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Is collaboration really so difficult?

In episode 79 of Dave Saboe’s excellent podcast series, “Mastering Business Analysis,” Dave interviews Paula Bell about effective collaboration. Here’s the link: http://masteringbusinessanalysis.com/mba079-effective-collaboration/

One point in particular stood out for me in this episode: “It can be challenging to collaborate under the pressure of deadlines. It’s worth taking the time to get to know one another and to some team building.”

It reminded me of situations that were common in the 1980s in corporate IT work: The “sweatshop” environment, in which working life comprised an unending series of death marches punctuated by physical/mental/emotional crashes.

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Seeds of change

Seeds of change

This one is for all the change agents out there who, from time to time, may have felt as if their work has no meaning or value.

Here’s what we do:

  1. We win an engagement with a client whose management want to institute organizational change (e.g., to implement Lean and/or Agile methods and practices, or to shift the organizational culture and management style toward a 21st-century model, or some other lofty goal).
  2. We define “success” as “the organization has deeply, honestly, and permanently changed for the better.”
  3. We help the people in the organization visualize a different future and guide them on a path toward that vision.
  4. We encourage people as the organization makes halting, slow progress.
  5. We encourage people as the organization succumbs to systemic forces and reverts to the status quo ante.
  6. We watch sadly as the people who had learned the most in the transformation initiative leave the organization.
  7. We hang our heads in shame; the definition of “success” has not been achieved.
  8. We use tales of the engagement to convince others to try the same thing, as we go forward in our careers. “It got off to a good start. If only…”
  9. We return to step 1.

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Do IT consultants want to be professionals?

The title expresses the first part of a two-part question:

  1. Do IT consultants want to be professionals?
  2. Do clients want IT consultants to be professionals?

Note the wording: I’m not asking whether IT consultants want to be professional (adjective). I’m asking whether they want to be professionals (noun).

The question isn’t about what it means to be professional in our work. It seems to me that amounts to our desire to do the best job we can. I don’t think there’s much debate to the contrary. The question is about what it means to be treated as a professional by our clients; conversely, whether our clients really want to treat us as such.

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Where are all the Agile success stories?

Daniel Mezick confronts the elephant in the “agile” room in his post, Deviation from the Norm: “If current approaches actually worked well, then by now, thousands of organizations would have reached a state of self-sustaining, “freestanding” agility. Clearly, that is not the case.”

Pondering the question, several possible reasons for this result (or lack of) occurred to me. These are speculative and based on my own experience and observations.

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The commoditization of “agile”

Sales consultant Phil Styrlund had an insight about the way markets have evolved in the Internet age that I think is relevant to information systems consulting in general and to "agile" and "lean" services in particular: Everything is a commodity. Anyone can obtain any goods or services they want by ordering them online.

It used to be that companies offering a product or service could distinguish themselves from others offering similar products or services by highlighting the special features of their product or by bringing unique capabilities to the table. Today, customers just don’t want to hear that. They have access to all the information available about your product or service. They already know. There’s nothing you could say about your product or about yourself that would make you any different, in the eyes of customers, from all the others in the market who are trying to sell the same things. You are a commodity.

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Ethics vs. morality

In one of the most bizarre misunderstandings of the code of ethics I proposed the other day, a reader suggested that by adopting a professional code of ethics, a consultant or technical coach was somehow trying to impose Western morality on people in remote parts of the world. Because this is such a strange reaction, it’s difficult to know how to respond. Yet, if the code of ethics as currently written can result in such an extreme misunderstanding, then I feel I must try. Continue reading Ethics vs. morality

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Ethics vs. technique

Some of the comments on “A code of ethics for consultants, trainers, and coaches” suggest that the statements in the list may not be self-explanatory. Some of thes points might be worth a longer explanation than will fit into a response to a comment. One example is the apparent confusion between professional ethics and professional technique. Continue reading Ethics vs. technique

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A code of ethics for consultants, trainers, and coaches

In November of last year, Dan Mezick initiated a discussion about the need for a formal code of ethics for “agile” coaches. He was especially interested in the idea that coaches should explicitly avoid creating a dependent relationship with clients. After all, the main goal of a coach is to help the coachee become self-sufficient and independent. A subsequent article on InfoQ, “Should Agile Coaches Have a Code of Ethics?”, spurred further discussion by additional people.

I found the discussion compelling, and subsequently Dan and I had a few email exchanges about the topic. Although the original discussion centered just on coaching services, and specifically “agile” coaching services, it struck me that the prohibition on making clients dependent on their external helpers applied equally to consulting and training services.

I decided to revisit the code of ethics that I have been using. Although not a member, I learned about the code of ethics of the Institute of Management Consultants (USA) in the mid-1980s. It seemed to be relevant to the kind of work I was doing at the time, and have done most of the time since then. On re-reading the IMC code closely, I found it lacking in a few respects that I hadn’t noticed way back in the 1980s. For one thing, the sentences aren’t crafted very well. For another, some of the statements are redundant. Thirdly, the subdivisions in the list seem unnecessary. Finally, the list doesn’t address issues of social consciousness that have become important in our society since the time it was written.
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