Grow Your Organizational Structure

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Many experts would agree that structure plays a crucial role on how people in your organization communicate. Melvin Conway, a computer programmer, introduced the idea in 1967 that “organizations which design systems will inevitably produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure”. In other words, how you structure, disseminate information and influence communication paths will have an impact on how you design and produce your systems.

Two chapters in an excellent book, Management 3.0 by Jurgen Appelo, is devoted to the theory and practice of growing organizational structure. Jurgen synthesizes thought leaders’ conclusions and adds a bit of his own. I mention some of the messages I got out of these two chapters below along with a later reference to a tool called “Meddlers” which was created by Jurgen to assist in growing your organizational structure.

We say that communication is a prerequisite to collaboration.  Communication, however, is miscommunication unless it is correctly interpreted. Alistair Cockburn would say that a one-way communication doesn’t constitute communication and that communication requires that the recipient understood the message as the communicator intended.  

Many things can disrupt communication along its path. It would behoove us to create an environment and structure that would minimize this.  You can see, several environmental factors could impact communication. The number of hand-offs and the medium utilized before reaching the message’s final destination could increase the probability of miscommunication. That is one reason why most experts advise we limit hand-offs, dependencies and long communication chains and would look to create structure and teams that would also limit these factors.

How we grow our organizational structure is influenced by several factors though and is in itself complex.  How mature is our organization? What types of products/solutions are we creating? How big is our organization?  Do we have a substantial amount of new people? These are some of the questions we can ask ourselves.  And no solution can ignore time and context. This is why it may be all right to frequently change structure, as long as it is driven by a purpose.

Management 3.0 lists some heuristics to consider:

  • A preference towards generalizing specialists which are people who have one or more specialties and also general knowledge in other useful areas.
  • Widen people’s job titles and don’t pigeon-hole them into a specific skill set via title.
  • Cultivate informal leadership outside of line managers.
  • Depending on maturity, draw constraints and then let the team self-organize.
  • Limit/exclude multi team membership.
  • Keep team size small with a guideline of 4-7 people. Communication increases exponentially with additional team members.
  • When choosing whether to form a functional or cross-functional team determine the most important path of communication.  Do the people need to communicate more with others with their same skill set or with the people working on the same product?

As we think about these questions and others, we can best grow our organizational structure.  A tool from Management 3.0, “Meddlers”, assists us in designing our teams. Meddlers allows us to represent our people and their skill sets.  Hats represent skill sets and we can label the people with names if we want. We can then place them on teams and position the team hexagon with their sides against other teams they frequently collaborate with.  This helps us visualize the structure. Personally, I’ve used Meddlers to first show the existing team organizational structure, noticing the cross-team dependencies.  The visualization really helps and most of the time you would not think there were that many dependencies.  Once seeing these dependencies, we could work to understand them and work on reorganizing the team using Meddlers to reduce the dependencies.  There are other creative ways people are using Meddlers and you can feel free to invent your own.

Take a look at the meddlers web page to see more information and start growing your organizational structure!

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Sampling of Practices to Build Worker Relationships

Worker Relationship

Humans are social beings and relationships at work impact a person’s morale, productivity and quality of life.  Years ago many workers were advised to keep their personal lives to themselves and only discuss business with fellow workers.  Since then many business and mental health experts recommend that workers form relationships with their fellow workers. Developing relationships in the workplace creates empathy and moves towards a more transparent, caring and open environment.  Experts recognize the presence of these attributes in high performing teams and organizations.

Given the amount of time we spend together at work, we should enjoy what we do and working with our teammates. Friendly relationships at the workplace can promote a helpful and positive attitude.  People care about other people and have a genuine interest in their well-being. Trust, the main ingredient for healthy high performing teams, thrives in this type of environment.

So how can we foster good working relationships?  Well, we can get to know our fellow workers better.  There are a number of techniques and practices that can assist here.  

As is usually the case, the discussion that takes place from doing the activity is the important and useful part.

One activity is a short Star Wars Myers-Briggs type personality test.  Another practice is to use ice breakers before starting team meetings such as a thumb ball where you catch the ball and answer the question your thumb is positioned on.

star wars            Thumb Ball

Management 3.0 has some great practices and activities for getting to know your fellow workers such as Moving Motivators and Personal Maps to name two.  I use personal maps with my teams and as training ice breakers. Each person creates a mind map representing themselves.  They draw themselves in the middle and then flesh out the personal map with categories such as family, work, education, hobbies, etc.  It is purely their choice as to what they draw. The group then inquires and discusses different areas in others personal maps. Again, the “gold” is in the discussion and relationships you build as you learn more and have fun discussing the personal maps.  I recently had a team that worked with each other for awhile do this exercise and it was amazing how much new discussions it prompted.

