If we agree that transactive memory is a common feature of teams’ institutional memory and accept the benefits, then we must address the risks. That should not be a major assumption. In many situations it makes sense. Knowledge can be stored in a single place and then accessed by the team as needed. The idea of having one version of data was one of the reasons I was taught normalization when I was working in the database realm. Transactive memory acts as a form of normalization so teams can reduce redundancy and conflicting truths. When the process works, a team will be more than the sum of its parts. While this seems very mechanistic, I would not suggest ignoring the idea in a fit of humanistic pique. I have not found a team or relationship that has been together for more than a few days that is not leveraging transactive memory. However, as described in our overview, there are two macro scenarios where transactive memory causes problems for a team adopting new approaches. They are:

(more…)

I spend a lot of time studying individuals and teams in a quest to help them learn how to deliver more value. One of the most common failure scenarios I observe is that once organizations have reached a decent level of effectiveness, someone will leave and the whole thing will come tumbling down. I am not trying to suggest that turnover and change should be stamped out (I actually think it is healthy), but rather something else is amiss. Several years ago I was able to study the implementation of an agile scaling methodology in a Fortune 100 company. The study looked at quality, productivity, and cycle time across 15 product lines. In every case, the metrics fell during implementation (this was expected) then improved spectacularly, over 80% improvement in every metric, the year after implementation. Unfortunately, things got murkier when the consultants supporting the change were withdrawn and sent elsewhere. The metrics fell by 30 to 50% from the high watermark. I am not arguing that consultants should be permanently ensconced in any organization – it is unhealthy but rather something else is amiss. Recently I forgot to call my father on his birthday. My wife remembers things like special events and then clues me in…if she is around. This time she was not. The whats amiss in all three of these scenarios is a reflection of the risks of transactive memory. 

(more…)

As a coach, I use and observe transactive memory all the time. Used wisely, transactive memory means a team can be more than the sum of its individual members. Mess it up and you might as well put your hand in a running garbage disposal. For example, my wife remembers things like special events and then clues me in…if she is around. This year I missed an important birthday.  Coaches and Scrum Masters often act as the official process memory for teams until they move on . . . you can guess what happens next. This week we explore when transactive memory works and when it does not.

Also, Jeremy Berriault and I discuss helping improve Daily Scrums in his QA Corner column.

(more…)