One of my friends – Walt, is the HOA President for a community of about 500 homes. Although it is a safe and beautiful community, they are undergoing a transition – many of the residents are empty-nesters who want to sell their homes, down-size and move to their retirement homes. The community has an awesome school district and would like to attract home-buyers who want to send their children to one of the best schools in the nation. But they had a problem…
Property values were steadily declining and the residents were extremely frustrated. Most of the frustration was taken out on my friend at Board meetings, via e-mails and whenever he tried to enjoy a relaxing walk in the neighborhood with his dogs. He was fed-up, so he asked me to help him.
We started speaking with some realtors who were helping residents sell their homes and asked them what the problem was. They said the biggest reason for a decline in property prices was poor curb appeal. When home-buyers toured the community, they saw homes with terrible curb appeal – overgrown, ugly lawns that hadn’t been mowed for weeks. They begged Walt to make things better as the President of the HOA.
Walt thought about this for a few days and then hired “BB” (B.B. Watts) – the most respected lawn service in the county to transform our community. BB made Walt diagnos the root cause and made Walt an unbelievable proposal. He would give each of the 500 home owners a $500 lawn-mower and a free training class on how to use it to mow their lawns and boost their curb appeal. The cost of all the lawn mowers would be $250,000 and the cost of the training would be $50 per home, adding up to $25,000. The total price for the equipment and training would be $275,000 but BB would give Walt a discount $25,000 discount and make the sale price $250,000.
This seemed reasonable. Walt asked BB how long it would take. BB said he could take about 6 months to transform the community. Walt signed the contract and they launched the project.
After 6 months, we went back to the realtors. We were confident that they would be delighted and property prices would have gone through the roof. NOT. The realtors were frustrated. Nothing had changed. We couldn’t understand what was wrong.
We went for a tour of the community and saw that not much had changed. Many backyards had gleaming new lawn mowers that seem to be untouched. Some residents had sold their lawn-mowers to help with their bills. Most lawns were just as overgrown as they had been before we began.
The community HOA fund was out of $250,000 and nothing had changed. In the next board meeting, Walt was fired from the post of President.
Walt was confused. He stopped by to chat with me. What did he do wrong? What could he have done different?
What would you tell him?
This scenario brought a smile, thanks for that.
Cannot yell at Walt- but why did he give the contract out to buy lawn mowers without discussing or having a buy-in with the homeowners? he could have instead hired people to mow the lawn- at least the curb appeal would have improved. If he wanted homeowners to take charge- he should have the done the work in batches- 10 houses at the time and see people’s commitment towards lawn mowing?
Glad that the post made you smile. I love the thought provoking comments about how Walt might have handled the situation differently. Would love to get your thoughts about the sequel to this blog, which will be published next weekend.
Until then, let me know if you can see any parallels between this story and the way we practice Agility on our teams.
Keep calm and scrum on!
I totally accept with Vinita and first thing that strike my mind is why Walt even do this without having a consensus from any of the owners and neighboring communities? How can he decide without collaborating with the potential home owners? He could even bought the contract to mow the lawn instead asking frustrated owners to do this.
Nice blog Ravi.
Great point Naga.
Walt might have valued individuals and interactions more than processes and tools and spoken to the home-owners more.
If he had bought the contract to mow the lawn, could there be a challenge in terms of long-term ownership of maintaining the yards?
Would love to get your thoughts on the next part of this series and any parallels you might spot between this parable and agile transformations in our industry.
The first thing that strikes me is that all the correct tools and training was put in place to test the hypothesis:
> We think that well manicured lawns will improve curb appeal which will cause an increase in home prices.
However, there is an unspoken observation and an untested hypothesis. They are:
> Observation: people are not mowing their lawns which is reducing curb appeal.
> Hypothesis: We think that people are not mowing their lawns because they lack the tools and training to do so and by giving them both they will start mowing their lawns.
Technically, there is another untested hypothesis which is that increasing curb appeal will increase home prices.
Since the second hypothesis wasn’t tested, they relied on the assumption that homeowners would mow their lawns if given a mower and training.
This reminds me of agile transformations that assume providing Scrum training and tooling will result in teams changing their behavior and producing more value. It too fails to consider a fundamental hypothesis:
> The main impediments to teams practicing Scrum are insufficient training and tooling therefore by providing both they will change their behavior and begin producing more value in their product development.
The overlooked hypothesis could be something like this:
> There are cultural attitudes and dynamics and/or structural elements limiting or discouraging the practice of Scrum; therefore, if we identify and change those attitudes and dynamics and/or update those structural elements, we can encourage the practice of Scrum.
Back to Walt and BB. If they had tested the first hypothesis, they may have found that many of the elderly residents’ health prevented them from mowing their yards. They may have found that there were cultural barriers i.e. yard work was beneath their social status. They may also have found value-based impediments like the promise of increased home value was much less than what the residents could have generated using weekly maintenance time to generate additional income in their professional capacities. Last, they may have found that residents simply did not know or (more importantly) believe that mowing their yards would produce increased home values. Without the shared stake of the believing in and valuing increased home prices, the effort could have been predicted to fail.
It seems the moral of this parable is not to take for granted the shared stake in an agile transformation. Careful attention should be paid to cast the vision of change and confirming the buy-in of those from whom changes will be expected.
Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Jason.
Value and “Agility” might mean different things to different people and it helps reduce risk to make the perceptions and definitions of value explicit and transparent from the perspective of key stakeholders.