Tuesday, 25 November 2008


So what is the cause? Again, the miracle really didn’t occur.
In agile transformations, we have noted that one pebble can derail the process. Think of a big round rock at the top of a hill. The rock is the transformation. The hill is the organization. It takes an amount of effort to begin to move the rock down the hill to start with, but one you over come the transition from potential to kinetic and get it rolling, usually momentum will take over and the process will continue to flow. However, to be successful, we must continually sweep the path like the sweepers on a curling team. What we find is that if our rolling rock of change hits even the littlest pebble remaining on the path it will deflect off the path and the transformation will at best continue forward but with an unknown trajectory.

Acknowledging that it is far easier to derail the transformation than it is to instantiate and maintain, what can we do to increase and maintain our probability of success?

Friday, 21 November 2008

Change Agent

I have been a change agent and a process consultant and I have stood before well-dressed executives and stated clearly and with conviction: If you achieve this goal state, all forms of frankincense and myrrh will come to you. And they have believed me.

The cost to paint the As-Is was low – it is a paint by number. The cost to portray the To-Be vision was higher – we consultants are paid for our insight and experience. The expense to connect these dots is exorbitant, not because it is where the money would be made, but because it also required that certain guarantees could be stated: principally that the transformation could happen. Business Process Reengineering always seemed to happen, but unfortunately the To-Be never seemed to achieve its promise to anyone other than the consultancy. They made their margin and then some, but few clients ever really reached their desired outcomes.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Itsa Miracle!

We so desperately like to focus on the As Is – To Be transformation that we minimize the piece in the middle, the actual transformation. The current situation is manifest through its problems and through its inability to allow the organizations to achieve the goals set out for them by their management. It is often easy and straight forward to speak the To-Be – the transformed state. We look at our problems and imagine them solved, simply and directly, and there we are. Indeed, many a consultancy has prided themselves on the speed through which they can identify the exact resultant state to which the client should aspire and change. Unfortunately, the rub is that, when asked, the aforementioned miracle rarely happens.

Friday, 7 November 2008


What if everything you assumed about how and why organizations worked was wrong?

What if everything you knew about how and why organizations transformed was also wrong?

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Hybrid matrix approach can take the best of both flat and hierarchical and perhaps leave out the worst

This approach can produce a self sustaining nurturing organization that is both self healing and strongly mentoring supporting both rebuilding and strong growth environments.

The agile hybrid is established by the creation of a matrix organization where there is a flat discipline-based groups that are loosely structured on “guilds”. Instead of a manager for the group, you have a Guild Master who is responsible for the technical competence of the individuals in the group (specifically their hiring and maturation as technical gurus). The masters ‘review’ all of the individuals in their team, even though there may be well over 10. They do this by outsourcing the responsibility of 360 degree reviews to the projects that the individuals worked on. In an agile organization, this becomes an ideal model because you match the review cycle to the release cycle and do the reviews every quarter.

Projects in this type of organization become the verticals and they have full time masters of their own – project managers (scrum masters with delivery responsibility) and product owners. As part of the project chartering activity, a team is derived and then shopped to the guilds for fulfillment. When there are conflicts in desired talents or capacities, a portfolio manager will be needed to adjudicate disputes. The product and product managers are responsible for the day to day operations of the project and though the people assigned are not really part of the project, they report to the projects for the duration of their assignments. There is no multi-tasking between project as this dilutes the effort even worse than trying to get organizational managers to do real work.

This third model allows a minimization of overhead in the organization and a maximization of skill-based throughput. There is still a degree of finesse necessary to manage and maintain the organization. One interesting point is that the guild masters are typically the most technically advanced people in the org and yet they do not actively work on any project. Their success is the creation of journeymen who are every bit as good as they are and who can do the work with the level of expertise that reflects the guild master, yet giving the master more reach by extending his capacities. If the master’s 2nds are not operating in the same order of magnitude, the guild masters are not doing their job and the organization will never be able to scale.

Monday, 3 November 2008

More on Guilds

OK, great. Whatever. Even in BF Skinner’s Walden Two, neither society nor society are this open. This is a great ideal, but it dissolves the corporate veil. The organization exists to serve it’s constituents and in most organizations, guidelines, guardrails, and limits are placed. OK. So how do we reign this in and still be true to the vision?

