This week, we tackle chapter 2 of Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World by Brian J. Robertson published by Henry Holt and Company in 2015. Chapter 2 tackles why the consolidation of authority is harmful to the ability to nimble, agile (small a), and productive and secondly, why the distribution of authority supports an organization’s ability to scale.  The argument in Chapter 2 is a central tenant of Holacracy.


Chapter 2: Distributing Authority (more…)

Book Cover


This week, we tackle chapter 1 of Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World by Brian J. Robertson published by Henry Holt and Company in 2015. Holacracy is an approach to address the shortcomings that have appeared as organizations evolve. Holacracy is not a silver bullet, but rather provides a stable platform for identifying and addressing problems efficiently.

Part One: Evolution at work: Introducing Holacracy

Chapter 1: Evolving Organization (more…)

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.