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100 Words on Incentive and Motivation

How do you get people to do what you want? Why not offer an incentive?

The root of the word “incentive” is “to charm” or “to chant.” Do you feel good when somebody is trying to “charm” you into doing something? I don’t. I feel like I’m being manipulated.

Instead of trying to charm people, try to move them. Or, put another way, motivate them. Don’t pull, push, or lure them along with incentives. Instead, move them emotionally. Foster a deep, profound connection between their labor and a greater purpose.

Remember, Incentives (charms) wear off; motivation lasts. Motivate people instead.

Pro Tips for Attending Agile 2016

Agile 2016 is upon us, so I thought I’d take a few moments to share some thoughts for getting the most out of the conference. I’m not going to replace the conference materials, but simply share some complementary perspective.

1. Get to “Popular Sessions” Early

Sessions will get full. If you really, really, really want to see a session, get there early. Just because you used the Sched app to express interest does not guarantee you a seat. Take personal responsibility for being there early.

Lyssa Adkins has facilitated some really rich sessions in the past. But, to make the session a great experience the session attendee count was limited. That left a lot of disappointed people who wanted to participate but were unable to get into the session.

Sometimes room participation is limited by fire code. Esther Derby has powerful insights, and lots of people who want to attend and participate in her sessions. Don’t plan to walk up 5 minutes after the session and expect to get in.

2. Don’t Complain if a Session is Full

The session limits are there to create a safe and valuable experience. Much like WIP limits support delivering value, session capacity helps participants get good value for the sessions. Be kind to the volunteer who might be telling you that the session is full.  If they say the session is full, the session is full. Please thank them and go find another session.

3. Go to the “Undercards”

In boxing, the under-cards are the lesser known fighters. They can be really enjoyable to watch, for any number of reasons. Just as in boxing, some of the lesser known presenters are going to provide tremendous value, new insights, and new perspectives. When they’re famous, you can say “I saw them talk about ____ back at Agile 2016.

4. Check out the Experience Reports track

These sessions are by practitioners, sharing hard-earned wisdom. They have also gone to the effort to create a paper that corresponds to their talk. I suspect you’ll find that these sessions aren’t filled with untested theory. They’re likely to provide insight you might not find elsewhere. Despite not being “big name” folks, the quality of insight I’ve gotten from these session in the past has been quite high. These are 45 minute sessions, so can be rather quick and to the point. And, if you happen to find yourself in a session that’s not providing value for you, it will be over quickly!

5. Don’t Fret

There are a ton of sessions in each time slot. Don’t fret about finding the one perfect session. Pick from the many alternatives.

6. Practice Sustainable Pace

Give yourself permission to skip some sessions. For some folks, going from session-to-session non-stop for the week is too much. Feel free to skip sessions, relax, and perhaps bump into somebody new in the common areas of the conference. Some of the best insights I have had at past events have been from chance encounters and conversations.

7. Give Feedback

The speakers love feedback. In addition to perhaps filling out the official feedback forms, please consider talking with the presenter.

8. Purple Shirts Rock!

Last but not least: thank a volunteer! The fine folks in the purple shirts are there to help the conference run smoothly. Through the volunteer corp, we have quite a number of folks who travel internationally to be part of Agile 2016. They’re volunteering a lot of hours of their time to the conference. Please be kind, and thank them.

Enjoy the conference.

This Cognitive Bias is Hurting Your Company

Imagine using Microsoft Excel to calculate your project’s budget. Now, imagine that you shared your file with another person and when they open it they get a different result than you did. How annoying would that be?

Or, imagine a scenario where you receive different answers from Excel that depended on the last application you had used? Use Photoshop and then Excel, get one answer. Look at your Outlook calendar and use Excel… get a different answer.  That would be awful. If you were unaware that the tool was producing different results, you would likely continue to use it and be surprised when you got problematic results. If you did know that an application behaved this way I think it is safe to say that you would stop using it. A tool like that would be useless. Or would it?

Your brain can anchor its judgement, even when you are not aware that it is happening.

Your brain can anchor its judgement, even when you are not aware that it is happening.

