Skip to main content

Reevaluate Everything

Mike Cottmeyer Chief Executive Officer
Reading: Reevaluate Everything

It’s amazing the number of constraints many of us choose live under. We can’t do agile here because our company is organized around functional managers. We can’t do agile here because we have a strict, document driven, phase gated process. These things may very well be true today, but do they have to be true tomorrow?

I can’t begin to tell you how many organizations I work with that have policies, that when pressed, aren’t nearly as ‘set in stone’ as we’re led to believe. There is safety in following the rules… in not rocking the boat… but real change is only going to happen when we challenge our constraints, and choose to live under a new set of rules…

Here are a few common constraints I see quite often, that need to be challenged… especially if you are thinking about giving agile a try:

  • We have too many dependences… How about trying to break a few of them?
  • We have too many specialists… How about helping these folks learn something new?
  • We have to provide accurate estimates… How about scoping projects to fit into a predefined time-box?
  • We have to track quality metrics… How about we focus our energy on not building defects in the first place?
  • We have functional silos… How about we build cross-funtional teams from our existing silos?
  • We have to document everything… How about we build confidence we can deliver, by actually delivering?

One of the things that is becoming clear to me is that these kinds of constraints are not merely policy issues, they are people issues… they are safety issues. People put process and controls in place to stay safe. They have to make sure they get to keep their jobs when stuff doesn’t go as planned.  It’s not my fault, I followed ‘The Process’.

The trick here is to figure out what constraints we have to live with… and what constraints we need to break. For those we need to break, how can we break them in the least threatening way possible, keeping people safe along the way. Here is one of my favorite quotes from Niccolo Machiavelli that I think is insightful and very applicable:

“We must bear in mind, then, that there is nothing more difficult and dangerous, or more doubtful of success, than an attempt to introduce a new order of things in any state. For the innovator has for enemies all those who derived advantages from the old order of things, whilst those who expect to be benefited by the new institutions will be but lukewarm defenders. This indifference arises in part from fear of their adversaries who were favoured by the existing laws, and partly from the incredulity of men who have no faith in anything new that is not the result of well-established experience. Hence it is that, whenever the opponents of the new order of things have the opportunity to attack it, they will do it with the zeal of partisans, whilst the others defend it but feebly, so that it is dangerous to rely upon the latter.”

Next Interesting Post... 10/17/2010 through 10/24/2010

Comments (3)

  1. Prashant

    Nice post ! Very true and very applicable. I especially like the quote at the end.

  2. Dan Mezick

    Hmmm…Machievelli quotes in an Agile blog.

    Where’s the love?

    This the same guy that is known for the famous “better to be feared than loved” quote. Is Machievelli an Agile thinker? Is he a real collaborator? Mike, are you implying that we might want to seriously consider including Machievelli in the Agile pantheon?

    Seriously, I know your are not…..that said, are we often involved in political drama and intrigue when we introduce Agile? If so, are we picking up vices associated with the old order if we think like like Niccolo Machievelli here?

    Is this a guy we want to honor? I mean, consider his position on promises (a form of commitment), for example:

    A prince never lacks legitimate reasons to break his promise.
    Niccolo Machiavelli


    I submit that it is “better to be loved than feared” when your motives are about service.

    Rather than Machievelli, let’s carefully study another historical politician, Ghandi:

    “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”
    – Mahatma Gandhi

    A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.
    Mohandas Gandhi

    A man is but the product of his thoughts what he thinks, he becomes.
    Mohandas Gandhi

    Gandhi bio:

    Machievelli dies alone, at age 58 in 1527, with no influence over affairs of the day. He is associated with cunning, deceit and information delays, exactly the kind of thing that produces the dysfunctions exhibited by the organizations we serve as Agile folk.

    “No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution.”

    In other words, deal in information DELAYS, the very thing we know produces dyfunction in our organizations !!

    Now consider Gandhi.
    “The opinions I have formed and the conclusions I have arrived at are not final. I may change them tomorrow.” “I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills.”

    Is Machievelli the type of thinker we want to study? Put another way, are we paying attention where it can do our organizations the most good? Are we serving these organizations best by being experts in Machievelli……or Gandhi? is it naive to think we can have it both ways?

    Quotes from Gandhi:

    Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed. Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well.
    Mohandas Gandhi

    Still reading ?? The sayings of Gandhi are found here:


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *