Posts Tagged With: management failure

Which compromises are making your agile transformation fragile?

Agile transformation is a long journey for large companies. Holding off on getting started until all the necessary enablers are in place for successful adoption means the valuable learning which comes through experimentation will be lost. During this formative time, teams will have to cope with constraints which hamper how far down the agile delivery continuum they can operate.

An inability to dedicate primary roles on teams is normal and it is reasonable to start an agile journey with this impediment. However, if nothing is done to address the underlying root causes such as a continued belief in the productivity benefits of multitasking or a lack of understanding of how much work can be done concurrently based on resource capacity then delays, the waste of context switching, and higher defect volume will persist.

Environment or technology constraints might prevent teams from completing all stages of delivery for work items. Phase-based life cycles supported the model of shared testing environments which could be booked by teams for specific periods of time. A shift to end-to-end testing throughout the life cycle will be hampered by a lack of dedicated environments. This forces teams to work in a “Scrum-fall” manner which prolongs launches and will increase the cost and schedule risks of delayed defect detection and resolution. The tactical fix might be to throw money at the problem by provisioning sufficient additional virtual or physical environments, but a more lasting solution might require a shift to a partial or full product/capability/value-stream focus from the current project-centric one.

A lack of high coverage automated testing is a common blocker for teams working with legacy applications. Without this, the cost of testing through the life cycle increases dramatically as does the likelihood of missing regression defects. Investments in developing full automation for an existing application are extremely costly and are rarely justified unless there is a significant backlog of enhancements to be delivered over long product lifetimes. But unless there is a real commitment to empower teams to automate test cases from the very first release for new applications, this situation will never improve.

Constraints and compromises are common when undertaking an agile transformation. But not addressing the underlying root causes will significantly impede the ability to achieve sustainable benefits.

Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Are you just following up or are you micromanaging?

Today’s Dilbert comic strip provides us with a good reminder of the fine line which exists between reasonable oversight of activities and micromanagement. Dilbert has allowed sufficient time to pass before seeking an update on a colleague’s assigned task only to find that it has been neglected due to a lack of following up. When Dilbert attempts to get commitment on a revised completion date, he’s accused of micromanaging the activity.

What is deemed a reasonable amount of oversight by a manager may be perceived as micromanagement by team members.

While some teams might possess sufficient psychological safety to embolden team members to voice their concerns, the culture within other organizations or teams might actively discourage this sort of straight talk. In such environments, the frustration felt by the team members festers resulting in impacts to their productivity and slowly poisoning team morale.

And this can become a vicious cycle as team members become progressively more disinclined to share updates with their leaders which results in even greater degrees of oversight.

So how can we avoid this?

It has to start with the leaders and team members collaboratively developing work management practices. If these practices get imposed by leaders or solely developed by team members they will never satisfy the needs of both parties. Early in the life of a project if the objectives for both sets of stakeholders are put on the table and an honest, frank discussion is held about principles governing how those objectives can be met, a set of practices which both sides buy into can be developed.

It also helps to make the oversight process as seamless as possible. Use of visual work support tools such as physical or online Kanban boards can shift the model from assigning work to team members to team members signing up to complete specific work items while simultaneously providing transparency into what’s done and what’s left to be done.

Finally, reducing cross-initiative multitasking can enable staff to complete tasks quicker and with higher quality while eliminating the need for managers to have to constantly follow up with team members to ensure that priorities haven’t shifted.

Micromanagement is like Justice Potter Stewart’s famous description of the threshold test for obscenity : “I know it when I see it”. Given this subjectivity, it’s better to avoid getting being accused of it to begin with.


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

Self-organization is a progression not a transaction

freedomA highly touted good practice for project teams is that they should be self-organized.

Rather than rigidly following direction, team members possess the necessary enterprise savvy coupled with the awareness of what they do and don’t know about the project so that they can come up with the best way for them to plan and deliver the project’s scope. Self-organized teams are flexible so as changes occur to the project, they tailor their approach accordingly. They are also resilient in that while they will rely on each other’s skills, they aren’t crippled by the loss of any one team member and they are ready to onboard and assimilate new team members into their collective.

This is in marked contrast to what is the norm in many companies.

Projects are staffed with an emphasis on resource competency rather than how well they play together. Employee performance programs are geared towards recognizing individual accomplishments over the success of project teams. And enterprise governance policies lean towards favoring compliance with process over satisfaction of control objectives.

Facing these sorts of constraints, is it any wonder that many teams exist in name alone? So when the decision is made to encourage self-organization, this change won’t happen overnight.

Team members who have been used to looking out for their own interests over the success of a team will struggle with the shift to collaboration over consensus. They are also likely to lack the necessary confidence to effectively adapt practices and approaches to fit the needs of a given project. Some might follow an anything goes approach but reprisal for failed projects or broken organization policies is usually likely to be swift. Others might be paralyzed when they request governance bodies for guidance only to be told “It depends” or “You are smart and now we’ve empowered you, so go figure it out“.

Self-organization is a progress, not a transaction.

Coaching on appropriate leadership and team member behavior can help but rarely will there be sufficient coaches in place to address the demand, not can they be procured in a time or cost-effective manner. Definition and implementation of a development strategy based on a coach-the-coach model will be critical.

For process tailoring, initial changes should focus on providing guidance for a limited number of choices where previously a single choice had been prescribed. As confidence and competency increases, constraints can slowly be relaxed.

There have been some instances in recent history where prescriptive dictatorships have been toppled by foreign powers. With projects as it is with politics, if sustainable support mechanisms don’t get institutionalized by liberators before they leave, anarchy rather than self-organization is often the tragic result.







Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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