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Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi once observed that,

“when a field becomes too self-referential and cut off from reality, it runs the risk of becoming irrelevant.” 

See page 89 of “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention”

Silencing discussions that don’t agree with your world-view is a self-referential cut off from reality.

Due to the recent firing of an engineer at Alphabet (Harvard graduate James Damore), we would like to propose the following (new) logo that reflects the true spirit of Google’s culture:

If you haven’t read Damore’s memo on diversity (which was written to facilitate open and transparent discussion within Google), you can read it here.

Even Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, had to admit that Damore had valid points. But, Pichai defended his firing of Damore with some rather twisted logic. On the one hand, Pichai accused the engineer of violating Google’s HR policies. One the other hand, he said that the engineer was free to express his opinion.

Huh?

Orwell would be proud.

1984 has arrived at Google and has now become its poster child.

This is exactly the kind of double speak that can be expected from politicians; or, in any organizational culture that is completely dysfunctional. Worse, Google is blind to its own predicament. And, hundreds, if not thousands, of posts on LinkedIn, twitter, Facebook, etc., have already pointed out the hypocrisy of Google’s leadership and their problem with groupthink.

Groupthink?

Yes, there is no better description for what is infecting the cultures of so many companies today. It seems our leaders have forgotten that those who ignore the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.

Groupthink has torpedoed more than one organization during the past 75 years since the phrase was coined. Merriam-Webster defines groupthink as:

“a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics”

see: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/groupthink

Wikipedia Defines groupthink as:

“…a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.”

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groupthink

Wikipedia further states:

“Groupthink requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking. The dysfunctional group dynamics of the “ingroup” produces an “illusion of invulnerability” (an inflated certainty that the right decision has been made). Thus the “ingroup” significantly overrates its own abilities in decision-making and significantly underrates the abilities of its opponents (the “outgroup“). Furthermore, groupthink can produce dehumanizing actions against the “outgroup…”

See Wikipedia link above.

Groupthink is a major blind spot for many organizations. Google is no exception. They don’t think (or believe) it applies to them.

However, they are revealing alignment with their true vision (see our white paper on Creating a Unified Vision). Google has a stated value: “don’t be evil.” Apparently, expressing ideas that don’t agree with the established cultural norms of Google, is now defined as “evil” and led to the firing of Mr. Damore.

Dr. Csikszentmihalyi also stated that,

“some of the most creative breakthroughs occur when an idea that works well in one domain gets grafted to another and revitalizes it.”

See page 88 of “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention”

In this case, Mr. Damore’s ideas came from another domain. Google has harmed its own creative culture and future creativity by it actions, thus stifling and snuffing out diversity of thought.

As pointed out in the Wikipedia article above, they have the illusion that they are right.

The firing of Mr. Damore is a perfect example of groupthink operating within Google. He dared to go against the culture and call out the leadership for their lack of true diversity. Whistle blowers rarely survive in groupthink environments. And, at minimum, it was career suicide to send out a 10-page memo like Damore’s regardless of its accuracy and importance to the discussion.

The key to preventing groupthink is to have a safe, honest, transparent environment in which all ideas can be discussed without fear of reprisal.

By firing Damore, all Google succeeded in doing was to further enforce and entrench a culture of fear. Instead of achieving the diversity that they state is desired, all they have done is to create a blah, monochrome culture (see new logo at the top of this post). And, in our opinion, reduced creativity.

Google’s message is clear:  anyone that dissents from the group norm will be fired. Alarm bells should be going off everywhere. No one is safe, unless they completely agree with Google’s internal state-run media.

Anyone working at Google, but who does not agree with the forced, coerced group norm will lose their jobs should they make the mistake of voicing their opinions regardless of its truth. “Google” is now merely an acronym for:

Go Outside Our Groupthink … Lose Employment

Can Google be fixed?

That depends.

Fixing Google needs to begin with the CEO. Unless Google’s CEO is willing to create a safe environment where truly diverse ideas, world-views, values, and attitudes are allowed and freely discussed, then it cannot be fixed.

Some are even calling for Pichai to resign. For example, “the august pages of the New York Times embraced a bit of controversy Friday morning, with the publication of another David Brooks special, “Sundar Pichai Should Resign as Google’s C.E.O.””

Usually, the fish rots from the head. And, David Brooks is correct, firing the CEO would be a first step towards cleaning up the cultural mess at Google.

To quote Dr. Csikszentmihalyi again regarding why creative organizations and people have become successful, he states,

“…one of the main reasons they had become successful was because they were truthful or honest.”

See page 166 of “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention”

He talks about the importance of honesty in social science, business, politics and social reformation creativity saying this,

“In none of these fields could you be ultimately successful if you were not truthful, if you distorted the evidence, either consciously or unconsciously, for your own advantage. 

See page 167 of “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention”

Our next book, “Flow: Get everyone moving in the right direction … and loving it” has many anti-Patterns identified that will disrupt or eliminate high-performance Flow for individuals, teams and organizations. Google’s whack-a-mole approach in eliminating thought diversity unfortunately is a wonderful example of one of these anti-Patterns.

A transparent, safe and honest culture will always be required for true high-performance.

