Posts Tagged With: communications

Are we marketing the right metrics?

Recently, I’ve been experiencing frequent brief loss of Internet connectivity issues at home. I live in a major urban area, no internal or external home renovations have happened which would affect cabling, and my cable modem was recently swapped. Thankfully, the technician who swapped the modem did provide me with his mobile number and recommended that I call him if I had further issues within a few weeks.

We have all heard that the Internet is becoming a critical utility and hence we should demand the same reliability as we do with power, water or our telephone dial tone. While this is a reasonable expectation, few Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have focused on this in their marketing campaigns to the personal market. Commercial customers are a different story – they enjoy real SLAs but at a higher cost. Most of the ISPs who service residential customers will hype their transmission speed or capacity in their advertising. While those are important, guaranteed up time would be a more welcome benefit in the long run, and would likely contribute to greater customer loyalty. ISPs are under pressure to scale their infrastructure to support greater speeds at lower costs, but the side effect of this “arms race” might be reliability.

This situation brought to mind the challenges we face when communicating delivery metrics as part of an agile transformation.

Many of the leaders I’ve worked with focus on schedule metrics: reducing time to market, lead time, time between releases, and so on. While these are important, an overemphasis on reducing lead time may unconsciously encourage delivery teams to kick quality concerns down the road. Having effective Definition of Done working agreements can help, but these can also be diluted to favor speed over quality. Defect reporting and customer satisfaction surveys provide opportunities to identify whether there is an unhealthy focus on delivering faster, but these are lagging indicators.

This is why it is so important that the communication campaign supporting the transformation, including the sound bites from top-level executives, reflect an equal footing for speed AND quality. And mid-level managers need to walk this talk in their daily interactions with their teams.

Don’t sacrifice quality at the altar of speed.

 

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

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”.

 

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

 

Categories: Project Management | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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