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How to Stop Sabotaging Your IT initiatives 

Methods we use daily, like Agile Scrum, DevOps and cross-functionality teams, promote productive, high-functioning teams

By Andrew Diodati, Solutions Architect at BreakFree Solutions

In 1944 the CIA published a manual of different concrete strategies for destroying an organization from within. The Simple Sabotage Field Manual was distributed to civilians outside of the U.S. who were eager to disrupt war efforts against America during World War 2.

What's shocking is how many of these subtle sabotage practices are present in corporations today. In fact, a bulk of what we do at BreakFree, like training clients in DevOps and Agile Scrum, is working to disrupt these practices so that companies can stop unknowingly sabotaging their IT initiatives.

We’re going to use the Simple Sabotage Field Manual as a guide of what NOT to do and share some strategies we perform consistently to prevent self-sabotage.

CIA Sabotage: “Make ‘speeches.’ Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your ‘points’ by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences.”

BreakFree Way: Time is of the essence in business and development teams need to reflect that same urgency. The focus needs to constantly be what's coming next; teams need to be action oriented. This is why Scrum events are time boxed, so as to not leave time for anything that doesn’t lead to progress on the goal. When it comes to making long winded speeches with personal anecdotes, remember not to make the topic of discussion revolve around individuals—make it about the mission and what the next step is.

CIA Sabotage: “In making work assignments, always sign out the unimportant jobs first. See that important jobs are assigned to inefficient workers.”

BreakFree Way: When creating a backlog of work, we make sure to create it in priority order. When deciding what to work on and when, simply work top to bottom in priority order. If you build your backlog with priority in mind, and focus completing work from the backlog in order of priority, you don’t have worry that what you’re working on is “unimportant.”

We also work to create high-quality cross-functional teams in every engagement (more on that later). In such a team, there are no inefficient workers. But there are workers with more expertise than others. Assign expert work to expert team members as needed.

CIA Sabotage: “Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant products; send back for refinishing those which have the least flaw.”

BreakFree Way: We enact the Minimally Viable Product (MVP) model. This means, you don’t wait until something is “perfect” to release it. Waiting to release sabotages your efforts because you rob your teams of all the transformative feedback they would receive after launching a product and vastly slow down production.

We aim to identify a definition of “done” that is agreed upon. And once something is done, it is done. We don’t toil over it but instead prioritize agility, time to market, and pivoting over completeness and “perfect planning.” The ability to adapt, working in sprints, and aiming for iterative development will give you more success than insisting on perfection.

Similarly, avoid getting into long discussions over relatively small details, such as a minor difference in suggested story points. Let the team reach a mutual decision and move on.

CIA Sabotage: “Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.”

BreakFree Way: There are two situations in which people want to hold conferences. One is to do decision by committee. If you have multiple product owners on this “committee,” it’s daunting to come up with priority. Instead, aim to have one empowered product owner, that way there’s no need to gather the committee every time a decision must be made. This concept goes back to prioritizing moving quickly over getting something 100% right the first time.

The other time people want to hold conferences is to work in tandem. The way to do this is not to simply gather and share opinions but drive toward action using methods like swarming, pairing and collocation. This is more of a working session where we don’t aim to discuss the problem, but to solve the problem.

CIA Sabotage: “Insist on doing everything through 'channels.' Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.”

BreakFree Way: You should always exercise open communication and full transparency. You can lean into your Scrum ceremonies for dedicated opportunities for this, but ideally every moment is a chance to communicate. I’ve witnessed critical production issues that result from having to message people specifically and individually, rather than simply opening up communication in a centralized area where the right people can see and interact with the task at hand. Without this, teams play games of telephone and prolong communication and therefore work.

CIA Sabotage: “Multiply the procedures and clearances involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and so on. See that three people have to approve everything where one would do.”

BreakFree Way: Software development is a verb, not a noun. So, get out of your team’s way, and get out of your own way by ensuring your teams are using DevOps, automation processes and are autonomous and empowered to do things without constant approval. Give your product teams as much autonomy and trust as possible so that they can deliver value quickly and without hinderance.

CIA Sabotage: “Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful worker.”

BreakFree Way: The concept of cross-functional teams was created specifically to combat this. On a cross-functional team you’re always pairing to pass on skills to ensure all team members are highly competent. Not only that, but cross-functional teams can move in order of priority to the business; they’re not limited by the ability to execute on a team member by team member level. Leaders can make moves related to what their business needs without slowing down to ask, “do I have the right people for this?”

CIA Sabotage: “Advocate ‘caution.’ Be ‘reasonable’ and urge your fellow-conferees to be ‘reasonable’ and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.

BreakFree Way: We operate in a fail fast/safe environment. Failure is critical feedback to your product. You want to “fail” because in the world of digital, these “failures” should only be seen as learning opportunities. You want to know about these opportunities as quick as possible with an intent to incorporate this kind of feedback to build a stronger product. This is the crucial inspect and adapt phase. Then of course, you do your due diligence. No more, no less, and keep moving. That's it.

The foundational principles we work by like DevOps, Agile, and Scrum will help you move quickly while maintaining high quality standards. Remember to always communicate openly and transparently, cross-functionally pair to share knowledge, and work in an environment where failure is seen as feedback.

Store these methods in your tool belt so the next time someone wants to hold a conference "just because" you can question whether they may be a sleeper agent hoping to secretly sabotage your organization... Or maybe they just need a bit of coaching from BreakFree!

If you're looking to hear more or are in need of coaching assistance, reach out below, we're happy to help.

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