Think About It!


I am celebrating my birthday this weekend instead of working on the re-read of  Thinking, Fast and Slow.  We will be back next week, so in the interim, I decided to reprise and revise an entry from 2014.  I hope you will enjoy and reflect on the piece!

Teams are an important concept in most IT organizations, regardless of their development philosophy. Philosophies like Agile may put more emphasis on teams, but even in organizations that do not embrace Agile philosophies, teams are important. Dan Ariely in his Ted Talk, “What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work” suggests that overly self-interested, cynical behavior can negatively impact organizations by reducing their ability to communicate and innovate. The same problem can occur, albeit on a small scale, at the team level. In a recent presentation, a fellow Agile coach described a team engaged in overly self-interested behavior. He described a scenario in an organization that cuts the bottom 10% of all groups annually and stated vision that IT should maximize the value it deliverers to its customers. After losing a popular team member the previous year, the team had decided to make sure that his replacement was given the worst assignments in order to ensure he stayed on the low end of the performance scale in the coming year. Their goal was to ensure that the core team stayed intact during the next review cycle. In their mind, keeping the core team together ensured that they would deliver more value to their internal customers. The behavior of the team attempted to circumvent the idea that adding new and more highly qualified personnel would lead to improved performance. Viewed from the point of view of organizational policy, the whole team was acting in an overly self-interested behavior manner, but from the point of view of core team they are acting rationally and within their interpretation of the rules as seen through IT’s vision of value delivery. The team did not believe that their behavior was at odds with the behavior the organization wanted to incent. (more…)

Book Cover


This week we re-read Chapter 3 of Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. One of the core themes in this chapter is the concept of ego depletion.  Ego depletion is a theory that self-control, as a form of system 2 thinking, draws from a finite pool of mental resources. When the pool is low, so is self-control. I did some research on the topic and the evidence is mixed whether there is an ego depletion impact. Regardless, from the point of view of Chapter 3 the idea is that heavy mental and physical loads on a person spread their ability to think and make decisions thin is not a stretch (and we should not expend a significant cognitive load on the topic). Whether the triggering mechanism is ego depletion or something else is not as important as the observable impact – when people are under mental stress they don’t always make the most thoughtful decisions.    (more…)


Trust is the third prerequisite for collaboration. Time and transparency help build a platform on which trust can be established. People do work together with only a modicum of trust.  Little to no trust leads to transactional and short-term interactions which are a pale version of collaboration. Developing trust past the basics of public decorum is essential to working in teams and teams interacting with other teams. There are six key attributes that are prerequisites to trust. At a team level, they are a reflection of how the individuals on the team act. At a team of team level, these attributes attach to teams. The six attributes are: (more…)

Making Cookies

A family making cookies requires collaboration!

Collaboration is the mantra of teams and productivity experts. Yesterday I used the word more than 20 times (I counted but lost track during a conversation at rest stop in Wisconsin). A simple definition of collaboration is working with someone or a group of someones to generate an outcome. The simple definition covers a lot of ground from simple transactions to shared relationships. In agile, the definition of collaboration strays more to the deeper side of the definition. Collaboration doesn’t occur simply by waving a magic wand. Effective agile collaboration requires three attributes.  All three attributes are interrelated: (more…)

All teams and programs must have a process for gathering and excepting work. In Scrum, a typical team’s work entry process might be:

  • People write stories or requirements of varying quality,
  • Those stories are evaluated and cleaned up,
  • Updated, well-formed stories are added to the backlog,
  • Once on the backlog, stories are prioritized (and re-prioritized), and
  • In time, stories are pulled into a sprint.

The product owner owns the backlog and the prioritization process. He or she works with the team to determine when an item is to be done. A very poor work entry process allows anyone to give work to the team at any time, work they tackle based on their perception of value, urgency, and importance. While this sounds crazy, ad-hoc work entry is more common than most leaders know.  Just to be clear, when work is pulled into the team in an uncontrolled manner the team will not be able to efficiently or effectively deliver value to the organization. The same issues occur at a program and portfolio level. Disciplined programs and teams fiercely control how work is accepted. No individual, team or organization can support an ad-hoc work entry approach over the long run without having to accept enormous risks. A disciplined approach to work entry evaluates and prioritizes work to ensure that the most important and urgent work is done before other work. At a team level undisciplined work entry many effects.  The top three are: (more…)

Tipping Point

Today we begin our re-read of The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.  My wife and I originally read the book in the early 00s.  We will be reading from is the paperback version published in 2002 by Back Bay Books (15th printing).  The book has an introduction, 8 chapters, an afterword (the 2002 version had a new afterword), endnotes and an index for a total of 302 pages. Dust off your copy or buy a new copy — I think I loaned my original copy to someone five years ago and I suspect it is not coming back.  I am reading my wife’s copy. (more…)

Maybe not toxic but certainly wet!

Bad Blood, Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou, the current re-read Saturday book, is an example of a toxic environment on a grand scale. Every attribute that we reviewed earlier in this theme on toxic cultures can be found in the tale Mr. Carreyrou describes. In the next installment of the re-read we are stepping back from the narrative to highlight how toxic cultures at this level can be used as a cautionary tale to help keep teams on the straight and narrow.  Highlighting the behaviors of a toxic leader provides another framework to evaluate or identify a toxic environment. (more…)