curved line

Ep. 82: Crossing the chasm


Challenges with adopting new ideas or technologies for different groups.

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podcast recording


[00:00:00] Peter Maddison: Welcome to definitely Maybe Agile podcast, where Peter Madison and David Sharrock discuss the complexities of adopting new ways of working at scale.

[00:00:13] Hello, Dave. How are you doing today?

[00:00:15] Dave Sharrock: Peter. Good to see you again. How are things? They're good.

[00:00:17] Peter Maddison: It's good. It's been a productive day. A busy one, and pretty sure it's still not over, but it's good to see you and have a good chat. I understand we're talking about crossing chasms today.

[00:00:25] Dave Sharrock: Thinking about organizational change, and what we can learn from Geoffrey Moore's interpretation of market adoption. In terms of products, and of course nowadays use it for organizational change, as well. How we can understand the sort of things that we're going to see in an organization as we go through a transformation.

[00:00:42] Peter Maddison: Yes. And it's interesting how many places this actually applies. People will see something new and immediately jump on it and want to try it, especially if it's something that's interesting to them, versus those who will wait a while and see what others do first before they decide whether they're going to come along for the journey?

[00:00:58] Dave Sharrock: I think we all relate to that, right? Whether it's new products or whether it's change In the organizations that we work in, there are people who are enthusiastic. They're early adopters, and they get behind it and become the evangelists. And there are those that are a little bit more reluctant to change their status quo.

[00:01:14] Peter Maddison: Yes. Geoffrey Moore's model, is this idea that there's a chasm, there's a point where there's a certain part of the population that will adopt a new idea and they will jump. They'll say, "I'm going to try this because it's interesting to me". It's something that has relevance to me. Then you hit this wall, the chasm, where I've got to get past that to bring everybody else along with me on that journey. You see this occur in a lot of different models, in a lot of different spaces, but this is a very common one that gets used quite a lot to explain this phenomenon.

[00:01:40] Dave Sharrock: It's an inflection point, right? The practices, or the behaviors, or the approach that you take before the chasm, has to shift and change to accommodate the expectations and the differences post-chasm. Geoffrey Moore's argument was that the many companies struggled to cross that chasm because they don't understand that shift in mindset and the shift in approach they have to take. I think, after 30 odd in the market, we're all very familiar with the market adoption curve, but it still raises the question of what behaviors or approaches do we need to change given the context that we might be looking at.

[00:02:13] So if we're looking at organizational change pre-chasm, what does organizational change looks like? If you think of John Cotter and his institutionalized change, that's the post-chasm bit. That's the, "Okay, now you've got the change going. Now roll it out everywhere". And both initiating change and rolling out the change are two quite distinct, large problems in their own context, separated by that inflection point in, the chasm.

[00:02:35] Peter Maddison: Yeah. Kotters model starts from the leadership forming your core team, making it something people can consume. So they can see why this is important and then building that community around that. The crossing the chasm comes there. You go from that insular core, now how do I bring others along on that journey? How do you expand? How do you get others to change their mindset too, so that they can also see the value of this.

[00:02:57] Dave Sharrock: One of the things that we look at, we need to understand that pre-chasm when you're dealing with the innovators, the early adopters, their expectations are distinctly different to post-chasm. There's a great short video by Simon Sinek who explains, using the market adoption curve, that if you're seeking to recruit those volunteers, you need to create a little bit of a barrier, put a little bit of pain associated with getting involved with it. So in the video he talks about meeting on a Saturday morning. So people have to get out of their comfort zone. Make an effort to become part of an initiative. This is very true of the early adopters and the innovators. They pride themselves on being there first. On being the evangelists who know more about a product or a particular change than nearly anybody else. There's something associated with being the first ones through the door, for a particular initiative. The interesting thing is, the initiative doesn't have to be well thought out. We are not going through that door first to find a complete plan. That quality side of what we're going to see is not necessary. We don't need to understand all the bells and whistles. But once you go across that inflection point, and you start talking to the majority of the people in your organization, you do need a plan. You do need clarification of what's there. You don't need a painful investment of effort by individuals coming into it. In fact, they want it to be frictionless.

[00:04:24] Peter Maddison: Exactly. It's got to be easy. I love that point that you had there. I think it's the same as that Apple makes the initial versions scarce. You wind up with big lineups, but you want to make it easy for the other people to get one of these, once you pass that initial inflection point. You'll have the people who are willing to cue, especially if there's a little bit of pain.

[00:04:40] Dave Sharrock: Those people who really appreciate the innovator, early adopters, they also lose that feeling of being a part of something as more people have the product, or are jumping on the bandwagon. It loses its appeal.

[00:04:53] The whole point, if you like, of crossing that chasm is maximizing the profit you can get. If you're selling a product, you want to get it into the market. How do you maximize the number of people who can use your product, and therefore maximize the profit you can get.

[00:05:05] Peter Maddison: Here's a crazy idea. If we apply lean principles to this. Lean fits into after the chasm space very nicely, reducing the waste. Making it easier in the system for delivery. Whereas early adopters, you're wanting to experiment. Can we draw that distinction, do you think?

[00:05:21] Dave Sharrock: The way I always think of this one is, before the chasm is the innovators. Innovation is a different practice to after the chasm. After the chasm, I see those as the accelerated. They're the ones who accelerate adoption, and they're much more driven by reducing the cost per unit or making it as frictionless as possible. Whatever it might be, new organizational cultural practices that we're trying to adopt, or maybe new products. Digital transformations are a great example where you often end up adopting products and practices at the same time, which increases the complexity of what we're doing. But after that inflection point, the accelerator mindset is about reducing the cost of getting something out of the door.

