Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Are you Really an Agile Team?


Easy to Understand but Hard to Apply

Many of us claim to be Agile teams.  Our team made this claim until a colleague (Brian Keirstead) challenged us on how we were ignoring some basic practices of Scrum.  Here are some of the reasons why he pointed out that we weren't a Scrum team:

  • We had a single 15-20 person team
  • We did not have a formal Sprint Planning 
  • Our backlog was scattered across a couple of excel spreadsheets
  • We did not force-rank our backlog
  • We had QA operate as a separate phase (sometimes in the next sprint)

As much as we agreed with him, we argued that we were necessarily different.  We needed to adapt the Scrum framework to suit our needs.  "We need to make the framework work for us!!".

Looking back, I can admit that this approach is flawed. Scrum is a really simple Agile project management framework.  If you are first starting out with an Agile team it's likely you don't know - what you don't know. The easiest way to learn is by doing... until it becomes "muscle-memory". Much like learning any skill you need to first learn the rules before you break them.

The Pain Means Your Growing

Many of us mistake the pain of learning is a signal that we're doing it wrong.  Our pain in adopting Scrum revealed the following:

  • Organizational impediments are sometimes phrased as "the way we do business"
  • Team work does not always come naturally
  • Saying NO is not easy, but important
  • Time-boxing is crucial to empirical analysis 

The Way We Do Business

When we broke the 15-20 group into 2 separate teams there was a lot of resistance. We complained that we weren't able to see the big picture.  We believed that our large complex app required an equally large team.

The reality was that we failed to articulate a clear concise strategy.  Having a big group was our way of hiding this fact.

We also did ad-hoc "Planning" as we were stealing a Kanban style of taking on stories continuously. However we did not put strong WIP (Work-In-Progress) limits in place, or craft stories to be all equal in size.   As a result we...

  • often slammed QA with large number of stories
  • were unable to forecast a release date
  • did not operate as a team on a focused goal

But There's an "I" in Agile!

Developer culture often focuses on the brilliance on an individual, a hero ... a "Rock Star" developer. Having smart, motivated and intelligent people is a good thing.  However, no individual should cast a shadow so large, that it leaves others in the dark.

Standup's started to reveal how poorly coordinated we were. We often spent the whole day not talking to each other. We had a habit of measuring success by completing our individual user stories.

By having a dedicated Scrum Master we were challenged to learn how to work together towards a common Sprint Goal. Once teams began to really gel, we saw a dramatic increase in velocity.  But more importantly, we really started to love working with each other.  To this day, we point to our team mates as one of the best reasons we love our job.

Rebel Scrum Master

There was a period of time that developers were not empowered to voice concerns and make changes. To give teams more autonomy our Scrum Masters were encouraged to say "no" a lot:
  • "No" to having Managers/Leads at Retros
  • "No" to having 20 people interrupting a 15-min standup
  • "No" to ad-hoc requests mid-sprint to aren't aligned with the Sprint Goal
By giving the Scrum Master permission to play the bad cop, teams could properly focus on the Sprint. Once we got the basics we didn't require the largely defensive role of the Scrum Master.

To quote Ken Schwaber "...a dead Scrum Master is a useless Scrum Master".  It's can bean easier pill to swallow making many small changes - over large swooping ones.

Empiricism not Imperialism

Often at the end of a Sprint, we'd let a story roll over until the next day of the sprint. By focusing on "getting credit" for the work on the sprint, we were hiding problems that we needed to be solved.  In this example, we needed a clear "Definition of Done" that included QA verification. The fear of missing a sprint prevented us from learning.

As Star Wars taught us so well, fear is a great source of learning.  Luke Skywalker was taught this fact when he pleaded with Yoda to train him. "I won't fail you! I'm not afraid!"

Yoda - a seasoned Scrum/Jedi Master saw Luke as young and naive.  "Oh! You will be.... you will be." 

Unlike in the movies, it isn't an Evil Empire that is standing in the way of your teams success... it's likely just a very common aversion to pain fear and failure. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

What Motivates Your Team?

How do you know what motivates your team?

I value curiosity, freedom and acceptance.  It's an easy mistake to make decisions based on your own motivations - but what about your team?  What motivates them?  How do you, as a leader make decisions that align with their motivations?

