Schrödinger’s consultant

In a time of global uncertainty, at the threshold of what is commonly considered the (in)famous middle age, I have decided to leave a well-respected job at a Fortune 500 firm (which included a six figure salary), to jump on the start-up bandwagon, deep diving into unexplored waters.

Just a few months into this journey and we are experiencing all of the ups and downs of a new business. It’s a heck of a ride, on the fastest, scariest and most exciting roller-coaster I have ever known. From the adrenalin rush of a pitch meeting to the long hours spent obsessively refining a slide deck; swinging through the low of a failed proposal, to the adolescent heights of finally wet signing a contract. If it weren’t for Lisa (my business partner), I would probably have smashed my head on the wall already. She is the chairperson of our firm and rightly so, as I have never met someone so inspirational yet pragmatic. She always pushes the envelope to the next level and challenges me to question, to learn, to evolve and to explore way out of my comfort zone, to look at what I do from perspectives I have never even considered.

A few days ago, leaving a meeting with a new client, we found ourselves quite stunned and excited. We realized that the collaboration was kickstarted right there, over a handshake at the end of the meeting. Contract, confidentiality and scope agreement to be defined in the next weeks, but immediate support was agreed. Wow! I don’t know better, but in my book this is something rather exceptional for a two month old consulting company.

It was clear to both of us that our idiosyncratic mix of an agile, innovation-oriented approach and extensive corporate experience was the key to gaining the confidence and trust of client sponsors and ultimately winning engagements.

We started our partnership because we believe it is a pivotal moment in time. Today, the most agile corporations are capitalising upon ubiquitous, cheap and powerful technologies, made available by companies grown almost overnight, to grow faster, better and cheaper, blowing incumbent market leaders out of the water. We witnessed this during our previous life as corporate minions. After many years of cost reduction and extensive outsourcing, traditional corporations are struggling against the convergence, and mutual reinforcement, of the four major interdependent trends: social interaction, mobility, cloud, and pervasive information

Today, there’s no more room for politics. Extreme Darwinism is driving the least adaptable of the species out of the game, making room for new players to dominate (Evan I. Schwartz, Digital Darwinism, Broadway Books, 1999).

Corporate America, nay the corporate world, is looking for a change, yet what they see out there is bleak and scary. Traditional organizations struggle to offer customers the same ease of interaction and rapid turnaround on the tools we all use day-in-day-out in our private lives; consumers now expect the same smooth experience and rapid response everywhere, be it managing social presence or entertainment platforms, or dealing with education, insurance, telecoms, banks or public administration.

Enterprises are caught in a paradox: they have all the culture, processes and governance to optimize, scale and reduce costs, but they also need innovation and they need it fast. “Innovation” and “fast” in the same sentence; two things large corporations are not so good at. In fact, it’s almost impossible to both optimize and innovate well at the same time as the mindsets demanded to master these two objectives collide on so many fronts.

These days, we seem to talk about innovation as if it is all new, but really it’s not. This subject has been well studied (cfr Duncan, R. The ambidextrous organization: Designing dual structures for innovation. Killman, R. H., L. R. Pondy, and D. Sleven 1976 The Management of Organization. New York: North Holland. March, J. G. Exploration and exploitation in organizational learning. Organization Science ) and efficiently applied by the most successful enterprises ever since the 70’s and before. Enter what is commonly described as “Organizational Ambidexterity”. By balancing what March called “exploration” and “exploitation”, organisations can achieve the ability to be lean, creative and agile (exploration) at the same time as relying on more traditional and validated methods of running the business (exploitation).

The trade-offs between the marginal progresses and the organizational frictions induced by mastering the two sides of this coin were historically considered too difficult to be affordable. It’s only in the past decade that research work focused on leadership development (cfr Smith & Tushman Smith, W. K., & Tushman, M. L. (2005). Managing strategic contradictions: A top management model for managing innovation streams. Organization Science) as the key to manage this dual type of governance. As there’s the need of a new kind of management style there’s also a need for a dramatic leap in the style and attitude of the strategic management consultants to whom enterprises turn to support this development.

Engaging with clients facing such a dilemma requires a fine tuning of the balance between the dynamics, limits and opportunities of the organization, and the roaring groove of the innovation world. Strategies with the exploration phase at the bullseye, face the risk of pursuing ideas that might not be proven useful once operationalized; whilst accent on the exploitation of off-the-shelf tools and practices, heightens the risk of missing unique opportunities hidden in culture and values, as key differentiators from competitors (core value dilution).

Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment, sometimes described as a paradox, devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. It illustrates what he saw as the ambiguity of the Copenhagen interpretation and the strange nature of quantum superpositions. The scenario presents an object that can be either “on” or “off”; this state being tied to an earlier random event. With the Schrödinger’s paradox, this object is a cat in a box where the opening mechanism has a 50-50 chance of killing the cat. So the cat is both dead and alive until the box is opened; the observer looks into the box and the wave function collapses into one state or the other (Schrödinger equation).

The Schrödinger’s consultant paradox presents a management consultant that may be both traditional and innovative, this state being tied to the nature of the counterpart. In the experiment the consultant oscillates between the slow-moving, politically sensitive, inflexible corporation and the multivariate fast growing ever changing foam of the innovation continuum.

The standard instantiation of this paradox finds the large consulting firm (pick any) mobilizing a team of a dozen or more consultants, full time. Half of them are capable of dealing with the traditional elements of the enterprise (having likely spent much time in similar endeavours) and will drive the engagement and deliverables, while the other half have the skills required to deal with innovation (often technologists emerging directly from university) and do the groundwork.

What happens here, is that the client off-loads the risk (and the opportunities) of this friction to the consulting company, yet the communication and interface malfunction remains, and was not mitigated since the consulting firm manages “up” rather than “down” (the client is the boss, no matter what).

