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.

When I was at university in the 1980s, we were required to read The Third Wave. At the time, I was more interested in learning about compiler design and database structures, but I read the book and the ideas stuck. Thinking back, The Third Wave, along with Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenace, are the only books from my entire degree that I still remember.

The First and Second Waves
The first wave was the agricultural revolution when hunter-gathers started farming and settled in villages.

The second wave was the industrial revolution, when cheap, non-renewable fossil fuel energy was used to leapfrog previous levels of productivity. This industrialization required mobility from the workforce, and people moved from villages into cities to work in mills and factories. This movement resulted in the end of the large multigenerational families rooted to the soil.

The “nuclear family” (of father, mother and a few children, with no burdening relatives) became the standard, socially approved model for industrial societies. Schools started emphasizing punctuality and rule-following to condition children for working in factories.

The Third Wave
The “third wave” is the information revolution. It is what Peter Drucker called the knowledge worker age. What set Toffler apart was his ability to see how the second industrial age must end and why the information age was inevitable in 1980, more than 10 years before the internet was invented (let alone became popular).

Toffler described factors that make the continuation of the second wave impossible, including: “The biosphere will no longer tolerate the industrial assault” and “Non-renewable energy sources are drying up (one of the hidden subsidies of the Second Wave).”

He went on to describe factors that made the third wave possible and inevitable. These included:

  • Cheaper electronics and computers: “If the auto industry had done what the computer industry has done in the last 30 years, a Rolls-Royce would cost $2.50 and get 2,000,000 miles to the gallon.” Computing is cheaper and more powerful than ever.
  • De-massification of the media: As the quantity of information available to people expands, they become less and less able to cope with it all. People fall back to paying attention to only what is important to them. We see a rise in the number of specialty channels appealing to narrow segments of the population.
  • An intelligent environment: Home computers networked together and notifying us of weather alerts, home security alarms, etc. What we now call the connected home and IoT.
  • A new social memory: Originally, human groups stored their shared memories in the minds of individuals (tribal elders, wise men, etc.). The second wave moved beyond memory by spreading mass literacy. Libraries and museums were built. By increasing the store of cumulative knowledge, it accelerated all the processes of innovation and social change. Now information is stored electronically and can be readily searched by all.

The fact these predictions came true show the credibility of Toffler’s forecasts for the electronic cottage. Our recent work-from-home mandate has accelerated the transition to the electronic cottage, and maybe some of Toffler’s other predictions about changes to work and society will come true also?

Here are a few things he said about this shift in working practices. The opening points are ideas from the book; the thoughts that follow are observations from today…

  1. IT makes it possible to work from home.Computers and electronic communications make it possible for many types of work to be done from home.

Observation from today: Recent work-from-home mandates have pushed even laggards of this technology to try it and work through the kinks. While everyone wishes for freedom to return, maybe we can capitalize on the positive aspects of working from home, or from a favorite café, or a pleasant, local co-working space?

  1. Commuting diminishes.Consider the cost incentives to companies. Commuting, which they indirectly subsidize, runs an average of 29 times as much as the installation of telecommunication equipment in a person’s home. Also, considerable savings in real estate costs, capital building investments, and building maintenance can be had. Staying at home will also reduce pollution and the cost of cleaning it up.

Observation from today: Most organizations do not need to pay for any additional equipment since many people have high-speed internet and their own computers. People may currently have less-than-ideal working conditions with children being home from school, but once they return, do you want to go back to commuting with the associated cost and time drains?

  1. Shorter work week:On the home side, as shorter workweeks become common, the higher ratio of commuting time to working time becomes more irrational, frustrating and absurd. Millions of jobs could shift out of the factories and office into which the second wave swept them and right back where they came from originally: the home. If this were to happen, every institution we know—from the family to the school and the corporation—would be transformed.

Observation from today: Our current glimpse of homework and closer family relationships is artificial and lacking many of the benefits of being able to escape to the company of friends when we want to. The FIRE movement (Financial Independence, Retire Early) has already seen people reduce the number of hours they work, consume less and spend less on nonessential items like expensive commuting options. Few people have been talking about impacts on family, but the nuclear family might become a relic of the past.

  1. Customization of products and in-home production:Most highly developed countries will concentrate on the creation of one-off and short-run manufactured goods depending on highly skilled labor and automated production systems. Customization will lead to the manufacture of one-of-a-kind products with items custom-made for individual users. This home-centered society will bring many changes:
  • Greater community stability due to less forced mobility, less stress on the individual, fewer transient human relationships, and a greater participation in community life.
  • Energy requirements will be reduced due to energy decentralization. Energy demand would be spread out, making it easier to use solar, wind and other alternative energy technologies.
  • The auto industry, oil companies and commercial real estate developers would be hurt.
  • The electronics industry, computer companies and the communications industries would flourish.
  • Increasingly, workers would own the means of production.

Observation from today: We are seeing these shifts already. As I sit typing this from home, a 3D printer next to me is producing something (incredibly slowly) that my wife designed. Increasingly, we can create and customize products from home or locally within the community.

  1. Radically changed corporations:The big corporation was the characteristic business organization of the industrial era. Just like families, the mass media and schools, corporations are facing drastic changes:
  • An accelerated economy: There is a drastic speed-up in the pace of business. An accelerating wave of change, pushed by the coming third wave, is causing disorientation, frustration and increased mistakes on the part of managers.
  • The de-massified society: Today, as the third wave strikes, the corporate manager finds all their old assumptions challenged... the marketplace and the labor market are beginning to break into smaller, more varied pieces. Second wave corporations are uncertain how to cope with this rising tide of diversity among their employees and customers.
  • Public anger at corporations: People are demanding a new definition of what corporations are and what they do. They want to see more responsibility and more accountability—not merely for its economic performance, but for its side effects on everything from air pollution to executive stress. The result will be corporations who attend to multiple bottom lines. Some examples are already happening as organizations are focusing attention on social impacts as well as economic results.

Observation from today: Incredibly, those words were written 40 years ago—they read like a modern description of emerging organizations. Just recently, PMI started talking about the triple bottom line (people, profit, planet). Organizations now revolve around the customer, and customer experience analysis is driving more diversification of products along with accelerating rates of change.

What this Means for Project Managers
The way we engage with teams is likely to be different in the future. For projects in the knowledge worker space (legal, marketing, sales, education, IT, research and development), having whole teams onsite will likely become a rarity. These roles can be done from the electronic cottage, whether that is someone’s home, a café or a community co-working center.

Work times for project work will likely relax, and family activities take a more influential focus. Industrial factories needed everyone in one location—at the same time—to function. Knowledge work does not; as project managers, we need to get used to that and accommodate for it. Maybe we need everyone to be available for core meetings, but outside of that, we let people work when they want to. As long as they meet their commitments, why does it matter when the work gets done?

The Future
Not all of Toffler’s predictions became true. He also suggested we would be growing a significant proportion of our food needs in the oceans. That might be possible, but we have not seen it happening yet.

The second wave of industrialization brought tremendous economic growth and technological development. Yet those brief 300 years were non-sustainable to the planet—and also ripped people from homes and family structures that had existed for 10,000 years previously. Nobody is suggesting we return to being farmers. Instead, do more creative work without the time and space constraints industrialized work demanded.

It seems the world of work is changing to meet Toffler’s predictions. Perhaps the social forecasts about a revival of putting down roots, staying in one place and returning to live with extended families will happen also. Recent events seem to be accelerating these trends, and I am optimistic about our future.

References

  1. The Third Wave Book
  2. The Third Wave Book Summary
  3. Alvin Toffler Wikipedia Bio

 

[Note: For more articles from Mike Griffiths, visit his blog at www.LeadingAnswers.com. Mike first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com here]

 


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.

Concept 1: Demonstrate Empathy – Cut people some slack. Be there for them, listen and empathize with them. Maybe they have lost family members or are worried about elderly and at-risk family members. Perhaps their work-from-home environment is challenging with children needing help, poor internet service, and less-than-ideal work set-up.

So, provide some emotional support, and demonstrate empathy and active listening. Now is not the time to be a stickler on schedule or tasks. Now is the time to show compassion and build a stronger foundation of understanding and trust for future performance.

Concept 2: Take an economic view of decision-making – Social distancing and work-from-home policies have likely blown away your original project plans. We now need to determine what can be done and what should be done first. There will be some tasks that can still proceed, and some opportunity or threat responses than can be pursued…but how do we decide the sequence?

Taking an economic view of decision-making helps with sorting through the options. After reviewing what is possible, ask “Where is the next best dollar spent?” We can then start to prioritize work and match it to availability. The goal is to deliver as much value and make as much progress toward the desired business outcomes as possible.

So, if Activity A has a projected ROI of $15K, Activity B will save $18K in maintenance and Activity C has a 50% chance of returning $32K, prioritize them B, C, A. Share these ideas with the team; we need everyone to adapt and prioritize their time toward the high-value activities.

8 Tips for Reprioritizing

1. Check-in with your sponsors. Explain how you plan to continue working toward the intended business outcomes despite the changes. If appropriate, ask them if there are any new, higher-priority initiatives the team can be helping with. You do not want to be the project still making door handles when the rest of the organization has switched from building cars to ventilators.

2. Scan your WBS or backlog. Can any items of work be pulled forward and worked on remotely? Can some portions of future work be done now and remotely? Usually, we avoid partially completed work as it raises WIP, but these are extraordinary times. If it will need doing and can be done now, it might be the next-best-dollar-spent thing to do.

3. Revisit the vision and business case. Look for untapped opportunities and benefits. Perhaps there are objectives that were not immediately scheduled because they were a lower priority or required skills in short supply back then. Maybe we can find useful activities or different paths to the same goals that might now be viable?

4. Review the risks. Review the risk log to determine if any opportunities can be exploited, shared or enhanced at this time. Do the same with the threats and ask if any could be avoided, reduced or transferred by action that could be done remotely.

5. Communicate to your stakeholders what work can go ahead and what is not happening right now. Keep your communications short; stakeholders likely have plenty of extra work of their own that they are trying to get through. However, provide links to where they can find more information should they want it. So, short announcements and emails, with “more details” links so people can pull more information if necessary.

6. Put it to the team. Do not try and solve everything yourself. Your team members likely have some great ideas, too. Engaging them in finding ways to move forward recognizes their expertise and also demonstrates the desired behavior of asking for input and help.

Ask them what we can be working on. What are the highest value activities that they could be doing right now? Invite them to review the WBS/backlog and risk lists also. Ask about useful maintenance work and new product ideas. How can we use some extra thinking time to emerge stronger?

7. Contact suppliers, vendors and partners. Ask them how they are coping. Maybe there are some easy things we could do to help them. Or, an early heads-up on insolvency is better than learning about it when we need them for something.

Also, ask them for ideas. They likely know aspects of your project very well. Perhaps they can identify valuable work that could be done early. Check their suggestions for validity and self-interest bias. Ordering that flux capacitor jetpack might help them, but does it really help your project and organization right now?

8. Upskill. Use work-from-home time to gain new skills and undertake training. As a minimum, make sure everyone completes their compliance training, which includes working through all the mandatory health, safety and respectful workplace modules. That way, when people return to work, they will not be taking time out to complete these activities later. Then encourage professional development. What new skills, roles or tools would be helpful to learn?

These are challenging times. They are also opportunities to demonstrate desired behaviors. Being compassionate, helpful and understanding in times of stress and hardship are critical. So too is keeping a cool head, being flexible to change and open to help.

The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”
― Albert Einstein

Thanks for reading, and please share other ideas for us to consider.

[Note: For more articles from Mike Griffiths, visit his blog at www.LeadingAnswers.com. Mike first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com here]


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.

(Y)Our Thinking is Flawed
Before following the conclusions to their impacts on project management, such as more remote work and an aversion to collocated workplaces, let’s review why this logic will be proved wrong. People do not behave rationally. Instead, we exhibit many illogical behaviors called cognitive biases. There are several informative lists and pretty maps of cognitive biases, but some that apply in predicting life after COVID-19 include:

1. Loss aversion – The feeling that it is better to avoid a loss than acquire an equivalent gain. In experiments that ask people how much they would need to win to risk losing $100 on the flip of a coin, the answer is always over $200, which has financial parity. We genuinely do not like losing things.

Evolution has taught us to be cautious. When prehistoric man hunted for survival, seeing something in the grass that could be a deer or a lion, it was best to consider it a lion and live to hunt another day. The gain (food) is much less than the potential loss (death). All the people with a more optimistic viewpoint were soon eaten and did not get to further contribute toward our evolution.

2. Availability bias – The tendency to overestimate the likelihood of events with greater “availability” in our memory, which is influenced by how recent the memories are or how emotionally charged they may be. People are not going to forget COVID-19 for a long time, and will likely behave disproportionally to the risk of a similar event.

In 2013, my home town of Canmore, Canada experienced a freak weather event when three storm systems became stuck in place for days, creating unprecedented rain and flooding. Scientists estimated that the likelihood of it ever happening again is tiny. However, because it happened once—and it was recent and unpleasant—all kinds of flood mitigation and debris-capture dams were justified and built.

Logical and Flawed Forecasts for Project Managers
The logical and illogical ramifications of the pandemic will change how we work in large and small ways. At a macroeconomic level, the business case for many projects will change. Entire industries will flounder while others flourish. Project managers should expect to see a shift in project types as investments change.

Industry Changes
The cruise ship business may take a generation to recover as the vivid reporting of confinement and concern will be hard to shake off. Air travel industries and support services could be severely reduced for a couple of reasons:

  1. First, more people have now tried remote collaboration and worked through the kinks and learning process. People will question if all meetings in the future have to be face to face. A switch to just, say, alternating remote with F2F would be a 50% reduction.
  2. Second, the pandemic accelerated through air travel and people were stranded in foreign countries away from their family. People will think of travel differently in the future and be more reluctant to go.

On the upside, remote work tools, health care, personal protection equipment and a host of other industries will see increased investment and growth. Online products and services and business-to-consumer retail sales will likely stay in high demand as people get used to cutting out the middle man and saving money. Project managers would be well served to learn about cloud-based platforms and remote collaboration tools as their adoption has been rapidly accelerated.

Project and Personal Changes
At the project level, what might change? We often want what we cannot have; as people are told to work from home and stay indoors, they naturally want to go out. Yet, once the restrictions are lifted, I think more people will want to work from home when they realize the savings in commuting costs and time.

