Gap Size and Agility

The cre­do of the start-up cul­ture, “Fail fast, fail cheap”, still has the bland after­taste of slop­pi­ness for Ger­man engi­neers and their man­agers. This typ­i­cal Ger­man fix­a­tion on gap sizes pre­vents agili­ty and slows us down.

Many com­pa­nies that have been accus­tomed to suc­cess for years and decades feel that they have to rein­vent them­selves in the face of an ever faster chang­ing and increas­ing­ly dig­i­tal world. They want to become more inno­v­a­tive, faster and more agile. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, one of our undis­put­ed strengths stands in the way of this in Ger­many: our pen­chant for per­fec­tion. The cre­do of the start-up cul­ture, “fail fast, fail cheap,” still has the bland after­taste of slop­pi­ness for Ger­man engi­neers and their man­agers. “gap size fix­a­tion” is what Sascha Lobo very apt­ly called this typ­i­cal Ger­man per­fec­tion­ism that once made us so suc­cess­ful, but now threat­ens to slow us down.

Gap size fix­a­tion reveals the mea­sur­able prod­uct advan­tage, but also the relent­less essence of per­fec­tion: the absence of a fail­ure cul­ture. This has a dis­as­trous effect in a time when soci­ety and tech­nol­o­gy are chang­ing so rapid­ly.

Sascha Lobo

Our cre­do in engi­neer­ing Ger­many is “first time right”. Errors are bad, fail­ing is syn­ony­mous with dis­as­ter, and exper­i­ments are there­fore car­ried out in a qui­et lit­tle room until it is per­fect. It was this pen­chant for per­fec­tion that led to the suc­cess of our Wirtschaftswun­der after the Sec­ond World War. And yet, in this suc­cess of yes­ter­day lies one of our prob­lems of today. Per­fec­tion pre­vents a pos­i­tive fail­ure cul­ture. So much so that it seems advis­able to avoid the f‑word alto­geth­er and instead speak of a learn­ing cul­ture.

The sixth the­sis of the Man­i­festo for Human(e) Lead­er­ship: A call for courage and orga­ni­za­tion­al ambidex­ter­i­ty.

The path to a learn­ing cul­ture starts with lead­er­ship, because lead­er­ship has a deci­sive influ­ence on what is appre­ci­at­ed, rec­og­nized, praised and pro­mot­ed in the orga­ni­za­tion. This cul­ture change must begin by putting learn­ing — both in suc­cess and fail­ure — in the fore­ground. Satya Nadel­la, as CEO of Microsoft respon­si­ble for a remark­able cul­tur­al change in recent years, referred to Car­ol Dwer­ck­’s con­cept of the Growth Mind­set and spoke of a learn-it-all cul­ture instead of a know-it-all cul­ture. It is pre­cise­ly this cul­ture of curios­i­ty and learn­ing that is the basis of any trans­for­ma­tion of orga­ni­za­tions towards more agili­ty and adapt­abil­i­ty.

Agili­ty is essen­tial­ly about short feed­back cycles. Usable prod­uct ver­sions are deliv­ered at short inter­vals and the insights gained from these will then influ­ence the next steps. Agili­ty means learn­ing from failed attempts on uncer­tain ter­rain. You have to be able to endure the fact that a prod­uct that is not per­fect in all aspects by pre­vi­ous stan­dards must be deliv­ered in order to gain deci­sive insights into the needs of cus­tomers and the mar­ket.

And that is why the agile trans­for­ma­tion can­not be a change project con­ceived by con­sul­tants and ordered by man­age­ment, as much as some advo­cates of panaceas prop­a­gate. Agile trans­for­ma­tion itself is a joint learn­ing jour­ney. And this jour­ney can only suc­ceed with the right learn­ing cul­ture.

Ever tried. Ever failed. No mat­ter. Try again. Fail again. Fail bet­ter.

Samuel Beck­ett

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