Dec-2-2008

Conformity, innovation, and progress

Post written by Chris Spagnuolo. Follow Chris on Twitter 37 comments

In the 1950′s, Solomon Asch, conducted a series of experiments designed to understand the phenomenon we know as conformity. In his experiments, a group of participants were seated around a table and asked to examine a series of vertical lines. They were then asked to tell the group which vertical line, A, B, or C, matched the test line. The vertical line series looked very similar to these:

Asch_lines.jpg

The catch was that all of the participants except one were confederates of Dr. Asch. The confederates gave the correct answer for the first few trials, but then all began to give the incorrect answer in subsequent trials. Amazingly, the test subject began giving the same incorrect answers as the confederates. In fact, overall, after 18 trials, 36.8% of the answers given by the ‘real’ participants were incorrect, effectively conforming to the wrong answers given by the unanimous confederates. Only 25% never gave a false answer, therefore showing that 75% conformed at least once. The results show a surprisingly strong tendency to conform under group pressure, even in cases when the answer is clear.

How does this inform us? When we’re working on teams, we need to be cognizant of this study. We need to be vigilant against conformity and group steering. It can be extremely detrimental to continuous improvement. If one person on a team has an opinion that is different from every other team member, this tendency towards conformity may have a chilling effect on their ability to communicate a problem with the team. This applies to estimating as well. If teams estimate in an open manner, differing opinions can potentially be quashed. That’s why I believe planning poker is such an effective method for estimating with teams.

But, there is hope. Asch was very disturbed by the results of his experiment. He said, “That we have found the tendency to conformity in our society so strong… is a matter of concern. It raises questions about our ways of education and about the values that guide our conduct.” Some time later, Asch conducted his experiments again. This time, when every one of the confederates voted for the wrong answer, one stood up and said “That’s wrong!”. The test subject then easily identified the correct answer. Adding one supporting partner greatly diminished the power of the majority. Hope!

One voice of dissent enabled another to be heard. Is that all it takes on our teams, in our society to make a difference? One voice to say “That’s wrong”? I believe so. But I also believe that on a deeper level, we need to create environments on our teams, in our organizations, and in our society where people do not have to feel pressured to conform. People should be able to think freely and express their views without being hindered by the majority rule. This freedom to disagree is where all progress, creativity, and innovation comes from. I love the fact that the results show that the 25% of subjects who never gave wrong answers were not susceptible to conformity. That makes me very happy. There is hope that not everyone around us is likely to conform to the majority opinion.

Share on Facebook
Post to Google Buzz
Bookmark this on Yahoo Bookmark
Share on FriendFeed
Bookmark this on Digg
Share on reddit
Share on LinkedIn
Share on StumbleUpon
Bookmark this on Delicious

  1. Mark Roberts said,

    Let market data shape key business decisions verse “gut” or “how we do things around here”
    The pressure is to assimilate into the senior management “group think” is always there. Leaders invite data to insure the moves they make are the right moves.

  2. Mike Griffiths said,

    Nice post, congratulations on explaining this important social phenomenon so clearly.

    Regards

    Mike

  3. Frits Bos said,

    Companies often enforce compliance with the status quo simply by their HR policy execution. As a result they inevitably keep doing what they have always done. Linked-In GTISLIG stated: “Every year thousands of projects get cancelled, fail in delivering results, or end up costing significantly more than their original projections. Research shows that often, failure comes as a surprise and severe issues surface so late in the game that recovery is nearly impossible. Project and program managers are in need of tools to diagnose symptoms of failure early enough and to implement steps for a speedy recovery.” The answer is not more training in the use of inadequate tools, the answer is to explore the fundamental tool shortcomings. That is where I have done a lot of work in implementing alternative processes.

    To some people “Enterprise Project Management” means a consolidation service: by the time their software highlights problems it is too late. Strategic initiatives start in a strategic planning process: the Executive Committee establishes goals and objectives for the corporation. Using the focus of CI we set targets where projects provide enabling functionality to align SBUs with those goals and objectives. PMBoK deems projects temporary endeavors that deliver specific results. EPM systems lack planning, tracking, and measuring support to identify, or align with strategic priorities, or a strategic plan.