 

Establishing relationships and building trust within your teams and organization is key.

What are some activities, practices and tools that you use to build work relationships at your organization?

 

Guilds and Communities of Practice

If your organization has started its agile journey then it’s probably concentrating on forming cross-functional teams.  Cross-functional teams are great to reduce hand-offs, foster diversity, creativity and innovation, but there are also advantages to gathering with like-minded people and honing your craft through the use of Guilds and Communities of Practice (COP). Although Guilds and COPs can also be cross-functional, we can certainly leverage them in this case for like-minded people.

Guilds and COPs can be formal, informal, led or grass roots.  Our objective here is to create a forum to share knowledge and discuss solutions to challenges within a specific practice.  As we create more and more cross-functional teams our work can begin to become more siloed. The Guild and COP can be used to break down those silos and engage in cross-team collaboration.  

We’ve been participating in user groups and similar gatherings for awhile, but the first I saw the model of Guilds introduced was within the Spotify Model.  There premise was to have people from different teams within a specific practice come together. They could share knowledge, discuss solutions to common challenges and sometimes even go so far as to identify agreed upon standards.

Guilds can go beyond just meeting on a regular basis and can also create websites, chats and social media channels.  These mediums can be used to share knowledge and collaborate on certain challenges real-time and provide instant consultation with experts within your vertical area of practice. At my current organization we have several COPs, webinars and channels to discuss areas of interest. Some are more formal than others, but they all contribute to furthering the availability of cross-department knowledge.

Guilds and COPs can also be multi-organizational or area based.  Here in the Tampa Bay area we have an active Scrum Masters’ Guild facilitated by Adam Ulery which meets every first Wednesday of the month. One of my favorite exercises with that group was when we partnered with the Denver Scrum Masters’ Guild to simulate a distributed environment.

In my current company and community we have established several successful Guilds and COPs (ex: Nielsen Agile CoP, Nielsen DevOps Guild, Tampa Bay Agile Meetup, etc.).  If your organization is on its agile journey then you should consider Guilds and COPs as another means to collaborate, share knowledge and break down silos. If you’re a person that is passionate about your craft then consider starting a Guild within your organization. You could bring some food and start by meeting for lunch.  You might be surprised how many people join you and how much you can accomplish.

Using Kudos Cards !

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The Harvard Business Review cited a study by Losada and Heaphy evaluating team effectiveness measured by financial performance, customer satisfaction and 360-degree feedback of team members and found that the most effective teams had nearly six positive comments for every negative one. Medium performance teams had almost twice as many positive vs. negative comments and low performing teams had an average of almost three negative comments for every positive one.

In light of this and other studies, a great way to increase positive feedback within teams is the use of Jurgen Appelo’s Management 3.0 “Kudo Cards”.  I’ve had my teams use the cards to thank others on the team.  They fill out a Kudos Card and post it on the Kudos Wall.  Team members also announce any new cards at the beginning of their retrospectives, putting the team in a very collaborative and positive mindset.

Everyone wants to have a feeling of autonomy, mastery and purpose.  It provides intrinsic motivation.  Providing sincere positive feedback to your teammates can increase their feelings of mastery and purpose and make them more happy at work.

So why not grab some Kudos Cards for your team, create your Kudos Wall and watch the people on your teams smile more!

HiPPOs Impede Productivity

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Does your organization make decisions at the appropriate levels or do they run every decision up the flag pole to seek the “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion” (HiPPO)?  Are the people doing the work consulted or are all decisions mandated from above on how they must do their work?  Is there a “HiPPO” in the room or meeting that comes out of nowhere and adds a new mandatory condition without being involved in all the previous discussions or research?  Not making decisions at the appropriate level is inefficient and ineffective; not to mention demotivating for workers.  As a manager, create autonomy within your teams!

You can imagine the time wasted if workers need to seek approval for all or most of their decisions; sometimes even having to pass through multiple levels of approval just for the HiPPO to then put the “kabash” on it.  Beware of HiPPOs that use buzzwords and mandate implementation of ideas without much if any research or validation.  If you think you may be acting like a “HiPPO” then do the following:

  • Check your ego at the door.
  • Think three times before telling people how to specifically do something, especially if you are an executive leader.  Tell them what you want to happen instead of how you want them to do it.
  • Listen, listen and listen – the best executive leaders take in as much information as possible from their people.
  • Ask open questions and explore the information you are given.
  • Create a safe environment for discussion in the workplace.
  • Establish a trusting environment and progress towards moving decisions down to the proper level.

