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It’s All About That Jell

Agile, Traditional, Lean, Burndown Charts, Kanban Boards, Earned Value Management Metrics, Code Coverage, Static Code Analysis, Coaches, Consultants, Daily Standup Meetings, Weekly Sit Down Meetings, Periodic Program/Project Reviews. All the shit managers obsess over doesn’t matter. It’s all about that Jell, ’bout that jell, ’bout that jell.

Jellin

 

 

All About The Jell

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.

Four Attributes

March 22, 2012 1 comment

Assume that every commercial enterprise can be “objectively” (LOL!) characterized by the following four discrete attributes:

  1. Trustworthiness [untrustful | trustful]
  2. Transparency [closed | open]
  3. Fairness [unfair | fair]
  4. Product_Quality [crappy | meh | excellent]

If I did the math right, there are 2*2*2*3 = 24 attribute combos. At one end of the spectrum, we have orgs that are untrustful, closed, unfair producers of crappy products and services. At the other end of the spectrum we have enterprises that are trustful, open, fair producers of excellent products and services.

So, what do you think the ratio of OrgAs to OrgBs is in the world, and why? Do you think the ratio is increasing or decreasing as civilization advances? Do you think the four attributes are uncorrelated or are they intimately coupled? Can an untrustful, closed, and unfair org produce excellent products and services? Given an OrgA, can it transform into an OrgB? Given an OrgB, can it transform into an OrgA? Which transformation is more likely?

Five Levels

October 27, 2010 4 comments

According to Russell Ackoff, there are five types of conceptual content. In order of increasing scarcity, they are Data, Information, Knowledge, Understanding, and Wisdom.

Data and information answer “what something is” questions. Knowledge answers “how something works” questions. Understanding answers “why something is the way it is” questions. Wisdom, the rarest form of conceptual content, is altogether a different beast. It answers all questions.

The acts of probing, sensing, and measuring produce raw data. The filtering, integration and association of data fragments creates information. The mistake-prone application of information and learning from errors leads to knowledge. The application of holistic, systems thinking to knowledge creates understanding.

Unlike the other four types of content, which integrate up and progress sequentially from each other, wisdom may not. Wisdom may appear instantaneously on its own by the grace of some higher power. It has to be that way. If it wasn’t, then only highly educated and experienced intellectuals would be capable of acquiring wisdom – and we know that isn’t true, don’t we? Wisdom is accessible to all human beings regardless of race, age, culture, wealth, or any other trait. The trouble is that society, especially western societies, wants us to think otherwise. No?

Self-Assessment

October 10, 2010 2 comments

“I’m just an ordinary average guy….. Pick up the dog doo, hope that it’s hard (woof woof).” – Joe Walsh

Okee Dokee. Today is my birthday and it’s self-assessment time. Time to step back and guess who I am and where I stand……

At the present time, I’m a dude with a stage 3 mindset working in a stage 3 benevolent patriarchy. My situation may not be as nirvana-ish as being a stage 5 dude working in a stage 5 DEPAM, but it sure beats being a stage 1 dude imprisoned in a stage 1 malevolent patriarchy, no?

How about you? What’s your self-assessment, today? Awe come on, don’t be shy.

From Consumer To Participant

October 7, 2010 Leave a comment

As I’ve stated before, I love Clay Shirky. The guy is phenomenally perceptive and insightful in detecting subtle changes in global trends and patterns of behavior. In “Cognitive Surplus”, Mr. Shirky recounts the rut of one-way consumerism that most of us were in, and many of us are still in, until relatively recently. The figure below shows the “old days” model, which is still “these days” for a boatload of people – especially institutional SCOLs.

In the “old days” model, content was concocted by “professional” content concocters and spoon fed to us through the (yawn) standard one-way media outlets of TV, radio and newspaper. The media creators and the media communication infrastructure owners had full say over what we heard and saw through the limited, one way-media outlets. We were (and most still are) passive consumers sitting in our lazy boys and scarfing up the input provided to us.