I'm a huge fan of Jurgen Appelo's Management 3.0 game "Moving Motivators".  It is deceivingly simple and incredibly insightful.  It’s a really simple tool that takes very little time to explain.

It starts with the following 10 cards that can be remembered with the acronym CHAMPFROGS:

  • Curiosity
  • Honour
  • Acceptance
  • Mastery
  • Power 
  • Freedom
  • Relatedness
  • Order
  • Goal
  • Status

You can the download the below cards from the Management 3.0 website.

Here are the 2 steps I take with my team:
  1. Rank your motivations from least to most important
    • record these rankings to skip this step in the future
  2. Consider a recent change and how it affected your recent motivators
    • move it up if it was positive
    • move it down if it was negative 

The game addresses how complex our motivations are.  There cards are a colourful way to give your team a language to consider what intrinsically motivates them.

It also is a great way to visualize how some things are more important than others.  Jurgen derived these 10 motivators from various reputable resources (Daniel Pink, Steven Reiss, Edward Deci).

Non-Confrontational and Effective

When reviewing these cards with another person, it can be non-confrontational as you are facing the cards and not each other.  A simple example with a co-worker may be, “How did moving from a large 20 person team to a small 5 person Scrum team affect your motivators?”.

Personally, I did this exercise with my team and found myself surprised by what I learned.   This tool allowed my team to speak specifically about what the found de-motivating and why they found it so. It also removed the need for us to debate on the change itself.  We focused solely on their motivations and how it affected them.

It’s also a great tool when you bring something up - and it doesn’t affect motivations at all.  You don’t need to talk about it.

I created the following 2 minute video to help illustrate how to play the game and why it is valuable:

I'd encourage anyone to try it out with their team, co-workers or even their managers. More interesting that the tool itself... is the dialogue it generates. I hope you find yourself as surprised as I was by learning what motivates your team.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How to Build a High Performance Team


Culture-fit doesn't need to be Voodoo Magic

Having a team with cross-functional skills is fundamental for Agile teams.  Culture-fit can push these teams to a higher performance. This doesn't need to be a "from-the-gut" activity.  Here are three steps I have taken to build teams with the right culture fit:

  • Select individuals with similar core-values
  • Pair "Professors" and "Entrepreneur" within a team
  • Ask individuals privately who they enjoy working with


Jurgen Appelo describes core values as "the ones that come naturally to you. Without them, you wouldn’t be yourself." -https://management30.com/product/workouts/create-value-in-your-organization/

The challenge I found, is that if you ask someone their core values... they either may not know, or may tell you what they'd like to be true.  I've found the the "click-down" tool to be a great way to interview your team and learn what really makes them tick. 

Professors and Entrepreneurs

I have no shame in admitting this is stolen right from Spotify's playbook.  The basic idea is that the Professor wants to get it done perfectly ... while the Entrepreneur wants to get it done quickly.

"There is a healthy tension between these roles, as the entrepreneur tends to want to speed up and cut corners, while the professor tends to wants to slow down and build things properly.  Both aspects are needed, that's why it's called a healthy tension." - https://dl.dropbox.com/u/1018963/Articles/SpotifyScaling.pdf

With Spotify's setup, they have the Product Owner and Chapter Lead play these roles.  However, we found success in setting up our teams who had natural inclinations as either a Professor or Entrepreneur. 

This healthy tension would generate solid intelligent debate about applying "best practices" and balancing out the need to be "results-oriented".

This works really well once you've found individuals who share similar core-values.  If this is lacking, what could be a healthy debate between a "Professor" and "Entrepreneur" may instead be demotivating and disempowering.

Ask Them

Although this may seem obvious, it can easily be a missed step in forming new teams.  While you would want to avoid a conversation about "who's the better developer?" ... it can be a fairly neutral conversation to ask "who do you really enjoy working with?".

The emphasis of the conversation is on personal preference - not performance.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Your Agile Mindset is Limited


We're Great - And You Are Not

In the book Tribal Leadership, David Logan speaks about 5 distinct cultural stages we see in organizations. 

  • Stage 1 - Life Sucks
  • Stage 2 - My Life Sucks
  • Stage 3 - I'm Great ... And You Are Not
  • Stage 4 - We're Great.... And You Are Not
  • Stage 5 - Life's Great

Stage 1 organizations are very uncommon and are only seen in prisons and criminal organizations.

