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Bruno Latour, a leading thinker in practice-based approaches, recently stated that COVID and the challenges with Climate Change require us to change how we describe the world. Whereas science traditionally aimed to find universal truths by removing context, which lead to classical empiricism based on the reductionistic approach, Latour postulates that our problems are the result of such reductionistic understanding of the world and that the insights we must now gain require an interconnected view which is based in and in respect of context. I.e. context-free approaches are no longer suitable to understand and sustainably change how we act. Or as Alicia Juarrero says: context changes everything.
For those of us who have been working within organizations by following Agile, Lean, and related approaches, the importance of context is not new. We have learned that there are no “one-size-fits-all” approaches. Methods themselves routinely prove too rigid and successful transformations appear often to come down to the ability of those leading the transformation to contextualize such methods. However, discovering how a particular organization is different, even unique, can be a time-consuming process.
While Wardley Mapping established a compelling way to get situational awareness at the strategic level, even the best strategies fail when organizations do not recognize and develop the capabilities required to meet their strategy. A capability is the ability of a team or collection of teams to deliver an outcome repeatedly. Capabilities are composed of the actual day-to-day practices that people and teams do to deliver the outcome. Therefore, to improve a capability, one needs to improve the underlying practices.
Practice Theory provides a socio-technical lens to describe and think about organization (both in the form of social organizations, as well as the action of organizing) that differs substantially from other approaches. Whereas other approaches focus on structural elements (teams, value streams, departments, etc., but also ceremonies and artifacts) and the behavior of individuals, i.e. the being of social entities, practice theory focuses on their doings. Interactions and the interconnectedness come to the foreground when we choose practice as the primary unit of analysis, allowing us to share our context more deeply when we want to understand how work happens, especially across boundaries, and therefore enables a more participative and hence faster way to sustainable change.