Open Thinkering


Tag: Leadership

Minimum Viable Bureaucracy: Introduction

We really are rather fortunate, aren’t we? I mean right now, as I write this there will be conferences all over the world taking place. And a good number of those, especially in my areas of interest, are likely to be livestreamed meaning I can (theoretically) follow along at home. But more than that, these live streamed sessions are often also recorded meaning that these talks can kept for posterity and used as learning materials in a course (like a MOOC).

The difficulty with the super-abundance of learning resources is that it’s difficult to know where to begin. It’s hard to know what’s worth paying attention to – hence the Web Literacy Standard (“here’s the things you should pay attention to if you want to get better at reading, writing and participating on the Web”). At Mozilla we have ‘brown bags’ every so often – talks that take place at a Mozilla office (often Mountain View) that are streamed out via Air Mozilla. As with any kind of event, some of these are of more or less interest to me and/or feature people who can present better than others.

Recently I my colleagues directed my attention towards a brown bag given by Laura Thomson entitled Minimum Viable Bureaucracy. It’s so good that, after giving the talk at OSCon Laura was asked if she could repeat it so it could be streamed and recorded via Air Mozilla. It’s an hour long so I’ve taken the video, extracted the audio and created a separate MP3 file from each section of Laura’s talk.

So what’s it about? What is ‘Minimum Viable Bureaucracy’ (MVB)? Well, as Laura rather succinctly explains, it’s the difference between ‘getting your ducks in a row’ and ‘having self-organising ducks’. MVB is a way of having just enough process to make things work, but not so much as to make it cumbersome. It’s named after Eric Ries’ idea of a Minimum Viable Product which, “has just those features that allow the product to be deployed, and no more.”

The contents of Laura’s talk include:

  • Basics of chaordic systems
  • Building trust and preserving autonomy
  • Effective communication practices
  • Problem solving in a less-structured environment
  • Goals, scheduling, and anti-estimation
  • Shipping and managing scope creep and perfectionism
  • How to lead instead of merely managing
  • Emergent process and how to iterate

I truly believe that MVB is an approach that can be used in whole or in part in any kind of organisation. Obviously, a technology company with a talented, tech-savvy, distributed workforce is going to be an ideal testbed, but there’s much in here that can be adopted by even the most reactionary, stuffy institution.

My posts writing up Laura’s ideas can be found below. The original talk is on Air Mozilla, the slides are on Speakerdeck, and there’s a backup of the slides and audio on the Internet Archive.

  1. Introduction
  2. Scale, Chaordic Systems & Trust
  3. Practicalities
  4. Problem Solving and Decision Making
  5. Goals, scheduling, shipping
  6. Minimum Viable Bureaucracy: Why have managers?

Also, you might be interested in following Laura on Twitter – she’s @lxt.

Image from Bonkers World

How to do battle with Status Quo. And win.

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There’s an underground religion at work in every institution and most organisations. It’s something that pervades meeting after meeting and interaction after interaction. People everywhere are worshipping the Status Quo.

Whilst for those of a certain age this will immediately bring to mind an ageing rock band who can be seen in arenas worldwide miming their hits from a bygone era, that’s not what I’m talking about. The type of Status Quo I’m talking about is a nebulous force akin to what Steven Pressfield identifies in Do The Work as ‘The Resistance’.

The problem is that, unlike Pressfield’s quasi-religious (objective) malevolent force, Status Quo is a monster of our own creation which can, under the right conditions, spread like a virus. Status Quo is an idea. It’s a meme. And as with any successful meme it’s a shapeshifter, having a common core whilst being able to take on many different forms. The Status Quo is an unvoiced set of assumptions that allows new ideas to be dismissed by appeals to ‘common sense’ strong emotions.

Status Quo is manifested in many different ways and in many different places. In schools it might be the idea of desks in rows. In businesses it could be detailed branding regulations. In universities it’s possibly the physical location of students. However it manifests itself, the important thing to remember about Status Quo is that it’s the very thin layer, the crust, on top of a much deeper set of opinions, policies, prejudices and practice.

So if the question is ‘How do I change the Status Quo?’ you need to ask the associated questions: ‘The Status Quo according to whom?’ and ‘Why did this Status Quo take hold?’ Once you can answer these, you’re ready to do battle. You can’t win by fighting directly, only obliquely: presenting an alternate reality is the only way to win.

You replace one Status Quo with another Status Quo.

Good luck.

CC BY UggBoy?UggGirl [ PHOTO // WORLD //

The perils of shiny shiny educational technology.

New, free and shiny technologies are like catnip to educators. An almost-tangible frisson of excitement cascades through Twitter, Facebook and subsequently staff rooms and TeachMeets in the hours, days and months following announcements of such products and services.

Puentadura' SAMR model

(click image for explanatory presentation)


  1. Is there a business model behind the technology? (OSS counts!)
  2. Can it be used in a transformative way?

Style is not substance.

I’ve certainly been guilty of using things in the classroom mainly because they look good. And that’s fine, so long as you realise at which end of the hierarchy you’re working. Sometimes you need a bit of the shiny.

Johannes Ahrenfelt in Teaching: The Unthinking Profession nails it:

Teachers want ‘stuff’ they can take away and use tomorrow. While I always show how the theory works in practice, it never seems to have the same impact as CPD with titles like ’10 engaging starters’ or ’7 great discussion tools’… The ‘quick fix’ is just that and somewhere down the line a proper solution needs to be found.

If I had to go back and re-teach 2003-10 again, I’d do so taking into account the sage advice of “more haste, less speed”. It’s the considered and sustainable use of technologies that make a difference.

This post isn’t a dig at teachers; it’s a broadside at senior leaders. They, after all, create the parameters within which teachers operate. If you’re pressured into using technology at the level of substitution it’s effectively akin to using a pen instead of a pencil. Something to merely mention in passing, not something to write home about.

Considered use and reflection upon the use of educational technology can be found. Start at and start asking of each new edtech tool you come across: so what?