The Gorilla learns Management Values from Cinderella

The_Wizard_of_Oz_Bert_Lahr_1939It was dark through the office, hours after everyone else had gone home. Okay, pretty sure Greg was off in some even darker corner coding, but that didn’t count, he was one of those nocturnal breeds of coders. I was in my office busy denting my desk with my head. It hurt sure, but the pain was taking my mind off my larger pains.

Pivot or persevere, burn down charts, customer value over stakeholder value, story points, user stories, Intrinsic vs Extrinsic value, Stoos, agile, Lean. I was a project manager, I ran a PMO, I was darn good at what I did. Only what I did didn’t seem to be what was being done anymore. What happened to my carefully planned out planning cycle? Where did my Gantt chart go?

I guess I got that things were changing. I just didn’t have a clue how to get from where I was now. This was safe, this was comfortable, this was.

“Not as it should be.”

Sigh. You know the expression “a monkey on your back”? Well I had a Gorilla on my desk. He was usually leading me down the primrose path only to pummel me with my own errors. My conscience in the form of an 800 pound gorilla (imaginary).

“Hogarth, I already know I need to change. I just haven’t the bloodiest flipping clue how to get from where I am now to where I need to be.”

Hogarth smiled at me, his white canines glinting in the light of the desk lamp. “That part’s simple, you have to see the world not as it is. Instead see the world as it should be.”

I looked back at him, “Sure all and good. What if the world as it should be is big bad and scary? How am I supposed to lead my PMO into this new way? What can I do to make it easier for them?”

The inky black gorilla smiled again, “By showing courage and kindness

“Another one of your trite aphorisms?” I muttered. “Who did you get that from, the Dali Lama?”

Hogarth shook his head as he snatched the banana from my fruit, “Nah, Cinderella told me that after her 20th wedding anniversary ball.” Pealing the fruit Hogarth looked wistfully at the ceiling, “Now she knew how to throw a party.”

“Wait” I held up my hands in confusion. “Cinderella is real?”

Hogarth gave me one of those painful, pitiful looks when I’ve said something grossly idiotic. “Imaginary gorilla, remember? She’s not real, but neither am I, so yes I can talk to her.”

“Oh, right, I knew that.”

Hogarth bite off half the banana and began talking, “So let me break this down for you into a really easy question.”

I looked at him. His easy questions usually required a lot of work for me. “Go on…”

“Do you want to be a Good Witch or a Bad Witch?”

Now with the Wizard of Oz? Oz, Lion, Courage… Oh…

How Will You Face the Changing Tide of Business?

Whether we like it or not, the face of business is changing. You don’t have to be using Agile or Lean or any of the recent trends in development/ project/ business transformations to be impacted. Because odds are pretty much a million to one that if you’re not transforming your business, one of your competitors is.

We can try and deny the changing tide. However that would be like trying to deny the actual tides (Cnut the Great Tried that, didn’t work). Business has been going through a constant change since it first began. From the Master/ Apprentice trades of the middle ages, to the early factories of the industrial age, to the martini fueled age of Mad Men, to Martin Friedman’s “Shareholder Value” and beyond. The simple fact is business will continue to change and evolve.

So we should give up trying to deny that it will and instead decide how we’re going to face it.

With “Courage and Kindness”: You find inspiration anywhere you look, so long as you are willing to open your eyes. I found that inspiration watching the live action version of Disney’s Cinderella (Mar 2015). These words were the mantra Ella’s dying mother gave to her and which the young maiden lived by even when her step-mother and sisters had subjugated her down to little more than a slave.

And that I believe is the secret to how managers are going to deal with the disruptions facing the business world.

Courage:
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. -Nelson Mandela.

It is absolutely okay to not be comfortable with change. To not be happy that your world has shifted.

Even to be scared of what it all means to you.

You just need to not let it keep you from acting. Fear will drive you into a dark cave from which you will just lash out at anyone who comes close. Grab a torch, get out of the cave and explore this new world.

Kindness: No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. – Aesop

Think back to your own time in school as a child. Odds are probably really high you had these two kinds of teachers.

Teacher A- Instructor: This teacher wasn’t a bad teacher, you just wouldn’t ever get warm from their smile. Business like to a fault, factual, direct. You learned from this teacher, but you were never inspired. You did the work, you got it done and you made fun of the teacher in the lunch room.

Teacher B- Mentor: This is the teacher who always had a smile. They told stories that turned out to teach you a lot about the subject. They were available and approachable outside of class. They were the teacher you went to when you had a problem.

The question is, which kind of the teachers above would you like to be as a manager? More important question, which kind do you think your employees want you to be?

And just remember, kindness is easy, kindness doesn’t cost much. A warm smile is the universal language of kindness. William Arthur Ward

Until next time, remember to keep some bananas handy for the Gorilla in the Room.

Gorillas use the 5 Whats not the 5 Whys

“Can someone tell me why I just spent two hours on the phone with a screaming client?”

“They dropped a server rack on their toe and it really hurt?” asked Greg.

I glared at Greg until he went back to studying the dirt under his finger nails. The I turned to Jake, our development manager. “Jake, why can the client only load half their user base into the DB?”

Jake gave a shrug. “No clue, why didn’t QA test that?”

Vinnie jumped forward in his seat, “That’s not even in our test cases, why on earth would we test that.”

The room seemed to pause for a moment and then all eyes slowly turned towards to Tully, our junior product manager. With Bob visiting a potential customer, Tully the product management representative.

An hour later I walked into my office, tossing my coat on the conference table chair. “Poor Tully” I muttered.

“Why?”

I jumped. Turning to look where my coat landed I saw instead Hogarth holding my coat in one hand and looking at me with a questioning gaze.

“Why? Because Tully got torn to pieces in that meeting.” I said.

“Why?”

I blinked at my Gorilla. It wasn’t like him to not know everything. After all wasn’t he just a figment of my imagination? “Because Bob wasn’t there. And Bob is the one who made the requirements that didn’t address the customer’s number one need.”

“Why?”

Now I glared at my gorilla, was there a point to all of this? “So do you have a point with the annoying string of ‘why’?”

Hogarth nodded, “I do. What do you think would be a better way?”

“What?” My brain started spinning, how was this an answer? What did he mean? What was the right answer? Wait, wait, What?

And Hogarth nodded, “Exactly.”

 

Why the 5 Whys should be the 5 Whats.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve almost certainly heard of Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota. He calls it Five Whys. Unless the rock was really heavy, you’ve also no doubt heard Simon Senek’s “Start with Why” TED Talk.

The Five Whys:

5 Whys is an iterative question-asking technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships of a problem. The goal is to get to the root cause of a problem, because all too often the first cause is not the true cause. Doctor’s call this “treating the symptoms, not the disease.”

An example the 5 Whys :

Why did our service go down?

  1. Why? – The servers lost power. (first why)
  2. Why? – The backup power supply didn’t work. (second why)
  3. Why? – It couldn’t handle the load. (third why)
  4. Why? – A replacement hasn’t been bought that can meet the power needs. (fourth why)
  5. Why? – The DataCenter budget was frozen last quarter and we haven’t had the money to perform upgrades. (fifth why, a root cause)

Starting with Why 

Simon’s talk is an incredible exploration of how companies can be inspirational and change the world. His Golden Circle places the question “Why” directly in the middle of the circle and What is placed at the edge. As Sinek pounds home, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy how you do it”

The danger of “Why”

“Start with why” is an excellent for a company exploring how they can better market their products. It can help them to better connect with their end customers and provide greater value.

And “why” is completely the wrong word to use when trying to get to the root of a problem.

What makes me say that? Professional coaching has a key concept of using powerful questions. These questions are deigned to help the coach guide the coachee to the answers they need. The coach doesn’t give the answers, the coach doesn’t even guide the answer. The coaches job is to ask the powerful questions that will allow their client to get to the solution. Examples of powerful questions are:

  • What is important about that?
  • What is stopping you?
  • What is the lesson from that?

