Traffic in India

I recently spent a week Mumbai. While stuck in traffic during a tour of some of the incredible sights, our guide stated that in Mumbai there were three certainties, death, taxes and traffic. With the sound of auto and truck horns ringing in my ear, that statement rang true.  On reflection, I would add change to the list of certainties, whether in Mumbai or as a general attribute of all human endeavors.  Software development and maintenance are no different. Over the past few weeks, this blog has extolled and then pilloried the virtues of both big bang and incremental change approaches (and by inference everything in-between). In the end, there is no perfect approach that fits all scenarios. How can we decide which end of the change approach spectrum will work in any given scenario?  The answer is not as straightforward as a checklist or decision tree, rather three interrelated concepts must be weighed when deciding on a change approach. The three are the organization’s propensity to fall prey to change fatigue, the possibility of tunnel vision and the tolerance for dealing with Watts Humphrey’s requirements uncertainty principle. (more…)

partially inflated balloons

Where did the air go?

The overwhelming choice of process improvement specialists is incremental change.  The 21st century has seen an explosion in the use of incremental change methods, not just in process improvement, but in software development and maintenance.  Techniques and frameworks like Scrum, Extreme Programing and Kanban are just a sample of methods that are being used.  The support for incrementalism should not be taken as a carte blanche endorsement.  In order to effectively use incremental change, a practitioner must avoid these three major pitfalls: (more…)

As part of the research and writing process for the series on change implementation approaches I have sought out ideas and advice from many people. Some I have talked to I have directly quoted (with permission), with others still to come as we explore continuous and hybrid models. Today I am including a longer set of important ideas and thoughts from Christopher Hurney in the form of a guest blog. Mr Hurney is an active part of the SPaMCAST community. Christopher and have talked and corresponded for several years and I learned much from our relationship. Christopher can be found on LinkedIn. Thank you, Chris! (more…)


Big Bang

Big Bang

A big bang adoption is an instant changeover, a “one-and-done” type of approach, in which everyone associated with a new system or process switches over en masse at a specific point in time.  Big bang process improvements are useful; however nearly every person involved in planning and executing change avoids them like the plague.  Practitioners avoid big bangs for a number of very specific reasons although at the root of these reasons is risk.  They are risky because they have: (more…)

Mindset Book Cover

Today we rush into Chapter 4 in Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (buy your copy and read along).  In Chapter 4, Dweck hits a home run by reflecting on how mindsets translate into action in the sports arena (thus the sports allusions).  Sports stories are one the most used metaphors in a business environment.  I bet that you can’t you to go to two meetings in any corporate environment without hearing a project likened to the exploits of sports teams or athletes. This an easy metaphor theme because most everyone has been exposed to some form of sports or at least a story about sports before they take a job. In Chapter 4, Dr. Dweck, scores (I can’t help myself) by using the exploits of athletes and sports teams to further illustrate the differences and impact mindsets deliver. (more…)

Mindset Book Cover

Today we tackle Chapter 3 in Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (buy your copy and read along). In Chapter 3 Dweck provides a view into how different mindsets impacts how we learn and teach school and other learning scenarios.  The impact of mindsets can be wide and long lasting.

I have looked at a lot of resumes and talked to a lot of job applicants over my career and as a consultant, the tables are often turned on me in most sales calls. In these intimate dances, both parties are assessing the others abilities and accomplishments. During this assessment, we are making judgments of whether someone (or some organization) can satisfy our needs now and often whether they can grow to meet future needs. Perceptions about abilities and accomplishments color our thinking and our actions in many situations and in many ways.

Dweck opens the chapter with a discussion of how the two mindsets affect teachers and students in schools. Conceiving of a school setting might be difficult for a business person, therefore it would be easy to write off this chapter as not relevant. It is relevant, first as leaders we need to understand the long-term effect mindsets have on the people that are in our organization and secondly, the impact of mindsets can have on training and education that is delivered inside the organization. If you go no further and don’t read the chapter, the punchline in this chapter can be summarized as, people with fixed mindset will find excuses and rationalize any perceived failures while those with a growth mindset will tend to double-down and work harder as work gets more difficult.

