Tag Archives: Management

Trying to Improve your Company? Try this…

Are you frustrated with the performance of your team? Upset that they don’t follow the directions they’re given? Do you wish they’d just do what they’re supposed to?

Maybe the problem is not your team. Perhaps it’s that you expect them to follow. What if you, instead, worked with them to also be leaders? What if you changed the model from Leader-Follower to Leader-Leader?

Turn This Ship Around Book CoverI read  Turn This Ship Around: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders. In this book, L. David Marquet, a retired U.S. Navy Captain, chronicles his experience of taking the crew of a nuclear submarine under his command from a Leader-Follower structure to what he calls Leader-Leader. As a result of this transition, the crew and their boat go from performing at the bottom of their class to performing at the top of their class. The story is told in a chronological fashion, sharing anecdotes that help you relate to the changes that are made.

As an Agile Coach, a few things in this book stood out to me, and I want to share them with you.

It Worked on a Nuclear Submarine

First, I often hear “Agile won’t work here because…” People often finish that phrase with some unique reason why the status quo of the organization cannot be changed to a different, less command-and-control structure, more humane organization. If there’s one place I could see a distribution of decision making authority not working, it would be on a nuclear submarine. Yet that turns out to not be the case. To read how Captain Marquet not only changed the culture, but also had massive improvements in performance, was quote enlightening.

Take Action

Second, this book is actionable. This book is not just a story about the adventures of the submarine Santa Fe. The book is much more than a biography. Captain Marquet shares his philosophy, and the  practices that allowed the Leader-Leader culture to take hold. There are a great number of practical “mechanisms” and “questions to consider” within each chapter. The mechanisms and questions provide a framework for taking the ideas of the author and applying them to your own situation.

Context Matters

Third, I appreciate the fact that the author makes it clear that he is not providing a recipe for others to follow. Too often I see organizations take a “Cookie Cutter” approach to agile and lose the reasoning or the philosophy behind the practice. These organizations ignore the local context of their teams and require blind adherence to a specific set of rituals, anticipating that it will bring about real change in the organization. Captain Marquet invites the reader to explore what Leader-Leader might look like for their individual context, and to make decisions that are appropriate for them.

Let me leave you with this suggestion

This would be a perfect book for a team of people at the same company to work through, sharing their reflections and insights.

Postscript

Here are some quotes that really stuck with me. I hope they resonate with you, and lead you to purchase Turn This Ship Around.

The first one strikes me because it correctly points out that many people apply an industrial management approach to knowledge work. That’s a huge mistake.

“In our modern world, the most important work we do is cognitive; so, it’s not surprising that a structure developed for physical work isn’t optimal for intellectual work. People who are treated as followers have the expectations of followers and act like followers. As followers, they have limited decision-making authority and little incentive to give the utmost of their intellect, energy, and passion. Those who take orders usually run at half speed, underutilizing their imagination and initiative. While this doesn’t matter much for rowing a trireme, it’s everything for operating a nuclear-powered submarine.” Marquet, L. David (2013-05-16). Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders . Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. ”

How often do we task teams with getting “the right information” to management so that they can make a decision. This approach turns that on its head:

“Don’t move information to authority, move authority to the information.” Marquet, L. David (2013-05-16). Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders (p. 49). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.”

In this quote, replace the word “Operators” with a role in your organization (e.g., software developers, consultants, project managers), and see how true it is for you:

“….emphasis on following the procedure can have a stultifying effect. We take bright operators, train them extensively, and then tell them that the most important thing is to follow the procedure.” Marquet, L. David (2013-05-16). Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders (p. 54). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

And, the last one I want to share relates to top-down monitoring of people:

Don’t preach and hope for ownership; implement mechanisms that actually give ownership. Eliminating the tickler did that for us. Eliminating top-down monitoring systems will do it for you. I’m not talking about eliminating data collection and measuring processes that simply report conditions without judgment. Those are important as they “make the invisible visible.” What you want to avoid are the systems whereby senior personnel are determining what junior personnel should be doing.” Marquet, L. David (2013-05-16). Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders (p. 98). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

There are many more profound insights, so go get the book and read it.

To Inspire Teams, Forget Goals. Define Purpose.

Howard Schultz on PurposeWhat’s your team’s purpose? Is it a real purpose? Whose life is better because of what you do? What pain do you relieve? What new reality do you make possible? Who would notice if your team stopped delivering? If you easily answered those questions, congratulations. If not, you are like a lot of teams. Many don’t have a connection to a real purpose.

A lot of teams simply have goals. Maybe you are working to improve code coverage with automated tests. Maybe you want to increase code quality, reduce defects, or pair program. Those are worthwhile goals, but they are not purpose. Here is how I see the difference between goals and purpose:

Goals provide a target.

Purpose provides inspiration!

Failing to meet a goal leaves people feeling deflated.

