Zombie Culture

How do you refer to your company or team culture?  Do you refer to yourself and your immediate team as "we" or "us" and to your company or extended team as "they" or "them"?  If you do, do you think this is a problem?  I do. For arguments sake, let's refer to you as a non-zombie and we'll refer to your extended team or company as the potential zombies.

Though it was fun back in the 5th grade to play a game of tug of war with your classmates, it's not so cool when you're working in a corporate environment.  Projects can be challenging enough.  You shouldn't have to be distracted by other groups who don't have the same high level goals or values as yourself.  You should be working as a team in order to be successful.  But, does your team or company have clearly defined goals or values?  I'll ask it a different way.  Does your team or company have them written down; you know what they are; and you know what they mean?  If not, you and your group are at risk of being part of the zombie culture.

Zombie culture is a lot more common than you might think.  Zombies have no specific goals, other than to eat your brain.  They're not trying to make you a zombie.  Becoming a zombie is merely a byproduct to having been bitten by the undead.  They really don't care.

I've said before, don't do something unless it's applicable to meeting a goal.  But I bet you're asking yourself right about now, "Derek, if my coworker doesn't smell like rotting flesh or isn't squatting in a corner knawing on a foot, how do I know they are a zombie?"  I've compiled a list of a few indicators of zombie culture.

Zombie Culture Indicators

  • Hosts meetings...long meetings... several of them...with no agenda... with several invitees.
  • Stops by your desk a lot to ask what'cha doin'?
  • Withholds information for personal gain
  • Just shows up for work and thinks they are doing you a favor
  • Farts (Actually, thinking of a farting zombie made me laugh so I thought I would add it)
  • Uses the "cc" email feature by default, when the recipient has nothing to do with the conversation
  • Uses the "reply-all" email feature to continue conversations that don't pertain to the group
  • Is disrespectful
  • Is untrustworthy (with throw you under a bus)
  • Does not lead by example
  • Tries to impress everyone by how smart they are. (that's a more advanced zombie type)

I can go on and on but I really don't like negative posts.  Let's turn this around.  What values can you and your team have that will have zombies avoiding you like the perfume department of the local Macy's department store?

Values to Repel Zombie Culture

  • Deliver WOW Through Service
  • Embrace and Drive Change
  • Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  • Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  • Pursue Growth and Learning
  • Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  • Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  • Do More With Less
  • Be Passionate and Determined
  • Expect to deliver the extraordinary
  • Treat others with respect
  • Promote collaboration and teamwork
  • Encourage creativity and risk-taking
  • Make and meet our commitments
  • Trust and support one another
  • Be Humble

I'm going to admit, I didn't think up those awesome zombie-repelling values.  I got them from Zappos and VersionOne. I'm going to go out on a limb and say I don't think either of those organizations have zombie cultures.  Can you say the same for yours?

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Outdated Success Criteria

I know this is going to probably get me some "hate" comments.  It seems like if I write about anything but a zombie, that's what happens. But I do like to write about topics that make people stop and think. Think of this post a bridge between a historical project management and futuristic project management.  Let's think about success in both an objective and subjective way.

I'm seeing more and more topics about the measurement of success.  Geoff Mattie just wrote a post over at the PMI Voices site, titled Can Agile Conquer the Physics of the Triple Constraint?

Geoff refers to Triple Constraint and states

The "iron triangle" as some refer to it, defines three pillars: cost, scope and time. It asserts that you have to prioritize the three with an understanding that trying to have all of them at the same time compromises quality.

I applaud Geoff in his zealousness and hope this works for him and hit customers.  Being his blog post is on the PMI website, I want to point out the the iron triangle is not in the PMBOK.  Rather, on page 6, it states

Managing a project typically includes... balancing the competing project constraints including, but not limited to Scope, Quality, Schedule, Budget, Resources, and Risk.

I remember a few years back, when taking the PMP exam, I had a question about typical project constraints.  The answer was not limited to 3 or even 4 "pillars".  So, where am I going with this?

I'm curious why people continue to measure the success of a project, merely on the basis of an iron triangle.  I think this concept is outdated and perhaps created by a project manager to help an executive understand project management at a 100,000 foot view.  I am also curious why many continue to use the Chaos report, (which leverages triple constraint) as the de facto report of industry success or failure.  I am not debating that it has historical significance.  But, I am questioning if it should be the way of measuring project success.

Jeff Sutherland has a blog post about the happiness metric. In his post, he mentions Tony Hsieh of Zappos.  I recently read the book Delivering Happiness by the Zappos CEO.  Again, what's my point?  Perhaps the Chaos report should introduce happiness or customer satisfaction at part of its success criteria.

Too subjective you think?  I think not!

I recently saw a presentation by Sanjiv Augustine as part of the VersionOne AgileLive Webinar Series

One of the concepts presented in Sanjiv's presentation was a NPS (Net Promoter Score) metric.  Think of it as a customer satisfaction or "happiness" metric.