With the advent of social networks, the situation has changed drastically. As the figure below illustrates, the “old days”, one- way system of forced feeding has been supplemented by a parallel, “new days”, two-way system in which you and I have the opportunity to participate and create. The meteoric rise of social networks has allowed previously shackled DORKs like you and me to actively create and share content while simultaneously allowing a much greater variety of choice over what we consume. Ain’t life grand?

Of course, the emergence of this brave new world has triggered great angst and fear in those old school power mongers who can’t or won’t morph with the times. As far as most corpricracies go, they’re still stuck in the mindset of “we’ll control the crap and we’ll control the distribution of the crap of what you see and hear. As you know, we’re better and smarter than you and your fellow amateurs, so it’s in your best interest if you forgo the opportunity to participate.

The DORK Is Born

September 27, 2010 2 comments

Unlike upstanding citizens, I’m both internally and externally verbally weird. For example, I think that when a proven, in-the-trenches, problem-solving, core worker jumps ship to another org it often hurts a corpricracy more than when a BM, CCRAT, BUTT, CGH or other non-DORK leaves.  Because of anointed (not necessarily earned) positional power, non-DORK managerial workers are given the opportunity to positively influence an org’s social and economic performance. However, as all of us know, not all managers exert any positive influence at all. Au contraire, the really  “bad ones” just flit from meeting to meeting conjuring up innovative procedural and financial obstacles to getting work done while simultaneously collecting super-sized paychecks. Who says managers aren’t innovative?

Because of this so-called distorted (and “bad”?) attitude, it makes me laugh when I hear of frantic counter offers being made when non-DORK managers leave, while nary a whisper is uttered when a highly productive, problem solving DORK rides off into the sunset. I laugh even more heartily when a non-DORK SCOL is presented with a going away cake or even better; an org-financed buh-bye party. Why laugh? Because the alternatives are much less palatable.

Breaking News: One of the byproducts of writing this stupidly RUU blarticle was the emergence of the “DORKacronym from the bad-person corner of my psyche. I’m giddy with excitement cuz now I can interchange usage of the venerable “DIC” acronym with “DORK” in my future ramblings. Whoo Hoo, a landmark event!

Best Of The Best

October 7, 2009 Leave a comment

The breadth of variety of companies, markets, customers, industries, products, and services in the world is so wide and diverse that it can be daunting to develop objectively measurable criteria for “best in class” that cuts across all of the variability.

Best Of The Best

Being a simpleton, my pseudo-measurable criteria for a “best in class” company is:

  • Everybody (except for the inevitable handful of malcontents (like me?) found in all organizations) who works in the company sincerely feels good about themselves, their co-workers, the products they build, their customers, and the company leadership.

That’s it. That’s my sole criterion (I told you I was a simpleton). Of course, the classical financial measures like year-over-year revenue growth, profitability, yada, yada, yada,  matter too, but in my uncredentialed and unscholarly mind, those metrics are secondary. They’re secondary because good numbers are unsustainable unless the touchy-feely criterion is continuously satisfied.

The dilemma with any kind of “feel good” criteria is that there aren’t many good ways of measuring them. Nevertheless, one of my favorite companies,  zappos.com,  has conjured up a great way of doing it. Every year, CEO Tony Hsieh sends an e-mail out to all of his employees and solicits their thoughts on the Zappos culture. All the responses are then integrated and published, unedited, in a hard copy “Zappos Culture Book”.

The Zappos culture book is available free of charge to anyone who emails Tony (tony@zappos.com). Earlier this year, I e-mailed Tony and asked for a copy of the book. Lo and behold, I received the 400+ page tome, free-of-charge, four days later. I poured through the 100’s of employee, executive, and partner testimonials regarding Zappos’s actual performance against their espoused cultural values. I found no negative entries in the entire book. There were two, just two, lukewarm assessments of the company’s cultural performance. Of course, skeptics will say that the book entries were censored, and maybe they were, but I doubt it.

How would your company fare if it compiled a yearly culture book similar to Zappos’s? Would your company even entertain the idea? Would anyone feel comfortable proposing the idea? Is the concept of a culture book only applicable to consumer products companies like Zappos.com, or could  its value  be industry-independent?

Note: Zappos.com was recently bought out by Amazon.com. It should be interesting to see if the yearly Zappos culture book gets squashed by Jeff Bezos et al.

