The Executives New Clothes

There is no reality. Everything is an abstraction. Your reality depends on which abstraction you choose to believe in. The decisions you make depends on your reality. The decisions lead to your behaviour. Changing the way you look at the world, changing your phenomenology can be a scary thing. In order for a coach to help a manager learn a new way of looking at reality, they must first build a relationship of trust with that manager. The trust is necessary so that the manager will trust the coach will be able to get them back to safety.

Lets take a look at a small example of this. One of the main ways that senior managers look at projects is the status report. The status report is the way that projects make themselves visible. Status reports are one of the big differences between traditional and Agile projects. Traditional projects present a static view of status whereas Agile projects present present a dynamic or graphical view of progress, lets consider the first derivative or “velocity”.

A traditional status report might say that 90% of stories are complete. This sounds pretty good doesn’t it? However, lets look at the dynamic view of progress using cumulative flow diagrams (CFD). Consider two different “Epics” where 90% of stories are complete.

In the first CFD, risk averse development team, the team have completed the easiest, least risky stories first. They are left with the hardest riskiest stories and it is impossible to predict when the last 10% will be completed.


In the second CFD, risk managed development team, the team have completed the hardest riskiest stories first. They are left with the easiest least risky stories and it is easy to predict when the last 10% will be completed.


The point is that a static view of 90% complete hides the fact that the project could be in a really good place, or in a really bad place. Revealing this to a manager has no real up side for them but may demonstrate that a “successful” project is actually in a really poor state. Viewing the poor state for the first time this way, there are a number of ways that the manager and the culture they operate within may react.

  1. They accept the new reality.
  2. The reject the new reality.

From the coaches perspective, they are hoping for option one. This is only likely to happen if the manager is confident that they can survive the revelation to their management. The ability to accept a new reality is based on how safe they feel accepting the new reality. That is either because they have the options they need to survive and thrive in the new reality, or the culture they operate in is accepting of failure, and the discovery of new contexts. The new reality may be an opportunity for the manager if they are able to cope with it, and especially if their competition in the organisation is unable to.

In the event that the manager does not have a solution to the situation, they are going to have to depend on the coach to help them out… And that is only going to happen if they trust the coach. If they do not trust the coach and their ability to help them, they may reject the new reality, and the coach at the same time. They may attempt to hide the new reality from their stakeholders and fix the problem with their existing trusted colleagues.

Introducing a new reality into an organisation is risky to the individuals who experience the new reality, especially if they do not have the options to handle what they perceive. The person showing them the new reality is equally at risk if they do not have a trusted relationship with them. However the “new” reality has always been there. The executive has been wearing new their new clothes, they have been in the altogether the whole time. The difference is they are now aware of the situation and can potential react with new options.

As Dan North puts it “You go into a darkened room and turn on the lights, there are four tigers in the room. There were always four tigers in the room, its just you could not see them until now.”

Please don’t kill your coach because they switched on the lights.

About theitriskmanager

Currently an “engineering performance coach” because “transformation” and “Agile” are now toxic. In the past, “Transformation lead”, “Agile Coach”, “Programme Manager”, “Project Manager”, “Business Analyst”, and “Developer”. Did some stuff with the Agile Community. Put the “Given” into “Given-When-Then”. Discovered “Real Options” View all posts by theitriskmanager

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: