Agile transformation – Working with shared services along the way

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The concept of shared services is prevalent in most large organizations. A centralized user experience or architecture group or services group can be commonly spotted. A lot of times, component team setups are given a flavor of shared services.

No matter how much dysfunction it causes, shared services continue to live for many reasons including:

  • Organization’s inability or hesitation to make structural changes
  • Fear of being exposed in getting outside of their comfort zone
  • Fear of change in general
  • Focus on local optimization
  • Others…

The fact remains that shared services are generally not economically viable due to associated communication overheads and increased cycle time to get work done, however; the idea of shared services will not go away anytime soon. So what are some of the ways to work with shared services setup in an agile organization? Saying that organizations need to completely change from a shared services structure to feature teams capable of delivering end to end functionality will sound lame and unrealistic. Below are some techniques that can help organizations work with shared services, trying to transform to the agile way of working:

  • Vision – The environment in a shared services setup is generally chaotic as consumers always have a high priority need. At this time, it pretty much becomes a bidding game. The person or team that shouts the loudest or the person with the highest level of influence is able to get their work prioritized to the top. This is followed by the lengthy process of knowledge sharing where the member of the shared services team spends time in understanding what to build and why. This causes the shared services team member to take a very narrow approach to quickly build what is being asked without understanding the vision and move out to the next ask. This sounds pretty much like a robot in a manufacturing environment that just gets its work done without caring about the end result.

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For agile teams, having a common understanding of the vision of the overall product or just a single release is of paramount importance to ensure that every single activity is focussed on achieving the vision. When working on large product backlogs, it is recommended that teams (I mean the whole team and all the teams) get together to create a common understanding of the functionality targeted in the next release. All teams involved should participate and help in sequencing the work to be done to be able to assess when the consumer will need something. This generally calls for investment of time from all teams but the outcome overshadow the cost.

Where there exists a clear vision and a clear understanding of what is needed from the teams, team members remain excited about what is being developed and look forward to their contribution and stay engaged

  • Alignment“Change is the only constant”. A sequenced backlog should not be treated as a project plan. Once a vision has been established and the backlog has been sequenced, all involved teams should come together on a regular basis to inspect the progress and resequenced their backlog as needed. Four-Dimensional-Goal-Alignment

This will specially help the shared services    teams to reprioritize their work to make sure that the next highest priority deliverable goes out quickly.

  • Collaborate – Coming together frequently to align is part of collaboration. Additionally, having someone from the shared services team attend the consumer team’s daily Scrum and other Scrum events and vice versa will help both the shared services team and the consumer team to stay informed about the progress being made and plan their work appropriately.
  • Service Level Agreements (SLAs) – Achieving discipline through working agreements is important when it comes to collaboration between teams. To use a metaphor, car manufacturers rely on multiple suppliers to provide various parts of the car to be able to assemble the end product. Each of the suppliers have to agree to certain processes and protocols to make sure that the assembly line does not come to a halt due to shortage of parts. Each part has a assigned reorder inventory level at which point the order system automatically places order for the next shipment. 3771.PPP_PRD_165_3D_people-Binding_Agreement_1FA08461Not only is the vision of the system clear to each supplier, the suppliers ensure delivery of products on time and are also liable to penalty if the agreements are not adhered to.

The key focus agreements is to build the environment of collective ownership, collaboration and focus to ensure quality and timely deliverable while maintaining a flow.

  • Use a tool – Tools can come in handy when it comes to collaboration and keeping shared services teams informed about their commitments. While I am a huge proponent of physical boards for Scrum teams, I do have to acknowledge that physical boards become a limitation when trying to keep shared services teams informed about the needs or the change in needs of the consumer.

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Additionally, tools can be used by teams to generate metrics to assess their performance in being able to meet their SLAs, get notified about key milestones and provide data specifically targeted towards continuous improvement.

 

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While I truly believe that structural changes are a critical part of a successful agile transformation, it is not always possible  right from the word go. Organizations are generally resistant to radical changes fearing impact on running the business. While baby steps are taken to impact structural transformation, the above mentioned steps will help in the interim to help the organization get started on the journey of agile transformation.

If you have other ideas/techniques that you have used in your engagements, I would love to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

Opinions as impediments. How to have an opinion and share it.

