Monday, December 7, 2009

Getting Senior Buy-in

Questioner: How do I sell my executive team on doing this stuff?
Jim Highsmith: Don't. Just do it. They don't know what you're doing anyway. [1]

Umm. This is taken from a tagline on a Ron Jeffries' email. Ron has many wonderful taglines. Watch for them.

Tom Peters thinks that John Chambers may be the best business leader we have these days. One fairly wise opinion. Ecco homo. (Said not without irony in this season.)

So, do we need permission to live our lives? Often, it is better to ask occasionally for forgiveness, rather than wasting so much time asking repeatedly for permission.

Still, it is usually better if eventually you get the senior guys involved, on-board, on the program, drinking the kool-aid, supporting the new idea.

First, "don't follow leaders, watch your parking meters". Said a long time ago, but true way before then. Leaders are much over-rated. Napoleon met his Waterloo. And his Moscow. Following leaders can get you killed. Leaders are as much followers as anything. If they are smart.

By which we mean "the big guy at the top". The Supreme Leader.

Individual acts of real leadership happen all the time, at all levels, and they are still and always important. But expecting the pronunciamentos of any one person to forecast the weather very reliably (or anything else reliably) is a fool's errand. Not that Leaders are bad, just that they are, well, human. Have you noticed that lately? (In fact, it is in the newspapers daily. Probably hourly or less.) Power corrupts and the more the power, the faster and more complete the corruption. Or so Lord Acton taught us. It's just human nature. We wish to fantasize that we are [pick your superlative] than we are. We would be just like them. Almost every single one of us.

Still, maybe it is worth some time, at some point, getting "some senior guys" to support Agile, Scrum, Lean or whatever. I think I agree with that. So, four suggestions:

1. First, in your own head, don't make it so important. For exmaple, everyone in sports knows that if you try to hard to hit a homer, your likelihood of striking out goes up a lot.
2. Read Fearless Change by Manns and Rising. Lots of good, specific ideas.
3. Read A Sense of Urgency by John Kotter. Short (a virtue) and again, lots of good actionable ideas.
4. It is not one punch, but several rounds. As in boxing.

First, a "leader" is not going to really start to understand agile/scrum/lean until she sees and touches it. Do a pilot so she can. Do not expect to fully convince in the first discussion. Or at first sight. Expect many conversations and experiences. No one knows which one will be the tipping point, and probably will not be able to say accurately later which one was. But truth, told with honesty, will win in the end.

Sometimes, in their fantasy, they want a silver bullet. Never lie that agile/Scrum/lean is a silver bullet.

My Hapkido master once showed me how the stomach can "defend" against one hard punch. But two lighter punches, delivered almost at the same time, set up a vibration in the gut that is most uncomfortable, usually one becomes incapacitated. In a similar way, we know in football, that it you hit someone high with one blocker and low with another blocker coming another way, almost always that man will fall.

Perhaps even more revealing, any 6 year old can throw a 300 pound man, if they apply learned cleverness (from many of several martial arts). If they use the energy of their opponent. The same is true in other parts of life, as story after story tells. David can best Goliath.

5. "People don't resist change. They resist being changed." Umm. Might even apply here. Let it become their idea. 'Nuf said?

Find your lever, Archimedes. You can move the world.

[1] This quote is taken from Fearless Change, by Rising and Manns.  A great book, recommended. See Chapter 6.

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