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The Hole in the Soul and the Legitimacy of Capitalism

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In a January 13, 2010 post entitled The Hole in the Soul of Business, Gary Hamel offers the following perspective on success, happiness and business:

I believe that long-lasting success, both personal and corporate, stems from an allegiance to the sublime and the majestic… Viktor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist, held a similar view, which he expressed forcefully in “Man’s Search for Meaning:” “For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended consequence of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself . . ..”
 
Which brings me back to my worry. Given all this, why is the language of business so sterile, so uninspiring and so relentlessly banal? Is it because business is the province of engineers and economists rather than artists and theologians? Is it because the emphasis on rationality and pragmatism squashes idealism? I’m not sure. But I know this—customers, investors, taxpayers and policymakers believe there’s a hole in the soul of business. The only way for managers to change this fact, and regain the moral high ground, is to embrace what Socrates called the good, the just and the beautiful.

So, dear reader, a couple of questions for you: Why do you believe the language of beauty, love, justice and service is so notably absent in the corporate realm? And what would you do to remedy that fact?

Hamel’s call for action is echoed in the analysis of the double bubble at the turn of the century by Carlota Perez:

The current generation of political and business leaders has to face the task of reconstituting finance and bringing the world out of recession. It is crucial that they widen their lens and include in their focus a much greater and loftier task: bringing about the structural shift within nations and in the world economy. Civil society through its many new organisations and communications networks is likely to have a much greater role to play in the outcome on this occasion. Creating favourable conditions for a sustainable global knowledge society is a task waiting to be realized. When – or if – it is done we should no longer measure growth and prosperity by stock market indices but by real GDP, employment and well being, and by the rate of global growth and reduction of poverty (and violence) across and within countries.

As if these words were not arousing enough, Perez adds one final piercing observation:

 The legitimacy of capitalism rests upon its capacity to turn individual quest for profit into collective benefit.

IMHO Hamel and Perez identified the very same phenomenon (“hole in the soul”). The only difference is at the level they discuss the phenomenon. Hamel makes his observation at the business/corporate level; Perez at the socio-economic level.

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Between Agile and ITIL – Part II

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The July 2009 post Between Agile and ITIL introduced the application of Agile principles to system management with the following words:

You do not need to be an expert in Value Stream Mapping to appreciate the power of speeding up deployment to match the pace of Agile development. By aligning development with deployment, you streamline “production” with “consumption.” The rationale for so doing is aptly captured in the first bullet of the Declaration of Interdependence: “We increase return on investment by making continuous flow of value our focus.”

Yesterday’s press release about the acquisition of Phurnace by BMC validates the projection given in the afore-listed post. Colleague and friend Michael Cote puts his finger on the heart of the acquisition in his post in People Over Process:

The interesting part is also that this is automation – I’m assuming – at the application layer, where as most automation talk in past and present is at the infrastructure layer. Of course, the thought leaders in this area – folks like Reductive Labs (Puppet),OpsCode (Chef), and in a more general sense cloud management outfits – are doing a helpful job of blurring the distinction between traditional IT layers like application and infrastructure with their dev/ops angled automation. Check out this white paper done by Reductive Labs and dto solutions on the topic for a nice toe-dip. And, I’d expect to see more application layer automation from VMWare/SpringSource. Older automation portfolios like BMC’s Blade Logic line need to keep a close eye on these developments, hopefully, taking in the proven parts of that work.

One can, of course, automate IT tasks without embracing Agile. The fundamental question to be answered is whether one considers ITIL as an “empirical” process control model or as a “defined” process control model (or possibly a hybrid).

Prosperity without Growth

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Readers of this blog might recall the ‘secret sauce’ proposed in The Mindset for talking about Agile with executives:

Success, however, depends on a certain kind of mindset of the executive you are talking to.  This mindset is nicely described in H. Thomas Johnson‘s article Manage a Living System, Not a Ledger:

…a business organization cannot improve its long-run financial results by working to improve its financial results. But the only way to ensure satisfactory and stable long-term financial results is to work on improving the system from which those results emerge.

In a perceptive CQI  article on the recently reported problems at Toyota,  Johnson offers the following analysis:

Toyota avoided this fate until the last decade because it did not regard results as outcomes that a business achieves by requiring managers to drive people to meet financial targets. It saw that results emerge from a process in which people carefully nurture a web of relationships. These relationships, strikingly enough, emulate the behaviour in natural living systems.

