Fire Alarm


Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning good change. Change in a dynamic business environment has become an accepted norm. Organizations must adapt or lose relevancy. The concept of kaizen has been adopted within the information technology industry as part of core management practices. In business terms, kaizen has been defined as continuous incremental change. You need energy to make change occur, in many cases, a sense of urgency is the mechanism used to generate the energy to drive continuous change. (more…)

A wrapping paper change barbarian

A wrapping-paper-change barbarian

When you begin a change process it is important to remember a few critical points. If you were getting ready for vacation, the checklist might include identifying who is going and who is in charge, deciding on a destination, a map, and hotel reservations. Beginning a process improvement project is not very different. Here is my simple checklist with five of the most critical requirements for preparing to embrace a journey of change. My critical five are:

1. An Identified Goal

2. Proper Sponsorship

3. Sufficient Budget

4. A Communication Strategy and Plan

5. A Tactical Plan

The first item on the checklist is an identified goal. The goal is the definition of where you want to go; the destination in the vacation analogy. A goal provides direction and a filter to understand the potential impact of constraints. Examples of a goal can range from something as simple as, “reduce the cost of projects,” or as complex as “attain CMMI Maturity Level 5.” The goal also sets the table for discussing all of the other items on the checklist, such as the required budget. One piece of advice: make sure your goal can be concisely and simply stated. Simplicity increases the chance the goal will be broadly remembered, which reduces the number of times you will need to explain the goal, which will increase the amount of time available for progress.

Proper sponsorship is next on the list. Sponsorship is important because it is provides the basis for the authority needed to propel change. There are many different types and levels of sponsorship. The word “proper” is used in this line item to remind you that there is no one type of sponsorship that fits all events and organizational culture. One example is the “barbarian.” The barbarian is the type that will lead the charge, but typically is less collaborative and more a command-driven personality. Barbarians tend to be viewed as zealots who harness their belief structure to provide single minded energy towards the goal they are focused on. Having a barbarian as a sponsor can infuse change projects with an enormous amount of power. The bookend to the barbarian type of sponsorship is the “bureaucrat”. Sponsorship from a bureaucrat is very different. Instead of leading the charge, bureaucrats tend to organize and control the charge. They may provide guidance, but they rarely get directly involved in the fray. The examples show two different varieties of sponsorship each that will fit in different organizations. In a life or death situation, I would like to have a barbarian for a sponsor. However if I was affecting incremental changes in a command and control organization, the bureaucrat would make more sense. Remember sponsorship is important because sponsorship give you access to power.

Budget is next on the checklist. The term budget can cover a wide range of ground ranging from money to availably of human resources (effort). The budget will answer the question “how much of the organization’s formal resources can you apply?” The budget that ends up being identified to support change is always less than what seems to be needed. Use this constraint as a tool to motivate your team to find innovations on the way to attaining the goal rather and a reason to rein in your goal.

The first plan I recommend building is an organizational change management plan (OCMP). The OCMP is frames how your project is going to transform the future state of the organization. It will integrate the project roles and responsibilities with the requirements for communication, training, oversight, reporting and the strategies to address resistance, and reinforcement activities. The OCMP is a mixture of a high-level map and how-to document that is critical to ensure you are as focused on how you are change the organization as to tasks required to define and implement specific processes.

Finally you will need a tactical plan that lays out the tasks you need to accomplish and the order the tasks need to be done. The focus and breadth of the tactical plan you use will be different depending on the project management technique that you use. For example, if you use a time boxed technique like SCRUM your tactical plan will focus on identifying tasks for the current sprint based on the backlog of items required to reach your goal. Regardless of the planning technique used you must have a tactical plan or risk falling into random activity. Use the technique that conforms to your project’s needs and your organization’s culture. The bottom line is that you will you need to understand the activities and order they occur in to get to your goal.

Change is difficult to accomplish in the best of times, and almost impossible if you fail to start properly. This simple checklist for change readiness was developed and compiled to help you focus on a set of topics that need to be considered when beginning any process improvement project. Are there other areas that should be on the list? Can each topic area be deconstructed into finer levels of granularity? I believe the answer is certainly yes, and I would urge you to augment and deconstruct the list and further to share your results. In any case a checklist that focuses you on getting your sponsorship, goals, budget and plans in order can help you start well.

