Kintsugi: Using the Flow Leadership Framework to heal broken projects

Recently, one of my colleagues and peers over at Tiba, Reinhard Wagner, shared an excellent article on Kintsugi written by Professor Jiwat Ram. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken porcelain with either gold or silver infused glue. Professor Ram put it this way:

“Kintsugi is a traditional Japanese healing technique to repair the broken pots. The technique entails glueing together the broken parts of pottery with a lacquer painted with gold or silver powder.”

In his article, Professor Ram outlined the following areas that are needed to heal a project:

  • Accept the change
  • Identify the broken elements and strategize how to glue them together
  • Identify and manage stakeholders’ apprehensions
  • Identify the tools and techniques that can be used for the recovery process
  • Bring in the resources that know how to glue the broken parts
  • Accept imperfections
  • Provide leadership on Kintsugi process and raise awareness

The elements of the Kintsugi “philosophy” mirrors the Flow Leadership Formula:

  • Vision + RP (Right People) + the 4D Model (Define, Distill, Deliver and Drive)

Vision is the Gold/Silver “glue” that brings it all back together and I have used it many times to successfully recover projects that had gone up in flames.

Let’s resort the remaining items on Professor Ram’s list using the Flow Leadership Formula:

Vision (accept the change)

It is not enough to merely “accept the change,” although resisting the change is a guaranteed fast track to failure. The failure rates of most Traditional/Waterfall projects are in the range of 83-86%. Depending upon which study you use, only 14-17% of projects meet the threshold of delivering 80% of the scope/benefits, on-time and on-budget. Agile succeeds 42% of the time, but that is still a failure rate of 58%.

The economic losses of these project failures are truly staggering on a global scale (for all projects attempted, worldwide). Having an unclear (or no) Vision is the primary cause of these failures. And, we can do better.

It is the Vision for the change that needs to be communicated ten (10) times more than we think. To quote Dr. John Kotter:

Most companies under communicate their visions for change by at least a factor of 10.”

It is fascinating, and somewhat stunning, that most company leaders have completely missed something so simple as communicating your Vision, over-and-over again, until it is embedded in the DNA of the organization.

Right People (Bring in the resources that know how to glue the broken parts)

Everyone likes to believe that they are always the “Right Person.” We probably all have a similar view of ourselves:

Professor Ram shared:

“Using this philosophical underpinning, bringing in the right talent is critical when it comes to fixing the broken parts in a project as well. A rightful talent will be the one with required skills, experience and attitude to help heal the problem.”

In some instances, the project is dead and the people are broken. It is not enough just to “heal” the project. You literally need people who know how to breathe life back into the work effort. So now we have moved away from Project Management and into the realm of Leadership. Peter Drucker summed it up best:

“Only three things happen naturally in organizations:
confusion, and
…everything else requires leadership.”

The Flow Leadership Friction Analysis is a very quick way to identify the cause of the friction, based on the observed result that is manifesting with your teams and team members:

If you do not have the Right People on your team, then the team members will be exhibiting anxiety. It is not possible to heal anything, let alone breathe life back into it, if anxiety is present in your team.

The 4D Model

The balance of Professor Ram’s list will be addressed using the 4D Model:

Vision is always at the heart of the 4D Model and we address the link to Vision earlier in this post, so let’s start with the first “D” – Define.

D1 – Define (Identify the broken elements and strategize how to glue them together; and, Identify the tools and techniques that can be used for the recovery process)

The Flow Leadership Framework is methodology agnostic. Regardless of the methodology used at the team level, almost without exception, the major disconnect is always between the Vision & Strategy and the People & Tasks that will Deliver on that Vision and Strategy.

In Flow, we use the VSPT Model to visualize this disconnect:

The line between the VS and PT represents that disconnect. In order to succeed, that disconnect must be removed. And, whatever glue that you use to try to hold the project together, will fail.

Along with Vision and Right People, VSPT is one of your key Definitions. And, your VSPT and One Thing needs to be cascaded throughout your organization and linked-back as well:

Without the right Definitions, your work effort will fail. And, as Dr. Kotter points out, you need to communicate the Vision ten times more than you think that you need to do.

But, having the right Definitions, alone, will not assure success. You also need to Distill agreement.

D2 – Distill (Identify and manage stakeholders’ apprehensions)

Usually, most Stakeholders have expectations for their team members something along these lines:

The Flow Leadership Framework has a very unique way of dealing with and mitigating the impacts of Politics.

If your stakeholders are apprehensive or anxious, then there is a high probability that they are not the right person to sponsor your project / work effort.

