Monday, May 14, 2012

Why is the C-Suite Clueless?


How many middle managers and agile coaches have asked themselves this question: Why is the C-Suite clueless? We try so hard to get their attention, but they just won't listen.  I think I am connecting the dots on why they don't listen.

Overwork is surely part of the problem, but it's deeper than that. Management has always been accustomed to communication by broadcast; listening and reacting have not been its strong suit. Before globalization, that wasn't much of a problem, because the customer didn't have many alternatives. But today, customers can easily go elsewhere, the complexity has risen, and the job of management has gotten much harder.

Today, I believe Management is in denial. It is in denial because it is being told by the marketplace: "you suck." Management focuses on improving the quarterly results, lowering the cost, and with it the quality to the point where lemonade doesn't have any lemon juice in it. And then they wonder why people chose to buy elsewhere.

Denial is a grief response, a normal response to bad news that you cannot change. You don't like the message, so you try to ignore it, until the message is so strong, like a lost lawsuit or impending doom, that it cannot be ignored.

Today, management needs to get out of denial and get on with fixing what's broken. An interesting case came to light at the Scrum Gathering in Atlanta: Domino's Pizza.

Domino's Pizza was (and is again) a successful fast food chain. They became famous for delivering you a pizza within 30 minutes. 10 years after being sold to a holding company, they had fallen to last place in customer approval ratings and were threatened with extinction. Their crust "tasted like cardboard" and the sauce "like ketchup." Their share price hit a low of $3/share. Whether management noticed what their pizza tasted like is unclear, but they did notice their share price: they had come to the brink of disaster and realized that they had change. So step 1 was to admit that "we suck" and step two was to do something about it (watch this 4 minute video to see this in action):


What did they do? They created a clear line of sight from all levels of the the organization to the customer. They reacted by listening to their customers and creating products that were dramatically better than before. They admitted their mistakes in public and promised to get better. They did it quickly.

They were successful. I stopped by Domino's at ATL Atlanta Airport and found the pizza to be quite OK. (OK, it's still fast food. The Pizza DOC at Molino Frascati in Zurich is still among the greatest pizza I've ever had, followed closely by the pizza at Northlake Tavern in Seattle's U-District, but that's like comparing F1 racers to anything off the production line.) In any case, their stock price has also more than recovered, having just set a 7 year high around $40.

So if your organization is having problems, how can you fix it?
  1. Admit that you suck. Once you've admitted it, you can move on and start getting better. 
  2. Recognize that you and everyone in your organization is doing a good job. The best they can, under the circumstances. This isn't about blame, it's about getting better.
  3. Do something about it! Start right away.
What should you do for step 3? That depends! Here are some places to start:
  1. Within your management team figure out what your priorities are and what they should be. Radical Management can help here. So can a Temenos Retreat.
  2. Understand what your customers are telling you: Create a clear line of sight to your customers at all levels of the organization.
  3. Start implementing improvement immediately. Figure out what your biggest impediments are to customer satisfaction and start fixing them. Scrum can help here, even if you are not doing IT.
Many years ago, Ken Schwaber, the co-inventor of Scrum, became famous for telling people, especially top management, 'You suck, and that makes me sad.' It's a challenge to get better. It's a challenge, but you can do it if you want to.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Joe Justice, CEO of WIKISPEED to participate in next monthly mash-up

Joe Justice, CEO of WIKISPEED will participate in Steve and Peter's next monthly mashup.

Both Steve and I have written about Wikispeed (The Car the Scrum Built, Wikispeed: How A 100 mpg Car Was Developed In 3 Months). I think Wikispeed is the harbinger of dramatic changes in how we do business!

You can sign up here! And be sure to include your questions for Joe, Steve or myself when you sign up! We look forward to talking to you!

Does Your Agile Transition Provoke a Grief Response?

Radical Management principle number 4 says that communication must change from top-down directives to adult-to-adult discussions. Why is this so important? And how can you tell if your agile transition is really transitioning "agile-ly"?

