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Practice > Best Practices

Published: November 02, 2018

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How often do you get to practice Thing X?

Say we’re talking about kicking off a meaningful initiative — maybe three or four times a year? Or how about a specialized form of research like running a diary study? You’ll be lucky to do that once a year, unless you work at a specialist UX research agency.

Now consider someone with BigCo consulting background who has participated in Thing X (a major reorganization effort, for example) a dozen or more times, but not as a full-time internal change agent, founder, or CEO. Yes they’ve practiced, and they have a high “n”, but have they practiced as someone with more proverbial skin in the game? How does their experience stack up and transfer?

I asked a young team recently to research “well proven” ways to solve a fairly typical challenge (“what are some patterns for handling dependencies between teams?”). They came back with a great cross-section of modern approaches. All reasonable ways. But their first attempts were extremely rocky. The nuance was in managing egos and middle-manager pushback, not the dependency visualization approach. The blocker was not a list or reasonable things to try.

Final example…a CTO charged with supporting a major shift in product strategy. As a 25 year veteran in the industry, this was the first time they had tackled Thing X. The saving grace was their broad support network, a keen awareness of the known unknown, and a lot of “meet me for coffee”s.

I frequently see teams try Thing X (the Thing the industry says to do to solve The Problem), and fail miserably. Then they either give up, assuming it is too hard and/or they don’t have the “right people”, or pragmatically adjust it until the intervention loses all of its bite. No one — all the blog posts especially — told them it would take many iterations (practice). This happens with individuals too, of course, but the defeatism/fear seems multiplied on teams, and between teams and managers.

A perfect example is attempting to measure the impact of a new feature. Frameworks are everywhere. Will you get it right the first time…likely not. Can you get better with time? Sure, but that will largely depending on how many iterations/chances you’ll put in motion.

We downplay the importance of practice with certain team activities. Surgeons practice. That makes sense. Comedians practice. Of course they do. But team stuff? Project kickoffs, research sprints, retrospectives, measurement frameworks, user interviews, strategy? Oh, there’s a step-by-step guide for that! The team should just be able to do it. Or, they can’t. “It’ll never work here.”

My point? Good things — especially stuff you do as a team — take practice! You have to set up conditions where the team can try something over and over, without fear of losing their jobs. This is one of the foundations of Agile…repetition and learning. I’m beginning to think that this — not knowledge of best practices and “the solution” — is the key bottleneck. We have a bunch of perfectly reasonable things to try…but how often do we actually try them?