Don't Bother Scaling Excellence

99 out of 100 attempts to scale excellence will fail. That's a radical opinion to hold. This is my reaction to some in the industry who want to scale Agile or believe in setting up centers of excellence, which they are not. Just sample the meetups, conferences, and consulting sales pitches and you'll find as many varieties of snake oil as you like.

Lack of fear and an appetite to learn are the two most critical components of excelling at anything. Notice how we learn language or skills such as bike riding. Not surprisingly, our workplaces are too often flush with:  

  • Hierarchy of fear - Fear is often misunderstood to be a singular thing; a monolith. That is not quite true. Individuals and organizations have a hierarchy of fear. Think of it as a stack ranging from a fear of embarrassment to fear of being fired. 
  • Roadblocks to learning - Bandwidth, stamina, and productivity are the top 3 obstacles to maintaining a culture of learning. Sadly, all three are in short supply in workplaces. That seldom permits the slack required for learning.
I have met only a couple of managers or executives, in my entire consulting career, who demonstrate awareness of these two challenges in their organizations. Almost all of them are overly focused on productivity and technical expertise. Employees don't have time to learn and don't have people management skills in these organizations. I call this the situation of compounded deficit.

How can an environment of fear be mended? A hierarchy of fear requires systematic desensitization. Eliminating fear from an environment requires not only an awareness of them but also a mindset of organized counter conditioning. Listening, building an environment of safety, and the garnish of continuos feedback start eroding away common workplace fears. I once had a privilege to witness power-mentoring in progress. A young recent graduate (Damon) on a large integration project approached the Tech Lead (Tom) seeking his advice. His team was building a critical application that enabled about a quarter of a million dollars in revenue every hour. Damon was attempting to get Tom's validation on his approach. At that point, there were a few possible recommendations. Tom chose an approach that taught me a lot. He asked Damon if he'd feel comfortable putting his solution in production environment. That, I think, not only provided Damon the answer he was looking for but also set a tone in the team - do what you think is right as long as it won't hurt the company and you can stand behind it. This is how the team became self-directed on certain fronts. Imagine if all the leaders had that approach to building safety and growing people. To me this is a good example of counter conditioning for fear.

What about Inspiration?

We communicate enough; few ever say they don't. A better enquiry would be on the content. What do you communicate for? Information, coordination, generating solutions? Until I read this paper I never asked the question, "How do you communicate for inspiration?"
  • How does your organization inspire its members? 
  • What do they get inspired for? 
  • How do you know they are inspired?
These are important guiding questions. They are also the kind of questions that a leader should ask. The answers lead to actions that we expect leaders to undertake.

Boards, Metrics, and Open Space - What's the Intent?

As an Agile Coach, it is easy to predict some of the resistance I run into irrespective of the specifics of the organization. Information visualization, metrics, and open space configuration is amongst those perpetual items. "Why do we want information radiators/boards?", "Why are you not utilizing all the available capacity?", "Why do we sit in open spaces?".

It is common to run into teams where decisions aren't made in time. Some even get paralyzed because of a big backlog of pending decisions. Often the root cause of underperforming teams is not a lack of decision making. Rather, it is bad decisions being made. The path of decision making looks like below:

Situation Awareness --> Sensemaking --> Exploration --> Decision Making

A critical step in the decision making process is generating situation awareness. When teams meet to make decisions they attempt to generate situation awareness in a short and time-deficient environment; let's say the first half hour of an hour long meeting. The lack of time creates a perfect environment to skip the sense making and exploration steps. A decision is made. The rest of the game gets handed over to chance.

The biggest objective behind the practices of information radiation and open space configuration is to generate situation awareness. This is one of the intangible outcomes we want to generate. "Knowing what is going on so you can figure out what to do."

Another area of interest for me is to build an environment of foresight. Most team are reactionary and depend highly on retrospectives for improvement(s). The intent is to look back at what just happened, understand why it happened, and then fix it. Good teams, however, do something more. They are able to anticipate what's still to come. They see things emerging. That sense to detect emergence is amplified by a heightened situation awareness. Yet another reason to have boards and open spaces.

