Responding to the Covid-19 pandemic – what’s happening on a global scale

March 20, 2020 8:59 pm

As someone who works with teams and individuals on changing how they approach software development, I recently thought back to a model that originally came from the family therapist Virginia Satir. She used the model to illustrate how humans cope with change, and much has been written about it before. A write-up that’s often used in the Agile Software Development community is https://stevenmsmith.com/ar-satir-change-model/

In addition, a very detailed description is published at http://www.satirworkshops.com/workshops/balancing-act/satir-change-model/

Sadly, the images in that article don’t really show up in context, so I decided to re-create them and produce them in somewhat higher resolution – and I will use those re-creations here.

Normally the model is used to talk about how individual people react to change. It starts with a “Late Status Quo”, where our performance in whatever domain is hovering around a certain level:

This phase may last a while:

At some point, a change of some sort happens, a “Foreign Element” shows up. That could be an unusual new idea, a new person joining a team, or a new demand placed upon an employee:

The normal result from the introduction of this Foreign Element is that our our performance gets thrown into chaos:

How long the chaos will last is unknown.

While I’m writing this, the globe we live on is swept up in a pandemic of a viral infection outbreak called Covid-19. The viral infection has essentially caused the psyche of the entire population on earth to plunge into the “Chaos” phase all at once, and all over the planet.

People are naturally afraid of many things in this phase (contracting the invisible virus through non-symptomatic carriers, having to shelter in place at home, losing income, being unable to pay bills, etc.) Many have no way of working while the pandemic persists.

Others work in the “knowledge” domain, and are being instructed to conduct their business from home via the Internet, essentially having to become remote workers overnight. For those people, the foreign element is not only related to fears, but also to having to develop new skills and social “online” practices in a hurry. This exacerbates the feeling of chaos and mixes in a great deal of anxiety.

What is needed to get out of the chaos is a “Transforming idea”, an insight into how the new situation can be tackled, or a new skill that can be learned to make one feel more competent and confident:

Once this Transforming Idea exists, we move into the phase of “Integration and practice”, where our performance still oscillates wildly as we try on the new idea, or build up new skills:

With repetition and repeated practice, we slowly arrive at a “New Status Quo”, where our level of performance is (hopefully) above what it was before, since we are now more capable, and we experience natural oscillation around a new “normal”:

In the case of the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the transforming ideas to deal with the global outbreak is “social distancing” (more appropriate would be to call it “physical distancing”), where people avoid physical contact and close proximity to others to prevent transmission of the virus in the population.

Unfortunately that idea triggers additional chaos for those people who are being asked to become remote workers “over night” because they mostly work in intellectual endeavors. They are now asked to learn how to function well in an environment that is mostly unfamiliar to them, where social norms are not fully established, and new habits are difficult to form. This has given rise to many, many tips and articles being published online, laying out a plethora of Transforming Ideas to choose from, inviting people to join free sessions to learn new skills in a hurry, and all kinds of real-world training (and conferences) moving online. All of that is offered with the best of intentions – and without it we’d be much poorer off in terms of having Transforming Ideas available.

But as the Satir change model shows, integration and practice will take time. Enlightened companies and managers will take that into account and help their employees calm the fear and anxiety that is swirling all around. One key component to helping everyone work through the current situation is to realize that it is completely normal for people to react this way, and to reassure them that there is patience and a supportive stance that they can rely upon to calm some of the chaos.

A map of ideas, concepts and skills that help when guiding Agile teams

May 14, 2018 9:28 am

[This is a re-post from LinkedIn]

What does it take to become a guide for Agile teams? My own experience leads me to believe that exposure to a lot of different thinking helps, as well as learning some specific skills. This is an attempt at starting a kind of map or atlas to the world of useful skills for Agile guides. If you’ve seen other guides similar to this, I’d appreciate a comment on this post with pointers to your source.

Tactical

Teams and people

  • “Hands-on” experience with teams
  • Team formation and dynamics (Tuckman model, Satir change curve)
  • People management and engagement (Weinberg, Lichty/Mantle)
  • What motivates people (Pink)
  • Personality type models (Myers-Briggs, DISC)
  • How to launch teams well (Larsen/Nies, III)
  • Participatory decision making theory and skills (Kaner)
  • Collaboration theory and skills, meeting management (Tabaka)
  • Facilitation techniques and skills (Kerth)
  • Congruence in interactions (Weinberg)
  • Open Space Technology (Owen)

Leadership

  • Coaching skills (Adkins)
  • Teaching methods and skills (Presentation, workshops, games, simulations)
  • Learning modes (Auditory, Visual, Kinesthetic, etc.)
  • “Sales” skills (Pink)
  • Communication models and skills (Rianoshek/Connelly)
  • Non-violent communication theory and skills (Rosenberg)

Thinking and problem solving

  • Systems thinking (Deming, Meadows)
  • Complexity theory and models (Snowden)
  • Human Systems Dynamics (Holladay/Eoyang)

Integration

  • Innovation context conditions (Denning)
  • Organization models and theory
  • Psychology and process of change knowledge (Satir)

Each of the above is of course a deep and wide subject. No one person can ever cover all of them at any significant depth. But maybe that’s not necessary. Maybe just having been exposed to all of the above ideas, if even by reading a single book on each will expand your appreciation for how miraculous it is that people can accomplish work together in difficult situations, under pressure, uncertainty, changing circumstances and unclear focus. Just being aware of all this should help in becoming a good guide for the team you serve.

