Fire hose area in Brazil

Toxic can be incendiary!

The current re-read, Bad Blood, Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou, is a cautionary tale of the impact of a  toxic culture that seemly sprang into existence the day Theranos was founded.  Most organizations that have a toxic culture don’t begin as toxic but rather evolve.  For the fans of the re-read we will take a slight diversion later this week to consider just how toxic the Theranos environment was and how a toxic environment can translate to teams. Just calling a culture toxic is easy, but recognizing the attributes of a toxic environment is more complicated.  The most onerous attributes are: (more…)

Listen Now
Subscribe: Apple Podcast
Check out the podcast on Google Play Music

SPaMCAST 503 features our essay “Culture: The Knife’s Edge of Change.”  I have often heard the line, culture eats change for breakfast. Culture, culture, culture – the success of every change that is considered or implemented balances on the knife edge of culture. Aligning cultures so that change is possible requires seeing the differences and then minimizing enough of those differences to allow change to happen.

We also have an installment of the Alpha and Omega of Product Development with Jon M Quigley.  In this installment of Jon’s wonderful column, we discuss the muda of underutilizing people. Muda, waste, is not just generated through process or transforming raw material.  

We conclude with a visit with Gene Hughson.  We discuss an entry from his Form Follows Function Blog titled: “When asked for the time, don’t explain how your watch works”. Communications between the user and technical domains is fraught with difficulties. A problem? As Gene always says,  “exactly!”

Re-Read Saturday News

We will complete our re-read of Turn The Ship Around next week with a few final thoughts.  The next book in the series will be The Checklist Manifesto  (use the link and buy a copy so you can read along) by Atul Gawande. Today we complete re-reading the chapters in  L. David Marquet’s Turn the Ship Around!  Chapter 28, 29 and Afterthoughts complete Marquet’s reflection on the leader-leader model and his journey of discovery.

Current Installment:

Week 18: A New Method of Resupplying and Ripples  – (more…)

Bottles of bacon and chicken wing soda

Bacon and Buffalo Chicken Wing Soda – things have to change!

Culture is a reflection of how the people within an organization act. The culture is protected by peer pressure and the processes, procedures and policies teams and organizations enact and enshrine. Overall organizational culture is difficult to change. Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick, would call culture “sticky.” One major reason culture is sticky and generates defense mechanisms is that once a culture is entrenched those people that are inside the culture become comfortable. They understand how to make the culture work.  Organizations also find how to make culture work. Alignment to culture fosters higher worker satisfaction, more employee engagement, higher productivity and employee retention. Cultural fit matters to organizations and to individuals.  The dark side of cultural alignment (all forces need to have balance) is that cultural alignment can lead to stagnation and low levels of innovation. As we have noted in the past, “culture eats change for breakfast.”  New organizations establishing a culture and organizations and cultures that have generated hardened boundaries will have several levels of defense beginning with hiring for culture. Culture guides information sharing, how work is done and how individuals and groups interact therefore directly impact value delivery at a team and organization level. Cultures that generate prescriptive processes, procedures, and policies and then make adaptation difficult make change and innovation hard. (more…)

Bear Hanging Out In The Tree!

Bear Hanging Out In The Tree!

Culture is the elephant in the room for most change programs. The problem is that change or process improvement leaders don’t understand the risk presented by culture.  Every presentation or book on change harps on the idea that culture eats change for breakfast. Leaders often don’t understand the nuances of their own cultures but think they do.  The most thorough fix for this problem is to hire a specialist organization to perform a study on corporate culture. The cost and impact of these types of studies preclude using them except to support large and extremely risky change programs.  However, every continuous improvement change or rolling transformation program can have access to a set of tools to delve into the culture. Having a set of tools to explore an organization’s or team’s culture will reduce the risk of failure. To be effective the toolset needs to help whoever applies it to dispassionately evaluate the organization and team culture. (more…)


Organizational culture is a reflection of the beliefs, ideologies, policies, and practices of an organization. Culture is important because it guides what and how work gets done. Team culture, in Agile, in addition to being influenced by the organization’s culture is heavily influenced by the product owner’s interpretation of the organization’s culture.