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 10.56.26 PMHaving an opinion is human. Thought we assume that opinions are regulated by common sense, that is generally not the case. Our entire world is about opinions. We can have a opinion about any and every thing around us, for example; Donald Trump and the US elections in general, opinion about BREXIT and its impact on the world economy and when we have nothing more, we move to creating opinions about people around us. Good or bad, a significant amount of human brain processing power is spent in forming opinions.

Even thought opinions are not necessarily bad, they do have a negative impact if an opinion is formed with a intention of imposing your thoughts on the other person or to demean someone. Additionally, forcing opinion and conveying it as a decision due to your position in the organization or the type of personality you are, takes the impact of your opinion to the next level, where it makes a conversations one sided and forces the other person to eject from the conversation.

Having said that, opinions are not going away. Human mind will continue to analyze situations and people and form opinions based on our experience, knowledge and personal objectives. This does become an issue with teams trying to foster collaboration. How often do you see an Architect telling a team on how a product should be designed killing the creativity of the team or how often do we see a leader force a team to build something that the team know will not add value to business.

Here are some guiding principles that will allow you to not only form a opinion with the right intent but be able to communicate it and leave a positive impression:

  • An opinion is a opinion – A dictionary definition of opinion is a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty”. An opinion when communicated as a decision or expert judgement is totally different and hence it becomes critically important for an opinion to be conveyed that way. A good way to share an opinion is to start by saying “this is just how I think and I am happy to be proven wrong”. Being passionate about your views is admirable, but never expect anyone to abandon his or her own thoughts in favor of yours.
  • It is ok to NOT know everything – The key reason why humans are forced into having an opinion is because they do not want to come across as ignorant or unaware about what is being discussed especially when it is current hot topic in politics, sports, technology etc… However; it is ok to not know everything. So in a situation like this, retain your opinion till the time you can ask to be explained more about the topic or if your opinion is requested.
  • Start by sharing the intent – If you feel strongly about something and have a strong opinion, start by sharing the intent. Most opinions result in a negative impact on relationships be at work or family and its outcome can be brutal if relationships and partnerships are formed and end purely based on opinions without either party initiating a conversation to validate opinions. If you cannot come up with an intent to form an opinion or are not ready to validate, opinions can be destructive. Your opinion might hurt some feelings or provoke some criticism, but sharing ideas is how conversations start, communities are formed, and change happens.
  • Who/What is your opinion about – Opinions can be about people, products and opinions can be about opinions. Be cautious if you opinion is about someone who you do not get along with or someone who does not give your opinion adequate weight. Such opinions tend to involve your emotional side and can go a long way and influence the whole objective of having an opinion.
  • Argue internally – Treat your urge to form an opinion as an internal argument with yourself, a mental debate, so to speak. Consider your knowledge on the subject, your intention behind having the opinion and the value your opinion will bring before your speak up. Let go if you are unable to convince yourself.
  • Can you back your opinion with facts – Being able to back your opinion with facts is important. Base your opinion on an article your read or research your did or something you saw on the social media or anything else so that your opinions are heard.
  • Assess if your opinion is really needed – Do you remember the last time you walked into a conversation, listened briefly and in no time shared your opinion about something and were told that you got it all wrong. It has happened with me. Understand that you were not part of the conversation in the first place because your opinion does not carry enough weight and that is fine.

Opinions can and will evolve; sometimes at the risk of reshaping your reputation and credibility. And as much as you are entitled to them, don’t hold on to them too tightly. Opinions have a way of being infused with our dignity – it makes us think that if we change our opinion, them we’re flimsy or weak, when in fact it is a very natural process, kind of like growing up.

Just make sure that your opinion forces constructive and creative thinking, and don’t be afraid to share it.

Scrum events are NOT working for you if…

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Image courtesy: agiletrick.com

Rarely does a agile coach get to transform a completely waterfall team/organization into agile these days. Majority of the organizations are already on the agile band wagon and claim to be doing some sort of agile, however; it is quite obvious that all is not working for them.

