Thursday, August 30, 2012

Are best practices "best"?

"Creativity requires letting differences make a difference"
Stanley Deetz

My take: Mr Deetz is profoundly obvious.

But as many have warned, in the zeal to adopt best practices and accepted principles in the pursuit of productivity, efficiency, and global competitiveness, sometimes an over-rigidity sets in, wiping out the differences, thereby reducing creativity to "me too, with immaterial differences"

In the world of Kano Analysis, this is a "decay" from 'ah-hah!' to 'must not be missing'.

Remember when cars didn't have cup holders? Hey, this is important stuff! Once cup holders reach a tipping point, everybody expects cup holders. (I'm frustrated my new car does not turn off the headlights automatically, something my 8-year old Explorer does easily)

So, if it's a best practice to do something in one methodology or culture or situation, is it always a best practice? Well, if it's cup holders, perhaps yes (you can throw in the headlights control also), but if it's project methods and practices, then you've got all the non-linearities of people; cognitive biases of the sponsors; and the complexities of new and untested situations. "Best" does not always port well

In fact, "best" may be poor and there may well be something more appropriate. The issue for the PM is having the flexibility and the authority to invent. Principles of subsidiarity, in other words, should apply. "Do only that which you alone must do" is the watch word. Let others discriminate and find the differences that make a difference.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Program success probability

Glen Alleman had a recent posting that linked to John Higbee's presentation about "Program Success Probability".

On page 5 of Higbee's slides, you'll find this image:

I find this cognitively satisfying: all is in order as my German friends would say. It's a risk register of sorts. On the right are all the external factors/metrics that have material impact; on the left side are the internal risks and issues.

This presentation is intended as a dashboard. The colors are dynamic on a Red-Green-Yellow-Gray (not evaluated) scale. The scale has to be defined (calibrated) for each program in order for management to be able to get a proper take-away.

Trends are shown in each block with arrows. Again, trends must be defined for each program, i.e. what is the meaning for an up-pointing arrow?

Of course, Higbee goes on in the presentation with more detail and more examples of dashboard presentations, for example the more-or-less standard presentation of sliding bars to show progress vs plan

Since this presentation is for a government audience, it includes dashboards for contractor performance and even contractor business success (P/E ratios, for goodness sake... does the market really affect contractor performance?  If the P/E is in the tank, there are probably other more pressing problems)

Bottom line: an interesting suggestion for dashboards are in this presentation, along with at least one gov'y's idea of what's important.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Modular contracting

From the White House in Washington we get this news:
There is to be "Greater Accountability and Faster Delivery Through Modular Contracting"

And good news that is, indeed. In a document helpfully titled: "Contracting Guidance to Support Modular Development" we learn that it is US policy to encourage:
agencies to shift away from the bloated, multi-year projects so common in the past to a more nimble approach. The guidance provides our IT, acquisition, finance, and program officials practices for how they can, working together as part of an integrated program management team, break investments into more manageable chunks; eliminate the costly lag between when the government defines its requirements and delivers solutions; and begin delivering workable solutions shortly after contract award. By requiring frequent deliverables, agencies will also be better able to hold contractors accountable for keeping projects on track and delivering solutions that truly meet agency needs. And by breaking investments into smaller chunks, agencies may be able to drive more competition – including small businesses that might not have been equipped to compete for the massive, multi-year projects of the past. And more competition means a better value for the American people

Agile government projects, anyone? :)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Unfunded mandates

Unfunded mandates (off-baseline requirements without money attached) are no fun to deal with, but they may come at you at any time.

In project vernacular, call them changes (usually from "the high command") approved by "them", sometimes using the change management process (hopefully, there is a CMP at work for you) and sometimes not.

In the event, you can object (and often we do), but usually to no avail ("We have to do this, so find a way").

Was this on the risk register? Likely not; but there you have it, so what's to do?

