May 21, 2013
Coach or Manager?
Are you a coach or a manager? Most traditional hierarchical IT organizations use managers to plan, organize and control work. Managers make the decisions that matter with greater or lesser collaboration, based on their management style. A coach is a different thing entirely. Coaches exist to assist a team to reach its full potential. In the world of empowered employees and self-managed teams, a coach is an enabler, a guide and a leader.
A coach enables her team by suggesting areas for self-improvement, ideas for using tools and techniques and facilities improving team. The goal of coaching is to help the team become more effective in delivering value to the organization. The act of coaching requires the ability to interact and facilitate both how individuals and groups work within the team.
When a coach provides guidance, they are using their gravitas to influence the direction of the team. In organizations that rely on control environments the manager will tell the team the correct direction with the expectation that telling and doing are sequential acts. A coach provides direction and uses her influence to get the team to internalize that direction. The internalized direction may well reflect a synthesis of the team’s knowledge and the coach’s advice.
The ability to enable and guide is a function of being a leader. Kevin Kruse, author of Employee Engagement 2.0, defines leadership as “a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.” The definition does not include the primary tenants of the definition of a manager, control and positional authority, but rather is focused on getting the most from the team as it pursues its goals through influence.
A coach is an enabler, a guide and a leader. All three of these attributes are inter-related and self-reinforcing, but having one or two is not sufficient. A coach rarely needs to leverage the techniques of a manager – planning, organizing and directing rather they rely on influence and team peer pressure. Are you a manager or a coach? The distinction is fairly stark. Is your role to help the team maximize its value through a process of facilitation? If the answer is yes, then you are a coach.
May 20, 2013
As many of you know, I jog. It is a hobby with side benefits. Four times as year I run in a race. This morning I ran a 10k along with several thousand other runners (20,000 in total between the 10k and marathon events). The moments just before the race start is always emotional for me as I mentally prepare around all that pent-up energy. Starting a new, cool project has a similar emotional profile. Project teams begin with the excitement of pent-up energy and the possibilities of a yet unrealized common goal.
In a race hundreds or thousands of people press toward the starting line; the press becomes greater as the time for starting gun gets closer. Everyone is ready to go. Project teams feel the same way. Retrospectives from previous projects are completed, desks cleaned off and the team and the individuals that make up the team begin to build up restless energy that will be challenged into the next project.
At the starting line of a race everyone knows that the ultimate goal is to get to the finish line. The possibilities of the run are as limitless as the runner’s imagination. As a new project closes in on the starting line it is very much an unbounded set of possibilities. While we might have an understanding of where the finish line is, we know that the journey will be filled with learning and adventures.
As we wait at the starting line there have been no late nights, no failed tests and no arguments about design decisions, only possibilities of delivering value. We might not run a four-minute mile, but we will learn something new about our self and our team. Several years ago, at the starting gun I went out much faster than I normally run and suffered for the rest of the race. When your next project is green-lighted, use the excitement and energy that new possibilities bring, but remember to pace yourself.
May 19, 2013
Hand Drawn Chart Saturday
Great projects are generally the end result of three types of commitment from three basic sets of actors: individual team members, teams and projects. This cycle of commitment is strongest in great organizations, which is why some organizations are better at delivering projects on-time, high satisfaction projects. However, this cycle can exist in weaker organizations.
The cycle, illustrated above, follows the pattern that team members commit to the team, the team commits to the project and the project influences the commitment of the person. A committed team is defined as a group of individuals that have developed relationships based around a commitment to attain a set of common goals (See Daily Process Thoughts: Environment for Commitment, May, 16, 2013 for further discussion on this point). The strength of the bonds generated by the commitments between the team, people and the project is influenced by the relative importance of the goal that the project supports. Projects that support strategic goals tend to attract the strongest commitment, which keeps the various actors revolving around each other like a classic model of an atom. Industry data suggest that the strength of commitment is strongly correlated to perceived level of value of the project.
A weak or broken link in the commitment cycle will reduce Hthe likelihood of a project achieving its maximum value or customer satisfaction. Commitment helps the team and individual focus on producing quality work. “The Hewitt Associates research finds that double-digit growth companies have 39% more highly committed employees and 45% fewer highly disengaged employees than single-digit growth companies.”
The cycle of commitment links projects, teams and individuals. When the goals of the oject don’t build toward the more strategic / organizational goals, commitment will be lower. Commitment, anywhere in the cycle, is a precursor to the ability to deliver projects that are of high value and customer satisfaction.
May 18, 2013
It is easy to focus on teams and techniques such as the planning game and stand-up meeting to the exclusion of the individual when talking about commitment in Agile. It can feel like Agile is promoting collectivism. I actually had an especially philosophical student jump up in class and shout, “this is communism!” While most IT projects are team-based endeavors, teams developed from individuals plays a central role in making Agile techniques work. Committed individuals are the building blocks that create committed teams.
Individual commitment is a willingness to dedicate one’s self to a goal, and then to work as hard as possible to attain the goal. Commitment is so important that the Scrum Alliance (the entity that certifies Scrum masters, Scrum professionals and trainers) includes commitment in their code of ethics. To quote the code of ethics from the Scrum Alliance
“We take responsibility for and fulfill the commitments that we undertake – we do what we say we will do.”
When individual commitment exists then team commitment is possible. Harnessing the assembled team of committed individuals becomes a coordination activity. Organization or project goals act as a guide to bring committed individuals together into committed teams.
Jeff Sutherland, one of the co-developers of Scrum says that “it is only when individuals and teams are committed that they feel accountable for delivering high value, which is the bottom line for software development teams.” Committed individuals are the building blocks for building committed teams. While teams are generally required for achieving results in software development, individuals are never optional.
May 16, 2013
Agile practices draw on the team committing to the assigned work on many levels for example the commitments from the sprint planning or the commitments made during the daily stand-up. Without the team continually committing to the work Agile would just be iterative waterfall. Teams can be defined as a group people that have developed relationships based around a commitment to attain a set of common goals. The commitment of team members to work together is a critical factor in formation of teams and their ultimate success.
Team commitment is impacted by many factors.
- Mission: Knowing that the work supports or fits into the organization’s overall strategy provides a goal for the team to pursue.
- Value: Knowing that the team is valued provides an anchor that supports individuals working together as a group.
- Challenge: Providing a goal and trusting the team to rise to the situation.
- Empowerment: Giving the team the authority to solve the business problem defined in the project.
Knitting mission, value, challenge and empowerment together creates an environment where a group can organize around a mission, develop a solution and commit to achieving that goal because they know that their performance will be valued. The environment that supports commitment is a core component for high performance teams.
May 15, 2013
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“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw, always ineffectiveness.” Will Murray, of the Scottish Himalayan Expedition.
A feature of both Scrum and xP planning game is a public commitment of the team, after they understand the needs of the product owner and develop a plan to tackle the work.] The public commitment provides an anchor, which makes it difficult for the team to back away from their commitment.
Team’s abandon public commitment at time because they want to avoid responsibility and because the act seems superfluous. The act of committing serves as an anchor, for the teams and publicly shares expectations with the entire organization. The pressure to live up to the expectation set by the public commitment provides motivation, based on a public fear of failure.
Public commitment is part of the planning game that tends to be avoided, overlooked or done privately. The team’s failure to publicly commit creates ambiguity as to whether the team has to strive to meet their commitment. Not making a public commitment robs the planning activities of a significant power to influence delivery by creating an anchored goal for the team.