Expectations, when positive, can be an important motivation tool.  The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines expectation as “a belief that something will happen or is likely to happen” [1]   They provide the motivation to begin a new project or to plan for the future. The belief that something good will happen can provide a significant amount of energy to propel toward our goals.

Goals, in the long run, must be based on our expectations. When we discover that our expectations are impossible they stop being motivators. I realized many years ago that the possibility of winning the lottery

Chances are that unless you ask you will not get what you want.

Chances are that unless you ask you will not get what you want.

is not a motivator to me, I understand statistics and therefore I don’t play. For me, saying that I expect to win the lottery has no motivational power because I have no expectation of winning unless someone hands me a ticket.  If I were to set a goal of winning the lottery with no real expectation of achieving that goal I would be setting myself up for disappointment. Another example of the impact of the mismatch between goals and expectations can be seen in poorly set project estimates.  Occasionally (I am being kind), I see PMOs or managers set an estimate for a project team without input or participation.  Usually the estimate is wrong, and wrong low.  One could suggest that there are many physiological reasons for setting a low estimate, ranging from creating an anchor bias to providing the team a stretch goal. In most cases no one on the team is fooled (at least more than once) therefore no one is motivated.

Second criteria for maximizing to potential for meeting expectations is to voice the expectations.  My wife occasionally berates me about letting unvoiced expectations get in the way of a good time. These expectations usually have to do with the dining while out and about. Expectations that are unvoiced and therefore potentially unmet can cause anger and resentment. We can’t simply assume that the picture we have in our head about the future will just happen.  A number of times over my career as a manager, employees have come to me to let me know that they had wanted to be assigned to a specific project after someone else had volunteered.   In most cases these employees had formed an expectation about their role and the project but had never voiced that expectation.  Because the expectation was unvoiced it had far less chance of being met.

As we contemplate the New Year we need to make sure our expectations of the future are possible.  Expectations that are goals are important motivators but only if they our our expectations therefore those we believe they will happen. Voicing our expectations is also an important step towards realizing those expectations.  Like the raise you want but have not taken the opportunity to ask for.  An unvoiced expectation is less apt to evoke feedback, for example, if you asked for a raise that did not match your performance  as a child you may well have been told no.  But, unless you ask and make your case, you may never get that raise.  Setting our expectations for the New Year is no different.  Set your goals and expectations, share them and listen to the feedback.  Avoiding impossible and unvoiced expectations will  educe the potential for disappointment and resentment in the New Year.

[1] “Expectation.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 22 Dec. 2013. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/expectation&gt;

283037976_fa4d85f7ab_bAs the year winds down it nearly impossible not to begin contemplating the quickly approaching New Year.  Goals and objectives will be created, New Year’s resolutions made.  However, many times we set goals that do not support our vision.  Goals are steps along a path, while the vision is the destination.  If we were to write our goals in a user story format, the goal would the action and the vision or strategy the benefit. When goals and vision are not linked, it will be hard to achieve either.

First there is the abandoned resolution.  According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, 45% of Americans usually make New Year’s Resolutions and another 17% infrequently make resolutions.  Of all of those that make resolutions 8% achieve them.  While that there are many reason for the low success rate, goals and resolutions not linked to a vision or a strategy is one contributor. Without a strong link it is easy to lose focus and focus and progress are connected.  In my personal case linking goals and vision is highly linked to success.  Without a vision,  a destination, I am easily distracted. In Agile teams, we have seen the impact on motivation and velocity when teams that do not understand the big picture.  This is why it teams take the time and effort need to create and understand Agile Release Plans.

The second problem is when goals are attained only to find out that they don’t really move the ball forward.  I liken this problem to jumping in the car multiple times on the weekend to shop for food, go the dry cleaners, and the pet food store.  Each trip satisfies a specific goal, but does not support my vision of reducing my carbon footprint and leading a greener life.  Each goal is met but we end up in the wrong place. There is an old adage that say “without a destination any direction will do.”  Simply put know where you are going at all times, even if you have to pivot have a destination.

