Preparing the Agile Kool-Aid

After a long hike at Scout camp, there’s nothing like seeing a cooler with bug juice on tap. It’s even better when it’s real Kool-Aid, not the generic stuff. That first sip’s a step back into childhood…well, except for the fact that you need to wait for all the Scout to drink up first!

“Drinking the Kool-Aid” is another twist on the old bromide “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” In this case, Scouts are notorious for refusing to drink enough water to stay hydrated. Heat exhaustion is perhaps the most common reason Scouts head to the medic, though homesickness and ticks are close behind. A cooler full of Kool-Aid turns that hydration chore into a treat.

The same principle applies to agile adoption. I’ve found that while agile is supposed to get an organization away from “command and control,” it’s often implemented from the top down, with a catechism, and all heretics are burned. Someone, somewhere, gets the bright idea to go agile…and everyone has to follow along. Or pretend to.

Of course, agile is just like any other change program from which you expect transformative results. Just think about the challenges that agile is supposed to address:

[P]roducts developed today are the product of massive capital investments. Product refresh cycles continue to shrink in an effort to be competitive in ever evolving markets. The risk of a failed project must be mitigated. Successful risk mitigation today relies more on benefiting from evolving knowledge rather than seeking to avoid it. — From PM College’s Agile Project Management

Such game-changing results require awareness, understanding, and buy-in from each and everyone on your teams. That’s why, before you dive into pilot projects, software spend, or a large-scale agile rollout, you should begin with a bit of discovery.

I highlighted our Agile Project Management course above because it’s a great way to start. It lets you bring together individuals who are all over the place re: agile: veterans, newcomers, and skeptics. Rather than jumping into a boot camp or selling straightaway to executives, you assemble the key players who will implement and advocate for agile together for an introduction. While you may not come out of that session singing every line on the Agile Manifesto, what you say will at least rhyme. In two days you’ll have moved along incrementally, but clearly, which is what agile is all about anyway.

Oh, and everyone on the team now has a little Kool-Aid in their back pocket…to slip in the naysayers’ vinegar.

We say we want faster horses

While I’m on a Henry Ford roll, here’s one about the dangers of simply taking orders from one’s customers.

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

We now mock Ford for “any color he wants, as long as it’s black“; but passively listening to the customer is no good either. Long ago Ford understood the pitfalls of just asking “what would you like?”

This quote came to mind as I reviewed the predictions in the Pew Research report on Killer Apps in the Gigabit Age. Full disclosure, I don’t buy such specific predictions. I’m with William Schrader’s take on page 2:

Gigabit bandwidth is one of the few real ‘build it and they will come’ moments for new killer apps. The fact that no one had imagined the other killer apps prior to seeing them grow rapidly implies that no one can imagine these new ones—including me.

Many of the guesses are entertaining and may well be true. In the end, what struck me was how derivative nearly every prediction was. Most involved augmentation of current functionality: a variant on the “faster horse” desire. Some, like one librarian, were hoping for features that already exist: e.g., seeing recipes in a heads-up display.

Paging KitchMe and Google Glass.

Conditions for “organized emergence”

Emmanuel Gobillot commented on my post on self-organization (here).  I liked his comment so much that I thought it was worth highlighting below:

I have found four conditions which need to be in place for communities to be productive.  I called these

Simplicity (a coherent and simple way to engage),
Narrative (an underpinning story for people to align to),
Tasks (a clear set of tasks which participants can measure against their self image) and
Love (the willingness to commit to making others stronger).

These elements encourage emergence but are better designed. In many ways this explains the need for the famous “benevolent dictators” we have come to identify with emergent systems.

IMO, community-building often focuses on conditions 1&4, especially in knowledge management efforts.  Addressing these topics seems to attract membership, but this tactic only meets some of a community’s needs.  Without the structure and content provided by conditions 2&3, communities are only coherent and useful for those most interested in conversation and networking.

In my experience, very interesting conversations spring up in “Simplicity” and “Love”-centric communities.  However, there are so many stories being told that it is hard to pick a single thread and follow it through to closure.  Without an over-arching “Narrative” that values the “Task” work — something like “Community X’s mission is to create a knowledge sharing network and promote re-use of recommended practices in strategic topics A, B, and C” — the community becomes all talk, no deliverables.

Web 2.0 and PMO functions

We’ve just started digging into a large-scale re-architecture of our various methodologies.  As you might imagine, the consequences of our approach include changes to the processes, people, and technologies behind content production and maintenance.  

In particular, leverage social media to author, publish, and distribute much more content than we do today.  We’re pleased with our technology direction.  However, we are concerned about some of the organizational change management challenges ahead — for example, many potential contributors feel like their competitive advantage is what’s in their heads. 

Are there any social media adoption strategies that work well when engaging constituencies that aren’t inclined to share?