Jurgen Appelo, author of Management 3.0, identified that not only does empowerment improve worker satisfaction, but it enables the management of complex systems.  Complex systems are not sustainable and collapse without empowerment.

General McChrystal’s troops had to be autonomous and make decisions in the moment, since Al Qaeda would change tactics constantly.  There was no longer time to assess the situation and run it up to command for a decision. The troops needed to react on their own.  They just couldn’t call back for instructions every time they got in a fire fight where things were changing by the minute.  Heuristics could be set by command, but the troops needed the autonomy to make their own decisions and at a later time share their experience and knowledge with command and other troops.

Some roadblocks for managers empowering teams is that they feel a loss of control or insecurity.  You do not diminish your worth as a manager by empowering your people.  Your worth as a manger is measured by how well your team performs and a well empowered team is a much more efficient and effective one.

In some instances, management does not trust their subordinates to make the right decisions or they’re just plain entrenched in command and control.  Hopefully, if you are a manager reading this, upon reflection you recognize the efficiency of empowering your people and teams and will work towards that end.  If you are not completely comfortable empowering your people then start out with low risk activities and build up as you progress, but you need to start.

As a manager, consider the correct empowerment decisions based on the competence level of your people. Don’t misunderstand empowerment. It is not something that is either present or not. Below are seven authority levels that have been extended by Management 3.0 from Situational Leadership Theory; each with a different level of empowerment:

  • Level 1: Tell: You make decisions and announce them to your people. (This is actually not empowerment at all.)
  • Level 2: Sell: You make decisions, but you attempt to gain commitment from workers by “selling” your idea to them.
  • Level 3: Consult: You invite and weigh input from workers before coming to a decision. But you make it clear that it’s you who is making the decisions.
  • Level 4: Agree: You invite workers to join in a discussion and to reach consensus as a group. Your voice is equal to the others.
  • Level 5: Advise: You attempt to influence workers by telling them what your opinion is, but ultimately you leave it up to them to decide.
  • Level 6: Inquire: You let the team decide first, with the suggestion that it would be nice, though not strictly necessary, if they can convince you afterward.
  • Level 7: Delegate: You leave it entirely up to the team to deal with the matter.

The bottom line is that as a manager you need to get the HiPPO out of the mix and start finding a way to empower your people.  In doing so, you’ll find that their motivation will increase.  Daniel Pink, world renown author and business thinker, tells us that the three factors that lead to better performance are Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.  The first, “Autonomy”, (click here for Dan Pink’s video), is ones desire to be self-directed.  People and teams can accomplish amazing things when given autonomy and this greatly contributes to intrinsic motivation.

If you are a worker, the best way to battle a HiPPO is with facts.  If the HiPPOs ego does not allow them to relinquish their position, especially with an audience present, then do whatever you can to try and gain more trust from them in the future and increase levels of empowerment for you and your team. Another tactic is to have a set of objective criteria in selecting ideas or setting priority.  If the door is open to an opinion then the HiPPO can certainly insert theirs at the top of the list, even if it will not provide the most value to the organization.

So as we move forward with our organizations, let’s concentrate on empowering our people (see empowerment video “Greatness“) and reducing those HiPPO moments. If we do then we will find we have benefited by having more motivated workers and a more efficient and effective work environment.

Agile Open Florida

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Have you ever been to a conference where you don’t know the specific topics of discussion until the morning of the conference?  That’s what Agile Open Florida and other OpenSpace Conferences are all about.  OpenSpace conferences rely on the attendees through self-organization and spontaneity to create the agenda as part of the conference’s opening ceremony.  An overall arching topic is designated for the conference.  Meeting rooms are allocated and time slots are defined.  At the beginning of the conference, any attendee can write their discussion topic on a piece of paper, get in line, announce it on the microphone to the group and then tape their paper on the big board in an available time slot and room of their choice.  You may be an expert on the topic looking to educate others or someone who knows little about the topic and is seeking to draw others opinions to the discussion.

There are four rules and one law of OpenSpace:

  1. Whoever comes are the right people.
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.
  3. Whenever it starts is the right time.
  4. When it’s over – it’s over.

Law of Two Feet:  Use your two feet to take you where you can contribute, share and enjoy and feel free at any time to leave and join a different discussion.  It’s OK to move around.  It liberates you and keeps the energy level high.

Agile Open Florida has been utilizing this format in the past and this year was no different.  The conference was energetic.  Attendees were meeting new people, catching up with old colleagues and exchanging ideas both in and outside of the sessions.  You learn so much from hearing others situations, ideas and remedies and just being part of the community outside of your own workplace.

