Posts in Leadership
Agile Culture Part 2 - Strive For Quality

Last time we looked at supportive leadership and how that can really let people in an organisation become empowered.That feeling of empowerment will vanish pretty quickly if they feel that they just aren't achieving good results. Nothing is more demotivating than feeling that you have worked all day and achieved nothing, or made things worse. This is where quality comes in. People need to feel that they are doing a quality job to be really happy. Pride in your work is one of the biggest motivating factors out there. Quality is also great for an organisation. After all, if it's not producing quality, how likely is it to stay in business long term?

Now, when I mentioned quality, I'm betting a bunch of you immediately thought about things like defects, and testing, That's what most people associate with quality - building the thing right. But that's not all there is to quality. By itself, building the thing right only ensures that what you build is defect free. Is it the right thing? Building the right thing is an even more important aspect of quality. And what about the way we build it? Is it quality if our processes are bad so that what we build is late to market or too expensive? An organisation needs to consider all 3 aspects of quality before they can really say that they are producing a quality product. 

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Agile Culture Part 1 - Supportive Leadership

Hi Folks. Back after the new year (and a major unplanned upgrade to the blog that knocked me off air for a few months…so much for keeping up to date with maintenance) I’ll be kicking off with something I talked about at the end of last year - an in-depth look at my views on what an agile culture looks like. If you can cast your minds all the way back to 2018, I posted an overview of 5 things that I feel are the foundations of a good agile culture. To refresh everyone's memories (including mine) after the holiday season, here they are again -

  • Supportive leadership

  • Strive for quality

  • Learning organisation

  • Enable people 

  • Enhance safety

Today I'll be looking at the first one - supportive leadership. Agile folks talk about this all the time by different names. Servant leadership, supportive leadership, people-focused leadership, and a host of others. We all mean the same thing. The trouble is, when we are asked "well, what exactly does that mean, we generally aren't very good at defining it, and are even worse at giving leaders real, practical guidance on what to do to become a supportive/servant/people focused leader. So here is my attempt.

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How Is A Coach Like A Vampire?

Vampires are lame. There it is, standing at your front door, cape, fangs, the full works. You have opened the door, it's looking at you, getting hungrier and hungrier. It's starting to drool. You are looking at it from inside. Giving it the finger. Perfectly safe. Why? Because according to the stories, vampires need permission to enter. You are perfectly safe as long as you don't say "please come in". Of course if they catch you out in the open later without a front door to give you protection, you might just regret giving them that finger.

So why am I telling you this? Because coaches have something in common with vampires. Capes? No. Because we descend on organisations and suck them dry? No. It's because we also need permission before we can do what we are there to do. We need permission to coach. But surely, I hear you say, you have permission. After all, you have been hired to coach, therefore you have permission to do so. Sadly, it's not that simple. What we usually have is permission to be there, not permission to coach.

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TL:DR - Information Smoothies

I have had quite a few comments over the years that I have been running this blog along the lines of - "OMG! Wall of text" or "What's the takeout here?" or "Why don't you make this an easy to read list? " or "Can you summarise into a few bullet points? " or just the basic "TL:DR". This worries me a bit. Not just because people aren't reading my stuff, but because I think this points to a much deeper problem. I think this points to the reason people and organisations find it so hard to change.

My posts are always between 800 and 1200 words. That's not exactly a wall of text. If you print it out, it's about a page and a half. The reading time is about 5-10 minutes. Maybe 15 if I really make you think. That's not a large amount of time. But yet many of us feel unable to invest that amount of time to read something. If it's hard to find time to read a short blog post, what about longer format work? An essay? A book? 200 pages? 50,000 words? I know a lot of people who tell me that they barely have time to read tweets these days. What does this say about our capacity to absorb and process new information?

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The Cost Trap

Time to close out our series on common traps with a look at probably the most common trap organisations fall into. I don't think I have ever worked for an organisation that wasn't caught to some extent in this trap. What I'm talking about today is the cost trap. You get into this trap by having the wrong sort of conversations - conversations about cost. "How much will this cost?" That question has lead most organisations astray. Why is that? Surely how much it costs is an important question. And indeed it is. The problem occurs when that's the only question you ask. Cost is important, but there is something else you need in order to make a good decision. There is half the information missing. That other half is value. "What will I get in return?"

