No circular wait

Sometimes you find a very unorganised tool landscape at the customer’s that costs the organisation enormous resources on a daily basis and makes proactive work impossible. In particularly financially weak IT organisations, old tools are often held on to for too long; in relatively wealthy IT organisations, tools are purchased first and integration can then take place later.

Often, even essential information is missing in the processes, which would have to be entered twice between the tools or manually reconciled. In particular, things like manual tracking or monitoring are still manageable when there are only a few open tickets, but virtually explode when many incidents have to be processed.

The stories of how exactly these obstacles came about, why adaptation and integration failed, are often different. But what I see in common is that these organisations have learned to wait for each other. For example, an improvement campaign ends with the conclusion that manual processes cannot be replaced at the moment because another division will soon be introducing a new tool.

Or because the service provider will probably be replaced in a year and a half. Then you can still switch off the manual processes. Often there is a wonderful cycle of constant variation in which there are always new reasons to wait.

However, there are always possibilities to mitigate existing shortcomings. Especially if you know your organisation well, you can easily assess what is worth doing. The new HR tool will certainly take months to decide. But modernising the old leave process (on paper) and trying out the new process can be worthwhile.

I can only recommend introducing “No circular wait” as a rule or checkpoint. Nothing should be omitted just because you are waiting for others. In such a case, alternative solutions must be identified. You can always find a small sustainable improvement.

Primarily, small continuous improvements also help immediately. Secondly, they also increase the pressure to gradually get to grips with the big solution, e.g. the permanent and comprehensive replacement of a tool. In my experience, thinking in alternative solutions also changes the culture of becoming more innovative and creative. Let’s make it happen.

Impact Effort Matrix

P.S.: The circular wait solutions often reside in the blue quadrant, the transformation into manageable green solutions is difficult, but can usually be mastered iteratively.

New performance is what we need

I read a comment the other day that in addition to the whole discussion about New Work, there should also be a discussion about New Performance. Or another posting that you have to work besides all the New Work because you get paid for it. Either this is a new narrative to discredit New Work, or it is a misunderstanding. New Work is not an addition or benefit in the form of cosy offices and 4-day weeks.

However, if you are not familiar with New Work and have never met a team that uses these methods to increase efficiency, then I can very well imagine that this impression is likely to arise. New Work is not about performance versus benefits. Professor Peter Kruse once said that self-organisation is the highest form of professionalism. That really emphasises a core aspect of New Work.

For me, it was also quite a learning curve that began in 2016 out of considerations of efficiency in the team. Back then, I was a perfectly ordinary hierarchical team lead in a presales unit. I assigned people to tenders and prioritised their work. If someone fell ill, I had to organise a replacement. Back then, I couldn’t imagine what the team would look like after a few years.

Developing lean-agile methods with the team and increasing diversity in the team was a long journey with many setbacks and moments when I wanted to give up. But there were also moments when team members encouraged me. I remember small moments of triumph and a great moment of happiness after about 3 years.

It was a summer’s day when a colleague called me to say there was a new tender and she just wanted to inform me. She was obviously acting without a mandate. What she had done was an enormous organisational feat, as all the teams had a heavy workload. I called everyone involved and asked if they were in agreement, and they all assured me in unison that we could handle it.

At that time, we were managing around twice as much work as three years before. With good maturity in self-organisation, better methods of our own, less waste in the system, etc. By the way, we were also able to generate twice as much revenue in our division as three years previously. That is New Work.

New Work makes people happy because they are valued as a whole person with all their skills. Because you can achieve things in a team that you would never have managed on your own. Because you get inspiration and can contribute more intensively than you could have imagined last week, and much more too.

Sofas, table football, punching bags, fitness studio etc. are all nice and well, but have little to do with New Work. Such benefits are perhaps even better suited to no-compromise management. In this case, performance is more of a duty that generates output and not outcome.

Kran Hamburg Fabrik

Breaking the bubble with books

With moderate success, I’ve been trying for a few weeks now to reduce the amount of time I spend looking at my mobile phone. For one thing, the time there is usually not well invested, and for another, it’s good to glance up in the air for a moment. Social media tries to make you dependent with all kinds of tricks, which is perfectly fine in terms of the providers’ business value, but it doesn’t focus on what’s good for me.

Short, irrelevant chunks of information that suit my bubble have priority. If a longer story over 2 pages pops up, you are so distrustful thanks to years of clickbait advertising that you skip ahead after just a few sentences. Or, oh, the queue at the checkout is quick today, it’s my turn and I put the mobile back in my pocket.

Many characteristics are reminiscent of the early days of music streaming services, where users would switch tracks after less than 20 seconds. Artists and the industry responded with short, conformist, unthrilling new tracks. An hour of music scrolling and you’re mentally cooked. Many put down the streaming player and reacquainted themselves with the record player and vinyl.

In the pandemic, our “pub reading”-team has started a book debate podcast for which I “have to” read books that would otherwise never make it onto my reading list. Purely because of the genre. Of course, I also suggested books to the podcast team that they would never have read otherwise. For example, on the topic of the climate crisis, we went on to read two opposing books.

