Lean Thinking

19 September 2017

Pirate Teams

Written by Published in Agile

A few months ago I saw a meme floating around contrasting a good agile team with a group of cowboy coders. Their chosen metaphor was a nautical one. The good agile team was the navy (age of sail style) - disciplined, focused, effective, working together for a common purpose. The bad team was, of course, pirates - rough, undisciplined, attacking stuff at random, scary but ultimately ineffective.

I looked at that, and knowing a little something about pirates (real ones, not the Long John Silver/Jack Sparrow/Captain Hook type Hollywood ones) it didn't quite ring true. In fact, if you look a little deeper, the age of sail navy is actually quite a good metaphor for traditional organisations and pirates actually make a great agile team. Since this is International Talk Like A Pirate Day, heave to for a moment ye scurvy dogs and let me explain.

05 September 2017

Why Do Agile Teams Slip?

Written by Published in Agile

"Come and have a look at my team" says my new stakeholder. "We have been doing agile for a few years now and while we started well, I think we have slipped back to old habits". How often have you heard this when starting a new engagement? Quite often? What do you see when you take a look? It's usually lack of planning, absence of meaningful retrospectives, ineffective standups, lax WIP limits, poor metrics, mini waterfalls. Yep. They have slipped all right.

When you ask the team why they think they have slipped, you will usually get answers like "we scaled up and things went wrong" or "the rest of the organisation is pulling us back" or "some key people left" or something like that. In my experience these are never the real reason. They may have contributed, but the underlying problem is something else entirely. That underlying problem is almost always the same - they never had the basics right in the first place.

Written by Published in Agile

Last time we looked at some of the challenges around organisational change and the need to flip the system from one attractor to another. But where does that leave us? We know organisational change is hard. We know that we need to change the state of the system. We know that traditional approaches run out of steam and the system settles back to where it was before (often after thrashing wildly). We know we still want to change organisations. But how? How should we be doing organisational change?

Traditional approaches fail for a few reasons - they try to do a massive change all at once but don't add enough energy to push the system into a new state, or they add so much energy that the system breaks completely and descends into chaos, or they go the other way and try to do a low energy change but they can't sustain for long enough and they don't manage to shift the system. So what do we do?

08 August 2017

Attractors

Written by Published in Agile

Organisational change is hard. I don't think there are many people who will disagree with that statement. But let's look a little closer at it. What about organisational change is the hard bit? It's not getting change started. Generally organisations know they need to change constantly and are quite accepting of the fact that change happens. They have change teams and change champions and change consultants to help their many change programs succeed. But often, at the end of the day, despite all the effort that goes into these change programs, nothing actually changes. Once the dust settles, the organisation is left essentially the way it was.

It doesn't matter what kind of change it is, agile adoption, cultural change, new processes. They all tend to end up with the organisation reverting over time to its old behaviour. Why? Is it just the universe trying to be awful to people who do change for a living? No. The reason change doesn't stick comes from the study of the behaviour of complex adaptive systems. In particular from something called attractors.

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