Influence spreads like a web.

Influence spreads like a web.

Strong leadership is required to apply enough influence to implement change. In moderate or large organizations, sustaining change typically requires the leadership and influence of more than just a single sponsor.  Identifying the leaders that can make a difference in the uptake of a specific change is critical.  As we plan the implementation, it is important to spend the time needed to understand who the real leaders are and the spheres of influence of those leaders. Influence is difficult to measure in a normal commercial organization, however it can be visualized with minimal effort.  I use a simple survey and mapping technique to visualize spheres of influence.

  1. Identify the organization/team that will be studied.
  2. Ask a senior manager of the target organization to send an email introducing the exercise and to address any privacy concerns (e.g. who will see the data).
  3. Send an email to each person in the target organization with a specific date for a response.  Ask each person to answer the following question:
    1. Who are the first two people you talk to in the organization for advice on Agile (or whatever topic you are interested in).  Answer in order of importance.
    2. Track the responses and follow up with individuals that have not responded to get as close to a 100% response rate as possible.
    3. Map the responses using the following rules:
      1. Draw a 5 point line between the strongest (listed first) influence path.
      2. Draw a 1 point line between the second influence path.
      3. Show direction of interaction (If Tom talks to Barb about Agile, the direction arrow would point from Tom toward Barb).
      4. Try to minimize the number of overlapping lines between individuals to enhance readability.

Here’s an example. I asked all of the people involved in delivering the Daily Process Thoughts and Software Process and Measurement Cast content who they would ask for advice on HTML5. I then mapped the self-reported influences using the rules detailed above.

 Map - example

The results of the mapping survey shown in the diagram suggest that Barb would have the most influence on the topic of HTML5, followed closely by Nick (when we factor in the secondary influence paths).  If we were implementing a change to how we were utilizing HTML5 it would be important to make sure we engaged Barb and Nick in the process.  Identifying and engaging the influencers increases the potential uptake of the process change.

It is hard to manually produce influence maps for organizations larger than 50 – 100 people.  Tools are available to generate influence maps in larger organizations.  My experience with tool-based influence mapping is limited; therefore I cannot recommend a specific tool.  I would suggest considering limiting the size of the organization being studied in order to generate an actionable map.

Understanding the pattern of relationships and the relative strength of those relationships helps to identify the thought leaders within an organization. Understanding who influences whom on the topic you are interested in provides strategic information for planning communication and implementation of all process improvements.  An influence map provides a targeting mechanism.  Doesn’t it make sense to spend your time and effort influencing the influencers?

Are you a leader?

Are you a leader?

A longtime friend, Paul Laberge recently asked if the Daily Process Thoughts could discuss the difference between management and leadership. (Feel free to send your ideas for topics to Paul and I were trading emails when he indicated that it was far too easy for managers to get comfortable with their position in the hierarchy and to conflate their position with leadership.

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 Wall Street Journal in its column Lessons in Leadership says the job of a manager is to “plan, organize and coordinate”. By definition leadership and management are two different, but related, concepts. That difference can be boiled down to value focus, spheres of influence and motivating people.

Leaders generate value by enabling people. They provide their followers a path towards their vision. They use their position to influence those around them. For example, Steve Jobs was a leader first and a manager second. The two concepts were heavily intertwined in his second stint with Apple. Jobs led by not only providing a vision, but also by guiding the organization  to make his vision a reality.

Managers typically draw on their hierarchal position for their organizational power, while leaders generate spheres of influence based on what they know and what they can deliver. As an experienced consultant, you always know to look for the person that “punches above their weight.” In other words the person that has greater influence than their spot in the hierarchy would suggest. Those people are the leaders and, potentially, will move up the hierarchy faster (all things being equal).

Leaders influence and motivate their followers to deliver a valued outcome. Leaders focus on the results rather than on managing their followers. Lean methods counsel us to manage flow rather than managing the people (the theory is that one will follow the other). An example that Kenny Rubin recently gave on the Software Process and Measurement Podcast was that of a 4×100 meter relay team. During most of the race 75% of the team is not working. If we wanted to manage the human resources to maximize utilization, we would have team members doing something else while not running. Managing the people misses the point that focus has to be on the ultimate outcome, and motivating and influencing the team to achieve that result in the fastest most effective means possible. In a meritocracy (and most corporate organizations are meritocracies), the focus on value tends to create a cycle which pulls the leader into the management hierarchy, again linking leadership to management through performance.

Leadership is about influencing others to achieve a goal, while management is about accounting and measuring the progress towards the goal. Management tends to be a place on the hierarchy that is gained and held though leadership. However being a leader no more makes you a manager than being a manager makes you a leader.

It is all about the recruiting!

It is all about the recruiting!

I recently had a chance to speak to a group of supervisors and software measurement practitioners about leadership. I readily admit that this group is not a statistically significant sample, but I do believe their responses are illustrative of what we want a leader to be.

I asked the group to shout out attributes of a weak leader – I expected challenges and defenses of each idea.  After the discussion died down, I asked the group to rank the attributes (worst to less worst).  The top three attributes that reflected a weak leader/manager were:

  • Lack vision – Without a vision or without an ability to communicate a vision there is nothing to follow.  Depending on the organization and where the leader is in the hierarchy, vision many times represents the leader’s interpretation of the organization’s vision. A good leader will put their personal spin on the vision to then communicate and sell that revised vision to the team.
  • Lack of integrity – A leader that lacks integrity will generally lose their followers and relevance over time.  Interestingly, the group felt that this might be more wishful thinking than reality.
  • Micro-manager/Control freak – Leaders that don’t trust their followers to perform their roles spend less time developing and mentoring followers than other leaders. This reduces their value to their followers.  A recent Harvard Business Review Blog entry noted that we are all probably micro-manage in some situations, even though no one generally sees themselves as a micro-manager.

