How to Create a Culture of Success

Change Logic co-founder, Charles O’Reilly, offers some insights on how to create a culture of success, produced by the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Change Sprints Will Get You to the Finish Line

Change Sprints

Change projects often suffer from a surplus of good intentions and a deficit of disciplined effort. You get a senior leadership team together for a few days, assess what needs to change, build a plan, and get everyone aligned. If the workshop is good – our clients tell us that Change Logic runs outstanding senior leadership team sessions – then the organization can harness the excitement that the event generates. Leaders speak honestly about their challenges and commit to making change happen.

However, the following day, the ‘tyranny of the now’ can intrude and make it difficult to sustain the level of focus and intensity necessary to lead a successful business renewal. Day-to-day operations – customers, employees, product development meetings, business plan reviews –consume your time with legitimate and important demands. This sets up the familiar competition between what you’ve agreed is important and what is immediately urgent.

An extra twist on the important-urgent tension is that you are likely dealing with how to change deep-seated routines, behaviors, and mindsets. Even if you have time to complete the tangible actions that come out of a change workshop, it is still difficult to recreate that sense of commitment and motivation that made you believe ‘big’ change was possible.

Having lived through this a few times at Change Logic, we designed a method that would help our clients stay focused, engage a broader base of leaders in owning the change initiatives, and do so in a way that would energize the organization as a whole. So, the Sprint process was born. Borrowing some of the techniques and language of ‘Agile’ software development and embedding the insights from Mike Tushman and Charles O’Reilly, we have now led over twenty sprints across multiple industries. It’s enabled our clients to build new innovation businesses, embed new operating models, and rebuild go-to-market practices and processes, to name just a few of the change efforts using the Sprint model.

What are Sprints?

Simply, Sprints are how Change Logic clients create and maintain momentum to address their most critical strategic change priorities. Sprints allow clients to balance the practical mechanics with the social dimensions of change, the two elements that comprise the most intractable challenges organizations face today.

Sprints are the perfect antidote to the organizational inertia and resistance that so often haunt big transformational challenges; they recognize the complex, multi-dimensional nature of change and address the systemic barriers that other, more traditional approaches fail to address effectively.

Change: hard and soft

A key distinction is whether a change is purely about the organization hardware – process, structure, system – or whether it touches the software – people, capabilities, behaviors, and mindsets. If you only have to change “hardware”, then momentum, commitment, and engagement are not on the critical path; it’s a simple cause and effect relationship between action and result. Examples would be implementing a new IT system or managing an office move.  There is still an important human dimension involved in this kid of shift, but it can be addressed through standard methods such as strong project management, training, and communications.  We don’t need to change leadership behavior significantly or the social system of the organization. These are primarily “hardware” projects, in the realm of the knowable.1

However, most changes that we work on at Change Logic involve a response to uncertain market dynamics that may have implications for the core capabilities of an organization, and may confront power relationships between senior leaders. We are now in the realm of complexity, and that requires a different approach to managing change.

The critical part of this type of change is that we don’t know the answers at the outset.  It requires an exploratory approach – one where we test potential solutions through smart experiments which address both the formal systems (processes, organization, skills) AND the social systems of culture and leadership.  A typical client example would be moving from functionally focused ways of working to a collaborative model where multiple units need to align around shared priorities, often on a strict timeline. This will only work when we identify and shift the existing organizational dynamics and informal power structures. This is where we have found the Sprint Process to have significant impact.

How do Sprints work?

Sprints have several key elements/characteristics:

  • They address the most strategically critical and stubborn transformational challenges
  • They focus on identifying and addressing root causes for performance issues, not the surface symptoms – these are often cultural as much as they are procedural or organizational
  • They operate at speed – using 30/60/90 day cycles to drive rapid progress
  • They use experiments to test & refine solutions before rolling out big implementations – so people learn, not just to experiment, but to accept that failure is both a necessity and a learning opportunity in complex transformation
  • They leverage skills, knowledge, and enthusiasm from across the organization – Sprint teams typically consist of highly empowered middle managers with a senior sponsor who acts as team advisor and coach, not as a director
  • They focus as much on learning how to do complex transformation as they do on actual transformation-delivery
  • They focus as much on the cultural and behavioral shifts needed for success as they do on the mechanistic process and structural shifts.
  • They leverage standard change and project management methods to ensure effective governance, but they add a layer of leadership development; they help senior leaders to adapt their behaviors and help more junior leaders to take on broader responsibilities


As a result, Sprints enable organizations to define, test, refine and implement complex transformation while avoiding the endless debates and political resistance that go along with these types of adaptations.  At the same time, the organization learns how to shift on their own by developing the ability to continue managing transformation effectively and to continue adapting to the needs of today’s world. 

