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SPaMCAST 457 features our essay on cognitive biases and their impact on decision making.  If you doubt the impact of biases on decision making, read chapter five of The Science of Successful Organizational Change (current Re-read Saturday Book) and listen to this week’s podcast!

Our second column this week is from Jon M Quigley (The Alpha and Omega of Product Development), Jon continues his theme of learning organizations with penetrating insight on how a learning organization evolves.

Kim Pries (The Software Sensei) anchors the cast this week with a strong argument that if you want to improve the software you are delivering begin by hiring the right people!

We also have a promo for 2017 Agile Leadership Summit:

Mark your calendar for an entirely new class of business conference. More “business theater” than a conference, the 2017 Agile Leadership Summit (September 22nd in Washington, DC) is sponsored by AgileCxO (agilecxo.org). It features an integrated mix of six vignettes on Agile leadership, two fantastic industry keynotes, and onstage jazz musicians who are demonstrating agility, iteration, and excellence throughout. Learn more at http://agilecxo.org.

Re-Read Saturday News

This week Steven dives into Chapter 6 of Paul Gibbons’ book The Science of Successful Organizational Change.   There are a lot of techniques that I see used on a daily basis that are based on pop psychology. Confronting the true believers is often a lot like jousting at windmills. Remember to use the link in the essay to buy a copy of the book to support the author, the podcast, and the blog!   

This week and previous installments: (more…)

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SPaMCAST 452 features our essay on personal process improvement.  We are responsible for our own path in life. Stepping back and reviewing where we are today and where we want to be tomorrow is a form of a retrospective.  Just like any other retrospective, the goal is to change the trajectory of the path you are on.   

Kim Pries, the Software Sensei, discusses ethics in software. Ethics guide (or they don’t) practitioners of all types.  Many certification organizations include ethics statements but rarely have the teeth to enforce those ethics.  Kim asks whether this approach makes sense.

Anchoring the cast is Jon Quigley with his Alpha and Omega of Product Development column.  Jon is beginning a three column theme on the impact of people and learning on product development. One of the places you can find Jon is at Value Transformation LLC.

Re-Read Saturday News

Today we continue re-reading The Science of Successful Organizational Change led by Steven Adams.  THis week we dive into Chapter One titled Failed Change:  The Greatest Preventable Cost to Business?  The frightening part of this chapter is how intimately it resonates based on personal observation. Remember to buy your copy.   

Previous installments:

Week 1: Game Plan

Week 2: Introduction   

Week 3: Failed Change

(more…)

You got to have courage!

You got to have courage!

I listen to Malcolm Gladwell’s wonderful Revisionist History podcast. In the last podcast of season one, he discussed “the satire paradox.” The punchline of the most recent installment of the podcast is that change is not possible without courage. Flexibility requires courage.  Change, when embracing something like Agile, requires the flexibility to give something up.  Perhaps we might be asked to move outside of our comfort zone and work differently, or to work with people we haven’t worked with before.  Asking testers and developers to work on the same team or to work as pairs or asking backend and UI subteams to work together require flexibility.  We can define flexibility to embrace Agile or any other significant modification to work based on four basic attributes: (more…)

Pi(e)-shaped person?

Pi(e)-shaped person?

Many Agile discussions talk about team members as generalizing specialists.  Generalizing specialists are individuals that have a specialty; however, they also have broad levels of experience that can be applied.  Tim Brown of IDEO coined term ‘T-shaped people’ (or skills) to describe this combination of specialization and experience.  There are a number of other letter- or symbol-based metaphors, sort of an alphabet soup of metaphors, that describe the type of person you might find in a team. (more…)

Broken Chinese Statues

A good team will not go to pieces!

