Along the interior of the stockade, 19 feet from the stockade wall, was a line of small wooden posts with a wood rail on top. This was the “deadline”. Any prisoner who crossed the deadline could be shot by guards stationed in the sentry boxes. 
“The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely” – Agile Manifesto.
The real problem with deadlines, is that any deadline longer than a day or two you are asking people to fail. What you are really measuring with deadlines is the ability to estimate. If you are trying to convince people to get something by a deadline, the only way they could get something done by a deadline is by getting better and better at estimating. This is something you cannot do, even with experience. 
I’ve seen this movie before. The plot is simple: First, you take an urgent date-driven project, where the shipment date cannot be delayed because of external commitments made to Wall Street or customers. Them you add a bunch of developers who use up all the time in the schedule, leaving no time for testing or operations deployment. And because no one is willing to slip the deployment date, everyone after Development has to take outrageous and unacceptable shortcuts to hit the date.
Self-organising teams is the antithesis to hierarchical structures that exist in many organisations. Traditional leadership required a strong leader to take control, attract followers and make it happen. Modern leadership is about leaders giving control and creating leaders.
Self-organisation requires autonomy and control to be given to teams. This includes trusting individuals to figure out how to solve problems, make decisions and how to best get work done. With knowledge work the best decisions are those in teams who are closest to the information and customers. However, structure, policies, processes and hierarchy often take the decision making away from these teams.
In his book, Turn The Ship Around!, nuclear submarine Commander David Marquet describes how control was given to the ship’s crew. It required each member of the team to improve his or her technical competence and have a clear understanding and clarity of the organisation’s driving purpose:
Competence: Provide teams with the tools and technical competence to get the job done; create the environment for thinking.
Clarity: Define and communicate the organisational intent so everyone is clear on the vision, goals & objectives. Everyone understands what is the right thing to do.
As a leader you trust the teams are competent and have clarity of vision. Individuals have the freedom to adjust actions and make decisions in line with the vision and intent.
So what does this mean for a leader in today’s ever fast changing world?
As a leader your job is to ensure people have clarity of vision and the competency needed to succeed.
If leaders don’t believe individuals can understand the vision or pick up the skills, why did the leader bring them in the first place? And if there is a competency gap, why did the leaders not mentor or provide training? We all have the extraordinary meta-skill to learn and acquire new skills. If people do not have the competence, the role of leaders is to mentor, give people training and provide the environment for learning.
It is not the strongest species [organisation] that survives, not the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.
Over two jam packed days, there were a lot of new ideas to experiment with but there were also some basics to cater for those just starting out on their agile journey. The vibe at the conference is that Agile is no longer a fad and is transforming across the wider organisation – we have crossed the chasm from IT agility to business agility. However, speaking with people from the trenches there are still many struggling to get the benefits of agile with existing hierarchical management style at odds with the horizontal product delivery focus of agile. James Shore summaries this well when he said
agile is about how you think and that organisation thinking overrides team thinking. Therefore success with agile depends primarily on organisational culture and investments.
Here’s some highlights from the conference:
David Marquet (@ldavidmarquet) – Intent-based leadership
David Marquet is a former nuclear submarine commander and author of the book ‘Turn the ship around‘. His opening Keynote looked at the future of Leadership.
- In the future leaders will get people to think (not do)
- In the future Leaders will help people feel safe (not scared)
- In the future leaders will push authority to information (not information to authority)
- People doing the work can make better decisions because they have the information. You will get better speed of execution because you don’t have a delay.
- In the future leaders will focus on getting better (not being good)
- In the future leaders will fix the environment (not the people)
- In the future, leaders will give control & take leadership
- The only thing hard about this is you, we have been genetically and culturally to take control and attract followers. What you want to do is give control and create leaders.
During his keynote, David did a live poll of the audience on what it would like to work in an environment where the leadership style meant controlling people . I hope the managers and leaders in your organisation are not creating a work environment like this….