So, for those of us who don’t work for Google, is there a way to avoid groupthink?

Yes.

A strong and effective antidote to groupthink that we have used during the past 30 years is the 4D Model:

You can discover its application in previous blogs, white papers and our previous book, The Nehemiah Effect.

However, to close this post, we want to bring attention to the first “D” – Define. Many times, a proper Definition of the problem is the first step to reaching a solution. Google thinks its problem is the public perception its actions caused.

The real problem is a culture that does not allow for diversity of thought and removes any dissenter. One would think that the President of Alphabet, Sergey Brin (a Russian-born American computer scientist, internet entrepreneur, and philanthropist, also co-founder of Google with Larry Page), with his heritage would keenly understand the negative and corrosive effects that removing dissenters has on a culture.

Our hope is that Google will deal honestly with the issues now publicly exposed within its culture. If they do not, our fear is the net result will be an anti-diverse, alphabet soup. And, remember, “the Truth will set you free.”

________________________

For those that are not familiar with Flow, it is what’s next for businesses and organizations that are ready to succeed regardless of the methods, frameworks or management tools that they use throughout their enterprise.

Are you ‘in the zone’ of optimal performance right now as a person, team or enterprise? Did you get there by accident or by focused intentional acts?

“Flow” gives you the tools and practices needed to create and maintain an optimal state of performance as an individual and in every area of your life.

Flow turbocharges your “business agile” leadership.

Our new book, “Flow: Get everyone moving in the right direction…and loving it” is scheduled for release in 2018:

  • eBook in January

  • Paperback in April (pre-orders will begin in March)

________________________

Andrew Kallman, FCP, FCT and Ted Kallman, FCP, FCT are the co-authors of Flow and the Unified Vision Framework Their book, “The Nehemiah Effect” is a #1 National Best Seller on Amazon.com in the US during six different months since it was published in February of 2014 (i.e. #1 in the following 4 sub-categories:  1. Decision-making, 2. Business, 3. Consulting and 4. Project Management):

The Nehemiah Effect: Ancient Wisdom from the World’s First Agile Projects

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Linus Pauling once stated,

“I have a picture, a sort of general theory of the universe in my mind that I’ve built up over the decades. If I read an article, or hear someone give a seminar talk, or in some other way get some piece of information about science that I hadn’t had before, I ask myself, ‘how does that fit into my picture of the universe?’ And if it doesn’t fit, I ask, ‘why doesn’t it fit in?'”

Source: Page 118, “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention”, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

We have found this approach to be true in our own exploration of how to apply and effectively utilize Flow and the Unified Vision Framework. Constantly cross-pollinating ideas and theories from multiple domains and fields has strengthened and deepened our frameworks and tools.

It is particularly interesting when we both independently react to an article in this way. So, thank you Google and Inc. Magazine, for sharing important research that affirms the positive results of Flow properly applied in team situations.

You can read the full (and very interesting) article at the following link where Julia Rozovsky outlines the five key characteristics of Google’s highly successful teams:

https://www.inc.com/michael-schneider/google-thought-they-knew-how-to-create-the-perfect.html

The five traits are:

1. Dependability.
“Team members get things done on time and meet expectations.”

2. Structure and clarity.
“High-performing teams have clear goals, and have well-defined roles within the group.”

3. Meaning.
“The work has personal significance to each member.”

4. Impact.
“The group believes their work is purposeful and positively impacts the greater good.”

And the last trait stood out from the rest:

5. Psychological Safety.
“We’ve all been in meetings and, due to the fear of seeming incompetent, have held back questions or ideas. I get it. It’s unnerving to feel like you’re in an environment where everything you do or say is under a microscope.

But imagine a different setting. A situation in which everyone is safe to take risks, voice their opinions, and ask judgment-free questions. A culture where managers provide air cover and create safe zones so employees can let down their guard and become free to deliver remarkable results.

That’s psychological safety.

Yes, we know that this is not the quantitative data for which you were hoping. However, Google found that teams with psychologically safe environments had employees who were less likely to leave, more likely to harness the power of diversity, and ultimately, who were more successful.

Engineering the perfect team is more subjective than we would like, but focusing on these five components increases the likelihood that you will build a dream team. Through its research, Google made the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle proud by proving, “The whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.””

The key traits described above are actually talking about the proper application of a culture of Vision. Ultimately, as we discuss in detail in the “Nehemiah Effect” and our new book “Flow”… “Culture eats everything for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

In Flow, we define “Culture” as:  Vision, Mission, Purpose, Core Values & Attitudes; and, Goals & Objectives.

So, once a clear Definition of a psychologically safe culture of Vision has been stated, agreed to and exhibited by the executive and team leaders, then the resulting high-performance, demonstrated by the Google teams, is a natural outcome.

Let’s look at Google’s five traits through the lens of Flow and the Unified Vision Framework:

In order to Deliver high-performance (1. Dependability), teams need to have a strong culture of Vision (3. Meaning, 4. Impact and 5. Psychological Safety) combined with clear Definitions and Distilled agreements (2. Structure and clarity). High performing teams also maintain a focus on the most important, highest priority items by continuously reminding each other what success looks like and iteratively adjusting activities to ultimately Drive that success (2. Structure and clarity).

