How we’ve always done it

How many times have you sat in a meeting where the final answer to why something is being done a particular way is ‘That’s how we’ve always done it’? Every time I hear this statement I’m reminded of a story that was related to me some time ago.

A number of monkeys are put in an enclosure by a group of scientists. In the centre of the cage, attached to the roof by a rope, hangs a banana. Looking ripe and delicious, it’s too much for the monkeys to resist. As soon as the first monkey reaches for it, all five are sprayed with freezing cold water causing them to rapidly retreat. Each time one of them approaches the banana, all five are subjected to the same drenching. Very quickly the group learns not to reach for the banana.

After some time, the scientists replace one of the monkeys with a new monkey. The new entrant, unaware of the consequences starts to move towards the banana. It is immediately attacked by the other four, and continues to be attacked until it two no longer approaches the banana.

Over time, the scientists continue to replace the monkeys one at a time until eventually all of the monkeys have been replaced. Each new monkey coming into the enclosure sees the banana, each time they make a move towards it, each time the other monkeys attack until it too learns not to approach the banana.

Whilst the attacks continue for every new monkey, none of the original monkeys remain in the enclosure; none of the current group have ever been hosed down and none actually know why they need to attack when the banana is approached.

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Blockers and Priority

One particularly large client I recently dealt with was struggling to get their teams to meet their delivery commitments. It appeared that in every sprint they lost significant time to blockers, in some cases causing them to miss a commitment by as much as 50%.

This was a large project spanning multiple teams, of the order of about 800 people in total across development, test, product owners etc., with an estimated duration of more than two years. The impact of a consistent 50% delivery rate would literally break the budget, the customer, my client and probably the project.

A little analysis identified the problem to be rooted in the silos into which the teams were organised. In this instance, the silos were pretty rigid with poor communications between the teams. That lack of communication fostered an environment where blockers could emerge and live for extended periods of time.

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Slow Agile Project

I recently delivered my ‘Introduction to Agile’ presentation to a client that is in the process of transforming from a very structured SDLC / Waterfall model to Agile, specifically Scrum.

The presentation is deliberately short; it is intended to spark conversations and questions rather than a detailed workshop on agile practices and processes.

The company in question has had some challenges in transitioning to agile, which is why I got a call to come in and help. I often use the introduction presentation as a tool to explore where there may be challenges. It has the extraordinary effect of opening people up, revealing numerous avenues to be explored.

On this occasion, one of the comments that came up completely took me by surprise.

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Making Change Stick

The only constant is change

In the technology world we’re well used to the shifting sands that epitomise the environment, we’ve always lived with change and embrace it with a fair degree of gusto. In other industries, ones that may not have had a traditional basis in technology, their adoption rates have historically been a bit more ‘pedestrian’. But this world is waking up fast to their need to adapt and change, but in the awakening they are realising that the gap between their ambition and their ability to adapt can range from a crack to a chasm. There are more than enough challenges when determining the nature of the change that an organisation needs to adopt to meet the new opportunities without having to worry whether those changes will actually stick.

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