As a result, the standard interpretation (you never get fired for buying -enter a big name here-) produces a multi-year transformation roadmap (which looks familiarly comfortable to the stakeholders) following a gap analysis and strategic planning of several months (driving a nice little revenue for the consulting firm). A few years down the line the planned project will deliver, something, most likely cited a success, and the enterprise and consultants seem to ignore the fact that during that time competitors grew faster, clients flocked away and margins reduced significantly (not a good look for the investors).

The Quantic Consultant instantiation depicts a different response. No more than a few Schrödinger’s consultants are needed. Their corporate-savvy approach enables them to effectively grapple with the limitations of the enterprise, whilst the innovative segments of their DNA allow them to be respected interlocutors of the agile, fast-moving startup cosmos. Together with the leadership team an innovation factory is fostered inside the company, new products and features are rapidly tested and – if worth it – frequently deployed to customers, leveraging the more traditional operational spaces. Innovative ideas are accepted from both internal and external sources, staff are constantly trained. Instead of being a threat, change and failure are seen as opportunities to learn and to evolve quickly.

The Schrödinger’s consultant mixes and matches the best of the two universes allowing an incremental, cost-effective and risk-reduced approach, where the clash of cultures is actively managed and conflicts approached from an alternative, unbounded and independent perspective. At the same time, the chain reaction that will sustain innovation in the long run is initiated, and leadership empowered to become the actual catalyst, allowing the enterprise to reap the benefits of a growing and happy client base, satisfied employees and putting competitors on the back foot, reacting rather than leading the game.

Are you ready to jump start the [R]evolution your organisation needs to thrive? Feel free to drop us a line – we would be thrilled to support you on this journey.

Until then, I’ll go back into my box, as any happy and respected superpositioned cat would do.

Holacratic, democratic, sociocratic security

I’ve worked as a consultant in the information security domain for many years. But I have become frustrated. I am bothered in particular by two unfortunate truths:

1) information security is so often dismissed as an IT topic,


2) security is considered red-tape by business folks, to be avoided at all costs.

Have we not yet been convinced by the oh-so business consequences of a now long and colourful history of data breaches? Data loss costs suffering organisations enormous amounts of money, their reputation and often, their customers. The Ponemon Cost of a Data Breach Study puts the average total cost of a data breach in the US at $5.4 million. In Europe, the figures are not that far behind, with the average cost in Germany and the UK $4.8 million and $4.1 million, respectively. And in my view, these figures unsatisfactorily capture the reputational price paid long into the future. I would surely be scolded for naming and shaming (here’s a nice visualization that does it for me), but it suffices to remark that certain brands stick out in our minds as synonymous with infamous breaches, so as consumers, of course we are more wary about buying from such providers. And you don’t have to be reading Ponemon or Verizon to hear about these cases – they’re front page news!

But it seems like I have been saying these things for years – rabbiting on and on, my message falling on deaf ears. So, it has occurred to me recently, that perhaps the problem is not the lay-person’s interpretation of security, but that security itself is at fault.

I recently asked a seasoned risk and security leader for his views on dealing with increasing use of social media. I purposefully left this reference broad, hoping for reflections pertaining to both customer and employee use. “Shut it down!” he said. “No use of social media should be allowed from the corporate network.” I was taken aback. It seems to me, among many others (Brian Solis, Richard Branson, Peter Hinssen), that social media is both an expected form of customer interaction, and an ideal source of data, to facilitate marketing to a customer of 1 (more on that later). It is not going away. Blocking all use and all access is like standing in the way of a tsunami – futile and perilous.

In the face of today’s radical changes, such attempts to build up the ramparts, expel more and more people from the centre, and fortify the perimeter, are in essence futile. Social media and mobile shall become normal forms of customer interaction, consumer devices will continue to exceed and replace, professional, and the trend of broad, transactional third party involvement shall continue to explode the issue of access management. And you don’t have to take the word of the crazy evangelists – Gartner is saying the same thing.

But security has remained, the autocratic, obsessive wall between the lay-person, who experiences this evolution day-in day-out, and their ability to get their job done. And we don’t even seem to notice that we in security, our controls and our rules, are simply being dodged. Much the same as millennial employees will “chafe under excessive control and bureaucracy”, folks will not respond well to autocratic, dictatorial, unreasonable and entirely unrealistic security controls.

As employee-employer relationships become more service-oriented, departing from the traditional long-term loyalty rewarded by long-term employment, employees, and for that matter third parties, are going to be less willing to “shut up and put up” when it comes to some of the ridiculous rules we put in place in the name of security. Some of the worst I’ve seen, and most irritating, have included daily security updates, taking my laptop out of action for at least a half hour, a screen lock that kicks in after only a few minutes of inactivity, and a complete block on all access to my personal life (social media, web mail or phone calls) while travelling for work. These security rules would all appear in a top ten of most likely to be avoided (whenever possible!). But other rules can become downright dangerous. I recall that at one job, an engineer I knew was accused of downloading pornography, having simply opened some photos his wife sent him of his children!

To me, these rules feel like employee sabotage at worst, and disrespect at best. Regardless of the reasons for their existence, they are inane, and they do not create an environment of morale, engagement and motivation for employees, which is in itself, the single biggest security problem of our time. Breaches are not caused by the inadequacy of technology; people are at the core of most attacks, in my view, and according to Verizon. However much we might like to, we cannot escape from this fact, particularly not as functionality and information moves out of our complex tightly controlled mainframes and backbones, and out into liberated consumer devices. So wouldn’t you want your core defense mechanisms to be a group of engaged, motivated, invested people, instead of the disenfranchised, neglected and suspicious employees that these so-called security rules create?

