Category Archives: Leadership
Do you want to create winning teams? Or improve already effective teams? Agile can help – regardless of what department you are in. As background, Agile is a software development methodology that uses practical tools and concepts to empower people to be more productive. Here are three tools that you can start using immediately to enhance teamwork and trust in your organization.
What is it?
A working agreement is a document of the values and behaviors that your team defines for how they will work together. It is powerful because it is crafted by the team, for the team (not by management). It facilitates great discussion about what will work for all team members. It could address topics such as after-hours availability, meeting etiquette, team member attitudes on interruptions, philosophical positions on accountability and more.
How to get started:
The easiest way to introduce a working agreement at the office is before a long meeting. The meeting could be a few hours or a few days, but long durations tend to bring out the worst in all of us. Ask for five minutes at the start of the meeting to document a working agreement. Ask everyone to define the appropriate behaviors for the meeting. You may have to prompt the group with provocative questions like “Are smartphones allowed? Who is taking meeting minutes? When are break times? If everyone is not back after a break, does the meeting commence, or do we wait?” With a little prompting, a healthy discussion should take place. Write down the results of the discussion and keep the working agreement displayed throughout the meeting. If anyone violates a tenet of the working agreement, any team member can gently point out the discrepancy and the meeting can continue. This simple introduction to working agreements will allow people to become familiar with the practice and then you can apply it more broadly to project teams.
We are an Agile family. Some of our processes work better than others, in typical Agile fashion, but we aspire to continously learn and improve. Our latest family problem is chores. We have three teenagers and determining what is fair and finding a common “definition of done” is quite challenging, filled with all kinds of wonderful teenage angst. Our activities tonight are attempting to bring clarity.
Step 1: Define chores with a Definition of Done
First, we sat down with index cards and listed out the chores, one per page. Truthfully, I did this mostly on my own but I read them all to the kids to make sure they agreed.
The final list was as follows:
- Empty kitchen trash and take out recycling whenever full (2)
- Empty all trash cans, take trash to curb on Tuesday morning, retrieve Tuesday night (1)
- Vacuum tile floors upstairs – baths and laundry room (we have a dog that sheds) twice a week (5)
- Vacuum upstairs carpets once a week (8)
- Vacuum downstairs floors once a week (8)
- Empty full dishwasher whenever clean (5)
- Clean off counters, tables, put shoes in closets nightly (5)
- Do dinner dishes and put away left-overs nightly, not pots and pans (8)
- Wash pots and pans, dry them and put them away by 9:00 a.m. the next morning (13)
My husband completed his first Ironman in Panama City, Florida. Something remarkable happened during the race and it makes me ponder similar implications in the work place. My husband’s watch broke. Actually, his second watch broke. The first one was kicked off and now sits on the ocean floor of the Gulf of Mexico. The second watch went black 90 minutes into the bike ride. So here he is, doing his first Ironman and he has virtually no ability to pace himself. The only way that he can ‘tell time’ is to watch the path of the sun and the only way he knows his relative position is to pass a mile marker, gauge his approximate speed and use that information to make decisions about nutrition and his pace.
As I am sure you can imagine, Ironman races are incredibly difficult. It is a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike following by a 26.2 mile run (a full marathon). Many well-experienced athletes have made the mistake of going too hard in the swim or the bike, only to find that their body doesn’t have enough energy left to finish the run. This is a very real risk and one that should not be taken lightly. So how do you, as a first time Ironman, pace yourself on the bike when you have no timepiece? Well, you do your best. And you listen to your body. And guess. And maybe pray a bit.
I recently accepted a job in San Diego, CA. Awesome, right? That is 1,733 mile from my current home in Waukee, Iowa (a suburb of Des Moines). This should be a piece of cake. The weather is better – beaches, oceans, the Zoo. It is a great opportunity and I know that we will be happy here. After all, we have done this before. In 2010, we moved from Austin, TX to Waukee, Iowa which is a distance of 927 miles, for those keeping score. So why is this so hard? Why do we have moments when we feel like the family is coming apart at the seams? We have learned a few things along the way so here are our 5 tips for making a cross country move a success.
1. It’s about the family
The greatest job in the world cannot make up for an unhappy spouse and kids. Make sure they are invested in and excited about the move. Every city has very cool features – the corn mazes in Iowa are amazing! Find out what is special about your new destination and celebrate it.
Also remember how important your spouse is. Moves are often easier on the working spouse as they have an instant community at the office, and the kids will adapt to their new friends at school. It’s critically important that the “support” spouse has a support system of their own. Neglect that piece of the puzzle and ‘successful’ may not be the word used to describe the move.
2. It’s about the message
When it comes to getting the family excited, choose your words carefully. If you say to the kids ‘I know you have great friends here and I am sorry that you have to leave them,’ you are setting a tone. If you say ‘This place is so cool. You won’t believe all of the activities and awesome adventures we are going to have,’ then you are leading with positivity and this can make a huge difference in the perception of the kids – especially those in elementary school.
Have you ever worked on something only to wonder “is this worth the effort?” “Does it matter at all?” “Does anyone care?” I know I have – and it relates in part to these blogs. In 2013, I set a goal that I was going to write 52 blogs – one per week. If you have ever tried to maintain a blog site, you know that is an ambitious goal. But I was committed so even when I would have rather been reading a book or walking the dog, I wrote blogs. And if I am honest, it did give me a sense of accomplishment when I achieved the goal.
As I worked on my 52 blogs, most were about three subjects that I am deeply passionate about: (1) Product Management, (2) Agile and (3) Leadership. I have a good amount of practical experience, I have taken awesome training classes and I have devoted time reading and studying on these subjects, so I hope that I have something useful to share.
