July 24, 2014

All Posts Tagged With: Organizational Change

Agile Coaching Blog

Organizational Pain Killers

drug_warningIn any organization, managers and leaders must deal with issues. Conflicts arise, schedules slip, and other unplanned events inevitably occur. This is to be expected, and most managers leap into the breach, doing any number of things to confront these challenges. This may include  lending their own technical know how, working “on the line”, adding time and resources or forcing longer hours onto the team to name a few of the techniques I have seen over the years. Sometimes these sort of interventions can help a team, other times they can be destructive. Of course, if you approach a manager about a specific incident as a coach to understand what happened, there will always be a perfectly understandable explanation.

A very important customer was at stake if they missed the date, they weren’t going to finish anything if more pressure – really overtime work – wasn’t applied, or this was a totally unique circumstance which will  never occur again. Of course, these arguments in isolation are frequently correct, and the solutions sometimes work, for a time. When looking for an analogy of how to explain this behavior, I have come to characterize it as “organizational pain killers”. We work to deal with the various crisis, conflicts and challenges that confront a team, we must ask ourselves, are we solving the actual ailment or are we just administering pain killers?

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Continuous Improvement: Feel the Change

Continuous improvement sounds great. Most companies have policies that state continuous improvement is what they seek. If we all actually did it, think how great our companies would be!

The reality is that most people and companies do not continuously improve. I certainly don’t! There are many reasons that continuous improvement is so hard. One of them is that change is uncomfortable.

Feel the Change

If we are going to continuously improve, we need to become comfortable with change. Big changes are certainly hard but can we use many small changes to get used to how change feels? Yes, we can. Here is a small experiment to prove it! Most people, without even thinking about it, have patterns and habits that we follow. This is good, because remaking all the same little choices every single day would be untenable to our sanity. We can also use these habits to practice feeling change.

As an example I will tell you about how I put my shoes on in the morning. (Maybe this is starting to sound silly but, stay with me here.)

Continuous Improvement Means Many Small Changes

Tie differently (Image (CC) by Maya83 on Flickr)

If I don’t think about the process, this is what I do every time I put on my shoes: [Read more...]


Agile Transformation: Some of What This Agile Coach Has Learned

I had the pleasure of “meeting” my online friend Daniel Markham this week. We had an interesting talk about agile transformation and agile coaching. We still need to shake hands someday but recording a conversation is still pretty great!

Agile Transformation, Agile Coaching, and Everything

In an unscripted interview, Daniel hit me with some difficult questions about life as an agile coach. We spent a good bit of time talking about the challenges of an agile transformation.

Agile Transformation & Agile Coach

We discussed some of the reasons agile is not just about teams and delivery. And we spent some time on how transforming a company means transforming everyone, not just the technology people.

[Read more...]


Subtractive Transformation (or “How Improving a Company is Like Improving a Golf Swing”)

After living overseas for two years and not playing golf the entire time, I returned to the states, joined a golf league, and quickly realized how out of practice I was.  I had always had good luck taking lessons or “tune ups” from a particular golf pro in Boston, but now I was living in Florida, and needed to find someone new.  So, I went to one golf pro, who upon analyzing my swing, suggested a half dozen things I should be doing.

Transformation takes many forms, in this case the golf swing

I got worse.

I went to another pro, who watched my poor excuse for a swing, and promptly suggested a different half dozen things to do.

I got even worse.

Before giving up entirely, I tried yet one more guy.  After watching me fumble through a couple drives, he said “I don’t know who you have been taking lessons from, but they’ve got your head full of rules and you can’t relax out there – that’s why your swing stinks.  Forget about everything they taught you and just get out there and hit the ball.”  (For those who have seen the movie “Tin Cup”, this advice might sound familiar)

I got worse.  But then I started to get better.

The lesson I learned from this was the power of simplicity.  [Read more...]


Lack of Co-location: Problem or Symptom?

I was doing some training with middle managers the other week. We were exploring ways that they can help support their teams and organizational change. The topic of agile team co-location came up and we dove right in.

For them, co-location was a hard problem. They had little control over where their team members were located. Members of any given team might be in the same building, even on the same floor, but company policies made any moves difficult. [Read more...]


Organizational Culture: Map or Maturity Model?

A special thanks for this article is due to several coworkers who have helped create these ideas, further them with discussion, and offer invaluable feedback. While our blogging system only allows one author, a special thanks is due to Skip Angel, Erin Beierwaltes, Carlos Buxton, Devin Hedge, Michele Madore, and Jeff Steinberg. As part of our recent company wide meetings – affectionately called “BVCon” – I explored some of the concepts outlined below. This blog represents some of our current thinking.

I’ve been spending a lot of time researching organizational culture, and its implications for organizational performance, as well as capacity for change and I think I’ve come to a fundamental question about potentially conflicting frameworks. This continues to be an open question for me, and you can consider this blog post to be a further exploration of the topic. Simply put, I see two different ways of looking at culture. The first model is to consider is as a map or canvas of possible values. It’s not so much that any one is good or bad, namely different. The second model looks at it more as a maturity model, which implies there is a specific path organizations should pursue. While this may at first blush appear to be a very semantic argument, I’m finding that choosing one model over the other, or even trying to blend the two, can have very profound impacts for how you coach an organization, help it know itself and improve. Let’s dive in a little deeper. [Read more...]


It’s Not Scrum, It’s You

I was recently teaching a Certified Scrum Master class and was told by a student that Scrum didn’t work because management still comes and demands additional features or projects and sets or keeps the deadlines and not asking for estimates of how long it will take.

That is not a Scrum problem. That’s a business environment problem. And the solution is often the person lamenting it the most. Perhaps it’s like the guy that complains about dogs because his gets into the trash or barks all night. It’s not dogs that are the problem, it’s his allowing his dog to behave that way.

These are the type of complex organizational development problems that are difficult to solve. They take more than a two day class on Scrum fundamentals to solve. They may be very difficult and take a long time, but they are possible. Don’t think that they are not. There is a world of difference in the mindsets behind possible and impossible.

If you fall into the trap that they are impossible, you give up trying – looking for possibilities, options, trying out new ideas. You lose hope. Certainly if you are a leader, it is incumbent upon you for the sake of the people who follow you. The book Strengths-Based Leadership lists the four needs workers have of their leaders: hope, stability, compassion and trust. If you are an agilist, then you are acting as a servant leader, and therefore need to maintain hope.

I couldn’t tell this student how to solve his problem – that’s contextual and that’s why there are coaches helping organizations with these types of cultural and management changes. Even without a coach helping, there’s a lot of places to look for good information on this.

But you won’t take that first step if you are stuck thinking it’s impossible.

This post was originally posted on Scott’s blog and included in VersionOne’s March Agile Chronicles. You can find more about strengths-based agile teams on Scott’s blog.