It's not the Manager, Stupid!

There is not only plenty of talk about corporate culture. Another beloved target when talking about grievances in organizations are managers. This is not very surprising, since by nature they hold exposed roles and have great impact on the organization and its members. Additionally you will easily find flaws in every single manager, which makes him an easy target.

Bad news here: The manager is not the problem! The manager is a human individual like you and me. Of course he has his mistakes. As you and I have, too. Only do this mistakes have a much greater impact than do those of your fellow workers.

The real problem is, that the system he works in allows his errors to have such an enormous effect. There are only few mechanisms to mitigate bad decisions met by individual managers. Besides this many organizations do not have working mechanisms to cope with individuals not suitable for such a position (if they once have the position). Such mechanisms (for coping with organizational dept) are certainly a key success factor for sustainable successful organizations.


Organizational Dept

In the field of software development, there is a metaphor called "technical dept".  In short, this metaphor says that while you are programming you almost always build up dept. Dept in this case means that your code base decreases in quality over time. You will have to invest time and work to amortize this dept. If you do not amortize your dept, interests will take effect. Thus, as with regular dept, you will always be better off to amortize the dept as soon as possible. Otherwise compound interest will be the effect and at the end you will pay heavily - if you are able to pay back at all anymore.

Speaking about Agile transformations there is another kind of dept. I would call it "organizational dept". It is based on the same concept as technical dept but on an organizational level. As your organization grows, you will take hundreds of decisions. Not all of them will be perfect and thus, you will (with every decision) increase the organizational dept. How does organizational dept look like?

There are multiple instances of organizational dept. Just to mention a few:
As with technical dept, if you do not regularly and fastly cope with organizational dept, interests will occure and over time compound interests will make your dept almost unbearable. At some point you might not be able to pay back at all anymore! Speaking of technical dept, the consequence for a software system is then to be displaced by a new system. What do you think will be the consequence for a company if you get into this state with organizational dept...? I think, we all know!

This is one point why Agile is so successful. Agile folks generally reject living with dept and always try to pay back as soon as possible. The incarnation of this attitude is e.g. the retrospective in Scrum and the focus on continuous improvement and impediments in all Agile methodologies.

Update: Sven Winkler picked up the idea of organizational dept on Boris Glogers Blog and adds some interesing points of view.


It's not the Culture, Stupid!

In many Agile transformations there seems to be an issue with corporate culture. People in the company often think and say, that the current culture is not compatible with Agile and the culture would have to change.

Values often mentioned in this context are the Scrum values:

  • Commitment
  • Openness
  • Focus
  • Respect
  • Courage

I do only have one issue with this. Try the following: Take this values and present them to some randomly selected persons in your company. Ask everybody the following question: "How important are these values to you and are they part of your set of values?". I made the experience, that every single person will find these values to be important and most consider them part of their individual set of values. How then is it possible, that the corporate culture seems to be a problem?

To answer this question try another exercise: Again take the above mentioned values and show them to some persons and ask them the following question: "How much do you think do people in your close environment live these values?". You might be supprised, that the results will now be much worse than the results of the first question.

Find the explanation for the observed gap and you will probably be a huge step further in your Agile transformation. You can probably do this just by making the gap transparent and asking the people for an explanation. Eventually a retrospective may be a good place to do this.