I don’t think there are any perfect systems of knowledge work or product development out there. Almost every workplace can be improved somehow. Even ones without concrete tangible problems can still be optimized somehow.
Before we continue I have to come clean. This a marketing post. I am assuming it is at least as painful for you to read as it is for me to write. Who wants to be sold to? I think in general the “pull” principle should apply to all goods and services. If you want it, go and seek a vendor, rather than having vendors push upon you reasons why you should need their wares.
Anyway, I hope this might be a bit more interesting for my target market (I feel dirty just typing that in), because my target market is a little different. I specifically want to address those who are usually overlooked. I am specifically addressing those knowledge workers who don’t have the authority or budget to acquire the services of a consultant!
That’s right, I must be crazy. I am trying something new. Normally consultants tailor their offerings to the ruling minority in organizations, the managers, those with the authority and the budgets. These managers often have some idea about what they think the problem is, often they are right to a certain extent, but it usually involves changing the way the workers do their job (the symptom), rather than changing the way the managers do theirs (the root cause).
Even if consultants know that the best opportunities for success are to be found in directly addressing certain “dysfunctions” in the management system, it is usually too hard to sell, so some trivial, but hopefully valuable changes can be made at the team level that improve things somewhat.
A while ago I tweeted “Devs should have just as much budget for bringing in consultants to fix management, as management has for consultants to fix development.” It was meant as kind of a joke, but I have been thinking about how much sense it makes! I have been talking to other consultants lately and at least a couple of them have recognized the same anti-pattern, and suggested it is usually exactly those who think others need to change who are most in need of “coaching” themselves.
So how can I help?
Perhaps as a software developer you want to try some agile technical practices, or have done so with some success but aspects of the management system, or decisions made outside the team make further improvements in that area difficult or impossible. Or perhaps all the hard work you do just seems to get swallowed up in waste or dysfunction elsewhere in the organization? I can help look into these issues and suggest things that you can do and I can work on your behalf to help encourage improved behavior elsewhere in the organization.
You as an engaged knowledge worker have a bunch of ideas that you would like to try out, but the company culture (fear and mistrust dominate most organizations) makes sticking your neck out a risky proposition? Perhaps you have seen “trouble makers” already suffer as a reward for their engagement? I can act as an advocate, perhaps seeing what options there may be for opening up some level of trust, and a culture of collaboration in your workplace.
Perhaps you have tried Scrum, but you as Scrum Master have trouble with the bit about spreading agility to the rest of the organization? You are not alone. This is difficult, but I can help.
Perhaps you use Kanban, perhaps you even had external consultants come in and teach you the basics, and set up the initial system, but now you are alone, a column is full, people are hit with WIP limits and wondering what to do, sales and marketing are “pushing” to meet promised delivery dates, and management are implementing some fairly draconian Kaizen “improvements”? You need my help!
Is everyone just sick of change, and want some space to focus on doing their jobs, delighting customers, and wanting to enjoy it as well? I can help find that space.
Perhaps you think everything is fine, and couldn’t be further improved? Well I am sure we can find something.
It goes without saying that I will approach any situation with tact, empathy, discretion and understanding of all involved parties. Many IT consultants have focused on fairly concrete products in the past, and it was just a matter of explaining what the product or method was, and implementing it. Softer, more personal issues were simply not relevant. Most of the problems facing organizations today are much closer to the realm of culture, values, and even emotions, yet many consultants approach things like it was simply a new software product to be installed, and people to be trained in, or a new method to be applied. This is why we see a lot of Scrum and Kanban being sold, but little true cultural improvement. I am not afraid to tackle some of the softer aspects that may be standing in the way of true increases in effectiveness.
More about me? I identify more with being a change agent than being a coach. Sure, as an external consultant I know less about your organization than you do, and I realize that you are much more critical to the success of any improvement effort than I am, but I am going to get stuck in. I am not going to sit on the sidelines like a neutral observer, or merely asking questions like a therapist leaving you to come up with solutions yourself. I, like any real human being come with my biases, prejudices, and my own vision about how a modern knowledge workplace should be, and I won’t try and hide that. And I certainly wont compromise it just to make a sale either. I am quite open about the fact that I find the majority of organizations involved in knowledge work to be run according to an unsuitable theory of management, and bring a toolkit inspired by more progressive approaches such as:
I think you can get a good idea of my values by checking out my twitter.
So let’s get some sort of dialog going: How can I help? What struggles are you facing at work? If you did have authority and budget for consulting, what would you like them to do? What sorts of experiences have you had with consultants in the past?
I know when I was a software developer I had a lot of steam to let off, I felt I was a victim of the prevailing mindset without even understanding it in those terms. I generally found value in sharing my troubles on certain mailing lists and online forums. I would like you to feel welcome in sharing your troubles with me.
Feel free to leave a comment below, or contact me via any of the social networking sites on the sidebar, or emailing me at email@example.com.
It probably wont be easy or comfortable, the change may be fairly radical, but you have to start somewhere!