PMI-ACP and My New Book “Beyond Agile: Achieving Success with Situational Knowledge and Skills”

10 YearsIt has been 10 years since the PMI-ACP exam was created, and I published my PMI-ACP Exam Prep book. I recall the Steering Committee meetings where we discussed what we believed was necessary for agile practitioners and team leaders to have experience in and an understanding of.

Since then, the exam has been updated a couple of times based on Role Delineation Studies (RDS) and Job Task Analysis (JTA), which is how PMI surveys practitioners and asks what techniques are commonly used. However, the core content has mainly endured unchanged, which is testimony to its usefulness.

CommitteeI remember discussing the scope and goals for the credential among the committee that comprised: Alistair Cockburn, Mike Cottmeyer, Jim Cundiff, Jesse Fewell, Mike Griffiths, Ahmed Sidkey, Michele Sliger, Dennis Stevens and PMI researchers.

In addition to an agnostic understanding of Lean, Kanban, Scrum and other agile approaches, we also agreed people should know about the basics of servant leadership, conflict management, team decision making, and coaching. So our scope included more than just Lean and agile; it had a little leadership and emotional intelligence.

Agile and Leadership 1

At the time, someone suggested a three-tier credential consisting of something like Agile Basics, Agile Journeyman (journeyperson), Agile Consultant that mirrored Shu-Ha-Ri. PMI leadership rightly reined this in, explaining it was a good idea, but how about we just focus on getting the basic level credential created for now.

PMI was correct to focus on the universal fundamentals. As we get into more advanced topics, there is no single correct answer. So, topics like agile scaling frameworks, strategies for motivating teams, the pros and cons of different leadership approaches that get deeper into agile, leadership and emotional intelligence were never tackled but are topics that my blog readers know I care deeply about.

Agile and Leadership 2
My new Beyond Agile book is my exploration of these topics (plus others.) I dig deeper into unlocking the power of individuals and teams. How can we encourage better engagement, focus on the project goals, and ditch non-value-add mindsets and processes? These are based on my experiences and research.

You likely won’t agree with everything I suggest, and that’s fine; not everything will work for your situation. However, I am confident you will find many valuable concepts and connections between ideas you thought about separately before.

As the book title suggests, it goes beyond agile. Sometimes the best way to tackle a problem might be with a plan-driven approach. Agile Myopia is the mistaken belief that every project situation has an agile solution.

Agile Leadership and Plan Driven

I am more of a pragmatist. Sometimes, the best way to assess and analyze risk is with the risk management process from plan-driven project management approaches. We may then choose to implement the risk responses in an iterative, incremental way via our backlog and spikes, but that again is being pragmatic.

My previous post mentioned a disconnect between teams being agile and the highest-performance teams I was able to work with. These high-performing teams hardly discussed agile concepts or paid much attention to the agile ceremonies, although they lived the mindset emphatically. Often what set them apart was the deep industry experience and knowledge they had gained, making them trusted partners within the business groups they served.


Beyond Agile Model
I set out to define what sets high-performing teams apart and outline the steps to replicating them. There may be no formula but I did uncover a set of knowledge, skills and thinking tools people can use to chart their own course. It represents the What’s Next beyond the ideas in my PMI-ACP books and provides a broader landscape to explore. I hope you enjoy it.

Beyond Agile Book Image


Beyond Agile presentation this Friday

HTEC Conference

On Friday, September 30, I will be presenting a session on Beyond Agile at the HTEC Project Management Virtual Conference. The session is free to attend and is part of a program that also features Scott Ambler, Sanjiv Augustine, Nader Rad, and Frank Turley. You can register here.

“Yes, And, And”

A colleague recently described Beyond Agile as a “Yes, And, And” toolkit, and I thought it was a great way to summarize the two elements of combining hybrid agile with the Theory of Constraints, and value stream view.

Improv Yes And

“Yes, And”

“Yes, And” is a term from improv comedy that refers to the idea of not undermining what has come before and adding valuable new elements. For example, we can say, “Yes, Scrum has been tremendously popular partly because of its initial simplicity, And when we add ideas from emotional intelligence, it can be even more effective.” We acknowledge the strengths of Scrum And add valuable extras.

The First “Yes, And” – Welcome Hybrid

Beyond Agile takes a “Yes, And” approach to hybrid agile. It acknowledges that agile approaches are a great place to start for knowledge work projects, And adds that sometimes, traditional approaches can bring useful elements for risk management, dependency analysis, etc.

Of course, Beyond Agile does not just add traditional approach elements to agile. It also adds ideas from leadership and emotional intelligence, along with recognizing the need for industry knowledge. These elements form the 4 overlapping circles of ideas in the Beyond Agile Model.

Agile And Other Approaches

The Second “And”

The second And in “Yes, And, And” is the removal of insufficiently performing process. So, Yes, we use a hybrid of approaches And relentlessly remove processes that no longer justify their expenditure. This is the elastic property of the Beyond Agile Model Recommendations lens. It is always trying to contract and asking us to see what we can do without, so we focus more time and effort on value delivery.

The Beyond Agile Model defaults to a small set of recommended practices. We must manipulate the project characteristic sliders to open the recommendations lens to suggest more processes. Then we are always asking:

  • What can we drop?
  • What is no longer worth the effort?
  • Can we try without X for a week and see what happens?

For most teams, this takes conscious effort. We get used to activities and events, so asking if we need them or if they are worth it seems unnatural. However, we carry the time and concentration burden of all processes, so asking if they deserve space in our ways-of-working backpack is valid.

Process Weight

Techniques such as visualizing our work time help us see the weight of our processes. It is an application of the Lean concept of removing waste. Any process that costs more than it delivers is wasteful, and the team should ask if they can get the same or similar benefits for less expenditure.

Visualize Process Time

Ultimately we should expand our toolbox with as many valuable techniques as we can since knowledge is weightless. We can hone our skills through training and progressively larger-scale practice. Then become agnostic; it should not matter what camp the tools and techniques come from if they are valuable. Finally, we focus on value delivery, which means relentlessly removing excess process (agile or otherwise.)   

More Knowledge Less Process v2

 “Yes And, And” captures the hybrid and value delivery focus nature of Beyond Agile. I look forward to explaining the concepts further on Friday and discussing case studies from teams that have used them. Please join us if you can, or sign up for the event so you can view the recording later.

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Extending Servant Leadership with Host Leadership

 

This article talks about adding tools to the servant leader toolkit.  However, let’s start by examining what servant leadership already contains.

Servant Leader 600
 

 Servant leadership was popularized by Robert Greenleaf and described as a mindset and set of practices.  It flips the power pyramid, so instead of the team working to serve the leader, the leader supports the team.

From Hierarchical to Servant Leadership

Servant leadership is a mindset and value system which recognizes that the team members deliver the project benefits.  So, the best thing a scrum master or project manager can do is serve the team and help them succeed.  This maximizes the amount of value they can produce and increases the capabilities and capacity of the group.

Scrum masters and project managers can practice servant leadership by shielding the team from interruptions, removing obstacles from their path,  and ensuring the team has what they need to encourage growth.  Let’s review each competency in more detail.



Shield team1) Sheild the team from interruptions – A leader's critical role is to let the team do their work.  Distractions and low-priority interruptions can come from many places.  They might be requests from superfluous sources or demands for low-priority admin work.  Even quick interruptions cause task-switching and interrupt the flow of the team.

No clowns

Special-ops and Skunkworks teams have been effective and highly productive partly because they were separated and shielded from interruptions.  So, see what you can do to protect the team from low-priority or non-value-adding activities.

 

Remove Obstacles2) Remove Obstacles – Clearing the path of impediments, obstacles, and constraints is a vital role for a servant leader.  It involves both observing the team and listening to them report issues, concerns or frustrations.  Then, remove these blockers and ease the constraints so that team members can be more effective and deliver value.

For example, during a daily standup meeting or team meeting, someone reports delays due to a slow-performing tool and delays from a vendor.  The Scrum master or project manager can take on the role of investigating tool upgrades or following up with the vendor.  This is serving the team, doing what we can to assist with the smooth operation and maximum throughput of work.


Recommunicate vision3) (Re)Communicate the project vision
- a critical role of a project leader is to communicate and re-communicate the project vision.  By creating a clear image of the completed solution and project goals, stakeholders can check and align their decisions and work towards the common project objective.  This is the “Reveal a beckoning summit towards which others can chart their own course” idea.  Put simply, a shared vision helps keep people pulling in the same direction.

When busy executing a project, it is common for divergent views to develop between well-intentioned team members.  Team members' desires for simplicity or to try new technology can diverge from business requirements.  Quality analysts’ desires for completeness and conformance can separate from the sponsor’s wishes for rapid progress and completion.

In Good to Great, Jim Collins writes that a trait of Level 5 Leaders (the most effective leaders of great companies) dedicate a much higher percentage of their work time to communicating and re-communicating project and corporate vision.  Kouzes and Posner believe it is almost impossible for leaders to over-communicate project vision, which is a critical step for effective leadership.

So, don’t have just one vision exercise at project kick-off and then assume you are done.  Continually look for opportunities to communicate the project vision and new ways to illustrate and reinforce that vision.

 

Provide Fuel4) Provide fuel and encourage growth - People need encouragement and support to try new things and deliver in challenging environments.  Servant leaders provide what they need, whether that’s help with a new tool, an introduction to a customer, or just some kind words of encouragement.  Help make them successful as best you can.

We must celebrate small victories (and, of course, major accomplishments) as we go.  It is tempting to save the project celebrations to the end, but we may never meet a successful end without some regular recognition.  Celebrations and recognition are momentum-building exercises.  We must practice them frequently so obstacles can be broken through and the final project goals accomplished.

Servant leaders look for opportunities to grow the capabilities of the team members.  This may be through mentoring, training or providing a safe environment for people to try new skills or roles.  Two powerful benefits occur when we show an interest in our team members' long-term success.

First, the team members will appreciate the interest in them beyond just filling a role.  When people see the opportunity for personal growth, they are far more likely to be motivated to contribute.  Second, by growing the team's capabilities, we are increasing the organization's capabilities and worth.  Subsequent projects and operational work will benefit.

Putting these roles together, servant leaders facilitate rather than manage.  They shield the team from interruptions, clear the path for the team, frequently remind everyone of the destination and provide encouragement and sustenance for long-term success.

Servant Leadership Roles

 

Host Leadership

Host Leadership BookHost Leadership, as explained by Mark McKergow, extends servant leadership with additional roles and activities.  It involves stepping forward to invite the right people and create a productive work environment, and stepping back to allow team members to contribute.

Step Forward Step Back

As described by Mark McKergow, It’s about “Engaging a community into facing up to complex, collective problems.”

Many of today’s challenges are fuzzy, ill-defined, interconnected and messy - not single-person-led endeavors.  Think of the race to develop a COVID vaccine.  It was a complex, multi-national, multi-disciplinary collaboration beyond the scope or control of a single manager.  However, a host leader can create a collaborative environment, invite the right participants, and help them do their best work.  This is the role of a host leader.

Host leadership draws on the dinner-party host metaphor to describe roles and positions.  It uses terms such as “working with the guests” to describe learning about the team and their work.  Along with “working in the kitchen” to explain the work behind the scenes to get things ready, maintain supplies, and work one-on-one with people.

I see Host leadership as a complementary set of tools to add to servant leadership.  It provides concrete names and guidance on activities to expand and improve servant leadership.  The stepping forward role also adds a more directive component when it is helpful.

 

The Six Roles of a Host Leader

Six Roles

Host Leadership - Initiator roleThe Initiator role is being moved to take action.  Seeing the need for change and stepping forward to do something about it.  The endeavor can be as large and bold as Greta Thunberg’s or as mundane as deciding its time to clean the lunch room.  Leaders step forward and make the first move.

 


Host Leadership - Inviter roleThe next role is Inviter.  We need to enlist and motivate the right contributors.  This is a balance of skill and motivation.  The best-qualified people without motivation won't be much help.  We might be able to train well-intentioned incapable people.  However, those we really want Get-it, Want-it, and have the Capacity to Do it.

If we reach out and people do not accept, that’s likely a sign our proposal did not land well and needs to be rethought.  Thinking invitationally is reaching out in a way that invites, rather than insists, people join us on our project or initiative.  It’s about seeing participation as a gift, rather than a contract of their employment.  


Host Leadership - Space Creator roleThe Space Creator role describes constructing the environment where people can contribute.  It includes both tooling (collaboration environments, regular touch points, communication technology) and psychological safety.  Timothy Clark outlines a simple model for understanding psychological safety in his book The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety.

Psychological Safety

1) Inclusion Safety is the basic human need to belong and be accepted by a group.  People must feel safe to be themselves, including any unique or peculiar attributes.  Without inclusion safety, people feel excluded from the group.

2) Learner Safety is the encouragement needed to learn, experiment and grow.  It requires us to feel safe when asking questions, getting feedback, trying things out and making a few mistakes along the way.  Without learner safety, people will be unwilling to try new approaches.

3) Contributor Safety is having the autonomy needed to build something valuable and make a difference—the feeling of safety required to contribute something and have it judged by others.  Without contributor safety, people will guard their work for too long, waiting for it to be perfect and miss out on early feedback.  They will also not feel like they are making a difference.

4) Challenger Safety is having the permission and “air cover” necessary to challenge the status quo, question why things are done that way, and suggest ways to make something better.  Without challenger safety, retrospectives and improvement initiatives will suffer since no one will be willing to speak up and discuss what is wrong.

The concepts of inclusion, encouragement, autonomy and “air cover” associated with the four levels of psychological safety play an essential role in Space Creator for successful agile teams.

We can help establish this psychological safety by modeling the desired behavior.  Admitting our mistakes, asking basic questions and generally “learning out loud” to show people we do not have all the answers, and it is okay and encouraged for people to be open.

 

Host Leadership - Gatekeeper roleThe Gatekeeper role covers the work of establishing team ground rules, operating guidelines and boundaries on scope, tolerances and escalation procedures.  We need to be clear on the norms and expectations that apply.

Team values and ground rules are helpful to capture.  Just as we often develop Definitions of Done, we should talk about Definitions of Broken.  What behaviors or situations would trigger an intervention, review or need to take disciplinary action?

A good host helps people meet other guests.  They make introductions and maybe share common topics.  On large teams, we often need to connect people to encourage dialog and early progress; waiting for people to meet and collaborate on their own can take too long.  There is also skill in knowing when to step back after an introduction, getting out of the way to let the magic work and possibilities emerge.

Also, we should try to connect ideas too.  Visualizing concepts, models and constraints can help people see connections others might not immediately find.  The concept of Make Work Visible is powerful and should be encouraged.

