Friday, January 30, 2009

Small changes with large impact

I've just read through Getting Things Done by David Allen and it took me... about 2 months (it's 250 pages). That's bad. But during that time I've also implemented some changes and that's good. I've changed two things so far and they alone have resulted in huge savings of energy and time.

Zero mail inbox
The first thing I did was to go through my two email accounts (job/private) and reduce the amount of emails from 1600 to three and 20 in each inbox. For each account I've created a "archive" folder where all read mail goes except the two or three I still want to do something with.  To be honest I have tree major projects running so each of those got their own folder as well (two at work, one private). But it feels ok since I will archive those folders as soon as the projects are finished.  The simple fact that I now don't have to see a mile long inbox, or that the annoying inbox number now only indicates three instead of 600 emails, takes loads of pressure of my mind. 

Write down thoughts, to dos etc
What happens when you are walking home or just about to turn out the lights at night and your mind wanders? Does billions and things you forgot to do, or have to do, pop up in your head? Well it did for me! I used to be that kind of person who tried keep everything in my head and failed miserably. Instead I never got things done, I never remembered anything and I always missed stuff. Then, maybe a month or so back I started to write things down as soon as they popped up in my head, either in my mobile which I carry with me at all times, on a post it or directly into my note saving program online. The change was instantaneous. Now I get more stuff done, I can relax because I know where to find my reminders and my reminders makes me come up with more new thoughts! 

If there is two things I would recommend people like me to start doing it's those two. I'm far from the whole GTD system and I still want to get priorities and a better organisation of my reminders but it's light-years from the non existent system I hade on New Years Eve. And just as I thought I was the only one who had not grasped this I start to see people all around me who have the same problem I did... they don't manage their inbox and they don't gather their reminders. I might need to hand them that book...

Showing Appreciation

Having attended a six day PSL workshop I have come to understand and appreciate the power of appreciation. When it comes to feedback I have had some problems in the past to balance the ratio between feedback about things to change and things to keep, I find it easier to give feedback about things I think needs change since they seem to be the things that stand out.
During this week of intense training in Problem Solving Leadership we have had a lot of rounds of appreciations. An appreciation is a simple meaning along the lines of: , I appreciate you for . I found it to be a great way of discovering that I did things I didn't think much of that people appreciated and of course the other way around. Not only does it feel good to be appreciated but it also strengthen the bonds between people, expecially if you combine it with touch in some (non intimidating) way. I even found that if I gave appreciations to people I didn't really like it was more difficult to dislike them.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mobile blogging set up

After a long struggle with many dead ends, thanks to Telenor, my Semc phone and my lack of competense, we can finally use the mobile to blog here.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

How you look at your world decides what your world looks like

The book "The 7habits of highly effective people" by Stephen R. Covey, which I'll probably have a few more things to say about, contains a very interesting passage in the first few pages. It's about paradigms and paradigm shifts. A small history is presented; the author once went by the subway and by him sat a man that brought his children. The kids were running around, throwing stuff and making big fuzz, disturbing the passengers in the same subway car. The author and probably other of the passengers was understandably irritated over the father that did not take proper care of his children. So finally the author broke the silence and told the father that the children were disturbing and would he please put an end to it. The father then tells that they just came from the hospital and that the children's mother passed away. The author suddenly saw the situation in quite a different light and asked what he could do to help out.

This story is quite something, when I think about it and go through the narration I can feel a sort of shift in my mind. With just a tiny bit of information the situation changes drastically even though nothing has really changed, everything is still the same. The reality depends very much on the eyes that look upon it. This kind of shift can be achieved on purpose for yourself and yes it might be relieving to understand that the world is largely dependent on how you look at it and not only what actually is fact.

I'd like to recommend the book "Mind lines", by L. Michael Hall and Bobby G. Bodenhamer that thoroughly goes in to different ways to look at the present and change your own view of your reality. It's certainly powerful to be able to change your own reality, please try it out!

Friday, January 23, 2009


Last week I was invited by a friend to attend one of his classes, he had read a lot about Scrum and wanted to try it in student projects. He shoved me into a room with eight students around twenty years old and told the students that I was as much Scrum experience packed in flesh as they'd ever meet and to make good use of me during the half hour or so I was there. They didn't...

I decided to do a quick retrospective and some problems came up from the group, one being that they had a fellow team member who wasn't attending their team meetings where they did their planning and some coding. When I asked them what they possibly could do about it their response was "nothing, we can't really force him to come here so there's really nothing we can do". I asked if they had talked to him about it and they hadn't, when I asked if a possible solution would be to have their team meetings at his place they responded that it felt unfair that they had to go all the way to his place when he was the problem and when I asked them if it was a problem that he wasn't present they responded that it was a major impediment to the progress of their project.

