Thursday, March 1, 2012

Courage of a Transformation Leader

The enterprise can be a dangerous place. Risk taking is rarely rewarded. Most attempt to stay under the radar.

It takes a special leader to bring about an agile transformation. The enemy of change is resistance. Resistance is fueled by complaints. Complaints come from those that hide behind the process. Their motivation is self-preservation. They are the pillars of the status quo.

Complaints attract attention. After all, not many understand agile. If so many are complaining, the complaints must be true. However, there is one group that is not complaining. It is the business. They are the beneficiaries of the working software produced by a high performing team. Working software that is delivered frequently and with quality. The business is elated, euphoric really. Who knew it was possible to deliver quality working software frequently, continuously, at a sustainable pace? They want to pinch themselves.

Where does the resistance come from? Often it comes from the run team. It also comes from the Project Management Office. Too frequently the source is senior leadership. However, they all are conflicted. The complaints are heard yet the support from the business is very real.

Middle management is the most threatened. They have learned to measure their worth by the size of their budgets and organization. "If teams are both high performing and self-directing, what am I to do", they ask.

It is a tricky dance for a transformation leader. One must learn to leverage the good will of the business to manage through the resistance of change. People won't easily give up what they know. They have been trained for years to believe in detailed projects plans, large signed off requirements documents, change control processes, high level and low level designs and detailed test plans. They've been trained to always have someone one to blame (i.e., project managers, requirement leads, tech leads, test leads etc.) when things go wrong. They call it holding people accountable. It really is code for finger pointing and redirecting blame when the project stumbles or fails. They throw others under the bus and sell themselves as strong leaders. It is an act of self preservation. Anti-courage.

How many of your collegues do you know that are willing to assume the risk required of a transformation leader? Not many. Are you? Why not? Their role is often not welcomed. The change that comes is disruptive. People are threatened. It is hard to make friends, build relationships and become a "member of the club" with so many changse going on and so many resisting and complaining.

A transformation leader has inner drive. Passion for making things better. A passion stronger than the ambition of self promotion. The corporate culture does not often breed such a person.

Organizations that go through transformation realize benefits never thought possible. The tension between the business and the developers disappears. The team hits a sustainable pace and the resulting software is a game changer for the users. The business can't say enough good things about the team. It is the value of their work that motivates the team.

Transformation is not possible without courage. Not a faux courage, nor a staged courage. It is a courage born out of passion to make things better. The drive for continuous improvement is stronger that the instict of self-preservation. If courage is the engine of transoformation, successfully delivering working software is the fuel.

Is your organziation fortunate enough to have such a leader? Do you have the courage to support transformation or are you a pillar of the status quo?

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