The Shit Umbrella

Posted on April 27, 2015.

Image courtesy of

I’m regularly asked how to get organizations to start buying into a leaner more agile way of working. While no one tactic holds the key to success, there is one that seems to slide under the radar more often than not and yet is crucial to the success of organizational transformation. I call it The Shit Umbrella.

As with any corporate initiative, progress won’t get too far without an executive sponsor. This is doubly true for any kind of process or cultural transformation initiative. In this case, the sponsoring executive is the lifeline a fledgling new product development approach has in the C-suite. It is this individual’s job to hold back the flood of corporate crap that would normally inundate and stall out any internal attempts at radical change. It is their job to ensure:

  • the team has the time it needs to see if this new way can work
  • the team has the right people and they stay allocated to this initiative
  • the team has the tools it needs to build continuous feedback loops into their work
  • the team has the access it needs to various internal systems, stakeholders and customers
  • the team’s success is measured in terms of changing customer behavior for the better rather than just shipping a set of pre-determined features
  • the team’s learnings — both on their specific project as well as their process — get heard at the executive level and applied in other situations
  • the team has the ear of executive leadership

All of these things can disappear instantly through the mandate of another executive who feels they are being circumvented or not having their opinion considered. They could vanish in a wave of “budget reallocation” to “more pressing” matters. The team could have its members pulled by discipline leads who don’t see the value in a broader set of responsibilities for their people.

In essence, this person functions as an umbrella — a shit umbrella — shielding pilot teams from this potential river of crap that would, very quickly, suffocate their efforts to try out a new way of working. If you’re attempting to bring change to the way your organization works, seek out that sponsoring executive. Ensure they are on your side as you set out and your path will be a bit smoother for it.