The Change Logic Sprint approach can provide companies with real competitive advantage – we help them develop the ability to change and adapt faster and more effectively than their (often disruptive) competitors.  To understand more about what we do and how we do it, please contact us at


1Dr Dave Snowden has written about a powerful distinction between ‘Known’ and ‘Knowable’ problems where cause and effect applies: Complexity, where you only know what happened in retrospect, and Chaos, where there is not cause and effect.
by Peter Ainley-Walker

Front End of Innovation: Key Take-aways

Last month, Andy Binns (Change Logic’s Managing Principal) chaired a panel discussion at the Front End of Innovation Conference in Boston with panelists Carol Kovac (former GM for Life Sciences at IBM) and George Glackin (Senior Executive for Innovation at P&G). In this post, Andy summarizes the key takeaways from the panel that was on the topic:  ‘Building New Businesses in Established Organizations’.

  1. Manage Core and Explore with distinct management systems; but equal accountability

This is one of the most difficult things for a large, successful organization, or even a small, successful organization to learn. How do you think quite differently about measuring success? I have found that it’s not a function of how much money you throw at it. Here in Boston, we had this CEO say “Hey, we have spent ten million dollars on this new venture and we’ve had to write it off as complete waste. It’s like, why would I go and spend more?” We asked him, “Have you considered that you spent too much?” The reality is, if you were poor, you would use more incremental investment tests to learn and experiment, which in a sense, is a disciplined experimentation that a large firm needs to learn more than anything else.

I think the worst thing you can do is create a ten million dollar bleeding hole for the company–you won’t be allowed to continue. Some companies do have, conversely, things that have been in the learning mode for twenty years because they’re not costing the company anything. Particularly, when you get into a mode where you’re getting some income but not investing a lot, you can sustain that forever.

The exploit metrics are generally in terms of profitability, and they’re pretty conventional metrics. But in the explore businesses, at IBM, they said that for the first year, they had only milestones–and those milestones rarely had revenue–or even revenue targets–let alone profitability. There were certainly no profitability targets. They knew they were going to invest, they put together plans, and they said, “Here’s how much we’re going to invest.” Then they had milestones, and those milestones were usually about gaining marquee clients or a key partner to go off and pursue the business. They had to ask, “Where do we want to get with this?” Did they want to develop technology to a certain state where they had a pilot that was field-ready or customer-ready, or a customer that wanted to pilot with us? Later on, you can start to weave in revenue and growth metrics.  Only after about five years did IBM really start to impose what I would consider more conventional profitability charts.

  1. Base Milestones on what you need to learn to validate a new business

One participant asked how you teach an established firm to develop this sort of management system.

What we learned was it is important to narrow down on a finite set of critical assumptions. Then all you have to do is focus on the learning about those critical markers. How do people want to go about refreshing their clothes? Or washing their dishes? Or shaving?  How well can we do it? How much are they willing to pay? It’s a very focused problem. The discipline in this helpful in getting to the core question of “What is our critical assumption?”

IBM had a lot of milestones that stemmed from their business strategy. First, your business has to have a strategy: What is it that we’re going to do, and more importantly, what are we not doing, and what is our strategy five years from now? Then they took the strategy –and it’s very difficult sometimes to bridge from the strategy to execution–but that middle piece–that strategic execution piece says “What are the things that we just must get right, and not just this year, but over the next three, five-year horizon?” What must we totally get right if we’re going to reach that strategic goal? So, IBM came up with a list of never more than five or six things that they had to get right. Then, and only then, would they take those things and say what the milestones are within them. They called the middle things strategic objectives, and one of them was to build the best data management product and solutions for clients in the life sciences.  Then they reduced that to a set of milestones that defined who’s going to build, what are we going to build, who are we going to partner with, and what business partners do we need. Another one was to become very visible as the high performance computing leader in the life sciences. That reduced itself to a set of milestones around products, but also around marketing visibility. Those aren’t all financial measures, but that’s how they established our own key success factors

  1. Leaders have to let new ventures scale at the pace of the opportunity; not to satisfy short-term business requirements

Don’t try to accelerate Explore businesses beyond their maturity. As IBM Life Sciences got started in 2000 as an ‘Emerging Business Opportunity’ the dotcom burst and IBM was in the hunkering-down/cost-cutting mode. And all of the temptations to try and go faster were there.

