Overcoming mental barriers to help your clients succeed
Consultants are valued for their expertise and the fact that they’re outsiders. In this post I’ll argue that the single most valuable skill a consultant can bring to the table is to break the mental barriers in the client’s organization.
Consultancy is hard. We are helicoptered into organizations and expected to deliver quick results from what is ultimately an advisory role. With high expectations and no actual decision making powers, how do we make a real difference?
Organizations pay a lot of money for consulting. This is despite the reputation consultants have as fly-by-night snake oil salesmen. Are we really faceless suits who show up for a few days, create havoc, and leave with a fat pay cheque?
The fact is companies continue to bring in highly paid outsiders such as consultants, industry experts and trainers. Demand for their skills is high.
This is because outsiders have a big advantage when it comes to challenging the status quo. We are not hindered by the baggage of yesterday’s decisions. We are impartial towards internal politics and biases. We cannot be accused of favoritism or empire building.
The successful consultant exploits this unique position to deliver change within the organization. This is the essence of consulting, because if companies knew how to make changes on their own, they would. Something stops them though.
And that brings us to mental barriers.
First, let’s look at a sporting analogy…
When Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile it marked a milestone in athletics. The four minute barrier had been commonly viewed as a hard limit on human performance1, but in the next two years, five more athletes joined the sub-four-minute ranks.
A similar story played out in the world of Olympic weightlifting. It seemed impossible for a human to clean and jerk 500lb until Vasily Alekseyev lifted 501lbs in 1971. Within a year three more men lifted over 500lbs in competition.
In software, we see similar barriers being smashed by an outside perspective.
It was eight years on from the agile manifesto before Flickr showed how the agile principle of “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software” could be translated through DevOps to achieve 10 deploys a day on a high traffic site.
This presentation gave birth to the whole DevOps movement.
Demonstrating the art of the possible is liberating. And once a precedent is set, belief that it can be replicated sets in. The best consultants break barriers in much the same way. They see where the barriers are to progress and make it their mission to go beyond them. And where they go everyone else follows, as if the barrier was never there.
Consultants encounter all sorts of mental barriers in the course of their work. These take on many forms, but it’s possible to categorize them to a large extent:
So, what do we do about them?
There is no secret formula or silver bullet for dealing with mental barriers, but here is my advice on how best to tackle them as a consultant:
|Concrete Status Quo||“We can’t … ”||Show how others have done it|
|Permission Submission||“We aren’t allowed to…”||Make the business case|
|Skill-joys||“We don’t know how to…”||Plan the learning|
|Budget Judgement||“We can’t afford to…”||Quick wins and self-financing solutions|
Breaking things is hazardous and there are two main dangers to look out for when breaking mental barriers in an organization: retaliation and overconfidence. Breaking mental barriers is an act of creative destruction. A barrier can be representative of all kinds of personal and political forces. You need to bring all your situational awareness and empathy to the table to make sure that you don’t ruffle feathers unnecessarily. Be kind, professional, and act in the best interests of your client. Use tact.
The second danger is overconfidence - just because it works at google or facebook doesn’t mean it can work at ACME corp. Ask yourself:
Telling your friend he has bad breath or dandruff is hard. It needs to be done in a certain way for him to make that change without feeling awful about it. Successful consultancy requires a very broad skill set. It requires self-awareness, candor, empathy, leadership and bravery.
It’s also incredibly rewarding. Seeing your clients break free from their mental barriers is the most satisfying work I know.
These are my experiences from dealing with change projects in many companies, and I would love to hear yours. Leave a comment, ping me on twitter, get in touch, it would make my day!
In reality, amongst athletes it was seen as inevitable…the 9 year duration of the previous record was compounded by the outbreak of the second world war.
In this post, I’ll take a closer look at the version of Jenkins X using Tekton, to give you an idea of how the general development, build, test, deploy flow looks like with Jenkins X. How does it feel to ship your code to production using a product coming from the Jenkins community that has very little Jenkins in it?
A crash course in Jenkins X and how to test it out on a local Kubernetes cluster
In this blog I will show you how to create snapshots of Persistent volumes in Kubernetes clusters and restore them again by only talking to the api server. This can be useful for either backups or when scaling stateful applications that need “startup data”.
Sneak peak at CSI Volume snapshotting Alpha feature
When I read Fowler’s new ‘Refactoring’ book I felt sure the example from the first chapter would make a good Code Kata. However, he didn’t include the code for the test cases. I can fix that!
Writing tests for ‘Theatrical Players’
Nicole Forsgren and the Accelerate DORA team has just released the newest iteration of the State of DevOps report. The report investigates what practices make us better at delivering valuable software to our users as measured by business outcomes. Read on for our analysis of the report, and how it can be best put to use.
The latest drivers of software delivery performance
A major challenge of software development is that our work is by and large invisible. This makes our folklore essential in business matters. Some of our commonly used arguments and visualizations are digital urban legends rather than solid foundations for informed decisions. Here, we’ll go through a few examples and some measures to address our misconceptions.
How the stories we tell influence our decisions
When you embark on your cloud native journey there will be important choices to make about cloud providers, continuous deployment, environments’ setup and separation. This guide will help you make the right choices by sharing lessons learnt from running cloud native apps in production.
Kubernetes has become the de facto container orchestration platform. When we help clients of different sizes and domains start their cloud native journeys in Kubernetes, we assist them in making sound decisions and technology choices. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to choosing cloud providers, CI tools, continuous deployment pipelines etc., so it is important to make the right decisions at the start. Failing to do so can be very costly in terms of lost time and money.
How to make the right technical choices on your cloud native journey
Learn how Docker and Kubernetes work and the key benefits they bring. Using real demos, I show how Docker is a great packaging and distribution technology, and how Kubernetes provides a powerful runtime for containerized applications.
Watch this introduction to Docker and Kubernetes at the Trondheim Developer Conference (TDC)
In the world of Agile and DevOps we use many figures, charts and diagrams to argue and reason about our world and how we prioritize and make choices. However, at all levels of the organization, we misuse and misinterpret figures. It’s time to be explicit, measure the right things and act on them. Watch this talk from DevOpsDays Zurich in May 2019.
Watch this talk from DevOpsDays Zurich
Summer is a great time to catch up on reading, whether you’re at the beach, in a summer house, or cozy at home. If your book backlog is on the short side, don’t worry! We compiled a list of great books for summer reading.
Inspiration for your summer reading list
Hear about upcoming events in Scandinavia, latest tech blogs, and training in the field of Continuous Delivery and DevOps