The most dangerous phrase I’ve heard in my life as an Agile Consultant

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Feeling overloaded?

I was working at this company (which shall remain nameless), and we were struggling with getting things out in the market. They’ve since changed massively, but at that time it was hard even to get a bi-weekly release cycle going on. 

What was the most surprising in that organization was not that they had trouble releasing often, but rather that everybody was “happy” with the work they were doing. This was puzzling because I expected people to feel overloaded! Surprised, I started to investigate. 

Why are people happy with their work, but still can’t get anything done? 

When I started attending meetings and talking to people at lunch and in the coffee breaks, I started seeing a pattern emerge. Whenever a great idea came up, even crazy/unexpected great ideas, someone would say: “yeah, and we are already working on that.”

After hearing this a few times, it hit me! The problem was not that people were doing the wrong things, the problem was that people were doing “all the things”. 

When “working on it” isn’t a good idea

My immediate reaction was: “they must have a very lax PO that just says “yes” to everything!”, so I talked to the PO’s. But the problem was not with the PO’s (or the teams). The problem was something completely different. 

Everyone who said “we’re working on it”, would be greeted with a smile and the occasional pat on the back. In this company, the implicit reward was to present an image of taking ownership by “working on it”, no matter what the topic was. No matter the priority. No matter the consequence of what was waiting to be released. 

In this company, the implicit reward was to present an image of taking ownership by “working on it”, no matter what the topic was. No matter the priority. No matter the consequence of what was waiting to be released. 

The organization had indeed quite a big WIP (work-in-process), however, there were lots of ideas that were “being worked on”, that had nothing else than a meeting, or a few emails of effort done. The organization rewarded ‘just enough’ evidence to be able to say “we’re working on it”. 

When was the last time you heard that phrase? “We’re working on it”. Maybe you’ve said it yourself? 

This phrase (without the balance of “not a priority”) can destroy an organization’s ability to release value to the market.

This is only one of the many problems that Jacopo Romei and I have faced in our careers. In the SkiTertulia experience, we can share with you some of the solutions that we’ve successfully used to tackle the most dangerous phrase I’ve heard or any other topic you are struggling with! See here for more info on how to participate.

A friend on twitter just summarized this post brilliantly. Here’s what he said:

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