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Groundhog Day at the Agile Transition Initiative

Now that everyone knows about Bill Murray's movie Groundhog Day - I love February 2nd.  It's my favorite, most enjoyable, beloved, cherished, esteemed day of the year.  And I don't need to tell you again how many LIKES I give this redundant day... so on to the story.

Bill & Groundhog

Well this happened about ten years ago, and about 6 years ago, or maybe it was 4 years past, and seems like we did this about 24 months ago...  or it could be today!

The Agile Transition Initiative at the company has come upon an inflection point (do ya' know what that is...  have you read Tipping Point?).  I'm not exactly sure of it's very precise date... but Feb. 2nd would be the perfect timing.   The inflection has to do with which direction your Agile Transition Initiative takes from this point into the future.   Will it continue on it's stated mission to "transform" the organization?  Or will it stall out and revert slowly to the status quo?

How do I recognize this perilous point in the agile trajectory?  Well there are several indications.  But first we must digress.

[We must Digress.]
Punxsutawney Phil Says more Winter in 2017
In this story we will use the germ theory as a metaphor.  Germ theory came about in about ... (wait - you guess - go ahead ...  I'll give you a hundred year window... guess...). That's right! "The germ theory was proposed by Girolamo Fracastoro in 1546, and expanded upon by Marcus von Plenciz in 1762."  Wow, we've know about these little buggers for a long time.  And we started washing our hands ... (when...  correct -again).  "The year was 1846, and our would-be hero was a Hungarian doctor named Ignaz Semmelweis."  So right away business (society) started using a new discovery - a better way to treat patients.... or well it took a while maybe a few months, or maybe  more than 300 years.

But back to the metaphor - in this metaphor the organization will be like a human body and the change initiative will take the roll of a germ.  The germ is a change introduced to the body by some mechanism we are not very concerned with - maybe the body rubbed up against another body.  I hear that's a good way to spread knowledge.

We are interested in the body's natural process when a new factor is introduced.  What does a body do?  Well at first it just ignores this new thing - heck it's only one or two little germs, can't hurt anything - (there are a shit load of germs in your body right now).  But the germs are there to make a home - they consume energy and reproduce (at this point lets call it a virus - meh - what the difference?).  So the virus reproduces rapidly and starts to cause ripples... the body notices this and starts to react.  It sends in the white-blood cells - with anti-bodies.  Now I don't understand the biological responses - but I could learn all about it... but this is a metaphor and the creator of a metaphor may have artistic license to bend the truth a bit to make the point.  Point - WHAT IS THE POINT?

The point is the body (or organization) will have a natural reaction to the virus (change initiative) and when the body recognizes this change it's reaction (natural - maybe call it subconscious - involuntary).  Well let's just say it's been observed multiple times - the body tries very hard to rid itself of the unwanted bug (change).  It may go to unbelievable acts to get rid of it - like tossing all it's cookies back up - or squirting all it's incoming energy into the waste pit.  It could even launch a complete shutdown of all communication to a limb and allow it to fester and die, hopefully to fall off and not kill the complete organism.  Regaining the status quo is in the fundamental wiring of the human body.  Anything that challenges that stasis requires great energy to overcome this fundamental defense mechanism.

[Pop the stack.]
So back to the indicators of the tipping point in agile transitions.  Let's see if our metaphor helps us to see these indications.  The tossing of cookies - check.  That could be new people hired to help with the change are just tossed back out of the organization.  The squirts - check.  That is tenured people that have gotten on board with the change being challenged by others to just water it down... make it look like the things we use to do.  Heck let's even re-brand some of those new terms with our meanings - customized for our unique situation - that only we have ever seen, and therefore only we can know the solutions.  Folks, this is called the Bull Shit Reaction.

Now imagine a limb of the organization that has adopted the new way - they have caught the virus.  There is a high likely hood that someone in the organization is looking at them a "special".  A bit jealous of their new status and will start hoarding information flow from that successful group.  Now true that group was special - they attempted early transition and have had (in this organizations realm)  success.  Yet there was some exception to normal business process that made that success possible.  How could we possibly reproduce that special circumstance across the whole org-chart?  Maybe we just spin them off and let them go it alone - good luck, now back to business.

What's a MIND to do with this virus ridden body and all these natural reactions?

Well we are at an inflection point... what will you do?
Which curve do you want to be on?  - by Trail Ridge Consulting

[What Should You Do?]
Say you are in the office of VP of some such important silo, and they are introducing themselves to you (they are new at the Org.).  They ask you how it's going.  You reply, well, very well.  [That was the appropriate social response wasn't it?] Then they say, no - how's the agile transformation going?  BOOM!  That is a bit of a shocking first question in a get to know each other session - or is it that type of session - what should you do?

I will skip to the option I chose ...  because the other options are for crap - unless you have a different motive than I do... and that is a very real possibility, if so defiantly DON'T DO THIS:

Ask the VP if this is a safe space where you can tell the truth?  Be sincere and concerned - then listen.  There response is the direction you must now take, you have ceded control of your action to them, listen and listen to what is not said - decide if they want the truth or do they want to be placated.  Then give them what the desire.  For example (an obviously easy example - perhaps); imagine that the VP said:  I want the truth, you should always tell the truth.

Don't jump to fast to telling the truth... how can you ascertain how much of the truth they can handle?  You should defiantly have an image of Nicholson as Colonel Nathan R. Jessep as he addresses the Court on "Code Red".

You might ask about their style is it bold and blunt or soft and relationship focused.  You could study their DiSC profile to see what their nature may tell you about how to deliver the truth.

Imagine you determine that they want it blunt (I've found that given a choice must people say this, and only 75% are fibbing). So you suggest that it's not going well.  The transformation has come to an inflection point (pause to see if they understand that term).  You give some archeology - the organization has tried to do an agile transformation X times before.  VP is right with you, "and we wouldn't be trying again if those had succeeded."  Now that was a nice hors d'oeuvre, savory.  The main course is served - VP ask why?

Now you could offer you opinion, deliver some fun anecdote or two or 17, refer to some data, write a white paper, give them a Let Me Google That For You link. Or you could propose that they find the answer themselves.

Here's how that might go down:  Ask them to round up between 8.75 and 19.33 of the most open minded tenured (5 - 20 yrs) people up and down the hierarchy; testers, developers, delivery managers, directors, administrators (always include them - they are key to this process - cause they know every thing that has happened for the last 20 years).  Invite them to join the VP in a half day discovery task - to find out why this Agile thing get's ejected before it takes hold of our organization. If you come away from this workshop with anything other than - culture at the root of the issue, then congratulations your organization is unique.  Try the Journey Line technique with the group.  It's a retrospective of the organization's multi-year, multi-attempts to do ONE THING, multiple times.  Yes, kinda like Groundhog Day.

See Also:

The Fleas in the Jar Experiment. Who Kills Innovation? The Jar, The Fleas or Both? by WHATSTHEPONT

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