Out of the Crisis, into a workshop – don’t wait another 30 years, get David Marquet to help turn YOUR ship around.

By guest blogger Nigel Dalton – CIO, REA Group

This coming Agile Australia conference is my 7th, once again back in Sydney where it all began. I recall that year arguing with John Sullivan that the movement’s future crisis would be a shortage of product managers, not engineers (wonder who was right John?); and marveling that less than 25% of the room was actually doing or attempting agile in any serious fashion. What a long way we have come.

Agile Australia 2008 Nigel Dalton (1)

This year I have a huge confession to make – I’ve never done an Agile Australia workshop. Not one. Until now.  This year I have enrolled (and paid!) to spend a day with David Marquet, author of what is one of the most important books in agile thinking in the last 30 years – Turn the Ship Around.

Why is this an important book?

After 15 years of being Captain Agile, if I had to rank the single most uncomfortable moment in a person’s learning about transforming their workplace to something better than command, control and fail, it comes around 40 seconds after I’ve put up a slide entitled ‘William Edwards Deming’s 14 Key Principles for Management’ onto the screen. It’s a text filled slide, and looks like this:

Deming 14 points40 seconds is about how long it takes for a reader to get to Point 8, then 9, then 10. And for those readers to start mouthing “not possible” or more likely, a uniquely Australian equivalent, possibly drawn from The Angel’s musical oeuvre (you can verify that at about 0:35 into this clip). I’ve actually had staff blurt “we’re wasting our time then” in front of their managers in workshops at this point!

Those particular points are:

  1. Drive out fear.
  2. Break down barriers between departments
  3. Eliminate slogans, exhortations and targets. Eliminate quotas.

Deming 1986

The 14 points originally came from Deming’s book Out of the Crisis in 1986. You can find a lazyweb summary of them here.

I dare say half the attendees at Agile Australia were not even born at the time this pivotal book was published. Don’t worry, none of us read it at the time either. That’s how we ended up in this mess called the 21st century economy.

Back to the lecture and the gasping staff – up until this slide, the transformation from a traditional way of managing work probably seemed possible, and within the grasp of any organisation that thought to pay me, or Luna Tractor, or ThoughtWorks our daily rate to explain and change things. We’d just find better processes – nobody could disagree with that! We’ll measure things! No manager could possibly be against that.

But drive out fear? Give up departmental power? Eliminate quotas? Ensure worker dignity?

Uh oh.

Fair enough, you may have been too young to read Out of the Crisis, and now William Edwards Deming is long passed away. He was a bit of a grumpy fellow by all accounts, which you can assess for yourself from this video of him explaining his 14 points. As luck would have it, at Agile Australia 2015 you have a chance to redeem yourself as an agilist by coming with me to David Marquet’s workshop.

David Marquet’s experience is so unique in business history because he has documented an actual journey for an actual submarine crew in the US Navy – an organization so far from our product and software development focus, so far from modern work practices like self managed teams, and so far from our popular understanding of an ancient institution’s willingness to change traditions, that we have to sit up and take notice.

This is not a theoretical lecture with a certificate at the end. This is the chance to interact, and find nuggets of change that you can take back to your workplace and apply.

If the US Navy can find reasons to try radical new work practices, surely we all can? If they can find ways of making officers step back into the work, we can get them out of their corner offices and Excelhell.

David Marquet has codified the steps, much of the language, the failures and the hidden opportunities that emerged in that journey.

Above all, getting a US Navy nuclear submarine to operate in a fashion that William Edwards Deming would instantly recognize as ticking EVERY box on his 14 principles? Astonishing.

Imagine you had to write a business case to hire David Marquet to lead the transformation of your workplace; then imagine asking for just a few hundred dollars to go to Agile Australia and stealing as much knowledge from a workshop led by him instead.

Don’t miss the chance to spend the day with David Marquet on Tuesday June 16 in Sydney.  Read his book before you come – I’m betting it will be the best $600* you spend this year.

David Marquet website

* $600 if you register by Friday 24th April, $800 thereafter. Further discounts apply for groups.

Nigel Dalton is an invited speaker at Agile Australia 2015.

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