The primary cause of this apprehension is that they do not have and/or cannot communicate a clear Vision for the Result that they wish to achieve.

We look at this from the following perspective in Flow:

We have an additional view that also visualizes the same Stakeholders using Power vs. Effort. Although a Stakeholder may have a high level of Interest (as in the image above), they might not put in any Effort towards the success of your work efforts.

This way of analyzing your Stakeholders (and thus, how to influence them) quickly becomes multi-dimensional when you factor in whether or not the Stakeholder is “for you” on a personal level, let alone whether or not they are “for” your project.

Developing what we call “critical mass” requires Distilling agreement among the stakeholders. If you do not have agreement, then you most likely will see high levels of Politics in your organization.

Wise leaders will obtain agreement.

This is how we mitigate / eliminate Politics (and keep it from derailing your project / product development effort). Once you have your Definitions and have Distilled agreement, you can then begin to iteratively Deliver (small batches and often).

D3 – Deliver (Accept imperfections)

During the past three (3) decades, I have yet to see a single project or product development effort where the starting WBS (work breakdown structure) or PBL (product backlog) that matched the ending one. There is always one Stakeholder that will say something along the lines of, “oh, by the way, can we make this one ‘small’ change to the scope?”

The PBL / WBS will always be wrong. Accept that imperfection and start Delivering something that is one step closer to fulfilling your Vision. Over time, your PBL / WBS should encompass the entire Vision of whatever it is that you are trying to achieve.

Although Flow is intuitive and simple, it is not easy. Ensuring success requires that you and your team can juggle some 18 different areas (or “tiles” as we call them in Flow), simultaneously:

This is similar to being the plate-spinner at the circus:

Keeping the plates spinning at the right velocity is an art, not a science. This is why Vision, People and the 4D Model are essential to your success. And, as pointed out in Peter Drucker’s quote above, this requires Leadership. We call this Drive in the Flow Leadership Framework.

D4 – Drive (Provide leadership on Kintsugi process and raise awareness)

Kintsugi is a great metaphor that speaks the language of Leadership. By Delivering in short cycles and batches, you can quickly course correct should your team start to spin off the table.

Leadership goes beyond toolsets and retrospectives. It’s all about mindsets. Often, managers and project managers miss the subtle difference between the two of these. Both are necessary. It looks something like this:

Management is all about getting the hard work done and operational excellence. Leadership is all about inspiring, breathing life into your teams and bringing healing where it is most needed. That’s the heart and essence of Servant Leadership. Being a “servant” doesn’t make you weak. it is actually quite the opposite:

It is your role, as the leader, to break down the organizational obstacles that are hindering your teams from Delivering truly remarkable Results!

Kintsugi is a good allegory to quickly communicate to your teams how we can recover projects that may have ended in disaster. And, all of the points shared by Professor Ram in his article about Kintsugi are mirrored in the Flow Leadership Framework … which is your roadmap to success.

Flow plugs the leadership gaps inherent in all Agile and Traditional methodologies. If you want to increase your odds of success, then let’s keep the conversation Flowing. I can be reached via


Kokoro: Mastering the Transformation Basics is Simple, it’s just not Easy!

09 Sept 2020 … I got some really great feedback from Alistair, so I’m integrating that into this post … thanks Alistair!

Watching the leadership of organizations make the same mistakes, over-and-over again is, well, definitely not encouraging. One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over-and-over again, yet expecting different results the next time around. I believe it was Einstein that made that observation; and, it’s still true today.

One of the biggest “transformation” mistakes is when the leaders believe that they can “delegate” the transformation of the organization to the team level, thus (in their minds) avoiding the hard work that they must do in order to transform themselves, first. If the leadership is only talking-the-talk, and not walking-the-talk, then they quickly lose critical mass and credibility. And, they will waste their investments in what they believe to be “transformation.”

Leaders need to join their teams in the transformational journey. Failure to do this simple step will result in not achieving the desired outcomes. Simple is not easy. It takes discipline and hard work to achieve the vision for the change.

Recently had a discussion with a colleague that is attempting to recruit a small army of Agile Coaches for an organization that wants to transform itself (this organization has recognized that if it doesn’t transform, then a failure to do that is an existential threat to its very survival).

Here are just a few of challenges when recruiting a bunch of coaches:

  • If we use the Agile Coaching Institute’s Coaching Competency Framework, then there are at least 23 combinations of the four areas & eight skills required to be a competent coach.
  • If we add in Alistair Cockburn’s idea (borrowed from the martial arts) of Shu-Ha-Ri (essentially: beginners, competent, masters) to the 23 combinations that result from the Agile Coaching institute picture further down in this post, then this means that we have a very wide range of maturity levels (just under 70 combos) for the Agile Coaches that we need to synchronize and lead.
  • Since each of the Coaches will have a wide range of skills, experience and leadership competencies, then that makes it very difficult for the individual tasked with leading a transformation – herding cats is the image that comes to my mind.

