Glass Half Full

glass half full

glass half fullThis morning, I tried to explain a very important concept to my son. I filled a glass with water to the half-way point. I then asked him if the glass was half empty or half full.

This all came about because he was playing a video game. He placed fourth out of ten and the message better luck next time! appeared on the screen. I could hear him from the other room. That’s so rude!

I asked him what the problem was and he read the message with a negative tone. I corrected him and said people misunderstand stuff like this all of the time. This is why we talk with each other, I explained. If you can’t confirm what they meant, you need to assume they meant it in a positive way. Games are rarely sarcastic.

I know there are people out there who will always be looking for the cloud in the silver lining.
Don’t be one of them.

Image Source: Pictofigo

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Protective Collaboration


I was recently asked my opinion about collaboration within an organization.  Being I just completed an organizational assessment for a client, I have a fresh perspective of the topic.

I was specifically asked:

“Is it healthy for Scrum teams to work in a bubble protected from the business around them? Should collaboration go beyond the team?”

There are two common threads that I see time and time again. One, what is the goal? Two, is that goal communicated?  Until these two threads are tied together, you can’t have good collaboration.  I don’t see this being unique to the world of Scrum.  To help illustrate my point, I’ll try to use terms people outside the Scrum community can understand.

Strategic Mission (Goals)

Executive Leadership, in order to lead, needs to communicate the strategic vision of the organization.  Strategic vision translates into strategic mission or long-term goals. Strategic mission should be understood by the entire organization.  If you don’t know the mission, how will you be able to help the organization reach its goals?  From there, the leadership needs to empower people tasked to do the work to figure out how they will accomplish the goals.

Tactical Mission (Goals)

This is where you keep lines of communication open but insert a protective buffer.  If you’re leveraging Scrum, that first buffer is called a Product Owner.  This person understands the strategic mission of the organization and is able to translate it into tactical mission.  You could also refer to this person as an organizational liaison.  This person or group of people don’t need to know all of the answers.  But, they do need to be readily available to answer questions from the team and to reach out to the appropriation organizational subject matter expert(s) when necessary.  The second buffer, when leveraging Scrum, is called the ScrumMaster.  If not leveraging Scrum, they could also be known as a process manager.  This person understands organizational process on a team level and is there to ensure the team consistently follows that process.  They also work to keep those who do not aid in tactical execution from derailing the team from getting work down.

Collaborative Team

It’s time for me to answer the first direct question. Is it healthy for Scrum teams to work in a bubble protected from the business around them?  Though I do believe the team should be protected from the business directly trying to change their tactical priorities, you should never operate in a vacuum. If people from within the organization do try to change team short-term priorities, the process manager (ScrumMaster) should be right there to impress upon them the needs of the organization and to respect the agreed upon processes.

Collaborative Organization

The second question was, should collaboration go beyond the team? My short answer is, yes.  Communications is different from collaboration and it needs to flow up and down the organization.  With information flowing freely, I’ve seen good (strategic) ideas become bad ideas overnight.  All it might take is one executive standing in the back of the room during a daily (stand-up) meeting.  Once the appropriate information is presented to the appropriate people, real collaboration can take place.  The entire organization, which includes all cost and profit centers, needs to collaborate to discover the best solutions and work toward common goals.

What do you think?

Did I miss anything?

Say Goodbye to that Expensive Meeting


WowBack in August (2010) I wrote about attending a $17,904 meeting.  It was painful to watch the PMO have a 3 hour meeting every month that seemed to cost so much but deliver so little value.  As a follow-up post, I wrote about the value proposition for the expensive meeting.

I am happy to report that the meeting in question has been cancelled indefinitely.  In one year alone, the cost savings is $214,848.  Wouldn’t you like to have that kind of money added to your budget?  I want to be clear that I’m not being a hater of meetings.  I’m being a hater of waste.  Time and money are precious and I strongly believe we need everyone to communicate more.  But it’s about communicating effectively.  I can facilitate the communication of more strategic information, without saying a word, by using a enterprise level Kanban.  I can facilitate the communication of more tactical information, by having Daily Scrums or Stand-ups.

