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Scrum Day Speaker Spotlight: Keith McCandless, Co-Developer, Liberating Structures

Updated: Mar 4, 2023

Scrum Day Speaker Spotlight

Keith McCandless, Co-Developer, Liberating Structures

Liberating Structures (LS) help guide the way we organize routine interactions and how groups work together. Traditionally, organizations have relied upon structures such as presentations, status reports, managed or open discussions, and brainstorming sessions. Liberating Structures add 33 more options to this mix that deliver deeper engagement and tap into the innovative powers of everyone in the group. Scrum Day speaker Keith McCandless is the co-developer of LS and will offer insights and an opportunity to experience the approach.

Keith’s official backstory

Keith is the co-developer of Liberating Structures. He consults with business, government, philanthropic, research, educational, and health organizations worldwide, focusing on how to address complex challenges and include everyone in shaping the future.

Keith holds a Master’s in Management of Human Services from Brandeis University in Boston and a BA from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Keith now lives in Seattle with his wife, Annie, and Deacon, the whippet with a talent to amuse. Keith and Henri Lipmanowicz have worked as partners since 2001 to develop Liberating Structures.

Published works and resources:

Origin of Liberating Structures

Keith and his LS co-developer Henri Lipmanowicz shared a hunch that they could translate complexity science insights (think of Jeff Goldblum’s role as a chaos theorist in Jurassic Park) into practical management applications. The two met at a Veterans Affairs workshop in Ohio, where Keith’s keen interest in methods and Henri’s business acumen clicked.

“In 2001–2003, we began to test rough prototypes within health organizations in Latin America and Europe,” states Keth. “Henri and I worked together as consultants to organizations trying to make progress on chronic challenges such as growing market share, engaging the workforce, improving productivity, conducting user research, launching innovations, boosting reliability/safety, and building trust.”

In the eleven years before publishing the LS book, Keith and Henri’s hunch slowly but surely developed into a robust repertoire of approaches for including everyone in shaping the future. One by one, they prototyped methods or microstructures that made it practical and seriously fun to involve all voices in shaping next steps. Keith states the two gleefully cut across academic disciplines, stood on the shoulders of giants, tapped spiritual practices, roamed the planet, and deepened scientific insights as they developed their consulting practice.

Greatest success using Liberating Structures

Keith states that since publishing the LS book, the practices have spread exponentially and in unexpected directions. Both the book and app are now available in dozens of languages, and users across six continents have used LS to unleash bold applications in diverse domains. “From boardrooms to classrooms, from raising children to coaching sessions, from laboratories to the White House, our initial hunches were tiny compared with what has unfolded.”

Keith says his consulting practice is never dull or routine. He treasures his work with the Flathead Indian Reservation to improve health, NASA leaders to accelerate innovative initiatives, hospitals to halt the spread of superbugs, the World Bank to shape new development strategies, and an international NGO working to end violent conflict and tyranny.

Most frequently used Liberating Structure

Keith’s go-to LS is TRIZ, which is designed to stop counterproductive activities and behaviors to make space for innovation. “TRIZ generates cathartic laughter and productive changes for challenges that have no quick fixes,” he states. He explains that everyone wants more innovation, but often there is little space for anything new to take root. TRIZ identifies the perfect adverse system and clears a path forward. It’s counterintuitive and wildly effective, allowing fresh ideas to rush into the open space.

Largest group using Liberating Structures

“In a face-to-face setting, we’ve used LS with a group of 800 people,” states Keith. “Online, it’s about 1,200, but we’ve heard of even larger numbers from other users.”

All the LS tools scale and follow a similar pattern. They feature time for individuals to collect their thoughts, then have a conversation with one other person, followed by a small group. “Part of the process involves making the ideas, insights, and suggestions from the groups visible to the whole community, explains Keith. “We include every participant in shifting and sorting the ideas to generate the next steps.”

Those attending Scrum Day will get a sense of how this works.

What Keith is looking forward to most at Scrum Day USA

What’s most exciting to Keith is seeing how others use Liberating Structures. The earliest adopters were Scrum coaches in Germany and the Netherlands. Johannes Schartau, Barry Overeem and Christiaan Verwijs adapted the entire LS repertoire to their work with Scrum teams and Agile transformations. These authors of the Zombie Scrum Survival Guide made the LS app, design cards, hosted immersion workshops, and wrote insightful volumes on liberating within and across teams. Keith says that very quickly, he was learning from them.

“I am looking forward to the sparks that fly when great minds come together,” states Keith. “How is LS an ‘operating system’ for human interactions?” He adds that he wants to learn how Scrum leaders are making liberating transitions up, down, and across their organizations. He’s curious about the adaptations arising from the health, economic, and social challenges over the last few years. As the old doors closed, new doors opened. He wants to know what thresholds people are crossing now.

Keith will be the morning keynote speaker for Scrum Day USA, scheduled for September 14, 2023.


Scrum Day happens September 14, 2023, at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin. Don’t miss out on hearing from Keith McCandless and our amazing speakers! Get your ticket to Scrum Day today while Early Bird pricing lasts.

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