[00:05:59] Peter Maddison: Yeah. This is one of the mistakes people make when they go down the "Hey, we're going to buy a tool and it's going to do everything that we need it to do". Those innovators don't need that. The innovators need the ability to experiment. If you try to make something absolutely perfect, you're just going to slow yourself down.

[00:06:14] Dave Sharrock: Different places and different needs for it. If you're trying to introduce a new tool, the innovator and early adopters, that's all about understanding the problem. Trying out the different tools in the market and really understanding, evaluating, which are best suited to a particular organization. What's really interesting is when you start growing, scaling, an organization with those tools, what you often find is they need different tools because there's a different need as you go into that accelerator. We're just working with a client at the moment. It's a small business. It's been scaling, it's going from couple of hundred people up to hundreds and thousands of people.

[00:06:48] And what they're finding is that tooling itself is ideal in a startup environment, because people want to be using tools that nobody's heard of. They want to be using tools which are very specifically support a particular niche that they're working in. But as they scale, what they find is they actually need to bring tools in which people are much more familiar with because they're now recruiting to scale. They're recruiting people who are not interested in the latest and greatest particular tool.

[00:07:13] Peter Maddison: Yeah. " Ooh, look at all these wonderful open source things, that'll do absolutely everything that I need to do". It takes five weeks to glue it all together, to do exactly the thing that I want it to do. How do I get started? Let's just install Jira, and we'll be fine.

[00:07:25] Dave Sharrock: Exactly. Everybody always focuses on the chasm, when you're shifting from an innovative mindset, expectation really is on something novel. You shift that over, you cross the chasm and you're now in early adopter, early majority, lake, majority space. What about the late majority? What do you see happening there? What's the tell tale signs that you're in that space?

[00:07:44] Peter Maddison: A lot of what you start to see then, is the organizational immune system. You start to hit the, " It's all very well, but it won't work here" or " No, thank you. I'm quite happy with all of this tooling that I have". In some cases they may be right. What they have may do it just as, and that becomes a difficult conversation. And then you've got the ones who are going to be far off the end, which just say, " I want nothing to do with this".

[00:08:04] In more general terms, you're going to have a third of people who are easily going to be able to get on board, including the innovators, early majority. They're not going to be difficult. Then you're going to have a middle third, they're going to take quite a bit of effort to get there. And then you're going to have a third that may not come at all. Depending on the nature and the size of the change, even if you're doing this incrementally in the organization, what you'll find is that it will just happen more slowly and a less damaging effect on your organization. That last third will slowly change, either by leaving or replacing themselves.

[00:08:34] Dave Sharrock: What I really appreciated about Simon Sinek's short video is, the recognition that to get those early adopters, those evangelists on board is a completely different strategy. You need a different toolset. So if I think of any sort of organizational transformation, those early days, you don't need a well defined transformation. You need a good objective. But the "how" is part of why people get involved in the early days. They want to have influence, they want to be part of that journey. As you cross that inflection point you don't need to bring them on the journey. You need to give them instructions, a playbook that makes that smooth transition as easy as possible. So what's really interesting, and I've certainly seen that in my career, is getting into the head space where those early days of autonomous, let's all work on it together, and let the new methodology emerge, shifts over to the world of roles and responsibilities and playbook. And then as you get to the late majority and laggard space, that's where you end up in a world where you pretty much end up dictating the process change. Now you're really looking at the last 20%. They're not interested in a discussion and a learning experience. They need to know what's expected of them when they turn up. That's really what they're there for. And they're really going to want to know how risky is it. If I just push back and say, "Sorry, it's just not going to change the way I work", then what's the impact?

[00:09:51] Peter Maddison: I've always seen it as the first 80% you'll get there in the last piece is you need to have somebody sponsoring you. At the end, you need to go up to somebody who's got sufficient influence or power over that last 20% to say, "Look, you're doing it this way. Everybody else is gone. You guys can either come along or where would you like to go instead?"

[00:10:10] Dave Sharrock: And you can do that respectfully. We need to recognize it's a different audience to the audiences and other steps in the journey.

[00:10:17] Anything else, when you think of crossing the chasm and the market adoption curve that jumps out at you, or you think is a great learning for organizations?

[00:10:25] Peter Maddison: As you were saying there, understanding what those different categories are going to want to see. As you move along that you are going to have to change your messaging. Ensure that you have guardrails to make sure really bad things don't happen. Having the right guardrails help guide people. Help them see where they can go, make sure that they can experiment safely and they know that it's okay to do this. Can somebody feel like they can safely do this and that they won't get into trouble for doing so?

[00:10:50] Dave Sharrock: Those guidelines and guardrails, as you cross the chasm, you need different processes and strategies in place to handle it because there's a lot more implicit discipline of the boundaries that you're working with. But as you move and go through that inflection point, you now need to be able to roll it out across different regions, different countries, cultures, and you need a lot more structure. As somebody who's worked in agile coaching for quite a while now, it's something that took me a while to recognize that structure isn't necessarily bad, or reducing in your ability to innovate or do things. It's just a different place within that adoption journey that organizations are going through.

[00:11:27] Peter Maddison: Yes. Exactly. The concept around enabling constraints as well. Making sure that the right type of constraints and guides that you've got. You don't accidentally hamstrings transformation by putting the wrong type of pieces into place.

[00:11:39] Dave Sharrock: Key takeaways, what would you say people need to remember as they step into their next conversation?

[00:11:44] Peter Maddison: The differences between the different stages of adoption. New practices or new things into a number of people. Understanding you're going to need different methods and techniques and different levels of guidance, for different groups of people that you're dealing with, depending where you are in your journey.

[00:11:57] Dave Sharrock: Thank you very much. Until next time, Peter.