Commitment


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Software Process and Measurement Cast 343 includes two features.  The first is our essay, Commitment, Revisited: Is Commitment Anti-Agile?  We think not!  Commitment is a core behavior for delivering business value effectively.

Our second feature is a visit from the Software Sensei, Kim Pries.  Kim reflects on hiring practices for software development.  Among the nuggets from Kim is the reminder to keep in mind that the perfect employee does not exist, and you are unlikely to ever find someone who fulfills every item on your job description.  How does that simple fact impact hiring?

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Re-Read Saturday News

The Re-Read Saturday focus on Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox’s The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement began on February 21nd. The Goal has been hugely influential because it introduced the Theory of Constraints, which is central to lean thinking. The book is written as a business novel. Visit the Software Process and Measurement Blog and catch up on the re-read.

Note: If you don’t have a copy of the book, buy one.  If you use the link below it will support the Software Process and Measurement blog and podcast.

Dead Tree Version or Kindle Version 

Our next re-read is The Mythical Man-Month Get a copy now and start reading!We will start in 4 weeks!

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2015 ICEAA PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT & TRAINING WORKSHOP
June 9 – 12
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The next Software Process and Measurement Cast will feature our conversation with Susan Parente.  We talked about Agile risk management.  If you do not have a plan to address risk, you are asking for risk to transform into pain for you and everyone around you.

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I am thankful for my WHOLE family (even the part not in the picture)!

I am thankful for my WHOLE family (even the part not in the picture)!

The fourth Thursday of November is Thanksgiving in the United States. Thanksgiving is a traditional harvest festival in the in the United States and Canada (different dates) although most cultures have a celebration to give thanks for the bounty of the harvest of the land around them. As with many holidays Thanksgiving provides a time for reflection about our lives and the lives of those around us. While I hope we are always thankful, there are times when it is important to actively remember what we have to be thankful for and perhaps even testify just a bit.

I am thankful for:

  • For my whole family and their families and their families families!
  • For my dog and my cats (and that they don’t fight too much)
  • For parents and people that are nearly parents
  • For my friends
  • For everyone that takes or has taken care of me
  • For everyone that has sacrificed so I can be who I am . . . whether they know me or not
  • For the world around me
  • For the problems I face (and for the solutions to those problems)
  • For sand between my toes and the occasional rock in my shoe
  • For the ability to think, smile and laugh
  • For the internet
  • For science and things that are not exactly science
  • For the readers of my blog
  • For the listeners to my podcast
  • For the fact that not everyone agrees with me
  • For the fact that at least a few people do agree with me
  • For mostly rational people and for the guy on the corner that does silly things occasionally
  • For problems to think about
  • For sunrises and sunsets
  • For the 24 hours in a day (even though sometimes I want just a bit more time)

There are probably lots of other things to be thankful for that have slipped my mind, I do not think I am alone in this predicament. Perhaps taking time on a daily basis to reflect on what we are thankful for rather than just on specific days like Thanksgiving would make the world a less stressful, angry and bitter place. But even if reflecting on what you are thankful for could not achieve this lofty goal perhaps it could add one extra smile to your day. A smile that you could share with someone else.

Commitment, Motivation, Results and Trust, An Equation.

Commitment, Motivation, Results and Trust, An Equation.

 

Teams and the behavior of teams are critical to delivery of any project. Successful methodologies or frameworks direct activities in order to reinforce behaviors that generate trust in the team’s ability to deliver value. Having teams plan and commit to the work they can deliver generates motivation that will yield results, which will build trust. This is the chain reaction that will deliver value and customer satisfaction.

When a team is able to commit to work in small increments, as in Agile,  it is more apt to understand how to actually deliver. When teams commit and deliver using short cadences (for example, delivering every two weeks) the team can use its own performance to fine tune their future promises. The ability to use performance information in order to do that fine tuning helps the team to deliver on its commitment and make more accurate commitments in the future. So the virtuous cycle continues.

The ability to commit to specific pieces of work with a good chance of being able to deliver it generates motivation. Agile techniques and frameworks provide teams with the mechanism to say what they will deliver. When they then deliver against that commitment, it creates a feedback loop that helps the team build motivation.