One of the most iconic television shows of the 1980s (83 – 87) was the A-Team. In the A-Team, the four team members combined their talents to right wrongs and conquer evil. In a precursor to Agile, the team was cross functional and in the context of the larger world, self-organizing. While the A-Team reflects Hollywood’s perception of a team, the lesson shouldn’t be lost that for most software development or maintenance efforts teams are necessary to get things done. If teams are a necessity, then it is important to understand the attributes of an effective team.  For any specific effort, the best team (or teams) is a function of team dynamics, capabilities and the right number of bodies. (more…)

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An Agile center of excellence (ACoE) provides support and energy to an Agile transformation within an organization. It supports through leadership, evangelization, best practices, research, support and/or training for agile and lean ideas. ACoE’s support can be categorized in three inter-related areas. These areas, the three “P’s,” are people, process and project.

People are the heart and soul of any development process. As we have noted, Agile has an enormous focus on people (remember the Agile value of valuing people over process). The ACoE provides support to people though bringing new ideas into the organization, by providing coaching, developing coaches and acting as change agents.

Agile is a set of processes, or sets of steps taken to achieve a specific end. A recipe is a process, as is a daily stand-up meeting or checking code in and out of configuration management tool. The ACoE supports Agile processes by capturing process, identifying and fostering the use of relevant metrics (collection and reporting are typically PMO functions – to be discussed in the near future), facilitating communities of practices and providing tools.

Projects are the currency of most IT organizations. At its simplest a project is an enterprise with a start and end that is organized to deliver a result. ACoEs support the performance of Agile teams at a project-level as coaches. Coaches are folks who deliver help to teams, stakeholders and other leaders within an organization so they learn how to be Agile. At the project-level, coaches help teams use and tweak processes to meet the team’s needs, provide training and support for tools and processes and help the team learn how to ask the hard questions about how the team is using Agile.

The primary goal of the ACoE is to provide practitioners with the tools, techniques and capabilities they need to be Agile. By helping teams perform, the ACoE also helps sell and maintain the Agile transformation. Both of these goals begin as an organization starts a transformation to Agile and continue to be important as teams evolve and continuously improve. The ACoE delivers value by addressing the three Ps. For example, through the role of coaching and by facilitating communities of practice, the ACoE helps to promote an environment where there is consistency of practice and where innovation can happen. While the combination of innovation and consistency might sound contradictory, coaches often act as an Agile Johnny Appleseed. ACoE coaches see how teams work, the changes that have made to the processes and why those changes were made. The ACoE can then help to spread ideas that prove to be valuable through coaching, referrals or discussion in communities of practice.

People are chaotic.

People are chaotic.

Have ever heard the saying, “software development would be easy if it weren’t for the people”? People are one of the factors that cause variability in the performance of projects and releases (other factors also include complexity, the size of the work, and process discipline.) There are three mechanisms built into most Agile frameworks to address an acceptance of the idea that people can be chaotic by nature and therefore dampen variability.

  1. Team size, constitution and consistency are attributes that most Agile frameworks have used to enhance productivity and effectiveness that also reduce the natural variability generated when people work together.
    1. The common Agile team size of 7 ± 2 is small enough that team members can establish and nurture personal relationships to ensure effective communication.
    2. Agile teams are typically cross-functional and include a Scrum master/coach and the product owner. The composition of the team fosters self-reliance and the ability to self-organize, again reducing variability.
    3. Long lived teams tend to establish strong bonds that foster good communication and behaviors such as swarming. Swarming is a behavior in which team members rally to a task that is in trouble so that team as a whole can meet its goal, which reduces overall variability in performance.
  2. Peer reviews of all types have been a standard tool to improve quality and consistency of work products for decades. Peer reviews are a mechanism to remove defects from code or other work product before they are integrated into larger work products. The problem is that having someone else look at something you created and criticize it is grating. Extreme programing took classic peer reviews a step further and put two people together at one keyboard, one typing and the other providing running commentary (a colloquial description of pair programing). Demonstrations are a variant of peer reviews. Removing defects earlier in the development process through observation and discussion reduces variability and therefore the risk of not delivering value.
  3. Daily stand ups and other rituals are the outward markers of Agile techniques. Iteration/sprint planning keeps teams focused on what they need to do in the short-term future and then re-plans when that time frame is over. Daily stand-ups provide a platform for the team to sync up on a daily basis to reduce the variance that can creep in when plans diverge. Demonstrations show project stakeholders how the team is solving their business problems and solicit feedback to keep the team on track. All of these rituals reduce potential variability that can be introduced by people acting alone rather than as a team with a common goal.