 

Host Leadership - Co-participant roleThe Co-Participant role acknowledges the host leader as a contributor.  Often when the other functions of a host leader are not occupying their time, they can participate on the initiative themselves.  At a dinner party, once the guests have arrived, with people introduced and settled, we expect them to eat too.  So it is with host leadership.  They step back into the mix to participate in the work when their other duties are done, or there is an opportunity.

 

The Four Positions of a Host Leader

Four positions

In addition to considering how we spend our time as a leader, it’s helpful to consider where we are.  This does not mean in the team room or our home office, but the positions we take up concerning others.

Host Leadership - Spotlight positionSometimes, as leaders, we are in the spotlight.  At the kick-off meeting, explaining the vision or facilitating a workshop are all activities where the leader is front and center and gives off messages.  We need to be comfortable with this or at least tolerant of it.  Sometimes we need to step forward to help explain the goal, the way to it, or the mud slowing our progress.

 

Host Leadership - With Guests positionGoing back to the hosting a party metaphor, a great host understands the value of spending time with the guests.  It involves spending time with people individually, asking how they are getting on, and learning about their interests and motivators.  Taking the time to enquire and remember individual goals and interests is a great motivator.  People appreciate it when we recall their ideas, passions, and shared information.

 

Host Leadership - Gallery positionThe gallery is a high place above the action.  Somewhere we can observe the action without the distraction of being in the discussions (for now.) Time in the gallery is when we observe from above.  In our team environment, this might include:

  • Taking a 30,000 ft view of our progress, speed, and the challenges ahead
  • Going for a walk and assessing priorities, opportunities, and new allies
  • Pausing to look at the big picture, how will our outcomes help the organizational strategy?

 

Host Leadership - Kitchen positionAs a host, we sometimes retreat to the kitchen.  A more private place where preparation is done but most of the guests are steered away from.  It is a place we can work in private, reflect and review.  Some family members may come and go – our most trusted colleagues we can confide in and share with, maybe get some coaching.  Scheduling an hour a week in the kitchen can be a valuable experience.

 

 

New Ideas or Just Good Leadership Repackaged?

There are no revolutionary new roles or practices being suggested in Host Leadership.  It’s not a radical reversal of thinking or something that requires organizational restructuring to implement.  Instead, the ideas of recognizing some activities need stepping forward and others require stepping back, coupled with the six roles and four positions, are more like thinking tools.  

This makes them more useful.  These ideas can be applied in any organization without special structures or permission.  As a scrum master, team lead, or project manager, we can use them to help us better serve our existing teams.

Early in a project or product life cycle, we can think about the Initiator, Inviter, and Space Creator roles.  Using these personas to up our game and create better-engaged teams.  As the work starts, the Gatekeeper, Connector, and Co-Particpant roles help remind us how we can add more value to our teams.

Knowing about the four positions of being In the Spotlight, With the Guests, In the Gallery, or In the Kitchen can help us reality check where we are spending our time.  If we spend the majority In the Spotlight or In the Kitchen, there is probably a problem that needs addressing.  

 

Learning More about Host Leadership

Host Leadership BookMy experience with host leadership is drawn from experiments on a couple of software projects.  For much broader coverage, I recommend The Host Leadership Field Book, a compendium of host leadership case studies.  They include education, social care, coaching, and organizational change, among many others.  You can also visit www.HostLeadership.com for newsletters, videos, and other resources.

To read more about the general role of Leading a Team, see task 1.2 Lead a Team at PMillustrated.com


From Servant Leadership to Shared Leadership

Top down to servant to shared

This is part one in a series on leading agile teams from the Beyond Agile book. We will examine what leadership entails and how it applies to agile teams. Then discuss the transition from servant leadership to shared leadership.

 

EQ as a Foundation for Leadership

As we saw in the previous articles about Emotional Intelligence (EQ), leadership is built on top of EQ. We need good EQ to be able to recognize and manage our own emotions. This is a prerequisite for others to consider us credible and worth listening to. So, a firm grasp of EQ, either gained intuitively or improved through study/training, brings us to the starting line with engaged stakeholders. Then leadership involves bringing this collective willpower to bear on a vision or a journey to our project or product outcome.

Leadership is built on the foundation of strong EQ

We can create backlogs and release plans all we like, but until there is a motivated team with a shared vision of the end goal, it is like trying to push a rope—ineffective. Leadership is focused on creating the pull from the team and giving the team the goal and tools to overcome obstacles.

 

HugeLeadership is a Huge Topic

Leadership has been around far longer than project management (which primarily grew from the Industrial Revolution.) Leadership goes back as far as people have lived together and worked together to achieve common goals, whether invading a neighboring tribe, traveling to new lands, or building a large structure.

There are over 70,000 published English-language books on leadership. If you read one daily, it would take you 191 years to finish them (by which time there would likely be 70,000 new ones to read). With such a deep history and broad scope, we need a focus to best direct our guidance toward knowledge-worker team execution.

So we will take a product-focused view toward leadership and concentrate on the leadership traits and steps necessary for building and leveraging high-performing teams in complex knowledge-work environments. Unlike many leadership books available, we will not cover leading companies or organizational change; instead, we will focus on leading projects and programs to deliver desired outcomes.

 

What Leadership Is Not

Unfortunately, there are many myths and misconceptions about what leadership means. So, before we get into how to become a better leader, we should dispel some of these myths that are common barriers to understanding.

Not CowboysThe best metaphor I’ve heard for dispelling leadership myths is the “Cowboy leader” by Pinto et al.  When we think of a cowboy, we often picture the lone-wolf movie character who acts independently, often above the law, thinks on his feet, and saves the day. He cuts through bureaucratic red tape, circles the wagons, and rallies the people to overcome the bad guys. Then our hero rides off into the sunset with the pretty schoolteacher and onto his next adventure.

Yet this is just a movie-star definition of a cowboy, portrayed by the likes of John Wayne, Roy Rogers, and Clint Eastwood. Do you know what a real cowboy does? They lead cows. They use their dogged determination to turn and drive bovine herds toward the desired goal. I am not trying to be derogatory here, comparing your company’s staff to unintelligent cows; I am making the point that real cowboys do not typically do a lot of shooting of bad guys and rescuing damsels in distress.

Also, John Wayne, Roy Rogers, and Clint Eastwood are Hollywood actors, not cowboys. They live in big, fancy houses and do not spend much time around farm animals. Would you really trust them to look after cows? Your cows?

Not RockstarsThe term leadership is often loaded with this romantic notion of a swashbuckling go-getter with a larger-than-life rockstar personality. Yet, in reality, some of the best leaders are quiet, introverted people who care deeply for their teams and stakeholders and quietly grind away toward a common goal.

Real leadership is based on sound theory. It can be learned and exercised on a small scale before being brought to bear on larger groups. Authentic leadership is practiced on mundane things, yet when more significant events occur, the skills and trust of others can be used to overcome significant hurdles.

Additional leadership myths include the beliefs that leadership needs to reside in a single person and that all groups need leaders. Quite often, leadership roles are shared between team members. In fact, it is unlikely that any one person would be solely equipped to lead a team in all circumstances.

Establishing environments where people can step up to lead when the need arises creates resilience and competitive advantage. Likewise, some small teams without the need for high-consequence decision-making can operate just fine without a leader.

 

What Leadership Is

So, having established that leadership is not swashbuckling behavior or an innate quality of character, let us look at what it is. There are many different leadership models, but the same roles crop up repeatedly. Listing them is the easy part. We will then focus on the more difficult topic of how we achieve them, given all the challenges of project constraints, opposing demands, and people conflicts.

Leaders exhibit the following attributes:

  1. Vision
  2. Good communication skills
  3. Ability to inspire trust
  4. Ability to empower
  5. Energy and action orientation
  6. Emotional expressiveness and warmth
  7. Willingness to take personal risks
  8. Use of unconventional strategies

Common Leader Attributes

Let’s look at each of these characteristics in turn.

VisionVision - The ability to create and describe an exciting view of the future state. This includes what success looks like and the benefits it will bring to the sponsoring organization, the users of the end result, and the team members who created it. It provides a common goal to guide the team in times of questioning and decision-making. It is what we are aiming for.

 

CommunicationsGood communication skills - A vision, support, and guidance are useless unless we have a way to communicate them to people. Communication skills are required to inspire, inform, and advise stakeholders. They are also crucial for receiving information and quickly building rapport with a wide variety of groups and individuals.

 

TrustAbility to inspire trust - Studies show that the greatest attribute people look for in leaders is honesty and trustworthiness. Working for someone we do not trust undermines our feelings of self-worth and respect in the long run. To be an effective leader, we must act honestly and with integrity—otherwise, people will not work with us.

 

EmpowerAbility to empower - We should make use of people’s knowledge and skills by trusting them to do a good job. We must also be able to make the team feel capable and develop team members to their fullest potential.

 

EnergyEnergy and action orientation - Effective leaders have elevated levels of energy and enthusiasm for work, which is contagious. We must understand that it is impossible to inspire others if we are apathetic or lukewarm in our reaction to the challenges.

 

WarmthEmotional expressiveness and warmth - Leaders must be able to express their feelings openly, but without venting or alarming people. They should not keep others guessing about their emotional state, but instead, be approachable and warm cheerleaders for the endeavor.

 

Take risksWillingness to take personal risks - It is desirable to have some skin in the game, to be personally invested beyond just a role, and to have some reputation or repercussion invested in the outcome. Like successful entrepreneurs, leaders are not risk-averse.

 

Try new approachesUse of unconventional strategies - Leaders must think creatively and not be constrained by conventional approaches. They are happy to model the desired behavior by trying new techniques and experiments.

 

These characteristics are the goal; things get more difficult when it comes to achieving them under challenging circumstances.

 

Shared Leadership: Primary Colors® Model

The Primary Colors Model of leadership was one of the first to recognize that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for any individual to possess all the attributes needed to be a complete leader. Instead, it recommends leaders build leadership teams that comprise all the necessary skills.

The Primary Colors Model offers ideas similar to those found in “In Praise of the Incomplete Leader,” a 2007 paper published in the Harvard Business Review. Its authors suggest that successful leadership comprises four capabilities:

  1. Sensemaking: Understanding the context of the company and how people operate. Having a talent or knack for explaining these complexities to others.
  2. Relating: Being able to build trusting relationships with others.
  3. Visioning: Creating compelling images of the future by collaborating with others on what they want and then explaining it.
  4. Inventing: Developing new ways to bring the vision to life.

The Primary Colors Model contains three intersecting domains of strategy, operations, and interpersonal skills. It also uses a human-anatomy metaphor to explain these functions and how they interact. The strategic domain is like the head, responsible for thinking; the operational domain is the hands and legs, responsible for getting things done and moving the organization or product forward; and the interpersonal domain is the heart and deals with forming relationships, motivation, and EI.

These domains and functions are shown in figure 11.2.

Primary Colors of Leadership Model

FIGURE 11.2 The Primary Colours Model of Leadership

In this human-anatomy analogy, the Primary Colors Model places leading at the center, like a central nervous system. It senses, balances, and coordinates all the other functions.

At the intersection of these overlapping functions are three key roles of a leader. Creating alignment is at the intersection of strategy (head) and interpersonal (heart) since it deals with creating a rational and emotional commitment. Team working, the skill of getting things done, is at the intersection of operational (arms and legs) and interpersonal (heart) since it deals with work and motivation. Finally, planning and organizing is at the intersection of strategic (head) and operational (arms and legs) since it deals with planning the work that needs to be done.

Now we know what functions need to happen and that it is unlikely that any single person has all the necessary skills. So, the next logical step is to assess our own skills, recognize our gaps, and go find people with the skills to fill those gaps. This is another instance where having diversity on the team is helpful. Diversity is Darwinian: The greater the diversity in the resource pool, the greater the range of external events that can be responded to successfully.

Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, once joked, “If you find anyone in your organization who agrees with everything you say, fire them! Why pay twice for the same opinions?”

So, diversity is good, but how do we measure it? A simple approach is to assess people’s affinity for or attraction to different work types. Vocation-planning tools used in schools try to determine likely “fit” by assessing people on two ranges. The first range is things or people, and asks if individuals are happier working with things (be they animal, vegetable, mineral, or machine) or happier working with people. People who are interested in things enjoy collecting, constructing, and categorizing them, and analyzing them and their functions. People who prefer people enjoy emotions and idiosyncrasies; they are drawn to people for stimulation and support.

The second range is data or ideas, and asks if people prefer working with data and facts or with ideas and possibilities. People who prefer facts and data tend to be practical, data-analytics types. They are persuaded by logical, here-and-now facts and data. People who are drawn to ideas, possibilities, and theories enjoy what-if scenarios and are divergent thinkers. They may be thought of as creatives or dreamers.

Assessing people on these two ranges helps us determine where we fit and where others on our teams fit. The ranges and categories of preferences are shown in figure 11.3.

Two dimensions of vocational prefgerence

FIGURE 11.3 Two Dimensions of Vocational Preference

Here we see three roles and their positioning based on work preference. “Strategic” indicates someone who leans more toward the ideas end of the data-to-ideas spectrum and who is happy dealing with ambiguity. ‘Operational/Technical” shows someone who leans more toward the data end of the data-to-ideas spectrum and toward the things end of the things-to-people range. Finally, “Interpersonal/Supervisory” shows someone who is more comfortable with people than things and who prefers data over ideas.

Incidentally, full personality assessments such as Myers-Briggs, Belbin, or the Big Five typically take about an hour or so to administer. But having team members indicate where on this chart they rate themselves is quick and makes a great retrospective or team-building exercise to illustrate and respect diversity.

In figure 11.3, it is difficult for people to move between these roles as it requires major shifts in focus and interests. The nearer people are toward the center, the easier it will be for them to move into each of these roles.

Combining the Primary Colours Model of leadership with these personality traits reveals additional useful ways to categorize the functions and roles of leadership. Figure 11.4 shows the two models superimposed.

Primary Colors plus Vocational Preference

FIGURE 11.4 Primary Colours Model Combined with Personality Traits

Here we see the two job-preference dimensions of things/tasks to people on the x-axis and data/ present to ideas/future on the y-axis. Also shown are ovals representing the personality traits of the people who operate well in that domain and boxes representing the classical elements of air, fire, earth, and water.

Does your team have people that can assist in the roles of Influencer, Relationship Builder,  Implementor, or Strategist? Of course it does, so tap into those abilities. Lean thinking tells us that Non-utilized Talent is a form of waste, let’s not be wasteful and instead increase the team’s effectiveness and the likelihood of success.

