Open Space Agility (OSA)

Open Space Agility (OSA)

Author: Henny Portman

In one of my previous posts I discussed the new framework AgileSHIFT. A generic framework for organizations to make the shift towards agility. One of the reactions I received was a reference to Open Space Agility. As an ‘agile framework digger’ I had to take a deep dive into Open Space Agility (OSA).

Open Space Agility can help organizations with:

  • A dramatic reduction in the coaching & training costs of your agile program
  • A rapid, genuine and lasting agile transformation
  • Much higher employee engagement scores
  • Predictable, reliable, repeatable improvement in overall results
  • Increases in stakeholder satisfaction and potentially, stakeholder delight

Open Space Agility actually embodies the agile principles of iteration, experimentation, frequent inspection, and improvement. The five steps are repeated in an iterative fashion:

  1. Leadership and enterprise preparation
  2. Initiate the process using an all-hands “Open Space” meeting
  3. Initiate agile practices across the enterprise
  4. Complete the process in open space
  5. Inspect results and adapt

As we can see in the big picture and these five steps, engagement is key and can perfectly combined with other agile frameworks. E.g. you want to introduce SAFe you can follow the SAFe implementation roadmap. But to create buy-in, engagement and increase the energy Open Space Agility can help to create the right mindset.


If we look at the big picture (please visit for a downloadable version of the big picture) , we see a timeline of 100 days, two open space meetings, 60 days before the first open space meeting and 30 days after the second open space meeting to level up. During those 100 days we experiment with agile practices, and then inspect the results about every 100 days. Start and end the 100 days in open space. During the 100 days, “suspend disbelief,” “act as if,” and “pretend” these Agile principles and practices might actually work. After the 100 days, discard practices that are not working. Improve and keep using practices that are working.

There are just a few open space roles. A sponsor who authorizes the meeting. The facilitator, authorized by the sponsor, to execute the meeting from start to finish and the participants to attend the sessions. Some participants become conveners and initiate small-group discussions. The coach who is responsible for delivering guidance on specific practices and facilitation of meetings.

Open Space has a light structure. The meeting starts in a large circle, where those attending learn about the 5 principles and 1 law of Open Space. The Five Principles are:

  • Whoever comes is the right people
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
  • Whenever it starts is the right time
  • When it’s over, it’s over
  • Wherever it happens is the right place

The One Law: If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet, and go someplace else.

It will take around 60 days of preparation before you can start with the first open space meeting. Part of the preparation will be the selection of a theme that frames the story of the open space experience for participants. The theme helps participants “know what it means.”.

Make sure that your meetings are optional and work only with the willing and leaders go first. They have to show that they are willing to do their leadership work in an agile way. To give all potential attendees enough time to consider the invitation and discuss with others it is recommended to give them around 6 weeks.

The management of the organization has to understand the difference between a mandate and an invitation, the open space meeting format, their role as a sponsor, the importance of storytelling and the importance of supporting and encouraging emergent leadership.

During the first open space meeting (OST-1) the participants learn about how Open Space works. They experience diverse perspectives on the agile adoption from diverse sources: teams, executives, managers, directors, and stakeholders. The participants learn that there will be another open space meeting in about 100 days (OST-2). This is the event where all of the experience from the 100 days of agile practices is inspected and reviewed. This allows everyone to give the agile practices a try.

Between the two open space meetings any practice that aligns with the Agile Manifesto is a candidate practice to experiment with. This could be done in the form of iterations (visualized by the numbers 1 – 8, but these iterations are not mandatory). A lot of experimentation is happing to understand the 4 values and 12 principles of the agile manifesto. Organizational learning, emergent leadership, leadership storytelling, direct experience, experimentation and game mechanics are key. Depending on the chosen framework or way of working additional roles can emerge. One specific OSA role is worthwhile to mention: the informal “Master of Ceremonies” role who provides reassurance and guidance through a difficult transition.

After the second open space meeting it is expected that the group can clearly identify the top issues of immediate concern. Each issue has a champion who brings passion and responsibility and a wider team who pitch in to help. In this manner a sense of progress across the entire organization begins to manifest. Before long, the culture starts to tip in the direction of continuous improvement and a strong intention to create great results. When this happens, many impediments tend to go away, as those who are not really supporting the new culture realize that more than a few things have changed in the past 100 days. The culture is actually shifting.

Titel: Scaling Agile in organisaties
Auteur: Henny Portman

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