The start of an engagement for an agile coach is all about observation. Watching teams participate in Scrum events gives a good sense of the maturity of the individuals, team and organization. Here are things to look out for to know that Scrum events are not working:

  • There is a leader – We need leaders but we also believe that everyone in a Scrum team is a leader. Often, there is an individual or a couple of team members that are the “experts” and end up taking control of Scrum events. So if these “leaders” are calling the shots and driving all decisions, Scrum events are not working for you.
  • There is silence – Scrum teams are all about collaboration and communication. One of the key agile values is “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. So if your Scrum events are all about forced communication where team members are not motivated or do not feel safe to share their point of view, Scrum events are not working for you.
  • Something important keeps coming up – The occurrence of Scrum events have been designed to bring the team together frequently to be able to put the idea of inspection and adaptation in practice. However; often team members are absent from the Scrum events with the most common excuse being that there is an important issue to address. When doing Scrum, nothing is more important than the Scrum events. So if your team has something important to address when they should be collaborating, communicating, inspecting and adapting during a Scrum event, Scrum events are not working for you.
  • Design a solution – Every Scrum event had a recommended time box. For example, a daily Scrum should not be more than 15 minutes long or a sprint planning event should be 8 hours or less for a 4 week sprint. These time box recommendations work only when teams a disciplined in keeping a focused agenda for a event. However;  teams spend 30 to 45 minutes on a daily Scrum or a sprint planning session spans multiple days. This usually happens when team members get into a “design the solution” mode leading to significant waste. So if your Scrum events are turning into design and problem solving meetings, Scrum events are not working for you.
  • Team members are checked out – Knowing the significance and reasoning behind each Scrum event is crucial. Each Scrum event is specifically designed to achieve specific objectives in alignment with the agile values and principles. However, it is observed that team members do not focus on the value of the event but rather go through the motions. If you observe that team members are either checked out or focused on their individual goals, Scrum events are not working for you.
  • External decision makers – What the team can get done and how a business problem should be addressed are decisions that a Scrum team owns. A self managing Scrum team is one that makes decisions that are in the best interest of the project knowing their capabilities to deliver. If you Scrum team is under pressure from external forces and are unable to self manage and organize, you Scrum events are not working.
  • There is inconsistency – Having Scrum events occur consistently at the same time and as per a defined cadence is important to reduce complexity and build team discipline. For example; it is recommended the team has a daily Scrum in the morning to be able to create a plan for the day, however; if this is moved to afternoon on a give day and moved again the next day, it effects the consistency and causes unnecessary adjustments. If the occurrence of Scrum events is not consistent, Scrum events are not working for you.
  • Can’t we just – A phrase that is heard quite consistently when working with Scrum teams is “Can’t we just…”. This might be said when the Product Owner is trying to sneak in that extra story into the sprint backlog or when the team members are pushing to fix a bug in the next sprint and call the not done story done. If team members are constantly trying to find ways to step outside the Scrum boundaries, Scrum events are not working for you.

There are many more smells that are seen detrimental to the effectiveness of Scrum. Some of these include Scrum Master assigning work to team members, daily Scrum being a means for management reporting etc… I am sure you have observed many more smells that expose the ineffectiveness of a Scrum event. Please share in the comments below.

Chaos with complexity – How to cope with organizational complexity

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Image source: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk

Systems, structures and processes are becoming complex by the day. Generally speaking, human life has reached that level of complexity which makes you question the existence of all the innovation and automation around us.

For the decision makers, environments that were isolated years ago, are bumping into each other causing unexpected results. This causes more decision points getting added into structures and processes causing unintentional  addition to already complex environments.

I was recently watching a TED talk by Yves Morieux titled How too many rules at work keep you from getting things done. In his talk, Yves presents an example of a 4X100 relay race. The name 4X100 relay conveys that each member of the team is expected to run a distance of 100 meters. However; this does not mean that the team member drops the baton exactly at the 100 meters mark. Most athletes end up running on an average 110 meters and most athletes don’t know how much they have run as their focus is to hand over the baton to the next member of the team and achieving the goal of completing the race.

If we were to consider a relay race example in context of an organization, there are specific roles for specific tasks. Arguments over whose responsibility was it to get something done are very common. Again, staying with the relay race example, since a member of the team has only signed up to run 100 meters, organizations end up adding a role that is responsible for passing the baton from one team member to another. The result of this approach is increase in structural complexities and a culture of local optimization.