The Primary Colors Model is powerful for several reasons. First, it legitimizes the idea of shared leadership and the need for collecting a set of competencies from the team and distributing power. Second, the human-anatomy metaphor creates an easily understood structure for uniting the skills and functions necessary for leadership, which are often described as discrete, unconnected, or vaguely connected elements in other models. Finally, it aligns well with vocational preference models and work types.

 

Key Takeaways

  • Leadership can be shared.
  • People have distinct preferences for dealing with things or people, hard facts or ideas.
  • Holistic leadership needs to address all these dimensions.

<This is an excerpt from Beyond Agile. In future posts, we will explore additional shared leadership examples and introduce Host Leadership as a framework for implementing shared leadership in an agile team setting.>

Beyond Agile Book


Emotional Intelligence for Scrum Masters, Team Leads and Project Managers - #2

This is post #2 in a multi-post series about EI and leadership taken from my book Beyond Agile. Check out Post #1 first, if you have not seen it already. In this article, we will explore what EI is and why it’s often such a tricky topic to define due to the proliferation of different models with similar-sounding components.

 

EI - Better Results by Becoming More Effective

Let us start the EI exploration journey with a process we are all familiar with, growing up and becoming independent adults. Stephen Covey talks about a progression of maturity and effectiveness that people go through as they get older.

Stages of Development

We start as children, dependent on our parents for food, shelter, and support in life. How effective we are at accomplishing things grows, as we do, and eventually, we need less support. When we become teenagers and young adults, we become less dependent on adults and more independent. We eventually get jobs, move out of our parents’ homes (hopefully), and are more effective at accomplishing things in life than when we were children. Our level of effectiveness increases as we move from dependent to independent.

Covey says this is as far as many people progress. They learn how to be independent and contribute at an individual level. However, they are missing out on a further, more effective and productive stage called interdependent. This is what can be achieved when we partner and work with other people. When we learn how to collaborate and work with others, our personal limitations no longer hold us back. Other people can overcome our shortcomings.

So, if Mary is great at generating innovative ideas but lacks the patience or due diligence to see them through to fruition, she can partner with Dave, who thrives on detail and can transform ideas into completed products. When they can find ways to work together, they are both more effective than when working independently.

The bridge from the state of being dependent to being independent is called maturity. Parents, high schools, and the school of hard knocks move people from dependence to independence. Hopefully, there are several family members who can help with that transition.

Stages of Development with EI

The bridge from Independent to Interdependent is emotional intelligence. Learning how to interact, cooperate, and collaborate with others is not emphasized nearly enough. These practical life skills are hidden behind the unappealing label of emotional intelligence. There is much written about the process, but few people think to investigate further, at least at first. Often, family members possess it intuitively, but lack frameworks or words to effectively describe it.

Continue reading "Emotional Intelligence for Scrum Masters, Team Leads and Project Managers - #2" »


Beyond Agile Gratitude #1 – Weaving People and Process

Beyond Agile 150Now that my Beyond Agile book has been published, I would like to thank some people who helped shape its content and ideas. Alistair Cockburn and Joshua Kerievsky helped me appreciate the balance between people-focussed activities and effective processes.

“...Agile approaches combine a mixture and equal balance of people and process approaches to delivery. One way to picture these interwoven elements is like the twin strands of DNA. In figure 4.1, we see a blue thread of people elements such as empowerment, collaboration, and team decision-making, mixed with gold process elements such as backlogs, prioritization, and short iterations.

Fig 4.1

If you have not noticed it before, agile approaches weave people elements and process elements together through the agile mindset, values, and principles. For simplicity of understanding,  we pull these elements apart to talk about them individually, but in reality, they are inextricably linked and self-supporting, like the blue and gold elements shown in figure 4.2.

Fig 4.2

The people and process elements are present in all views of agile, no matter how you slice it. Also, they are in an equal balance. This is not a matter of coincidence or hidden code, but rather the sign of a balanced system. Let’s look further.

The Agile Manifesto has two values focused on people and two focused on process:

Fig 4.3

When we examine the 12 Agile Manifesto principles again we see six focused on people (shown in blue) and a counterbalancing six based on process (shown in gold).

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable Sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity — the art of maximizing the amount of work not done — is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams. 
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Let’s examine the frameworks of Alistair Cockburn’s Heart of Agile and Joshua Kerievsky’s Modern Agile, first looking at the original models and then superimposing views of people and processes.

Fig 4.4

In Alistair’s Heart of Agile model, the Deliver and Improve process concepts are complemented by the Collaborate and Reflect people-focused concepts. Likewise, Joshua’s people-focused Make people awesome and Make safety a prerequisite are balanced and complemented by the ideas of Deliver value continually and Experiment and learn rapidly.

Both models are evenly balanced between people and process advice; this fact, along with their clarity and simplicity, is what makes them both powerful and compelling.

We should always be aware of these two elements in the tools and approaches we use. Additionally, looking for a healthy balance of attention within teams is a useful diagnostic. People sometimes have a personal bias or natural aptitude for the people side of things, or for the process side of things. So why not ask the team if they think the system is in balance and, if not, what they suggest to restore to balance any imbalances?..."

Thank you, Alistair and Joshua. Your insights and skills in distilling ideas have helped many people increase their understanding of collaboration and teamwork.


Announcing “PM Illustrated” – The Fun Way to Prepare for Your PMP® Exam

PM Illustrated - Banner 800

I know, “Fun” and “PMP Exam” are rarely used in the same sentence. When I studied for my PMP credential in 2001, materials were text-based, process-focused, and dry! Unfortunately, not much has changed since then.

However, fun is a serious business in adult learning, it boosts retention and cuts study time. We recall facts about our favorite hobbies and sports teams much easier than boring information because our brains prioritize fun experiences for recall. It is why good trainers who can make a topic enjoyable are so valuable.

Visual Learning

90 percent visual - 400

The other secret weapon in slashing our study time is Visual Learning. Research into visual thinking by David Hyerle, reports that 90% of the information entering the brain is visual. 40% of all nerve fibers connected to the brain are connected to the retina, and a full 20% of the entire cerebral cortex is dedicated to vision - so let’s use it.

Using a combination of cartoons, images, mind maps, and explanations, we can engage the right and left hemispheres of our brain to build stronger comprehension and better recall. Tests show most people only remember 10% of what they heard three days ago. Add an image to the message, and this figure jumps to 65%.

Images Increase Retention

 

Why Animal Cartoons?

Made to stickBecause they are cute, funny, and memorable. The memorable part is valuable for exam preparation. Images that are surprising for the context, such as using animals to show project management topics, are “stickier” in our brains. In the book “Made to Stick”, authors Chip and Dan Heath explain we remember things that are simple, unexpected, and emotional.

Animal cartoons about project management do all three.

Support Diversity and Inclusion(Here, we see the herd welcoming the zebra who is a bit different, but it is all good.)

Our brains are lazy and filter out the ordinary or familiar. Recall vacations, often the first few days are memorable because everything is new and different. Then the last few days seem to pass quickly in a blur. Our brain skips the usual stuff, presumably saving space for valuable fresh information.

To help us study for exams more effectively, we can trick our brains into marking everything as new, unusual, and needing to be stored away by associating it with the unfamiliar. 

Value Servant Leadership(Be the bridge to success for others)

The good news is you will find recall much easier. The bad news is you might try and thank a snake instead of avoiding it.

 

Beta testerLooking for Beta Testers

The website is not finished yet but is mostly functional now. If you are a visual learner looking for a new way to study project management with the following features:

  • See the big picture – Navigate the scope of the PMP Exam Content Outline (ECO) via three different roadmaps
  • Chart your own adventure – travel through the topics in any order
  • Gamification – Track your progress by earning digital badges with optional leaderboards
  • Self Assessment – Check your understanding at the end of each module

I would love to hear your feedback, whether “Too many pictures”, “Too weird,” or “Awesome!” please let me know. Your feedback is valuable and review contributors will be acknowledged in the upcoming book version.

Here’s the link: PM Illustrated – A Visual Learner’s Guide to Project Management - while it works on mobile, it works best on desktop devices.

Managing projects is anything but dull, studying how to do it should not be dull either.


Beyond Agile - Webinar Recording

Last month I did a 20-minute overview of my new Beyond Agile book for the Washington D.C. Lean-Agile MeetUp group hosted by Sanjiv Augustine.

I outline how Beyond Agile grew from studying high-performing teams and trying to distill what they did differently than most other teams. In the video, I cover Agile Myopia, Buffet Syndrome and the need to drop agile processes when they no longer bring enough value to warrant their use.

I would like to thank Sanjiv and the entire team at LitheSpeed for hosting me and allowing me to share this video with you here.

Anyone interested in my Beyond Agile book can get a paperback or electronic version here.

Beyond Agile Book pic 1


Announcing My New Book “Beyond Agile”


Beyond Agile Book pic 1I am excited to announce my new book “Beyond Agile: Achieving success with situational knowledge and skills“ is launching. It is available now from RMC in paperback or electronic form here. This post explains the name and motivation for the book. Future posts will profile the content.

 

BackgroundBackground

Since helping create DSDM in 1994, I have been working on agile projects for 27 years. In that time, I have personally been a member of around 30 teams, coached and consulted with about 400 organizations and taught agile to over 2,000 team leads and project managers worldwide. Statistically, most were around average, a few were really dysfunctional, and less than 10 were exceptionally productive.

 

ProblemProblems

Around 8 years ago, I noticed many capable teams were adopting agile but still not being very productive. They had embraced the mindset and were doing all the right things, but success still eluded them. As someone who had dedicated their career to spreading the word about agile and helping organizations adopt it, this was extremely concerning for me. What were they doing wrong? What was I doing wrong?

 

ResearchResearching Successful Teams

So I went back to study the small number of exceptionally productive teams to look at what they did differently. While they understood agile remarkably well, they did not emphasize its use. Instead, they used a clever mix of agile, leadership, emotional intelligence and industry-specific knowledge to get the work that needed doing today done.

 

PatternsPatterns and Results Emerge

Patterns emerged, and I explored further. Using these techniques, I was able to help organizations turn around struggling projects and programs. As a result, we outperformed expectations, delighted stakeholders and won a PMI Project of the Year award. One organization documented our approach and submitted it for tax credits in the Canadian research and development SR&D program. It was successful, and they received several millions of dollars in tax credits. The Beyond Agile Model was developed, and this book documents the components.

 

RemoveThe Obvious, Non-Obvious Need to Remove Process

The Beyond Agile Model has agile at its core; it also layers in additional ideas while encouraging teams to discontinue practices that no longer add sufficient value. Since there are only so many hours in the day, focussing more effort on delivery requires dropping other activities - even if they are agile. It was obvious once I saw it. The most productive teams I studied spent more time delivering and less time on agile ceremonies and other tasks. The non-obvious part was learning what to drop since it varies from team to team, and the book explains the process.

 

In future posts, I will explain some of the core ideas. Until then, I just wanted to let you know the book is finally done and available here.

Beyond Agile Book pic 4


Navigating Complexity: Zoom Towns and the 'K' Shaped Recovery

Zoom TownA theme for the 2019 World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland was the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” It was concerned with how a combination of technologies are changing the way we live, work and interact. Few people in attendance could imagine how quickly the ideas would transition from an emerging trend to thrust upon us.

The term “Fourth Industrial Revolution” was coined by Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the WEF in 2016, and refers to how technological changes are drastically altering how individuals, companies and governments operate. These, in turn, lead to societal transformation through impacts on the way we live, work and interact. COVID-19 converted the conversations and presentations into our present-day lives.

Schwab explains it as a technological revolution that is blurring the lines between physical, digital and biological spheres. It involves technologies like mobile devices, AI, IoT, healthcare and biometrics. Today, wearable devices—like the Garmins and Apple watches that measure blood oxygen levels, along with contact tracing apps for COVID patients—illustrate the trend.

Zoom Towns
You have heard of boom towns; now we are seeing the explosive growth of Zoom towns. With more people given the option to work remotely, people are moving to the coast, the mountains or that quaint arts town. That’s a Zoom town, somewhere better to live because of easy access to recreation, scenery, hobbies or just a more cost-effective location.

Continue reading "Navigating Complexity: Zoom Towns and the 'K' Shaped Recovery" »


Illuminating the Intangibles of Agile

We intuitively know that a successful agile adoption requires more than copying agile practices. It needs more than just working in short iterations and having daily stand-up meetings. But can we label those missing ingredients?

You may have seen the “agile iceberg” model that shows the visible practices agile teams perform as the tip of an enormous iceberg supported by a mindset, values and principles. However, terms like “values” and “mindset” are intangible and difficult to reconcile with traditional skillsets.

Agile Iceberg

Organizations fail when they try to switch to an agile way of working by just implementing the visible agile work practices without the invisible supporting components. They fail because they are missing two key elements:

Continue reading "Illuminating the Intangibles of Agile" »


Agile Communications Plans

Project Communication PlansDolphins are easier to track than submarines. They surface more often and are usually within view of where you last saw them. Subs, on the other hand, can disappear for months or years at a time, and it is difficult to tell where they have gone.

What does this have to do with project communications? Has Mike finally gone mad?

These are valid questions, so let me explain. Many traditional project management deliverables have agile alternatives. For instance, a product backlog is somewhat analogous to a work breakdown structure. A release roadmap contains many of the elements of a Gantt chart. Yet we rarely see agile communications management plans. Why is this?

Continue reading "Agile Communications Plans" »


Project Communication: Why Is It So Hard?

Communication ProblemsWe all know the theory: Communications are critical to project success. You have probably heard advice such as communicate something “five times in five different ways” for it to stick, but why is it so hard?

If people would just listen—or read what we send them—then communications would be easy, right? This may seem a reasonable assumption, but because we are part of the system, we are also part of the problem.

Continue reading "Project Communication: Why Is It So Hard?" »


Adapting to All-Remote Talent Management

Remote WorkerThe recent article “Can We Still be Agile?” examined two successful organizations that many years ago deliberately chose an all-remote workforce structure. Most of us have recently experienced unplanned and quickly implemented trials of all-remote work, so let’s examine the advantages and disadvantages when planned for and optimized.

All-remote organizations have no central hub(s) for workers. Instead, their staff all work remotely, as shown by the highlighted third element in the image below.

All Remote

By being deliberately all-remote, there are no different sets of contributors (co-located vs remote) or different forms of communication (face-to-face vs dial-in). Instead, everyone experiences a consistent and universal interaction style.

Case Studies in All-Remote

Continue reading "Adapting to All-Remote Talent Management" »


The Perfect Storm for The Project Economy

Perfect StormThe winds of change were strong before the COVID-19 pandemic. Driven by three macroeconomic trends, the need for projects and project managers was increasing. These three trends are:

1) Accelerating rates of technology adoption

2) The switch to alternative energy sources to maintain GDP and meet emissions targets

3) Infrastructure projects for population growth.

