Big IT companies are often very siloed environments. It's not uncommon to see everyone segregated by their role: Devs in one corner of the open space, testers in another, DBAs in another floor, SAs in a different building, project owners in another country, etc ... This silos are in my opinion very dangerous for the organisation and sometimes we are not even aware to what extend the environment is siloed. Let me give you an example:
Have you ever noticed how many developers that work in the same floor as you, say hi to you in the corridor while going to the toilet, the coffee machine or even at the street at lunch time? Interestingly, those who you frequently talk to would probably smile, say hi or give you some sort of greeting. But, there are others that when you cross paths, regardless that you work in the same floor as you for years, will look at the ground, at the sealing, at their phone or elsewhere just not at you. This are not people with a different role or rank than yours, this are the exact same people as you. So this little experiment shows to what extend the companies are siloed, If we are unable to say hi to each other when we cross paths, how on earth can we expect from us to be influential and drive change in an organisation?
Regardless of all this things, many recruiters still dare to write in their job specs the word 'Agile'. The obvious question arises: how is it possible for a little naive agile team to have significant impact in the overall organisation? All those cool 'Agile' ideas which could perhaps save millions, create a much better work environment for all, bring innovation ... are at the risk of slowly dying in the minds as time passes and the old school overwhelming corporate traditionalism just keeps on the same line of thought.
The answer to the question it's not brief and neither trivial to present since it's composed of many parts. But for now in this post I will gently scratch the surface of one of those partial answers, which is "Agile Influencing".
There is retrospective format which is actually a reverse organisational engineering exercise, which is specifically designed to help the agile self directed team, to pinpoint key players and elements in the organisation and craft and influencing plan that could help them gain some terrain (and who knows maybe even save some life's ;) ). Let's have a look at it.
Step 1 - Switch on the radar
At the retrospective, the facilitator will draw on the whiteboard, 3 concentric circles that will look like the image below. And will explain the purpose of each circle.
- The most inner circle will represent the areas of direct control by the team(e.g test environments, development tools ...). Of course all this areas will be different for different teams, maybe some team will have total control over their production database, while other team will not have the database under their control.
- The second circle represents the area of direct influence. This is the area where the team cannot directly control, but can influence(e.g line managers, other development teams, etc ...)
- The most outer circle represents what is totally out of reach for the team or even unknown(e.g Companies chain of command, board of directors ...)
Step 2 - Tuning the right frequency
The facilitator, will ask the team to decide on or many goals or topics, they feel they need influence in order to achieve it. And will ask them to stick them in the outer area of the circle.
Step 3 - Scouting
The facilitator will ask everybody to write in post-it notes, names resources(e.g hardware, software, databases, processes, etc ...) and also the names of people(e.g managers, team leaders ...) that could potentially be connected in one way or another, with the topics/goals in the outer area. They participant will put all this elements in any of the 3 circles based in how they consider their influence around them looks like.
Step 4 - Triangulating
In one way or another, either directly or indirectly elements that are on the board will be conected to the goal the team want's to achieve. Ask the members to draw dashed lines for those relationships they are less confident about and solid lines for those relationships they feel more confident about.
Step 5 - Firing
Once you know how things are connected, you can craft a plan for influencing. Don't worry if you don't get it right at the first go or you didn't really pinpoint the right person, this exercise will probably need to be repeated in multiple sessions, until the team discovers how to get to their goal. Every time write the actions you will take and assign them to your team members.
Tips to have in mind when crafting the strategy
- Not everybody equally aligned
People have different characters, priorities, ambitions... It is important to understand that many times the reality is that in the corporate environment people, for whatever reason pull in different directions. Being aware of this and understanding in which direction the influencers are pulling is key to develop a good tactic.
- People might ask for something in exchange
Sadly very few things are free this days, so don't be surprised if you have to often apply the first law of economics in order to get somewhere "If you want to get something, you have to give something away".
- Certain fears can be proven irrational
A well crafted proof of concept, an excellent presentation or maybe an in depth conversation with the right person, can help you win over hearts and minds. Many of the fears that people have when it comes to change are mainly founded in the uncertainty. If you are going to lead for change, you will have to lead by example.
- Where things are more obscure and unknown more light is needed
Don't confuse uncertainty/unknown from conflict of interest. Many influencers that are in a conflict of interest with you or your team will not tell you that directly. They will instead put some excuses such as risk, cost, time ... When in reality the real reason is probably just a self interest on guarding a position or a key resource. There is many of this scenarios, specially among management, make sure that you either bypass those influencers by finding others or ask more and more questions and clarifications when you suspect that their real reasons are not what they are saying they are. No matter how strong they are, never be afraid if your cause is just.
- Sum forces with those who suffer alike in order to gain greater visibility
You and your team are probably not the only ones, summing forces with others like you, no matter if you will have to negotiate certain things or arrange certain favours. The friends of your friends will become your friends and their influence will become your influence.
This article was part of a series of articles I started writing time ago on retrospectives. Here my previous posts on the topic:
Retrospectives – “Discovering our selves”(Part 1)
Retrospectives – “Lets talk about it”(Part 2)
Meditating about the self directed I.T company
Why big corporations don't like retrospectives?