A hybrid

A hybrid

Being Agile is a lot easier than it was even a few years ago. However, there are still roadblocks; including lack of management buy in, not changing the whole development life cycle or and only vaguely considering technical Agile practices. The discussions I have had with colleagues, readers of blog and a professor at Penn State about roadblock have generated a lot passion over the relative value and usefulness of hybrids.

Classic software development techniques are a cascade beginning with requirements definition and ending with implementation. The work moves through that cascade in a manner similar to an auto assembly line. The product is not functional until it rolls off the end of the line. The model uses specialized labor doing specific tasks over and over. Henry Ford changed the automotive market with this technique.  However, applying this model to software development can cause all sorts of bad behaviors. Those bad behaviors are generally caused by a mismatch between linear work like manufacturing and work that is more dynamic and more oriented to research and development. One example of a bad behavior the abuse of stage gates. Often teams continue working even when the method indicates they must wait for a stage gate decision. The problem is that if they wait for a decision they will never complete on time. Managers are ALWAYS aware what is happening, but choose to not ask. It generally is not because anyone in the process is a bad player, but rather that the process is corrupt.

Agile is different. Agile stops the cascade by breaking work into smaller chunks. Those smaller pieces are then designed, developed, tested and delivered using short sprints (known as cadence) in order to generate immediate feedback. The “new” process takes the reason for running stage gate stop signs away.

Hybrid models attempt to harvest the best pieces from the classic and Agile frameworks to fit the current organizational culture or structure. The process of making the Agile (or classic methods for that matter) fit into an organization optimized for classic methods is where issues generally creep in. The compromises required often stray from the assumptions of built into the Agile values and principles.  Examples of the assumptions built into Agile include stable teams, self management and delivering functional software at the end of every sprint. It is easier to wander away from those values and principles than to tackle changing the organization’s culture or structure. One of the most common (and damaging) compromises can be seen in organizations that continue the practice of leveraging dynamically staffed teams (often called matrix organizations). Stable teams often require rearranging organizational boundaries and a closer assessment of capabilities.

Typical organizational problems that if not addressed will lead organizations to generate classic/Agile hybrids include:

  1. Silos: Boundaries between groups require higher levels of planning and coordination to ensure the right people are available at the right time even when there are delays. Historically, large development organizations have included the role of scheduler/expediter in their organization chart to deal with these types of issues.
  2. Overly Lean: Many development organizations have suffered through years of cost cutting and have far fewer people than needed to complete the work they have committed to accomplishing. Personnel actively work on several projects at once to give the appearance of progress across a wide range of enterprises. Switching between tasks is highly inefficient which reduces the overall value delivered, often leading to more cost cutting pressure.
  3. Lack of Focus: Leaders in development organizations often feel the need to accept and start all projects that are presented. Anthony Mersino calls this the “say yes to everything syndrome.” This typically occurs in organizations without strong portfolio management in place. Ultimately, this means that people and teams need to multitask, leading to inefficiency.
  4. Lack of Automation: While I have never met a development practice that couldn’t be done on a small scale using pencil and paper, automation makes scale possible. For example, consider running several thousand regression tests by hand. In order to run the tests you would either need a significant duration or lots of people. Lots of people generally means more teams, more team boundaries, more hierarchy and more overhead – leading to the possibility of just running less tests to meet a date or budget.

The values and principles that underpin Agile really matter. They guide behavior so that it is more focused on delivering value quickly. The four values in the Agile Manifesto are presented as couplets. For example, in the first value: “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools,” the items on left side are valued more than those on the right (even though those on the right still have value). Hybrid models often generate compromises that shift focus from the attributes on the left more toward the center and perhaps back to those attributes on the right. Hybrids are not evil or bad, but they are generally cop-outs if they wander away from basic Agile values and principles rather than addressing tough organizational issues.

Agree or disagree, your thoughts are important to guiding the conversation about what is and isn’t Agile.

Communication is a series of transactions.

Communication is a series of transactions.