These movements occurring together were spawning an explosion of projects to turn ideas into reality. This increase in project demand was christened The Project Economy by PMI in 2019.

To be fair, these trends and strategies for handling them had already existed for more than a decade. Globalization and business transformation have been discussed extensively. Eric Ries documented his lean startup methodology in 2008 as a way for organizations to adapt and experiment with new ideas and perform market tests. It provided a framework for rapid adaptation and customer-centric design that is baked into many of today’s strategies.

Continue reading "The Perfect Storm for The Project Economy" »


5 Tools for Team Conflict Resolution

Team ConflictIs infighting damaging your team morale and retention? Do you know what types of conflict are healthy and which are not? When you do intervene, do you have a strategy, or just ”wing it” and hope for the best?

People have different ideas; this diversity helps us overcome any individual shortcomings. It also means conflict is inevitable on projects. Whenever we have people contribute different opinions about a solution, there will be some level of conflict. Minor disagreement in the pursuit of a better solution is positive and welcome. Persistent bickering and personal attacks are destructive and need to be addressed. So how do we do that?

Continue reading "5 Tools for Team Conflict Resolution" »


Can We Still be Agile?

Can we still be agileHow does work from home impact our use of agile approaches? If co-location is no longer possible, can we still be agile?

Yes, of course we can, and in many ways, now we need to be more agile than ever as we try new approaches, learn and adapt how we work. However, let's address the co-location question and look at agile practices in remote work situations.

Continue reading "Can We Still be Agile?" »


Returning to the (Electronic) Cottage

Electronic CottageThis is not a post about rich people now able to visit their second homes after the lockdown, instead, a revisit of the concepts of decentralized work being the new way of undertaking projects.

In 1980, Alvin Toffler’s book The Third Wave introduced the idea of “The Electronic Cottage” as the modern workplace where information technology allows more people to work from home or wherever they want. Toffler was a futurist and businessman who did not get the attention he deserved. Even though Accenture identified him as one of the most influential voices in business leaders (along with Bill Gates and Peter Drucker), we do not hear much about him.

Continue reading "Returning to the (Electronic) Cottage" »


Reset, Refocus: 2 Concepts and 8 Tips for Making Progress During the Pandemic

Ideas to tryIt is a dilemma. We need to move forward. Not just to make progress on projects, but also to give people something else to focus on beyond the tragedy and fear filling the news.

At the same time, we need to be sensitive to how people have been impacted. We need to demonstrate support and empathy. We need to be available to listen and help wherever we can. We need to step up and be professionals.

Context
More than ever, context is king. How to respond and lead in your environment will depend on how your project and stakeholders have been impacted. There is no universal best response. All I can do is offer some tips for consideration. You can then decide if they apply—and how to implement them for your environment.

Continue reading "Reset, Refocus: 2 Concepts and 8 Tips for Making Progress During the Pandemic" »


Regaining Trust: The Winners and Losers of a More Cautious Tomorrow

Future ProjectsPeople are smart, resourceful and inventive. We are also dumb and irrational. This combination makes forecasting nearly impossible.

People build cities, express themselves through art, and push forward our understanding of the world through science and logic. At the same time, they exhibit cognitive bias and often behave in ways that defy this same science and reasoning.

The simultaneous application of logic and defiance of logic is part of what makes humanity rich and complex. It is also why predicting how the world will change after the COVID-19 pandemic contains much uncertainty. Some effects will be the sensible results of events and reactions. Others will be nonsensical reactions (like hoarding toilet paper) due to cognitive bias. These factors will intermingle and interact with new yet unknown events to create a tomorrow that is impossible to calculate.

So, while nobody knows how our future will be different, we do have some ideas to help make an educated guess.

Continue reading "Regaining Trust: The Winners and Losers of a More Cautious Tomorrow" »


Available For Remote Work

  • Mike Griffiths Remote WorkDo you need relevant, high-quality articles for your corporate website?
  • Are you looking for an expert in leadership, agile, or project management?
  • Maybe you require some training materials, exam preparation support, or remote coaching?

I am available for remote work. If you like the ideas on this site or in my books, please get in touch, I would love to discuss opportunities to work together.

Details

Long before the COVID-19 crisis, I reduced traveling for consulting and training due to family health issues. I have worked mainly from home for the last five years and have been fortunate to stay busy. Now, because of COVID-19, a couple of my regular clients have suspended operations, and I have some spare capacity.

Please get in touch to discuss consulting, mentoring, courseware development, and writing opportunities. My email is Mike@LeadingAnswers.com

 


Playing in the Gray of Hybrid

Playing in the Gray of HybridGray areas occupy the transition from one world to the next. Neither black nor white, predictive nor agile, project managers are increasingly finding themselves in the gray area of hybrid project management. This can make us feel uncomfortable since we are neither faithfully following either approach—instead living a compromise between seemingly different value systems.

We could get uncomfortable, guarded and hesitant to embrace the reality we face. Or, we could welcome it, use it to our advantage and share the benefits/trade-offs with anyone willing to listen. This second option of embracing, using and sharing is “playing in the gray area,” a term I learned at a recent workshop I was giving. It nicely summarizes the idea of accepting and making the most of our reality rather than uncomfortably accommodating it and mainly keeping it to ourselves.

Continue reading "Playing in the Gray of Hybrid" »


How to Adapt and Flourish in the New World of Project Management

How to adapt and flourish in the new world of project managementDo you wonder how to stay current in your PM role? 

Is your industry evolving so quickly that one day you might no longer be required? 

With the rise of AI, agile, and empowered teams, are project managers even needed anymore? Maybe, but not for the reasons you might expect.

Continue reading "How to Adapt and Flourish in the New World of Project Management" »


Problem Solving: Using Visualization

Some people say we cannot manage what we cannot measure. I say we cannot solve what we cannot see, or at least visualize somehow.

Projects are problem-solving exercises. The entire project is one big problem. We might be building a new product; that's a problem to solve. Or we might be trying to create something well understood but within a challenging amount of time, to a tight budget, and demanding specification. Or we could be moving our organization forward through a change initiative. These are familiar project environments that are puzzles or problems to solve.

Visual Problem Solving for Project Managers Mike Griffiths 1

Then within this large problem environments, we have hundreds of everyday challenges to answer, too. "How are we going to manage without the installer today?" or "The pilot group has requested 400 changes, now what do we do?"

Continue reading "Problem Solving: Using Visualization" »


Career Development in Overdrive

OverdriveIn his best-selling book Drive: The Surprising Truth of What Motivates Us, Dan Pink explains three attributes (Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose) that people need to feel satisfied and motivated at work. It is a great book, but we can do more. Drive only gets us started. As project managers, we can do more to help the people on the projects we manage.

Remember, Nobody Wants to Be Managed

Continue reading "Career Development in Overdrive" »


Agile Illustrated – Sample #3

Agile Illustrated - Cover smallThis is the third sample from my new Kindle book “Agile Illustrated: A Visual Learner’s Guide to Agility”. The book is a graphical introduction to the agile mindset and servant leadership behaviors for working with agile teams. If you missed the first two samples you can find them here and here.

Also, just in time for Christmas, Agile Illustrated is now available as a physical paperback book. So if you prefer to hold a physical book rather than read a Kindle book you can now get your hands on a copy. Or, if you would like to give a copy to a manager or executive who is unlikely to read a normal length book on the agile mindset and how to support agile teams then buy them a copy as a gift.

Agile Illustrated New Physical BookAt just 88 pages and mainly pictures it is a quick read that explains the agile values, principles and servant leadership behaviors needed to support agile teams. Available from your local Amazon online store, the US link is here.

Today we will review Team Performance. The Team Performance domain includes Team Formation, Team Empowerment, and Team Collaboration activities. (Anyone taking the PMI-ACP exam should expect to see 18-20 questions on this topic.)

Here is a mindmap showing all the tasks, we will then review them one at a time.

Domain_04_d (1)

 Team Formation

D41
 
Task 1 – Jointly create team norms

Continue reading "Agile Illustrated – Sample #3" »


Organizational Structures that Support Faster Innovation and Evolution

Organizational agility is the ability of an enterprise to change direction, realign and succeed in volatile, uncertain business environments. It requires sensing emerging trends and actively listening to customer requests, then acting on this information and making the changes required to position the organization for where it needs to be in the future.

Small organizations can change direction quickly because they have fewer people or processes to change. Most medium to large-scale organizations have considerable mindset inertia in the form of strategies, multi-year plans, in-flight programs, and projects, etc. When fundamental change is required, it can be difficult to turn these large elements that have gathered their own momentum through the day-to-day behaviors of staff.

Continue reading "Organizational Structures that Support Faster Innovation and Evolution" »


Agile Illustrated - Sample #2

Here is the second sample from my new Kindle book “Agile Illustrated: A Visual Learner’s Guide to Agility”. The book is a graphical introduction to the agile mindset and servant leadership behaviors for working with agile teams. If you missed the first sample on the Agile Manifesto, you can find it here.

Today we will revisit the Declaration of Interdependence. A lesser-known cousin to the Agile Manifesto, the Declaration of Interdependence was created in a few years after the Agile Manifesto to describe how to achieve an Agile Mindset in product and project leadership. It describes six principles essential to agile project teams. We will review them one by one.

 

DOI1

 

 1 – We increase return on investment by making a continuous flow of value our focus.

Amaze your customers; keep giving them what they ask for!

Continue reading "Agile Illustrated - Sample #2" »


Agile Illustrated – Sample #1

Cover v2Over the next few weeks, I will be featuring samples from my new Kindle book “Agile Illustrated: A Visual Learner’s Guide to Agility”. The book is a graphical introduction to the agile mindset and servant leadership behaviors for supporting agile teams.

Let’s start with the Agile Manifesto:

The Agile Manifesto was created during a meeting in February 2001 that brought together a number of software and methodology experts who were at the forefront of the emerging agile methods. Let’s look at the values one by one.

 

M1 - sample

Value 1 – Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools

While processes and tools will likely be necessary, we should try to focus attention on the individuals and interactions involved. This is because work is undertaken by people, not tools, and problems get solved by people, not processes. Likewise, products are accepted by people, scope is debated by people, and the definition of a successfully “done” project is negotiated by people.

What will help set up a project for success is an early focus on developing the individuals involved and an emphasis on productive and effective interactions. Processes and tools can help, yet projects are ultimately about people. So, to be successful, we need to spend the majority of our time in what may be the less comfortable, messy, and unpredictable world of people.

 

M2 - sample

Value 2 – Working software over comprehensive documentation

This value speaks to the need to deliver. It reminds us to focus on the purpose or business value we’re trying to deliver, rather than on paperwork.

Continue reading "Agile Illustrated – Sample #1" »


"Agile Illustrated" - Update

Confirm business participationThanks to everyone who downloaded my new eBook “Agile Illustrated: A Visual Learner's Guide to Agility” you made it #1 Amazon Hot New Releases for “Technical Project Management”, along with #1 Amazon Best Seller in “Computers and Technology Short Reads”, and even #1 Amazon Best Seller in “PMP Exam” - which is odd because it is not even about the PMP exam.

Amazon sales stats

Manage risk proactively

Continue reading ""Agile Illustrated" - Update" »


Announcing "Agile Illustrated" Book

Agile Illustrated - Cover small

I am excited to announce a new eBook “Agile Illustrated: A Visual Learners Guide to Agility”.

It is a short, graphical overview of agile and agile team leadership published as an Amazon Kindle eBook.

 

Using mind-maps, cartoons, and short summaries it covers the agile manifesto, the declaration of interdependence for agile project management, and each of the 7 Domains and 60 Tasks covered in the PMI-ACP exam.

Gain concensus on acceptance criteria

It is short and light read but a powerful study aid for anyone preparing for the PMI-ACP exam. It also serves as a great executive summary for instilling an agile mindset and teaching the leadership behaviors to serve agile teams. With over 70 illustrations, mind-maps and cartoons it engages spatial and visual memory making the points easier to recall and explain to others.

If you think in pictures and like to see how ideas fit together this will be a valuable resource.

Tailor process to environment

Continue reading "Announcing "Agile Illustrated" Book" »


PMI Organizational Agility Presentation

PMI Organizational Agility Conference

Please join me on Thursday, September 12th for the PMI Organizational Agility Conference. This free, online event for PMI members awards viewers PDUs. I will be presenting on the topic of becoming a Change Resilient Professional.

 

As rates of change increase, building strategies and skills for adapting to change are becoming more important than ever. We will explore beyond agile models and the power of a “Yes, and…” mindset. I will be profiling the increasing pace of change and what the best organizations are doing to keep up with it, drive it forward, and future proof their employees.

 

There is a great lineup of presentations scheduled for the day. Check out the full program and register here.

OrgAgility19_792x200

 


Innovation: Running Experiments and Learning

Experiment DesignIn my last article on Incubating Innovation, we explored the culture and mindset of accountable experimentation. This article focuses on actionable tools and approaches.

Within agile frameworks, the team retrospective is the primary workshop for planning and evaluating experiments. Yet most team retrospectives I see are broken.

Teams spend too much time recording viewpoints and information—but not enough time reviewing or planning experiments. It is common to see the majority of the time spent gathering what went well, what did not go well, and appreciations. Yet where’s the focus on experiments, the learning process and trials for the next iteration?

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Let’s Rewrite the PMBOK

Future PMBOK
Phew, the wait is over! I have been wanting to talk about this for what seems like ages and now the official announcement is out! If you have ever been frustrated by the PMBOK Guide now here’s your chance to fix it.

We are looking for volunteers to write and review the next edition of the PMBOK Guide. However, this will not be just an update, instead a radical departure from all previous editions aligned with PMI’s new digital transformation strategy. That’s all I can explain for now, but more details will be announced when I can say more.

Meanwhile, we would like people with knowledge of the full value delivery spectrum (waterfall, hybrid, agile, lean, etc.) to participate.

Continue reading "Let’s Rewrite the PMBOK" »


Incubating Innovation

InnovationIf success goes to those who can innovate the fastest, how do we nurture innovation? The basics are simple to understand—but difficult to implement and stick with in the face of adversity. We need to create an environment that encourages experimentation while also tolerating, investigating and learning from the inevitable failures.

It may sound easy, but executives and shareholders demand results, not “learning opportunities.” We need an approach that fosters experimentation and learning in a defendable way, with a bias for results. To innovate faster than our competitors, we need to maximize our learning potential. This means that by design, 50% of our experiments should fail since we are seeking knowledge expansion, not validation of things we already know. The trick is keeping people engaged and motivated when half of their experiment time is spent failing.

