The more I explore how IT organizations work, the more I see how strikingly diverse they are. They are as unique as human beings. Each organization has its unique process, unique culture and unique service or product that they deliver. On the surface, it might seem that businesses can be broken down into categories, e.g. a small or a large, a production or a service company, and there's indeed a certain similarity. The big "but" comes into play when an organization wants to achieve some outstanding goal, e.g. increase sales by 300%, or cut down the time to production by 50%. There's no such thing as similarity then. Small things in which companies differ then gain the last-drop power for a breakthrough to happen. The uniqueness lies in custom mixes of organizational culture and production process. Unique goals require unique ways to achieve them. I will use software development industry as an example to illustrate one striking phenomenon that holds they key, the Holy Grail to getting things done efficiently in unique organizational contexts.
Solve a Unique Problem by Copy-Pasting a Solution? No way.
At various phases of their lifecycles, organizations have to address their unique challenges. What do stakeholders usually do first as they encounter a problem? One disturbing commonplace trend that I've noticed is to replace addressing the root of a problem with a trendy buzzword model or management technique, and rely on it thinking: "Once we implement this super thing in our company, all our problems will be resolved." Or, if the Super A..buzzword technique is implemented, and brings no results, stakeholders keep staying in the limited stalls of prescribed buzzwords, and then that's what they think: "Hmm, the Super A.. thing is not working. How about we try a Super K... thing?" I've written about that in my previous articles on agile, Kanban and Big Data, as I looked at their origin, and on how they play out in the long run. It could all be very well if this approach with sticking, or switching, to one coined technique or another helped in 100% of cases. That's not true, however. It seems that most organizations have slid from the ruthless clarity of a simple "why?" to juggling boxes filled with loud labels for what some time worked for someone. Thinking is the hardest job, and with the amount of cognitive loads that we, Homo Sapiens, experience these days, organizational stakeholders are tempted to use shortcuts and grab the leash of what a mega-guru has said should be done. *Totally forgetting that the mega guru probably used this technique or a tip for an organization that is completely different from yours*.
Which consequences does this habit have on a larger scale? Trying to fit a unique context of an organizational challenge to a limited set of Super A.. or Super K... techniques is an attempt in futility. If there's some fat on the belly, that is, if this organization can afford paying for such abstract things as "measuring agility" (???), then the stakeholders would hire a consultant to translate the language of how things work in their organization to a lingo of a Super A.. technique, and/or will send their employees to be certified in this new religion, and/or introduce some ridiculous measurements that would serve it. Such reality shows are ubiquitous, and the following lame syllogism crowns them: "We are going Super A.. now, so we need a tool to call ourselves truly Super A..." or " Hmmm... Super A.. does not work for us. The sales are not higher, and we do not have faster turnaround times, and Super A... is not helping us find out if what we are doing is actually right or wrong for our organization if we want to hit this target. Hmm. They now say a lot about the Super K.. technique. Yes! Let's try it. Let's switch to Super K.. and, of course, we want to be truly Super K.. so we need a tool for that!"
The Health Check: 5 Why's and 6 W's
The quickest health check is to ask the 5 Why's. Why are we doing this? If the name of the Super A.. will still linger in the answer to your very last 5th "why", you can probably throw the super A.. to the trash bin. Your organization needs to deal with real things. Not with the labels in a toy store. The other health check is the 6 W questions technique (What? Why? Where? Who? When? Which?) applied to what you have in plan for projects and processes. As a side note, I don't care from which buzz management Super XYZ lingo the 6 W's and 5 Why's originate (and, yes, I do know of Six Sigma). These are the simplest bulls..it detectors to verify the actual worth of an approach to management.
It breaks my heart to read articles and blogs on software development written exactly with the Super Whatever shallow mindset. I can't stand looking at how limited thinking prevents people from grasping the uniqueness of their challenges and addressing them effectively. I can't stand looking at how the loud name of "methodology" is haphazardly glued to the how-to techniques and practices that worked only for certain organizations. And, I've explored the reasons for that thing happening in one of my previous articles. The education that IT professionals receive is too narrow. It doesn't allow them to look beyond how-to's too much, as they are not even trained to look beyond the how-to's. The how-to approach works for coding, or for dealing with mechanisms, but it doesn't work for organization/product/project management. I'm humbly hoping that my articles help to provide broader and deeper perspective, a perspective that someone might need to fix things gone wrong in their organizations.