In information technology projects of all types, people transform ideas and concepts into business value. In software development and maintenance, the tools and techniques might vary but, at its core, software-centric projects are social enterprises. Get any group of people together to achieve a goal is a somewhat chaotic process. Agile techniques and frameworks have been structured to help individuals to increase alignment and to act together as a team to deliver business value.

 

People Are Critical

People Are Critical

 

Hand Drawn Chart Saturday

Part 2 (Part 1)

Myth: “Change does not need to directly address culture.”  Considering culture as a black box into which sourcing changes can be inserted and functionality returned is a falsehood that most everyone recognizes, but very few directly address.  Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.  Bottom line, people are what they learn.  Each change is a learning opportunity.

Myth:  “Our outsourcers staffing issues are not our problem.”  Why?  One of attractions to outsourcing is the belief that the outsourcer is a black box composed of processes performed by interchangeable cogs.  The reality is that staffing headaches are yours regardless of where they occur.  Turnover immediately reduces productivity as jobs are re-learned.  Even in a fixed price contract, personnel turnover can have effect.  The loss of productivity that the arrangement was based on could require the outsourcer to take a loss or trim work that could be viewed as overhead (like testing or reviews).  Quality can and does suffer.  Other longer-term issues include the possible transference of knowledge capital and job knowledge.  These issues are not new; they exist even in a non-outsourced scenario. Unless addressed contractually, however, you will not have input into the safeguards of required for your piece of mind.  Safeguards to protect your knowledge and job-level continuity are important.  If turnover is pervasive, simple safeguards provide little value.  Include a measure of turnover in the monitoring portion of all agreements.  Explore how your outsourcer intends to safeguard your knowledge capital, then make sure it happens. In the hotbeds of offshore outsourcing, the level of growth has been phenomenal.  Competition has created an environment where job switching is the norm.  I performed a quick survey (non-scientific) at a recent speaking engagement to test this hypothesis.  I asked those in the audience from mainline outsourcing firms to stand.  Then I asked how many had changed firms in the last five years.  The sample size was approximately 60 people.  Twelve people in the sample had not changed firms in the last five years; further, five had been in the business less than one year.  Anticipate the pressure on the goals of your contract from turnover.

Myth:  “After we decide on a sourcing model and trim our staff, internal turnover is a backburner issue.”   Turnover is a vexing problem for all areas of an organization but particularly with IT organizations where learning curves are steep.  Turnover can sap the strength of an organization by allowing critical knowledge to escape or act as a vehicle for change.  It can open slots for new ideas and technologies to be integrated into an organization as new people are added.  Internal turnover always continues after outsourcing work.  Retained employees will feel threatened (re-read communication myths) and will consider leaving.  Plan for continued turnover.  Focus retention efforts on those within the organization that are thought leaders in the areas that are critical for your well-being.  Use the slots of those who leave to bring fresh ideas into the mix and to bolster knowledge where you need it.  A skills and knowledge inventory is best practice used in the transition process.

