Monday, August 17, 2015

Are these factors holding back your agile adoption?

When the emperor has new clothes we need to speak up.
Once in a while I see something and it inspires me.  I get fired up and feel like ranting into the night like some kind of crazed deviant looking for windmills to joust.  This week I had one of those moments and it steeled my resolve.  I am an Agile professional and I want to help change the way people work.  

It all began when I read a fantastic blog post from Isaac Socolick, talking about Legacy thinking versus Agile thinking.  This got me thinking.  It has been fifteen years since the agile manifesto and plenty of business organization are struggling to adapt to the new paradigm of how business works.  I have been part of this effort for the last six years.  Why is change so difficult for these organizations? I have a few hunches.

Legacy Funding of projects-

At large organizations products are funded on a limited basis.  Teams are funded, spun up and then they are wound down once the project is completed.  This is a standard water fall approach.  Once the project is completed then it was folded into the support stack of the organization to be forgotten.  No consideration for Net Present Value is made.  Often input for what the customer wants is ignored and the project is seen as a test for a project manager or executive who wants to advance.  Finally, the process is managed not by operations people who understand the business but by accountants and CPA’s who understand pushing money around the firm.  So projects are funded with a thrown together team, with a defined deadline, and with limited input from the customers.  No wonder projects fail so often in corporate settings.

Quid Pro Quo behavior –

I have mentioned this before in this blog but bureaucratic organizations are organized around rules and favors.  The rules are covered by regulatory compliance and common practices in the organization.  Favors are people deliberately circumventing those rules in order to accomplish something.  This sets up a system of favors which makes the Tammany Hall politicians of the nineteenth century look like pikers.

This forces business leaders to trade favors with each other to accomplish personal and business goals.  Many of these favors happen under the noses of leadership because to expose these favors would open the firm up to scrutiny from regulators or worse upper management.  So what happens is a “Tit for Tat” or Quid Pro Quo culture were executives do favors for each other rather than focusing on the customer.

Ego Driven leadership – 

Since Lee Iacocca took Chrysler in the early 1980, a new kind of business leader has emerged.  This was the business person and celebrity.  They were in the company commercials.  They spoke for the company when asked to testify to congress and they behaved like monarchs running their business empires with imperial control.  Unfortunately for every, Lee Iacocca there were numerous failures such as Carly Fiorina, Al Dunlap, and the most infamous Ken Lay who transformed Enron into securities fraud and criminal organization.

People seeing this trend in business decided to jump on this bandwagon.  These executives in training began worrying about their own personal brand rather than how they were going to run the business.  They discovered with a few accounting tricks they could cover up, poor sales, a lack of customer service and poor innovation.  They further burnished their credentials by leading legacy style projects which improved their brand but did not help the business.  Developers have had a name for this for years, they call it "ego driven development".  Well ego driven leadership is the byproduct and it is hurting businesses all over the world.

I got involved in Agile and the reformation it is leading in business for six years.  I have the enthusiasm of a new convert but I know that trends like the above are going to hold back the necessary progress which we are trying to achieve.  We need to expose these obstacles in order to remove them.

Until next time.