Culture eats strategy for breakfast

culture-eats-strat (1)Feeling a bit bolshie today so I first thought to write exhorting folk to deliver even more value in even smaller chunks in even faster cycle times. Well you should. Once you understand the magic of focusing on overall value (and not cost or some other sub-optimising dimension), the incredible benefits from reducing batch sizes and the almost silver bullet like properties of fast cycle times, it’s obvious.

These are the processes and tools of lean-agile thinking. What it’s really all about is mindset, attitude, culture. The agile manifesto captures this where it says that there is more value in “people and interactions over processes and tools.”

I’ve been getting it at a deeper and deeper level as time goes on. Linda Rising talks of two mindsets “fixed” vs. “agile”:


Fixed mindset Agile mindset
Ability – static, like height Ability – can grow, like muscle
Goal – look good Goal – to learn
Challenge – avoid Challenge – embrace
Failure – defines your identity Failure – provides information
Effort – for those with no talent Effort – path to mastery
Reaction to challenge – helplessness Reaction to challenge – resilience

We all spend time in both places. I offer it for your consideration that you have more fun, are happier and have a greater impact on the world if you spend more time in the agile mindset. If you suddenly wake up to find yourself in the fixed mindset, then there is nothing wrong. Pick yourself up and move over to the agile mindset. The trick is to practice this movement – aim for mastery.

In the agile mindset, we are all a work in progress. The development process isn’t fixed but will continue to improve as it ages. We all try to emphasize continuous improvement but we are woefully short of getting the hang of this.  We boil down lean-agile thinking to kanban boards, CD3 prioritisation and fast cycle times. Yet we are missing the key point. In the book Toyota Kata, Mike Rother looks into what Toyota’s success is really about. The have a behavioural pattern or culture (“kata” in japanese) they have managed to institutionalise where they:

  1. Identify one action that could be taken towards moving towards a vision
  2. Take it.
  3. See whether it did move things in the right direction.
  4. Rinse and repeat forever and make these learning loops as fast as possible.

They do this for everything from the company strategy down to the tiniest thing. What that enables them to do is to out-learn the competition. They understand that learning happens at every level.

“Yea, yea we know all this. I’m always looking for opportunities to improve.” I offer it for your consideration that you are playing this game small and you can play it at a whole new level. You rarely focus on improving just one thing, preferring long action lists and “projects” instead. You rarely understand what the required direction is (what is the vision for how your team communicates? for example. Do you have one?). You assume that you are not empowered to make the necessary changes. You are not ruthless in adjusting and learning quickly, you prefer to schedule meetings for the week after next instead. What both you and the company needs is to maximise the rate of learning. Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to find out how. Adopting the behavioural pattern above is a good starting point.

So here is a call to action. By reading this blog, you are prioritising taking time to learn. To get results, add some courage and steadiness to apply what you are learning. Wherever you sit in your organisation, put on your agile mindset and offer some leadership in adopting the continuous improvement behavioural pattern described above. Have the ambition to apply this pattern to everything. Find out what it takes to make this happen. Experiment!

Research shows that we are encouraged and influenced by other’s behaviour – your colleagues will be influenced by yours. When you start playing the game at a new level, you’ll probably find you won’t recognise yourself and, ultimately, your organisation won’t recognise itself.


Social tagging: > >

Leave a Reply