Though the cancellation was months in the making, I commend those who finally made the difficult (but necessary) choice.  It’s easy to complain about things but accept the status quo.  It’s hard to ask why and then act on it appropriately.

Drawings by Pictofigo


Office of Zombie Personnel Management

You can talk to a zombie but don't expect them to listen

You can talk to a zombie but don't expect them to listenA few days ago, we had a snow storm come through the Washington DC area.  Just a few hours before it hit, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced Federal Employees should depart 2 HOURS earlier than their normal departure time from work.  Unfortunately, if you were anyone in the Washington DC metro area and you left 2 hours earlier, you were screwed!  I heard of people being stuck in traffic for up to 12 hours, trying to get home.  It was a combination of people not using their own brains and OPM not knowing how to react to the weather.  There were a lot of people angry at OPM for making the late call and underestimating the volume of people leaving at the same time (due to the storm).

One issue is the Federal Government has been really slow to adopt telework.  When there was a threat of pandemic flu, they appeared to be paralyzed with fear, at the thought of people actually working from home.  Many of us (contractors) tried to explain we would actually get more work done, if we had the opportunity to telework.  If more people were teleworking, fewer would be out there messing up traffic.  Last year, when the Federal Government shut down for 4 days due to snow, many of us sat at home and did nothing.  It wasn’t by choice, mind you.  We were not authorized to do any work outside the office.

Part of my frustration rests with the fact that in the corporate world, teleworking or having distributed teams is not uncommon.  It’s not perfect but I would say it works.  We’ve figured it out, leveraging a combination of communication tools and approaches.

The other main issue is the lack of practical wisdom or the desire to just take care of people supporting the Federal Government.  I’ve previously quoted the definition of Practical Wisdom as

Have the moral will to make right by people.
Have the moral skill to figure out what doing right means.

As a contractor, for the last 2 days, I’ve been in the office.  If I was not, I won’t be paid.  For the last 2 days, this notice has gone out.

With forecast conditions for [date] highly variable and may include ice, sleet, and freezing rain, concern for safety is paramount. To protect the safety of Federal workers and our community, maintain continuity of operations and assist employees in planning accordingly, OPM has announced for [date], the option for unscheduled leave/telework.

Well, the freezing rain did not come.  Yes, the parking lots yesterday morning were icy.  But, the roads were fine yesterday and they were fine today.  If fact, the forecasted high temperature for today is 54 degrees!

Because OPM announced all Federal workers could either take leave or telework, most did.

Let’s see how much work gets done today.

Like the image? Find it at pictofigo

Plan to Fail


We live at a lake property so we’re pretty far in the sticks.  We have an HOA, which contracts work for snow removal and stuff like that.  Last year we had several snow storms in the Washington DC area.  The HOA was not prepared for several snow storms in succession and we found ourselves stranded for 4 days.  Yes, 4 days!  But, it wasn’t all bad.  After the first storm got us, I reached out the HOA and recommend they keep the community informed of what was happening.  Though we may not see a plow for a day or 2, we would at least know it.  Each time we had a storm, the HOA got better at informing us of what they were doing.

Here we are, a year later.  The forecast was for 6-12 inches of snow.  I was curious if the HOA had refined their communications and snow removal practices from the year before.  I kept thinking to myself.  People don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan.

We certainly did get the snow.  It’s close to 12 inches.  I left the office early to get home before the snow (thunderstorms) arrived.  As the snow stacked higher and higher, we began hearing reports of people abandoning their cars on the roads leading to our house.  (They clearly failed to plan accordingly)  We even saw one of our neighbors get stuck at the bottom of our hill, blocking the plows from getting to our neighborhood.

