Collaboration Without Dogma

Working Together to be Free of Overcontrol

Jim Benson
5 min readOct 3, 2022
Dogma is something held as an established opinion.

We struggle with dogma at the office, mostly because we don’t recognize we are under its influence. We think that dogma requires a church, which requires hundreds of years of history.

Not the case.

Dogma is an opinion you have mistaken for a fact and then used that option to control the behavior of others.

Professional Behavior watches for the reality of your work and adapts and learns accordingly. Changes in expectations, discoveries of complexity, incorporation of new opportunities, and rapid problem solving are what professionals do, and they do all these things collaboratively.

Dogma Hates Professionalism

When we are working and not adapting to change, learning from new opportunities, or solving problems, we are likely stuck in any number of minor dogma.

The Schedule — Once you print your schedule, it is wrong. Maybe only in subtle ways at first, but they become more egregious as time goes on. If you have a one week sprint, your schedule is likely more accurate than a six month project. But it is still wrong. Every day brings new surprises. Your schedule becomes dogma the moment it becomes more important than professional behavior-agency and psychological safety become less important than on-time performance.

The Plan — Staff allocation, dependencies, funding, partnering opportunities, design, fabrication…all the things that go into your project require coordination that is usually stated in a plan by not created by the team or teams involved. This means that there is always the written dogma of the plan and the way the professionals would have rather worked. The larger the delta between the dogma and the professionals…the more detrimental it is.

Standard Work Without the Andon — Standard work is what you are expected to do every day. It is extremely important for teams to have standard work, but the more that standard work deviates from what the professionals would do to create a product they are proud of, the more it becomes prescribed work. Prescribed work is dogma. Prescribed work is what people do because the doctrine demands it. Standard work requires collaboration at all levels to ensure that the means and methods used by the team are improved, believed in, and professionally applied. This means anyone should be able to stop work and improve both process and product.

Why Collaboration Matters

The more we give up our individual freedoms, the more we are persecuted individually. The more we exercise our individual freedoms, the more we collaborate and contribute. Sound counterintuitive? It’s a shame that it does, but here is how it works…

When we start to think about what we are capable of or how we can best personally improve, we instantly discover that we will best suit those needs in the company of others. Even something as simple as working out, we research it on the internet (learning from others), join a gym (the resources of others), get a coach (that’s a person!), and often go with a workout buddy.

When we get into the office or into an endeavor with other people, we quickly see that isolationism and silos create opportunities for miscommunication, misalignment, and rework. These seem academic, but most of the work we do in companies of size tends to be in response to the fact that everyone is working as an individual and the team itself is underinformed.

Collaboration is the only way we have any idea what is going on and what the best use of our time might be.

Dogma’s Impact: When we bring dogma into the mix, it becomes an authority higher than the professionals doing the work. Professional judgment is questioned when it deviates from the central authority. This means that an initial assumption or belief is more important than the people doing the work.

Not good.

Diffusing Dogma: Dogma will stop us from making good decisions, learning, or fixing things because dogma wants rigid and irresponsible predictability, not a working system. It lies to itself by creating “right ways” to do things and then assuming those arbitrary creations apply to all team or at least to the plan for your team. Either way, all teams meet change. Different types of work require different management styles.

It may shock people to know that at Modus we are currently on one week iterations to keep our batch sizes low and turn around times quick after the launch of The Collaboration Equation. We needed clarity, so we are running this work through a shared Obeya on iObeya, with currently a team of eight. We are doing this because the work requires it.

When this initial launch is done, we will be returning to a flow based system as we create new classes for Modus Institute and working with our consulting clients. Because the work will be better suited for that type of flow.

The Dogmas of Scrum v Kanban, Lean v Agile, or PMI v Prince2, or Six Sigma v the world, are all self-perpetuating fights to keep us bought in to one constant way of working that will never survive an entire project of any complexity. Teams should define their work, figure out what is needed and when, look at the complexity, and collaborate to create a way of working that allows them to be the best professionals they can be.

Anything else is just pretending you are professionals.

About Jim Benson

Jim Benson is an award-winning Lean and Agile systems designer. He is the creator of Personal Kanban and Lean Coffee. He is the co-author (with Tonianne DeMaria) of the best seller: Personal Kanban.

His newest book The Collaboration Equation just hit the shelves in Sept. 2022.

His other books include Why Limit WIP, Why Plans Fail, and Beyond Agile.

He is a winner of the Shingo Award for Excellence in Lean Thinking and the Brickell Key Award. He and Tonianne teach online at Modus Institute and consult regularly, helping clients in all verticals create working systems. He regularly keynotes conferences, focusing on making work rewarding and humane.



Jim Benson

I have always respected thoughtful action. I help companies find the best ways of working.| Bestselling inventor and author of Personal Kanban with @sprezzatura