Favorite Companies

August 10, 2009 1 comment

Over the years, I’ve been on a constant watch for unique companies. By unique, I mean those that stand apart from the rest of the herd in the way that the executive leadership balances the needs of all stakeholders – not just the shareholders, or especially, themselves. Of course, unless you’ve worked at a company, it’s pretty tough to know if the company really lives up to its core values and “walks the talk”. That’s because all companies project the image that they are great places to work, regardless of whether they really are.

So, how do I decide whether a company is a cut above the rest? Via subjective evaluation of external observations, of course. Here’s my unscientific list of “research” methods:

  • Read third party accounts of experience given by former and current non-management employees.
  • Read, listen, and watch multiple interviews with CEOs and executives.
  • Scour publicly available mission statements, visions, core values and cultural descriptions for authenticity, lack of corpo jargon, and attention to detail.
  • Stay away from glossy annual reports.
  • Ignore whatever the hand picked company spokesperson(s) say.

Of course, my methods aren’t perfect, but do you know of any better ones?

Here’s my current list of faves. What are yours?

Netflix Culture

August 6, 2009 Leave a comment

I’m constantly scouring the landscape for companies with cultures that stand apart from the herd (moooo!). Via my e-friend Byron Davies’ discovery, I’ve just added another gem to my list: Netflix. Here’s the link that triggered the addition: Netflix Culture. It’s a simple, unadorned (content over format), behemoth 128 page presentation, but it’s so authentically different and norm-busting that it’ll stir your emotions (yuk, can’t have emotions in business, right?) if you’re a culture hound like me. Just in case you’re curious, but short on time, here are some zingers that rang my bell:

  • The real company values, as opposed to the nice sounding values, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go.
  • We particularly value these nine skills and behaviors: judgment, communication, impact, curiosity, innovation, courage, passion, honesty, selflessness.
  • You focus on results and not process.
  • You challenge prevailing assumptions when warranted, and suggest better approaches.
  • You say what you think, even if it’s controversial.
  • You question actions inconsistent with our values.
  • You only say things about fellow employees you will say to their face.
  • You share information openly and proactively.
  • It’s about effectiveness, not effort or hard work.
  • Responsible people thrive on freedom and are worthy of freedom.
  • Most companies curtail freedom as they grow bigger and to avoid errors, thus, we try to increase freedom.
  • Process-focus drives talent to leave.
  • The key to managing growth and complexity is to increase talent density; not to institute more freedom-constraining processes.
  • We value simplicity, not the simplistic.
  • Freedom is not absolute, a few basic and common sense rules are needed.
  • In environments that demand creativity, fixing errors is cheaper than (fruitlessly) trying to prevent them via religious process adherence.
  • Regularly scheduled strategy and context meetings.
  • Flexibility is more important than efficiency in the long term.
  • Set the context for your people instead of trying to control them.
  • Highly aligned and loosely coupled as opposed to monolithic or siloed.
  • Goal: fast, flexible AND big.
  • Titles are not very helpful (all major league pitchers aren’t major league talents).
  • No centrally administered “raise pools” every year.
  • Whether Netflix is prospering or floundering, we pay at the top of the market.
  • It’s a healthy idea, not a traitorous one, to understand what other firms would pay you, by interviewing and talking to peers at other companies.
  • No bonuses, just include in salary. No free stock options – just big salary; and let people decide where to invest it.
  • Rapid innovation AND excellent execution, creativity AND discipline, are required for continuous growth.

Here is my number one zinger:

  1. Netflix vacation and tracking policy: there is no vacation policy or tracking.

You read it right. One day, an employee pointed out that “we don’t track hours worked per day, night, or on weekends, so why do we track vacation days?“. The Netflix leadership responded to the challenge by removing the “N days per year” vacation rule. Pretty rad, removing rules instead of continuously piling them on, no?

Even if you’re extremely skeptical and can’t believe the Netflix leadership “walks the talk”, you gotta at least give them credit for writing down, in detail and with underlying rationale, the culture that they’re trying to build – so that they could be held accountable. No?

The Herd

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