Discover more from Teams, Tech & Tonic
Building sustainable organizational momentum through inchworm movement
Sync and stretch are paired motions that teams must employ
The elusive and brittle dynamics of generating forward progression and sustainable momentum in software organizations should be what takes most of a good leader’s energy and focus. It’s been the centerpiece of the vision statement I share at every one of my org’s all hands for several years.
Through relentless focus on solving the systemic challenges we face, we are going to break through to the next phase of maturity, scale and success where we sustainably, plan, build, deliver, operate and scale amazing products that create value for our customers and momentum for Smarsh.
A seasoned leader knows how difficult momentum is to build and how easy it is to disrupt. It takes collective commitment to disciplines that combat both the inherent entropy that exists in organizations as well as the bad actors that derail progress. If you can’t map practices that reinforce the positive behavior to combat the negative behaviors that are discovered, then you are watching the inevitable decline of your team and org. The larger the org the longer the corrective turns take, the more important it is to have quick feedback loops.
One metaphor I use to explain how to build momentum in software delivery is to look at the inchworm. It has two staged motion, the starting loop position(sync) where hind and head are together is the foundation for the forward movement when the head is able to extend forward(stretch). The rhythm in the sync and stretch motions are what create momentum for the inchworm.
Sync - adoption and alignment
The org has to have a handle on current business and product scope. The head and hind have to be close enough so that there isn’t paralyzing confusion, solution fragmentation, firefighting, etc… to even give you the opportunity to extend forward with another appropriately disruptive innovation cycle. This sync motion is where you drive and incentivize adoption and alignment.
In my organization this will frequently be driven through communities of practice(COP) where a new convention has proven valuable and we want to see that get adoption in all of our teams. We will set shared goals for those teams to adopt the pattern and allocate in people that can help them implement/adopt where needed.
Here are some signals you need to improve your adoption and alignment:
Long lead time to value across org when new convention/pattern emerges
Large disparity across team health and outcomes
Large gap in latest versions of services or patterns made available(provider) and what’s being consumed or implemented against by teams(consumer)
Stretch - innovation movement
If your latest patterns are reasonably well adopted and there’s strong alignment between teams, then you need to start the next stretch, the next innovation movement. Waiting until there’s full adoption or no alignment challenges will keep you paralyzed, look for 80/20 strong majority conditions and introduce the next stretch.
Every team needs to innovate in their space. That innovation pressure will be from external and internal forces. It may be driving toil out of day 2, it may be making the path to prod simpler, it may be updating dependencies, it may be adding a new customer facing capability.
Here are some signals you need to improve your innovation movement:
DORA metric outliers, not keeping pace
Disproportionate security toil (often due to aging dependency chain)
Toil burnout in the team and difficulty finding new talent
If your movements are out of sync, if you stretch too early prior to a strong sync stage you will get disembodied innovation. The team doing the innovation will leave behind the rest of the org and instead of organizational momentum you get organizational outliers that the rest of the org views as a unicorn instead of a model of what’s to come. This is somewhat by design for companies with “labs” style teams, I won’t address my challenges with that model here, rather I’ll just say
if you’ve isolated innovative movement to a single team or a “center of excellence” don’t be surprised when your organization as a whole underperforms.
Be like the inchworm, focus on bringing your sync and stretch into harmony and observe how you build sustainable momentum and meaningful forward progression.
Thanks for reading Teams, Tech & Tonic! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.