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  • Jon Smart

Antipatterns and Patterns

Organizations are complex adaptive systems. There is no one way of working that suits every context. There is no such thing as “best practice”; there is no one-size-fits-all set of practices. Your context is unique.

So then, how to change?

In the context of change it is better to think in terms of patterns and antipatterns rather than prescriptive solutions.

An antipattern is a common response to a situation that, more often than not, is ineffective and risks being highly counterproductive. Antipatterns are approaches that have been seen many times to not optimize for outcomes, sometimes setting an organization back many years and creating organizational scar tissue and a strong headwind. Very occasionally an antipattern for the majority of organizations might be a pattern for one organization: for example, perhaps a scenario where cashflow is running short, and it’s a high risk, do-or-die strategy for an organization.

A pattern is a response to a situation that, more often than not, is effective and improves desired outcomes, of course with ups and downs, backs and forths, and swings and roundabouts, as it’s all about people. A pattern can help create a tailwind. It has repeatedly improved outcomes and become “sticky.” It can help create a tailwind for change. Your context is unique. The way you use these patterns to improve the outcomes for your organisation will vary. In some rare contexts, a pattern might be an antipattern. However, we would advise caution and not use this as a rationale to knowingly adopt an antipattern with a command-and-control, deterministic mindset. We would suggest starting with the patterns and experiment with fast feedback.

Example pairs of antipatterns and corresponding patterns:

  • Local optimization (antipattern), increasing agility in just one part of the end-to-end flow, for example in IT alone, does not optimize for sooner delivery of value to customers. Instead, visualise and improve the whole system of work, focus on and optimize for the fast end-to-end flow of value (pattern).

  • Weaponized metrics (antipattern) focus the mind on achieving a target, at almost any cost , or on activities rather than outcomes. This usually has unintended consequences, can increase fear, prevent learning and in the worst case leads to unethical behavior. Instead, encourage a data-led, experimental mindset, with a focus on a positive trend on a balanced set of outcomes. Unlock measurability, make data available to self-serve, with capabilities to drill down, draw correlations, and insights. Measure for learning, as a fast feedback loop, enabling agility (pattern)

The book, Sooner Safer Happier is here to help you, leaders at all levels, in all roles on your unique journey to improve your ways of working, delivering better value sooner safer happier outcomes. The collection of antipatterns and patterns are grouped into eight chapters, each chapter being a key learning. These are approaches that have been experienced by the authors and observed across many organizations to—more often than not—act as a headwind (antipattern) or a tailwind (pattern) to improving outcomes.

by Jon Smart, 11/10/22


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