As coaches or consultants, we need to listen first, and then listen some more, before deciding on a particular line of “intervention.”
The Minimum Effective Dose is not a new concept. In medicine, a (capable) doctor will make every effort to prescribe the lowest dose of medication (or other treatment) that is still capable of producing the desired outcome for a particular patient. As with many things in life, more is not always better. Too much of a “good thing” can result in unnecessary costs, wasted effort, and unwanted side-effects.
Recently, I’ve noticed that some folks in the development community are pushing back on the need for many practices advocated by XP, Lean IT, or Agile. We all seem to agree that less is more: less process, less documentation, fewer meetings, etc. So why, they ask, do we need to have all this extra stuff like daily meetings, kanban boards, backlogs, sprints, pair programming, retrospectives, etc? Wouldn’t it be better to spend more time just getting things done?
That might sound like heresy to some of us involved in process improvement, but they are making a good point and we should take note. While I believe that there are many practices — whether drawn from XP, Lean IT, Agile, or elsewhere — proven to add value in many organizations, I also believe that coaches and consultants do everyone a disservice when we attempt to apply the same practices to every situation.
Context is very important. What is the organizational culture? What are the priorities of the business? What are the skills and backgrounds of the team members? Is everyone located together in the same room or spread across continents? How satisfied are they with their current process?
All these variables and many others will have an impact on the “diagnosis” and “treatment” of an organization. As coaches or consultants, we need to listen first, and then listen some more, before deciding on a particular line of “intervention.” To continue the medical metaphor, we should remember that our first mandate is to “do no harm.” And when intervention is warranted, change should be applied gradually and incrementally. (Yes, this is also the basis of Kaizen.) This approach might not sound exciting, but it isolates individual changes so that their effects, intended or not, can be measured.
Finally, we have to be willing to periodically review practices already in place and ask ourselves if we are still getting value out of them. Perhaps the team or organization has matured to a level where certain practices are no longer required. Or perhaps certain practices have lost their value because the team is only going through the motions. Regular “checkups” help keep everyone honest about what is really working and what isn’t.