I was listening to a TED talk and the speaker threw out the word “Dormant”. He used it to describe Death Valley which is named Death Valley because, well, nothing grows there. No rain=No growth. However, something happened in 2004….it rained (7 inches in fact) and in the Spring of 2005 Death Valley was having quite a hard time living up to the name. The floor of Death Valley was covered in flowers. Turns out Death Valley isn’t dead. It’s dormant. Underneath the barren landscape was loads of potential just waiting for an inviting environment.
I’m a little obsessive about environments – specifically environments for teams to be successful. Today, more than ever, there are companies, consultants and coaches out there trying to crack the Agile nut in order to deliver value more frequently, efficiently and of higher quality. It’s a HARD nut to crack. The frameworks, Scrum, Kanban, XP and the consolidation of them in SAFe provide the manual and direction for companies to take. Yet….they’re [still] not seeing the expected and much-desired results and I believe, with every nook and cranny of my heart, the reason lies in the environment.
DORMANCY: The state of quiet (but possibly temporary) inaction. – Definition from http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu
Underneath the surface of the frameworks we’re using or, if you prefer, the foundation, are the Agile and lean values and principles. But, I don’t believe the appropriate amount of time and attention is spent on teaching these. Certainly not to the point where they’re understood well enough to be put into practice. What’s more, I don’t believe most environments are suitable for the demonstrative manifestation of these values and principles. So then what you end up seeing are the process side of frameworks in action – not people. The frameworks are designed to bring the values and principles to life. Frameworks need people to bring THE FRAMEWORK to life. So, really, you need people to bring the values and principles to life and the environment, generally, just isn’t conducive.
Occasionally, there will be a micro-climate where, somehow, a team is flourishing. I’ve heard these teams referred to as “magic teams”. The magic of them is they created their own environment or micro-climate and bucked the odds – kind of like the Spring of 2005 in death valley. Which, goes to show you, it’s not actually magic…it’s the environment. Creating the environment is the key to unlocking the potential of people to bring the framework and the values and principles to life which will then bring the amazing results we’re all searching and striving for. Oddly enough, those micro-climates are noticed by others as well. The magic team is sought after and asked about their secret and the magic team will gladly, willingly give it away and, then, those seekers will tell you all the reasons why replicating it just aren’t possible elsewhere.
Maybe we just take for granted the environment will be there or it will evolve to meet the changes in process and approach. Or, perhaps we don’t even want to think about the environment because changing or creating environments is difficult, hard work. Also, there’s nothing telling you that a framework NEEDS any certain type of environment. All of that said, I can’t think of a single organization who isn’t fully capable and up to the challenge of creating an environment to enable success. Especially if, at the end of all that work, the results would be nothing short of spectacular. I would go so far to argue that the environment of every organization is dormant….quietly inactive. I may even take it a step further and say the “environmentalists”, or those with the ability to be, are complacent. Meanwhile, there’s all this potential just there, waiting for the right environment or a very persuasive environmental activist to get the ball rolling.