Easy in theory, difficult in practice

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My musings on project management, project portfolio management and change management. I'm a firm believer that a pragmatic approach to organizational change that addresses process & technology, but primarily, people will maximize chances for success. This blog contains articles which I've previously written and published as well as new content.

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Six reasons to not punt kickoff meetings

Justify yourself!

Projects are like springs…

How effective are your agile ceremonies?

“Medium” is another way of saying “Don’t make me choose”

Improving organizational culture through retrospective recognition

After observing the frenzied shoppers competing with one another at Black Friday sales this week, one might be forgiven for forgetting that Thanksgiving was originally about expressing gratitude.

The Scrum Guide doesn't specifically identify expressions of appreciation as a key ingredient of sprint retrospectives, but it does list activities which can incorporate appreciation such as the inspection of team member interactions and the role of the Scrum Master in encouraging the team to not only be more effective but to also have a more enjoyable time in the next sprint.

Retrospective facilitators often encourage participants to identify what went well or what they liked. This provides a good opportunity for team members to appreciate the efforts of others during the past sprint in a genuine, heartfelt manner.

Similar to identifying opportunities for improvement, team members should not only recognize big accomplishments but also small ones which can add up over time. We are quick to recognize a team member who dropped what they were doing to help us out for a couple of hours on a really tricky issue, but how about that team member who took us out for a coffee because they happened to notice that we seemed to be particularly stressed on a given day?

Just as with providing constructive feedback, we shouldn't wait for an upcoming retrospective to recognize one another, but this ceremony provides a good opportunity to provide belated thanks to those whose efforts made a difference over the past sprint. A Scrum Master might introduce this practice in one retrospective using chocolates or some other small gift to be given by team members to those whom they wish to recognize. In subsequent retrospectives, the team can identify novel ways to do this to keep the practice fresh.

A recent Washington Post article described how kindness can be contagious.

Anyone who has participated in or initiated a "pay it forward" chain would likely agree with the article's author. When someone verbally appreciates what we do, we feel an urge to do likewise. Expressing positive sentiments to one another on a regular basis might incrementally improve culture within our teams, our departments and eventually our overall organization.

Posted on: November 25, 2018 07:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Change requests should be read like tea leaves to help future projects!

Change requests are similar to many project management artifacts in that significant effort is spent over the lifetime of a project in creating them and getting them approved, but they are rarely looked at once a project is over.

This is a shame, since while the primary purpose of a change request is to formalize changes to one or more of a project’s approved constraints or baselines,  they can also be a valuable source of knowledge beyond the lifetime of the project.

Some examples of these benefits include:

  • During the final harvest of lessons to be learned at project closeout, change requests could be reviewed to identify change triggers that could have been avoided due to better planning, requirements gathering or stakeholder participation.
  • They provide a source of knowledge for the impact analysis or effort estimation on risks, issues and changes for future projects.  While their usage cannot be a substitute for knowledgeable subject matter experts, they can act as a reasonable substitute if these SMEs are not available in a timely fashion.
  • When change requests are reviewed across a portfolio of projects at regular intervals, they can help to identify chronic or systemic issues.  For example, if the majority of change requests are not scope related, but are instead being used to formally approve delays to project end dates, analysis could be done to determine whether there is a common cause for these delays such as poor resource capacity planning, ineffective work intake or prioritization, or overly optimistic effort estimation.
  • They can be used by project managers who are new to the organization to understand how projects are “really” managed as well as to help gain insights into the attitudes or personalities of specific sponsors.

Change requests are the rats of the project management world – we usually go out of our way to avoid them, but just as rats are a critical input into development of future lifesaving drugs, change requests can be used to improve the delivery of future projects!

(Note: No change requests were harmed in the original publication of this article in January 2013 on kbondale.wordpress.com)

Posted on: November 21, 2018 06:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

What are the tipping points for your agile transformation?

Categories: Agile, Change Management

I've frequently said that agile transformations are marathons and not sprints. But when someone runs a marathon there are mile markers to understand how far they've come and to help them get their second (or third or fourth) wind.

While there is no single model for how a company will progress through its agile transformation, it is a good idea for transformation teams to proactively identify tipping points where previously unique outcomes or behaviors have become commonplace. While such milestones won't help them forecast how much longer it might take to reach their ultimate goals, it can provide a leadership team with proof that things are continuing to move in the right direction. Such evidence is critical if there is to be sustained commitment and investment in the transformation.

This list is not exhaustive nor is it in chronological order. Depending on what the starting point is for the organization and where the transformation team chooses to focus their efforts, there may be additional milestones and the sequence of when those are accomplished will vary.