Here’s a picture of Alistair’s model (Shu-Ha-Ri with Kokoro – Kokoro can be roughly translated “just master the basics” -and- it can also be translated “heart”):

Here’s the picture for the Agile Coaching Competency Framework (courtesy of Dandy People and the Agile Coaching Institute). We should add Shu-Ha-Ri to all eight areas in this picture (to add another dimension for Agile Coaching maturity in each of the eight areas):

Getting a person up to a Ri-level in all eight areas above could take a lifetime to achieve (if it’s even possible to become “Ri” in all eight competences pictured above – which I don’t believe is actually possible – maybe seven of the eight is achievable since it would be a rare combination of having someone at the Ri level in both Business Mastery and Technical Mastery). This takes time, dedication and discipline on everyone’s part to help the Coaches achieve “Ri.”

Applying Kokoro to the above picture would entail focusing on just a few basics for each of the eight Agile Coaching competence areas; and, eliminating everything else. Which is interesting since this aligns with the Agile Principle of “Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.”

Btw, a competent Agile Coach does everything a great Scrum Master does; plus almost everything else listed in the Agile Coach picture above. Many companies with which I have worked have mistakenly thought that Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches are the same thing. But, that simply is not the case, as can be seen by the skill sets in the image above.

Growing people into competent coaches takes a lot of time (some of these competencies take longer than the others to acquire):

The follow image is some Quick Wins and Longer Time Horizons for an Agile Coach’s journey:

If you think you can bring someone up the Agile Coaching curve in six months, well … my experience has been that it takes time to build a great coach with the skills, values and battle scars needed to survive the politics and friction that are present in all organizations. This is a longer term investment and commitment to the journey your Agile Coaches are taking.

So, by combining Alistair’s picture with the Agile Coaching picture, it doesn’t take to much effort to realize that leveraging the outcomes delivered by a small army of Agile Coaches will quickly move (most likely the wrong direction) through the various levels of the Stacey Diagram or Cynefin Diagram (simple, complicated, complex and chaos) and the organization will end up with Chaos in many cases, rather than obtaining the expected outcomes.

The picture above becomes multi-dimensional by the time we add-in competencies and maturity levels as well. I have observed many times where a company believes it can hire a bunch of coaches, throw them together and voila – we are now agile. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. You need a really good leadership framework around which you can rally your Organization’s Leaders, Agile Coaches, Scrum Masters, Product Owners and Teams.

Further, if the transformation is only focused on the team and individual levels (or worse, they’re trying to Scale Agile way too soon), then the odds for failure increases exponentially. It is incumbent upon the leadership to have a clear Vision for the transformational change they want to achieve (and communicate that 10 times more than they think they need to do).

Merely delegating the transformation down to the Program, team or individual levels simply doesn’t work. Organizations that try to do that will limp along (they may still be breathing, but they are probably already dead – they just don’t realize it yet).

Delegating transformation downward hasn’t worked in the past. It will not work in the future.

As Alistair points out, at the Kokoro level you return to the idea of “mastering the basics.” You return to the “simple.” You return to the “heart.” And, simple is NOT easy. Management Consultants earn their very high consulting rates by taking the Chaotic, Complex and Complicated and Distilling it down to the Simple. That, is being a true “Kokoro.”

And, this this ability to simplify also aligns with the Agile Principle of “Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.” Enterprise Agile Coaches that also master the (Management Consulting) ability to simplify will add tremendous value to any organization with they work.

Flow infinity hand drawn 2020

If you want to get to the heart of the matter and increase your odds of success, then let’s keep the conversation Flowing – feel free to reach out to me on


Flow Leadership Manifesto

It was a number of years ago (back in February of 2015) that I originally proposed the idea of an “Agile Governance Manifesto” at the following link: The reality is that we need, once again, something that takes us beyond the concepts of Agile (and/or Business Agile) and into the realm of Flow Leadership. My proposal for the The Manifesto for Flow Leadership reads as follows:

Flow Manifesto

Flow Manifesto principles

Flow plugs the leadership gaps inherent in all Agile and Traditional methodologies. If you want to increase your odds of success, then let’s keep the conversation Flowing and feel free to reach out to me on

