December 22, 2013
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”  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.
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.
December 15, 2013
As 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.
December 8, 2013
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.
December 1, 2013
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.
November 24, 2013
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.
November 10, 2013
A sharp saw cuts faster and cleaner.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.