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Review of Product Development Books

Product Development CycleNow that a software “Done” Milestone is more like a Tombstone

If you work in an industry that has digital products and services then the Product Development trend will impact you. As software becomes more critical to business operations and product offerings we are seeing that software projects do not end.

Many organizations are transitioning to become software focussed organizations that offer specialized services. Amazon is a software company with retail (and cloud) offerings. Banks are increasingly digital companies with financial services. The same with insurance, travel, music and even commercial goods. The cost of developing the software in new vehicles is now greater than the cost of the engine. It has become the single most expensive component, even in internal combustion engine vehicles with no autonomous driving features.

These websites and software services will only be “done” development when the company stops being competitive, offering new services or keeping up with technology evolution. At one time getting to "Done" on your software project was a relief, a goal, a milestone, now it is more of a tombstone. It means the product is no longer competing or actively being maintained as technology continues to evolve.

Switching from projects (that are temporary in nature) to products that are designed to be ongoing sounds easy enough - just keep funding the team, but for many organizations it is not that simple. Also, organizations that embrace the whole digital product view still need help governing the ongoing process.

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Volunteering: Giving Back That Feels Like Taking

Volunteer 2Volunteering with PMI has many benefits. Not only does it feel good to be giving back to the profession that supports us, but whenever I do it, I learn something new and build useful connections with fellow project practitioners. Add to this the fact you also earn PDUs makes the whole process a win, win, win.

Project management can feel a solitary activity sometimes. Even if you work with large teams and in organizations with many project managers, the unique nature of projects means PMs often have less in common with their peers than other roles.

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Focusing on Results, Not Agile Approaches

Focus on Business Value


Quarter Century

25 Years Agile2019 marks the 25 year anniversary of Scrum and DSDM. I was involved in the creation of DSDM in 1994 and was an early adopter of Scrum and FDD shortly afterward. Now, having been at this for a quarter of a century I am reflecting on where my journey has taken me compared to others.

I am agnostic about agile. I value the mindset and goals more than approaches that preach a single path. This has had mixed blessings for me. I remain agnostic and impartial, but I have not jumped on any of the approach bandwagons.

Continue reading "Focusing on Results, Not Agile Approaches" »


GOAT18

Shaw-center_0I am excited to be a keynote speaker at the Gatineau-Ottawa Agile Tour (GOAT) conference on November 30th. Along with Mary Poppendieck, we will be leading a day dedicated to learning about agile culture and collaboration.

The Gatineau Ottawa Agile Tour is an annual conference in the heart of the nation’s capital, focused on sharing and learning. GOAT has run for 7 years and is part of the Agile Tour that takes place in 90 cities worldwide.

Click to see the Keynotes Overview and the Sessions Previews.

I hope to see you there.


Hybrid Knowledge: Expansion and Contraction

Knowledge Expansion and ConsolidationExpansion and Contraction

Project management requires the combination of technical skills, people skills and industry-specific knowledge. It is a true hybrid environment. This knowledge and its application also forms a beautiful paradox. Our quest to gain skills is never complete and always expanding, but the most effective tools are usually the simplest. Smart people do very simple things to achieve desired outcomes. Yet, they probably considered fifty alternatives before choosing the most effective, simple approach. You must know a lot to be confident your choice is apt.

Knowledge and experience in project management follows the same pattern. Learning about project management, how to work effectively with people, and our industry domain is never complete. We then use this knowledge to choose the best action, which for ease of understanding and implementation, is usually a simple course of action. I call it Expansion and Contraction, but there is probably a simpler name I will learn about one day.

Continue reading "Hybrid Knowledge: Expansion and Contraction" »


The New Need to be Lifelong Learners

Never Stop LearningWe are a generation who stand with one foot in the outgoing industrial era and one in the knowledge-based future. Training and education that prepared us well for careers in the past will not work in a faster-moving future. Now, we need to be not just lifelong learners, but engaged, active lifelong learners.

The move from industrial work to knowledge-based or learning work can be difficult to see because change does not happen uniformly. Instead, some organizations push ahead, while others lag behind. However, all industries are changing and terms like “Retail Apocalypse” are invented to describe the trend in just one sector.

Continue reading "The New Need to be Lifelong Learners" »


Creed Over Greed: Motivation and Purpose

SunriseThere have been a couple of stories in the news recently that reveal some important facts about motivation and purpose.

  • Ex-Tesla Workers Are Still Believers

Some people’s reactions over being fired from Tesla surprised many analysts. Rather than the normal angry barbs (and I am sure there were plenty of those) what made the news were the messages of thanks from, now ex-employees, explaining how they enjoyed their time there and were glad to be a part of it. Some of the Tweets included:

  • “Thanks for the opportunity, Elon! Eye on the mission. Will always be proud to say I worked for Tesla”
  • “I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed working for Tesla”
  • “I was laid off from Tesla yesterday and although it hurts (a lot!), it is the right thing for the company. I don’t regret giving all I had and in a way bidding adieu is my last contribution. I’ll be cheering Tesla on knowing I did my part. Thanks for the years of memories!”

A Bloomberg article Fired Tesla Workers Still Love Elon Musk recaps some of the comments.

  • Enlightened Pessimism

From a reverse perspective, a recent Science Direct article found that Employees who practice mindfulness meditation are less motivated, having realized the futility of their jobs. It seems that when people learn how to detach from sources of stress they are less likely to want to work towards goals they are not aligned with.

So, beware those corporate mindfulness workshops unless your organization has a compelling purpose!

The Importance of a Compelling Purpose

First, people want jobs that satisfy their physical and safety needs of having enough money to provide the necessary food and shelter. These are levels one and two in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. None of the later stages of motivation ever come into play until these most critical needs are met. However, once they are met, people want to work towards something worthwhile and motivating.

Tesla has never been about making fancy electric cars, that’s just a side effect of their real purpose. The Tesla vision and mission statement used to be: “To accelerate the world's transition to sustainable transport.” However, in mid-2016, the company changed it to “To accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy.” So, they are not building cars, they are helping save the planet for us and future generations.

That is a worthy goal. It is a purpose people can get behind, and a reason people were glad to work at Tesla, even if their role has now ended. They were never just car makers, they were game changers and that’s what people are grateful for.

Contrast it to the mission of BMW: “Strategy Number ONE aligns the BMW Group with two targets: to be profitable and to enhance long-term value – from a technological, structural and cultural perspective. The mission statement up to the year 2020 is to become the world's leading provider of premium products and premium services for individual mobility.”

While it mentions culture, there is a focus on profit, value and being the world’s leading… In other words, it is based on money and dominance, rather than a compelling purpose.

Creed Over Greed

Most organizations share mission and vision statements like BMW’s. They talk about generating shareholder value and becoming the biggest this or the leading that. This is understandable in a purely economic model, but as we saw earlier, once people have enough money they want something more - something compelling, something worthwhile.

When we can appeal to people’s desire for meaning, and when we can support them to make valuable contributions to a worthwhile purpose, they will experience motivation beyond the economics that dwindles over time. “Creed” means a belief system, it is more powerful than greed. Growing larger for the sake of profit and market share is unfulfilling, like a cancerous growth.

Having a worthwhile purpose people can unite behind is tremendously powerful. Organizations like TOMS Shoes and Warby Parker attract top talent not only because they are rewarding places to work, but also because they share a larger goal of helping others less fortunate. Studies show that contributing to good causes makes us happy so it should be no surprise that working for an organization that helps others should be the most rewarding and motivating.

Talent is More Mobile Than Ever

The internet has lowered the cost of communication. It is easier than ever to advertise jobs and share the corporate purpose. People tend to switch jobs more frequently now and the same tools that make advertising jobs easier, also make relocation easier. Smart, talented people are more mobile than ever. They want to apply their skills in worthwhile, interesting settings.

Given the choice of making more money for executives and shareholders or saving the planet, most people (thankfully) would choose to try and help save the planet. When Tesla was hiring last year, they received nearly 500,000 applicants for about 2,500 job openings. So, people only had about a 1 in 200 chance of being accepted – a  testimony to how much people want to work there.

With these odds only the very best people get accepted. This has a two-fold effect, 1) the top talent moves to the better companies, 2) lacklustre organizations get a higher concentration of sub-par people as the best move on.

Find the Purpose/Make a Purpose

If you are a CEO, aligning your organization with a higher propose will help attract top talent. If you are a leader in a traditional organization, then creating opportunities for employees to contribute to society is a powerful motivator.

We cannot all work for Tesla or Patagonia, but we can try to inject some worthwhile components into people’s work lives.  Hackathons for a good cause, Habitat for Humanity volunteering, they all help create more satisfied and motivated team members.

At various stages of people’s careers, they care about different things. Many people starting out just want the highest paying job they can obtain to get established in their adult lives. This is understandable and natural. Then, later they want to be part of something bigger, something more useful. Understanding and recognizing this desire allows organizations offering a motivating purpose the capability to appeal to the top tier talent.

 

[Note: I wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com first and it was published here]


AI Assistants for Project Managers

Robot hand
Predictions like “AI will take our jobs” sound scary. However, long before our jobs as project managers are taken, AI will help us. In fact, it already is, and we don’t think about it much. While writing this article, AI in Microsoft Word and the add-in Grammarly helped protect you from the bulk of my spelling and grammar mistakes. This is how AI will help us first, by doing small things we are error-prone with, before tackling larger tasks.

Like me, do you spend time booking meetings, finding rooms, and distributing information? Do you analyze backlogs and scope outlines for potential risks, or review estimates for commonly missed activities? Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help with these tasks and many more.

Imagine having a non-judgemental expert monitoring everything you do (and do not do) at work and making helpful suggestions to you in private. This expert is constantly learning, is plugged into all the latest research and works for free. This is the not too distant future of AI assisted project management.

June was Technology month at Project Management.com, and there have been a few articles about AI taking away project management jobs. This article focusses on ways AI can help project managers which will happen as AI develops and before it can replace jobs. It deals with automating the process and science parts of project management, leaving people more time to focus on the relationships, leadership, storytelling, empathy and emotional intelligence side of projects that are harder to tackle and are (currently) best done by people.

AI has come a long way since Microsoft rolled out the annoying and not so helpful “Clippy” Office Assistant tool in 2003. It was never tuned for project managers, but it if were it might have looked something like this:

ClippyInstead, AI is becoming more sophisticated and useful. Gmail will remind you to attach a file if you mention “attach” in the text of an email that has no attachment. Most people use personal assistants like Siri and Cortana on their phones, or Alexa in their homes. Voice recognition and comprehension are steadily increasing. Google recently demonstrated their new Google Assistant calling and interacting with a hair salon to book a haircut. Clearly, these tools will soon be ready for prime time and their use will be widespread.

Kevin Kelly, futurist and founding executive editor of Wired magazine, says in his TED talk: “Everything that we have electrified, we are now going to cognify”. In other words, we will add intelligence to devices and products. Kelly went on to say, “I would suggest that the formula for the next 10,000 start-ups be very, very simple: take X - and add AI.

To understand how AI can help project managers, let's examine its basic capabilities.

  • Knowledge Based Expert System (KBES) – these work from decision trees of IF - THEN statements to provide expertise. Gmail’s attachment reminder works with similar IF body_text includes “attach” AND Attachment = False THEN issue a warning.
  • Artificial Neural Network (ANN) – these systems model our real brains and consist of networks of weighted connections. They can be programmed to learn, recall, generalize and apply fuzzy logic. So, if we teach it someone 4ft high is Short and someone 6ft high is Tall it can generalize that someone 4ft 6 is “Not very tall”. Being able to make these types of generalizations are important for realistic interactions with people, such as Google Assistant making a hair appointment.
  • Machine Learning – this builds on Knowledge Based Expert Systems and Artificial Neural Networks to create predictive analytics that can provide validation and advice. In the project management space, this is the technology that can help with checking for missed risks, rebaselining plans, recalculating the Cost of Delay for waiting initiatives, etc.
  • Chatbots - AI powered programs designed to simulate a conversation with humans. Chatbots use artificial neural networks and machine learning to combine domain intelligence with natural language processing. This gives the impression of interacting with a (currently somewhat) knowledgeable person.

If these technologies sound far-fetched in the project management field, consider the quote “The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed”. Agile tool vendor Atlassian, already provide project assistants that help with budgets, estimates, and sprint management. They also have chatbots to share project information and remind team members for estimates and status updates.

Moving forward, these tools will be expanded to help check our work for common mistakes, just as Word checks for common spelling errors. Every industry has catalogs of defect origins and removal methods (here is one for software projects) AI assistants can apply this knowledge and suggest steps to help avoid or reduce these risks. It is not an exact science and as a project manager, I may choose to dismiss potential risks flagged. However, having assistants available to highlight these risks or list the top 10 estimation omissions in my field is probably better than not having them.

AI assistants can also alert project managers to slowly developing trends that might otherwise go unnoticed. The old saying that projects become late one day at a time is very true. Optimistic project managers with “Can-do” attitudes often underestimate the impact of small setbacks and or hope that teams will “catch-up” later.  This hardly ever happens, and AI assistants can be programmed to alert early and avoid hope-based-planning.

Over-Reliance?

There is a risk that with expert knowledge systems, organizations may be tempted to use inexperienced project managers. Or project managers become reliant upon these tools and not think as deeply as they may otherwise. Like any technology, a fool with a tool is still a fool. However, tapping into standard risk lists from your industry, that gets augmented with those from previous projects in your organization is a smart move.

Having calculators has likely reduced our ability to perform long division calculations manually. However, I don’t want to go back to self-calculation just because I fear an over-reliance on technology. Instead, I want to use technology where I can and free up my time and mental capacity for other work.

Higher Value Work

The PMI Talent Triangle is a good model for thinking about all the work a project manager does. It includes: 1) Technical Project Management – the project mechanics described in the PMBOK Guide and Agile frameworks, 2) Strategic and Business Management – your industry-specific work, and 3) Leadership – the people dynamics of projects.

If we squash the triangle out and lay the pieces in order of how much impact the project manager’s contribution has towards project success we get: Technical, then Strategic, and then Leadership. By this sequence, I mean that if the basics of Technical Management are met then Strategic and Business Management work is more significant. Furthermore, good Leadership has an even greater impact on overall project performance than Strategic and Business Management Work, and Technical Project Management.

This sequence is shown below:

AI Focus

The good news for us as project managers is that (currently) AI is best suited for the lower value end of this work spectrum. It is already capable of assisting and saving us time with Technical Project Management work. Next, it should soon be commonplace to get AI assistance with Strategic and Business Management tasks. This will involve accessing machine learning focussed on our industry domains, like ROI models, common risks, and estimation omissions.