Agile, Lean & Exceptional Value Delivered in Sweden

During the past twenty years, I’ve had the honor and privilege to work with some amazing teams in Sweden (was based there around 8 of those 20 years). So, it is no surprise to me that frameworks and methodologies that emphasize collaboration, cooperation and consensus work so well here in Sweden, for example:
  • Scrum – Jeff Sutherland, Ken Schwaber
  • Scaled Agile – Dean Leffingwell, Ken Schwaber, Jeff Sutherland
  • Lean – most trace the origins of Lean to Henry Ford (and his visit to the Butcher shop) and some even to Ransom E Olds (who patented the production line first)
To me, what is fascinating is that these frameworks work well, regardless of national culture, not just in Sweden but also in the Americas, Asia and the rest of Europe. Since the national culture in Sweden has collaboration, cooperation and consensus, agreed-upon values at its core, my Swedish colleagues have a natural head-start over many other regions when using Agile, Scrum and Lean. When a framework demonstrates that it is useful (and is duplicatable and works) in a local context, then as a business person (that is focused on enabling teams to add the highest possible, sustainable value in each and every assignment) I find that compelling and worthy of additional investigation. During 2014 – 2019, when I was based in Stockholm, Sweden, I put together this mini-case study during the middle of that time on the results achieved by the AI (Artificial Intelligence) teams using Flow. Once again, my Swedish team members demonstrated that they are among some of the best in the world at creating not just great business value, but truly remarkable (and sustainable) results. It was an honor to be one small part of these teams. The reason that I was included on these teams was that one of the senior team members was both an FCP and FCT (Flow Certified Professional and Flow Certified Trainer). In other words, he was very well versed in Agile, Lean as well as the principles of Flow. Back in 2015 he reached out to me to see if I would be willing to support the AI teams in their Agile journey(s) with additional training, coaching and mentoring in Flow. After a number of discussions, I joined the AI team to encourage and guide them along the way to achieving sustainable high-performance. Here is an overview of what these amazing Swedish team members achieved during these past few years: AI Sweden Cases The teams were struggling to use Agile to deliver pilots for AI (Artificial Intelligence) “digital co-workers.” When I arrived and started working with the teams, it took them around eight (8) months with 7-8 people (full time) to deliver a pilot AI project. But, they felt that they could achieve even better results. As can be seen from the picture above, by the end of my time with them (training, coaching and mentoring the team members), the teams were able to deliver more than two times faster with three times less people (8 months –> 4 months, 7.5 people –> 2-3 people). Btw, using Flow by the teams resulted in a cost savings of almost 90% to the customer per pilot. That works out to an amount in excess of US $1 million saved for the customer (for each pilot implemented). Well done and kudos to the teams! During the team’s journey (since not all of the team members had been trained yet in Agile, Lean or Scrum when I arrived) we started with the basics; and, trained almost all of the them in Scrum and Agile (through the lens of Flow). In the picture above you can get a feel for when they were trained in Scrum, then Flow-based Scrum and then to the FCP level (the horizontal lines. Also, there were two FCTs (Flow Certified Trainers) working with the teams (PJ and AK). From that point forward, with everyone on the same page in Scrum (as well as having the learned the basics of Flow), this helped the teams move from “Performing” to a sustainable “High-Performing” level in the Aha! Curve:

Aha hand drawn 2020

The timeless principles taught in Flow also cut across cultures (both national and business), just like Scrum, SAFe and Lean: Flow in a nutshell hand drawn 2020 Each of the following builds on the mindset delivered by Flow:
  • Flow-based Agile & Scrum Master Training (Individual and Team)
  • Flow-based Product Owner Training (Team and Product)
  • Agile Coach and Enterprise Agile Coach (note: The Flow Certified Professional applies to all four areas: Individual, Team, Product and Organizational, but it is optimized for those that want to become an ultimate Enterprise Agile Coach)
When I facilitate courses in the above areas, they are taught through the lens of Flow. As a previous Swedish participant summed it up, “Flow helps everyone (Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban, XP, Agile, SAFe, LeSS, Nexus, etc.) play nice together!” In the Flow breakfast seminars I that I have previously facilitated in Stockholm during 2018-2019, I shared that an Enterprise Agile Coach needs to also be a competent Management Consultant (that understands how to mitigate and/or eliminate politics). Flow (and Flow-based training) gives you the tools you need in your coaching and consulting toolkits to be great at both: Flow infinity hand drawn 2020 Flow enables Enterprise and Executive Agile Coaches to effectively support Leaders and Executives and leaders in creating the ecosystem and culture that will turbocharge the organization’s teams and stakeholders in their journey up the Aha! Curve. If you want to increase your odds of success, then let’s keep the conversation Flowing and feel free to reach out to me on