A Thali is an incremental meal

Incrementalism–doing small changes in order to achieve a larger effect–comes in many styles and flavors.  The many variations of this approach have titles such experimentation, continuous process improvement, kaizen events, and plan-do-check-act cycles (PDCA).  To paraphrase 20th Century toothpaste commercials, 4 out of 5 process improvement professionals recommend incrementalism.  Agile and Lean are full of examples of branded incremental change models including the Toyota Production System, Scrum and Kanban (when applied to process improvement). We can see the impact of incrementalism on how these frameworks are constructed by observing the individual techniques such as sprints and time boxes, daily stand-ups both in scrum and XP, and retrospectives, to name a few.  Each technique reinforces taking small steps and seeking feedback for re-planning.  If you don’t want to consider frameworks or techniques remember that the agile mantra of inspect and adapt is a statement of incrementalism.   Incrementalism makes changes to how work is done by shifting the focus from the one big project or implementation to taking small steps, gathering feedback and then reacting. This approach to change is not new. Deming popularized the PDCA cycle early in the 20th Century.  Practitioners embrace incrementalism because making many small changes one after another provides feedback fast, which enhances organizational learning and mitigates many of the risks seen in Big Bang models. Four attributes support learning and risk reduction:

  1. Learning – PDCA type or inspect and adapt models all are built on the expectation that when a change is made, the impact will be reviewed and then the feedback will be used to improve how work is done.  Feedback is used as a learning device, where the faster feedback is generated the higher the possibility of learning.
  2. Risk mitigation – Steven Adams, agile consultant (SPaMCAST 412) stated, “Continuous process improvement is a less risky route.  But could be the slower.” Incremental changes typically will not imperil the organization in the way Big Bang or “bet the farm” type changes could.  For example which has more risk: a bank merger or adding hundreds of customers one at a time through a production interface? While this might not be a perfect analogy the larger change that gets feedback only when it’s completed will ALWAYS be riskier. Along with reducing the risk that size generates, smaller increments help ensure that that change programs don’t wander away from the vision that launched them.  Todd Field, senior project manager and Scrum master described it as, “I believe you need to have a Big Bang vision and an incremental improvements plan.“  Techniques like delivery cadence (e.g. Scrum’s sprint cycle) keep changes small and requiring product owner and stakeholder’s acceptance expose risks before they can become issues making incremental changes safer.
  3. Accumulation – Incremental changes building toward an overall goal are often compared to compound interest.  Small changes build on each other until the return is significantly higher than simply making each of the changes in isolation.  Dominique Bourget, the Process Philosopher described this concept as “It is like losing weight… you get more benefit by exercising one hour each day than to exercise 30 hours in a row on the last day of the month.”
  4. Adaptation to the pace of change in external environment – Software development environments are very dynamic.  New methods, techniques and tools are investigated, implemented and discarded as organizations try to get more done within corporate budgetary restraints. We all know the mantra faster, better, and cheaper.  Because of the rate of long term change in the development environment, change programs often lose focus or sponsorship.  Incremental changes are better at reacting to change and adjusting to the level of urgency within an organization.  Kristie Lawrence, IFPUG Past President, suggested that “continuous process improvement allows you to slowly and surely improve. The trick is to manage the scope of what is being improved – changing one thing changes the entire “system” and surface things that you never knew about.”  Implementing small changes provides a feedback loop to continually test the need for further changes.

Incremental changes provide organizations with a tool to minimize the risk of change.  Agile pundits, originally made the point in terms of software development.  The same ideas that make incremental change useful for software development are equally useful for improving the value of continuous improvement all across the business while reducing risk. As a result,  practitioners are predisposed to championing incremental change.

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The Software Process and Measurement Cast 433 features our interview with Jeff Dalton discussing holacracy.  Holocracy.org defines holacracy as, “a complete, packaged system for self-management in organizations. Holacracy replaces the traditional management hierarchy with a new peer-to-peer “operating system” that increases transparency, accountability, and organizational agility.” Jeff has implemented holacracy in his own firm and others and has a lot to share about this exciting form of management and leadership.

Jeff Dalton is President of Broadsword, a Process Innovation firm, and Chief Evangelist at AgileCxO.org, an Agile Leadership Research and Development center that develops models for high-performing agile teams.  Jeff is principle author of “A Guide to Scrum and CMMI,” published by the CMMI Institute, and is a SCAMPI Lead Appraiser and Certified Agile Leadership Consultant that specializes in software product development, self-organizing teams, and performance modeling.  His upcoming book, the “Agile Performance Holarchy: A New Model for Outrageously High Performance” will be released in September of 2017. (more…)

I am traveling this week in India for the 13th CSI/IFPUG International Software Measurement & Analysis Conference: “Creating Value from Measurement”. Read more about it here. In the meantime, enjoy some classic content, and I’ll be back with new blog entries next week. (more…)

How to Measure Anything, Finding the Value of “Intangibles in Business” Third Edition

I am traveling this week in India for the 13th CSI/IFPUG International Software Measurement & Analysis Conference: “Creating Value from Measurement”. Read more about it here. In the meantime, enjoy some classic content, and I’ll be back with new blog entries next week. (more…)

Rereading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

I am traveling this week in India for the 13th CSI/IFPUG International Software Measurement & Analysis Conference: “Creating Value from Measurement”. Read more about it here. In the meantime, enjoy some classic content, and I’ll be back with new blog entries next week.