For a more complete discussion about the impact of Vision, see our previous blog post:

https://pmobrothers.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/the-power-of-the-one-thing/

________________________

For those that are not familiar with Flow, it is what’s next for businesses and organizations that are ready to succeed regardless of the methods, frameworks or management tools that they use throughout their enterprise.

Are you ‘in the zone’ of optimal performance right now as a person, team or enterprise? Did you get there by accident or by focused intentional acts?

“Flow” gives you the tools and practices needed to create and maintain an optimal state of performance as an individual and in every area of your life.

Flow turbocharges your “business agile” leadership.

Our new book, “Flow: Get everyone moving in the right direction…and loving it” is scheduled for release in 2018:

  • eBook in January

  • Paperback in April (pre-orders will begin in March)

________________________

Andrew Kallman, FCP, FCT and Ted Kallman, FCP, FCT are the co-authors of Flow and the Unified Vision Framework Their book, “The Nehemiah Effect” is a #1 National Best Seller on Amazon.com in the US during six different months since it was published in February of 2014 (i.e. #1 in the following 4 sub-categories:  1. Decision-making, 2. Business, 3. Consulting and 4. Project Management):

The Nehemiah Effect: Ancient Wisdom from the World’s First Agile Projects

Recently we came across a very interesting book:

The One Thing by Gary Keller

The one thing that is powerful about this book is that it validates what we’ve been teaching for years on how to transform any organization from Traditional / Waterfall (i.e. Command-and-control) thinking to becoming truly Agile (see our previous blog posts for more on that).

What we want to revisit in this blog post is the exponential impact of a properly Defined and accurately communicated Vision.

Many Executives that attend our Flow training remark that Cascading Vision is one of the most powerful features of Flow and the Unified Vision Framework (V = Vision and VSPT = Vision, Strategy, People and Tasks):

cascading-vision-vspt-4d-model

The 4D Model and VSPT need to be Cascaded throughout the organization

Most organizations assume that they are successfully Cascading their Vision from top to bottom. Research across the board shows that this is a fallacy and that the upper level Vision is rarely clear at the task level. And, even fewer organizations are able to link-back the Vision (via intentional actions) from the team level back up through the organization to accomplish the Vision.

In the following examples, the Organization is six levels deep (to reach the team member level) and the percentages are the percent remaining after dilution.

The grim reality is that even if you lose only 10% of the clarity at each organizational level (as the Vision cascades through it), by the time you get to the individual team member you have already potentially lost almost half (47%) of the original Vision:

Dilution Example 1

At the Program level in Example 1 above, 27% of the original Vision is at risk of having been Diluted. This is probably one of the better arguments for flattening an organization, since the fewer levels you have, the less Dilution of the Vision can occur.

At an 80% level of clarity (a 20% loss in clarity per level; an 80/20 Pareto), by the time you get to the individual level you may have lost up to three-fourths (74%) of the original Vision:

Dilution Example 2

At the Program level in Example 2 above, around half (49%) of the original Vision is at risk of having been Diluted.

At a 50% level of clarity, you have gridlock; and, perhaps only a 2% chance that the original Vision makes it through to the Individual team member:

Dilution Example 3

At the Program level, in this Example 3, almost all of the original Vision (87%) is at risk of having been lost.

These examples of Dilution are stunning.

It is also what we find, routinely, to be the case in most organizations when we begin to work with them. It is also no surprise that many executives end up frustrated with such dismal results for their Program, Project and Team-level results.  But, we believe the graphs above explain why up to:

  • 86% of all (Traditional/Waterfall + Agile) projects “fail” (14% success rate)

  • 70% of all Change programs “fail” (30% success rate)

  • 58 % of all Agile / Scrum projects “fail” (42% success rate)

The ability of an organization to effectively and accurately communicate its Vision to all levels is not a “nice-to-have.” It is a matter of life or death.

For many years now we have advocated the use of what we call the “Cutting Room Floor” / Forced Prioritization exercise (i.e. prioritizing the work at the Board, Cxx, Executive and Director levels).

This involves taking the entire backlog of work (i.e. Programs / Projects) that needs to be done and going through a few rounds of editing (i.e. cutting).  If you start with 25 items in your Executive backlog, then the first round of cutting should eliminate 80% of the items.  That is only 20% make it through the first round of cutting. So, you go from 25 backlog items down to 5 items.

The second round of cutting follows the same idea that 80% of the surviving 5 items are eliminated and your are left with one item in your backlog.  This is your “one thing.” This is the item on which you focus the organization:

25 –> 5 –> 1 Example

With 25 items, to focus on all 25 would require that you split your attention between them, resulting in less that 4% of your attention on each one.  Already cutting it to five items increases your productivity 5-fold and you could devote 20% of your attention to each one.  Bringing it down to one gives you a chance to give your full attention to your “one thing.”

Simple? Yes.

Easy to do? No.

In this updated version of Cascading Vision, we have Distilled Vision and VSPT (Vision, Strategy, People and Tasks) down to the idea of “one.”