The organizational impact of internal turnover caused by sourcing decisions is an unknown.  The literature is replete with claims and counter claims.  It is easy to believe the impact of change (sourcing merely being one type of change).  Active management of who stays and who goes is relatively easy when the organization is choosing.  In scenarios of attempting to influence a bottom tier to leave, the impact is less well understood.  While there are some organizations that have used the process to continually reinvigorate their skill pool, the control over their over the process is far from certain.  For example, an organization annually force-ranks all IT members, earmarking the bottom 20% to an active process of being managed out of the organization.  The emptied slots are refilled, and Darwinian competition begins anew.  In late 2003, the organization announced that in 2004 they would fill the emptied ranks offshore.  The 2005 forced ranking will therefore come from the 80% that made the cut in 2004.  Turnover immediately jumped, and, as is typical, the majority was from the top performers.  Interestingly, HR and senior IT leaders of this organization were surprised. Focus groups with line project managers expressed that result was as they had predicted.  All sourcing actions must be viewed in terms of entire organizational culture to be in least bit predictable.

Myth:  “Turnover is an issue only when we use offshore outsourcing.”  All sourcing models are subject to turnover and will have an impact on the level of turnover in retained personnel.  Offshore sourcing vendors have as high (or higher) turnover rates spurred by stiff competition.  Staff acquisition models suffer above-average turnover rates; people always react to change with change.  The use of COTS packages has the least impact on turnover unless you have built your shop on the premise that developers are at the top of the food chain.  Spend time anticipating how change will impact your turnover rates and focus on how you can ensure business and technical knowledge continuity.

Myth:  “Outsourcing work and staff helps avoid the responsibility to keep our staff trained.” Outsourcing options have long been used as a tool to mitigate organizations’ need to train (cost avoidance) or build potentially transitory skill sets.  When a need to address a specific method or technology is identified as urgent (where or when did planning occur), sourcing choices become an effective method for addressing the need.  Organizations providing sourcing options can very specifically identify the expertise they can bring to the table.  Most track training and expertise at a granular level as if they were code modules.  The goal is to bring the best solution to bear (and deliver it in the most efficient manner therefore driving up the profit margin).  The use of outsourcing as tool to avoid planning the migration of skills needed to support your IT needs is a strategic mistake and will lock you into using outsourcing models.  Being locked into any model puts you at risk that you will not be able to react to change.

Training is a significant component of most IT budgets.  The size of the line item in the IT budget is driven by many factors ranging from the rate of change in the software portfolio, the age of the technological platforms, the rate of internal turnover and corporate policies.  Shifting from an internal sourcing model to an external does not dissolve the need to be involved all together.  If you are using a model that is going to use a single or stable group of outsourcers, you must define your expectations and make sure they are followed by your outsourcer.  You may not directly bear the cost (or savings) or responsibility; however, if your outsourcer’s personnel gets stale, your solutions will become stale, the turnover will increase, potentially negatively impacting all of the reasons you originally had for the decision.

Myth: “IT workers must continually retool to avoid outsourcing.” This myth is both true and false at the same time.  It almost goes without saying that the fast pace of change in the IT world does not seem to be slowing.  Skills age and unless replaced the person holding them becomes less employable (this is true in almost all professions).  At an individual level, continued retooling will not cause anyone to avoid being outsourced.  The need to change sourcing options is a macro-level decision driven by globalization rather than any individual.

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Unlike a dog, people’s loyalty needs to be earned.

IT is not all about technology; the most critical component is the people that create functionality. As has been noted, productivity has been the engine of the world economy for at least the last decade.  The continual introduction of new technologies plays a major role in generating the productivity gains our economy needs.  Many technologies require workers to acquire new skills to design and operate the processes they engender.  The new skills require not just greater computer use but also more complex decision-making skills (a circular process that smacks of perpetual motion machines).  This results in inducing a reshuffling of workers with different sets of skills across jobs.  Globalization and improvements in telecommunications have created a scenario where reshuffling means that jobs flow to the geographical area lowest cost (education, language and security requirements taken into account).  Job and skill churning has created greater job mobility for skilled workers.  While this has a short-term negative impact within job categories, it creates substantial sharing of information and knowledge across organizations and countries.  In the long run, this benefits the global economy. The juxtaposition of people, organizational culture and the churning of jobs and skills provides a fertile ground for outsourcing myths.