David Logan points to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) as an example of workers working at a Stage 2 cultural level.

Approximately 50% of workplace culture operates at Stage 3.  Stage 3 culture sees competition amongst employees as means of increasing overall performance.  Many successful organizations operate at this cultural stage.  However, the Agile/Lean movements have shown how teams can out perform individuals.  

Many Agile teams and companies operate at Stage 4, but still identify it's greatness in comparison to other teams.  Agile teams within large corporations can be seen as religious zealots. You may here them speak about "how waterfall is foolish", or how other teams "just don't get it".  This cultural level is high-performing - but is still limited.   

Stage 5 cultures operate at a level of "Life is great".  There are a precious few organizations that fit this mold.  Zappos and Morning Star are often pointed to as examples of organizations operating at this level.    

We've had the good fortune of meeting Doug Kirkpatrick who was there in it's inception of Morning Star. Here is Doug's TED talk on his experience with Morning Star and how they have no bosses and are entirely self-managed.

In Fredric Laloux's book "Re-inventing Organizations" he describes 5 paradigms that directly relate to these 5 cultural stages:

  • Level 1 - Impulsive Red (Wolfpack)
  • Level 2 - Conformist Amber (Army)
  • Level 3 - Achievement Orange (The Machine)
  • Level 4 - Pluralistic Green (The Family)
  • Level 5 - Evolutionary Teal (Whole Living Organism)

The following video describes these paradigms, examples of organizations that apply them, and the impact of taking on each paradigm.

The easy conclusion is to aspire for your organization to be a "Level 5".  However, as David Logan points out in his book "Tribal Leadership"... "you can't skip a step". Upgrading your organizations existing culture means starting with where you are.

Someone in a Level 3 culture needs to be valued for their individual contributions before extending into a team.  As well, Level 4 cultures are a necessary stepping stone for most organizations, before considering a self-managed team. Lastly, Level 5 is not sustainable unless we have learned the language of Level 4. 

Regardless of where your organization is, it's important to speak the language of their current stage.  The book "Tribal Leadership" offers a great deal of examples and tools to help upgrade your organizations culture.  

Personally, I've been fortunate to get the support of others that have been through similar transitions and transformations.  Whether they are Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches or seasoned Executives, there is no shortage of people who are willing to share their passion for creating truly excellent organizations.  

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Tribal Leadership - 21 Day Challenge

Tribal Leadership - 21 Day Challenge


This 21 day daily exercise was painfully exciting and rewarding.   It's been a fundamental part of my growth in learning to lead.  This description taken from the sign-up page describes it best:

"It's free, but it's not easy. It requires that you watch a short (3 minute) video each day, and take the action that's required. The actions require courage and commitment—two characteristics all leaders share. "  

I came out of the challenge with a few really helpful tools including "Click-Down" and "Mountains and Valleys".  

An example of a growthful challenge is the "Reputation Challenge" on day 6.  It's a simple exercise where you "Find three people whose opinion of you is important and ask 'what is my reputation?'”. 

A key value of this exercise is that "Managers Derail Because they are not Managing Reputations".

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Big Ego's and Star Trek

That's a lot of Ego

Transactional Analysis is a very accessible theory of modern psychology. It's been a great tool for me to engage in "Adult-to-Adult" conversations.  The following 10 minute video is a great introduction to the concepts.

It's an obvious statement to say that Leadership is largely about people.  However, attending Greg Witz's Leadership workshop was a great way to learn by doing.  As pre-work, we were asked to have our colleagues answer multiple choice questions to determine what our predominate ego states are.

For myself, when I'm feeling creative and generating ideas
I gravitate towards "Spontaneous Child" ego state.   When working with others I sometimes find myself in the "Nurturing Parent" ego state.

This works great when we're in a pinch and need to rally the troops towards a common goal.

However, I've learned that this can sometimes trigger negative reactions. For example, the "Critical Parent" ego state may see the "Nurturing Parent" or "Spontaneous Child" as either insincere or manipulative.

In these interactions, I find it's more productive if I stick to the "Adult" ego state - focusing on results and facts.  It's a deliberate choice on how I communicate, without changing who I am.

