Facilitating Organization Change

Random thoughts on organization changes

Control partners should have skin in the game!

I finally completed reading Nassim Taleb‘s book Skin in the Game which I had written about in a recent article.

In that piece I had applied his principles when comparing the benefits of a product-centric orientation to the project-centric model which is still found in many organizations. But after finishing the book, I realized that there is a much more compelling example of the challenges experienced with risk asymmetry in many large organizations, namely with those staff who are responsible for developing the policies, standards and methods used by teams for delivering projects or products.

In small companies, how a product gets developed and delivered is usually defined by a “Big Brain” (e.g. a solution owner or similar role) or developed collaboratively by those actually building the solution. But as the size of the organization increases and stakes get higher, control partners emerge to influence not only what but how production occurs.

Where things get difficult is when these control partners do not experience first-hand the downside of their decisions.

For example, in some companies, project management standards are set by a centralized department such as a PMO. While some delivery roles such as program or project managers might report in to the same PMO, there are staff whose sole focus will be to define and maintain standards. As those staff are not in a project delivery role, even if they possess years of practical experience, as they won’t themselves have to use the templates and tools which they have developed, they don’t have true skin in the game. Delivery staff may complain to control partners about how onerous or non-value add specific practices are, but there is little direct impact to them.

There are a couple of ways to rectify this situation:

  • Serving in such control functions could be a rotational responsibility. After someone has spent a reasonable amount of time in a control role, they should be required to spend an equal amount of time in a delivery role. This will also help them better identify patterns and anti-patterns specific to a given context.
  • Introduce performance measures and incentives for control staff which are tied to the impacts created by their work as opposed to just the completion of this work. For example, quantifying the cost of control or conducting regular satisfaction surveys with delivery staff are two methods in which we could bring back skin in the game.

Method makers and framework formulators – practice what you preach!

 

 

 

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Categories: Facilitating Organization Change, Process Peeves, Project Management | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Is increasing agility a recurring resolution?

As we kickoff the final week of 2018, many of us will be making New Year’s resolutions. While some of these resolutions might relate to achieving a specific goal or objective (e.g. I resolve to run a marathon this year), most relate to changing our behavior (e.g. I resolve to eat healthier this year). But for many of us it becomes a case of déjà vu as we end up making the same resolutions we had confidently made in previous years.

Increasing organizational agility is a journey and not a one time goal.

Similar to New Year’s resolutions, some delivery teams initiate plans to become agile only to revert to long ingrained habits when things get tough. It might not be on an annual basis, but companies which have struggled with agile transformations once will often try again and many will experience more than one failed attempt.

When it comes to personal resolutions and being able to stick to them the American Psychological Association’s website provides some good advice which could be applied to agile transformations.

Start small

It might be tempting to pick the very largest product or project when starting an agile transformation to surface many key organization blockers and to glean some valuable lessons. However, the very visible impacts of potential failure as well as the higher volume of stakeholders whose behavior will need to change makes this extremely risky. Just as a casual runner shouldn’t try to run a marathon in their very first month, starting with too ambitious a set of pilot initiatives is usually a recipe for disaster.

Change one behavior at a time

There are multiple behaviors which leaders and team members might need to modify and trying to change all of those at one time is like a golfer who tries to keep multiple swing thoughts in their head when addressing the ball. Usually they will end up with a worse swing than if they had just cleared their mind of all thoughts! A transformation team should identify which behavior change might result in the biggest impact and that should become the focus of coaching and peer support.

Talk about it

To succeed with any significant organizational change we need to over-communicate. The more we can talk with stakeholders about our target operating model, the challenges we will face to get there, and the small wins we are achieving, the more we will remain committed to the journey.

Don’t beat yourself up

No agile transformation is going to go smoothly. Some initiatives might turn out worse than if a traditional approach had been used. Some staff will leave the organization. As the APA website states “Perfection is unattainable”. But as long as we have support mechanisms in place and a desire to get better, we can bounce back from such setbacks which are usually minor when viewed from the perspective of an end-to-end transformation timeline.

Ask for support

Every organization has a unique culture, but it can be easier to stick to an increased agility resolution when you have support from those who have been there and done that. The value of external support comes from the breadth and depth of experience to know which patterns of behavior or practice are likely to lead to success and which won’t.

Adapting the quote from Dr. Lynn Bufka “Remember, it is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle behavior change is important and working toward it, one step at a time.

 

Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Improving organizational culture through retrospective recognition

After observing the frenzied shoppers competing with one another at Black Friday sales this week, one might be forgiven for forgetting that Thanksgiving was originally about expressing gratitude.

The Scrum Guide doesn’t specifically identify expressions of appreciation as a key ingredient of sprint retrospectives, but it does list activities which can incorporate appreciation such as the inspection of team member interactions and the role of the Scrum Master in encouraging the team to not only be more effective but to also have a more enjoyable time in the next sprint.

Retrospective facilitators often encourage participants to identify what went well or what they liked. This provides a good opportunity for team members to appreciate the efforts of others during the past sprint in a genuine, heartfelt manner.

Similar to identifying opportunities for improvement, team members should not only recognize big accomplishments but also small ones which can add up over time. We are quick to recognize a team member who dropped what they were doing to help us out for a couple of hours on a really tricky issue, but how about that team member who took us out for a coffee because they happened to notice that we seemed to be particularly stressed on a given day?

Just as with providing constructive feedback, we shouldn’t wait for an upcoming retrospective to recognize one another, but this ceremony provides a good opportunity to provide belated thanks to those whose efforts made a difference over the past sprint. A Scrum Master might introduce this practice in one retrospective using chocolates or some other small gift to be given by team members to those whom they wish to recognize. In subsequent retrospectives, the team can identify novel ways to do this to keep the practice fresh.

A recent Washington Post article described how kindness can be contagious.

Anyone who has participated in or initiated a “pay it forward” chain would likely agree with the article’s author. When someone verbally appreciates what we do, we feel an urge to do likewise. Expressing positive sentiments to one another on a regular basis might incrementally improve culture within our teams, our departments and eventually our overall organization.

 

 

 

Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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