The “dominos” in this picture are adapted from the images for Gary Keller’s book

 In the example above, we depict a series of dominoes on the left side, where each successive domino grows in size by 50%. If you start with a 2 inch domino, the second domino would be 3 inches tall. The third domino would be 4.5 inches tall, and so on.  Gary Keller captures this geometric progression in his book, and we have just the first part of the curve from that image here:

The original picture can be seen in the images for Gary Keller’s book

At the 19th domino, the size of the domino is taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. At 25 dominos, it’s as tall as the Eiffel Tower. At 31 it’s taller than Mount Everest. And, at 57 you’ve almost made it to the moon!

A really good video on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y97rBdSYbkg&t=7s) by Stephen Morris illustrates this point very well. Although it’s an ad, the Prudential Dominoes Experiment video is also impressive (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZpjmBGIp44).

Keller’s metaphor demonstrates (along with the videos) the powerful impact of small, intentional actions that are continuously focused on the right Vision, the clear “one” thing.

However, one of the biggest blockers for the Vision (“one thing”) to freely flow, domino-to-domino throughout the organization, is language.  The language spoken at the Executive, Senior Management (i.e. Portfolio level) and Program Levels seldom has anything to do with the language spoken by the Project, Team or Individual levels:

cascading-vspt-with-one-incl-languages-leadership-managment

Language of Leadership vs. Management

The result of this language barrier is a dilution of focus, and thus the Vision, which eliminates the power of the domino effect. This can also result in a disconnect between the levels.  It’s the difference between the Language of Leadership and the Language of Management (see our previous blog post).

What is most powerful in any organization is the ability to effectively and accurately transmit the Vision throughout all team level and individual activities. And, linking back the “one thing” from the individual and team levels back up through the organization has the potential to create exponential value-add.

And when you factor in the fact that the Business and IT/Tech sides of the organization also have their own “languages,” it becomes clear that having clear Definitions, to which everyone agrees (i.e. Distillation) is the only way to insure Delivering value and Driving the organization forward:

The 4D Model from Flow and the Unified Vision Framework

In the past, we have used the 1 Language + 1 Mind + 1 Plan = 1 Vision formula to communicate the need for this clarity.  We’ve been using the idea of “one” for quite a long time, but the domino metaphor Mr. Keller uses are the clearest visual of how this works that we have ever seen.

Additionally, we created the Vision Flow Formula to help organizations visualize the negative results of poorly defined and/or communicated Vision:

vision-flow

If the Vision is poorly defined (or, even missing), then the probability of having Anarchy in the organization is high.  If you have the wrong people in the wrong roles, then Anxiety among your team members will probably go through the roof.  Any part of the 4D Model that is missing will most likely result in Confusion, Politics, Chaos and/or Division.  The word “Division” in English literally means “two visions.”

As the old saying goes, “united we stand and divided we fall.”

The only antidote to “Division” and “Dilution” is to Distill your Vision down to your “one thing” at every level. Successfully doing that has the potential to release exponential results.

________________________

For those that are not familiar with Flow, it is what’s next for businesses and organizations that are ready to succeed regardless of the methods, frameworks or management tools that they use throughout their enterprise.

Are you ‘in the zone’ of optimal performance right now as a person, team or enterprise? Did you get there by accident or by focused intentional acts?

“Flow” gives you the tools and practices needed to create and maintain an optimal state of performance as an individual and in every area of your life.

Flow turbocharges your “business agile” leadership.

________________________

Andrew Kallman, FCP, FCT and Ted Kallman, FCP, FCT are the co-authors of Flow and the Unified Vision Framework Their book, “The Nehemiah Effect” is a #1 National Best Seller on Amazon.com in the US during six different months since it was published in February of 2014 (i.e. #1 in the following 4 sub-categories:  1. Decision-making, 2. Business, 3. Consulting and 4. Project Management):

The Nehemiah Effect: Ancient Wisdom from the World’s First Agile Projects

Flow continues to grow!  Three new groups of FCPs certified from April – August.  We are now up to 57 FCPs in the US and Europe.

Congratulations to the following new FCPs that attended the 27-28 April 2016 at World Mission with Ted and Jeff:

  • Bernie Blauwkamp, FCP

  • Tim Cosby, FCP

  • Daniel Kallman, FCP

  • Joel Kallman, FCP

  • Greg Kelly, FCP

  • Joe Moss, FCP

  • John Sawyer, FCP

  • Ken Steensma, FCP

Also, Congratulations to the following new FCPs that attended the 22-23 June 2016 training at Double-O with Ted and Jeff:

  • Justin Beene, FCP

  • Nate Beene, FCP

  • Shannon Bruin, FCP

  • Erin Sweeney, FCP

  • Tiffany Clarke, FCP

  • Dawn Carowitz, FCP

  • Mike Otis, FCP

  • Jack Johnson, FCP

  • Philip Otis, FCP

  • Tom Powers, FCP

And, Congratulations to the following new FCPs that attended the 17-18 August 2016 training at Culver CPA with Ted and Jeff:

  • Rob Arnold, FCP

  • Duane Culver, FCP

  • Lena Abissi, FCP

  • Tim Lunger, FCP

  • Traci Zimmer, FCP

  • Teri Kukla, FCP

  • Emily Dykema, FCP

  • CC Curey, FCP

  • Robert Grove, FCP

  • John Sawyer, FCP

  • Ross Sweetman, FCP

  • Suzie Kim, FCP

  • Chris Stapleton, FCP

  • Ben Crompton, FCP

  • Todd Jones, FCP

We’re looking forward to working with each and every one of you to help to build your Flow leadership careers.

