Skip to main content

Tag: Team

Shake up Your Stand-up

Standups are a cornerstone of Agile project management. As a Project Manager, conducting stand-ups provides a daily communication touch point with your team that allows you to build rapport while gaining a deeper understanding of each individual team member. However, after you have worked with your team for a while and established a good sprint cadence and team dynamic, the standup may lose its flare and, in some cases, its necessity.

 

Advertisement
[widget id=”custom_html-68″]

 

If your stand-ups are getting stale, try a few of these tricks to freshen your stand-ups:

  1. Have a Standup or Two Via Slack. Post-Covid, we are inundated with virtual meetings. While the daily stand-up is meant to align all team members and get the day started with a common goal in mind, that 15 minutes may slow your team down if they are in the zone and want to complete a task. Try having the team write their updates at the start of their day and share them in a slack group chat. Chime in to help remove blockers as needed. Pro tip: Send out a template with the questions and ask for the responses by a certain time daily.
  2. Reduce Frequency. If team members are working on higher pointed tasks with multiple components, there may not be a daily update. Depending on the end of your sprint, try incorporating a no standup Friday.
  3. Celebrate Wins. While the “What did I do yesterday? What will I do today? What blockers are impacting me?” format is riveting, it may get a bit monotonous. Incorporate some time to celebrate wins during the standup. Pro tip: Name someone King/Queen of developers for a day when they complete a complex feature.
  4. Incorporate Team Feedback. A team member may want to pass along some nuggets of wisdom they acquired from working on a feature, another team member might want to share a helpful article or tutorial. Again, to keep to the true nature of the standup, it needs to be concise and contribute to the completion of tasks and the betterment of the team’s performance. Sharing knowledge helps attain both of those goals.
  5. Stand-up and Move. If you are working on-site and can meet with your team in person, have a walking stand-up. Walk with the team to get coffee or around the courtyard at your office space. If walking won’t work, get a stress ball, and pass it around as the team is talking through updates. Movement will help get everyone’s energy flowing and help the momentum for the day.
  6. Finish with a Bang. You could equate the standup for a project team to a huddle before a basketball or football game. It sets the tone for what you are about to accomplish for the day. End the standup with a team chant, special handshake, or a theme song. “Eye of the Tiger” comes to mind. Try whatever gets the people going and sets the day on a positive and motivational tone.

Every person is different, and teams are made of people, so tailor these tips to your team. If you don’t see something that will work for your team, consider this a challenge to motivate you to develop more ideas of how you can shake up your stand-up.

Shu-Ha-Ri and Servant Leadership

In today’s rapidly evolving IT landscape, leadership styles play a pivotal role in shaping the culture and success of companies. With unique challenges and demands, it is crucial for leaders to adopt effective approaches that resonate with the modern workforce. Among many leadership styles, there are two prominent styles within IT companies – servant leadership and dictator leadership. Each leadership style has different implications for IT project delivery and for the delivery leads and/or project managers.

 

What is Dictator Leadership

Dictator (or dictatorship) leadership, despite its negative connotations, can be effective in specific situations (e.g., where discipline and obedience are absolutely necessary). This style involves a more autocratic approach, with leaders making independent decisions and providing clear directives to the team. IT delivery leads may adopt dictatorship leadership during high-pressure scenarios or when immediate action is required. However, it is crucial to balance this style with open communication channels and involving the team in decision-making whenever possible.

 

What is Servant Leadership

Servant leadership is a people-centered approach that prioritises empowering and serving the needs of the team. IT delivery leads following this style foster collaboration, open communication, and trust-building within the organisation. Creating an inclusive work environment, providing resources and support for team members to excel and offering coaching opportunities are key elements of servant leadership.

 

What is Shu-Ha-Ri

Shu-Ha-Ri is a concept that originates from the Japanese martial art Aikido. Aikido master Endo Seishiro explains the concept via the following statement:

“It is known that, when we learn or train in something, we pass through the stages of shu, ha, and ri. These stages are explained as follows. In shu, we repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms that our forebears created. We remain faithful to these forms with no deviation. Next, in the stage of ha, once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the forms and movements, we make innovations. In this process the forms may be broken and discarded. Finally, in ri, we completely depart from the forms, open the door to creative technique, and arrive in a place where we act in accordance with what our heart/mind desires, unhindered while not overstepping laws.”

Shu-Ha-Ri is increasingly popular with companies where Agile methodology influences their project delivery ways of working.