Not to leave the discussion on a negative note, I then asked the same group to focus on the attributes of a strong leader.  I had anticipated a pure mirror image, but the team answered:

  • Listens to the team – Leaders listen and incorporate ideas and information from the team.  This is a reflection of a participatory leader.  The leader, by listening and acting on what they hear, fosters positive feelings of membership and collaboration.
  • Delegates authority – Delegation of authority reflects that the leader trusts his or her followers to execute and is willing to provide the headroom for the team to perform.  This also means that the leader has to accept some potential for failure. And when failure occurs, a good leader will help the team learn how to avoid that mistake in the future.
  • Achieves goals – Strong leaders get results.  Getting results in conjunction with an ability to delegate to the team is one the economic benefits that accrue to followers. For example, university football coaches have greater recruiting success after winning seasons.

The attributes we perceive in a weak leader or a strong leader are influenced by the leadership theory that we believe is better.  The positive attributes listed above reflect leadership by participatory or relationship theory.  We all have a preferred style for a leader, that style is either reflected in how we lead (or want to think we lead) or in the leader(s) we admire.

A leader or a hermit?

A leader or a hermit?

There is no single precise definition of leadership, despite the fact that leadership is considered to be one of the most important attributes that any team, group or organization must have.  Myriad books, models and frameworks attempt to define it and tell you how to cultivate it. Theories of leadership tend to break into three camps: innate-attribute based, process and position based, and hybrid.

The innate attribute camp is breaks down further into either great man (i.e. leaders are born) or trait (i.e. specific traits lead to leadership) theories. In the innate attribute camp, even when traits can be developed, they are based on fundamentals that you either have or don’t have. In most cases these theories are somewhat archaic, for example the Great Man Theory was first popularized in the 1800s. These types of theories tend to resurface because they are easily discussed and consumed.

Process-based theories focus on honing behaviors and skills.   These theories tend to reflect that in different situations, leaders use different approaches.  The approaches are learned and improved, rather than representing intrinsic traits. Consider Winston Churchill – he was a great wartime leader, but as less successful during peacetime. Churchill was most powerful when motivating under stress with a particular pinch of oratory.  As situations changed Churchill continued to use the same actions and behaviors, which did not translate to success in a different circumstance.  Process-based theories predict that situations dictate different leadership behaviors.

Hybrid theories combine the best of both worlds.  An example of a hybrid model is the 1994 Transformational Theory described by Bass and Avolio. In this theory, leaders apply their attributes to specific situations to inspire individuals, develop trust and personal growth.  The concept of servant leadership, another hybrid leadership style, reflects a synthesis of a leader’s attributes and situational leadership requirements.

Picking a definition of leadership is important to ground how you will guide and coach teams. When coaching teams the model of leadership that I use is that a leader provides guidance, creates structure, sanctions methods of work and defines levels of performance to attain a goal. How he or she does that, or whether the mantle of leadership is situational depends on the organization and the team itself.  Both the traits of the leader and situation become important to understand who will be able to lead and when a leader should cede the mantle to another.  Regardless of the theory, leadership is about influencing a group of people to achieve a goal. Even if the leadership pundits can’t agree upon a precise definition, they will agree that a leader must have followers that will pursue the goal or visions the leader provides. In the end, a leader without followers is a hermit.


In an Agile project, are product owners leaders or drill sergeants?  The role of product owners evolved out of the roles of project manager, business subject matter expert (SME) and project sponsor from the waterfall environment. In the waterfall model of projects, each of these roles provided different levels of direction, management and leadership. The project manager is the administrator. The SME provides information on what is done today and what they will need in the future. The sponsor’s role included providing resources, framing the scope of the project, providing direction as the project moves forward and to demand that the project delivers. The sponsor and the project manager are generally the outsiders that exhort the team into action . . . they act as drill sergeants. The Agile principle that states that “the business and developers must work together daily” suggests shedding the approach of an outsider exhorting the team and implementing the concept of the product owner as part of the team.

In an Agile project the product owner’s roles include:

  • Owning and prioritizing the product backlog,
  • Providing product vision,
  • Involving customers, users, and other stakeholders, and
  • Collaborating with others on the team.

In my opinion the critical behavior is that of collaboration: the act of working together to produce or create an outcome. The behavior of collaboration requires the product owner to abandon the role drill sergeant and focus on being a leader.

The product owner leads by shaping the backlog and collaborating with their fellow team members. The qualities discussed in the Forbes article are very different from the attributes attributed to the screaming stereotypical drill sergeant.  The product owner will be more successful if they embrace the principle of the business and developers working together in collaboration, making them more of a leader than a drill sergeant.

Big Dog

I like poodles, I have one, my neighbor has one and my daughter has one. All three are different sizes and have different temperaments.  For non-poodle-aholics, poodles come in a variety of sizes ranging from teacup to standard (and the mythical royal) but as a breed all are highly inquisitive and intelligent. When they figure out how to open a drawer those last two traits are somewhat of pain. When all three get together they quickly become a pack. However, unlike in the school yard, the biggest dog isn’t the “top dog” but one of the dogs always becomes the leader. When they start doing things that we don’t want them to do the only way to change the packs behavior is to influence the leader. In order to influence the leader we need to know who the leader of the pack.

Organizational change requires gathering similar knowledge. The problem is that the organization chart may or may not reflect the true thought leaders and influencers. Knowledge of who leads the organizational pack is critical to helping the organization to make lasting change. Before leading any change spend the time needed to build an influence map and recruit the thought leaders and influencers needed to ensure that success won’t be left to chance.