Standup Smells - Chicken plays Volleyball

In one of the previous posts ( http://bizvalu.blogspot.com/2007/03/stand-up-meetings-progress-of-team-vs.html ) I talked about Stand-up meetings and referred to a good paper written by a ThoughtWorker on it. I also discussed a few things I like about it and how they improve the quality of work I do. This post can be found here. Recently, I started observing a few smells in stand-ups that I haven't seen before. Yes, please don't tell me that 'observing a smell' is absurd. I know I know. Anyhow, two trends in specific:
  1. I am a Chicken: A participant asks a lot of questions, in a manner that portrays him as a leader of some sort. But when it was his/her turn to contribute to the stand-up (s)he passed saying, "I am just a Chicken". So, you should not switch between a Chicken and a Pig in the same standup. Either you are a Chicken throughout a meeting or a Pig throughout a meeting.
  2. Volleyball: In a stand-up the participants don't have to necessarily move in order. In other words, the group doesn't necessarily have to talk in a clockwise or counter clock wise direction. It can be random, which actually increases the attention level in the group because no participant know when (s)he can be thrown the token. However, this token throw is misused a lot, where two people keep throwing the token between each other getting in the question-answer mode. This is a smell. First, it clearly indicates that the issue being discussed is getting too much into details and second, it's just not about two people.
I am not saying that people should not seek clarification; they definitely should. Afterall, what's the point of the meeting if what is said is not understood by any. But a back and forth or a volley of questions is indicative of a broken stand-up. Also, a chicken asking too many questions makes it a one person show, which is not it is intended to be.

Road To Success

A lot of folks in corporate world remember the late nineties and early years of this decade as 'boom and bust'. Those tales of riches and the plunder in corporate boardrooms that followed have become folklore lately. And then there are subtle variations of these in other places where the CXO are either chucked out for lack of performance of they just walk out because the change they initiated is not going to happen for another 2 years or so. Result - an impatient investor, a board that will most likely behave like a headless chicken and and a looming uncertainty that instills fears and haphazard decisions. The habit of instant sense gratification has now perched itself high up, even in the board rooms and on Wall Street. Everyone desires success and demands immediate results. Or, at least that's how it is likely to be in North America. The Big Corporate Disconnect Having gained most of my experience as a consultant in this kind of environment, where overnight turnarounds, complete overhauls, reorganizations, etc. have become the staple strategies for results, it came across as no surprise to me that the leadership started showing signs of ruthlessness, shallow understanding of their problems and business models, and far too little commitment to solving problems from the bottoms up. The top down approach of command and control is still being used as a means to communicate vision, rather than encouraging participation of the employees to set the vision of where they want to take the company. The result is a big disconnect between the definition of success as the senior management usually understands it and how the rank and file of their companies understands it. A side effect of that is rationed communication when it comes to morale boosting of the employees, which starts to dilute the communication and inturn the trust and faith that the CXO has invested in him/her. At the end of the day every CXO utter very similar things - investor, walls street, and earnings. No one either cares or has the confidence and courage to talk about technology, training, infrastructure, IP, quality of people, etc. The reason probably is the slow turn around of the latter, whereas the numbers (profits, earnings, etc.) can change month to month significantly. Long story short, CXO exits start when there's a bad run of numbers and since these folks never invested time and energy in studying and exploring other fundamentals, dollars is all they have got on their report cards. I think, that it is not only foolish but also misleading. The lack of willingness, passion, and experience in concentration, investment, and tracking the fundamental of any business like people, training, etc. is not only a disservice to self but also a breach of trust that the workforce indirectly invests in their leaders. Paradigm of Vision and Leadership So, what's new about it and so alarming that I am investing time to write about it? Recently, I met a CIO and started to work for him and had a chance to listen to his plans. In the process, I am also getting some insight into the decisions he has made, and most importantly the thought behind those decision. His thought was along the lines of getting ready to be successful and then embarking on the mission, and monitoring that progress as often as possible. He defined it as a 'Road to Success' and wants to watch mile markers. The mindset in itself is very radical, for an executive at his level, where more often than not people lose sight of the appropriate details, and don't want to be bothered by what's going on on a daily basis. They have people and they expect those people to just somehow magically produce results for them. The analogy of road to success is very refreshing to come across in the business today. This is going back to the basics of management, where you determine your goals and target, evaluate what it'll take to get there, the resources you have, and the path you want to take, with the courage to solicit help from outside if desired and then having the energy and appetite to follow it through and absorb the shocks in between. It is fun and rewarding to work for people who understand that getting on to the road to success is as much of a cause to celebrate as it is getting there. I am almost tempted to use, "Well begun is half done". Looking back at a lot of work that I have done, it isn't very difficult to pick out experiences where we, as a team, knew that we were headed in the wrong direction, but helplessly watched us go down that path because we didn't know what the road to success was. We knew that it was not the one that we were following, but lacked the courage to stop, a determination to explore, and the leadership to raise this issue to the people higher up. Most importantly, on a monthly basis we got to know from our managers that the VPs, and EVPs just don't care how we do it, we just have to do it. 'Road to Success' is a paradigm that not only instills confidence in the team but also gives purpose to projects and extracts the best out of people. They know that they are on the right path, the leadership knows that they are on the right path, and in the end the board, the analysts, Wall Street, and investors know that the results will follow. Image taken from: http://alum.mit.edu/ne/whatmatters/200501/images/success.jpg

