June 29, 2015

Coconut headphones

AWA Framework on WhiteboardI have been fairly busy lately speaking on organisational change and agile adoption. Change is happening everywhere. Three weeks ago I was up in Glasgow talking at the university on the AWA framework and how agile methods map to behaviour context. What struck me here as well as elsewhere is that everyone thinks that their organisation is further along the agile journey than they really are.

When I chaired the Agile Project Management Group’s annual round table conference, the same thing struck me with some of the people I spoke to. It is incredibly hard to gauge where you or your organisation is on the developmental journey.

This assumption that you are further along than you are is a symptom of cognitive bias. We only can see to the edge of our own awareness by definition. When something is explained beyond that horizon, we (people in general) map that incomprehensible to something inside our sphere of knowledge to make sense of it. Thus, thinking we already understand it, we convert the new idea, taking on the terms but subscribing old meanings to it.

This is the cargo cult and coconut headphones phenomena that Vince Ryan and David Putman wrote about in the Cutters journal recently. Where companies take on the words and processes of Agile, but actually still continue with the same behaviours and mindset and fail completely to achieve the benefits that Agile was supposed to bring.

Speaking to some of the attendees of the London Scrum User Group event on Nexus, the new Scrum scaling framework from Ken Schwaber, I found the same thing. Individuals are convinced that they really get and understand the later forms of alignment around product and self-management and that they are already dong most of it.

If you look not at the words people say, nor their ability to understand the concepts, but at their behaviours, only then can you understand the true stage of development they are at.

For example, the concept that leadership understands that change is evolutionary. Many managers say they get this and they are already following that idea.

However, if the behaviour is one where they feel there is a specific end point to the change, i.e. if we implement this framework, we will get from A to B and then stop, then this state of development will exhibit itself in certain behaviours. Example of behaviour: They may have implemented a fixed time or budget to make the transformation happen, Another example of behaviour: there is no investment in community because they feel once people are trained, then that part of the machine has been upgraded and there is no need to improve.

Another example. Often, senior managers say their people are motivated, or they have motivation programs already. However, certain behaviours show the real truth.
Example, HR department has a policy of retention in the form of monetary reward. This behaviour shows they are not yet aware of intrinsic motivation and still see people as fungible parts of a machine. From Dan Pink’s work, we can see motivation is made up of purpose, autonomy and mastery. Without this understanding (shown by the HR behaviour) we can not expect the organisation to value communities of practice, alignment around purpose (value) or the motivation behind autonomy and self-management.

If you try to use these tools they will not be appreciated, because the underlying mindset is not ready for them. This leads to frustration, wasted initiatives and money.

The AWA Framework is the mapping of behaviours to organisation change tools and agile frameworks. I will be giving an overview of the organisational change journey we are all on and how Agile maps to various stages. You are welcome to come and learn more on Tuesday night at the AWA monthly free meetup event or on the 2 day training course at the beginning of July in London. Watch out for your own cognitive bias!

Simon Powers
Simon Powers is an Agile Coach specialising in large scale transformations and agile adoption. He has a background in very large enterprise architecture which has led on to organisational design and agile process refinement. Simon is the founder of Adventures with Agile.