A flat organization is managed as a guild based organization. Guilds are mean cruel and archaic structures. They rose to power in the medieval era and are alternatively seen as the epitome of Adam Smith and Karl Marx. It is argued that guilds stifled trade, inhibited innovation, and distorted the distribution of wealth; or completely the opposite. In fact, all craft guilds pursued pious goals. In addition to the regulations governing their crafts, guilds were both benevolent and religious societies governed by strict rules for mutual aid, arbitration and the procuring of spiritual benefits*.

Even granted the separation of Church and State and there is much that we can take from the guilds. There is also much we can leave. There are also some things that rise from the operation of guilds that is worth noting, but only so that we can recognize bad behaviors and nip them in the bud. One such behavior is the way guild masters both poached promising upstarts and colluded against others masters in the same guild**. So, leaving out organized religion and collusion and some other practices that were frankly reproachable, what do we actually have left that is not so left of center that we end up with technical communes (though these may actually not be a bad idea – think Semler***)?

The guilds saw achievement of mastery in their craft as a means of achieving piety. In the Medieval eras the piety was to a deity. Though much has been written in western literature about the Christian based guilds, the Eastern religions used the same construct and organization. If we translate the piety into reverence to a product or technology vision instead, we immediately have a solid relationship to our businesses.

* Gary Richardson, “Craft Guilds and Christianity” and Sylvia Thrupp, “The Merchant Class of Medieval London”

** From Craft and Christianity, p155:
As long as the masters maintained a solid front, all of them profited from the pact. Journeymen were forced to accept lower wages. Journeymen had few other options. But, masters had trouble maintaining the pact. Collusion was in the collective interest of all masters but not in the personal interest of an individual master. One of the masters – perhaps bit smarter or greedier than the others – would realize he could cheat his colleagues just as he could cheat his subordinates. After the other masters had lowered wages, he could offer remuneration or working conditions slightly more attractive than the collusive level and hire the most talented journeymen. His shop would be productive and profitable. Other masters would observe his success, and then try to outbid him for the worthiest workers. Bidding would escalate until the cabal broke down and wages returned to the market clearing level. In other words, the masters could not carry out their self-serving plot unless they could (a) determine who was adhering to the pact and who was not and (b) reward the former or punish the later, so that all masters had an incentive to maintain the cartel.

*** Ricardo Semler – See his books Maverick or The 7 Day Weekend.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Flat organizations tend to be more skilled and more able to foster innovation

But flat Organizations rely heavily on srong self-motivated and self-regulating individuals – basically a primadonna culture.

If an organization has one level – i.e. it has a flat organizational model, individuals use capability to distinguish themselves. They become more adept at focusing on developing their skills and advertising their capabilities, giving them (at least the successful ones) more clear stature in the company and industry. For companies that require innovation and the circulation of new ideas in their product development operations, this enhances their competitiveness in the market. Additionally, since one’s prestige and stature in the organization becomes driven by their skills, capabilities, and the advertisement of this both internally and externally; these organizations tend to be able to recruit considerable top-notch talent.

Equally, flat organizations are harder to oversee and more complex to maneuver through. They require a broader approach to management as well as a lighter touch so as to not stifle creativity. In a flat organization, the only way to keep a control on direction and activity is through mutual respect and alignment to a common vision. Otherwise, pockets will develop that may have fascinating results, but dissipated strength and local optima will develop. If these are neither harvested nor eliminated, precious resources will be spent without furthering achievement towards the organizational objective. In a research based organization, this is ideal as it allows the individuals (or teams) to explore venues through to their natural conclusion. DEKA’s production of the Segway is a great example of this

Management in a flat organization needs to be done with thorough peer review and mentorship. Everyone, regardless of their seniority should either choose or be assigned a mentor. As individuals gain capability, they may choose their way through continuous learning with different masters – stay with each mentor long enough to gain what they feel as their appropriate level of awareness in a field. As people excel in one direction or another, it is the role of the mentor to encourage the individual to stay with the discipline and continue their journey. Frequently, people will make poor decisions in other’s eyes, but as soon as fences are constructed, hypocrisy becomes established.