Round over Rectangle

Usually, a lot us sit on tables when we work unless some of us are lucky enough to be working in bed or sanded on beach. Another important part of a daily work routine is meetings, which are often carried out in environments that have lots of tables and chairs. Constraints of Space Recently I observed that almost all of the meeting tables are either rectangular or square in shape. Round is not a shape that's very popular in corporate environments, unless it's in the cafeteria or kitchen. My very educated guess is that it is due to space constraints; architectural layouts of most buildings do not allow for massive round tables to be accomodated. It's just not an optimal utilization of space. Or so one would think unless (s)he has an experience I recently had. We were all, seven of to be precise, in a meetings on a rectangular table where one of the participants had a lot to share and discuss and comment upon. But the layout of the table and how the participants were sitting on it made it extremely difficult for the speaker to be able to make eye contact or even look at the person sitting to his immediate left or the right until he turned the chair a little bit to the side that made most sense, facing a little towards the person sitting at the head of the table, which positioned his back towards me. This not only took me out from his view but also cut down his decibles for me. Reaction and result; frustration and loss of attention and focus. I would, actually, have been better of being on a phone meeting because the voice at least would have been clearer. The Second City I would not have otherwise written about this seemingly immaterial topic, but an event made me change my mind. Just yesterday I spent 6 hours with a group called the Second City (http://www.secondcity.com/) that is basically a theatrical group which has launched such brilliant careers as John Belushi and Mike Myers. My interaction was with their training and communications group that teaches improvization, acting, and other other skills. During the workshop it became quite clear that the business world today is facing a major challenge that the Second City folks are being paid top dollars for. Corporate North America wants its work force to get better at communication and bring some quality to it. And we as participants of this workforce are ignorant of our shortcoming in communication and people skills. Back to the round table Having had the experience that I had at Second City, first and formost I would recommend it to every consultant. But one of the points that I took home was a firm conviction that the design of furniture and facilities has a major role to play in the success of people and companies. If it hasn't affected you yet, it will start to in the months and years to come ahead. Rectangular tables have now become not only an eyesore to me but also a big no-no. They project an image of unproductive, broadcast (one way conversation) kind of a meeting environment that glorifies hierarchy. Round tables, on the other hand, radiate collaboration, high-energy and flatness in the group, which is mantra for success in any modern business. Image taken from: http://www.engage-em.org.uk/index.php?tab=index

Enablement or Delivery - What's my responsibility?

