Thursday, December 12, 2013

La Russa Agile Innovation #9 of 17: To be Agile, You Gotta be Relentless; To be Relentless, You Gotta Be Positive  

I frequently tell my clients the (oversimplified but) actionable truth, "There are two kinds of managers: the opportunity seekers and the mistake-avoiders". One of those settings will be the twitch setting for a manager having to make an instant decision. In the ideal world, each individual manager can channel both at will, and while each organization will have a predominance of one setting over the other, each organization will also have at least some managers with power in the minority zone.

To be good at Agile and Lean methods, you'd better have a bias towards opportunity and away from failure-avoidance, because agility rests on action in an environment of uncertainty. That's a bias, not an exclusive way of thinking. Safety- critical organizations that get too many opportunity-oriented power nexes end up losing their way, frequently at a cost of human life. When the Reagan Administration, run by opportunity-seekers, decided they needed to window-dress NASA's space program so they could privatize it so they could sell it to businesses that were political allies, the executive team overruled the failure-avoiders (engineers, classic exxxxtreme failure avoiders) who were concerned with safety. The resulting Challenger disaster did convince a small incremental number of people that government doesn't work, but it didn't parlay into the privatization plan, because more people came to mistrust the privatizers.

But, in general, Agile and Lean methods are entrepreneurial and where entrepreneurial management has value (for example, NOT in conducting space missions) the opportunity-seeking setting needs to trump failure- avoidance in twitch or very short-term decisions.

Baseball is a perfect test bed for testing management theory for competitive lines of work, because its zero-sum outcomes and almost perfect transparency make seeing and tracking cause-->effect, input-->outcome correlations easy. If it works in Baseball, it's very likely to work in your less-competitive, less precise management environment.

Where does Baseball set the Set Point for a competitive endeavor? Almost all the way to opportunity seeking. One natural master at the setting is former White Sox, Athletics and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. He documents it in an actionable way in his recent book, (pages 368-369). His explanation relates to his 2011 Cardinal team and their World Series efforts. Game Six; they are down three games to two, and one more loss will deliver the Series to their opponents. The bottom of the 6th inning has just ended, badly, for the Cards, and painfully, because tied at 4-4, they had the bases loaded with one out and not been able to take a lead. Worse, they had not only not succeeded with the clutch-hitting part of the game, but one of the most baseball-smart players on a team that valued baseball smarts had allowed himself to be picked off base for the second out. Emotionally, failure-prevention would be a hard setting to fight here.

Between innings, I did my analysis. I had two options. I could think of these two instances of the benefit of getting a run without a hit and not getting even more runs with a clutch hit, as a refecltion of our offense not really producing.

Or I could recognize the positive of having tied the score going into the last three innings of a home game. I took the latter view, telling those other thoughts to get the hell out of there before they'd even had a chance to settle in. I did the same when I briefly thought that if we were to lose, this would be the worst possible way, because we were not playing well to this point.

Those runs we'd gotten -- or maybe the Rangers had handed us -- were important. Just as the times we'd limted them to a single run were important. Don't do something to lose the ganme when on defense (failure-avoidance). Do something to win the game on offense opportunity-seeking). Do that nine times and you win. {snip}

I was unhappy about out not playing a clean game, but I kept the positive self- talk going. I learned a long time ago that if I gave the guys any suggestion that I was upset, that I was giving in to the negative or acting at all like this was not our night, they'd pick up on that and feed off my negative energy.

Agile and Lean management yield the security of heavy process and tried-and-true in exchange for opportunities to increase product innovation or safety and increase overall productivity. If your setting it too close to the failure-avoidance pole, you;'ll both make yourself crazy and make the work effort underperform.

I'm not suggesting positive thinking alone can deflect failures (see Challenger example, previously). Positive thinking is a millenial cult unless you attach it to balanced action.

What I know to be true, though, is that as a team coach or scrum master or leader, if you share the negative emotions with the team, only worse outcomes can happen. If you share the positive, it may or may not buffer the negative, but you're no worse off than if you chose to be passive and did nothing.

You don't have to be a "happy idiot" and blow up the Challenger so a few political cronies could make some incremental income. But to succeed in Agile or Lean management requires relentlessness, and part of that relentlessness, as La Russa documents it for us, is to channel positivity about the present and future, even when it's tough. That's just part of the manager's work.

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