Herding for pickle beer. Who would have thought!

Herding is a pattern where an individual or team acts based on the behavior of others. Stated very simply, herding is just like the children’s game follow-the-leader.  Last year, I sat in on a discussion in an organization where being perceived as being helpful was a significant attribute for bonuses and promotions. The R&D Group (software development) had recently been asked to implement a significant SaaS package with a due date before Thanksgiving so that the retail portion of the business would not be impacted. The date was absurd. The CIO had gathered a number of teams together to determine if the work was doable. The answer from each team as they went out of the room was no until a single team said they could do it. In quick succession, everyone changed their minds and played follow-the-leader.  All of the affected teams exhibited herd behavior. As soon as one team broke from the pack everyone followed. The cascade was exacerbated when the CIO muttered “thank-you” after the first two teams said yes. Herding in decision making effectively took “no” off the table. This type of behavior is response-driven. (more…)

Saying no, at least where appropriate, is an important tool to ensure good morale, high productivity and delivering more value.  Just saying “no” is easy, having the statement be safe and make sense requires several prerequisite conditions.   (more…)

Rip Currents Are Complex!

We have been using the metaphors of heat death (controlling how people work to reduce variability to a negligible level) and gray goo (little or no control leading to process anarchy) to illustrate the impact of process control strategies. Neither extreme is a good idea. In most circumstances, every organization and team needs to find their own equilibrium spot. VUCA, an acronym for the attributes volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, describes four of the factors that define why organizations vary between strict control and laissez-faire approaches. (more…)

A Sweet Spot!

In the essay, Balancing Control and Self-Organization to Avoid Heat Death I said that there is a need to strike a balance between controlling how individuals and teams work and just letting people do their own thing.  Stated slightly differently, there needs to be a balance between autonomy and control.

Finding The Sweet Spot!

In a world where organizations like Theranos (over control) and the City of Flint, Michigan (laissez-faire crisis management) exist, organizations have to find a way to make sure they attain their goal without killing the company or injuring their customers. A framework that guides how workflows and decisions are made provides structure so that decisions can be made when a crisis occurs (crises are inevitable). Too much or too little control makes decision making more difficult when a crisis occurs. Every organization has to find a balance between control and autonomy. Every organization and team will have a specific Goldilocks answer. This is true for whole organizations as well as software teams that have embraced agile frameworks and methodologies.  One size does not fit all without a bit of tailoring. This premise is not the controversial part of our last essay, the problem is that the word control bothered some of the readers. (more…)

Cooling before winter!

In February 2001 the Agile Manifesto was signed by 17 people. The Manifesto, comprised of four values and 12 principles, is the rallying point for what would become the agile movement.  It provided a new framework to think about how work should, or could, be approached. That framework challenged the standard thinking of how to develop, enhance, and maintain software. That challenge guaranteed disorder and energy; it created entropy that was harnessed for change. Nearly 18 years later, the excitement and focus which has been the hallmark of the agile movement is showing its age and begun to dissipate under a wave of prescriptive methods and a knee jerk reaction to control.  This is a pattern of change that has repeated over and over across history. The age of the cowboy and cattle drives was conquered not by the six-shooter, but by fences. The Capability Maturity Models (CMM and CMMI) spawned an industry of assessors who policed software development usage which helped to give birth to the agile movement. We are now at a similar inflection point. (more…)



Stuff happens even in the safest, most controlled environments  When we design processes we can try to define out all potential problems or balance the degree of safety required and our ability to recognize and react when something happens.

Excluding all inputs that might cause a problem would also exclude impressions, interactions and potential serendipity that can foster innovation. This is a path towards mediocrity. Agile frameworks stress the need for transparency (transparency is part of empirical models) because transparency is needed for effective collaboration and feedback.  Transparency will mean external ideas could encroach on your projects. Trying to ban outside ideas will do more harm than good; just make sure you are communicating well enough to raise an alarm when needed.