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Is your Organization out of Alignment?

Mike Cottmeyer Chief Executive Officer
Reading: Is your Organization out of Alignment?

Today is a good day. We got the kids up early… went out for a big country breakfast at Papa Jack’s… and then drove up to South Carolina to pick up a mess of really awesome fireworks. You can’t get really good fireworks here in Georgia… and since the South Carolina border is only about 90 miles North of Atlanta… we decided to make a trip. We’ve got about 20 lbs. of ribs basting in the oven… which should be ready in about an hour… so needless to say… but I’ll say it again… it is a good day.

While we were driving this morning I got to thinking about my post from yesterday and why people fail to adopt agile in a meaningful way. We were talking about how often people fail to consider the human side of change. We tend to think in terms of process and practices… we don’t think as much about the fears that are holding people back and preventing them from letting go. That said… and this was what was nagging me a bit… it’s not fair to imply that fear, uncertainty and doubt are the ONLY reasons we struggle to adopt agile… often there are other factors at play

Our Trip to Disney World and Mike’s Back Problem

I want to tell you guys a little story.
Up until last year… we used to take the kids to Disney World every October. Disney is great family fun and I highly recommend it. The only reason we didn’t go last year was that the kids were getting older and decided they wanted to try something new. Last year we went on a cruise to Mexico…. but I digress. Back to the point… the last time we went to Disney for vacation… I threw my back out the day before we left. I had never experienced anything like it. I’ve always been pretty healthy and have never had a back problem. I didn’t know what to do and it sucked… sucked bad!

My kids we ready to go to Disney… my wife was ready to go to Disney… so we went to Disney. I spent the first two days walking the park… riding rides… and trying my best to have fun… but in reality I was pretty miserable. It’s kind of funny… when I look back at the pictures from those two days… I had a smile on my face… but I can see the pain coming through the smile. Back problems are no fun at all.

The morning of day three I finally had enough. We were at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and my wife looked over at me and told me I had to go to a doctor. Not knowing what the heck a doctor was going to do to get me through my vacation… short of prescribing some pain killers which I did not want.. I decided to go to a chiropractor. To that point in my life I had never been to a chiropractor and I wasn’t sure what to expect…
Long story short… the chiropractor told me that my spine and pelvis were not where they were supposed to be and it was putting pressure on a nerve in my lower back. He did a minor adjustment and I was functional and relatively pain free the rest of the week. Good news is that I haven’t had a problem since… the chiropractor found and fixed the root cause… I was out of alignment.

I had the desire to go to Disney… I had a great attitude… I tried to keep a smile on my face… I wasn’t afraid to ride the roller coasters… the problem was it just hurt. My body was not in proper alignment to take advantage of all the fun that Disney had to offer. A bunch of the companies I work with are kind of the same way. They want to do agile… they want the business benefit… they want to change… its just that their organizational structure is not in proper alignment to get the full benefits. It’s like being at Disney with a back problem.

How do organizations get out of alignment?

Our organizational hierarchies provide the basic infrastructure in which we operate… in which we run our business… that is our foundation. On that foundation we have many forces that pull that structure in lots of different directions.

We have projects run by project managers with schedules, budget constraints, and performance objectives. We have managers that manage teams of specialists… the managers are incented to optimize individual performance and get maximum productivity from each team member. We have products that have their own set of managers… each responsible for managing their markets and trying to get as many revenue generating features in their products as possible.

We spin up teams to do projects… so we have a project team view. We have to mange the component architecture outside the context of any single project… so we have an archtiectural view. Projects might also be part of a program or a portfolio, team members are matrixed across multiple projects, products, and architectural sub-components… all of which put different pressures on the enterprise. Its amazing to me sometimes that we manage to get anything done.

Steven Covey in his book The 8th Habit talks about how so few people in a company feel they understand the objectives of the organization… that that they are working on the most important stuff… or that they are pulling in the same direction as their co-workers. Covey compares this to a soccer team where:

  • 4 of the 11 players on the field would know which goal is theirs
  • Only two of the 11 would care
  • Only two of the 11 would know what position they play and know exactly what they are supposed to do
  • 9 players are competing against their own team

Getting on the Same Page

So… while the people issues are really, really important… it is also important that the organization get in alignment if we are going to make a serious go at widespread agile adoption. That means putting some thought into how we create teams… what we have them work on… how we measure their performance… and how we have them work together. Its a matter of aligning the structures of our organization and then aligning team to support those structures. That is fundamentally what will make an agile organzation work.
Like most things… that kind of change doesn’t happen overnight… but realizing this is a problem is more than half the battle.
BTW – Here is a picture of our fireworks stash we picked up today… pretty awesome!

Next Dancing at Starbucks

Comments (2)

  1. Paul Boos


    These last two posts are right on target with what I deal with in the Government, but with a slightly different twist. Here's a rather simple examples:

    Law says we must have an Enterprise Architecture in order to get approved funding.

    The Office of Management & Budget established a frameowrk (called the Federal Enterprise Architecture, we're an unimaginitive bunch for names in the Goverment). They further state that any major system investment must comply with this framework.

    The Department (USDA in my case) states that all projects pass through their wicket for approval.

    Finally, we get to my agency, we decide that it must use currently "approved" technologies in order to be compliant with our Enterprise Architecture. This limits what we can put in place; the people that are a part of this group, don't want to participate in the projects to inject new technologies.

    The sad thing is at each step beyond the law, we the Government became the constraining factor. At each point, we put in "controls" we felt keep us in compliance with what Congress wanted, but in reality, Congress just wanted us to not all reinvent the wheel each time we had a new project. (How many tracking systems do you know for example are designed uniquely from the ground up everytime?) They didn't care what technologies we used. What they actually hoped was that departments and agencies woudl share this information more; OMB didn't put that in place – a sharing mechanism and the Department and Agency policies did nothing to help it either. None of them contributed to the bottomline of delivering functionality.

    Why you ask? 1) Fear: the people responsible for the Enterprise Architecture know that if they act as a Gatekeeper, then they can prevent what they may perceive as an issue from cropping in… and 2) Organization: the organization created a unit to enforce comliance, not collaborate to achieve both compliance and best benefit. It was a concious decision.

    Until we break this type of thinking, particularly #2, Agile will be harder in the Government. It can happen and I like using using stories as to the impact that you recommended in Agile Coach Camp last year to measure impact to the delivery.

    As always, I enjoyed the post… One of these days with more time, I may become an active blogger on GovLoop.



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