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Guillermo De Anda on Shifting Organisational Culture One Small Step at a Time


In this podcast Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods, spoke to Guillermo De Anda of ProKarma about digital transformations, shifting organisational culture one small step at a time and the importance of managers having a coaching mindset.

Key Takeaways

  • Digital transformation is the ability of an enterprise to adapt to the market in terms of being competitive by providing customers quick ways to experience their brands and their products
  • You can't measure culture - it is something that you smell in an organization, It's a sense of how things are
  • Culture shifts through many small changes gradually applied over time
  • People are motivated by autonomy, mastery & purpose
  • Management needs to make it safe to learn and experiment


00:00 Introductions

00:00 Shane: Good day folks. This is Shane Hastie for the InfoQ Engineering Culture podcast. I'm sitting down with Guillermo De Anda from PK. Guillermo is the agile center of excellence lead at PK at the moment. Guillermo, welcome. Tell us a little bit about yourself, please?

00:20 Guillermo: Absolutely Shane, first of all, thank you very much for having me. PK is the experience engineering firm. You know, our focus is really working with large enterprises, large companies that are very, let's say customer centric or customer obsessed, and what we do is we really bring game and a lot of thought leadership and design and strong technical background and experience to help them lead some of their pioneering experience efforts. And with that, as you know, it comes a lot of digital transformation challenges, and that's where our PK agile center of excellence steps in is helping organizations really address those cultural barriers in terms of adopting new processes, identifying key critical processes that lead to business goals, and what's stopping them for doing that. I've been working with PK for a little while now, but really the background that I've been exposed to in the last, and I'll say around 10 years now, have been really in the IT realm, working with companies such as Verizon, back in the early two thousands as an IT project manager, also Western union and so forth. And it's really been in the space of around helping them integrate networking solutions and software development as part of their integration solutions, but like all good IT project managers, I'm sorry, was bit by the agile bug around 2009 and I started exploring this thing called Scrum. At that moment it was really still an organic growth from IT project management to that new space. I, grabbed myself by the bootstraps and went all-in on it and I've not turned back and have to say, you know,  it's been a very interesting journey in that space because I've been fortunate enough to work,from an agile perspective, with companies such as Sony Network Entertainment down in San Diego in the States; companies such as Microsoft, T-Mobile, you know, and the E-side with Johnson and Johnson and just all over the place. I've really taken upon myself to look at these companies from a different lens, right? From a real, more of business psychology, if you would, to a certain extent, what is really in the way of these companies and these enterprises realizing your full potential. And it turns out that one of the main lessons I've learned is, you know, it's really themselves getting in the way of progress. 02:42 Shane: You use a term, that's almost becoming a buzzword today. You know, agile is now old hat and we talk about digital transformation. What does that mean in today's context?

02:54 Agile and Digital Transformation – Avoiding the Buzzwords

02:54 Guillermo: That's a great question. And you're right, something about buzzwords right now, such as agile, DevOps, you know, digital transformation. So I feel like when a word means everything, it really doesn't mean anything, but it means a lot of different things to a lot of different enterprises. But digital transformation, what it basically is, what it comes down to,  is the ability of an enterprise to adapt to the market in terms of being competitive by providing customers quick ways to experience their brands and their products. Right? So it's really now beginning as more of a race, if you would, to not only what is the best new thing to come out and be competitive, but who could do it faster, better and with higher quality. And right now, one of the things that we're going through is the streaming wars, right now Netflix has a lot more competition than it did a few years ago. Disney plus is coming out. You have things such as Hulu, Apple's putting out their streaming services and now it's race. They know that there's a huge market for these products, but really it's about how quickly can we adapt new features that are attractive to our customers, to help us maintain and be competitive, have that competitive advantage. And it's funny because, you know, yesterday and the day before yesterday I was teaching my product management course for two days and we had a lot of this conversation around, well, we know what we need to get outside into the market and continue to be relevant, but why do we struggle to do that and it becomes a conversation around really well, how are we structured as an organization and structure? It means a lot of things, but it really boils down to decision policies, that's part of the story; organizational structure, how are the teams structured? What does those silos look like , how do they talk with each other? And most importantly, how do they work with each other and the common goal? It's this digital transformation that is, I think it's really interesting to live through this right now. Now we have industrial revolution, at some point, we had the agriculture revolution. I feel that digital revolution is upon us and we've seen great strides and advancement in technology in the last few years. And the challenge we have now from a culture perspective is how do we keep up with those changes?

