I’m often asked how to get executives on board with cultural and process change. It seems that product teams buy into the ideas of lean and agile relatively quickly but convincing management is an order of magnitude more difficult. We’ve discussed several reasons for this in previous newsletters. But let’s just assume that you’ve made your case to management. You were compelling. You collected evidence and proved the value of continuous improvement and customer centricity and management listened. Great, right? It is until the inevitable backlash occurs.
We’re watching this scenario play out in real time and in public with the teams at the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS). For years now, GDS has served as an inspiration to complex bureaucracies, in government and beyond, in the fields of digital transformation, agility, continuous learning and customer (constituent) centricity. If you don’t know the story of GDS, it’s worth digging into it. There’s no shortage of material but if you don’t have a lot of time, this recent summary by Bob Gower at Inc. magazine is a good start.
GDS has transformed how the citizens of the UK connect and interact with their government. In the process they’ve brought previously outsourced services in house giving large swathes of autonomy to dozens of product teams across the country. Sounds amazing, right? You can’t get more bureaucratic than government and if a country on the scale of the UK can change the way they do business, surely any organization can. Except, not everybody’s thrilled. In recent days, an effort has surfaced to dismantle GDS and return the work they’ve been doing back to the consulting companies who’ve been cut out of the loop thanks to GDS’s success.
Change is difficult. And with any change there are winners and losers. We expect the “losers” to take defeat gracefully, evolve and join us in the new reality. This is, unfortunately, an overly optimistic point of view. What then, can a fledgling transformation effort do to ensure its momentum continues and that those displaced by the change eventually join in the transition?
Here are 3 things:
Have you run into a situation where a nascent organizational transformation encountered severe backlash? Reply here and let me know.
Both Sense & Respond and the 2nd edition of Lean UX are now available for pre-order on Amazon. Josh Seiden and I have been busy this summer ensuring both of these books supply your teams with clear tactics and your managers with proven methods for building organizational responsiveness and agility.
The second half of 2016 will be a lot lighter on public events. Here’s where I’ll be for the rest of the year:
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA – August 23 – I’m super excited to visit David Hussman’s DevJam in MSP for a 1-day Lean UX in the Enterprise workshop. We’re halfway sold out with 3 weeks to go. Don’t miss out on my last 1-day event this year in the US.
New York City, New York, USA – Sep 15-16 – This 2-day class is a partnership with my friend Jeff Patton. Jeff is one of the most respected leaders in product discovery and agility and I couldn’t be happier to collaborate with him. You’ll receive your Certified Scrum Product Owner certification from Jeff in this class as well.
Graz, Austria – October 17 – 1-day Lean UX in the Enterprise workshop as part of the World Usability Congress.
Linkoping, Sweden – October 21 – 1-day Lean UX in the Enterprise workshop as part of DevLin conference.
Lean Startup Week, San Francisco, California, USA – Oct 31 – Nov 6 – after several years absence, I’m thrilled to be back at Eric Ries’ premiere Lean Startup event. I’ll be teaching a short workshop and giving a talk.
As always, if you want me to work directly with your company on training, coaching or workshops, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Last week at the inaugural The Lean Event in Brighton, England I gave a new talk called Scaling Lean: Project, Program, Portfolio. You can see the slides here. In the talk I discussed the challenges of scaling Lean Startup practices in large companies. Despite all the talk of wanting to act like startups and build/measure/learn when it comes time to plan work, disburse budgets and assign work most companies fall back on the command-and-control methods they’ve been using for years. Why is it so hard to scale Lean Startup in big orgs? Can it be done?
In my presentation, I argue that it is possible and frame scaling across 3 dimensions:
While there are many challenges to each one of those questions the root of successful scaling of Lean Startup is not scaling processes. Instead, it’s creating a series of principles for the way you’d like your teams to work and then allowing them to self-organize around those principles. In my presentation I discussed what I believe to be the 4 most important principles for scaling Lean (and Agile) in the enterprise:
The presentation includes many tactics for how to start living these principles. I encourage you to check it out.
What have you seen work in scaling Lean Startup in the Enterprise?