A handful of strategies:
  • Tax everybody: (In the USA, we call this the 'tea party' approach) Every work package is levied with a small tax to create a reserve to cover the mandate. Usually, this is taxation without representation. Caution: as in Boston in 1773, this approach may engender resistance. WP managers cover the tax by doing the same with less, pushing for economies and gifts of 'free time'.
  • Tap into the the project budget reserves (budget slack). This strategic reserve is supposed to be for the crisis that can't be otherwise resolved. Often, the mandate meets this requirement.
  • Be a rebel: exceed the budget and ask for forgiveness after the fact. This is the "they wanted it, so they got it" approach, but sometimes it  works.
  • "Hope is a plan" (and prayer may work also). Just push ahead and hope for a compensating gift from some activity.
Was this helpful?
I've tried them all.
Frankly, the 'tea party' approach has worked best for me (followed by "be a rebel").

W.D. Cooper. "Boston Tea Party.", The History of North America. London: E. Newberry, 1789.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The business made me do it!

Is this the ultimate angst of micromanagement?
First, you push on your territories [work packages] where you have no business to be, and where you had promised not to go; secondly, your intrusion provokes resentment, and resentment means resistance.

Thirdly, you instantly cry out that the people [teams] are rebellious ...

Fourthly, you send out a force [PMO helpers] to stamp out rebellion; and fifthly, having ... spread confusion... you declare .... that [business] reasons forced you to stay....
Viscount John Morley
State Secretary for India
1905 - 1910

Of course, Morley said it slightly differently; he actually didn't mention work packages and PMOs (Shocking!) You can find Morley's more complete quote on the first page of David Ignatius' spellbinder "Bloodmoney"

Jeff Foxworthy probably has never said "you know you're a micromanager when...", but if he had, he might have said: you know you're a micromanager when you say:

a. I'm not a micromanager; I let my people make the decisions
b. I'm not micormanaging; I'm mentoring the team
c. Some people simply can't accept input
d. I can't let this happen on my watch, so I have to be involved.

The Viscount couldn't have said it any better than Foxworthy!

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Agile and the DoD (again)

David F. Rico has a presentation about Agile in the DoD. He presents a compelling case for agile in large scale systems and in enterprises steeped in traditional methods, and those highly regulated for quality and compliance to standards.

There is both a video of his presentation, and a slide set. You can get all the details for accessing the video at Herding Cats. Once you're into the video, you can click on the right-side panel for another window to open with just the slide set.

If you're interested in other perspectives, search for 'agile' in the online journal for DoD software engineering "Crosstalk"; there are dozens of good articles there on DoD projects and process.

Another summary of things going on is given to us by Jeff Sutherland on his "DoD goes Agile" posting. He (Jeff) quotes from the 2010 Defense budget authorization bill:
The key language is this:
(2) be designed to include—
(A) early and continual involvement of the user;
(B) multiple, rapidly executed increments or releases of capability;
(C) early, successive prototyping to support an evolutionary approach; and
(D) a modular, open-systems approach.
Basically, for the DoD at least, Agile became the law. Here's the report the DoD returned to congress

Or, for my perspective, you can read here or below:

Agile and the DoD
View more documents from John Goodpasture

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Three strategies for strategic actions

In a recent issue of Strategies+Business, authors Tim Laseter and Saras Sarasvathy tell us about three different approaches to strategic actions. After reading through it, I understand their three points, but I think their first one is academic filler... but you judge for yourself:

Approach 1: Planning and Positioning. Characterized by knowledge of the probabilities and impacts of risk events. Decisions to maximize strategic value are made on the basis of expected value. Typical tool is the classic decision tree

Approach 2: Organizational Learning: Probabilities (and therefore probability distributions) are unknown, so risks are now "uncertainties". Events, conditions, and perhaps impacts can be estimated, but not their frequency. This has been termed Knightsian Uncertainty, named for its conceptualizer, Frank Knight who wrote it all down in in book: "Risk, Uncertainty, and Profit".

One really important idea here is that the first step in assessing uncertainty is to estimate whether the downside is affordable. If not, then that's to be taken care of first. Then, choices can be made about the strategic upside of opportunity. Expected value usually doesn't enter the picture since there's no knowledge of probability.

Approach 2 has buried in it our natural avoidance of ambiguity. When the stakes are small, we may choose strategies that are vague but probably doable. But as stakes change, so do attitudes.. bigger stakes, more conservative, eschewing ambiguity for more clarity; in effect, a violation of utility. An understanding of this is generally credited to Daniel Ellsberg, and called the Ellsberg Paradox.

