A Tale of Two Failures

Most consultants would have you believe that they possess the secrets to your success. I have believed it myself. If a client is going to pay me for having answers to their problems then I had better come up with the answers.

Every once in a while, I am reminded that success does not always beget success. Sometimes, failure is the path to success.

I was woefully reminded of that recently when two of my client engagements were both put on pause at the same time.

At one client, no amount of questions or answers would suffice. Leadership were convinced their existing way of working was the better way. It also happened to be the only way they knew. If you’re a hammer then everything looks like a nail *sigh*. And so, back they went. Putting on pause if not, blowing up everything they had achieved up to that point. Progress was being made but their patience had run out. I empathized with the people on the team who were putting in the effort to change. You could see the light of new possibilities in their eyes and hear it in their voices. Shame it’ll be grey-washed over with a fresh coat of the “same old, same old” formula.

In the other client, I was competing with a massive ecosystem change program. Hard for people to focus on changing ways of working when their very roles and livelihood are facing an extinction event. An extinction event that was planned out using good old-fashioned project management principles and practices. A program guided by a boatload of specialty consultants each with their own secret sauce.

Who was I to show up and cast dispersions on their contractually binding milestones and plans?

What have I learned from these two failures?

  1. Some alignment is not better than no alignment. At least with no alignment, I’m not wasting my time trying to work with dinosaurs. If all the managers that matter are not aligned from the get go, buckle up until they are all aligned.
  2. Don’t blame the team, blame the managers. Better yet, blame the system. The majority of the world still do what their managers tell them to do. People are not ready to accept empowerment until their managers tell them it’s ok to do so. And the managers won’t do so until the system incentivizes them to do so.
  3. Dedicated means 100%. Trying to implement Scrum with a cross-functional but part-time team leads to inefficiency and challenges with commitment and accountability.
  4. Don’t assume people can figure out what upstream Agile artifacts look like. Providing real examples of what incremental and iterative requirements, architectures and designs look like can go a long way in helping people adapt.
  5. “Learn by doing” doesn’t mean “Learn with no training”. Take time to deliver formal learning opportunities as a way to supplement learning on the job.
  6. Don’t compete with an elephant. Trying to introduce change within a larger change will be futile. Unless you’re a mouse.
  7. Consultants offer help, they don’t ask for it. Unless it’s part of the contract, consulting partners will never ask for help. It’s a sign of weakness to not have the know-how and answers.
  8. Telling people what they need to do is a short-term play. If you need to tell them, they will forget as soon as you leave.
  9. Silence does not mean agreement. More likely there’s a party going on and you’re not invited. Dig a little deeper to reveal the pulse.
  10. Coaching alliances are great. Aligning on outcomes is even better. Agreeing to interpersonal behaviours and rules of engagement is a great start. Aligning on outcomes will enable a fantastic finish.

What’s the moral of this tale?

“A couple of goose eggs is a recipe for success.”

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