Do we really have to drive for 45 minutes to sit at a desk and do knowledge work we could do from home? Yes, F2F meetings are superior for communication, but perhaps just two or three days a week in the office is enough, the rest from home. Many organizations had work-from-home and entire remote work structures before the pandemic. What may change is the broader adoption of these ideas. Hot desking can save organizations billions of dollars in office space reductions alone.

What about open-plan offices, high-fives and shaking hands? Open-plan offices favored by agile teams were criticized as “germ factories” long before COVID-19. We often see people wearing headphones to counteract noise pollution (and undermine some of the reasons for having an open space)…might we see face masks, too? When people start pushing back with legitimate health and safety concerns, HR departments might be nervous to support project manager requests for team colocation.

Will people still want to attend project management conferences and in-person training courses packed into hotel ballrooms with communal buffets? Or will lower-cost and more time-efficient virtual conferences become the norm?

Project Managers Have an Advantage
Projects are all about change. We are always building some new product or service, or enhancing something and then working with people to facilitate its introduction. As such, project managers instigate and deal with change in our everyday lives. We have access to organizational change models that explain when people resist change and when we welcome change. We know about stages of loss, building support for change, and confidence assessment models.

This knowledge makes us uniquely equipped to deal with a new tomorrow. Once we realize it will be a weird combination of logical and irrational behavior, we can use our skills to embrace it and move with the changes. It’s the slower-moving industries I feel sorry for, like auditors, tax accountants and lawyers…they may all be in for a wake-up!

 

[Note: For more articles from Mike Griffiths, visit his blog at www.LeadingAnswers.com. Mike first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com here]


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 <at> 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.

Hybrid Environments
Let’s talk about what hybrid environments are and why we might find ourselves operating in one. A hybrid is a combination of two (or more) different systems. Hybrid cars can use internal combustion engines (ICE) and electric batteries, or ICE and hydrogen fuel cells. Both combinations are considered hybrids.

In project environments, the use of both predictive approaches and agile approaches results in a hybrid approach. There are several reasons why both approaches might be used. Some common causes include:

  1. Agile is not entirely suitable – Agile approaches are applicable for high-change, uncertain, technically risky project work. They offer many great tools for engaging and empowering team members. They allow teams to go fast by streamlining communications and documentation. I am a strong advocate for using them where they work well. At the same time, I am a realist and understand they are not a panacea or silver bullet.

Highly regulated industries require lots of documentation. Well-understood technology can be applied without the need for experiments and proof of concepts. Stable designs can be planned and executed with few change requests. Often, projects combine work that is well suited for predictive approaches and work that can benefit from agile approaches. Here it makes sense to use a hybrid approach overall.

We can execute the predictive work using predictive approaches and the adaptive work using agile approaches. For example, a project I worked on to develop and roll out a custom GPS routing solution for truck drivers used an agile approach for the software development—and a largely predictive approach for scheduling the equipment install in the trucks and training the drivers. We use the appropriate tools for the job at hand; it is neither rocket science or anything to be ashamed of.

  1. Operating in a predictive organization – Some organizations operate with upfront requirements analysis, scope sign-off and funding. We can try to educate stakeholders on why a more adaptive approach toward these operations might be beneficial, but maybe this is beyond our circle of influence—or maybe we inherited a project with a scope and budget already in place.

Either way, sometimes we do not get to do everything by the book and we have to work with what we are given. This is not to say we should give up and not try to make improvements. Instead, accept that not everything will be ideal and that we need to choose our battles wisely. We might be asked/told to be the bridge between agile teams and not-so-agile organizational groups.

  1. Transitioning to agile incrementally – Large organizations rarely transition to agile approaches overnight. Some executives and training companies try a “sheep-dip” approach, immersing everyone in agile training and mandating a whole scale switch. However, these initiatives often fail. How big does the sheep-dip have to be? Does it include finance, HR and sales? How about procurement and suppliers? Usually, there are groups the team or supporting project managers still have to work with that have not transitioned to agile.

Whenever an agile team works with a predictive entity, there is some mapping, interfacing and translating that needs to occur. This work often falls on the team lead or project manager (if one is in place). As depicted in Figure 1, these interfaces could be between our project and other projects (1), between an agile department and other non-agile departments (2) or from our department to the broader organization (3):

Hybrid interfaces and buffering

Figure 1: Interactions that require hybrid interfaces and buffering

These scenarios are of course simplifications. Typically, organizational adoption of any idea, not just agile approaches, is fragmented and not uniform. Team leads and project managers often find themselves translating terminology, progress reports and plans to different stakeholders within the same meeting.

Embrace and Own It
The flipside of uncertainty is being able to explain topics and help people learn. Anyone who can bridge between two worlds, two sets of concepts and two slightly different vocabularies is extremely valuable. Whether as a project manager, BA, product owner or executive, organizations benefit more from people willing and able to talk about the similarities, differences and problem areas than pure converted zealots. These interpreters and linkers can help other people make the transition.

So, if asked “When will your agile project be done?”, rather than giving an eye roll for being asked such an uninformed question for an agile project—or mumbling, hand-waving or resorting to exotic terms about points, velocity and burn charts—instead, own it. This is an opportunity to talk about the gray area of hybrid metrics. So, a better response might be something along the lines of:

“Great question!, I ask this myself daily. Over the last four months, we have developed and gained business acceptance on about half of the features in the backlog (our total list of work), so that suggests we need another four months to finish. We have spent 45% of our budget, so we look on track for a Q4 completion within budget.”

Likewise, actively combine predictive and agile components. Work with your team and product owner on getting your risk register responses correctly prioritized in the backlog. What are the opportunities we should exploit, and which threat avoidance and mitigation actions should we do first? With the shared goal of successful projects and happy stakeholders, there are many synergies to be found.

The term “playing in the gray” has a couple of meanings. The first interpretation of “playing” addresses where we operate, our playing field (which these days is increasingly hybrid). The second meaning of playing is to enjoy things. Anyone bridging two environments has an opportunity to be useful, help people learn and add lots of value. It is a rewarding place to work, so own it and enjoy it.

 

[Note: For more articles from Mike Griffiths, visit his blog at www.LeadingAnswers.com. Mike first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com here]

Copyright © 2020 Mike Griffiths, Leading Answers Inc.


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.

As we enter a new decade, it’s an excellent time to reflect on how project management has changed and where it is going in the future. Professional project managers need to stay current and adapt to change to thrive. We all want to remain valuable to our organizations and teams. Tips include:

Focus Wisely

You might be expecting to hear about the usual list of topics: big data, IoT, and artificial intelligence. These are undoubtedly happening, but project managers have little influence over them. Instead, I suggest that project managers focus on people skills. 

People originate projects, people undertake projects, and people consume the results of these projects. These characteristics are not changing anytime soon. However, what is happening is a massive mobilization of talent and services. These changes will have a profound impact on the way we work and how to retain the best people.

As the saying goes, The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.” We have seen the war for talent driving demand for skilled professionals in places like Silicon Valley, Bangalore, and Beijing. Organizations are now looking further afield for workers, and technology is making remote work more accessible. So as project managers, we should be getting familiar with online collaboration tools and how to facilitate geographically dispersed teams.  

Choose Your Attitude

Attitudes are changing too. People do not appreciate being treated as interchangeable resources. Instead, they want to be inspired, led and valued, especially younger workers who may not have been through economic downturns with job scarcity. 

These new expectations present a problem for traditional organizations with their human resource departments and standardized job roles. The high demand for top talent,  growth in online collaboration tools, the gig-economy, and access to online job sites make moving roles easier than ever. 

‘Sedimentation’ is a term used to describe organizations where all the best and brightest have moved on, leaving behind those that cannot find other jobs or choose not to. People move because they did not feel valued or lacked inclusion/influence in decision making. Like with ponds, too much sedimentation creates a toxic environment where nothing grows or flourishes. 

How to Keep Your Best Team Members

Employees don’t leave companies; they leave managers – Don’t be one of those managers!

A Gallup poll1 of more than 1 million workers concluded that the number one reason people left their jobs was a bad boss or immediate supervisor. Also, 75% of workers who voluntarily left their jobs did so because of their manager and not the role itself. Despite how good a job is, people will leave if their relationship with their project manager is unhealthy.

Solutions exist to make people feel valued and reduce sedimentation. Project managers who demonstrate compassion and understanding can use empowerment to create environments where people want to stay, even if the organization is not the best in class.

The PMI 2020 Jobs Report2 explained, “Showing empathy is fast emerging as a leadership superpower. Fostering an empathetic culture can lead to stronger collaboration, less stress, fewer conflicts and faster recovery from burnout.” Project managers who create these environments get noticed by executives and are highly valued. 

Furthermore, 91% of CEOs believe that empathy is directly related to a company’s financial performance3. So, what does that mean for project managers?

The Magical Es

Exploration, Empowerment, Empathy – they all sound good, but how do we achieve them? Let’s look at some concrete examples for each.

Exploration – keep an open and growth-oriented mindset. Learn about the new tools for team collaboration and managing geographically dispersed teams. You never know, you might be in a  meeting where questions arise about this and being able to offer an insightful solution could land you a new opportunity.

In 2010 a team developing software for a large trucking company was also responsible for developing training materials. Ashley, a junior team member, lamented whenever she wanted to learn something she just looked on YouTube. This was before microlearning became an established approach.  

However, the team acknowledged short videos would be a great way to teach drivers about the new system. Ashley set up a web portal allowing drivers to access training videos on-demand and also tracked their viewings. Ashley studied the emerging field of microlearning, created the videos, and took a much more senior role out of IT in corporate training. Her interest, research and delivery on in a field of interest served her and the organization well.

Empowerment – people are hard-wired to get an endorphin boost from problem-solving. So bring teams problems and challenges, not task-lists. Allowing teams to choose how they work and solve problems is a more empowering and engaging way to work. Team members who have a say in defining their way of working are more committed to their success and happier in their jobs.

Within the bounds of what is acceptable in your organization, empower teams to make as many local decisions as possible. What time should we have stand-up? What tool should we use for prototyping? How are we going to solve the nose-cone problem? Whatever the question, asking the team for a solution brings many benefits:

  • By asking the team for an answer, we gain consensus for the proposal. – the team has vetted it internally already.
  • We are accessing a broader knowledge of the facts – the team members are closer to the technical detail.
  • When consulted, people work hard to generate good ideas – it shows we care and value their input. People recognize this and respond. Seeking ideas models desired behavior – it shows it is good to ask for insights and help.

Empathy – make the time to get to know your team members and take an interest in their wellbeing and aspirations. Truly listen to what they are telling you, and not discussing with you. Empathy is a core building block of emotional intelligence. Only when we demonstrate we understand how others feel, do our messages begin to gain credibility. In other words, project managers are not trusted until they show authentic care for their teams.

I worked on a project where a team member explained he had just received a call from his wife, who was sick. 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 train to get into the office, I asked if I could drive him home. 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; the team was very self-sufficient, and I was glad to assist. However, he did not forget that simple gesture, it helped strengthen our work relationship and was repaid many times over.

Future Challenges and Changes

Shifting demographics, work attitudes, and technology adoption will transform entire industries. A trifecta of factors are impacting organizations: 

  1. More millennials and Gen Y workers entering the workplace with high expectations for inclusion and influence in how they work,
  2. Increased acceptance of changing jobs, the rise of the gig-economy and fewer people treating organizations as life-long employers,
  3. Technology and websites that facilitate remote working, finding new work, and sharing experiences which make changing jobs more tempting than ever.

Savvy project managers will be of great value as organizations grapple with responding to these factors and try to retain the best employees to help them be successful. 

While technology trends such as artificial intelligence, IoT, and big data will undoubtedly impact business, organizations will become more reliant on retaining and directing collaborative teams to deliver their transformations. Project managers who can understand and navigate the emerging world of work will be more valuable than ever.

To prepare for these changes, project managers should be building their capabilities in new collaboration tools, empowering their teams, and developing genuine empathy to increase team member satisfaction and retention. As we move into a new decade, project managers should double-down on what they can control and what makes project teams great – the people and their operating environment.

References:

  1. Gallop Poll – State of the American Manager
  2. PMI 2020 Jobs Report – Empathy Amplified
  3. State of Workplace Empathy, Businesssolver, 2019

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?"

Once we see projects as puzzles with more puzzles within them, we realize the importance of practical problem-solving.

Visual Problem Solving for Project Managers Mike Griffiths 2

Rarely do project managers have all the answers or the best answers. So we need to share the problem and collaborate on developing a solution. This is why being able to visualize problems is so important.

Visualizing a problem helps us understand it ourselves and then gain consensus with others on it. It also allows us to determine if we are all seeing it in the same way. Drawing something also lays it out spatially, allowing people to see relations, sequence and connections, or whatever we want to depict.

Here is the structure of this article as a list of bullet points:

  • Introduction
  • Why visualizing is helpful
  • An example from a real project
  • Ways in which we can visualize
  • Wrap up and recommendations

Here is the same information as an image:

Visual Problem Solving for Project Managers Mike Griffiths 3

Research into visual thinking by David Hyerle, creator of Thinking Maps methodology, reports that 90% of the information entering the brain is visual.

Visual Problem Solving for Project Managers Mike Griffiths 4

Also, 40% of all nerve fibers connected to the brain are for the retina, and a full 20% of the entire cerebral cortex is for vision, so let's use it.

Creating a visual helps us to tackle a problem in steps. Having a spatial reference allows us to park some elements until later. We can say: "Yes we still need to solve the atmosphere re-entry problem, that's shown over here; but right now we are tackling the launch problem." Separating components in this way allows us to focus on one element at a time.

A Real-Life Example

I once took over a struggling project that was using a complex combination of proprietary hardware, software and vendor products. It mixed in-house developed software and cloud-based services—and was difficult for me to comprehend. I went through all the documentation but struggled to see how the elements worked together. To get up to speed, I knew I had to draw it all out to understand it.

I met with stakeholders, asked about how their part worked and drew it out with them. They provided lots of corrections and additions. I then showed the whole thing to the team, and they found even more omissions, which I filled in. I felt like they were humoring me, helping me get my little project manager brain around the complex system they had spent years developing. However, then they announced they had never seen it all mapped out in a single (very large) image before.

We ended up using the diagram repeatedly going forward within the team to discuss issues and to onboard new members. I also used simplified versions and zoomed-in portions for explaining elements of the project to the steering committee.

If you are missing a big picture view of your domain, you probably need to make one. It is a great way to surface misunderstandings and gain alignment on thinking.