The key word is leadership. You have to have a leader with control over resources who can say “I’m going to protect this investment.”  It doesn’t have to be a huge investment, but you have to have a team, and the investment has to be protected. Every innovation leader finds ways to protect resources; that’s the concept of a skunk works—a project run by a small group of people who research and develop it for the sake of radical innovation. You have to have the ability to, within a company, squirrel off some resources and protect a skunk works.  Or conversely, you build a whole business unit even though it’s a small, emerging business unit.  The critical piece is making sure it’s protected.

  1. Learn how to build new businesses closer to the core before moving to radical investments

IBM made this conscious choice in the Life Sciences unit, that if people start to get excited about going beyond what they have already done, sometimes it can go too far beyond. It’s smart to look for near-adjacencies that are innovative but near the core. That way, core competencies of the company can be parlayed into this new opportunity. The culture is suited. You can think of your mission as an expanded one– it’s not a totally different mission. The Ball Corporation went from buckets to glass jars to tin cans, but still we can rationalize that this is part of who they really, truly are. This is one of the things that differentiates “intro-preneuring”–doing this from within an existing, established company–from a total start-up which a lot people to kind of look and say, “Well, how do start-ups do it? How do total entrepreneurs do it?” And I think that’s one thing that’s different, is that the most successful companies stay close enough to their competencies and they don’t go totally out in that upper right hand corner—the disruptive innovation corner.

  1. Learn to manage multiple experiments

When IBM started with Emerging Business Opportunities, they were running six experiments in parallel. They were all very different. They were all different business organizations and business opportunities. They were all under the curfew of IBM’s then Vice Chairman and then later the Chief Strategy Officer; both acting as senior sponsors. Developing a portfolio concept is a very useful, way of thinking about it–to say “We’re not just going to take this one thing, but we’re going to develop a portfolio of things”. Now, that portfolio may be small, depending on the resources that you can carve out, but say you’re willing to allocate this much resource to a portfolio and this is what that portfolio has to get to. The really exploratory stuff is going to be much more risky, and you might get one out of ten to work. But odds are if you have a good incubation process, you’ve got enough ideas that are close enough to the tree that you can get a higher hit rate within your portfolio and still not have to spend too, too much money. Having a portfolio manager who can balance that is important.

7 Ways to Transform Personal Renewal into Organizational Renewal

Throughout the year, we talk to clients about Strategic Renewal–the art of transforming to create opportunity, rather than responding to a crisis.  Since the New Year gives us a chance to reflect,  we thought it would be a good time to think about Personal Renewal and its connection to strategic change.  As our founder Professor Mike Tushman emphasizes,

“Personal Renewal is core to Organizational Renewal.”

We are faced with a great deal of stress over the course of the year.  When we are under stress, our stress hormones surge, and strongly affect our reasoning and cognition.  At high levels, these stress hormones are detrimental to our memory, planning, and creativity. We fall back on old habits, no matter how unsuitable those are for addressing new challenges.

In the spirit of breaking old habits and taking on new challenges, we offer…

7 Ways to Transform Personal Renewal into Organizational Renewal:

From hiking to renewing wedding vows, from learning to code to playing the guitar, the Change Logic Team shares our thoughts on personal renewal as a gateway to reinvigorating your organizations.

1) Break Free of Mental Prisons
Elspeth Chasser

I think we all get stuck in mental groves or patterns which can limit our thinking and our awareness.

To break free, and to build mental agility, I like reading things I’m not used to reading, watch things I’m not used to watching and do things I’m not used to doing.  Earlier this month, I took the hour of coding challenge, and my goal is to continue learning to code in the New Year.  I have not only learned a new skill, but I’ve jump-started my brain into thinking in new ways.  When organizations try to reinvent themselves, they often try to apply old processes to the new ideas, but that tactic doesn’t work.  They need to think in new ways, invent new processes, and look to unexpected places for inspiration in order to move forward.

2) Get out and Give in to Guilty [Intellectual] Pleasures
Donna Lesch

The seduction of speed always seems to eclipse the wisdom of moving slowly– to reflect, to learn, to process what has gone on before.  The simple gift of dedicated time–to renew, to slow down, to be–pays consistently underestimated dividends to you personally, and to organizations collectively

How do I renew?

  • I build in time to be curious each week.  I give myself permission (actually mandate) to explore something new that catches my fancy.  Something I don’t know anything about but causes me to wonder.  It almost feels like a guilty pleasure because it is random and irrelevant purposely.  It can be choosing to read a book that is outside of my normal genre groove.  Driving down a street I have never driven on.  Looking up a subject on the internet that someone referenced in a conversation that I didn’t know much about. It re-generates my thinking and expands my creativity.  It is deeply satisfying to scratch that intellectual itch.
  • Get out for a walk – let the rhythm of the walk silence all my frantic thinking and make way for clarity and quiet.  A short walk outside always opens new possibilities and raises my spirit in just a few short blocks.

