Author Archives: Kiron Bondale

About Kiron Bondale

Measurable business value can be realized through the successful initiation, prioritization, planning & execution of strategic projects. Striking a pragmatic, value-based balance between people, process & technology is a key to achieving success with Project Portfolio Management initiatives. Effective change management is crucial when trying to improve PPM or PM capabilities. Having been involved with multiple capability improvement initiatives, what I've learned is that "it's easy in theory, difficult in practice"! Continuous improvement of hard & soft skills gained by assisting organizations in the achievement of their business goals through the execution of the right projects in the right way is my ongoing mission.

Six sins with work boards

Regardless of what type of work your team does, work boards can be a helpful tool. But just because they can be helpful doesn’t mean they are always implemented well.

The most common mistake is when teams don’t keep their work boards up to date with the actual status of work that is being done. Increasing transparency is a great way for stakeholders to understand what is going on and to increase their level of trust in teams. But if the information being presented is out of date or inaccurate, it reduces the team’s credibility and increases the likelihood of these stakeholders asking for separate, redundant status updates. When a work item changes status the work board should be updated immediately. For example, if the team has capacity to pull a new work item from their work queue, the item should be moved on the board just before work actually commences on that item.

Another challenge relates to whose responsibility it is to keep the board up to date. The moment it becomes the job of a coordinator or lead to do so, we reintroduce the overhead of having someone chase team members for status updates. I have seen Scrum Masters who will take time out during a daily Scrum/standup event to update the team’s work board after a team member has mentioned that it doesn’t accurately show the status of their work items. Everyone on the team is responsible for updating the work board based on the work they are doing.

If the work board columns are aligned with the roles of team members, that is not ideal. A work board’s columns should reflect the progressive value being added to a work item till it is complete and very rarely would this evolution map cleanly to the team member’s individual roles. The Goldilocks’ principle also applies to the columns. Have too few, and stakeholders may not get sufficient visibility into work item status and work items might stall for longer than desired without impediments being addressed. Set up too many and it encourages silo-thinking on the part of team members and can result in increased work in progress.

Having a dedicated blocked column is also not a good idea. Blocked is not a normal step in the evolution of a work item and by moving partially completed work items over to a separate column it can affect flow as a natural tendency of a team might be to pull more work items from the queue rather than unblocking the stalled work item. A better approach would be to highlight blocked items within their active work columns.

The next sin relates to work item aging. Ideally, once the team has completed a reasonable number of work items, they will be able to determine what is a reasonable amount of time for a work item of a certain size to remain active. If there isn’t some way for the team and stakeholders to see how long a work item has remained in an active column (i.e. something other than Not Started or Done), then it is hard to proactively determine whether it has been aging longer than it should.

Finally, cluttering a work item card with too much information increases the potential for stakeholder confusion and for inaccurate data. At the bare minimum, a work item card should contain the description of the work to be done, key dates (e.g. requested, started), whether it is blocked or not, and which team members are working on it. Anything beyond this can be helpful, but also increases the effort required for team members to keep information current and accurate.

Work boards can be a powerful tool to help a team visualize their work flow, but as always, with great power comes great responsibility.

(If you liked this article, why not pick up my book Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice which contains 100 other lessons on project leadership? It’s available on Amazon.com and on Amazon.ca as well as a number of other online book stores)

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Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , | Leave a comment

How strong is the link between low psychological safety and quiet quitting?

A couple of months ago I wrote an article regarding quiet quitting by project team members. While there are many reasons why someone might choose to physically be present but mentally check out, I felt that there were a limited number of root causes. Similarly, there are many triggers for someone participating in the Great Resignation, but these can likely be traced back to a handful of reasons.

The topic of psychological safety is never far from my thoughts and I wanted to understand how much it factored into people’s decisions.

I decided to run a one week informal poll on LinkedIn from those who had quiet quit or recently resigned asking them what was their main reason for doing so. I provided respondents with four choices: insufficient compensation, a lack of professional growth, low/no psychological safety and an other category.

Unfortunately, I only received thirty-three responses to the poll so it is by no means conclusive, but 42% chose the low/no psychological safety option with 30% picking other, 18% a lack of professional growth and only 9% indicating insufficient compensation.

The results would appear to support the theory that compensation is a hygiene factor. While everyone would like more, so long as we are being given fair pay for our work, it is unlikely to be the primary cause for checking out. The higher scores for professional growth also make sense from a Maslow’s hierarchy perspective as those address motivation goals such as self-esteem and self-actualization.

Respondents who chose the other category provided reasons such as a lack of autonomy or poor culture.

But the underpinning for nearly all of these might be low psychological safety.

If a team member feels safe, they will not be afraid to lobby for greater control in their way of working, support for career growth, and increased compensation. They will also feel comfortable raising concerns about organizational cultural dysfunctions knowing that their peers and reporting manager will protect them from blowback. They will be more likely to adopt the mantra of it being better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission. They won’t bear the daily emotional and mental burden of having to pretend to be something they are not.

A decade ago, Google’s Project Aristotle identified psychological safety as the underpinning for improved team performance. Similarly, its absence might be the underpinning for quiet (or loud) quitting.

(If you liked this article, why not pick up my book Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice which contains 100 other lessons on project leadership? It’s available on Amazon.com and on Amazon.ca as well as a number of other online book stores)

Categories: Psychological Safety | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Are you working down your knowledge debt?

The term “technical debt” is familiar to many in the delivery world, especially those working on technology initiatives.

Ward Cunningham had originally used the well known concept of financial debt as a metaphor for the consequences of decisions made with imperfect or partial information. The term has been mistakenly used by some to refer to poor product quality resulting from teams cutting corners but that was not its original intent. For those of you who would like to hear Ward’s explanation of how he came up with it, you might want to view this YouTube video.

A few days back, when responding to a LinkedIn post about fixed and growth mindsets, and what are the prerequisites for someone to possess a growth mindset, I felt the same metaphor could be used to describe the mental models and preconceived notions which we build up over time. Purposefully restricting where we get information shouldn’t be considered “debt” so I’m focusing on misconceptions or blind spots which arise naturally.

Unlike financial debt, it is impossible to avoid knowledge debt. The human mind seeks to fill gaps in our understanding and our biases, past experience and anecdotal evidence are all leveraged to do this. What is important is whether we choose to pay down this debt.

To do so requires us to accept that we shouldn’t be certain about anything. Once we have the humility to accept that, we are likely to be more curious about views which differ from ours and more open about learning from sources outside our echo chambers.

Here’s one example from my past.

In my early childhood, I had decided that I did not like eggplant and that all dishes made from it were slimy and inedible. As such, till my twenties, I went out of my way to avoid eggplant. After I got married, my wife wanted to make an eggplant-based meal one day and I wasn’t thrilled. Knowing that she generally had good culinary tastes, I was curious as to how she could eat eggplant without gagging and decided to humor her by trying some. Sure enough, I enjoyed it. Looking back, I can regret all the missed opportunities to enjoy eggplant parmesan, grilled eggplant, eggplant lasagna and other dishes, but at least I was able to do so from that time forward.

So how are you going about working down your knowledge debt?

(If you liked this article, why not pick up my book Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice which contains 100 other lessons on project leadership? It’s available on Amazon.com and on Amazon.ca as well as a number of other online book stores)

Categories: Project Management | Tags: | Leave a comment

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