What you won’t find in powerful questions is “Why”. What is the reason for this?

“Why” questions rests on the popular belief that « to succeed, one should understand how one has failed ». In other words, to learn how to swim, one must carefully analyze how one has almost drowned. In effect, why questions only let clients meander within their same-old limited past frame of reference. A good coaching process needs to gently lead the client out of their box.” (quoted from www.metasysteme-coaching.eu)

The question “why” carries a lot more emotional content than it’s cousin “what”. When you ask someone “Why didn’t you take out the trash” you are essentially putting them on the defensive and laying blame. Even saying “why is the trash still here?” creates an adversarial space.

This is “Why” is not used in coaching. You don’t want the client to get defensive, or wrapped up in the “why” of the problem you want to ask them “what” they need to do to get out of the problem.

Why 5 What’s is better

You see, Toyoda’s 5 Whys could get to the root cause, but all too often I find they side tracked by the personal agendas, defensiveness and the tragic corporate blame game circle. The 5 Whys can so easily go wrong, let’s look at the example above again, this time with real people involved.

Why did our service go down?

  1. Why? – Because we lost power. (umm duh)
  2. Why? – Bob hasn’t replaced the damn UPS yet, I’ve been on him for weeks. (the buck is passed)
  3. Why? – Don’t look at me, I’ve been trying to get the UPS replaced for weeks, finance won’t approve the PO. (the buck passes again)
  4. Why? – Unless sales starts signing up more customers, we won’t be approving a lot more POs. We’re broke.

We didn’t even get to the 5th why at this point and totally missed that the UPS isn’t broken, just can’t handle the load, so you can’t even explore how to make what you have now work for you.

Let’s try with What.

What caused the service to go down?

  1. What? – We lost power to the core servers and the UPS didn’t work
  2. What happened to our UPS- It can’t handle the load we have.
  3. What are we doing about it?- Well we’re trying to get a new one, only budgets are frozen right now.
  4. What else could we do? We could try putting just half the servers on the UPS. If we lost power we wouldn’t be able to handle a full login load, but we’d be partially up at least.
  5. What do we need to start doing that? – Give us the okay and we’ll have it done tonight.

Asking “What” is about creates an environment of clearer answers. If you ask “What is the speed of light” you get a very specific answer of 299 792 458 m / s. If you ask “why do people fight?” you could fill a Google datacenter with the results. Not a fair comparison? You’re right, it’s not. “Why” is used when the answer isn’t as clear or there are more than one answer.

So let’s try and experiment. What would happen if we used the 5 Whats instead of the 5 Whys?

The phone’s for you, it’s the Gorilla


Bob, if you will read my response six emails down, you will see we are already
aware of that solution. It is not working…”

 

I leaned back and rested my head against the wall. I needed to take a mental break from this email before I started imitating a wildfire and flaming Bob for his idiocy. Why did they have to make it so difficult? Trying to get my bearings I started to scroll back through the email chain. I gave up after the tenth page down.

 

This was hopeless, no one was listening to anyone and Bob was sitting at the middle of this like some big land mine that was keeping anything from moving for fear it would all blow up. I’d exhausted myself trying to sort this all out. I didn’t have a clue how to finish this email and I didn’t think any email would solve this anyway..

 

The worst part of this all is I knew it was a simple understanding. I just couldn’t get through to Bob. He didn’t seem to be even reading the emails anymore, just kept responding with the same dogmatic hash over and over.

 

What was I going to do?

 

Hogarth dangled my Android in front of my face, “Have you tried this?”

 

I should know better to ask rhetorical questions to the myself. The problem with having an imaginary gorilla is they can eavesdrop on your thoughts. Turning to take in the lumbering form of my gorilla I shook my head. “Hogarth, don’t be ridiculous, I can’t send a text, I need way more than a couple hundred characters to get my point across.”

 

Hogarth nodded in that annoying manner that usually meant he was about to zing me hard. “You’re right. It will take a lot more character to solve this problem.” He waggled the device at me again, “You know this thing here has an incredible power? One that can cut through all the emails and all the miscommunication and get you to a solution in just a few short minutes.”

 

I sat up, “Seriously? What’s this App called?”

 

“A phone call…”

 

Huh? A phone… oh, ouch.

 

 

DID YOU KNOW A SMART PHONE CAN ALSO MAKE PHONE CALLS?

 

I’m half afraid the next generation of iPhone will have the revolutionary new feature of doing away with that pesky telephone. I mean why does it need to be there anyway? You can send email, send texts, post to Facebook and Twitter, and even log into your companies portal to post to the internal sites. Why on earth would you need to make a phone call?

 

Maybe because they work so very well? Of course face to face is even better. The phone is a good substitute, email should be the last resort of the desperate.

 

Now the exact numbers of course vary on this. Still, if you Google “percentage of communication is nonverbal” you will get a mess of hits that put non-verbal communication at a minimum of 60% and up to 93%. And then whatever percentage is left over gets cut down significantly by your tone of voice. By the time you get to only the words you say, it can be as little as 7% of your total communication.

 

So when you are in an email conversation, up to 93% of your communication is lost? Makes me think of that old kid’s game called telephone. You know the one, the kids all sit in a circle, the first one whispers to the kid on his left and then the message gets passed around until it comes back to the start. “My cat has fleas” could easily turn into “Hapsburgs flee from the Martians.”

 

Now I’m not saying we should toss out our Exchange servers and go back to the 1970’s. If we did nothing else, we’d only be replacing electronic emails with the old fashioned memo.  That’s not the problem. The problem is what we are using the email for.

 

Email is great for things like status reports, assigning tasks to directs or team members, communicating already decided changes or policy on a one to many basis.

 

Emails are horrible for solving problems, carrying on a conversation, dealing with anything that requires more than the cold hard facts that can be properly communicated in email. If there is one iota of emotion involved in the communication, then email is not the ideal medium.

 

Sure, there are times when email is the only option. These times are however vanishingly small. Even leaving a voicemail can often be more effective than an email.

 

Now diligent readers will point out that this is counter to how some DISC profiles work, as I discussed in “Talk to the Gorilla, Not At It.” True, there are DISC profiles that cringe at the thought of talking on the phone or face to face. That doesn’t mean it’s not the best solution. It just means you have to be careful about it. You don’t just call a High C unannounced, you use email to schedule a time to talk instead.

 

Let’s go back to the math for a minute. If non-verbal is truly 93% of communication, does that mean if we only ever do email we can take a 93% pay cut?

 

The phone won’t bite you and it may very well help you tame those monster email threads so you have something approaching a sane mailbox.

 

Ring… It’s for you.

Miss Manners is a Gorilla

Photo by _Faraz @ Flickr

“Awesome, that’s great news. Send me the details as soon as you get them.” I put down the phone and leaned back in me chair. I sat for a minute collecting my thoughts. Then with a smile splitting my face I let out a long sigh of relief.

 

That was close, way to close. If Gus hadn’t come through at the last minute, the entire release would have gone into the toilet, along with my career. Raising my coffee cup in salute, I said “You dodged another one old boy.” Bringing the mug to my lips I took a healthy swig of the lukewarm coffee.

 

And nearly spit it out all over Hogarth.

 

Swallowing hard, I set the cup down and glared at my gorilla, now sitting across my desk from me. “Go away, Hogarth, I’m not letting you ruin this.” I held up my hand and started ticking off my points. “I used my relationship power when we needed something in a rush.” One finger. “I had that relationship power because I get out from behind desk and walk around.” Two fingers. “We had this on our plan because we thought about risks because we reviewed our previous projects.” Three fingers. “And we played it by the book, even though it would have been so much easier to cut corners and go around the system.” I leaned back in my chair and gave him a smug, self satisfied look. “So take your dour face and pester someone else, you got nothing on me.”