05:09 Shane: So let's delve into this culture thing. What is culture in an organization and how do you change it if it's getting in the way?

05:17 What is Culture?

05:17 Guillermo: Yeah, that's a good question. And, you know, culture, it means something very different in each organization. In my experience a few weeks ago, I was sitting with a huge health care client over on the East side and, you know, it was really a conversation of him asking me, well, how do I measure culture? Right. How do I know what I need to do? And this is a top tier executive saying I have a huge portfolio challenge. That to me was very interesting because, okay, he's starting off from his perspective, the most important thing is portfolio investment in his IT organization across North America, which of course, that's one of his main responsibilities. He says, as I look at my portfolio and I want to go and start allocating funding for projects for next year, I don't know how I'm going to get return of investment, they can't wait until the end of the year to see that come into fruition and I know I have challenges within the organization to even get data. Okay. So the problem there from a cultural perspective is, well, how are you structured? Cause culture, this is what I was telling them, you can't measure culture it is something that you smell in an organization.  It's a sense of how things are. A great example I provided was the most common way that you really witness to the way the culture is in an organization is when somebody new to the company walks in. And I was also talking to one of our partners. T-Mobile about that and I've been working with T-Mobile for about little over five years now, and I noticed that when somebody new comes into the company, they bring in their experiences, they bring and, you know, they're artifacts, lessons learned from other companies and they're really excited for these new opportunities at the job. All of a sudden, you know, they come in with these new ideas and you have folks who have been there for a awhile and they say, Hey, that is great, that's not going to work here. Right. And the response is usually, and the reason is because we don't do things like that. Two, three months continue to pass on, the person still has a few ideas and they say, no, that's great, but here we do things differently. And after six months, that person is completely now sucked into the culture.

07:00 The danger of creeping normality

07:00 Guillermo: Right now, this happens everywhere at all the companies. And then when a new person comes in now it's this previously new person who's telling that to the new person. So that's where you witness culture taking a grasp. And that's one of the ways that I explained, usually explain to people, is notice how we do things because we are so focused on maintaining the status quo, right? It transforms into this conversation around it. Is this just the way things are in this organization? That's the way we do them. And it's interesting because I didn't know until recently that there was a term for that, which is called creeping normality. It was very interesting to me because I thought, well, that's, I think one of the things that we have to talk about is, to be able to, you know, start changing the culture in the company, we need to talk about creeping normality. What creeping normality is, is it's the way that,  an organization accepts large change and incremental unnoticeable changes, small changes throughout time until now it's part of the culture. It's the famous fable of the frog in the hot pan, right? You don't know you're in it until you have this reaction to it, but the way that we need to start now approaching transformation is really how do we invert that? Now let's look at a positive spin on it, which is really let's start implementing small gradual changes, just like the ones that got you to this position, but the other way around, and it's going to be a journey, right, it's going to be something that's might take three, five years to really start feeling that new culture.

09:00 Culture shifts through many small changes gradually applied over time

09:00 Guillermo: And I think that is, you know, one of the best approaches to look at it as really what got us into this situation. There's an old saying yesterday solutions are today's problems and it's really around what changes that we gradually start inserting into this company that has now created this culture. And from here on out, is how do we start are implementing new, small changes that are unnoticeable at the beginning, but we'll have a larger impact in the organization in the future. 09:22 Shane: That sounds great, but certainly, my experience has been when talking with senior leaders and executives is they want this digital transformation overnight,