Don't get caught up in these process mistakes.

Don’t get caught up in these process mistakes.

Almost all human endeavors use a process architecture.  Some of those architectures might not be immediately apparent, such as the scrum that often occurs at the beginning of a foot race or software development in a two-person start-up.  Others, such as the product development in the medical device fields, are far more regimented.  A mantra that many leaders in the software field utter is: “that we should only define just enough process.” It is easy to cobble together a process architecture that leads to common problems.  It isn’t that anyone goes out of their way to make a mess out of process architecture, but it happens far more often than anyone would like.  Common process architecture faux pas include: (more…)


Listening, according to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, is “to hear something with thoughtful attention.” Listening is more than receiving audio data. You also need to interpret that data. If you are a parent, I am sure that you have experienced the joy of asking your child if they were listening only to have them rattle off the conversation verbatim without them having a clue of the meaning. Listening requires hearing and interpretation. This formula sounds simple, but is more complex than it appears.  There is a number of requirements for effective listening. (more…)

Listen Now

Subscribe on iTunes

In this week’s Software Process and Measurement Cast will feature three columns.  our essay on empathy. Coaching is a key tool to help individuals and teams reach peak performance. One of the key attributes of a good coach is empathy. Critical to the understanding the role that empathy plays in coaching is understanding the definition of empathy. As a coach, if you can’t connect with those you are coaching you will not succeed. Let’s learn how to become more empathic.

Our second column features the return of the Software Sensei, Kim Pries.  Kim looks at how we might apply David Allen’s concepts for Getting Things Done (after the book of the same name). Please note the comments reflect the Software Sensei’s interpretation of how Allen’s work might be applied to software development.

Anchoring the cast this week is Gene Hughson bringing an entry from the Form Follows Function Blog.  Today Gene discussed his essay, Changing Organizations Without Changing People.  Gene proclaims, “Changing culture is impossible if you claim to value one thing but your actions demonstrate that you really don’t.”

Remember to help grow the podcast by reviewing the SPaMCAST on iTunes, Stitcher or your favorite podcatcher/player and then share the review! Help your friends find the Software Process and Measurement Cast. After all, friends help friends find great podcasts!



Consider an elastic band that has been stretched between two points. If the elastic hasn’t lost its stretch, as soon as it is released at one end it will snap back. Organizational culture is like that elastic band. We pull and stretch to make changes and then we want them to settle in. However, we need to anchor the change so that when we change focus the changes don’t disappear. The eighth step in Kotter’s eight-stage model of change discusses this need to anchor the change to avoid reversion.

Culture describes the typical behaviors of a group and the meaning ascribed to those behaviors. Kotter describes culture as the reflection of shared values and group norms. All groups have a specific culture that allows them to operate in a predictable manner. Within a group or organization, culture allows members to interpret behavior and communication, and therefore build bonds of trust. When culture is disrupted bond are scrambled and behavior becomes difficult to predict until culture is reset. If a change program declares victory before the culture is reset, the group or organization tends to revert to back to the original cultural norm.

Culture is powerful because:

  1. The individuals within any group are selected to be part of the group and then indoctrinated into the culture. Cognitive biases are a powerful force that pushes people to hire and interact with people that are like them, homogenizing and reinforcing culture. Culture is further reinforced by training, standards and processes that are used to reduce the level of behavioral variance in the organization. Standardization and indoctrination help lock in culture.
  2. Culture exerts itself through the actions of each individual. While in a small firm, the combination of the number of people in the firm and proximity to the leaders of the change make culture change easier (not easy just easier).  However when we consider mid-sized or large firms in which hundreds or thousands of people need to make a consistent and permanent change to how they act, change gets really complicated. Since culture reflects and is reinforced by how people work, real change requires change each how each affected person behaves which is significantly more difficult to change than words in the personnel manual.
  3. Much actions taken in an organization is not driven by conscious decision which makes it hard to challenge or discuss. A significant amount of our work behavior is governed by shared values and muscle memory. I often hear the statement “that’s just the way it is done here” when I ask why a team has taken a specific action. Many of these actions are unconscious and therefore tend to go unrecognized until challenged from the outside. Pushing people away from comfortable patterns of behavior generates cognitive dissonance.

