This is my second 10 Minute Training session in a series. In this episode I dive into how to identify what documentation we should keep and how we might be able to determine what documentation we may be able to get rid of. Hope you enjoy and would love your feedback or questions.
Starting something new, something a little more dynamic than just a written blog. Take a few minutes, watch my very first 10 Minute Training segment on which ingredients are required for in order to have a GREAT Agile product owner.
(Hint: You might want to maximize the screen in order to see the elements of the slides I display.)
The Agile Carolinas Leadership Team is putting together a local conference to present and discuss all things Agile. Because I now live in Charlotte, you know that I will be there. Not only I will be attending, but I will also be presenting a discussion in the “Learning Agile” track of presentations. I know that most of you that may stumble upon this blog don’t live in the area, but in case that you do, please register and plan on being there, it is going to immensely valuable for the attendees.
Here are some of the details:
Website (and Registration): http://www.southernfriedagile.com
When: Friday, July 23, 2010. 8:30a – 4:30p
Where: The Crowne Plaza Charlotte Hotel. 201 S. McDowell Street, Charlotte, NC 280204
How Much: $49 (super cheap!!)
Twitter Hashtag: #sfa2010
Want more information: Go to the website for a list of sponsors, speakers, and the sessions currently scheduled.
See you there!!
As I travel from city to city working with various teams from a wide range of industries, I have noticed some commonalities in the dynamics present in these teams. Some of these teams represent those that I feel a deep sense of compassion for…ones that are lacking inspired direction, lacking enthusiasm, lacking a sincere desire to produce a product above and beyond the gathered specs, teams drowning amidst a sea of corporate culture that does not seek to produce the best product, but rather satisfy the demands of its own structure. Then there are those teams that seem to possess a magical quality where they can accomplish anything, overcome any obstacle, and are adept at creating the right amount and type of team culture that supports their objectives.
Seeing this huge gap between team types begs the obvious question, what is the difference between the teams? Is it company size? No. Is it the industry? Nope, seen great teams in every industry including DoD, government, tech, and finance. Is it the goodies provided for free in the kitchen? Maybe, but I don’t think so.
So what is the secret sauce of these hyper-productive teams?
As you might guess, it is not any one thing, but a combination of many different factors that all support the single-headed direction to support the creation and continued operation of a highly productive team. So what are the ingredients? Here is my unscientific, and definitely un-exhaustive list:
- Great people.
We cannot pretend that only process matters. Spend any amount of time digging into great teams and you are likely to find a fair number of great people, people that would be great on any team. Get enough of them together and you have a good shot at a great team.
- Organizational culture supportive of making mistakes in pursuit of greater return results.
Teams that are comfortable at making mistakes often find that they also produce extraordinary results. True success is often comprised of multiple failed efforts that did not sink the team, but rather allowed the team to learn things they could not have learned otherwise. Working within a corporate culture that recognizes this is a key component to super teams.
- True team based delivery culture (which means this is also taken into account during things like individual’s annual reviews.)
Teams that recognize that we are not simply individuals working in close proximity, but a team where we must all be engaged with one another’s work. I tell teams looking to achieve amazing results that each member of the team must care as much about their neighbor’s work as they do their own.
- Team members that share a sense of purpose, vision, and passion for their work.
If team members believe that they are contributing to something greater than their individual part, then they will care at a much greater level than their individual contribution. Work to ensure that a team can share this vision and goals begin to shape themselves. Better yet, teams begin to manage their own incremental improvement, otherwise know as the team holy grail.
- A company that cares as much (if not more) about their employees as they do about their customers.
At the base of it all, we must feel appreciated at our place of work, or we may not be able to cobble together the above components. Companies that treat their employees as commodities will likely only experience amazing, hyper-productive teams sporadically, rather than as a expected result of a team-based product development environment.
[Let me state clearly, this list could likely be much, much longer, so please feel free to add to it in the comments. Whole books can, and have, been written on the subject.]