For as long as I know, consultants have been thriving on the demand for improving processes, helping businesses transform, design and deliver solutions, and make decisions. They all seem to be types of engagements where you provide a service, add value, get paid for it and walk away, often like a star. But what you leave behind is a very temporal product that will again require your or some other consultant's services to make changes to it. One of the other types of engagements that I have been associated with lately also is 'enablement', where it is my responsibility to ensure that the client understands what I do and how I do it, and so it is for my other team members who represent Development, QA, Project Management, etc. The differences between the two is huge. From the fishing world analogy, it's the difference between catching a fish on client's behalf and teaching the client how to fish. The end product in both cases is the fish but it's the experience and the skills attained that make the difference. This is how I differentiate between 'delivery' and 'enablement' projects.
This differences, however, start to blur when the teams are co-sourced. By 'co-sourced' I mean that there is client member representation in almost all of the activities like analysis, development, testing, etc. It may very well be a delivery project but the team structure and the dynamics start to make it look like an enablement project. This illusion gets stronger as the proportion of client representation in the team start to grow.
With co-sourced teams one of the challenges is to be able to influence the practices and techniques of other team members so as to make the team productive and derive high productivity out of the group, something that I am used to and all of us strive for. A reaction to that realization is to start sharing best practices and having lunch and learns where a lot of knowledge exchange happens. I learn a bit about the client and their systems and they learn a little bit from me. Good results start to follow, more often than not. And then we (both client and I) get hooked on to this style of work where apart from delivery we start carving time out for knowledge exchange.
Suddenly, the questions start to pop up.
  • What am I here for?
  • What am I getting paid for - delivery or enablement?
  • What will I be evaluated upon?
Answering any of these questions will no doubt sway any consultant in the direction that avoids enablement, when (s)he is on a delivery project. These used to be a hard ones to answer until I started asking myself a different question.
  • Why am I here?
The answer to this question is very straightforward for a consultant. I am at any client's to generate some value. And value is generated not by one of two members of a team but by the whole team. If I think that some members of the team are not generating value for whatever reason, I get into the enablement mode to ensure that they are getting all the help and support in order to become valuable members of that team. That in the end will help me generate the value that is being sought.

Imperative of Delegation

Challenges, both people and technology, are an integral part of any project. It is said that if there are none, then you should reconsider your involvement in the endeavor. Every project struggles with staffing at some point in time. There's no set formula that spits out the team composition or size based on the problem. Teams usually start with a certain number of people, based on past experience, and then either add or reduce the size as a project progresses. Then, there are other things like commitment; the percent of their daily time are people committed to on a project. These factors in combination of others help estimate the team size to a certain extent. Delegation Maturity of Team Usually, people talk about the maturity of team when you discuss the team sizing with them. One factor that I have never heard being considered is how well the team members delegate. Has anyone of you asked yourself or been asked this question? Did anyone ever come to you and said, "What's your assessment of the delegation skills in this team"? I have never been asked, but I have asked this to others a few times. Decisions - Too Important or Too Dangerous So, why is this such a big deal? Well consider this situation. A team has a product manager who makes all the decisions on the priorities of the functionality to be developed. But, that product manager is gone for two days. Who has that decision making authority been delegated to on the team in his/her absence? Who sets the direction of the team. Probably nobody, because that's just too important a decision for anyone or everyone to make. Even if it is not, who would want to make such decisions? These situations are seldom considered to start with on project teams. And this exists on all fronts, product management, project management, analysis, development, quality assurance, design, etc. People don't want to delegate and the delegates are too afraid to call the shots. Importance in Agile Environments In Agile environments, where teams move ahead and track activities every day, this is a big bottleneck. This is what makes the teams dysfunctional and impairs productivity. And the more we delay putting a delegation structure in place the more fearful the environment starts to get. Decisions start to take longer, frustrations start to build up, and eventually analysis starts to suffer because analysts don't put in that much effort, hiding behind the excuse that there's no clear vision and we may end up dropping this functionality, so why put in too much effort into it right now.

No matter what methodology is adopted on a project, people have to be empowered to make decisions and should feel comfortable delegating this responsibility to other team members in their absence.
Image is taken from http://www.lindamoran.net

Obsolescense of a BA?

For a lot many years we have now been witnessing that there are jobs that just go away. They are either obsolete or have grown so much in role responsibility that many new jobs have spun out of the original. I mean, who around us sees a milkman anymore and we all know what ever happened to the 'webmaster' of the 90's. Just a few days ago, John Berry, a Senior Consultant from Cutter Consortium talked about The Vanishing IT Organization in one of his articles. He talks about the IT organization ceasing to operate and exist as a clearly defined structure with its own office door. That made me think - when will the job of a BA cease to exit? How long do the BAs have before they should start planning their transition into some thing else where they might be useful? I encourage you to give this a thought and post your opinions on it. Image is from http://www-lu.hive.no/plansjer/engelsk/