Thursday, October 9, 2008

Don't create a terrorist...

Peter Stevens over at Scrum Breakfast had an interesting article about questions to ask your CEO about agile. The idea is in line with items I've pointed to previously around explaining agile, specifically Mike Cottmeyer's elevator speech used to grab a CEO's attention.

The item in his post that caught my attention though was around the topic of being "ambushed" which he described as:
... a peer (i.e. rival in the company) learned bad news about your project before you did and surprised you with it in meeting in front of all your peers. Very embarrassing. Operational staff often learns about an ambush through a very heated discussion with said top manager after the fact.
This reminded me greatly of something a prior (non-agile) mentor shared with me about being a good PM and dealing with a "terrorist".

A terrorist is someone who doesn't believe in the same side of a debate or cause as you. Typically it is cultural or political. They hide in the shadows. They wait to strike. (If we exclude the recent surge in suicide attacks, ) terrorism was originally an attack from someone that was in hiding to make a point (and hope to make it again and again until they win). Typically, a terrorist fought this way because they were in the minority in that situation and knew they might lose their cause if they fight out in the open.

You could easily imagine this general description of a terrorist as the group behind any number of bombs left outside any embassy... but you could also easily envision this terrorist as a co-worker that agrees with you in meetings with many peers but soon after seeks out a higher manager to undermine everything that has been said and done in that meeting.

Agile is a cultural change. On some level it requires a company to undergo political or organizational change. It's not uncommon to find people that can't fit within an agile culture. These people can quickly hide once they realize they are outnumbered by the peers around them that embrace agile with enthusiasm. You need to be aware of these people when you are driving agile coaching and transitions. One of my favorite quotes is from J.B. Rainsberger who says... "don't inflict change". Tying this to my other mentor, I believe that if you do inflict change, you are at risk for "creating a terrorist" in your organization. To Peter's point, this will lead to you being "ambushed".

My old mentor also said that once you create a terrorist, it takes a long time to overcome that problem. Sounds a lot like that Bin Laden problem, doesn't it.

Being a good diplomat and reaching out to build relationships with people that are least aligned with your intentions is a good way to create respect across areas of disagreement. I believe it is also imperative to dealing with the above issues. Whether you are driving agile changes, or any other changes... this is something I've found valuable to carry in the back of my mind.

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