Monday, December 6, 2010

Changing - conceptualisation

Earlier this year a colleague asked me what I would look for in a organisation considering adopting agile. Where would I stick my nose? (paraphrasing, she was more polite than that). Being a whiteboard junkie I grabbed a marker and drew the following.

Technology - what the development group create and maintain
People - organisational culture, teams and individuals
Process - how do they try to make the work work
Environment - what is the physical environment like to work in

The idea is that agile software development is influenced by these four forces/elements/modalities/thingies/horsemen. The conclusion of my 5 seconds of thinking is that if you want to adopt agile you need to have a good hard look at each of these and how they will influence the change.

I now like to think about this without "agile" in the middle of the picture - as I think the idea is more generally applicable without the A word there. How do these forces influence the way an organisation develops software (or do pretty much anything)? So something more like this (based on Greene and Grant 2003 - house of change).

I think each of these forces has a balancing influence on the others, so that a change to one will be pulled back by the others, a sort of equilibrium. Any attempt at making a significant or lasting change will need to take this into account. (There is an inkling about entropy too, but that's still in progress.)

For example making a change to "go Agile" may start with changing the way projects are run to work in iterations ie a process change. The organisational state before the Agile adoption came about from the influence of more than just the delivery process and none of the following processes have changed:
  • Hiring
  • Release management
  • Funding/budgeting
  • Organisational change
The organisation has been structured to support these processes (and many many more) and the original project process is part of this melange. There is now a foreign body in the organisational system and it may end up being treated as one.

What about the other forces?
Technology - no change. Unless there was attention to technical excellence before the process change this is going to hurt. Odds on that delivery to time and budget trumped internal quality.
People - no change. The same people, who may have been comfortable with how work was before the change, and the same structures to support the people. A culture that developed from how the organisation worked. Teams that may have competed now need to collaborate.
Environment - no change. Maybe everyone on the team is on the same floor or in the same building, but this is not real collocation. A nice open plan office - recommended over the alternatives - is not really the place for noisy exchanges of ideas, you end up having stand ups in a meeting room, story walls hidden in the computers so no one is disturbed.

What's the point?

To make a change you need to have a holistic or system perspective, unfortunately conceptualising the entire system is difficult. Making effective change is hard, even when there are no explicit forces against the change there will be tacit forces that will hold you back. No amount of analysis will reveals these forces so get going and expect to learn about these on the way, and make that explicit.

Greene, J., & Grant, A. M. (2003). Solution-focused coaching: Manging people in a complex world. Auckland, New Zealand: Pearson Education New Zealand; New Zealand.


Jason Yip said...

I would add "Purpose" to that list

L said...

Yes I see your point. Maybe I am thinking about why it's difficult to change rather than how to change.