An example of the situation awareness and decision making loop in daily life could be the health inspection reports in restaurants.

In 1997, for example, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance that requires restaurants to post highly visible letter grades (A, B, C) on their front windows that are based on the results of County Department of Health Services inspections. This transparency system makes it much easier for patrons to avoid restaurants with dirty kitchens or otherwise unsafe practices. There is substantial evidence that the system has worked. Revenues at “C” restaurants declined and those of “A” restaurants increased after the policy was implemented. Over the course of a few years, the number of “C” restaurants decreased and the number of “A” restaurants increased. Perhaps most importantly, fewer people are getting sick from food poisoning after the implementation of the report card system. Studies estimate that hospitalizations from foodborne illnesses have decreased from 20% to 13%.
A related post about open spaces is available here.

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Management Lessons from my Kids

As a parent of two young kids, I have numerous learning opportunities. Very early on I realized that these are not just lessons in raising kids, but also nuggets of wisdom that I can repurpose for my professional life. You can connect the dots between what I learn at home and how I attempt to apply it at work.
  • Growing systems need constant attention. 2 oz every 2 hours may have been a month old's diet. It won't suffice for a 3 month old. Things change fast in growing systems. What was sufficient last week may not be next week. Keep an eye out and constantly ask if you are doing enough. 
  • You will be imitated. If you (mis)behave, they will too. Observational learning is on 24x7. In other words, you are being watched. Be careful about what you say, do, and how you react. Or, how you treat people around you. Your behavior will be your organization's culture.
  • Talking accelerates learning. Kids who are engaged by their parent in conversations usually have a rich and nuanced vocabulary. Talk to your people as much as you can. Listen to them as much as you can. It's not a waste of time.
  • As kids learn your language and vocabulary they'll say things that are incorrect. Take pride in the in their learning and don't fret the incorrectness of it. Or as the in the world of improve it is, "There are no mistakes, only opportunities."
  • They'll ask you the "why". You are expected to think. Have a genuine reason for everything you do. Or don't expect the kids to do it. Having a right reason is a key step in motivation.
  • Kids have opinions about you. Just ask them. Build reciprocity of feedback. New ways for having tough conversations will emerge. Seek constant feedback from your teams about yourself.
  • Step out of their way. You will be surprised by the level of concentration, enthusiasm, play, and creativity. The ease with which kids self-internalize the lessons learnt is stupendous. Don't micromanage, and build a culture of play.
  • Things will break and there will be a mess. Graffiti on the walls is the cost of learning and having fun at it. Focus on improving the penmanship and identifying better surfaces. Small infractions may sometimes be signs of a playful and vibrant team. They are essential for growth.
  • Kids read/watch/play what they like. They can do it over and over again. That's how they get good at it. It is our job to push the boundary and introduce them to new things. Stretching and intellectual challenges are required to break a culture of complacence.
  • Older kids are the best tutors. Exposure to next level of proficiency is the best motivator. Expose your teams to craftsmanship and excellence, even if you have to hire it from outside.
  • Analogies are an effective problem solving tool. Difficult concepts are better understood with analogies. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," kind of conversations have a big impact with examples and analogies. 
  • Don't pile on instructions and advice. Kids have a limited attention span and bandwidth to absorb verbal instructions. Change/growth comes in baby steps and requires repetition. Changes won't happen overnight. Be persistent and stay patient.
My list will keep growing as I learn more. In reviewing this small list there is enough that can be impactful. Mirror this list to your organization's leadership culture. Where can your leaders improve? Where can you improve?

Highly Organized yet Dynamic

Agile aspirants often struggle to form an opinion on its structure. Process heavy organizations tend to like the lightweight, bare bones, and low-key aspects (incorrectly interpreted as ad-hoc), whereas the chaotic and growing organizations gravitate towards the organizational rigor (akin to Scrum) of Agile. It is also noteworthy that a good majority of them exist in a state of technical disorientation; unaware of XP.

