Monday, November 3, 2014

The Power of the Pivot

Sometimes you have to stop getting punched in
 the face to realize you need to make a change.
The life of a Scrum Master or Entrepreneur is filled with uncertainty.  Today’s sure thing becomes tomorrow’s dead end.  This is why I wanted to devote to this week’s blog to the power of being flexible.  In the parlance of Silicon Valley start-ups, pivoting is powerful.

According the Agile manifesto, responding to change is more important than following a plan.  This seems counter-intuitive at first but when you work in the software business for a while you understand why agile people say this.  I can’t remember how many times I have been involved in a course of action is a software project where I have been futility swimming upstream.  A slight course correction or change of approach would have sped up the project and led to success.  Unfortunately, project flexibility was not built into the project and as a developer I was doomed to work on a failing project.

If leadership was more flexible and willing to make changes in light of the current situation the chance of success might increase.  This is where we get the term pivot from.  I learned about it from a fantastic article from Vanity Fair about the purchase of Instagram by Facebook.  I highly recommend the article to anyone willing to learn about adopting to change.  In summary, Instagram’s CEO Kevin Systrom had numerous bouts of failure and frustration.  It was only after he pivoted his firm toward photography and filtering that he was able to find the success he was seeking.

I remember reading this article on a plan ride home from a corporate off site meeting.  I witnessed the new organizational chart and saw five people named project managers who I had personally trained to use Team Foundation Server.  I also noticed that I was not going to lead a software team.  I felt humiliated and my career was at a dead end.  I was filled with anger and frustration.  Something had to give, and it was clear to me that it would have to be my career at my old firm.  I got together with a few of my mentors in the agile community including Alan Dayley and they gave me the support and encouragement which I needed.  Within a month I had changed jobs and become an architect and scrum master at another company.  It is one of the few times in my career I can look back and say I did the right thing.

So my lesson is that sometimes you need to pivot to be successful. Blindly following a plan will lead to nothing be frustration and misery.  If something isn’t working try something else.  We invest too much into the sunk costs of our lives.  By pivoting or responding to change instead of following a plan, we gain a fraction of our lives back and learn to find success.  It is not as neat and orderly as we would like but in an uncertain world it is the only thing we have.

Until next time.