Scroll down for more practical tips.

3) Take Time for Those Who Matter
Christine Griffin

A few weeks ago, Heinz Chapel in Pittsburgh, where I married my husband of 12 years, celebrated it’s 75th anniversary and invited all couples who were married there to return and renew their vows.  My husband and I (and 190 other couples) participated.

Standing with my husband, I realized that my relationship with him- and our family- is the most important thing for me to renew in 2013.  I plan to renew the relationships that matter the most and to be purposeful about it- asking a lot of questions, listening carefully to the answers, and noticing the moments that often pass by without warning.

As I consider my own personal time of reflection, I think about our clients who often realize that they need to filter the noise and get back to their core values.  This is a perfect time to sit back, reflect, and re-adjust what isn’t working, or what is distracting the company from its core purposes.

4) Connect to Your Sense of Purpose
Kristin von Donop

My personal renewal is two-fold.  When I’m stressed and overwhelmed by to-do lists,  I tend to go for easy things that I can tick off of those lists. I’ll think, “Oh, I should go clean my inbox.” But that’s not an effective way to actually get the work done.  That’s why it’s  important for me to remind myself of my personal purpose during times of stress.  What is my purpose?  It’s to help people work through the conflict of change.  It took some effort to figure out what my personal purpose is, but this Purpose Worksheet from the Teleos Leadership Institute helped me to identify and clarify it.   When I remind myself of this purpose, it helps me choose which activities to invest my time; I deselect the busy work and focus on the harder stuff.  While focusing on the harder stuff is a challenge, it also renews me because living up to the aspiration of my purpose energizes me to do that difficult work.

The second part of my personal renewal is that my purpose reminds me that I need to take care of myself physically—get to the gym so I can increase my stamina. This requires more work, but it energizes me at the same time.  I’ve got to make sure I’m strong enough mentally and physically to help other people, and organizations, get stronger.

5) Find Patterns of Behavior and Question Them
Libby Halstead

My Go-To Place for Renewal has always been self-awareness.  I am a self-styled instruments junkie and devotee.  Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram and IFS  (Internal Family Systems) are my touchstones.  The more I recognize my patterns of behavior – at my best, under stress, everywhere in between – the more I can say “oh, there I go again” and recognize what I am doing, and the choices I have in the moment.  With this comes understanding, self-acceptance, self-kindness and empathy.  We all have parts, stressors, and baggage as well as gifts, wisdom and clarity.   The corollary I would make to organizational renewal is to take time – time to reflect, individually and together, on what everyone is going through, what are people experiencing, how can we make sense of it, and what choices to we want to make about how we act.  Can we name the pressures and the opportunities affecting us? Can we speak honestly about the human experience?  Can we practice self-care in the midst of busy days and reconnect with our best selves?  

6) Learn from Nature’s Example
Ellen Krause-Grosman

My recipe for Personal Renewal is to get out of my head and into my body. One of my favorite ways to do this is by getting outdoors. Nothing puts it all in perspective like a vast sky filled with stars. My compassion and patience for the paradox of human inspiration and human limitations grows, and with it, my ability to reach for the stars with my feet on the ground.  Simultaneously understanding where you are now, and where you have the potential to go in the future, is an important element of creating an adaptable and sustainable business.  Feeling this dichotomy viscerally is what gives me momentum to do the necessary work of change.

7) Play Your Way to Discovery
Tamra Carhart

I like to recharge by playing my guitar and stumbling onto new notes, chords, and progressions. On numerous occasions, I’ve had an idea of what I wanted to play, made a mistake, and inadvertently created a sound that was even better than the one I was going for in the first place.

Translating this idea to the business world, I’m reminded that experimenting without consequences gives you the freedom to discover new product lines, processes, or concepts. Once you discover something that has potential, then you nurture it (or in my case, practice that “mistake” on purpose) and test it on others (I play an open mic–what’s your business equivalent?). Then I take the useful feedback, adjust the performance as necessary (i.e. I practice more to see how I could improve the new technique), scale it (e.g. book gigs more frequently), and then increase investment when you hit certain milestones (e.g., if I get at least 30 people to each of my next three gigs, I’ve proven that I draw a crowd, and can therefore start booking paid gigs).

