After the most recent Fuck Up Story at Kyndryl (read below the separator), I am back in town as what I love to be and where I add a small dent in the universe with some more business value.
Right now, I am helping a client from retail logistics to fit its IT department into its Digital Transformation initiative.
Enterprise Transformation Implementer or pragmatic non-orthodox methodologist, business value artist, and digital evangelist for good practices in the realm of new ways to work in complex and complicated IT environments. You can read more about it in the new skills and focus area section about this.
This is at least my tag. Clients usually call me Scrum Master or Agile coach, depending on their corporate glossary and lingo perspective.
However, who cares. The title of an entity within an ontology is, well, just a title. The ontology network behind that entity counts, and I listed the most relevant ones.
The blog has been quiet for a much too long time, and now I am free again to share my personal opinions on how to get more Business Value through Digital Transformations.
My most recent Fuck Up Story
It is now the first anniversary of my most recent Fuck Up Story, which I want to share now. Retrospectively it is a tour de force in consistently doing the opposite of what I usually advise my clients to do.
Before the story started, I was just another Enterprise Transformation Implementer and Methodologist at a larger international consulting company. I am still an undogmatic SAFe Program Consultant (SPC), blending in valuable parts of LeSS or Management 3.0 or whatever fits the client’s situation. Cognitive Science and the Cynefin framework also belong to my preferred toolset. As a multi-loop learner, I am eager to absorb (steal) good ideas every day. It is a tremendous honor for an idea to be stolen, used, and applied, right?
So, back in 2021, I had my international network, from which I learned and contributed valuable content and insights. My opinion was sought after, and this was highly motivating. My workshops, training, and coaching were highly appreciated. I had a fan club of peers and younger consultants who vividly participated in my after-work sessions.
I was a little unsatisfied with the complexity of the projects I was engaged in. After all, Germany still needs to catch up regarding digital transformation.
However, I was not at all satisfied with my title, which did not reflect my work and, from my perspective, did not support my job, even though I was already set up on a promotion path that was just terribly slow.
Then, out of the blue, a head hunter connected me to some guys from Kyndryl, a company name I had never heard of before. Their story was simple.
My mood at that time was a little bored and a little too comfy…
Three thoughts came to my mind:
- IBM is a tough one, and I heard a lot about the mindSET and culture there from peers, colleagues, and clients (especially their concerns).
- Business consulting as a playfield would open up many ways for innovative value-adding consulting. The spot to grow and contribute to smart growth (greed).
- Well-serviced Infrastructure is, by definition, a critical part of actually all modern value streams. More development value stream during the transition phase from the old to the new target model, more operational afterward. However, the efficiency and effectiveness of the operational phase are shaped at the beginning when I would take a significant part.
You see how I arbitrarily constructed a rational story to allow my greed to win this battle in my mind. Sold! My brain had decided, and all rationality came under the bus from now on. Kyndryl spiced this up with a fantastic monetary topping, but I was hooked on the story even before. In my defense, I had four talks with guys from there. My fault was not talking to a client. However, retrospectively I learned that you could not diagnose yourself when affected. Even when looking for an alternative perspective, you will ask people whom you know in advance they will confirm your bias. I still need a fix for this. It is like Hofstadter’s law. It also applies, even when you consider it.
I told my old company about the package, and they told me: “Kurt, we can’t match this offer, and we have no idea how they calculated this. It is not going to work in our market, and you know it”.
I knew, but I was already sold on the new story and did not listen at all. I was entirely hooked on the bias that “what you see (think to see) is all there is” – Kahneman’s famous WYSIATI.
My plan A
Rally a team around your vision and show results early with little investment. Prove it is the right way to go further. My call to implement the plan was: Give me three iterations for four consulting features for a team of five for the next six weeks.
It would have allowed me to introduce new ways of work, set up a fresh curriculum for the new practice based on existing and missing pieces, build the first new workshop, sell it to a client, and generate the buzz to get attention from many more to join. I was not even calling for a fully dedicated team, just >60% to make their priority cristal clear to themself and the rest of the company.
After I signed up, Kyndryl got very quiet. I never got in touch with the promised mentor. I never got the promised hardware. The onboarding was basically non-existent. However, I was in a honeymoon mood and did not perceive it. Again: WYSIATI is at work.
Arrival at the client
Even before the onboarding, they approached me with: “Kurt, what do you think about jumping into a project and taking responsibility for a newly discovered requirement at one of our strategic clients? After all, it is the best way to learn how we work, right?”. Me: “Bring ’em on!” The requirement was vague:
“We found a list of unclear, unconfirmed applications that were not on the radar but must be moved to the cloud. Oh, by the way, there are only three weeks left until we are out of the old data center. We just need some structure and transparency on the new sub-stream from a seasoned guy like you. No need for subject matter expertise. We will cover this part with lots of warm bodies and the lead architect.”
It took me two days to talk to the guys at the client, to get a glimpse of how this fits into the overall transition, to get a very rough overview of the roadmap, and to sketch out a scaffold for a draft proposal and to get some transparency on the ongoing work that the program manager highly appreciated.
On the third day, the budget owner got highly upset about why the final solution was still not on his desk and threw me out during the initial order clarification session.