 

Hogarth stared at me for long seconds, his dark eyes pinning me to my chair and making me squirm. This wasn’t fair, I’d done it all. I’d been professional, I’d been effective, I’d headed of the risks at the pass, I’d helped the team through difficult waters without taking charge. What on earth could he find fault with?

 

He didn’t speak, which made it all the more unnerving. He just reached one of his massive furred hands out and laid it on the desk. As his hand drew back it revealed something laying on my desk. It was a square bit of paper, no more like a large business card. Leaning forward I could see it was really a card that opened. I turned my lamp so I could read the front of it better.

 

Thank you

 

 

A thank you card? What on earth was he thanking me for? I mean if anyone should be thanking anyone, not that I would ever admit it to him, of course, I should be thanking Hogarth.

 

Wait… Gus… Oh, heck…

 

 

THERE IS STILL ROOM FOR 18TH CENTURY MANNERS IN A 21ST CENTURY WORLD

 

I was recently reminded how much people take good manners and politeness for granted. I was in a conversation with some non-work colleagues. One of them was in the middle of a job interview process. I’d asked him if he’d sent his thank you cards yet. One of the other people in the group said “I don’t send thank you cards, there just so old fashioned…”

 

A bottle of Dom Pérignon has been made in much the same way for the last hundred years. That doesn’t make it old fashioned, that makes it good.

 

A standard longbow made today is made in much the same way a longbow was made a thousand years ago. It works, don’t break it.

 

The wheel has the same basic shape it had four thousand years ago. Why reinvent the wheel?

 

Today we have iPhones, netbooks, email, voicemail, fax, video chat, high speed data connections and more. The technology we have today would seem like witchcraft 200 years ago and pure science fiction for most of us even fifty years ago. Like the Bionic Man technology has made us better, stronger and faster than before. And that still doesn’t change who we are. Good manners have been around for a heck of a lot longer than email. Email doesn’t suddenly mean all the politeness of the world can be bottled up in a couple of sideways colons and closed parenthesis (ASCII smiley faces). 

 

I’m simply amazed how often even the most basic politeness is forgotten in the work place.

 

  • When you pass someone in the hall, smile and nod. Heck, even say hello. Don’t stare at the ground and pretend they are not there.
  • Say “Thank you” whenever someone does something even close to nice. Even “Thanks” is an improvement over a guttural grunt. This includes the cashier at lunch.
  • Don’t interrupt when someone is speaking. (I know, the DISC model talks about High Ds and High Is being okay with this. They are not the whole world. Even if they are okay with it, the High S listening in will be horrified).
  • Chew with your mouth closed. Now I may be showing my US based culture here. I honestly don’t know if this is culturally okay in other parts of the world. In the US, it’s not.

 

Beyond the basics there are a couple of key manner tools that are must haves in your manager tool bag.

 

  • Thank You Cards: Honest to goodness handwritten thank you cards. When you interview*, send them to everyone who interviewed with you. If you have someone in a mentor like role, send them a Thank You card with a gift card inside from time to time. If someone at work bails your butt out of a major jam, send them a Thank You card (again, a gift card can’t hurt). And before one of you says it, yes, you should send them when you interview. A Thank You card is a thank you it doesn’t ask for anything in return. It is not something to get you a job, its something that is the right thing to do. Send a card no matter what, it will pay off in the long run.

 

  • Recommendations/Praise: Corporate culture operates very much on perception. Perception only works if people are aware. If Susan in accounting saved your bacon and you are in her debt, the thank you card with a Starbucks gift card is nice. Sending an email to her boss to tell them how awesome Susan is, is one step better. When it comes time for reviews, Susan has those notes in her brag file and can roll them out to remind her boss how good she is.

 

Miss Manners isn’t an antique. She’s the wisdom of the ages.

 

Thank you,
Joel and Hogarth

 

Thank goodness Gorillas can’t fly- Pigeon Project Management

Well dang! My team really does love me.

Holding the glass statue up to my mouth I let out a hot breath. With my shirt sleeve I rubbed away the condensation leaving the glass shinier than before. Setting it back down on the desk I beamed at the statue.

It was a glass hummingbird, roughly six inches high. There was an engraved plaque on the wooden base it was set on. “The Hummingbird Award” it said in bold letters. Below that, in smaller letters, it said “For your skill in always showing up when things are bad.”

My mood was so high even the shambling entrance of my personal gorilla could do nothing to lower it. “Look at this, Hogarth!” I held up the statue for him to see. “What do you think of that.”

Hogarth looked at the statue for a moment then let out a long, sad sigh. “Wow, I’m so sorry. I thought we’d been making progress.”

“What?” I set the statue back down, careful not to get fingerprints on it. “What’s to be sorry about? My team gave me this award, isn’t it great?”

Hogarth settled into a chair and gave me a long puzzled look.

“What?!?” I said.

Hogarth sighed, again. This was getting repetitive. “I thought you knew about the Hummingbird award.” He shook his head. “I’m really sorry. Look I can help you get your resume cleaned up.”

“What on earth are you talking about!” I snapped.

Leaning forward he clasped his massive hands together on the desk. “What does a hummingbird do all day?”

I shrugged “It flies around from place to place quickly and it eats.” I looked down at my body, “I’m not exactly a candidate for weight loss if you hadn’t noticed. They didn’t give this to me because I eat all the time.”

Another sigh. What was with his sighs? “Maybe it would help if you knew the real name of the prize is the ‘Pigeon Manager’ award.”

“Why on earth would they call it that? Pigeon’s aren’t exactly fast and they don’t even fly all that often. You have to shoo them to get them to move.”

Hogarth nodded. “What else?”

I rolled my eyes. I hated when he played this game. “Okay, they don’t fly much. They aren’t fast and I darn well wouldn’t want to be a statue with them around. They poop on everything.”

Hogarth nodded. “Uh huh…”

“Wait a minute!” I stared at the award. “If I’m the pigeon, then that makes the team the statue?”

Hogarth just nodded. Even he couldn’t bring himself to kick me when I was this far down.

 

 

SUPPORT THE TEAM, DON’T BURDEN THE TEAM

Trust me, even if it were really the hummingbird award, you don’t want to win it.

Sure hummingbirds are cute. They dart around the sky here and there. They hover by a sweet flower and suck up the nectar and, whoosh, they’re off to another place in the blink of an eye. Thing is, that’s not exactly the makings of a good manager.

The hummingbird manager rarely stays focused on any one thing long enough to make a lasting change. Like some hyper-caffeinated cheerleader, they rush around from place to place with uplifting words and a big smile. And in their wake is a team that wishes they would have stayed long enough to find out what was really going on and done something to help. Sure you look busy, what matters though is does your team see value in what you are doing?

And do I really need to explain why you don’t want to be the pigeon manager?

The hummingbird manager is at least has a nice smile and is trying to cheer people up. The pigeon manager swoops in, poops all over what you’re doing and then swoops off the minute things get hot. “You’re doing it wrong!” “Well tell us how to do it right.” “I don’t have time for that, just fix it.” Like the caped anti-hero they swoop in to ruin your day and rush off before you can say “thanks for nothing.”

Being a good manager is about putting yourself second and the team first. Do they have what they need? Is there something you can specifically do for them? Are you just getting in the way and what they really need if for you to leave them alone?

It takes time to be a good manager. You have to build relationships (like with Manager Tools “One on Ones” or Internal Customer Interviews). Building relationships builds trust. Building that trust means they will come to you when there is a problem. It also means they know you will help them when they need it, not criticize them, or give empty words of encouragement.

Management is about building relationships, not about being everywhere at once. Especially if you leave droppings behind.

So don’t be a bird brain.

Reviews: There is no "Gorilla" in "Team"

“That’s it! Kill me now!” Throwing myself into one of my office’s guest chairs I directed an exasperated look at Hogarth.