09:33 Guillermo: Right. Get me a project plan with the organization and the mind shift. 09:36 Shane: Yeah. And, you know, show me the milestones by which we will have achieved this within 12 months, six months, whatever. But you're just saying to me, this is going to be multiple years. :09:46 Guillermo: Yes. And, you know, from our perspective, we've been advisors and consultant advisors, and we come in and we develop that practitioner, you know, that mindset within the organization. I'm a big fan of, Hey, let's start to transform your managers into a coaching mindset, right? Not so much go in and hire coaches and bring them in, right? Because you really can't outsource your transformation.  At the end of the day, it's something that you have to build in, feed and grow. But to your point is when we have these conversations with leadership, it's always a conversation around what their experience has told them in the past about agile. One thing I always say when I talk to leaders is I'm not here to talk about agility, that is something that will happen if you're able to start to talk about and put effort into transforming your organization to become a learning organization and be agile. But you're not going to go out and buy an agile package that you're able to implement like you would do software. And what I've seen happen, Shane here is the first reaction is, Oh, that sounds great. Right. That's what I want. I want my organization to transform and I am assigning my middle manager to do that. So go. Work with him and get this done and keep me updated. And that's usually the last time you hear from this, from this leader. And we go through that and I think we've made enough mistakes to understand that that is not where the change is going to happen. I talk to folks every day that are actually doing the work, and they're the first ones that are really interested in making changes happen. The only challenge is that they don't have a lot of influence and you hear things such as, you know, if leadership would only give us space to innovate, we could make our own processes a lot better and that tends to happen but there is no alignment between the work that's being done on the ground and strategy at a leadership level. That's where the challenge is. How do we actually close that gap and treat the enterprise in the organization as one single entity? Right. And a lot of the examples when I was working with a company down in Atlanta around this was well, let's map out what are through systems modelling  - is a great something I recommend, a lot of folks do -  is let's look at your cause and effect because maybe the problem that you're asking, trying to solve is not the real problem.  So usually we make ourselves, we tend to identify a problem, therefore, we want to go get to the solution, but you might be solving the wrong thing. This becomes a real whack-a-mole scenario where, you know, you whack them over here, but there's going to be something else that pops up. There's a ripple effect in what we do, and unless we're able to map out all those potential cause and effects situations, it's going to be really, really be hard to focus on the right thing that's going to drive change and sustainable change for that matter. 12:32 Shane: One of the statements you made earlier on almost seems contradictory. We need to do things faster, better, and with higher quality.   Aren't those compromises?

12:43 Building better products faster with higher quality

12:43 Guillermo: It seems like it, right? Yeah. And I would say that's the biggest difference between traditional development and agility, right. Traditional development there was going to be that trade-off as we have a scope, we have costs and we have resources. We want to shift one or the other, we have to move the other way around. And now again, from a mindset perspective and taking more of an agile mindset, it's going to be well let's not talk about the cost and the resources, let's talk about the scope. How do we get a quicker return of investment as we move forward through a big solution or, you know, a set of features. How do we make sure that we're on track so we're not waiting nine months at the end to see if this thing is going to give us the return of investment as we expected? So what we do to be able to manage that speed and that quality is really help organizations understand the building quality aspect of it. And it goes back to like the training I was doing with these folks yesterday and they had great questions and they all work within this telecoms organization as well. And they were telling me, well, you know, how do we do that? What is the practical, you know, give me something practical to be able to actually start implementing this and we'd go like, well, It's really the mindset of leveraging the technology that we currently have. A good way for the development team to start looking at building quality is unit testing. Let's shift all the testing to the left. And once you get in that habit, look for ways to automate your acceptance criteria, right? You might look at the process implementing Gherkin. You have tools such as Cucumber and Fitness, who can with BDD and ADD. So all these things happen at that team level that could really help them optimize and build in quality. And of course here is the first situation that we run into when we talk about these things and the feedback I get from the teams usually is, yeah, you know, we're doing this. But there is an enterprise quality process that we have to follow, so we have to drop it in an environment and then it's going to take six weeks to do regression. So here's where a lot of the frustration happens with some teams is,  we are doing the best we can, but we are still siloed, our sphere of influence is so small, so limited that we can optimize our silo all day long but at the end of the day, we're not delivering value quicker. And sometimes what happens is the whole thing around shifting the burden is yep, we do it here, but sooner or later, that burden is going to be now managed by a separate group. That's either a handoff or another area that is not in communication or is part of your workflow within that organization. And we lose traction as we go through these things. We try to really, really foster flow, remove waste and it's all really about doing that as an enterprise, as a single entity, not just from an IT perspective or not just from product management. Shane: Another statement you made that was intriguing: transform managers to a coaching mindset. Most managers are not taught much about management, never mind coaching. How do we help them get there? And what does a coaching mindset look like? Guillermo: Exactly that you and I know from an ICA perspective, and I love the ICA framework, a big ICA fan, is you look at the coaching framework and a coach will be somebody who could facilitate, somebody who could mentor, somebody who can teach, somebody who has some degree of technical knowledge, business knowledge, product knowledge, and it's somebody who can really be a guide towards improvement.