    I see a relationship between projects and corporate goals and objectives. Break that relationship, and you may put a project at risk, or (worst case) you can put a company at risk from that project. Therefore, I use a product-based methodology with custom software, making it is easy to plan for success and to deliver the results stakeholders want. Success always requires a focus on goals and objectives. A Work Breakdown Structure may be confused with understanding needs, but it is a bottom-up, task-based view of HOW work is completed. I use a top-down, product-based view of WHAT a client needs to define the project scope: that is prerequisite to details of HOW to proceed. CI lets Executives define WHAT they need from the projects.

    My work involved the creation of UPBEAT (Universal Product-Based Evaluation, Analysis, and Tracking) methodology and software (based on Excel). UPBEAT offers functionality to execute planning, assessment, tracking, and reporting based on CI, with product-based accounting and fiscal year financial tracking tools to reconcile project- and financial cost accounting, template-driven report-writers for customied financial or Executive (dashboard) status reports. I can customize cost and status information to suit each client. I provide a reliable information flow based on targets defined in a CI-based project charter. Developers can use the development methodology they deem most suited to deliver that bundle of work. It is the results that count: separating WHAT needs to be accomplished from HOW that is accomplished.

    A bottom-up paradigm and focus on managing details at the expense of the big picture may not create the problem, but it cannot provide feedback to prevent problems while managing to strategic goals and objectives that shape stakeholder expectations (that may be fluid on account of external competitive forces). UPBEAT includes a change management process that ensures the results remain relevant when delivered to the stakeholders, as well as other major aspects ranging from risk management to financial management. I can manage the long-run and coordinate work in progress projects that contribute towards the bigger plan, just as defined in PMBoK, but top-down: if goals change I can identify what must be done to adapt the work in progress. The tools are still being refined, but already I have had major success and certainly no failures.

  4. Fabio d'Emilio said,

    Hi Chris, excellent topic.

    Here are the things I am looking that goes in the direction of keeping Innovation up;

    - Communication: OPEN OPEN and OPEN. We try to keep all subjects as public as possible. We are contemplating also to post all employee salaries openly on intranet. The more people control communication the more they can exert influential power and create pockets of dependencies. You burst them by fostering honesty and openness.

    - Meetings: 2 sort of meetings,

    1) operational, dedicated to taks, objectives, measurables, etc… These meetings are for accountability and measurabilty. Here the hierarchy is clear and bosses make decisions. Meetings are short and sometimes we look at doing Standing meetings

    2) creative/problem solving, these are set-up so that people can spend time thinking, testing and playing around with what is said. We change roles, I force marketing people to make financial decisions, etc… etc… There are no conventions in this meeting. Only a couple of rules: Respect for others, Respect for all ideas, Commitment to stick till the end of the meeting, Mobile phones Blackberry, PC are left out of the meeting room. The most difficult part is setting the goal of the meeting. We usually come out of the meeting with an operational meeting set-up so that ideas become reality

    - Hierarchy, we have an organization, but being boss/manager, means first of all that you are there to serve the people you manage, to defuse all pockets of power we implement 360deg evaluation methods

    - Culture, of respect. We do not think that the mean is justified by the goal, we have rules and we play by them.

    - People are the most important asset and you act on it. The board runs 3 items, Finance, Business and HR regularly.

    - Leadership, lead by example, if you apply all the above, then you will attract people with similar values, and will reject those that don’t follow. On the long run the company culture will be driven by these principles.

    In essence we focus on creating an environment where people feel that what they say is taken into account, and that what they say will not be taken against them.

    The banned attitudes are, arrogance, displays of power, lack of accountability, discrediting and bad mouthing other people.

    We solve conflicts in open space, with all parties involved present.

