Posts Tagged With: communications

Within sight, in front of mind!

The sixth principle of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development is “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation“. We have all experienced situations in which our not seeing the person we were speaking with resulted in a misinterpretation of what was being said. When teams are composed of dispersed members who don’t have the benefit of seeing one another face-to-face it takes longer for them to trust one another. It also can increase the volume of documentation required to create shared understanding.

It should be fairly simple for teams working for a single company on small, low complexity projects to be co-located, but as project complexity, scale or the number of distinct delivery partners grows, multiple constraints including the availability of skilled contributors, financial restrictions or real estate limitations might prevent team members from working in close proximity.

It is always a good idea for leaders to organize early and regular face-to-face opportunities to build trust within the distributed teams they are supporting.

But is that enough?

Augmented or virtual reality technologies have still not evolved to a point where we can accurately simulate being co-located, but using dedicated video conferencing facilities or even the webcams on our laptops can boost communication effectiveness.

Such tools can provide us with benefits such as:

  • Determining how engaged individuals are in the discussion. This can be especially helpful in ceremonies such as daily standups where it might be tempting for someone to tune out after they have shared their information. With everyone observing what each other is doing, the social pressure of not wanting to be singled out for multitasking might be enough to keep people’s focus on what is being said.
  • When supporting a small distributed team, a facilitator might forget to call on silent team members. Seeing their faces makes it easier for the facilitator to draw them into the conversation, especially if the facilitator is picking up on a facial cue that a team member is concerned about the topic but seems to be unwilling to voice their concerns.
  • Enabling richer participation in voting, brainstorming, team building or creative activities. For example, if a decision needs to be made, a leader can ask for a show of hands, and determine how eager individual team members appear to be based on how quickly they raised their hands.
  • Helping team members to better support one another. It is very challenging to determine how someone feels if they are just communicating with us via e-mail, instant message or phone call. Visual cues can help you see that they are having a bad day.

Albert Mehrabian’s 7%, 38% and 55% rule about the relative impact which verbal, tone and body language cues have on how much we like someone is frequently misstated as representing the impact of all communications. But we should never forget that old saying: “Out of sight, out of mind”.

 

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Categories: Agile, Project Management | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Have courage!

When we think of the characteristics of a good team player, we tend to come up with attributes such as demonstrating selflessness, possessing empathy, or being a good communicator. While these are all critical to creating a high performing team, one trait of effective project managers and team members is the ability to do things which take them outside of their comfort zone. In other words, courage.

Why do I consider courage to be so critical?

Courage won’t guarantee that right decisions will get made, but it might prevent some bad ones.

Presented with an unrealistic deadline to deliver fixed scope with fixed resources and budget, if no one demonstrates courage by raising concerns or by negotiating for a feasible commitment, the team might have just signed up for their very own real-life Kobayashi Maru scenario.

Perhaps a sponsor or other senior stakeholder is pushing for the use of a particular delivery approach for political reasons. If it is not the best fit for the needs of the project, it’s rare that the accountability for this bad decision would fall on that stakeholder but it’s more likely that the team will bear the brunt of the issues.

Maybe the business case for your project is no longer attractive. It might be safer to keep your head down and continue to deliver according to approved baselines, but wouldn’t it be better for your company, your team and your own career if you were to bring this concern to the sponsor or other appropriate governance body?

Maybe your organization’s project management methodology requires the completion of a particular artifact. No one on your team believes it adds any delivery or risk control value. If you don’t have the courage to ask “Why?” or to seek an exemption, you’ve likely lost some credibility with your team members.

Courage preserves integrity by enabling us to operate with transparency

It’s hard to tell your customer that there is a unrecoverable variance or other critical issue with their project. But if we candy-coat this message, or worse, avoid telling the customer entirely, the truth will out, and the fall out is likely to be much worse than if we’d summoned the courage to break the bad news in a timely manner.

Maybe one of your fellow team members is behaving in a manner which is irritating others. If we don’t have the courage to provide coaching or constructive feedback sensitively but directly to that team member and give them an opportunity to respond, we aren’t demonstrating respect for that team member or our team.

Courage enables us to grow

Whether your project is being delivered using an adaptive or a deterministic life-cycle, team members and your company as a whole will benefit if they occasionally work on activities which fall outside of their core specialization, if doing so benefits the team. Developing generalizing specialists will take support from both functional managers and from one’s peers, but it also requires a healthy dose of courage for us to try something for the first time, knowing that we might fail. This applies not only to the activities performed by team members, but also the types of projects or work assignments we ourselves take on.

Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” – Maya Angelou

 

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Kanbanize your personal development resolutions for 2018!

The new year is a time for making resolutions and most people’s lists are likely to include some behavior-related ones (e.g. I resolve to eat only one dessert with dinner!) as well as some goal-oriented ones (e.g. This is the year that I’ll get washboard abs without the benefit of Photoshop!). While behavior-related resolutions usually come down to our self-discipline and soliciting and receiving candid feedback from those closest to us until those behaviors become ingrained, goal-oriented resolutions might require us to do some planning and tracking.

This is especially true for personal development-related resolutions. You might be aspiring to attain a new role, a new credential or to gain competency with a new skill.

Perhaps you’ve taken the time to write down these goals and shared them with those around you. That’s great as studies have shown that documenting and communicating goals increases our sense of commitment and ownership to their completion.

Unfortunately, when it comes to personal development, reality has likely asserted itself now that we are through that halcyon first week of January. Whether it’s work priorities or family commitments it can be easy to de-prioritize those development activities, especially if there is no one reminding you of them regularly. Like the grasshopper in Aesop’s fable, days will turn into weeks and soon you might find yourself singing “And so this is Christmas and what have I done?”

Sometimes the problem might not be ignoring personal development activities but being overly ambitious by taking on too many at the same time and not completing them. It feels great to start something new but it can be less fun to see it all the way through especially while also juggling work and family activities.

If this sounds like you, Kanban might be just the support you need to accomplish your development goals.

Break your development objectives down into a few key activities, prioritize those activities, define the workflow for them, establish Work In Progress limits taking into account your capacity, and transfer those activities on Post-it notes to a simple work board containing high and low priority swim-lanes as well as one for blockers. Ideally this work board should be installed in a prominent location such as the side or front of your refrigerator where others will be able to see and support your development activities. This has the bonus benefit that when activities get blocked, you can draw on the creativity of your family to overcome them.

A development journey of a thousand miles begins with a Kanban step.

 

 

Categories: Project Management | Tags: | 1 Comment

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