A Blog Guide to Go And See

invisible-manAre you familiar with the comics’ hero “Invisible Man”?
The more invisible he is, the more powerful he appears to be – as well as the perception around him.
He can appear at any moment” – people would whisper, carefully looking around. He is the (hidden) authority that everyone respects.

A fair share of management appears to be like hero(s) – perhaps visible to their peers and superiors, present in difficult situations/escalations, solving problems and… quite distant and invisible to the people they lead. Since managers determine people’s salaries, they are respected and represent the formal authority to make decisions. Their absence from the place where daily work is done seems to emphasize their just described reputation. This is a bit of an issue for a manager – how to keep authority and respect by being visible?

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Once a manager is there, attends daily team’s stand-up meetings, hears what people say, what impediments they have, she/he could take those moments to understand better and find out how to add value.

There are few additional reasons why a manager needs to be at gemba (the real place – where work is done):

  • Manager should demonstrate a real interest, thus respect towards the work done by the people she/he leads. That creates mutual understanding and trust.
  • It eliminates the need for unnecessary reporting and steering forums being the time eaters and wasters (see the related post about waste).
  • Since, teams may be sometimes blind towards own work, managers, which are supposed to be the coaches, are there to help them to discover their blind spots, by finding the root causes for the problems they have.
  • Managers should make sure that a new energy is added to the team activities. There is no point to control how teams do the work, but to check how to help out.

The last point is essential. If people closest to the process, which execute value added actions are supervised and told what and how to do the job, then they lose ownership upon the actions and intrinsic motivation to continuously make improvements. The energy, once manager leaves, is simply sucked out, following the law of entropy – gradual decline into the steady, low engagement state.

The managers’ role is to make work easier for the teams, not for themselves. That is true respect. The managers are paid for it, and no one promised them an easy job.

A warmly recommended reading goes to 2 books:

I would appreciate to share a piece of your experience by commenting to this blog!
Thank You!

How Agile Solves Awkwardness

Not graceful; ungainly
Not dexterous; clumsy
Difficult to handle or manage
Difficult to effect; uncomfortable
Marked by or causing embarrassment or discomfort

These are the terms used by The Free Dictionary to describe the word awkwardness.

The fair part of our energy happens to waste on handling of different “hard” personalities and unwanted behaviors.
How do we recognize them? How do we deal with them?
How can we save the energy wasted there?

Marie G. McIntyre Ph.D. at http://www.yourofficecoach.com list seven types of personalities that, how she describes – drive managers crazy. The description is given on how to recognize them and how to deal with them.  “Driving managers crazy” is actually a side effect comparing to the negative impact on business culture and consequently the business results.

Here are the 7 awkwards:

Slackers – escape from work due to different reasons.

Space Cadets – abstract thinkers who are more focused on ideas and possibilities than on facts and action steps.

Power Grabbers – have a high need for control and don’t want anyone directing their actions.

Loners – focusing on solitary pursuits in settings where they can concentrate and are seldom interrupted.

Drama Queens (or Kings) – the goal is to get attention. They are rather insecure and only feel important when being in focus.

Challengers – high need for control. When they feel that others are attempting to constrain or direct their behavior, they become rebellious.

Clingers – a strong need for safety. The primary emotional driver is fear: fear of making mistakes, fear of losing support, fear of disapproval, fear of being disliked.

As mentioned, they all have in common being the energy drain for others around.

I was thinking about this behavioral model from dr. McIntyre, and analyzed some cases from own experience, but instead of defining the strategy and action for myself, I tried to realize, what is missing in our environment and how agile may help.

Agile fosters team work based on visibility and transparency. It visualizes work to be done through the product backlog, and iteration backlog. With practice of short daily status meetings, everyone’s progress is visible as well. This uncovers (low) contribution of Slackers and expose Loners to the rest of the team. It also prevents Drama Queens not to jeopardize time of others, since a daily meeting is short where everyone is granted a piece of “air-time”.

Agile is focused to deliver as highest value as possible. Therefore a strong mechanism to prioritize exists. This helps Space Cadets to stay away from wandering around, but to focus on actions, and also to Slackers who have less arguments and excuses for doing “something” else.

Agile principles and methodology (e.g. Scrum framework) tends to have very few prescribed roles and artifacts, but they are clear. The clear roles with a clear working agreement founded on mutual team members respect and trust, channel Power Grabbers and Challengers’ behavior. If they still make troubles within a team with their desire to control, the team would do better without them. To recall – Agile is the culture of Collaboration and cultivation, not control (see the Culture post).

One of the agile foundations is orientation to people (Individuals and interactions over processes and tools). This fosters trust, respect and tolerance, finding the gaps in process and structures, rather than pointing a finger around. It creates environment where it’s safe to fail, which helps Clingers to reduce their inner fear and helps them to open up and dare to do things.

This is summarized in the following table:

Awkwards

There are numerous further agile practices which can help us to deal with unwanted behaviors and awkward persons. It seems that this is what are they actually invented for.

Assuming Agile

If I would be granted a wish, I would choose to be freed from making assumptions and easy judgments (and maybe sometimes to shut up and listen).
The general assumption when starting with Agile is that it will solve the problems of speed, quality, eficciency… and it will boost performance by itself. It continues further by thinking that agile practices will make a perfect code, or that people will accept Agile as a natural way of thinking and doing business. Even further, we can say that the usual assumption is that daily meetings, visual (task) boards, backlog and small iterations make us agile. It will help, but it goes fairly beyond that. This assumptions lead towards many disappointments and stopping agile transformations. You may take a look at the transformation curve in the section about culture.
Once, I had lunch with colleagues from other company. Discussing the agile SW development, one of them said: “I have very low opinion about people doing Agile. I don’t know you, so I cannot tell.” He actually never tried agile practices and learned about the principles behind them. His (strong) statement was probably based on some previous observations, creating the assumption that the ‘agile gang’ actually escapes from doing the ‘real work’. It imprinted in his mind, so in general he was against Agile. Such an attitude prevented him to see the value that could possibly derive from it and it fairly blocked his need to learn about it.

Not making conclusions based on unconfirmed assumptions is a skill. It requires practice and an open approach with a fair dose of humbleness. Assuming agility will happen without learning and hard work is like swimming towards a distant shore without moving hands and legs.

You may take a look about 10 common fails with agile from TaskWorld:

Top 10 Agile Fails #infographic