A motivated team, with a good understanding of the functionality they have committed to, will have a much higher probability of delivering the results that the organization needs. Organizations fund projects for one reason and one reason alone – results. Process, techniques, methods and frameworks need facilitate the team’s ability to deliver results.

The whole process of a team committing to work, delivering results against that commitment and learning from feedback generated by performance, builds an environment where the organization can trust the team do what they say. Any technique, framework or methodology should be engineered to build motivation, results and trust.  All of these attributes begin with the team being able to understand and commit to the work and then to be able to refine that commitment based performance and results.  In the end, we do projects to deliver results. Therefore our processes need to facilitate the delivery of results.

Getting to graduation reflects commitment and learning.

Getting to graduation reflects commitment and learning.

Every project is a learning activity, whether the project is a simple maintenance activity or the most complex development project. In every case we are looking for a means of solving a business problem. Alistair Cockburn in his keynote at the Scrum Gathering in Las Vegas, 2013 rephrased the oft repeated Agile and lean start-up catch phrase, “fail early, fail fast” as “learn early, learn fast.” Agile attacks the concept of learning early by breaking work into small components and having the team commit to tackling those components a piece at a time. The benefit is derived by getting to functionality early rather than waiting until late in a project to know whether the right functionality has been developed, or even, if it can be developed. The earlier we answer the questions we have about how and what we are doing the better. The Agile techniques of breaking work into small components, then tackling them in a manner that returns the greatest amount of early learning is a risk reduction mechanism.

In Learn Early, Learn Often” Takes Us Beyond Risk Reduction[1], Alistair Cockburn suggests that all projects seek to answer four questions.

  • How can we learn to build what is desired?
  • How can we learn how much it will cost (time, money, people)?
  • How can we accelerate the team learning how to work together?
  • How soon can we correct the mistaken assumptions in the design?

Agile provides us with a set of mechanisms to develop answers to these four questions early in the project. Story writing and backlog grooming takes larger components and breaks them into pieces of work that can be taken into a sprint and completed. This supports getting to done and then to feedback as a tool for learning.  The act of committing to the work, saying what you are going to do and then doing what you said, provides both transparency and a feedback mechanism. Transparency lets stakeholders understand how the team is attacking the work to solve the business problem and at the same time how the team is progressing. The act of delivering and demonstrating/reviewing work at the end of every sprint generates feedback which can be translated into knowledge and learning.

Agile supports a culture where commitment and learning not only can co-exist but actually work best if they do co-exist. If we view every project as a potential risk that can only be mitigated when the right business value is delivered, then each project represents a set of decision points where feedback is required to guide the work towards value. The impact to overall project risk reduction based on learning early in the project what will work and what won’t work or what the real business needs are, will increase the potential for the project to succeed. Committing to deliver complete units of work at the end of every sprint puts the team and the stakeholders in position to understand unknowns that cannot be exposed without hands-on exploration. The combination of commitment and learning early lowers the risk of delivering and then being surprised.


[1] How “Learn Early, Learn Often” Takes Us Beyond Risk Reduction , July 3, 2013, http://alistair.cockburn.us/Disciplined+Learning

Punishment after poor behavior does not keep kids off the cliff!

Punishment after poor behavior does not keep kids off the cliff!

Feedback is a tool to help teams stay on track not only in terms of functionality, but also in terms of meeting organizational expectations of quality and delivery rate. Rewards, as discussed in Daily Process Thoughts, July 1, 2013 can enhance commitment. When rewards are discussed, or used, someone will voice the idea of punishments as a mechanism to enforce commitments. Punishment and its cousin, blame, create a team environment where making commitments is at best dangerous.

Agile teams make commitments based on the needs of the Product Owner (prioritized backlog) and their capabilities. All teams will occasionally miss a commitment because “things” do happen, but “things” should only happen occasionally. When teams fail to deliver on their commitment more than occasionally or missing their commitments becomes the norm, something is broken. Consistently missing commitments reflects a team problem (people, capabilities or process), or an organizational issue (for example, a mandate versus a commitment). A well-oiled Agile team will tackle team-related issues either during their periodic retrospective or in an impromptu retrospective, however a well-oiled Agile team will not fail to meet their commitments on a regular basis. Punishing a team for missing a commitment does not help them solve the problem, but rather puts pressure on the team to react by finding someone or something to blame. Enter  the Agile coach. When teams can’t help themselves, an outsider can be very helpful to get the team back on track.