Practical Tips
We come back to Donna Lesch, who gives us all some ideas to implement at the start of 2014:
Organizational renewal doesn’t have to be a massive program.  Small consistent actions can make big shifts in the organizations, bringing in fresh thinking.

Once a month dedicate 15-30 minutes on your staff agenda for time to reflect, step back and look broadly at where you are and where you want to be.  Ask the team to discuss questions like:

  • Are we working on what matters most?
    • what can we stop doing or postpone?
    • where should we be moving faster?
  • How are we doing as a team?
    •  what can we improve?
    • what should we celebrate?
  • How clearly and consistently are our messages being heard/understood by our teams?
    •  what do out teams need to hear more from us?
    • what do we need to turn the volume down on?

Hopefully, this will create clarity and generate much-needed momentum throughout the year.

What do you plan to do to reinvigorate your organization in 2014?

What Does Your Calendar Say about How Innovative You Are (or Aren’t)?

Donna Lesch

Donna Lesch, Sr. Associate
Follow @DonnaJLesch

“Innovate or die” seems to be the buzz in corporate America these days. And it’s true, the way to thrive in a quickly changing business environment is to be agile and innovative–but when do you do that if you’re on the run from meeting to meeting, task to task?  Where is the space to innovate and create? Our Calendars and To Do lists drive our lives and reflect what we value. What does your calendar say about you?

Take a look at these two different leaders’ calendars.  Which one will be more innovative and engaged?

Dimitri’s Day

  • Meditate
  • Walking meeting with Bob – strategy talk–what are we missing?
  • Co-creation session for Project Sidewinder with Tim – Marketing, Ellen – Sales, Aisha – Procurement, Avid – HR,  Allen – engineering – share fresh ideas we have collected from conversations
  • Lunch – Run
  • Hang out on the floor and break room – check in on projects and team vibe
  • Red group steering committee meeting – status information and project update sent last week – what does the team need?
  • Complete the Idea audit – what is in my old folders, notebooks that needs to be revisited?
  • Business development open forum – what are we hearing from the field?
  • Client call – check in, are we delivering?
  • Calligraphy class

Mariah’s Day

  • Breakfast meeting with QA team lead
  • Call with Legal on new contract
  • Policy review – look at changes on new amendments
  • Project Sidewinder presentation – deck is in the folder
  • Staff meeting – get updates, talk about engagement survey results
  • Lunch with consulting team
  • Strategy review session – conference room (bring deck)
  • Budget review – exception report review
  • One-on-one’s (30 mins each) with Amelia, Zander and Sam (project status, goals, development)
  • Marketing meeting – updated on projects
  • Sales plan review
  • Dinner with business development team – present new plan

The research says Dimitri.  Surprised?  Isn’t he just playing?  There is a compelling body of research that makes a case for the benefits of creating space for innovation through practices like meditation, exercise, sleep, relaxation, and engaging your brain in activities unrelated to the problem that your are trying to solve. Brainstorming with people outside your area of expertise also increases creativity.

So why do most of our schedules look like Mariah’s, caught in the endless cycle of meetings, getting tasks done, being perpetually busy?  It is hard to figure out how to add innovative strategic, “big picture” thinking to a day that is already full from morning to night.  Maybe we need to shift our thinking.  Innovation, creativity, and strategic thinking are not tasks that can be complete during the hour blocks on our calendars.  They are a frame of mind or way of being and working that require us to reflect deeply as leaders.  We need to slow down and take stock of what where we spend our time on and assess what value it brings.   We need to shift our measure of success from being how busy we are to how innovative, engaged and productive we are. This likely means that, for many of us, we must think of new ways to approach how we invest our time and energy.  Our calendars and to-do lists may need to shift.  Getting started doesn’t mean we must cancel all our meetings and sign up for yoga.  Instead think about taking one or two small steps to get the ball rolling.

  • Need fresh thinking?
    • Get out of the building not the box.  Walk.  Put some distance between you and the problem you are tackling.  Take in what you see and experience as you walk.  New ideas will show up when your brain is relaxed and can make new associations. Don’t forget to bring a notepad to capture them.
    • Look at adjacent businesses – look for inspiration by generalizing the problem and then think of others who have faced a similar challenge – how did they do it?
    • Bring in new points of view – talk with those who have no relationship to the opportunity/problem.  Their naïve perspective will help you challenge your assumptions and open your thinking.
    • Look at the situation with a beginner’s mind. How would you see it if you were just hired?  How would a 7 year old see it?  What if there was no right answer or risk–what would you do?
  • Create more time for innovation in your schedule
    • Take inventory – what percent of your meetings are about sharing status information (one way communication) versus exploring, learning and talking?  Try shifting the percentage to more time spent in dialogue, generating options, testing assumptions, and thinking boldly.  To increase the value of the meeting time and ensure it is spent in dialogue, require all status information be documented and sent in advance of the meeting. Send out the agenda for the meeting in advance so team members can begin to generate their ideas and points of view.
    • Call a halt to meetings.  What?  Once a month declare a meeting-free day in your office.  Dedicate the day to informally thinking, creating and exploring new ideas.