A the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states “any system development activity inevitably changes the environment out of which the need for the system arose” so true is it that any team activity will likely change the culture out of which it was born. Corporate culture, although seemingly unchangeable when our teams operate seemingly at its mercy, is always in flux, as this cultural effect evolved not from proclaimed edict, but the work done by teams and the resulting response from the company in which they operate. Changing this culture to enable and encourage hyper-productive teams is a joint effort from the great team that seeks to produce extraordinary results and the company that chooses to support the behavior that these teams exhibit. Although it sounds like an easy choice for companies to make, you would be surprised just how often I encounter organizations that seem to want to thwart these great teams.
Have you had the pleasure of working on a team that was hyper-productive? One that truly exemplified the notion that the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts? What was the secret that you found to be the linchpin to success? Did you notice that happy teams produce better results? Did you notice that teams that have fun together are able to more easily maneuver around obstacles that might otherwise sink an average team? I hope so, because it is these experiences that will continue to push me to better define what those magical, secret ingredients are for those teams that define what it truly means to get work done. And as my friend Rod Behbood says, “Do Work Son.”
Happy Easter everyone!
Over the past several years I have racked up more than just a few frequent flyer miles. If my math is correct, I think it is the equivalent of flying from the earth to Mars and back 228 times. Of course don’t trust my math, I made up that figure to represent not the true number of miles, but what it feels like sitting in these narrow seats week after week, and doing your best to think of new and interesting ways of passing the time without having to make small talk with the guy sitting just millimeters away (I find intently reading a book while holding a highlighter really does the trick, and I have a feeling that it is the power of the highlighter that says to would be conversationalist ‘hey, this guy is so serious about what he is reading, that he is planning on coming back to review it later.’) It’s not that I don’t enjoy a nice conversation now and again, and I have had plenty while sitting on a plane, it is just that after a few days standing in front of a room of people who have come to one of my classes, I have lost much of the motivation it takes to want to sound interesting to a stranger, especially one that did not pay to hear me speak:) And I should also point out that I write this while sitting in seat 10C on Delta flight 1131, and although I do have a neighbor in 10A, the one seat buffer seems to keep me from having to engage, thus allowing me to post this entry.
Now of course I didn’t pay for the inflight internet to complain about airplanes, the narrow seats, or the uncomfortable forced conversations that happen on them. I am writing this because in the fast few weeks, I have had multiple experiences with several different teams all struggling with the same issue, how to transition to an Agile approach. These were not new experiences for me, in fact I have heard these same songs being sung since I entered this training business and focused on Agile transitions. The difference is my evolving understanding as to the cause of the difficulty and the nature of the pain these teams are experiencing.
CHANGE IS TOUGH!
I just wanted to get that out of the way in case any person or team was thinking that their transition was going to be easy. And let me be clear, the change I am speaking of is not the ability to understand a new process or a new approach. It is not whether a team is able to identify or understand the underlying reasons for the change or clearly defining the organization value stream associated with their development efforts. These areas (and more) all represent something that can be taught, something that can be learned, they represent new knowledge and techniques for defining the unknown. My classes cover these areas in depth. So if not these areas, then what? What is this difficult part of making a transition of this kind?
The culture. The undefinable piece of our organization that makes us unique, makes our cogs turns, allowing (forcing?) everyone to share the same values and expectations of action/processes/methodologies/etc. It is what makes us ‘us’.
Here is what happens most often when a company realizes that they must update their approach for product development to one utilizing an Agile flavor (or any other change of this magnitude.) The senior management identifies with the advantages that the change will offer, they read white papers on how other companies (including their competitors possibly) are utilizing the new approach to make advances in innovation, efficiencies, cost savings, etc. They send their team to get the requisite training. The team gets excited, returns to the company, and begins to operate in a way that they believe will make the improvements offered by the change. But then something happens, things are not as easy as they had hoped. The new approach seems to uncover problems they weren’t aware of previously, the new approach seems to cause problems, the new approach is actually slower than the old approach, the new approach seems like more work, the new approach may not be working at all. The excitement, the momentum for change, the forward motion that the team experienced early on has now slowed, and there is growing sentiment to go back to what they previously were doing. ”It may not be great, but it kinda worked and we knew how to do it” they might say. And before the team knows it, the old process has returned, warts and all.
