Jiri Lundak

Courageously “Kicking Dead Weight”

In Agile, Leadership, Scrum Agile, Team, Values on March 31, 2013 at 2:22 am

This is the first installment of a small series on trimming away fat, that inhibits organizations in realizing full potential, when trying to adopt Agile ways.

First let me make one thing clear: this is also about one value, that often seems to fall by the wayside. I am talking about courage. People tend to minimize the impact agility has on their organization. This is a natural reaction, because we have all the inclination to self-protect, our position, our job, etc. On the other hand we – as Agile change agents – want to maximize the impact of agility in the organization. So, to take action, we must go against our natural inclination. And this is really hard… but usually worth the effort.

“Kicking dead weight” or getting rid of processes, ceremonies, activities and even people, that do not contribute to our goals, is very hard to do, but extremely necessary. It might even be very urgent in your project.

Years of experience show me, that many organizations (especially larger ones) have lost control of their appetite (for “resources”, for regulation and for simultaneously ongoing projects). How comes?

They take on more projects than they can handle. They add external people, because they have not enough themselves. They are not able to control this much people, so they add rules. They have not enough people that check compliance with the rules, so they add more people, making projects heavier and more complex. Then the cycle starts again.

Once people are hired, processes are installed and rules are established, getting rid of them is seen as daunting at best and impossible in all other cases. Why is this so hard? Because many people contribute to the problem (sometimes unknowingly) and only few, if any, try to solve it. Many people joining the company just take existing rules and behaviors as unchangeable company policy and have usually not the courage and/or time to act on it.

Now, let us focus on the people problem. How can we get on top of it?

Here are some basic principles, that come to mind:

  • Think twice about who you hire: First think “Do we really need to fill that position?”, then “Can we just shift forces internally?”, and if you really need to hire somebody “Has this person really the skills to help us?”. Choose wisely with highest possible standards. Put candidates to the test. Do not just let HR decide. Make your teams choose the people they want to work with.
  • If possible, never hire external people: If possible to not overcommit in the number of project you staff can handle. When hiring external experts, you often end up devaluating your own people. The simply do not get any chance to build up new skills. This is a death spiral, leading to even more dependency on exteral help. And what is worse, you even loose the ability to judge the goodness of the external people's work.
  • If you have to hire external experts: Do not create a Troian horse, where the providing company can send you anybody they like. Treat external people like your internal ones. Evaluate them with the same rigour and diligence as you would when hiring for a top notch permanent position. When hiring them, do it only for a limited period of time. Make it paramount, that they teach your own people how to do the job well. It is better to give the complete project outside or buying an off-the-shelf product, than having a pseudo-internal project.
  • People just do not cut it: If you have people on your team, that do not solve problems, but – on the contrary – often contribute to create them, then do not hesitate to try to help them. If they live not up to the chance, remove them. How do you know someone, who does not contribute? If you collaborate closely with your team, you will know. Else ask the team. They know the good people. External people, that are of no help, should be immediately removed.

I know this might sound hard, but it is the only way to improve things. But remember: it takes courage. You need courage to go counter useless policies within you company. You need courage to face a person, that you need to correct or even remove.

In the next installment we will talk about trimming processes.

 

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