16:00 Managers need a coaching mindset

16:00 Guillermo: But they are not managers, So a coach cannot manage a team, but managers can. So here it becomes a conversation of how do we get managers to really start adopting that? And it could be through coaching training, how to become a coach. But one thing that I see a lot of managers do is not listen to their people. And as you know, when we go through coaching training is that's the first thing you gotta do is you got to develop your ability to listen. Listen, listen, truly understand the person that is having the challenges. Cause there's a lot of wealth, I think and value in that knowledge. So many times managers do not have that ability. It's really a go, go, go, decision-making, you know, do what you have to do kind of mentality, but not in a learning environment. So for a long time, I thought, well, you know, that's just in conflict, coaching and management, but I had the great experience of having a manager, my manager actually was a great coach and a manager at the same time. And not only do you build a great relationship of trust, an environment of decentralized decision making and continue to foster that trust, but you really get a lot of good work done and most of all, we're happy doing it. I think the happiness, what I call the happiness meter, the happy meter for organizations, sometimes we don't take that into account. We expect people to really, you know, Hey, it's a job, it's work, get it done, and you know, we're running them at 110 capacity, which is no way it's sustainable.  As human beings, we only have one processor in our mind, so that's the only one we have, you know, we're not computers. We have multiprocessors and we can do a lot of content switching on the fly, but even though, you know, I mean, multitasking is really an illusion. So it really comes back to how do we focus on the right stuff? And at the end of the day, people really want three things. You know, what I've seen is mastery, you know, purpose and overall autonomy. So if we're able to provide that space for those folks to do that, right, we'll get great things.

18:00 People are motivated by autonomy, mastery & purpose

18:00 Guillermo: I spent a little bit of time working with Microsoft and they have a hackathons every once in a while, I think maybe every quarter or so, and I have a lot of friends that are engineers that work at Microsoft, and it's amazing to me, the excitement that they have in these hackathons and they're working on things like, Hey, I've got a pitch for a new video game. I've got a page for new software and I'm going to get to, you know, pitch that to some stakeholders.  And I ask, well, when are you doing this work? Oh, we're doing it on weeknights and weekends. And I'm like, Oh, are you getting paid for that? No, we're not getting paid for it. We're just looking for the opportunity to show this off to leadership. And that to me was very important because I realized, you know, again from more of a taking a step back and the scientific approach to this is really the psychology of it all is people want to do just great work. We just need to give them the space for it and that's where I think managers have a great opportunity and a lot of potential to really, you know, build on if you would, that want from the teams that do great work and you could totally leverage it for your enterprise. It's just like, let's give them the space. 19:24 Shane: So would that be autonomy? So what's the mastery thing?

19:27 Guillermo: So the master thing is really, you know, I've met a lot of engineers who are really passionate about what they do. One of my good friends, also he's an engineer, but on the side he was honing in trying to master his engineering abilities in the video game world. He really wanted to work in video games and he would continue to do that over the weekends and he would invest in his equipment and invest in training.  So his end goal was really, I want to work in the video game industry and I'm preparing myself for it. I'm mastering myself for it.  A good example is, you know, people who play instruments, I play the guitar very badly by the way, but I enjoy it. I enjoy it. I try to home in on that mastery, I go to classes sometimes on the weeknights, on the weekends, on my free time. So it's that passion that really drives people to really master what they do and when you're able to provide that space and that passion, you know, to folks, they will come up with really, really great things. Not worrying about, Oh, I just have nine to five to do this every day, but really I'm so passionate about it I'm going to spend my free time on it. And the results is exactly, you know, what you want out of an organization.  Another good example is looking at the open-source platforms, open-source communities out there. How is it that open source folks in communities work on very, very high-quality products and high-quality software with folks who one don't know each other, they are just aligned to one single objective and they hold each other accountable for the quality of their product? They're not getting paid for that. So that's a good example yeah of the mastery.