The reversal of Toyota’s fortunes in the past decade suggests that many of its top managers lost the habit of thought that had previously shaped the company’s policies and actions. They lost the habit of thought that caused the company, perhaps unconsciously, to act like a living system. Toyota adopted the finance-oriented mechanistic thinking that had spawned the inferior management practices and the poor performance shown by most of its competitors after the 1970s. And because it abandoned living-system thinking for mechanistic thinking, Toyota began to embrace a virtual world of finance, not a concrete world of humans in cooperative relationships.

Johnson concludes his analysis with a broad warning:

Efforts of companies to reduce that waste by “going green” are not likely to be any more effective than efforts to improve performance by “going lean”. In neither case do these efforts change the thinking that produces excess growth. The efforts might reduce the rate of growth for a time, but they will never reverse it as long as companies adhere to the conventional wisdom from the virtual world of finance that says prosperity is not possible without growth. [Highlights by IG]

The hazards of the virtual world of finance have been conclusively demonstrated during the macro-economic crisis of 2008-2009. One must wonder what it would take to learn the applicable lessons at the micro level of individual companies.

Connecting the Dots: Operational Excellence, Strategic Freedom and the Pursuit of Passion

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My recent post The Headlong Pursuit of Growth, and Its Aftermath applied insights from Toyota Motor Corporation to Agile methods. Among various lessons to be learned, the post highlighted the relationship between mechanism and policy: 

Just like the Toyota Production System, your software method is a “vehicle” which is subject to policy decisions from above. It cannot, however, compensate for policy failures.

In other words, operational excellence in Agile methods is not a substitute for strategy/policy. It does not confer strategic freedom.

In another recent post – I Found My Voice; I did not Find My Tribe – the vicious cycle that leads to loss of passionate Agile talent was described as follows:

This “1.5” phenomenon is at the root of a vicious cycle that dilutes companies, particularly these days:

  1. A round of layoffs is implemented.
  2. Just about everyone takes notice and tries to exhibit the “proper behavior/values.”
  3. Folks in the “private tribe” don’t dare come out of the closet.
  4. The passionate person who found his/her voice in Agile is like a fish out of the water. Sooner or later he/she looks for a tribe elsewhere.
  5. The company becomes more diluted on folks who are willing to try new things and have the drive to make them happen.
  6. The products and the supporting processes continue to be mediocre.
  7. Goto step 1.

Reading the article Getting Toyota Out of Reverse, published in the December 18 issue of BusinessWeek, I found a fascinating linkage between the two posts:

“They say that young people are moving away from cars,” Toyoda said. “But surely it is us—the automakers—who have abandoned our passion for cars.”

One had better take notice when the president of Toyota speaks of the effects of loss of passion using phrases like “irrelevance or death” and “grasping for salvation”.

You need go no further than John Hagel‘s recent post Pursuing Passion for a resounding second opinion on the subject.

The Headlong Pursuit of Growth, and Its Aftermath

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The December 12-18, 2009 issues of The Economist features a couple of fascinating articles on Toyota Motor Corporation. According to The Economist, Toyota’s President  reached the following dire conclusion on the situation Toyota is facing:

Mr Toyoda’s alarm call last month appears partly to have been prompted by reading “How the Mighty Fall”, a book by Jim Collins, an American management writer, which identifies five stages of corporate decline. Mr Toyoda reckons that Toyota may already be at the fourth stage. Companies at this point, says Mr Collins, frequently still have their destinies in their own hands, but often flit from one supposed “silver bullet” strategy to another, thus accelerating towards the fate they are trying to avoid.

In the litany of things that went wrong, an interesting point is made about the Toyota Production System:

… the recalls continued and Toyota started slipping in consumer-quality surveys. A year later Consumer Reports, an influential magazine, dropped three Toyota models from its recommended list. The magazine added that it would “no longer recommend any new or redesigned Toyota-built models without reliability data on a specific design”. People within the company believe these quality problems were caused by the strain put on the fabled Toyota Production System by the headlong pursuit of growth.