Luckily, we do not need to be artists—or even competent at drawing. Stick figures, boxes and lines are all we need. Yes, it is pleasing to have a well-drawn vision of strategy poster, but for most instances, basic drawings are just fine. If we need a professional looking image, there are always graphic artists we can engage. Here is how I show some of the roles of a PM:

Visual Problem Solving for Project Managers Mike Griffiths 5

The images are not well-formed or accurate, but convey more meaning than words would alone.

Books such as Visual Collaboration walk readers through the drawing process. They show how to create simple but powerful graphics to help direct meetings, ask powerful questions, and create clear strategies.

Using images sounds like a luxury, right? "I do not have time for that!" Maybe, but are your messages getting through?

Using images helps people retain information. Most people only remember 10% of what they heard three days ago. Add an image to the message, and this figure jumps to 65%.

Visual Problem Solving for Project Managers Mike Griffiths 6

So, if we are going to the trouble of interrupting people from their work, we owe it to everyone to make it worth their time. Better to spend the extra time and create a visual than disrupt them six times with the same message to achieve similar retention.

In a team setting, we can use images when capturing opportunities and threats. The sailboat exercise allows people to record and place threats, opportunities and issues on an image with sticky notes:

Visual Problem Solving for Project Managers Mike Griffiths 7

We use anchors for threats that could impede progress and depict opportunities as the wind in the sails to propel us forward. Cheesy? Yes, but providing spatial separation and getting people up on their feet, contributing and generating an image they are more likely to remember is worth the cheesiness.

Finally, hand-drawn and group-generated images are more personal, more human and more uniting. They are ours; we created them, and we are more invested in achieving their goals than outcomes shown with generic Gantt charts or schedules. Involvement increases commitment, and human is more approachable than automated.

Visual Problem Solving for Project Managers Mike Griffiths 8

Final Recommendations
Here are some tips for problem-solving with visuals:

  • Find ways to visualize the overall project problem; this allows people to see the big picture.
  • Break down the interim puzzle pieces to show relationships, sequence and solution alternatives. Use these visuals to encourage collaboration and build support for group-generated solutions.
  • Don't be shy about your amateur art. Your chicken-scratch stick people demonstrate a vulnerability that increases empathy and encourages others to have a go. Starting with a fancy image may inhibit people from contributing as they do not want to spoil your picture.

While rough-and-ready visuals are suitable for working sessions, there are times when you will want to invest more time and effort. Externally facing artifacts such as plans, roadmaps and product visions will benefit from the best images you can create.

I sometimes create project milestone posters for stakeholders to recognize their contributions and the obstacles we have overcome together. These work well for thank-you cards and foam-board plaques. Here are a couple of examples:

Visual Problem Solving for Project Managers Mike Griffiths 9


Visual Problem Solving for Project Managers Mike Griffiths 10

I like to embed insider jokes and references to some of the issues we faced.

Projects are adventurous journeys we share with our stakeholders. Just as we would use maps and take photos on physical trips, we can do the same for our project endeavors to recognize and remember the venture. So be brave and get visual!

[Note: For more articles from Mike Griffiths, visit his blog at www.LeadingAnswers.com. Mike first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com here.]

Copyright © 2020 Mike Griffiths, Leading Answers Inc.

 

 


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
It’s important to remember that PMs manage projects, not the people working on the projects. Rarely can anyone effectively manage people, and rarer still are the people who want to be managed.

Instead, “We manage property and lead people; if we try to manage people\e, they will feel like property.” Over the long-term, people are more satisfied when they have control or input into how they undertake their work. Using our own skills, insights and decision-making process is more rewarding than blindly following instructions.

Yet there are a few instances when we want to be told what to do. These include emergency situations or a scenario that is totally foreign—such as a temporary volunteer role. However, they are not common, and satisfaction at work requires freedom of choice in how to work—and an opportunity to bring our skills to bear on a problem.

This freedom and skill opportunity make up the “autonomy” and “mastery” components of Dan Pink’s motivation triad (which also includes purpose). Pink explains what people want to feel satisfied and fulfilled. Here’s the recap…

What People Do Want Instead
When we can provide freedom of choice (autonomy) with an ability to apply and learn new skills (mastery) in an environment that pursues a worthwhile goal (purpose), the magic happens. Now people are motivated. Then our role as leaders and managers of projects is to channel and coordinate these driven contributors in their pursuit of that goal.

If that sounds unrealistically optimistic, maybe you have never felt or seen true motivation. Maybe YourGreedyCorp’s reason for being (max profits for owner and shareholders) lacks any sense of purpose for its employees?

Unfortunately, organizations with uniting and worthwhile missions are scarce. We cannot all work for companies like PatagoniaTesla or Buurtzorg, so how can we support people working in more traditional organizations?

If we cannot influence the purpose of our organization, we can try to find the compelling purpose for our project and create as much autonomy and opportunities for mastery as possible. Then we can see what other motivational factors people desire.

Beyond “Drive” Enablers – Into “Overdrive”
A recent Entrepreneur article about seven basic human needs provides great insights into a holistic set of motivational/satisfaction ideas we can bring to teams. Let’s review them:

  1. Safety/security: - Without it, we feel anxious.” Creating a psychologically safe environment is critical for experimentation and learning. People need to feel it is not only okay for them to extend themselves and try new things, but are positively encouraged to do so.

As leaders, we can help by modeling the desired behavior and talking about our own learnings and failures. For example, “I made a mistake on the status report I am sending it again” or “I heard my presentation to the steering committee was too technical; I would like your help explaining it in simpler terms.

This second example also demonstrates vulnerability by asking for help. It turns out vulnerability in leaders is less a sign of weakness and more a bridge to building stronger relations with team members. Creating a safe environment and being human produces a better working environment.

People join companies because of the opportunities and leave them because of the managers they encounter there. Don’t be one of those managers.

 

  1. Variability/challenge: - Without it, we are bored.” Our brains are wired to seek new experiences and solve problems. It releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates the pleasure circuits in the brain. It is likely to reward exploration and learning, which is critical for our evolution.

We can take advantage of the motivation circuits everyone comes wired with by presenting work as problems, not tasks. Outline the problem, let the team tell you how it intends to solve it. This will usually be how you would have structured work tasks, but it might be a better plan. Then, providing it is legal and appropriate, let the team execute its plan. Now the team members have ownership of the approach and are much more invested in ensuring its success.

It’s not rocket science, it’s neuroscience—and very well worth the extra steps of framing new work as problems and vetting proposed solutions.

 

  1. Status/significance: - “Without it, we feel undervalued.” We need to recognize the role and significance people play on projects—and not just at the end of them. That is too little, too late. Instead, we need to find ways to acknowledge and explain the contributions people are making on a regular (say weekly) basis.

It does not have to be much, but it does have to be something. People working without recognition can slide into doing the minimum tolerated. Instead, people who know their work is recognized will be more likely to try and do it well.

Yes, making sure we talk to everyone about their work each week takes time and effort. However, it is much easier than explaining lackluster performance to executives or recruiting new team members because someone quit or was fired for underperforming.

People need momentum to push past the obstacles they will inevitably face on projects. Regular recognition of their work creates and builds that momentum.

 

  1. Love/connection: - “Without it, we are lonely.” We spend a large proportion of our waking hours at work. As social creatures, we crave some connection—but the depth varies from person to person. For some, it is enough to be recognized and have your name remembered. For others, they want to learn about their teammates and share their interests and dreams.

HR departments can get justifiably concerned about inappropriate friendliness, and so often tend to err on the transactional side of interactions—e.g., “Bill, here is the marketing report you asked for.” However, this misses the opportunity to connect. “Hey Bill, there you are…here’s that marketing report. How did Wendy do at her first basketball game?

Having someone that cares enough to ask how you are—and also learn whatever aspects you want to share—is significant. We should try to learn what our team members like to do in their spare time, what causes and activities they enjoy.

People make terrible interchangeable cogs in a machine. They are inconsistent, unreliable and malleable, always changing shape. However, they make fantastic flowers in a garden. Some like shade, some like the sun; once we learn more about them, we can help them flourish.

 

  1. Self-expression: - “Without it, we can’t express our personality.” We need to let people show us who they are. Let them customize their work environment appropriately. If working the front desk of a fancy hotel, that might not be much visually; but in other environments, it could be considerable.

Dress, music, work time flexibility to go rock climbing or see the new Star Wars movie all show we recognize what is important to people. We hire people for who they are and their ability to contribute. Let’s not forget who they are, or they will forget to contribute.

 

  1. Growth/knowledge: - “Without it, we feel stuck.” This is the “mastery” component of Dan Pink’s three motivators. People want to improve their skills. They want to get better at the craft they chose as a career. Providing training, access to education and conferences improves job performance, employee satisfaction, and retention.

Education and training not only improve people’s sense of job worth, but it also improves their self-worth. People recognize and remember that.

 

  1. Contribution: - “Without it, we don’t have the satisfaction of helping someone.” This is the “purpose” component from Pink’s Drive book. People seek meaning, a purpose, an opportunity to help build a valuable legacy.

Connect work to a worthy goal. People do not want to spend a day pushing keyboard buttons. They want to know they helped people get access to healthcare or education, or book a fun night out with friends.

 

Putting the Seven Human Needs to Work
Great leaders and the best project managers do all of these things instinctively. They weave and blend the concepts into every interaction and conversation they have each day. The rest of us likely need some coaching until we feel natural—and then they become habits to us.

There is nothing wrong with creating a checklist of people to go talk with each day. We do not want to use the same questions, but instead develop interest, appreciation, and opportunities for growth.

Demonstrate the desired behavior, admit your failings and concerns. Ask questions, be upbeat, seek connections and knowledge. Everyone in a leadership role is being watched and judged, whether they like it or not. So, behave as if every action—seen or unseen—is being scored. Integrity and transparency remove the need for remembering the story for this situation, or what you told who.

When outlining work, start and end with the problem. Let people decide how best to solve it, and invite their ideas. Providing the solutions are legal and efficient, let them run with them. Check-in frequently to see how things are going. Investigate failures calmly. What can we learn? What can we do differently next time?

It takes time, but it gets easier. Then people start helping you when they see you are not a total jerk. Then things get much easier, and it is tempting to think you are hot stuff and become a jerk. Stay humble, stay thankful and always be learning.

Summary
Dan Pink’s Drive motivators of autonomy, mastery, and purpose are critical in ensuring motivation at work. However, they are a subset of the seven universal human needs we all seek to feel satisfied.

As we manage our projects and lead our teams, we should check to see how many of them we can engage every day.

[An earlier version of this article first appeared on ProjectManagement.com here]

(See www.LeadingAnswers.com for the full list of articles from Mike Griffiths)


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

Learn how people want to work and agree on how things should be done and how issues should be handled.

As a group, develop the group rules that will be followed. By being involved in the creation of the team norms, people are much more likely to feel ownership and commitments towards them. Telling people how we should work is much less empowering than engaging those people in jointly developing their own framework.

 

D42

Task 2 – Help develop technical and interpersonal skills

Encourage the development of technical and people skills so everyone is equipped to work effectively.

Knowledge work requires two sets of skills. The first is to do the technical work as a subject matter expert (SME), the second is to work productively with other SMEs and stakeholders, including the business and customer. The job of learning and honing these skills is never done, and we should always be improving our technical and collaboration skills.

 

Team Empowerment

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Task 3 – Encourage generalizing specialists

Encourage people to have a broad range of skills, not only deep, narrow ones, so that as workload varies people can help other team members out.

The concept of “T” shaped people rather than “I” shaped people captures the idea of having skills in surrounding fields of work, in addition to a specialization. To maximize the value delivered we want global rather than local optimization. This means focusing on overall throughput of value over people-utilization efficiencies. T-shaped people are valuable for optimizing value since they allow us to share work to reduce bottlenecks.

 

D44
 
Task 4 – Empower team members

Encourage people to step up for new roles. Allow them to make their own decisions. Put them in charge of many elements of their job.

We want people to take ownership of their work and start to make their own improvements. So encourage people to look for opportunities for improvements and take initiative to make them happen. These are forms of emergent and shared leadership. Subject matter experts know their domains best, so empower them to manage complexity and create solutions to the problems they face.

 

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Task 5 – Proactively manage morale

Learn what motivates people and provide that motivation in their workplace.

Frequently observe and ask team members about what motivates them individually and as part of a team. Also, learn what demotivates or upsets them. Then try to find ways to improve the work environment to foster happiness, productivity, and satisfaction.

 

Team Collaboration and Commitment

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Task 6 – Encourage ongoing communications

Encourage dialog and technology that helps share information.

Usually, the best way to help communications is to physically co-locate with the people you need to communicate with. Nothing beats seeing them and talking with them. It allows for the richest exchange of information accompanied by body language and emotion.

When colocation is not possible, provide the best tools you can to keep people in communication. Monitor communications and look for ways to reduce miscommunication or address missing communication. This helps reduce costly and wasteful rework caused by miscommunication.

 

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Task 7 – Protect team from distractions

Shield the team from interruptions.

Distractions and low-priority interruptions can come from many sources. They might be requests from superfluous sources or demands for low-priority admin work. Even quick interruptions cause task-switching and interrupting flow.

Special-ops and Skunkworks teams have been effective and highly productive in part because they were separated and shielded from interruptions.

 

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Task 8 – (Re)communicate the vision to align the goal

Show the end goal and how people’s contributions help get us there.

People should understand how their work contributes to the end goal. So we need to align the team goals with the product or project goal and show the connections and steps along the way to our final destination.

 

D49

Task 9 – Measure performance to help forecasting

Encourage people to measure and share their performance so we can get better at forecasting at a high level.

In order to improve our ability to forecast, we need to track how things actually turned out. If we keep making estimates without checking actual performance, we will keep making the same estimation errors. Tracking velocity and work delivered helps create a more accurate view of the team’s true capacity for future work.

I hope you enjoyed these samples from my most recent book. It was a fun project for me and my wish is that people find it an easy introduction to agile values.


5 Major Changes Coming to the PMP Exam

5 ChangesSome fundamental changes are coming to the PMP® exam. Currently slated for January 2021, the content and composition of the exam will be completely revamped. As described in the new PMP Exam Content Outline, PMI commissioned a research study into trends in the project management profession. This study, called the Global Practice Analysis, investigated which job tasks and approaches people frequently use.

