A diagnosis or patch?
A diagnosis or patch?

The majority of work entry problems are caused by eight problems. The eight problems often occur in clusters and are a reflection of organizational culture.  Knowing that there are eight problems is useful when they can be recognized. Unless people wear their motivations on signs hung around their neck, recognition requires conversation and observation.  Hints for recognizing the top eight work entry problems are:

Difference in goals – The goals of people, teams, and organizations have a huge impact on their behavior. Identifying differences or potential differences in goals is one of the missions of all leaders. Areas to evaluate include:

  • Do team members or organizations value different time horizons?
  • Are there different perspectives on what market the product is serving?
  • When goal conflict occurs, is there an incentive to compromise or adopt a middle ground?
  • Is there trust between team members or teams?
  • Are disagreements and arguments about approaches common?

Need outstrips supply – Recognized or unrecognized supply/need mismatches are easy to diagnose.  This is a measurement problem unless you are allergic to measurement.

  • Does the amount of work being added to the backlog more or less equal the work that is being delivered?
  • Do people complain more (or more loudly) about the ability to deliver value in a timely manner?

Pay practices – The impact of pay practices on work entry is the hardest category to explicitly diagnose, but is often easy to infer retrospectively. For example, I have worked for several firms that had large sales quotas, early in the last quarter of the year the pressure to slip in enhancements and tweaks went up as salespeople tried to make sales. Indicators include:

  • Is there an over-focus on short term requirements?  
  • Are mid or long term technical architecture needs being addressed in a timely manner?
  • When you ask about pay practices, are there significant short-term bonuses? (Asking directly about how people are paid is often difficult.)  

Product v Project – A project perspective is easily diagnosed based on the vocabulary people use and funding approach used for work.  

  • Do people call work projects?
  • Is work driven from a fixed requirements document or backlog?
  • Are individual initiatives funded?

Urgency/importance dichotomy – No criteria for prioritization or teams that jump when someone raises their voice are reflections of teams that react to the urgent at the expense of what is important.

  • Are there criteria for prioritizing work?
  • Are standard criteria for prioritizing work used consistently?

Class of services – Diagnosing whether classes of service exist is usually as simple as looking at the program “board”.  Less explicit implementations of a class of service approach are harder to diagnose.

  • Does the team’s or program’s board have identified classes of service?
  • Is work being accepted into the iteration or flow of work outside of normal planning practices that cause other work to be delayed?
  • Do team members or stakeholders ask for work to be expedited?

Control – Micromanagement or command and control approaches can be exhibited by leaders of all types.  The long-term use of these approaches can have deleterious effects on teams and team members.

  • What do the interactions between leaders, stakeholders, and team members say about the leadership tactics being used?
  • Are people or teams told what to do consistently?
  • Is there only one leader in all situations?

Yes – Diagnosing Yes’itus requires listening to the transactions occurring at the work entry interface (where ever it is occurring).  

  • Is only answer is that the team will get right on it (or other variations of yes)?
  • Does saying work will be placed on the backlog guarantee it will be done (and soon)?

Diagnosing any of the eight work entry problems requires patient observation along with conversation.  Even the best work entry process will have a few, occasional hiccups. A Pareto analysis (application of the 80/20 rule) is useful to determine whether a work entry problem exists and to help expose the root cause. Use the indicators as a tool to help find areas to review and then observe the work in action.