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@MicroservicesE Blog: Book Review

Book Review: The Agile Culture

Leading through Trust and Ownership

I wish this book would have been around a few years ago. At the time I was trying to convince a manager for several months that the top-down command and control model no longer works. The evidence was not difficult to come up with, you just had to take a look at the last 4 to 6 projects they ran, and the results spoke for themselves.

The really bad part was that it was a completely predictable environment. Orders came from the top to management and down to the worker bees. The projects were always over budget, missed delivery dates, and delivered buggy partially completed products. If you were lucky you got something close to what the business asked for, but sometimes it just didn't work at all, or was so far away from meeting their needs it wasn't usable. Process makes for a predictable outcome, and the top-down command and control style they used, created the same result every time.

That was the bad part, the sad part was everyone in IT knew what was going to happen, but they had no choice but to play along. The business being convinced IT was just a business expense, and not a strategic partner, they just thought this is how it is working with IT. Expensive and you get very little for your money.

This is a very archaic way of thinking and is usually found in businesses over 70 years old. They still don't understand, that in today's world, many companies of any decent size are just an IT company that specializes in a certain type of business. IT is the life line to their customers. People pick up a phone to order a product, but not by making a phone call to their favorite salesman, they use the mobile application your company provides. Don't have one? I guess the order wasn't going to your company then.

As I said above, in these companies you will find the mindset that the business is IT's customer. Instead of a partnership with the goal of meeting the actual customer's needs, the command and control mindset is built into their relationship creating a lot of dysfunction. This is a higher level example of an entire department having no trust from the business unit and no ownership of their projects. This has devastated the morale in IT and without big changes, it won't get better.

In these archaic thinking companies you find very little trust and ownership in all their departments. I see a lot of them today suffering terribly, but insisting on staying in denial. They just won't give up on the mantra- This is how we have always done it, and doing it this way is what got to where we are today. They just don't have a realistic view of where they really are today, and if you don't know where you are today, you sure as heck can't decide where you want to be tomorrow.

This book provides a way out of the anguish that companies like I described above are in. Below are the chapters the book contains-

Chapter 1. Unleashing Talent
Chapter 2. Trust and Ownership
Chapter 3. Building Trust and Ownership
Chapter 4. Trust Tools
Chapter 5. Ownership Tools
Chapter 6. Business Alignment Tools
Chapter 7. Dealing Honestly with Ambiguity
Chapter 8. Tools to Deal with Walls
Chapter 9. Metrics
Chapter 10. Case Study
Appendix A. Quick Reference Guide
Appendix B. Trust-Ownership Assessment
Appendix C. Collaboration Process
Appendix D. Collaborating with Non-Collaborators Worksheet
Appendix E. What to Do about Metrics

I love that this book pushes for transparency by accepting and dealing with the fact that we work in an environment of low certainty and high ambiguity. One of the best things about this book is that when there is an Elephant in the room, they don't just point at it and say "there is an Elephant in the room", they walk you over to it and let it trunk slap you a few times.

My daughter had a habit of striking up a conversation in the middle of her teacher's lectures. She was constantly bringing home notes from the teacher throughout second-grade asking for our help making her understand she cannot speak while the teacher is speaking.

Third grade rolled around and we were at the point of having our first parent teacher conference. I had received no notes asking to help my daughter not to hold mini fashion classes while the teacher was lecturing. Amazingly the meeting went great. My daughter was being a model student. This repeated during the second teacher conference of the year.

Then the third one came. I went in and sat down smiled and said hello to her teacher. Right before my eyes I saw her smile fade away into a twisted sick looking grin, her eyes bulged, and I swear I thought I saw her hair fly out from her skull as she screamed "You have got to do some thing about your daughter!!! I need help!!!". My first thought was,you certainly do need 'help'.

She proceeded to rant on and on about how my daughter won't stop talking in class, and just ignores the teacher when she asks her to stop, along with a dozen other things. I asked her why she told me she was doing great and was well behaved in the first two meetings. She said she is a believer in tolerance. I didn't get it. She explained that she believes every child given enough time will choose to do the right thing and the teacher of today tolerates misbehavior until the child changes.

I won't tell you what I wanted to say, but I did say "well apparently that's not going to good for you. Can I ask why the teacher of today thinks their only role is to regurgitate the curriculum and not teach children the difference between right and wrong behavior? " I thanked her for letting my daughter get all her little girl chatter, and back talking out during class, because of that, she had been great at home.