The job task analysis identified the knowledge and skills required to function as a project management practitioner. Now the PMP is changing to better reflect these practices; here are some of the major changes:  

New Focus1. New focus– Switching from the previous domains (initiating, planning, executing, etc.), the new exam will be based on three new domains: people, process and business environment. These new domains align more closely with the PMI Talent Triangle®sections of leadership, technical project management, and business and strategic work.

Since project management occurs in a variety of industries, the business environment domain only tests universal concepts and does not get into any specifics around project types. The split of questions between these domains is:

  • People: 42%
  • Process: 50%
  • Business Environment: 8%

New Content2. New content– The job task analysis revealed that many project managers are using agile approaches, or some agile concepts in hybrid life cycles. To reflect this, the new exam covers the complete value delivery spectrum including predictive, hybrid and agile approaches.

The inclusion of agile concepts and increased emphasis on the people aspects of projects represent a big shift. Concepts like servant leadership, conflict resolution and retrospectives were previously the domain of the PMI-ACP® exam, but will now be featured more frequently on the PMP exam (although not in so much depth or frequency).

New Question Types3. New question types– A change announced by PMI at the recent PMI Global Conference in Philadelphia was the introduction of some new question types. PMI will be introducing question types that depart from the tradition multiple-choice format of four options and one correct answer.

The new format questions include drag-and-drop and clicking on a graphic region. These new question types allow questions such as asking the test taker to select the graph/chart that best fits a described scenario, or identify what part of an image applies to a described situation.

Crossword and coloring-in based questions will be added later (just kidding). Personally, I applaud the incorporation of visual questions; a large component of effective communication involves interpreting and creating graphs and charts, so any way to assess this capability is welcome.

Move Away from PMBOK4. Moving away from the PMBOK® Guide – The PMP exam is not a test of the PMBOK Guide.

This concept is so fundamental—yet so universally misunderstood—that I feel the need to repeat it: The PMP exam is not a test about or on the PMBOK Guide. This misunderstanding may have arisen because the domains in the old PMP Exam Content Outline matched the process groups in the PMBOK Guide. This was a logical (but flawed) assumption.

When question writers develop questions, they must reference at least two source documents for each question. This is to make sure the question is based on agreed-to sources and not just their belief or recommendation. Previously, the PMBOK Guide was frequently used as one of the sources, but it was always accompanied by at least one non-PMBOK source.

Since the Global Practice Analysis and job task analysis identified more people-based skills and agile approaches, then increasingly, the sources referenced will not include the PMBOK Guide. By structuring the PMP Exam Content Outline around people, process and business domains, PMI is further signaling the departure from PMBOK-focused topics. The list of new source materials is available here.

The takeaway for PMP aspirants is to base their studies on understanding and applying the concepts described in the domains, tasks, and enablers listed in the exam content outline.

Education Evolution5. Education evolution– These radical changes were planned to be implemented in December 2019. However, perhaps in part to questions from the training community, the changes have now been deferred until July 2020.

No doubt it will be a big change for Registered Education Providers (REPs) as they update their materials. Many PMP preparation courses followed the knowledge areas and domains of the old exam content outline. Now, with more of a focus on people and the decision to embrace the entire value delivery spectrum, training materials should be changed to better reflect the new exam content outline. This will take time but will result in a more practical exam.

Conclusion
I welcome the change to make the exam more realistic and better aligned with how projects operate. The increased emphasis on the people aspects of projects more closely reflects where project managers spend the bulk of their time and attention. While the process groups and knowledge areas were useful buckets for organizing content, they did not really map how the project management activities integrate across multiple domains simultaneously.

There will be an adjustment period as training companies adjust their materials. However, the end result will be an exam that better matches day-to-day work—which ultimately is where the exam should be moving to so that it’s a relevant assessment of project management activities.

[This post first appeared without the list of source materials on projectmanagement.com here]


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.

Momentum is mass in motion. Think of a thousand people all moving toward a common goal—and their organizational structures and processes to get there. Now imagine the goal has shifted; we want to get to somewhere else. We need to shift all those minds - and likely much of the org structure and processes, this is a bigger ask requiring more energy.

The Efficiency vs. Adaptability Trade-off
There is a growing trend. As rates of change increase, organizations are trading off efficiency for adaptability. Large-scale processes, specialized resources, and large batch sizes are optimized for maximum efficiency (the lowest cost per widget, the highest productivity rates per worker). From a cost-per-unit perspective, it’s hard to beat the scale, hierarchies, and specialization that are the lifeblood of efficient systems.

Unfortunately, optimizing for efficiency decreases adaptability. A huge stamping press used for producing car door shells is great for fast, cheap output until someone wants a new car door design. Likewise, organizations created to optimize efficiency have a similar structure and process momentum toward a single fixed goal. This momentum is an obstacle if that goal moves or becomes a collection of separate moving goals.

The Diversity and Evolution of Organizations
Fortunately, because there are no fixed ways of structuring a company (or operating one), we can learn from all the forms that have been tried and been successful—along with those that failed, too.

Throughout history and alive today, we can find examples of organizations that exhibit varying degrees of structure/efficiency versus flexibility/adaptability. We have a rich gene pool of organizational diversity to study.

Looking at organizations that do well in times of uncertainty can help us determine what qualities are required to thrive in high rates of uncertainty and complexity. Of course, we need to be careful with this natural selection approach, as good companies fail for a variety of reasons. But there are useful lessons and trends to observe.

An Autonomy Spectrum
In the book Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux describes the evolution of organizations from primitive gangs ruled by fear, to sophisticated organizations that distribute power and decision making to local branches. The book is a fascinating read that assigns colors to each level of evolution and discusses many different attributes.

However, for this article, I just want to focus on the structure/efficiency vs flexibility/adaptability element.

Red Org

Red Organizations
The most basic organizations impose pyramid-shaped command-and-control structures around the “Who?”, “What?” and “How?” aspects of work. Strict organizations like the Mafia or Catholic Church have a lot of structure around the who—only certain people get to make some decisions, and it is not questioned. Likewise, there is hierarchical control over what gets done and how it is done.

Amber Org

Amber Organizations
The next level of evolution describes most traditional organizations. Here there is some flexibility on the who. Anyone should be able to rise to a position of power, but there is still a pyramid structure controlling what should be done—and standards and process for exactly how it should be achieved.

Examples include government agencies and charter schools.

Orange Org

Orange Organizations
Orange organization make up the bulk of modern, profit-oriented enterprises. There is still a pyramid structure and control on what the company is focusing on, but freedom on how the results are obtained. Now people are empowered and encouraged to solve problems and achieve results.

Examples include banks and retail organizations.

Green Org

Green Organizations
These are today’s modern organizations that encourage empowered teams. Within traditional pyramid structures, there is as much freedom as possible with whowhat and how goals are accomplished. People are supported to own, define and improve how they work, so they improve not only the product, but the production process in which they work.

Examples include Southwest Airlines, and W.L. Gore and Associates.

Teal Org

Teal Organizations
Teal organizations break free from the pyramid structure and instead behave more like towns or organisms. Rather than try to funnel decision making and policy through a single hub, they spin-off and give authority to local groups. So local branches define new products, hire people, decide on pay rates, etc. Freed from a central, governing body, they are more autonomous and flexible.

Examples include Buurtzorg Nursing and Morningstar.

Laloux is careful to explain that this evolutionary progression is not necessarily from bad to good, or from worst to best. Instead, they just reflect different levels of consciousness and values within the organization. Also, different levels can exist within the same organization, nested like Russian dolls. For instance, a predominantly green organization can have an amber or red department within it where things are still very fixed with little flexibility.

From Control and Efficiency to Autonomy and Adaptation

Org Agility Spectrum

The model is useful for showing the progression from a control and efficiency focus to one of autonomy and adaptation. In high-change environments, having a single hub for decision making slows the process down. Shoals of fish can change direction, split or merge to avoid prey in an instant. They do not take orders from a single source. Moving decision-making powers to those navigating improves responsiveness—but may lose out on efficiency and economies of scale.

Organizations looking to improve their agility can examine where they are on the autonomy spectrum and determine what the next logical step for them would be if they want to be more adaptable (but potentially less efficient.) It is a trade-off; there is no single best organizational structure; it depends on the environment in which you operate.

Some organizations spin-off start-ups to explore new product streams. These start-ups can be nimbler and operate unencumbered from the large pyramid structures and processes of the parent. Other organizations use Skunk Works groups to explore new ideas. Again, free from some of the normal scrutiny and controls that aim for efficiency, these insulated groups can innovate quicker.

Please Innovate While We Micromanage You!
Organizations that demand innovation in highly controlled environments designed for process efficiency are likely in for a rude awakening. Organizations seem either structured for efficiency with strict controls on the who, what and how; or structured for flexibility, innovation, and adaptation.

Much has changed since Laloux first published Reinventing Organizations in 2014 and many of the organizations he featured have gone on to evolve yet newer structures. However, the efficiency-adaptability spectrum remains a useful tool for understanding the type of organization we work in and for discussing the characteristics and challenges associated with organizational agility.

[This article first appeared on projectmanagement.com Here]


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.

Many developers are detail-oriented and process-driven. While these characteristics are often highly beneficial, they can also mean the developer’s focus is easily distracted from the real reason they are undertaking software projects—to write valuable software. So, this emphasis on valuing working software over comprehensive documentation acts as a useful reminder of why these projects are commissioned in the first place—to build something useful. Documentation by itself, or at the expense of working software, is not useful.

 

M3 - sample

Value 3 – Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

We need to be flexible and accommodating rather than fixed and uncooperative. This involves tradeoffs between the development team and business rather than reverting back to contracts and statements of work. We could build the product exactly as originally specified, but if the customer’s preferences or priorities change, it would be better to be flexible and work toward the new goal.

It is difficult to define an up-front, unchanging view of what should be built. This challenge stems from the dynamic nature of knowledge work products, especially software systems. Software is intangible and difficult to reference: companies rarely build the same systems twice, business needs change quickly, and technology changes rapidly.

We should recognize at the start that things are going to change, and we’ll need to work with the customer throughout the project to reach a shared definition of “done.” This requires a more trusting relationship and more flexible contract models than we often see on projects.

 

M4 - sample

Value 4 – Responding to change over following a plan

The quote from scholar Alfred Korzybski, “The map is not the territory,” warns us not to follow maps if they do not match the surroundings. Instead, trust what you see and act accordingly.

In modern, complex projects, we know our initial plans will likely be inadequate. They are based on insufficient information about what it will take to complete the project.

Agile projects have highly visible queues of work and plans in the form of release maps, backlogs, and task boards. The intent of this value is to broaden the number of people who can be readily engaged in the planning process by adjusting the plans and discussing the impact of changes.

 

The next post will feature another random excerpt from the book “Agile Illustrated: A Visual Learner’s Guide to Agility”. If you liked the sample, consider buying the Kindle book available on your local Kindle store – here’s a link to the Amazon.com store.


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?

To make things worse, some teams do not take the retrospective seriously. Maybe after the potential stress of the sprint review, the largely internal retrospective is a relief. A chance to chill out, maybe share some food, and pat each other on the back. However, innovation and learning take conscious effort, forward planning and accountability.

As I work with organizations, I often sit in on retrospectives. Of all the regular workshops/ceremonies, these sessions are typically the least prepared for and worst executed. I often see lazy retrospectives where a basic lessons-learned format is used, but timings are not managed and the recommendations for the next sprint get skimped as they run out of time.

The pie chart below shows a typical planned allocation of time—and the reality of how time is actually spent:

R1

In these lazy retrospectives, people are slow to start, spend longer on recording what went well than what could be improved, and then try to cram the recommendations for experiments (the most important part) into the last few minutes. As a result, experimentation suffers. Few experiments are scheduled for the next sprint, and those that are run are not evaluated properly.

This is not how agile retrospectives are supposed to operate. An excellent guide to running effective retrospectives is Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen. In it they describe a five-step process:

  1. Set the stage – Help people focus on the task at hand; check that people are ready and willing to contribute. Outline and gain consensus on the process we will use. Techniques we can use include: check-in, working agreements, focus-on/focus-off (see the book for full descriptions of these techniques).
  2. Gather data – Create a shared view of what happened during the sprint/iteration. When completed, we should have a common understanding of the observations and facts. Team activities we can use include: timeline, mad-sad-glad, team radar.
  3. Generate insights – This focuses on understanding the implications of our findings and discussions. We need to see the impacts of the problems we are faced with before trying to solve them. Techniques we can use include: five whys, fishbone analysis, dot voting.
  4. Decide what to do – Now we move from thinking about the iteration that just ended to what we should try next to improve things. We identify the highest-priority action items, create plans for experiments and set measurable goals to achieve the desired results. Techniques we can use include: SMART goals, circle of questions, short subjects.
  5. Close the retrospective – Here we reflect on the retrospective process and express our appreciations. We may summarize what we have decided to keep or change and what we are thankful for. Team-based activities we can use include: plus/delta, return of time invested (ROTI), appreciations.

This is a more useful format. However, despite people having access to good retrospective advice, poor implementations are still common. Teams continue to attend late, start slowly and run out of time or rush the agreement on what experiments to run.

R2

The recurring theme is poor experimentation design and restricted learning. Gunther Verheyen summarized the problem nicely in his recent post entitled “Inspection Without Adaptation Is Pointless.” Gathering data and deciding what to do is pointless if it is not acted upon. We are doing most of the preparation work but not getting any of the benefits.

Experiment Design to the Rescue
Fortunately, there are some good models we can use. We need to manage time and effort more effectively and use retrospectives to plan and evaluate more experiments. We should spend only 50% of the available time on gathering information and the remainder reviewing the results of past experiments, making wins part of our process, designing new experiments and learning from inevitable failures.

We can help the time management problem by assigning work to be done in advance. People should be thinking about issues and potential solutions independently. There are benefits of group discussion and consensus gathering on agreed experiment design, but observation and idea generation is best done individually.

The New Yorker magazine [3] describes numerous studies that show how brainstorming groups think of fewer, lower-quality ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas. There have been numerous reports on the downsides of brainstorming ideas as a group. Groupthink and the halo effect stifle idea generation. So, ask for people to come with ideas, then use the group setting to vet and vote for them.

Visualizing the ideas and experiments is an effective way to bring collective attention to them. Trent Hone and Andrew Jarding developed the “Ideas and Experiments board” pictured below. It shows the progression of ideas through experiments and their success or abandonment:

Experiment Board

Ideas and Experiments Board (Image Credit: Trent Hone and Andrew Jarding, MindSettlers)

As discussed in the last article, by design, 50% of our experiments should fail since we are trying to maximize our learning, not validate things we already know. So I would expect to see an equal number of abandoned experiments as successful ones.