Jeremie Benazra (@jemben) – How forgotten knowledge will help you avoid regrettable decisions
Jeremie’s presentation took a interesting look at turning some common questions we may face into reality checks using some common principles that we know today. Whenever we make decisions we need to be grounded (and often reminded) that there are certain principles that may challenge our biases.
|Principle||Question you want to ask||Question you should be asking|
|Moore’s Law: Information systems doubles capacity for the same price every two years||“Which technology is the best to invest in now?”||“How long do we want to maintain the product using this technology?”|
|Allen’s Curve: The communication efficiency decreases exponentially with the physical distance between the persons||“How much could I outsource?”Or what I come across a lot is a statement that “outsourcing is cheaper”.||“How much effort are you ready to dedicate to make outsourcing work?”|
|Parkinson’s Law: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion||“How long do you need to get this done?”||“Do you have any time constrain? What is your deadline?”|
|Little’s Law: The lead time is proportional to the number of items in the system and their time in the system.||“Tell me when I could expect to get this done as well?”||“How urgent is it compare to what is currently in progress?”|
|Meskimen’s Law: There is enough time to do it right, but there is always enough time to do it over.||“How complete are you? How far along are you?”||“Could you help me clarify what we consider complete?”|
|Brooke’s Law – The Mythical Man Month: Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.||“How many people do you need to get this Done? Faster!“||“What are you ready to trade off, scope?”|
|Conway’s Law: Organisations are constrained to produce designs which are copies of their communication structures||“How could you improve our customer experience?”||“How could we remove some organisational silos to work better together?|
Bernd Schiffer (@berndschiffer) – Concrete experimentation in Agile environments
Bernd talked about a problem that many organisations face today, struggling turning change ideas into tangible outcomes so they get better at being Agile. What we need is a way to use experiments to drive change throughout the organisation and Bernd introduced a nice mnemonic to help us remember how to perform an experiment to drive change and improvement – CAT SHOE, SIC! It’s really simple of course:
- Clear goal – what are the outcomes you want to achieve
- Arranged – A plan how you will approach the experiment
- Trackable through metrics – measure the improvement/change. did it have an impact?
- Small – make small incremental experiements, short timeframe, small/one team.
- Has due date – do I need to say more? timebox the experiment
- Out in the open – make the experiment visible eg use ganban boards
- Evaluated through hypothesis – leveraging the lean startup approach, what hypothesis are you trying to prove? what does success look like? what does failure look like?
- Safe-To-Fail – it is an experiment after all so we need to take some risks, but balance risk taking with impact if it fails. You need to be able to recover (and learn) from failure
- Impelled by champions – need people (1 or 2) to sponsor and champion the experiment – they will own the outcome and be impelled to make it happen
- Communicated before start – be transparent and make sure everyone understands and is comfortable with the experiment before starting
Stuart Bargon (@StuartBargon) – Don’t scale Agile. Descale your organisation.
Anders Ivarsson (@anders_ivarsson) – Autonomy and Leadership at Spotify
Linda Rising (@RisingLinda) – Myths and patterns of organisational change
|Myth||Pattern for Change|
|Myth #1: Smart People are rational
||Take on a role of a Evangelist.You need to believe and have a passion for the change. What you have is your belief that your idea is a good one and that it will work.Create short term goals – build on your successes and learn from your failures – do small experiments, just do it, time for reflection, baby steps.|
|Myth #2: Good always triumphs over evil. (Just World Fallacy, one of our many cognitive biases.)
Data clearly shows, that when we are eating we are more open to influence.All languages speak to this connection. When we eat together, there’s a feeling these are the people we trust – its a great influencer even if its a bad idea.
|Myth #3: If I just had enough power I could make people change.
||Personal Touch.You must address a genuine user need. Data does not equal empathy. You need to reach out and try to understand the viewpoint of people who you want to change and give them a reason (sell your idea as a way for them to be better).Different people accept new ideas differently, so you will need to address people differently and answer the “What’s in it for me?” and bring them along the journey.|
|Myth #4: Skeptics, cynics, resistors—THOSE people, well, they must be BAD or STUPID or BOTH!! Ignore them!!
||Fear LessUse resistance to your advantage.
Listen, really listen and learn all you can, even from the cynics. Respect and build on the resistance.Find a Champion Skeptic: Encourage a resistor to play the important role of “Devil’s Advocate.” Treat the person as valued partner in the change effort. Get them to help get better.
|Myth #5:You’re a smart person, so you don’t need help from others. After all, it’s your idea!||Ask For HelpThe idea is yours and you believe in it, but the change must NOT be “all about you”.You need other people’s help. And when others help you, recognise their contribution with Sincere Appreciation – this is a powerful influencer! The thanks must be sincere, timely, contain details of what they did and the impact of their help.|
Donald Gray has written a great and interesting article on Three Leadership Styles, based observations on managing traffic at an intersection. In the article the most successful leader is the one that sees people as “adults that most of the time they can take care of themselves, and that the role of a manager is to support these competent adults”. To be effective, the leader should not place themselves at the center of the management task so that they can be much more flexible and effective at the key management activities. A must read.
Here is an article published in The Wall Street Journal earlier this year which is very relevant to today’s rapidly changing environment and the role of managers on Agile Projects.