Glen Alleman, author of the Herding Cats blog, recommended that I look at Peter de Jäger's webinar on The Art of Communicating Change. Given Alleman's critical perspective on Agile and Stoos,  I wondered, could there be something about Management in general and Change Management in particular that I've missed?

De Jäger starts by explaining that people react to change differently depending on whether change is voluntary or involuntary. Examples of voluntary change include deciding to learn a skill, getting married, or accepting a new job. People change like this all the time. Although it takes time to learn the skill or adjust to being married, most people do it willingly.

An involuntary change is a completely different matter. This change comes from outside: examples include getting laid off, being diagnosed with cancer, having people pulled off your project or the deadline being moved up; somehow they all feel like death. Involuntary changes provoke a grief response. This response can, in turn, provoke severe resistance to the idea or change under discussion.

According to Kübler-Ross, a grieving person goes through 5 steps on the road of acceptance:
  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Negotiation
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

de Jäger proposes 7 questions to help organizations get through these 5 stages. What he does not do is challenge the notion that top-down communication is the best/only way to effect change. Top-down communication causes the grief responses, because people are hit with changes without being consulted.

Is your Agile transition provoking grief responses? Look for signs of denial, anger, depression or passive resistance. Are participants trying to negotiate away key pieces of your agile framework? This is a sign that your roll-out is too top-down. You need to get people on board. You need to get more buy-in.

The AIDAA Approach

de Jäger does hint at a better approach during the Q and A session (around 47:20 into the Webinar). The best change agents give people the problem and let them come up with the solution. What does this sound like? It sounds like Scrum. The product owner comes to his team with a problem and the team solves the problem.

The big difference between this approach and a command-and-control approach is, when and how is the change discussed? Top-down means, management communicates a decision and people have to deal with it. Adult-to-adult means, you discuss a problem together to find an optimal solution.

In the last year, I have coached three separate agile transitions. In each case, we followed a pattern of building awareness and interest (and hopefully desire). In each case the transition moved forward without the passive resistance so typical of Agile transitions is large companies. Why?

The decision on whether to move forward was pushed one level down from the person asking me to introduce Scrum. In two cases they said yes, in one case they said no.  In that case, the middle management team proposed a way forward that they believed in, so this too has been a successful transition to a happier, more productive constellation.

Applied to change leadership, I call it the AIDAA approach. AIDA is a term from marketing: Awareness - Interest - Desire - Action. A purchase decision requires a step-by-step build up. Action (purchase) is the final step when buying a product. When implementing a new process, Ability is also required, so I add an extra "A": AIDAA.

By delaying the decision until after everyone understands answers to Why, What-does-it-mean-for-me, and 6 other questions that de Jäger raises, you transform the change from an involuntary change to an voluntary change. So you do not provoke a grief reaction (or just very small one). This completely changes the dynamics of the situation and increases your chances of a successful transition.


Want to talk about this some more? Join Steve Denning and myself at our next free monthly mashup webinar, e.g. Steve and Peter's Monthly Mashup, May 17.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Three Simple Hacks to Improve Management

Why doesn't the C-Suite understand Agile? Agile improves performance, profitability and customer delight. Why don't they get it? Why won't they even take the time to look at it? This dilemma has puzzled Agilists for as long as there has been Agile. Software developers have long been confronted with a similar problem. Here is a look a their solution and three simple hacks which may help managers improve their performance and their company's competitiveness.

I think there is a simple explanation for this: Top managers simply don't have time to think deeply -- about Agile, or anything else. They are overwhelmed, overworked and under extreme pressure to perform. They have no time or energy for creative thought. And since they have to deliver results every quarter, they can't risk doing anything new. If they were software developers, they would be doing death march releases every three months.

To understand the problem, let's look at the act of getting a meeting to discuss Agile with a top manager. You're the Agile coach; how does it go?

