The Inertial Dampeners of Cultural Change

One of the common themes expressed when talking about EMC’s internal online community is people collaborating and taking ownership of a task, making things happen without any corporate structures. The other day, I ran into a real-world application of why this takes time to gather momentum.

Creative Commons License photo credit: .Page.

There are a few teams in my organization who are piloting new software development techniques, based around the ideas of Agile development and Scrum. Reviews seem to be universally high at the 10,000 foot level, but when you drill down a bit and talk to developers you sometimes run into frustration with adapting these techniques into existing culture. There are obviously growing pains, but people are interested, excited, and engaged.

Independently, some of these developers organized a weekly meeting to discuss an Agile development book, reading on their own time and meeting to discuss, probe, question, and comment in the context of their own experiences and EMC’s challenges in adapting these kinds of techniques going forward. It’s very much a “here’s what we’re doing, what are you doing?” type of meeting, a force multiplier for the experiences of each individual team.

I spoke with the organizer of the group, and he told me one of the challenges he’s facing is that people don’t think of that kind of activity as “real work.”

A book club, as seen on TVThis is simultaneously mind-boggling and perfectly understandable, and sums up this transitional period of our culture perfectly. Many of these people’s managers have visibility into the “book club” effort. Some purchased books for interested team members, and even evangelized the idea to other groups. This isn’t some guerrilla skunkworks project. And yet there’s all this angst and insecurity about its priority as compared to real work.

This insecurity isn’t coming from management. These are individuals, worried that time invested into learning is less beneficial to the company than time spent in a debugger (or, perhaps, that it is perceived as such and that the perception can’t be changed).

Now, nobody might be telling them that today, but I bet they didn’t pick it up on their own. And now they have to unlearn that lesson, and learn new ones. It’s our job (everyone’s) to make sure it’s safe to learn that lesson, that it holds true and will continue to hold true.

We’ve got a bit of a ways to go on that, but I honestly feel like we’re moving in the right direction.


#1 Martijn on 02.11.09 at 3:39 pm

Nice blog you have here! Thanks for using my scrum picture 🙂

#2 Dave on 02.11.09 at 5:13 pm

Thanks, and thanks for a great photo. Always a joy when I can find good images which fall into the correct license restrictions! 🙂