Again, well done everyone!

________________________

For those that are not familiar with Flow, it is what’s next for businesses and organizations that are ready to succeed regardless of the methods, frameworks or management tools that they use throughout their enterprise.

Are you ‘in the zone’ of optimal performance right now as a person, team or enterprise? Did you get there by accident or by focused intentional acts?

“Flow” gives you the tools and practices needed to create and maintain an optimal state of performance as an individual and in every area of your life.

Flow turbocharges your “business agile” leadership.

________________________

Andrew Kallman, FCP, FCT and Ted Kallman, FCP, FCT are the co-authors of Flow and the Unified Vision Framework Their book, “The Nehemiah Effect” is a #1 National Best Seller on Amazon.com and was #1 again as recently as September 2015 (i.e. #1 in the following 4 sub-categories:  Decision-making, Business, Consulting and Project Management) for 6 of the last 29 months:

The Nehemiah Effect: Ancient Wisdom from the World’s First Agile Projects

On 02 – 03 March 2016 at EC Group International, Inc. in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Ted led and Jeff co-facilitated the latest Flow Certified Professional (FCP) course in the US.

Congratulations to the following Professionals (and potential future Trainers) on a job well-done:

  • Mark Becker, FCP

  • Sue Cotts, FCP

  • Torey Heinz, FCP

  • Jay Keller, FCP

  • Dave Lambert, FCP

  • Michael Sudyk, FCP

  • Laurel Verburg, FCP

We’re looking forward to working with each and every one of you to help to build your Flow leadership careers.

Again, well done everyone!

________________________

Join us at our next FCP and FCT courses in Stockholm, Sweden on 04 – 08 April 2016!

________________________

For those that are not familiar with Flow, it is what’s next for businesses and organizations that are ready to succeed regardless of the methods, frameworks or management tools that they use throughout their enterprise.

Are you ‘in the zone’ of optimal performance right now as a person, team or enterprise? Did you get there by accident or by focused intentional acts?

“Flow” gives you the tools and practices needed to create and maintain an optimal state of performance as an individual and in every area of your life.

Flow turbocharges your “business agile” leadership.

________________________

Andrew Kallman, FCP, FCT and Ted Kallman, FCP, FCT are the co-authors of Flow and the Unified Vision Framework Their book, “The Nehemiah Effect” is a #1 National Best Seller on Amazon.com and was #1 again as recently as September 2015 (i.e. #1 in the following 4 sub-categories:  Decision-making, Business, Consulting and Project Management) for 5 of the last 15 months:

The Nehemiah Effect: Ancient Wisdom from the World’s First Agile Projects

On 17 – 18 September in Grand Rapids, MI Ted and Andrew facilitated the first Flow Certified Professional (FCP) course in the US.

Congratulations to the following Professionals and future Trainers on a job well-done:

  • Dr. David Rico, FCP, FCT*

  • Mark Mochel, FCP, FCT*

  • Olwen Urquhart, FCP, FCT*

  • Jeff Kissinger, FCP, FCT*

  • Tim Gess, FCP, FCT*

* All five also completed a Provisional FCT and we’re looking forward to working with each and every one of you to help to build your Flow leadership careers.

Again, good job everyone!

________________________

For those that are not familiar with Flow, it is what’s next for businesses and organizations that are ready to succeed regardless of the methods, frameworks or management tools that they use throughout their enterprise.

________________________
Andrew Kallman, FCP, FCT and Ted Kallman, FCP, FCT are the co-authors of Flow and the Unified Vision Framework Their book, “The Nehemiah Effect” is a #1 National Best Seller on Amazon.com and was #1 again as recently as September 2015 (i.e. #1 in the following 4 sub-categories:  Decision-making, Business, Consulting and Project Management) for 5 of the last 15 months:
The Nehemiah Effect: Ancient Wisdom from the World’s First Agile Projects

“If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.” ~ Steve Jobs

“The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but has no vision.” ~ Helen Keller

Yes, and if you are not led, pushed and pulled by Vision, then you will be driven a thousand different directions (all at once), by circumstances.  Which, frankly, is pathetic. If your circumstances are driving you, don’t give up.  There is hope and help is on the way.

Hopefully your efforts to turn things around or implement a successful cultural change will be part of the 30% of change programs that succeed. Being able to do a successful organizational change is a rare commodity in the business world.  There are entire groups and teams that are solely dedicated to guiding organizations through the turbulence change naturally creates.

If you are involved in working with people, processes, projects, programs, products, services or results, then you are automatically working with change.  Since roughly 70% of all change efforts fail, this helps account for the dismal success rate of less than 50% success for all project management methodologies and scaled frameworks, regardless of whether they use Traditional (Waterfall), Lean (Kanban) or Agile (Scrum, etc.).

