Two craftsmen are working on a cathedral, each having their own toolbox. During the coffee break they have a heated debate on which toolbox is best. Why not discuss the bigger issue – the cathedral? Because the toolbox is easy to understand.
On LinkedIn and other media you’ll find the same type of toolbox/framework discussion over and over again.
What would be much more interesting is to learn about the cathedral and the real challenges. Only when understanding the strategic context does it become interesting to learn about the thinking and rationale behind the choice and implementation of toolboxes/frameworks.
This post will elaborate on the question of how to manage today’s complexity in a sustainable way – and yes – missionaries are part of the answer.
The toolbox/framework discussion will continue because it is easy. The day after tomorrow a new Silver Bullet will see the light of day: “The Half-Triple” toolbox/framework. You better start a Transformation program as of now – your competitors read about it yesterday in a magazine on a domestic flight.
This is an easy sell to the busy CEO already struggling with the last major and far from finished transformation. Just sign on the dotted line and we’ll make miracles happen in your organization … this time.
For those of you old enough to remember it, back in the past millennium we had an industry selling the wet dream of nearly automated software development. It was called CASE – Computer Aided Software Engineering. The same thing: a promise to have complex problems, or wicked problems if you will, go away – just sign on the dotted line.
In a hurry? Jump directly to the wrap-up.
Complexity is here to stay
What has made FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google) … and Tesla, and SpaceX successful is not their choice of toolbox/framework. In fact you’ll not hear much talk about e.g., “Agile” in these companies. Variations of Agile toolboxes / frameworks is part of their basic toolbox, just like being competent writing code in C#. As described earlier, they are focused on their Product Culture which is much more than some toolbox/framework. You’ll find (highly competent) missionaries here working for a bigger cause – not just mercenaries being told what to do.
Rather than fixating on some tools/frameworks, I recommend reflecting on the question
“how can we build a company culture filled with missionaries?”
Your answer to that question is what really addresses complexity in your organization.
From mercenaries to missionaries
This is a very big and hard topic highly dependent on your specific business context. What differentiates a mercenary from a missionary? What is the difference between bureaucracy and humanocracy? What are the traits of a “Product Culture”? How can we obtain sustainable changes?
Here I’ll limit the input to recommending and commenting on some worthy-to-read books, proving bricks to the missionary puzzle.
Should you need an eye-opener, try Hamel’s Bureaucracy Mass Index tool with ten questions across these seven categories of bureaucratic drag:
- Waste – number of organizational layers and time spent on low-value bureaucratic tasks
- Friction – bureaucratic impediments to speedy decision making
- Insularity – percentage of time devoted to internal versus external issues
- Autocracy – limits to frontline autonomy
- Conformity – likelihood that unconventional ideas are greeted with skepticism or hostility
- Timidity – constraints on experimentation and risk taking
- Politicking – the prevalence of political behaviors and the role they play in determining personal advancemant
In INSPIRED, Marty Cagen provides a unique insight into how the best Product Teams have become the best. (Also) this book is filled with insights making it hard to select passages, but I’ll give it a try:
Overarching it all is what Marty Cagan describes as Product Culture. Culture is hard to put into boxes, but you’ll recognise a strong culture when you see it. Here [page 324] are some of Marty Cagan’s “Product Culture” elements:
There is and there will never be a cookbook prescribing how successfully to transform an organization into the strong product company. On a very high abstraction level, Cagan suggest [page 378] three major steps, preferably done in sequence:
We are humans for good and for bad. If we design organizations in a way nurturing the good, not amplifying the bad, then we’re on the right track. The missionary mindset encapsulates that idea.
The bad news is that it is hard to nurture an organization with missionaries. The bad news is also that you cannot buy an easy fix by having your employees trained in e.g., various toolboxes/frameworks..
The good news is that it is possible and that you’ll gain a sharp competitive edge in terms of market and in terms of attracting the best-of-the-best employees.
The quest for an organization of missionaries is not comparable with the “you need to ride this wave, consultancy fix”. It is a fundamental and durable reprogramming of the organizations DNA. Marty Cagen describes it as “Product Culture”.
Design your organization for people and teams to thrive in a culture of missionaries.
The (hard) question is now: how long will you wait before aiming for a missionary-driven organization (your competitor might have read about it in an inflight magazine during the latest domestic flight)?