Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A sense of urgency

I had a manager once - the CEO of the company I worked for at the time - who constantly nagged me to create a sense of urgency within my organisation. Unfortunately I didn't fully understand what he meant at the time, I thought he wanted me to whip the developers into working harder. Maybe he did. Perhaps he didn't understand that we already had this, or perhaps he was just afraid it would be lost. Working in an organisation now that has no sense of urgency I understand why he considered it so vital to ensure that everyone felt the urgency he felt.

On this theme I recently read the following excellent quote by Michael Dubakov, founder and CEO of Taget Process (my favourite Agile tool).

"Everyone should clearly understand what are we doing, why are we doing this, and why is it important at this very moment." - @mdubakov

I think it is that last part that most companies fail in communicating; "why it is important at this very moment". Here in lies a sense that tomorrow may be too late. But at the same time a sense that someone, somewhere in the company, has a plan - a damned good one - and now everything depends upon our ability to deliver. A sense of urgency. A sense that what you do today really matters.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Schneider's Culture Model and Agile

Schneider's Culture Model is like all models flawed. However, I think it still tells us something of value about the organisation we are looking at or attempting to change. If you look at figure 1 below you should be able to map your company's footprint on the various quadrants. How much focus do people put on the various areas? How much are they discussed? What attitudes do you notice?
Figure 1. Source:

Once you have mapped out your company and have an idea of the culture it might be interesting to look at figure 2 below and compare the two. Although some authors have stated that Kanban is a Control culture I believe that there exists an Agile Culture that is larger than Scrum or Kanban or whatever method you use. This culture is represented by figure 2 below. Of course one can implement any Agile method within, for example, a predominantly Control Culture. However, I believe that if your company is strongest in the Control quadrant it may be difficult to adopt agile values and therefore have a successful implementation (even if you use Kanban). unless you have a strong Agile Culture you will not gain the expected benefits, and ultimately may even have to abandon your Agile practices. 

Figure 2. Source:

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Democratization of Leadership

Many analysts have written about the role of social media in the ongoing democratization of the Arab nations. Most admit that social media have had an important role and aided communication and accelerated the process.

My thoughts turn to the latest trends in management and leadership and the impact of systems and complexity theory on social and organizational models. I have become convinced that the 20th century models of management and leadership are crumbling. I believe we are witnessing a democratization of leadership and management and I believe that social media is perhaps the single most important factor in this process.

Social media has made us aware (more than ever before) of our interdependency and interconnectedness, but also of our equality. There are no hierarchies in social networks only specialized roles. Networks where information flows freely and which have the ability to form themselves tend to last. Rigid non-adaptive ones die. A company can be viewed as a complex adaptive system and many recent books support this view. In the post 20th century economy the most successful companies are often the most adaptive ones, the most innovative ones. Thus old hierarchical models of leadership and management are proving to be too rigid and unresponsive and people are turning to alternative autonomous models. Along side of this process is an influx of workers who have grown up with social media and who are reluctant to position themselves at the bottom of a hierarchy, especially in industries such as IT. Just like in the Arab Spring they demand democracy and autonomy. Finally, research into complex social networks has begun to erode our deterministic "knowledge" of motivation and performance and replace it with complexity theories of emergence and self organization. This knowledge is just now seeping into the more open management organizations and will in time permeate even the most conservative companies.

Thus we have three forces all pushing in the same direction with a seemingly inevitable conclusion; the old hierarchical style of leadership, with bonuses and focus on the individual, is dying. I predict this will be replaced by leadership which cultivates peoples own innate desires to create something useful for society, sets clear goals and allows the employees to self organize and learn. In this organization todays management hierarchies will disappear to be replaced by coaches and specialized roles.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The myth of autonomy

There's a lot of talk about autonomy these days. And, in my opinion, a lot of misunderstandings. People tend to confuse two terms - autonomy, and self organisation.

I hear managers saying autonomy does not work when they mean that self organisation has led to a culture of low productivity. And I hear developers and coaches saying autonomy is inevitable, when they mean self organisation cannot be avoided.

Teams may or may not be autonomous. Autonomous teams are allowed to make their own decisions and solve their own problems (incidentally teams learn most when allowed to solve their own problems). But even teams that completely lack autonomy are self organising; those with autonomy also have delegated authority to make their own conscious decisions. Self organisation is the unconscious ability of a system to learn and adapt and change. This self organisation is inevitable, you cannot stop it. You cannot even steer it as you are not the organiser; the team is. Even individual members of the team cannot steer this self organisation. All we can do is change the constraints, for example by changing the environment of the team and hope this has a positive effect on the team. An example of this is to provide clear and (by the team) accepted goals and the autonomy to choose the methods used to achieve these goals. Another is to give the team zero autonomy and to dictate how the team should achieve these goals. However, teams with zero autonomy will not solve their own problems and therefore will not grow and learn, at least not in the direction you want them to.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Management 3.0

What I have learned these two days:
- I have good instincts.
- But I don't know everything!
- Some great practical games and exercises to help plan change.
- Some great practical games and exercises to expose assumptions.
- I missed some great books in this domain, damn!
- We have a good team at Xing.
- I should read more!
- I should write a book!
- Jurgen Appelo (@jurgenappelo) is a really good trainer. Very informative AND very entertaining.

Location:Kiev, Ukraine

Monday, September 19, 2011

Trust and change

Trust is crucial for any change process. Without trust our colleagues may comply with our requests for changed behavior but they wont be committed to the change. They wont be engaged, they wont drive the change and so, ultimately, we are unlikely to reap the expected benefits.

Building trust in an organisation takes time. Building trust takes commitment and effort. It takes leadership skills. You have to listen, truly listen, to your organisation and act on what they tell you. You have to have an inclusive leadership style and an openness about your decisions. All change in people comes from within. You can in an organisation, of course, force people to comply with a decision but they will often lose motivation or in extreme cases work actively agains the decision. The best way is always to include people in the decision process, be open about the objectives and causes and, based on previously earned trust, obtain their commitment to the change.

I think many organisations lack an understanding of the difference between compliance and commitment. Or they don't care. Perhaps they are too busy or perhaps the effort necessary for commitment seems too much. One can say the difference is the energy and enthusiasm people put into the change process. With the rate of change in business and society today all organisations are likely to go through a change process, and for a great many this is a constant state. How successful this process is can determine the future success of the company. Commitment is key and therefore by extension trust is key. And you cannot make your organisation trust you. To do this you have to show that you trust the organisation to do the best job they can. This means delegation, no micro management, the freedom to be autonomous, inclusion in important decisions and a sense of togetherness.

So, in summary, if you want to achieve meaningful change in your organisation you have to build up trust in order to obtain the necessary commitment. And this process requires leaders with leadership skills and not spreadsheet-wielding managers.