We have communicated the importance of using “Vision” as the Driver to lead change management and/or project or corporate turnarounds for over two decades.

There is an old proverb that says, “where there is no vision, the people die” and another version of the same one that states, “where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint.” That conveys the same idea of letting all of the horses out of the barn and watch them run off every which direction and disappear over the horizon.

We have Distilled this idea into a simple Flow Framework for Success:

Vision + Right People (RP) + Definitions (D1) + Distilled Agreement (D2) + Deliver (D3) + Drive (D4) = Successful Organization

To be successful your organization needs to have Vision Flow:

Vision Flow

Steve Jobs also said,

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Steve Jobs (Apple) in Wired, 19.12.2012, pg 233

Yes, and simple is not easy.

We always begin with clarifying and simplifying the Vision.

– What is the vision for the team?
– What is the value-add that we are going to deliver?
– Why are we doing this?
– How does that team vision link to the vision of the product, service or result that we are trying to achieve?
– How does the team’s vision link to the program(s), process(es) and portfolio(s) to which it belongs?

In our experience, most vision statements are not clear, easy to remember, are too long and not actionable.  Although most enterprises and organizations are able, to some extent, to cascade their vision from the top-down as shown on the right side of the following picture:

Cascading Vision B and W with VSPT

However, the reality is that the farther you are from the C-suite, the less clear the vision usually is.  For that reason, very few organizations are able to create an effective feedback loop from the bottom-up.  If the vision is not simple and clear, the teams will not be able to respond in delivering the vision.  If the vision is not being delivered by the teams and individuals, then communicating back via the feedback loops doesn’t happen.

Having a successful feedback loop provides useful information and trends with which the executive leadership can make valuable, sustainable and beneficial decisions for the companies that they are leading.  VSPT (Vision, Strategy, People and Tasks), as show in the graphic above, should occur at every level in the organization and needs to be defined by the leaders, teams and individuals at each level.

The red line in-between the VS and PT is what we use to communicate the usual disconnect that we have found in every company with which we’ve worked.  Peter Drucker summed it up this way:

“Only three things happen naturally in organizations:

1.friction,

2.confusion, and

3.underperformance.

Everything else requires leadership.”   Peter Drucker

The following is an example that demonstrates the power of Vision at the team level.

Take a moment to think about what you would do (using your knowledge, skill set and experience) to rescue the following project that was totally up in flames – and, you have only 90 days to successfully implement the change and turn the project around:

– 2 years into a 3 year project
– An infrastructure build-out, including Operational Support Systems (like CRM, BACC, etc), plus a marketing team that was supporting a national brand launch
– 440 Stakeholders
– 38 Steering Committee members
– ETC (Estimate To Completion – time) 3 + 2 yrs
– ETC (Estimate To Completion – budget) +300%
– Weekly, 4-hour status update meetings that were shouting matches and politics
– A demoralized team working 60 – 80 hours per week
– Team leader was a PhD in Org Behavior and there from the start (and, was using the PMBOK, cover-to-cover, to try to deliver the project)
– 40 reports issued bi-weekly, including status updates
– An MS Project plan with over 2,000 lines of work/tasks

Some of the responses we’ve heard when using this exercise in training situations have included:

– Fire everyone and start over
– Look for quick wins and use the success to gain momentum for the team
– Go back and get executive buy-in for the changes needed
– Run away, you can’t fix this
– This sounds like the project I’ve been doing for the last 6 months
– Time to update my resumé
– “www.monster.com”
– etc.

This is a perfect example of where all of the elements listed in the Flow Framework image above were broken, fractured or absent and where the organization was getting the wrong results.  A breakdown of the “as is” situation for the project listed above using the Flow Framework is as follows:

Unclear Vision + RP + D1 + D2 + D3 + D4 = Anarchy

– An infrastructure build-out, including Operational Support Systems (like CRM, BACC, etc), plus a marketing team that was supporting a national brand launch

Vision + Wrong People + D1 + D2 + D3 + D4 = Anxiety

– A demoralized team working 60 – 80 hours per week
– Team leader was a PhD in Org Behavior and there from the start (and, was using the PMBOK, cover-to-cover, to try to deliver the project)

Vision + RP + Wrong Definitions + D2 + D3 + D4 = Confusion

– 440 Stakeholders
– 38 Steering Committee members

Vision + RP + D1 + Assumed Distilled Agreement + D3 + D4 = Politics

– Weekly, 4-hour status update meetings that were shouting matches and politics

Vision + RP + D1 + D2 + Delivery Executed Poorly + D4 = Chaos

– An MS Project plan with over 2,000 lines of work/tasks
– 40 reports issued bi-weekly, including status updates

Vision + RP + D1 + D2 + D3 + No Way to Drive Success = Division

– ETC (Estimate To Completion – time) 3 + 2 yrs
– ETC (Estimate To Completion – budget) +300%

What were we dealing with when we walked in the door?  Anarchy, anxiety, confusion, politics, chaos and division.  It might have been wise at that point to take the advice that one of our students shared above and “run away!”

We didn’t.  Our faith rests in a powerful framework that has succeeded hundreds of times before in turning bad situations around and that gave us the confidence that this one could be saved, too.