However, this format (or a slightly modified version that represents an experiments Kanban board) is a useful tool to bring the focus for retrospectives to the experiments being run and considered. With some pre-work on idea generation and an increased focus on experiments, we can structure more effective retrospectives.

R3

This retrospective format saves some time by assigning idea generation as pre-work; this also helps avoid the groupthink pitfalls. It furthermore places emphasis on the experiments—the inputs for learning and innovation.

I have experienced pushback from teams about the goal of 50% experiment failure. People understand it optimizes learning—but say it sets people up for too much failure. I understand the sentiment but counter with two perspectives.

First, these are experiments; they should be dispassionate explorations, not evaluations of the people undertaking the work. We need to be professional and try to overcome habits of internalizing results. I know this is easier said than done, so also offer a second reason: We need to kill bad ideas early to save time and money for better ones.

In the article “The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures,” Gary Pisano describes how killing bad ideas is critical. He profiles Flagship Pioneering, a Massachusetts-based R&D company. It uses a disciplined exploration approach to run small experiments minimizing expenditure. Instead of running experiments to validate ideas, it designs “killer experiments” to maximize the probability of exposing an idea’s flaws. The goal is to learn what went wrong early and move in a more promising direction.

Other useful ideas from the paper include:

  • Tolerance for failure, but no tolerance for incompetence – Hire the best people you can. Explain the goals clearly and let go of those that do not perform.
  • Psychologically safe, but brutally candid – Encourage frank but respectful two-way dialog. It may feel uncomfortable, but it can prevent issues or concerns from going unreported.
  • Collaboration—but with individual accountability – Encourage discussions, but avoid groupthink and hold people accountable for decisions and outcomes.

These are all great concepts and align with the frustrations I experience when I see teams not taking retrospectives seriously—or following through on conducting experiments. I realized I needed a better model for discussing the problem. Fortunately, I found the field of collaborative problem solving (CPS).

CPS is the study of how we work together in groups to solve new problems, innovate and build products. The innovation process and retrospective workshop fall squarely within its scope. CPS skills are quite separate from individual task-focused skills, meaning people can be great at working individually but poor at working together.

A good introduction to CPS frameworks can be found in the article “Advancing the Science of Collaborative Problem Solving.” One model they feature is the “PISA 2015 Collaborative Problem-Solving Assessment.” Unfortunately, like many academic models, the degree of difficulty goes downward, which may make sense as you read down through more advanced stages. However, I think graphically, so I have redrawn the model to show degrees of completeness and difficulty radiating up and out from a 0,0 origin, as shown below:

PISA 1

Along the X-axis, we see three categories of collaborative problem-solving competencies. These are:

  1. Establishing a shared understanding
  2. Taking action to solve the problem
  3. Establishing and maintaining team organization

Up the Y-axis, we have four categories of problem-solving:

  1. Understanding the problem
  2. Representing the problem
  3. Planning and executing
  4. Monitoring and reflecting

Within the body of the model, each square is labeled with the column number and row letter, and describes the tasks that occur in that space.

The model provides a diagnostic tool for identifying broken and lazy retrospectives. The poor engagement and weak follow-through I see in many Scrum teams is characterized by an incomplete execution of column 1 and only half-completion of columns 2 and 3 (as shown by the red outline below):

PISA 2

Teams are not spending time in “(D1) – Monitor and repairing the shared understanding,” nor are they getting to the “(C2) Enacting plans,” (D2), (D3) and (C3) areas to follow through on plans and hold each other accountable for actions and results.

What we want is a complete execution of all the collaborative problem-solving competencies; only then is the framework complete (along with the feedback mechanisms to keep things in check and moving in the right direction):

PISA 3

Summary
Innovation involves combining the right mindset and philosophy with tools and practical steps to ensure its execution. Motivation and attitude are paramount; people have got to want to do this work, enjoy it and create a pull demand for the tools and process that enable it. Trying to foster innovation with demotivated teams is like trying to push a rope.

When motivated and happy people create a strong pull demand for innovation, we need to be ready with the right tools to support the process and keep the momentum going. This includes designing experiments to maximize learning and killing bad ideas quickly—all while demanding competence, accountability and candor.

It is not easy to master the combination of soft skills and techniques required for successful improvement and innovation. However, organizations that succeed can respond to market changes faster and are poised to exploit new technologies and opportunities. Ideas and inventions are spreading quicker than ever. Learning how to build collaborative, innovative teams has become a critical skill.

References

  1. Book: Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen
  2. Article and video: “Inspection Without Adaptation Is Pointless” by Gunther Verheyen
  3. Article: “Groupthink: the Brainstorming Myth” by Jonah Lehrer
  4. Article: “The Hard Truth About Innovative Cultures” by Gary Pisano
  5. Article: “Advancing the Science of Collaborative Problem Solving” by Arthur Graesser, et al.

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


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.

The full details of volunteer opportunities and entry requirements can be viewed at the PMI VRMS site Here.

I will be acting as Co-Lead for the initiative, which is like a co-chair role. However, Chair and Co-Chair sounds too hierarchical so we switched to Lead and Co-Lead role to match the new structures we will be embracing.

If we want to change the future of project management I believe the best way to do that is from the inside outwards by doing the work - not from the outside inwards just criticizing. Longtime readers may recall my 2010 post Raise A Little Hell when the PMBOK v5 Update was being commissioned. Since then we developed the PMI-ACP, PMBOK Agile Appendices, and the Agile Practice Guide.

This is going to be different!

Click here to see full volunteer role details.


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.

It starts with leadership and cascades down to a shared mindset of team members. Leaders need to be transparent about their own mistakes and learning moments. They need to model the desired behavior, share what they have learned and their new plan of action.

These can be strategic learnings (“Our European market testing has been poor, we are reworking the price options”) or personal (“Feedback on my presentation to investors indicated I was too technical; I need to find simpler ways to describe our technology”). Until team members see transparency in common use, they will be reluctant to practice it themselves for fear of reprisal or criticism.

We Are in the Maze-Solving Business

Maze 1
Developing new products or services is a maze-solving exercise. Nowadays, it is also a race. We need to find a workable solution faster than our competitors. There will be obstacles and dead-ends along the way, and that is okay. We must not let them demoralize us; we just need to learn from them, not repeat them, and keep going.

The process of learning starts with understanding the knowable and then adding to this through experiments and new learnings. So, we start with smart people who understand their industry domain, technology and the business goals. We then need to create an environment with a dual track of product development and experimental learning.

Organizations that run more experiments and iterate faster also learn faster. Scientists studying inheritance use mayflies because they reproduce and provide experimentation results so quickly. The more experiments you can run in a year, the more you can learn.

Our Mazes are Really Big

Maze 2

Developing a new product does not happen overnight. Outside of movies, rarely do lone geniuses develop a marketable product themselves. Instead, it takes teams of subject matter experts months to create proof-of-concepts and multiple iterations of tweaks to complete a viable product. These teams need support and coordination services throughout the process.

Sponsors, executives and shareholders need plans, projections and updates. Product managers, project managers and team leaders all play an important role in keeping the maze-solving teams motivated and moving in the right direction. They also need to keep funding and support going while providing inputs about changing market demands and conditions.

It sounds a difficult balancing act, but approaches such as design thinking, lean startup and agile provide stewardship models for development with inbuilt experimentation, observation and learning. What gets less attention is motivating teams to persevere despite the many failures encountered when experimenting for learning, not just validation.

The “Success Leads to Happiness” Fallacy
Most people start their lives with the mistaken view that success leads to happiness. Our internal dialog creates a series of “if/then” scenarios:

  • IF I pass this exam, THEN I will be happy.”
  • “IF I get this job, THEN I will be happy.”
  • “IF we finish this project on schedule, THEN I will be happy.”

However, the brain has a knack of moving the goalposts. We might be happy briefly, but then we quickly focus on the next exam, an even better job or a more ambitious project.

While it is good to progress in life, we should not connect achieving a goal with achieving happiness. Instead, we need to understand that happiness is only 10% extrinsic (external things that happen to us, like success) and 90% intrinsic (how we think and feel about things).

A Happy Brain is a Productive Brain

Dopamine

Happy workers are more productive and creative than stressed or unhappy workers. In our brains, the chemical dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for sending reward-motivated happiness signals. Put more simply, dopamine is a happiness chemical—it gets released when we are happy. Interestingly, dopamine also switches on more learning circuits in our brains.

Research [1,2,3] shows that happiness improves work performance. Happy people are 31% more productive, happy doctors are 19% more accurate at diagnosing correctly, and happy salespeople are 37% better at sales.

This intuitively makes sense. When we are unhappy or stressed, the brain prioritizes circuits for survival. If you spot a sabre-toothed tiger, it is probably best to focus on escape rather than contemplating the interplay of sunlight and shadows through the leaf canopy. Yet when searching for an innovative solution, we want all these extra brain circuits engaged. This brings us full circle on the “I’ll be happy when I am successful” logic. It turns out, being happy actually activates more of the brain to help us be successful.

Success Fallacy

Nurturing Happy Teams
So, if the smartest workers are happy workers, how do we make them happy? Well, we don’t “make them happy” at all—that would be trying to force it in externally, using weak extrinsic motivators. Instead, we equip them with the tools to help build intrinsic happiness themselves.

This might be sounding more touchy-feely than you are comfortable with. However, hard economics show that happy workers also persevere with problems longer, take less sick days, quit less and sue for wrongful dismissal much less, too…so let’s suspend the cynicism for a moment.

The good news is that with as little as 30 minutes a day, measurable increases in dopamine levels are achieved in three weeks. So, if we can encourage these behaviors and turn them into habits, we get happier, healthier, smarter and more productive workers.

These 30-minute exercises don’t even require expensive equipment or management consultants. They are simple, backed by research and include:

  1. 3 Gratitudes – a daily recording of three new things you are grateful for [4]
  2. Journaling – recording positive experiences from the past 24 hours [5]
  3. Exercise – increases blood flow to the brain and helps eliminate toxins [6]
  4. Meditation – resets multi-tasking fatigue and helps with concentration [7]
  5. Acts of Kindness - helping others and saying “thanks,” which makes us feel better [8]

Organizations spend vast sums of money hiring smart people and providing them with complex tools and training. In comparison, the cost/benefit potential in investing and encouraging team happiness is extremely compelling. As project managers, team leads and executives, we need to be conscious of the behaviors we model, because people are watching us.

If not already doing so, we can use these techniques ourselves to improve our own happiness and productivity—then share and encourage others to make use of them. A great benefit of intrinsic motivators is that they can be applied anywhere. It does not matter if you work in a toxic environment or report to a jerk. There is likely nothing stopping you making sure the first email of the day you send is to thank someone for their help or contribution. Also, no one will know if you make notes about positive experiences.

People with budgets and hiring authority do know that yoga instructors are much cheaper than labor relations consultants and HR lawyers. Longer lunch breaks and fun team activities may require some explanations, but improved problem solving, fewer sick days and better ideas are definitely worth it.

Don’t wait until project completion to celebrate team achievements. That’s too little, too late—and our brains have moved the goalposts to be thinking of the next project. Instead, celebrate the little things that recognize effort, persistence and displaying a good attitude.

Obviously, it is not as simple as “happy people are the perfect innovators.” There are some concerns that people characterized as “happy” might be less likely to spot certain types of risks. Optimism needs to be tempered with realism. However, given the variable success rates of helping people become happier (“leading horses to water,” etc.), there will still be some pessimists; but on the whole, it creates a positive change that is worth the risk.

Summary
Smart companies know the future belongs to the best innovators. Building and maintaining teams of productive innovators requires investment in tools, techniques and people. We need to have the right tools and be using today’s techniques such as the design thinking, lean startup and agile approaches. Then it comes down to our people. An appreciation of what truly makes us happy—and its effects on success—is a great starting point.

Most organizations are not R&D labs, so we need to balance innovation with everyday production and service. The mindset and changes described here may feel uncomfortable (or even unprofessional) at first. However, a quote from Eric Shinseki explains that “If you dislike change, you're going to dislike irrelevance even more.” It reminds us that the business landscape is changing faster than ever—and that we need to change with it to stay valuable.

References

  1. The Happiness Advantage
  2. The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success?
  3. Happiness and Productivity
  4. Counting Blessings Versus Burdens
  5. How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Words, The Social Effects of Expressive Writing
  6. Behavior Matters
  7. One Second Ahead
  8. Interventions to Boost Happiness and Buttress Resilience

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


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.

This is where product development books can help. They describe the factors at play and provide ideas for guidance around planning, funding, staffing and governance. As I was working with clients experiencing the transition from projects to products I was lucky to engage with several authors of product-first, #NoProjects books and chat about the challenge areas and potential solutions.

I have written about #NoProjects a few times before:

 

Then when I recently read a third book about product development shift I thought it could be useful to review some of the books in the market. A neat aspect of these books is that they all present different views on the project to product mind-shift and journey.  

Continuous Digital

 “Continuous Digital: An agile alternative to projects for digital business

Allan Kelly, Software Strategy Ltd.; October 2018

Allan’s book was the first I read about switching to continuous product development. I had been following his blog for a number of years and was familiar with his work. However, it was not until reading the book that I saw his points laid out in order with full explanations.

It is a great read, it makes a compelling argument for why a project view of software projects is a flawed model. I loved the explanation on the diseconomies-of-scale for software and why it is actually cheaper in small batches – unlike physical goods.

It offers the best explanations I have heard into why a continuous delivery of features by a stable team is preferable to using conventional project models. It nicely describes the team aspects of knowledge work and offers some good suggestions around funding and governance models.  

Any change in mindset has to happen internally first before we can help others adopt it. Continuous Digital cemented my own thoughts about why good software projects never end. It explained the “Why?” questions at the heart of any shift in thinking and behavior. In the same way, we have to understand the agile mindset before generating any kind of commitment towards it. This book helps set the mindset and Why of #NoProjects so we can start our journey.

 

Noprojects book#noprojects: A Culture of Continuous Value

Evan Leybourn, Shane Hastie, lulu.com; July 2018

I read an early draft of Evan and Shane’s #noprojects about 6 months after I started reading Allan Kelly’s LeanPub drafts of Continuous Digital. While Kelly’s Continuous Digital and his spin-off book Project Myopia focus on explaining the Why with some How topics, #noprojects has more of a team focussed view.