    As leaders it is a gruesome task, because it means that very little of the company is confidential, our attitude and behavior is constantly tested against our principles and values.

    Hope it makes sense to you

    Fabio

  5. Oana Juncu said,

    Hi Chris,
    Just a quick comment, I might come back with a longer one: I think that the simplest tip to avoid conformity steering is “listen to the silence”: encourage people that won’t talk to express themselves. That seem trivial, but it can come out to be pretty complex.
    I’ll surely look more onto Solomon Asch experiments, thank you!
    Best,
    Oana

  6. David Molden said,

    Chris … interesting topic. Robert Cialdini in his book ‘Influence’ explains this as Social Imprinting, and Colins and Porrat in their book ‘Good to Great’ as the Tyranny of the OR, Genius of the AND. Yin and Yang remind us that its about balance. We need a mix of Conformity and Innovation, and various blends of both determined by the context and what you want to achieve.

    For a superb assessment see Harrison Paradox which we use in our Leadership programme to help aspiring leaders balance paradoxical traits.

    Read more about this here at:
    http://www.quadrant1.com/Profiling-Tools/harrison-assessments
    http://www.quadrant1.com/Quadrant-1-Courses/real-leadership

  7. Kevin Popovic said,

    David Ogilvy (the father of modern advertising) wrote about building his company and selecting the right people. He said that if he hired people that were greater than him he would have a company of giants. I think that’s where you start. The CEO is responsible for creating and maintaining an enviromeent where giants can prosper. If they do not the giants will leave.

  8. Michael Hartwell said,

    conformity and innovation should not be antonyms. Large or complex organizations require standardization because diverging implementations increase cost and complexity of maintenance and support. In fact over time the diverging implementations will hinder if not strangle innovation because there will be too many legacy solutions and processes in place. This makes change too costly and risky.

    By conforming to a standard the innovator has a defined problem domain and known constraints in which to operate.

    Innovation without these definitions and constraints lead to one off solutions and islands that someone (usually not the innovator) has to support.

  9. John Bobowicz said,

    I think a precursor to this discussion is to make sure people really understand what is an innovation and what is an improvement.

    Many people confuse “invention” with “innovation”. Marcus Buckingham aptly defines invention as pure novelty. For example, you can invent 17 news ways of doing things, but do they actually catch on? He differentiates innovation as novelty that can be applied. Innovation requires an understanding of the right expectations, the right amount of expertise, and an understanding of how new ideas will be accepted or rejected.

    Six Sigma Blackbelts have a good understanding of what an improvement really is. It’s has to bring about a positive change that is aligned with a set of real goals. Six Sigma people typically focus on eliminating waste, which they define as activity that is currently necessary but provides no real value. A great story about improvement comes from Electronic Arts. We were looking for measurable improvement to the game development process. In the end it came down to time and cost. How do we reduce time so that we could use less people and reduce cost. An Executive Producer came forward with their contribution. Because they were so inefficient, too many people had to work too many hours to stay on schedule (10-12 a day, weekends at the end of the cycle). As such, they had to provide dinner. The “improvement” was to bring the food to the floor where the employees slaved away instead of having them go to the lobby to get it. They estimated that they save 30 minutes per day per person and celebrated that as an “improvement!”. Clearly, it was not and they were solving the wrong problem.

    I bring all of this up because it’s hard to agree or disagree with you about your opinion. There are a lot of people that like to re-invent the wheel and any resistance is considered stifling. Many people don’t understand the whole system and only move the problem further upstream or down stream while improving things for themselves. Many others don’t understand when “good enough” is “good enough”. I’ve seen artists spend hours working in hi-res on details of characters that would never be visible once the image was in game and a fraction of the size.

    I think innovation matters and is important, but it needs to vetted like any other business decision. You looking to invest time on something. What is the business benefit? Many inventors or assumed innovators can’t answer that. They often can’t predict in concrete terms why it’s “better” or their track record shows that the return on paper is never what happens in practice.

    Great topic. Thanks for raising it.