The Software Process and Measurement Cast 433, an interview with Jeff Dalton is delayed. I had anticipated recording the introductory material for the interview with Jeff Dalton in my hotel room in Mumbai. However, the microphone broke during my flight to India and rather than shouting into the built-in microphone in my laptop I am working on alternate methods. I may be able to record using my cell phone. If the quality is acceptable, I will release the podcast early in the week. If not, we will skip a week and resume when I have access to my studio equipment. For now, I need to learn to pack better and to have a backup microphone while traveling!

Do you have suggestions for remote recording alternatives?

Mindset Book Cover
Today we review Chapter 6 in Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (buy your copy and read along).  In Chapter 6, we explore the impact of mindsets on relationships.  While this chapter is focused primarily on personal relationships, we can also use the ideas in this chapter to hone relationships within teams and the broader business environment. We can see differences in how in our mindset affects how we deal with the ups and downs of relationships. While the trials and tribulations of more intimate relationships are important, our re-read will ultimately focus on how our knowledge of mindsets can be used in transformations and coaching.

A fixed mindset believes that performance stems from a set of fixed attributes.  Rejection is seen as a reflection of a personal flaw which sets a label (e.g. failure).  When those with a fixed mindset perceive they have a negative label, they will tend to lash out at those around them.  Because they are protecting their ego those with a fixed mindset begin plotting revenge in an attempt to repair their ego. People with a growth mindset will use the ups and downs of relationships as a feedback mechanism. When slights occur they will tend to forgive and move on.

All relationships are a complicated set of interrelated systems.  Making and maintaining relationships takes work. However as we have seen in previous chapters, those with a fixed mindset believe what does not come naturally has little value.  This perception causes those with a fixed mindset to abandon relationships that require work to establish or maintain.  

Another common issue in relationships where one or more partner has a fixed mindset is that assumption that both (or all for different groupings) are of one mind.  This assumption suppresses communication, putting further stress on the relationship and letting individuals ascribe motives to actions and comments that might not be true.

An exercise suggested by Dweck to determine which mindset are being held in relationships is to ask each party the following questions: As a husband, I have the right to ______ and my wife has the duty to _____.  Using a development team as a model – As a developer, I have the right ______ and the tester has the duty to ____.  Switch the role order depending on the primary role being played.  Asking the exercise participants to answer the question will help participants to explain how they anticipate the obligations of a relationship being distributed.  In the process, the words in the stories that are generated will help to expose the mindsets of the particants, which is useful promoting awareness within the relationship.

As we have noted in earlier chapters, problems indicate character flaws to people with a fixed mindset.  At one point in my life, I actually walked away from a friendship when I noticed that someone heavily salted their buttered bread and stopped dating a girl when she put ketchup on a filet.  I believe I have changed, but at the time I saw those problems as insurmountable character flaws.  Rather than discuss the situation (and show a bit more tolerance), I choose to bail out.  These sorts of issues happen in teams everyday reducing team effectiveness.  Remember to confront the situation, not the person.  

In relationships, people with a fixed mindset see others as adversaries to be competed with.  The parties in a relationship that include people with fixed mindsets will often have significantly different power levels (one powerful and the other more submissive).  When those with a fixed mindset see the flaws in their partners they will tend to exploit those flaws to improve their ego and when slighted will seek revenge.  

Organizational Transformation:  Remember that bullying and revenge are influenced by fixed mindsets.  Change can be threatening to people with a fixed mindset. They see change as an attack on their character; threatening their success.  This can be exacerbated if the roll out is done via brute force (bullying) which can generate negative reactions. such as revenge or passive aggressive behavior in the workplace.  As a transformation leader, it is imperative to understand that change can be viewed as a rejection of closely held personal beliefs.  When talking about or leading change separate how you talk about people from how you talk about the roles you are changing.

Team Coaching: Software development has been described as a team sport.  Teams are a reflection of the relationships between team members.  Mindsets can directly affect how team members view each other.  While the chapter focuses on primarily on individual relationships, we can see many of the same patterns in the relationships between team members.  Stress causes individuals with fixed mindsets to focus on the personal faults of others creating distance or even going as far as to ascribe blame to fellow team members.  Coaches have to help teams to separate people from roles and help team members not to blame people, but rather to focus on how to resolve situations and improve outcomes.

Previous Entries of the re-read of Mindset:
Basics and Introduction
Chapter 1: Mindsets
Chapter 2: Inside the Mindsets
Chapter 3: The Truth About Ability and Accomplishment
Chapter 4: Sports: The Mindset of a Champion
Chapter 5: Business: Mindset and Leadership (more…)