There’s a New Kid on the Agile Block — FAST Agile

Fluid Scaling Technology (FAST Agile) fills the gap for a purely complex agile method.

Agile methods mapped onto the Cynefin Model

In this 2018 interview What’s Next for Agile with Dave Snowden, Mr Snowden predicted the birth of a purely complex agile method. Enter Fluid Scaling Technology (FAST).

I am not going to describe the difference between complicated and complex here. If you don’t know, go look it up. In fact, if you don’t have a good grasp on this concept, stop reading now. Nothing past this point will make sense to you.

In the aforementioned interview, you will hear Mr Snowden place Kanban in the purely complicated zone and Scrum in the liminal zone between complex and complicated. Scrum and Kanban people tend to disagree with this placement, but I think Mr Snowden is correct in his assessment.

FAST is different. FAST sits firmly in the complex domain very near to the border of chaos. In fact, it may be in the liminal space between Chaos and Complex.

Oh, and if you think that chaos is bad, then you are where I was before studying chaos theory. With my new understanding, I think the word chaos is misused. Where most people say things like “it was total chaos”, they should really say — it was total disorder or anarchy. Chaos can give birth to spontaneous natural order and is where innovation typically happens. Once you understand chaos, it is your friend and a very powerful ally when you know how to harness it.

Requires an understanding of chaos theory and having watched Dr Strangelove film to get the humour in this.

FAST combines Open Space with Open Allocation. FAST in five bullet points:

  • Merge teams into a tribe
  • Throw work on the wall
  • Let teams self-organize around the work
  • In two days, meet back and share progress
  • Repeat

About as clear as mud? Best to go and look at the FAST Website to get a better description.

Fluid Scaling Technology or FAST, or FAST Agile is (amongst other things) an agile method, and a scaled one to boot — scaling is built in. FAST may be a little ahead of its time and requires certain conditions to work. But that was true of scrum and any agile method at the turn of the millennium also. The way we worked and the way we looked at work had to change before agile could be accepted as mainstream. The industry will need to go through a similar paradigm shift for FAST to become mainstream. I see the Teal movement as the beginnings of this paradigm shift. In fact, FAST is as much a Teal framework as it is an Agile.

The image is from a great article — Organise your venture like the best tech firms. A case for open allocation by Tudor-Nicolae Birlea

1 — FAST is a pure complex system. The world has changed a lot in 20 years since scrum became popular and the agile manifesto was born. We are in a more complex world and we need systems to match. FAST was made in and for the age of Disruption. It is a complex system ideal for solving complex challenges. In a VUCA world, complexity has become the new normal. Before FAST, all scaling agile models were complicated in nature. The Cynefin model teaches you that you tackle complex with complex. Complex systems are non-deterministic and non-reductionist.

2— Designed to not decay to mediocre/zombie/flaccid/dark agile.

3 — Agile focuses heavily on delivery and is not set up for discovery. Which you can understand given that when agile was born Lean Startup was not a thing yet and modern Product Delivery not even in its infancy.

FAST won't “flip the Beetle”
  • FAST is not built on scrum or Kanban. It is its own method inspired by Open Space Technology (OST).
  • FAST scales in and of itself. Scrum needs something else to scale it e.g. scrum of scrums, LeSS, SAFe, NEXUS, scrum@scale are methods to scale something that does not scale in and of itself — scrum.
  • Fluid Teaming is baked in. (I highly recommend Heidi Helfand’s book Dynamic Reteaming.)
  • Lower cost of ownership compared to scrum. No agile master per team required just one coach per tribe (a tribe is the name for the merged teams’ structure).
  • It is resilient to command and control and micromanagement imposition.
  • FAST is set up for discovery as well as delivery.
  • FAST creates a network/lattice organization instead of a command of teams.
  • FAST is as much a Teal framework as it is an Agile. (I’m not going to explain Teal here. Go and read my blog on Teal is the New Agile for that explanation.)

I am the creator of FAST. I didn’t set out to create an agile method, it kind of found me. All we really did was repurpose an existing technology — Open Space Technology (OST). Dave Snowden calls this exaptation, a term from biology. You may have noticed I switch from me to we. That is because FAST evolved when a group of us collectively did it. It emerged and evolved — and I hope will continue to do so as others experiment with it.

After the very first presentation of FAST at a conference in 2014 a gentleman came up to me and said -

“This is brilliant! FAST is a complex adaptive system. I wish I knew about FAST a year ago before my company attempted agile at scale model $@&# which was a total nightmare.”

I had to go and look up what a complex adaptive system was. This was a new concept. I did not purposefully create a complex adaptive system, that was already in there. But because FAST was built on OST, and OST is a complex adaptive system, complexity came for free so to speak. I continued my study into Chaos Theory and Complex Adaptive Systems. The Cynefin model gave me a great framework to make sense of these new concepts. I read and watched much of Dave Snowden’s material. This was when I stumbled across the aforementioned What’s Next for Agile with Dave Snowden video. The diagram I have created above is a visual for what Mr Snowden is explaining that I put together.

If you want to find out more about FAST, check out the website You can read about the evolution of FAST on the Agile Alliance website in a case study titled Self-Organization Eats Agile at Scale for Breakfast.

Software Crafter, Disruptor, Pioneer and Intrapreneuer. On a mission to unleash the human spirit in the workplace. Founder of FAST Agile.

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