 

Advertisement
[widget id=”custom_html-68″]

 

How Shu-Hai-Ri Complements Servant Leadership

In the “Shu-Ha-Ri” framework, the servant leader guides the team closely at the beginning (Shu), transitions to a more hands-off approach (Ha), and ultimately reaches the stage where team members can make decisions independently while aligning with the organisational vision (Ri).

Example of Servant Leadership with Shu-Ha-Ri: Estimation

 

Shu: A delivery lead provides a pre-defined method of user story estimation, and the newly launched Agile development team follow the method in their first month.

Ha: In the second month, the Agile development team members reach out to the deliver lead to learn other estimation methods. They then decide to use a different estimation method under the guidance of the delivery lead.

Ri: Six months later, Agile development team members review all estimation methods and choose another fit-for-purpose estimation method all by themselves, without involvement of the delivery lead.

 

Playbook of Shu-Ha-Ri

 

Conclusion

Effective leadership in modern IT companies requires an understanding of different leadership styles and the ability to adapt to specific situations. IT delivery leads must navigate the complex challenges of the industry, drive success and inspire their teams to achieve their fullest potential. By adopting a fit-for-purpose leadership style based on the context, IT delivery leads can create a positive and productive work environment that fosters innovation, engagement and continuous growth. The concept of “Shu-Ha-Ri” provides a “test case” for leadership development and allows leaders to evolve alongside their teams.

 

 

Reference:
  1. Wikipedia, “Shu-Ha-Ri”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shuhari
  2. Brian Tait, “Traditional Leadership Vs. Servant Leadership”, https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2020/03/11/traditional-leadership-vs-servant-leadership/

Dealing with Failure and Setback as a Program Manager

As a program manager, it is inevitable that you will face setbacks and failures along the way. While failure can be difficult to cope with, it is a natural part of the process of innovation and progress. By understanding how to handle failure effectively, you can turn setbacks into opportunities for learning and growth. Over the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to work on multiple programs of varying degree of scope, budget and schedule and have seen my fair share of setbacks, and I wanted to share some tips and tricks from my experience to help develop and hone your program management skills:

 

Understand how to handle failure: As a program manager, it is important to understand that failure is a natural part of the process of innovation and progress. When failure occurs, it is important to identify the root causes, learn from the experience, and take corrective action to prevent future failures. To handle failure effectively, it is important to have a proactive approach and be willing to take risks and try new things. It is also important to have a culture of continuous learning and improvement, and to encourage team members to embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.

When I had suffered a failure on a project early in my career, I questioned if I was meant for this career. However, my mentor at the time encouraged me to reflect on the experience and consider how I could have approached things differently. They then had me apply this learning to my next project – which resulted in a much more successful outcome. Now, following each major milestone in a program, I conduct a postmortem to evaluate if I need to alter my execution method for continuous learning.

 

Report out openly and honestly: As a program manager, it is important to regularly report on the progress and status of your program to stakeholders, including team members, upper management, and clients. This helps to keep everyone informed and ensures that the program is on track to meet its goals and objectives. There are a variety of tools and techniques that can be used to report status, including project management software, status reports, and presentation software – the tool itself is not that important, what is important is that the stakeholders of your program are aware of progress. When failure occurs, it is important to communicate openly and honestly with team members about the challenges and setbacks that the team is facing. This can help to build trust and maintain team morale, even in the face of setbacks.

 

Advertisement
[widget id=”custom_html-68″]

 

Understand how to hold team members accountable: As a program manager, it is also important to hold team members accountable for their work and ensure that they are meeting their commitments and deadlines. This could involve setting clear expectations and goals, tracking progress and performance, and providing feedback and support as needed. There are a variety of tools and techniques that can be used to hold team members accountable, including performance management software, regular check-ins, and performance reviews. It is important to understand how to use these tools effectively to ensure that team members are meeting their commitments and contributing to the success of the program.

 

Take corrective action: Once you have identified the root causes of failure and learned from experience, it is important to take corrective action to prevent similar failures in the future. This may involve implementing new processes, procedures, or tools, or providing additional training or support to team members. By taking corrective action, you can help to reduce the risk of future failures and improve the chances of success for your program.

 

Communicate effectively with technical team members: As a program manager, you may often be working with technical team members who have specialized knowledge and expertise. To effectively communicate with these team members, you need to be able to understand and speak their language. This may involve learning technical jargon and concepts, or working with technical experts to translate technical information into terms that are easier for non-technical team members to understand. In the event of setback or failure this skill helps speed up the root cause process.