As a Star Trek geek, I noticed many examples of the various ego states in the show.  I've tried to find video clips that demonstrate how various ego states start out, and change through the interaction.

Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Critical Parent and Angry Children

Worf plays the "Angry Child" ego state often.  Picard demonstrates how a little "Critical Parent" ego state can provide a healthy challenge to the "Angry Child".

Spontaneous Children, Angry Child and Adult

Q provides lots of examples of the "Spontaneous Child". Picard starts with a little "Angry Child" and closes with some "Adult".  I'm not personally advocating for using the "Angry Child" as demonstrated, but it provides some context on how the "Angry Child" could cut to the chase especially if a "Spontaneous Child" is being disruptive.  Equally important, it's interesting to see how Picard quickly follows up with an "Adult" ego state.

Withdrawn Children, Nurturing Parent and Adult

Here, Deanna Troi starts as a "Withdrawn Child", and Guainan comes in with with a mixture of "Spontaneous Child" and "Nurturing Parent".  Guainan moves the dialogue to a close with them both engaged in an Adult-to-Adult conversation.

Angry Child, Critical Parent and Adult

In this scene Data takes command of the Starship Enterprise. Worf unproductively challenges Data frequently with his "Angry Child" ego state.  Data pulls him aside and initiates with a strong "Critical Parent" ego state and closes with Adult.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Experimenting with 1:1’s

Creating a Healthy Work Environment

I've had inspiring managers and horrible managers. They have all dramatically influenced my health and well-being.  These experiences have taught me that a healthy work environment is a result of hard work. And a crucial element of this hard work is experimentation.

I want to create a work environment where people are surprised by their own potential.  An environment where we respectfully challenge each other to play at the top of our game. Since change is inevitable - continuously learning through experimentation is vital.

Here are a couple of simple experiments that we've been running with my team during our 1:1's.

Moving Motivators

"Management 3.0 #Workout" is fast-becoming my favourite management book and resource toolkit.  Moving Motivators is a really simple exercise that I've done in my 1:1's with my team, but you can use it with your colleagues or even in retrospectives.

It's a simple way to prioritize from a set of 10 "motivators".

...and then have a dialogue about how change impacts your motivations.

Here are a couple of references to the game that should help get you started:


Click Down

In the "21-day Tribal Leadership Challenge" David Logan introduced the "click-down" tool with 2 simple steps.

1. In a conversation with a co-worker, listen for a word that would be "blue and underlined".  That is, if you were to "click on it" it would take you to additional content.  For example your co-worker may say "I am really frustrated with how this sprint is going."

2. Ask an open-ended question about that word to elict a deeper conversation.  For example, you may ask "Why are you so frustrated with how this sprint is going?"

You would repeat steps 1 and 2 until it becomes "uncomfortable" or difficult for the other person to answer.  When you get to that place, you've usually stumbled onto their core-values.  It takes a bit of practice to make sure you make it part of an organic part of your conversation.

Read more about this and listen to David Logan here:

Final Note - Bringing Devices into 1:1's

When I first started holding 1:1's with my team I'd bring my laptop into the room and take notes.  I found that screens would put up walls in our dialogue and broke up the natural flow of the dialogue.  I've still bring my laptop occasionally to 1:1's, but use a pen and index cards to capture notes.

This also allows me to pay closer attention to others, by jotting down notes as they speak. Instead of being burdened by follow-up questions or "click-down" words... I'm able to more closely focus and listen to what they have to say.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My leadership toolkit

A simple toolkit 

I've got a crappy memory.  To compensate I carry around index cards while away from my computer, and transcribe my notes onto my GTD (Get Things Done) text file.  It's archaic, but I've found pen and paper are far more natural and keep conversations fluid.

I take with me little "cheat sheets" of discoveries that have become a part of my leadership toolkit. Feel free to download the toolkit here.  They fit nicely on the back of index cards.  

Lead yourself

"Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers, and free your people to do the same. All else is trivia."  - Dee Hock (founder of Visa credit card association)

It's very easy to wear the hat of an expert especially when in a position of authority.  However, I've found it's not terribly empowering for my colleagues if I wear that hat too often.