There are so many of these myths that we’re breaking it into two parts.

Myth:  “Our employees are loyal to the organization; they will understand that change is needed for the organization’s well being.” Loyalty is an often-used term that describes relationships between an organization and its employees. Depending on your point of view, loyalty means many different things.  When used by an organization, the term typically means that an employee acts in a manner that enhances the bottom line.  From an employee’s point of view, it means that the business will take care of/support them if they put the organization on the top of their internal priority list.

Sourcing decisions can and do have an impact on loyalty. Sourcing decisions can significantly reduce loyalty.  Reduction in loyalty can negatively impact productivity, quality and time-to-market, if loyalty and morale are linked or if loyalty and stability of the workforce are linked.

Loyalty and trust are inter-related.  Most organizations with change processes prescribe communication as a tool to manage loyalty by building trust through the judicious use of information.  The broad-based, open communication required to build trust and loyalty is not typically considered possible while determining a sourcing strategy.  Open communication while a tool build trust with your employees can also disrupt the negotiation process by exposing too much information to the sourcer.

Myth:  “Loyalty is an old concept.”  Does loyalty matter?  In tight labor market or in situations where your internal knowledge is important, the answer is obvious; in other scenarios, perhaps not.  Many organizations do not consider how to address loyalty across the entire organization.  They decide it does not matter or focus only on the groups that are most intimately impacted with a particular change.  Progressive organizations leverage and promote loyalty across the whole organization, not just their retained IT personnel.  Team building techniques are used to build inter-group relationships. Interfaces are a means of spreading the organizations message and to actively manage loyalty, but to be effective they must be build on the inter-personnel relationships that comprise trust.

Myth:  “Communication is merely spin control and is needed only when change is imminent.”  Back in the days when I worked in the corporate world, we could always tell when something was up.  The presence of the corporate communications group became overbearing.  It was the signal to update my resume. Communications is a long-term method to build trust, turning it off and on implies a level of disingenuousness that is hard not to recognize.

In order to be effective, communication must be focused on providing all constituencies within the organization (internal and external components inside and outside of the effect areas) with the understanding of the sourcing strategy and its requirements. Communication is a powerful tool for managing change.  The value is reduced if it becomes a predictor of change or is perceived as disingenuous.

Myth:  “Time heals all wounds.” Corporate memory is an important component in understanding the impact of sourcing decisions. Managing perception of each project that uses sourcing is important in making the process work.  A CIO related his first experience in using sourcing to me.  This experience formed the foundation to his approach for using sourcing. It was merely one project, and all his subordinates admitted it was flawed.  The wrong project was chosen, and the relationship between the company and its source was actively undermined.  The outcome was inevitable; however, what has been remembered is that it didn’t work. Therefore it probably will not work in the future.  The options available to this CIO have been severely hamstrung.  As a side note, the story among the employees is that sourcing strategy can be manipulated at the cost of a single project.

Changes in sourcing can affect many people’s livelihoods. I surveyed folks within two organizations that had significant sourcing changes within the last year (both had over 6 months of experience with change).  Over 60% of the respondents felt that overall organizational stability had been reduced.  Additionally, approximately 15% of respondents felt they would leave the company within the next year.

Myth:  “If I don’t let anyone say anything negative . . . “  This is the antithesis of the time heals all wounds myth.  The premise is if we ignore the change, the impact will pass.  This myth tends to take hold in organizations that use rigid hierarchies for managing and control.  In extreme cases, belief in this myth causes the voicing concerns or anger to be viewed as anti-team spirited (forget the grief cycle).  Recently, I have seen these tactics taken a step further with personnel making anti-team-spirited comments being summarily terminated.  While a radical approached, it did serve to stop public discussion (for pretty much everything), but it did not serve to make people forget.  The discussion of how change impacts an organization must be address and managed.  Driving the discussion underground is dangerous and must be viewed a desperate last resort.