As we have seen in other scenarios described in earlier chapters in Mindset, those with a fixed mindset spend a lot of time and effort in order to protect their ego and to avoid the perception of failure. The need to spend time on ego protection saps time and focus from all other endeavors. As another example, Dweck describes the impact of different mindsets on how individuals study. A person with a fixed mindset will tend to read and re-read their notes and the assigned course reading. A fairly classic approach to studying (I have used this method myself). Alternately, someone with a growth mindset will reformulate notes, look for themes in the material and leverage outside. Personally, reflecting on my studying performance, I used both methods on different topics, the difference being interest and passion. Dweck suggests that the difference is that the person with a growing mindset synthesizes the information so they can use it outside of the classroom rather than to take the test. Reflect on the people you talked to the last time you were in school or other form of educational environment which included a test. Can you remember hearing people complaining after a test that the question(s) asked weren’t exactly what the teacher or professor talked about in class?  I can and that is often a marker for a fixed mindset.

Dweck uses several other scenarios set in academic settings in the chapter to illuminate the central premise that people with a fixed mindset focus on protecting their ego while those with a growth mindset focus on learning and new challenges which improve motivation (and value to the organization).

The explicit, very bipolar, view of mindsets must be tempered with the understanding that everyone can change. Much of the chapter’s examples present how the student/teacher relationship influences whether a growth or fixed mindset is adopted.  One example presented by Dweck that resonated with me was that teachers who preached a growth mindset got different outcomes in the classroom. Children that started in the lower performance groups ended up in the higher groups by the end of the year. Expectations help frame how we treat people. Early in my eldest daughter’s scholastic career my wife and I changed her school because there was no expectation from some teachers that they needed to challenge her (it did not help that one teacher taught that dinosaurs and cavemen lived at the same time – in science class).  Expectations also work in the in the business environment (consider listening to the interview with David Marquet, author of Turn the Ship Around! On SPaMCAST xxx and xxx for more examples).

Expectations, effort, and struggle are key to growing capabilities and reflect a growth mindset. Giving up because something does not come naturally because you are not a prodigy, is a sign of a fixed mindset.

Expectations and the feedback generated by those expectations can be a double-edged sword. Praise for ability tends to foster more of the need for ego protection while expectations and praise for effort tend to elicit more effort (this supports the idea that mindsets can evolve). Dweck points out a study that found that when praise centered on ability nearly 40% lied about their results.

In this chapter, Dweck uses school and other learning examples. A growth mindset allows people to develop their minds fully versus a fixed mindset which is bound by the boundaries that they adopt. The chapter culminates with a set of questions to grow your mindset. For example, one question is, “Are there situations where you get stupid — where you disengage your intelligence?” The exercise is to consider those scenarios and think about how you can learn and improvement.

Chapter 3 – From a Coach’s Perspective

Transforming an organization (whatever size) requires growth. During an Agile transformation, people often need change how they work and interact with others around them.  This kind of a change can require people expand their capabilities, in the vernacular of the book, to shift mindsets. Instead of address individuals, a transformation coach often needs to focus on shifting the bias of the organization towards a growth mindset. Shifting the organization’s mindset bias towards growth will help to erode negative stereotypes and labels which will slow change.

Transforming a team can be approached more intimately. The coach and other leaders can create an environment and set expectations to reframe how people are treated. Setting and reinforcing a growth mindset will erode the silos that keep individuals from growing. Over the years as a leader, I have recognized that almost everyone has the ability to grow when given the chance. Coach have to help shape the environment and the language being used to in order to erase boundaries that limit achievement.

Previous Entries of the re-read of Mindset:


Mindset Book Cover

Today we tackle Chapter 2 in Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (buy your copy and read along). In Chapter 2 Dweck provides a deeper dive into fixed and growth mindsets.  The chapter begins with Dweck’s relating how the discovery that there were two meanings to the word ‘ability’ shaped the work.  The first definition for ability is a fixed capability that needs to be proven (continually); the second definition is that an ability is a capability that can be developed through learning. The distinction between two definitions are at the heart of the behavioral differences between the growth and fixed mindsets.  Those that believe that abilities can be developed will seek stretch goals and view failures as a learning opportunities, while those with a fixed mindset will have a very different point of view. (more…)