This scenario is a representation of a company culture that is oscillating between two structural tensions pulling in opposite directions. The companies that follow the above example likely have a culture that favors predictability, stability, metrics, milestones, and plans, thus creating a tension in their organization that keeps them to a plan based approach for development. In the above example, the change identified might have been introduced with the idea that innovation, responsiveness to change, competitiveness, and an amount of realistic uncertainty will move the company in a positive direction. Unfortunately, this also creates a structural tension within the organization, but pulling in the opposite direction, thus resulting in structural oscillation. The worst part of this story is that the company above will likely go through many cycles of the scenario, each subsequent scenario and its inevitable failure undermining the next attempt to change the company in a positive way.
Sound familiar? It likely does, because it is a common thing to hear people in organizations like this say “oh, here we go again, the latest fad” when a new initiative is introduced. And there is never a shortage of new initiatives, is there?
So what do we do? How do organizations make lasting change? It is possible, but rather than change to the superficial wrapper of what it is we are doing in a top down approach (thus opening the likelihood we will become nothing more than a Cargo Cult Agile team), we must address the structure that affects the overall direction of the company, the culture.
I will address this idea of culture as a primary component of our change efforts, but it will have to be in a future post, as I just got word from the captain, we are starting our descent. Looks like I may have to have that conversation after all, my neighbor just asked me about my blog.
Until next time, let me know what you have done to affect a positive, lasting change in your company’s culture. I would love to hear war stories, even disaster stories if you got em, I know I do.
I write this post on a flight to Philadelphia, the city that hosted a special session of the Continental Congress, charged with the monumental task of drafting the Constitution of the United States. It got me thinking about the historical significance of this effort, at least as we reflect on it today. But during the summer of 1787, when this precious document was drafted, there was not the focus or import placed on the task that we might imagine there had been. In fact several states failed to send representatives to assist in the creation of this document, a document that would be the foundation for the creation of the greatest nation on the planet. Let me repeat that, several states failed to send delegates to help craft the document.
The approach to writing the Constitution was not orderly, nor was representation of responsibility divided among states based on their size or population. It was based on one single fact: those who showed up were allowed/requested to assist in penning the effort. Those who showed up were able to vote on inclusions and omissions. Those who showed up ultimately made a greater impact than any other opportunity in history.
During that stifling hot summer of 1787 when the Continental Congress held their special session in Philadelphia, the very small state of Delaware showed up. They didn’t send 1 delegate or 2, they sent 5. That might not sound like much, but the average number of delegates on the floor of the Continental Congress that summer numbered at just 30. The delegates from Delaware showed up. Day after day these delegates showed up. After the session concluded for the day they continued the conversation and work outside of the Congress walls. Delaware. In contrast, New York attempted to send delegates but never had enough together at one time to achieve a quorum and were subsequently left out of every single vote. Delaware’s impact on the final version of our Constitution was “stratospheric”. [The Little Big Things. Tom Peters. 2010]
For the next two days I will be delivering a class on the topic of Agile Project Management. And being in the city where our Constitution was penned, I will be including this notion that showing up can often amount to half the battle. I rarely write to the least common denominator (read my other posts if you doubt), in fact I write about those qualities and traits required for consistent excellence, but in this case let me clear…Excellence is not possible if we fail to show up in the first place. Our ability to influence change and produce excellence in our personal and professional lives requires that we show up. Consistently. As the adage goes, we may not be able to perfectly predict when opportunity will avail itself to us, but showing up on a consistent basis greatly increases the likelihood that we will be present when that bells rings.
Delaware showed up. Not because they were told that the Constitution would hold more importance than any other single document in the history of the country, they showed up because it was their duty and they were seeking any possible opportunity. Why didn’t other states show up? Why didn’t other states organize and participate at the intense level of Delaware? Well it was a stifling hot summer, remember? There was no air conditioning of course, and the thought of spending long days arguing fine details of a document that may not amount of much just did not rise to the level of importance for several of the states to make the journey. I’m talking about you New York.
Be a Delaware. Rather than trying to time your efforts, simply apply your excellent efforts on a consistent basis and you will be blessed when reviewing your work with the benefit of hindsight. Show up and be ready. Without this first step nothing else much matters. As my dad used to tell me, all the potential in the world doesn’t amount to much.
Well, my in-flight internet is about to be turned off. Until next time, think about the simple things that make all the difference.