Monthly Archives: October 2014

Objectivity can be easily destroyed

The known facts of a situation can be easily overshadowed by feelings, opinions, guesses, fears, concerns, prejudices, hopes, expectations, beliefs, interpretations, assumptions, and myths. That’s a lot to fight against and is it any wonder that so few decisions made are based on facts — facts that match objective reality, are independently verifiable, and are backed up with evidence.

As an example, a previous client was ready to initiate a couple of expensive projects to rectify perceived shortcomings in their level of service. We started an A3 for each problem and it quickly became obvious that there were no real (supported by facts) shortcomings/problems to solve. One of those projects was meant to address the perceived slowness in providing daily prices for foreign bonds. The pervasive feeling, within the company, was that they were always the last ones to provide prices while their industry peers were a few hours faster. Facts told a different story — the client was usually in the middle of the pack and once in a while was the last one, but only when there was a special unforeseen event in a particular foreign market (a market that this company specialized in).

My advice to them, “Don’t bother trying to provide prices faster as there is no benefit in doing so. However, if you really want to improve how you approach work take a look at why you spot check calculations and prices 4 times within your process while your peers do so only once (if at all). Multiple checks don’t buy you anything; instead, you waste time and resources that could be utilized elsewhere. Most likely you are doing this because your company culture is extremely risk-averse; however, the risk is an imagined risk.”

I ended up losing some potential billing time but received great satisfaction by preventing the client from wasting a lost of time, effort, and money — I think this exchange was ultimately in my favor.

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Posted by on October 14, 2014 in Improvements



The ScrumMaster “3-step dance”

I like this step process that my friend Mike Dwyer (@MikeD999) introduced to me back in 2008. It clarifies the proper approach for coaches and ScrumMasters, especially those who at times are hesitant in being directive. Yes, team empowerment is good, self-organization and self-management is good, but if the team doesn’t have the skill and doesn’t understand what they are doing and why they’re very likely to fail miserably if left to their own devices. Too much choice and freedom to someone at the Shu stage of the Shu-Ha-Ri model just confuses them and isn’t an effective strategy for learning or progress.

Step 1. Lead from the front (directive) using the leader part of servant leader.
Use when the team is lost, going off the rails or about to run back into the burning barn of traditional project management. As soon as the team gets their bearings, starts being honest with themselves, or chooses not to get burned again, move immediately one step back and to the side.

Step 2. Coach from the side (mix of directive and non-directive)
Be there on the sideline giving support, offering suggestions, and providing guidance. Shift to a socratic method. Once the team gets their confidence back, take another step back, moving behind the team.

Step 3. Mentor from the rear (non directive)
Remember you are now a fireman always ready to go when the team rings the bell. When you get to the fire you’ll know which steps to take.

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Posted by on October 9, 2014 in Agile, Coaching


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Management’s #1 Responsibility — Remove Roadblocks That Hinder Achievement

Most employees want to accomplish the objectives in front of them, but they often run into what they perceive to be a never-ending series of roadblocks. And frequently these impediments are beyond their ability to fix (based on where they are in the organizational hierarchy).

A few changes at the start of an agile transformation can go a long way:

  • Managers, in an Agile environment, should promptly setup an obstacle escalation process and a mechanism for visualizing the obstacles. In addition, managers should strongly encourage every member of the organization to surface problems affecting the execution of work and the delivery of product.
  • Obstacles, if not readily raised by team members, can be gleaned from the end-of-sprint retrospectives, from failure to meet the Definition of Done, and from interactions with the teams.
  • An obstacle board can be used to track anything that is slowing the team down and is used within an obstacle resolution process.
  • The ScrumMaster in her servant role should do everything possible to remove impediments slowing her teams. She is accountable for making impediments visible throughout the organization via the obstacle board.

At a previous client we instituted a process wherein, an obstacle identified by the team would go on the team obstacle board. If the team and ScrumMaster couldn’t take care of the obstacle within 2-3 days the visibility of the obstacle would get escalated from the team, to the immediate managers, then to the senior managers and directors, and finally to the Vice Presidents. Obstacle status was displayed on large video screens throughout the campus. At each escalation stage, if the obstacle was not resolved or if a workaround was not found within 2-days, the ScrumMaster would move the obstacle up to the next higher level board. The ScrumMaster did not own the obstacles; managers did and they agreed on ownership of the obstacles amongst themselves.

Quick escalations ensured that people higher up in the organization were aware of issues the teams were struggling with and had an incentive to remove the roadblocks quickly. Obstacles would only be considered “resolved” when the ScrumMaster and the team accepted them; nobody else could remove an obstacle from any of the boards. Some obstacles were impossible to fix in a few days — for these, people higher up in the organization were accountable for explaining to the team why the obstacle couldn’t be solved now, what they were doing about it, and by when they expected closure on the item. For obstacles that management could not solve or help with and for which the team itself was best placed to solve the problem, the obstacle would be returned to the team. Even though management was unable to fix the issue they were now aware that a problem existed and could help the team with resources, etc.

This simple process increased visibility dramatically and team members realized very quickly that they did not have to live with the dysfunctional status-quo — team morale improved as did the sense of empowerment. Company leadership also realized that they had a crucial role to play by removing roadblocks and they didn’t feel left out as most do when switching to a poorly run agile transformation.

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Posted by on October 6, 2014 in Agile, Improvements


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