"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change!" - Charles Darwin

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Living in a river of conversations

Last night I came back from my first round of vacation, which I spent leading our summer Scout Camp.
Great time, btw, as usual and refreshing feedback from our guys revealing how many things they learned.

While on the train on my way back, I had the chance to read again chapter 11 of the book "The Leader's Guide to Radical Management” where the author Steve Denning tells the story about how he started to change the way of managing at World Bank: what he calls his initiation into Radical Change Management.

Surprisingly enough, reading this story back looked like somehow reading a lot about the story of our own Agile transformation in retrospective.
Moving from one page to another, I got more and more impressed from how many parallelisms I could draw between Denning’s experience and many things we have been doing similarly, mainly intuitively, which turned out to be success factors for us.

First of all the starting point: a passionate belief in the idea from a small team to inspire and lead the transformation, an energized group of people, who trusted one another, with no role description, but willing to do whatever it took beyond any border of responsibility.

The most effective tool, though expensive, for this team was having a lot of conversations with colleagues, peers or managers, all over the place, to share experiences, enthusiasm, beliefs, understanding and concerns about the deep transformation at hand.
At the beginning, people couldn’t sometimes understand what they were talking about, but finding good stories to tell in corridors, coffee break areas, meeting rooms or even in the canteen, helped some other people understand the idea and build upon it by themselves.

Nothing happened through a traditional change management approach, delivering change upon a certain program and time plan: how could we plan something we didn’t know and never made before?
Instead it grew more organically, based on a shared vision and a holistic approach, but applying baby steps and an empirical process control.

And talking!

Support from senior management was essential especially at a certain point in time, where some people, afraid of losing their position, started to be alarmed by the serious challenge of the status quo and did their best to slow down the change.
Meanwhile the team of passionate believers grew and started acting more openly to each other: they could recognize the different qualities and strengths of each person, while appreciating how much everybody was doing despite what it took.

We had (and still have) a lot of fights sometimes, but we have so much trust and respect in one another, that disagreements make the team stronger and each person better.
And we have a lot of fun, despite the hurdles, the hard work and the frustration sometimes for not harvesting the fruits we thought we should have.

Keep talking is increasing the group of enthusiasts, who believe in the cause and start doing whatever it takes to advance the change.
We are really living “in a river of conversations”: no precooked message to be rolled out top down, but an evolving idea crafted by means a continuous dialogue and resulting actions.
And we learned to put the principles ahead of mechanics: when we run into a new problem we refer back to principles to guide us and adjust what clashes with them.

Reading Denning’s book helped me see also what is probably our main pitfall: not enough courage or ability to make the change quicker which generated, as Denning says, a massive quantity of antibodies and thus an even harder transformation.
Yes, because what we’re talking about, exactly like Scrum, looks easy in principle, but it turns out to be very difficult in implementing.

Nevertheless it is an exciting and rewarding journey.

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