Let me put it this way, if I were to ask you "would you rather I took $10 from you or $50?" I suspect most of you would chose $10 (and for those who wouldn't, you are very generous, please leave your name in the comments below...). If, on the other hand, I asked "Would you rather I took $10 and gave you back $50 or took $50 and gave you back $500?" I'm guessing most of you would pick the $50. Just focusing on the cost would drastically lower your return. But this is what most organisations do. To be fair, most organisations do consider value, particularly at the top levels of the organisation. Every idea starts with a cost/value decision. ROI is a key consideration. But as work moves down the organisation, the discussion starts to become less and less about value and more and more about cost. The point at which the organisation falls into the cost trap is the point where the value part of the discussion vanishes and the discussion becomes entirely about cost. Often, this is where an idea becomes a project and is handed over for delivery.

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The Urgency Trap

Continuing on with our series on common traps that organisations can fall into, it's time to look at the Urgency Trap. What's that? It's a particularly common trap and unlike most of the other traps where agile techniques tend to help avoid them, the urgency trap is one that agile teams can fall into even more easily than traditional teams. It's also a particularly dangerous trap because it can lead otherwise great teams into other traps, like the rebuild trap we looked at last time.

But what is it? Take a look at your current backlog. Now take a look at your team's long term goal. How much stuff at the top of the backlog is stuff that is strategic and aligned to your long term goal. How much is stuff that's short term, tactical and is at the top of the backlog, not because it gets you closer to your goal but because it's urgent? That bug fix. That urgent tweak to a feature that someone demanded. That urgent update to the terms and conditions because someone in legal found a problem. What's the ratio? More than 50% long term and strategic? Trend is steady? You are probably OK. Less than 50%? Percentage of urgent work is creeping up and displacing more and more strategic work? Welcome to the urgency trap.

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The Rebuild Trap

Another post in my series about common traps that organisations can get themselves into. This week we will look at a really common one. I think I have seen this in one form or another at every organisation I have ever worked for. It's really easy to get into. Once you are in it, it's really hard to get out of. But fortunately, once you know what you are looking for it is really easy to avoid. It's the rebuild trap.

It works this way - the product or process you are working in is becoming old and inefficient. The code base is old and riddled with tech debt. Technologies have gone out of date. It's becoming slower and slower (and more and more expensive) to add new features or other changes. Finally the organisation throws up its hands and announces that the system will be re-built. Everyone cheers. Out with the old, in with the new. A team is stood up. Everyone fights to be on the sexy new rebuild team rather than the boring old legacy maintenance team. Work begins and...never ends. The new system never gets delivered. The old one never gets replaced. Large amounts of money are spent with no result. The other possible outcome is that the new system eventually gets delivered, very late and with vastly less functionality than the one it replaces. What went wrong?

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The Efficiency Trap

I have been looking recently at some of the common traps organisations can get into. Today it's time for the efficiency trap. "Hang on", I hear you say. "What's wrong with efficiency? Efficiency is a good thing...right?" Well, yes, but exactly what are you efficient at? Are you efficient at delivering things or efficient at achieving business goals? "But wait?" you say. "Aren't they the same thing? Don't we achieve business goals by delivering things?"

The answer there is "not always". It's really easy to deliver things that don't actually deliver business outcomes. Features that no one uses. Products that don't sell. Or at a smaller scale, designs that never get implemented. Business cases that never get funded, and so on. This is where the efficiency trap gets us. We fall into the trap of thinking that the more stuff we produce, the better. We mistake efficiency at producing outputs with efficiency at producing outcomes.

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The Productivity Trap

Last time I looked at one of the common traps an organisation can fall into - the solution trap. Going straight for a solution rather than stopping and thinking about the problem first. Today I'd like to explore another common trap - the productivity trap. Productivity is usually seen as a good thing. The more productive we are, the more we get done with the same level of investment, so we are better off. The more time we spend on productive tasks (and the less we spend on unproductive tasks) the better.

Generally that is the case. The difficulty comes in the definition of what is a productive task. Working directly on something that is valuable to customers and will make money for the organisation is clearly a productive task. But what about things like maintenance? Upgrades? Training? Process improvement? Exploration of new ideas? Where do you draw the line between a productive task and a non productive task? And why does it matter?

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