As a coach, I aspire to build highly organized yet dynamic systems. Structure to drive discipline, and dynamism to continually improve the structure. This is an important expectation to set with the teams/management; things will change. It is a team's obligation to build the right checks and balances so that dynamism doesn't lead to instability and underperformance.

Operating even with that mindset often left me frustrated. Discomfort with the 'ever-changing' landscape ran rampant on the teams. Desperate for an improvement in my proficiency, that began to improve when I started addressing the collective mental model of the team(s). I progressed in my focus from the single-loop to the double loop learning model. The idea that feedback and mental models alone are sufficient to make sound decisions (single-loop) is not enough. Mental Model itself has to shift over time (double-loop). An example of analyzing a mental model is well documented by Richard Paul and Linda Elder in their book, Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life:
In the United States, for example, most people are raised to believe that the U.S. form of economic system (capitalism) is superior to all others. When we are speaking in ideological ways, we call it “free enterprise.” We also often assume (ideologically) that no country can be truly democratic unless it uses an economic system similar to ours. Furthermore, we assume that the major alternative economic systems are either “wrong” or “enslaving” or “evil” (the “evil empire”). We are encouraged to think of the world in this simplistic way by movies, the news, schooling, political speeches, and a thousand other social rituals. Raised in the United States, we internalize different concepts, beliefs, and assumptions about ourselves and the world than we would had we been raised in China or Iran (for example). Nevertheless, no lexicographer would confuse these ideological meanings with the foundational meanings of the words in a bona fide dictionary of the English language. The word "communism" would never be given the gloss of an economic system that enslaves the people. The word "capitalism" would never be given the gloss of an economic system essential to a democratic society.
Just as above, we have to start questioning our beliefs and assumptions. This will eventually lead to a change in mental model.

As an admirer of the Dave Snowden's Cynefin framework, I find the organized yet dynamic state of operation to be advantageous. It provides for an occasional (un)intentional drift into a borderline chaotic state, which provisions us the opportunities to update our mental models.

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Beware of Next in Line

Agile teams typically follow one of the following three patterns during their daily standup; randomround robin, and story-time. I would guess most do not find randomness productive. When it comes to choosing between round robin and story-time, most of us choose round robin.

In round robin pattern every individual on the team answers three questions; "What did I do yesterday?", "Where am I stuck?", and "What do I plan to do next?". Round robin has a hidden cost; stitching up the individual daily progress narratives to understand an individual story's progress. Recently, I discovered a way to express another reason to not like round robin as much; next in line effect. People have diminished recall of words of others who spoke immediately before or after them. If A, B, and C are standing next to each other then B won't listen to A because B is mentally getting ready to speak next. A won't retain what B said because A is likely to be still processing the feedback (s)he just got, and analyzing if (s)he shared all what (s)he had to.

That is the reason I prefer the story-time format. In the story-time pattern, each story on the board is discussed daily for its progress. Visit each story on the board in the order of priority. If it is a pairing culture then the pair speaks up. Otherwise it's the individuals.

What other patterns have you found useful?

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The Lost Sailors

One of the biggest differences between good sailors and lost sailors is their ability to read the compass, and react. Those who look at the compass in time reach places they intend to.

Agile coaches wonder why most managers don't get it. Is it illiteracy of the compass or the lack of discipline to look at it? 

On a bright sunny day I was playing with my toddler son. It was insightful. He'd wait for the ball with his hands on the ground, and the ball would pass by within inches of him. He'd then look back at it speeding away, surprised. After about 15 mins of play that behavior changed. He still waited in the catching position, but started to visually track the ball as it passed by him almost until it stopped. On the other hand 5-6 year old kids in the group not only visually tracked the ball, but also reoriented themselves real-time.

