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The Last Retrospective

April 20, 2014 Leave a comment

In an ongoing agile endeavor, the practice for eliciting and applying freshly learned knowledge going forward is the periodic “retrospective” (aka periodic post-mortem to the “traditional” old fogeys). Theoretically, retrospectives are temporary way points where individuals: stop, step back, cerebrally inspect what they’ve accomplished and how they’ve accomplished it, share their learning experiences, suggest new process/product improvements, and evaluate previously implemented improvements.

As the figure below depicts, the fraction of newly acquired knowledge applied going forward is a function of group culture. In macho, command and control hierarchies like culture B, the application of lessons learned is suppressed relative to more flexible cultures like A due to the hierarchical importance of opinions.

Gained Vs Applied

Regardless of culture type, during schedule-challenged projects with a fixed, do-or-don’t-get-paid deadline (yes, those projects do indeed still exist), this may happen:

Last Retrospective

When the elites upstairs magically determine that a panic point has appeared (sometimes seemingly out of nowhere): retrospectives get jettisoned, the daily standup morphs into the daily inquisition, corner-cutting “practices” become best practices, and the application of newly acquired knowledge stops cold. Humans being humans, learning still naturally occurs and new knowledge is accrued. However, it is not likely the type of knowledge that will help on future projects.

Importance Of Opinion

April 18, 2014 6 comments

Regardless of whether a project is managed as an agile or traditional endeavor, it is well known that the execution team learns and acquires new knowledge as the project lurches forward. It is also well known that individual team members learn and formulate opinions that may be at odds with each other.

In spite of the “we’re all (equal)” scrum mantra, some individual opinions will always be “more important” than others in a hierarchy… because that’s what a social hierarchy does (POSIWID). The taller the hierarchy, the larger the gap of importance between opinions. And the larger the gap of importance between opinions, the lesser the chance that a diverse subset of newly acquired knowledge will be applied to future project activities.

The figure below shows two concepts of “Importance Of Opinion“. On the left, we have the Scrum ideal – we’re all one and all opinions carry the same weight. On the right, we have the reality. The opinions within the pyramid of elite titles strongly influence/skew/suppress the PO’s opinions, the PO does the same to the SM, and the SM does the same to the group of DEVs. Even within the so-called flat structure of the DEVs, all opinions are not created equal.

Theory And Reality

Categories: management Tags: , , ,

Boomerang Effect

Be careful. Be very careful. If you’re at the bottom of the corpo pyramid, don’t even try to break the status quo. Maintaining the status quo in a staid corpo hierarchy is the number one priority of the people at the top of the pyramid. Why? Because they’re at the top, and they’ll do anything to stay there. It doesn’t matter if their actions, or lack thereof, keep the company’s existing products and supporting infrastructure in the dark ages or erode profits, they’ll ensure that they stay on top. Period.

The only thing that a stratified hierarchy is fast at, is fending off attempts to, and squashing ideas designed to, help the company improve. Even if a major idea does somehow miraculously get initiated from the middle or the bottom, as soon as the hierarchs realize that it may result in sweeping change, the crumbling pyramid will do an auto-realignment. Just like that flexible molten metal robot from Terminator III.

To top it off with an exquisite cherry, the top managers will set an example of the poor soul(s) who started the move toward change. The graphic below shows what usually happens. You don’t want to be the guy or gal who tried to kick the field goal 🙂 .

Boomerang

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