I've taken the approach of learning with my team by sharing my cheat sheet.  The objective is for them to "lead themselves" instead of depending on the conventional role of the manager.  Depending on their varying levels of interest, I go into detail about each tool and give them copies upon request.

About the toolkit

The three gaps were described by Stephen Bungay in "Art Of Action" point out "Gaps" leaders face with Plans, Actions and Outcomes.  The red text below is how we incorrectly respond to a gap.  For example, when responding to the "Knowledge gap" we incorrectly respond by providing more information.

The green text is how we should respond.  For example, with the "Knowledge gap" we should provide clear direction in the form of "What and Why".

The 7 levels of delegation are described by this short 3 min video.    By having a model to describe how authority is being applied, it helps set expectations on how much influence we all have on the decision. 

Transactional Analysis was introduced to me by leadership guru "Greg Witz" during his leadership training course.  The diagram below speaks to how we can move into "Parent, Adult or Child" ego states when communicating with colleagues, friends and family.  

In short, when communicating with each other we move unconsciously into various ego states. The goal is to return the dialogue back to an "Adult to Adult" conversation.  This article speaks about transactional analysis in more detail.  At the risk of over-simplifying a simple example can be an interaction you may have with a "Withdrawn Child". The "Nurturing Parent" ego state could bring them back to the conversation into an Adult-to-Adult conversation.  To get a true sense of how this works I'd highly recommend signing up for a Witz leadership training workshop.

Dynamic Coaching is an approach to supporting your team depending on their various levels of them being "Willing and Able".  I've applied the ego states within each quadrant to help shape how you can approach your colleagues depending on where they are, and if they need support.

The last tool is an extension of Bungay's three gaps, speaking to how leaders can provide strategic intent to increase Alignment without sacrificing Autonomy.   It's often seen that Alignment to be in opposition to Autonomy.  Either "do as I say" or "do whatever you want".  Bungay's challenge this assumption.  

The below card shows how a leader can provide clear direction by focusing on the "What+Why". This frees your team to figure out the "how" by aligning with the leaders strategic intent.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Whispering Wednesdays


Moving to an Open Space

Our department recently moved to a large open space without cubicles.  We've been given large tables, chairs, whiteboards and a beautiful 8th floor view of the Toronto airport.

It's been an experiment in creating better face-to-face collaboration and increased productivity. For the most part we're happy with the move.

There have been occasions where individuals have wanted to have a quiet space to focus and get work done.  Our new office space was not conducive to a quiet and focused space.

Driving to work, I'd listened to Jason Fried in an interview on the CBC.

He spoke about how the modern workplace does not support getting work done. (Jason Fried is the co-founder of 37 signals and the author of the book "Rework").

Here's the interview if you are interested on "Why Work Doesn't Happen at Work":


In the interview he proposed the idea of just taking one day and treating the workplace like a Library.

We decided to experiment ourselves by creating a "Whispering Wednesday" on the first Wednesday of the 2 week sprint.

Experimenting with Whispering Wednesday's

I presented the idea to the team and they were willing to give it try.  We had a single simple rule:  Keep your voice down so that it would be loud enough for someone sitting beside or near you.

We even designated a "Librarian" that was given permission to shush the heck out of anyone that had forgotten the rule.  After the day had passed, it was hard to tell if the experiment was a success.  So we decided to ask the group if they'd like to try it again.  Survey Monkey came to the rescue: 

Having such a close tie in the results I decided to ask for more feedback in our 1:1's.  

For the most part, the teams for valued being able to speak openly and freely more than having quiet time.

However we all agreed to try it again, to accommodate individuals needing quiet and focused time.   There were still a few members that craved a quiet space.

So, for the next iteration we revised "Whispering Wednesday" to occur in a designated quiet room.  Instead of asking whether we'd like to try it again in two weeks, the question was asked "What kind of impact was Whispering Wednesday for you?"

As a result, we now occasionally run a Whispering Wednesday with a designated room... and have found a healthy balance between the needs of the few vs the large group.

What I've learned so far

Experimentation is crucial to a healthy workplace.   Equally as important is that we measure changes to see if they positively impacting our department.