Approach 3: Constructive Transformation. In this strategic formulation, you more or less take what live gives you and then make something out of it. In other words, you don't lead with vision; rather, you lead with process (and tools, and talented people). So, this is something like what Lou Gerstner said when he took over IBM. In effect, when asked about his vision for IBM, he said he didn't need one. What he needed to do was to get the machinery of IBM working again. This, of course, he did, and he did it quite well.

Constructive Transformation is something akin to abductive reasoning: that is, you hypothesize what might be possible that could link many disparate events, objects, or conditions.

So, what do you think? For my money, approach 2 or 3 are close to the way it really works. Approach 1 is theoretically correct, but generally impractical because the information simply isn't available to drive the decision tree.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Wise delinquency

Could this be true? (If so, it could put a lot of consultants out of business)
... when decision makers use informal deliberative techniques rather than textbook formal decision methods, they are usually doing so quite appropriately, since deliberation better fits their decision challenges than those formal methods.

This is the editor's lead-in to "The Wise Delinquency of Decision Makers", an article by Tim Van Gelder in Quadrant, March 2010 No 464 (Volume LIV, Number 3), p.40-43

I was put onto this by an interesting post on IBIS, a structured decision and argument tool, by EightToLate

So, what does brother van Gelder tell us? After interviewing a number of military officers (and others), all trained in depth in decision methodology, he concluded that few ever used their training explicitly for decision making. (We have to be careful here since we know from proven research that intuition is a learned response from real experience; thus, we can't dismiss their training out of hand. See: Gladwell, or Kahneman, among others)

He gives us this anecdote:
Some years ago I (Percy Diaconis) was trying to decide whether or not to move to Harvard from Stanford. I had bored my friends silly with endless discussion. Finally, one of them said, "You're one of our leading decision theorists. Maybe you should make a list of the costs and benefits and try to roughly calculate your expected utility." Without thinking, I blurted
out, "Come on, Sandy, this is serious."

Oh well!

van Gelder gives four reasons for such delinquency:
  • "First, there are the intrinsic biases and limitations built into each of our minds by virtue of the fact that our thinking equipment is the result of a long, haphazard and incomplete evolutionary process.
  • Second, there are the ill effects of the passions—temper, envy, pride, fear. Emotions are an unavoidable and often helpful aspect of human decision-making, but they can also be the enemy of wisdom.
  • Third, there are problems which arise due to the fact that important deliberative decisions are often made not by individuals but by small groups such as boards or committees.
  • Finally, compounding the above is the untutored manner in which people engage in deliberation. The regrettable fact is that few people have ever had any training in the art of deliberative decision-making."
Good grief! It's a wonder that anything gets decided on its merits!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

More about adoption

There's no time like the present: Let's start now to figure out how project value is going to morph into business value. Hopefully, your question is not "what is business value?". That question should have been answered in the business case. So, I'll presume it was, and move on.

Adoption may be slow. Do you recall Kurt Lewin's model for change ? (it was postulated in the 1940's. And, if your recognize the name, he's the guy also credited with Force Field Analysis). The model is actually pretty simple (three steps), but it gets at the "slow adoption" thing:
  • Unfreeze, meaning overcome inertia, get everyone on the same page, and create the urgency or passion for the change
  • Make the change, meaning roll it out and then work on the kinks
  • Re-freeze, meaning institutionalize the change so that it sticks
Well, of course, if there's one rollout, and one adopter community with one set of attitudes, then Lewin's process fits. Modern business is more complex (it probably was in the '40s also, but models need to be simple to get traction) so this three stepper may not fit today's business dynamic exactly as posed, but it's got the seeds of the right things to do.

Let's start with unfreezing. Assume there's an effective "change is coming" communication campaign, and assume there are some incentives for managers to get on board. What about those that are volunteers, like customer and users?

Let's start with Early Adopters

There are, of course, those who will eagerly grab new capabilities, especially technology capabilities rich in software features and functions, and especially those that are user-configurable. So, let's make it easy for them.
  • We need easy access to the change (product, process, or whatever) 
  • We need good personal support in the beginning that can morph to more institutional support later
  • We need the supply chain on board;
  • We may need other third party partners on board.
  • We've got to decide how private and proprietary this change is going to be, or how much of the intellectual property is going to be made available to others.
  • We need a process for absorbing what the EA's tell us so that for those adopters that come later they will be more satisfied.

