When a company throws money out of the window you will not see banknotes flying. What you will see are project deliveries being delayed.
The amount of work your employees could have done for a certain cost in a certain time, now inflates and delivery takes much longer. Team speed is defined as a certain amount of work a team can deliver in a time period: quarters, months, weeks, agile sprints.
The work can be divided into big projects or small tasks, repetitive or not, user stories or use cases, units to produce. The way the work is divided can influence the speed but the definition of speed itself doesn’t change. You can use Waterfall, Lean, Agile, XP, Scrum, Kanban, Crystal Clear, PRINCE2, traditional project or process management… whatever you like… and you can produce software, art masterpieces, cars, bread, beer… anything. What matters is your capacity to deliver a quantity in a certain amount of time. Definition of speed doesn’t change.
Speed = Amount of work over Time.
To get an initial speed or increase the speed, you need an acceleration. Change of direction is also called acceleration. If your team’s initial speed is zero or close to zero, you need to overcome inertia. If you are not familiar with this term, Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to any change in its velocity. This includes changes to the object’s speed, or direction of motion.
Fighting inertia requires energy in forms of resources, time, money, willpower, food, sugar, organization, skills, training, education, culture, nimbleness, athleticism…
Once the team or the organization acquires a certain speed, it will still require some time and favourable conditions to reach the aimed goals. Teams are not isolated from the external world and definitely they don’t live in the void. Every organization is immersed in the VUCA world, travelling not across a void space but chaotic, heterogeneous environments.
VUCA is an acronym used to describe the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of general conditions and situations.
Imagine the team to be like a bullet (or a cannon ball). An incredible amount of energy is required to accelerate the bullet mass and launch it towards a target. The ability for the bullet to reach the destination doesn’t depend only on the ability to aim correctly but mostly on the environment and obstacles that the bullet may or may not find on its way. Let’s dive into these two distinct parts of the metaphor.
First – resistance to change
As a consequence of the initial explosive force necessary to fight inertia and accelerate the bullet, there is a counter-reaction in the opposite direction that kicks the shooter often called kickback or recoil. In technical terms, the recoil is a result of conservation of momentum, as according to Newton’s third law, the force required to accelerate something will evoke an equal but opposite reactional force, which means the forward momentum gained by the projectile and exhaust gases (ejectae) will be mathematically balanced out by an equal and opposite momentum exerted back upon the gun.
Human interactions, organizational practices, established routines seem to follow Newton’s laws (or equivalents). People are physical objects too, and this must be the reason why they have the tendency to resist any change and kick back anyone who pushes or triggers these changes.
A great company culture stimulates changes, minimises inertia, discourages or inhibits kickback. Whoever aims to team’s success, innovative ideas, inspires team collaboration, agility, delivers excellence and pulls the trigger of the improvements should be rewarded for doing so. Kicking back should be discouraged.
In a fast-changing world, conservation of status quo doesn’t help your business to survive. It only benefits your competitors.
Second – opposition to flow
Once the bullet is ejected at its maximum speed, reaching the target is not determined by its willingness to do so. While the possibility to reach the target depends on trajectory – and correctly aiming to the right goal – this alone is not enough.
A bullet will not go far if it travels through some solids. Metals, bricks, sand, ice block… any rigid, static material (environment) in between, will not give any chance to the bullet (team) to reach the target. The starting explosive energy spent to give initial high speed goes totally wasted and neutralised by the worst environment. Also liquids aren’t particularly good to help the bullet go far. They oppose bullet movement and quickly reduce it’s speed.
Viscosity is the resistance of a fluid (liquid or gas) to a change in shape, or movement of neighbouring portions relative to one another. Viscosity denotes opposition to flow. The reciprocal of the viscosity is called the fluidity, a measure of the ease of flow. Molasses, for example, have a greater viscosity than water.
Objects that move through gels, molasses or thick gelatines can oscillate giving even the impression that an object is moving forward while it will finally be pulled back and stuck at some point. A false impression of fluidity or flexibility will not really help the bullet (or team) to go far. For some materials like honey or cornstarch, viscosity is not constant, it is non-linear and it can change in time or according to temperature or stress. Non-newtonian fluids resist shocking impact as solids but show different fluidity according to circumstances.
A heated argument or escalated situation will more likely result in backfire effect (belief perseverance bias) and -again- in status quo conservation.
Small, incremental changes are more effective for big and long term changes but they require a lot of time -which you may not have- and they aren’t relevant to increase flow in the short term.
If you want your team to travel towards the aimed goal at max speed, smoothly and safely, it is better to provide an open environment where they can work efficiently, change rapidly and move with agility. Let’s get out of the metaphor and draw some conclusions.
The speed and success of any team is determined mainly by the surrounding environment and overall working conditions. Behaviours and practices that maximise the flow should be rewarded. Fixed mindset and attitudes that oppose changes should be inhibited. Blockers impediments and obstacles on the way should be identified, anticipated, removed. According to your industry or working framework, speed of delivery may be one of the most important KPIs or metric of success.
Supporting teams in maximising the flow is not easy at all mostly because it requires the full organization to embrace cultural changes. It requires hiring and empowering professionals such as Agile leads, Coaches, Trainers, Scrum Masters, Facilitators. It entails inspiring experimentation, proactively challenging status quo and biases, welcoming innovation. It will result in accelerating production, maximising value flow, fastening growth, boosting business results. In other words… This will bring back the money your company is throwing out the window.
Changing the mindset of people, managers or executives not used to be guided, corrected, contradicted is a difficult, risky job that requires expertise, patience, and bravery. If you have these qualities, you are confident enough to ignore the HiPPO effect (when Highest Paid Person’s Opinion is over evaluated), and you don’t fear to challenge the status quo, you should consider becoming a scrum master, a facilitator, an agile coach.
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I write about organizational patterns, transformational leadership, healthy businesses, high-performing teams, future of workplace, culture, mindset, biases and more. My focus is in leading, training, and coaching teams and organizations in improving their agile adoption. Articles are the result of my ideas, studies, reading, research, courses, and learning. The postings on this site and any social profile are my own and do not represent or relate to the postings, strategies, opinions, events, situations of any current or former employer.
This article has been published for the first time on danieledavi.com by the author Daniele Davi’.
© Daniele Davi’, 2021. No part of this article or the materials available through this website may be copied, photocopied, reproduced, translated, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published, broadcast or reduced to any electronic medium, human or machine-readable form, in whole or in part, without prior written consent of the author, Daniele Davi’.