So how do organizations cope with the complexity or what behaviors would keep complexity in check. Here are some guidelines:

  • Purpose and values – Every role in the organization has a value and purpose. This is how most roles get created but the focus needs to be about the collective purpose of the team or organization. Similar to the relay race example where finishing the race and doing whatever it take to finish first is the ultimate goal. Individual goals do not ensure team success.
  • Decentralize authority – Once shared purpose and values have been established, next step is to decentralize the authority. A relay team might have a leader/captain, someone with experience and leadership attributes, but when it comes to taking a decision during the race, every athlete makes decision keeping the end goal of winning the race in mind. In the end, it is the team that wins and it is the team that loses.
  • Early awareness of unpredictable situations – When dealing with complexity, one needs to identify the variables that create predictable outcomes when they’re within a particular range, and unpredictable outcomes when they are not. In a relay race scenario, weather plays a crucial factor. Teams alter the sequence of the participating team members or make similar adjustments to ensure that the collective team keeps the focus on the end goal. The decisions made are generally subtle and not drastic to ensure last minute adaptation does not impact the overall probability of the team winning the race.
  • Leadership – Leading a complex organization requires an entirely different mindset. Hierarchy works if every level is doing something distinct and specific. However, due to the interdependence in complexity, this is impossible in today’s organizations. By simplifying and clarifying vision and values, core processes and decentralization, and early awareness systems, hierarchy can be complemented by “heterarchy”, the interdependent, networked organization in which every part reflects a different perspective of the whole and which is needed in today’s global business world. The boss no longer needs to “tell” the team members what exactly to do, but rather depend on their initiative, creativity and competence for success. So, next time your team faces a challenge, do not create additional complexity, but trust the team to make the right choice. Teams generally appreciate a nimble setup.
  • Simplify and cleanup – An easy starting point for simplification is to get rid of stupid rules and low-value activities, time-wasters that exist in abundance in most organizations. Look, for example, at how many people need to review and sign off on expense reports; or how many times slide decks need to be reviewed before they are presented. If you can shed a few simple tasks, you will create bandwidth to focus on more substantial simplification opportunities.

So, every time you fix a problem, look at the solution you are proposing and ask yourself a question, “Am I fixing a problem or creating more chaos with complexity?”.

 

Connect with me for FREE lunch-n-learn, lean coffee or open space sessions

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Improving’s involvement in the agile community in the DFW area is second to none. We pride ourselves for being the bridge between the leaders and learners so that the community continues to connect and grown in their area of interest.

If your organization is in the middle of a agile journey or thinking of embarking on the journey, you have questions or concerns and looking for guidance on product design, agile teams, frameworks or you would like to just connect, contact me for a FREE lunch-n-learn or lean coffee or open space session with me.

How empathy can help you build a great product and a great team

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Doing some research on the subject of design thinking, I stumped upon the term “empathy” and interesting enough, it is the starting point and the most important aspect of design thinking.

The way design thinking mentions about empathy is that it is a way to put yourself in the user’s shoes and observing in a empathetic way. This is done to  focus more on the human aspect, trying to feel for the person who lives in the context and has a series of needs that can be satisfied.

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The design thinking model

[em-puh-thee] – the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

The whole aspect of empathy makes a lot of sense because simply put, it is a method to know a person and their desires. However; interestingly enough, empathy loses its importance when the focus moves from product users to development teams.

It is important for leaders to communicate with your team members, they want to know you understand where they’re coming from and what they’re feeling. So, how do you as a leader show empathy at the work place? Here are some critical steps to demonstrate empathy:

  • Listen – Listen to understand. Refrain from processing the information too soon and arrive at solutions
  • Understand the feelings – Keep a balance in understanding what is being said and the feel with which it is being communicated.
  • Reflect back to what is being said (“so what I hear you say is….”)
  • Validate their feeling (“I understand your feeling….”)
  • Assure support and conclude the conversation
  • Make no false commitments – Don’t sympathize and make false commitments. This can impede trust.

Showing empathy, and reflecting back feelings when appropriate, not only demonstrates good listening, it shows you care for the team and provide a sense of security to encourage the team to ideate, innovate and take risks.