 

Sitting in the corner, fichus on one side, bamboo on the other, he looked at me with placid eyes. Not say a word to me, my gorilla chewed slowly on a head of lettuce.

 

Trying to not think about where he got a head of lettuce I gave a deep sigh and waited.

 

Hogarth kept chewing.

 

I threw my hands in the air, “I mean it! Just put an arrow right through my heart. It’s just not worth the trouble of trying to go on.”

 

Hogarth set the lettuce down. Good, now maybe he’d say something outlandish so I could get angry and him and distract myself from my misery. Looking at me for several long seconds, he then picked up the remains of a fichus branch. Beginning to pick his teeth with the denuded branch he continued to stare at me mutely.

 

“Oh, fine! I see how it is,” I snapped. “When I don’t want your pithy words of wisdom I can’t get you to shut up. But when I actually want your help you just sit there and remain mute?”

 

Hogarth shrugged. “Well I’m a poor archer and I’d really rather not get blood on my fur, so I’m not going to kill you. Lacking any other information, I have a leaf stuck between my molars.”

 

“Argh!” He was so infuriating. Couldn’t he be a normal and reasonable human being? Right… 800 pound imaginary gorilla. What was I thinking? Sigh, I hate it when he’s right.

 

“We’re headed up on year end.” Hogarth nodded in agreement. “That means annual reviews.” He nodded again. “And it means my agile teams have just become a pack a ravening piranha out to be last fish standing.”

 

Hogarth cocked his head to the side, “Fish don’t stand and isn’t the whole point of an agile team that they all pull together?”

 

I jumped up and pointed a finger at him, “Precisely!” Realizing pointing at a gorilla was probably not smart, I lowered my arm and continued. “That’s the whole problem. The review process measures individual goals. Suddenly all my agile team members are scrambling to show how good they are and fighting for credit of who improved the database, or made the UI fixes, or identified the root cause of the uRay issue.” I waved towards my office door, “productivity has plummeted, morale is holed and I’ve even had to break up a couple of yelling matches.”

 

Hogarth shrugged, “Sounds like the review process is broken.”

 

“Give that gorillas a cigar!” I exclaimed. “Only it’s not really broken, it’s just the way it is. Yet another process that doesn’t match with agile. I’m doomed. Agile will never work outside of small startups.”

 

Hogarth shook his head, “No, it’s broken. You don’t measure your spaghetti one noodle at a time.” I stared at him in abject confusion. Seeing this, he said,  “when the four man bobsled crosses the finish line fastest, who wins?”

 

“The sled team of course. What’s that got to do with this? They are all in the same sled.”

 

Hogarth nodded, “Good point.” Hah, I had him now. “What about the four hundred meter freestyle swimming relay? Michael Phelps carries the whole team, everyone knows that they couldn’t win without him. Why give the medal to anyone else?”

 

“Hogarth that’s silly. He couldn’t win without them.  It’s not like he could have swum all 400 meters himself.”

 

Hogarth nodded again. “Yes, that’s right. There is no ‘I’ in team.”

 

“I know that!” I snapped. “We’re doing agile after all. It’s all about the team. Team empowerment, team accountability, team rooms, we even have team plush toys for Ghu’s sake!”

 

“Then why are you measuring individuals and not the team?” Hogarth asked.

 

Huh… Why indeed?

 

 

Agile Reviews for Agile Teams

 

The average corporate review process is an almost myopic focus on the individual. What have you done? What goals did you achieve? What milestones did you meet? You, you, you. Almost like a bad country western song. Everything is focused on the individual worker and what they did. You don’t get credit for being part of a successful launch team. No, you only get credit if you led the team, or did some great thing ,that no one else did, to save the launch.

 

And that’s the good companies. There are companies out there (I hear Microsoft is a big sinner here) that use stack ranking. If you have a five person team, you can only give one person a five star rating and by the same extension, you have to give someone a one star rating. How do you think your team is going to behave when their literally is no points for second best?

 

Traditional review styles are murder on normal teams. Just imagine how much worse they are on an agile team? Agile teams promote the team owning the deliverables. The team does the work. The team commits. The team delivers. Until review time, and then hold on tight because it’s every developer for themselves.

 

It doesn’t work. You’re killing your teams one review at a time.

 

We don’t have a choice, it’s the way HR does reviews.

 

First of all, go read last weeks blog. If one junior captain can change the US Navy, then a manager can certainly change how his team is measured.

 

As for how to do it, well that I can’t take credit. I learned of this from an agile training house here in Silicon Valley. Agile Learning Labs has factored into my own agile journey many times. The founder, Chris Sims, is one of the people who took it as a challenge when I said “You’ll pry waterfall from my cold, dead hands” (Oh yes, I did say this, once upon a time). I took my CSM course from ALL and learned about the real value of agile for the first time, while getting the straight talk on how effective a CSM is (not much, you should still get one, from a good teacher, it’s a great way to learn).

 

Agile Learning Labs was asked to help a company that was facing just the issues we’ve discussed. The company had gone completely agile and was very happy with the change. Unfortunately, when it came time for reviews, they experienced significant disruption across the company for the entire review cycle. I’m guessing for a time after the cycle ended as well, as people digested their reviews.

 

So ALL worked with the company and implemented a new review process. No fancy math, no weird hoops or process and absolutely no touchy feeling trust falls.

 

Each employee had their review divided into two equal parts.

 

The first 50% rated them on how they met their individual goals. These were goals created with their manager (Oh, hey how about the Manager Tools Coaching Model) and focused 100% on things that were only about that employee and their development as an employee. Things like “Will become proficient in Ruby,” “Will present to an audience of at least 50 people,” “Will be on time to work 95% of the time” (Sometimes your goals are not big and earth shattering). Most importantly is none of this 50% had anything to do with their work on the team.

 

The second 50% was how well their team did. The team was measured on how it succeeded in its  business objectives (shipped the product, fixed the defects, shortened the release cycle by 25%, etc.). And then every single person on the team was given the exact same rating. The exact same! If the team did poorly, then everyone might get 20%. If the team was a rockstar band, then 50% all around.

 

That’s not fair! One of our team is a total slacker!

 

Then even money says you don’t really have an agile team. Still, let’s give the benefit of the doubt here, shall we? If one of the team is not performing, then it’s the team’s responsibility to deal with the issue.

 

Let’s head back to the Olympics, shall we? The swim team analogy probably isn’t the greatest. The relay is based on who is fastest on the Olympic team. These guys are rivals most of the time and don’t train together except at the Olympics.

 

Let’s look at the sculling team (that’s rowing, people). A four man sculling team trains together year round. They are a true team in every sense. If one of the team is not performing, do the Olympic judges say “Hey, you’re a horrible team mate, out of the boat”?

 

No, they don’t. That team mate never makes it to the Olympics. The team takes care of it. Sure, they may have help from their coach (Coach, hmm. Could that be a manager?). The team takes care of the problem and they make it to the Olympics.

 

If it works for an Olympics sports team, it can work for a software development team (or hardware, or marketing, or…).

 

Let’s go back to Agile Learning Labs and the company they were helping. A year later, the company went through the first full review cycle. They’d been using the new model all year and everyone knew this was the model and got reminded through out the year. What happened? It worked. It worked great. The details that ALL has shared is that morale went up, productivity went up and teams didn’t miss any strides during review time.

 

Want to know more? I hear Agile Learning Labs is available for hire.

 

 

So take the “I” out of the team and start measuring the team, as a team.

It’s Your Gorilla, So Change the World!

ARGH!!!!!

 

I had just enough sanity left in me to reflect on just how often that sound escaped from my mouth these days. And then sanity left me and I walked towards the door to my office. All I wanted to do was pound my head on the oak door until all my cares went away.

 

“Gonna break that poor door,” the words cut through my haze of frustration for just a moment. Just a moment. Then they were replaced by new frustrations. Was there ever going to be a day that Hogarth didn’t show up to offer me his ‘words of wisdom’?