So, what is your next step?  How do you create space and time for innovation and creativity in your day; and subsequently, once you have your ideas, how do you apply them?

Six Imperatives to Successfully Implement Agile


Elspeth Chasser, Principal
Follow @ElspethCL

Agile vs Waterfall, blah, blah.  Just shoot me now!

Colin looked haggard at our 8am Monday morning meeting. “Had a good weekend?” I queried, wondering if the cause of his unshaven chin was a little too much fermented beverage whilst watching his favorite basketball team.

“I didn’t even get to watch the game.  I was in the office the whole weekend, trying to sort out the big mess with the release on Saturday.”

This shell-shocked Colin seemed a different man from the positive, confident one who had recently joined this Digital Wannabe (an established firm that is developing more digital products).  Almost the first thing he’d done was to introduce the Agile development methodology…  to “enable us to increase our speed to market by testing and learning as we go rather than taking 12 months to release something the market no longer needs”.

And yet now, as he sipped morosely on his coffee, all he could ask himself was: “what went wrong?”

Here’s the thing: Agile can cause havoc in mature organizations because it focuses on what you want the Application to do and it underestimates the complexity of the environment in which it is being developed. Let’s face it:   Your underlying technology is old.  It was written in a language that is the coding equivalent of wearing bell-bottoms. It is un-documented and has been fiddled with for decades. An engineer might adjust a simple-looking line of code, but unbeknownst to him, it is linked to the billing system for a reason that made sense to someone 10 years ago.  Change it and your billing system crashes!  And it’s complex because you’re in a mature organization, meaning that you probably have more regulatory and security constraints than the pure Agile method was designed to deal with.  And it’s complex because you’re working with a mix of engineers – some of whom have been around as long as the code (and still wear bell-bottoms), a lot of whom are outsourced, and most of whom are globally distributed.

So, the answer is obvious, right?  Let’s stop talking about Agile vs. the more traditional Waterfall development methodologies and accept that mature organizations need to do a hybrid.  Done.  Blog complete, right?  No, my friends, because the real cause (in my humble opinion) of Colin’s problems was not that he chose the wrong method but that he was answering the wrong question. The question should not be “what is the right method?” It should be “how can I speed up and consistently deliver what I’ve committed to?”  Part of the answer is Agile.  An equally important part of the answer – and one that CTO/ CIOs often miss – is “you need to change the culture”.

So what is Culture?

Imagine this.  You’re a trainee priest.  You’re generally pretty keen on being a Good Samaritan to anyone who looks a bit peaky.  You’re having a cup of tea in the common room, when in bursts your seminary Director asking if you would rush to a classroom at the other end of the building because one of the teachers is sick, the kids are going crazy and someone needs to be with the class. “Sure” you say and you race down the corridor.  As you do so, you literally step over a person lying on the floor in the hallway who seems to have fallen, clutching his chest.   You don’t give that person a second’s thought, so keen are you to go be helpful to the class.

Lest you think this is apocryphal, this was an actual experiment done by some pesky social scientists.  Across many variations of the experiment, only 10% of Seminarians stopped to help the poor chap lying prostrate on the ground simulating a heart attack.  How do you explain this? One view is that our behavior is less shaped by how moral we are as an individual, and more by what we think is expected of us by other people. As Change Logic Director and Stanford Professor Charles O’Reilly puts it: “Culture is a social control system. It tells us what we need to do to fit in with the expectations that people have of us.”

If we know what is expected – go save that classroom full of children – our own judgment is suspended until we have met that expectation. And, we do it automatically, there is little or no conscious thought involved.  So how does that apply to our Agile debate?

Digital Culture

We know what successful Digital Culture looks like. In 2009, Professor O’Reilly and colleagues from Stanford, UC Berkeley, and Santa Clara University conducted a study that benchmarked the culture of 32 prominent Silicon Valley high-tech firms . They discovered that the highest performing firms are those that have the more ‘adaptive’ cultures (i.e., quicker to opportunities, willing to experiment, more innovative, more risk-taking, faster).  It is this set of success-driving behaviors, or culture, that Colin should bring to his Digital Wannabe.  Looked at in this way, an Agile methodology is a part of resetting expectations.