 

Understand how to maintain team morale: When setbacks and failures occur, it is important to maintain team morale and ensure that team members remain motivated and engaged. This can be challenging, but there are a variety of strategies that can help to maintain team morale, including:

  1. Communicating openly and honestly with team members about the challenges and setbacks that the team is facing
  2. Providing support and resources to help team members overcome these challenges
  3. Encouraging team members to take ownership of their work and to take risks and try new things
  4. Providing opportunities for team members to learn and grow
  5. Recognizing and celebrating successes and accomplishments, no matter how small

By following these tips and tricks and fostering a culture of continuous learning and improvement, you can effectively deal with failure as a program manager and turn setbacks into opportunities for growth and success.

Psychology at Work to Improve Performance

Most of what gets in the way of optimal performance is rooted in psychological or emotional issues. That is why the most valued traits for a manager are communication, emotional and social intelligence, empathy, and adaptability.

 

Psychology

Psychology is the study of the way the mind functions and influences behavior. Individual psychology influences relationships and relationships are the key to effective performance, wellness, and optimal living. It follows that attention to psychology is a pillar of performance management.

Though, in many organizations, psychology has gotten a bad name.  It falls into the mental health realm. Attention to it is often avoided unless behavior gets so severe that it undeniably gets in the way of living and performing well.

 

Take for example a steering group of peers charged with making important decisions. One member is designated as chairperson. The chairperson takes the title to heart, does a lot of good work, but attempts to silence anyone who raises issues regarding the team’s process and performance.

One team member confronts the chairperson by raising uncomfortable issues. Over time the relationship between the two deteriorated. The chairperson has left the team member out of important meetings, does not respond to emails and has ignored  a direct outreach by the team member to meet and discuss their relationship in any way the chairperson chooses – one on one, mediated, in person, virtual, etc.

The refusal to engage in a dialog effects the degree to which the group can make effective decisions because it blocks the social interaction that is critical to team performance. The rest of the team “feels” the subtle disturbance. Hearts and minds close down. The free flow of discussion is blocked. Life goes on, but it is not pleasant.

 

Avoidance

One doesn’t need a PhD in psychology to know that there is a psychological process at work in this relationship, that effects performance. Causes may be fear of competition, over-aggressive perfectionism, aversion to conflict, or over-controlling. These are all related to the participants’ mindsets.

This is just one example. Performance is effected by issues that stem from anxiety, depression, need for excessive control, excessive competitiveness, obsessive and compulsive urges, and addiction expressed as anger, withdrawal, and the kind of behavior that disturbs relationships – angry outbursts, abuse, withdrawal, unnecessary and poorly managed conflict, discrimination, gossiping, absenteeism, and more.

But there is avoidance. Handling psychological or emotional issues remains difficult. Some people believe that personal psychology is  “too personal” to be addressed in “public”.  They want to separate the personal world from their work world, as if that was possible.

 

Some are not introspective and don’t acknowledge the internal processes that lead to external behavior or, if they do, they may not think they can influence the process with self-management.

Some just don’t care how their behavior affects others, thinking and saying “This is who I am, live with it.”

 

Advertisement
[widget id=”custom_html-68″]

 

Changing the Narrative

Interest in emotional intelligence with a focus on performance has  changed the narrative  by changing the terminology – people want to be more intelligent, they do not want to be lumped into a mental health category. However, to become more emotionally intelligent one must

  • Acknowledge that behavior results from internal psychological processes, the individual’s mindset, and setting.
  • Recognize the effect on others of their speech, actions, and even their “vibe.”
  • Care.
  • Accept that mindful self-awareness enables self-management.
  • Manage emotions to optimally perform.

It becomes obvious that the person who expresses anger overtly or as passive aggressive behavior impacts the team’s performance. One who views any criticism as an attack gets in the way of performance improvement. One who is afraid of speaking up robs the group of valuable insights and information.

 

Look to the Process

Promoting process thinking is the key to being able to manage psychological issues. Process thinking recognizes that everything is caused by something – a process.

In general, a group will operate more effectively if the members acknowledge and skillfully address both the visible processes and the processes operating below the line of consciousness, as needed, to optimize performance.

 

For example, to overcome aversion to criticism, cultivate awareness of both the process improvement process and the presence of internal psychological processes that lead individuals to be overly and unskillfully critical or unable to accept and value criticism.

