Musings about Culture

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Gino Marckx
February 5, 2021

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus was onto something when he said many years ago that

Change is the only constant

A saying as true today as it was for Heraclitus in Ancient Greece.

Today, businesses are impacted by change. Competitors introduce new capabilities or services, customers' loyalty shifts from brands towards value propositions, and new and exciting players disrupt the market altogether.

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Recently I was on a call chatting with a group of senior leaders and the topic of work-life balance came up. More explicitly, how “now he seemed to have so much less time at the weekends”. Asking a few questions of the gentleman who brought this up identified that he had been newly promoted to a VP role.

Which got me thinking about the challenges as you move between roles in larger organizations. Expectations change as you move from an IC to manager to director to VP or above.

So I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts on the matter.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Most transformations do not deliver upon their intended results. Many of these transformations use sound agile methodologies, yet they fail to deliver on the expected results. DevOps came along and refocused the effort, but still, we run into difficulty with transformations stalling or even failing.

Current thinking puts the development (aka. delivery) team front and center in the transformation to rapidly enable the delivery of value to customers. For a team, they need to be able to have all the right skills and capabilities at the disposal so they can own their delivery processes. In complex environments with multiple architectural principles at play, this can be difficult to achieve. To cope with this, we create another team, the platform team, to enable the delivery team.

The question is, do I need a platform team?

How many of you have been through something labelled as a digital transformation in the past 5 years? Many hands go up, and several people groan. It seems like we are in a constant state of transformation, which is true. Change is the new normal and transformation is the grandiose title given to the work we build around it. 

Yet many transformation efforts stall or even fail. We encounter many reasons for this, including market pressure, hierarchy and blame culture. Even gut instinct being the primary way to make decisions comes into play! Core to most digital transformation efforts is aligning technology to business goals, which often creates problems with delivering the desired change due to their different goals.

When technology departments drive the transformation, they often need help explaining the value. Ensuring stability to reduce rework through innovative techniques and tools may not resonate. Still, we do require change through transformation for our businesses to thrive. With...

As health specialists and governments encourage employees to work from home en masse, many employers start fearing the impact on their teams’ productivity. After all, the agile manifesto states as one of its principles:

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

Are we doomed to return to less agile ways of working? Will we see productivity plummet? Will we see new value being released only ever so often?

Online teams are less effective than collocated teams

Let’s first start with this breaking down this statement.

The main difference between online (or remote) and collocated teams is the way in which they communicate. Collocated teams benefit from what Alistair Cockburn calls osmotic communication. You could explain it as transfer of information and knowledge by virtue of being in physical proximity with your team, where all work is done, where all frustrations are voiced and all intentional and unintenti...

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…

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:

  1. Realize you need more information or organizational buy-in

  2. Engage consultants to show you how

  3. Consultants leave

  4. 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?

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