I am really used to clients expecting miracles. This one was orders of magnitude into madness. It did not hurt me, as it was crystal clear to everybody that it was just a way to punch Kyndryl in the face by pointing me out.
Retrospectively again my fault. From the beginning, it was clear that all were in beta brain wave mode, fully on adrenaline and pressing the fast-forward button on everything. There was no communication. Nobody was listening. Everybody was very busy with cover-your-ass activities. Actually, everybody was trying hard to survive somehow.
Arrival at my new not-a-team
It was a bumpy start and a great learning opportunity, so in my first team gathering, I presented my approach and findings to my new colleagues. I did it with a tool they had never used before: Mural, an online collaboration tool. Again, I was blind to the fact that the team did not match the IT business consultants’ stereotype. All were hardcore IT SMEs. The concept of an online whiteboard was something somehow peculiar to them. All were very far away from new ways of work and related tools. The shared tool stack was Email, Microsoft Office, WebEx, Slack, and Box.
However, they, the team, and my boss highly appreciated my fresh approach and were looking forward to learn how to apply it. I thought: “OK, that’s a good start.”
Retrospectively again my fault. What they actually tried to say was: “We have no idea what you are talking about and have our own business, go on as long as you do not plan to stay in our way” – just in a very polite way.
Oh, by the way, the team is, according to Katzenbach’s and Smith’s classification, not even a workgroup. It is an arbitrary assembly of people assigned to a manager. Lead span: 18 persons. A relatively large number for a group of knowledge workers with no overlap of skills and without any alignment to a shared goal.
Karoshi happens in Germany too
One day before this tragic event, my boss and I chatted in a very dark mood about how to kick off my initiative.
I did not take this seriously and replied: “Sure, bring ’em on!”
The next day he died because of a heart attack, a perfect example of Karoshi. I assume the workload, the regular 60+ hours per week, and the slow progress finally killed him.
Retrospectively again my fault not to realize that this was an established culture. People take pride in working excessively and ignoring the consequences for them and also for the quality of the output. Usually, I stay away from trying to alter culture.
After his team was assigned to another manager, the new lead span was 40 persons.
Meanwhile, I was digging through the vast amount of stuff in Kyndryl’s Warehouse13 of documents. All outdated, irrelevant in the current market, and orphaned, but this did not bother me as I thought: “OK, at least a clean greenfield to start.”
At the same time, I got my second client assignment. I gained new hope, this time as head of the promising knowledge management sub-stream. I could not be more wrong.
Knowledge management is a vast area where you can have a tangible impact on an organization. You can switch some points to support a shift towards a learning organization. You can bake SECI or similar concepts right into the fabric of a new value stream, or you can schedule some dates for some training in an excel table and be done with the job. That was what they expected. A very simple one, one without considering that some folks will eventually have to run several times through certifications when the fail ratio is at 50%.
Liberating structures, working agreements, knowledge exchange, socialization mechanisms, or team enablement ideas? All went into the trash bin.
Networking as an alien
Meanwhile, I was networking a lot. There were a handful of other new hires on my level that took work to get to. After getting in touch with them, I knew why. They had already given up and went on I-am-sick-while-looking-for-my-next-job-mode or were in the end stage, hoping that a final 80h-per-week-for-a-month-rush would open the gates to the promised lands.
I joined some other former IBM folks on my level in customer engagements, helping them out with SAFe. It was surreal. I had excellent talks with clients where there was an instant joint understanding of digital transformations, implementation paths, value streams and frameworks. I had a hard time explaining to my colleagues afterward what we were talking about. For them, it was just Big Juju and Much Magic – spooky, and it did not link to: “buy this extremely expensive piece of molten sand wrapped in heavy metal.”
Imagine, there was just ONE other SAFe SPC there – on the other side of the planet in Japan.
However, I have to mention an excellent international agile community far away in the US and a very nice nice guy covering mindfulness, again in the US or on the international senior management level, not in Germany, not in the trenches. Two drops lost in an ocean.
Around that time, I also started to bypass hierarchy to get in touch with higher levels. Unfortunately, I can’t speak Klingon. One told me: “Kurt, you are a really good consultant and as such a total alien here”. I also realized there was no change or transformation team. The senior management plan was one sentence: “just do it.” You may now ask: what, why, or how, right? Well… that remained unclear.
My new plan B – run away
Obviously, this was kind of a Kobayashi Maru test for me.
- I do as they want: this means totally ignoring all my knowledge, principles, beliefs, and values.
- I do as I want: this means they will fire me in some weeks.
My Capitan-Kirk-Solution: I quit before they can fire me!
Long story short, it did not work out as planned, and when I realized I was in the wrong place, I did what I would advise my clients: move on!
Now I am back as Enterprise Transformation Implementer and doing what I love and can do well, my Ikigai. Consulting, training, coaching as a hired gun and working in the trenches on all levels with the management and teams to infuse perpetual growth or Business Value, as we call it in our current lingo.
Again, I can share my insights on topics from the domains of lean-agile methodologies, complexity theory, and cognitive Science to make digital transformations successful – stay tuned…
Initially I posted this last Monday around 22:00 in the evening on LinkedIn. Four hours later I already had an email in my in-basket from my former boss begging me to take the article out. I agreed to take out the part on Karoshi on LinkedIn. Here you still can read it and I think it is an important part.