Participants can work together when they realize that the problem of aversion to criticism gets in the way of effective performance. It involves a conflict between the idea that constructive criticism makes a positive contribution vs. the need to protect oneself or one’s position.

 

Overcome Resistance

Cognitively knowing that behavior is the result of a process is an important starting point for cultivating the capacity to avoid unskillful behavior. However intellectually knowing that mental habits like aggression or avoidance are not effective does not immediately translate into behavioral change.

Rational thought is lost to the emotions and to unhealthy beliefs and mental habits. Psychological issues are often deep and painful. Habits are hard to change.

 

So how do we get people who are stuck in neurotic patterns like resistance to criticism, shutting down communication, and yelling, to change their behavior?

There is no simple formula. The complexities include the degree to which organizations can require people to be self-aware and overcome the resistance to psychotherapy.

With the knowledge that organizational performance is the sum of team and individual performance, effectiveness becomes the measure of how well teams functions. Organizations are motivated to create a culture in which addressing emotional and psychological issues is part of performance management.

 

At the same time the workplace is not the forum for psychotherapy. At work, addressing these issues is about changing behavior. It is up to each individual to assess the causes of the their own disruptive behavior and adapt it to benefit the health of the team.

Stop focusing on labels like depression and anxiety. Instead, focus on the symptoms and their impact on performance, where performance includes the happiness and wellbeing of the people involved.

 

Going Forward

There is a simple, though not easy, process: raise consciousness, apply it, and adjust so that it there is neither too much nor too little attention to psychology and its effect.

Cultural change is set in motion by training to acknowledge the need for self-management, process-awareness, and self-awareness and how to apply them in teams.

Regularly (not too often) dialogue about the symptoms and impact of psychological issues on performance and what to do about them. When issues arise address them in the context of what the team has learned. Over time, assess your process and adjust.

 

With the right mindset, behavior that downgrades performance automatically motivates action. That mindset needs the team to be willing and able to cut through the psychological issues that get in the way.

Depending on the culture and individuals involved, readiness for this kind of change can be quick and self-supported, or can take months or even years with expert coaching and consulting.

Project WFH – Is It Time To Re-scope For Phase 2?

Around about March 2020, the world of work changed for most of us. The swarms of bleary-eyed commuters with their heads bowed in servitude to their phones, books and newspapers, fed by their choice of music or podcast, disappeared off the face of the earth.

All that was left in the wake was a handful of critical works who, bound by their front-line worker status, trudged wearily to their local train stations and bus stops to find the usual fight-to-the-death for a seat battle no longer existed; those accustomed to a perpetual stop and start of the morning drive were now enjoying a traffic-free cruise to work akin to cruising down Route 66 with nothing but the open road in front of them. It didn’t last. As I write this in February 2023, those swarms are recovering and the stop & start car journeys are back, albeit slightly diluted. The commuter beast is no longer in-slumber. Whilst it will likely never be what it was, for many the stresses of commuting have returned.

However, for most of us we are now working from home far more than we ever did. For some of us it’s a full time and permanent change. For others it is a “hybrid” combination of some days at home and some days in the office. No matter what your working pattern is, a lot more has changed since March 2020 other than where we park our backsides each day.

Working from home undoubtedly brings some obvious benefits. Reduced or completely eradicated commuting time and expense, more flexibility for family commitments, impromptu visits to the gym or walks along the river; the benefits are there for us all as individuals to qualify. Yet as Newton taught us, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction; specifically in this case, with benefit comes disbenefit. Things have changed and we haven’t really considered just how negatively the new world of remote working is impacting our productivity and our health. How so? Allow me to explain!

“I’m going to talk to you and I’m going to do it now!”
Take yourself back to the days of being in an office. You’re in a meeting with a client and they’re telling you that your current project is going badly. They’re unhappy, things haven’t gone to plan and you’re under pressure to get things back on track quickly. This is your moment; this is your time to calmly and clearly discuss your remediation plan. Just as you’re midway through responding, a colleague bursts into the office and whispers in your ear “Hi Rory” and then leaves the room. “Okay… that’s a bit strange” you think to yourself but you try to ignore it and carry on. Six seconds later, they’re back in the room whispering again “Do you know what the plan is for Project X next Thursday?”. Once again they turn and leave the room. Eight seconds later, they’re back. Like a mosquito that just won’t quit, they’re buzzing in your ear; “I only ask because I need Mohammed to work on my project on Thursday, too”.