People are the heart of the interactions that drive every organization and team. Increasing the effectiveness of communication will directly translate to higher productivity. To improve communication you need to develop an understanding of psychology. Transactional analysis is one of the most useful communication theories for IT professionals. Transactional analysis provides a basis to enrich your dealings with others by helping you understand why communication gets crossed. Developed by Eric Berne, it was built on the idea that the human psyche is multifaceted. Berne suggests that there are three egos states: the parent, the child and the adult. Each of these ego states has different attributes, and an understanding of each can help IT professionals better communicate.

The parent alter ego is the voice of authority. It represents the conditioning, attitudes and learning we absorb through the environment we grew up in. The environment includes both the physical and cultural. We are taught this role. The parent role comes in two flavors: nurturing (viewed as positive until it goes too far and results in spoiling) and controlling (viewed as negative when it is simply critical rather than providing structure). IT personnel are generally not trained psychologists, so the identification of an ego state is difficult without examples. Examples of nurturing parent behavior includes being fully present in your interactions (put down that phone), providing physical comfort when sought and providing challenges that promote healthy development. On the other hand, controlling behaviors may include angry or impatient body language and finger pointing (a big one with my mother). The parent role guides behavior either through controlling or nurturing communication. The ability to identify communication coming from the parent role is important because interacting with the parent ego state using the wrong ego state will cause misinterpretation (known as crossed communication).

The child ego state represents the part of us that reacts to the world emotionally. We learn this role as we experience events and simultaneously record our emotions. The child’s role interprets events based on the relationship it has established through experiences and feelings. As with the parent ego state, there are two sides to the child ego state: the adapted child and the free child.  The adapted child state reacts to the parent state either with obedience or defiance. The free child state is characterized by openness, spontaneity and boldness. The child ego state tends to be feeling and very egocentric. Understanding this state is important because the emotional linkage is important to selling change.  For example, marketing communication that aims to induce impulse purchases is targeted at the child state.

The adult ego state is logical (think of Spock in the original Star Trek series as an extreme adult ego state). It acts as a control between the parent and the child state. It makes plans and decisions based on data it receives. Berne stated, “I have heard the adult described through the metaphor of a tape recorder that is turned on at ten months then switches off at some point and then is only replayed. The adult ego state is characterized by an autonomous set of feelings, attitudes and behavior patterns which are adapted to the current reality.[1]” The patterns that define the adult ego state  become a set of triggerable behaviors patterns.

Understanding the ego states provides a set of behavioral and communication attributes to understand how people interact. When you are speaking from your ego state to someone else you are interacting with their current ego state.  Berne theorized that some ego states interact better than others because they are complementary.  One of the rule of transaction analysis is that successful communications must be between complementary states. In the world of organizational change, the parent gives permission, the adult decides and the child buys. In order to plan, sell and implement change we need to understand how to involve all ego states. [IN WHAT?]

[1] Transactional analysis in psychotherapy: a systematic individual and social psychiatry, Eric Berne, Publisher Grove Press, 1961, p76


We complete the re-read of John P. Kotter’s book Leading Change by reviewing the implications from the last two chapters of the book.  Part Three paints the picture of a world in which the urgency for change will not abate and perhaps might even increase.  In chapter 11, titled The Organization of the Future, Kotter suggests that while in the past a single key leader can drive change, collaboration at the top of organizations is now required due to both the rate and complexity of change.  He argues that one person simply can’t have the time and expertise to manage, lead, communication, provide vision . . .  you get the point.  The message in the chapter is that for organizations of any type to prosper in the 21st century the ability to create and communicate vision is critical.  That skill needs to be fostered and developed over the long term just as any other significant organizational asset.  Long-term and continuous development of leadership is not accomplished simply by providing in a two-week course in leadership. While leadership is critical, it only goes so far in creating and fostering change and must be supplemented by a culture of empowerment. Broad-based empowerment allows organizations to tap a wide range of knowledge and energy at all levels of the organization.

Boiling the message of Chapter 11 down, Kotter suggests that an organization that will be at home with the dynamic nature of the 21st century will require a lean, non-bureaucratic structure that leverages a wide range of performance data. For example, in an empowered organization performance data must be gathered and analyzed from many sources. Performance data (e.g. customer satisfaction, productivity, returns, quality and others) gains maximum power when everyone has access to the data in order to drive continuous improvements. The culture of the new organization needs to shift from internally focused and command and control to an externally focused, non-bureaucratic organization. While Kotter does not use the terms lean and Agile, the organization he describes as tuned to the 21st Century reflects the tenants of lean and agile.