Back to my intolerance to the evil reign of how-to's and to the habit of their copy-pasting. This habit is even more dangerous than smoking or drinking, because with these everyone knows they are bad habits, while with the how-to's abuse, people keep thinking that if everyone else does it, then that's OK.
Pragmatism is Dead, Long Live Pragmatism!
It's time to regain justice and call things their true names. Let's retrieve one precious treasure from the chest of eternal wisdom and blow the dust off of it. The treasure that lies there abandoned has this written on its plate:
A methodology is a school of thought, and a method is a way of doing something.
In other words, practice is the only criterion for truth. On the meta-level, this reasoning is backed up by the philosophy of pragmatism. However, there can be a shallow pragmatism and a smart pragmatism. A shallow pragmatism, briefly, is a short-sighted plan and course of actions, while smart pragmatism is something that I've written about in the article Visualization: Why the Fusion of Arts and Tech Matters.
The smart pragmatism, for software development, occurs when the blind sages touching various parts of an elephant recover their sight and realize that all of its parts function as a whole. Often organizations held their internal mini-wars, especially as they grow, between marketing teams and production teams, as they divide the spheres of responsibility between many decision-making groups, and when those parts have to merge, it feels like flying through the rough air. The head does not know what legs and arms are doing, something of that nature.
I want to make null and void any methodologies except "use your guts". There's no such thing as a success of a one part. Success comes as a whole, and for that success to happen, unfortunately (or fortunately), there's no other way as to think outside-the-box, sometimes even forcefully blocking the trendy how-to's. One can read tons of books, or follow gurus, or "best practices", but these activities are secondary as compared to independent thinking. Sometimes, it's a surprising and a pleasant side-effect to discover that you have arrived to the same conclusion as some renowned guru did, but by yourself, in your practical context. And this is a lot more precious and effective than copy-pasting a technique with no deeper understanding. That's why, if you have no guts — grow them. If you have guts, but you're too tired, get some rest and restore your ability to think independently and clearly.
No Need for Ninjas, but Let's Call This Thing Somehow
The use-your-guts pragmatic methodology does require a method (a way of doing). I've checked on most of the methods used in software development. Some of them have common sense in-mixed with limiting prescribed practices (see my article Stuck with Kanban? Consider Multiban). As you might have guessed, I have invented a method that is based on Kanban, but differentiates from it in the core "way of doing ". And, although I'm quite skeptical about using new names for what appears to be clear, I still have a name for that method: Multiban. This word is a Japanese-English mixture, and means something along the lines of many boards, many views and many perspectives. This name will stick in the memory, as it implies connection with Kanban method, with one important update. While Kanban uses cards as static signs for work items only, Multiban uses cards as dynamic signs for any abstract or concrete entity. Multiban is a visual management method (see and use your guts) that has no prescribed practices. All Multiban wants are custom visual representations, multiple 2D views of crossed rows and columns, that support whichever perspective to power your thinking. Why I deemed Kanban a good method to build on further? It's because of the "visualize" part. That's about the only thing that is unquestionable about the Kanban method: visualization. Nothing else supports the pragmatic, use-your-guts thinking better than visualizing. Indeed, when things are brought from heads to paper (or to screens), that's a huge aide. Pragmatic stakeholders need more ways to look at what happens with their projects and processes, than with static Kanban cards that signify work items.
Now, as I've identified this method, for free-thinkers who want unlimited help and unlimited freedom with their unique ways of thinking, let's see which digital tools might support this. Most of the Kanban tools are limiting. They lack versatile visualizations. Here's a write-up about one such pretty decent Kanban tool that, however, fails to deliver many views and many perspectives. Quite predictable, I found out that so far only Targetprocess 3, our visual management software, supports the unlimited thinking and free-from-the-leash no-nonsense work — and the Multiban method — as it brings to the table unlimited 2D views for any dataset. No strings attached, the tool also allows to exercise agile, Scrum, Kanban and other SUPER ABC things. But the most important part about Targetprocess 3 is that it supports your own unique way of thinking and decision-making, be it on micro-level with bug fixing, or work items management, or on macro-level with managing portfolios of projects, or with roadmaps, in ERP or wherever.
I'm probably trying to squeeze too many things in one article. Each of the aspects I've touched upon deserves an article by itself. I'm certain that what this world lacks most is insightful out-of-the-box thinking. People are stuck in prescribed patterns on many levels in their lives, their work in software development, or organization/product/project management being one of them. I want to tackle this, and that's why I will persistently champion the smart pragmatism and the Multiban method in my writings.
If you want to learn more about how Multiban stands out as a method and as a technique for visual management, check the related articles.