There's a strong analogy, in my mind, between the above scenario and what I notice in a lot of managers. We know our stuff, but fail to play it out. We can read the compass but are not able to react to it.

There's an intermediate stage between reading and reacting to the compass. Fear of a panic attack. The Quartermaster of the Deck notices the ship heading in the wrong direction. Helmsman finds out. But, (s)he insist not to share that with the Officer of the Deck. Fear of potential panic on the ship or Captain's wrath cripples them both. The situation only gets worse from there on as the perception of panic becomes higher with the passage of time. Sounds familiar?

This last scenario is quite potent. In it, it carries the power to catapult you (or an organization) from the ranks of sailors to that of explorers. The confidence in being able to digest (bad) news and course-correct is what, very likely, nudged the explores to discover new lands.

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Why I dislike RACI

The tweet to the right is the essence of what makes some large organizations ineffective at delivering products. In gist, it tells us that the more we "officially" delineate our responsibilities the less likely we are to get stuff done.

I wasn't quite able to articulate why I didn't like the RACI. This tweet helped me. RACI permits people to abdicate their responsibility of team-work and collaboration. RACI robs its followers the opportunity to understand team work. RACI builds a culture of blame and excuses.

Paris Hilton and Management

Never pass a mirror without looking in it. This is Paris Hilton's philosophy.

The value of this mindset as a management technique, especially in Agile software, is immense.
"Never miss a chance to observe your work."
Imagine if we had this discipline to execute and manage our work. What if we extended the boundaries of our consciousness, just from ourselves, to also include the work we produce?

I am saddened every time I encounter an ecosystem that has little insight into progress/performance. Usually, there is a careless over-reliance on tools that don't paint the entire picture. A simple spreadsheet would do the trick, but the desire to be an "observer" doesn't exist. A corollary is that by the time this realization sets in, it is usually too late; fear of the upper management's wrath sets in. And, the death marches begin.

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Key to Fearlessness

There're elephants in meeting rooms. There is environment of fear in organizations. And yet some seem unfazed by it and address the problems head on. They dare to have difficult conversations. I once heard a peer wonder about an individual, "Why is that some folks are fearless?" I have wondered about it myself at times. Is it their confidence in their skills? Are they suicidal? Do they not have career aspirations? I am not sure. However, there is a correlation I have noticed between their behavior and their ability to articulate. It is highly likely that the fearless amongst us are good at expressing themselves coherently. The underlying phenomenon, I think, is their ability to dissect a problem, just like peeling the onion, and the ability to make others comfortable during the process. The objectivity required in the process, which these people often demonstrate, is also the reason why they are able to get the airtime they have.

Ever since I have noticed this correlation, I strive to peel the onion. Articulation is required practice in parallel. 

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Project Retrospective - SOCCER format

Recently I conducted a project retrospective with a set of focus areas, which I abbreviated as SOCCER:

  • Storytime
  • Opportunities
  • Culture
  • Confusion
  • Emergency (ER)

The idea was to allow the team to focus on its strengths, gradually move to stuff that needed improvement, and close with identifying items that should be fixed right away.


After spending about an hour with the team building the project timeline, we summarized the project in about 10 mins. The team then dealt with each of the SOCCER categories one at a time for about a half hour each. To help generate ideas and conversation, I created a few sample statements/questions for each of the SOCCER items as under. Then the SOCCER categories were dealt in the following order.


"When I tell a story about this project, I'll always remember …."


"I was productive and in flow when …"
"I would like to be included in …. "
"I think we should …."
"Why don't we …"


"This confused me …."
"I am still confused about …."
"Why did I/we do that …."


"I was disappointed by …."
"We cheated when/because …."
"I lied or misinformed because …."
"I should have, but I didn't …."


"I found this meeting wasteful …."
"In my role I struggled because …."
"Nobody seems to care about fixing …."
"I doubt that the leadership knows about …."
"I wish my leadership supported me in …."