And lastly, by measuring and sharing the results of experiments, the team is more willing to take risks as they are a clear part of the rationale behind the decision making.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The “hot seat” experiment


Difficult Conversations Workshop

Our development team recently attended a whole-day workshop about "Difficult Conversations". I setup the workshop because we were facing challenges when trying to voice concerns with each other and external departments.  The objective was to give the team tools to communicate effectively with various personality styles.

Asking a Difficult Question

A few days later, in our weekly department meeting I decided to stretch myself and give the department permission to ask me any difficult question they'd like.

To select the question, I stole techniques I learned from a recent "Spark the Change" conference I attended here in Toronto.  I took the following approach to help the team find the most important "difficult question".
  • Individuals were asked to quietly generate questions/topics (One per sticky)
  • The stickies were put up on whiteboard and grouped into similar areas of concern
  • Everyone went to the board and was allowed to "dot" a sticky with a vote
  • Individuals were allowed to vote 3 times for their favourite questions (3 dots)
Once everyone voted, the topic with the most "dots" was selected and I sat myself into in front of the team to address their "difficult question"

Here's the source material from Steve Rogalsky that introduces the science behind brainstorming and how "silent brainstorming" to allow all personality types contribute equally.


Employee Engagement and Retention

The selected topic was "How do you keep turnover low and how do you retain people?".  It was a relevant and topical question - as we just had an experienced member of the team resign. I sat down in front of the group and immediately felt awkward and uncomfortable.  Many long pauses as we tried to dig in.  It was not going smoothly.

I attempted to jumpstart the conversation with some facts on our current retention rates, how they compared historically in our department, how they compared to other companies.  I spoke to how "I felt good about where we stood" in light of a Developer's recent resignation.

Interestingly, someone from the group pointed out that I didn't answer the question.  The question remained, "how do you keep turnover low and keep good people?".  On top of which, half the room was not engaged in the conversation.  I had answers, but had no way of knowing if they were right answers.

I felt the value of the conversation diminishing.  I attempted to energize the group by speaking about the culture, changes recently made and how this was making for an engaging environment that would keep turnover low.   As I soon quickly realized that we weren't making progress, I decided to take on a different tactic.  I'd ask them what would make them quit... and what makes them stay.

Ask Them (anonymously)

Survey Monkey is a great tool to get anonymous feedback. In the end we decided to simply ask the department - "what's keeping you here?", and "what would cause you to leave?".  The following incomplete sentences were presented:

  1. Our work/life balance...
  2. Our technology stack...
  3. The work we do (i.e. user stories)...
  4. The product we are building ...
  5. Our codebase...
  6. Our culture...
  7. Our company's stability...
  8. My compensation...
  9. My advancement opportunity...
  10. My manager...
  11. My co-worker(s)...
  12. My squad/team...

The survey allowed them to select a value from 1-5 with the values reflecting how they'd complete the sentence:
  • (1) ..is bad enough to make me quit
  • (2) ..is not great
  • (3) ...is okay
  • (4) ...is good 
  • (5) ...is so great it keeps me here

What I learned from the experience

It was clear after going through this exercise that having the right answer is not as important as having the right question.  

The results of the survey were also very insightful.  It allowed us to see what behaviours we should continue to support and what issues to immediately address.

As painful as sitting in the hot seat was - I would gladly do it again.  By putting myself out there my team recognized that I was committed to being transparent and answering their concerns directly.

For future meetings, I would revise the large group discussion to a few smaller groups of 4-7 each. This may give the smaller groups opportunity to discuss more openly amongst themselves, and allow them to speak to me more comfortably.

The most important result was in finding the right question, and allowing the team to answer safely and anonymously.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Tribal Council Meeting


Creating the Tribal Council

I'm a geek that's been in the Software Development field for about 20 years and have worn many different hats. The manager hat is still quite new.  Fortunately, peers of mine recommended a book "Management 3.0" that has been my life jacket in rocky waters.

I've come to agree with the author Jurgen Appelo - that "Management is Too Important to Leave to the Managers".   I found myself wanting to share the work with colleagues in the team.  So I created a 15-minute "Daily Sync" with a few Senior Developers, QA and Scrum Masters.  The goal was to be as transparent as possible with topics like:

  • organizational impediments
  • upcoming decisions
  • challenges the department was facing, etc,etc.

