employee unions) to practice holacracy.
  • Doing an A/B test of holacracy vs. hierarchical organization, in cooperation with Harvard Business School.
  • Hypothesis of A/B test: self-organizing teams will produce better employee outcomes.
  • Measure for a year and see what the results are.
  • Looking for three categories of metrics:
    • Are employees more engaged, with better retention?
    • Are there better customer outcomes, where “customers” are other agencies?
    • To what extent is an organization practicing holacracy more able to achieve larger organizational objectives
  • Instead of managers, there are roles that are assigned certain accountabilities.
  • Holacracy and Agile have things in common:
    • Bias towards action
    • Be iterative
    • Don’t make up all these demons that might show; see if they actually appear
  • Holacracy and Agile are different:
    • Holacracy isn’t about getting buy-in on your ideas from the team.
  • The Scrum roles, e.g. Product Owner, Scrum Master can be added as holacracy roles in a particular circle.


“The reality is, a lot of the cloud providers can provide better security solutions than we can afford internally.”

“For us, cloud is actually one of the strategies for increasing security for the state.”

“The interesting question is, how do you do oversight and QA — really project management QA, not just traditional software QA — in an agile context?”

“One of the metrics for Agile QA: is the business engaged?” (Not just steering committees like before, but do we really have engaged product owners.)

“The contracts and procurement shop in state government practice what they call XP — Extreme Procurement”

“Washington is the only state to practice Agile Procurement and Agile Contracting”

“Downside of holacracy: everyone loves to tell me that I am not the boss of them”

“No government has ever practiced holacracy before.”

“Holacracy has never been practiced with a represented workforce before. (One with employee unions.)”

“I have been practicing holocracy for a few months, and I feel like I have a different set of lenses through which I look at work.”

“When I talk to people who are not practicing holacracy, I see evil spirits around them, like bureaucracy, office politics, inefficient meetings…”

“We develop these habits to compensate for the deficiencies of a hierarchical organization, instead of trying to change it, and this is after thousands of years of evolution.”

“The team has to want it: you need opt-in for holacracy to work.”

“Imagine trying to play soccer with a hierarchical organization, where the team is run by managers who are responsible for different sections of the field.”

“Because I am the manager, you need to always pass the ball to me. Ridiculous as that seems, that’s how hierarchical organizations work.”

“90% of my time is spent on crap that runs government work, and that’s because of the authority of my position.”

“As a manager I don’t have a passion for a lot of things, but other people might, so I want to give them the authority to take them on.”

“Healthy habits in a dysfunctional system become unhealthy habits in a functional system.”

“In holacracy, you quickly learn what makes for a valid objection.”

“The type of people who would not respond well to holacracy are managers that derive their self-worth on span of control.”

“There’s a category of employees who have no interest in being self-directed: they just want to be told what to do.”






Lean & Agile Government in Washington State

Michael DeAngelo, Deputy CIO for the State of Washington (and a long-time user of Kerika :-) gave a talk on Lean & Agile Government in Washington State, at the Beyond Agile meetup in Kirkland last week.

Here are his slides:


We will shortly be uploading another presentation, on Agile QA, as well an edited video of his entire talk.

Deleting canvases attached to cards

You can attach as many canvases as you like to cards on Task Boards or Scrum Boards, and if you don’t need them anymore, you can delete the canvases.

Here’s how you add a canvas to a card:

Adding a canvas to a card
Adding a canvas to a card

By default, the new canvas is simply called “Canvas”, but like with any other attachments on a card, you can easily rename it by clicking on the pencil icon that appears to the right when you hover your mouse over it:

Renaming a canvas
Renaming a canvas

Clicking on the “x” button at the far end will let you delete a canvas that you no longer need:

Deleting a canvas
Deleting a canvas

If the canvas is empty — which means that there is nothing visible on the canvas, and nothing in the canvas’ Trash either — you see a simple confirmation message asking if you are sure you want to delete it:

Deleting an empty canvas (confirmation)
Deleting an empty canvas (confirmation)

But, if the canvas is not empty, you see a Restore option instead:

Restoring a deleted canvas
Restoring a deleted canvas

If it seems puzzling why a canvas that appears empty isn’t really empty, make sure you open the canvas and take a look at the Trash: there may be items there that you had previously removed from the canvas:

A canvas that looks empty but isn't
A canvas that looks empty but isn’t

In this example, above, the canvas looks empty but isn’t really: there are items in the Trash.