Agile Open Florida was one of many events in the community that allows you to draw from different people’s experiences and expertise. There are also Meetups, Guilds, Slack channels, etc. that are open to all with little to no fees.  So if you’re not involved in your community, think about doing so.  Find out what’s available in your area.  You’ll find you have a wealth of knowledgeable people out there willing to share their experiences.

Candor Improves Productivity

Business people having a meeting and discussion

Many times we focus on the more visible factors related to productivity, but how many mistakes could we erase and how much time could we save with candor?  Research by NASA in the 1980s found that “take-charge” pilots made incorrect decisions much more often than pilots who included their crews, even in as little as a 45 second time frame.  Healthcare studies concluded that a nurse would only speak up 8% of the time when a doctor was not following the proper hygienic protocol while conducting medical procedures.  Efforts that require just your team are 80% more likely to succeed than those requiring cross-team collaboration.  Most people would rather stay silent then provide criticism to a co-worker leading to frustration, water cooler conversations, gossip and/or passive aggression.  For others the outcome becomes yelling and public berating.  Some of these situations could arise in a moment’s notice and likely become emotional, putting you at an even bigger disadvantage.  Your body uncontrollably gets ready for “fight” or “flight”.  It releases adrenaline and pumps blood to your arms and legs while sacrificing blood to your brain, making the promise of a constructive conversation that more difficult.radical-candor-2x2
Figure 1:  The Candor Inc. Radical Candor Quadrant

So what can we do?  Kim Scott, co-founder of Candor, Inc., tells us that we need to operate in the “Radical Candor” quadrant (see Figure 1 above) where we directly challenge, but at the same time care for the person we are talking to.  It is much easier to give and receive feedback when you feel that the other person cares for you as a person.  Many of us can conjure up a vision where we would react completely different to the same message from two separate people. The book “Crucial Conversations” advises if we sense that the other person is not feeling safe with the conversation, then we must step out of the conversation and build safety before continuing.  After establishing safety, you identify what you would like as an outcome of the discussion and lead with the facts.  Listen and concentrate on the desired outcome and not on winning.  The way the message is delivered is important and goes to creating safety.  Too many jerks deliver the message inappropriately and then say “I tell it like it is”, thinking this gives them carte blanche to be obnoxious.  They are certainly not creating safety with that tact.  The flip side of the coin is “sugar coating” the message.  If you “sugar coat” the message then many times the recipient will not catch your meaning or gravity of the situation.

If you recognize the benefits of conducting candid and crucial conversations then start with yourself and dig into the available information out there on the topic.  We’ll make a lot of progress and save a lot of time with proper candor.

For a more detailed understanding on this topic, read the book “Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny and visit Candor Inc.’s website at http://www.radicalcandor.com

Multitasking Is Inefficient, Ineffective and Bad For Your Brain!

multitaskingdriving

Many people boast about their ability to multitask, but it’s really nothing to brag about.  The simple truth is that it’s inefficient, ineffective and the human brain is not built for it.  If you’re multitasking you’re not going to be able to produce your best work.  This is why many states have implemented laws such as not allowing drivers to text.

Studies show that you’re not doing your brain any favors either.  The brain produces dopamine when we successfully complete a task.  Our brain loves these quick little dopamine hits when answering an email or text and crave even more, resulting in even more multitasking.  Another down side is that multitasking also increases the production of a stress hormone called cortisol and this tires us.  Beyond the chemical implications, our brains were designed to focus on one thing at a time and when we barrage them with information it only slows them down and produces less than quality results.

A University of London study showed that people experienced a significant drop in IQ level when multitasking.  Even context switching, which is a less rapid switching of focus, costs us in efficiency and effectiveness.  In fact, interrupting your focus to read an email has been shown to reduce your effective IQ by 10 points.

Gerald Weinberg, computer scientist and psychologist, has assessed that context switching between projects costs you 20% of your time per project.  This means if you are switching back and forth between two projects for the week then you will effectively have only 40% of your overall time to devote to each project due to the cost related to switching context (see the graph below from Gerald Weinberg).

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With all the distractions technology has introduced in society and the workplace, it’s a wonder that we can get very much done at all.  We have emails, texts, tweets, alerts and social media to name a few. To address the situation, try to commit to specific blocks of time to address these and minimize interruptions.  Work emergencies will occur and interrupt our work efforts also.  It will help to derive a criterion with your customers for the definition of an emergency and effectively triage incidents.  Whenever possible we want to have people assigned to one project/task at a time, let them get it done and then move onto the next one.

The bottom line is that multitasking is not something to add to your list of skills, but instead something you want to minimize.

Try the exercise below to illustrate the loss of time due to context switching.