21:00 Innovate from within

21:00 Guillermo: And I've seen a lot of strides with companies in the last few years in that space, especially companies saying, you know, I want to go out and go to a consultant company or go to the advisory company and buy innovation. I want you to come in and innovate, and my suggestion is well, you probably have a lot of innovation already in your IT organisation. I bet you, you at least have a few people there who are looking at machine learning who are looking at IA in their own time, so if you give those folks the opportunity to really use that potential and that interest, you're going to get really cool things out of that. 21:43 Shane: One of the things that I certainly see happening a fair amount out there, and you touched on it when you were talking earlier about organizational change. Team structures and organization structures, they often get in the way of the speed to market that the digital transformation seems to be about. How do we help organizations make those structural changes and bring people along on the journey because they're hard journeys?

22:11 Structure for flow and reducing handoffs

22:11 Guillermo: They are, and they take a long time. I'm smiling about that because that is a great topic and an issue that I have equally have with companies and a few weeks ago, or maybe last month I was talking to this VP about that and he was saying, well, you know, it's not as easy to restructure organizations.  And I said, yeah, but what is it that you were looking for technically? I kind of split the conversation, let's talk about your technical challenges. You said, well, we're looking to migrate from a monolithic architecture to more microservices. And I said, great you know, the microservices gamma, you have different design patterns. What are you looking at? I want to do microservices and use the design pattern of business capability. I want to organize microservices around business. And I said, that is great. How long, or how difficult do you think that's going to be? Oh, it's going to be a huge investment and I'm putting an effort and everything is going to be great, cause that's gonna solve a lot of our problems. And that is awesome. That is great. You're going down that path. What happens once you have it? Your team are still going to be siloed by your current monolithic architecture. Right? So notice the organizations, the way that they structure is that they overlay the team structure over their architecture. So you have monolithic architecture, you have things like, well, I have a database over there, I have a middleware over here. I have front end over here to the side. We want to go and implement component teams, and say, well, if part of my architecture is database, I'm going to go  have a database team. I'm going to have a middleware team and I'm going to spin up organizations on top of that. So that means that database team's going to have a database manager, database senior manager, database vice president, and the whole enchilada. So then what ends up happening is you have those structures to maintain those components, but they're not linking to each other, they're not talking to each other because each one has different priorities. And that resonated a lot with this VP he came up with well, that makes sense. He was like, well, what needs to happen? He goes like, I want to go full out, I want to do micro services and then I want to do DevOps. Oh, great - DevOps you know, what is the first thing around DevOps? It's not tooling. It's mindset. You have to have a mindset around DevOps.  DevOps is just a grouping of concepts of continuous integration, continuous deployment, branching strategies, monitoring, releasing, deployment, all that requires a mindset. So now the conversation is okay, technically you're moving to microservices to be able to organize around business. You're looking to adopt DevOps, which is going to take a huge lift in mindset and challenges. How about, crazy idea, right?  we restructure your teams to those business capabilities? So you're able to have cross functional teams that are accountable for a business outcome. Right then that resonated very well with leaders because number one, you're actually able to put data and return on investment and something like that, that you're going to foster acceleration and the delivery because you are tearing down those silos. And at the end of the day, it's going to be just easier to manage as well, so your overhead also might come down, it's just going to be easier from an end to end perspective, because now you have architecture supporting that, you have a DevOps plan, and now you have your organizational structure, decision policies, and the way the teams are organized mapped around that. So at the end of the day, you end up with a holistic change. But back to my earlier point, it needs to happen, you know, in small chunks of incremental experimentation to actually get to that vision and end point. Shane: [00:25:42] And how do you make that safe?

