Last week’s article on why we should stop saying and thinking “transformation” and why we should start thinking in terms of a continuum, has gotten so much great response that it makes me worry it will also fall under the eyes of those who just read the title and thought I am offering a license to do nothing at all and by Job last we need, is to give them any more permission! Here’s to hoping that’s but a touch of paranoia on my part to fear it. It must be the same fear one of my fellow #Agile Anthropologists had when yesterday he documented a sad state of affairs he’s observed in this great article as last he needs too is for anyone to use it to say “see? Agile doesn’t work!”
The story is all too familiar. Half-baked Agile unsupported by a change in WOT. Agile by numbers. Agile as seen on BigConsultancyTV with no change of mindset. Agile as process. The Agile party in the IT department and Waterfall BAU in the business. Us and them. #WowNotWoT. Guess what? It’s breaking. It will do so even more over the next few years. The foundation-less big “transformations”. What’s the answer to changing that then?
Someone suggested there’s scope for “burn it all” and l think that ought not to be quite as preposterous as meets the eye. There is no reason why big design thinking exercises oughtn’t to be cyclical and returned to. In particular, if they are needed to re-examine and re-set a way of thinking that hasn’t had real change.
In general, knowing a blue-skying tabula-rasa moment is around the corner may be unsettling (and then it becomes a question of the strength of purpose, clarity of vision and having everyone around the drawing board) but it’s the cornerstone to being #Agile. True flexibility is where burning it all down is firmly etched into the way of work, central to the way of thinking, expected and maybe even celebrated. Why celebrated? No matter how much you like the look and health benefits of muscles you won’t put yourself through it enough to get them without falling in love with lifting itself.
So burn it all down and make this the first mandatory design stop: falling in love with flexibility top-down and bottom-up. Not an inflexible eye left in the house once the push for passion, resilience and most of all courage concludes.
Find ways to build a culture where the practice of change is valued above a sleuth of results and certainly placed above an obsession with process.
In this amazing clip Patty McCord quotes lesson 8 as “Every company needs to be excited about change” she says “If I had a dream company I would say: “Everything’s changed: all bets are off. We were running as fast as we could to the right and now we’re taking a hard left and everybody in the company would stand up and go “Yes!”. I’d say that if there’s a way to design that hard left together then the “Yes!” will be louder but that’s secondary whereas the enthusiasm and excitement for change in itself are fundamental.
So if we agree a restart is needed or that a big pivot is next – does that mean everything should “transform”? Are we doing the “transformation” thing after all? I don’t think so. It is just your run-of-the-mill continuous change and betterment.
The biggest problem with the waterfall style of thinking is that it gives the impression that there are blocks of time dedicated to a certain action: now it’s the time to think, now it’s the time to plan, now it’s the time to do. These have to be separated, individual, and that we cannot intermingle them. Once your thinking time is done, it’s over. No more questioning, no more examining, no more big learning. Curiosity is banished, feedback is an imposition. There’s a clear plan. It’s in stone. Or at the very least, “settled”. And it would have to be so that you’re ever “done”.
The sequence is needed if we believe the progression to be necessary to the finished outcome. That is if we believe the outcome ever has to be fully cooked, polished and placed on a high shelf. It’s a stance that may still fit some remaining industries and may build some products but that is utterly impossible to reconcile with any knowledge industry today.
Here’s a simple test – is there scope for excelling with DevOps in your organisation? Then you’re never “done”, it’s never “settled” and you can’t avail yourself of the perceived comfort of antiquated sequential business models. If you make or employ technology and have a CI/CD pipe for your software (or at least ambitions for one) then you have to have an accompanying CI/CD pipe for your thoughts.
It’s in this pipeline that the work may have to be done again. Not the coding work but the thinking work. Once in a while, when things start going like in the story above stop, regroup, rethink, re-learn, re-design. Burn it all to the ground. If you do so gleefully and as a team you’ll be rebuilding stronger and more sustainably in no time, and with immensely more success than if you tried to ignore the need to do so, sweep it under the carpet, plaster over cracks and keep to the plan.