You see, our brains are such a tool. Different people can take the same set of inputs and come to completely different conclusions. Even more interestingly, the way our brains interpret new information can be profoundly influenced by other information that we have recently been exposed to. It’s possible that what is at work here is a cognitive bias called “anchoring.” Anchoring can cause your stakeholders to have unrealistic expectations, your team to have distorted estimates, and your teams to focus on the wrong things.

For this post, we will start with a short definition of anchoring, then share a classic example of anchoring. After that, there are a few examples from the world of software development. The examples will be followed by some research on the topic. Lastly, I’ll share a few ways you can try to combat anchoring.

What is Anchoring?

Anchoring is flaw in the way our brains process information. Our brains do not give equal weight to all the information it receives. We give preference to some information. Anchoring is the name given to the tendency to put too much weight on the first piece of data we receive. The mind attaches itself more strongly to the first piece of information, and doesn’t give equal consideration for all the later pieces of information it receives.

A Classic Example – Car Shopping

I was in search of a car for a teenage driver. While it might have been easier to find a car like the one from the movie Uncle Buck, we thought we’d spare him the embarrassment.  Our quest became finding a car that was safe, mechanically sound, and ideally,  a convertible. Oh, and we wanted to spend $2,500 or less. It wasn’t imperative that we stay with that budget, but it seemed that we ought be able to find a vehicle for that price.  Thus, began our quest.

We scoured the Craigslist posts for weeks. There were many listings that were close to the criteria we were seeking, but the sellers’ “asking price” was higher than our budget. I’d use a couple reference web pages, including the Kelly Blue Book and the North American Dealer Association (NADA) page in an attempt to validate the asking price. Almost everybody was asking more than the industry sites indicated. Some were asking a lot more. But, we know you have to negotiate, right? No matter how much outside information I got, my mind kept telling me that the prospective seller would need a higher amount. They were asking for more. I was anchored on the initial ask, despite having data to indicate that the ask was inappropriately high. It is hard to treat the first price equally, even in light of later information.

Anchoring on Software Teams

The car shopping example is a classic example, but doesn’t directly relate to our professional lives, unless you sell cars for a living. While anchoring can lead you to pay too much for a car, the potential downside for technology teams are orders of magnitude bigger.

1. The Dreaded SWAG

Let’s say the big boss wants a set of features brought to market. From initial high-level discussions, the work seems to be pretty simple, an initial Scientific Wild-Ass Guess (SWAG) of three months comes up during a hallway conversation with a couple folks from the technology side of the business. Everybody gets excited about the new product, and dive in to scoping and planning the work.

As the details unfold, it becomes apparent that the work is more complex than initially envisioned. The team starts to understand that it will be harder to implement, and night not fit as smoothly with he existing application framework that is being used. It starts to feel big… really big.  It starts to feel like the work is going to be three or four times as large as the SWAG  Unfortunately, the initial estimate of three months is going to be weighted more heavily than all the new, refined, information. Sure, the business needs to figure out if it’s still worth the bigger price tag. And, because of anchoring effect, it will be very challenging to reset stakeholder expectations. That initial estimate will be remembered, and it will rear its ugly head for months to come, particularly as the work (most likely) continues to grow.

2. The Story Size

We estimate work on a regular basis. Many teams use story points for estimating the size of  product backlog items There are many ways that assigning story points to backlog items. Some of the estimating methods are profoundly susceptible to anchoring. Here are two estimating patterns that create anchors when assigning story points:

  1. A small fraction of the team estimates the work and then takes it to the team to review and update.
  2. The whole team is involved in estimating the work, but as the work is being discussed, an initial number is voiced and then others are asked for their opinion.

If you do either of those techniques, please stop. No, seriously. Stop!

If you’re interested in learning much more about Story Points, please check out the Story Point articles that Mike Cohn makes available on Mountain Goat Software.

3. The Derailed Retrospective

Anchoring doesn’t just happen with numbers. Poorly structured, or worse yet, unstructured retrospectives can also get anchored.

There’s a common scenario for retrospectives where the team gets together to talk about what’s been happening. No structure, no facilitation. In scenarios like this, the first talker “wins” and skews the remainder of the retrospective.  The first topic raised sets the frame for the meeting. The group just got anchored. In this scenario, there’s a really strong possibility that the first topic raised is not the most valuable one to talk about. It might be the most recent (another bias), or something emotionally safe to discuss, or somebody’s “pet” complaint, but it’s not likely to be the most important or valuable one.