 

From his perch, by my office window, my gorilla answered. “Sure there will be. At this rate though, not going to be a for a long time. Leave the door alone, its already got a dent in it.”

 

I threw up my hands. “I give up! I just give up. There is no way I’m ever going to change corporate culture around here.” I threw myself down in a chair and gave a resigned sigh. “I tried to get the test group to share their data with the support group.”

 

Hogarth cocked his head, “And?”

 

I shook my head, “No go, the test guys say it’s too complicated and would only distract support from helping the customers. The support guys are livid because they feel like test is treating them like children.” I sighed. “So the support guys have decided to stop coming to meetings until Test changes their mind.”

 

Hogarth chuckled, “Very adult.”

 

I glared at him. “You’re not helping. If you have some practical advice, I’m all ears. Otherwise, please go away.”

 

Pulling a banana from somewhere (don’t ask, I never do) he began to peel it. “Sure I do, stop trying to fix the world.”

 

“What the hell am I supposed to do?” I snapped.

 

“Be the best damned project manager you can be. Focus on what you have direct control of.” Hogarth took a bite of his banana. “Do that and you’ll change the world.”

 

I laughed. “Oh that’s rich. How exactly can I change the world? I’m just one project manager in a huge company.”

 

Hogarth tossed me a book. “It’s Your Ship.”

 

 

IT’S YOUR SHIP- NOT QUITE A BOOK REVIEW

 

I recently finished reading It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best  Damn Ship in the Navy, by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff. This book goes on my top inspirational books list and I’ll be recommending it to my friends and colleagues as a must read (or listen) book. Abrashoff communicates his powerful advice through great stories and by showing exactly how his advice worked in the real world.

 

I could go into the standard book review format. I’ve got a good system going after all, just check out my Good to Great review.

 

I’m not going to do that though. You see there is a far more powerful message in this book than can be covered by a book review. Beyond Mike’s eleven keys of good command, there is an even larger message to be read. You just have to cock your head to the side and read between the lines.

 

One ship, one crew, one captain, one person, can change the world

 

Captain Abrashoff was on his very first command. He was the junior captain in his naval group. His ship was probably not considered the gem of the fleet , elsewise a new captain wouldn’t have been posted to it. He was assigned an officer who was considered a failure by his last ship. In short, the level of influence that the USS Benfold could exert was not on the level of a Jobs, Clinton, Buffet or Branson. It was lucky if it could influence itself out of its own way. One certainly wouldn’t have expected Benfold to impact the entire US Navy.

 

Yet Abrashoff, Benfold and her crew went on to change the Navy. No, it wasn’t some diabolical plan to take over the world. Heck, Abrashoff probably never envisioned he would even be able to make the sea changes that he did. Instead he was completely and totally focused on what he could do in his little circle of influence. And through that focus, he changed the world.

 

Let’s look at just a handful of the examples I collected from my reading:

 

Steel Fasteners: Now remember, this was 1997, stainless steel had been around a good long while. Painting the ship was an absolute nightmare chore that cut into the new sailors training time. The fasteners on the ship (bolts, screws, nuts, etc) would rust and streak the still perfectly painted metal and you’d have to paint the ship every couple of months. After listening to his crew, Abrashoff bought steel fasteners with his ship credit card (The Navy didn’t stock them). Bang, the painting chore dropped radically. Today all Navy ships are using steel fasteners and other improvements that Benfold trailblazed. Imagine all that recovered productivity?

 

Real Time Communication from a Weapon System: We take instant communication for granted a lot. In 1997 cell phones were still bricks, AOL was still one of the largest email providers, and computer radio traffic was still in its infancy. It could take hours if not days to get orders out to everyone. This caused some pretty serious issues in the Persian Gulf and the Iraqi peacekeeping mission. Abrashoff listened to one of his petty officers. Then he bucked the system and brought the idea to his Admiral. End result? The computer network system for the Tomahawk Cruise Missile system was leveraged to allow real time, two way communication between ships of the fleet. It was rolled out across the Navy and changed how ship to ship coordination was done.

 

Get the food on the ship!: I was floored by this one. In the 90’s, Navy ships were still having their food stores loaded by hand. They would form a human chain and pass the boxes from the dock to the storage lockers. Abrashoff told a non-Navy friend (it pays to have a wide network!) about the problem. Long story short, his friend created a conveyor belt system that could be setup quickly and load the ship in a fraction of the time and labor. Not to mention with more safety. The Navy hired that guy to load all ships in the San Diego port.

 

New Sailor Policy: You just graduated from Navy boot camp. You fly a civilian airline across country and find your own way to the ship you will be serving on. Almost everyone is off the ship because its in port. You spend the first forty-eight hours just trying to find the head (bathroom) and how to get back to the deck (outside) of the ship. Abrashoff set up a new sailor on-boarding process that greatly improved morale and new hire ramp up speed. The process was copied by other ships and I wouldn’t be surprised if its not SOP for the Navy now.

 

You can change the world

 

Yes, you. The project manager on the right. You sitting in your cube with a stack of Gant charts threatening to bury you. You with the action item list that looks more like a parts list for a nuclear sub. You, the project manager who just had to go turn back on the office lights because the timer automatically turns them off at 10:00pm.

 

We can change our companies, we can change the world. We don’t have to be the CEO. We don’t have to have a dozen direct reports.

 

What we have to do is be the best we can be. Focus on what we are good at, do it and keep doing it. When you something really well, people notice. I’ve had it happen to me. I’ve created MSFT Office templates for my own use. I always put my name into the properties section when I do it. Many times I’ve gotten a document sent to me from some other project. Gee, this looks familiar. Well, hey there, look at that. My template, tweaked a little and being used half a company away. Guess it worked.

 

If one junior Captain, one single destroyer can change the United States Navy, then a good project manager can damn well change the world.

 

So what are you waiting for?

Does a Gorilla by any other name still smell?

Or- What’s my title? 

I stared at the words. And all I felt was a complete and total lack of enthusiasm threatening to overwhelm my very being.

–  Project Management Professional  –

How… dead. I just didn’t have any feeling for the words. Words that described a good portion of my professional career. Words that had gotten me where I was, only to leave me feeling flat and listless. I sighed. “Oh well, it’s not like the words make the man.”

I moved my mouse over the “Ok” button and prepared to commit to another 1000 business cards. One thousand cards that described me about as well as calling the Bugatti Veyron Super “just another car.”

“Why don’t you just change the title?”

Oh, great, Hogarth… I looked up from my computer screen only to find my office completely empty. Blinking I started to wonder if I’d taken to imaging my imaginary gorilla.

“Nope,” came his rumbling voice from behind me. Turning about in my seat I watched as Hogarth squeezed his way through the window to my office. The third floor open window.

“Hogarth!” Would I ever get tired of saying that? Yes, I already had. Would I ever get to stop saying it? One remains eternally hopeful. “Why are you climbing in my window?”

Pivoting to put his feet on the floor he rolled his eyes at me. “Because I’m a gorilla, duh…” Moving past me, making a beeline for my fichus he said, “Besides the elevator is out of service and you need a badge to use the stairs.”

Sigh, I did ask. “Hands off the fichus!” Hogarth turned to give me a pained look. “Why are you here?” I asked.

“Why not?”

Sigh. I decided to ignore him and turned back to my computer. I had a 1000 business cards to order.

“You know,” Hogarth drawled. “I’ve been thinking about a career change.”

Okay, that got my attention. Maybe he’d decide to take up flying and would be so busy with flight school he wouldn’t be around to bother me. “Oh?” I said hopefully.

He nodded, turning to run a hand across the small wooden conference table beyond my desk. “Yeah, I was thinking of being a beaver.”

“You can’t be a beaver, you’re a gorilla!” I snapped. Now he was just being silly and I didn’t have time for silly.

“What? There some law that says a gorilla can’t change careers?”

