Mar 21

Crumbling empires

It was dark in the office. All the workers already signed off for the day and wend home. All was quiet. Except for one room deep in the bowels of the building. The door was shut and within the windowless office a few people where crouched behind their computer screens whispering and working. Boxes with cold pizza leftovers where pilled in one corner, and in the other a coffee machine was spitting out the last drops for the midnight coffee break.

For some of you this might bring back some memories of the old days, for others this is daily reality. Burning the midnight oil to get something done. People solving the problems brought onto them by people who are not doing their job. Working overtime is a sad and horrific thing. I’m ashamed to say that I have been there. Asking people to stay at work and finish the job. In my days as a project manager I just looked at the short-term solutions. Pleasing customers and trying to reach an unrealistic deadline set by sales managers. Not just once but at some point almost every day. It became part of the company culture. We sold projects for low budgets and with very short fixed deadlines. And the company always said that it was no problem.

After a few years I came to my senses. Pushing teams to the limit does not work. Making them work long hours does not work. Estimating with hours and without consulting the people who are doing the job does not work. Promising everything to customers without actually checking what needs to be done does not work. If we know this then why is it that a lot of companies are still doing this? I don’t want to say that by using Agile models this will solve in an instance. It does not. But what does happen when you start using models like scrum is that processes get clear and things become visible. I think the biggest problem is to confront people with this transparency. The company I worked for started using scrum. And very soon one person emerged. She was the sales manager who was always running around, bashing her fists on desks to get thing done. And always busy and never listening. Because the team started to work more together, and because there was direct contact with the customer it suddenly became clear that this salesperson was obsolete. The smokescreen she used was diminishing and all that was left was the noise of her shouting and banging on desk. But it was noise without any substance. It suddenly was visible that this particular salesperson never really did any work. Ok, she talked to customers and promised all sort of things. But she never had a clue about what was going on within teams. She did not have a vision or a plan. There was no two-way communication and she did not have any power within the company. I have to admit that it was a little bit sad to see that someone who seemed to be very important suddenly was obsolete. The last struggle of a small empire was visible and the walls where crumbling.

After a couple of weeks she was gone. Probably doing damage to a company that not yet used a visible way of working and communicating. When you adept to an agile model as a company you must be prepared to get rid of the deadwood. Some people are going to be redundant. But processes will optimize and those who are actually doing the job are emerging. Is something like scrum also a company-cleansing tool? I do think so. It will reset your business on a very low level and move up to the top layers. I think this is what makes agile also a bit scary because everything is touched by it. But is this bad? I don’t believe so. But when you start using agile models like scrum or kanban be prepared and don’t fight the change but embrace it. The salesperson could not adapt and had to leave. Unfortunately for her but good for the teams and the company. The room with the pilled up pizza boxes is now a storage space. The people that used to work there are now ironically occupying the sales office. And they go home on time; happy about the product they are building.

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  • GrefTek

    The key to ward of the desk-bangers such as the sales manager in your story is to get your team to quantify the work and get a proper estimate. With a substantiated planning you can counterbalance any offensive the sales perps launch against your project timeline. If you don’t have an answer to those loud people in your organization you have no munition to combat the unrealistic deadlines, which is where they will win by default.

    I agree the Scrum-method makes work more transparent and thus easier to combat the loudmouths, but any method backed with proper planning and a sturdy backbone can do the same.

    • I agree. In this case the salesperson just didn’t want to listen or change. She just kept banging and shouting. Any method that shows what is actually happening within a project can help to get rid of uncertainty. in my experience scrum did the job and also works very fast to show the weak links.