    -John

  10. Frits Bos said,

    Chris,

    I thought about this in context of Solomon Asch because of how we need that experiment interpreted. When I adopted Agile approaches it was in context of deliberately freeing a team in terms of solving problem components that were poorly defined or high-risk or other types of (perceived) obstacles. Since then the “Agile Purist” or “Evangelist” movement seems to have taken hold to see Agile in competition with Waterfall or V-model or other methodologies without keeping in mind that all methodologies have the same objective: to provide a baseline for dealing with routine aspects of the job rather than with exceptions that require special attention. I see a lot of venom when people express their opinion on how things might be done using one approach vs. another, which is a version of the Solomon Asch experiment to repress freedom of speech.

    I simply point out that if any one approach was the only correct approach this debate would never even exist. Doing the same things repeatedly expecting a different outcome each time is nuts. It is good to have multiple tools for use on a problem rather than to blind yourself to the need to conform to the Asch tendency, and to be prepared to try something different or hold an opinion all your own. What is so bad about being wrong sometimes if you learn form it? Remember that “Post-It” notes were a fantastic success based on what was first regarded as a collossal failure of glue that did not bind very effectively. In my toolkit, using Agile and JAD as means to “divert the flow” of Waterfall and V-model for the non-routine aspects of projects is a useful strategy. It allows me to separate and prioritize sub-projects for high-risk components so that you minimize the at-risk sunk cost while you remove the barriers that stop you from confidently tackling the routine parts of the project.

    Stifling debate, regardless of where you stand on a subject, is not productive. If someone insists on being an “Agile purist” then power to them, that is their right: just don’t scream bloody murder if someone else is uncomfortable with that. I am all in favor of continuing the Agile evolution, but not a revolution in which everything non-Agile is spat upon (figuratively speaking), or where the Waterfall takes on religious overtones. I have my own ideas on what works, because it works for me, and I may share those ideas in case it turns out to be useful for others, but I would not insist everyone strives to be a clone. In the end we all benefit by trying different approaches and sharing experience.

    Solomon Asch demonstrated how (or why) a nation like Germany could have fallen in line behind the lunatic fringe that started the Nazi movement. There is a warning in that. Could it be that some major automotive manufacturers march to a similar drum building cars for inventory that nobody wants to buy, prodded by a union that avoids dealing with overdue change? It certainly can affect any type of business when agents of change (like IT) become forces of conformity that retard any opportunity for improvement.

  11. Bob Marshall said,

    We found that, once people bought into the 5 Whys, that the per-sprint retrospective was ideal for bringing out conflicting opinions. Conflict can be constructive – once a foundation of trust has been established.

    - Bob

  12. Gavin Tonks said,

    In business to many creatives can be detrimental as someone needs to work, so having environments that are too creative moves focus from the core business which is sales and profits

    so unless the business is selling creativity then I would settle for responsible hard working people and leave the giants at the other business doors as they usually cost more and when they crash you will make the news

    In a start up I want goal focused people not people reinventing the wheel every time I walk out the office
    I am the creative that has put the business together and ultimately taking the responsibility

    So many business have very tried and tested formulas that followed relive the game of chance of success and failure from 50/50 to maybe 51/ 49 which is good odds for an entrepreneur, and I have worked for companies where people have lost the plot through a good sales pitch and now a highly successful business does not exist

    Creativity is very costly and new ideas have no guarantee of success

  13. Ron Jacques said,

    Chris:

    If people down below are feeling pressure to conform to the accepted culture and that culture is not Lean centered, then it stands to reason that senior management musn’t be doing its strategic job of leading and encouraging change in the organization.

    Maybe the senior management of companies who want change and need change are not willing to change themselves. Why is it that more than 90% of all lean implementations fail. Published articles suggest lack of management support. If change agents are expected to implement lean, everyone must be involved, not just the folks down below. Most significant decisions in daily business are not made down below, but from above. How can the folks down below influence what really counts when they don’t have the power to change what really drives the business.

