Posts Tagged With: Project performance

Be disciplined!

If you are sensing a theme here, you probably are.

After writing about the importance of courage for project managers and team members last week, I thought I’d cover another important characteristic, especially for those working on projects which follow an agile delivery approach: discipline.

Merriam-Webster offers a number of definitions for discipline including a few which I’m not overly fond of such as “Control gained by enforcing obedience or order” and “Punishment“.  Neither of these sound well aligned with an agile mindset, do they?

However, the following two definitions hit closer to the value of discipline for agile teams: “Orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior” and “Self-control“.

So how do agile teams demonstrate these orderly patterns of behavior and self-control?

Some are obvious:

  • Showing up on time for ceremonies while also ensuring that they add value
  • Updating Kanban boards or other information radiators in a timely manner such that they can be trusted by stakeholders as an accurate source of delivery knowledge
  • Adhering to the team’s Definition of Ready and Definition of Done unless there’s a good reason not to do so for a given work item
  • Self-awareness of bias and being sufficiently mindful to not act on impulse
  • Making sure that product knowledge (e.g. training and support documentation) remains current

However others are more subtle:

  • Resisting the temptation to gold-plate
  • Demonstrating courage in coaching senior stakeholders when they want to add more work than the team can complete at a sustainable pace and in a quality fashion
  • Avoiding early commitments
  • Not completing another team member’s administrative work for them unless there is a valid reason for their not doing it themselves
  • Granting a team or a team member the freedom to fail

If there is one lesson I learned from my brief foray into the world of martial arts, it is that self-control is critical to success. Given the parallels which get drawn between learning a martial art and becoming agile (e.g. Shu-Ha-Ri), it is little wonder that self-control is important for successful agile delivery as well.





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

Have you rotated your project’s tires?

A standard semi-annual ritual for many who live in cold climates is swapping all season to winter tires on our cars and back again. This exercise also presents a good opportunity to catch up on any other outstanding preventative maintenance for our vehicles.  For those of us who live in places which observe daylight savings time, we are reminded to change the batteries in our smoke alarms whenever our clocks spring forward or fall back.

Here are a few questions to consider if its been a while since you’ve performed preventative maintenance on your projects.

What’s the what? It can be too easy to have our heads down and keep executing the project, but what if there have been some shifts in the environment which have eroded the project’s benefits? While this isn’t a primary responsibility for most project managers, ignoring expected outcomes might be considered negligence.

How’s the how? Assuming we are comfortable with the project’s objectives, are the solution and delivery approaches still viable? If we chose an adaptive approach, is that still the best choice? Are there any early warning signs that solution design or architecture might be flawed and should be revisited? Is there any waste that’s been introduced in our product or project processes which could be eliminated?

Risks revisited? If its been a few weeks since the contents of the risk register have been reviewed chances are some new risks could be identified and the assessment of older ones might need to be refreshed. It’s also a good practice to periodically assess the effectiveness of risk responses and see if any key assumptions made to date can be confirmed.

Stakeholders surveyed? Similar to the risk register, if there are cobwebs on your stakeholder register you’d likely want to see if any new stakeholders have emerged and whether the attitude, interest and power of existing stakeholders remains the same. How effective have your stakeholder engagement strategies been to date and do they need to be adjusted?

Team thriving? When’s the last time you did a pulse check on the health of your team? Was your last team building activity months ago? Even if no one has joined or left the team, you need to regularly monitor team morale and provide opportunities for individual and team development.

Lessons learned? Has any new knowledge been identified, curated and most important, disseminated and learned? Even on projects following a traditional delivery approach, the team should regularly reflect back on what has been learned to help them and others improve.

Ignoring such good practices won’t usually cause immediate issues but paying down project management debt gets costlier the longer you wait!



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

Cultivating psychological safety happens one person at a time…

Since 2015 when Google’s research identified psychological safety as one of the key attributes of high performing teams, it has received a lot of airtime. While there might be greater awareness of this characteristic, there is little guidance on how to cultivate it within an organization or team where it is absent. Hence, when I saw today’s Dilbert cartoon strip, it reminded me that instilling psychological safety is a cultural transformation.

Scott Adams does not provide insight into why the Pointy Haired Boss fired Ted but Wally’s curiosity about recent terminations and his use of Ted as a scapegoat for his project’s schedule variance clearly demonstrates that they are working within a corrosive culture of fear where failure is not recognized as a statistically expected outcome but rather is the catalyst for a witch hunt.

Sound familiar to any of you?

In one of my earlier articles, I’d provided some suggestions on how a project manager could help to instill psychological safety within their team but did not cover the need to understand the underlying causes for its absence.

While we think about psychological safety as being a team-level dynamic, it is a deeply personal feeling and like all change, needs to start at a individual level.

There are two forces operating against our feeling psychologically safe – from without and from within.

Our colleagues possess the ability to destroy our confidence in being able to take calculated risks. Every time we see someone being criticized for attempting to push the envelope it supports our personal need to play it safe. Relationship-oriented organizations can unwittingly reinforce this as no one wants to be perceived as rocking the boat.

But we shouldn’t ignore our own insecurities which might be causing us to avoid taking risks. I’ve frequently encountered individuals who hesitated to make a decision which they believed to be the right one simply because they felt they couldn’t. When pushed to identify a specific policy, standard or mandate supporting this, they were unable to and yet they still remained unwilling to proceed. When their leaders were asked if they had said anything which might have caused this, they were flummoxed. Pogo continues to be omniscient – “We have met the enemy and he is us.

Taking the time to understand what might be causing one of our team members to feel unsafe is time well spent as it will improve our likelihood of changing their perceptions.


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

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