As feedback the team suggested that I can improve the quality of questions. E.g. In the Culture my questions seem to seek only things that should be improved and not the things that are brilliant.

Verb to Noun

I mostly visualize concepts in pictures. Just as the lens in human eye inverts an image upside down, quite often this is also a reality in organizational change management. Agile adoption is a case in example. Executives want the organization to be agile (verb). Between several layers of hierarchy the vision is inverted to Agile (noun). Instead of being nimble, middle management incorporates bloat (heavy processes, templates, audits, and assessments). It is not a surprise then how many such initiatives fail to demonstrate any significant improvements. Even more painful is to see teams getting robbed of a chance to understand and experience what it really means to be agile (verb) and nimble. Rather, edicts that create more problems than it solves are abundant. Take for example the notion of less documentation. On several occasions I encounter teams that don't get what it means. Either someone is getting by without putting pen to paper (no user stories, on the fly analysis), or somebody is having to document eternal change (software design documents). I have found only one way to solve this problem. Abandon the noun approach, and adopt the verb approach. Understand the purpose of documentation and then follow some simple rules such as:
  • Document only when you can identify a consumer for the information and (s)he indicates that (s)he needs it.
  • Attempt to offload documentation to its consumer. Usually, it minimizes the need for it.
  • Maintain one and only one source for each kind of information. 
  • Make the source of information more accessible rather than create yet another incarnation.
  • In future try to do better, unless the situations warrants otherwise.
This is what being agile (verb) means. On the contrary, doing Agile (noun), would create a suboptimal ecosystem where somebody is working more than (s)he should, while the other person is not still getting what (s)he needs. And, a litmus test is when you get asked, "What is Agile's take on documentation?"

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Entrapments of Idealism

Have you heard of things such as "zero defect policy" and "100% unit test coverage"? Or things such as codification of every step of the process; I'm sure you have been presented copious flow charts and documents that state the obvious. Take for example a group that I was engaged with. In their Definition of Done for a user story, which was about ten bullet list long, one item is 'Code Complete and Compiling'. I call this situation the entrapment of the ideals. These idealisms are taking joy out of work. Not that they are incorrect. It is that they generate emotions, which sooner or later breed cynicism, kill improvisation, and create bogus work that is sometimes euphemistically knows as diminishing return. Environments that don't take corrective action to curb such tendencies create a culture of pluralistic ignorance. Individuals are aware of these absurdities but stay silent to avoid being tattooed as bigots. The operating delusion is that this idealism is helpful in strengthening the capabilities of an organization. 

In the bunch of things I'd like to mix in a workplace stew, pragmatism would be my number one choice.

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My Interpretation of Agile Practices and Artefacts

Some of you who have heard my opinions on Agile practices, artefacts, and mindset have asked for the slides. As much as I hesitate to share without being able to tell the story, I understand that you probably remember some of my views. With that caveat, here are the slides:

   Hello Agile    User Stories    Agile Estimation
   Release Planning

If you are unable to access these, please don't hesitate to drop me a comment. 

In the Crucible of Learning

In an Agile adoption program, who do you think is socially affected the most? I would say it is the Scrum Master. This role is exposed to the most variety of topics; areas as diverse as social, political, technical, product, tooling, and administrative. Using crucible as a metaphor, it is usually the Scrum Master who is to be found in it.

A well-executed adoption, usually, leads to a transformation. At least it becomes a poster child for the transformation that may follow. In rare cases where transformation has happened, there has been one more group in the crucible. It is the middle management. In one of my previous posts I mentioned how management tries to avoid pain of change programs like Agile adoption. 

The reason Scrum Masters and middle management gets dragged into the crucible is straightforward. For the Scrum Master it is the focus and scrutiny of the team(s). It requires an elevated level of maturity, self-awareness, self-confidence, and sense of security to be able to withstand constant scrutiny and absorb rapid feedback. In case of management, it is the pressure to placate and insulate the drivers of change (team) from the believers in status quo (upper management). Perhaps it is the pressure to deliver instantly on the investments in Agile. The notion that teams will pay an initial toll in velocity/throughput as they learn, implement, practice and relearn new concept is unacceptable to the senior management.