1. Schedule the meeting

You (with the brilliant new idea): I'd like a meeting with you to discuss an awesome new approach to software development.
Manager: How does that affect me? I'm responsible for finances, not software. Besides, I'm totally booked! No time.
You: I understand, but this is really important. It's about the future of our company.
Manager: Well, in that case, I can squeeze you in for an hour on Friday.
You: Thanks!

2. At the meeting

Your Manager has invited six additional people, mostly his direct reports, to the meeting.  They all come and you all wait for him to arrive - about 10 minutes late. In the meantime, the other six people have all opened their laptops, and now are working on their emails and things. Of course they stop when the top manager arrives, but as soon as the meeting begins, their attention is divided between what is being discussed and what is happening on their computers.

The first thing the top managers says is, "I have to focus on our financial results for this quarter, so cut the chase. What do I absolutely have to know?' Now you are flabbergasted and not quite sure what to say, but your try to deliver your points faster to the assembled notebook-readers. Five minutes before the end of the meeting, the manager has to leave for the next meeting...

Everywhere the same pattern!

Sound familiar? Of course it does. We've all been there. This could be a Dilbert cartoon. But it is daily life. Of those 7 people, five of them should not have come. All these people are seriously overloaded. They are taking on more work than they can accomplish, and trying to multitask as a means of working harder. So they are not doing anything well.

We've hit the limits on our ability to work harder. Management multitasking is evil. It kills performance. It kills the ability to innovate. And this eventually kills even the biggest companies.

I've been in the computer business long enough to remember working on the first timesharing minicomputers and mainframes. Back in those days, multi-tasking seemed like a great invention. The machine had lots more capacity than needed (or so we thought), so it could share that capacity among many users. Great in theory, but the users needed far more, which slowed performance dramatically down to a crawl. The same thing is happening in every large organization that I have come in contact with.

We have to do less.

Today, multitasking is used on lightly loaded notebooks, PCs and tablets to give their single user great performance: Dazzling graphics, snappy interfaces, sound and video are all possible because the devices can now do far more than is required of them. Does this sound like Apple? Apple works this way. What would it be like if your company gave your customers great performance?

Unfortunately, we cannot upgrade our brains with a faster processor. Would be nice, but I don't think I'd do it even if some doctor offered it to me. So we have to do less and make that which we do count more.

So the alternative is to get rid of all the bloatware that is occupying your brains and focus on what really matters!

We need slack.

If you are working towards a new product release, how far before the deadline are you willing to try out something new? My experience is that 3 months is a pretty typical answer. If there are more than three months left, people are willing to try things out. Less than three months, people want to focus on the release. How is management like delivering products?

We need to get better at delivering results to Wall Street.

If a software team is not doing well with a monthly iteration, what should you do? Shorten the iteration. Ron Jeffries popularized this approach and any agile coach will tell you it's true.

Management of public companies have to publish financial results every three months. They are always three months away from a release, so they are always under pressure to perform. Always frozen by the release which is three months in the future. What should management do?

How to get better management?

Here are three simple hacks to improve management:
  1. Meeting-free afternoons. Give yourself some slack. Just block the afternoons, leaving you available for short term issues and deep thinking.
  2. No notebooks at meetings. If the agenda isn't worth 100% of your attention, then you shouldn't go.
  3. Publish financial results monthly instead of quarterly. By doing it more often, a) You get better at it, so it becomes easier to do. b) You increase transparency, which increases trust between you and your investors. c) The consequences of a bad month are smaller than a bad quarter, so you decrease the need to manage the expectations, and your own stress level will be lower and more constant, giving your mind more freedom to consider new things.
OK, this last one seems counter-intuitive and might not qualify as a simple hack. Simple means, it does not require legislative approval, because three monthly reports can easily be consolidated into a quarterly report.

However it is very consistent with the experience of software teams - they are better able to manage the stress of releases when they release more often. They are also better able to improve their quality when they release more often. They have a more trusting relationship with their stakeholders. They have better releases.

As a manager, improvement starts with you. What would it be like if you could get your level of stress under control, so you could really focus on making your company a better place?