Less power is needed overcome entrenched culture if the change can build on the organization’s base culture rather than having to confront it. Building on to the current culture will often generate some early momentum towards change because those being asked to change see less risk. Alternately change that is at odds with the current culture will require significantly more effort and a greater sense of urgency to generate and sustain.

Kotter argues that culture changes trail behavior. Put another way, culture change happens last. Each of the stages in the model for change are designed to build urgency, momentum and support for organizational changes. Vision provides the direction for the change. Results provide proof that the change works and is better than what it replaced. Continuous communication of vision, direction and results break through the barriers of resistance. Breaking down the layers of resistance challenges old values and pushes people to admit that the change is better. When barriers can’t or won’t change sometimes change means changing key people.  Nihilistic behavior in the face of results can’t be allowed to exist. Kotter finally points out that in order to anchor long-term change the organization will need to ensure that both succession planning and promotions reinforce the change rather than allow reversion.

Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Innumerable people have suggested a corollary that says “Culture eats change for breakfast.” The Eight Stage Model for Significant Change provides a strategy for overcoming the power of an entrenched culture to generate lasting change.

Re-read Summary to-date

Change is a fact of life. John P. Kotter’s book, Leading Change, defines his famous eight-stage model for change. The first stage of the model is establishing a sense of urgency. A sense of urgency provides the energy and rational for any large, long-term change program. Once a sense of urgency has been established, the second stage in the eight-stage model for change is the establishment of a guiding coalition. If a sense of urgency provides energy to drive change, a guiding coalition provides the power for making change happen. A vision, built on the foundation of urgency and a guiding coalition, represents a picture of a state of being at some point in the future. Developing a vision and strategy is only a start, the vision and strategy must be clearly and consistently communicated to build the critical mass needed to make change actually happen. Once an organization wound up and primed, the people within the organization must be empowered and let loose to create change. Short-term wins provide the feedback and credibility needed to deliver on the change vision. The benefits and feedback from the short-term wins and other environmental feedback are critical for consolidating gains and producing more change. Once a change has been made it needs to anchored so that that the organization does not revert to older, comfortable behaviors throwing away the gains they have invest blood, sweat and tears to create.

Dr. Deming

Dr. Deming

The Seven Deadly Sins of metrics programs are:

  1. Pride – Believing that a single number/metric is more important than any other factor.
  2. Envy – Instituting measures that facilitate the insatiable desire for another team’s people, tools or applications.
  3. Wrath – Using measures to create friction between groups or teams.
  4. Sloth – Unwillingness to act on or care about the measures you create.
  5. Greed – Allowing metrics to be used as a tool to game the system.
  6. Gluttony – Application of an excess of metrics.
  7. Lust – Pursuit of the number rather than the business goal.

In the end, these sins are a reflection of the organization’s culture. Bad metrics can generate bad behavior and reinforce an organizational culture issues. Adopting good measures is a step in the right direction however culture can’t be changed by good metrics alone. Shifting the focus on an organizations business goals, fostering transparency to reduce gaming and then using measures as tools rather than weapons can support changing the culture. Measurement can generate behavior that leads towards a healthier environment.  As leaders, measurement and process improvement professionals, we should push to shape their environment so that everyone can work effectively for the company.

The Shewhart PDCA Cycle (or Deming Wheel), set outs of model where measurement becomes a means to an end rather than an end in their own right. The Deming wheel popularized the Plan, Do Check, Act (PDCA) cycle which is focused on delivering business value. Using the PDCA cycle, organizational changes are first planned, executed, checked by measurement and then refined based on a positive feedback model. In his book The New Economics Deming wrote “Reward for good performance may be the same as reward to the weather man for a pleasant day.” Organizations that fall prey to the Seven Deadly Sins of metrics programs are apt to incent the wrong behavior.

(Thank you Dr. Deming).