Many IT organizations have had a history of fixing the triple constraints, i.e. dates, scope and resources, then dictating or “negotiating” with IT to meet those dates. The act of dictating the date and scope draws a hard line that teams can be measured against and performance judged. When teams feels that the pressure is artificial, team motivation and commitment is damaged. Even where the triple constraint is “negotiated” the negotiation is often subject to power mismatches (for example consider the organizational power of a project manager and a business executive or CIO) or based negotiation biases (such as anchor bias, I will tell you when I want it and then we will negotiate). Regardless of good intentions commitments in these environments are much closer to mandates than they reflect team capabilities. By stepping away from commitments based on capabilities, teams become more inclined to sweep problems under the rug while desperately trying to makeup time until they can no longer hide from impending doom. Once the cliff becomes clearly visible, negotiation starts followed by the official act of pointing fingers in a vain attempt to avoid punishment. An Agile coach (external in this case) is generally needed to help the organization recognize and find solutions for the systemic problems that cause teams to consistently miss their commitments.

Drs. Larson and LaFasto[1] found that the many of the characteristics of highly effective teams revolved around being goal and principle driven. As we have noted in previous Daily Process Thoughts commitment, motivation and teamwork are highly inter-related. The fear of of punishment generally does not improve a team’s performance in meeting their commitments, but can generate a number of negative behaviors that include: sweeping problems under the carpet, trying to negotiate away the commitment or spreading the blame. None of these behaviors delivers more value to the organization. Punishing teams  has drawbacks, whereas rewarding good behavior provides reinforcement. When needed coaching teams and organizations through bad behaviors gets teams delivering value faster and more consistently.


[1] Larson, C., E., LaFasto, F., M., Teamwork: what must go right / what can go wrong, Sage Publications, 1989

Public recognition provides motivation.

Public recognition enhances commitment.

Agile puts people and teams at the center of the development activities. Putting people at the center of the development means that commitment, motivation and teamwork are important characteristics for team effectiveness. Organizations often use rewards to reinforce commitment. Commitment, motivation and teamwork are highly interrelated and if you positively impact one all three will be impacted. Organizations typically embrace a wide range of reward structures ranging from money (e.g. cash and bonuses), giveaways (e.g. dinners, lunches or iPads) to public recognition (internally and externally).

Money is the motivational tool of choice for many organizations. The delivery mechanisms include additions to salary or bonuses. It is popular because it is generally the easiest reward to deploy. However, the problem is that it is not one of the most effective mechanisms to generate commitment or motivation for IT personnel. In a 1981 study, Dr. Barry Boehm published a ranking of the top ten motivational factor for software developers[1]. They were:

  • Achievement
  • Possibility for growth
  • Work itself
  • Recognition
  • Advancement
  • Technical supervision
  • Responsibility
  • Relations with peers
  • Relations with subordinates
  • Salary

While arguably bonuses or salary changes do have a motivational impact, the mechanisms for delivery are generally secret which reduces the potential positive benefits of recognition. For example, giving a bonus to someone might provide some personnel recognition, but if the bonus is not public there is little reinforcement of that recognition. When given a normal course of business, bonuses and salary adjustments tend to be viewed as entitlements. Also, when bonuses are competitive, they can pull teams apart as team members compete against each other. The motivation becomes to get the money, rather than than to the value that the team delivers. Some organizations try to temper the potential downside by granting the same bonus or salary increment to the whole team. I personally have never seen this tactic drive long-term motivation .

Another typical and easy reward mechanism, similar to the bonus, is the giveaway or gift. The organization grants a team dinner, lunch (paid for by the company) or the team or individual members might be given a gift certificate for a night out (it can be very effective to include enough for the spouse or significant other). This technique has the advantage of being easy to deliver and easy to make public, it allows the organization to invoke the benefit of public recognition. A twist on the dinner or lunch reward is to have the project sponsor, or another relevant senior leader, act as the master of ceremonies. The senior-level participation increases the recognition component of this activity. As a side benefit, involving the families or significant others of team members can also increase team bonding. For example, I still remember warmly an event several years ago where a senior business stakeholder “threw” a picnic for the team and all family members one Friday afternoon. It was the day I learned how to play cricket. The team recognition from the sponsor was heartfelt and not perfunctory. The team would have done nearly anything for that sponsor. Gift cards for a local eatery would not have had the same impact.