What Colin needs to do now is trigger the automatic behaviors that tell people to conform to a new set of expectations.  We know that behaviors are provoked by the signals in our environment that tell us “how we do things around here,” and by what will move us away from pain and towards pleasure, or at least towards comfort.  His team is probably still receiving signals from the old culture like: “keep your head down”, “get your bit of the process done” and “don’t surface bad news.”   No wonder things are not shifting.Why the IT Department Doesn't Deliver

Here are six culture imperatives to add to your agenda for becoming a Digital company:

1.      Stop the Debate: Do Agile and Waterfall

Implement one consistent Agile method for application development and assign a team (at least a proactive hound of a Program Manager; an Enterprise Architect and a Content Architect) to do and track a Waterfall plan and risk log to predict and mitigate the interdependencies/ complexities.

2.      Create an Agile and “We Keep Our Commitments” Culture

Create a compelling vision of the future for your team that describes the move from transactional IT provider to becoming the driving force of innovation. Describe what that means for them, new behaviors to adopt, and new work routines that will be necessary.

3.      Signal That You Are Serious about This New Culture

Nothing works quite as quickly at shifting culture as the signal that “I’m being watched and compared to my peers.”  A recent MIT study gave fast food store managers data on “irregular” Point of Sale till tallies. After one week of seeing this data, the “irregularities” stopped, store revenues rose dramatically, as did, interestingly, the tip tallies of all staff. Think about everything in your environment that would signal “this is the new way we do things around here.”

  • Make Agile a business, not just a technology process, so that the business folks become integral to your ‘test and learn’ approach
  • Create a visible dashboard that shows clearly how each team and individual is doing against your commitments. And then get creative – create joint business/ tech awards for successful teams!
  • Train the business folks at the same time as your team. Then shift your annual objectives. Your job designs. Your promotion criteria. Your on-boarding pack. Your intranet page. Everything.

4.      Take No Prisoners – If They Don’t Want to Change, Let Them Go

What do you do the first time one of your best SMEs fails to meet a commitment to you? Remember Lou Gerstner at IBM who said: “Nothing can stop a cultural transformation quicker than a CEO who permits a high-level executive—even a very successful one—to disregard the new behavior model.”

5.      Deal with Those Elephants in the Cubicles

I wrote in my last blog about the “Them” and “Us” resentments that build up between teams.  Putting people in an “Agile Hothouse” room won’t make them like each other.  They’ll just resent each other at closer proximity.  You’ve got to facilitate a “truth and reconciliation” dialogue between these individuals / teams if you want the steps above to work.

6.      Create a Lego-like Component Revolution!

Friends: It is inconceivable that you can continue to write every piece of code from scratch to meet the bespoke need of each Product Manager.  You are increasingly competing against the true Digerati who have a modular architecture and build in Lego-like reusable components.  Unless you want to end up like the IT department equivalent of a tiny Savile Row bespoke tailor to some British aristocrats, move to a catalogue of reusable assets. This will not happen automatically: it’s like getting your kid to eat their greens—they may hate it now, but it will be good for them in the long run.

Future rants will include:

  • Talk to me like I’m 6 years old…isn’t Service Oriented Architecture a bit like Lego?
  • How’s that outsourcing working for ya’, huh?

8 Tips for CTOs to Create a Successful Requirements Process


Elspeth Chasser, Principal
Follow @ElspethCL

CTO Digerati Wannabes, I love you but AND … the Requirements Process, c’mon!

Try this out. Grab a random person standing near you. Smile politely so they don’t become alarmed. Go on. Now, give them a piece of paper and pen and this instruction: “make an accurate drawing of a house based on my verbal description”. Now go ahead and describe your house. Ok. Stop. Pens down. Look at what they’ve done.

Is it anything like your house? Nope.

This rant blog is about the Requirements Process, the crucial set of activities that encompass:

1. Understanding a customer need

2. Translating that need into instructions for development engineers

3. Testing to see if the product works and meets the need

If you’re a CTO Digital Wannabe, i.e. a leader of a technology department in an established firm that is developing more digital products, it’s likely that your Requirements Process is a bit of a mess. It’s also likely that if you don’t fix it, even though you’re not responsible for half of it, you will continue to have failed projects, and you will never gain the business credibility you deserve. Albert Einstein said it best: “Crap in, crap out”.

Actually he didn’t say that, but he totally could have.

So, why is it so very, very difficult?

Part of the reason is often an ill-defined Requirements method with as many different templates as you have teams, but lest you think this can be fixed by a shiny new process, let’s go deeper.