I left the students feeling glad that I normally deal with professionals that are trained in problem solving and want to improve - what a comfort junky I am! Thinking about it now, a couple of days later, I am annoyed with myself for moving back into my comfort zone and not challenging myself to get those damn students straightened out... I'll get back to my friend and coerce him into having me back and coach those students again! If not for something else, at least to get myself out of my comfort zone and into the real world, I might learn something about myself!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Honest leadership start within

"Think of your life as a house. Can you knock down the walls between the rooms and be the same person in each of them?" To lead a balanced life (and be a great leader?), you need to bring together all of it's elements - work, family and friends - so that you can be the same person in each environment! 

If you aren't doing this today, who are the real you?

From the article Discovering your authentic leadership. Bill George, P. Sims, A. N. McLean, D. Mayer.  Harvard Business Review OnPoint, Winter 2008, © 2008

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The more difficult the goal, the greater the achievement - goal-set motivation

First of all, let’s establish our goal. We want to get out more bang for the buck in our development process. Since we believe in an empowered, self organized team which takes responsibility for their actions and work we need method to promote this behaviour. It turns out that using goals to steer and focus is just that method!

In this post we will look at some of the more important aspects of goal-set motivation and why it should appeal to you as a leader.

1. The more difficult the goal, the greater the achievement

This means that situation that the team, or individual for that sake, is commited and posses the ability to achieve the goal, the performance of that team or individual will increase. If not, the performance will instead drop at high goal levels.

2. The more specific the goal, the more precisely performance in regulated

This might sound desirable at first but give it another go. In reality this means that if you focus too much on details you run a very high risk of dampen or kill creativity. This is one reason we preach the usage of negotiable user stories in Scrum instead of function based planning.

3. Goals that are both specific and difficult lead to the highest performance

People do not actually do their best when trying to do their best because, as  a vague goal, it is compatible with many different outcomes, including those lower than one's best. Therefore, goals need to be both specific and difficult to maximize performance. All in accordance with statement one and two above.

4. Commitment to goals is most critical when goals are specific and difficult

Obvious perhaps but I’ll spell it out anyway. Easy and vague goals do not require much dedication and are therefore easy to commit to.

5. (This one is important) High commitment to goals is attained when:

a) the team is convinced that the goal is important

b) the team is convincend that the goal is attainable

6. Participation by subordinates yields higher commitment

For example, participation from the team leads to higher commitment. But the goals might not be set as high as of they where set by their superiors.

7. In general goals stimulate planning and leads to higher quality

Therefore we should strive for using goals in planning and in measurements. And goal setting is in fact most effective when there is feedback showing progress in relation to the goal. The goals help to orient us and affect performance by affecting the direction of action, the effort exerted and the persistence over time.

8. When people strive for goals on complex tasks they are least effective in discovering suitable strategies if:

a) they have no prior domain knowledge or no relevant training (obvious right?)

b) there is high pressure to perform well (a team where failure is not allowed)

c) there is high time pressure to perform well immediately (an already late project)

Here, feedback is very effective in motivating higher performance. But remember, feedback alone is just information. You must relate it to the goals.

9. Finally, high goals might actually lead to less performance satisfaction than easy goals

This has to do with the fact that goals server as standards of self-satisfaction and harder goals demands higher accomplishment in order to attain self-satisfaction than easy goals.

So why should you this leadership technique of self-set goals? Well, because:

It can help you to provide and communicate an inspiring vision

Let you act as a role model when aiming for a more self organizing organization

You can expect outstanding performance if you make it work

It promotes those who embrace the vision and dismiss those who reject it

It is a very efficient way of delegating responsibility and ownership

You express genuine confidence in your employees and peers

You can actually ask for commitment in public and who knows, you might finally get it as well!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Holy Grail of Measurement

Have you sworn allegiance to the secret management quest?

One measurement to rule them all, one measurement to find them, one measurement to bring them all and in the darkness bind them. 

Should you find yourself trudging through hell and high water in search of that illusive metric then I strongly advise you to rest your wary eyes on What Do We Measure and Why? 

In her superbly crafted writing, Margaret Wheatley warns us that the act of measurement does not instil upon a team the virtues that most managers seek - commitment, focus, teamwork, learning and quality.

[...] these behaviors are never produced by measurement. They are performance capabilities that emerge as people feel connected to their work and to each other. They are capacities that emerge as colleagues develop a shared sense of what they hope to create together, and as they operate in an environment where everyone feels welcome to contribute to that shared hope. Each of these qualities and behaviors-commitment, focus, teamwork, learning, quality--is a choice that people make. Depending on how connected they feel to the organization or team, they choose to pay attention, to take responsibility, to innovate, to learn and share their learnings. People can't be punished or paid into these behaviors. Either they are contributed or withheld by individuals as they choose whether and how they will work with us.

Duly chastised and mocked for our unquestioning belief in measurement as the route to these capabilities she then unveils measurement in it's rightful place.

But measurement is critical. It can provide something that is essential to sustenance and growth: feedback.

