Category Archives: Leadership

Topics around leadership: How to shape teams where the whole is more than the sum of the parts.

Learning to love the rain

From the attic: I’ve written this years ago but didn’t publish it for one reason or another. It’s not recent, but worth a thought or two anyways… Whatever, here comes:

The other day, I had a very interesting discussion with a friend-colleague-mentor about unpopular truths in large corporate environments.

Continue reading Learning to love the rain

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Brainstorming with an Anecdote

Time to kick off a brainstorming session. How to do that? – Reminding everybody about how brainstorming works? Focussing people on the topic at hand?
Fortunately, I ran across this nice article “Twitter Strangers” just in time. I re-told the article (admittedly in a creative interpretation), roughly with the following key content: about the tendency to get stuck in the same associations, about the challenge to be really creative and about a simple experiment that shows the value of unexpected contributions. It was just the material I needed to wake everybody up, establish some cliff-hangers and so on to bring some spice back into the heads.
In the workshop summaries, the resulting brainstorming was repeatedly highlighted for its energy level 🙂
For me, this proves once again: The success of any kind of group activity is determined by the ability to put everybody into the same frame of mind.

Image Credit: kevindooley / Flickr

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Functional Fixedness: Real-world examples

You may remember the candle experiment from the recent post “Motivation 2.0: Daniel Pink on the surprising science of motivation“. The whole point of the candle experiment is to demonstrate that overcoming functional fixedness can not be accelerated with carrots and sticks – on the contrary.

Here, I’d like to give three real-world examples for overcoming functional fixedness. Or actually… one example for, two examples against it.
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Motivation 2.0: Daniel Pink on the surprising science of motivation

The other day, a friend of mine recommended another TED-Video to me: “Daniel Pink on the surprising science of motivation” (~18 Minutes). I think everybody who’s into management and/or leadership should have seen it.

It’s clearly worth watching, because Daniel is a truly gifted speaker. Still, for the hurried reader, here are the core points as I picked them up. The main theme is

There’s a gap between what science knows and what business does.

What he’s referring to is the “candle problem“: A cognitive performance test dating back to 1945. This test and a range of other examples Daniel quotes clearly shows that “sticks and carrots” (aka incentive plans etc.) actually reduce performance in cognitive tasks.

Incentives do work for mechanical tasks (which were predominant through much of the 20th century). They do not work for cognitive tasks, which dominate the 21st century. That’s the gap Daniel is talking about, and I’d like to add that this especially applies to the business of software

While science knows for more than 60 years that a bonus plan, say, for managers, reduces effectiveness, businesses reach out to higher and higher incentives in the areas where they are known to work least. One could say: They don’t know better. How else to motivate people?

And Daniel has an answer to that question: Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery.

In the video, he goes on to explain purpose – the topic in its entirety is covered in Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

Since then, I keep asking myself: Do you create a sense of purpose in the people you are working with?

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Everybody, Somebody, Nobody. Anybody?

Anybody, Nobody, Everybody, Somebody: A picture called "Nobody's portrait" - a face with glasses, without hair, eyes, nose or mouth. Who is it? - Nobody...I think everybody knows the following story. Still, it has turned out both fun and useful for me. Regularly. 🙂

This is a story about four people: Everybody,
Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was this
important job to be done and everybody was asked
to do it. Everybody was sure that somebody would
do it. Anybody could have done it, but nobody did
it. Somebody got angry about that because it was
everybody’s job. Everybody thought that anybody
could do it, but nobody realized that everybody
wouldn’t do it. It ended up that everybody blamed
somebody when actually nobody asked anybody.

Image: Flickr / нσвσ

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Image and Reality

La Trahision des Images
The Treachery of Images as an example for the mis-match between the actual staus and the reflection of the status.
One frequent mishap in larger organizations is exaggerated confidence in KPIs.

It is interesting to note that the literature on management, spends little to no attention on the accuracy of the measurement, while the literature on leadership barely mentions such KPIs at all. When discussing topics that are easy to measure, like manufacturing, taking the accuracy of KPI measurements for granted may make sense – however, the business of software is so far largely resisting meaningful, repeatable measurement. KPIs are so important because, often, KPIs are tied to people’s bonuses, which immediately invites, encourages … tuning of KPI actuals.
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Anecdotes for Project Managers: Cargo Cult

Another anecdote that is really working miracles is Richard Feynman’s story about Cargo Cult. I have to admit that I’m telling my own version. I’ve researched it on my own and massaged it a little bit to focus on the point I’m trying to make.

The situation where this anecdote works best is at milestone meetings, at larger companies: large companies have processes, even for project management. Project management processes typically focus on special milestones with special deliverables and a range of bored senior managers who have to take the decision.

The other day, I started one such meeting by telling the following story:
Continue reading Anecdotes for Project Managers: Cargo Cult

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HDWKTWD – a User Story for Tasks

Have you ever experienced that a task has been agreed, and half-way through somebody comes back beaming with the statement “it’s done!”?

Every once in a while, this happens, and it happens more often in distributed teams than in localized ones. The point is: there was no real agreement about when the task is done. I’ve started a new experiment in my teams, I’m starting to add to every task a little “HDWKTWD” section.

What’s “HDWKTWD”? – It’s short for “How Do We Know That We’re Done”. A good task assignment already does that implicitly (compare “discuss the schedule for XYZ” to “agree on a schedule and inform everybody in an email.”), but sometimes it helps to be even more explicit 🙂

User stories deal with the user observable behavior of a system. Who says that this characterization of user stories should apply purely to programming? The trick is: If I’d make a movie – would an outsider be able to judge whether the goal has been reached or not?

In the example: “discuss the schedule”, everybody would be able to see that a discussion has happened – but that’s not the desired outcome. The desired outcome is an agreement. However, the agreement is not visible to an outsider until it’s documented in an email. Hence the re-worded HDWKTWD…

My first impression is that “user observable behavior” ‘s doing good for project management, too.

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Decision Analysis III

It’s already a while ago that I presented my Influence Diagram to our sponsors (one may remember the Decision Analysis II article). The main value of the presentation was – as so often – in its preparation:

  • I’ve had my own mind clear on what I suggest and why
  • In the preparation meetings, peers and sponsors had to wrap their head around the entire topic.

So, eventually we had an engaged discussion about a situation most people had pretty well understood. While we didn’t really go through the presentation, we still arrived at – from my point of view – the right conclusions.

And a few days after the meetings, I received an email with four words: “good meeting – unlike most”.

It works.

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