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Why Is Change So Hard?

March 25th, 2010 1 comment

Over the past several years I have racked up more than just a few frequent flyer miles.  If my math is correct, I think it is the equivalent of flying from the earth to Mars and back 228 times.  Of course don’t trust my math, I made up that figure to represent not the true number of miles, but what it feels like sitting in these narrow seats week after week, and doing your best to think of new and interesting ways of passing the time without having to make small talk with the guy sitting just millimeters away (I find intently reading a book while holding a highlighter really does the trick, and I have a feeling that it is the power of the highlighter that says to would be conversationalist ‘hey, this guy is so serious about what he is reading, that he is planning on coming back to review it later.’)  It’s not that I don’t enjoy a nice conversation now and again, and I have had plenty while sitting on a plane, it is just that after a few days standing in front of a room of people who have come to one of my classes, I have lost much of the motivation it takes to want to sound interesting to a stranger, especially one that did not pay to hear me speak:)  And I should also point out that I write this while sitting in seat 10C on Delta flight 1131, and although I do have a neighbor in 10A, the one seat buffer seems to keep me from having to engage, thus allowing me to post this entry.

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Now of course I didn’t pay for the inflight internet to complain about airplanes, the narrow seats, or the uncomfortable forced conversations that happen on them.  I am writing this because in the fast few weeks, I have had multiple experiences with several different teams all struggling with the same issue, how to transition to an Agile approach.  These were not new experiences for me, in fact I have heard these same songs being sung since I entered this training business and focused on Agile transitions.  The difference is my evolving understanding as to the cause of the difficulty and the nature of the pain these teams are experiencing.

CHANGE IS TOUGH!

I just wanted to get that out of the way in case any person or team was thinking that their transition was going to be easy.  And let me be clear, the change I am speaking of is not the ability to understand a new process or a new approach.  It is not whether a team is able to identify or understand the underlying reasons for the change or clearly defining the organization value stream associated with their development efforts.  These areas (and more) all represent something that can be taught, something that can be learned, they represent new knowledge and techniques for defining the unknown.  My classes cover these areas in depth.  So if not these areas, then what?  What is this difficult part of making a transition of this kind?

The culture. The undefinable piece of our organization that makes us unique, makes our cogs turns, allowing (forcing?) everyone to share the same values and expectations of action/processes/methodologies/etc.  It is what makes us ‘us’.

Here is what happens most often when a company realizes that they must update their approach for product development to one utilizing an Agile flavor (or any other change of this magnitude.)  The senior management identifies with the advantages that the change will offer, they read white papers on how other companies (including their competitors possibly) are utilizing the new approach to make advances in innovation, efficiencies, cost savings, etc.  They send their team to get the requisite training.  The team gets excited, returns to the company, and begins to operate in a way that they believe will make the improvements offered by the change.  But then something happens, things are not as easy as they had hoped.  The new approach seems to uncover problems they weren’t aware of previously, the new approach seems to cause problems, the new approach is actually slower than the old approach, the new approach seems like more work, the new approach may not be working at all.  The excitement, the momentum for change, the forward motion that the team experienced early on has now slowed, and there is growing sentiment to go back to what they previously were doing.  ”It may not be great, but it kinda worked and we knew how to do it” they might say.  And before the team knows it, the old process has returned, warts and all.

This scenario is a representation of a company culture that is oscillating between two structural tensions pulling in opposite directions.  The companies that follow the above example likely have a culture that favors predictability, stability, metrics, milestones, and plans, thus creating a tension in their organization that keeps them to a plan based approach for development.  In the above example, the change identified might have been introduced with the idea that innovation, responsiveness to change, competitiveness, and an amount of realistic uncertainty will move the company in a positive direction.  Unfortunately, this also creates a structural tension within the organization, but pulling in the opposite direction, thus resulting in structural oscillation.  The worst part of this story is that the company above will likely go through many cycles of the scenario, each subsequent scenario and its inevitable failure undermining the next attempt to change the company in a positive way.

Sound familiar?  It likely does, because it is a common thing to hear people in organizations like this say “oh, here we go again, the latest fad” when a new initiative is introduced.  And there is never a shortage of new initiatives, is there?

So what do we do?  How do organizations make lasting change?  It is possible, but rather than change to the superficial wrapper of what it is we are doing in a top down approach (thus opening the likelihood we will become nothing more than a Cargo Cult Agile team), we must address the structure that affects the overall direction of the company, the culture.

I will address this idea of culture as a primary component of our change efforts, but it will have to be in a future post, as I just got word from the captain, we are starting our descent.  Looks like I may have to have that conversation after all, my neighbor just asked me about my blog.

Until next time, let me know what you have done to affect a positive, lasting change in your company’s culture.  I would love to hear war stories, even disaster stories if you got em, I know I do.

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Simple Rules For Success: Show Up. Be Like Delaware.