    Senior management and change management must be “DRIVEN” from the top down. Trying to change it from the middle of the road only gets you run over.

    Ron Jacques

  14. Tim Scott said,

    Balance. That is the key. “Creativity” is not a job title. It’s an openness to new ideas or ways of doing things. Not an all-or-nothing proposition. If you have the funds to take an all-or-nothing opportunity, more power to you. But most of us don’t live with that luxury.

    Hold all of your team accountable for success. This includes the “creatives” and the “others”. Again, I will state for the record that creativity is not all about re-inventing the wheel. It’s a tool for ALL of your team to think without boundaries while holding true the tried and proven methods and finding a balance in-between the two.

    Business without creativity is stagnant.
    Business without guidelines and structure is doomed.

    Respectfully,

    Tim Scott

  15. David Corbin said,

    An excellent topic! However innovation is not always desirable or even “good”. I have seen many failures over my 30+ year career that were directly traced back to someone taking an “innovative” approach rather than following established “best practices”.

    Additionally one mush differentiate between production (deliverable) oriented environments and “research” environments.

    I personnaly spend alot of time on the “leading” (often bleeding!) edge with various technologies. This is an ideal time for experimentation and looking for innovative approaches. By the time the technology has matured to where it is suitable for production products, the “innivations” have often become (At least internally) conventional.

    One thing I have advocated for years, is that people be held accountable. This means creating a set of rewards (and consquences) for introducing new approaches.

  16. Tim Lesher said,

    Read up on the history of the Delphi family of decision making processes. Planning Poker, which you mention in your blog, is a variation on one of these, “Wideband Delphi”.

    The key is to disconnect the formulation of an opinion from analysis of other opinions. I believe that it’s easier to defend a dissenting opinion that’s already been voiced than it is to voice an opinion that one already knows is dissenting, but I haven’t seen any followup experiments that examined this difference.

  17. Scott Lawson said,

    It is suprising that 75% of the subjects in Asch’s study “conformed” at least once, but his study has one correct answer which was obvious. Designing software or information systems is not an activity with only one “correct” answer. While it is good to foster innovation, it is also good to encourage using patterns and practices to solve problems. The best creativity is found in the strcuture of a model or best practice. So it is not “confomity vs. innovation”, but “innovation within conformity” that should be the goal. :-)

  18. Lynn Wheeler said,

    A slight variation is Boyd’s comment about choice of career path “To be or to do” … quoted in this old post
    http://www.garlic.com/~lynn/2000e.html#35

    from dedication of Boyd hall at Nellis.

  19. Andrew Lampitt said,

    Very interesting topic & discussion. At zAgile, we have created a platform and application to facilitate the flow of communication and automation of manual synch/integration tasks. The idea is to enable the “water cooler effect”, that behavior which small, centralized teams enjoy to collaborate but is quickly lost when teams are scaled, particularly geographically. And when teams add multiple, interdependent projects, the chaos increases dramatically. Check out more at http://www.zagile.com to see how we provide a portal dashboard (can be SharePoint too) to facilitate communication (chat, forums, wiki) and integrate teams, tools, processes, and knowledge.

  20. Codin Coman said,

    Chris,

    I agree with you on this topic. I met the conformity in few companies and the fight I had with it was not always successful :(
    In order to create an environment in which people do not have to feel pressured to conform the main weapon would be to allow the true LEADERSHIP to step in …
    Unfortunately, in the large multinationals or in small family-run companies conformity (lack of real freedom to speak out) is rather the standard, even though they loudly claim their openess to creativity / innovation / progress.

    All the best,

    Codin

  21. Jeremy Lichtman said,

    I was reading something about this recently. Can’t for the life of me remember where I saw it.

    Basically this company deliberately assigned the role of playing the naysayer to a couple of individuals in meetings, based on the observation that once one person speaks up, others don’t feel uncomfortable doing so.

    I think that’s also the idea behind the Six Hats structured style of meeting.