25:44 Making it safe to learn and experiment

25:44 Guillermo: That is another great question. That is, I think, from management, it goes back to management and leadership, is creating an environment where people are not afraid to take risks. So think about it from a really fault tolerance.  Is leadership providing enough support to foster innovation? You cannot have innovation within the company without having a tolerance for failure. And to do that is again creating that safe space where really it goes back to autonomy and purpose. If you're able to put that around the teams and make them feel like it's totally okay to raise your hand when there's an issue, that it's totally okay to raise your hand and, you know, provide information. But the tendency right now throughout organizations continues to be fear, right? We try to, Hey, you know, if you don't do this and you don't get it done by X amount of time, I don't know what's going to happen the day after.  That is not a good motivation for people. I think we are dealing with people, educated folks that have tremendous potential. These are, you know, they're knowledge workers they really have a lot to offer. So we need to create that space for them to actually fulfill that big potential, but the way to create that space is making that a safe space. And that is again, a mindset that comes from leadership. And it's not something that's imposed, saying starting today, nobody's going to get fired for new ideas, but little by little it's those gradual changes. About, Hey, how about this iteration maybe we set a little bit of time to talk about improvement, right? And usually have your retrospectives for that type of thing. But realistically, Shane, what I've seen in a lot of companies in terms of agile practices now, like, you know, Scrum, Kanban, the retrospective is the first ceremony that goes out the window when they are pressured under pressure. I talk to managers about that, and it's again, a mindset, right? Because it goes all the way from managers up that organisational chain is, well, why would I have them? An hour to vent when I could have them an hour finishing up some of the development work? That's powerful, to me, it's well, if you don't have that kind of stop and check mentality, each two weeks, you're going to continue to have the same problems over and over and over. And that's what fosters culture. Those little changes. You're actually sabotaging yourself in the future because that also starts to accrued and it's represented in the culture and the behavior. That's where you have a lot of churn in terms of people. That's what your quality starts dropping. You have burnout. There are all these other fallouts to it because you don't allow people to actually stop, learn from what's going on and then change and adapt.  So you could switch that conversation to positive, incremental changes as you move forward. But, I know this sounds kind of cliche, it does start with leadership.  But there is also a huge, huge value and understanding what's happening on the ground as practitioners. It's really important that we gather all that and we take it up to leadership and have that conversation with this data. Data around look at your churn, look at this, look at that. And it's through systems modeling you're actually able to map that to the root cause and is you have no fault tolerance, therefore people live in constant fear. People who constantly work in fear are afraid to try new things. Therefore. Your culture will never change.

29:10 Contact details

29:10 Shane: Thank you for that. So if our audience wants to continue the conversation, where do they find you?

29:16 Guillermo: Oh, that's a great question. They can actually find us more information on, that’s our website. My contact information is there. There are also some additional articles that we've published around agility. So we do a lot of efforts to keep up with the tendencies and continue to share out some of our experiences. Because at the end of the day, I think, you know,  communities of practice and forums, like the one that you host, Jane are very powerful, truly interesting and important to share experiences for folks who are out there actually doing the job and doing the work so we could come together and just help improve the industry and especially what we do, right. Because it is a lot of people to people, organizations is people behavior, it's human psychology that drives the products that we're doing to actually make things better. But at the end of the day, technology progresses so quickly, but we have people to actually build that. So we need to take care of our people. We do need to address these organizational changes, challenges, and culture, and become adaptive learning organizations, as opposed to what we have right now, which is really a lot of copying organizations. I want to go copy what this organization did because it worked for them. I'm sure it's going to work for me. You have a lot of people trying out the Spotify model and not working for them and they'd say, why isn't it working? Well, you're not Spotify. 30:33 Shane: You're not Spotify, and Spotify aren't using that anymore.

30:36 Guillermo: Spotify, isn't using Spotify, exactly. So, I'm really happy to be part of all that and helping organizations find their own model for success instead of going out and copying something else.

30:46 Shane: Guillermo, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us today.

30:49 Guillermo: Thank you, Shane. It's a blast. Thank you very much.

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