Margaret goes on to conclude the article by drawing distinction between measurement and feedback and offering the reader guidelines for designing better measures that fulfil their objective of providing feedback.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Definitions or the ability to move in the same direction

As a child I had a great friend, we loved to play with Lego, Computers and discuss various subjects such as new gadgets on the market and new scientific discoveries. Sometimes though we had arguments that could last for a couple of hours, usually these arguments were easily resolved. Often the resolution, much to our surprise, was such that we realized we actually had meant the same thing from the beginning but used different words for what we meant. Thus the words we used had different meanings for us but once these meanings were revealed we could see that we actually agreed on the subject.

Many a times I've been involved in discussions about teams, about how they ought to be organized, should there be a team leader that gives assignments to the team members or should the team members them self assign tasks. Where the team should sit, together or spread out, in small separate offices or close together in a landscape?

A minor investigation of the word Team makes a major difference to these questions. If the definition is simply a group of people making similar kinds of work or work related to the same product there is no reason to organize so the team members sits in the same spot and who should do what is often obvious. A team leader that assigns tasks and coordinates the work might be a proper way to master such a team.

If what you want is rather a group of people working together to reach a common goal the answers to the questions above would probably be quite different. It would probably be appropriate to let the team sit together and decide who should do what together.

Simply put you need to get each other's definitions clear before its time to argue about what is the right way or the wrong way to go!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Power of Music

As everyone probably knows, music is an integral part of our lives whether it is as muzak playing softly in the super market to lull us into a calm and submissive spending state or it is as part of a movie to strengthen the emotional state of what is shown on screen.

I have tried different kind of music in different kinds of situations and it is amazing to see how the pace and mood of the music affects the discussions and moods of people.

Try this when doing a brain storming session or team excercise the next time and see what happens. Then try this and see if something changes.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My problem! Or yours?

We all know customers don’t know what they want. But they do know what problems they have! During my work as an Agile coach I tend to come across numerous problems waiting to be solved. And eager as ever you might dive straight in to start solving the one you've identified as the prime one. The biggest, badest and most vexing problem you could see. Only the problem being, it might be your biggest problem, not your clients. We often try to listen hard and then create our own definitions of reality when we instead should do our hardest to understand our friend on the other side of the table.

I recently read a summary written by Don Gray at the Amplifying Your Effectiveness Conference about creating better problem definitions. He lists a few good principles which have helped me at work:
  1. The Pause principle: pause before you try to solve it. Critical when strong emotions are involved, especially when they belong to you!
  2. The Pay Attention principle: Intake, Meaning, Significance and Response. Meaning what I hear, what I think you say, how it affects me and my reaction or response to it all. If any of these four parts of the process goes wrong, the whole conversation gets distorted. Pause before going into response mode remember ;)
  3. The Partnership principle: find a solution that your client feels connected with. If you don't, your client will move on and the problem will be yours alone. You are there to help your client solve his/her problem.
  4. The passion principle: Don't care too much, at least not more than your client does. If he/she is not passionate about solving the problem they really don't have a problem in the first place.
  5. The person principle: who is this a problem for? Find that person and tailor the solution for them! At Don writes: "you aren't only dealing with the people themselves and the problem itself, but also gow these people feel about the problem, about each other, about you and about the attributes of whatever solution you come up with. And that is your problem".

Monday, January 12, 2009

Creative Measurement

Much that we'd might love to envisage our life in a world of unbounded possibility, when it comes to stimulating our creativity and resourcefulness there's really nothing quite like a constraint. Agreed?

You're a hard audience. Let me (you?) demonstrate.

Imagine (go on i dare you) that you've been arrested by the measurement police for subjecting teams to your experimental metric whims. Citing your mindless adherence to a host of management references in your defence the judge takes pity and offers to release you on conditional parole. The condition being that from this time forth, you shall utilise only ONE single measurement to guide you and your team on their quest for continuous improvement.

You duly accept your lifeline and have 24 hours to deliberate. What measurement would you choose?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Team Building Games

Since I am a gamer at heart I'm always on the lookout for cool games that can be used professionally in my work as an Agile Coach. Games I have used with some success are Werewolves of Miller's Hollow and Robo Rally but it has been mostly as a simple and fun way to get people from different backgrounds in projects socializing .
Last year I went to Spiel08 in Essen, Germany, together with a couple of friends where I stumbled upon a great game that really shows the importance of team work - Space Alert. It is a cleverly designed cooperative board game where you have to learn how to prioritize, communicate and self organize. I've played it some thirty times with different people and still want more. Hopefully we can find a way of incorporating this game into a team building workshop of some kind...

Leadership defined

I've been looking for a good definition of leadership for a long time. Some argue that you need to have followers to be a leader and some say that leadership is influence, others mention authority together with leadership or want to give the leader the ability to tell people what to do.
When I read 'Becoming a Technical Leader' by Gerald M. Weinberg I found a definition that fits perfectly in with my own views and thoughts on what kind of leader I want to become:

"Leadership is the process of creating an environment in which people become empowered"