So, how did the HOA refine their communications process from last year?  Did they fail to plan accordingly?  To the contrary, I feel they did a great job.  They designated community representatives.  We are encouraged to have an open dialog with them.  The HOA did send out emails informing everyone when the plows were going to arrive.  This year they took it one step further, by creating a feedback loop.  When our neighborhood was not plowed, due to the abandoned car, I contacted my community representative.  Though I had to leave a voicemail, she called me back within 30 minutes.  She assured me our neighborhood will be plowed this afternoon.  Without the feedback loop, they would have not known there were any issues.  And so, our HOA process improvement continues.

Communications vs. Customer Satisfaction

Communications Level Customer Satisfaction
0-Way (None) Very Unsatisfied
1-Way (Email distribution) Satisfied
2-Way (Telephone conversation) Very Satisfied

Manipulate or Communicate


I’m always looking for ways to communicate with team members, vendors, and customers.  When trying to understand the range of communications, I recently reassessed what I thought the opposite of communications was.  I no longer believe it is silence. Rather, I believe it is manipulation.

2 Examples:

[1] Buying a Vehicle

You go into an auto dealership. You want to purchase a new vehicle.  You want to pay the lowest price as possible and the dealer wants to make the highest profit possible.  Rather than coming to the table and negotiate based on this mutual understanding, both sides try to remain as silent as possible.  Both sides are trying to manipulate the other, in order maximize the outcome in their favor.

[2] Getting a New Job

You apply for a position with a new company.  You are interviewed and the company believes you are a good fit.  As soon as salary is discussed, the manipulation traditionally begins.  Both sides are trying to manipulate the other, in order maximize the outcome to their respective favor.

How it should be

In the case of the auto dealer, they should be honest about their cost of the vehicle.  They should explain how the dealership and sales person will be paid.  They should ask the buyer what their needs and wants are.  Is it cost or is it the make/model (scope)?  The key here is everyone needs to be honest! I’m not a pessimistic person, but with a (sales) relationship like this, I feel there will always be manipulation involved.

When negotiating salary with a new company, the relationship is different.  Hopefully, both parties want a long term relationship built on honesty.  I propose the applicant tell the potential employer exactly what they are currently being compensated, including benefits and bonuses.  The applicant should explain their motivation for seeking new employment.  Were they being paid too little; Were their benefits too expensive; Was their work/life balance all out of sorts?  Was the previous job just unfulfilling?  The new company should take this into account before making an offer.  They should explain the range of compensation to be offered.  Both sides need to be frank and honest. I recognize this is one of the most uncomfortable conversations you ever have.  That’s why I believe both sides should be honest and over-communicate.

How it applies to a project or program

In the previous two examples, both involved negotiations and communications.  From my perspective, these can all be win-win scenarios if we are honest and over-communicate.  Over the weekend, I participated in a live web interview with Peter Saddington from AgileScout.  I stressed the need for over-communications on projects and gave 3 examples on how to do it.  You can over-communicate by using information radiators, daily stand-up meetings, or by having an open-door policy (with rules) with other meetings.

Information Radiators

Use burn-up, burn-down, kanban, or task boards in both executive work areas and team work areas.  I would recommend displaying enterprise (program) level information where all of the executives can see it.  I would recommend displaying team (project) level information where all the teams can see it.

Short Feedback Loops

Have daily stand-up meetings for each of your teams.  Have daily “scrum-of-scrum” or “team-of-team”  meetings to roll information up to an enterprise level.  There is no excuse for anyone to NOT know what is going on every day.

Open Meeting Policy

For all of your meetings, have some simple rules.  Understand that some people are allowed to talk and some are only allowed to listen.  But, all should be informed.  Now, I recognize not everyone should attend a Retrospective meeting or Executive Board meeting.  But, everyone should know what the outcomes are.

Let’s face it, the enterprise wants to get as much productivity out of its employees as it can, in order to reach its tactical and strategic goals.  In order to do that, you need empowered teams who trust each other.  You need free-flowing communications.  I’ll say it one more time. Be honest and over-communicate.

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