What Does the Research Say?

It’s important to go beyond personal anecdote, so let’s take a foray into the research side. There has been a lot of research on cognitive bias. And, even with the research, there is a lot that is not understood. The field of bias continues to produce interesting results.

One study that is often cited is a 1974 publication called “Judgement under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases” by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. In a demonstration of anchoring bias, Tversky and Kahneman asked participants spun a wheel. The wheel would give participants either a high number or a low number. Later, participants were asked to estimate the number of African countries that participated in the United Nations. And, it turns out that the number the wheel provided had a very significant impact on the estimate provided by participants. If an estimate in such a condition of uncertainty can be influenced by the result from the spin of a wheel, how much more might we get influenced by the estimate of a colleague under conditions of uncertainty?

Combating Anchoring Bias

Now that we’ve seen some examples and dipped our toe in some research, let’s look at some ways to combat the anchoring bias.

Gain Specific Knowledge

When people have concrete knowledge of a subject, they are less likely influenced by the anchoring condition. For example, if you are an expert on Africa’s participation in the United Nations, you would likely know the percent of countries that participate in the UN. Thus, the expert would not get anchored on irrelevant data. But beware. While that is true that people with specific knowledge on the topic are less susceptible to anchoring, people still tend to view themselves as less prone to anchoring than the average person. These are the result of research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

So, the first mitigating strategy is to become more expert on the topic, thus giving you better information to work with.

Provide Multiple Explanations

When people fixate on a single outcome, they are prone to anchoring. An approach called “multiple-explanation” can help to de-bias the judgement. Let’s go back to one of our earlier scenarios where the project was estimated to take three months. One strategy to help de-bias the judgement would be to come up with explanations about scenarios by which the project was delivered in a much longer timeframe. For example, the work turned out to be complex, or needed to be highly scalable, or the team is distracted by the scores of other “top priorities” that the business puts on them. By going through the exercise of explaining a number of different scenarios and outcomes, the initial judgement can become less biased. For more on Multiple Explanation for Debiasing Judgment, read the research by Hirt and Markman.

Planning Poker – Show Your Cards

Anchoring, by definition, is over-weighting the first piece of information you receive. When estimating work, Planning Poker is specifically designed to withhold estimation until everybody who is estimating has formed their own opinion. Then, and only then, do all the estimates get exposed at the same time. It’s a subtle difference compared to what we discussed earlier regarding estimating. In that “anchored” scenario, a subset of people provided an estimate and asked for validation. In this scenario, it is all estimators sharing estimates at the same time. By revealing all estimates at once, anchoring is less likely.

Silent Writing for Retrospectives

The “first talker” scenario for retrospectives has a very simple alternative. Don’t start with talking! Instead, set a framework for the conversation and allow people to reflect for themselves, writing down their thoughts. Then, get people to share them. By allowing people to silently write their thoughts down, they aren’t as prone to the anchoring effect of the “first talker.”


Anchoring is insidious, and impacts our lives in many ways. While we may think we are not as prone to anchoring as the average person, we are. Simply being aware that anchoring is a bias is not enough to remove its influence on us. It is important to look for strategies and tactics that make anchoring less likely to bias our judgement. I hope the four strategies for debiasing stakeholder expectations, getting un-anchored estimates, and letting all voices get heard help your business and teams. I am interested in your feedback, so please leave a comment.

Specific to software, I found the book Software Estimation: Demystifying the Black Art (Developer Best Practices)to be quite valuable. This book provides a number of strategies for getting better estimates for your software project.


6 Tips for Taming Distractions

The good news: we’re more connected in 2016 than ever. The bad news: we’re more connected in 2016 than ever. There’s Tame The Distractionsan enormous amount of value in that connectivity, as well as an incredible threat to doing truly deep and meaningful work.

