Thursday, June 17, 2010

A vitamin bomb for the organization

A customer once described the effect I was having on the organization as a “vitamin bomb”. It is a pretty cool comment to get in term of performance appraisal, though it was not quite what I was expecting (“more efficient” or “pleased customers” would have been sufficient). What was I doing as an agile coach that seems to “vitaminize” the organization?

I alone could not generate energy in such amount so that it would be visible to management. Rarely can a person electrify a whole organization, except perhaps a great leader - which I am not, sadly enough. Well, as an agile coach I applied some agile concepts, methods and tools. Abstracting these, what I was actually doing was to focus the existing energy generated by all team members on things that the customer considered most important. My own energy was used to focus others energies on one point, so that the actual vitamin effect was not my own but the teams.

Let’s follow this energy analogy a minute: the people in an organization generate plenty of energy. Now, most of this energy is never reaching the customer as it is consumed by the system - the organization itself.
It is consumed in form of:

  • communication costs (unfocused or unnecessary meetings, documentation that is not needed),
  • translation costs (expensive knowledge disappearing in hand-overs),
  • task switching (due too many parallel activities),
  • producing things that are not valued by the customer (wrong prioritization, focus on delivering requirements instead of customer value)
  • and finally energy that is simply not put in the system by the team members as they lack motivation (seeing very little return on their energy-spending activities).
The various agile/lean methods and tools actually help you focus energy at the right place at the right time. The effect is that you achieve more of value added activities than before, pleasing the customer and the employees in the process. It seems that you spontaneously generate energy from nowhere, achieving the vitamin bomb effect. In a sense, an agile/lean coach helps an organization find its inner strength.

Such a vitamin effect can be obtained without agile, lean or any other management/organizational methods. You simply need to get yourself a great leader! Because they can easily share their enthusiasm and visions, delegate responsibility and generate commitment, great leaders can electrify a whole organization. This could be the answer to “how did organization manage before any of the agile/lean stuff was even invented?”.

The problem with great leaders is that the energy they pour into the system disappears with them (look at how well Apple did between 1985 and 1996 without Steve Jobs) whereas agile and lean methods allow you to focus energy in a consistent and sustainable manner (Toyota just gets better regardless of who is in charge).

Can they be combined? Can you actually have a great leader leading a lean/agile organization without him or her feeling that the agile/lean system is in the way, because their energy focusing method is different and therefore incompatible?
You tell me.

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