Working for a real purpose gives a rallying point when times get tough!

Goals are used for evaluating individuals.

Purpose is about changing lives!

I hope you see the value in having purpose. For those teams that don’t know their purpose, how do you uncover it? Try these suggestions to help you identify your purpose:

Imagine –This is perhaps most appropriate when you are starting a new venture. How do you see the purpose of the organization? If you can be clear about the purpose early in your team or organization’s life, it can be used as a filter against which to test all the ideas and opportunities that come at you. It will help you say the most important word in the world: “No!” Having a well-defined purpose helps you stay focused and not get distracted by opportunities that don’t fit.

Interview customers – Talking to a customer can have a profound impact on how you see your team’s purpose. What did they struggle with that led them to your product or service? Ask them how you make their life better. Why do they use your product? If the product were no longer in existence, how would their life be less well off?

Visit your customers where they use your product – Interviews can be helpful, but sometimes people are too close to the situation to really see what is happening. When you see your customers “in the wild” you may end up with insights you didn’t have before, and notice behaviors they exhibit that they weren’t even aware of.

Business model canvas – The Business Model Canvas is a convenient way to collect information about how your business operates. There are two aspects of the canvas that apply to the topic of purpose; the Value Proposition and the Customer Segment portions. These will help you articulate what makes you unique from other groups, as well as identifying for whom you are providing that value.

Don’t be efficient about it – All too often, in the name of efficiency, I have seen too few people involved in activities like customer interviews, site visits, and wrestling with the business model canvas. I challenge you to engage the whole team in these activities. You  will get deeper insights when you compare what people saw and heard. You will definitely create a deeper connection between the team and the purpose they saw. Be inefficient, and prepare to be surprised at the positive results.

You might know, but your team might not. How can you help the team to really make the purpose part of their conscious?

Talk about it – Whether you are a team member or a leader, it is important to have a dialog about the purpose of your work. You might have said it before, but there is so much communication noise that it is likely people forgot, especially if it was lost in management mumbo jumbo. Just saying it once is not enough. Invite conversation with your team about the purpose. How might they see it differently? Talk about it, and then talk about it again. There is value in keeping it in the forefront.

Make it relatable by telling a story –Humans have, for millennia, told stories. We are wired to remember stories. PowerPoint slides with bullet points are no substitute for a true story of connection. Ditch the slide deck, and practice telling and rebelling the story. And remember, the good stories need to be told repeatedly. If you don’t have a good story to tell, go see your customers and find the story.

Make it visible – When somebody walks into your business or team area, what do they see? Is it obvious what your purpose is? If not, it is time to do some redecorating. Create visual reminders about the team’s purpose. Make them personal. Do not have eagles soaring over still lakes with motivational phrases on the bottom. Have something that is specific to your team and it’s purpose. Keep the visuals fresh. Don’t let them become wallpaper.

So, ask yourself: Does your team have a goal or a purpose? Goals are, perhaps necessary. Purpose is inspiring. If you find your team has only goals, dig deeper. Identify the purpose for your team’s existence, and unlock the possibilities!

Agile Sustainability; Culture, Management, and Metrics

What are some keys to sustaining an Agile culture and organization? As part of our coaching, Susan DiFabio and I have been exploring sustainability as we iterate on our session for Agile 2012, entitled  “Keeping the Dream Alive: Keys to Agile Sustainability

As we prepared for the Agile 2012 workshop, we had the opportunity to share at the Agile Cincinnati June meeting. We promised that group that we would share some of the references that we used when creating the workshop. Those references are:

Corporate Culture

The Reengineering Alternative” by William E. Schneider
This book describes the model of corporate cultures that was referenced in the presentation.  It goes into depth about how the research was conducted, how the model emerged, as well as examples and opportunities for how to use this knowledge to help organizations leverage their strengths.

Metrics

Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations” by Robert D. Austin
Based on his doctoral thesis at Carnegie Mellon University, the author presents the reader with many insights on what actually happens when humans are measured as part of an organizational system.  Robert Austin’s book includes information from interviews with eight software measurement experts who represent a variety of opinions.  “Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations” provides important information for anyone who is trying to use measurement to guide organizational decision making.

Management

Building Effective Teams: Miss the Start, Miss the End by Esther Derby
Esther is a thought leader in the area of organizations, team dynamics, and leadership. This blog post describes the manager’s role in creating an environment in which teams can become high performing. Susan and I have seen teams that have struggled, at least in part, because they lack the foundational elements of “real team” and “real purpose.”

Summary

To be agile, it is important to think well beyond the ceremonies and roles of a particular agile framework. We hope that this list of references helps you explore the topic of Agile Sustainability in more depth. We would also welcome you to let us know what materials you would recommend people study on this topic.

Lastly, thank you to everybody who attended the workshop in Cincinnati. We look forward to sharing with folks on Thursday afternoon at Agile 2012.