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Tag: "organizational development"

What Elephants Teach Us About Software Development

The Blind Man and The Elephant

SONY DSCSo there’s a treasure trove of stories and metaphors that revolve around elephants, and lately in my work with Geneca, I keep on running into elephants.

One of my favorite elephant stories that I’ve been coming back to lately comes from several sources in Eastern Philosophy: The Blind Men and the Elephant. In this story, several blind men encounter an elephant. One touches the ear and says the elephant is like a hand fan. Another touches the trunk and says the elephant is the branch of a tree. The one who touches the leg believes the elephant is a pillar and the one touching the tail believes the elephant is a rope.

This metaphor tells us that different people with different roles and perspectives will have different ideas of what the “whole” is. This reminds us that on projects, since each person can’t see the whole, we have to have good communication with each other to understand what the whole really is. And this leads me to the next metaphor that I keep running into:

Getting in the Elephant Habit

When I listened to “Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch, a Professor who had cancer and was delivering the last and most important lecture of his life, I was struck by the technique he used to address the most anxiety-producing topic in the room. What he said was: “My dad always told me, when there is an elephant in the room, introduce them.” Then, he goes on to talk about the fact that he has cancer, which everyone knows, but nobody wants to talk about.

To deliver software predictably means to always be introducing the elephants in the room. When there are things that everyone in the room knows about, but no one wants to discuss – politics, friction between team members, risks, difficult decisions no one wants to make — it is our duty as the predictable partner to introduce these elephants.

One of the best practices of predictable software delivery means that we are speaking the same language as our client, apples to apples, oranges to oranges. Because we are the predictable partner, and because we believe in the best practices of predictable software delivery, we need to step up and introduce the elephants in the room, even if it is difficult and perhaps risky to do so.

I’ve noticed that the first time you introduce an elephant in the room, it is not well received. It is as though you have disturbed a social norm. It makes people uncomfortable. Often the first elephant I’ve introduced is the friction between two members of a team. Everybody has noticed it, but everyone has consciously or subconsciously decided to accept this friction that negatively affects the team, rather than face the uncomfortable moment of calling it out.

What I’ve found is that after introducing the first elephant, the second becomes easier. After the second, the third is expected. After the third, people have adapted to this behavior, and even begin to call out elephants they see. It becomes a habit, a part of the team culture. And having a team culture of calling out the issues rather than sweeping them under the rug is what being a Predictable Partner is all about.

Next week, I’ll talk about what we can learn from elephant behavior and how that can be applied to software development.

So, can you learn to adapt, or will you go extinct?

Photo Credit: Martien Uiterweerd

10 Ways to Create a Culture Where People Feel Valued (part 2)

10-2-300x162Last week we looked at maintaining consistency between your mission statement and daily execution; dealing with unexpected changes in your business; the importance of transparency; and the need for each employee to uphold corporate values. This week, we’ll look at six more culture building practices:

  1. Hold management accountable: Empower everyone to protect your corporate culture. Create an environment that is safe for employees to raise concerns, voice opinions and challenge threats to your strategy. Test management’s ability to withstand challenges and put away the egos. Common vision means we all want the same thing: To maintain corporate culture and insure the ongoing success of the company.  The best decisions are made through open dialogue and exploration of diverse ideas.
  2. Set yourself up for success: In every project, business commitment, or customer engagement, set yourself up for success. If you don’t believe you can take on the work without compromising your corporate values and quality of outcome, then restructure the project, the approach, or turndown the business. Strive to make death marches a thing of the past. Nothing is more demoralizing then being set-up to lose.
  3. Be willing to make hard decisions: You’ve found the perfect candidate from a skills and experience perspective. You’ve been looking to fill this position for months but the candidate is not a cultural fit. Do you hire them? Alternatively, the deal-of-a-lifetime has presented itself. You can take on the work but an aggressive “go-live” date means you will have to burn-out several key contributors and maybe even sacrifice some quality on delivery. Do you take on the business? Every time you make a decision that doesn’t support your culture and values you widen the gap.
  4. Raise the bar: Never settle for “Good-Enough.” Whether it’s you products, your people, solutions, service, or corporate strategy, set the expectation and demand excellence. Every individual in the company should be empowered to expose and eliminate mediocrity.
  5. Create awareness: From the individual to the board of directors, being aware of how actions, interactions, and decisions impact people and culture is key to success.  Make awareness habitual; remind yourself and your organization to ask repeatedly, “How does this impact our peers and employees, the quality of our products and services, or our reputation with our customers or market place? Do the decisions and actions we make support our corporate culture and values?”
  6. Don’t panic: There are many things that can force an individual or organization to panic: Changing economic times, a set-back on a project, a challenging customer, or the everyday demands of the business. It’s in the midst of these pressures that people most often panic and revert to their old bad habits. Don’t panic. Take a step back. Look at the problem in the context of your corporate culture and values and take action accordingly.

People and Principles Come First

Valuing your corporate culture has to be systemic. It has to be a strategic objective and it has to be reinforced with people and systems that insure culture is preserved. Both the company and the people need to invest in and commit to maintaining the culture.  Will you be challenged to break old habits? Sure. Will you have to be reminded from time to where your cultural “true north” is? Absolutely, but building culture into the way you do business means you have checks and balances that allow people to correct course before it damages what you value most…your People.

Does your organization “walk the walk” when it comes to corporate culture?  What practices have worked best for your company?

Photo Credit: thomas nicot

10 Ways to Create a Culture Where People Feel Valued

I have always rankled at the much over-used corporate phase, “People are our greatest assets.” I’ve heard the words pass the lips of senior executives in both large and small companies, across industries and geographic boundaries, yet  time and again I witness that quiet sigh of contempt and disbelief from the listeners.