But early adopters are only one of five personalities in the body of knowledge known as diffusion of innovations. Because of the natural reluctance to change, embracing new capabilities may not be automatic. To encourage adoption, competing or legacy capabilities should be withdrawn as soon as practical.

The five are:

1. Innovators: Those who are anxious to work with the product in a preproduction or beta status and take risks with immature product; usually very personable and networked individuals, well connected with technology, and able to handle a high degree of uncertainty;

2. Early adopters: Those with opinion leadership eager to put product through its paces and be first on the block to have the advantage of a new capability;

3. Early majority: Those willing to adopt after visible proof that the bugs have been worked out and operational effectiveness has been proven;

4. Later majority: The reluctant but willing, not too comfortable giving up what they know best; and

5. Laggards: Those that might never adopt and so drop out of the pool of users.

Innovators often make their own decisions to engage using new ideas; they are often in at the beginning and may be drivers behind the original vision. Early adopters may wait for official sanction before taking up a new product; later adopters may be forced by decision makers to get involved. Regardless, Everett Rogers, one of the early academics in the theory of diffusing innovation, posits that everyone passes through a five-stage decision-making process, albeit on difference timelines.

Roger’s paradigm is:
1. Seek knowledge: Seek basic information to become familiar and acquainted with a new idea, product, or service;

2. Accept persuasion: Evaluate benefits in context of personal use and application;

3. Decide: Decide to adopt or reject;
4. Implement: Begin to apply the product or service to the everyday routine; and

5. Confirm: Accept the product as a fully qualified alternative to the prior capability.
When you think about it, Roger's paradigm simply added a bit to Lewin's three stepper, but they largely are in agreement.
And, one other thing from my experience:
  • Remove the legacy (you can't hang onto what you don't actually have)
  • Deploy 'ambassadors' to every functional unit who are expert. Their job is to nip any whining in the bud 


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Picking a pilot project

In every class I teach, pilot projects come up for discussion, to which I respond: pilots are good. It's a learning experience, and it's a way to work out the message when you take it mainstream.

What makes a good pilot? Mike Cohn has a posting on this, and as an extra added feature, he has drawn a swell zen diagram to put it all at a moment's glance.

Mike's advice:
  • Pick a project that is mid-size for your enterprise re duration and budget
  • Be sure to pick a project that has some stakeholder support
  • Pick a project that is obviously important--but not too important

So, don't do these things
  • Don't wade into a "wicked" social policy problem and offer a quick fix on a small piece of the puzzle
  • Don't pick a project that is too fuzzy on 'done', competing too much with on-going operations, and thereby muddying the metrics
  • Don't pick a project that is "bet the business" for either a stakeholder or the enterprise. If you're going to gore someone's ox, pick a small ox.
In other words:
  • Pick something you can actually get done
  • Pick something that you can actually measure the difference with some benchmarks of other methods
  • Pick something that functional managers are like to cooperate with (not too many functional nemisis while you work out the method kinks)
  • Pick something that will exercise the methodology you want to adopt. No point in piloting only one or two points of a new method
Got it?!

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Friday, August 10, 2012

No more self-organizing teams

I like headlines that have a simple message

This one--No more self-organizing teams--caught my eye for three reasons:
Now, to be fair, Mike Cohn has an excellent counter-point blog, except he more or less supports the thesis we present here when he (Mike) quotes Philip Anderson who writes in "Biology of Business"

Self-organization does not mean that workers instead of managers engineer an organization design. It does not mean letting people do whatever they want to do. It means that management commits to guiding the evolution of behaviors that emerge from the interaction of independent agents instead of specifying in advance what effective behavior is. (1999, 120)

But, back to the headline: What did Mr. Highsmith tell us? (Of course, he said more than these bullets, but these are the highlights)
  • There is just too much experience and management literature that shows that good leaders make a big difference
  • There is a contingent within the agile community that is fundamentally anarchist at heart and it has latched onto the term self-organizing because it sounds better than anarchy. However, putting a duck suit on a chicken doesn’t make a chicken a duck.
  • Delegating decisions in an organization isn’t a simple task; it requires tremendous thought and some experimentation
  • Leading is hard. If it was easy, every company would be “great,” to use Jim Collins’ term (Good to Great ).

