It’s one of those words that come back over and over again in context of modern delivery approaches and organizational structures. The word seems common enough to mean approximately the same in people’s minds, however I have found that it is often confused for something else. According to Merriamm-Webster, autonomy is the quality or state of being self-governing. This distinguishes it from the term empowerment, which is the state of being empowered to do something. In other words, autonomy is an internal property - it comes from within -, while empowerment comes from someone’s approval.
Autonomous teams make their own decisions, they do it based on their objectives and all the relevant information they have available about the world around them. Empowered teams also are told to do exactly that. However, the scope of their decision making power - sometimes explicit, more often implicit - limits their autonomy significantly and can even shrink should a decision be made that does not align...
We talk about this a lot but do not always do a good job of explaining why it is so important. I would argue not understanding this difference and developing this mindset can cause your whole transformation to stall.
So what do we mean when we say project vs product and why is it so critical?
Read below for my thoughts on the topic.
Often when we first engage with organizations, we find they enter the conversation with a clear idea of what their problems are. Sometimes they get it right and other times - more often in my experience - they are focusing on their own belief of where the problem lies.
For example, if the problem is the deployment process, why does the automated script take 5 minutes to run. Having successfully worked with development teams to automate deployments of their major platforms, being told deployment is the issue seems like the wrong place to focus. If it still takes weeks to get code into production, the problem lies elsewhere. Perhaps our test verification takes five weeks?
Ok. Well, if deployment of code isn’t the issue and testing is, let’s focus there I hear the cry! Well, let’s see…
Following on from my blog post covering the first two ideals from the Unicorn Project here, I’d like to continue discussing the next two of the five ideals from the book.
The next two ideals from the Unicorn project focus on two important factors of the improving flow in your organization:
Continuous improvement of work
Part of the continuous improvement of work talks to the importance of challenging the status quo, something that can be difficult without psychological safety. Both are necessary to deliver better outcomes from working together.
Let’s delve into these two ideals.
Your organization is changing and undergoing transformation. You’ve rolled out Agile (Scrum and Kanban), you’ve scaled it (SAFe, LeSS, etc.) and even applied DevOps practices (you’re using Kubernetes right? Isn’t that DevOps?) Yet still, millions later, the purported value has yet to materialize.
So how come, after all this work, we still have not realized the value?
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, perhaps we are still stuck in old ways of thinking. Real transformation requires new ways of thinking about the problems and in the case of the examples above, have we really changed? (Kubernetes is an orchestration framework for containers and does not equate to having adopted DevOps).
With millions spent already, what are we missing?
You have an idea, a spark, concept of how your organization could do things better. Now all you need is to work out how. A typical pattern from here is:
Realize you need more information or organizational buy-in
Engage consultants to show you how
You implement and realize all your goals!
Except step 4 so often doesn’t happen. You have the report, you’ve confirmed what you thought and have a solid plan, but at execution, everything goes wrong.
So what can you do to help your idea succeed once the consultants are gone?
As we introduce technology into our organizations and transform the way they deliver value, bureaucracy is often cited as a common barrier. So why have it at all?
As organizations grow, the “side of desk” style of management eventually starts to fail. Communication becomes more complex as you add more people and more teams. For the company to continue delivering high-quality value, they put standards into place. Governance exists to support the continued delivery of business as usual and the satisfaction of regulatory requirements. However, too much management feels bureaucratic. What would be great would be to have just enough to support your governance needs without hindering innovation.
So how do you create your Minimum Viable Bureaucracy (MVB)?