From time to time we might end up with policies and ways of working that just seems like it’s “the way we do things here”. It can be tooling, procedures and even contractual policies but also many of the practices that we take for granted in agile and lean software development; stand ups, boards or user stories.
I’ve found that thinking outside of the context that we have created for ourselves is often very hard, and I am the first one to default to things that worked for me before.
In this post I wanted to introduce you to two questions and thoughts that
helped me pushed me out of my comfort zone and let me ponder;
Is this really important? For who?
A couple of months ago I had an opportunity to speak at the inaugural Agile Islands. Among the other speakers was Leif Östling, long time CEO of Scania. It was super interesting to hear a lean-master on the C-level of management speak.
One of the quotes that stood out for me was:
Our customer doesn’t care how we are organised.
No exactly. They want to use our product or service - but couldn’t care less about how we are organised internally.
It’s like me and computers - I want to use them but have never, on purpose, opened one up. I’m just interested in the service my computer provides to me - couldn’t care less how it moves stuff between the RAM and disk. For example.
You can test this yourself for just about any product you buy - i’m betting you either don’t know or don’t care how their departments are working together, if they are “agile” or not, or that the roles in their organisation are well-defined.
Speaking of roles, about a year ago I happen to blurt out the following in a meeting when I got tired about debating if a certain task fell within the boundaries of one role or another:
You know what? [Competitor X] doesn’t care if our roles are well-defined or not.
That was not very nice of course. But true nonetheless.
In fact, I reckon that anything we do to slow down flow and innovation in our organisation would be greeted with open arms and loud applauds from our competitors.
Oh? You are spending months writing specifications before you start developing? Thanks a bunch, guys!
Really - you’re releasing only 4 times a week? Really - you shouldn’t have.
What’s that? Your complicated integrations and service bus software slows down and hinders innovation in your product development. Great - keep doing that!
What good is this?
Very often when you start to move towards a flow-oriented approach a la lean or agile you will run into practices, policies and rules that doesn’t work when you’re aiming for flow.
But often these practices are so homegrown that it feels like natural laws that cannot be broken or questioned even. If you do question them you can get answers like “well, but we are a big concern - that is how it has to work”, “going that fast is not useful for us” or my favourite “Well that might work in a small start up but this is a little bit more complicated”.
By looking at yourself from the outside in we can evaluate the value of a policy or practice:
- Will our customer be more happy by us doing this? Do they even care?
- What would our competitors say? Will this put us ahead or behind them?
Even if our customers hate it and our competetitors love it, we still (?!) might decided to continue doing it, for whatever reason. But now at leas that is a conscious decision and one that we have to justify with some real value above and beyond the downside from a customer and competitor perspective.
- All our work needs to be followed up in a time reporting system
- Does our customers care? No - not one bit
- Does it make our competitors happy? Yes sir - whatever holds you back from working on the real thing is great for them
- Should we still do it? Maybe, if we think that’s the best way to track cost
- A corporate decision has been done to use tools and platforms from [vendor X]
- Does our customer care? Absolutely not - please don’t bore me
- Does it make our competitors happy? Yes - if that means that you are hindered from choosing the right tool for the right job, that would be awesome
- Should we still do it? Sure - if we can show that the value of having everyone on the same platform is greater than coming behind our competitors that can change fast, and something that our customers doesn’t care about
In thinking about this I’ve come to realise that our customers care about very few things around how we work and make our products. The competitors are of course happy if those choices puts us in a worse place than them.
We should at least weigh those two perspectives in, when evaluating our choices to become better.