It is valuable to be aware of this dynamic. It helps you plan the learning cycles. But more interestingly it provides some litmus tests to see you if you have the right people as Scrum Masters and sponsors. If Scrum Masters can't adapt fast enough and managers avoid coaching, then the writing is on the wall.

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Got Strategy? Sense the Shift?

What services, products, and innovation do we need to sustain a business in the future? Usually, these kind questions are a bailiwick of Strategy within a corporate. What organization skills do we need to make Strategy relevant and effective in an organization? Ahem! Is the CSO around?

Avoid a Strategy of Imitation

Many organizations are knee-jerk reactionary. They sweep into action because a competitive situation has gained significant momentum. A good example would be the movement to have 'Social' presence. How you will monetize it, you don't know that yet. 'Big Data' is treading the same path. Beware!

Strategy is Social

Most workplaces have low tolerance for seemingly irrational thoughts. The reality of markets that these organizations play in, however, are indeterminate, delimited, and sometimes arbitrary. This juxtaposition is frightening. Those who are aware of it design organizations that are unconventional and innovative. A significant difference I have noticed in such organizations is that strategy is not confined to a department. That doesn't mean somebody doesn't have a title with "Strategy" in it. The point is that the energy, awareness, responsiveness, and the entrepreneurial spirit are at a much elevated level compared to the rest of the industry. Some refer to such organizations having a different DNA.

Choose the Contradictions

How is the blueprint of these organizations different?
  • Employees understand how the reality of the future will mutate much faster than today, and embrace it.
  • These folks think in terms of "what if" and "why not'.
  • The organization has built a tolerance for spending time in seemingly "wasteful" activities such as some-work-some-play, sustainable pace, innovation games inspired meetings, etc. 
It is surprising to me how many leaders are unable to take the very first steps to experiment with these contradictions. Of many a things hard to comprehend from the books, this one would make it to the top of my list, a sea change in thinking.

The more time I spend in consulting, the more I realize that Technology won't be a differentiator for the organizations in this decade, especially for large companies. The onus for success has rapidly shifted to Business and management style. In the complex relationship between the two, the ball is in Business' court.

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A Gift of Obamacare Rollout

Like many technologists, I too delivered my share of smirks and sarcasms at the failure of the website. As somebody who has experienced such service roll-outs first hand, it is unimaginable that a vendor would be so careless/reckless with an initiative as significant. How could that have happened? In this day and age when software can land a rover on Mars, a website buckling under its design load should outcast every technology "expert" involved. This poor design should have been disclosed earlier in the website's existence. As comical and theatrical as the senate hearings on the subject were, there's an element of sincerity in them. I wouldn't have reacted too different from how the lawmakers did.

In all of this mess, there is a silver lining. In the last two or maybe even three decades this has probably been the only time when Capitol Hill has summoned, on it's floor, a hi-tech company and reprimanded it. This was a much needed course correction. I think, it will improve the quality of solutions built for the government of United States, albeit at the cost of cost. History will remember this fiasco as the turning point for quality of government IT services. Not a bad bargain for $400 million, if you ask me.

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Drill Sergeant in Corporate America

If we had drill sergeants in some of large corporations, here's what, I believe, their admonition will be:

You're doomed and here's why.
  1. You are aware of the People, Process, Technology trifecta. Why don't you have a people development backlog?
  2. You're thinking of scaling Agile when you should be focused on scaling creativity. 
  3. You seem clueless when I tell you that your business is about to go bust in the next decade.
  4. Your customer is looking for a product and you can't seem to get out of your collegiate departmentalized organization model; quality assurance, development, and business analysis. Your mobile organization still thinks in terms of devices - Android, iPhone, etc.
  5. You don't consider your IT to be a partner in managing the P&L. But you expect the 'ITcians' to be a better custodians of your dollars and understand value.
  6. You seem to believe that you have learned all you could. Your daily schedule has put you in a place where you have ceased to learn. No wonder you choose command over conversation.
  7. You're biased for conventional success. So are your managers. 
  8. Speaking of managers, that individual is exploiting your being. (S)he is not interested in what you want to become.
  9. Your boss got you an Agile trainer. But you didn't suggest that your boss get an executive coach. You didn't, right? So you don't even provide feedback. Guess what you aren't getting from your team. 

