Documentation is a Communications Vehicle

September 30, 2011

I’ve seen very large product requirements documents in my day, and I’ve even joked about the size of some of these documents, holding them in one hand and stating, “These must be great, they weigh a lot!” Heavyweight documentation doesn’t imply thoroughness. In fact, it can mean that you may have a couple of problems:
  1. The scope of the project is too large.
  2. The person writing a large volume may not be an effective communicator, at least not in written form.

Leading is Communicating

September 27, 2011

Leaders spend their time communicating. Stephen Denning, in his book, The Leader's Guide to Storytelling, referenced Henry Mintzberg's The Nature of Managerial Work(that I haven’t read) noting that talking comprises 78 percent of what managers actually do with their time.

Of course, talking isn’t necessarily communicating. As a leader, people need to hear and understand your message. It needs to ring true with them, to inspire them to action. Great leaders are great communicators. Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan come to mind. As we all know, Reagan became known as The Great Communicator. He earned this reputation for a number of reasons:
  • He was optimistic about the future – particularly at a time when the country needed it.
  • He had a strong sense of purpose. He believed in our country and that it and the people in it deserved greatness.
  • His speeches used anecdotes and his messages were designed to distill complex issues into basic terms that everyone could understand and relate to. (Along with providing great sound bites!)
  • He paid attention to his speeches and his audiences’ reaction to his words.
  • His speeches had an emotional appeal that moved people.

Book Review: Toyota Kata

September 23, 2011

Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results

A few months ago I exchanged a few tweets with Alan Shalloway about Agile retrospectives and how they can become stale, and he was kind enough to point me to this book as a way to drive learning. He couldn’t have been more right! Alan has written about The Difference Between "Inspect and Adapt" and Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA), but this book really brought the point home for me.

The real secret of Toyota’s success, as author Mike Rother points out in Toyota Kata,is that Toyota is dedicated to continuous improvement. Toyota Katais a very practical guide in systems thinking applied to organizational learning and continuous improvement, and Mike reveals how Toyota lives and breathes continuous improvement in its management practices. And as Mike Rother explores Toyota's management practices, it is revealed that Toyota's approach to management is very different than accepted management practices in use in most organizations today.

Respect the Boundaries in Scrum!

September 20, 2011

We’re Scrum shop, and Scrum definitely has its share of “good fences” that are designed to make Scrum work. In fact, looking for how the boundaries of these fences are being violated can help you identify problem areas in your Scrum implementation.

There are three roles in Scrum: Product Owner, ScrumMaster, and Team Member. While lacking an officially acknowledged role, management plays an important supporting role and can be a significant factor in the success or failure of a Scrum team by either violating the boundaries or failing to support the team.

Organizational Fences Aren't Always Evil

September 16, 2011

As I pointed out in my previous post, fences stifle initiative; but that is not a universal rule. In business, fences are constraints, and some of these "organizational fences" are good constraints. Like those designed to prevent discrimination, sexual harassment, or injuries. These constraints need to be both visible and clear, and there shouldn't be room left for negotiation or interpretation.

Other types of constraints, however, need to provide people some maneuvering room. Operational constraints fall into this category. Operational constraints help to define and frame the problem at hand for people. They inform people about what the business needs from them in order to be successful – or to measure the degree in which a business succeeds.

Fences Stifle Initiative

September 13, 2011

William L. McKnight is a former 3M CEO who saved 3M from near bankruptcy and turned it into a large, successful, multinational organization. In doing so, he created a corporate culture that encouraged employee initiative and innovation. His belief that people required freedom in order to kindle their creative spirit is captured in his famous quote: “If you put fences around people, you get sheep.”

You might also get children. Consider the words of Tony Schwartz from his book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working:

“The all-too-common dynamic in today’s workplace is parent-child. Most employers tell employees when to come to work, when to leave, and how they’re expected to work when they’re at the office. Treated like children, many employees unconsciously adopt the role to which they’ve been consigned. Feeling disempowered and vulnerable, they lose the will and confidence to take real initiative or to think independently. Doing what they’re expected to do often becomes more important than doing what make most sense, what’s most efficient, or even what might create the highest value. “

Managing in Real Time

September 9, 2011

As I was talking to a fellow manager last year at the Give Thanks for Scrum event organized by the Agile Boston user group, we both noted how Agile management was about management in real time. What did we mean by that?

As teams get comfortable and productive with Scrum (that's what we use), they start decreasing their sprint lengths. If a team is working with one week sprints, everyone needs to be crisp, focused, and productive – every day. This means that those providing external support to the teams – such as removing impediments that are outside of the team’s control – must have that same crisp, focused, and productive mode of operation. If you take too long in removing an impediment, an entire sprint can go down the tubes.

Book Review: The CIO Edge

September 6, 2011

The CIO Edge: Seven Leadership Skills You Need to Drive Results The CIO Edge Seven Leadership Skills You Need to Drive Results

What gets a CIO fired?

Based on the research of the authors (Graham Waller, Karen Rubenstrunk and George Hallenbeck), it isn’t due to a lack of technology chops on the part of the CIO. According to The CIO Edge, CIOs get fired because they fail to build effective peer relationships. The authors state that, “Despite knowing how important horizontal relationships are, many CIOs we observed still gave them insufficient time and attention (typically being all consumed by management activities and by knocking off all the things on their to-do list) and consequently found themselves swept out of a job by this powerful force.”

Delight Your Customers through Focus

September 2, 2011

Great vision and mission statements are geared towards defining and communicating how an organization intends to succeed. When crafting these, an organization’s values come into play. A strong component of those values needs to focus on delighting the customer. However, this doesn’t mean at all costs.