In situations like this, Kerika is careful to avoid losing all your work: until you empty the Trash on a canvas, the canvas isn’t considered to be truly empty, and until a canvas is truly empty, it cannot be removed from a card.

So, in this example, you see the Restore option rather than the Delete option:

Restoring a deleted canvas
Restoring a deleted canvas

Signalling priority in Kanban and Scrum Boards

Kerika makes it very easy for everyone within a distributed team to always have the same clear understanding of what’s most important, within any part of a project’s workflow.

With a Task Board or Scrum Board, simply drag cards up or down to show their relative importance: stuff that is on top of a column is more important than stuff that’s at the bottom.

This is a super-simple way of signaling priorities: it removes all ambiguity within a distributed team, because only one card can be at the very top of a column — i.e. only one item can be “highest priority” — and only one item can be in the second position within a column — i.e. only one item can be “next highest priority” — and so forth.

A great side benefit of this method is that it keeps managers honest: it is no longer possible for a point-haired boss to claim that a bunch of things are all “top priority”.

Pointy-hair boss
Pointy-hair boss

How “Sort by Status” works

When working with Task Boards and Scrum Boards, you get a variety of options for quickly sorting a column of cards:

Sort options
Sort options

Sort by Date is easy enough to understand, but what about sort by status?

Sort by Status organizes the cards in a column as follow:

  • Critical
  • Is blocked
  • Needs rework
  • Needs review
  • In progress
  • Normal
  • On hold

This sort order reflects the normal priorities of most projects: the most important stuff would ideally show up at the top of the column to get dealt with first.

How to undo a “Cut” operation

Cutting and pasting cards from one Task Board to another, or from a Task Board to a Scrum Board for that matter, is easy and simple with Kerika: just select the card, and then click on the “Cut” button that appears at the top of the column:

Cut button
Cut button

You can cut several contiguous cards within the same column by shift-selecting them, and then clicking on the Cut button.

And, you can also access the Cut operation by using the right-click mouse menu:

Right-click menu
Right-click menu

Cutting-and-pasting is effectively a move operation: it moves the card intact, along with its details, tags, attachments and chat, from one place to another.

You can cut and paste within the same board, of course, but this is pointless since it is much easier to drag cards from one column to another.

Cutting and pasting cards from one board to another is much more useful, and it doesn’t matter if the source is a Task Board or Scrum Board, and the destination is a board of different type — or even if the destination is a Template.

But what should you do if you click on the Cut by mistake? Well, that’s easy to undo: just click on the cut cards — which will appear slightly greyed-out — and the cut operation will be cancelled!

3 shades of grey are plenty

Some techies in Seattle may like up to 50 shades of grey, but at Kerika we try to stick with just three:

Kerika Grey
Kerika Grey

This is easier said than done: there’s a lot of grey in the Kerika user interface, and as we add new features or tweak old ones, it’s easy to slip and introduce new shades of grey.

So, periodically, we need to take digital color meter and examine the Kerika UI in detail, pixel-by-pixel, to look for stray shades of grey.

Limiting the palette of grey to just 3 shades is an example of how constraints can help designers.

Simplifying the use of Tags with Scrum Boards

Kerika’s Scrum Boards look a lot like regular Task Boards (which you can use for Kanban-style) work; the main difference is that each Scrum Board can share a backlog with other Scrum Board.

(And switching between a Task Board and a Scrum Board takes just one mouse click!)

We were doing some fairly complicated bookkeeping when people added tags to their Scrum Boards, and we decided it was getting messy both for the system and probably the users as well.

So, we are simplifying tags for Scrum Boards:

  • Every Scrum Board is connected to a shared Backlog. (And, if there was no backlog to connect to, Kerika will automatically start a new backlog for you.)
  • Cards on the Backlog may use a certain taxonomy for their tags, while each Scrum Board could add to this taxonomy, e.g. by adding a new tag that makes sense for a particular Scrum cycle (Sprint).
  • Now, whenever you add a new tag to a Scrum Board, this will automatically get added to the Backlog’s taxonomy as well, and to all the Scrum Boards that share that Backlog.

The effect of all this is to ensure consistency of your tags taxonomy across all Scrum Boards that share the same Backlog: this will make it easier to pull cards from that Backlog into any Scrum Board and know that you will automatically get all the right tags set up for you by the system.