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Archive for November, 2011

All my blogs are highly self-opinionated. This one is going to be even further out there.

We have all hopefully had a good look at Daniel Pink’s amazing work on motivation. But despite this knowledge how do most organisations still currently manage motivation and performance?

They almost always still have yearly bonuses. Maybe this is because CEOs are motivated to get their yearly bonus and hence they think everyone else will be equally motivated for theirs. If all of our bonuses were several million dollars I am sure we would all be willing to conduct deplorable activities such as offshoring half of our work to third world nations… oh wait… no I have morals (well enough not to do this), that and I know it actually won’t work.

Most organisations still do the whole ‘you aren’t cutting it so I need to have a serious talk to you’ discussion.

Have you ever worked in an organisation where you haven’t felt motivated? Did you enter that organisation with such a low level of motivation? Of course not. People don’t enter organisations unmotivated – organisations make them unmotivated. Who do the organisations blame for this? The person of course!

I think there is something seriously wrong in this world if it is a CEO’s attitude that unmotivated people should quit, as if they are dead weight that the organisation cannot learn anything from. They performance manage these people in the hope of making them even further uncomfortable that they will leave. I say this as if it is an intentional plan, because it is in some organisations. To be honest it sickens me.

I have had the privilege to speak to some people who this has happened to. They haven’t explained their lack of motivational issues to the HR bodies of the organisation because they feel strongly that the HR bodies do not care or refuse to do anything about it. Their common causes of motivational derailment:

  • Bullying
  • Sexual harassment
  • Doing endlessly monotonous work
  • Not having the opportunity to do what they do best
  • Not being listened to (talking to the wind)
  • A long-term physiological or psychological illness (manifesting into stress of lack of performance)

In all these instances these people were labelled as being ‘at fault’ by their management and forced into a performance review process. Does the above items really seem like the employee’s fault? And yet when they leave senior management have the attitude “Well done! We got rid of that highly unengaged person.”

What have they done ? They have basically not fixed a really bad problem and instead will introduce someone else into the loop of misery, all the while leaving a permanent dent on someone’s mental health. I am so incredibly angry about this.

What needs to be done:

  1. Stop having the attitude that “we need to get rid of the poor or unengaged performers” and replace it with “we need to listen and start changing the culture around here”
  2. Start asking who your HR group is meant to be supporting – the managers or the people? Let me give you a hint, if is just the managers then you are wrong.
  3. Stop telling poor performers that they suck, start listening to them. Start asking questions like “When you joined this organisation what sort of environment were you hoping for?”, “How can we change the work that you do or the way that you do it so it can be more fun?” and “How can we make you more in control of what you do on a day-to-day basis?”
  4. Don’t jump to the conclusion that a poor organisational score on managing performance means you have to get rid of people. Find out why people rated the organisation that way and rather than manage them out work with them to improve their motivation and performance.
  5. Be aware that people are smart. If you tell someone ‘stop doing x’ they will game it, they will do it, but the underlying discontent and unhappiness will remain; it will likely manifest elsewhere or result in other actions. It is better to get a positive outcome for the employee and the organisation then just the organisation.

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Daily retrospectives

Inspect what is inside

Daily retrospectives are is not a new idea, but it is important to recognise and re-iterate that there are other things than just running a retrospective at the end of each iteration.

Consider the heart of Agile for a moment Рit is a reflective improvement framework aimed at dealing with the complexities of imperfect human beings and software development. If the heart if Agile is reflecting to improve why are we only doing it once an iteration? Should we not be ideally aiming to do it more often, or most importantly, when it is most needed?

So to re-iterate, here are the steps to enabling daily retrospectives:

  1. Whomever owns the daily standup meeting invitation updates it to tack on an extra ten minutes. This doesn’t necessarily mean you will use this extra ten minutes each standup but it is there if you need it. Regardless having an extra ten minutes booked into everyone’s calendar is always a good plan in order to deal with off-lined conversations or road blocks that were bogging the standup down.
  2. Put up a board near your story wall that has the questions that you want to be addressed as part of your retrospective – for example ‘what’s working well’, ‘lessons learnt’, ‘what still puzzles me’, ‘what to do differently’.
  3. Throughout the day if you have something that you would normally put up against your retrospective questions then jot it down on a post it note, with your initials circled next to it.
  4. The next time you pass the wall check to see if that item is already on the wall or not. If it isn’t put it up, if it is, add your initials next to it. This is a great opportunity for you to check other notes that are up on the wall and if you agree with the item add your initials.
  5. Every now and then as you pass the retrospective wall if you see something new then read it. If you agree add your initials, this is like social networking ‘+1 like’.
  6. Agree to a ‘like limit’. For intensive purposes this behaves like a work in progress limit.
  7. Once you have reached the like limit at the end of the next stand-up you will invoke the extra ten minutes and ‘pull’ that liked retrospective note into play. Discuss the item as per a normal retrospective but don’t cover off any of the other notes. If required delve into the root cause and ensure that you have clear SMART actions. Any actions should end up being a card that is prioritised by the team and added at the appropriate place into the backlog.
  8. If necessary discuss how often the wall should be purged of singular notes. This may mean that the practice evolves to include adding a date for when it is initially raised.
The advantages of such an approach:
  • No long meeting to discuss the iteration at length, but the time might end up being the same in the long term if you are pulling a daily retrospective often enough.
  • Focussing on problems sooner rather than later (assuming it gets liked quickly enough)
  • Focusses on items of greater importance but still gives great broad visibility

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A six year old’s one hour sprint

I was recently inspired by a tweet where a Grade 4 class was asked what they would like to learn.

On my weekends the inevitable question arose from my six year old daughter “Mummy, what can we do?”. For the first time in a while I had a well planned answer for her. She had asked recently twice what it is that I did as a job and I very loosely explained it but decided that this was the prime opportunity to kill three birds with one stone – give her a good understand of some of what I do, fill up an hour of her time and find out what she would like to learn.

As an early concluding statement I was very happy with the results.

For those interested here are the steps that I took:

  1. Gave her five minutes to brainstorm things that she wanted to learn. I framed this as either physical, practical or research (ie find out more about).
  2. Because I wanted her to work on her writing I asked her to write them up one per post it note. I also added one card to cover what I do for a living, but the exercise itself covers off some of this.
  3. Then I asked her to prioritise them (shot A)Prioritising lessons
  4. After that they were sized in minutes (shot B of the outcomes). I found this incredibly funny and really hard to restrain my opinion on how long they would take – I wanted to timebox myself to her times and not mine. I found it interesting where the item I added was in her priority.
  5. Then we agreed that we would stick to one hour. We put the headers up for backl
    og, in progress and done. Then we began our hour.
  6. Before we started each card (ie before the timer started on it) we defined exactly what we wanted covered in it through a conversation.
  7. Once this was clear we moved the card into in progress which was a signal to start the timer.
  8. If we reached the end of the card’s estimated time I would ask the question if we were done against our criteria or if she wanted to spend more time on it. Only on one occassion did we reach the end of the timebox and she wanted to extend it. I then asked her what she wanted to de-scope and she chose what to remove from the backlog in order to extend that card’s time. In three instances we were shorter than the cards estimate, we probably could have pulled back in the one we cancelled because of this but her attention span was starting to wane at the 55 minute mark and I cut the one hour timebox off early.
  9. When the card was finished it was moved into done and any deviations to the actuals written down.

So take a look at some of the other shots of work in progress and some of the outcomes. Lastly there is a mid sprint opinion on how the exercise was going.

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