It talks about the history of software development. It explains how we came to run software development with project structures and the inherent issues that came with them. It then outlines the case for continuous development with all the arguments for retaining knowledge, reducing handoff and dependences, etc.

I think it is a great follow-on from Continuous Digital. Obviously, it is designed to be a stand-alone text but, for me, Kelly explains the Why of product development better. Then #noprojects fills in some additional background information and focusses more on the team level implementation. It might just be because I read Kelly’s book first but if you are looking to convince others in your organization about the need for transitioning to product development it is the go-to source. Reading both will provide a great foundation to understand and transition from projects to products.

 

Project to ProductProject to Product: How to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Digital Disruption with the Flow Framework

Mik Kersten,  IT Revolution Press; November 2018

I first came across Mik’s work via a podcast he did with Shane Hastie. In the podcast, Mik explained that technologies often follow 50-year cycles and then transform through a tipping point into the next evolution in the way of working.

Organizations that try to continue operating with the old model flounder and fail. Moreover, it is now about 50 years since NATO held the first conference on software engineering and the age of software began. Mik explained he believes we are at that tipping point and transitioning to product delivery will be part of the differentiator for the next wave of successful organizations.

I have an interest in technology evolution stories and learning how ideas spread and then transform our lives. So, the 50-year cycle piqued my interest and I ordered the book. The book delivers and not only does it explain the tipping point we are living through right now, but it gives the best explanation of the digital revolution and need for digital transformation I have read to date. Kudos to Mik. If you want to explain why a digital transformation is necessary, and the implications of ignoring it, Project to Product is a brilliant source.

After this great introduction, the remainder of the book explains the Flow Framework Mik helped develop and promotes through his company Tasktop Technologies. The Flow Framework provides metrics and tools for tracking and managing product development. This is useful because while the project management world has a wealth of information about tracking and managing projects, organizations that switch to product management often experience a void or competing recommendations.

The Flow Framework is useful for explaining what we should pay most attention to tracking. Namely features, defects, risks and debts. It recommends a business outcome set of measures that include: value, cost, quality and happiness. The framework employs a lean inspired set of metrics that include flow velocity, flow efficiency, flow time, and flow load.

It is in the rebranding of tradition lean metrics that I struggle to recommend the book wholeheartedly. By prefixing the normal throughput based lean metrics with the word “Flow” Mik is able to define  specific versions of the terms that are often implemented slightly differently from organization to organization. I can see the advantage of that, but it seems an unnecessary name-grab or overloading of lean terms to create trademark-able terms.

That’s a minor quibble though and what Flow Framework does provide is a good mental model for organizing, executing and tracking your product development process. It nicely extends the pattern of books started with Continuous Digital that explains Why product development. Then #noprojects that provides some team-based and stewardship elements. Finally, Project to Product provides solid How To ideas for ongoing governance and improvement.

 

Summary

These three books form a useful progression for anyone wanting to learn about the product development trend. They each provide valuable ideas to help with understanding, practicing and then managing successful product delivery.

Product Development Books Progression

The books allow readers to understand and internalize the need for a product development mindset. Then how to practice on a small scale before encouraging others to try and providing ways to measure and manage it.

Obviously, you do not need to read all three of them, or in this sequence. Any one of them is a good read and source for practical ideas. However, I found that they build nicely upon each other and thought people would be interested to consider them as complementary.


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.


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]


The Importance of Focus

Edison BulbI have an old-fashioned Edison bulb desk lamp. It’s to remind me to focus (and because I like steampunk, industrial design). A 40-watt incandescent bulb will barely light a room, but a 40-watt laser can cut through aluminium, leather, and wood. It is the same amount of light energy, just focussed instead of being diffused.

The same principle applies to our attention, work and teams. Diffused and scattered there is not much impact. Focussed and concentrated that energy is very impactful. Removing distractions and focussing on a single deliverable at a time allows us to complete our work faster with fewer defects.

Aligning a team to a common vision and purpose directs their energy towards it. No longer diffused to fulfil a dozen competing demands, effort is channelled to the shared goal. Distractions come in many forms. Fancy tools, cool architecture, requests from different groups. If we do not pay attention to focus, our laser beam team becomes an Edison bulb, it is busy and glowing, but not very effective.

So, be cautious of distractions. Monitor time and energy directed to the project goal compared to energy directed to peripheral activities. Work life is like a greased pole with a 40-watt Edison bulb at the bottom and a 40-watt laser at the top. We must always be striving upwards to focus because as we relax we slide down towards distraction.

(Also visible in the picture is my “Do The Work” Post-it. another reminder to focus and a pointer to work on the same topic by Seth Godin and Stephen Pressfield. I guess I could get a 40-watt laser too, but that would scorch the cat rather than amuse it. Plus yes, it is snowing here and yes, my windows are old)


Inverted Classrooms

Inverted Classroom 2My last article on why We Should All be Learners explained how today’s knowledge worker projects are all about learning effectively. This article explains how new technology can deliver a more effective and enjoyable learning experience.  So, whether you are studying for your PMP credential, cramming on blockchain technology, or learning conversational Spanish, blended learning is something you should be aware of.

Blended learning combines online resources with in-person instruction. Both approaches have been available for many years, but their combination has recently given rise to what’s called Inverted Classroom Model that is both new and very effective.

If you have ever experienced painfully slow or incomprehensibly fast lectures, or the problems of trying to coordinate group activities outside of class then blended learning with an inverted classroom model might be just the ticket.  It works like this:

Lecture materials are made available online outside of class time and people consume them at their own pace, whenever they like. If you already know something, just skip it, if its difficult or mind-boggling pause it, repeat it, or access additional resources. You control the delivery speed of lessons, how much time you dedicate to it, and you also control when you consume it. So, if you are an early bird use the mornings, a night owl then use the evenings, it's all up to you.

Then, and here’s the clever part, during class when lectures would normally be delivered, this time is used for assignments and group exercises.  So, you attend lectures at home and do homework in class. It is all reversed – hence the inverted classrooms name.

Inverted Classroom

This brings several advantages. Students move at their own pace, on their own timetable. Also, instead of classes being spent on passive listening, they are now dedicated to active work which is more engaging and enjoyable. Trying or organize group work outside of class when people are busy can be a logistical nightmare, now everyone should be available to take part in group work during the regularly scheduled class times.

In addition, the instructor is available to facilitate group work if needed and shift their focus from getting through the material at the appropriate speed to helping students in the areas they need. It is important that people still get face to face time to interact with peers and the instructor. However, in the inverted classroom model, that time is spent applying knowledge not trying to absorb it at a standardized delivery pace.

The approach is not without its own challenges. The technology for consuming material online must be effective and easy to access. Instructors and students must also buy-in to their new roles. Students are now curators of their own content consumption and need to make sure they have understood the required topics before showing up to the next class, whether it took them 2 hours or 20.

Instructors must also switch roles, moving from narrator of wisdom to facilitator of group activities, troubleshooter, and coach. They also need to make sure the students really are consuming the course materials, not just turning up to class and coasting a free-ride on their peers. Good content management systems can track content consumption and test basic recall with tests and quiz questions.

When the technology is in place and roles understood, blended learning and the inverted classroom model can deliver a very engaging and enjoyable way of learning a new topic. It combines Goldilocks pace (not too slow, not too fast) along with engaging group activities without the logistics issue of scheduling busy learners. So, for that next credential or must-have skill, you may want to investigate a blended learning environment with an inverted classroom model.

[I first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com under the title Flipped Classrooms here]


We Should All Be Learners

LearnersKnowledge work is learning work.” That was the message delivered by Dianna Larson’s keynote presentation at the Agile on The Beach conference held in Falmouth, England earlier this Summer. Dianna explained that anyone involved in today’s collaborative, problem-solving projects such as new product development need to be learners. We all need to learn how to learn new topics effectively and get used to lifelong learning to stay useful and relevant.

Technology evolution and disruptive business changes are happening at such a high rate now that we can no longer rely on the theories and techniques we gained at university to see us through our professional careers. Instead, we must learn on the job and in our own time to stay current. How much we learn and how quickly we can learn new skills become our competitive advantage.

“Learning is not compulsory… neither is survival.” – W. Edwards Deming

By learning new skills, we increase our adaptability and usefulness in the marketplace. It creates resiliency to becoming obsolete and provides more career options. Like many things, this is not a zero-sum game; it is not just about us learning things faster than other people to stay employed. If we can increase our team’s ability to learn also, it will be more successful and so will our organization.

For on-job learning to occur, we need three attributes:

  1. Courage
  2. Compassion
  3. Confidence

To be effective leaders and help promote learning in our teams and organizations, we must embrace and model these desired behaviors:

1. Courage: It takes courage to be okay with not knowing something. It takes courage to be wrong and fail as we try to gain and apply new skills. It requires a willingness to be curious and a willingness to tolerate the messiness of trial and error that comes from learning. So check your ego at the door, get over yourself and admit what you do not (yet) know.

2. Compassion: We need a safe space to learn. Also (and this is a surprise to some people), the transparency of showing what we do not know is motivating to others. When leaders learn out loud, it creates compassion toward them. So, create a secure place for people to learn on your projects. Provide psychological safety and encourage learning by doing it yourself in public.

Since we learn in the direction we ask questions, we should frame work as a series of learning problems, not execution problems. For example, instead of explaining the task of porting a system from .NET to Android, explain that our success is linked to our ability to learn Xamarin, our selected tool to port .Net to Android. Clearly explaining we want people to learn new skills is often the approval enabler they need to dedicate themselves to being more useful.

3. Confidence: We need confidence to try and we need to understand our confidence levels. When we learn anything new of significance, our confidence will likely move through the stages depicted in the Satir Change Curve. Think about when you learned to drive, play a musical instrument or learn a foreign language. First, our confidence is high at the prospect of gaining independence, becoming a rock star or traveling with ease. This is illustrated by the initial high score of confidence/comfort at point 1 on the graph below:

Satir

Then we start our learning and we quickly realize that driving, playing the guitar or learning Spanish is difficult and we are not as good at it as we are at all the familiar things we do every day. This is the confusion/loss period of the Satir Change Curve shown as point 2. Many adults who have not had to learn significant new skills for many years find this very uncomfortable.

Next, comes the “groan zone” of turmoil and despair, where some days go well and some days go bad and you seem to be moving backwards (point 3). Understanding that this is perfectly normal is a great relief for many learners. It is helpful to just point to the graph and explaining it is okay to feel bad because they are in the turmoil/despair phase of learning a new skill, and it will be followed by growth and confidence if they just stick with it.

Finally, with perseverance and practice, we acquire the new knowledge or skill and our confidence and comfort rises above our original level (point 4) along with our usefulness.

Summary
Learning and the need to learn are not identifiers of a junior employee anymore. They are the hallmarks of the professional knowledge worker. We need to move beyond the stigma of not knowing all the answers and embrace the learning path that comes with not knowing, making mistakes and asking for help.

When leaders model the learning mindset of curiosity and the courage to learn out loud, they pave the way for faster organizational learning and increased competitive advantage.

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


Agile 2017

17-2480-Agile_Orlando2017_Speaking_300x250_FM (1)I will be speaking at two presentations at the Agile 2017 Conference next week in Orlando. I am looking forward to catching up with old colleagues and meeting new practitioners, it looks set to be a great event.

My first presentation is called “Bridging Mindsets: Creating the PMI Agile Practice Guide” and is an experience report that tells the story of creating the Agile Practice Guide. This is a new book, sponsored by the Agile Alliance and the Project Management Institute that will be published September 6th. I was Chairman of the writers group and along with Vice-Chair Johanna Rothman we will explain the inputs and constraints to the guide along with our iterative, pair-writing process.

Agile Practice Guide Inputs

My second presentation is called “Integral but Insufficient: Why the Future Needs More than Agile to be Successful”. This one is a little more controversial, claiming large complex projects are rarely successful using agile alone. It is based on my 23-year experience of working on successful and not so successful agile projects, particularly one team that won a PMI “Project Of The Year” award.

It introduces some core observations such as good answers are rarely simple, and processes carry weight while knowledge is weightless:

Agile Conference Slides

Along with suggestions for a more cohesive, comprehensive model that will be the focus of my next book. I am looking forward to sharing these ideas with people and hearing their reactions. I hope to see you there.


They are “Lessons to be Learned”, not “Lessons Learned”

The suggestions, observations and ideas we capture at retrospectives are not Lessons Learned. That would imply we have already learned from them and will not make that mistake again. Instead, they are Lessons-to-be-Learned which is subtly different but stresses the most important part, which is we now need to learn something.

Learning involves several steps. David Kolb, an educational theorist, describes a 4-step learning process:

  1. Concrete Experiences (What we already know)
  2. Observation and Reflection (What our retrospectives help us identify)
  3. Abstract Conceptualization (Thinking about the problems and designing potential solutions)
  4. Active Experimentation (Trying something new)

These stages act as part of an experimental learning cycle. The last step, Active Experimentation, creates new concrete experiences and builds on what we already know. Experimental Learning Cycle

It is easy to confuse the retrospective actions of Observation and Reflection (Stage 2) as gathering lessons learned. However, this is not the case, instead it is just one step in the process. We then need to determine a solution (Stage 3) and run experiments to learn from them (Stage 4). Only then might we actually learn something.

To remind us that simply gathering ideas and suggestions for improvements is not the same as learning, I suggest we stop using the term “Lessons Learned” and instead useLessons to be learned”.


New PMI-ACP Workbook

PMI-ACP WorkbookI am pleased to announce the availability of my new PMI-ACP Workbook. This new workbook focusses on a smaller subset of 50 key topics.   My original PMI-ACP Exam Prep book distilled all the relevant content from the 11 books on the PMI-ACP recommended reading list in a common voice. The workbook is also different by providing lots of exercises and many situational questions like you will find in the exam.

So, while my PMI-ACP Exam Prep book covers all the background and theory – ideal for a comprehensive coverage of everything in the exam, the new PMI-ACP Workbook is a practical, hands-on study tool that focusses on the core topics needed to pass the exam. If you already have your CSM credential or 3+ years of agile experience you likely know the agile mindset, values and principles material already. However, you may not have the lean, kanban, and team development knowledge needed to pass the PMI-ACP exam so the workbook can fill those gaps.

