Watch Out, Goblins!

Here in Fairy Project Land, perfect requirements lead to perfect planning and the delivery of a perfect product (every time), a product that satisfies the customers’ every desire.

OK, the pixies working on our projects have to use a lot of paper to write absolutely everything down (which upsets the dryads who live in the trees), and they do end up doing an awful lot of overtime which means they never have much time to sip dandelion juice in the evenings back at their toadstools, but in the grand scheme of things that’s not too bad; after all, the system is more important than the individuals, right? Oh, I forgot to mention the goblins. They run the projects, and can be fairly harsh taskmasters. To be honest, the pixies don’t really think the goblins add much to the process anyway as they focus far more on their perfect requirements and perfect plans than on making the gnomes, their final customers, happy. And it’s true, the goblins do sometimes have problems believing that it’s possible for anything to exist that isn’t on the plans they created at the start of the project. I could also grudgingly admit that we don’t always get it completely right. As a case in point, the latest model of dungaree we produced wasn’t strictly fit for purpose (due to a small misunderstanding, the imps captured measurements in feet rather than inches), but that’s not important as long as what they wrote down got delivered. Ah, and they weren’t waterproof either (the dungarees, not the imps) which is a shame as they are used primarily for fishing trips where the gnomes stand chest high in garden ponds for hours on end. But that’s the gnomes’ fault for not bringing it up when we started.

So all is well in Fairy Project Land.

Except….. I wish that the elves in Fairy Resources (FR) would stop referring to our creatures as “resources”. As Nenah Cherrytree once sang “pixies are pixies, you know what I mean?” This isn’t the First Troll War. We have some pretty good talent at our disposal and it does all seem to be going to waste. If only there were a way to get the pixies and gnomes together to talk about what is really needed and then to just let the team get on with it without the goblins constantly interrupting and asking for updates or telling the pixies the best way to sew on a button (the pixies are the experts after all and, anyway, it takes years to convince a cotton plant to give up some of itself). And I do think that the dryads would be a lot happier if we left their trees alone: why oh why does every possible permutation of requirements have to be written down at the start when only a small proportion ever end up getting delivered?

And I can’t even remember the last time that anybody really laughed here (the goblins don’t like laughter as they think it’s directed at them).

Mind you, I have heard of a magical device over in “Agilandia” called an “empowered team” (whatever that is). When my cousin, Scrumpy, last visited she told me how people in Agilandia have more control over their work and as a result are happier, productive, and far more attractive (I think she made the last bit up). And I suppose that I can see how that could be true as I remember when the Dark Queen ruled Fairy Project Land and she never let anything happen without sticking her wand in. Anyway, Scrumpy told me that if we only focus on Fairy Coins then we’ll just create an “every creature for itself” attitude. And if we just aim to “make stuff” then we’ll never get the pixies’ creative (dandelion) juices flowing (they love that stuff). She says that in Agilandia they try to make cool stuff that will amaze the gnomes. The trouble is that this is a challenge that requires creativity, and I’m pretty sure that the goblins have knocked all of that out of us. I mean, you can’t tell people to be passionate about what they do.

Still, Scrumpy insists that it is possible to set up the best conditions for this passion to manifest itself. And do you know, I’m starting to believe her. After all, why spend ages building a big thing that nobody can use? I think that the pixies, imps, elves, and, yes, even the goblins would be far more motivated if they could just see the difference that their creations make by continually delivering smaller iterations of the larger final product and getting instant feedback from the gnomes (I bet the latest dungarees would have been waterproof if we’d done that, and they would have had openings at the back for comfort breaks – they are an absolute devil to take off quickly). And Scrumpy reckons that you’ll never get better if you don’t fail faster to succeed sooner. If fact, she doesn’t even call it failure but “finding better ways of working through experimenting”. Finding another way that isn’t optimal; what’s that all about? Sounds a bit like sorcery to me.

And the most daft thing of all is that she thinks goblins shouldn’t even be in charge of the imps and pixies, but rather a part of the team (they’re not going to like that, I can tell you). Scrumpy says that putting anyone in charge of your team will just stifle innovation. The goblins in Agilandia just set up the process, let the team start, and then get out of the way. But how can we trust the pixies to work without the goblins continually checking that they’re on top of things? Scrumpy says it’s all about trust. Even the goblins don’t know everything (I’m sure that the imps would say that they don’t know anything). She insists that teams can’t be self governing unless they are cross-functional, so she has the goblins, pixies, imps, and even some of the senior gnomes working as part of the same team. And everyone is considered equal! Well, this would need real devolution of power as it would be fantastically dispiriting if our team were told that they could self-govern and then had decisions constantly reversed by the White Queen.

Scrumpy thinks that it’s all a question of transparency. She says that in Agilandia, mistakes are good! And admitting to mistakes is even better!! She says that this not only means they can be fixed before they become a real problem, but in addition her people are constantly learning and improving their ways of working and honing their own skills and abilities. Scrumpy says that we can’t get rid of the barriers if we can’t even see them, so we should be honest with each other. And if the Queen feels that people aren’t hiding things from her, and if she sees continual delivery of useful products and services that keep the Gnomes happy, then she will be perfectly happy to just let us get on with it.

Well, this all sounds like a made-up “Human Tale”, but I have to admit that her pixies and imps are far more productive than ours (even though there are fewer creatures in Agilandia, they produce twice as many products as us), and the gnomes are much happier. In fact, the King of the Gnomes is taking about moving all of his business there! And their creatures rarely work overtime (which keeps the dandelion brewers happy) and they do seem much happier than ours. But do you know what’s really convinced me that Agilandia might be with a visit?

You can hear laughter there.

I think I might move to Agilandia; I’m not so sure that I want to live in Fairy Project Land any more…..