With all the connectivity that is designed to help us communicate and collaborate, the sheer number of interruptions that I experience can be astounding. There are new message notifications from Outlook, Yammer desktop notifications, Facebook and Twitter notifications, Lync, Slack, and Skype. That  doesn’t even begin to count the distractions created by one’s own brain; thoughts of things I need to do, ideas for new projects and remembering that lingering chore at home. It’s time to tame the distraction beast! Here are some tips that I have implemented to improve focus. Hopefully they are helpful to you as well.

Have a goal

What does “done” look like? It’s easier to see something through to completion if you know what your goal is. Articulate the goal. Write it down. Focus on that goal and get it done.

But what if it’s not possible to finish the work in one sitting?

Set a Timer

Alinof TimerProWhen a task isn’t reasonable to complete in a single sitting, commit to working on it for a defined period of time.  Set a timer for thirty minutes, and focus on the task until it goes off. Then, take a break.

If you’re interested in a more in-depth of timer techniques, check out The Pomodoro Technique.

This blog post has been a “draft” for a long time. I just set a 30 minute timer with the goal of clicking “Publish” before it expires!

Do not Disturb

Do Not Disturb

Do Not Disturb

I hate to get in a state of flow and then have my thoughts completely disrupted by a tweet notification, a mention, or notification of a new e-mail arriving in my Inbox.

When you want to have some deep focus time, tame the desktop and phone notifications. On a Mac, click the little bullet-list icon on the top-right side, and drag the sidebar down until you see the “Do Not Disturb” notification. Turn it on. Don’t forget to set your mobile device to “Do Not Disturb” mode as well.

Drown out the Distractions

White Noise App

Free white noise app from TMSOFT

With open work spaces, the nearby conversations can be very distracting. Using headphones to play music is one way to drown out the discussion can be effective, I find myself getting distracted by the lyrics. Perhaps music that lacks lyrics works for you. I’ve discussed the use of listening to classical music with some colleagues, and while I find it helpful they can sometimes get caught up in the music.

Consider using a white noise app. The white noise can mask the sound of nearby conversations with fan noise, dishwasher, or airplane noises. My personal favorite is “air conditioner. The noise doesn’t have lyrics or a tune for your brain to latch onto. Some of the apps are free, so there’s nothing to lose by trying one.

Let Your Colleagues Know your Busy

Red - Busy LightIn shared spaces, it’s not always obvious whether you are deep inIMG_3157 (1) thought or listing in on a conference call. I found an amazing little light from Embrava. This light synchronizes its color with your availability in Lync, Skype, and more. No more will people walk up, start talking to you, and then go “Oops. Sorry. I didn’t know you were on the phone.”

You can even customize the light to fit your personality. I’ve found the a red flashing light worked best. It very much makes me think of an “on-air” light you see on TV or radio programs.

Clear the Home Screen

Distracting Home ScreenEven when the phone is in “do not disturb” mode, it can still grab my attention. Sometimes I want to look up a message, find a page in my internet history, or use the calculator app for some quick math. When I jump onto the iPhone I find the little  red badges are a sirens song of distraction.

Take control of the badges your phone shows!

  • Turn off the unnecessary badges. Do you really need to know that there are 1,406 unread e-mail messages in your Inbox?
  • Clean the home screen. Minimize the apps on your first screen. Move the apps with badge notifications to the second screen. It’s not that hard to get to the second screen, and the notifications are no longer calling to you from the home screen. There’s a huge payoff to having Facebook, Twitter, and Clash of Chans notifications just one swipe away.
  • Banish Notifications from the Lock Screen. Unless it’s truly a vital notification, limit the notifications that buzz and light your phone when it’s not being used.

I hope those tips are helpful.

On a related note, just happened across a summary of the book “Deep Work.” The book is being released tomorrow. Some of the suggestions I have above are complimentary to those in the summary of Deep Work that can be found at the blog post How to Manage Your Time: 5 Secrets Backed by Research.

As always, if you have some additional ideas for taming distractions in our connected world, I’d love to hear them.

What do you think about this model of leadership?

I came across an article called “A universal model of leadership.

They claim to have a data-driven model that is both simple to understand, yet rich in meaning. Then the authors go on to state that “The optimal leadership profile above was created by asking 50,000 managers worldwide to describe the kind of leadership that, if it existed in their organization, would allow the organization to thrive in its current marketplace and into the future.” <Needle slides off the record.> What?!