Maybe the answer is to forgo the rules? At least in part. As Netflix policies seem to indicate, people thrive on freedom and responsibility. And frankly they deserve it.

I’ve talked previously about people being inherently neither Hero nor Villain, but that an organisational environment can draw from each of us the hero within, through respect, responsibility and realisation. Perhaps the time has come to apply these principles to the flailing domain of information security:

Respect: Surely, everyone is worthy of the respect demonstrated by explanation? Rather than imposing rules, perhaps we should be seeking to impart knowledge and understanding. As employees are central to any defense mechanism, we should be educating them on the ins and outs of security, it’s importance, and the impact if it all goes wrong. Security principles (and rules if they must exist) should be explained, and the underlying risks understood.  

Responsibility: It has been evidenced in many a psychological study, that people perform better when in control of the work that they do. In fact it is an innate human need. Dictating the minutiae of security rules to be applied turns motivated and intelligent professionals into brainless robots, who thereby brainlessly apply these rules (interesting reflections at Switch and Shift). As we all know, new vulnerabilities and exploits appear every day, so we surely realise that we cannot envisage a rule for everything? Perhaps easing off on the obsessive control would grant people the freedom to intelligently apply a set of broader security principles.

Realisation: Information security is becoming a complex topic, on the tip of every tongue. Radical digital evolution, combined with a rapidly changing consumer, user and employee base is exploding the landscape of security challenges we must face. As information volumes explode, so too do risks. There will always be risks, and with people at the centre of such risks, and associated controls, we increasingly need people to behave creatively and respectfully in the face of the unexpected. Thankfully, humans are innately creative, and have the potential to behave in inspirationally, principled ways if given the opportunity to self-realise. Realisation of this potential requires trust. Establishing trust in your people is the first and most important step in risk mitigation. Imagine your people as part of your family, and you the parent. Sometimes the most well-rounded kids have emerged from an environment of understanding, a framework of morals, responsibility and trust.

Can we really go on treating people like the enemy?

– Lisa

Hero or Villain?

I’ve spent the last three weeks on the road, basically talking to people – a lot of people! Folks who are experts in their fields of IT, disruptive digital change, organizational development, and cultural transformation. From each of these folks, I have learned something (Thankfully! – it might have been a boring few weeks if not!). And it is true that in general, I seem to attract talented and successful people. Do not mistake this for arrogance. I am not saying that I am making a certified effort to attract talented people, at least not in any kind of structured way, it just seems to happen. I always hope for the best of course, but we all know it’s not as easy as that.

We talk a lot about organisational development and transformation, and we talk about needing the “right people” or the “right kind of people” to make this happen. We also seem to see the successful entrepreneur as some kind of demi-god, driven by sheer, inexplicable inspiration. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could put our fingers on precisely the difference between the talented and successful professional, and those less fortunate?

If you have children, I’m sure you will soon see Maleficent (I would advise it in 3D!), a somewhat new slant on a traditional fairy tale. If your kids can get past the scary outfits, you’ll see that the moral of the film is interesting – no-one is either hero or villain; most are capable of both. I’m sure that this is a lesson familiar to each of us – we have all done things of which we were more or less proud, and if the simplified Disney parable is to be taken as guide, under the right circumstances the hero or the villain can be drawn from each of us, to materialise as the person whom others see.

The June edition of the Harvard Business review features an article entitled “21st Century Talent Spotting”, which advocates hiring leaders for their potential, as opposed to their past experience, or even their apparent competence. The author argues that these days, the rapidity of change in all markets means that neither past performance, nor the competencies we display today, are necessarily a good measure of what will be our performance in the face of the unexpected or unknown. Challenging as it may seem to hire for “potential”, the article goes on to break the concept down into four characteristics: curiosity, insight, engagement, determination.

Somehow I was feeling a kind of déjà vu, as I read these traits. Perhaps my approach was less structured or intelligible than that of such a prestigious publication, but I always knew that potential was a more fundamentally important quality than experience, and I generally had an intuitive grasp on it’s constituents, and therefore how it could be measured. I must say that I am pleased that I now sound less like the voice of madness and more like all the other voices out there. Liz Ryan is one such voice we at DarwinianIT follow intently, but there are others, including this rough and ready, but enjoyable article bemoaning the difficulties that come with experience.

So now that both Disney and the Harvard Business Review, have come out in favour of the complex human being, with the potential for both good and bad performance, this begs the question, how do we ensure a person reaches his potential? I think it fair, if a little depressing, to suggest that some do not. And so I wonder whether there are optimum circumstances under which the best is drawn from people? Is it possible that “potential” itself is drawn out, rather that being an inherent characteristic? And what skills, behaviour and environment might be required in order to draw it from individuals, or from employees?

My understanding of these concepts is entirely empirical, observational, not studied and certainly not exhaustive, but I see three key differences between those who are deemed talented and successful individuals (and teams for that matter, but that’s a topic for another day), and none of them are inherent:

Respect: Supposedly talented professionals, have been shown respect, their intelligence acknowledged through involvement in complex topics. They have been educated in the broadest sense of the word. Such respect is at times a gift bestowed upon them, but often something that has been taken or demanded.

Responsibility: Successful people have been given and have taken responsibility. They are accountable for their actions, fully, and because of the formerly afforded respect, they understand what such responsibility means.

Realisation: Finally, all such people have had their foundational needs covered, as per Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which places safety, belonging and self-esteem before the self-actualizing principles of morality, creativity, problem solving and the acceptance of the facts.

