Wednesday, September 28, 2011

“People Don’t Shop for Organizational Change”

I was talking about coaching experiences yesterday with Skip Angel.  I said that I try to get management who feel they want to implement Agile practices to understand that, before too long, they will need to face organizational, not just team practice, changes.  At one point in our discussion, Skip said the phrase that is the title of this blog and he is quite right. When management starts to look for improvements in their product development efforts, they usually do not put out RFPs for organizational change.  Someone normally decides, based on peer discussion or reading, that some method, technique, practice, etc. seems to be working for some other folks and that it might be what they need, so they ask for something along those lines.  Something like Agile, for example.

In this regard, Agile “transformations” are no different than the organizational efforts in the 80s and 90s to implement ISO 9001, CMM, ITIL, COBIT, etc.  That is, small changes at individual or team levels are possible, but the real benefit of pursuing any of these is to look at their impact organizationally.  Even when companies do this, there seems to be the feeling that the desired improvement will occur with minimal impact, i.e., with little actual change required.

This usually results in attempts to immediately “tailor” the chosen approach and produce a “hybrid” version of what has been selected.  The reasons for this are varied, but seem to boil down to organizational (un)readiness for the change the approach asks be pursued when it expands beyond team/functional area impacts.  This, in turn, is often manifested by team level training that focuses on practices and techniques without conveying what I believe to be an understanding of the values and principles behind the practices.  The resulting tailoring and hybrid practices can then miss the point of the originally recommended practices, often losing the impact intended.  At some point, people begin to wonder why the desired improvements are not happening or happening fast enough or at the level of impact desired/expected.

I think one reason organizations ending up in this situation is that they, indeed, didn’t start out “shopping for organizational change.”


  1. Big +1 on me! When I read "Organizational change", I'm mentally substituting "Cultural change". It took me a few years of trying to help organizations transition to agile to understand that I can teach process and practices pretty easily, but it's really hard to 'teach' cultural change.

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