Product Review: SonicAgile

September 26, 2012

If you are looking for an online tool to manage your Scrum projects, a new tool called SonicAgile may be of interest to you. And you can try it for free for 30 days before you buy.

SonicAgile allows you to create projects and invite collaborators to that project via email. SonicAgile is designed to leverage email by notifying collaborators when a new story is added as well as posting any replies by one of those collaborators to the discussion tab of that story – a nice touch. Since we are all busy professionals, replying directly to an email to add our two cents is less disruptive than linking to another site.

The Best Invest in Their People

September 19, 2012

“The whole point of being alive is to evolve into the complete person you were intended to be.” – Oprah Winfrey
On a personal level, continuous improvement requires a growth mindset; people who believe that their qualities can be cultivated through effort over time. You will experience setbacks, but people with a growth mindset view these as indicators on where they can learn and improve, not a judgment about their capabilities. (Those with a fixed mindset view their capabilities as just that, fixed, either you have it or you don’t.)

The point is to stick with it, to continually learn and improve despite these setbacks – and in fact learn from those setbacks. As Mia Hamm once said, “After every game or practice, if you walk off the field knowing that you gave everything you had, you will always be a winner.”

At an organizational level continuous improvement is also a constant, gradual change. What leaders can’t do is reorganize a company into being a model of continuous improvement. Organizational structure doesn’t contribute to continuous learning, people do. Toyota didn’t succeed because of its organizational structures, and in fact it didn't succeed because it focused solely on improvement. Toyota succeeded because (as Mike Rother points out in the Toyota Kata) Toyota’s leaders focused on increasing the improvement capability of people.

Balanced, Disciplined and Coordinated Teamwork is Essential

September 12, 2012

In my last post I described a hypothetical situation where a startup company grew in size and created an organizational hierarchy. This is actually a common way that self-organizing systems deal with complexity. In an organizational context, work becomes organized by functional specialties, each designed to carry out specific tasks.

As the title stated, hierarchies themselves aren’t bad. From a systems perspective, hierarchies reduce the amount of information that any part of a subsystem has to keep track of. However, as part of growth and transition to a hierarchal organization, my hypothetical company lost its way. The purpose of the hierarchy shifted from supporting and helping to coordinate the work to controlling it.

Over-control constricts the subsystems – individuals and departments – from performing as well as they can. An analogy is a sports team where a coach is prescribing every action to such a degree that a player isn’t free to explore and develop his or her own strengths or unique abilities, let alone take informed, independent action on the field based on the fast-changing circumstances and realities of the game as it is unfolding – and losing the game as a result.

Organizational Hierarchies Usually Start Out Effectively

September 5, 2012

But they can transition to the “dark side,” even with the best of intentions…

Imagine that you own a small, growing company. As you grow, you hire additional staff to help you deal the work: those activities designed to delight customers and generate a profit. As you grow, the complexity of the business increases because you have more customers and more employees, so you hire people to organize things so that the majority of your employees can continue to serve the customer base.

Let’s say that your company becomes very successful and you receive an attractive offer to you sell your company. The new owners bring in professionals to manage the continually expanding enterprise, and you lose touch with the inner workings of the company because after a short transition period, you move on to “other things.” This turns out to be a small bakery, a business built around your spouse’s hobby and a desire the both of you have to own and operate a small, family-run business.

Then one day you receive a call from a long-time employee who has risen to an executive position at your former company. She tells you that the company is in trouble. She adds that she has approached the owners and they have agreed to pay you a tidy sum to have you consult with them, provided you are willing to do so.