The last area AI will move into is the Leadership domain. Machine learning requires deep data sets in a consistent form to draw reliable conclusions. The people dynamics of motivation, conflict management, and negotiation are harder to classify and rank.  Currently, most people would rather work with a real person to solve issues or discover their calling. Who knows, maybe in future people will prefer to interact with chatbots who’s decision parameters can be shown to be neutral and fair. This might be preferable to dealing with people with all their inherent bias and gaps in knowledge.

All I know for now is that I currently welcome any AI assistance I can use. It is likely to safeguard me from making basic technical project management errors or omissions. It should also be helpful soon in providing industry knowledge and best practice – like having a seasoned professional in the industry available to look over your work. However, AI tools will check in real-time before you commit that decision or share a plan.

This leaves me more time to focus on the people. The people sponsoring the project, those working on it, and those who will be impacted by it. They will have their own AI assistants too. Booking meetings, getting rooms, and sharing ideas should become frictionless leaving us to work on the more significant issues.

My recommendation is to stay abreast of AI developments and remain open to trying the tools as they emerge. Standing still in an environment that is moving forward has the effect of moving backwards -which is not good. Where I should probably be more worried is in writing articles like this. It seems like a blend of domain-specific Strategic work with some Leadership based storytelling. Likely a candidate for an AI takeover long before the project manager. (My plan is to get in on the research and get a Chatbot writing this stuff for as long as I can get away with it!)

References:

  1. How AI could Revolutionize Project Management, CIO Magazine, Mary Branscome, January 12 2018
  2. 3 ways AI will change project management for the better, Atlassian Blog, April 7, 2017
  3. Artificial Intelligence in Project Management - Is Your Company Ready for it?, Teodesk Blog, Minja Belic, January 22 2018
  4. AI will Transform Project Management. Are You Ready?, PWC White paper, Marc Lahmann, et Al, 2018
  5. Artificial Intelligence in Project Management, Khaled Hamdy, March 2017

[Note: I wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com, it first appeared here – free membership required.]

 


Webinar – Solving Wicked Problems: What is Old is New Again

Problems
My PMXPO webinar has now been watched by > 11,000 people and received lots of positive feedback. It is hosted at ProjectManagement.com here.

(For people collecting Professional Development Units (PDUs), it also auto-records 1.25 credits for you.)

The webinar reviews problem-solving through the ages and shows how agile is the rediscovery of many old approaches. Wicked problems are those that cannot be solved with traditional methods or ways of thinking. They are the unique challenges never seen before in your organization, region or industry.

As companies race to innovate and compete in a global market, we are seeing wicked problems more and more often. While the solution may be new, some common steps repeat in the stories of novel problem-solving successes through history. This presentation combines a fast-paced view of wicked problems and solutions through history—with a slower reveal of the common steps for solving challenging projects.

It is ideal for anyone faced with managing projects with lots of uncertainty—or people looking to understand the links between lean, leadership, building collaborative teams and problem-solving.

Watch Now.


Agile 2018 Conference – Unraveling Team Dependencies

Agile_SD2018_600x100_Speaking_FM
I am excited to be presenting on the Enterprise Agile track at the Agile 2018 conference in San Diego, August 7. I have worked with several organizations this year that had issues with work dependencies between teams. My session called “Two-Pizza Team Heartburn Relief: Solutions to Team Dependencies” highlights the shift to global rather than local optimization.

We will investigate dependency problems through animations and simulations and then explore some candidate solutions. Each brings their own issues – if these problems were solvable they would have been already, but the suggestions do help considerably. Here is the description from the conference program:

Small teams are great - until they cause bigger problems than they solve. Small teams can communicate more effectively than large teams. They can leverage face-to-face communications more readily and share tacit knowledge without the need for so much written communication. However, for large endeavours, using many small teams present their own problems. Work dependencies between teams can cause major delays through costly hand-offs, mismatched priorities, and blocked tasks.

This workshop introduces strategies for structuring teams to reduce hand-offs and dependencies that create blocked work and delays. By investigating the (lack of) flow through multiple teams we can diagnose the cost of hand-offs and culprits of delays. We examine tools for making hand-offs and dependencies visible to highlight and bring collective attention to the problems. We then explore resolution patterns and work structures that maximize small team communications but limit negative aspects of managing multiple, inter-dependent project teams.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the time and cost penalties of team dependencies and hand-offs
  • Gain tools for making dependencies, queues, and blocked work visible
  • Learn how and when to balance small team benefits with more dependency issues
  • Share implementation patterns and strategies to maximize team throughput
  • Examine the pros and cons of larger teams, feature teams, and product vs. project development.

That probably sounds more technical than it really is. It is a workshop to show people how teams often get stuck with work items when they rely on work from other groups. It combines anecdotes and experiences from 20+ years of agile consulting along with some insights from Troy Magennis on dependency delays, and Dominica DeGrandis, author of Making Work Visible.

Through case studies and exercises, we explore the hidden impacts of well-intentioned small teams. First, we’ll explore the “mostly harmless” two and three team dependencies, and then see the impacts when five or six dependant teams try to get work done. Please come along if you are attending the conference and have issues with dependencies between teams.


Post-Industrial Project Management

Old TractorIntroduction

We know old concepts that govern agriculture do not apply to industry. Engineers do not consult the weather or growing seasons before designing machinery. Yet many project managers who work in the knowledge worker domain still apply project management approaches developed for the industrial era. This mismatch of approaches wastes effort and misses important new risks.

This article identifies the mismatch of applying industrial project management in today’s post-industrial marketplace. We first examine how to determine if your projects are: industrial, knowledge work, or hybrid. Then classify project management tools and techniques. Fortunately, for every industrial focused approach, there are modern knowledge worker equivalents. Using this information, we can apply the right tools for the job or at least identify the risks of mismatched projects and techniques.

 

How We Got Here

Work, like people, has evolved. Humans started out as nomadic hunter-gathers following the seasons and game. Then, when they discovered farming, they settled and built permanent home sites. This change was christened the Agricultural Revolution and heralded a huge shift in how people lived and worked.

Next came the Industrial Revolution. Farmers and craftsmen (craftspeople really) moved from distributed communities to live in expanding cities where the industrial mills and factories were booming. Again, this was a massive change for humanity. Schools focused on timekeeping, rigour, and repetition to prepare children to work in factories. Conformance to schedules and plans made the scaling of a workforce possible.

Concepts like Taylor’s Scientific Management provided tools for tackling big engineering endeavours and applying specialized labour. Progressive decomposition of work and detailed scheduling of tasks allowed complex projects to be planned and managed. Techniques like work breakdown structures, network diagrams, and Gantt charts were taught to project managers to tame and track engineering work.

These techniques work well for tangible, stable and mostly predictable projects. As long as an organization has a history of building a similar product, then the gap to a new design or bigger scale can be reasonably estimated and planned for. Difficulties arise when we try to use these approaches on intangible, unfamiliar, and new environments. Differences in understanding frequently occur when we lack physical reference points such as “I want a wooden door like this one, but a foot taller”. These differences result in more change requests, more reported defects, more uncertainties and risks.

In novel, intangible environments like software development or filmmaking things rarely progress predictably enough to follow the “Plan the work, work the plan” mantra of industrial projects. New technology evolution accelerates the rates of change. Demands to deliver faster worsen the situation. Many of today’s projects fit this new breed of project that were christened "Knowledge Work" projects by Peter Drucker.

Also, many traditional industrial projects have been automated or offshored to cheaper labour markets. This leaves a higher proportion of new projects developing largely invisible, intangible, difficult to reference, products and services – knowledge work.

I am not suggesting all project work has changed. Just as we still have farmers - and hopefully always will, we still have traditional industry and industrial projects. So, while not all work has changed, the fastest growing segment has. The increasing role of software in business also means a larger proportion of projects have at least some knowledge work component. 

To help diagnose your project types, answer the following questions about the nature of projects you execute.

Table 1

If you scored more on the left-hand side of the table, you are engaged in mainly industrial type projects. This is good news for reliable execution, traditional project management tools and techniques should serve you well. If you scored more on the right-hand side, you are firmly in the knowledge worker domain. You should move from industrial project management approaches and adopt knowledge worker ones. If you scored equally from each column, you are in a hybrid environment. Here you likely need to draw on a combination of approaches to be successful.

 

New Territory, New Tools

The tools and approaches of the knowledge worker revolution address the complexity and ambiguity that accompany these projects. Let’s dig deeper to understand the characteristics and appreciate post-industrial project management techniques.

Knowledge work projects bring subject matter experts together to collaborate on new and unique products and services. This might involve scientists, teachers, doctors, lawyers, software developers, or web designers working with the business to build something new. Each of these groups has specialized knowledge, typically no single person knows everything needed to complete the project. What is being created is new or sufficiently different to the sponsoring organization that previous project’s plans and estimates are not particularly useful to predict progress.

Compared to traditional, predictable industrial engineering, complexity, uncertainty, risk and change rates seem very high. Without tangible reference work, it is necessary to use an iterative-and-incremental approach to determine fitness-for-business-purpose. Teams could attempt to analyze and predict all features and functions, but often initial use uncovers additional opportunities and requirements.

Trying to explain the nuances of iTunes or Netflix to someone who has never seen anything like it before is difficult. Incremental trial proves faster and more useful than speculative big-design-upfront that cannot anticipate every interaction with user behaviour or linked systems.

Tools rooted in big-design-upfront, predictable decomposition of tasks, linear progression of work, etc do not work well in these environments. These include detailed requirements documents, work breakdown structures, network diagrams, Gantt Charts and earned value management. That’s not to say you cannot use these approaches, just there are alternatives that better handle the high rates of change and uncertainty.

We still need to record requirements and the use of product backlogs containing user stories makes it easier to reprioritize when changes occur. We still need to break down work and help the business decide how to best divide a big project. Instead of looking at complex architectural component diagrams, the business can make better delivery decisions by using release roadmaps, and features lists.

In the face of high rates of change, averaging delivery rates to-date can give more reliable projections than estimating the durations for planned activities. Likewise, when work is creative or R&D type in nature, we often get nonlinear progression – in other words, some things go faster than anticipated while other items take longer. Approaches like earned value management that extrapolate performance to-date to predict likely completion schedules and costs assume a linear progression of work. Instead, tracking progress based on tested, accepted features only is a more reliable predictor of true progress.

Table 2 shows knowledge-work alternatives to industrial work project approaches

Table 2

Traditional project management approaches are built on the realities of predictable, industrial work. Knowledge work projects defy these traditional laws of physics since they operate outside the physical domain. Instead, they deal with ideas, people and collaboration, which is intangible. Traditional resource management suggests if we are digging a ditch with 10 people, then adding 10 more people would complete the task in half the time. Fred Brooks’ law of software development tells us that adding more people to a project that is already late will increase its duration.

Traditional project management approaches are not flawed or broken. They work great for the industrial world. In these environments, the best way to run a project is with detailed upfront planning, clearly articulated tasks and schedules, and careful granular tracking. However, if your results from assessing Table 1 indicate a hybrid or knowledge work environment then use the appropriate tools.

Trying to use the recommendations from a previous work era is akin to waiting for a full moon before starting your kitchen reno. At best you are adding wasted activities and at worst you are ignoring the realities of your environment that carry the risk of overruns and failure. 

 


The Truth About Transformations

TransformationTransformations are flavor of the month. It is no longer enough to launch “initiatives,” “programs” or “projects” to undertake work. Instead, we launch agile transformations, digital transformations and productization transformations. They sound more revolutionary, more dramatic and further reaching. Our organizations will emerge reborn, uniquely positioned to compete in a new world of opportunities and growth. Like a larva transforming into a butterfly, we can now fly!

Well, that’s the idea and the promise of the consulting companies that sell transformation services. However, what really happens? Can the average organization actually become a disruptive leader just by adopting the structures, tools and processes from the real disruptive leaders? Or, is it like buying the same shoes as our basketball heroes wear hoping they will transform us into slam-dunking superstars? The reality is somewhere between these extremes. Any company can improve, but we should not expect to become something we are not.

Let’s look at some of the popular transformation services on sale and examine the promise and truths they hold.

 

Agile Transformations Dandelion

The goal: Agile transformations move organizations from working with traditional project management approaches to using agile approaches. They also seek to change the way organizations are structured and run from a top-down, command-and-control model to a more business- and customer-led, value-driven approach.

They aim to instil lean concepts of respect for people, minimization of waste, and value delivery. They employ a more trusting Theory Y view of workers as willing contributors rather than the traditional Theory X view that workers need close supervision to work hard. They encourage workers through intrinsic motivators such as empowerment, autonomy of work, and belief in a worthy purpose rather than carrot-and-stick approaches.

The claimed benefits: Agility allows organizations to respond to change more quickly since plans and work are done in smaller batches with frequent checkpoints. This allows changes in direction to be made when feedback indicates it would be desirable. The evaluate-as-you-go and learn-as-you-go aspects of iterative and incremental development help organizations manage complexity and uncertainty.

Agile approaches allow for the delivery of value sooner since work is prioritized via business value. The empowerment and intrinsic rewards offered result in happier, more engaged employees. Allowing workers to design their own workplace and work practices results in a more loyal and productive workforce. A mantra of one agile approach is to “Change the world of work.”

The reality: Agile is much easier to implement at a team and project level than it is at an organizational level. Teams quickly see the benefits of frequent collaboration and business engagement. Tools like product backlogs, kanban boards and release roadmaps bring much-needed visibility to design work and problem solving that often manipulates invisible data and ideas. Iterative development of small batches of work, with frequent reviews, provides better insights into progress and issues than sequential, large-batch development. While some people find the “let’s try something” approach counter-intuitive to rigorous upfront planning and design, most understand the risk reduction and true requirements validation benefits.

At the organization level, it’s a tougher sell. The initial confusion and apparent chaos that comes with establishing empowered, self-organizing, self-managing teams can seem like the inmates are running the asylum. What happens to supervisors and managers? In some organizations, departments are built around functional silos. If I was head of the quality assurance group and now all my people report into individual teams, what’s left for me to do? How do I justify my yearly budget (and position) with my headcount down to zero?

Organizational structures often reflect their culture and decision-making style. This may be hierarchical, flat or distributed. Truly transforming the organization to be agile requires a change of structure, which means changing the culture. Not an easy task, and not something to be undertaken lightly. It requires sufficient buy-in from the very top through every layer to the bottom.

Agile transformations often stall at the organizational level. Instead, we see pockets of conversion and pockets of resistance. It often takes changes in roles for the transformation to occur. However, just changing the way teams operate brings many benefits. While not really an agile transformation, a “switch” to agile project operation within a traditional organization can still be very beneficial.