Last year I committed to losing 30 pounds so that my knees would stop hurting when I was running.  Without a vision pursuing that goal would have been even harder. I have learned that goals are great.  They are an integral part planning and progress but they are not enough. A strategy or vision is even more critical.  Do not confuse goals and vision.  A big goal is no different than an epic user story. Having big goals can be a great motivational tool, but they work better if you have a vision of where you are going.  As you begin considering the New Year begin by thinking about where you want to end up.  I believe Stephen Covey put it succinctly . . . begin with the end in mind.

Holly I like beginning new projects while endings make me sad. Beginnings are full of possibilities. Often the end of a project is the last you will see of the people that you have spent hours laboring over problems, sharing meals, stories and, in short, becoming a team. The day-to-day interactions and frictions that create a team are fundamentally different from hallway conversations or the occasional catch-up lunch.  In organizations that dynamically reframe teams to meet the next opportunity, all of accumulated team capital based is jettisoned based on the a mistaken idea that the “thing” that makes a team a team is fungible.

In many organizations that see work and people as an assembly line teams are re-formed at will.  The goal of re-forming teams is to deliver efficiently as measured in productivity, or how much of something that can be produced per unit of work.  Widgets per hour, lines of code per hour, test cases per month are all expressions of productivity.  However productivity as a measure for software development and enhancements can only be used at a project level to measure output and can only be confirmed at the end of the project. Productivity is a measure of output, which reflects the impact of other variables – like moral, methods or complexity.  Because productivity is measured at a project level it lacks the granularity necessary to see the dip in productivity that ALWAYS happens early in projects when random individuals are combined into a “team.” This tends to leave the team behind the eight ball. Because this initial slow down is not planned, the organizational productivity and delivery expectations can’t be met without overclocking the rest of the project.  This compresses activities, which will cause technical debt and project stress. Technical debt injures the company and the company’s long term perception of IT and the team.  Project stress injures the team reducing its productive capacity potentially starting a negative cycle of decline.

First snow, first kisses, first pages of new novels…all are full of possibilities, full of anticipation.  We can spin any story that we want though the starting.  It is only after the next step that our path begins to be constrained if we assume a deterministic path rather than viewing the past as a sunk cost.  We can maximize the possibilities of beginnings by projects with stable teams so that we focus on delivering value rather than reforming linkages and relationships.

The whole Cagley family!

The whole Cagley family. Happy Thanksgiving!

My family gathers to celebrate a mixture of Thanksgiving and Christmas annually.  We started this tradition years back, when we needed to find a way for all of us to celebrate together, given our wide geographic distribution and complicated schedules.  This isn’t all that different from scheduling stand-up meetings for distributed teams.  Tradition is a friend that keeps our family or our team together. 

Traditions represent events and activities that have been ritualized or codified because they delivered value. Life gets complicated when traditions do not evolve and are held onto past the point that they continue to deliver value.

In the IT world we have many traditions  . . . we call them methodologies, processes and frameworks.  These are engineering traditions that delivered value based on a set circumstances and conditions.  When the circumstances or conditions change, traditions must also change.  When our family gatherings began we were all able to sleep under a single roof.  Age, children and tolerance to noise has now caused a change in venue and spread us across three houses.  Traditions have had to evolve in order to continue to deliver value.

Agile proponents have a history of experimentation leading to the evolution of Agile. History of evolution is its own tradition.  All traditions must evolve to keep pace with changing environments and circumstances or risk losing value.  Twenty plus people in a single house will lead to bottlenecks in the same manner as a process without work in process limits.

