The Improvement Trio

Esther has an M.A. in Organizational Leadership, is the author of over 100 articles, and co-author of "Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great" and "Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management". She’s a founder of the AYE Conference, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Agile Alliance. www.estherderby.com.

When I ask managers “Do you want the people and teams in your organization to improve?”, the answer is always an emphatic “Yes!” But when I observe what really happens, sometimes I see a different picture. Without meaning to, managers take actions that have the opposite result.

For example, development manager Tom sought to improve quality by reducing the number of defects released to customers. He knew that waiting until an end-game test phase wasn’t the answer. He encouraged programmer testing throughout development. Tom thought a little friendly competition would help make the effort fun. He made a big poster to track who found the most bugs using unit testing. The programmers had fun finding bugs with their unit tests; they even found some bugs they hadn’t introduced themselves to foil the silly game. (I’ll bet you saw this one coming.)

Sarah, a director of engineering, believed in honing performance through feedback. Each week, every team member filled out an anonymous survey identifying improvement needs. Once a month, managers reviewed the survey results. Then, they decided what each team would improve and how they would go about it. After a half-year of the improvement program, Sarah was dismayed that results hadn’t improved--but morale had tumbled.

Tom and Sarah believed their actions would lead to …

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"More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly."

- Woody Allen

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