Such considerations are as much up to an individual to realise as an organisation or a society, but they do leave us with a better understanding of the disadvantageous position of many people, notably those in unequal, undemocratic or war-torn societies, but also those in our own society who are viewed or treated unequally. As I embark upon a mentoring position with the Cherie Blair Foundation, supporting female entrepreneurs in emerging economies, I am reminded of such issues, and I carry this understanding back into my day-to-day interactions.

My summary here is necessarily simple, and I acknowledge that there are much more complex elements at work – an individual’s childhood for example, their education and culture, their family situation, all play roles in the realisation of their inner “hero”. But it’s a start. And it gives us food for thought when it comes to organisational change and realising the full potential of an enterprise.

– Lisa


Ode to a Project Manager

There once was a project manager

With experience large and small

He had done his degree

Management and IT

Prince II, he knew it all


That poor little project manger

Appeared at the STC

Slides polished and new

To show requirements grew

He smiled and explained with glee


With solution in development

Risks needed no embellishment

And with budget on track

Since two years back

For prod next year no impediment


But the CEO asked a visitor

“Why so long?” asked this inquisitor

With agility

In probability

Frequent change you can administer


And the CEO, who’d had advice you know

Looked the manager up and down

You have done your degree

Management and IT

And I know that you’re no clown

But if you can’t evolve

Business will devolve

So Go! Get out of town

Hey you get out of town!


That poor little project manger

With experience large and small

In a revolution

Failed on evolution

Coz he thought that he knew it all

Were dinosaurs agile?

Little more than a decade ago, the Agile Manifesto burst into the development community like the K-Pg event (for the non-paleontologists among us, the K-Pg event was the mass extinction of some three-quarters of plant and animal species on Earth—including all non-avian dinosaurs—that occurred some 66 million years ago). And like the cretaceous asteroid, the Manifesto was a game-changer of epic proportions. It glued together techniques and practices like Test Driven Development and Extreme-Programming, with fundamental values and culture. It changed the way software would be developed for the years to come.

When the Agile Manifesto struck us, like the dinosaurs, generations of now-prehistoric developers rapidly became extinct and their lessons forgotten. It is quite crazy, particularly when you acknowledge that the Agile Manifesto is the product of this body of knowledge. What was a set of personal values built on experience, quickly became a cluster of practices, packaged into products and consulting services. (see Dave Thomas blog here).

Now the “Agile” keyword found its way up to the top of the food chain; what used to be a topic discussed mostly among developers and software specialists is now everybody’s silver bullet. Organizations want to become Agile to reduce management and contain costs; the business wants agility in order to intercept and manage unpredictable market behavior; IT departments need to become Agile to support their customers; test managers are now looking for Agile testing, Agile requirements elicitation; Agile here, there and everywhere.

Alan Kay believes that software development has become the new pop culture: “Pop culture is all about identity and feeling like you’re participating. It has nothing to do with cooperation, the past or the future — it’s living in the present. I think the same is true of most people who write code for money. They have no idea where [their culture came from]”.

And voilà! – in one fail swoop, we see the mass extinction of our cultural heritage!

What constitutes pop-culture? Broadly speaking (and waiting to be contradicted!) I believe it is when an idea, a lifestyle, a set of values becomes productized. And that’s what has happened with the Agile Manifesto. It has became a product in the capable hands of battalions of Agile consultants with only billable hours to sell. Nowadays, the semantic of the term “Agile”, and the context in which it is most frequently used, has significantly diverged from the original definition.

For over fifty years software development wasn’t nearly as cool as it is now. People like Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Martin Fowler, Jack Dorsey are the new rock stars within the pop-culture.  But mankind managed to send spaceships to the moon, and beyond, well before we were hit with the apparent singularity of “Agile” methods. Companies like IBM, Apple, Microsoft (with some exceptions, remember Win 95 plug-and-pray mantra?) and many, many others were capable of delivering perfectly working software before we had even coined the term!

The Agile semantic has been twisted and turned and watered down to the point that it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the original manifesto. I personally believe that the word “Agile” has completely lost its meaning, and is now an empty container that people fill according to the occasion.

The Agile Manifesto reads:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan


What’s on the left of these sentences is an aspiration, an ideal state of things. Agile software is all about focussing on what’s on the left of the equation rather than what’s on the right.

As Dave Thomas explains pretty well in his article, the vast majority of the so-called “Agile experts” have never pushed code to production or fixed a tedious bug in the dark hours of an overnight coding session. They will give you processes, tools, comprehensive documentation and lots and lots of planning. Don’t you see? All of these things are sitting on the right side of the Manifesto!

Allen Holub articulated this point in in more detail: “Agile is a culture, not a set of practices. It is upper management’s job to establish that culture, and then let it work.” (You might want to read this blog entry)

What can we learn from all of this?

Platoons of agile experts are marching conferences and workshops for hefty wads of cash.

It seems that everybody is claiming to be Agile through and through, but if you look at the org chart of their companies there are so many layers and managers and executives taking uninformed decisions that this simply cannot be true!

Walking the Agile way requires a cultural leap forward and has profound implications throughout the entire organization, its culture, principles and collaboration values. If the organization is deeply transactional, this leap won’t happen overnight but will require several cycles to properly permeate to the lowest levels of the organization.

Selecting the right partner is a key success factor, but the decision should not be taken lightly – the ability to drive culture in the right direction is not everybody’s talent!

We have a few gems of wisdom for you, but they are topics for another day.


The #NEXT14 New Normal

Having just attended the #NEXT conference in Berlin, we thought it pertinent and timely to jot down a few notes on the theme this year, and credit a few folks for their presentations and perspectives.

First off, we met some extremely interesting and inspirational people over the two days – folks from Web Republic, SBB, Swiss Start-up Monitor and Smartlogic, to point to but a few. And that is not to mention our passionate and entertaining debates with speakers such as Peter Hinssen and Kay Schwabedal. Despite moments of extreme hunger (thanks to the short supply of food!), it really was a passionate, entertaining and inspiring event.

