Agile Transformations fail because of FEAR…

April 2, 2010 CollabNet VersionOne

Have you heard this before? Too often I hear folks generalizing about why people, especially managers, don’t want to change.  That generalization is fear.  In an agile transformation, what do managers fear?  Well if they are micro, command-and-control managers, that is pretty obvious: losing control.

However, I believe that most competent managers / business people will face the fear of change if there is a reward for doing so.

Perhap when looking at the impediments to an agile adoption we need to take a different perspective beyond just fear, because not everyone is patently afraid of change.  Let’s take a more fundamental perspective. Something more akin to Pavlov’s basic theory of stimulus-response encapsulated in his work on classical conditioning.

If you can, look at how management is compensated in your company. After 25 years in the software industry I’ve been shocked at how often management’s stimuli (bonuses) are tied to meeting schedules and budgets, not to the delivery of value and quality. This frequently results in a response counter to change.

In my opinion, this is based on an over-arching human psychological challenge that reaches beyond just work… The illusion of control! We can’t control even what goes on in our own bodies, let alone how a group of people will interact and what exactly they will produce and when, yet compensation is too often based on this.

I lived too long in this type of management environment, and when I finally got to the level (VP / CTO) where I could do something about it, I did. I made sure that my team was compensated for the “right things” (from an agile perspective) and allowed the team to decide how to deliver value / quality. It’s amazing how open to change a group can be when they are self-managed and impose it on themselves to meet a clear objective to realize a desired reward.

Bottom line, look beyond the generalized excuse of fear and consider providing stimuli that will encourage change when planning an agile transformation.  With respect to management, how bonuses are structured can be a good place to look.

Thoughts?  Comments?

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