I’ve spent the better part of the last five years helping a variety of organizations with some form of agile transition. In the process, I have experienced the symptoms that Patrick Lencioni described in his enjoyable The Three Signs of a Miserable Job. After a couple of years, it really dawned on me that I suffered from the kind of delusions of grandeur one sometimes associates with consultants: I thought I could fix the company, and worse, that doing so represented my mandate. Looking back, I find the result predictable: limited reach and ultimate failure. I needed to change my approach.
I let go of the notion that I had a mandate to fix the organization. As my good friend Patrick Welsh taught me, I had to release the outcome. Instead, I relinquished responsibility for fixing the organization and accepted responsibility for having positive impact on individual people. As I did this, I noticed my results changed. (Surprise!)
I spent less time talking to teams and more time working with individuals. I designed with the programmers, I worked through stories with the business analysts, and I helped the build team simplify some parts of the build. I exchanged my good habits for their domain knowledge. I genuinely wanted to help, and I think I did.
The more I focused on individuals, the more I noticed those individuals sharing what I’d taught them with their peers. I’d created little consultants-in-training, but those with a definite goal of improving circumstances for their peers, their managers, and their organization. I created a little von Neumann machine out of the tidbits I shared. Months later I found that my message had reached dozens of people, many of whom actually gave it the time of day. I hadn’t seen that two years earlier.
Based on this experience, then, I focus my work on individuals, and I find my work has more impact. I enjoy it more, too. Everyone wins.