Practice Makes Perfect

For abilities to become effective skills, we have to practice a lot, make mistakes, and gain experience. What is intuitively understood for riding a bicycle or for craftsmanship is grossly underestimated and sometimes completely ignored in the agile transformation of organizations. Popular models and frameworks are good starting points, but at the core it is about learning new skills of collaboration jointly.

A shop­ping trip through the hard­ware store does not make a crafts­man; my wife will con­firm that. Only after many hours on YouTube, numer­ous unsuc­cess­ful attempts, and the sup­port of a real expert as a coach can we hope for a viable mas­tery of the craft. The best assort­ment of tools is nei­ther suf­fi­cient for pro­fi­cien­cy nor nec­es­sary at the begin­ning. Prac­tice makes per­fect. The dif­fer­ence between a good crafts­man and me is a few thou­sand hours of prac­tice. And you can see that dif­fer­ence — at least that’s what my wife says.

We all have the abil­i­ty to ride a bicy­cle. But for this abil­i­ty to become a skill, it takes a lot of prac­tice and, espe­cial­ly in the begin­ning, a help­ing hand and feed­back from par­ents. It’s not enough to select the best bike and suit­able equip­ment at the store. Skills only devel­op through prac­tice. There are cer­tain­ly exer­cis­es, pro­ce­dures and train­ing plans that lead to pro­fi­cien­cy more quick­ly than oth­ers. Train­ing wheels on the bike also lead to the goal, but the bet­ter option is to first prac­tice bal­ance on a run­ning bike and then learn to ped­al, brake and final­ly shift gears.

We are born with fac­ul­ties and pow­ers capa­ble almost of any­thing, such at least as would car­ry us far­ther than can eas­i­ly be imag­ined: but it is only the exer­cise of those pow­ers, which gives us abil­i­ty and skill in any thing, and leads us towards perfection.

John Locke

If skills are already a mat­ter of prac­tice at the indi­vid­ual lev­el, this is all the more true wher­ev­er sev­er­al or many peo­ple are work­ing toward a com­mon goal, and thus smooth coop­er­a­tion itself becomes a desir­able skill. An out­stand­ing soc­cer team is not cre­at­ed sim­ply by sign­ing up first-class indi­vid­u­als and explain­ing the strat­e­gy to them in a webi­nar. Work­ing togeth­er requires prac­tice and the sup­port of an expe­ri­enced coach. Only then does the whole become more than the sum of the parts. 

In prin­ci­ple, we also all have the abil­i­ty to work togeth­er in a self-orga­nized, respon­si­ble, and ulti­mate­ly agile man­ner and to explore solu­tions to prob­lems togeth­er step by step, or rather, exper­i­ment by exper­i­ment. Kinder­garten­ers are great at this, which is why they do bet­ter in the Marsh­mal­low Chal­lenge than busi­ness school grad­u­ates, lawyers, or CEOs. In the depths of the func­tion­al­ly opti­mized hier­ar­chies of our cor­po­ra­tions, how­ev­er, these abil­i­ties eke out a drea­ry exis­tence. Every­one is only respon­si­ble for their own tiny sec­tion of val­ue cre­ation and only thinks with­in their own role descrip­tion: ser­vice by the book in the depart­men­tal silo.

It is there­fore gross­ly naive to hope that orga­ni­za­tions will become agile by copy­ing Spo­ti­fy or intro­duc­ing SAFe. All of this can be a pos­si­ble start­ing point for a joint learn­ing jour­ney, just as you can start rid­ing a bicy­cle with train­ing wheels or a run­ning bike. But it is cru­cial to rec­og­nize, on the one hand, that a longer phase of prac­tice is inevitable and, on the oth­er hand, that this should be well accom­pa­nied by appro­pri­ate coach­es. Too often, how­ev­er, the pat­terns of clas­sic orga­ni­za­tion­al devel­op­ment and change man­age­ment take hold instead: ana­lyze the prob­lem, com­pare solu­tions, select and roll out — done. Mount train­ing wheels, com­plete the webi­nar and then down­hill tomorrow. 

The focus of an agile trans­for­ma­tion is too often on select­ing or design­ing the “right” mod­el. This is often jus­ti­fied with the argu­ment that you don’t have to repeat the mis­takes of oth­ers. I, too, don’t like to see my chil­dren fall off their bikes, just like all the chil­dren before them did dur­ing their first exer­cis­es. And it would be fan­tas­tic to become a pass­able crafts­man in no time at all with the right tools. But no pain, no gain. Prac­tice makes per­fect. Repeat­ing the mis­takes of oth­ers is not a waste, but a good invest­ment in learn­ing new skills. “Per aspera ad astra” is a say­ing that dates back to Seneca; loose­ly trans­lat­ed, it means, “Through toil you reach the stars.” How­ev­er, with a cheap Spo­ti­fy copy or SAFe by the book, you won’t be able to over­come the grav­i­ty of your own encrust­ed structures.

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6 Comments

Marcio Ferreira Marques 1. September 2023 Reply

Exce­lente arti­go para reflexão. Que ten­hamos mais arti­gos como este.

Marcus Raitner 1. September 2023 Reply

Obri­ga­do, Már­cio! Ten­ho a certeza que encon­trarás mais impul­sos inter­es­santes aqui no arquivo.

Fattore Lavinia 1. September 2023 Reply

very inter­est­ing. Thanks!

Marcus Raitner 1. September 2023 Reply

Thank you so much for your feed­back. Much appreciated.

Corien Geerars 4. September 2023 Reply

Prac­tice makes per­fect! thanks

Marcus Raitner 4. September 2023 Reply

Thank you!

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