Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Selling Scrum: How to persuade people to change!


Taichi Ohno. Workplace Management. Gemba Press 2007


People constantly ask me how to sell Scrum either to management or to developers. The real question has nothing to do with Scrum. It has to do with leadership and how do you persuade people to change from an old way of doing things to a new way.

Taichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System, was constantly asked this question. His book on Workplace Management is from talks he gave to management and workers and the first talk is on the art of persuasion.

His comments reflect real genius. They articulate what artificial intelligence programmers found out when trying to build robots in the 1980s. Half of what people think is wrong. The challenge is to inspect and adapt to find out what opinions, thoughts, or ideas are wrong. They found that robots would not work unless they programmed this into the robots.

I've found that this is one of the core principles essential to innovation and one of the most important ideas that any person can incorporate into their being. Without it you will fail half the time. With it you will still fail half the time, but inspect and adapt, see problems quickly and recover. People will say you are a "wise" man or woman and that you know more than the rest of us. They will follow such an "expert" because they trust them to navigate through a world of increasing uncertainty.

The Wise Mend Their Ways - Taichi Ohno

I don't think the gemba (workplace) changes easily. If the gemba changed easily [management of work] would be very easy but the gemba is not such a place. It is important for people to understand and agree, and it is important for us to persuade them.

In order to explain and gain the agreement of many people, you need to have some basis for your arguments. When I give talks I am often asked about how to develop one's powers of persuasion. But if you are in a position to give instructions or give orders, you cannot do this unless you have a lot of confidence about what you are saying. However, people's ideas are unreliable things and I would be impressed if we were right half the time.

There is a proverb "even a thief is right three times out of ten." If it's true that even a thief will say three right things, then I think a normal person is right half the time but wrong the other half of the time.

When I was a middle school student in the old system, we studied the Chinese classics, and ruing this class we learned from the Analects of Confucius. In these writings Confucius says "the wise will mend their ways" and "the wise should not hesitate to correct themselves."

... We are all human and we are wrong half of the time. You may give the wrong orders to your subordinates. Since we are all human, half of what your subordinates have to say may be right. Unless managers first take this attitude, people will turn away from us.

So in the end, having a sense of humility is one of the conditions for developing strong powers of persuasion.

6 comments:

Daniel Wildt said...

I like to say that if Agile is in the Soul of a company, they will know how to sell it to customers.

They will understand benefits and therefore they will know how to persuade and get confidence. Confidence is key. You will be transparent 100% of the time, so things will be just fine.

Laszlo said...

Great Blog Post - Thanks!

Laszlo

Hector said...

Thanks for the book recommendation.

Jerald Jellison has a book titled "Managing the Dynamics of Change" that addresses some of the issues related to process change as well. In his book he does a good job of describing when persuasion works and when it does not.

He suggest a slightly different approach to persuasion (he calls it activation) that I've found useful for Scrum since it advocates for small increments and letting people feel/experience the benefits of the process change as they move along.

Shameless plug - I've have a small review of his book on my blog if you are interested.

http://www.hectorcorrea.com/blog/Managing-the-Dynamics-of-Change.aspx

james said...

funny thing that you said about "people will think you are wise" but the real deal is that when you make a mistake you learn from it, adapt, and then don't make that mistake again.

I think most of people's problem is that they NEVER admit that they made a mistake.

next_connect said...

Excellent post! The ability to state the case and sell any change to an organization is a tough but valuable skill.

Jeff Sutherland said...

Today, I was asked, "How can a manager know which half of what s/he thinks is wrong?" I'm sure Taichi Ohno would say "Go to the workplace and find out. Perform an experiment and look at the data." This is what W. Edwards Deming taught him. Many managers I know never gather any data. They think their opinion is good enough. They will be crushed like General Motors by agile competitors.