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Summary and Resources
Are you trying to get other people to use agile or lean software development methods, but they can’t seem to break out of the mindset they’re stuck in? Today I’d like to offer some strategies to overcome attachment.
Building What Customers Want Takes Failure And Learning
Traditional management at many companies focus on predictability. They want to know how long things will take, and how much they will cost. Unfortunately if your software company wants to be innovative, you may already know that you can’t measure performance this way.
If you want to deliver truly disruptive and valuable ideas to your customers, you need to experiment and make small investments to see how customers receive them.
Establishing the Mindset for Failure and Learning
I talk often about how important experiments are to the success of your software company, and how you can sell and introduce the changes needed to work this way to leadership and other stakeholders.
Assume for a moment you’ve already convinced people of the benefits of lean software development methods that let your company experiment (DevOps, Continuous Delivery, Lean Startup techniques etc.).
Yes, people now understand the mechanics of these approaches. But it can be frustrating at first to help others have the courage to take risks and actually experiment.
This is because experimenting and then learning from the results, often requires failure.
The Uncertainty of Innovation Can Cause Anxiety
One of the technology capabilities I have said in other articles is crucial to a company sustainably releasing valuable software, is Continuous Delivery. This lets your team release your software to customers as frequently as multiple times per day.
If you’re going to let the customer take a larger role in deciding what’s in your product, and release it multiple times per day — you’ll have an increased set of feedback.
Also subject matter experts like Product Managers will find out their ideas aren’t as valuable as they’d hoped when trying new things.
These two changes alone introduce uncertainty that needs to be handled with care. Without addressing this, your team will start blaming each other and going back to what they’re comfortable with when their first few experiments don’t produce the results they anticipated.
Overcoming Attachment to Enable Learning
If you celebrate Christmas or your Birthday, you’ve probably experienced being attached to a gift or outcome you wanted as a child.
You and your team need to overcome these feelings of attachment at your company to use lean and agile methods for developing software. Without detaching from outcomes, people will feel threatened when things change.
We Must Be Comfortable With Uncertainty to Take Risks
The more comfortable you can be with trying things and not being able to guarantee that the outcome is something that you want, the more you can take risks. This is exactly the mindset needed to be more innovative with software development.
Strategies for Practicing Detachment
Since you know people need to be more comfortable with uncertainty, and they need to be less attached to outcomes — what are some strategies you can use to cope with this?
Thinking About the Possibility of Other Outcomes
Most people in corporate America don’t want to do this. Typical work structures are all about certainty and planning for outcomes we expect.
Instead, thinking about the possibility that what you’ve planned might not work out ahead of time primes you for a healthy mindset for taking risk.
When you’re working with a team to experiment, remind them at every opportunity that everyone is looking forward to seeing the data to help them steer the product in the right direction.
If the data behind a release shows that a change wasn’t positive, that is not a failure.
It must be clear that there will be no reprimanding for theories the team held about what would be valuable, as testing those theories will inherently prove when our ideas aren’t good.
This is the nature of the scientific method!
Beware of Catastrophizing
Once you begin to allow yourself to entertain the possibility of uncertain outcomes, it’s tempting to think of the worst case scenario. This is known as catastrophizing, and creates anxiety by focusing your thoughts on negative situations that haven’t even happened yet!
When I’ve caught myself catastrophizing, I often realize I’m tensing up and experiencing the same emotions as I would if the event happened — but it hasn’t.
Spending significant time thinking about the worst possible outcome will cripple your team with fear, and cause them to lose the courage needed to present their best ideas to your customers. Yes, there is a time for risk management — but innovation is not that time.
Overcoming Resentment to Past Failures
If you hold on to negative feelings about what may have happened in the past, you won’t have the open mind necessary to try new things. Examples might be working with a person who made a mistake before, a business partner who didn’t hold up their end of the deal, or a software development task that was more complicated than first thought.
Resentment is another form of attachment. You should consider practicing forgiveness and using whatever healing tools work for you or your team to let go of any resentment.
These could be simple things like giving someone a personal apology if you played a part in the situation. Or something that lets you face the situation and let your feelings with it rest such as meditation.
Whatever physical, emotional, or spiritual activity you can find that works to help you or others involved emotionally detach from the experience, use it. Let the past go so your team can try new things with a clean slate!
Challenging Limiting Beliefs
If someone told you something about yourself as a child, or perhaps a co-worker made a statement about your skills — you may be walking around carrying an inaccurate picture of yourself. You should challenge thoughts held about what is really true with respect to the limitations you or your team may perceive about their capabilities.
I once worked with a Fortune 500 client who only released their product at night when no customers were using it. They were convinced it was impossible to release it during the day even though the technology needed to do so was common.
Until I challenged this belief, and did not back down until I heard a logical answer for why it couldn’t be done — no one had considered it a possibility.
Once everyone moved past this limitation in their thinking, they were easily on board and supportive of working with me to plan for the change.
Separating Our Identity From Outcomes
In most companies if someone makes a “bad” decision, they are held accountable. What this can do though is cause you to place your self-worth in your decisions and their outcomes. To have the courage to innovate, you need to separate these two.
People on your teams should strive to treat each other kindly especially at the times when they make mistakes. But when they slip up and get upset at you or someone else for a decision that they didn’t like, it’s important to not take it personally. You can’t control how the other person will react — but you can control your reaction to their being upset.
Practicing Delayed Gratification
Your company may need to build and release five small versions of an idea to your customer before you hit the ideal solution, when delivering a product in a lean fashion. Because of this, the management team may be lacking in the necessary patience at first to see things unfold with the product this way.
Delayed gratification is simply waiting longer to get something you want. This might sound like a silly thing to recommend, but you’d be surprised how many people I come across in leadership positions who are still very attached to immediacy. If you have people like this in key positions at your company, this may be the reason why you’re having a difficult time getting support for the changes you want made.
Practice this yourself, and with your team, to relax your feelings of urgency so you have the patience to try several iterations of an idea before settling.
Permitting Others to be Frustrated with Uncertainty
It’s natural that when trying something new, such as to not be as attached to outcomes, you and others will make mistakes. It’s crucial that everyone be willing to forgive each other when unpredictable negative outcomes occur. Without this safety net, there can be no loyalty, transparency, or ability to take risks. These are the attributes of relationships at your company that can make or break the long term health of the software development culture.
How are breaking attachment so people can experiment to deliver high value software product features? Leave me a comment below.