So, while true agile transformations are rare, agile implementations are common and still worthwhile. The organization may never grow wings and fly as promised by consultants—but if it learns to wiggle more efficiently, avoid danger, and eat faster, that might be all it needs.

 

Digital Transformations  Digital

The goal: Digital transformations aim to convert and grow business in the self-serve digital domain. They do not have to involve websites, but many do. Rather than visiting offices or calling in for service, customers self-manage through apps and websites that greatly reduce labor costs and offer almost unlimited scaling opportunities.

The claimed benefits: Cost reduction and closer engagement are the main claimed benefits. They use websites and AI-powered chatbots to handle the majority of customer questions and interactions. This reduces the need to have as many people employed at physical locations and answering phone calls. Banks and insurance companies are undertaking digital transformations to offer services in convenient formats for customers (mobile phones) as well as reduce overheads.

Encouraging customers to manage their services via mobile apps also opens up options to ping, notify and promote upsell opportunities. It is cheaper and easier to push promotions and “exclusive member benefit offers” to people who install apps than compete for attention in traditional advertising channels. Apps also let companies gather additional marketing intelligence like location, contacts, spending habits, etc.—all additional fuel for promotions and potential sales.

The reality: Building compelling websites, apps and AI services is no small undertaking. Many organizations go through the significant expenditure to discover that only a portion of their customer base embraces the new options. Organizations then try carrot-and-stick paperless discounts or paper-based account fees to incentivize the desired behavior.

These new websites and app projects will never be finished or done. Since they now represent the organization's face and communications vehicle, expect ongoing investment in their upkeep and technology refresh cycles. When looking at the potential savings, do not underestimate the likelihood of initial build costs to spiral—and integration into existing back-end systems to be orders-of-magnitude more costly and time-consuming than anticipated.

However, it seems an inevitable trend. Using established content management systems and app frameworks can help rein in costs. Being at the forefront of technological capability is only paramount if your core business is selling technology services (Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft). For everyone else, fast-follower (or even majority-adopter) is probably fine. Digital transformations are real, already here and unlikely to be fading anytime soon.

 

Productization Transformations Product

The goal: This is the transition from using projects to build software systems to building and viewing software as long-term products. As organizations realize software represents a market differentiator, they recognize their systems will never be “done.” If they were to finish, it means they are no longer innovating, improving or competing.

So, they move from the start-stop world of software development through projects and instead adopt continuous development and drip-feed funding models. Historically, organizations staffed and funded projects through vendors and contractors using capital expenditure models. The switch to software as a long-lived product or service changes both staffing and budgeting. The increase in cloud-based hosting also raises the question of opex (operating expenditure) versus capex (capital expenditure) funding.

Organizations often reach out for help making these changes to development, staffing and funding models. This is the new and emerging world of productization or “continuous digital delivery.” It involves restructuring and forming long-lived product teams with everyone present to develop and maintain the software products over its entire lifespan.

The claimed benefits: By eliminating the handoffs between development teams and sustainment teams, more knowledge about the system, and how to extend it, is retained. Fewer handoffs in general is one of the biggest benefits of switching to products instead of projects. Handoffs are very wasteful—they contribute to the eight lean DOWNTIME wastes…

Defects
Overproduction
Waiting
Non-utilized talent
Transportation
Inventory excess
Motion waste
Extra processing

…all of which can occur when one group hands off work to another group.

By creating stable teams that are aligned with developing and sustaining long-term products, organizations can wean themselves off unpredictable vendor models. From a budgeting perspective, estimating the burn rates and capabilities of stable teams is much more reliable than estimating how long a new vendor-based team will take to complete some work.

Stability, continuous development and better knowledge retention are all compelling reasons to trade projects for products. The difficulties come in the transition and available support.

The reality: Switching from running traditional stop-and-start software projects to continuous product development is still a new idea. Usually, organizations have a suite of currently executing projects that still need to be delivered on schedule. Existing vendor contracts may make it difficult to switch to the onsite execution approach favored by continuous digital delivery.

Finance departments are typically set up to evaluate and approve requests for expenditures based on one- or multi-year ROI projections. In the continuous development world of productization, the spending never stops.

Instead of project-based funding, small teams create minimal viable products for evaluation. If they show promise, they get additional funding in more of a venture capital-style model. New metrics like customer market share and profit-to-funding ratios are used.

The benefits are real and don’t require a major upheaval to organizational culture or structures. However, experience is thin on the ground along with books and training courses. It’s like using what we today call agile approaches in the 1990s. There are early adopters, conference sessions and blog posts, but far to go before the idea even approaches the chasm (let alone crosses it).

 

Summary

“Transformation” is probably too grand a word for the degree of change most organizations achieve. However, as so many ideas compete for our limited attention spans, it would seem crazy to merely name a change initiative a “rollout” or “improvement” these days. People have become desensitised to reasonable names and seek revolution and excitement to generate the interest they need to participate.

We should not expect traditional organizations to truly match digital-first companies like Spotify. They were founded to disrupt existing businesses and came without the baggage of a traditional client base to support. (Also, they are led and staffed by people that share different values than most North American institutions.)

Their ideas may be great for other organizations to experiment with and adopt what works, but what makes them truly powerful is that the ideas were created internally and vetted through experiments. Copy the concept (internally generate new processes to solve local problems), but not Spotify’s actual procedures.

There is nothing wrong with buying the same kind of shoes as Michael Jordan wore (heck, if the placebo effect gets you exercising more, they were likely a good purchase). However, don’t leave your day job to sign up with a basketball team until you’re sure you are world class. Today’s transformations bring many benefits—as long as you take the “transformation” claim with a grain of salt.

 

[Note: I first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com here]


Where Did All the Project Managers Go?

PuzzleSoftware is eating the world” claimed venture capitalist, Marc Andreessen in his 2011, New York Times article. Seven years on, the trend continues, and project managers are also on the menu. The next generation of project managers face new challenges but also new opportunities as organizations undergo a major transformation.

Software is becoming omnipresent, it is embedded and integral to all industries. Not just technology companies (like Google, Apple) but every sector is being disrupted by software including retail (Amazon), banking (PayPal, cryptocurrencies), transportation (Tesla, Uber), and travel (Airbnb).

As a project manager you may say “Great, just think of all those IT projects that will need project managers!” Well, that’s where things get interesting. First, today’s software teams don’t respond well to being “managed”, that’s old-school command-and-control thinking along with Gantt charts and calling people “resources”. Instead, they are led, empowered and supported by servant leaders. Next, the idea of a “project” with a defined endpoint is dissolving too.

As organizations realize their software systems provide the competitive advantage then stopping development equates to an end to innovation or competing. When organizations become more software-driven their systems are never “done”. As a result, organizations are switching from projects (that have a fixed end) to products - that continue to evolve. This movement popularized by the #NoProjects and Continuous Digital titles is growing exponentially.

 

 The Project Manager in a No Projects, No Managers Future

This double whammy of no more projects and no more managers likely creates heartburn for people with the job title “Project Manager”.  While this trend is clearly the future of work, I believe there will always be a role for smart, cooperative people that can help with collaboration and development. 

 A quote that comes to mind is “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr. The next generation of project managers will have new titles like “Product Leads”, “Development Team Coordinators” and “Digital Transformation Leaders”. They will help organizations build development capabilities around long-term products.

 This new generation will still communicate with stakeholders about status and risks. They will still facilitate consensus gathering amongst experts. They will still try to diffuse conflict and find common ground during arguments. The goals (satisfied stakeholders and value delivery) will remain the same but the tools, titles and processes employed will be vastly different.

 

New Tools and Approaches

Heavy upfront planning efforts and the use of tools like critical path network diagrams and PERT charts are not so useful when the input data is very uncertain. Tools like work breakdown structures offer great insights into sub-system assemblies but they are slower and more difficult to reprioritize than modern backlogs and release roadmaps.

As rates of change increase so too does early lifecycle uncertainty and the competitive need to start work quickly. The days of carefully analyzing work products upfront are dwindling. Instead, organizations build prototypes based on what they know right now and then iterate towards the final product. In the intangible world of software, the cost of experimentation is less than that of detailed analysis.

Also, using a software product provides better feedback on its suitability and possible expansion than reviewing a document or diagram about it. IWKIWISI (I Will Know It When I See It) becomes the new mantra, replacing the “Plan the work, and work the plan” ideas of old.

As organizations adopt a continuous delivery model that is focussed on products not projects then funding models change also. Instead of yearly budget cycles to fund entire projects, smaller tranches of funds are released to create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Then, providing the product continues to return value, more funding is made available. A venture capital funding model lets product leaders focus on delivering a stream of high-value features that support continued investment.

Projects classically track metrics like on time/budget and Return On Investment (ROI). Products track customer satisfaction, market share, profit to funding ratios. They are similar concepts but a new vocabulary to learn.

 

Role Changes

Agile software development teams organize their own work, solve most of their own problems, and are empowered to experiment with new work strategies and approaches. They do not need (or want) to have work assigned to them, nor asked to report status. Instead, they make their work visible via kanban boards and new features.

They do however need people to remove impediments and chase up external dependencies. They also need investment in training, shielding from interruptions, plus regular encouragement and words of thanks to stay motivated. In short, all the servant leadership practices that good project managers did anyway still apply.

Project managers cannot be the center of work planning or task distribution. There is too much complexity to be anything but a bottleneck. Instead, we must trust development team members and product owners from the business as subject matter experts in their own domains.

Where these teams often need help is keeping the larger perspective on where it is we are trying to get to. When you are heads-down on solving a technical issue, it is easy to lose sight of the end goal. Having someone communicate the product vision reveals a beckoning summit towards which others can chart their own course.

In this way servant leadership and visionary leadership that predate modern project management are still valuable and needed. Yet the scientific project management that grew out of the industrialization of process is largely left behind.

 

The Future

In many industries, the classic role of projects and project managers will continue. I don’t see construction moving away from big upfront design and the reliance on project managers any time. In the software world though I think we are heading for substantial changes. Sure, some companies will continue as they always have with software project and project managers. However, most organizations will transition to long-term products with leaders and coordinators.

It is an exciting time for life-long learners willing to acquire new tools and approaches. There is no shortage of work for people who can collaborate with others and solve problems. The critical role of software will increase as organizations undertake digital transformation and adopt continuous digital strategies based on products vs projects. So, while the role “project manager” might be heading into the same category as “switchboard operators”, “human alarm clocks”, and “bowling alley pinsetters” the work and opportunities in this exciting field continue to grow.

[I first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com here]


Talent Management of The Future

Talent Management 2.JPGWe have shifted to Knowledge Work, but how do we find, develop and retain knowledgeable workers? This post examines Talent Management from two perspectives. First, what works well for agile teams. Second, how does the function change as organizations evolve, showing us how talent management may be done in future.

Let’s start by understanding what talent management covers. Talent Management is the strategy, planning and execution of everything needed to hire, develop, reward performance, and retain people. So, all the traditional Human Resources (HR) work, that we don’t call “HR” anymore because people are not resources.

The term talent management comes from research done by McKinsey in the late 1990’s and popularized in the book “The War for Talent” in 2001. At the time the authors were talking mainly about recruiting for leadership roles and the importance of finding people who possess: "a sharp strategic mind, leadership ability, communications skills, the ability to attract and inspire people, entrepreneurial instincts, functional skills, and the ability to deliver results." However, the term became so popular it is now used for the hiring and development at all levels, not just senior roles.

Why it became a big deal and the model organizations aspire to follow is because the McKinsey research found a definitive connection between top performers and superior corporate achievement. Not surprisingly, when you have the best people, you get industry-leading results. Not only that, but based on studying 13,000 executives in 27 companies, they identified how to do it and defined the following steps:

  1. Embrace a Talent Mindset
  2. Craft a Winning Employee Value Proposition
  3. Rebuild Your Recruiting Strategy
  4. Weave Development into Your Organization
  5. Differentiate and Affirm Your People
  6. Construct a practical framework for making this happen in your organization

When we read through this list anyone familiar with the agile mindset will likely see connections to agile and lean values. The recognition that people bring value and the need to respect, attract and engage people is central to the process. However, like agile adoption, just because organizations have known what they should be doing since the early 2000’s it does not mean they always behave that way.

Just as the agile mindset is sometimes paid lip service and poorly implemented, many organizations say they have policies for talent management but implement them poorly also. So, after recognizing why the process is a good one, even though it is often implemented less well (much like agile) let’s see how talent management operates for agile teams.

Agile Teams

Agile approaches recognize it is people who add value. They favor a Theory Y (people want to contribute and learn) approach to leadership over Theory X (people are lazy and need close supervision). Agile teams are built around intrinsic motivators such as autonomy of work, mastery of skills, and alignment with a vision and purpose.

Agile approaches encourage engaging the team in the recruiting process. So, while a hiring manager may pre-screen candidates for basic skills or security clearances, the actual evaluation of candidates and selection of the successful person is performed by members of the team itself. While this may sound inefficient, diverting attention from project goals, the negative impact of a poorly matched new hire is much greater.

When external people hire new team members without significant team consultation problems often ensue. This is then made worse because there is usually a delay in resolving the issue. People understandably want to give new hires “time to find their feet” and the “benefit of the doubt” before removing them from a team which aggravates the issue.

By contrast, when the team selects new members themselves they have already mentally prepared themselves for them joining. By asking candidates to perform tasks like coding exercises or a design-review, they test skills, get a feel of how candidates think, and how interactions may be.  There are fewer mismatches of talent or temperament and high performing teams are more likely to stay in the Tuckman Performing stage rather than churning back through the Storming and Norming stages again.

Getting the teams involved in hiring is part of the talent management process Step 6 “Construct a practical framework for making this happen in your organization”.  Agile approaches adopt many of the other steps also, they support Step 4 “Weave Development into Your Organization” and Step 5 “Differentiate and Affirm Your People” through empowered teams and adaptation.

Agile teams are empowered to make local decisions and encouraged to self-organize about accomplishing work. Shifting ownership and decision making down to the doers of work is more respectful of their talents and a more rewarding way for people to work.

Encouraging inspection and adaptation through product demonstrations, retrospectives, and experiments develop employees. It demonstrates trust in their opinions and allows them to better advance in their careers through experimenting with new roles.

Finally, the emerging practice of keeping high-performing agile teams together and bringing new work to established teams, values employee contributions. Rather than disbanding high-performing teams when the project completes, keeping that integrated unit together and giving them a new challenge to work on.

Organizational Evolution

Some progressive organizations have dropped hierarchical, command-and-control structures in favor of flatter, empowered teams. Coming from a background of agile development it is natural to think this is the broadening of agile thinking into the larger organizational landscape and the growth of truly agile organizations. However, while this observation matches our worldview, it is a flawed perspective of a bigger picture.