As time passed the meeting matured into a 15-minute Tribal Council meeting.  I was looking for ways to share the decision making of the department through the "council members".  I wanted a way to expose myself to a small group of individuals,  while learning how to manage the bumps in the road together.

Bumps along the way

One of these "bumps" resulted from my decision-making that was behind closed doors - with team members one-on-one.  An especially notable example was how I created a new team by reshuffling existing members.  I had been making team membership decisions in the past with some disruption, but as the department grew so did the discontent. Many developers wondered how these decisions were getting made, and what was the rationale.  Needless to say this was not particularly empowering for the team.

Finding Delegation Poker 

Not feeling good about the incident, I pulled the book "Management 3.0" and found myself looking at "Delegation Poker" as a possible way to involve the department in decision making that didn't totally disempower me, but empowered the team.

Here's a quick how-to video I created on Delegation Poker:

Delegation Poker at the Council Meeting

I immediately brought the tool into the council meeting and played the game with the scenario "Who gets to decide on team membership?".  I selected "Level 3 - Consult" while many council members selected 4,5 and 6.  This led to a healthy discussion about how these decisions get made and the impacts to the department and the individuals on the teams.  We all came out of this discussion with a better appreciation of the impact and moved into a "4 - Agree" level for this type of decision going forward.

Being Transparent about Council Decisions 

Having a large department, we see the Council meeting as a means to self-organize the department. We're still experimenting with ways to ensure high levels of transparency with the whole group, while balancing the need to have effective conversations with a small subset of individuals.

The council members are also responsible for gathering input before they make decisions to ensure proper representation of their vote.  We've also built a public JIRA workflow board with the discussion topics, comments and decisions that resulted.

We're stealing from Holacracy to define and roll out "Roles".  We're expecting that roles will clearly describe the accountabilities of the council members, along with the many other hats we all wear on the team. More to come on this later.

What I've learned so far

Small break-out chat’s with individuals can easily lead to mis-communication.  By exposing myself to a larger group (i.e. the council meeting) there is a consistent message and a shared understanding. Regardless of good intentions, making changes can be disempowering if transparency is lacking.

Last but not least, as a manager I find it important to experiment with leading practices.  It's clear that I can't "get it right" the first time.  It has helped having an attitude of experimentation that allows for learning to be an ongoing process.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Where do I start?


An overview of 3 books that have provided me some practical tools to experiment and learn how to manage a contemporary software development team.

I've been a Software Developer for the better part of my 20 years of professional experience.  I've recently taken on the role of "Manager" and quite frankly have little experience with Management.

So in place of experience I've been experimenting. I'll describe some of the "tools" I've been geeking out over that I've lifted from the following three books:
They've been absolutely invaluable and a source of inspiration in my daily work.  I've been able to create a decent toolkit which allows me to continuously experiment to gain experience.  If you are in a similar position, I hope the following articles to get your started with your experimentation.

Tribal Leadership - by David Logan

Dave Logan describes how all we naturally form "tribes", how this occurs in the workplace, and the 5 stages of Tribal Culture.

Here's his TED talk on the subject:

A simple read on the concepts:

As well there's a great 21 day challenge you can take that takes you through practical exercises to gain insight about yourself:

Management 3.0 - by Jurgen Appelo

In his book Management 3.0, Jurgen Appelo provides tools that really engage your team and increase collaboration.

I had the pleasure of meeting Jurgen Appelo at a conference here in Toronto and thanked him for my favourite tool "Delegation Poker".  It's a great tool to have a non-confrontational dialogue about authority.  It's very similar to the game of "Planning Poker" (If you're an Agile Junkie):


Another favourite is the "Kudo Box" which is a great way for peers to recognize each others contributions:

Art of Action - by Stephen Bungay

This book is the absolute best kept secret that my colleague (Brian Kierstead) at work has called "The Calculus behind Agile". I stumbled across it when looking for how Spotify learned how to increase Alignment, without sacrificing on Autonomy.

Here's an article on Spotify's agile engineering culture:


We had the pleasure of talking to Simon Fawkes, a management consultant who describes the core concepts within the book:

The video does a great job describing the "3 gaps", our usual reactions and how we should approach three gaps.

To get you introduced to the concept of "strategic intent" heres a great RSA video by David Marquet: