March 4, 2015

Cultural Patterns – Part 2

Written by Cindy Bloomer

In my last post, I talked about what a “Get It Done” (GID) pattern looks like in organizations.  Today I’ll talk about another cultural pattern.

JUST DO IT

Many of us are familiar with “Just Do It” as a Nike ad campaign, which began in 1988…egad! I can’t believe that was over 25 years ago!

Although Nike (which, go figure, is the name of the Greek Goddess of Victory) got inspiration for their famous slogan from the final words of a serial killer (“Let’s Do It”), their ads resonated positively with the public because the simple words and imagery reflect our uniquely American values and spirit.

Be strong. Be bold. Be first. Be victorious. Do something. Do anything. Start now.

That spirit is at the heart of a JDI culture, a culture that focuses on and rewards starting.  A culture that plays to our passion, our confidence (some would say arrogance), our desire to win, and our innate belief that we will prevail under any circumstances.  Success and the American Dream are ours if we take action, work hard enough, and persevere.  This is where we come from, it’s in our national DNA.

So what’s wrong with that, you say?

Well, there’s nothing wrong with it, exactly.  It’s as American as baseball, mom, and apple pie.  But is it a good fit for Agile?

I’ve worked in many JDI environments; it was exciting, I enjoyed it, and I learned a lot.  Most first-responder and mission-critical jobs depend on people just-doing-it.  It requires the ability to adapt and make quick decisions while not having all the facts.  It’s fun, challenging, risky, and satisfying to plunge right in and get your hands dirty.  What’s not to like?

But it can also be stressful.  There’s an expectation to try harder, to do more, even to be perfect.  There’s often an element of competition, and a feeling that if we stop to rest, we’ll fall behind.  Adrenaline pumps through our body in response to the challenge of walking an ever finer edge, ready to spring into action, climb that next mountain, turn around that troubled project, or conquer the world.  We have the freedom to move fast, but not the freedom to fail.  Always, there’s the awareness that if we’re not up to the challenge, we’ll be seen as weak.  And as President Lyndon Johnson once said, “The American people will forgive you anything except being weak.”  While some of us can thrive in this kind of environment forever, for most of us it’s not sustainable for the long haul.  We burn out, or wear out, over time.

Lest I be misunderstood….starting things IS important.  As is passion, confidence, and the ability to adapt quickly and act in the face of uncertainty, to not be paralyzed by indecision.   These characteristics of a JDI culture are also essential to Agile delivery.

It’s just that in a JDI culture, the scale tips toward the un-Agile characteristics.  Like runaway WIP, because it’s more exciting to start the next new thing than it is to finish what’s already in progress.  Like fatigue, because the pace is not sustainable. Like an obsession with success, because there’s a low tolerance for failure. And like an emphasis on “I can do” over “we can do”.

An Agile change initiative would certainly start with a bang in such an environment; and would likely lose momentum before finishing.  An appropriate balance is needed to create change, respond to change, and sustain change.  And a JDI environment is out of balance.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it…..what do you think?

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