When we start examining organizational evolution from primitive gangs to the most sophisticated egalitarian organizations we discover that the agile mindset and principles are stepping stones on a journey that goes further. Agile approaches, that started out in organizing knowledge-work teams, are not the best tools for examining organizational structures and strategy.

Social researcher Frederic Laloux, a former associate partner with McKinsey, literally wrote the book on organizational evolution entitled “Reinventing Organizations” in 2014. In it he charts the development of organizational types in a progression from the most basic to the most advanced. Each stage of this progression has an accompanying color associated with it as a shorthand for the more descriptive titles. A summary of these stages with their color names is listed in the table below:

Teal Organizations

Laloux is careful to point out that organizations may straddle categories. Some departments in the same organization may be more mature than others. Also, one level is not necessarily better than another, they are just different and hold different values as their guides.

40 years ago, most companies were Amber with inflexible hierarchies and they struggled to compete with the emerging Orange organizations that valued and rewarded talent more. These days most organizations are Orange and are struggling to respond to the challenges of competing with the growing number of Green values-oriented organizations.

What is surprising to some agile enthusiasts is that agile is not the latest stage of development. Agile values and principles align most closely with Green organizations that emphasise empowerment and a value-driven culture – like maximizing for business value.  However, there is a stage beyond Green called Teal. It breaks apart the family mentality that uses centralized operational functions and empowered teams and instead encourages small communities of practice in more of an organism/ community-based model.

Laloux’s Red to Teal model is very useful for agile teams. The characteristics of Amber and Orange organizations nicely summarize most corporate companies today. The challenges of implementing agile approaches successfully involve the struggles of moving a traditional Amber or Orange organization to Green. Not an easy task.

However, Teal organizations are more advanced than agile Green and their approaches to talent management may reveal the future of recruiting and retention. In Teal organizations small, self-managing groups are given autonomy to do what is necessary to be successful. Each group contains all the decision-making power it typically needs, supported by a very light-weight group that provides templates and services. People are encouraged to find where they can add value and roles change frequently.

Attributes of Teal Organizations

An example of a Teal organization is Buurtzorg, a Dutch nursing organization whose name means “neighborhood care” in Dutch. Grown from the idea of its founder and nurse, Jos de Blok in 2007, who had become frustrated at the bureaucracy and “machinification” of nursing care. Buurtzorg is now the largest nursing organization in Holland. It has over 10,000 nurses and assistants working in 850 self-managed teams of 10-12 people and routinely wins awards for Best Employer of the Year.

Buurtzorg has organized around autonomy, not hierarchy. Teams make nearly all their own decisions and are supported by a bare-bones staff of 45 in the back office and 16 coaches. While they conduct over 280 Million Euros of business each year, they have only 6 people working in finance and no CFO. Without this hierarchy, their overhead costs are 8% compared to industry average of 25% which provides more funds for care and innovation. People enjoy working there too. Their staff sickness rate is 4% compared to industry averages of 7% and staff retention is the highest in the industry.

Talent Management in Teal Organizations

For a start, they don’t call it “Talent Management”. Just as “HR” is a throwback to Amber thinking of organizations as machines and people as interchangeable parts in that machine, “Talent” is also a throwback to similar thinking about skill trumping values and integrity. An unlucky/insightful choice of companies to profile in the book “The War for Talent” that give rise to the term “Talent Management” focussed on how Enron selected people based heavily on their intelligence.

Subsequently, the book and movie “The Smartest Guys in the Room” recounts how prioritizing intelligence over integrity can lead to poor choices, scandals and downfalls. Instead, Teal organizations just call the hiring and care of its staff process “growth and looking after its members”. They do not have a centralized HR department; each local group practice self-organizes and recruits as the business expands.

Work structures change quickly in Teal organizations. People may see an opportunity for improvement and partner with other team-mates to tackle it. Roles and functions come and go frequently. People are not bound by job titles and may be working on many different initiatives. In such a dynamic environment, it makes little sense recruiting for a single role, since that role may not exist for long. Instead, people are recruited for fit by their peers. Their skills are still checked, but it is much more important that the values of the new hires align with the organizational values.

After hiring the onboarding process in Teal organizations differs from Traditional/Orange and Agile/Green organizations. Since values and working co-operatively are so integral to Teal organizations, significant training in relationship skills are common after joining. It is normal for Buurtzorg staff to undertake extensive training on how decisions are made, how to resolve conflict, and how to collaborate effectively.

Training and performance reviews happen differently as well. People in Teal organizations have personal freedom and responsibility for their training. Employee’s at FAVI, a metal manufacturer in France also using Teal approaches, decide what products and techniques would best benefit their group to learn. Once mastered these skills are then used to enhance services or open new product offerings.

Instead of traditional performance reviews that try to take an objective view of past performance, more holistic reviews of one’s learning journey and calling are undertaken. They focus on wellbeing in addition to skills acquisition and growth. This may sound “Foo-Fooey” to employees in traditional organizations used to leaving their emotions at home. However, the mid-life crisis is the classic result of a life in traditional organizations without emotion.

All too often in traditional organizations people play the game of success and run the rat race. After 20 years when they realize they will not make it to the top, or the top is just as bad, but now with fewer friends, they question Why? After chasing targets and numbers, surviving yet another change program for so long people cannot help but wonder about the meaning of it all and yearn for something more.

So, What Does This All Mean?

Organizations are evolving. HR practices became Talent Management and will likely evolve into something else. We currently exist in a landscape where most organizations are run as machines prioritized for growth. However, we are seeing changes in more employee engagement and autonomy. As these changes continue work should become more meaningful, personal and rewarding. We need to embrace these changes, after all, "When you're finished changing, you're finished." -Ben Franklin

 

[I first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com here]


Project “You” and Project “Two“


We work hard in our organizations on projects to build new products and services, or affect some kind of change. We are also constantly on the lookout for ways to make the work go faster, by removing impediments and improving efficiencies. Techniques like Value Stream Mapping analyze the value-adding activities and the non-value adding activities to identify queues and waste in our processes that can then be eliminated. Looking at our contributions and opportunities for efficiencies is like considering our work as a machine and trying to lubricate it so it will go faster and run more smoothly.

Cog 1

However, this view misses who is driving your work - you. In effect we watch the work, but not the worker. It is you that drives the contributions you make on the project.

Cog 2

Attempts to improve and optimize the project may not be as productive as improving our own performance. So, instead of oiling the process, increasing our capability is a great way to improve output.

Cog 3

Now with a bigger and better you, your project performance will improve.

“Project You”

This is “Project You”, the improvement and investment in yourself. “Project You” should come first, but often it is relegated to second or third choice, or forgotten completely, as work and home pressures take over. However, I invite you to consider “Project You” as your first priority and your regular project work as “Project Two”.

This may seem selfish, but it is not when you consider what is powering your project contributions – your capabilities. Investing in yourself will help your employer and project, it will increase your competencies and capacity to do more work.

More than Just Skills

Skills are just one aspect of you. Your Health, Happiness, and Relationships with others are also critical parts of your makeup that will hurt performance if they are not attended to and in good condition.

Cog 4


All too often people focus on work performance or skills to the detriment of another aspect such as health or supportive relationships. When this occurs your work and project performance will eventually suffer also.

 

Cog 5

Like having a faulty or unevenly developed cog wheel, mismatches in these quadrants will in due course limit your effectiveness at work. People cannot go on if they are unhappy, unsupported, or sick. Just like learning new skills, we need to invest in our well being and the well being of those close to us to remain productive.

A New Year, a Better You

As we start the New Year, now is a great time to assess our overall work engine. To perform a review of “Project You”, recognize and celebrate what we have working in our favour and make a commitment to improve the elements that are our weakest.

Focussing on “Project You” now will bring dividends to your “Project Two” and “Project Three” in 2018. Look beyond the usual sphere of just work and ask: “Am I happy?”, “Am I healthy”, ”Am I in and creating strong relationships?” Then, just as we would for planning the acquisition of new skills or certifications, create a plan of action for addressing the areas that need the most work.

It Nests Infinitely

Of course, the idea of “Project You” applies to all the team members on our project also. It is common to view teams as the interaction and sum contributions of the team member efforts. Then, as good servant leaders we attempt to remove roadblocks and communicate a clear vision of where we are trying to get to.

Cog 6

However, a better view of projects is to see the people components driving these contributions. When we consider our team members as more than just their skills and effort, but also take an interest in their health, happiness and relationships we discover more places we can help.

Cog 7

I remember working on a software project where a developer came up to me and explained he had just received a call from his wife who was sick, and he wanted to go home to see her. I could have just said: “Sure, no problem, go home and see her”. However, because I knew he walked to his nearest train station and took the light rail network to get into the office, I asked if I could drive him home, since I drove to the office and had my car there. He was very appreciative, he saved 30 minutes on his journey home and I was back in the office in under an hour.

It was no big deal to me; my team was very self-sufficient and diligent, and I was glad to help. However, that simple gesture to help with his relationship and the health and happiness of his wife was not forgotten, it helped strengthen our work relationship and was repaid many times over.

Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask Before Helping Others

It would be hypocritical of us to try and assist with the health, happiness or relationship success of our colleagues if our own lives were steaming piles of self-loathing and depravity. We don’t need to be saints, but we should try to get our own lives in order before helping others.

We will also be viewed as a more credible source of council if we have a healthy, balanced home and work life. So, start where you have the most influence, in your own life. See how we can address any imbalances and then look more holistically at your team members. Maybe share the “Project You” and “Project Two” concept with them and see if there is any way you can support them as they grow also.

Summary

Projects, by definition, are temporary endeavors, people, however, should take a longer-term view of their success. Our achievement on our current project and the projects to come will in large part be driven by our full-spectrum wellbeing.  The same goes for the colleagues we work with. So why not use this year as the opportunity to examine “Project You” and invest in your future?

[I first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com, available here]


Government Lessons in People Over Process

CubicleMy first opportunity to create and run a large agile team did not start well. Having had good successes with small to medium sized agile teams I was keen to unleash the benefits on a bigger scale. I was working for IBM at the time and was able to persuade my account manager to pitch the approach on one of our government projects. A clean-sheet development opportunity with a smart team and engaged business group – what could go wrong? As it turns out, plenty due to my ill-advised approach.

It was the early 90’s and we were trialling techniques that would later become the agile approach DSDM (Dynamic Systems Development Method). Taking ideas like James Martin’s RAD (Rapid Application Development) and active user involvement from Enid Mumford’s Participative Design Approach, we had already dramatically reduced development time and improved acceptance rates on several projects. I was convinced collocated teams with short iterations of build/feedback cycles were the future. We were all set for a big client success and who better than the British Government for good publicity! My enthusiasm was about to be tested.

I was given a full rein of the project, or as I would later realize, just enough rope to hang myself with. Having struggled to get dedicated business input on previous projects I commandeered a large boardroom to collocate the development team and business subject matter experts (SMEs). It was awesome, everyone was together in one room and we had direct access to the business representatives for requirements elicitation, clarification, and demo feedback. We were working hard and getting lots of features built but the business representatives hated it.

At first, I thought they hated me. I think that is a common mistake, we internalize changes in behaviour as attacks or criticisms of ourselves. What have I done? What did I say to upset them? - all of them! I recall wanting to write on my internal project status report to the IBM PMO that “the business is revolting”. However, that is what occurred, starting as cordial and helpful, the business SMEs became less helpful, then uncooperative, and finally hostile. I had a revolt on my hands that I did not understand.

This was my first introduction to organizational change. Luckily for me, I had access to many people in IBM smarter and more experienced than I was. I was given a book called “How to Manage Change Effectively: Approaches, Methods, and Case Examples” by Donald Kirkpatrick that changed my career. In it Kirkpatrick outlines circumstances where people will resist change. These include:

  1. When people sense loss in: security, pride and satisfaction, freedom, responsibility, authority, good working conditions, and/or status
  2. It creates more problems than it is worth
  3. Extra efforts are not being rewarded
  4. Lack of respect for those initiating the change
  5. The change initiative and its implications are misunderstood
  6. Belief that the change does not make sense for the organization
  7. Change is misdirected, current state or alternatives are better
  8. A low tolerance for change in our lives
  9. When change violates a principle or commitment that the organization must stand by
  10. Exclusion from the change initiative
  11. Changes viewed as criticism of how things were done in the past
  12. The change effort occurs at a bad time, other issues or problems are also being handled

Something I was not aware of at the time is how the career development process works within the government. The most junior new hires work in open-plan cubical offices. Then as you get a promotion you get moved to bigger cubicles with higher walls that are more like mini-offices. Next, you get promoted to a real office, then an office with a window, and eventually a corner office. In short, your workspace defines your status, responsibility and authority.

By bringing these business representatives into a shared boardroom to work on the project I had unwittingly generated change resistance scenarios 1-3 and probably triggered many others also. Making them sit and work together like the most junior recruits had caused a loss of good working conditions, status, freedom, pride, satisfaction, and perceived authority. A bad idea when hoping to develop a productive working relationship with someone.

Luckily for me the Kirkpatrick book also lists circumstances when people do accept change, which unsurprisingly are the opposite conditions and include:

  1. When change is seen as a personal gain: in security, money, authority, status or prestige, responsibility, working conditions, or achievement
  2. Provides a new challenge and reduces boredom
  3. Opportunities to influence the change initiative
  4. Timing: the time is right for organizational change
  5. Source of the change initiative is liked and respected
  6. The approach of the change and how it is implemented appeals to us

So, equipped with these ideas we changed our approach. Instead of the business SMEs being collocated with us they returned to their fancy corner offices, long lunch breaks, and afternoons spent reading the newspaper - none of which they could do when they all sat together. Instead, we reserved their mornings for questions, review sessions, and demonstrations. This was better received because their morning calendars were blocked with important project meetings, but we rarely called on all of them at once unless it was for a business demo.

Now they had their offices back, a little more free time, and were engaged in a more respectful way. The team were sceptical at first. However, it really is much better to have one hour of someone who is cheerful, engaged, and helpful than eight hours of someone who is bitter, obstinate and causing issues. The project went much smoother after these changes and it taught me an important lesson in never trying to introduce a process or practice without considering the people elements first.

We completed the project early, largely due to the input and hard work during acceptance testing of the business SMEs, and IBM got their successful case study. I learned to temper my enthusiasm and consider other stakeholders who will undoubtedly have a different view of the project than myself. Individuals and interaction are indeed more important than processes and tools, even if they are your own pet agile processes and tools.

[I first wrote this article for the Government themed November issue of ProjectManagement.com, available to subscribers Here]