Category Archives: Leadership

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

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.
Continue reading Image and Reality

by-nc-nd

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

by-nc-nd

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.

by-nc-nd

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.

by-nc-nd

The importance of respect in the business of software

I found a reference to the article “Opinion: The unspoken truth about managing geeks“.

The reference is from Awasu’s “Anti-stupidity“. Thanks for drawing my attention to it!

Thanks to both your articles, I have nothing to add.

Hmmm… there’s always something to add, so how about this: The IT geniuses I’ve had the good fortune to meet all behave like that. But with IT becoming more of a profession and less of a vocation, I see first signs of IT pros turning “normal”. I don’t like it. Respect is – for all people involved – a better currency than credit.

I’ve been fiddling with the notion of trust, especially in distributed teams, for quite a while now, but respect is something that matters as much. I guess that – keeping honest respect in mind – even the quote “Unlike in many industries, the fight in most IT groups is in how to get things done, not how to avoid work. IT pros will self-organize, disrupt and subvert in the name of accomplishing work…” is not correct: I believe where mutual, honest respect is handled well, it will lead anybody to accomplishing their best and a little more. Which in turn tells us a bit about “most industries”.

by-nc-nd

… and nothing is going to happen

Today, I had an interesting discussion about empowerment, especially in a weak matrix organization. Eventually, the discussion reminded me of the Obituary of Richard Neustadt, the adviser to several presidents ($) of the USA, in The Economist (November 2003). The central part is (quoted from memory):

“He’ll sit here,” he [Truman] said [about Eisenhower], drumming his fingers on the desk, “and he’ll say, “Do this! Do that! – and nothing is going to happen! – it won’t be a bit like in the army!”

Well… if this is the amount of empowerment the most powerful man on this planet can command – how could I as a project manager as a project manager ask for more?

I think that project management is a lot about convincing and only a little about “empowerment”, and this means that there are three potential problems:

  1. First, it so happens every once in a while that somebody confuses “empowerment” with “veto right”. Such cases are particularly frequent among so-called internal governance bodies. Yes, this is empowerment in a sense… but it’s “wrong-way-round”. Real empowerment is the power to make things happen, not the power to stop.
  2. Second, the power to influence or convince actually means that the project manager can build a “bridge” between the project member’s personal goals and the project goals. Clear, aligned, specific goals within the company are a fairly obvious prerequisite to make that work.
  3. Third (or actually “2b”), incompatibilities of interests between different organizations that contribute to a project obviously break the “empowerment” of the project manager.

So what?

Upon closer inspection, the so-called line managers are often not more empowered: They can’t fire (at least not in Germany), and at least now in the financial crisis, they may have only very little financial freedom like over salaries etc. Don’t tell anybody, though 🙂

Eventually, what it all boils down to is, provocatively exaggerated:

There  is no empowerment!

There is dis-empowerment.
There is an illusion of empowerment, and a good project manager knows how to sustain that.

by-nc-nd

The elephant – again

A kick-off meeting to a project.

Situation: People already know each other, views have already diverged significantly. Over the past month, outside communication was strong (so expectations are huge), but inwards communication was weak (so opinions are scattered).

Complication: How to turn this bunch of minds into a team with “punch”?

Solution: Enter the story of the elephant… Continue reading The elephant – again

by-nc-nd