After some time, this interested me so much that I am now virtually on the hunt for books that take me into unknown or opposing spheres. They have to be well written and interesting, but the reading may also be demanding because the author has a very contrary opinion.

My hope is that books and audio books will perhaps become something like the long-playing records of the social media age. Simply immerse yourself in another world for an hour or more, learn something new, gain insights into other people’s minds and, last but not least, be well entertained.

I’m closing this post with less than 2,500 characters so that you’ll be served it often 😉

P.S.: Sadly the podcast “4zu1” of Kneipenlesung is in German only.

Breaking the bubble with books

Can you measure mess?

I frequently come across tenders whose aim is to standardise an existing, historically grown service. Until now, this service has been provided in the most diverse variations and qualities by a wide variety of people. After several company mergers, local IT in the countries, different cost centres and various internal customers, things can get quite confusing.

Many consultants recommend in such a situation that you only have to describe exactly what kind of service you need and demand corresponding service level targets from the providers. In many cases, this is an almost impossible task. The very fact that the organisation has to cope with different models in different business units. Makes it difficult to define the right service.

Such tenders are usually very obvious. When reviewing them, it is noticeable that the numbers do not match and that the required service levels are usually too high and hence too expensive. In further communication, the figures on the client side are typically corrected every few weeks, but remain unsatisfactory until the end.

I myself worked on the client side for several years and reluctantly recall the simplifications of central stakeholders with the blunt statement: “What’s so difficult about that?” I would like to give an answer to this. A structure that has grown over years without standardisation with hundreds of different user groups is complex, perhaps even chaotic. It is more than complicated and cannot be analysed adequately in a short time.

With the help of Cynefin, I would analyse the environment and instead of a simple answer, I would take a complex problem, for example, and respond with Probing -> Sensing -> Acting (Emerging Practice). What does this mean for a tender? For example, choose an adaptive tendering method or, if you want to keep it traditional, learn and standardise in phases using a framework contract.

If you start from the Cynefin categories and choose a simpler context than is actually given, you have fewer steering means than needed. Ashby’s law states that the variety of the control system must be at least as large as the variety of perturbations that occur in order to carry out control. In other words, category errors are high risk, intentional category errors are gambling.

And that is precisely my observation in such circumstances.

Cargo Cult

On occasion, you meet companies that outwardly claim to be agile, but on closer inspection have hardly developed or want to develop an agile culture. Agile consultants use the term cargocult for this, when organisations introduce agile methods without any utility value, but rather for symbolic reasons.

Cargocult is originated as a religious movement on some Pacific islands, where for example parts of airports are replicated out of wood and the activities of an airport operation are symbolically imitated to bring about the return of the ancestors who will bring cargo. Cargo of the kind that American troops brought to the islands in masses during the Second World War.

In my practice, the vast majority of “Cargocult” cases in companies are different. In one situation, I saw that agile methods were introduced into IT. The employees were told about this literally overnight, had no training whatsoever, but were supposed to convert all ongoing projects to agile ways of working. As it was a hierarchically managed company, this was also applied to most of the ongoing projects. The management announced after 4 weeks that they were more agile and better than the industry leaders.

The change to symbolic agile working led to significant delays in all projects. There was puzzling and interpretation by project managers on agile methods, very often with a simple misattribution like: Definition-of-Done is our old familiar acceptance protocol after all. Astonishing nonsense arose, even repressions were to be enforced under the name of agility.

The nightmare story ended after 9 months, with the management lecturing about the inadequacies of agile methods. I was approached during and after this large-scale experiment, I talked to the people. The vast majority suffered from this nonsense. A few have always been politically correct and found all things proper.

It was clear to the majority after a short time that this way of working has nothing to do with agility. Their emerging resistance eventually led to the official termination of the whole exercise. But what about the supporters, did they believe in a cargocult? I rather suspect they wanted to decorate themselves with agile clothes. They wanted to tell the world that they were now also an agile organisation. Inside, everything should remain as hierarchical as possible.

It seems reasonable to conclude that they wanted to appear modern and were not at all serious about it. It’s more like a kind of symbolic agile work to pretend something to the management and the outside world. For me, the term Potemkin villages is more appropriate, as no one expects agile culture to fall from the sky at one time or another.

“New Work” Potemkin villages are, obviously, a pointless as anything. In all the examples I know, they don’t do any permanent damage, the employees are familiar with such nonsense. A few young employees will leave in the short term. By the way, these companies also introduce legally necessary framework regulations in this way. These usually end up in a corporate department, where there are always designated ISO officers.

So the question remains: why do they do this? I spoke with HR colleagues who are usually appointed to carry out such “new work” culture changes. They were annoyed by such projects, there is almost always a lack of support, resources and budget in their companies. A transparent communication about which goals could actually be achieved with the far too scarce resources never existed in their companies.

It would be nice if anyone would say. We just want to have that written outside on the door because everyone is doing it the same way these days. However, that’s not the case…

Oil tanker blurred photo in the sea