Facilitating Organization Change

Random thoughts on organization changes

Three key ingredients motivating personal change

Over lunch today I enjoyed a good conversation with a couple of ex-colleagues who are facing a challenging yet not very uncommon situation at work. The company they work for has ambitious growth plans and the practices and behaviors which helped their staff get the company to where it is today will not sustainably support the anticipated growth. My friends have previously worked for more mature organizations and can clearly visualize and articulate what needs to be done to get their company to this next level but are encountering resistance from long-time staff who are reluctant to change.

This discussion made me revisit my own views on the critical ingredients which motivate individuals to change their behavior.

The two most popular inputs I’ve run across are a true sense of urgency (as per John P. Kotter) and understanding how the change will personally benefit the individual (a.k.a. “What’s in it for me?”).

But is that sufficient?

Is a true sense of urgency a cause or an effect? Knowing that a large predator is hunting me in the forest will instill a true sense of urgency in me but the predator is the cause and not the sense of urgency itself.

And while there’s no doubt that a given change might benefit me, think of the volume of competing changes with which we are bombarded daily. Filtering through these to find the one or two which will provide the highest return is akin to a golfer who is overwhelmed with multiple swing thoughts while standing at the tee.

So it almost feels like there is a missing ingredient to convince someone to change now, even if that change is urgent AND will benefit them.

Perhaps that ingredient is PURPOSE.

If we can tie our change to an individual’s true calling, then that will serve as a powerful accelerator to increase their sense of urgency and to answer the “What’s in it for me?” question in spades.

On a one-on-one basis this is achievable but how do we scale it to a large organization? Surely we can’t be expected to understand the calling of every individual we want to influence? This is where we need to rely on our change champions. Our responsibility is to ensure that we take the time to develop a good understanding of the needs and wants of our champions to light the torch that they will carry on our behalf.

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Categories: Facilitating Organization Change | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Improving portfolio management must be part of an agile transformation

When we think of an agile transformation, improving portfolio management might not be high on the organization’s list of priorities.

But what happens if your organization doesn’t have an effective and efficient portfolio management capability?

There is a greater likelihood of having too many active projects which increases the risk of resource shortages. Instead of having a dedicated team of primary roles for a project, most team members will be multitasking between multiple projects. This makes it impossible to accurately estimate capacity during iteration planning and usually contributes to a team missing their iteration commitments resulting in delivery delays. Multitasking also increases the effort to have a consistent understanding of the product and can impact quality as team members might be delivering based on stale knowledge.

If multitasking is not a concern, stealth or low value pet projects might be consuming resource capacity which is required to effective staff more strategic projects. This will cause delays to these projects.

Finally, for secondary non-dedicated roles which are needed to contribute to specific work items only, a lack of visibility into when they are becoming available will be a further source of delay.

If governance committees aren’t selecting the right projects which are in alignment with strategic objectives, and only kicking off as many projects as can be effectively staffed, it won’t matter how efficient, empowering or customer-centric the organization’s delivery practices are. In addition, if the existing portfolio governance practices are inefficient and onerous, by the time a team has finally received funding approval to get started with delivery, they might have insufficient time left to deliver even minimal value to exploit a market opportunity or to meet a regulatory deadline.

Portfolio plans are useless, portfolio planning is indispensable.

Rather than having business executives, finance analysts and PMO staff spending weeks coming up with the perfect roster of projects for the next year only to realize a month or two into the year that their plans have been disrupted by domino effect delays, new priorities or resource shortfalls, portfolio planning needs to be an ongoing activity. To enable this, a lean but effective resource capacity management capability also needs to be in place to ensure that portfolio decisions are being made based on a current and accurate understanding of resource availability.

Agile delivery is not a silver bullet.

 

Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change, Project Portfolio Management | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Problems with your Product Owner?

Scott Adams continues to hit the mark when it comes to the dysfunctions plaguing the corporate world. His latest Dilbert comic strip inspired me to write about a common challenge facing those organizations who are moving from a project-centric to a product-centric delivery approach, namely developing effective product owners.

The funny thing is that this is not a new role – go back a couple of decades and it was common to have senior managers responsible for making the majority of decisions regarding products or capabilities. As organizations shifted away from functional to matrix models, such decision-making became diffused. Also, as a company’s size grows, the authority for product decisions often moves up the corporate ladder to executives who are responsible for multiple products.

We tend to think of the product owner role in the context of agile delivery but it can also apply to traditional delivery approaches too. A key difference is that product owner ineffectiveness creates greater impact on agile projects than on traditional ones.

So what are the most prevalent peeves we have with product owners?

I’ve previously identified Capability, Commitment and Capacity as three characteristics of effective team members. Gaps in any one of these areas will translate into product quality, team productivity or morale issues.

These attributes are also important in product owners.

Managers who possess strategic vision, political influence and knowledge of a product are often unavailable to be committed to the extent required to effectively support a delivery team. Faced with this dilemma, executives usually will either still commit these managers or will have them appoint proxies.

With the former scenario, delivery teams enjoy good quality decision making but are starved for the product owner’s attention. Decisions which could be made on the spot get delayed. If the team waits for decisions to be made, productivity and eventually morale suffers whereas if they try to proceed based on their knowledge the risk of rework increases.

Proxy product owners might not have the knowledge, vision or influence required to make good quality decisions or to have those decisions stick. What sometimes occurs is that significant decisions need to be blessed by one or more senior leaders which increases the risk of delays. Proxy product owners might also not enjoy having accountability without authority and their commitment to this role wanes over time.

But there’s one more characteristic – Collaboration.

Let’s say we have a product owner who has the first three C’s in spades but they don’t collaborate well with other senior stakeholders. In most organizations there are control partners whose input needs to be incorporated into product decision making to keep the company safe. The solution lead for the product should also have a voice to ensure that technical debt or other sustainability considerations don’t impact the organization.

If the product owner is not able to effectively collaborate to distill these many voices into one, they risk alienating key partners or making decisions which will hurt the company in the long run. While the role has authority over product decision making, this should not be done in an autocratic manner.

The introduction of the product owner role is an ideal way to streamline decision making and develop future leaders but neglect the four C’s of Collaboration, Capability, Commitment and Capacity at your organization’s peril!

Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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