Understanding the Organisational Culture : can it handle Open Source

This article is a review and assessment of a 2014 paper by Michael Sahota “An Agile Adoption and Transformation Survival Guide: Working with Organization Culture“. Many thanks to Martin Sumner for pointing out this paper and Schneider’s Cultural Model as introduced in his book from the mid 90’s. This article discusses whether both book and article have relevance to the challenges faced by Red Hat Consulting (and other open source based technology organisations) when introducing changes to working practices as well as the technology.

If there is one thing that Sahota paper highlights is that organisations are not random entities that have simply emerged, but that they are complex. In the same way an technology provider may wish to ignore technical debt (oiltankers) and focus on new projects (speedboats), the argument is that by focusing on changing ways of working for a new project is one way of circumventing this complexity. Sahota is making the case (and agreed much of uses evidence from 2010) that ways of working and culture are two different things. Simply changing the ways-of-working without understanding the dominant culture of an organisation will lead to failure. As Red Hat has seen, unless process and culture is examined and addressed, alongside the introduction of new technology, then an organisation will face significant challenges. To this end, Red Hat Consulting has introduced Open Innovation Labs and the Value From Technology practice as a way ensuring the bigger picture is covered as part of any engagement.

What this paper and related work highlights is that:
* understanding the organisational culture is key (Schneider’s model is the approach discussed)
* you need to fit the right software development / engineering approach to fit this overridding organisational culture
* as well as development approaches, readiness and willingness for open source adoption is also predetermined by the type of organisational culture.

Sahota’s paper has a host of interesting links on other papers on the success and failures around Agile, though he rightly points out this might be reflective of where Agile is on its journey on the hype cycle. Whether in the last 4 years Agile has emerged from the Trough of Disillusionment or not is a good subject for discussion.

Sahota points out that Agile is indeed a culture (it has values and beliefs), as are Kanban, Scrum and XP, though the latter are seen more as processes. Agile needs of certain type of Schneider defined cultural model to exist inorder to be successful. Schneider identified 4 cultural types that would be prevalent in an organisation, none worse of better than the others.


Sahota makes the case that you need to understand the case for cultural compatibility to see if Agile adoption will work and suggests that Kanban and Software Craftmanship (otherwise known as the Land that Scrum forgot) will fit the gaps for organisations that don’t have a Collaboration or Cultivation Culture.

As part of it’s Value From Technology programme, Red Hat Consulting has created a very straightforward assessment tool, Ready to Innovate (RTI) as a means to look at those areas beyond technology. As part of that it looks at Automation, Methodology, Architecture, Strategy and Environment. Agile and the software development approaches would be assessed as part of the discussion around Methodology, and DevOps in Strategy. As you move around the spider chart in a clockwise direction you move away from technology, through process and into culture.

Over the last 18 months, through conversations with customers that the need to understand culture and to ensure that the right approach for new technology adoption is applied has become key. What you see is that as go round the RTI diagram clockwise from the top, is where practical, technology things need to be in place (automation) in order to push changes, whilst the later criteria like environment are essential to pull these changes through. The later criteria are more complex and also organisational wide.

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