Besides amazing ideas and truly inspiring people with their respective projects and products, what struck us corporate stooges from the very beginning was the ubiquitous acceptance that change IS the new normal. And participants seemed to realize that dealing with change requires smart, open, agile people to network and leverage each other’s talents. These folks are embracing “The New Normal”.

Each speaker at the conference presented their view of the given theme.

Peter Hinssen’s theories on the effect of the Network as the New Normal were, for us, a bit of a revelation. The notion of building an adaptable, versatile and diversified network within an organization, as an alternative to the painfully rigid and silo-ed hierarchical org-chart, could really help our clients. A lively yet profound debate ensued at the meet and greet, with Peter and Kay, on the natural ebb and flow of people’s, and therefore companies’, successes and failures. A question hung in the air, reminding us repeatedly of this blog: “Can today’s companies adapt to survive, or will they become extinct, replaced by The New Normal?”

Big Data (whatever that is!) was a ubiquitous theme throughout the event, from Scott Smith’s reflections on our interaction with the reams and reams of data collected on us, to the Geekettes musings on what really is Big Data Management. Very interesting was the overlap between ubiquitous data collection and the increasing challenges of privacy and related policy-making. Mikko Hypponen’s Arms Race introduced an audience of technologists and digital marketers to the really challenging social and societal considerations of privacy and surveillance. More than others in this space, we found Anke Domscheit-Berg to be the herald of a new generation calling for openness, transparency and harmonious data protection. As support for her PIRATEN party grows in Germany, we can only hope that normal people are finally starting to pay attention to where they spend their personal data currency (see our other article on the topic). In fact, along with Bas van Abel’s inspiring Fairphone, this could be taken as indication of a newly emerging generation, fighting to do the right thing.

Obviously, Brad Templeton also deserves a mention, as his speech was legendary, and reminded us of the importance of cultural diversity (!!!). Robo-cars may or may not be a reality in this decade, but they certainly are the harbinger of a crazy new world.

So much is changing, and there is so much more to change – to us these elements were fantastical, inspirational and exciting, but we are most interested in how they will challenge the traditional enterprise model, and whether these enterprises will even survive.

The VCs we encountered were also a bit of an eye-opener. We met two – Mikko Tamminen from Leopard Capital and Fabian Hansen from PROfounders Capital – and pretty much as theorized by Peter Hinssen, more than seeking the #NEXT buck, they are seeking to disrupt! And Silicon Valley is disrupting – everyone! How will traditional insurers deal with robo-cars? How will marketing for retail fit into the Internet of Things? Can traditional organizations keep up with Amazon as they move to monetize bitcoin?

It begs the question whether Europe should and even can follow suit? In Europe, there are fewer startups, less investment and a culture that still favours long term stability and abhors failure. But Europe’s companies will also be out of business if disruption is not embraced – Europe’s economy will be affected. One might consider it culturally telling that during a European conference dealing with the great leveling nature of disruptive technology, interaction was limited (no live Twitter feeds for example) and sometimes even discouraged (too often questions were dismissively left to the last 5 minutes of a 90 minute slot).

I heard folks complain that there was no overall message, ubiquitous across presentations and perspectives.

But to us, this simply served to illustrate that disruptive tech is still very much mis-aligned. In this futuristic world we are still as siloed as ever. The developers do not understand the security folks, the politicians don’t quite grasp the details, the VCs are just surfing the wave, and the hoard of digital marketers are not grasping the importance of management. In fact no-one in this milieu does. We are managers – we are consultants. And there is prejudice.

We have managed change in very traditional environments, but embrace the need for organizations to evolve – the imminence of extinction if we continue as we are. But management is still needed to get us there, or we will all remain small shoals in the giant ocean.

– Angelo & Lisa


Privacy is Coming

European Data Protection regulations are changing, harmonizing laws across countries, explicitly dealing with the right to be forgotten, demanding “Privacy by Design” and giving the toothless tigers some teeth, by bestowing upon authorities the right to levy fines up to 2% of an organization’s annual worldwide turnover.

And now the US seem to be jumping on the bandwagon. The White House have just released the Big Data and Privacy report, which talks about the importance of Big Data to the US economy, medical treatment and disaster prediction, but also attempts to deal with the growing concerns of privacy groups by laying out “six actionable policy recommendations”. But it’s interesting that the release of the report coincides with President Obama’s Friday meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel, where surely the subject of NSA spying will come up. And the language in the report, to me, is weak and lacks specificity. It also starkly omits the topic of NSA surveillance programs, which collected vast amounts of personal data of Europeans (among others) from large technology firms, including Google, Apple and Microsoft. In the report, the White House also states that officials will seek to ensure that US government departments and companies treat data on foreigners with the same privacy safeguards “where practicable” – hardly a commitment!

In my view the US report pays lip service to the real problem, and its release is a perfectly timed political move. Because isn’t it most likely that Ms. Merkel will take this as a sign of conciliation and therefore won’t push too hard, and as Europe’s only real voice in this space that’ll be considered “position EU”. Culturally, while Europeans are most obsessed with the confidentiality of their data, they are also a less bolshie and confrontational group of races than their compatriots across the Atlantic. Historically, privacy advocacy in the US has focused on the integrity of personal data, and to me, these new steps are walking the same line. (I won’t deal with the eastern cultures in this analysis, but I am reading When Cultures Collide by the eponymous Richard Lewis, which does hint at some important points on the topic.)