To help determine which book is best for you I created the following flowchart:

PMI-ACP Workbook Flowchart

Hands-on learners and people who do not want to read all about how the approaches fit together will find the 50 key topics of the new workbook a simpler way to navigate the material. Also, since the content is arranged by topic alphabetically you can easily jump around and create your own study plan based on just the topics you need.

While the workbook coverage of topics is less than the prep-book, the emphasis on exercises and situational questions is much higher and accounts for the slightly higher page count (457 pages). There is white space for writing notes and the whole thing is spiral bound so it lays flat when you are working in it. The content changes are summarized by these rough page count graphs:

PMI-ACP Book Contents

I think it fills an important need. A workbook for hands-on learners looking to build their own study plan and gain access to high-quality situational questions. It also provides access to a free online quiz. Readers can order and get an early-bird discount from RMC here.

 

 


PMI EMEA – Rome – PMI’s Agile Future

Emea17_rome_badge_800x400_v2I will be presenting at the PMI EMEA Congress May 1-3 in Rome on “PMI’s Agile Future”.

2017 marks an important year for embracing agile approaches by the PMI. The PMBOK® v6 Guide, set to be released in Q3 will have agile accommodation guidance for each of its Knowledge Areas and an Agile Appendix. I wrote these sections with Jesse Fewell and hope they enable practitioners to see how techniques can be tailored for agile environments.

Synchronized for release with the PMBOK® V6 Guide is the new Agile Practice Guide. A collaboration between the Agile Alliance and the PMI to create a guide for project practitioners working in the “messy middle-ground“ of agile teams and plan-driven environments.

I am chair of the author team for this book and just returned from our final meeting to edit the first draft of the guide. We had a huge number of comments from our SME reviewers. Some agile enthusiasts believed it was too lenient to tolerate hybrid approaches as a temporary stepping-stone to fully agile approaches. Some plan-driven enthusiasts believe it was too dismissive of plan-driven approaches to be endorsed by the PMI.

I think if we can equally upset “enthusiasts” at both ends of the agile and plan-driven scale we have probably found the sweet-spot for pragmatic practitioners looking to navigate the very real in-between world we often occupy.

Also, out this year is the BA Standard and BA Guide, similarly with agile coverage. I am grateful to Joy Beatty, chair of the BA Standard and Cyndi Dionisio, chair of the PMBOK® v6 Guide for the support they provided at the Agile Practice Guide - Development Workshop we ran at the PMI Global Congress in San Diego last September.

My “PMI’s Agile Future” presentation for Rome is not just a list of PMI agile products. Instead I will be telling the story of how people have managed uncertainty and complexity through history. I hope to dispel some myths around phase-gates, PERT, Gantt charts and waterfall lifecycles and introduce some unsung heroes of adaptive planning.  Then, to stay on track, I will introduce PMI’s agile developments and link them to the future trends indicating the importance of being able to manage uncertainty and complexity.

I am really looking forward to the event and particularly enjoy talking to people afterwards. Please bring your questions and I’ll see you there.


Agile DNA Webinar

Agile DNA 2This post is a follow-up to my Agile DNA webinar I hosted a couple of weeks ago. This was my first webinar for RMC and we had a great attendance with over 2,000 people registering for the event. The recording is available now,  see below for details of how to access it.

The webinar was entitled “Agile DNA, the People and Process Elements of Successful Agile Projects” and the DNA theme came from the twin strands of People and Process guidance that run through all agile approaches and make agile uniquely what it is.

Agile DNA 1

In case 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.

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The Business Analyst and the Product Owner


BA and PO rolesIn my last article we talked about the role of the BA on agile projects, reviewing what stays the same and what changes from traditional approaches. In this article, we will review the contentious topic of how the role of the BA varies and overlaps with the Product Owner (PO). We cover the similarities and differences including danger signs such as “BA as PO Go-Between” and positive patterns such as “BA as PO Supporter”.

 

The Product Owner (PO)

First, let’s make sure we understand the role of the Product Owner (PO). It originated in Scrum but is often also used beyond Scrum in other agile approaches and hybrid approaches. The Scrum definition of the role is the person responsible for maximizing the value of the product and the work of the development team. This includes being responsible for managing the Product Backlog. Extreme Programming (XP) has a similar “Customer” role, DSDM has one or more “Business Ambassadors” depending on the scale of the project. They all play a similar role in stewardship of the backlog, including:

 

  • Ensuring that the product backlog is visible, transparent, and clear to all, showing what the team will work on next
  • Ensuring the team understands items in the product backlog to the level needed
  • Clearly expressing the product backlog items
  • Ordering the items in the product backlog to best achieve goals and outcomes
  • Optimizing the value of the work the team performs

 

Benefits Beyond Backlog Management

In addition to this backlog focused work, the Product Owner is often the primary interface to other business stakeholders. They help teams gain access to business subject matter experts for insights on topics where the Product Owner may not have all the answers. They also often act as a gateway to funding, making the business case for additional funding requests, or as a powerful ally when asking for roadblocks to be removed. Playing the “Business is asking for X” card is typically stronger than the “Team is asking for X” card when asking for an exemption from process, or to expedite an issue.

 

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BA's on Agile Projects?

Team EffectivenessThe role of the business Analyst (BA) on agile projects in some ways parallels the role of the project manager (PM). In that, some people believe these roles are not needed at all! The Scrum Guide, for instance, that outlines the Scrum approach describes only three roles: Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Development Team. Even when you look deeper into the Scrum Guide’s description for The Development Team role, it does not mention analysts or analysis work. However, most organizations agree, good BAs are great assets for any team, be it plan-driven, agile or hybrid.

This article examines what BAs really do, looking at what stays the same on an agile project and what changes. The quick version is that the What and the Why fundamentals stay the same, but all the How, When, Where and With Whom details change dramatically.

Let’s start with What business analysts are supposed to do. (I say supposed to do rather than actually do because yours might watch cat videos most of their time and that is not what they are supposed to do!) Anyway, Business Analysts elicit, analyze, communicate, manage and validate requirements. They also help understand the business and make sure the solutions fit the business. In addition, they help translate technical issues to the business and facilitate stakeholder communications.

Why they do these things should be fairly obvious. To help ensure the project builds the right product, and requirements are not missed or misunderstood. They are also valuable to help facilitate and bridge communications between client, customer and technical groups.

The good news is that all these functions, roles, needs or whatever you want to call them still exist on agile projects. Also, to some extent, because agile timelines are often compressed, these functions become more critical for teams to remain productive and so good BAs are extra valuable.

Now for what changes; let’s start with the How? Agile teams typically do not create large, detailed requirements documents that get reviewed and signed-off before development begins in earnest. Instead, requirements may be captured as user-stories, or on index cards that act as reminders to go and have a conversation with the relevant subject matter expert prior to development. They are typically smaller in terms of how much scope they cover and depth of description. More like micro-requirements for attention deficit readers who only want small, bite-sized components.

 

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Agile DNA Webinar

Agile_dna_webinarI am excited to announce a free webinar with RMC Learning Solutions entitled “Agile DNA: The People and Process Elements of Successful Agile Projects” that will be taking place on January 11th 2017 at 12:00pm Central Time.

This is an introductory level presentation about agile approaches that qualifies participants for 1 PDU. The “Agile DNA” title comes from the twin strands of People and Process that are woven into agile approaches and uniquely define what they are. Please join me for this review of agile through the twin lens of People and Process to get a deeper understanding of the building blocks of agile.

Register now for this event here.


Agile Risk Management

Risk Action in BacklogThis article aims to dispel the myth that agile projects somehow magical manage risks for us, and outlines a couple of practical tools that can be used to start improving risk management approaches. 

Agile is Not a Risk Management Approach

Some people believe agile approaches with their short cycles and regular feedback have a risk management approach naturally built into the process. It is easy to see why, the building blocks and attachment points for plugging in an effective risk management process are certainly present, but unfortunately just building something iteratively or incrementally does not ensure risks are managed. 

It is all too easy to develop iteratively missing opportunities to actively address threats or exploit opportunities. Many agile teams also fail to actively look for risks, discuss and decide on appropriate actions, undertake those actions and reassess the risks and evaluate if the risk management process is even working. 

It is a shame because in many ways agile methods provide an ideal framework for introducing effective risk management practices. They have short timeframes, active reprioritization of work, frequent review points, high team member and business engagement in planning, etc. However, similar to having a group of people to help you find something, a beach-party is not the same as a search-party. We need a conscious effort, coordination and cooperation to make it effective.

 

Consciously Adding Risk Management to Agile Approaches

The good news is, that when organizations and their participating teams decide to layer risk management onto agile approaches there are many self-reinforcing cycles and mechanisms to make use of. For instance, the frequent consideration of change requests and reprioritization of work in the backlog makes the insertion risk avoidance or risk mitigation tasks an easier process to handle. 

Likewise, the regular retrospectives that review progress and process are great points to examine the effectiveness of risk management strategies and take corrective actions. Daily standup meetings that surface issues and blockers can also act as early warnings for potential new risks, etc. 

For anyone interested in linking agile approaches to risk management steps, here’s a White Paper on Collaborative Games for Risk Management that was presented at the 2012 Agile conference and PMI Global Congress. These ideas and their development more into Opportunity Management were explored at this 2015 Agile Conference Session. However, the mechanics of doing the work and linking it into an agile lifecycle are the easy parts, getting people to take a risk-based view to project work is where the real work is needed.

 

Thinking about Risk Management

Education and acceptance are the keys to successfully adding risk management to agile practices. We need to get people engaged in the process and instill a common understanding of threats as the possibility of negative value. Once people understand this they can answer the question “Where is the next best dollar spent?” more effectively. It might not be on building the next feature from the backlog, but instead avoiding a risk or exploiting an opportunity. 

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When Outsourcing Makes Sense

When to Outsource GridDisclaimer: This article is based on my personal experience of software project development work over a 25 year period running a mixture of local projects, outsourced projects and hybrid models. The data is my own and subjective, but supported by 1,000’s of industry peers I question while delivering training courses for the PMI. I do not work for a local based or outsourcing based company, I have nothing to gain from favoring either approach, but I hope these thoughts are useful for determining some of the pro’s, con’s, true costs and circumstances when outsourcing is better or worse than local development.

To the uninitiated, outsourcing seems like a great idea. Software engineers are expensive in many countries but much cheaper in other parts of the world. So, since software requirements and completed software can be shipped free of charge via email and web sites, why not get it developed where labor rates are much lower?

Coding vs Collaboration Costs

The flaw in this plan comes in the execution of it when it becomes apparent that software development projects typically entail more than just the development of software. Writing code is certainly part of it, but understanding the problem, agreeing on a design, discovering and solving unforeseen issues, making smart decisions and compromises to optimize value and schedule are big parts of it too. This is the collaboration effort part of a project. Also, while the coding part might represent 30-50% of the overall project costs, these shrink to 20-30% when a 3-year ownership cost view is considered that includes support, maintenance and enhancements.

Sticking with just development costs for now, let’s examine a scenario. The business case pitched to executives by outsourcing companies initially seems very compelling: Project Alpha needs 9 months of software development by a team of 5 people. If you work in an expensive labor market, like North America, we can assume fully-loaded hourly rates of $100 per hour, yet highly qualified consultants from our fictional outsourcing country of TechLand cost only $25 per hour. So, the project for 9 months x 160 hours per month x 5 people at $100 per hour in an expensive market costs $720,000. For a TechLand team this would cost 9mths x 160hrs x 5pl x $25hr = $180,000, that’s a cool $540,00 saving, right?

Let’s revisit this scenario based on the acknowledgment that the actual software writing part of a project is closer to a 30-50% of the total effort. This leaves the remaining 50-70% of the work as the communications heavy collaboration part. It should come as no surprise that separating people via distance, time zones, and potentially language and cultural barriers increase communications effort and propagates issues up the cost-of-change-curve

So, when 50-70% of the communication-heavy collaboration work takes longer, how do we quantify that? Agile methods recommend Face-to-Face communications because it is the quickest, conveys body-language and provides an opportunity for immediate Q&A only for the issues that need it. Switching from Face-to-Face to video, conference call, email or paper create barriers and adds significant time and opportunity for confusion. A 2-3 X increase in effort likely downplays the true impact when considering the costs of fixing things that go awry because of inevitable misunderstandings, but let’s use that number.

Redoing our project Alpha costs with, say, 40% as the actual coding effort and 60% effort communications heavy collaboration work that takes 2.5 X as much effort we get: 9mths x 160hrs x 5pl x $25 hr x 40% = $72K Coding + 9mths x 160hrs x 5pl x $25 hr x 60% x 2.5 = $270K Collaboration giving $342,000 in total. However, this is less than half the costs of the $720,000 locally developed project so we are still good, right?

The Compounding Costs of Delay

An error in the logic applied so far is that this 2.5 X communication and collaboration penalty on 60% of the work can somehow be magically absorbed into the same 9 month timeline. In reality these outsourced projects take longer because of the increased communication and collaboration effort and 2.5 x 60% = 1.5 X as long is consistent with my experience from 25 years of mixed local and outsourced projects.

Continue reading "When Outsourcing Makes Sense" »


The Diagnosis and Treatment of Bimodal IT

Bimodal IT TreatmentIs it just me, or does Bimodal IT sound like a mental health condition? Unfortunate name aside, it has been adopted by companies reluctant to embrace agile but looking for a halfway-house / best-of-both-worlds solution.

In my last post I reviewed some of the issues I see with Bimodal IT; these include promoting a segregation of techniques when companies really need integration and recommending sequential lifecycles for complex projects. While it is easy to poke holes in ideas, it is more useful and rewarding to fix and improve things. So, let’s help organizations using Bimodal IT improve.

First, we should acknowledge the elegance of its simple design and understand why organizations are drawn to it. The simplicity of an If-This-Then “A”, If-Not-Then “B” approach is appealing and it allows companies to try agile-like approaches without making a full commitment. There is a refreshing clarity and simplicity in a simple two-way model. However, true to its namesake personality disorder, organizations using Bimodal IT exhibit large swings in the execution approach that are not natural or optimal.

Diagnosis: Tyranny of the OR vs. the Genius of the AND

In the book “Good to Great” Jim Collins popularized the idea of the “Tyranny of the OR vs. the Genius of the AND” to explain the problems of being forced to choose from alternatives and the potential in choosing a better third alternative – even if it takes more effort.