However, this time someone else has walked in with them and whispering in your other ear telling you about a critical issue on another project that needs your immediate attention. This is now getting tricky. You’re trying to speak to your client but your colleagues keep barging into your meeting and talking at you. Now the first person who interrupted you is getting frustrated because you haven’t responded so they’re back again but this time they stand directly in your line of sight and put both hands up, tilt their heads and apply a facial expression that implies “So? Your answer, please”. All of this is going on at the same time as you trying to focus your attention on your customer in the meeting.

This scenario is laughable and would simply never have happened. Never. Yet, it does now and it happens every single day of our working lives. Our increased reliance on software such as Microsoft Teams to communicate has hijacked and destroyed our ability to focus; it has removed all courtesy from our interactions with one another. We have become selfish, inconsiderate and entirely impatient. Teams even tells our colleagues when we’re on a call or in a meeting but somehow it has become acceptable to be one of those people barging in and interrupting the meeting. Allow me to be bold; this has to stop. We must all regain our consideration and our ability to quantify the criticality of our question. Are lives at risk? Is this so urgent that it requires interrupting a meeting? Or, in reality, can you pop someone an email instead?

 

Advertisement
[widget id=”custom_html-68″]

 

Lunch is for wimps

Ill-fitting suit, red braces, slick-back hair and a love/hate relationship with that Wall Street character. He was ruthless, he spoke proudly of greed being good and despite his obvious character flaws, I have always had a shameful appreciation for that character. However, my name is not Gordon and I actually quite enjoy a lunch break! So, is lunch really for wimps or should we make time for a break?

I know I am not alone. I know my diary is not the only diary that has back-to-back meetings for seven, eight or nine hours a day. But why? My mind drifts back to a fabled time when I felt like the busiest person on earth but I still had time to eat, drink and think. Alas, not anymore. There have been countless days when I have not managed to eat until 4pm, but again, I know I’m not the only one. So, why? To me, it is quite obvious – those five minute, impromptu conversations with colleagues in the office have now become 30 minute scheduled meetings that often take a week to actually materialize and when they do, I’m almost always late. For someone who has a genuine issue with tardiness, this is hard to admit. We have become robotic in our methods of communicating and now even the shortest of discussions appear to warrant a meeting, yet in the old days, they did not and that is because we often leant back in our chair, asked a workmate if they have five minutes, et voila! Conversation organized and completed. I miss those days.

 

Fine, things have changed but what has changed so drastically that so many of us spend the majority, or all of (worse still, more than all of!) our working days in online meetings? Meetings are now scheduled between 12pm-2pm and frequently done so because “that’s the only time people are available”. Yet, we should not be available because we should be resting, eating, exercising or doing anything but working. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to sacrifice a lunch break but I just don’t want to do it (not do I expect my team) to do it on an almost daily basis.

Final Thoughts
If you have reached this point, you may well be thinking that I am anti-WFH. Well, I’m not. For the past 20 years of my career, I have enjoyed a productive combination of working in the office and from home… the only difference is that we did it and did not give it a name. It just worked. It can still work. However, we need to become more considerate of one another. When someone is in a meeting, they are in a meeting so do the courteous thing and leave them in peace. Think back to the old days of three years ago – it would take something incredibly critical to interrupt someone in a meeting. You didn’t do it then, so do not do it now; it is selfish and inconsiderate.

Perhaps we can plan ahead better – as Project Management professionals, we should be the ones setting the standard for pre-empting when we need to speak to people. Of course, even the most committed planners will still need to speak to someone at short notice but that has always been the case and  we can all live with that. We should ask ourselves whether we really need all seven of those people in our meeting. Similarly, we should not be afraid to question the meeting organizer whether we really need to attend. Speaking frankly, I am not professing to have all of the answers but I want us all to start being more considerate.

 

Oh, and for the record, I am guilty of committing all of the sins I have outlined in this article. In fact, I am just as selfish as the next person when I want my answers! We are never going to go back to the old days and that’s just something I have to accept. This has been thrust upon us with no warning and represents a genuine seismic shift in how we work. Take a moment and consider it; we really have evolved our ways of working at an unprecedented pace so it’s to be expected that many of us are struggling to make it work. So, I end as I started, I believe it is time to re-scope phase 2 of Project WFH. Let’s be creative and considerate because we really are all in this together.