I interpret that this way:  the model is based on a bunch of managers imagining a good leader. I’ve seen plenty of managers who have some pretty odd opinions of what behavior would be beneficial to the organization. And, there’s some research to indicate that we’re pretty poor at imagining what we need. Lastly, organizations are complex, and this imaginary leader’s actions are bound to have unintended consequences. So, their methods seem very flawed.

‘d love to ask the authors, but their post doesn’t allow for public comments. I’d welcome your thoughts. I’ll probably go back and read it again when I have a fresher mind. How do you see it?

St. Patricks Day Retrospective Activities

St. Patrick’s day is upon us, as is a retrospective for a team I am working with. That brought me to thinking about retrospective techniques appropriate for the day. If you try them, enjoy, and let me know what you thought or how you modified them approach for your use.
There are three ideas in this post for you to consider:

1. Drive The Snakes Into the Sea

Tradition Snakes and Sea Retrospectivetells us that the reason there are no snakes in Ireland is because St. Patrick banished snakes by driving them into the sea. While biologists speculate that there may never have been snakes in Ireland at all, driving snakes into the sea sounds like a fun way to gather data about what is bothering the team.

Supplies and Setup

  • Post It Notes (large and small)
  • Sharpie Markers
  • A room with enough wall space to post use for collecting the results
  • Draw a body of land and some water on a  large flip chart or whiteboard

Step 1 – Set Context

Share just a little of the legend of St. Patrick banishing snakes from Ireland. Then, tell participants that for the retrospective, the team will identify the snakes that are in their environment, and then they will decide which they are going to drive into the sea.

Step 2 – Identify Issues

Begin with silent writing. Ask participants to think about what has “bitten the team” in the recent past, or what is about to bite them in the future. As they think of something, have them write it onto a larger PostIt note, one topic or concern per note.  Have them hold onto the notes until each person is done generating their own ideas. Be sure to allow enough time for people to reflect and write their thoughts Watch the activity level of the room as your cue for moving forward or not.

Step 3 – Collect and Group Them

The sharing will be done in a rotational basis. Put the PostIts on the “land” side of the drawing you created in the “setup” step. Begin the sharing by having the first person share one idea, then another person shares one, and continue until everybody on the team has shared one idea. Then, the first person can share a second idea, and we rotate through the team again. Continue until all the ideas are on the board. If an idea is a duplicate, or quite similar to another idea, put them next to each other. This will begin to form the head of the snake. The more common a problem, the larger the snake head.
TIP: Set the expectation that the sharing should be brief and we’re not asking for a fully detailed explanation of the issue and its background. I like to ask that people keep their comments “tweet sized,” or no more than a sentence or two. This will help get some context and at the same time avoid going into lengthy analysis of each item.
After everybody has posted their ideas, it’s time to gather some data about the items that have been posted.

Step 4 – Get Consensus

This step is essentially a “dot vote,” except that we are going to build a body for the snakes based on the consensus of the team.
Begin by giving each team member the same number of the smaller PostIt notes. You can choose the question that the team is “voting” on. You can choose any single criteria by which people will vote using PostIts. Try to keep the questions in the frame of the “snakes into the sea” metaphor.  Candidate question include: “Which of these do you think we have the energy banish into the sea this sprint?” Or, “Which of these, If we were able to have banish it to the sea, which of these would allow us to feel safer?”
Team members will then build a “body” onto each of the topics by stringing their votes out. Topics with more PostIts will be larger snakes. Of course, people can divide their votes amongst several topics.

Next Steps

At this point, your team will have identified topics and expressed an opinion about which topic they would like to work on. Take that snake, the one that has the longest body to it, and move it into the sea.  Then, facilitate an activity to figure out how the team is going to try to make that happen.

2. Shamrocks


In many works of art depicting St. Patrick, he is shown holding a shamrock. St. Patrick used the shamrock to talk about the trinity of the Christian faith.

This technique is designed to be a relatively short opening or closing activity for the team, allowing them to identify three items that they are happy about.

