Flexible Development Requires Cultural Changes

As with any major improvement in product development capability, moving toward flexibility requires new values and operating modes. Such changes do not come quickly or easily, but they are definitely possible. Many product development organizations—perhaps including yours— have made them already. Because it is a "people thing," organizational change is not entirely straightforward or logical. Let's explore a couple of its difficulties.

Starting at the Top

Almost anyone you speak with about organizational change will tell you that it must start at the top of the organization, have the support of top management, or be led by the person who controls the resources involved. This immediately creates a problem, because such a person may not even be aware of flexible development or opportunities it offers. In fact, such people are mortals too, and they need support in order to succeed with a change effort.

Although you will need the support of senior management ultimately, there is no reason why you cannot start the effort at your level, whatever level this is. Kotter (see the Other Resources page) tells a wonderful story of successful organizational change started in a major company by a summer intern.

Software developers have taught us a great deal about product development (such as the importance of people over process). They also provide useful tools for initiating organizational change from a low level, based on what they call design patterns. See Manns and Rising (2005) on the Resources page—or read Chapter 10 in Flexible Product Development—for more on bottom-up organizational change.

Think Transitions, Not Change

Often we get ahead of ourselves in making organizational changes. As William Bridges (2003) (see the Other Resources page) observes, changes are a physical change of state, but what matters more to the individuals involved is the accompanying psychological transition. For instance, in leaving the old state, we should expect some grieving about what might be lost—in the case of flexible development, perhaps the loss of comfortable project management tools, such as full-length project schedules and "complete" product requirements. If we don't allow for such transitions, people will not be ready to move on, which is easily perceived as resistance to change.

Bridges describes three phases of any transition: an ending or letting go, a neutral zone in which any number of things might happen, and a new beginning. The figure below suggests these.

From Flexible Product Development by Preston G. Smith, Jossey-Bass, 2007. © 2007 by John Wiley & Sons. Used with permission. Illustrator: Lyn Doiron.