  22. Norman Veit said,

    If a leader, the one single thing you can do to encourage innovation is listen, listen, listen.

    Secondly, be willing to be wrong or discard previous preconceptions of the right answer.

    That said, use common sense to evaluate viability of suggestions and their alignment to the business goals.

  23. Sharan Karekatte said,

    When most people on a team are quiet or acquiescent, the more talkative ones tend to dominate discussions and others tend to conform to the views of that person. Promote communication and allow for enlightened disagreement. Encourage openness and transparency in all modes of communication.

  24. Amitabh Thakur said,

    Conformity has the advantage of giving some sort of stability and security to the person concerned and making life easier while innovation ( or not conforming to the set principles) has the potential to search out newer ways, newer means, newer horizons.
    Both are required in equal measures and have their own respective importance.
    But innovation for the sake of innovation or a sign of rebellion is not something I approve.

    Amitabh Thakur
    SP (Intll),
    Faizabad
    # 94155-34526

  25. Bob Walker said,

    I believe David and John both made a great point. There is real value in conformity and great value in innovation. However innovating for inovating sake is not the right direction. Often the great balance is struck by great business conformity with a solid lean toward improving and growing a business (innovation), however I have found way to often great innovation without great execution simply does not work. Groth and new way of doing something does not always translate into the goal that was intended.

    Cetainly I am speaking from a business perspective, I recently worked with an organization that brought in what was supposedly a great innovater and someone who could “turnaround” a company. However, he was the CEO, he lacked the ability to create since of urgency to get it done and realized most of his great ideas eventually failed and he recently left that company, however the company is now in bankruptcy. Again, conformity and innovation both have a place in business, one without the other does not work.

    Solid Topic,

    Bob

  26. Janice Byerlay said,

    As in most things there is a balance between 2 extremes that is optimum. In business, supporting a climate of innovation is vital for growth,however there is also a need for those who are happy maintaining, and leaders need to value that talent for it’s stabilizing effect.

    As a creator/explorer/innovator type myself, I found that I gathered a team of high achievers dedicated to innovation. We had a great deal of success in innovating new and improved processes, and products etc. However once these were in place, they would quickly erode, without team members dedicated to implementing and maintaining them.

    Experience has taught me the value of building a team with complimentary talents; the importance of fostering an environment of innovation while honoring those who can keep the process rolling. I read a Harvard Business reveiw article that spoke of the need for a balance between Chaos and Order in any business. I fully agree…”Cha-ordic” is the way to be.
    Good topic
    JB

  27. Abram Cookson said,

    Leaders on teams had to follow their own advice. When you say those clichéd quotes such as: “My door is always open” or “There are no bad questions”. You must in all cases follow those rules. The moment someone is lead to feel they are asking a pointless or dumb question, they will hesitate to ask more.

    As a team we created a 10 commandments for the project. One of those offered this advice. “Thou shalt not take another team member’s question or comments as a personal insult.” As a team we came up with these commandments to remind us of our agreement to be open and honest. Then placed them in our war room.

  28. Bob Marshall said,

    Also relevant – and recommended reading: Jim McCarthy’s “Software for you head”.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Software-Your-Head-Jim-McCarthy/dp/0201604566/

    - Bob

  29. Salman Khan said,

    For me conformity is something work work against. That’s the only way to come up with a new way of doing the same thing. non-conformism can give you the advantage over your competitor. Innovation, how to discover/create a product that does something either totally new or something old in a totally new way.

    Non-conformity does not translate to not following “best practices”, although it is easy to blur this distinction.

    I do agree there is a difference where you are, a production environment would prefer that you follow best practices in developing innovative products. On the other hand, a research environment may allow and encourage you to disregard best practices as a trade off to freedom to play around with technologies.

  30. Anatol Sendker said,

    I agree somewhat with Amitabh and think that both conformity and innovative or conflicting behavior have situations where they can produce superior results over the respective other. But I also agree that often group dynamics lead to situations where individual thought might not exactly be encouraged, thought potentially beneficial.