Dharavi slums in Mumbai, India

Laundry in Mumbai, India

I recently spent two weeks in India. India is a land of extreme contrasts.  As extreme as any of the examples is the Dharavi slum which sits within spitting distance of world-class architecture.  As a business man marveling at Incredible India while sitting in an executive lounge, riding in the back seat of a car with a driver whisking me to appointments, eating at tables  set aside for dignitaries and even overseen by random strangers while touring the slum it is hard to understand India.  Being a visitor with handlers providing orthodox interpretations of the sights and sounds reinforces the fishbowl mentality and reduces the chances of deep understanding.

Software developers and other IT specialties can trap themselves into a fishbowl by latching onto a single set of ideas and then reinforcing those ideas by allowing gatekeepers of orthodoxy to constrain how they interpret what they read and hear. There are times within the IT community that ideas take on a life of their own.  For example, the 1990’s marked the high water mark for CMMI and the concepts that revolved around the model.  Adherents of the CMMI model became almost religious in their zeal to protect their boundaries, like the adherents of Object Orientation and Case.   Each new community created its own fishbowl to supplant the last. The fishbowl ensured that the next new “thing” went unnoticed by those in the fishbowl.

Many Agile adherents have begun to build fishbowls of rules around frameworks, like Scrum or Kanban, suggesting that only a single orthodoxy exists. They are abandoning the culture of improvement and experimentation that spawned the Agile movement.  To be truly small “a” agile, we must continuously look for ways to escape our fishbowl, to learn, to grow and to change.

Rereading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Rereading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Over eight of the past 9 weeks I have chronicled my re-read of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. As I noted when I began this endeavor, this book and the advice it has provided have been helpful for me as I have addressed the turning points in my life. The habits that Stephen Covey posits are a framework that reminds me that decisions and growth come from my core values. Our values, which we own, control and refine our circle of influence.  Our circle of influence, those areas that we can effect, can be expanded by being proactive, having an end in mind, knowing what to put first, thinking win-win, listening, finding synergy in the world around us and continually sharpening the saw.   In other words, through the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The impact I have on the world requires constant reinforcement. And in an environment that emphasizes what I should be concerned about without providing access to the tools to expand my circle of influence, I need to take control of our both my circle of concern and influence. I think it is important to take a step back on a daily or weekly basis to reflect and remind myself about what is really important. It helps me make sure that my focus is true.

Whether today or sometime in the future, everyone will face real concerns, concerns that we can and should deal with. Ignoring them is not an option.  In his lecture, Slaying The Dragon Within Us, Jordan Peterson says “if we don’t deal with our dragons they will continue to grow” The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People provide us with tools to understand how to deal with our dragons.

One final thought, if you don’t have a copy of the book, buy one (I would loan you mine, but I suspect I will read it again).  If you use the link below it will support the Software Process and Measurement blog and podcast. Dead Tree Version Kindle Version

The re-read entries:

A sharp saw cuts faster and cleaner.

A sharp saw cuts faster and cleaner.

Motivational Sunday

The final habit in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is Sharpening the Saw.  This is a reminder that who and where we are today can’t be who or where we are tomorrow. This habit is a prescription for balanced self-renewal.  The balance is based on a four-category model that is integrated into the previous six habits. The four categories are:

  1. Physical: This category reflects the need to care for the machine; the body, with exercise and diet. Our bodies provide endurance, flexibility, and strength, which enable us to grow.  It is easy to see that struggles with health will make it difficult to concentrate on intellectual growth.
  2. Spiritual: Covey states that, “If your motives are wrong nothing can be right.” The spiritual category reflects our commitment to our own value system.  Our values provide leadership to our lives.  Grounding our values in the habits of proactivity, beginning with the end in mind, and putting first things first helps us to focus on providing service to our community.
  3. Mental: Continuous education and renewal of skills is critical for personal growth. This category includes exploring new topics, debating, and writing critically. Development needs to include a broad approach with hands-on training rather than the more common corporate training. This broad approach should challenge those involved to examine and question underlying assumptions.  An example of how this approach can be implemented is reflected in the Kanban, which requires making policies explicit so they can be challenged.  Mental renewal provides the tools so that we can rise to a challenge when the challenge comes.  This category is also a reminder that when a challenge comes, it is usually too late to re-tool.
  4. Social / emotional: The final category of a balanced renewal is social / emotional.  We are deeply influenced by our relationships, which help write the scripts for how we interact and relate to the world around us.  In the end, integrity to our values is an important attribute of how others view us and is the most important attribute of how we view our selves (assuming some level of introversion).  This category also speaks to providing service to others, which we see as a central tenant of agile leadership (servant leader).

