The Agile Executive

Making Agile Work

Archive for the ‘Cultural Aspects’ Category

Tools, Behavior, Culture

with 2 comments

Colleague Annie Shum sent me her thoughts on the e-discussion that evolved around The Tool is the Method and Four Priciples, Four Cultures, One Mirror. As always, her thoughts connect a lot of dots. Here is Annie:

“Change versus shifts.  For me, I like to focus today’s discussion on the latter and let me just define a shift as large scale changes; notably transformative cultural changes.  Historically, cultural shifts are not top-down engineered by master planners; instead self-organizing emergence is the process by which all shifts happen on this planet. Similar to an ant colony where each ant works individually without pre-planned central orchestrations, our individual actions on a local level can collectively impact the emergence process. Positive as well as negative Feedback Loops are the fuel of the emergence process. Emergence can result in shifts that can both benefit (e.g. WWW, Information Age) as well as harm our society (e.g. wars, riots).

In thinking about tools in the context of impacting large scale cultural changes, one can’t help but immediately think about the computer/digital computing.  By all definitions, a computer is a tool – in fact, I would venture to characterize a computer as a “universal tool” that can, in theory, perform almost any task.  Moreover, I can’t think of any other tool that can surpass the computer and digital computing as the most disruptive transformation agents of our society and cultural shifts in the 21st Century.  According to James Moor, the computer revolution is occurring in two stages.  We are now at the cusp of the 2nd stage – “one that the industrialized world has only recently entered — is that of “technological permeation” in which technology gets integrated into everyday human activities and into social institutions, fundamentally  changing and transforming society at its very core.”

Written by israelgat

July 12, 2009 at 9:47 am

Live Recording of Four Principles, Four Cultures, One Mirror

with 2 comments

The live recording of my Agile Roots keynote presentation is available here. In addition to threading the slides together, the recording captures the Q&A session that followed. Various questions and observations were brought up by Diana Larsen, Jeff Patton, Andrew Shafer as well as other participants in the conference. In particular, linkages were made during the Q&A session to Appreciative Inquiry and to Serious Games.

Needless to say, comments on the presentation will be much appreciated.

Written by israelgat

July 11, 2009 at 8:59 am

The Tool is the Method

with 18 comments

In a recent post in dev2ops, Damon Edwards examines the role tools often play in the context of a desired cultural change. To quote Damon:

Did you ever notice that our first inclination is to reach for a tool when we want to change something? What we always seem to forget is that web operations, as a discipline, is only partially about technology.

Damon’s states the following view on the right balance to be struck:

The success of your web operations depends more on the processes and culture your people work within than it does on any specific tooling choices… We see this repeatedly in our consulting business. Time after time we are called in to do a specific automation project and wind up spending the bulk of the effort as counselors and coaches helping the organization make the cultural shift that was the real intention of the automation project.

While I am in full agreement with Damon on the phenomenon, I would like to highlight two nuances that in many cases make the tool is the method an effective approach to rolling Agile:

  1. The rise of professional procurers in Global 2000 companies (see Selling is Dead) changes transactional aspects of Agile engagements. Professional procurers typically focus on negotiating the best possible deal for the tool(s). Moreover, they tend to determine the preferred tool(s) in the early stages of negotiating the engagement.
  2. Tools might not change culture, but they can and often do change behavior. Think, for example,  about the way numerous folks use Twitter. What starts as “having a little bit of fun” often leads to major changes in the way one collects, stores, analyzes and assimilates information. The changes happen not due to an explicit intention to change, but as part of “playing” with Twitter.

Between these two nuances, a typical progression for an enterprise level Agile initiative tends to be as follows:

  • A tool is chosen
  • Teams start using the tool
  • The tool induces behavioral changes
  • These behavioral changes prevail, overshadowing cultural change initiatives

Hence, in many circumstances the tool indeed is the method. The chosen tool becomes a factor of the first order in determining not “only” how Agile (or any other software method) will be practiced, but what mindset will evolve in the course of the rollout.