What did he not tell us?
  • Dominance is a human trait not easily set aside; thus the natural leaders will come to the fore and the natural followers will fall-in thankfully. There's no need and no practical way to rotate the leadership once dominance is established
  • Like it or not, positional authority counts for something in all but the smallest enterprises. Thus, senior managers are senior for a reason. It's hard to establish credibility with the stakeholdes that hold the key to resources if the team is being led from the bottom of the pecking order.
  • Self-organization may deny biases and bully the nemisis off the team. Group think, anyone?
  • Delegation is a tricky matter: do only those things that only you can do
And the answer is: according to Highsmith, something called "light touch", but in reality it means leading and managing from a position of trusting the team, but mentoring the "self-organization" towards a better day.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Agile and DCF

In my musings about agile, one advantage is that benefits come quicker, and therefore are less susceptible to the risks of future uncertainties, since the future is more uncertain than is the near term.

If benefits are monetized by cash flow, then finance guys have a term for cash benefits subject to the risk of time: discounted cash flow, DCF.

So what is DCF and how does it work? (You can find more about this in my posting at PMHut) In a few words, the idea of a 'discount' is to value less a benefit in the future when compared to a like benefit in the present -- the financial equivalent to a bird in hand vs a bird in the bush.

The future is where uncertainties lurk. The so-called 'cone of uncertainty'.  It's just not a deflated dollar; it's also market uncertainties, the varagies of customer delight, and competitive effects.

What's the Agile connection to DCF? Answer: incremental deliveries, each with some value to the customer or the business, and each delivered a little bit earlier than waiting til the end. Thus, more timely means less risky; thus, less discount.

I covered this in detail here:


Monday, August 6, 2012

Nothing good happens at a milestone

Nothing really good happens at a milestone (read: also, gate). It's that simple (is there any need to read on?)
Why so? Because too many things have to come together to have success. At a milestone (gate), seemingly independent activities have their fate joined. At the milestone, everyone is in, or else everyone is stymied.
In fact, I challenge my risk mangagement students (PMI's eSeminarWorld Advanced Risk Management) with this question: "Has anyone ever successfully achieved a milestone with either everyone ready to participate, or no deficiencies deferred forward?". After hundreds of responses, I've had one student answer affirmatively.
Here's one rule of thumb:
Joining together at a common event, like a milestone, is hazardous because of the concept of ‘merge bias’. Merge bias simply means there is a strong tendency to slip to the right at a milestone, thereby stretching the schedule.
  • In other words, when you look at a schedule and you see a milestone, think immediately that there is a risk to shift right—that is, milestones are hazards to on-time performance.
  • They are the first weakness to look at when assessing the schedule for risk
As long as were're doing rules of thumb, here's another:
It’s common sense that the more independent an activity is, the more freedom of action there is. After all, there is minimum need to coordinate outcomes and processes if no one else is depending on your production. So, by corollary, dependencies (like those imposed at milestones) limit choices, and place constraints where there would not otherwise be inhibitions.
Dependencies increase the effort that must go into coordination—team of teams, staff meetings, and the like—and this effort must come from some budget, so that means other budgets are reduced as dependencies go up.
And, don't forget distractions: potentially the distraction of more coordination could impact other value-add work.

Lies, damn lies, and statistics:
It’s no accident that milestones tend to shift to the right on the schedule. There is actually a mathematical explanation for this phenomenon that arises from the statistical behavior of risky activities.
In statistics, the explanation comes from behavior of intersections and unions of events. A union is an ‘or’ case; an intersection is an ‘and’ case. A milestone is an intersection of two or more joining tasks.
Statistics defines the intersection of independent events by the product of their probabilities.
Independence is a big deal to statisticians; less so to project managers: T
For the statistician, there is no general formulation for the statistics of an intersection if the events are not independent. If they are not, then the only practical way to determine the performance of the intersection—in our case, the milestone—is to simulate the project by running many trials.

For the project manager, Simulation is no big deal. There are add-ins for simulation in all the popular scheduling and budgeting tools.
And, if there is not independence, at least for PMs, the "product of probabilities" thing is often "good enough". What it really means is that we should not be trapped by the cognitive bias of overestimating success at the milestone: it's always going to be worse than expected.

