Tuesday, June 16, 2009

We have moved

As of today we have moved our blog to http://peopleandleadership.wordpress.com

See you there!

The Authistic Organization

In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell tells a lot of stories about how too much or too litttle information and stress can hamper the human capability to make good decisions and cause the brain to enter an authistic mode. A lot of information gets down prioritized by our brains to prevent overload and the more stressful the situation is the more our brains filter out to keep our focus on what's most imortant. People involved in gun fights tell stories about not hearing the gun shots and seeing things in slow motion as their brain goes into overdrive to promote survival. In a stressed team you can observe the same symptoms. The more stress the team experience the less they will communicate and as the information flow decreases the quality of their decisions will decrease as well - the team goes authistic.
Being an Agile coach in large organisations in this time of financial crisis I see the same symptoms in managers. As the stress of financial survival increases a common reaction is to increase control and increased control most of the time means that someone has to measure more stuff and create reports based on those metrics. And all this leads to is an authistic organisation with loss of decision power as the result. A typical symptom of this is that meetings doesn't end in time and no real decisions are made.
The only sensible solution to this would be to provide the organisation with clear goals and make sure that everyone knows whats at stake - their jobs - and trust people to do what's best in every given situation.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Stay focused!

In a team that I am coaching at the moment a problem with focus came up as they got closer to the end of an iteration. In the retrospective the team talked about the loss of energy and motivation towards the end of the iteration and decided that they had probably undercommitted and decided to shorten the next iteration since it contained less work and the goal was to get the software released. They estimated that they would be done in a week.

As the estimated week came to an end they again experienced a loss of energy and motivation. We had a discussion about it. If the length of the iteration did not stop them from loosing focus at the end then what was?

If I look at a typical iteration it contains larger chunks of work at the beginning. Towards the end the chunks get smaller; defects, adjustments, updates to documents and models and new small chunks keep appearing as the team runs test sessions. The problem seems to be that the smaller the chunks of work becomes the more the team loses focus.

In this case we solved it by shortening the lenght between team synchronization, from once a day to twice a day and that seemed to solve the problem. A simple solution to a difficult problem...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

You get the organisation you deserve

The other day I did a two day Scrum Master training and found to my amusement that there were a couple of managers attending. In my Scrum classes I tend to focus quite a lot on how teams work and the importance of building small successes. By that I mean that if you are going to change something you need to have happy, motivated people and one way of getting there is to make sure that the team actually succeeds and that the success gets noticed by the organisation surrounding them. One way that I do to make sure that my teams succeed is to make sure they don't over commit during the first couple of sprints. I make sure the Product Owner presents a clear, fully achievable goal to the team and keep the team focussed on that goal and nothing, absolutely nothing, else.
When I talked about this during the last Scrum training I received a question from one of the managers: how do you prevent the teams from becoming lazy? That is, what if they don't do as much work as they could, if they have hours left and don't fill those hours with work.
How do you answer that? I answered it with a question: what does greed mean to you and how to you think greed affects productivity?
I think that it is a result of greed if you always feel that by getting what you want you always want more and greed leeds to a situation where the people giving you what you want feel (a)bused and it provides a perfect growing ground for distrust and manipulation. If you run your business by greed you will get greedy employees and greedy people tend to be manipulative. Every parent knows that kids don't do what you tell them, they do what you do. The same goes for an organisation and in an organisation it is the management that sets the agenda and the culture - you get the organisation you deserve!
My advice for managers with lazy workers would be to stop whining for just a while and look at themselves and figure out what they did to make people lazy and then adjust themsleves and see what happens to their lazy crew...

Monday, May 4, 2009

The ubiquitous lack of trust

As an Agile Coach I see a lot of efforts to make the transition into the Agile paradigm. A lot of energy is put into figuring out how to do it and how they are going te get the job done - they because it is almost never the people planning the transition who is going to get the work done.
Weeks turn into months turn into years of writing detailed process descriptions on how to deal with defects, when to abort sprints and who is responsible for what and drawing unintelligible process charts with two billion arrows, boxes and toll gates. All done with hope of getting it right the first time...

The lack of trust between management and developer seems to be as strong as ever and comments like "we need to make sure that they do things the right way" and "you know how developers are, if you dont pressure them nothing will get done" or "developers just want to work with cutting edge technology" seem to float around in every management meeting I participate in.

So, with this attitude the Agile transition is planned for a couple of years and no one bothers to build in continuous improvement and no one seems to get that the most important accelerator is the empowered and self organizing team - this is 2009 and we are closer to 1984 than ever!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Teams, conflict and self awareness

Lately I and my team mates have been increasingly busy and it finally got to me. During the last two weeks I became more and more bitter, interpreting everything as personal critique, shooting down ideas from my peers and just really been in a downward spiral. I stopped communicating with my team mates and finally got angry with them because I felt they did not support me. When I finally realized that my anger might stem from lack of communication, I had waited so long with taking the conflict that I felt I did not have the time since other matters pressed. Then, yesterday, I finally erupted and confronted them. I blurted out my feeling in a crude and maybe not optimal way but boy did it feel good to get it of my chest. With one day hindsight I can honestly say that I could have handled it better, would like to have had more time since not everyone had time to speak their mind, and should by now have better self awareness then to end up in this kind of situations. But all in all, it has really helped me to move on and be energetic again. It is amazing how much it helps to be open and honest in your communication. And how terrible and devastating it can be to you as a person and your team if you're not!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Slow motion and a soundtrack of my life

All I really wish for at this moment is the ability to make the world move in slow motion and a soundtrack to go with it. How cool would it not be to have your own personal soundtrack for those action packed "bigger than yourself moments"! Like when you run for the bus (or enter an important meeting), everything slows down, you hear the soundtrack from The Rock pumping and as you step down in the water pool in the middle of the street you can see how the water spashes...

I have wished for this for a long time and at least gathered a library of soundtracks to accompany me. The latest in my compilation arrived last Friday: Echoes of War. Music from WarCraft, StarCraft and Diablo is now following my steps wherevever I go! Orchs beware!