Monday, April 13, 2015

Obstacles to Agile

Courtesy of the Harvard business review.
Being a change agent is hard even for a King.
The life of an agile profession both in the corporate world and as an entrepreneur is filled with uncertainty.  Big wins are offset by frustrating losses.  Efforts to keep an even keel are quickly undermined by others and setting aside some time for lunch seems like a herculean effort.  This week I want to postulate a few things I have encountered that make the success of an agile implementation doubtful.

 Cultural Inertia-

If you run into employees or members of management who say, “We have always done it this way,” you are facing cultural inertia.  Human beings need ritual and consistency to make them feel like they belong.  Rituals also produce a sense of certainty in an uncertain world.  When an organization or individuals are afraid to change they are really asking for certainty in an uncertain world.  This is why bad processes and procedures linger.  People are invested in these bad processes and rewarded for perpetuating them.  Thus, as most agile leaders try to instigate change they are going to receive push back.

 Quid Pro Quo behavior-

This term is used in sexual harassment training but is also go for anyone attempting change management.  This is a Latin phrase which means, “tit for tat.”  Another way of explaining it is, “You scratch my back and I will scratch yours”.  A business operates through the countless interplay of people and often they do favors and collect favors from others in order to do their job.  For instance, accounts payable depends on the format of a report being a certain way and in excel.  As a favor a manager makes this happen so when they have to do an expense or provide a bonus to a valued customer, accounts payable with go along without any conflict.

This is maddening behavior for technology professionals and ageists because the obvious answer to the situation would be to automate the report with a script or some reporting software.  This solution may save time and money from the firm but it takes away influence from the manager who is doing the favor for accounts payable.  Thus, they will do what they can in a passive aggressive means to undermine the effort.  For the agilest it makes sense to understand how these little power games are played in the organization.

 People getting by on Charm-

This week, I had a conflict with an employee with seven years more tenure in my organization.  I held him accountable for poor performance and undermining a project.  I later learned that he has some protected status in the organization because of a favor he did for a vice-president five years previously.  Since then, he has been using his charm and charisma to instigate projects.  He never finishes those projects but he is always first in line for the next highly visible project which he can scapegoat on to someone else.

I did what I could and pointed out the facts which explained why a project is twelve weeks behind.  I will not be working with this person in four weeks as I am transferred to another team and group of developers.  He is now someone else’s problem and I hope that his continued negligence is pointed out.  Being charming is no substitute for knowing how to do your job or getting results but it amazes me how many people survive in business because of it.

Be on the watch for these three things in your organization because knowing about them is going to make it easier to create positive change.

Until next time.