By reading this blog post you'll learn: that creative chaos works only until some point, personal emotions play an important part in making changes happen, "calm" doesn't have to mean "slow" and even fighter pilots can't go wild frantically if they want to survive.

There's an old adage everyone knows & ocassionally quotes:

Tylko spokój może nas uratować (PL)
Only piece (of mind) can save us (EN)

I've tried to trace its origin, but I've failed. It has just been used too widely, by too many historical figures on too many ocassions. Fortunately, what really matters is not who said it first, but the actual wisdom hidden behind the words ...

Building software is an entirely new kind of business. Very dynamic, rapidly evolving, exclusively based on foundations of knowledge & skill, instead of matter & physical labour. But even software crafstmanship doesn't have infinite agility (flexibility) & zero inertia ...

Because it involves humans.

What could happen?

Even in most dynamic environments, like small start-ups or flat hierarchy workshops, organizational change can't happen every 5 minutes. Work environment that is just too frantic is far away from productive:

  • people can take only certain number of changes in parallel - too many changes cause fatigue that accumulates quickly, but dissolves slowly
  • too short lifecycle of change won't let you collect precise & trustworthy feedback on change's outcomes
  • too many changes conducted in parallel will just interfere & mix the effects - you'll never know what made positive & what caused negative effects
  • communication also has its inertia, information has to be procesed (not even by individuals, but also network of intercommunicating individuals) - too many contradicting & mutually overlapping topics going on in the same time will inevitably wreak informational havoc
  • effective change has to be embraced emotionally by people, so they can take (at least partial) responsibility over it & become agents of change themselves - if changes happen so often that people can't truly conduct their work, they will resist (both passively & actively)
  • non-trivial topics require some planning to happen before execution - people caught up in the infinite loop of re-planning (aaand context switching!), who never get the chance to conclude anything, quickly loose motivation & disengage
  • anyone who conducts any work needs some kind of stable foundation to rely upon - an invariant, reference point, axiom - critical condition to perform any estimation and reliable work; if this foundation is in neverending earthquake, performance can drop drastically (long term!)

Change mgmt is hard

I've been there, done that, committed this error so many times.

Personally I'm very impatient, my technical background & architect experience makes it easy to visualise the solutions even before they leave the drawing board. At such point it's hard to understand the limitations - "I can already see it! Why can't we get it faster, let's accelerate!"

But I've learned the hard way that proper rhytm & tact is very important:

  1. limited number of experiments (to keep limited number of risks)
  2. careful operational risk management (to make sure risks do not get out of control)
  3. steady execution above all (careless disruption without proper "buy-in" among the participants can effectively halt the enterprise)

Continuous firefighting w/o fire will increase focus, but only temporarily. The only long-terms effects will be: burn-out, fatigue, increased tolerance to pressure (indifference).

Calm'n'steady != Slow

Calm doesn't mean slow, disengaged or low energy. Calm can be well-directed, properly aligned passion. That's how pros work - focused, with clear goals (at least short term ones), pragmatic.

So-called "creative chaos" is important, but at some point (after some sort of envisioning/brainstorm) it needs direction, triage, execution, delivery & evaluation. Famous OODA cycle can be shorter or longer, but for given length, ALL its phases have to be there. Uncontrollable series of frantic actions will inevitably lead to disaster (what's worse: without valuable learnings!).

That's the problem of many organizations that've failed miserably - they had tons of ideas, failed to prioritise them, didn't manage to pick proper battles to fight first, never controlled their WIP (work in progress) & as a result - were running like headless chicken.

Execution is the king. Everyone can have great ideas, winners are the ones who are able to execute them.

  1. set proper cycle first
  2. make decisions based on facts, turn them into clear goals
  3. get buy-in from stakeholders
  4. make sure accountability & responsibility is clear
  5. confirm that there's capacity to execute, w/o causing unexpected disruption
  6. monitor execution in context of goals (or milestones or whatever you call them)
  7. based on monitoring outcomes - adjust, pivot or persevere

When the sky is falling

Of course, sometimes shit hits the fan, that's unavoidable.

  • there may be a situation that has overwhelmed that team (that reports to you)
  • current frameworks / methods / procedures may not be applicable at all
  • risks/issues have escalated too far & there's no place for mistake

In such cases one may have to take manual control, override everything that was a sanctity 5 minutes ago, invalidate all the plans, introduce emergency change. By her/himself or by raising a crisis squad. When it happens, you don't care much about people comfort as it's a situation of (more or less) life & death (in context of team / organization).

But even if you succeed, there'll always be a price to pay. So don't overuse it, don't apply it on daily basis, keep it for situations when it's really needed.