  • Team social pressure encourages appropriate agile behaviors without the need for sustained external coaching
  • Delivery frequency matches stakeholders' change appetite
  • Zero defects
  • Empowered Product Owners with sufficient capacity, capability, knowledge and influence
  • Team allocation shifts from maximizing utilization to maximizing value delivered
  • You don't hear team members say "the business" anymore (we are all "the business"!)
  • Pivots in product or solution direction are praised, not punished
  • Teams provide accurate and current updates to information radiators and stakeholders effectively pull information from those radiators
  • There is NO one size fits all for ceremonies, practices or tool
  • Overtime and weekend work is the exception not the rule
  • Hiring practices and performance measurement systems emphasize the "how" as much as the "what"

What would you add to this list?

Posted on: November 04, 2018 07:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Change resiliency is a muscle

Resiliency is the ability of an object to return to its original form or position after being affected by a force.  Change resiliency represents the ability of an organization or individual to bounce back after experiencing change.

Why is this an important ability to possess? 

The cliché about change being the only constant applies to all industries, hence organizations with low change resilience are unable to adopt change at the pace required for them to remain competitive.

Some writers have used the analogy of a spring to describe this attribute – if you stretch it too far, it won’t bounce back, and if you don’t stretch it all, it will rust and also be unable to bounce back when pulled.

I prefer to use the analogy of a muscle.

A muscle needs to be fed, given the time to rest, but also needs to be stressed to the point of exhaustion and fatigue so that growth happens.

How do we know if we are feeding change resiliency well?

Check employee engagement survey feedback.  If staff are indicating that they don’t feel engaged and believe that there is insufficient recognition of their efforts, the muscle is likely not receiving the nutrition required.  Regular, right-sized recognition, coaching for development (and not just performance), and an emphasis on good quality talent management can help.

What about rest?

Ask any professional athlete what happens if they push themselves too hard for too long and they’ll tell you the same thing – their performance drops dramatically.  It’s the same with change resilience. If staff experience a volley of changes with very little breathing room between to find their equilibrium, they will soon experience change fatigue and the good will which may have been built through well managed changes of the past will be lost.

So why do we need stress?

Although continuous change results in change fatigue, minimal change can reinforce a desire to maintain the status quo such that when a large change occurs, staff are unable to adapt in an agile manner. This is why it is good to have staff experience changes of different sizes and impacts on a somewhat regular basis such that their ability to cope becomes more dynamic.

Like all muscles, when properly treated, change resilience grows. Neglect it and you run the polar extremes of atrophy or fatigue.

(Note: Publishing this article in September 2014 on kbondale.wordpress.com boosted my change resiliency!)

Posted on: September 26, 2018 06:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Helping functional managers through an agile transformation

A lot has been written about the challenges caused by functional managers when their company undergoes an agile transformation. But with this emphasis on what they shouldn't be doing, not as much gets published about the specific activities we should be doing to help them through the change.

Here are four questions to ask when considering this key role.

Are they learning?

To support a change you need to understand the change. Delivering training focused specifically on what functional managers need to know about agile which includes scenario-based learning to understand what sorts of behavior changes are expected when faced with common situations will help. But it is also important to identify which managers have already shown evidence of having embraced an agile mindset and recruit them to help support their peers who will have a harder time with the transition. In the absence of such internal support, coaches could be hired to create a critical mass of change advocates among middle management.

What are they measured on and what are they measuring?

Metrics aren't the sole driver of behavior but they do draw a lot of focus. As Tony Robbins would say, "Where focus goes, energy flows". If we haven't updated performance measures for functional managers and their staff, it will be much harder to encourage them to change. If existing metrics are focused on how well team members and their managers achieved certain objectives but didn't also consider how those objectives were achieved, deadlines and budgets will continue to dominate rather than collaboration and engagement. These measures need to be augmented with ones specifically assessing stakeholder and team member satisfaction to understand whether the "how" was as good as the "what".

Who are they hiring?

I've written previously about the importance of adjusting job descriptions and hiring criteria but it is equally important to train functional managers on how to leverage these changes. If the job profile calls for servant-leadership but all the functional manager asks about is what a candidate accomplished, the risk of hiring people who are not aligned with the new way of working will persist. Pairing functional managers with properly trained HR staff for panel interviews is one way to address this.

How are they supporting their staff?

Team members will be experiencing many of the same fears and doubts that their manager has about the transformation so it is important that functional managers meet regularly in both one-on-one and team settings to address these concerns. Managers play a critical role in helping their staff gain the confidence to take their first baby steps towards self-organizing and becoming T-skilled. To do this, managers must cultivate a psychologically safe environment within their teams so that their team members feel safe about expressing themselves and taking chances both in the project roles and in their functional ones.

Buy-in from middle management is necessary for any successful organization change, and even though you might think that the sandwich approach of committed senior leadership and enthusiastic front line staff squeezing out compliance, actively guiding and supporting functional managers will be essential to a sustainable transformation.

Posted on: September 16, 2018 06:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)
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