Renewal requires us to pay attention to all four categories.  Ignoring any one category will negatively impact progress on others.  For example, without our health it is difficult to provide service to others or continually re-tool.  In the final habit Stephen Covey advises his readers to continually improve.  Covey caps this habit with a model of growth as an upward spiral of learning, committing, and doing.  This model is reminiscent of the Shewart Cycle (also known as the Deming Wheel) of plan, do, check, and act.  Regardless of the model, continuous improvement requires a cycle that is repeated forever and ever.

Synergy makes the garden grow.

Synergy makes the garden grow.

Habit Six:  Synergize

The sixth habit is synergy.  Synergy is present when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  For example, data from University of Texas suggests that in some cases pair programming yields a higher productivity than two coders working separately. The probable reason for this outcome is identification of new ideas, close communication and continuous review.  Covey suggests that the habit of synergy, which builds on the knowledge derived from implementing the previous habits combined with creativity, is the highest activity of life. Put another way, combining empathy, win-win thinking, being proactive while thinking outside the box generates alternatives!

The power of synergy is derived from the creation of new, win-win alternatives.  Covey provides examples of synergy across many categories of life such as communication, business, nature and the classroom. An example of creative cooperation from nature can be seen in the relationship between basil and tomatoes.  Organic gardeners know that basil suppresses insects that affect tomatoes. The tomatoes, in return, change the soil composition so the basil grows better.  The downside to synergistic creativity is that it is unpredictable and messy. Finding this combination plants required experimentation and failures before the perfect companion plants were discovered.

Experimentation with the attendant potential for failure does not suit all teams or organizations. Organizations that fear the potential for failure will seen seek certainty. Organizations and teams that have a need for structure, certainty and predictability will generally resist the unpredictability and messiness of creativity. The resistance is reflective of a lack of trust, which suppresses the win-win communication needed for creativity and synergy. Interactions reflecting low trust and low cooperation generate communication focused on win-lose outcomes.  Many, if not most, outsourcing contracts are low trust/low cooperation interactions, and therefore require lawyers and negotiators to communicate.  On the other hand, high trust/high cooperation environments provide the basis where structure, certainty and predictability can be offset by empathy and a belief that the outcome will be positive and might exceed expectations. Mature Agile teams that exhibit high customer satisfaction generally are a reflection of high trust and high cooperation environments.

Understanding and practicing the first five habits provide an environment that can overcome the forces that restrain creativity.  Creativity is a requirement for creating alternatives to the tried and true, which is where we can find synergy from being interdependent.

Links to the First Five Habits:

Marine Corps Marathon 10k

Marine Corps Marathon 10k

Motivational Sunday

Here’s an interlude from our re-read of the The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People for the festivities around the Marine Corp Marathon 10K and a reflection on the difference between commitment and habit.

Commitment and habits can be positively interrelated. Commitment is being dedicated to a cause or activity.  Habits reflect a more or less fixed routine. The combination of commitment and habit is beneficial if the commitment is to a positive goal and habit does not become obsession. Once it is established, the combination can go into autopilot. In my world, running reflects a positive combination of commitment and habit.