Exercise

Label three columns on a sheet of paper as follows (“1-10”, “A-J”, “I-X” [the roman numerals]).  Now time yourself on how long it takes you to first write the numbers 1-10 individually under the column labelled “1-10” then writing the individual letters A through J under the “A-J” column and then writing the Roman numerals I through X under the “I-X” column.

Now time yourself for this second way of writing down the letters and numbers.  Get a fresh piece of paper and put the same three columns on the top again.  Now, first write “1” in the “1-10” column and then go to the next column and write “A” and then the next column and write “I” and then return to first column and write “2” and so on, writing each next number or letter in the next column until all of them are written down.

Your time in writing them the second time is substantially longer than it took the first time.  Why is this?  Because switching focus costs you time.

Agile Principle #1: Satisfy the Customer

Value

Agile Principle #1 states “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable solutions.”

Principle #1 is #1 for a reason!  Every team, group or organization has a customer, whether it’s an internal customer, an external customer or both.  The utmost concern for our team must be that we are providing value and satisfying our customer, for without that nothing else really matters.  In almost all cases, satisfying the customer is economically driven and teams have limited people and resources in doing so.  We relatively rank our items to address our most important and valuable items first.  This may be easy and quick for a simple “to do” list or we may have to spend more time for a list of more complex initiatives, always with a watchful eye on expending just enough effort to do so and no more.

Peter Drucker stated “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all”.  Working on the right thing is important and we can increase our success by adhering to best practice relative ranking exercises.  Even in doing so, we can still fall prey to failure. Failure is not necessarily a bad thing.  Much is learned by failure, but if we are going to fail we want to expend the least amount of effort to do so – in other words, “fail fast”.  By failing fast, we can quickly pivot or pick up something new that will provide customer value.

“Through early and continuous delivery” is a phrase in principle #1 that amplifies two significant points which are “leveraging feedback loops” and “maximizing value”.  Feedback is the cornerstone of Agile. Feedback loops are akin to a sailboat tacking to its final destination.  The tighter the feedback loop the better we can adjust and stay on line, but also the more effort we expend on the checking process.  Determine how long you want to sail along before checking your course.  Early and frequent feedback loops with the customer enable us to adapt, pivot and fail fast.

Releasing early and continuously allows us to also maximize value.  If we have 20 things prioritized, we then identify the smallest number of those things that will be of acceptable use to the customer and provide maximum value.  As an example, if we were building the first Automated Teller Machine (ATM) and we wanted the machine to “Withdraw Cash”, “Deposit Funds” and “Inquire on Balance” would it be wise to wait until all three features were available before delivering it to the customer?  Would it be wise to wait for the ATM to be able to remember what your most common withdrawal amounts were and proactively offer those choices?  Or would it be wiser to deliver the ATM as soon as possible without certain features?  These are decisions that you need to make, but the point is that the longer you wait to deliver value to the customer the longer you wait to receive the economic rewards which in turn is losing you money, along with depriving you of essential customer feedback as they use the solution.  So why not deliver the smallest number of features that provides the most economic value and then adhere to Principle #1’s phrase of “through early and continuous delivery of valuable solutions” by then delivering subsequent prioritized features continuously throughout the life of the effort.

Through some of the outlined and other practices we can deliver value to our customers continuously.  Continuously Providing Value = Happy Customer!  🙂

Watch the Work Product, Not the Worker!

Manager Watching Clock

At a number of organizations, I am observing management concentrate on the number of hours a worker has worked, ignoring some of the more important factors impeding software development.  The worker’s hours may be one of the most visible factors, but rarely the most significant.  Singular or heavy concentration on this by management indicates that the organization has a poor software development economic framework.

As direct or indirect pressure is applied to the worker by measuring hours worked without addressing product related factors, the worker will be pressed to engage in inefficient activities and context switching.  This activity further camouflages some of the important economic factors we really should be addressing.

We need not concentrate so much on the inefficiency of the worker, but instead more on the product. If we have no economic standard to order our efforts, then a couple of things could happen.  We work on efforts depending on which “HIPPO” (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) matters at the time.  We stop and start efforts as the next important emergency trumps the previous.  We take in new work without finishing the work we already started. If this were manufacturing, we would see incomplete inventory laying all over the warehouse, visibly showing us something is dreadfully wrong.  In software development the inventory remains invisible.

Our greatest waste is not unproductive developers, but instead the wasted time incurred by product thrashing, poor communication, idleness due to dependencies, working on the wrong things and other product related factors.

Let’s start concentrating on these more important factors first instead of singularly concentrating on the more visible factor of how many hours our workers worked this week.