Agile Forest

Find your path to agility with Renee Troughton

red tape
obstructive official routine or procedure; time-consuming bureaucracy

There are many corporate techniques out there that seek an approach to innovation by removing internal blockages and challenging existing paradigms.

In Agile this is no different. Techniques within Kanban deal with removing blockages by visualising the blockers and limiting work in progress to force a greater focus them. Challenging existing paradigms is also well understood as the term ‘sacred cow’.

So, how many organisations out there really and I mean *really* focus on removing blockages and seeking to destroy these sacred cows.

Other than putting it up on a board, what can be done to force a cultural change on removing blockages. Sure you can train people; have complicated registers for managing blockages across teams; an organisational social contract (value contract) regarding removing them but how do you get to the heart of the problem.

The essential issue is:

I (or my team) have a blocker. But the blockage is outside my direct area of influence. It is being caused by that person over there (points, but in reality that person might be five floors away). That person has lots of things on their plate. I sent them an email but they didn’t respond. I have no idea how important my blocker is to them.

Whose problem is it? Mine or theirs? You could escalate, but the management chain that they sit under is a path three points up and it seems silly to go that far up to fix it.

The obviously simplistic agile response is you would go directly to that person for a chat, explain your circumstance and get an understanding of when the problem might be resolved.

The likelihood of the problem being fixed is dependant on how easy it is to remove the blocker. A quick fix will probably result in an almost instantaneous actioning after the conversation. Once the difficulty of the blocker resolution escalates traction will be almost impossible; focus will be lost and communication regarding its status will become non existant.

So what do you do for the harder to fix blockers?

A truely Agile organisation would take a tough stance. I want to be in an organisation that takes such a tough stance.

My idea of the week?

Next time you have a blocker outside your area of influence cut a thick 1 meter long piece of red tape and put it directly across the door/cubicle entry point of the person that is blocking you. Write on the tape the blockage description and your name.

This takes balls. Leaving it up there when it hasn’t been fixed takes even more. I guarantee you – if your culture permits you to slap a big piece of red tape across a door then that the person that is being inconvenienced at entering their area will *really* take focus on that blocker. Even if the blocker can’t be fixed instananeously they will go the extra mile to ensure that it is resolved quickly and that the owner of the blockage is informed.

I would culturally take it a step further and say only the person that puts the tape up is allowed to take it down. That is real customer satisfaction. That is real “done”. Only the person that puts the tape up is allowed to accept a re-direct of the blocker to a new owner.

Don’t make an issue snake on their wall. An issue snake does nothing to cause inconvenience to the blockage point and doesn’t blaringly and embarrasingly shout out “I NEED FIXING!”.

Give it a try and post your results.

One thought on “Cutting through the red tape

  1. Nadir says:

    I once gave an interview for an ‘Iteration Manager’ position for a big telco company and they told me in the interview the ideal candidate for them was someone with grey side-burns (which for them translated ‘experience’) and was NOT an Agile purist. :S

    When asked why? I was told ‘Because you wouldn’t survuve the red-tape’ :S :S :S Not sure what Agile meant for those guys but it certainly wasn’t a ‘mindset’ or a ‘set of values’ and it most certainly wasn’t a methodology either.

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