Facilitating Organization Change

Random thoughts on organization changes

Generalizing specialists put the T back in teams!

Whether your company is adopting agile delivery approaches or not, there are a number of benefits to encouraging your team members to become generalizing specialists. These include:

  • Improved understanding and closer collaboration between roles which historically would have operated within siloes. Gaining first-hand experience with someone else’s job is a great way to increase empathy and break down barriers.
  • Increased capacity for specific skills and improved resilience to unexpected resource shortfalls. While you might not get the same level of productivity or quality from project “pinch hitters”, it’s still a better outcome than being unable to progress if a key team member is suddenly unavailable.
  • More enriching work experiences for your team members. It’s nice to work on tasks which you are very comfortable performing but most professionals enjoy the occasional opportunity to step out of their comfort zones to try something new.

But transforming a team of individual specialists isn’t easy and resistance could come from any of the following directions:

  • The team members themselves might have fear of the unknown, ego issues or disdain for tasks which are not within their normal job description. They may also be concerned that performing such activities won’t be recognized by their managers or won’t help them further their careers within their area of specialization.
  • Given the likelihood that demands on their teams exceed available capacity, functional managers may not want their staff to work on different tasks and would rather assign their team members to multiple concurrent projects where they would remain focused on their core activities.
  • While Human Resources are likely to encourage versatility and flexibility in staff development, performance management systems and job families are usually geared towards specialization and HR may be unwilling to evolve them to support the development of generalizing specialists.
  • If some of your team members are part of a union, there might be explicit constraints within labor contracts preventing them from performing other tasks or preventing others from performing their tasks.
  • Finally, you might be reluctant to have your team members take on work outside of their areas of speciality. Concerns about the quality issues or increased conflict within the team might cause you to unconsciously discourage cross-pollination.

One method of overcoming some of these challenges is to meet with team members and their functional managers as early as possible to ask whether they have any issues with occasionally performing alternate activities if it benefits the team. Leading by example is another way to do this. While your primary focus is managing the project, it can be extremely rewarding to roll up your sleeves on an exception basis if it helps the team and you are comfortable doing so. You might consider leveraging gamification techniques by setting up a simple recognition program whereby team members earn badges for performing different activities.

Patrick Lencioni wrote in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, “Remember teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” Encouraging the development of T-skills within your team is a great way to build trust.





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

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.

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

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