Thursday, November 22, 2007

Top Enterprise Impediments - Part 2

This post is a continuation of the previous post on Top Enterprise Impediments. Here we add 3 more impediments.

No or minimal Business commitment

This problem recurs and recurs. It derives in part from the Business people viewing Lean-Agile as a Technology initiative. It also derives from the Business people believing in magic. Not understanding what Technologists really do, they “give up” and just hand off stuff to Technology to “just go do it”.
First, we need to recognize that the Business side is unlikely to commit to something unless someone asks them to, and points out the value of committing. Like everyone, they are busy and they need to be convinced that the Lean-Agile initiative needs to be on their plate.
The problem also derives from the Business people having a lack of focus, or being driven by their managers from one thing to another, so that they must lack focus. Example: One business person is not able to be a consistent Product Owner to a small team due to his manager’s lack of focus.
The Business people who really understand, who understand the problem the team needs to address and the real needs of the customers, are extraordinarily valuable. If the value of them playing with the Technology team members is not continually made visible, they or their managers will often forget. (I am reminded of the Dylan song "What was it you wanted?", covered by Willie Nelson.)
And, based solely on experience, we know that teams with active business side Product Owners, who are participating roughly half of each day with the Team, these teams are the most successful, and are most productive in producing business value quickly. This is not just my personal experience, but the experience of many many people using Lean-Agile in many firms and situations.
Lack of appreciation of the change effort
Many managers seem to think that once something is “decided” it naturally sticks and happens. But the facts are that Lean-Agile is a major mind shift for everyone, and particularly for some people. These people think they get it, but they do not, and every other word betrays that they do not, even as they say that they do.
Lean-Agile is also a big change for the culture of all firms that I have worked with (and this is confirmed in discussions with all the coaches I meet). Each culture wants to revert to some “natural” state, and that state is not Lean-Agile. I will guess at the main cause: Lean-Agile is just a little bit too transparent for comfort. There are other causes as well.
Moving the waterfall mindset and replacing it are extremely difficult. Many key tenets of waterfall thinking are deeply embedded in all of us, and, as with smoking, those old habits do not go away just because we “decided” to stop. Toyota has gotten good acceptance of Lean after decades of work in changing its culture. And that work continues.
So changing people’s core habits is an enormous struggle. What is delightful is that even a minimal change (and the use of some core practices) almost immediately enables most teams to be more effective than they were before. How remarkable!
Perhaps more to the point, every culture will contain people who will seriously resist the change. They will nod their heads, but subconsciously or even consciously, they will resist. There are many reasons for this and many types of games that are played. This is normal, expectable, and in some ways not to be blamed. Arguably the struggle at the level of the middle managers’ (between the advocates and the resisters) is the key “event” that will determine whether an enterprise will really “go” Lean-Agile or not.
No or minimal embedded culture for managing impediments incrementally
All firms have some de facto approach to dealing with problems. While some of the approaches may not be official or even very effective, some problems must at least be addressed. So, in some sense, every firm has some kind of impediments management approach.
Lean-Agile asks the firm to go to a higher level. First, it asks the firm to focus on improving the fast delivery of business value, and specifically the velocity of its Lean-Agile teams. Anything that is slowing that stuff down is an impediment. Anything!
So, Lean-Agile demands a relentless honesty about all of our problems. In fact, our biggest problems. Some managers want to blame people as soon as they hear of a problem, so you immediately see that this does not breed a good impediment management culture. ("My system is perfect, but it's those darn workers who aren't doing it right.")
Beyond the identification of impediments (typically by the Lean-Agile teams), managers (and the culture) need to learn more rigorous ways of prioritizing and taking action on the impediments. This is often a significant shift.
And not an easy one. Impediments come in all shapes and sizes. People issues, compensation issues, training issues, Corporate Real Estate issues, Build issues, Testing issues, etc, etc. Some of these require significant investment. An investment that is only justified if the problem is big enough, which might be proved, for example, if many teams are experiencing the same problem. Getting the visibility into how many teams are affected by a given problem often requires a culture shift in the way impediments are handled.
Another part of the culture shift is the approach of continuous improvement. Many firms start with an attitude of “I want to fix it once and for all”. Classic waterfall thinking. So they do not take the opportunity to fix an impediment partially, and then look and see if it remains the biggest impediment after the smaller, quicker fix.
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If we only had these 6 impediments fixed, Lean-Agile adoption might be easy sailing. But, easy or hard, it's worth the effort.

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