Supplies and Setup

  • Create shamrocks for the team, enough for each team member to have one. Or, display a shamrock image and provide paper so that each member can draw their own.
  • Green markers for drawing (optional)
  • Sharpie Markers

Step 1 – Identify Three Things

There are times when we get distracted by things that are not going well, and stop to think about what is positive and uplifting for the team. Using a pre-printed shamrock, or drawing one on their own, write three things that are uplifting, one item on each lobe of the shamrock.

(optional) Step 1b. – Identify What Unifies Those Things

As the stem connects the three lobes of the shamrock, ask team each person to identify what connection they see between the three items they identified. Ask them to write it on, or near, the stem.

Step 2 – Sharing

Ask people to volunteer and briefly share with the group what they put on the shamrock.
I chose to make this optional since some people may feel a lack of emotional safety, thus choosing to not share.
End the sharing when everybody who wants to participate has done so.

Step 3 – Thank everybody

Be sure to thank everybody for participating.

3. Green Beer

Green Beer

It’s important that team members have relationships that extend beyond just “doing the work.” This technique is simple:

Take the team out of the building before the normal end of the work day and get some liquid refreshment. Relax. Get to know each other better.
If you choose to drink, drink responsibly. Provide cabs as necessary (hopefully it’s not). Drinking soft drinks is permitted. Be aware that things you say might still need to stay within HR guidelines. Try not to dance on the bar.

Principle-Centered Agility: Your Path to Better Options

Principle-Centered Agility - Your Path to Better OptionsAgile methods typically don’t have a lot of built-in rules. That’s a good thing! So, what can you use as your guideposts as your team or your company encounter novel situations? That’s what my conference proposal for Agile DC is all about; Principle-Centered Agility.

If you like what you see below, please jump over to the conference proposal and give it a “like” and perhaps ask for clarification on anything you find confusing or unclear.

In the conference session, we will create a common understanding of the 12 principles behind the Agile Manifesto. Depending on your individual background, some of the principles can be a little tricky. You will have a chance to reflect on which principles are present in your organization, and which ones are not present.

Next, we will introduce the concept of Force Field Analysis. Force Field Analysis is an approach for exploring the forces that are promoting or inhibiting a change from happening. Using the presence or absence of a particular principle from the first activity, you will have some time to create a Force Field Analysis of the situation.

Lastly, we will generate additional options to change the situation. We will introduce you to three elements of change, and you will be able to use those to come up with a plan for making your desired change a reality.

You will leave this workshop with a toolkit for applying to any number of situations when you return to work!

Four Tips For Granting Teams Budget Autonomy

Money TrapEvery company I have been in has had a fairly rigorous process for approving budgets and purchases. More than once I have seen an organization spend hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars worth of time to clarify, justify, vet, and double-check a purchase of less than $200. Instead of micro-managing purchases, what would it look like to empower people with budget and the duty to use it wisely; whatever they decide wise might be?

What Got Me Thinking

Today I placed a purchase for my South Bend Coworking Space, The Branch. It’s a 1-year old business that my wife and I are bootstrapping. We did not go raise a bunch of capital from friends, family, and fools. We decided how much we were comfortable risking, gathered market data to make sure we weren’t doing “stupid”, and launched the business.

We love the technology that supports the startups and telecommuters. Bootstrapping led us to getting good equipment that was good enough for the job, but not “high-end”. Our network switching equipment is leased, and our wireless router was effectively a “hand me down.” The router was very performant for the 14 months, but for some reason it restarted itself couple times over the last two or three weeks. My philosophy is that the technology should just perform. No hiccups, no problems. Technology should function so well that you forget about it. A network that drops during the day, even for 30 seconds a couple times over two weeks is not acceptable. It was time to upgrade immediately!

We contacted KineticIT, who’s been a reliable technology partner for us. We got a quote on a Cisco Meraki router, and decided to make the purchase. Upon realizing that The Branch did not have a Power Over Ethernet (PoE) switch to connect the router to, we got a call from our vendor. The question: Did we want to buy a PoE injector (about $100) or an AC Adapter (about $50)? Considering that we are in the process of expanding our operations, and that we have VOIP phones that also would benefit from PoE, I inquired about the price of a switch that would provide PoE. We got the quote, decided it was fair, and authorized the purchase of materials and labor. Without going into too much detail, it is easily an investment that goes above $1,000. And, the incremental expense for the switch was decided in under 10 minutes.