NPS is based on the fundamental perspective that every company's customers can be divided into three categories: Detractors, Passives, and Promoters. By asking one simple question — How likely are you to recommend [Company X] to a colleague or friend? — you can track these groups and get a clear measure of company performance through its customers' eyes.

So, what is the Zappos NPS?  In a YouTube video of Tony Hsieh at the NPS Conference  (1-26-09), Tony said Zappos offered random email surveys that resulted in an 83% NPS and phone surveys resulted in a 90% NPS.  Though they lose money on some of their customers, they are an overwhelming success.

Do you believe the Standish Group Chaos Report should include NPS to define success? Are the original classifications outdated?

Random Act of Kindness

My family and I figured we'd do something a little different this last weekend and went to see ICE! 2010 at the Gaylord National Resort.  But, this post is not about Dr. Seuss or Ice or the resort.  This is about a random act of kindness. The thought is fresh in my mind, mainly because I just finishing Delivering Happiness, the book by Tony Hsieh of Zappos. One of the passages referred to delivering random acts of happiness, which was very similar to acts "of kindness" from the book and movie Pay it forward.

So, what happened?

With a little bit of time to spare, before going to the ICE attraction, my son and I were going to ride a small train ride inside the Gaylord Hotel.  As we stood in line, we happily chatted about getting to go on this ride.  When we got to the front of the line, the attendent asked for our tokens.  Tokens?  Nobody said anything about tokens!  She pointed to a small machine off in the distance.  We were supposed to go see ICE! in about 20 minutes so I knew our schedule was getting pretty tight.  My son and I ran over to the machine.  On the machine was the the message

Tokens $2.  Machine takes $1 or $5 bills.  NO CHANGE

I looked in my wallet and found two $1 bills and some $20's.  I thought for a second and then realized we were screwed.  I looked into his eyes and broke the news to him.

Buddy, we're going to have to come back.  I only have enough for you to ride.  I can't go with you.  Do you want to ride the train by yourself?

I saw his eyes well up as he began to shake his head.  "No, Daddy, I want you to go on the train with me!"

I responded that I was sorry but we'd have to come back after I got some change.  Perhaps we could ride the train later, after the exhibit, if there was time.  I spent the next 15 seconds trying to explain to my son that the machine did not take $20 bills.  A woman then walked up to me, reached into her purse, and handed me two $1 bills.

You two go have a fun train ride.

My son and I both said thank you to her and I added I didn't have change.

Don't worry she said, go have a good time.

So, off we went and had a good time.  I look forward to paying it forward.

(Zombie) Customer Service

I'm currently enjoying Delivering Happiness, the book by Tony Hsieh of Zappos.  In the book, his approach to customer service reminds me a lot of what Seth Godin wrote about in his book, Linchpin.  For those looking to map this to an activity in the PMBOK, I see this falling under Manage Stakeholder Expectations (Executing and Communications).

In any case, I can relate to my intent to communicate directly to people as people, not as mere customers, vendors, or colleagues.  Every day, I see people act as though they have no free will to make a decision.  They ignore what is right or wrong.  They act like they need permission to be honest and humble. They act like...wait for it...zombies!  Yes, zombies!

I recently sat in a meeting and heard how the vendor screwed up.  I'm talking completely-their-fault nobody-else-to-blame screwed up.  When confronted by the customer, their reaction was "I'm sorry you feel that way about [this].  I respect how you feel."

My reaction?  [expletive] YOU, man! I don't care if you respect how I feel or not.  And don't try to feed me that Dr. Phil line about me owning my own feelings!  What I want to hear you say is "I'm sorry we screwed up.  I will do whatever I can to make this right."

Another scenario that comes to mind was my wife contacting a credit card company about something.  The customer service rep was painfully unprepared to talk to a human being.  They could not deviate from a script one word without needed to talk to a supervisor.

Thank you for calling.  We appreciate your business.  Can we interest you in buying our credit protection plan? [my wife complaining] Oh, I'm sorry, can I put you on hold while I discuss this with my supervisor? [5 minutes]

People, you want to provide great customer service?  Empower your customer service representatives.  Vendors, you want to provide great customer service? Empower your teams to admit when they screwed up and offer to fix it, not just cover it up.

I've always seen the best performance from my teams, when they knew what we needed to do but were not being told how they needed to do it.  I believed they would make the right choices for us all to reach our goals.  Those of you in the Agile community get this already.  Empower the team and communicate with everyone as much as possible.  Don't just communicate.  Talk to them.

So, as I step down off my rant soapbox, I want you to take a look at the Zappos core values (listed below). They actually remind me of the 4 values, 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto or Agile community as a whole.

Zappos core values

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

If you had 10 core values for your project or team, how would you refine this list?

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