This teacher attempted this year after year, and year after year it failed. That is a perfect example of complete trust in someone who just didn't have the capacity to understand how to take ownership of their actions. I see this all time. Leaders trusting the same people over and over again and those people failing to deliver over and over again. So what happened. The same thing that happens at companies, complete 100% command and control kicked in. My daughter couldn't sneeze the rest of the year without being written up.

It all boils down to, change, hope, and insanity. You hope the next time will be different, but you refuse to change anything in your environment. It is called insanity. As Einstein put it- insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

One of the things I would have like to see is a little more dealing with the team member that refuses to update their skill set in order to be more effective, and have no interest in taking ownership. The book touches on helping members decide to leave, and asking them to leave, but that is not an option for these individuals. They themselves, along with their managers, and the majority of the company believe they've paid their dues. Most have over 25 years of service and are headed towards the day they can start using their pension.

This can be a very big problem in companies that have a great retention rate. Many of the company's heroes from the mainframe days are still occupying seats with their same skill sets. Some have moved on, retired, or have been given a new roles in the company.

In one of the environments I am referring to the company has scattered the remaining mainframe era individuals throughout the IT teams. The issue is, those that don't update their skills are hurting their team. They are counted as a full resource, but only provide a fraction of what the other team members provide.

The worst part of this situation is that these legacy team members are not lazy people, and could be used in other areas of the company. Why aren't they? The command and control environment doesn't ask what they would like to do, it doesn't care. Upper management decides where resources are needed and moves people there. This is really blatant in government. If they are in IT, they must stay in IT, although you can tell they are sick of IT.

In some even worse cases the legacy employees have been made managers. The company has been 100% command and control since their inception 100 or so years ago, and they see no reason to change that. Management is therefore trained with in-house made training, which is all geared towards maintaining a command and control environment. This book would be labeled heresy in this environment. If caught with it, you may be burned t the stake. It is an endless cycle of promoting people to the point of incompetency, which adds a little more dysfunction to the environment with every round of promotions.

Because the world says everybody must go Agile and Lean, they attempted to implement Agile and Lean practices. How did that go you ask?
Bill Gates said, "The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency."
The same can be said about Agile and Lean practices:
The first rule of any software process used in development is that Agile and Lean practices applied to an efficient development team will magnify the efficiency. The second is that Agile and Lean practices applied to an inefficient development team will magnify the inefficiency.
I won't ding the book for not covering the team issue I brought up above, because the book didn't try to cover it. It was just something I would liked to have seen. There are many more difficult situations I could bring up that I would like to see covered, but this book is based on the author's real life experiences. If they have not had to deal with such situations, it is not something they would cover.

That is something I really like about this book. It is all based on experiences. I have said before that there are way too many books, and way too much information available on agile these days. I'll be the first to admit, that every time I see an agile book coming out the first thing I think is how could they possibly still be milking agile. I also must admit, that many of the new books coming out on agile are now reflective of experience, and not based entirely on theory. That was what you used to find in the agile library, all theory and no experience. Now with books like this one, we find great advice based on real world experience.

Trusting people is hard. I always proof of concept a new development team. What choice do I have, especially today when the technology changes with every new project. Every time it has paid off in dividends. Someone always joins the team in the wrong role. I have had several four person teams where one or two of the team members had to be assigned menial tasks, or if possible replaced. This not only works to circumvent disastrous code and a lot of wasted time, it also helps you identify the members you can trust with technical decisions. You may not have time to get fully briefed on an issue before a decision needs to be made. Having a second or third technical expert identified for the team really helps.

There is a big difference between leading and managing. If you want to succeed as a leader, this book is a great read. It is packed with advise on building trust and helping teams take ownership. It also has a ton of advise on aligning with the business and showing you what metrics are the most important in a project. They show you why "hitting a date" is from the land of the lost, and delivering a quality product that pleases the customer is when the project is done.

The book also has 5 appendices packed with tools to help you assess your current situation and then move towards an environment of trust and ownership.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The authors all have great writing styles and reading it goes really fast. I have about 15 tabs stuck in it, and I will be keeping it close. This is the kind of wisdom I like reminding myself of periodically.

If you buy only buy one agile, management, or leadership book this year, make it this one!!!! If you plan on buying more than one agile, management, or leadership book this year, make this your first one!!!!



The Agile Culture: Leading through Trust and Ownership

The Agile Culture: Leading through Trust and Ownership

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