See the presentation entitled  Four Principles, Four Cultures, One Mirror for additional details on the subject. A short summary of the presentation is given here. Related views are summarized by InfoQ here.

Written by israelgat

July 8, 2009 at 5:56 am

Four Principles, Four Cultures, One Mirror

with 8 comments

Click here for the slides of my keynote presentation today in Agile Roots. The following key points are made in the presentation:

  • The Agile Manifesto principles are considered timeless.
  • Application of Agile can create cultural duality/conflict. The core culture of the organization that rolls out Agile is not necessarily aligned with the Agile culture.
  • Successful application of the Manifesto principles needs to build on the strength of the specific core culture – Control, Competence, Cultivation or Collaboration – in the organization rolling out Agile .
  • Schwaber’s 75% failure rate estimate corresponds to attempts to change the core culture of an organization as part of the Agile rollout.
  • Success does not necessarily beget success in Agile rollouts. The interplay between scale and culture poses serious challenges to scaling Agile successfully.
  • The Agile infrastructure places a practical limit on the scope of the Agile rollout. Constituencies that are not able to use a joint Agile infrastructure are not likely to collaborate.
  • The fine points of one Agile method versus another are far less important to the success of an Agile implementation than cultural subtleties of the target environment in which Agile is applied.
  • Good Agile tools are likely to induce behavioral changes without necessitating major cultural pushes.

Recommendations from Santa Clara

with 4 comments

So much was going on simultaneously in Rally’s Agile Success Tour event in Santa Clara! More than 140 participants, an eclectic panel, 6 breakout sessions, numerous 1-1’s and, of course, a ton of spontaneous interactions. This posts in many ways represents my own “thread” within this very gratifying event. My Rally colleagues will no doubt supplement this post by commenting on the various activities and interactions in which I was not able to engage.

The number one question I was asked in the course of the event was about the difficulties quite a few software development champions encounter in the course of attempting to coalesce successful Agile projects into comprehensive initiatives at the corporate level. Team successes with Agile sometimes remain isolated islands of excellence within corporate “oceans.” The proven  ability of a capable Agile champion to carry the day in specific project does not necessarily lead to adoption of Agile as part of an all-encompassing corporate doctrine. Just like the Geoffrey Moore entrepreneur who demonstrates success in the early days of his/her start-up but does not quite make it big time, the Agile champion often struggles to cross an adoption chasm and make his/her way to “main street.”

Colleagues Ryan Martens, Dave West and Tom Grant discussed how to apply Agile in combination with Lean to elevate Agile from the project level to the corporate level. There is no need to repeat their good work (click here for example) in this post. Instead, here are the tactical suggestions I gave in Santa Clara to various Agile champions who looked for recommendations how to elevate Agile:

  1. A statement of Agile benefits is not sufficient. It must go hand-in-hand with an assessment of the risks (plural!) associated with the Agile expansion. See A View from the Executive Suite for details of the recommended approach.
  2. Statements of Agile benefits and corresponding risk mitigation approaches are not sufficient. As Peter Drucker quipped, Companies make shoes! To be relevant at the strategic level, the Agile program must be tied into the top initiatives a corporation carries out.
  3. Statement of Agile benefits, risk mitigation and strategic relevance are not sufficient. These statements must be accompanied by a clearly articulated approach to managing the cultural aspects of extending and expanding Agile. If at all possible, opt for for building on the strength of the current culture. It is much more difficult to try to change a culture. Moreover, it take a long time to transform a culture. See my forthcoming presentation Four Principles, Four Cultures, One Mirror in Agile Roots for details.

I will allow myself to repeat my recent assessment from the NYC event as it applies so well to the Santa Clara event:

I came out of the Santa Clara event convinced that we as a movement have a great opportunity on our hands. What we -Agilists – do works quite well. The need clearly exists to elevate Agile to the enterprise level. We will be solving a real problem in so doing.

Written by israelgat

June 6, 2009 at 10:17 am