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Culture eats what....


I work as an Agile and DevOps coach for a multinational IT consultancy in Melbourne's CBD.

As a part of my work in the Agile and DevOps space I see many organisations striving to adapt Agile or DevOps principles into their organisation. Any change of this nature involves organisational change which I tend to address using Lean Change Management principles.

The concept of culture always crops up in any Agile or DevOps change. My clients, for the most part, understand that cultural change is needed to take on the best of Agile / DevOps however they don't seem to understand fully what culture really is and what or how we need to change.

Culture simply put 'is the way we do things around here' . Trying to understand the 'way we do things' brings us to ask how do you differentiate cultures or what makes up this 'way' of doing things.

Culture across countries and organisations is broken down into:

- Power Distance i.e. how close or far are employees from leadership or authority. e.g. in universities certain cultures would be comfortable to address a lecturer by their first name while in others they would be addressed as 'sir'.

- Individualism i.e. does the individual function as a person or a community. Do employees stand out and seek to be different as individuals or do they prefer to blend into a group?

- Masculinity / Femininity (I don't like the coining of this anymore!) - a masculine society is said to represent men/women of strength, dominances, assertiveness and egotism where as feminine societies represent traits such as supportive, caring and relational.

- Uncertainty avoidance i.e. what is the risk appetite

As an Agile or DevOps coach do I need to address each of these facets of culture? You certainly do need to understand these concepts and tailor your coaching accordingly. There isn't a prescriptive manner or a one-size-fits-all approach to attempt changing the way things are done in an organisation. Agile and DevOps certainly do require team and business level changes.

From experience I have learned there are guiding principles which I tend to follow in Change Management:

1) Most organisations comprise of experts in their own field. My expertise and experience is in the delivery of value from IT. I don't doubt the capability of an organisation to deliver in their own expertise. This requires humility from any coach. Humility and listening skills are paramount.

2) Having worked in IT organisations in Australia, England, Sri Lanka and India I understand that there is a common bond which exists between IT delivery professionals, be it an engineer, architect or tester. This common bond is the love of their work and technology in pursuit of the intrinsic motivator within i.e. mastery of their chosen profession. Most IT professionals are aware of the industry changes and the move to newer ways of doing things such as Agile, DevOps, etc. hence I'm often met with enthusiasm to do things the way the world's leading organisations are doing them. The frustrations teams face are often the difficulty to mimic these best practices due to challenges within the organisation. Having 'supporters' of the change provides a quick win to this change management process.

3) Cultural change is organisational change management. Two key facets to this success is leadership buy-in and consulting people prior to changing (nobody wants to be told what to do, they prefer to be consulted and involved in the change).

4) Transformations don't work. Small, incremental changes do work. Lean Change speaks about building a hypothesis for a small change and experimenting with this first. Data is then gathered and a retrospective run to determine if this should become the norm or let go of completely.

Peter F Drucker (a leading management guru) suggests that culture eats strategy for breakfast. Following some of the above principles have led me to believe while this may be the case it helps to offer up a more appetising meal to the audience.

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