    A related topic is that of workforce diversity, which has been found to produce better (more innovative) results in some situations, while being detrimental to performance (e.g., through inefficient communication) in other cases.

    Currently, I am conducting a study for my MBA thesis on the topic of workforce diversity in consulting and its relationship to performance (with a focus on informational diversity, i.e., different education and work experience).

    I invite all consultants to share your experience on this topic in the survey, which takes just around 10-15 minutes.

    http://www.surveymonkey.com/s_pass.aspx?sm=K70Dw3HcRfRF6Wx98I8Hlg%3d%3d

    Password: add value

    Thank you very much for your feedback,

    Anatol

  31. Joe Zenevitch said,

    We tend to go out of our way in a variety of aspects of our projects to promote inclusion and avoid conformity. Some examples come to mind:

    1) Using wideband delphi approaches to estimating cards. If weaker team members don’t know what the perceived leaders are going to throw, then they won’t be biased in their throw. If faced with a situation with a wide disparity in the estimates between the two, it’s the job of the facilitator to get the weaker person to support their assertion, especially if they immediately shrink away. They may still be wrong, but they will learn more by comparing their opinion with others.

    2) Retrospectives are one of the best forums for getting people to have their opinions heard, even if the approach you use is to anonymously write them on stickies. It might take a few iterations, but over time even the most timid person will see that the retrospective is a safe environment (of course, this assumes that you are facilitating the sessions properly)

    3) Related to the above – conducting safety checks at the beginning of every iteration retrospective, and tracking these over time, is a great way of figuring out if you have an issue on the team.

    4) One last thing on retrospectives – many times in the initial retrospective I will be one of the first to bring up a “What Could Have Gone Better” and it will usually be at my own expense. I do this to show the team that it’s ok to point out things even if you are directly/indirectly responsible.

    5) On the more positive side, it’s good to build up confidence with acknowledgements during meetings, as long as it doesn’t come off as the person getting all the credit. It could be as simple as “John brought up a great point today about…”

  32. Greg Smith said,

    For the most part I have not observed this to be a problem. More frequently I’ve seen teams diverge so wildly from one another that you find yourself asking “how do I get these teams to conform just enough that I can collect metrics and manage the program without mandating everything?”, but I’ve worked on some very large scale Scrum programs so my experience may be skewed.

    In general though I follow and recommend a set of practices that I think can be seen as discouraging conformity. For example I like to see teams maximize the interactions between individuals and roles, here are a few ways to ensure maximum ‘contact points’ between individual roles and a couple of others I’ve had good results with.

    1) Are you pair programming? If not then shame on you if you are then the team should implement “pair stairs”, a simple matrix of team members on both axis. Stick a pin or a sticker in the cell that represents you + someone else when you pair, and don’t pair with the same person 2x until the matrix is full.

    2) Set up some basic operating procedures along the lines of “only a may move a task from to “. For example if you have QA, Dev and BA team members you might say::
    Only the BA who wrote the acceptance criteria can
    move a task from “Testing” to “done”
    While seemingly superficial, procedures like this serve as a forcing function to get people on the team in different roles to collaborate more frequently.

    3) Rotate!
    In small teams assign someone the “buildmesiter” or “configuration manager” hat each release. In larger teams you might consider assigning team members to serve rotations on teams they have dependencies with etc.

    4) Always do a “safety check” at the beginning of retrospectives. Ask each member to rank their comfort level 1-5 between “I’ll say anything and am willing to discuss any issue” down through “i’ll put a smile on my face, grin, nod and say nothing”. Keep the #s blind to the group, show only the average but try and keep track of who the outliers are. Try and find out if someone or some thing in particular make them hesitant to share and then mix up your retrospective places / participants / formats to achieve better results.

    While none of these directly address the issue of conformity I think that adopting practices like this create an environment where every individual has a chance to interact with a wider array of others and gain additional perspective. Accomplishing these *should* drive down any tendency towards conformity, but clearly they won’t be enough by themselves.