Surviving PMO Success — Establish an innovation model

During my keynote on “Lessons from a Mature PMO on Sustaining Success”, I spent a considerable amount of time discussing one of the pitfalls of success: becoming satisfied with what was already in place. For example, some global PMO services stopped evolving and improving. Our regions felt like they had to build their own improvements — even worse, we didn’t have a mechanism for leveraging these innovations.

Luckily, we did a some working models that we were able to formalize. Below is a graphic — with a link to a PDF — that outlines the basic concept and an example (WBS templates).


Sustainable value in the knowledge economy

Whenever Mary Adams comments on Crossderry (thanks, Mary), I always make a point to work through my Google Reader inventory of her posts (here also).  She posted briefly (here) on Jay Deragon’s post (here) and comment thread — including some from McKinsey reps — wondering how valuable McKinsey’s “Premium” offering is.

I dropped the “Premium” subscription myself a few years ago, but I do return to pretty regularly.   However, I’ve seen certain articles that stand out — in the way that McKinsey consulting stands out — by being on point, detailed, yet well-written and digestible (unlike some of the academic work Jay refers to).  I know I’m missing something, but I’m not sure its worth $150/year.

In such cases, it would be nice to have the option to buy a single article (like HBR… hint, hint).  Not sure of the price point, but I could see myself making a $5-$10 “impulse” buy for the right piece.

Social Media ROI and Strategy Alignment

I’m not sure that there are many answers — at least for our line of business — but these posts got me thinking about the value of some Enterprise 2.0 initiatives we’ll be kicking off shortly. 

Fluent Simplicity lays out the basic value/return problems here.  Social media initiatives often happen because everyone is doing them, and focusing on fads and fashion doesn’t make for long-term thinking (see my take on Tom Davenport’s pessimistic take on Web 2.0 here).  However, Enterprise 2.0 can’t be treated the same way.  Firms are reluctant to go “all-in” on social media because…

[f]or most organizations, this activity is not tied to strategic goals and is not adequately measured in a meaningful way. 

Frogloop has a ROI calculator (here) that got me thinking about how to build the business case for my initiatives.  I’m not sure how well I’ve thought through the intangible benefits (e.g., retention), which probably will have the biggest strategic impact.  I’ve been focused on the productivity and publicity gains only, which were simple.  A little more Excel modeling may be in order!

Hat tip: Mary Adams at IC Knowledge Center

Giving up on Web 2.0 as penance?

Tom Davenport‘s latest post (here) on Harvard Business Online channels the tone of today’s conventional wisdom.  Many commentators on the Panic of 2008 — including Davenport — are invoking the Great Depression and its harsh lessons.  I guess hairshirts and flagellant confraternities will be coming back next.

While I love mortification of the flesh as much as anyone, I think Davenport’s seriously off-track here.  He’s gone gloom-and-doom just as social media is doing some heavy lifting.  An example of Enterprise 2.0 traction, you say?  OK, what does it say when a guy like Michael Krigsman — who is on the IT Project Failures beat, for goodness sake — praises Enterprise 2.0 efforts from SAP (here) and Oracle (here)?

I hate to bad-rap a fellow Babsonian, but maybe Tom needs to get out of Starbucks more…

The Royal Mail still amazes, 8 across

Very cool story (here) about an artist — Harriett Russell — who decided to test just how dedicated the Royal Mail really was to getting her posts delivered.

[She concealed] the addresses of 130 letters to herself in a series of increasingly complex puzzles and ciphers. Among the disguises she employed were dot-to-dot drawings, anagrams and cartoons…. Amazingly, only 10 failed to complete their journey back to her.

I loved to hear just how seriously the postmen and women took their job.  One particularly clever challenge — the address as a series of crossword clues — came back “Solved by the Glasgow Mail Centre.”

Apparently this correspondence of sorts will be featured in a new book, Envelopes: A Puzzling Journey Through the Royal Mail.

IT/Business Marriage Counseling

I agree with most of Susan Cramm‘s pieces, but she goes on a bit of a rant on the role of line managers in making IT’s life impossible (here).  While there is at least a grain of truth in her complaints, the IT “can’t do” attitude that infuriates line executives pervades the piece.

IT managers are tired of being treated like high priced waiters serving technology de jour on a moment’s notice.

Perhaps IT managers should stop acting like waiters and order takers for the business. It would be nice if IT wouldn’t “need to study” a request to deploy only somewhat new technology — e.g., Enterprise 2.0 — then come back and say “yes, but”.  Perhaps IT could anticipate what the business needed, for once?

Luke’s business “partners”… in their single-minded pursuit of customers, products and profit [emphasis mine],… simply forgot about IT.

If only IT knew what it’s like to have a single-minded pursuit of those pesky customers, products, and profit.  Not like that’s where their paychecks come from…

Alignment is meant to ensure that the right IT products and services are available to meet business needs with minimal angst for all involved [emphasis mine].

This definition/goal sounds good, but articulates a common IT mistake about defining alignment — avoiding conflict (“yes, but”).  Continue reading

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