In Boehm’s hierarchy of motivators, achievement, doing cool things and recognition ranked at or near the top of the list. Almost any of the motivators is improved by recognition. To be effective, recognition needs to be for a real achievement. In the business world, not everyone gets a blue ribbon for just playing, and rarely do achievements like perfect attendance rate public recognition. Consistently delivering business value and high customer satisfaction are  worth recognition. Like before, a twist that makes recognition even more powerful is having that recognition delivered by the business sponsor or relevant senior executive. Recognition works on many levels building self-esteem (TA or Transactional Analysis is on the list topics for the Daily Process Thoughts), team esprit de corps (recognition reinforces the value of team behaviors) and trust (delivering on commitments is important for building trust).

Organizations use a wide range of rewards to reinforce commitment with varied results. The results of rewards on commitment and motivation are rarely measured. And in many cases, the techniques that are used are not the most effective, but rather the most expeditious. On Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, most IT practitioners and teams would be closer to the top of the hierarchy (self-actualization), than to the bottom (physiological needs – food and shelter). This suggests that rewards that focus on self-esteem, recognition and achievement will have a larger and longer term impact on team’s commitment and motivation and teamwork.


[1] Boehm B. W., Software Engineering Economics, Prentice Hall, 1981

Commitment makes decisions stickier!

Commitment makes decisions stickier!

On January 1, 2013 I began an experiment. I committed to writing and publishing a significant blog entry coupled with a picture every day for a year. Today is June 30th, pretty close to the middle of the year (day 181 of 365) and I thought it would be interesting to reflect on the power of making a commitment and following through on that commitment.

I have enjoyed writing since high school. I co-authored a book and have published many articles. For the past ten years I have even gone so far as to have a daily writing assignment as a task on my Outlook calendar. I checked the box most of the days and I was able to complete an essay on a fairly regular basis. The public commitment to deliver a whole idea on a daily basis was a major step outside of my comfort zone and reflected a real decision. The commitment was to a goal without the possibility of failure. A real decision to make this goal happen. It has not been easy. I traveled to China earlier this year; WordPress is partially blocked in China. There have been several days when it would easier not stay up until 11:50 PM desperately typing or looking for just the right picture. Making a real decision to commit and then to follow through has power. Committing to delivering complete, shippable product makes the commitment even more powerful by defining the hurdle.

The act of delivering a blog entry every day has led to a number of innovations. The idea of Motivational Sunday and Hand Drawn Chart Saturday appeared sometime in February. Weekly topic arcs appeared after a discussion in a coffee shop in Rosslyn, Virginia a few months ago.  Making commitments, delivering frequently and gathering feedback — Agile is not just for building software.

note

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 who have developed relationships based around a commitment to attain a set of common goals. The strength of the bonds generated by the commitments 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[1][2].

A weak or broken link in the commitment cycle will reduce the 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.”[3]

The cycle of commitment links projects, teams and individuals. When the goals of the project 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.


[1] A Study about Employee Commitment and its impact on Sustained Productivity in Indian Auto-Component Industry http://www.ejbss.com/Data/Sites/1/septemberissue/ejbss-12-1147-astudyaboutemployeecommitment.pdf

[2] Positive Impact on Employee Commitment and Engagement http://workplaceflexibility.bc.edu/need/need_employers_impact

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“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.”  -Will Murray, of the Scottish Himalayan Expedition.

A feature of both Scrum and xP planning games 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 when they want to avoid responsibility and because the public nature of the commitment can seem superfluous.  However, 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 (i.e. not publicly).  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.

Silence and Respect

What is the power of making a commitment? Making and keeping commitments are core components of professional behavior. It is a promise to perform. Whether Agile or Waterfall, commitments are used to manage software projects. They are used to drive the behavior of teams.

Making a commitment creates a set of expectations, which if not met, has ramifications. For example, if an Agile team commits to a performance level that they consistently miss, can the organization plan for the product releases? Even if the team has a release plan, no one will trust their word, and that lack of trust will generate the need for more management control. In the long run, a commitment is a lien on reputation of whoever is made the commitment that can only be paid through performance.