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Matthew Reinbold - Seven Skills To Change Complex Systems And Improve Software

Deliberate Complexity Conferences 2022 Recap

This talk was presented at Deliberate Complexity Conferences - Building Successful Platforms and APIs on 15 June. We are honoured to present the video recording and talk summary below. Enjoy!

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Matthew Reinbold

Digital Engagement Lead at Concentrix Catalyst

Matthew's presentation (video recording)


  • You were talking about how each business functions pursue their own local goals. It’s a major source of incoherence in organizations. Often, the reason why they are pursuing their own goals is also because individuals have been given performance targets or they have their own ambitions inside the organization. Have you come across any means of how to deal with that?
  • Any suggestion on overcoming the "appreciative message is manipulative and judgemental -- if done methodically..." (inner resistance) and "this will be yet more communication when what we need is more action" (immediate result)"?

What happens with change in a complex system and why is it seemingly so hard?

“If you think about what we do, when we talk about modern software, we are talking about various ways of reducing the problem set. Agile is a reduction in the size of work to be delivered. Continuous integration and continuous delivery is about reducing the time it takes to deliver.”

Reduction can lead to incoherence, where each one of the subsystems has the opportunity to go and become disambiguated, uncoordinated.

"The hardest part of modern software development has less to do with technology itself and much more to do with maintaining coherence across the parts."

technical system exists within a human system. To change software across the holistic system, we need to apply scales to the human relationships equally – if not more – than the energy we expend on the software integrations.

"Technology does not create alignment. People do."

Autonomy alignment: the more alignment that you have, the more autonomy can be supported.


Seven skills that address the humans behind complex systems

  1. Creating a compelling vision
  2. Build coalitions
  3. Communication
  4. Experimenting
  5. Celebrate
  6. Empowering others
  7. Terraforming the culture

1. Creating a compelling vision: having an idea about how something could be better is not the same as creating a vision.

Mike Burrows: Agendashift

  • The Celebration: thinking ahead of the future, defining what we are actually celebrating, who is in the room, why are we celebrating, where is this at, etc.
  • The 15-minute FOTO: we have to define the obstacles and how do we go ahead and make something possible (FOTO stands for “From Obstacles to Outcomes”).

2. Build coalitions: “One of the most important aspects of coalition building is you’re attempting to provide inclusion, but not a simulation.”

"The sign of a healthy coalition is if it’s evolving and changing and adapting. It’s not rigid, it’s not fixed."

It’s important to move people from just mobilizing to organizing. Mobilizing has low impact, it won't create sustainable change effort.

"Major task of the coalition building is moving people, who are already concerned about the issue and willing to do something, through this organizing side which deepens the participants’ understanding of who they are and why they wanna make the change."

3. Communication: people do not need a good talking to make change, they need a good listening to.

Motivational Interviewing is a useful technique: designed to strengthen the personal motivation for commitment to a specific goal.

4. Experimenting: Small experiments equal less resistance, and if an experiment is too big to fail, it’s no longer an experiment.

"Valuable experiments are things that are visible, they are unambiguous, and clearly relate to the change effort."

5. Celebrate: once you have the experiments, have the results, you need to be able to celebrate.

"How do we actually take these meaningful signals that were growing to this momentum that were harnessing and get it back out in front of people. [...] Change and growth are promoted through positive emotion."

6. Empowering others: take into account the ‘Innovation Distribution Curve’. It means that people embrace change differently and we need to be aware of it.

7. Terraforming the culture:

“New practices, if they are to continue beyond the effort of guiding a coalition, need to grow deep roots. The final stage in changing a complex system is terraforming the culture to make the change last."

Conway’s LawInverse Conway Manoeuvre: This is not where you should start your change initiative, first you need to take into account the seven skills.

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