    It’s also important not to overlook the cultural implications of this. In more collectivist societies you are going to naturally encounter people whose whole life experience has shown them that the individual opinion is less important and often disruptive to the more important group opinion. It can be very tricky getting folks from these cultures to be comfortable sharing in an open environment. As an example I’ll point out the old Japanese saying “the nail that sticks up will get hammered down”. Not to single out Japan, but this kind of attitude prevails and is deeply rooted in eastern cultures. A light touch is required in order to not alienate newbies to the point where they just shut down emotionally to Scrum/Agile if they perceive it as being too different from their perspective and world view.

    -G

  33. Kamalakannan Soundaian said,

    These are my personal opinion.

    What are you, your team or your organization doing to create an environment in which people do not have to feel pressured to conform?
    Develop more Individuality among people however not ego centric.

    How do you allow for the freedom for innovation and creativity to flourish?
    Transparent work culture is an enabler of the above mentioned.

  34. Santanu Majumdar said,

    It is the quite big question without conformity any big innovation can ever be done… hope fully no. Innovation hopefully is the bringing fresh ness….along with the team of co minded peoples, other wise it is quite tough thing to innovate and experiment. Being alone innovation can be done rather when itts properly simulated being totally grounded and related with the bigger things..

    Invention…one alone can invent and left it for the world.. Like Sir Thomas Edisson. Sir Issac Newton., Prof.C.V.Raman . You can called it invention…they are devoted in their world of work and science.It was everything for them.They invented some thing in their specific field.

    When comes business…that invention become product…and slowly everyone …keep on getting the benefits of that…and using it differently…that is called innovation-some may use it in team some may do it alone.

    So conformity rquired to accepting the new things in balancing way. “lets try” way from supreme authorities

    With regards…
    Santanu Majumdar.

  35. Dave Updike said,

    One more excellent source with relevance. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick M. Lencioni. Because Trust is the foundation of a team. Without peer trust you can’t have open and honest discussions and without open and honest discussions you can’t fix what is really wrong and if you don’t fix what is really wrong then…forget about agility.

  36. Scott Guyer said,

    Today, when innovation is the term often slung around, I think this question is poignant. Because the issue with innovation is not “we don’t have enough” which is often the perception, but rather, that we are not cultivating it. Meaning, the process or environments don’t let it out. Everyone has ideas, and ideas are innovation. Some are just more in tune with their ideas, listening for them. But everyone can get better. So what is wrong with the environment?

    Technologists have to be critical thinkers. Very shrewd analytical minds that judge ideas quickly, as this is part of the programming and debugging process. Separating the wheat from the chaff. However, this is exactly the wrong thing to have in a team environment in a problem solving situation. So what I do is try to teach each team member about this so they can become aware of it when they do it. Then you try to build a team culture where the brainstorming / idea phase of problem solving is absolutely free of judgement. Let the ideas flow. No matter how silly they may appear (and this is where typical value assignments often crush very good ideas when not kept at bay). Once the idea phase is over, then and only then can you analyze the ideas for their value. Takes time and practice, and individual coaching.

    Two books by Gerry Weinberg guide me in this …
    “Are your lights on?”
    “Becoming a technical leader: An organic problem solving approach”

    That said, the part about “letting creativity flourish” worries me. I think Scott Lawson’s comment addressed this well. Since I don’t know which part of the software process you are speaking to Chris, my worries may be ill founded. In product conceptualization, or brainstorming in the problem solving phase, fine. In architecture and software design, maybe, when “the norms” have been examined and demonstrated to be poor fits for the problem at hand.

    What’s the metric, something like 80% of the cost of software is maintenance?

  37. EliseNM (Elise) said,

    On conformity, innovation, and progress http://tinyurl.com/6hegku

Add A Comment

 


Creative Commons License
©2011 Edgehopper.com. Please don't copy me, it's bad karma.
Edgehopper by Chris Spagnuolo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.