Chapter 12, titled Leadership and Lifelong Learning, circles back to the concept of leadership. It is a constant thread across all facets of the eight-stage model of change detailed in Leading Change. Kotter describes the need for leaders to continually develop competitive capacity (the capability to deal with an increasing competitive and dynamic environment). The model Kotter uses to describe the development competitive capacity begins with personal history and flows through competitive drive, lifelong learning, skills and abilities to competitive capacity.  Lifelong learning is an input and a tool for developing and honing skills and abilities. Skills and abilities feed competitive capacity. In our re-read of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey culminated the Seven Habit with the habit call Sharpening the Saw.  Sharpening the Saw is a prescription for balanced self-renewal.  Life-long learning is an important component in balanced self-renewal. Whether you read Kotter or Covey the need to continuously learn is an inescapable necessity of any leaders.

As a rule, I am never overwhelmed by the chapters after the meat of most self-help books (I consider Leading Change a management self-help book, part of a continuum that Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People would be found on also). Part Three of Leading Change ties the book together by reinforcing the need for the eight-stage model for change and to address the need for continuously sharpening the saw.  Kotter’s model is a tool that requires leaders to apply therefore organizations and leaders must foster the capacity to address needed changes.

Re-read Summary

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.

The need for change is not abating. The eight-stage model for change requires leadership and vision.  Organizations need to foster leadership while both organizations and the people in those organizations must continually learn and hone their skills.

Next week we will review the list of books that readers of the blog and listeners to the podcast have identified as having a major impact on their career to vote on the next book we will tackle on Re-read Saturday.  Right now The Mythical Man Month by Fred Brooks is at the top of the list.  Care to influence the list?  Let me know the two books that most influenced your career.

Step 3 is to take smaller bites!

Step 3 is to take smaller bites!

Changing how any organization works is not easy.  Many different moving parts have to come together for a change to take root and build up enough inertia to pass the tipping point. Unfortunately because of misalignment, misunderstanding or poor execution, change programs don’t always win the day.  This is not new news to most of us in the business.  What should happen after a process improvement program fails?  What happens when the wrong kind of inertia wins?

Step One:  All failures must be understood.

First, perform a critical review of the failed program that focuses on why and how it failed.  The word critical is important.  Nothing should be sugar coated or “spun” to protect people’s feelings.  A critical review must also have a good dose of independence from those directly involved in the implementation.  Independence is required so that the biases and decisions that led to the original program can be scrutinized.  The goal is not to pillory those involved, but rather to make sure the same mistakes are not repeated.  These reviews are known by many names: postmortems, retrospectives or troubled project reviews, to name a few.

Step two:  Determine which way the organization is moving.

Inertia describes why an object in motion tends to stay in motion or those at rest tend to stay at rest.  Energy is required to change the state of any object or organization; understanding the direction of the organization is critical to planning any change. In process improvement programs we call the application of energy change management.  A change management program might include awareness building, training, mentoring or a myriad of other events all designed to inject energy into the system. The goal of that energy is either to amplify or change the performance of some group within an organization.  When not enough or too much energy is applied, the process change will fail.

Just because a change has failed does not mean all is lost.  There are two possible outcomes to a failure. The first is that the original position is reinforced, making change even more difficult.  The second is that the target group has been pushed into moving, maybe not all the way to where they should be or even in the right direction, but the original inertia has been broken.

Frankly, both outcomes happen.  If the failure is such that no good comes of it, then your organization will be mired in the muck of living off past performance.  This is similar to what happens when a car gets stuck in snow or sand and digs itself in.  The second scenario is more positive, and while the goal was not attained, the organization has begun to move, making further change easier.  I return to the car stuck in the snow example.  A technique that is taught to many of us that live in snowy climates is “rocking.” Rocking is used to get a car stuck in snow moving back and forth.  Movement increases the odds that you will be able to break free and get going in the right direction.

Step Three:  Take smaller bites!