As long as we do not share a globally harmonized perspective on privacy, how on earth can our every growing pile of digital data be managed consistently and to everyone’s taste. With Europe not yet showing a united front on the topic, and all major “Big Data” collectors residing in the US, the American privacy model is likely to continue to rule the show, and as much as I appreciate the US democratic government (this is not sarcasm), we all know that its driven by corporate lobbies……….and in a world where the blind consumer demands online tools for free, personal data is the new capitalist currency.

I only wish that people would sit up and take notice of how they spend theirs, for once spent, they are the ones that end up out of pocket.

More realistically, we can hope for the new generation of organizational management to change things – particularly in the tech world. In an attempt to distance themselves from the government, following the Snowden disclosures, many of the major US technology companies, are now defying the authorities, by notifying users of new secret data demands. Maybe this is driven by the “Don’t be evil” paradigm of new technology leadership, or maybe it’s driven by the need to regain consumer trust and by implication market share. In my view, it doesn’t matter, as long as these topics are in the news, we’re talking about them, and it’s only through open and informed debate that we’ll ever get it right. 

– Lisa

Handle with Care

So, I have just started my own consulting company. My business model is based on the principle that IT has fundamentally changed, and will continue to change. In the future, I postulate that change is the only thing of which we can be certain. In a large organization, handling and absorbing the impact of current change is hard enough, never mind the preparation required to rapidly absorb the next change, and the next, and the next, and the next. Being a corporate stooge myself, with broad experience in IT, transformation management and controls, I consider that I can support these organizations.

And so why do I think there`s a market? I can’t count the number of my contacts in large organizations who are reaching out to small startups, venture capitalists and related networks for innovation, for ideas or in the hope that the entrepreneurial “bug” will rub off on their teams and leaders, thereby changing their 20th century culture. I think there’s a vague hope that by spending time with these entrepreneurs, these big companies will suddenly become more agile, or more innovative, or that they will suddenly know how to navigate the current IT tornado of social, mobile, cloud and big data – the Gartner entitled “Nexus of Forces“.

Organizations are certainly, also seeing the benefit of working with these small startups. I suppose that we are all realizing that it is not big technology business, but small niche players who can stay abreast in the brave new world of IT. And large companies must keep up, because their customers are demanding so. In my view, the only options on the table are to change or die.

My clients seem to agree with these assumptions. And they seem to want this help. They are asking for it. But I am constantly surprised that despite asking, upon receiving they become “naysayers”. Team leaders who walk their teams to water, then tell them that it’s too complicated to drink; too risky; “we don’t know enough, we haven’t mapped all the requirements, we haven’t got all of the stakeholders on board, or the organization is simply not ready.” This may prove a blocker for me, at least initially. But much the same as a person of great and consistent integrity develops more long-lasting and robust relationships than a “yes-man”, ultimately I’ll build trust by sticking to my guns.

But this article is not about my company, it’s about these naysayers, and how I think we can help them.

Let’s reflect first on why even a highly skilled, astute and senior IT professional will ask for help to change, then upon reflection, declare it impossible. Actually, I completely understand it. It is logical for large organizations to be risk averse. They have worked through the typical stages in the organizational lifecycle: Birth -» Growth -» Maturity -» Decline / Survival. Once it has reached a certain level of maturity, an organization has a lot to lose – revenue, customers, reputation and even its future. Most importantly, individuals in these organizations have a lot to lose. For mistakes are often not viewed kindly. An error is assumed to have been the fault of the planning process or the execution, for which someone was accountable, and heads must often roll. It is perfectly human to seek out the security of the path well-trodden. Better the devil you know is often the adage. Or, you never get fired for buying «Enter Relevant Large IT Company Name». And so despite the visible success new practices can achieve elsewhere, we are simply unable to learn from the experience of others.

So what to do? In my humble opinion, the only solution is to promote hybridity, incremental delivery and to communicate, communicate, communicate.

Change is not a one-time event, it is a constant activity. Darwin’s processes of natural selection are in constant operation. So should our efforts to transform IT be continuous and evolutionary. In fact, this is why startups seem so foreign to big organizations (and vice versa!). Their practices are so wildly different that adoption would constitute a corporate revolution. But it not just one or the other. There is a sliding scale. Perhaps corporate leaders need to see that change need not be revolutionary, or even that revolution must start with evolution. Every change must start with the first tiny step. In my experience, those that attempt revolution, particularly in a consensus driven world, all too often see the same thing happen as occurs around the middle of February every year – the complete failure of our life-altering New Year’s resolutions!

My advice? Make one change. Set that change as a foundational principle for future operation. Embed it in everything that you and your team does. Measure the result. Tweak it, improve it, and evolve it. Then make another change. I’m not necessarily suggesting that this process be sequential. I’m merely saying we should be setting a future revolutionary vision but breaking down the steps to get there in a more evolutionary way.

It helps if we can break down each change into a low risk increment. Big business is too used to the high risk “Big Bang” approach, and frankly my contacts in such big businesses seem to assume that all foundational change, any new platform implementation, or new service implementation, must be done in this way. These folks are consequently used to long deployment windows, failed implementations, overruns and delays. And so when I talk to them about incremental, evolutionary and frequent change as a mechanism for coping with the rapid advancement of IT, and ultimately for giving customers what they want, more quickly, more often, they inevitably see big red flashing lights. Surely more frequent implementations mean less time to plan and test, less contingency for managing the unexpected, and therefore more frequent failures?! Well, no, not if we can break down the increments into small evolutionary chunks of work. We can consequently minimize the impact of change, minimizing the number of things that can go wrong. It’s much easier to determine exact cause and effect if you’re only looking at one variable.

I don’t mean this just in the technology sense; these rules apply just as much to process and organizational change. Transforming an organization in its entirety is no mean feat. But if an innovation bubble is established, responsible for driving some small change, operating a little differently to the rest of the enterprise, the change can be easily controlled, measured, understood and slowly, it can be expanded to additional people, teams and departments.