Agile may be the single idea (perhaps exemplifying “when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail” or “an idea is a most dangerous thing, if you only have one”) that you start with, but it will quickly lead you to discover a rich ocean of other “stuff” you can immerse yourself in.

One hard part in this is finding time to dip your toes in. A little weekend reading will do wonders. So will attending free webinars, if you can find them. Also, following the right people on Twitter to point you to summary blog posts, YouTube videos or book reviews. Taking good notes along the way is important. Or re-reading / re-watching to cement what you learned.

The hardest part is to keep all of the above in mind when you’re in the “heat of the moment”. How do you arrive at some “simple rules” for yourself in light of all this complex and rich material? How do you “integrate” all this information into your mode of being and operating?

Optimistic Agile

March 28, 2018 8:40 am

[This is a re-post from LinkedIn]

Are you seeing pessimism and seeming division in the Agile community? I’m seeing some of that lately, expressed on LinkedIn.

I get that it can be hard to keep a positive attitude in the face of reports that tell us that a lot of Agile journeys seem to not bring the desired results. And I also firmly believe that Agile CAN bring about positive change. I’ve seen it first-hand in the work I’ve done. Of course, there have been times when the prevailing currents have made it difficult, but on the whole, I’ve seen that change IS possible.

I wonder what a sort of declaration of Agile optimism might look like? Maybe something like this:

  • I believe that people have the capacity to change – when supported with caring, courage and openness.
  • I believe that organizations have the capacity to change – when the people in it spend enough time listening well to each other.
  • I believe that Agile values and principles can help with change – when really internalized and lived out.
  • I believe that learning from others’ experience is possible – when keeping an open mind and taking a good look at context.

That is, change is possible – and we realize that we need to help each other in making it happen. Do you think about Agile optimistically?

P.S.: If you are interested in reading about what might help and hinder Agile journeys, check out the book Susan DiFabio, George Dinwiddie, Rich Valde, Dan Neumann and I wrote together on that very topic: http://leanpub.com/agilejourneys

Classical music and the job search

March 18, 2018 8:37 am

[This is a re-post from LinkedIn]

Picture this: You’re listening to a piece of classical music on the radio, and it really resonates with you. You want to listen to it again and again, so you want your own copy of it. But your radio doesn’t have RDS, and before you can find out from the radio host what it is, the signal dies, and all you hear is static. How would you know which LP/CD/MP3 you need to go look for? Chances are, you have no idea. All you know is that you heard some beautiful music, and you want to hear it again. You probably can’t tell which orchestra played it – was it the Vienna Philharmonic or the Boston Pops? So when you get to the record store/music download site, what will you do? Look for an enticing “cover” image/album art? Even if you find one that speaks to you and buy it, it may be that when you listen to the recording, it’s not the same. So now you’re out of money and disappointed. And the orchestra you really wanted to support has missed out on a small contribution to their financial well-being.

Now picture this: You’re at work, and you’ve convinced yourself that you need to hire someone to help you solve a problem. The people already on your team can’t solve it, or there is more work than they can take on. You’ve figured out the particular mix of skills a person needs to have to help you. How do you go and find that person? If you have a good network that might be able to connect you to someone with those skills, you probably start there. What happens if you don’t have that (or you come up empty-handed)? You probably talk to your HR people and tell them what you’re looking for, and since the people there are busy and don’t have the time to actually talk to the potentially hundreds of applicants that will be coming, they either call a recruiting firm or post an ad on a job-seeker website. Then applicants (who have been taught the rules of the job hunting game) craft a resume that matches 80% (or slightly more) of the skills you’re looking for (using an Internet service that promises to mimic very closely the applicant tracking system that will be used by the company to filter out “unqualified” applicants). They submit that resume, and the recruiter’s system (or the HR ATS) matches the resume and triggers an email. Then the recruiter (who most likely doesn’t really know anything about the mix of skills you’re looking for – they get paid for fast placement of people) may interview the person to make sure they didn’t exaggerate their skills. They send them on to the HR person, who probably also doesn’t know much about the skills you’re looking for (and that’s quite understandable – after all, HR has to deal with everything from custodial employees to CEOs). You get maybe ten or twenty resumes to look over, and you decide to bring five people in for in-person interviews. None of them turn out to have exactly the right mix of skills you need. So now you’ve lost time and you’re disappointed. And a person out there is missing out on a major contribution to their financial well-being.

What do you see in these two vignettes? What is broken? What is working? How would you change things? What advice would you give and to whom?