I recently had an enlightening conversation with someone who was just learning about Agile. She was deeply entrenched in a Waterfall methodology and legacy PMO practices. She had lots of questions about how Agile works in a Stage-gate approval process and client contract negotiations. But what captured my attention most was her frustration over rework. She said, “we recently had a situation where a client came to us with a half-baked idea. Before we had finalized the requirements, IT went ahead and worked on something. That led to seven rounds of rework before we finally satisfied the customer. How would Agile have handled that?” It is a good question, but the answer is about far more than just a process change.
The paradigm shift that Agile suggests is that rework isn’t bad. That is a challenging concept to get your head around. Let’s look at the woman’s example again and shift the language slightly. “Our IT department responded to a client and showed them an option based on the available requirements. Upon seeing the working software, the client was able to refine their request and provide more clarity to IT. After seven iterations, the client was thrilled.” Mind-blowing, right? If we simply pivot our expectations, we might find that we can be more Agile in our approach to solving customer problems.
I committed this year to write 52 blogs and I did it! There are 16 on my previous employers website and 36 on www.runyanconsulting.com. As I look back and review and reflect on the posts, here are my favorites.
Product Management Blogs
I am very passionate about Product Management and I think it is sometimes an undervalued skill set. Where I have a chance, I always try to share the strategic and practical benefits that come from having great product management resources. This year, I wrote a five part series about how to Launch a Product and recently completed a 3 part series on how to sunset or decommission a product.
I am equally passionate about Agile because I have seen how it can improve people’s job satisfaction and raise the level of productivity and effectiveness for the whole organization. This category was harder to choose my favorites, so I came up with four. First, there was a series on creating an Agile Culture and what it really means for management. This series generated some controversy, which I love because it means we are talking about important things. Next, I am surprised that many organizations are not familiar with Fist of Five. We use the Agile technique all the time and it is a difference maker in driving productive conversations. Many organizations also struggle with how to incorporate Agile into the day-to-day business, so I offered three options for incorporating bugs and maintenance into your Agile teams. Finally, I am a big believer in the sacredness of the Sprint and I believe that organizations that are disciplined enough to honor a sprint commitment will typically be more successful than those who are loosey-goosey with the guidelines.
Finally, I care deeply about leadership and family so some of my blogs were dedicated to those topics. One that has been particularly fun is documenting our evolution to an Agile Family. We have learned (and laughed) a lot together. Also, I spent some time really thinking about Innovation and what drives an innovative spirit in some people but not others. This particular blog might be my favorite of the year.
I hope you have enjoyed some of these blogs and maybe learned something new. I know that I have learned with each post and I am grateful to have the opportunity to continue growing and exploring new ideas. What is in store for 2014? Who knows for sure, but it is going to be a great year!
We became an “Agile Family” in 2013 and I first blogged about it in August. Since then, we have had a number of family meetings and we have learned some very interesting things along the way. Here is a recap of our findings.
1. Face-to-face collaboration matters.
Those of you who are familiar with Agile and its principles know that face-to-face communication and frequent opportunities to collaborate are essential to Agile. Turns out, the same is true with the family. When we asked the retrospective-type question “What do you want to do more of?” our tween daughters (ages 11 and 12) said more family activities. What?!? Our kids are at the age of boyfriends and texting and thinking parents are uncool and yet — they want to spend more time with us. And when we inquired about the types of activities, it wasn’t watching TV or playing video games. It was electronics-free hiking and bowling and ice skating. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard that, but since then, we have become closer as a family – as a team.
There are times when we all feel a bit beat down by life or circumstances, so this is a blog to explain five reasons why you are lucky – or blessed. I know what you might be thinking – this blogger doesn’t even know me. How can she presume that I am lucky? Let’s examine five reasons.
1. You are smart.
We can discern this fact – and yes, it is a fact – because you can read. Only literate people read blogs AND you are smart enough to navigate the internet to find this blog AND you are smart enough to have access to a computer. So if you are doubting yourself or your worth, know that you ARE smart.
2. You live in a country that has freedom.
The fact that you are able to access this blog means that you live in a country that allows its citizens to share controversial ideas and to learn and grow from different opinions. That is a beautiful thing that is worthy of celebration. You are lucky to be afforded such freedom.
3. You are interested in learning.
The act of wanting to expand your horizons, to learn new things and to explore differing points of view is a gift. You are engaged in life and that is a great thing. There are people who have given up, who are jaded or uninterested and feel like their best days are behind them. You are not that person. By virtue of the fact that you are interested in internet musings means that you are an active participant in this life and good for you. That zeal makes you a lucky person.
It may sound odd that you need to consider pricing when sunsetting a product or platform but you do – at least in some form. This is the final installment in a series on decommissioning or sunsetting a product. First you must get data to know exactly what the situation is; second, you must craft your communication plan, and finally, you need to consider the financial implications.
If you are truly turning a service off, or ‘going dark’, you may have to consider whether refunds will be required for your existing customers. If your business model is one of pre-payment, then you need to look into contractual obligations, notice periods and financial true-ups. The potential impact of refunds may even dictate your sunsetting strategy, so you can minimize pay outs.
Let’s consider an example. The company charges annually for the following year. For example, on November 1st, you are charged for November 1st to October 31st of the following year. The company will need to research the month with the highest number of renewals and you might base your decommissioning date based on that information to minimize the refunds. If sunsetting this product is a large and complex effort, you might consider a rolling project where customers are moved off of the product or platform as their services expire contractually. This approach can take up to a year to complete, but that might be ideal in certain circumstances.