The choice of the word bubble is deliberate here, for such innovation must be made transparent to the rest of the organization, or your innovators will take one step forward and the rest of your company will take two steps back. The objectives of the change; the processes, the people, the technology in question; the metrics, the value and success (or otherwise) of such a first step must be communicated, communicated, communicated. Ultimately changing an organization is mostly about changing people, and some amount of winning hearts and minds will be necessary, even in the most fascist dictatorship! Now communication is a misused term, but its examination is a topic for another day!

Whether you share my views or not, I would be interested to hear your feedback.

– Lisa

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy & Agile Project Management

Ok, so I may have gotten the subjects in the subheading the wrong way around – I never heard my mother talk about Agile project management – but you get the idea. And what do the three topics have in common I hear you cry? They’re all figments of the imagination? Actually, wrong!

[Spoiler alert! Please if you are under, let’s say 12, then do not read on! I will not be held responsible for your emotional instability later in life!]

Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are definitely figments of the imagination. Agile project management is quite the opposite. But it is a bit like the age-old advice your mother used to give you:

  •   –   Money doesn’t grow on trees!
  •   –   If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all!
  •   –   Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!
  •   –   Don’t make that face or the wind will change and it’ll stay that way!


Ok, that last one isn’t such a great example but you know what I mean! Mothers (and fathers, for the record, but ‘mothers’ just has a better ring to it) have some venerable wisdom, by which we always know we should abide, but that is just so hard to apply!

Agile project management is like the best advice you ever got from your mother. But like that advice it’s often easier said than done. Scratch that, it’s a downright challenge. But when was something that was worth doing not challenging, ay?

There’s a lot of ill-feeling out there about Agile. Many evangelists have touted it as a silver bullet solution, a way to make dysfunctional organizations functional. Organizations and their consultants alike have embarked upon the application of the associated principles and methodologies, only to find that it is not the quick fix they were looking for, and it’s simply not as easy as it looks when the start-ups are doing it. As with many other trends, the naysayers have gone on the defensive (there’s an article to come on this topic). There are all these examples of failed Agile implementations, so Agile must be wrong – but would you say that about your mother if you failed to apply her wisdom to your life?

Agile cannot fix a broken organization; it cannot make incompetent managers or incompetent developers magically competent, it cannot change those employees that are dogmatically attached to another approach, and it cannot cure cancer (nor could your mother I’m sure).

But Agile can offer the competent, well-intentioned team or organization a way to increase productivity, improve communication, trust and success. Specifically, when correctly applied, it can allow a much faster time to market, with early customer feedback and much earlier ROI. But it’s hard! Or so it would seem. Maybe the right way to tackle the team or organizational transformation required to implement Agile practices is to break it down, split and separate and simplify until we’ve defined the tiniest scope, the tiniest steps, the tiniest impact possible, and start there.

My esteemed colleague has more specific ideas in this space than I do, so I’d invite you to check out his article for a more specialist perspective. But I will include here a few hints for management to mobilize. Some maternal wisdom, just to get you started:

  • Break up the scope.
  • Some organizations I have worked with are tempted to start with the biggest problem – customer 360, legacy modernization, organizational inertia. Others are tempted to start with something that means nothing to the organization, that brings no value – an executive’s pet project, an internal low-demand application, a sidelined team. I reckon the trick is picking the right project and scoping it correctly. Try to pick something with maximum visible benefit but minimum impact on the surrounding environment. Some small part of large program, nothing with spaghetti connections to many legacy systems: something a bit more, contained.


  • Create a small team. 
  • Perhaps part of an Innovation Bubble (see my other entry on the topic). Teach them, explain to them, make sure they’re prepared to change their habits, and be your advocates afterwards. Explain to the team that it will seem like they are taking more time to get things done, but that this is only true when viewed individually. As a team they will be more productive.


  • Keep the timelines tight.
  • The idea with Agile is to shorten the feedback cycle; get input from your market or user base as soon as possible in the process, to ensure you don’t waste time developing something that no-one wants. Amazon deploys code every 11.6 seconds (great video on the topic), allowing them to garner real-life customer feedback 7448 times per day on tiny elements of scope. I’m not saying you should reduce the time for delivery to 11 seconds, but it does need to come down.


  • Don’t be too strict. 
  • Agile, on principle, attempts to make a project, or a team, or an organisation, more adaptable to change. So there’s no sense being too strict about time or scope. You need strong guidelines, yes! But don’t let an obsession with a deadline affect the quality of your scope or vice versa.


  • Bring in an independent specialist.
  • Even if your team knows Agile, even if they have the expertise to develop, deliver and manage in this way, changing your habits is hard! Sometimes it helps to have someone independent of organizational habits, peer pressure and politics to keep everyone on the right track and to say the things that no one else would dare to say.


  • Publicize the results.
  • The term “bubble” has been chosen very deliberately in the team section above. The team needs to be isolated, culturally, and freed from blame if things go wrong (which they will undoubtedly!), but their work, their success, their impact must be widely publicized and understood.


  • Agree what done means.
  • This is just good project management practice. If you don’t have agreed success criteria, how will you know when to stop? Are we done when there’s code or a platform in Production? When it’s tested? Or before? Are we done when it’s being used by a customer? When all defects have been fixed? When the customer is happy? What does happy mean? Or are we done when there is some measurable impact on the bottom line? The more specific we are, the less chance of arguments and confusion and wasted time later.


But Agile is not a one size fits all. And sometimes, just sometimes, once you’ve got a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Agile project management is one element, one mechanism to build agility and incremental evolution into an organization. You’ll need other tools in your toolbox! But those are topics for other days.