One more thing - pull down those credentials from your office walls. That's a good School of Business but you didn't register for the right classes. So, next time you see your friends and family, tell them you're doomed. And now you can get back to placating your nemesis and pleasing your bosses.

Is your Mechanic ASE or I-CAR?

You don't know, do you? It, probably, doesn't determine your choice of a mechanic.

That's an important commonality between you and the Ozone (CxO) at corporate, when it comes to decision making. They don't care if you use Agile or Waterfall in your shop, just as you don't about your mechanic's choice of methodology. It is important to be at peace with this reality. I recently participated in a LinkedIn discussion, where quite a lot of folks clearly didn't understand this mindset of executive management.

Ozone is primarily occupied trying to figure out how their organizations can:
  • Deliver more,
  • React and respond to markets better, and
  • Build a competitive advantage.
Quit selling Agile and start solving their problems.

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Political Infrastructure of Change

Leaders and managers involved in change programs cherish the notion that merits of their new vision will speak for itself. More often than not, change requires more than just its merits. Neither the effectiveness of technology nor the promise of its empowerment guarantees success. Matter of fact is that cognition of merit, like experiences and learning, is subjective. ( Rob Legato discusses how he experienced it while recreating the Saturn V launch sequence for 'Apollo-13'. ) No wonder sometimes others don't agree with our insights. We expect truth and facts to prevail, but the triumph of insanity and imprudence is a story repeatedly told. Moments like these are frustrating. An eerily familiar comment sighed, "It's politics." I believe that political infrastructure should get as much of a leader's attention as technical. Given the lack of exposure to it, I'd even go as far as to say that development of the following capabilities should take precedence for a leader:

  • Politicking. Political and organizational talent is a must to successfully implement change. We, usually, learn skills and trades like software technology and operations management. Seldom do we learn about politicking. Concepts such as trust, hope, suspicion, and despair aren't in any high school curriculum, as far as I know. Let alone illusion, delusion, disillusion, and wisdom. Interpretation of optimism, content, and pessimism is another area of deficit commonly observed in executives. In my experience of working with some effective leaders, I have clearly noticed the link between their sharp politicking abilities and an awareness of the concepts mentioned above.
  • Story Telling. The art of story telling is widely admired in leaders. A lack of it is often the first thing people point out when they talk about lack of leadership. Steven Denning has written extensively about it in his book The Art of Radical Management. Stories that promote optimism, a desire for drive, add context and perspective to situations, define reality, tell the truth and, paint a future are the grease of a  good enterprise. Story telling is key to building the flexibility for change in an organization.
  • Reasoning. This one is the most surprising of the three. Not because of the lack of it, but because of lack of time for it. Reasoning to build right mental models is an imperative. These mental models serve as memes, which fuel the engine of change. An example of lack of a weak mental model would be confusing unity with uniformity. It is a common trap most change managers fall into. Subconscious expectations include, amongst many, a desire for uniform application of vision across the board. That often rubs the 'subjects' of the change the wrong way. It appears to insult the intelligence and curtail freedom at work. There's not much freedom left in a modern large organization. It seems to me that most change agents end up fighting over uniformity when they should be focused on building a unity for their vision. This is an example of a poor mental model that leads to a wasted opportunity. So, take time to think yourself and promote reasoning in your staff. Mental Models are the equivalent of genes in an organization. Spread good ones around.

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