Chapter 7 Summary: Work Smarter

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What is DevOps?

What is DevOps?

DevOps is the continuous delivery of prioritised value to an organisation. For more click here.

Atlassian Fastrack

This is a summary of the seventh chapter of a book Daysha DevOps published titled 1Faat (one feature at a time). The book is an ongoing summation of our consultants' experience as they help our clients to transform digitally.

When an organization seeks to improve its operational performance, internal processes often act as impediments, causing delays and hindering decision-making. The transition from conceptualizing an idea to implementing smarter practices can be delayed if the appetite for change has been discouraged through in house cultures and ‘thats not how we do things around here’ mentality.

Business professionals frequently adhere to established processes and standard operating procedures, even when presented with the opportunity to start again with a clean slate. The resistance to challenging the status quo is rooted in the comfort of familiarity. Despite the logical approach of minimizing effort and costs to optimize profit, individuals tend to stick to traditional methods which require less intellectual rigour.

When confronted with new tasks, managers typically default to existing organizational structures, rules, and processes that their teams are accustomed to. The integration of “new work” into Business As Usual (BAU) often involves treating it as a project. A team, often composed of subject matter experts and led by a project manager, is assembled for a temporary period to develop the new work. Subsequently, the project is handed back to the business for day-to-day operations.

In this approach, “new work” is molded to fit within the existing BAU framework, as the project team’s endpoint is the incorporation of the new work into regular operations. While this strategy is not inherently flawed, it may be appropriate only if the new work closely resembles older tasks, thereby making the existing organizational structure valid.

However, when “new work” represents a fundamental departure, for example, allowing for parallel or iterative task execution, attempting to fit these innovative processes into older structures leads to inefficiencies. The development of responsive software, exemplified by the concept of 1FaaT™ to adapt to market changes differs significantly from traditional work methods. The challenge lies in facilitating people to realise that the status quo is no longer a place of comfort,

Historically, work delivery in organizations followed a sequential task management approach, where Task B couldn’t start until Task A was completed. This task sequencing influenced organizational structures, with functions segregated into distinct silos based on skill types and task dependencies. Frederick Taylor introduced this model in the 1920s, and even though Taylor’s insights are a century old, they persist. The question arises: Why?

The persistence of these structures and processes is not limited to organizational aspects; governing rules are also carried forward and this can include fostering minimal cooperation with colleagues in a different department, neglecting or shooting messengers with bad news, and imposing severe consequences for failure. There is an underlying assumption that past success will guarantee future success, and any change poses an unnecessary risk.

In organizations driven by power and strict rules, according to Westrum, novelty is either suppressed or results in problems. In our experience, an even more significant issue is that change is often imposed from the top down through projects. As we will explore, true empowerment occurs when individuals discover better ways of working for themselves. Leaders who enforce change without embodying it risk losing credibility, as authenticity proves more influential than authority in the long run.

Change itself is inherently stressful. When leaders solely drive change from the top down, fatigue sets in. Change fatigue, in particular, emerges when individuals are tasked with their day-to-day responsibilities (BAU) along with additional change-related tasks. Work harder and longer hours with more demanding tasks. It just wont work.

When leaders advocate for change but fail to embody it, a rift develops between leaders and teams, hindering open dialogue and robust debates about defining excellence. In rigid organizations, the cumulative impact of previous change initiatives leaves lasting scars that can become insurmountable. The outcome ranges from apathy in the worst cases to a faint hope that “This is our last change” in the best cases.

Leaders who drive change exclusively through projects perceive it as an intermittent process with distinct start and end points. However, change should be a constant, mirroring the continuous evolution of markets. Project-driven change often falls short in our experience. Organizations attempting to enforce top-down change through projects encounter inefficiencies, prolonged wait times, and unfortunately, demoralized individuals.

To steer an organization away from the practice of forcing new work into existing structures, it’s crucial to present a viable alternative that not only avoids undermining current practices but also unequivocally demonstrates that new approaches are more efficient and foster a collaborative and productive team environment. The introduction of these new methods should energize individuals and represent a significant improvement without disregarding the achievements of the past.