“Hogarth, being a beaver isn’t a career, it’s a species. You want to be president of the US then more power to you, but no amount of wishful thinking is going to make you a beaver!”

Hogarth turned around and gave me one of those smiles. You know, the one. The one that tells me I’d just walked right into the lesson he’d been trying to teach me. “You’re right. I’ll always be a gorilla, can’t fight birth. So were you born a project manager?”

Yeah, that smile…

 

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Regular readers will recall that I’ve recently been at the SFAgile2012 conference. Something I didn’t cover in my prior blogs, on that conference, was my own loss of words to describe just what I did. When you’re surrounded by a room full of agile and lean visionaries, coaches, inspirational and thought thinkers, describing yourself as a “project manager” not only feels inadequate, it can make you feel unclean. My twitter handle didn’t help me feel any better. When I first joined twitter, I was damn proud of my PMP certification and it made perfect sense to use JBC_PMP. When in a room full of people who  think agile certifications are not worth the paper they are printed on, imagine how one feels to advertise that you have that “waterfall” certification.

In short, I find myself unsatisfied with the description and title of Project Manager (or Program Manager).  It’s the title I’ve held for the majority of my professional career and still hold in my day job. This isn’t a new dissatisfaction,  I have grappled with this before in the “Armchair Gorilla.” In the comments of that blog Tobias Mayer ‘s suggest it was time to change what I called myself and while I realized he was right, I didn’t have a good term to use it its place. Like it or hate it, it’s the title of common use and HR doesn’t argue about paying me.

Attending SFAgile 2012 made me question all this again. This was in no small part from attending Tobias’ talk on “The Why of Scrum.” In this talk he expands on his earlier blog on Scrum not being project management (see below). Again I was left me hanging by loose ends. I can’t argue with Tobias that the strict PMBoK definition of a PM doesn’t have a lot of purpose in a pure agile shop. Thing is, where does that leave me? I’m not an engineer turned PM. I’m not a Wharton MBA with business plans spewing forth from my mouth. I’m an ex-art student, customer support guy who grew into a role that most people call project management. So is there a place for me in this emerging world of radical lean agile management?

Yes, yes there is. Because I’m not my title, I’m something else. The question is what? You really need to go back to “Armchair Gorilla.”  and my “I’m R2-D2 ” blog to get my full discourse on what I see as my role. The short form is I’m the guy who helps the team be excellent. It’s not my job to be the super star, it’s my job to help the team be stars. This can take many forms, from dealing with the overhead process (past a certain size, nearly all companies have “process”) so they don’t have to, facilitate communication, battle IT to get the servers back up, or even make a double cappuccino with a twist of lemon if that’s what’s needed.

The question is: What the heck do I call this role?

Let’s take a look at the language we use, and the problems inherent to them.

Project: Even in the lean and agile space we still end up defaulting to this word most of the time. It is a catch all word that sums up “what the heck are we doing?” as well as all the overhead baggage needed to put a product out to the customer. The biggest flaw I see with this word is that to often it is equated only with the development effort. A project starts when the developer starts to build and ends when development is done. Projects are so much more. From the first idea to the first delighted customer is all part of your project.

Unfortunately the word also has a fair amount of negative baggage tied to it. The word project summons up visions of rigidity, sequential flow, punishing process and all manner of ills that can befall the creation of something that delights the customer.

And “program” has pretty much all the same baggage, so let’s just lump it all on one baggage train for now.

Manager: We only have to look to Dictionary.com to see the first glimmers of the problem.

“A person who has control or direction of an institution, business, etc., or of a part, division, or phase of it.”

Notice the distinct lack of the word “people?” One of the other definitions points to the word “Manages” and the 3rd definition for Manages is

“to dominate or influence (a person) by tact, flattery, or artifice.”

Ooh! I get to DOMINATE! Yeah!. My people are just assets like my computers. Can I start calling our Health Care provider “People Tech Support?”

The word manage has come to imply control over people and that’s a huge problem. Manager Tools has long maintained that “Role Power” is a flawed tool for good management. You need to have a relationship with your people if you are going to be successful. Just by their very title, we set managers up to fail from the get go.

Project Manager (Program Manager):  I know! Let’s take two words, that  already have issues, slam together and we’ll be bound to have recipe for greatness, right?

No, no you won’t.

Even if we don’t acknowledge all the bad baggage that has grown up around this title, we’d have a hard time justifying the use of the title to define this role. The title has no human factor in it. There is nothing about the title that talks to the important work that this role does. There isn’t anything in the title to indicate you are there for the team.

Project Leader: “Take me to your leader.” When the alien ask you this, I don’t think they want you to take them to an effigy of MS Project. You can’t lead a project, because a project isn’t a person. Add to this, you’ve got the hole leader issue. You see I own a horse. That old saying of “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink?” It’s a load of horse poop. If a horse doesn’t want to move, you aren’t moving it, at least not in a straight line (we won’t get into horse training here, wrong blog). Instead I tend to think of this role as more the person who asks the horse “where’s the water?”

Team Lead: A title that has become synonymous with “un paid” psuedo-manager. The best coder is the team lead. Not because of any skill with the team, just because he can crank out more lines of good code in a day than anyone else. Let’s just leave that one on the cutting room floor and move on.

Project Lead: We can leave Project Lead in the same cutting room pile as Team Lead. It’s got the same issues, on top of not having any people focus.

Coach: “Put me in coach, I’m ready to go.” Coach is a good word. In the literal sense it is someone who trains, though really a coach is more of someone who helps to bring the best out of you. The problem comes when you try and modify it, in order to give it more description.

  • Project Coach: “Come on, Gantt chart, give me ten more sit ups!” You can’t coach a project, so this doesn’t work to define this role.
  • Agile Coach: “But our project is waterfall.” Very limited in its scope.
  • Lean Coach: “Let’s burn off those calories.” See Agile coach.
  • Waterfall Coach: “This is your barrel, the entrance to Niagara is over there.”

Coach might be a good word, the question is “Coach of what?”

Facilitator: Another great word. It’s issue is more in the baggage of its other uses. Facilitating a project planning session is just what this role should do. Facilitating conflict between the teams. Facilitating communication with the stakeholders. Like a good catalyst, a facilitator causes activity to happen, without itself being effected.

The worry is that the title has a well established place in the business world. It is considered a specialist and not an “always there” job role. Can it rise above these preconceived limitations?

Project Coordinator: We already have beaten the word project into glue. The word coordinator, on its surface seems like a good word. Non-threatening, more passive than active, implies working with things outside oneself. When you dig in though, there are two things you run into. The first is the baggage. In the formal project management world, a project coordinator is an low or entry level position. Project coordinators work for project managers. This kind of baggage makes it a bad term to use for this role.

Then we look at the dictionary and are forced to scratch our heads. “Coordinator” points to “coordinate,” which points to “coordination.” This in turn points to “coordinating” or “coordinated.” Which points back to “coordinate.” Circular logic and I still don’t know what your job is!

Scrum Master: Tobias Mayer (@tobiasmayer ) wrote a great blog titled “Scrum is not Project Management” to which I wrote the reply blog “Armchair Gorilla” where I  ended up agreeing with Tobias (after much gnashing of teeth). This blog is really an extension of that thread.

However the question at hand is if this title serves to describe the role. The answer is, “no, it cannot.” First off is the word scrum. Unless you are using scrum, then it isn’t an appropriate word. Second off is the word Master. Anyone who knows anything about getting a CSM certificate knows that you are a master of none. Most likely the entire title came about as a riff on “Master of Ceremonies.” Unfortunately it has lost that connection and the title of Scrum Master, even in the narrow confines of Scrum Teams, has dubious value.

Servant Leader: I’m pretty sure I’ve put down in writing that I love the essence of this title. Having started my career in customer support, I have always held onto the roots that I am serving my customers in what ever job I do. And who my customer is can be very broad. I think of my team as my customers. If I don’t help them, I have failed my customer.