So, instead of turning tail and running, we started with the Project’s Vision.

You will want to work from the level you are at.  Vision is always the key Driver for what you are trying to achieve for your product, service or result (increase revenues, decrease costs and/or get rid of or mitigate risk).  If there is no project vision, your job as a leader is to Define and Distill Agreement on what the Vision is, with the appropriate stakeholders.

Sometimes it’s possible to get senior executive support, sometimes it’s not.  In this case it was vital to the eventual success of the project, but we didn’t start out with the full support of the Senior VP in charge.

However, even if we had never obtained his full support, we still would have started with the project’s vision because that’s how you bring a team’s focus on doing the right actions which leads to high performance, regardless of executive buy-in.

The project’s “wrong results” were a pretty good indication that the Project’s Vision was fractured.  And, upon closer inspection this project was a poster-child of everything that could possibly go wrong.

Before heading to Singapore, Andrew made sure that he had the buy-in from the executive leadership at Ericsson and Deloitte, including that the project could even be cancelled, if necessary.  Part of the Stakeholder management in this case was to also get buy-in from the Senior VP at SingTel, the sponsor for the project, to make the following change:

– The total number of project stakeholders was reduced from 440 to 38.  If you use the communications formula of n * (n-1) / 2 for 440 stakeholders, that resulted in a total of 96,580 potential communication channels (i.e. 440 * (439) / 2 = 96,580).

– By reducing the stakeholders to 38, that reduced the potential channels down to 703.  A 91% reduction in the number of stakeholders resulted in a 99% reduction in the potential number of communication channels.

– With 96,580 original channels, it is no surprise that the noise and politics had completely crippled the productivity of the project team.

The Senior VP was reluctant, at first, to give Andrew the free hand needed to deal with the other stakeholders.  Eliminating over 400 stakeholders from the project created quite a stir and the noise level went up dramatically in the short-run.

And, if Andrew had been able to do the Vision exercise (that we now usually do with the organizations with which we work) where everyone (all 440 stakeholders) is given a blank post-it note and asked to write the “vision” for the project, word-for-word, he knows from experience that he would have gotten over 500 versions of the project’s “vision” back from the participants to put up on the wall – and, we know for certain that the majority of the post-it notes would not have matched each other.  There would not have been a Unified Vision.

The word “division” in English literally means “two visions.”  Most often, when you have two visions, they don’t necessarily line up with each other.  Imagine having over 500 “visions” that were out of alignment with each other.  This gives a whole new meaning to “division.”

Andrew worked with the team to align their Project Vision into a short, easy-to-communicate vision statement along the lines of “enabling the successful launch of Brand X.”

With the team’s vision in place for the project, Andrew then started issuing a newsletter to update the original 440 stakeholders to keep them in the loop, status-wise, on the progress of the project team towards the Vision.  This mitigated the noise levels from the 400+ external stakeholders significantly.

Andrew used Vision to kill off the anarchy.

 

Getting the Right People on the team.

Did they have the right people on the project team?  Apparently not.  They were one or two people short.  Initially Andrew was added to the team to assess whether or not the project could even be saved.  He later added one or two additional team members, short-term to the team to support the project during the 90-day turnaround period.

After meeting with the original project team, Andrew decided that everyone on the team was competent to be able to deliver the project.  The team members themselves, however, weren’t as confident.  In fact, most of them weren’t worried that they would be removed from the project and they were probably hoping that was the case after two years of exhausting work.  They were actually afraid that they were going to be fired from their respective companies.  The team’s anxiety level was through the roof, and based on their performance to that point, they should have been worried.

Rebuilding the team included some of the following:

– Team forced to reduce their hours worked to only 45 hours per week, per team member
– Team leader stayed to the end – as did all team members

Quantity of time worked does NOT equal quality.  In fact, the quality goes down if the team has been working at an unsustainable pace for too long, which was the case with this team.  The team was in shock when they were told that they would no longer be allowed to work 60 to 80 hours per week.  Andrew capped their time at 45 hours per week.

They didn’t believe Andrew, at first.  But, he started turning out the lights and locking the project room’s door at 6 pm in the evening.  And, he also monitored if they were using any of the online tools in the evening to try to by-pass the new rule.  If he caught them in the system(s), he logged them out and gave them a call and had a chat.  Within a week or two, the team adapted to the new pace. They actually started to get more done by working less.  This demonstrated the wisdom of the old Japanese proverb: “slow down to go fast.”

The team was mostly correct in its structure.  But, one of the main things the team was lacking was a battled scarred veteran with enough experience and skill who could effectively manage the noise and politics by using a framework like Flow / the Unified Vision Framework (called the VSPT model at that time).

One of the core tools of Flow is the 4D Model (Define – D1, Distill – D2, Deliver – D3 and Drive – D4).

4D simplified

Having put the Vision in Place and identifying that we had the Right People on the team, the next steps were to use the 4D Model to turn the team around, get them focused and deliver the project.  This included training, coaching and mentoring the team:

– The UVF training and coaching lasted 90 days

Initially, not everyone on the team was on-board with the change.  The team leader even laughed when Andrew walked her through the Flow Framework.  She simply could not grasp how Vision could be used to turn the situation around.  While she was a PhD in Organizational Behavior, she simply did not have the hands-on experience and/ or battle scars to understand the power of Vision and simplification.

