To All You Unsung Heroes

The coming week, Gothenburg hosts the Internal Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE 2018) where close to 2000 people come together. That same week also the Lindholmen Software Development Day is organized that brings together around 700 people interested in software, data, digitalization, artificial intelligence and related topics. At these events, there is of course a host of presentations by high-profile people in the various communities and many are in awe of the successful and respected “special snowflakes” that will be present at these events. We all like to be inspired by the ideas, viewpoints and success stories from other companies and industries.

The last weeks, I spent time at several of the companies that I work with and the pattern that I noticed is that, despite the pervasive frustration about the speed at which the changes that we’re looking for are realized, there is progress in all these companies. This progress often comes hard-won and while facing all kinds of incredible resistance from all parts of the company. But still the teams I work with are slowly, steadily and stubbornly “pushing the boulder up the hill”, accepting that it sometimes rolls back a bit (or a lot) and never losing faith that the top will be reached from where the change will become easy because the entire organization has bought in and now starts to act in accordance to the, now obvious, ideas and concepts.

During the workshops, I was reminded of a quote attributed to Thomas Edison that innovation (and changing processes, ways of working, architectures and tooling is innovation too) is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. It’s not about having ideas; it’s about making ideas reality. That’s where the real progress to your team, your company and your community is realized.

So, this article is for all those people in organizations around the world that take on these challenging change initiatives against all odds. Who experience the scorn of their peers, receive negative feedback from their managers, advice from their friends to stop fighting. Who have been side-tracked, passed over for promotion or even fired because they kept driving the change that they wholeheartedly believed in. Not to gain the recognition of their peers, not to become rich in the process, but for themselves. Because when you believe you’re doing something that is right, doing it even when it’s hard, is what you need to do in order to be able to look yourself in the mirror and know that you did what you believed in. Something that gives purpose.

Real, tangible progress is not created at conferences, during presentations or in workshops run by consultants or academics. The real progress that matters is created by people who day in, day out keep straining against the harness provided by the process, incentives and cultures of companies. Those who manage to deliver on today’s needs while securing a future for the company, often against the will of those in company only looking at today’s needs. It is all those individuals and teams who are the real, but unsung, heroes. Keep fighting! I am rooting for you!