The “Tyranny of the OR” part describes having to choose from two seemingly contradictory strategies – either Mode 1 which is traditional and sequential OR Mode 2 which is exploratory and nonlinear. The “Genius of the AND” part refers to instead embracing both ends of the continuum and simultaneously making the best decision for the unique circumstance at hand. Most organizations are ruled by the tyranny of the “OR”, whereas Great organizations find a third way to satisfy both and leverage the Genius of the “AND”.

Jim Collins linked the ability to leverage “AND” thinking to high performing companies, but this third alternative or “Middle Way” has been around for a long time. I wrote about it in 2008 here, and my favorite quote relating to it is: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” - F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Treatment: Mix Models, Engage the teams and Innovate

An example of applying the AND mentality to Bimodal IT would be to execute a couple of Mode 1 and Mode 2 projects and then get the teams together for an improvement workshop. We could ask them about their experiences and suggestions for cross-pollination of the best techniques. Maybe Mode 1 projects could benefit from a monthly Show-and-tell review of project outputs and planned work for the next period with the wider project community? Maybe Mode 2 projects would benefit from the development of RACI charts before distributing work between team members and part-time supporting roles?

I am not suggesting these are universal enhancements Mode 1 and Mode 2 projects, they are just examples of things that might be suggested. The real power of the process comes from getting people thinking about how to improve the process and caring about the outputs. Giving people input into how we undertake work and the ability to improve it moves them from un-invested-followers of a process to engaged-workers with some autonomy and say in how things get done. Guess which group enjoys their work more? Guess which group tries harder to overcome problems and deliver results?

I am in favor of using established and proven development approaches, they leverage good practice and help prevent common pitfalls. However, since organizations vary in function, organization and culture it is naïve to assume different companies should use the same one (or two) processes to execute their projects. The impacts of failure in air traffic control are quite different from pop-culture web sites and they should use different development approaches.

As Alistair Cockburn and Jim Highsmith have been saying for decades, we really need a methodology per project. Or as the Declaration Of Interdependance (DOI) say an approach that is "Situationally Specific". If this all sounds too hard or complicated it need not be. There are lots of free frameworks available to engage their team members in continuous improvement of their methodology. Doing so also increases ownership, support and engagement.

The continuous improvement model used could be one already in place at the organization or one that best fits with the mindset or culture. It could be PDCA, Six Sigma or Kaizen, they all share six common principles.

Summary

Gartner did a great job creating a framework that is appealing and accessible to organizations slow to adopt adaptive lifecycles. If they were to now follow it up with some guidelines for tailoring and evolution within organizations adopting it they would have a winning strategy for engaging participants and driving better results.


PMI-ACP Training in Calgary

CalgaryI am testing demand for another Calgary based PMI-ACP Exam Prep course. Please let me know via email to Mike <at> LeadingAnswers.com if you are interested in attending a 3-day Calgary based PMI-ACP Exam preparation course. 

 

Evolution of the PMI-ACP Credential

I ran a couple of Calgary based PMI-ACP courses three years ago when the exam first came out. Since then the certification has grown in popularity from niche to mainstream with over 10,000 people now holding the credential. This makes it the most popular experience based agile certification and the credential of choice for hiring managers looking for the rigor of a ISO 17024 backed PMI credential. 

In October 2015 the PMI rolled out the updated version of the PMI-ACP exam, based on feedback from hundreds of existing credential holders and agile practitioners. The new Exam Content Outline has been restructured with the addition of a new domain “Agile Principles and Mindset” to focus on thinking and acting in an agile way as opposed to simply implementing agile processes and hoping for improved results.

 

My Involvement in the PMI-ACP Credential

I was a founding member of the steering committee that designed and developed the exam content outline. We based the exam on what agile practitioners with a year or two’s experience should know to be effective. We wanted a methodology agnostic credential that captured the agile practices used on most projects most of the time. The exam covers Lean, Kanban and agile methods such as Scrum and XP. 

I worked with RMC to write their best-selling PMI-ACP Exam Preparation book. I recently updated this book to restructure it to the new Exam Content Outline. The book is currently available for 30% off from RMC here and is also included in the course.

 

Details about the Course

The course will be capped to 15 people for better Q&A and will take place at historic Fort Calgary which is close to downtown on 9th Avenue and has free parking. It includes the second edition of my book, colour printed workbook, sample exam questions, and USB stick of additional materials. 

The course has a 100% pass rate and uses Turning Technologies audience response technology. Following the course each participant receives a personalized follow-up study plan based on their sample question performances. For more details see the Course Outline.  To express an interest and get pricing information please contact Mike <at> @LeadingAnswers.com.


Agile Talent Management

Talent ManagementTalent Management is the science of human resource planning to improve business value. It includes the activities of recruiting, retaining, developing and rewarding people along with workforce planning. From an agile perspective much of what we do on agile projects helps with talent management. We encourage empowered teams and give people autonomy over how they work which improves satisfaction and motivation. We also promote knowledge sharing through a variety of collaborative practices which reduce the impact to the team of people leaving. 

However, these measures only address some recommendations for talent management. This article examines the ideas and project implications of the other recommendations. First, let’s examine why talent management is important and understand the labor cost vs opportunity cost differential. 

Recruiting costs

If we lose a team member and need to replace them; a job posting needs to be created and sent out to agencies and online forums. We then need to sift through replies and come up with a short list of candidates to consider further. Next comes reviewing candidates with the project manager, arranging interviews, interviewing candidates (preferably with team involvement), following up on references, salary negotiations and hopefully finally hiring someone. I went through this recently for a developer on a software project and estimated the total time to the organization to be 64 hours. At an average labor rate of $80/hr that is $5,120. Had our first choice candidate not joined or failed reference checks the total time to hire would be much higher. 

Getting up to Speed Costs

A point often overlooked is not this initial hire effort, but the subsequent, much larger learning cycle before becoming a productive team member. A convenient Tayloristic view of management believes one developer can be swapped out for another. However, for a large, complex project it often takes smart, motivated individuals 3 months of learning to get up to speed with the business and technical domain and a further 6 months before they become truly productive. In these first 3 months not only are they not contributing to net new functionality but they are spending 50% of their time asking questions of other team members – slowing their output too. 

These costs are huge, assuming a fully loaded developer rate of $80 / hour (typical for North American software engineering) 3 months of not contributing and slowing other developers by 50% full time equivalent (FTE) costs: 3m X 4.2wks x 40hrs x $80/hr + 50%(3m X 4.2wks x 40hrs x $80/hr) = $60,480.

Follow this with 6 months of increasing capability going from 0% productive (no longer a net drain) to 100% productive (up to speed) we can use an average figure of 50% non-productive so 6m x 4.2wks x 40hrs x $80/hr x 50% = $40,320 

So, the cost of losing a team member and having to recruit and train another could easily be $5,120 + $60,480 + $40,320 = $105,920. However it gets worse, whenever a high performing team loses a team member they move from the Tuckman “Performing“ phase to the ‘Storming” phase again as the team dynamics change and have to get back through “Norming“ to “Performing”. 

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Agile Innovation

Psst, this is your conscious, I am here to remind you about something you have thought about, but then hid away in the back of your mind. Lots of this agile stuff is hypocritical, it preaches evolution and change, but then we ask the same old three questions at standup every day. Also, why must we have standup every day, isn’t that kind of prescriptive? Agile methods are supposed to facilitate innovation through iterative development followed by inspection and adaption. They practice the scientific method of measurement and feedback on products and team work; so why are the agile practices themselves magically exempt from this precious evolution?

I believe there are two main reasons; first off, it is to protect inexperienced agile practitioners from themselves. With a free rein to morph product and process there is a strong likelihood that by six months into a project the practices followed by the team would have deviated from the proven and tested methods of most successful teams. The risk of failure would increase and every project in a company would be using a radically different approach making integration, scaling and team member transfers a major problem.

The other reason is a little more sinister. Most of the creators, proponents and promotors of agile methods have interests in keeping the methods pure vanilla. This is so they can create training courses, certifications and web sites for them. While scrum, as one example, has its specialized ceremony names and products you can neatly market services for it. If you allow or encourage people to change it then the result is not so proprietary and more difficult to defend, promote and assert ownership over.

I am not suggesting we should be changing agile methods willy-nilly, I think a basic suggestion to try them out-of-the-box for a couple of years is sound advice. However, beyond that I believe there are great opportunities for growth and deviation outside the standard agile models for stable teams who want to evolve further. This article tells the story of one team that did just that and what other people can learn from it.

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Agoraphobia: The Fear and Loathing of Open Space Offices

Agile methods like XP, Scrum and DSDM have been advocating co-located teams in open plan offices now for 20 years. The idea being that since face-to-face communications are the fastest and most efficient, teams should be established to work this way whenever possible. Also, software projects, where agile methods started from, build intangible, often new and novel solutions to problems; as such there are lots of opportunities for miscommunication about how these new systems should look and work. Having people working together makes it easier to surface these misunderstandings, collectively troubleshoot problems and collaborate on new solutions.

However co-location is not always possible and open plan offices can suffer from “noise pollution” and frequent interruptions. The following infographic was created by a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) provider so probably has some selection bias, but importantly draws its findings from over a dozen respectable sources including articles from Bloomberg, The Guardian, the Wall Street Journal and Fortune.

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Knowledge Sharing on Agile Projects: Absent or Abundant?

Absence or AbundanceKnowledge transfer and sharing on agile teams differs from traditional approaches in both form and the internal vs external focus. Agile teams produce few of the traditional knowledge transfer documents yet their daily practices focus on knowledge transfer. While agile teams spend much of their time transferring information internally they share little with external groups other than the evolving product or service they create. These differences lead to some polarizing views of knowledge sharing and transfer on agile projects.

Some people see agile projects as knowledge transfer deserts where information is hoarded by key individuals and no useful documentation produced. Others believe agile projects are all about knowledge transfer.  So why the disagreement, how can smart, experienced people have such different views about the same topic? It comes down to what we consider knowledge transfer and sharing to be.

A requirements specification document should be a great vehicle for sharing knowledge and transferring it from analysts to developers. It is a permanent record of requirements that can be read by many people and referred back to when needed. If questions or the need for clarifications arise – go look in the requirements specification. This works well for stable, unchanging requirements that can be gathered comprehensively up front.

Baselined plans are great knowledge sharing tools too. They lay out what should happen, when and by whom and paint a clear picture for all to see. Plans illuminate the path forward and communicate this to all involved stakeholders. Lessons Learned documents gathered at the end of a project are classic knowledge transfer and sharing tools also. Recording what went well, what did not go well and recommendations for similar projects to follow seems the epitome of knowledge transfer.

Agile projects down play the value of upfront plans, avoid detailed requirement specifications declaring them unreliable and wasteful. They often spurn Lessons Learned documents too, instead performing retrospectives amongst themselves. It is no wonder then, that to some people agile projects appear to lack the basics of knowledge sharing and transfer. However these people are measuring with the wrong yardstick, or fishing with the wrong size net and missing the knowledge rich plankton that feeds agile teams. When you “see the matrix” of agile projects you immediately realize the whole process is about knowledge transfer.

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Agile 2015 Conference Session

My presentation outline “Eat Risks for Breakfast, Poop Awesomeness All Day!” was accepted for the Agile 2015 Conference in Washington D.C., August 3-7. As much of the agile community seems engaged in scaling debates I am really happy to share some useful tools that can be used on any project, regardless of approach.

The learning objectives for the session are:

  • See why project managers are the least equipped to effectively identify and manage project risks.
  • Learn engaging ways to educate team members about risk management including identifying threats to avoid and opportunities to exploit
  • Preview 5 collaborative games for effective threat and opportunity management from planning and identification, through management, to reporting and closure
  • Understand the untapped potential of an increased emphasis on opportunity management
  • Review case studies of projects teams that have been using these practices for three years and are achieving measurably better results than teams that do not

Risks_monster_color


PMI Credentials – The Last Decade and the Next

PMI Certs Fig 3Today we take a look at how the number of PMI Credential holders has grown over the last 10 years and speculate where they might go in the future. While 10 years is a good period to look back over, the PMI’s PMP ®(Project Management Professional) credential dates back much further, to 1984, making it 31 years old this year.

Growth of the PMP was slow in the 1980’s partly due to the different communication methods being used then. The Internet did not start becoming popular until the 1990’s, so information about the PMP certification was shared mainly through periodic journals and newsletters. Another factor was the self reinforcing nature of credentials. When credentials are new few people outside of the originators have heard of them so there is little external incentive to get one. Slowly, people wanting to demonstrate their skills and/or distinguish themselves from their peers obtain the credential. Then, once it reaches a critical mass, hiring managers start asking for it so more people are motivated to obtain it and growth increases rapidly.

By the mid 1990’s the PMP credential was picking up steam and by 2004, our 10 year look back starting point, the PMP had over 100,000 holders. By the end of 2014 this has grown to nearly 640,000 certificants and is by far the most popular credential offered by the PMI. 

During the last 10 years a number of new credentials have been launched to provide opportunities for both specialization (like the scheduling and risk credentials) and diversification (such as agile and business analysis credentials). The first credential after the PMP was the CAPM (Certified Associate in Project Management) introduced in 2004 that serves as a potential stepping-stone to the PMP and is targeted for people who have worked on and around projects, but do not have experience leading and directing  projects.

Since then there have been several more credentials launched that we will discuss in more detail later, but for now we can see from the stacked areas graph below in Figure 1 that the PMP and CAPM make up the majority (98%) of all PMI Credential holders.

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Quality Project Management

Unexpected SuccessHow do we define quality as a project manager? Is it managing a project really well, or managing a successful project? How about managing a successful project really well, that sounds pretty good. However it poses the next question: What is a successful project? Let’s look at some examples of project success, failure and ambiguity.

 

Apollo 13
Apollo 13, the third manned mission by NASA intended to land on the moon that experienced electrical problems 2 days after liftoff. An explosion occurred resulting in the loss of oxygen and power and the "Houston, we've had a problem" quote from astronaut, James Lovell (that is widely misquoted as, "Houston, we have a problem".)

Apollo 13
The crew shut down the Command Module and used the Lunar Module as a "lifeboat" during the return trip to earth. Despite great hardship caused by limited electrical power, extreme cold, and a shortage of water, the crew returned safely to Earth and while missing the main moon-based scope, it was a very successful rescue, allowing for future missions. Clearly, this was a remarkable achievement, but the original project goals were not met. Lovell now recounts this story at PMI conferences under the very apt title of “A Successful Failure”.

 

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