Lean Thinking

Tuesday, 08 August 2017 11:23


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.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017 11:17

Open Financial Figures

Published in Agile

It's bonus time here at work right now so everyone (well, all the permies anyway) is excited about finances all of a sudden. The corridors are abuzz with talk about last year's performance, our EBIT, EBITDA, ROI, earnings, operating costs and of course the most important question of all - "what does all this mean for my bonus this year?". Anticipation builds as finance gets ready to release the all-important set of yearly numbers.

The company's financial results are really important and everyone should engage with them. After all, that's really why we are all here (even us contractors) - to make the company successful. Engaging with the financials is great. The problem here is that people engage for about a week around bonus time, then once that's done and dusted, they go back to focusing on their own individual KPIs and ignore the financials for the rest of the year. That's not what we want. We want people to focus on the financials all the time. So how do we do that?

Published in Agile

Often in large organisations we have to deal with groups with names like "legal" or "compliance" or to use an example from my days in the healthcare software industry "patient safety". To a project manager, the function of these groups seems to be to throw up obstacles and prevent getting things done. These groups tend to appear out of the woodwork near the end of a project, inspect everything that has been produced, identify a bunch of problems and then block release until they are all fixed. The problem of course is that at the end of a project, everything has already been built so changing things is hard and expensive. There is also a very good chance that the money is starting to run out so these changes would push the project well over budget. Throw in a rapidly approaching release date and a team already stressed with defects and last minute changes, and it's no wonder project managers view these groups with dread.

Of course, these teams are not just a bureaucratic hurdle to be jumped. They do an important job. The organisation could be in serious trouble if they release anything that is illegal or is not in line with whatever regulations they are under. Groups like legal and compliance have the skills and knowledge to make sure that doesn't happen. In the healthcare company I worked for, patient safety was responsible for exactly that - the safety of the patients whose treatment was administered through the software we wrote. They were trained medical professionals, with years of hospital experience, who assessed what we produced and made sure that in the stressful, overworked environment of a typical hospital, that the software could be used without the risk of accidentally administering the wrong drug or the wrong dose or operating on the wrong leg (or even wrong patient) or anything like that. That's a pretty important thing to do. We knew how valuable it was. We still hated dealing with them though. Product managers would jump through hoops to get their product classified "non-theraputic" so they could avoid a safety review. The downside of course is that there was no safety review. If only there was a way that we could get the value that these groups provide without all the downsides.

Published in Agile

First up, a huge thanks to Mike Pollard for the inspiration on this one. This all started with a meeting invite from Mike to set up some experiments in organisational change. We all know that organisational change is hard. Organisations tend to resist change so doing any sort of substantial change is a lot of work, and also prone to failure as organisations slip quietly back into their old way of doing things. Since real agile success relies somewhat on changing some pretty fundamental things in the organisation, this has always been a pretty major limiting factor in agile adoptions - success relies on change and is limited by how much change we can introduce. Change is hard which limits the amount of success we can have.

Mike's idea was quite simple - rather than try to change the whole organisation, why not set up some small experiments instead? That gives the organisation a low risk way to see what works and what doesn't. Once we have some successful experiments we should have some good, hard data to back us up when we push for a wider rollout.

Monday, 16 December 2013 00:00

Organisational Change. With Beer.

Published in Agile

I do a lot of coaching at large companies. Big, monolithic, and often very conservative organisations. Organisations like that are very difficult to change. They have become big and successful by being conservative and risk averse. There is a lot of resistance and inertia. They may recognise the need to change. They may recognise the benefits of change. Actually making that change though, means taking risks and they just can’t quite take that step. They will fiddle around at the edges and do some cosmetic stuff, but actually changing into an organisation that embraces innovation and risk is just a step too far.

So how does a coach actually implement change in an organisation like that? By making a small change that changes the behaviour of the organisation in a way that drives more change. Let me explain –


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