A proven approach to do this is rooted in science work management and is particularly suitable for engaging both business and IT teams. Scientific work involves a series of experiments aimed at determining the viability of a new approach. Successful experiments are then operationalized through a sequence of pilots that scale up as the organization absorbs further insights. A notable example is the pharmaceutical drug production process, starting with blue-sky research to discover potential remedies based on hypotheses.

In this method, Subject Matter Experts validate the hypothesis through small-scale experiments in a laboratory, subsequently scaling up for clinical trials and production. This iterative pilot process continues, with each phase building on lessons learned, ensuring alignment with demand and realizing value from the product.

These scientific work management principles can be applied to organizational tasks in a discovery mode, demonstrating that different ways of working can be more efficient. This involves exploring unfamiliar processes and initially uncomfortable approaches, facilitated by a change expert leading a team of subject matter experts to prove a hypothesis. This discovery work serves as a form of feasibility study, conducted within a defined timeframe, and is considered successful only if quantifiable business value can be identified for delivery through these new ways of working. This approach works well in transitioning from Waterfall to Agile ways of working as the team itself is defining the new approach – facilitated by a change expert.

There’s a unique wisdom derived from personal discovery. Individuals actively participate in implementing change when they are involved in uncovering, comprehending, and acknowledging issues within processes. Agile (Scrum) values are core to this change process and form the basis of a contract between team members. Agile values are:

Openness
Respect
Courage
Focus
Commitment

Common sense (our addition)

So much for theory – how does this work in practice. Team members will actually hold each other accountable for upholding the agreed-upon values. The team’s activities are transparent, not only to its members but also to any colleagues interested in attending the weekly ‘show and tell’ or dropping in on the whiteboard sessions. We need to have the new team and its way of working located centrally as a lighthouse in our office so that we enable individuals from outside the discovery team to vicariously experience the process of change.

Embracing change becomes more easy when one can observe and engage with tangible aspects within a familiar context. Once a group recognizes that their current processes are less efficient and more frustrating compared to Agile alternatives, they are likely to be convinced.

Numerous organizations worldwide have adopted Agile methodologies and leveraged discovery as a strategy for introducing innovative work approaches. Individuals often perceive change based on their unique perspectives. Business professionals tend to view it within the context of customer needs, while IT experts may focus on software tools and automation. It’s crucial for your team to cultivate a can-do attitude, share a common purpose, and use a unified language centered around customer value.

In many cases, organizations we consult possess a small group of knowledgeable individuals who comprehend their business processes and technology architecture, recognizing areas of improvement. Effective leaders identify these individuals, acknowledging their moral authority even if it’s not reflected in the formal hierarchy. While not all may be suitable for discovery or pilot initiatives, their inclusion, if they are good team players, is recommended. If not, finding ways to incorporate their ideas and garner their support is essential. Using lead and cycle time as a metric is often beneficial, as it allows both business and technology team members to connect with the value concept and move away from less meaningful silo metrics. Lead time, in this context, refers to the duration it takes for a business idea to generate value through technology. Cycle time is the duration from agreed backlog to production/value.

To initiate change, the advice is to start small and think big. Pilots should seamlessly transition into more extended product teams. Individuals from initial pilots hold the potential to become integral members of newly forming teams, acting as change agents. These individuals, familiar with the context and culture, prove to be the most effective change agents, surpassing the understanding of any third party.

The scope of activities for both discovery and pilot phases is crucial. It’s advisable to confine the pilot’s focus to subjects or areas of the business that are easily accessible and comprehensible to all team members. Running a successful pilot hinges on achieving the right equilibrium. If the challenges are too formidable, there’s an increased risk that the pilot may encounter setbacks and fail to garner support.

Conversely, if it’s too simplistic, there’s a risk that the pilot may lack credibility. Above all, the pilot must generate tangible value. Recruiting individuals for these new processes and work methods can be challenging. However, if it’s evident that those who participated in early pilots are being promoted and fairly compensated, it becomes easier to find volunteers. Clearly defining and making visible new career paths stemming from these initiatives is essential for everyone in the organization to comprehend and embrace.

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