How to Thwart an Agile Transformation

Anthony Mersino
December 3, 2016

Have you ever wondered how to undermine change and thwart progress in organizations?  One of my agile coaching colleagues recently shared a link to the Simple Sabotage Field Manual, a document published during WWII by the Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA.  It makes for entertaining reading, in particular, section (11) General Interference with Organizations and Production.  Entertaining but also somewhat sad because these tips for interference with organizations seem to be alive and well in many large bureaucratic organizations today.  

If you haven't read this document, I suggest you get a copy.  Here is my summary of the items in section 11 about interference in organizations.  Take a look at this list instructions from the manual and see if you have experienced them in your own organization:

1) Follow the letter of the law:  Insist on doing everything through [proper] "channels." Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to, expedite decisions.  

I had to laugh when I read this because it reminds me of when we coach new agile teams and we try to move people around so they can sit and work in the same space.  Whether it is removing cubicle walls, moving into a conference room, or just moving people from one desk to another, there are a myriad of people to consult and certainly there are delays waiting for approvals.  Contrast that experience with the description of an employee move from the Valve New Employee Handbook:

2) Run out the clock:  This is when people just keep talking to forestall any type of decision or call to action.  The Sabotage Manual says:  " Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your "points" by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate "patriotic" comments. 

3) Call a Meeting:  When possible, refer all matters to committees, for "further study and consideration." Attempt to make the committees as large as possible - never less than five. 

4) Argue without Merit:  Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.

5) Wordsmith it to Death:  Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, and resolutions.

6) Re-open Decisions:  Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to reopen the question of the advisability of that decision.

7) Exercise Extreme Caution.  Be "reasonable" and urge your fellow-conferees to be "reasonable" and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.

8) Act Disempowered:  Be worried about the propriety of any decision -raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the jurisdiction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.

For this one I will share another counter example from the Valve New Employee Handbook which describes how to act without a boss.  This is the kind of behavior we encourage in self-organizing agile teams:

Happy Holidays!

About Anthony Mersino

Anthony is passionate about helping technology teams THRIVE and organizations TRANSFORM.  He loves partnering with organizations to help teams with Agile thinking and the Scrum Framework.  He teaches Agile and Scrum as well as the cultural elements that are necessary for an organization to gain true business agility. Anthony has  authored numerous articles and two books: Agile Project Management, and Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.