Whatever Agile method you practice – Scrum, Lean, Kanban, Crystal, etc. – you need to be cognizant of three touch points with the Toyota experience reported above:

  • Just like the Toyota Production System, your software method is a “vehicle” which is subject to policy decisions from above. It cannot, however, compensate for policy failures.
  • If your company relentlessly pursues growth, the quality/technical debt liability it is likely to incur coud easily outweigh the benefits of growth. Consider the upside potential of growth vis-a-vis the downside of the resultant technical debt. When appropriate, monetize technical debt using the technique described in Technical Debt on Your Balance Sheet.
  • In addition to monetizing the technical debt, evaluate the various kinds of risks indicated in The View From The Executive Suite. A sense of how devastating those might be is given by Toyota’s own experience:

Just as Cadillac used to be synonymous with luxury and BMW with sportiness, Toyota was a byword for quality and reliability… The danger in all of this for Toyota is that its loyal (and mostly satisfied) customers in America have long believed that the firm was different from others and thus hold it to a higher standard. The moment that Toyota is seen as just another big carmaker, a vital part of the mystique that has surrounded the brand will have been rubbed away.

Please remember – unless you work for Toyota Motor Corporation, chances are your company would not be able to take the kind of risk Toyota can.

I Found My Voice; I did not Find My Tribe

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Various Agile champions within the corporation often find themselves stuck at “level 1.5”, in between the following two levels:

  1. “I found my voice/passion.”
  2. “I found my tribe.”

The Agile champion typically gets stuck at this level in the following manner:

  1. He/she finds his or her voice/passion in Agile.
  2. Various other folks in the corporation agree with him/her and constitute kind of “private tribe.”
  3. However, the folks that agree are hesitant to come out of the closet and throw their full weight behind Agile.
  4. The corporation remains ambivalent about Agile.

This “1.5” phenomenon is at the root of a vicious cycle that dilutes companies, particularly these days:

  1. A round of layoffs is implemented.
  2. Just about everyone takes notice and tries to exhibit the “proper behavior/values.”
  3. Folks in the “private tribe” don’t dare come out of the closet.
  4. The passionate person who found his/her voice in Agile is like a fish out of the water. Sooner or later he/she looks for a tribe elsewhere.
  5. The company becomes more diluted on folks who are willing to try new things and have the drive to make them happen.
  6. The products and the supporting processes continue to be mediocre.
  7. Goto step 1.

IMHO The failure of many corporations to preserve Agile talent, and the resultant vicious cycle described above,  is rooted in lack of appreciation how deep  the connection between boredom and loneliness is. A young child does not know (nor does he/she have the vocabulary to express) what boredom is. The feeling the child expresses is that of loneliness. Only at a later stage does boredom get cognitively differentiated from loneliness. However, the two continue to be tied together emotionally.

Once the child grows up to become an Agile champion who found his/her voice, the boredom in the office is usually relieved. However, the twin sister of boredom – loneliness – cannot be satisfied through a “private tribe.” It requires full recognition and commitment within the corporation. In other words, it sort of demands that the corporation goes beyond recognizing the value (singular) of Agile and adopts the values (plural) expressed in the Agile Manifesto. If such adoption does not take place, an essential step to the formation of the tribe is curtailed . Without a full fledge tribe in his/her corporation, the induced feeling of loneliness sooner or later wears out the Agile champion.

This phenomenon, of course, applies to any professional passion an employee might pursue. John Hagel‘s Edge Perspectives post Pursuing Passion is a must-read for anyone who wonders how the corporation is impacted by losing the folks who got stuck at “level 1.5.”

Written by israelgat

December 14, 2009 at 5:15 am

Double Wake-up

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Computer Associates and Salesforce made the following announcement a couple of weeks ago:

SAN FRANCISCO – Salesforce.com Dreamforce Conference – November 19, 2009 – CA, Inc. (NASDAQ: CA), the leader in Enterprise IT Management, and salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM), the enterprise cloud computing company, today announced they have partnered to deliver agile development management in the cloud on the Force.com platform. Through the alliance, CA and salesforce.com intend to introduce CA Agile Planner on Force.com to help small businesses and enterprises alike accelerate development timelines while gaining control and visibility over 100 percent of their development initiatives. The intended result will be increased innovation and reduced time-to-market.

Following an e-conversation on the subject with colleague and friend Annie Shum, I would characterize this announcement as a Double Wake-up:

  • To the premise of Agile methods; and,
  • To the premise of Cloud Computing

How appropriate it is that Annie has recently posted in this blog on the two threads coming together – Cloud Computing: Agile Deployment for Agile QA Testing.