I’ve spent the past 5 years speaking, teaching, coaching and working with teams aspiring to bring a customer-centric point of view to their product development processes. Some have seen great success. Some, despite strong desire and a willingness to adapt have struggled. The challenges the successful teams have overcome have rarely been tactical ones. They’ve mostly stemmed from deep cultural challenges that manifested in rigid management directives driven by a “that’s how we’ve always done it” state of mind. Unfortunately, the way we’ve “always done it” is no longer working. Creativity, curiosity and uncertainty are the norms in a world of increasingly lower barriers to entry, consumer empowerment and software-driven everything. If I had to sum up the past 5 years’ worth of learnings into the 3 biggest shifts organizations need to make, they’d be these:
Roadmaps, estimates and deadlines are relics from the days of industrial manufacturing. Learning is the currency of innovation. Understanding your customer, their needs and motivations and how well our ideas fit those needs, continuously, ensures we’re always on the hunt for better implementations, better features and better outcomes. Rewarding on time delivery simply guarantees customers get to use the wrong solution sooner. Instead, through continuously evolving understanding of the customer we incentivize our teams to solve their problems, declaring victory only when we’ve objectively measured positive changes in their behavior (i.e., outcomes).
2. Hire for curiosity
Never has hiring been more important and yet, in company after company, I see traditional hiring practices checking the same lists of technical skills they’ve been advertising for years. Programming languages come and go. Design tools evolve monthly. Curious problem solvers are agnostic to tools, languages and processes. They’re always craving the next challenge and have the aptitude to solve it. Yet aptitude is not enough. They must also have the attitude to know they are not infallible. They seek evidence and are not ashamed of admitting they were wrong. These are the qualities modern organizations must encourage. At the end of the day, there’s always a better way to do what your company does. The question is will your org find it, or will someone else?
3. Lead with humility
The concept of humility in leadership is a relatively modern one. Traditional leaders are strong, opinionated and direct with their delegation. It turns out, actually, that humble leaders are the same, with one exception. They admit when they’re wrong. It seems so simple yet it’s immensely powerful. If the CEO doesn’t know everything, then it becomes culturally ok to admit the same thing at other levels of the organization. This opens up debate, discussion and, yes, learning. The agile folks call this “servant leadership” and it’s a culture-defining quality necessary for modern product organizations to succeed.
These are the qualities I help the teams I work with instill into their individual projects and their management practices. In 2016 I’ll be setting out to bring these ideas to even more teams in cities around the world. I hope you, your managers and your teams will join me at one of these public Lean UX in the Enterprise workshops:
New York City – February 4, 2016 (hosted by Pearson Education)
Richmond, VA – February 9, 2016 (hosted by SnagAJob)
Tokyo, Japan – Feb 17, 2016 (hosted by IDEO)
Toronto, Canada – March 1, 2016 (hosted by Telus and The Lean Enterprise Meetup)
Don’t see your city? Let me know. I look forward to seeing you next year.
In his blog post from 2011, Mike Cottmeyer, an agile consultant and coach, listed off the 13 most common reasons his clients began their agile transformation. The list contains reasons like, “faster time to market”, “early ROI” and “risk reduction and predictability.” My sense is that this spectrum of drivers falls along a timeline that reflects agile’s increasing rate of adoption over the past 15 years. Speculating further (me, not Mike), I would guess that items like “culture”, “morale” and “feedback from real customers” are near the beginning of that timeline with “faster time to market” being the overwhelming driver today. One thing missing from Mike’s list is “to find our strategic vision.”
Poor implementation of Agile along with Lean Startup in the enterprise has led to a rising chorus of critiques lately that these methods are being used as crutches for organizations that lack a strong strategic vision. The critique continued that these processes serve as a substitution for a clear vision using experimentation, iteration and continuous learning to “feel their way through the dark” to a solution (and de facto vision) that works well enough.
It’s worth pointing out the flaws in this argument.
Mike’s list is over four years old now, but the number one item on there still holds true. Agile, as it’s being implemented today by most companies, is an attempt to make software delivery more efficient and predictable. This may not have been its original intent but that is the primary driver for its adoption in my experience. Lean is a manufacturing philosophy focused on reducing waste through continuous improvement and optimization of flow. Lean Startup is a methodology designed to help organizations learn which solutions stand the greatest chance for success. None of these methods explicitly tells an organization WHAT they should work on at the strategic level.
Strong opinions about market opportunities and ways to capitalize on them are core to the success of any business. Your corporate leaders are abdicating their responsibilities if they’re iterating their way to corporate vision. This is not the fault of a specific methodology or process. It’s just bad leadership.
Did you find this topic interesting? Learn more in our upcoming book — sensingbook.com