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Safety to Change

Mike Cottmeyer Chief Executive Officer
Reading: Safety to Change

It’s interesting to me, as I work with more and more teams, how nearly every problem companies face, at their core, have to do in some way, with organizational alignment and having more to do than they can possibly do.

Scrum solves this problem by creating teams that regularly deliver increments of working software, and empowering them to decide how much work to pull into every sprint.

Simple guidance, but getting there is a non-trivial problem in most large organizations. These companies have people in functionally aligned silos with pretty strict management hierarchies and a slew of projects already underway.

Most organizations can’t even think about slowing down enough (initially) to write good unit tests or to automate regression, let alone learn TDD or try pair programming. Their structure and workload don’t allow for it.

Most people can’t even think about letting go of command and control project management, because if they let go of the wheel, the organization would spin out of control. As much as we’d like to think otherwise, they are right.

Killing in-flight projects, and aligning your organization toward value creation, is an act of bravery. You have to be willing to say no now, so your yes in the future will mean something.

You have to be brave to make radical change in your organization. You have to be willing to take personal risk. You have to compromise your own personal safety for the success of your organization.

And to me, that is what’s really at the core of most agile transformation work. How do we make our leaders safe to lead this kind of change? These people have mortgages and kids in college and don’t want to put that at risk.

But at the end of the day, sending a bunch of folks to training and adopting a few practices doesn’t really cut it. You have to be willing to lead change, you have to be willing to say no, so you can confidently say yes when it matters.

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Comments (4)

  1. Donal de Paor

    Great post. Even if some leaders are willing to take the risk to make radical changes the chances are that many more will not. No easy to answer to this challenge.

  2. Scott Dunn

    Wow – well said. These people the organizations that we expect so much from are still people like us, prone to fear, uncertainty and doubt. And often,this is the biggest change many of them have faced in the managerial career.

  3. Peter Callies

    Powerful and challenging stuff!

  4. Bob Williams

    I think you are talking about a fundamental concept of organizational hierarchy. The top controls what the bottom does. I’m thinking about organizations whether political, military, or business throughout the course of time. I like the concept of what you are saying here and believe that organizations that want to be “nimble” must start to reconcile this concept withing their own structures. But I think the battle of command and control goes deeper than software output. It’s ingrained in our cultures from thousands of years of history.


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