As a leader, your behavior tells the employee  you care; increases the transparency and at the same time, helps you and your team member build trust.

So next time you have a conversation with your team, pay a little extra attention to how empathetic you are towards them. The payoff will be totally worth it.

Leadership by action – 8 things leaders do to “lead” teams

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“The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” –Ralph Nader

What is leadership? Search on google and there are millions of articles that expectedly share similar and common attributes of what makes a great leader. Leadership is my present special interest given that it pretty much drives the success of failure when trying to get organizations and teams embrace change.

Continuing my research on the subject, I recently came across a couple of podcasts by Michael Hyatt where he covers multiple facets of leadership. I highly recommend you watch some of these on youtube.

 Having been through a huge amount of research around leadership as part of my ongoing research, my key focus was to connect these leadership attributes to real actions. Here is my list of 8 attributes (in no specific order) supported by actions that will give you ideas and help assess how you can adapt your leadership style to create maximum impact. Some of the listed attributes might sound too basic, but these are a significant part of the cultural change.

Vision and alignment – Leaders are leaders only because they have the unique attribute of being able to get the best out of their team in their quest of building unique and value driven capabilities. However; teams doing the work are generally caught unaware of the overall vision of what they are building as they have not been enrolled in the vision and have a very narrow vision on the overall product. Additionally, as the vision changes, the effort to alignment to the change of vision is missing.

Getting the vision in order, alignment to any change of vision and socializing the vision with all teams and validating their understanding is a critical aspect of leadership. This allows teams to maintain focus and leverage leadership to avoid impediments.

Come down to the level of the team – A common issue around leadership is the level at which they operate. It is common for leaders to delegate the work of coordinating with teams to the senior or middle management. This causes the leadership to loose visibility into the day to day issues teams face around the initiative.

Leaders need to find time to spend time on the ground and get a feel for the challenges teams are facing and build confidence by staying informed if not completely involved.

Don’t influence just because you are a leader – Leaders don’t need to be in charge to be influential. Most leaders want to be in charge because they have the position, however; what makes you a great leader is when you can create a influence by creating an environment where you team members can feel safe to fail, allowing them to ideate and innovate in the quest of creating something awesome.

Influence at the next level is always drive by the influence one gets from their level above. So, how you as a leader influence your teams creates a flavor for how the influence will trickle down to the lowest level. Actions are the best way to show you are a leader.

Build trust – This is one of the key issues with leadership. Because leaders do not spend as much time with the teams on the ground, they do not trust the teams to get the work done. Part of the issue has to do with the perception leadership and management have of the teams.

Having a conversation with the team, listening to them, showing that you care and creating an environment of innovation and celebrating failure are some of the things leaders need to do to build trust.

Encourage self managing teams – This is a big culture shift. Teams need to be able to make their choices if they are held accountable for the outcome. Unfortunately, teams get the blame even when the leaders make decisions without consulting the teams.

Ensure you as leaders share the same set of goals and values. Once this is done, every action taken needs to align with the end goal and adhering to agreed values.

Be discontent with status quo – Great leaders are discontented with status quo. Not saying that they control the teams, but they challenge then team to deliver more, better and something that is valuable.

Every interaction a leader has with the teams should encourage the teams to be self critical allowing them to make continuous improvement their second nature.

Keep things simple – Most successful organizations have the most simple structures and processes. As per the recent stats on Forbes regarding Netflix, the company has been able grow at a brisk pace (sales worth 7.16B) maintaining simplicity of its structures and processes.

Leaders should question the existing structures in trying to keep organizational structures less complex. As they build trust with teams, they should be able to do away with strict process controls and create teams that are self managing, self organizing and value focused.

Walk the talk – Leaders are catalysts for leading change and hence need to be great change agents. I came across this great metaphor about the aircraft safety procedure where parents are told to put on the oxygen mask before they help their kids. Similarly, leaders should be able to embrace the practices and behaviors first before they expect the teams to change.

So, as a leader, have a list of things you expect from your teams but before you share the list with them, assess how would you meet those expectations.

I am sure there are many more things you as a leader could do to make a difference. If there is any that you think is critical and should make it to the list, please leave a comment. Let the learning continue.