Once upon a time I started running to cope with life as a road warrior.  It began as form of exercise. When you begin to confuse a french fry with a vegetable, an eye exam and exercise are necessities. That was approximately fifteen years, sixty pairs of running shoes ago and many blisters ago.  Over time the initial commitment developed into a habit and I had become a runner.  My formula:

  1. Start small and build – I began running the distance between two telephone poles then walking. Overtime time that became run two, walk one then walk three, walk one then suddenly it became 13.1 miles.
  2. Repeat again and again – Simply put, I run nearly every morning.
  3. Don’t let the day get in the way – I run first thing every day at approximately 4 AM.
  4. Rewards and feedback – The races have become my reward and feedback mechanism.  Starting a race with a few thousand of your newest and closest friends is stirring.
  5. Commit to yourself – The only person that will be able to hold you accountable is you.  Give yourself permission to hold you accountable by committing to yourself to achieve your goal.

The downside? I woke at 2:30 AM this morning in anticipation of running the 2013 Marine Corp Marathon 10K. I was keyed up. My commitment and habit has combined and become something more – passion. Even on the days when it is wet and chilly, even when the morning comes way too early. Over the years I have found that the most powerful commitments are those you make to yourself and then find a way to engage the human version of autopilot, habit.

Listening is hard work but  when understand it pays off.

Listening is hard work but when understand it pays off.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey Reread

Habit Five:  Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood

Communication is the act of giving or receiving understanding, and it is a critical skill in every part of our lives. In order to fully communicate, the person receiving must not only understand what is being communicated, but also let the communicator know that they have truly been understood. Listening is at the heart of understanding and communicating.  Even so, we tend to spend very little time learning about or being trained in listening.  Training in listening teaches the trainee how to pay attention and interpret the story being told, and the how language and body language impact the story. These are skills that can be learned. Because of lack of training most of what we hear is filtered through our own frame of reference because we don’t have the skills to listen from the speaker’s frame of reference.

When we listen from our own frame of reference we practice selective listening.  Selective listening generates one of four classes of response.  Based on our baggage, we evaluate communication by agreeing or disagreeing. We probe, asking questions based on our own point of view. We advise, providing counsel based on our experience. Finally we interpret, ascribing motivation based on our motives and behaviors. Our scripting makes it difficult to both hear what is really being said and understanding the emotions and feelings behind what is being said.  Both are required for true communication. The alternative is to put ourselves behind the eyes of speaker, seeking to hear from their frame of reference leads to deeper understanding.

When we fail to listen and understand, we tend to act first then have to take the time to pick up the pieces afterwards. For example, would you trust a doctor that prescribed before taking time to diagnose the problem? No, the expectation would be that the doctor listen and communication with the patient (assuming that is possible) first.

In this habit Covey identifies four stages of listening:

  1. Mimicking – This the classic pattern of feeding back.  In my estimation, this form of listening confuses hearing with understanding.
  2. Rephrase the content – In this stage of listening the listener paraphrases what is heard.  This is typically what is referred to as active listening.  It helps develop a bridge between the listener and the speaker.
  3. Reflect feeling – The stage of listening focuses on reflecting the feelings behind the communication.  The focus on feeling makes the listener put himself in speaker’s shoes.  This stage reflects a change in the listener’s frame of reference.
  4. Empathic listening – This stage is the most powerful form of listening in which the listener plays back both the content though rephrasing, but also the feelings.  The focus is understanding the whole communication package (content and feeling) which allows the listener to build powerful rapport.

Empathic listening requires listening as if you were behind the eyes of the speaker. In many cases when we are not practicing empathic listening, it is because we are listening to be understood. In other words, we are listening just enough that we can craft a response. How many meetings or teleconferences have you participated in and been guilty of listening with the intent to reply rather than with to really hear the other participants’ points of view?

Anyone that works in a corporate environment spends a huge amount of time in meetings, presentations and teleconferences. Huge quantities of words and slides are shared with the assumption that communication is occurring. Even if you are not spending the majority of your time in meetings, you still rely on communication.  Developing the ability to listen empathically forces you to listen from the speaker’s frame of reference, resulting in a deeper understanding.