Friday, September 1, 2017

SPaMCast Interview: What has to happen to get an organization to change?

Jeff, if we turn to leadership to make changes in an organization, what has to happen to actually get an organization to change? ~ Tom Cagley, SPaMCast

[Editor's Note: Over the coming weeks, this CMMI Appraiser will be sharing excerpts from a recent conversation with Tom Cagley on the Software Process and Measurement Cast (SPaMCast) about leadership, and whether leadership is more or less important in today’s Agile world. Listen to the full interview at SPaMCast 456.]


That’s such a great question because in the industry that we’re in, there’s a lot of model-based change management going on. Whether it’s SAFe or CMMI or ITIL, or even DAD or Scrum, a lot of executives are saying, “Let’s take a look at these models, and let’s tell our people to implement these models. Therefore, we shall be the change that we believe in.”

I’m sorry, but that’s been a failure. Of all the models that have been developed, I think the models developed in the Agile space have been the most successful. I have great, great admiration for the people that put those together, but they’ve all failed to make change happen.

In the software business, there’s a defect known as “type mismatch.” A type mismatch is when one data type tries to communicate with another data type and it blows up most programs. For instance, an integer tries to talk to a string inside of an application, and this creates a type mismatch.

Leaders are causing an organizational type mismatch by forcing Agile teams to use these models instead of seeking to understand and care about – not change – the way Agile teams do their work, and the values they uphold. We’ve got some fantastic things going on at the project level: Teams are being transparent. They are being Agile. They are collaborating. They are working very hard to live and breathe Agile values. Some have been almost militant about upholding Agile values.

But leadership is often completely oblivious to this! Especially in the government sector. They are asking for detailed, long-term project plans, Basis of Estimates that go out five years, and they’re asking requirements to be clearly defined in a 900-page stream of consciousness work product that nobody reads.

The problem is, they are treating their people in a very non-Agile, non-transparent, non-collaborative, low-trust way. They’re beating their people up like they always have.

It’s clear that these frameworks have not changed that behavior. Instead, I believe they need to focus on a framework that aligns Agile values with the Agile ceremonies that Agile teams are using, so that they can be understood and made better. Without this type of approach, management is trying to push a rope uphill.

You work in this business too, Tom. You know you can have the most beautiful Scrum team on the planet, a work of art. We used to say that back in my Ernst & Young days: “We’ve produced a work of art, but nobody noticed!”

When nobody notices, and management isn’t on board, we really have this type mismatch, which creates a lot of friction and unhappiness in the organization. It mostly affects credibility and productivity of the teams.

I believe that if we can conquer this leadership issue in the Agile space, we can take it to a whole new level that’s no one even anticipated.

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I hope my readers have enjoyed this segment of my interview with Tom Cagley on SPaMCast #456. We'll be talking more about leadership, and whether leadership is more or less important in today’s Agile world, in the next segment. Please check back soon.

For those interested in a deeper dive into learning about Agile Leadership, you are invited to join me and other Agile leaders at The 2017 Agile Leadership Summit, hosted by on September 22nd in Washington, DC. I look forward to meeting many of you in person for the first time!

Here's how to register for The 2017 Agile Leadership Summit.

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Jeff Dalton is a Certified SCAMPI Lead Appraiser, Certified CMMI Instructor, author and consultant with years of real-world experience with the CMMI in all types of organizations. Jeff has taught thousands of students in CMMI training classes and has received an aggregate satisfaction score of 4.97 out of 5 from his students.

Visit for more information about engineering strategy, performance innovation, software process improvement and running a successful CMMI program.

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