March 17th, 2010 1 comment

US ConstitutionI write this post on a flight to Philadelphia, the city that hosted a special session of the Continental Congress, charged with the monumental task of drafting the Constitution of the United States.  It got me thinking about the historical significance of this effort, at least as we reflect on it today.  But during the summer of 1787, when this precious document was drafted, there was not the focus or import placed on the task that we might imagine there had been.  In fact several states failed to send representatives to assist in the creation of this document, a document that would be the foundation for the creation of the greatest nation on the planet.  Let me repeat that, several states failed to send delegates to help craft the document.

The approach to writing the Constitution was not orderly, nor was representation of responsibility divided among states based on their size or population.  It was based on one single fact: those who showed up were allowed/requested to assist in penning the effort.  Those who showed up were able to vote on inclusions and omissions.  Those who showed up ultimately made a greater impact than any other opportunity in history.

During that stifling hot summer of 1787 when the Continental Congress held their special session in Philadelphia, the very small state of Delaware showed up.  They didn’t send 1 delegate or 2, they sent 5.  That might not sound like much, but the average number of delegates on the floor of the Continental Congress that summer numbered at just 30.  The delegates from Delaware showed up.  Day after day these delegates showed up.  After the session concluded for the day they continued the conversation and work outside of the Congress walls.  Delaware.  In contrast, New York attempted to send delegates but never had enough together at one time to achieve a quorum and were subsequently left out of every single vote.  Delaware’s impact on the final version of our Constitution was “stratospheric”. [The Little Big Things. Tom Peters. 2010]

For the next two days I will be delivering a class on the topic of Agile Project Management.  And being in the city where our Constitution was penned, I will be including this notion that showing up can often amount to half the battle.  I rarely write to the least common denominator (read my other posts if you doubt), in fact I write about those qualities and traits required for consistent excellence, but in this case let me clear…Excellence is not possible if we fail to show up in the first place.  Our ability to influence change and produce excellence in our personal and professional lives requires that we show up.  Consistently.  As the adage goes, we may not be able to perfectly predict when opportunity will avail itself to us, but showing up on a consistent basis greatly increases the likelihood that we will be present when that bells rings.

Delaware showed up.  Not because they were told that the Constitution would hold more importance than any other single document in the history of the country, they showed up because it was their duty and they were seeking any possible opportunity.  Why didn’t other states show up?  Why didn’t other states organize and participate at the intense level of Delaware?  Well it was a stifling hot summer, remember?  There was no air conditioning of course, and the thought of spending long days arguing fine details of a document that may not amount of much just did not rise to the level of importance for several of the states to make the journey.  I’m talking about you New York.

Be a Delaware.  Rather than trying to time your efforts, simply apply your excellent efforts on a consistent basis and you will be blessed when reviewing your work with the benefit of hindsight.  Show up and be ready.  Without this first step nothing else much matters.  As my dad used to tell me, all the potential in the world doesn’t amount to much.

Well, my in-flight internet is about to be turned off.  Until next time, think about the simple things that make all the difference.

Bill Gaiennie

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After Many Months in a Coma, My Blog Finally Awoke!

March 12th, 2010 2 comments

As I write these words, the first words written on this blog in a very long time, I cannot help but be keenly aware that there is likely no one left to read them.  But I will write them anyways, because they need to written.  It has been a long time since I last posted, and many hours have been spent between the time of that last post and now wondering why I left this blog abandoned.  It wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy the writing, it wasn’t because I thought I wasn’t doing a good job, and it wasn’t because I wasn’t getting any traffic.  The only reason I can seem to point to is that I was overly focused on only delivering a post that was perfectly polished, which often meant that each post took a fair amount of time researching and writing.  In other words, I had set the precedent for myself that in order for a post to make it on the blog, it meant committing to a fair amount of work.  This became the barrier that I failed to overcome, especially after a one week lapse turned into two.  Then that two week lapse turned into a month.  And so on.

So why am I returning?  Because I love writing this blog.  Even though it didn’t have a long life, I enjoyed doing it, enjoyed the feedback, and enjoyed the challenge.  But why am I returning now, rather than months ago?  Because of something I heard this past week at the Scrum Gathering in Orlando…Agile teams ship.  The simple way of stating that we cannot polish or procrastinate forever, we must ship, sometimes earlier than we would like, but we must ship.  So I must return, get over my self-inflicted precedent of only posting perfected posts, and get on with the business of sharing my thoughts and observations gathered from working with companies across the country and now across the globe (I was honored with the opportunity to teach several classes in Switzerland last week.)

And lastly, to anyone that may be reading these words, thank you for returning.  I promise to keep my blog out of any other comas in the future.

Bill

P.S.  Sad but true fact, as I was attempting to log in to write this post, it had been so long since I accessed the admin portion of my blog that I forgot my username and password.  I forgot how to login to my own blog!

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