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Who Do You Have on the Bus?

Mike Cottmeyer Chief Executive Officer
Reading: Who Do You Have on the Bus?

My wife and I are really different people.

We are a classic case where opposites attract. I am a risk taker who generally doesn’t give a rat about what people think. My wife is a rule follower and a people pleaser. I like to shake things up and Kimi likes to keep the peace. I like to think about the big picture… Kimi likes to live in the details.

Neither of us is right or wrong… it is just who we are. It’s really fascinating to take a step back and think about how each of us was raised and how our experiences have shaped our perspectives on life. It can be really exciting when we are able to align our goals and leverage our individual strengths and talents to accomplish great things. While we are very different… our strengths can be very complimentary.

That said… it has taken us years to understand this about each other. It did not happen overnight. It has required a strong commitment to our marriage and a willingness to work through the tough problems. It’s has not always been easy but it has always been worth it.

This kind of struggle isn’t limited to our marriages and our personal lives. All of us bring these same kinds of issues to work with us everyday. We bring all our personal baggage… our upbringing… our life experiences… and our career history into every interaction. These things shape our professional outlook… our tolerance for change… our ability to deal with uncertainty. When you are talking about knowledge workers… we bring our whole person… baggage and all to the office everyday.

What do you do if you have people on the team that are not well equipped to deal with uncertainty? What if that was just how they were raised and how their experiences shaped them personally? What if these folks value predictability and process rather than inspection and adaptation? What if these people are getting in the way of your agile transition? Is it possible for everyone on the team to embrace the profound cultural shift that agile is asking us to make?

This is a question I really struggle with.

We can all change if we want to change. We can all reinvent ourselves… but no one can do it for us. No change initiative is going to release us from the bonds of our family upbringing… our cultural heritage… years of positive reinforcement or a lengthy track record of success doing it the traditional way. This is the stuff that makes agile hard… business is changing faster than many of us are personally prepared to adapt… maybe faster than we actually *can* adapt.

With the economy struggling and even more disruptive change on the horizon… we have to ask ourselves how long we can wait. Marriages are bound by love… and if you are so inclined… bound by God. What are the ties that keep our companies together? Are they strong enough to weather the storm? Should they be? Are we committed enough to give people the time they need to adjust to this changing reality? If so, at what cost?

If Scrum is a mirror… what is Scrum telling is about the people we have on the team? Can agile save everyone or is it time to find the people that want it now? How we answer that question might just make all the difference.

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Comments (7)

  1. Glenn

    Excellent observations Mike! I have actually thought about the opposite direction as well. Those who adopt well to change at work sometimes don’t do so well at home. Perhaps some of the Agile lessons we learn at work could help out a few marriages.

  2. Mike Cottmeyer

    Thanks Glenn for the reply…

    Okay… for the sake of my marriage… I have to make sure that NO ONE is thinking I want my wife off the team because she is am impediment to my agile adoption ;-)

    My main point was really that we are all really different people… with different hopes… dreams… upbringings… biases… etc. Some people are just wired for change and some people are wired to desire stability.

    In a marriage between two committed people… that can bring good balance… hell, it can bring good balance in a company. We just need to ask ourselves how long can we wait, and at what cost, for all that to come into an equilibrium? At home… I am in it for the long haul. At work… I don’t think we can wait as long.

    Now… all that said… your point is interesting to me for other reasons. I know many folks is this field with really bad marriages. I am not sure if that is because so many marriages are bad to begin with, and I just happen to know a bunch of agilists, or if there is something about us that is causing the problem.

    In my case, you see a total type A risk taker married to a non-type A harmonizer. We have to pay very close attention that neither of us go too far to one extreme… it is something we work at. Opposites attracting can be a good thing to provide balance… but those opposing viewpoints can also cause friction.

    Yeah… I imagine if I was as good a listener and facilitator at home as I can be at work, I would make things much easier on myself ;-)

  3. Jesse Fewell

    You’re onto something here, Mike. I’ve been wrestling with how to add value to people that are hard-wired for the traditional grind of work. If I take my mission to it’s ultimate conclusion, and the whole world is Agile, do those people have a job? anywhere? If I go about “transforming the world of work”, have I just placed my Agile process over the value of that individual? The simple answer is “there will always be a waterfall tell-me-what-to-do job out there for them”. But if I’m really honest I have to wrestle with the paradoxes.

    I’m starting to rant, now. Maybe time for me to blog on it.

  4. Mike Cottmeyer

    Jesse… you should recognize where the core of this post came from ;-)

  5. Fong Wistlepack

    You need to step back and take a few deep breaths and stop taking yourself so seriously…

    And don’t worry about those who are not as ‘smart’ and ‘agile’ as you. According to capitalism, that is funtioning so well at the moment, they are darwinian blips that just deserve to die. Be happy you are among the select elite. Go forth and consume again.

  6. Mike Cottmeyer

    Interesting comment Fong… If you’ve been following this blog for a while… you’ll know that I do coaching and training for a living. It’s kinda my job to worry about other people’s agile transitions.

    Most of what I write about is based on experiences and interactions working with other people. I want my customers to be successful.

    That said… companies that don’t make the switch to agile… ones that won’t make the tough decisions about their personnel… might deserve to die, or to flounder in mediocrity.

    There are some in the agile community that think that with enough time and patience, agile works for everyone. That might be true… most companies don’t have to time wait for everyone to get it.

    It’s not about being an elitist… it’s about finding the people that want to be excellent. Its about building companies and teams around people that are motivated and want it now.

    As far as taking myself too seriously… my wife tells me that all the time. Welcome to the club!

  7. John Rockefeller

    success = buy_in + time;

    Start small. Have small successes early on to build confidence in themselves and the new system. Over 6-12 months you can turn up the pressure and you will have a person who is ready to do the work in the method that your company asks for.

    If the person will not change to adapt to the methodology of the company after a few months, even with successes, you have to evaluate that employee’s place in the company and may have to ask them to move on.

    Just my feeling on the subject. It applies to everything, not just agile.


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