Rules, rules, rules, or maybe tips?

agile, blog

I am Dutch. Maybe it is typical Dutch, or maybe just me. But, I don’t like it when people tell me what to do, or what I am not allowed to do. Don’t get me wrong. I am not an anarchist. It is not that I don’t follow rules but I want to understand why the rule is in place. What problem is solved by having this rule? To accept a rule, I need to understand why a rule is there. When I understand the why, it is much easier for me to accept the rule. Still, I can disagree but at least I have some background information. 

However, I think some organizations make rules too easy. Rules are often in place because organizations don’t trust people, want to enforce some behavior, protect scarce resources, etc. If you don’t trust your people, and because of that, implement more rules, people will think, why care? They don’t trust us anyway and try to get around the rules, which will result in more rules. It is the start of a vicious circle. 

Do we always need rules? No!

I was involved in a project a while ago where they asked us to facilitate a session to create the Golden Rules for their change projects. The Golden Rules that people always need to follow when they are running a change project. As a Dutch person, or just me, it got me thinking. Do they really need rules? Or should be it be more like the Golden Tips? Golden Guidelines?

As always, I think it depends. In some cases, you will probably need rules, and sometimes guidelines are already good enough. I believe there are three different kinds of categories:

  1. Tips. Tips are suggestions that can be helpful for some people in some situations. They are free to ignore your tips, and that is up to them. For example, when talking about a change project, a tip could be to organize regular lean coffee to give people the opportunity to talk about topics related to the change;
  2. Advice. Advice is based on experience, good practices, etc. Advice for a change project could be to create a Change Canvas with the Change Team. It is up to you to decide if you want to follow this advice. However, where you can ignore a tip, you can’t ignore the advice. If you don’t follow up on the advice you need to explain why not. To whom depends on the situation and that is hard to describe without any context. Maybe you need to create a decision wiki page, where you clearly describe you ignore certain advice.
  3. Rules. In some cases, it is totally ok to have rules. For example, thinking about change projects, a rule could be that there always needs to be a vision for the change. No vision, no change project. A rule is mandatory. You can’t ignore or skip a rule.

You can start arguing that tips and advice are the same. I am not native English, so maybe there are better words. However, when you explain it is above I think it is very clear for everyone.

Back to the project, where we were asked to facilitate a session about the Golden Rules. We first explained the three different categories. The next step was to ask them to write down for which areas related to change management they wanted to create a tip, advice, or rule. For example, communication, vision, leadership support, metrics, etc. They created a matrix, in the first column the different areas. The second column was Tip, the next column was Advice, and the last column was Rules. The last step was to think about what kind of tips, advice, or rules they wanted to have in place. We used the Liberating Structure pattern 1-2-4-all to facilitate this session. It helped them to come up with a matrix with tips, advice, and rules. The result was even better than just having x Golden Rules for change projects. It allowed them to be more flexible and include tips and advice that otherwise would not have been shared.

AreaTipAdviceRule
CommunicationDon’t use just one communication channel, like only Yammer. Use different channels to reach as many people as possible
VisionReview the vision regularly, for example, every quarter. Did you learn something that requires you to adapt your vision?No Vision, No Change – A clear vision is required
Involve the people part of the change to identify valuable metrics
Example of Tips, Advice, and Rules

My tip to you, next time when someone asks you to create the 10 Golden Rules for something, make it bigger and also include the tips and advice.

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