Scrum, Agile, & the state of American policing


I have a confession to make:
I have no idea what either Agile or Scrum are. 
No, this isn't some sort of insider self-reflecting challenge. I really don't know what they are or what they're used for. (Can you "use" them?) Or where they came from. Or who came up with them. But they're capitalized, so I'm assuming someone...like..."owns" them or something...? I'm seriously guessing when I say I think they're for computer or programming stuff.

But I'm pretty sure at least one of them involves Post-It notes.

And as a collegiate rugby player, I don't think we're talking about the same scrum.

As a policeman, you might say it's reasonable or expected that I don't know what Agile or Scrum are. Probably just as expected that someone in the industry that "uses" Agile or Scrum wouldn't have the vaguest idea on a list of terms that I use daily in the police station.

But in October 2017, I was invited to Enterprise Scrum - Business Agility Global Conference in Chicago. Gregory Kramer and I connected via social media, through a common online connection with highly respected business consultant Tom Peters.  Gregory had been reading much of what I've been writing about adaptability, decision-making, design, and of course...The Illinois Model.  Knowing I lived in Chicago, and feeling that what I was doing was paralleling much of what the conference attendees were doing in their industries, he invited me to pop into the conference and meet some people.

[Side note: In 2014-ish, I started observing (via comments, replies, shares) that my blog posts were being consumed and appreciated by a growing percentage of non-police readers. These are people in design, education, coaching, engineering, and tech industries.]

Lou Hayes & Gregory Kramer (Chicago; 2017)

I sent some messages to conference coordinator Mike Beedle to make sure all was OK that I drop in without registering or paying. He never responded. (I later learned he's a very busy guy during the conference!) So...I took a chance and showed up. Yeah, you're right...I crashed it.

It was the first time I actually met Gregory in real life. When he introduced me to various individuals and groups, he'd say:
This is Lou. He's a cop. He does Agile. 
Crap. I do Agile?!? I don't even know what the hell that is.  So I turned to skills learned as a Detective:
  • Embrace not knowing, but try not to look dumb.
  • Ask carefully crafted questions, and not stupid ones.
  • Let them talk, and connect it all on-the-fly.
Whatever the attendees did for their jobs, we shared a common outlook, mindset, and approach to working in a state of volatility, uncertainly, complexity, and ambiguity. We talked similar concepts, but used different language and jargon. We had been influenced by many of the same people and groups. It was just that our applications of theory were radically isolated.

American policing is very much paralleling the adaptive, systems-based endeavors of many other industries. In some cases, policing is light-years ahead in practice (without consciousness of the underlying, abstract theory). In other cases, policing is lagging far, far behind (again, lacking consciousness of theory or practice). But all in all, we have people thinking about these things and working to design better systems to stack-the-deck in our favors.

The purposeful, intentional discussion of adaptive concepts in American policing is new. I first got introduced to them about a dozen years ago, but haven't really seen much activity beyond the last three (3) to five (5) years. The number of folks sharing these principles from the broad and integrated perspectives of:

  • learning/training, 
  • supervision/leadership, 
  • policy design, 
  • emotional intelligence, 
  • intel analysis, 
  • decision-making, 
  • field operations planning, 
  • evaluation/debriefing, 
  • report writing, 
  • equipment selection...

...well..the number of folks is small. Very small to be candid. The number grows, but still marginally so, if you consider those dabbling in specific-application arenas. (I'll call them "silos" & suggest you do the same! haha.)

One particularly inquisitive question asked of me: How many cops in the country are doing what you're doing? It wasn't a difficult question to answer, as I'd thought about the very issue before. The answer as I see it is about a half-dozen. (You'll know who they are by who re-posts this blog on social media.) While there might be a few that I don't know of, I venture to say we all know each other through our various networks.

I predict you'll read and hear more and more about adaptability in policing in the near future. The theories are spreading. As with any other good (read: profitable) idea in police training, the principles are being learned, taken, repackaged, and sold again and again. That's how police culture shifts and matures. I believe as long as the adaptive folks are setting the course, we are moving slowly in a good direction.

My fear is that those discussing the ideas in the future will be those who only know the information "slide deep" - what's on the projected slide and not much else. If "adaptability" becomes a course, rather than a holistic philosophy, we will find ourselves missing the main point. We cannot replace one standardized cookie cutter program with another; that goes against the entire theory of adaptability!!

When compared to other industries, policing might have an leg up on others with a headstart in many of our silos. We just need to integrate, diversify, universalize, and collaborate more with the abstract, yet applicable concepts, values, and principles of adaptability. Selfishly so, I hope you consider The Illinois Model as a framework to help do just that.

I left the Enterprise Scrum conference believing I learned a lot. I also felt like I served as a worthy ambassador of the handful of the police adaptability geeks to the Agile / Scrum crowd. (Heck, a few guys even asked why I wasn't speaking at the event! haha.) American policing needs to look outside the law enforcement echo chamber to get that fresh perspective. The global Agile / Scrum community should be one of our sources.

Am I "doing" Agile? I'm still not sure. I'll have to leave that answer to those who know what the heck it is. Some of them seem to think we in American policing are "doing" it.

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Lou Hayes, Jr. is a police detective unit supervisor in suburban Chicago. He studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr or on LinkedIn

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