I just don’t like the title itself. Servant is tied up in centuries of toil and oppression. Am I the team’s serf? Do I polish their shoes and lay out their best coat for the evening meal? And then the word Leader has its own issues.  As I touched on above, it has connotations of being “in charge” when the reality of this role not about being “in charge,” it’s about empowering.

Agent of Change (Change Agent): “Secret agent man, secret agent man…” Other than the obvious need for another gratuitous joke, this is a term we need to tackle as Change Agent has become a common term now. But what does it mean? I saw a great comic that had a person and death. The person said “Oh, no, it’s the Angel of Death.” To which Death replies “I ‘ve changed my name to Agent of Change.”

I don’t know, “change agent” just seems a bit too disruptive. It tends to  make me think of a less flattering term that I’ve been called in the past (for polite audiences we’ll call this term “Fecal Aggregator”). Change agent implies that things need to change, when sometimes you just need to tweak or adjust. To grab onto the Lean Startup parlance, change agent would seem to always imply “pivot” when sometimes you need to “persevere.”

Sweet suffering succotash! Where does that leave us? 

Yes, finding a name for what we do isn’t as easy as it looks. In fact I don’t have the answer (Put the slings and arrows away). What I do have is the next step in the exploration.

Of course if you’re reading this, you know I’ve styled myself as “The Gorilla Coach.” It works only because of the web site and the blog I’ve created over the last few years. Because of Hogarth, I have a great conversation starter when I answer people’s “what do you do” question with “I’m a Gorilla Talker.”

Thing is, I don’t think Gorilla Talker is something that will work on broad scale. For the limited nature of myself and this blog, it works. When coaching people, it works. When talking to someone in the 55,000 person company that is my day job, it kind of falls a little flat.

So…

Catalyst Agent / Catalyst Coordinator / Catalyst Coach:

The word Catalyst has some interesting definitions. Two, in particular, stands out to me.

  • “something that causes activity between two or more persons or forces without itself being affected.”
  • “a person whose talk, enthusiasm, or energy causes others to be more friendly, enthusiastic, or energetic.”

“Without itself being affected”: I like this! For one it implies I’m not using myself up. Too many projects have I poured my heart and soul into, only to be left sorely wanting in the end (or laid off in one case, despite the project being a complete success).  For a another, it means I’m not the focus. I’m helping others, not directing others.

“a person whose talk…”: I so want to be this person. That just sounds like the coolest job description in the world.

“What do you do?”

“I cause others to be friendly and enthusiastic.” It reminds me of a Manager Tools quote (which I shall now proceed to butcher) that goes something like “I’ll trade 90% expertise and 10% enthusiasm for 90% enthusiasm and 10% expertise any day.” If I can bring the best out of the team, company, project or product, then I’ve had a great day.

I just don’t know if I’m an Agent, Coordinator or a Coach. Should I be using a spy camera, holding a clip board or blowing a whistle? One thing I do know, my Twitter ID no longer fits me. So with a nod of thanks to the old, I welcome in JBC_GC as my new handle.

 

What do you think of being a Catalyst?

 

Note: All comments are moderated.

The Gorilla Manager’s Survival Guide to Going Agile

“What do you mean I have to wait until the end of the sprint for a report?”

John gave a nod. “Uh huh, when we do the Sprint Review we’ll be have the Feature burn down charts, as well as demos of what’s been built and a report on any technical impediments.”

“But that’s not until the end of next week, I need to brief the VP on where Project Myrmidon stands.”

John looked truly apologetic. “I don’t have anything to report until the sprint is over. You’ve got the reports for the last two sprints and you know what we committed to for this sprint. Until we’re done, I can’t compile the external report. I’d just being making up a report right now, is that what you want?”

I sighed. “No, of course not.” In reality I did want him to make something up. I didn’t want to tell the VP he had to wait another week and a half to get his status report. The VP was scary and I didn’t like explaining to him why he had to wait for anything, even if it was the way the process worked. He was the kind of guy who didn’t want to wait for anything. He would say jump and expected you to phone him from orbit to ask if that was a high enough jump.

“Need anything else?” John’s question cut into my self misery. He was standing patiently in front of my desk. When I looked up at him he said, “Remember, I need to leave early today?”

I waved at him, “Oh, right. Go ahead.” John left me alone with my thoughts. This was the fourth time in two weeks he’s left early. I wondered if anything is wrong.

“He’s taking a Community Emergency Response training class. He wants to be more active in the community.” Hogarth’s deep voice cut through my thoughts and derailed the train I’d been on. The gorilla lumbered into the room, pausing only briefly to snap a branch off my fichus before he continued on to perch in the sun drenched window ledge.

“How do you know that?” I asked.

Hogarth shook his head, “Gorilla secret. Besides you’d know to if you were paying as much attention to your team as you do to your precious status reports.”

I glared at Hogarth. “What do you mean? I see my people every day. I know what’s going on with every project and where all the risks are. How can you say I’m not paying attention?” I waved out the door, “Heck the real problem is this damned agile roll out. Ever since it got going I have no idea what’s going on. Jake and I were just complaining about it over lunch. We don’t have the same control we used to, it’s driving us mad.”

“And yet you don’t know that Molly is engaged, Max at war with IT and John was taking CERT training.”

I blinked at Hogarth. “You mean I, like, have to talk to them ?” I felt a cold shudder run down my spine at the very thought of it.

Hogarth pointed the denuded fichus branch in my direction. “Let me ask you this. What reports to you, projects or people ?”

I stared at him like he’d just grown a second head. “What kind of question is that? Of course I have people reporting to me…” I closed my mouth with a snap.

“Oh…”

 

Good Managers make for Good Agile

Management has been the butt of jokes, derision and scorn pretty much since some Mesopotamian chieftain delegated a cattle raid to his incompetent son while briefing his best warrior to keep his son out of danger and really get the job done. For the butt of all the jokes it has been, Management has also been where many of the worlds greatest leaders have risen from. The Duke of Marlborough, the Duke of Wellington, General/ President Charles de Gaulle and General/President Dwight Eisenhower all came out of “middle management” positions and went on to help change the face of the world for their time.

Whether you love or hate management, whether you think agile/ lean will do away with management, the reality is right now management is still a pervasive part of our world. This means some fairly important things.

– Adoption of new ways of doing business is going to be a lot more successful with management support.
– Managers need to learn how to work in the agile/lean world.
– The previous two bullets are inexorably linked together.

In short, managers need to learn how to work with their people again. It is through helping the team that we will all succeed. Stop focusing on the work and focus on the people doing the work. Through this can managers become a key to making a better world.

Psst… That was the passionate call to action part.

Okay, great speech. Rah, rah, rah. But speeches don’t make change.

No, no they don’t. Which means you actually have to do something.

And now for the practical tools to rise to the call.

Enter Manager Tools
Manger Tools is a website, a series of podcasts and a very dedicated group of people. When I look back on how I made the shift from drone worker to change agent and leader I can point to two defining moments. One was taking a CSM course and finally “getting” agile. The other was discovering the Manager Tools podcasts.

Focused on the principles of being effective and giving actionable advice, the Manager Tools podcasts have helped me put my career on track, to be a better manager and I think to be a better person. The principles and lessons of Manager Tools helped to form my own personal belief that if you help individuals be more effective, they will help make a better team. A better team makes for a better project and a better project makes for a better product. Better products will lead to better businesses and I businesses built on these foundations will help lead us to a better world.

Now with over 500 podcasts, years of blog posts, and a huge community forum it can be daunting to know where to start. Fortunately, Manager Tools has this covered. I also have some additional MT podcasts that I highly recommend as critical must listens.

The Manager Tools Trinity:
In true Douglas Adams fashion, the trinity is made up of four components. It really did start out as a trinity at one time. Coaching became part of the mix a few years back and I think these days the people at Manager Tools tend to refer to this as the “basics.” One thing basic about them, is how basic it is to pick them up and start using them. For ease of listening, Manager Tools has bundled around 20 podcasts into a special “Manager Tools Basic” feed. It contains their core starting points, including the Trinity (all four parts).

