In her Personality Matters series, Leslie Sachs examines the personalities and people issues that are found in technology groups, from cross-functional, high-performance teams to dysfunctional matrix organizations.
While the technical complexity of real-world ALM may be substantial, sometimes the people issues present even more complex challenges. Being able to understand the personalities and work culture of the folks doing the work can help you implement ALM in a comprehensive and effective way.
Agile application lifecycle management (ALM) provides guidance on all the tasks required to create, configure, and support complex software and systems technology. At its core, agile ALM provides structure and transparency so that everyone understands exactly what needs to be done on a daily basis.
Typically, a comprehensive ALM communicates how requirements (e.g., user stories) are gathered and how software is developed, tested, and continuously delivered to the production environment. I believe including all impacting stakeholders in the ALM is essential for your success; this means including your help desk, which interfaces with end-users, and even your auditors, who ensure regulatory compliance.
While the technical complexity of real-world ALM may be substantial, sometimes the people issues present even more complex challenges. Being able to understand the personalities of the folks doing the work can help you implement ALM in a comprehensive and effective way.
Putting structure around how people work is not an easy task. In our consulting practice, we often see that technology professionals who have been at their jobs for some time may be quite resistant to change, or even to simply providing more transparency, for fear that others may try to micromanage their work. These folks seem to be intent on protecting their turf and behaviors, which often present as highly isolated organizational silos. Application lifecycle management typically focuses on comprehensive process improvement, which inherently means change—often triggered by new technology or operating procedures. For example, many organizations have enjoyed great success by establishing cross-functional, high-performance teams.
These highly effective teams depend on open and constructive communication. However, optimal collaboration can be blocked or disrupted when members of the organization choose to not cooperate. These dysfunctional behaviors are typically a result of fear and distrust. We often observe that team members typically act more favorably to members of their own team and may deliberately not cooperate with those outside the group. But teams that compartmentalize information and refuse to collaborate with other members of the organization, even when there is a clear need to, just end up self-sabotaging.
This tendency to “protect one's turf” is problematic when trying to implement a complex system requiring cooperation between stakeholders throughout the organization. Covering up mistakes or working to maintain complete control over a function that should be shared among stakeholders are two other common dysfunctional behaviors that frequently derail process improvement efforts.
When defining your ALM, you need to have cooperation from all the key stakeholders so everyone can understand exactly what is being done today and how things might be improved. When there are organizational changes, it is very common for teams to try to fit their group as-is into the newly emerging structure. Similarly, new technologies and systems may also require different support functions, but the existing members of the team may try very hard to keep their existing approach the same—regardless of whether it serves the best interests of the firm. So, how do you go about being a successful catalyst for change?
We always try to understand the existing practices, and especially the organizational culture. Companies have histories that shape the values and beliefs of the people who work there. I have written about the construct of a collective unconscious in organizations. Strong, focused leadership is essential, and principles gleaned from the field of positive psychology can help guide the change effort. Above all, taking a participative and collaborative approach to defining the ALM is a critical success factor.
When we ask folks to teach us how they are working and to offer their advice on how things could be improved, we often receive a wealth of good suggestions. It almost seems like no one asked these people for their input before—and, sadly, that usually turns out to be the case. Some corporate cultures must be tweaked to include new behaviors, such as tapping into the existing knowledge base and talent pool, circulating information and suggestions, and unifying the organizational approach.
In organizations that truly value their human capital and provide incentives for new ideas and participation, individuals feel empowered to provide their input in a constructive way. Trust is fundamental. We have seen this approach be highly successful during reorganizations where it was clear that employees who helped put themselves out of a job would be offered training and other opportunities. Successful managers recognize that when they observe dysfunctional behavior, it is usually based on the employee’s own experiences within the firm. Improving the corporate culture by embracing input from all stakeholders can help facilitate positive change.
Agility is not just a set of practices to improve the way we develop software. It is also a broader approach to how the organization should operate on a day-to-day basis. When your team embraces effective communication and collaboration, your application lifecycle management will improve as well, leading to increased effectiveness overall and greater success meeting business objectives.