(Mark Hurd who was my former CEO at HP is mentioned in the article)
What is a manager?
In simplest terms, a manager is someone who organizes a group of people to accomplish a goal. It is a job as old as the human race.
As an academic discipline, management is much younger. Frederick Winslow Taylor is often cited as the founder of management studies. His 1911 book “The Principles of Scientific Management” portrays managers as organizers: they arranged cogs in the industrial machine. Their job was about increasing efficiency and productivity. For Taylor, management “studies” meant standing in a workplace with a stopwatch, measuring workers’ actions, and devising ways to eliminate “all false movements, slow movements and useless movements.”
But in the years since World War II, the nature of work has changed. Peter Drucker was the first to clearly capture the difference.
In 1959, Drucker used the phrase “knowledge worker” – referring to people whose work primarily involves the manipulation of information and knowledge, rather than manual labor. The knowledge worker’s contribution to an enterprise couldn’t be measured with a stopwatch or a punch card. It couldn’t be forced or controlled by any amount of oversight. And it couldn’t be encouraged by simple pay schemes tied to hourly output.
Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan Motor Corp., explains how he got buy-in for major layoffs in Nissan’s turnaround. From an interview 11/17/09.
Drucker broke the manager’s job down into five pieces. A manager, he wrote:
Sets objectives. He or she is responsible for determining what the overall objective of the group is, sets goals for each member of the group, and decides what needs to be done to reach those goals and objectives.
Organizes. He or she divides the work into achievable chunks, and decides who must do what.
Motivates and communicates. The manager creates a team out of the workers, so that they can work together smoothly toward a common goal.
Measures. The manager creates yardsticks and targets and determines whether they are achieved.
Finally, a manager develops people. In Drucker’s world, people aren’t interchangeable cogs; they are individuals who must be trained and developed to achieve the full power of the organization.
To be a good manager in today’s world, you must also be a good leader. It is not enough to give employees directions. Managers must also give them purpose.
What exactly does that mean? In his 1989 book, author Warren Bennis listed differences between managers and leaders. Among them:
- The manager administers; the leader innovates.
- The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
- The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
- The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
- The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
- The manager imitates; the leader originates.
- The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
- The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.
- The modern manager’s challenge is that you must do all of the above. It’s an awesome but essential task. Managing without leading is a recipe for failure.
Attempting to lead without actually managing is disastrous as well. Many managers have met their downfall by setting an ambitious vision for their organization, and then assuming someone else would execute it.
“One characteristic of the successful dreamers I think of – Francis Ford Coppola, Steve Jobs – is that they also have remarkably deep understanding of the industry they work in and the people they lead, and they often are willing to get very deep in the weeds,” writes Stanford Professor Robert Sutton. “This ability to go back and forth between the little details and the big picture is also evident in the behavior of some of the leaders I admire most,” he says, mentioning Anne Mulcahy, chairman of Xerox; Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, and Mark Hurd, the CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
These truths don’t just apply to CEOs. They also apply to the millions of middle managers who make up the core of any large organization.
Middle managers, of course, are not masters of their own fate. Unlike a Mulcahy or a Hurd or a Jobs, they must carry out an agenda that someone else has set for them. They may bear a heavy load of responsibility, but they have limited room for freedom of action.
A decade ago, the Journal’s Jonathan Kaufman captured the challenges of modern middle management by shadowing the manager of an Au Bon Pain bakery caf named Richard Thibeault. The 46-year-old Mr. Thibeault, a former factory worker, had always thought becoming a “manager” would mean he had arrived in the world. He would sit behind a desk, work 9 to 5, and be a pillar of the community.
Instead, he found he had to rise each day at 3 a.m. to bake muffins, prepare soups and fret over his store’s falling sales. Instead of the steady hours he enjoyed in the factory, he often put in as much as 70 hours a week. His job was an odd mix of broad responsibility and limited authority. He trimmed staff in order to meet corporate cost-cutting targets, but was not allowed to cut prices in order to attract needed customers.
“Some days I think maybe I should go back to factory work,” he told Kaufman. “It was easier.”
Yet for all their frustrations, middle managers in today’s well-run organizations often find they are given surprising responsibilities. They may find themselves heading up a team whose tasks involve not just following orders, but solving a knotty problem or developing a new product. They will be asked to innovate, to challenge the status quo.
Middle managers often find themselves heading projects that involve others who don’t directly report to them. Giving orders won’t cut it. Middle managers, even more than CEOs, must exercise influence without clear authority.
They must learn, in other words, to be leaders – the topic of our next column.