Discovering “New Cheese”

Who Moved My Cheese? ” is a famous book Dr. Spencer Johnson published in 2006. As it says, it is “An amazing way to deal with change in your work and in your life.” How can you help your team members realize that there is a “new cheese” awaiting them around the corner of where the old cheese was?

Imagine you are a visionary of a high-tech company in the software industry. The company utterly depends on you in many ways. You are the visionary. You are also the key innovator.

You started the company with a partner. Both of you owned half. Your efforts were successful, and the company grew! Customers came to you attracted by your vision and your technical capabilities. You added employees, one at a time.

The company progresses. Years go by. As the go-to person for so many things, you had to let go of something. You focus on building the flagship product. This shift teleports the company from a sophisticated consulting company to a product company. Now you get investors to commit funds.

Oops, Things Are Not What They Seemed

Sometime later, you find out that some things got off track. The company’s development teams act as if their efforts are following the agile development philosophy. Yet, in reality, projects are run more “waterfall style.”

  • The agile process is designed to be flexible and involve a self-managing team. You discover that is not happening.
  • In contrast, with the more traditional “Waterfall” project management style (common for DoD projects), things come together near the end of the project.
  • The trouble with the “waterfall” style arises if the project does not come together as expected, on time, and within budget.
  • The question becomes: How can the company successfully manage fixed-price contracts because those contracts do not leave much room for trial and error or scope creep.

Making The Shifts

You realize the current practices must be modified. There is no one to step in but you. Thus, you step in. Now you are faced with defining how it should work.

But that is only one part. Your job now is to

  • Persuade a project manager to get out of the agile team and act as a higher-level program manager.
  • Define the program manager role.
  • Get the team to understand how an agile team operates. There is the opportunity – and the expectation – to step up and self-manage their work throughout three-week periods (sprints).

The Challenge

None of the people on your team are used to any of these new practices.

  • The program manager feels cut out of the daily work of the Agile teams. Was he demoted? No. Instead, it is the opposite because he is now in charge of the success of multiple agile teams. It is a position with prominent visibility in the company and with customers.
  • The Agile team was used to taking direction from the project manager. Whether they liked it or not, that is what they did for years. But agile teams are self-managing and have no project manager.

These changes remind me of “Who moved my cheese?”

The “New Cheese” Is Just Around The Corner But…

It doesn’t matter that there is a “new cheese” right around the corner. It could be an even better-testing one. But people have to discover the cheese and be willing to taste it. And they have to overcome their extinction burst. The extinction burst is a person’s usually unpleasant response to “moving the cheese.” A conditioned behavior fails to give the anticipated reward. You have to expect the extinction burst and stay the course while that happens.

The other measure is to help your people discover and taste the “new cheese.”

  • The previous project manager doesn’t have less power, control, or involvement. Instead, it is more; one level up.
  • The agile team is asked to step up and take more initiative. That is both more freedom and responsibility (like well-run employee-owned companies).

You Are The Visionary. Inspire Them!

There is another factor: You are the visionary. You have the opportunity to excite people get them to follow you, even when the cheese is moved. They will do it because they believe in your vision and its purpose. If your team feels proud to contribute to this effort, you have a much better chance to get there.

I’m Curious

What are your experiences with the shifting of your team members’ behaviors, especially those who have been with your organization for years?

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