The lean startup movement provides a number of useful concepts that can be used when changing any organization.  In Software Process and Measurement Cast 196, Jeff Anderson talked in detail about leveraging the concepts of lean start-ups within change programs (Link to SPaMCAST 196).  A lean start up will deliver a minimum amount of functionality needed to generate feedback and to further populate a backlog of manageable changes. The backlog should be groomed and prioritized by a product owner (or owners) from the area being impacted by the change.  This will increase ownership and involvement and generate buy-in.  Once you have a prioritized backlog, make the changes in a short time-boxed manner while involving those being impacted in measuring the value delivered.  Stop doing things if they are not delivering value and go to the next change.

Being a change agent is not easy, and no one succeeds all the time unless they are not taking any risks.  Learn from your mistakes and successes.  Understand the direction the organization is moving and use that movement as an asset to magnify the energy you apply. Involve those you are asking to change to building a backlog of prioritized minimum viable changes (mix the concept of a backlog with concepts from the lean start up movement).  Make changes based on how those who are impacted prioritize the backlog then stand back to observe and measure.  Finally, pivot if necessary.  Always remember that the goal is not really the change itself, but rather demonstrable business value. Keep pushing until the organization is going in the right direction.  What do you do when inertia wins?  My mother would have said just get back up, dust your self off and get back in the game.

To drive change, you must be pointed in the right direction from the start.

To drive change, you must be pointed in the right direction from the start.

Leading Change by John P. Kotter, originally published in 1996, has become a classic reference that most process improvement specialists either have or should have on their bookshelf. The core of the book lays out an eight-step model for effective change that anyone involved in change will find useful. However there is more to the book than just the model.

If we take it as fact that we live in a world that full of dynamic forces that cause markets to change and evolve, then all organizations will need to change or become irrelevant. In this environment, effective change has become a required capability for the health of the organization. Given the need for change, you would expect that change agents and organizations would have become good at change. However, the anecdotal evidence as seen on business pages of any major newspaper suggests that organizations will fail at change. Kotter begins Leading Change by describing the reasons why many changes fail. Understanding why changes fails is a prerequisite to understanding how change can succeed. In chapter one, titled “Transforming Organizations: Why Firms Fail” Kotter identifies the common errors organizations make when trying to address change.

  1. Allowing too much complacency – Without a sense of urgency it difficult to break the inertia that history and the day-to-day generate. I have often said that a good organizational near death experience makes breaking through organizational inertia much easier.
  2. Failing to create a sufficiently powerful guiding coalition – Any significant change will require organizational power to create and institutionalize. The power to generate change requires active support and resources of personnel with that organizational power.
  3. Underestimating the power of vision – A vison of the future is required to generate a unified action. Change without vision of the future is much akin to taking a trip without knowing the destination.
  4. Under communicating the vision (by a lot) – The vision defines the future, it must be continuously communicated to ensure everyone is aligned.
  5. Permitting obstacles to block the new vision – Nothing should be allowed to get in the way of the change. It is easy to allow other initiatives or even day-to-day activities to get in the way of change. In environments where “multi-tasking” is encouraged any number one priority will have to vie for focus and attention with other initiatives.
  6. Failing to create short-term wins – Most significant changes require time to complete and institutionalize. Short-term successes help reinforce commitment and momentum to attaining the vision. Short-terms wins need to be planned and generated rather relying on wishful thinking.
  7. Declaring victory too soon – Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Declare victory only when the change has been institutionalized.
  8. Neglecting to anchor changes in the corporate culture – Until any change or process becomes part of corporate culture, the natural tendency will be toward reversion. Think about a person with an organ transplant, without support natural antibodies will attempt to reject the organ. Anchoring change to the culture is the support needed to avoid reversion to the old normal.

Understanding of common errors that cause change to fail is a step to toward successful change. In the next installment we will address the forces that drive successful change. Please share your thoughts and ideas as we re-read the book together.

If you need a copy feel free to buy it using the SPaMCAST associate link (Buy Leading Change) with helps pay for bandwidth, supplies and edit for the podcast and blog. H

Re-Read Saturday is a new feature on the Software Process and Measurement blog. We are starting this feature with a re-read of Leading Change. Leading change has been on my bookshelf for many years and I consider it an important tool The re-read will extend over a twelve Saturdays as I share my current interpretation of a book that has a major impact on how I think about the world around me. When the re-read of Leading Change is complete we will dive into the list of books I am compiling from you, the readers and listeners of my blog and podcast. Have ideas for the next re-read? Let me know the two books that have influenced your career the most!