There is no compromise

There is no compromise

Also available in fr

January 18, 2024

5 min read

Hugo Lassiège
@hugolassiege

I have good news and bad news for you.

The good news is that your practices, your experience, your culture, they've already been tried and tested and they work somewhere.

The bad news is that your practices, your experience, your culture, they've already failed somewhere and may never be adopted in your current business.

Yeah, okay, it sounds weird when you put it like that. Let me explain.

A common vocabulary, but with different definitions

Over the years, I've met hundreds (thousands?) of people across a wide range of companies.

And if some of these companies seem very similar in their approach, that's actually quite misleading.

So yes, on the whole, the culture of these companies has elements in common. For example, we use the same vocabulary, don't we?

Product Manager, CTO, VP, Staff, Tribes, Discovery, Delivery, Squads, Feature teams etc...

However, if we look in detail, we quickly realize that most of these words have different meanings in different organizations.

First of all, the definitions are temporal.

For example, the definitions of Tribe at Spotify in 2012 and today are different.

The definition of "feature teams" evolved with the notion of "Impact team" introduced later by Marty Cagan.

They are also contextual. A staff member does not have the same responsibilities in a company of 100 people as in one of 10,000.

They may have been created to fit in with an existing organization and do a bit of painting. Who hasn't seen a Product Owner suddenly become a Product Manager, without any change in the definition of the role?

Not to mention that some Product Owners or Scrum Masters were already the result of some form of Agile washing from former project managers.

A wide variety of practices

If vocabulary is changing, it's often also because cultures are changing.

You've probably already heard

  • this company has a very strong written culture.
  • this company is fully remote.
  • this company has a strong leader who decides everything

etc.

Culture implies the way problems will be solved.

Company A will have a different approach to solving the same problem as company B, whether it's collaboration between teams, alignment on roadmaps, compensation policies etc...

And you know what? It doesn't matter. All of these companies have the potential to succeed.

There's no silver bullet. (*)

Warning

(*) this is not a call to "nothing is useful" as I often see. There are good practices. But there's no magic formula that makes them work every time, in every context. However, there are some bad practices that fail every time...

Let me give you a little anecdote. We received a candidate, let's call him Phileas for the occasion, for an Engineering Manager position.

During the interview, Phileas quickly realized that we were incompatible. He had a very command and control vision.

Phileas had lived for years in a context where this command and control culture was encouraged. And it worked. It was not conceivable to him that another approach could be effective.

He left the interview telling us that our approach was immature in the industry and that we had a Peter Pan syndrome (true!), that we needed to grow up and that he could help us.

We replied that it was possible, but that we'd keep on looking for our Tinkerbell.

At this stage of the story, some people might say: "But it's good to have diversity in your team to compare approaches".

Hmm. I beg to differ.

Diversity versus coherence

Diversity is indeed beneficial. It's a rich resource for problem-solving, which can foster creativity.

Beyond product construction, it's just humanly enriching, at least for me, not to work only with clones.

But this diversity has its limits. It has to be consistent with the company's culture. We sometimes talk about culture fit, when we're recruiting.

I'm caricaturing here, but it's complicated to hire an ex-Wall Street trader looking to make a profit to run an NGO, for example.

In the same way, we found it complicated to hire a very command-and-control manager in a company that advocates autonomy and innovation.

What about you?

Well, back to my good news and bad news.

The good news is that your practices, your experience, your culture, they've already been tried and tested, and they're working somewhere.

The bad news is that your practices, your experience, your culture, they've already failed somewhere and may never be adopted in your current business.

The question for you is to identify your company's culture.

If your culture is different, you're going to have to adapt. It's not up to the company to adapt. There's no such thing as a good compromise.

And I'll give you a tip: if the culture you're observing seems strange to you, and you tell yourself, like Phileas, that it's inconceivable that it would work, think again. You don't want to be Phileas.

Let's take an example: if the company has a full remote culture, but you're attached to face-to-face meetings, to decision-making that only takes place with people in the same room.

There's no room for compromise.

And I'd go even further: a company needs to maintain its coherence to be effective.

A full remote company has adapted its entire operation to this and owes part of its success to it. Think of Buffer or 37 signals, for example.

In the same way, a company with a strong attachment to face-to-face communication has also adapted its entire operation to this and owes its success to it too, like Apple for example.

As soon as a company makes numerous compromises to please everyone, it becomes less efficient.

As soon as a company makes numerous compromises to please everyone, it ends up pleasing no one.

But in the end, maybe it's both good news.

You can find a company that's just right for you.

Or you may still have plenty of opportunities to learn new ways of working in many companies you've never heard of.


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