The organization that shouldn’t exist

Or how to rethink your next org-chart.

Refactoring code is straight forward. I don’t have hard feelings deleting code. Potentially even enjoy it. This is different with organizations. While organizations must evolve, change and adopt, the speed and flexibility is still limited with regards to people.

So it’s critical that organizations that shouldn’t exists don’t start to exist. And I continue seeing it happening. And then people are surprised of a re-org once someone notices the problem. They are everywhere:

The software engineers maintaining a legacy system that are tasked to also re-invent the future instead of radically under-staffing the legacy system and truly focus on the future.

The DevOps team not believing in the company’s principles by holding on to a central, gate-keeping mindset and related staffing while it could focus on engineering, trust and enabling autonomous teams.

The project management office with a heavyweight, central quarterly planning process involving 10.000s of hours and imposing non-suitable processes to teams instead of working along simple principles and objectives leading to autonomously operating teams.

The system admins that believe in the past and continue hosting servers and building racks for virtual machines instead of embracing the cloud.

The security teams that continue purchasing expensive firewall hardware and worry about USB sticks being put into computers instead of following the more secure and lightweight zero-trust concept.

Embrace change. Be radical. Trust in people. Think of the future.

From pipe dream to a small company

Or: How my wife created The Small Batch Project, a company that’s importing award-winning chocolate into Switzerland.

Let’s start with some context. Seth Godin lays out a concept to revoluzionize school and education. If you care about the next generation, then Stop Stealing Dreams is a must read (or at least a must watch of the 20min long TED talk).

This idea, the fact that everyone can excel, and that the best education can happen online, anytime and independent of location made me and my wife discuss a lot. It was a time when she was looking to quit her day job and start an adventure on her own. And then we found the altMBA, an investment of roughly 4’000 USD and 1 month of intense workshops. Signed up. And it all happened in August 2018.

So, did it help? My wife started the year 2018 with a pipe dream of building a company which would have cost probably more than a million to start, and likely years to execute. Ideas we all have in our head, but never get to execute. Simply, it’s too big to even start. The coaching, the constant feedback of peers and the intense reading mainly simplified “mission impossible”. There are no guidelines, no instructions. Just feedback from peers, constant coaching pushing you to make a leap and convert your dream into an executable project. All of a sudden ideas like “start writing a blog” or “do workshops” were discussed. Zero or close to zero capital investment, easy to test, easy to pivot and also not a full crash in case of a failure.

With that, she started her idea to import award winning bean-to-bar chocolate from around the world to Switzerland, online available at The Small Batch Project. She started with visiting a chocolate fair in September 2018, got a company incorporated and a website based on Shopify up and running in October 2018, had an appearance in a market stand in November 2018, another one in December 2018, her first chocolate tasting event in January 2019, and well, a few month into starting the adventure learned a lot, made interesting connections, received broad support from her friends and got positive and re-inforcing feedback from all corners, including an alumni of the altMBA contacting her with some suggestions to improve her marketing strategy.

So all the altMBA did was simplifying a huge business idea into something actionable? Dare to jump? Dare to take action? Kind of. At least it did the most scary part. There was no point anymore of saying “that’s impossible”. Almost no point of going back. And most of that by following the philosophy of doing something good in this world and making it happen.

With all that, my new job title is “professional chocolate taster”.

The show man

Or why the worst managers succeed.

There’s this kind of team in each company that everyone knows. Not because it’s a successful team. But because that team is famous for big escalations, production problems and an architecture that evolved badly with no way out of the mess.

And then there’s the manager of this team. Highly successful.

Why? Simple. He is the one who gets recognized by the customers.

He’s constantly visiting. Fighting fire. His weeks are turbulent. Full of de-escalations, workarounds, meetings. Resulting in an action plan and a promise to do better. He leaves for the weekend with a big thank you from the customer. In the end, he was the only one who was visible to the customer that week. And he’s the only one who gets mentioned in customer’s reports seen by the leadership team.

Two kinds of batteries

There are two kinds of batteries. Those that come fully charged and can be used once. And those that come half-charged and are meant to be used many times.

I was surprised those very same approaches exist for trust.

My world view assumed that trust starts neutral (or half-charged). You do good things together, and trust builds up. And it goes down when things go bad. Once you have charged the trust battery close to 100%, projects succeed, no matter what. If it’s down to 30% or less, projects start to fail.

Recently I learned from a close co-worker, that his world view assumes full trust at the start. That is, 100% charged. Everytime the other person screws up, it goes down a bit. Never up.

It’s useful to me to understand that this other world view exists. It’s also useful for those to understand that most others think differently.

Principles

I started to develop a principles-oriented way of working. Those have paid off in my team, and I believe are applicable broader. With principles-oriented way I mean that “those are the inner believes of the team” and manifests in behavior such as “we don’t discuss about those, but this is the very nature how we develop our software”.

Here are my current two principles, easy to understand, hard to get there, but then easy to maintain and provide a true accelerator to the team by reducing errors on production software:

  1. No errors in production. True, we’ll always have errors. But we do everything to detect them early, fix them before the customer notices them, and iterate towards very stable software.
  2. Automate everything. Again, we won’t automate 100%. But my team’s cloud account has only 3 things that have been manually created (and those are fully documented). A specific outcome of that is that hitting the “merge button” on a pull request will automatically deploy a service to production (while we drink a cup of coffee, or more likely, already work on the next task).

The long-term

Imagine the following scene. You’re at the Friday after-work beer. You tell one of your co-workers about your side project. You’re excited.

Then your co-worker provides you feedback. Honest feedback. The feedback you need to get better. It’s not a confirmation or alignment. It’s a brutally honest critique to make you better. Not to make you feel cozy.

You’re destroyed. Someone isn’t in agreement with your passion.

You defend. You raise your voice. You shut down the person who provides the valuable feedback. End of conversation.

That’s the short-term. Shutting down opinions of others. Avoiding people who are not agreeing with you.

A better short-term is to listen to the feedback. Acknowledge it. Take it home. It just made you better.

The long-term however is to focus on the conversation. To build a relationship with your co-worker. To ask and listen to the excitements of your co-worker. To see the content of the conversation as a side-product while aiming for a long-term relationship.

The long-term will bring more candid feedback, honesty, and shared excitement. You wanted this to happen today. But today is not the long-term.