Marine Corp Marathon 10k and Process Improvement,
One Year Later . . .
Thomas M. Cagley Jr
On Sunday, October 28 I ran in my second Marine Corp Marathon 10K. I ran with two friends and my daughter (see pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/tcagley). The experience for the second year in a row taught me a number of lessons.
The first lesson is that drinking out of a cup while running regardless of your speed is darn near possible if you don’t want to pour PowerAde (think sticky when it dries) all of your face and chest. I am very happy I thought ahead and ran with a squirt bottle full of sports drink. The lesson that the little bit of preparation taught me was (other than the obvious of keeping sticky stuff from my face and chest) is that small amounts of preparation early can go a long way in the end and that you need to think broadly about preparation. In process improvement it is easy to fall into the trap training people of perform a specific task however it is as important to make sure you have planned the logistical support needed to stay in the game until the task is complete. The short story is plan early (and re-plan often but that is another story), preparation includes making sure you have both the skills and the materials required for the job.
The second major revelation (perhaps I’ve led to a sheltered life) is that shared experiences are a powerful tool to create teams and to facilitate organizational change. These experiences are easy to recognize after they occur but more difficult to create. The group that ran the 10k did not run as a cohesive team, did not run “together” but yet we shared a common goal, that of finishing. In addition to the common goal of finishing each person also had one or more personal goals. My personal goal was simply to do better than I did last year. The day ended with each of us the sharing experiences, sights and sounds which reinforced the shared experience. The whole package consisting of common goals, personal goals and sharing led to a commitment to run again next year. Applying this lesson to organizational change would make the run worth the price of admission even if it wasn’t fun.
In order to leverage shared experiences to support organizational or process change activities we need to recognize:
- All participants must share at least one important common goal.
- Each participant will have their own reasons for participating.
- There needs to be trust between the participants and room to share experiences.
Typically the common goal tends to be a stated in cold analytical business terms. Examples might include, “achieve SEI CMMI Maturity Level 5”, “improve productivity” or “increase market share”. The goal acts as an anchor or as a tool to help rally the troops.
Critical Tip: The common goal must be more than just a slogan; it must be something the group is committed to achieving and by achieving the goal making a difference to the organization.
Each person is participating will have their own reasons for participating, these are goals in their own right, but held at individual level. These typically will sound less altruistic and less lofty. Examples might include, “my boss told me to”, “its part of my objectives”, “this is a chance to get noticed or becoming famous”. Regardless of the rational each of these individual goals holds a great deal of power. These goals are the link from the common goal to personal motivation.
Critical Tip: Recognize and embrace individual goals. Make it your job to learn why people are participating and use this knowledge to enhance and motivate the team.
Finally sharing experiences reinforces the team by building a mythology. Building a set of legends or mythology can cement a group together. The stories initially identify group values and reinforce the social norms then provide a feedback loop to reinforce group identity and values. While inter-group trust is critical to sharing stories and experiences; the act of sharing experiences builds trust (a catch 22?). I would suggest having real shared experience is necessary and that trying to construct or make up shared experiences (e.g. spin) will less effective (creating a legend for the group might work in spy novels but in real life the actions speak louder than words).
Critical tip: Emotional, psychological and behavioral investment links the group. Experiences that generate this linkage can be in-person or virtual using Web 2.0 tools like Second Life. The goal is socialization.
Shared experiences are a powerful tool that can weld teams into a unit. To a lesser extent shared experiences can weld whole organizations into a cohesive unit (e.g. Pearl Harbor or 9/11). Using experiences as a motivator to create teams it is not as easy as it seems. People know whether they are being manipulated therefore I would suggest being honest and using natural events when possible. Team building exercises and real-life case studies are great tools to include in your implementation plans. Role playing can be particularly powerful.
Remember for effective software process improvement, clearly define common goals, allow participants to have their own goals, leverage shared experiences and make sure the logistics are in place to complete your task. Finally don’t spill Powerade all over yourself if at all possible!
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