 

One on Ones: Two key secrets sauces at play here. 1- Meeting with your directs once a week, like clockwork. If there is a conflict, reschedule. Do everything you can to hold it. 2- The format is ten, ten, ten. The first ten minutes is the direct talking about whatever they want. The second ten is the manager asking questions he wants answers to. The last ten minutes are to future development. Project Managers- You can use O3s as well. It just takes a couple of minor changes to make it a perfect meeting for working with your project team.

The Feedback Model: The Manager Tool’s Feedback is a lot like a one shot agile retrospective. It allows the manager to identify behaviors (good and bad) and provide a response to that behaviors impact. The most powerful part of the Feedback Model is it doesn’t look to correct what has happened. Like a good retrospective, feedback is looking forward to how things can be done better in the future. Encouragement, not punishment. Project Managers- There is a modified version of this that can work with your project team.

Delegating: We’re terrible at delegating. We don’t do it well. We often delegate the wrong things. We often (very often) don’t let go when we delegate. In short, we end up strung out over a massive string of responsibilities and create all sorts of problems, not the least of which is being a single point of failure. Let us not forget the great Dilbert wisdom of “If you make yourself irreplaceable you will never get promoted.”

Coaching: Yes, that’s right, managers should be coaches to the people on their teams. Mark Hortsman, of Manager Tools, says that one of the greatest signs of a successful manager is that he gets his people promoted. Helping your team grow, learn and prosper is a vital part to being a good manager. And like good coaches, the goal is not to lead or drive them there, it is to make the possibilities possible.

Jump Starting Internal Customer Relationships : This two part podcast is a must listen for anyone joining a new company, new department or new project. This is one of my first go to actions when brought in on a failing project. Few would argue against syncing up with your stakeholders. The Internal Customer Interview process takes this to the next level by giving you a standardized format and set of questions to ask all your stakeholders. Through the repetition of the same questions you create quantitative view of the situation.

The DISC Model in action: DISC is a quadrant based behavioral model. Having used it for several years now I can attest to it being a model that actually works as opposed to being a money maker for “specialists” who come in to “fix” your organization. You can get a full assessment online for about $30. Manager Tools has over thirty podcasts devoted to interacting with people based on the DISC system. Hands down this has been one of the most valuable tools I’ve picked up from Manager-Tools.

 

In conclusion, this is one series of podcasts that is worth going back to episode one and listening to them all. It didn’t just help my career, it gave it purpose.

Better people, better projects, better world.

The Agreeable Gorilla: the power of "And"

But we can’t do that.”

Not my best opening line, but Jake had caught me unaware. I tried again. “Look, using the Saskatchewan office to do the testing is a great idea, but it won’t work because we haven’t set up any network infrastructure with them.”
Jake gave a shrug. “Well we just need to get that set up then.”
I nodded, “we could, but that means working with IT on prioritization. You know how much fun that is.”
Jake asked, “Isn’t this project the key corporate goal for the year? We just need to explain that to IT, right?”
“Yes it is. We absolutely can explain this to IT, but I don’t think it will help much. They’ve already planned out their infrastructure work for the next four quarters.” I don’t think Jack was getting just how hard what he wanted to do was. The number of hoops we (I’d) have to jump through was staggering.
“Okay, I understand.” Jake was staying remarkably relaxed through all this. “We can still make the request though, right?”
I gave a shrug, “Sure we can, but they won’t say yes.”  Jake nodded but kept silent. “Okay, Saskatchewan is off the table, any other ideas?” I looked around the table hopefully but no one said anything. Sigh it was going to be a long meeting.
And  why do you think there are no more ideas?”
Sigh, the only thing worse than a long meeting, was a long meeting with Hogarth kibitzing at me. “I don’t know  that. Ask the engineers, they’re supposed to be the brilliant ones.”
And didn’t you just ask them?”
“Yes, but they’re sulking because their pet idea didn’t fly.”
“They are disappointed, I agree. And do you think your negative response might have contributed to that?”
Sigh, “Yes I suppose it could have, but you know how unlikely IT would be to agree.”
“Certainly, IT has been a bit rigid of late, and if you don’t ask, you will never know, right?”
Sigh, “Yeah, you’re right.”
Hogarth nodded, “Isn’t it so much easier when your not being butted to death?”
Blink, blink… But, but, butAnd, “Oh my.”
The power of “But”
Have you ever stopped to wonder at the power of this simple little conjunction? With three simple letters you can entirely negate everything that came before it and utterly replace it with what ever you say next.
“Certainly it looks like a beautiful day, but it’s nighttime right now with no moon so I can’t see a thing.”
See the power? If alchemists could harness the power of the mighty “but” then surely they would learn the secrets of turning lead into gold. After all, we all know that “but” really stands for “Behold the underlying truth!”
This one little word has the power to destroy communication.
And I believe that communication is one of the cornerstones to any team. Good communication will make the team better. Bad communication can completely ruin a project. “When you said blanco I thought you said you wanted the walls painted black. I didn’t know blanco meant white.”
Good communication also relies on collaboration. Nothing breaks a collaborative environment faster than a lack of trust. And how much are you going to trust the guy who keeps shooting down your ideas? “That’s a great idea, but I don’t think it will be practical to implement.”
Are you a but-head? Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Go to your next meeting and listen to everything you say. Every time you say “but” make a hash mark. You may find yourself very surprised. Now have a friend do this exercise for you. Odds are, there will be even more hash marks. We are so ingrained in the use of the word that we don’t even hear ourselves saying it. I’ve been aware of the dangers of this word for years, and I still catch myself going to this word at least three times a day. 

The power of “And”

Let us take in contrast the power of the lowly “and
“We could go to the beach, and after that grab a bite to eat.”
“I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”
“That sounds like a good way to boost DB performance, and if we use pair programing we can reduce bug count also.”
It is simply amazing how much more open your communication becomes by substituting one three letter word for another. You take a conversation from a conflict, to a collaboration. From an either/or decision point to a “cake and eat it too” cooperation. 
Which do you think is more positive?:
“We were going to go to the movies, but we decided on going to dinner instead.” – This makes it sound like a bad thing.
“We were going to go to the movies, and we decided on going to dinner instead.” – Was there conflict?
Simple Team Exercise: Try this simple and fun exercise. It’s called the “Yes, and” story game and actors use it a lot for practicing improvisational theatre. Seat the team in a circle. Tell everyone you are going to tell a story together. The rules are simple. The first person says one to four sentences of a story. Then they stop and hand it to the person to their right (or left, but pick one direction and keep going that way). The next person continues the story. Only they have to start their story by saying “Yes, and.” They then continue the story from there for one to four sentences before handing it off to the next person who starts with “Yes, and.”
We have the power to change communication. With a simple substitution we topple even the biggest gorilla in the room.
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Talker
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email, jbancroftconnors@gmail.com
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP
A Month Passes Addendum: I’ve spent the last month paying attention to the use of “but” around me. I’m absolutely amazed at how common the word has become. In one recent coaching session, my client used “but” two times in a “sentence,” creating a very conflict laden run-on sentence. I was editing some writing and found no less than three “buts” in one short paragraph. The writer had meant it to show how flexible something was, only the end result was to create a series of conflicts of what something could do. Reminded me of the old Ginsu steak knife commercials, “but wait there’s more!” Are you a steak knife or a can opener? Make up your mind!
And I noticed another word, that is insidiously creeping up to supplant “but” while being no less controversial. When someone says “Actually, it’s white, not black” do you have the urge to smile and agree or reach out and smack the offending words from the person’s mouth?
There is enough conflict in the world without adding to it with the use of such ineffective words. So take the pledge with me. “I will actually make an effort not to say but.”