Self-motivated teams lead to better software

This post is pretty old and possibly out of date. There’s an updated version of it in my book, Monolithic Transformation.

In contrast to the way traditional organizations operate, cloud native enterprises are typically comprised of self-motivated and directed teams. This reduces the amount of time it takes to make decisions, deploy code, and see if the results helped move the needle. More than just focusing on speed of decision making and execution, building up these intrinsically motivatedteams helps spark creativity, fueling innovative thinking. Instead of being motivated by metrics like number of tickets closed or number of stories/points implemented, these teams are motivated by ideas like increased customer satisfaction with faster forms processing or helping people track and improve their health.

In my experience, one of the first steps in shifting how your people think — from the Pavlovian KPI bell — is to clearly explain your strategy and corporate principals. Having worked in strategy roles in the past, I’ve learned how poorly companies articulate their goals, constraints, and strategy. While there are many beautiful (and not so beautiful!) presentations that extol a company’s top motivations and finely worded strategies, most employees are left wondering how they can help day to day.

Whether you’re a leader or an individual contributor, you need to know the actionable details of the overall strategy and goals. Knowing your company’s strategy, and how it will implement that strategy, is not only necessary for breeding self-motivated and self-managed people, but it also comes in handy when you’re looking to apply agile and lean principles to your overall continuous delivery pipeline. Tactically, this means taking the time to create detailed maps of how your company executes its strategy. For example, you might do value-stream mappingalignment maps, or something like value chain mapping. This is a case where I, again, find that companies have much less than they think they do — often, organizations have piles of diagrams and documents — but — very rarely have something that illustrates everything — from having an idea for a feature to getting it in customer’s hands. A cloud native enterprise will always seek to be learning from and improving that end-to-end process. So, it’s required to map your entire business process out and have everyone understand it. Then, we all know how we deliver value.

The process of value-stream mapping, for example, can be valuable for simply finding waste (so much so that the authors of Learning to See cite only focusing on waste removal as a lean anti-pattern). As one anecdote goes — after working for several weeks to finally get everything up on the big white board, one of the executives looked up at all the steps and time wasted in their process to get software out the door and said, “there’s a whole lot of stupid up there.” The goal of these exercises is not only removing stupid, but also to focus on and improve the processes.


For a more recent, detailed study on this topic, check out my book Monolithic Transformation.

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