– Lisa

Agile, build for change (part 2 of 2)

In part 1 of this article, I described the circumstances that led to the formalization of the Agile Manifesto and reflected on the possibility of scaling the principles of agile software development to apply them to change management at a greater scale, in a method I’m dubbing “Change Agilization”. In part 2, I want to delve further into the correlation between agile development practices and abstract enterprise processes, and build out the patterns necessary for alignment.

Let’s start with the basics. The Agile Manifesto reads:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

  •    – Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  •    – Working software over comprehensive documentation.
  •    – Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  •    – Responding to change over following a plan.

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Very elegant, right? Simple, but powerful. It’s a wonder to me that it took so long to become mainstream, but that’s a topic for another day!

Matthew E. May is the author of In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing. In his words, “Something is elegant if it is two things at once: unusually simple and surprisingly powerful. One without the other leaves you short of elegant.”

And why is elegance so important? We are, in the case of the Agile Manifesto, only talking about software. Well, elegance reduces noise, focuses attention on what is fundamental and important, it engages all in a single concept. Elegance is about symmetry, eliminating the chaos, streamlining rather than enlarging, simplicity rather than confusion. The Agile Manifesto delivers this in just a few lines of text. Simple rules clear objectives, precise differentiation from previous approaches.

To me, the Manifesto is a bit like a policy, and if we have a policy, then we can set up some sort of governance. With governance comes normalization, and we can start to talk about “automating” change, making everything more efficient, less error-prone. And the Manifesto is applicable to all layers of the IT paradigm, no matter how large or small the change.

Like a fractal, it’s beautiful because it’s simple. (For those not in the know, a fractal is a mathematical set displaying self-similar patterns, and it’s one of those geeky concepts that also appeals to my squidgy, creative side. if you’re still at a loss, just imagine big fluffy clouds, ocean waves and Romanesco broccoli.)

Now let’s replace Software with Solution in the Agile Manifesto. Does it still make sense? Of course it does. Let’s try it with Strategic Platform. It still works; awesome!

So the question becomes: Can we scale up even further and make an entire Organization agile

Of course we can! Many organizations have become agile in recent years. Many have been agile for a long time (Toyota above all). Still many more are on their way.

And how might we achieve Agilization? And why would we bother? And how long would it take?

How? Organization agilization (see how I’m coining new terms!) requires a quantum cultural leap; a quantum leap in human behavior. But agilization will deliver more of what your customers want, or need, more often, which makes for happy customers and happy accountants. It makes business sense. Most agile methods succeed by shortening the feedback cycle, letting emerging requirements become visible earlier on, allowing end-users to have a glimpse of the final product at the earliest possible stage. But how do we shorten the organizational feedback cycle?

One critical success factor is the ability to manage requirements and expectations dynamically. In other words, allowing absorption of inevitable change by making the whole process “lean”. Agile methods rely on discipline, they succeed by putting people at the center – customers, users, developers – isolating those who get the job done from the noise and distractions and baggage and politics of the corporate world, liberating them to deliver what has been requested.

Isolation is a key principle for agilizing an organization. It doesn’t mean hiding, quite the opposite. Agile teams take full responsibility and accountability for what they will deliver in the next iteration and how to measure the quality of the outcome.

In my opinion, this is exactly what prevented Agile from being widely adopted in the corporate world. Executives are scared of the disruptive dynamics that might impact their organization. Decision-makers are afraid that by exposing how things actually get done, they will expose their profession, their team, themselves to criticism. And maybe they’re right, on the basis of how corporate politics operate today.

Let’s be honest, an entire industry has been created for the development, review, monitoring and improvement of the elements on the right in the Agile Manifesto, at the expense of those elements on the left. In my day-to-day world, we talk about processes and tools, hefty documentation, contract negotiations (better said – litigation), and a whole lot of planning. How can all of that be transformed into a lean, mean, agile machine, capable of delivering ever change, faster, better and cheaper than today?

My advice is to shoot for elegance. Subtract, simplify, and make it simple but powerful. Start by subtracting a contained low risk deliverable from a program; something that has minimal impact on the surrounding environments, the surrounding teams and technologies. Simplify the command chain for delivery, flatten the hierarchy, get rid of the chickens (Scrum terminology for the folks who don’t really have skin in the game) and make the whole team responsible and accountable. Have the business sponsors enter the team as actual functional members – their necks are normally on the line.

Bring in an independent specialist. Even if your team knows agile, even if they have the expertise to develop, deliver and manage in this way, it is difficult to change your habits overnight (anyone who’s ever given up smoking will know exactly what I mean!). Sometimes it helps to have someone independent of organizational habits, peer pressure and politics to keep everyone on the right track, to say the things that are difficult to say.

Insulate the team from blame. Mistakes will be made! They always are in the early days of a relationship – the comment I should never have made, that misinterpreted look, the missed rendezvous. When failures occur, treat them as opportunities to learn and improve, not opportunities to get one up on colleagues. Obviously, this will require senior management support, which is why agile often only works when driven from way on high. Make it powerful: rather than working on spinning slides and messages to repackage delays and overruns (no sarcasm intended!), have all the middle managers work on a campaign to showcase the success story.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

One of the companies I worked for hired me for this very scope: make the development team agile. Within four months the team was operating at full throttle, pumping out shippable products every two weeks – I managed myself out of job! So far, that’s why I’ve never become a consultant – I can’t sustain revenue. So Organization Agilization can happen, lean management and agile delivery are becoming critical success factors – look left and right, you’ll see that’s what your competitors are doing, or trying to do. And in the end, it’s just another type of change and change happens no matter what, so embrace it!

And for the question I’ve conveniently left to the wayside – How long would it take? That’s a more challenging one to answer, and one I intend to tackle in another article.

– Angelo