“Business schools reward complexity.  Simple is more effective”
~ Warren Buffett

But, after observing the results Andrew achieved during the first four weeks, she realized that she should not have been laughing, but rather listening and learning. Doing things “by the book,” simply doesn’t work when the flames are all around you.  “Theory” alone is not going to put out the fire.  She, her team and their respective organizations had learned this the hard way.

 

Putting the Right Definitions (D1) into the plan.

The 440 stakeholders had succeeded in creating a very high level of confusion by putting over 2,000 lines of work and tasks in the project plan.  That created a level of noise that a team of eight or nine people simply could not manage.

– 40 reports trimmed down to 2
– An MS Project plan with over 2,000 lines – Reduced to top 200 that could be delivered in next 90 days

With 440 Stakeholders and 38 Steering Committee members there was no way the team could manage the flow of definitions, requirements, specifications, etc, that was pouring in from 96,580 communication channels.  It’s no surprise that the team was confused. Along with eliminating over 400 stakeholders, Andrew also:

– Reduced the number of Steering Committee members by negotiating the total number down to 12, not 38.

– Using the communications formula shared in the Vision section above, that reduced the 703 potential communication channels down to only 66.

– So, once again, a reduction in the number of Steering Committee members by 69% resulted in a 91% reduction in the total number of potential communication channels for the team.

Reducing the number of communication channels is always a great place to start when the situation is confusing because aligning 440 stakeholders and 38 steering committee members is a virtually impossible task.

Worse, getting a mob that size to agree on the Definitions was also unmanageable and unwieldy.

 

Distilling Agreement (D2) between the warring tribes

When a “crowd” has taken over and is running the show, not only do you have an incredible level of politics, but the assumptions that everyone brings to the table leads to a continuous flood of problems.

The inability to understand and grasp how quickly politics can kill your project, product, service or result is one of the major causes of project failure in both Agile and Traditional situations.  The “purists” in the Agile movement have done themselves no favors by declaring that “management” is the source of all evil in the world (we have actually witnessed an Agile Coach stating that to both customers and a room full of management consultants and agile coaches on multiple occasions).

Politics were overwhelming this project.  But, by reducing the number of Steering Committee members from 38 to 12, the politics were removed.  Also, since items that did not align with the Vision were eliminated from the weekly agenda and updates, the following happened:

– The weekly 4-hour status update meetings were reduced to 1 hour in length

And, the Steering Committee and Project Team distilled agreement on the items that were included in the update and which items were excluded.  Simple, effective and the noise abated.

 

Delivering (D3) the Project began to Flow

Simplifying the project plan was not easy.  Simplifying, particularly in a situation that’s on fire, is seldom easy.  For example, it was not easy to gain agreement from all of the stakeholders that we would also do the following as part of Delivering the project:

– the MS Project plan with over 2,000 lines of work/tasks was Distilled down to 200 lines, and those were identified and agreed to as the most valuable items that could be delivered in the next 90 days
– The 40 reports that had been issued bi-weekly, including status updates, were cut down to four or five and then eventually down to two

Andrew maximized the amount of work not done (now item 10 of the 12 Agile Principles included in the Agile Manifesto).  Also, one of the key principles of lean is to find “Muda,” or waste, and eliminate it.

Tracking, managing, and updating a project plan with over 2000 lines was adding confusion (not clarity) and was burning up way too much time for the team.  The same was true for reporting.  Especially, since we discovered that almost none of the reports were being read.  This was a complete waste of everyone’s time to even produce the unnecessary reports.

Every business, project, etc, has pivot points.  The trick is to identify and then manage them without disturbing the the culture.  A seasoned Agile Leader should be able to quickly recognize the pivot points (patterns and anti-patterns) and act accordingly to deliver the corrective action(s) needed to turn the situation around.

 

Driving to success.

By eliminating the division that had taken root in the project, team, stakeholders and sponsors, we were able to quickly turn the situation from out-of-control to a high-performing, exceptional Delivery.  The results speak for themselves:

– Project completed 7 months early instead of 2 years late
– An actual savings of $4 million, instead of the potential increased costs of $48 million

Every group that we have used this example with has had the same reaction to the results.  Wow!  Can you come help us do the same thing?  The answer is yes.  However, you don’t need us to accomplish Flow.  Utilize the Flow Framework, the Power of Vision and Simplicity, and you will find that you achieve better results.  The formula really is simple:

Vision + Right People (RP) + Definitions (D1) + Distilled Agreement (D2) + Deliver (D3) + Drive (D4) = Successful Organization

We are acutely aware that simple is not easy.  So, obviously, we are always available to assist in any way that we can.

________________________

Andrew Kallman and Ted Kallman are the co-authors of the Unified Vision Framework and their book, “The Nehemiah Effect” is a #1 National Best Seller on Amazon.com (in as many as 3 categories:  Business, Consulting and Project Management) for 4 of the last 14 months:

The Nehemiah Effect: Ancient Wisdom from the World’s First Agile Projects