Fundamental Attribution Error, or "Everyone Else is an Idiot"

Fundamental Attribution Error, or “Everyone Else is an Idiot”

There’s a pesky phenomenon called the Fundamental Attribution Error. We code our behaviors as rational, yet we blame others’ on their faulty personalities. We all do it. How does it show up in the Requirements Process? You get a set of requirements; you do your darnedest to develop them, but the line-of-business leader is not happy. Repeat this often enough and both sides start to infer (ungenerous) things about one another’s intelligence. A wall goes up between them (the business) and us (IT). It’s “silo mentality” and it gets in the way of the kind of collaboration you need to make a Requirements Process work. But lest you think that this can be fixed by a bit of team building, let’s go deeper.

The Requirements Process is a manifestation of one of the trickiest of human activities (and, no, it’s not stopping to sing “it’s a small world after all” once you’ve started, although, god knows that is hard): sense-making, my friends–getting what’s in your head into theirs. In other words, it’s trying to get someone else to draw a picture of your house. It is *hard*. In this case, we have to get the description of what the customer wants into the heads of the product managers, and then into the heads of the development teams and then the QA/ Release guys. Do you understand how difficult that is?

We all have heuristics (mental short cuts) to solve problems. That’s great because those shortcuts save us a lot of time, particularly if our goal is to escape a sudden threat (say a hungry tiger). But they also get in the way of understanding because bias (including the good ol’ Fundamental Attribution Error) pops into our heuristics; we jump to conclusions without fully understanding. For instance, when you’re talking, rather than really trying to understand you, I’m thinking “yup, gotcha, understood… god those [fill in the blank with a role] types do go on a bit, don’t they … his left eye looks a bit funny … what’s for dinner … ‘It’s a small world after all’… damn”.

And if this game of “Telephone” wasn’t difficult enough, we do it on conference calls and record the output with that tool well-known for capturing the richness of the human experience: Excel.


Implement one consistent Requirements Process

  • Launch one consistent, simple process across your portfolio with one set of templates:
  • Ensure it can scale to the size/ complexity of the development but don’t allow exceptions
  • Have a clear “go live” date where you symbolically “turn off” the old practices

Clarify decision rights

Use your cross portfolio Governance meetings to deal with issues in partnership with the business (see CTO Digital Wannabes, get control of your pipeline)

Use storytelling & visualization techniques to immerse all teams in the customer’s “job to be done” and then in the product development

A picture tells a thousand words. Tell a story, draw pictures, spend a day at a customer sight, just observing. Once you’re in development, regularly share wireframes/ screen shots with the business, QA teams and hopefully your customers. Remember, they won’t really know what they want until they see it.

Make sure you have application, business model, experience and functional requirements

I know it sounds obvious, but only yesterday I was talking with a team that hadn’t built billing functionality “because the business didn’t include it in the Requirements”. It’s a tragic case of “common sense lobotomy”. Your new process has to include at least these four requirements types and a big picture “how is this actually going to work?”; no one can answer that better than an actual customer.

Hire Project Managers who are hounds, not bureaucrats

For this to work, you must have really proactive Project Managers. Detail-orientation is “right to play”. Much more important is their ability to hold people’s feet to the fire. And don’t get me started on running good meetings. That might have to be another blog – but how about at least capturing and communicating decisions?!

Name the elephants in the cubicles

The Fundamental Attribution Error is natural, but it gets diluted when we connect to each other as human beings. You might need to start by “naming the elephants in the room”; being honest about the frustrations. Better yet, get the teams to do this. Then, agree new trust-building working practices. One wonderful CIO I know will now only accept escalations that are created jointly between the Business and Development teams.

Honor the nerd!

Even if you have outsourced a lot of the coding work (see a later blog), make it a core capability. How about implementing something like Github so that engineers from different teams collaborate on building, re-using, and managing code? How about coding competitions anyone can work on?

Use the Requirements Process to implement your Technology Strategy

You have to balance responding to the Requirements of the Product Managers (e.g. our customers use PC technology) with the Requirements of your Technology Strategy (we need to also build for Tablets because Gartner says “at this rate, tablet shipments could surpass PC shipments in less than a year”. So, use your cross portfolio Governance meetings to ensure that the final Requirements list gets the balance right. (see CTO Digital Wannabes, get control of your pipeline)

Bless you. Future rants blog posts will include:

Agile vs Waterfall, blah, blah, shoot me now!

Talk to me like I’m 6 years old…is Service Oriented Architecture a bit like Lego?

How’s that outsourcing working for ya’, huh?