Are You Pickled?

In Jerry Weinberg’s Secrets of Consulting, he talks about becoming “pickled.” When you’re a consultant, the value you bring is that you are outside the environment. You have an external perspective. If you stay with just one client long enough, it’s as if you are a cucumber in a barrel of pickles. You can’t help but become pickled.

I know of consultants like that. In the agile community, they might be Scrum advocates. Or, they are kanban advocates. It doesn’t matter what you say to them, they cannot change their minds. They are pickled in either Scrum or kanban. (I like both the iterations of Scrum for cadence and the ability to visualize work in progress for kanban. I’m an “and” person, not an “or” person.)

I met a number of romance writers at a local writer’s conference last week. Some of them were looking forward to meeting agents. Why use an agent? “To help negotiate a better contract.”

There are so many problems with that answer I could barely see straight. Agents aren’t lawyers. They take some percentage for the lifetime of the contract. And, from what I’ve heard, they don’t negotiate so well.

There are some publishing houses that only take agented submissions. Okay. What’s the value of going with those publishers? “They’ll do the marketing for me.”

No, they won’t. They’ll expect you to do your own marketing.

I bet consultants and writers aren’t the only people who get pickled. We become pickled when our mental models do not allow us to see alternatives.

Here are some questions that might help you think about your pickle-ness:

  • Am I doing this thing because I have always done it this way? (Am I managing a project, writing code, cleaning the house, whatever, because I have always done it this way?
  • Can I think of three other ways to get what I want? (It’s that Rule of Three again. Can I imagine three different alternatives to managing the project, to writing this code, to cleaning the house?)
  • Do I think something will “just” work because it works in one context? (I see this in “scaling” frameworks: if it works for one team, I can just scale it to many teams.” No. That’s when you get bloat.)

Here are some tips to know if you are in danger of being pickled:

  • It doesn’t occur to you to question how or why you take a specific action.
  • You haven’t been specific with yourself about what you want.
  • You hear yourself saying, “just.”

I bet there are more signs that we pickle ourselves.

I see these things—and do them myself—unless I catch myself. Pickling is more our default than not.

We can be more adaptable. We can decide what we want. We can choose from multiple possibilities. We don’t have to lull ourselves with words such as “just.”

For me, it’s about being specific with my wants, needs, and desires. What do I specifically want? What do I specifically need? What specifically do I want as an outcome?

Dear adaptable readers, that is the question this week: Are you pickled?

8 thoughts on “Are You Pickled?

  1. Rebecca Wirfs-Brock

    Lately I’ve added the distinction to my agile architecture workshop between small team architecture practices and larger project and program practices. I’ve tried to make clear that sometimes small team practices *are* appropriate inside a larger group context, but they may not be. But I don’t try to paint one set of practices as only working in a smaller team context and the other set as only being appropriate for larger teams and programs—only that I have observed these practices in these contexts.

    I try to get attendees of my workshop to look at practices in a new way and see how they align with their needs, context and values.

    I really don’t like practices to become institutionalized or pickled. (And don’t try to pickle what I am or can do either, either :-)

    I find it hard work to explicitly identify what your values are and then question what practice or habit or action you are doing to see whether it supports those values. But well worth the effort.

    1. johanna Post author

      Rebecca, I love that distinction (small-group vs. larger program/project practices).

      I think you’ve identified a key piece here: your values. Are you working (whatever it is) to support those values? Excellent food for thought. (As always, with you!)

  2. Yves Hanoulle

    When I do workshops in a another country, I always ask the local organizers to find me a co-trainer. One of the many reasons I do this, is to have to stay on my toes and to have to adapt and learn from my pair.

    Every time I have done such a pair-training, I have learned something.
    Sometimes it’s about the subject, like when doing a personal agility training with Jim Benson. The training itself I co-created with Gerry Kirk from who I learned a lot about training from the back of the room techniques. At another occasion of a training, I had to deal with a trainer who felt insecure and was ready to quit. Dealing with it while making sure the clients still received the promissed training for sure kept me on my toes.

    Do you think it helps me to avoid being pickled with this workshop or do you think there still is a risk from being pickled?

    1. johanna Post author

      Yves, in many ways you are braver than I am. I prefer to co-teach with people I already know and have time to work out our signals with each other. I can see how you would learn from all pairings.

      When we do things the same way all the time, we run the risk of being pickled. Maybe the next question is this: Is this still working for you? Are you still learning? Are you providing even more value to your clients?

      I know some people who are still teaching the way they used to in the ’80s. I know of many more who started businesses in the 90s who could not make their businesses work. They did not evolve enough. I know, and I bet you do too, of many agile “coaches” who knew One and Only One Way to do agile. Many of those people are no longer in business for themselves.

      I know that for me, I am pickled when I am no longer learning. I’m not sure what your signs are.

  3. Yves Hanoulle

    > have time to work out our signals with each other.
    that is indeed the most important part.
    F ex with Jim, our biggest preparation was talk a whole evening over dinner to increase the trust so that we knew we would call each other out when we would talk too long etc…

    >Is this still working for you?
    It feels like it .

    >Are you still learning?
    yes.

    >Are you providing even more value to your clients?
    That is a great question.
    More value then before when?

    > I know that for me, I am pickled when I am no longer learning. I’m not sure what >your signs are.
    My sign is when I’m bored.

    1. johanna Post author

      Yves, re the value question to your clients, let me rephrase: Do you continue to add to the value you provide to your clients over time?

      For example, I used to just teach how to use iterations and limit scope by making stories small. Many of them had started with burndown charts so I added the notion of why burnup charts were better, and in which circumstances. I then realized that my clients could not see their bottlenecks. Enter kanban! I now call my workshop “Agile and Lean” because it’s not just agile anymore. As I evolve the workshop, I provide more value.

      1. Yves Hanoulle

        ah that question I can say yes to.

        A) the personal agile training, used to be called GTD, we changed it to include personal kanban into it (while keeping Eisenhower quadrant, pomodoro and GTD stuff)

        B) in my work with clients I used to be what is now called scrummaster, then I move on to help scrummaster, product owners and now I’m working also with coaches and C level people.

        C I believe there two ways to help with people: either you help them too much and in that sense you make them depended on you.
        It’s also possible to help them to little. (I don’t believe the middle ground is reachable, people are always too much on one side or the other…)

        I usually err on the side of too little support to my children, people, teams, companies. I expect that they have to ask for my help when needed.
        When I get limited requests for help I leave these client (while offering them free life time support.)
        I think I even leave before most clients are ready to stand on their own, yet if I would stay, they would become too dependent on me, so I leave. That’s how I think I keep adding value to the clients even by leaving….

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