After reflecting on the purchase, I went back to the realization that I’ve had to try much harder to get approval for much smaller purchases. It led me to wonder: What would it be like if every company trusted its employees to make wise purchases similar to the investment I made. What if you could walk into your managers office to report, or you posted to the company’s intranet site that you just spent $1,000 on _________ because it allowed the company to do ________? As a manager, would you be OK with that? What scares you about it? Are you willing to try it?

After hanging up the call with my IT partner, my fellow agile coach, Susan DiFabio and I were brainstorming a bit. What about buying books? No problem. New furniture? No problem. What if they spent it on a team dinner. A nice one, to celebrate. Are you OK with that? My initial reaction to a scenario where they pocketed the money was “oh, heck no.” But then we explored it more. What if they pocketed the money? Think about it. If the team’s been busting their hump, feeling down, and wanted to give their team of 10 a $100 bonus each? Seems like money well invested. Compare that to the cost of turnover, and the $100 per person seems like one hell of a deal.

How To Structure The Autonomy

Are you willing to extend autonomy to your team around some amount of budget? Here are some tips for how to set up such an arrangement:

1.Don’t Be Cheap!

Make sure it’s enough. If you are only willing to give autonomy over $50, don’t run the risk of insulting your employees. Our brains have strange wiring when it comes to money. Offering too little indicates that either a) the company is in trouble and cannot afford more, or b) you don’t actually trust them to spend it wisely. You might feel that it signals something else, but I’m quite confident it won’t. It’s bad to signal either corporate insolvency or district, so make it a good amount of money.

To keep things in perspective, imagine a technology team where the total compensation is around $100,000 per person . if you have a team of 7, and they get autonomy over $1,000 total, that’s only 15 one-hundredths of one percent of the cost of the team! That doesn’t even begin to include the cost of furnishings, space, etc. So, don’t be cheap!

2. Don’t Be Stupid!

Decide how much you can afford to risk. Don’t risk more than you can afford. And, don’t offer an amount that if it all gets spent causes discomfort for the organization. If you can afford $5,000 across your 50 scrum teams, go for it. If you can’t, don’t.

3. Make it Public

Make the teams or individuals publicize the purchase and the benefit they see. Get the teams to share what they decided. There are a couple reasons for this. First, the sharing will perhaps give good ideas to other teams. Second, the social pressure of sharing what was purchased will help ensure wisdom.

4. Experiment

Run it as an experiment, but be careful if you end the experiment. Timebox the experiment. You don’t have to commit to it forever. Try it for a year or two. But, if you do decide to cancel it, just roll the amount into their base pay. As humans, we hate to lose things. If I use to get autonomy over $1,000 of the team’s money and you take it away, that will hurt. The pain will be lessened if you take the $1,000, divide it across the team of 7, and just give it to them as base pay.

It’s time to try it!

The idea is interesting to me, and I would love your feedback. Do you know anybody doing something related? How is it working out?

Just to drive the experiment home for me, I will be conducting it in the fall. Our coworking space business hasn’t grown to the point of supporting the addition of employees, yet. But, we are having an intern from Indiana University South Bend for the fall semester. I’ve decided we will give her a pre-paid visa card, and ask her to just use it wisely for whatever she sees fit, and let us know what she decided to do with it. Google ads for marketing? Fine. Banner to hang out front? Sure thing. Pocket money? Hmmm. If that’s going to get her out of a bind and able to get to work, or help with something else that allows her to focus. Sure. I’m a big fan of trusting folks to do the right thing. Of course, sometimes you get burned, and nobody’s perfect. Far from it. I hope to let you know how the experiment goes.

The Neumanagement Agile Blog Is Migrated!

It Is FinishedUnlike discovering that the TP has run out, we are happy for this to be finished! Thank you for your patience as we migrated the web site and blog to a new hosted solution. The new solution will allow for more control over the experience. We have some additional details to introduce, so look for a richer experience as we go forward. For now, other than the look, the biggest feature you will notice is the social media sharing options with each blog. If you read something you like or found valuable, please share it with your friends and colleagues. We welcome your comments, as well.

Happy reading.