Thursday, July 24, 2014

Implementing Product Development Methodologies across Cultures and Organizations

Implementing Product Development Methodologies across Cultures and Organizations

After experience at trying to bring various methodologies and ways of approaching product development to different types of organizations in different countries, and often not succeeding as well as I would like, I thought I would attempt at finding some explanations.

I currently think of 3 dimensions that are the most important in terms of how they impact a generic methodology or approach. This is not an exhaustive list, however, after much thought these are what I feel are the key contributors to success or failure of putting an effective methodology or approach in place within an organization. 


The way that people communicate within the organization or team significantly affects the process of product or service development. Different cultures communicate in different ways, some more "open" others more "closed". Some "hierarchical" others less so.

Language can also be a problem, often nuisances are lost in translation. The same holds true when communication is between differing teams within an organization, i.e between the technical staff and the marketing department.

Key dimensions of communication:

  • Open or closed communication
  • Inter departmental or organizational "translation" issues
  • Hierarchical communication path
  • Conflictual or Non-conflictual 


Planning is related to communication, but the way in which planning is conducted and the hierarchy of stakeholders, how they get involved and who has the final say, differ. Also the way in which different cultures follow a plan differ, some might use it as a "loose" guide and others might use it almost in a "biblical" fashion.

Some organizations skip the planning stage or do not believe that it is needed or productive. Others won't do anything without a comprehensive plan, they may be paralysed by "not knowing".

Key dimensions of planning:

  • Valued or Avoided ?
  • Loose guide or biblical ?
  • Rapid or slow ?

Decision Making

Who makes the decisions is very important, in some cultures the leaders has the final say and is not argued with, in others he is guided by staff. In some cultures even if an idea comes from a team and is well thought out, any idea that comes from senior staff is immediately seen to be superior (observations in Brazil). Other cultures need consensus (observations in Japan) and things cannot progress until the entire team is convinced of the idea.

Key dimensions of decision making:

  • Leader driven or consensus
  • Logical or political
  • Rapid or Slow


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Agile and Lean thinking in Japan

I have just returned from Japan, where I was involved in leading a workshop on Agile and Lean thinking. Being back in the UK, I am reflecting on how things went, what worked and what did not. The whole experience proved to be much more difficult than I could have imagined.

Japanese culture does not seem to be compatible with Lean or Agile approaches.
  • Consensus is always needed
  • Time spent on a problem is the primary indicator of effort and success
  • All expressions of ideas need to be well thought out (brainstorming is not natural) 
  • It is natural to delay the commitment of an idea or an approach, so decision making is delayed to the last moment
These observations are in total contrast to the Agile or Lean approaches, which value "efficient communication", "lists", "brainstorming" and rapid decision making. 

This is probably why these Technics have not much of an adoption in the Japanese business world. If I were to revisit this market, in terms of helping with my consulting efforts, it seems as if I would need to tailor my methods to work within the Japanese context or I would have be very confrontational to get the desired outcomes. I plan to write more on this topic in the coming weeks.

When we apply our methods and methodologies in different cultures we should be aware of the context. Business methods and techniques are inherently centred around communication, decision making and planning. However in different cultures, communication, decision making and planning are conducted in very different ways. This could possibly be an explanation for why many methods don't work well across borders or regions, furthermore it could explain why internationalization remains difficult. It is not only about the product, but the process of bringing the product to market.

Interestingly "ThoughWorks" recently published this article
In which they allude to an aspect of this issue:

Conway's Law, that states that "organizations which design systems ... are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations", keeps appearing in unexpected places. One of the key tenets of the Agile Manifesto is "People over Processes and Tools", and we see Conway's Law reinforcing this idea both negatively and positively. Some companies are mired in siloed structures that add needless friction to engineering efforts, while more enlightened companies use team organization to drive the kinds of architectures they want. We're learning the peril of ignoring Conway's Law and the benefits of leveraging it.