So, what's a PM to do? First to mission: Defeat all unfavorable forecasts! DDo not sit back and accept the inevitability of shifting right.
  • You can reorganize the schedule logic
  • You can put in buffers
  • You can retool, retrain, re-resource to change the odds
  • You can have a process for carrying deficiencies forward without impairing tthe critical path
In short, you can act!










Take a look at this slideshare presentation for more information



Ideas for Managing at the Milestone


View more presentations from John Goodpasture.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

C-R-A-C-K (as in Agile customer)

What's a CRACK Agile customer you might ask?

Dr. Barry Boehm, a noted software methodologist with a long and illustrative career at TRW, DARPA, and USC, and author of the COCOMO model and Sprial methodology, writes about the ideal customer for agile projects. They are:

  • Collaborative: they will engage with their customer peers and with the development team
  • Representative: they know the product or system requirements and can represent their constituents accurately
  • Authorized: they can make the decisions needed to keep velocity up, and their decisions stick!
  • Committed: they take their job seriously and make every effort to advance project success
  • Knowledgeable: they can understand what the developers are telling them in the context of the business or market situation
Good grief! Why keep this in the agile space? Doesn't eveyone want a CRACK customer? How could it be otherwise?

If you're curious about the agile/traditional thing, and agile stuff in general, take a look at other Boehm'isms on agile in his book, with Richard Turner, "Balancing Agility and Discipline: a guide for the perplexed", published by Addison-Wesley in 2004. It's got some really good things to offer.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Abduction, anyone?

If you're not a regular reader of BusinessWeek you may have missed the January 14th (2010) missive in their regular Innovations column. Here we have one that is close to the heart of many project managers:
the accidental nemesis to a really new-to-the-world idea, or as the authors put it: the 'accidental enemy'

In their column, entitled "Innovation's Accidental Enemies", authors Roger L. Martin and Jennifer Riel , academics at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto , posit that too many executives manage when they should lead: to wit, they rely too often on inductive and deductive reasoning.  They fail to embrace abductive reasoning when confronted with a never-done-before idea for project excecution.  In doing so, they become the accidental enemy of a radically new idea.

What, say you, is abductive reasoning?  It's the third leg of inductive, deductive, and abductive reasoning.  One only needs to search a bit in Wikipedia to get the ideas.

Inductive and deductive reasoning are the two we're most familiar with; they align rules and data--either the rules beget the data, or the data begs the rules. These situations are a traditional manager's view of putting the enterprise's rules with the situational facts.  Nothing wrong with that---some of my best friends are inductive or deductive reasoners--but even though one or the other works well in many situations, they don't always work when innovation is the order of the day.

  • Innovative ideas many times do not comport with established rules.  That lets out deductive reasoning. 
  • Innovative concepts are often free of facts, and seemingly lack cohesion and coherence among the available data.  That lets out inductive reasoning.

So, what do you do when faced with seeming unrelated facts or ideas that don't appear to connect? Abduction reasoning may be an approach.  To reason abductively is to postulate or hypothesize a situation that might be rational or consistent for what is known, but it may require a few leaps over the missing. Thus, it may be necessary to fill in the plot holes, as it were.

Haven't we heard endlessly about connecting the dots?  Well, having a skill, and a tolerance, for the emergence of a new idea by abductive reasoning is key to having visionary foresight. In an article in Strategy+Business, authors Tim Laseter and Saras Sarasvathy call making something out of seemingly nothing (or a lot of somethings that don't seem to relate) "constructive transformation". (I've not heard that one before, but I'm always open to a new idea). According to their idea, constructive transformers:
"... use the vagaries of fate to help them proactively shape their environment."

The genius of innovators is not to let their management impulses overwhelm their instincts to inspire, motivate, and empower.

Marc Andreessen--innovator and venture capitalist extraordinaire--said something similar in a recent interview: the mission of technology companies is to innovate, in effect: to continuously renew, even if it means to renew with legacy destruction.

Recall this witicism from RAdmiral Grace Hopper [esteemed software leader who, among other things, invented the 'bug']:
"Things are managed; people are led"