Tag Archives: management

What the world needs is more lean management

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  • what is the capability of your teams? (what is it constantly delivering)
  • how do you make sure the capability is constantly improving?
  • what work is hard to do, and what are you doing to fix that?

One of the great illusions brought to us by management literature is that managers manages people. They are leaders, hiring talented people doing the work. When the talented people run into trouble, they are expected to gather momentum down from their toes and overcome it. If they don’t, the manager will step in and take charge.

  • Jeff didn’t deliver his feature in time, (so there must be something wrong with Jeff!)
  • Roger is complaining about the bad specifications he is getting (so there must be something wrong with Roger since Jeff isn’t)
  • The manager is busy with other things than solving  team impediments (nobody above him ever asks about impediments solved, but obviously there must be something wrong with this manager)

You get the idea. The trouble with this is that every problem automatically is transferred into a people problem.  So "What about skill then?"  Well of course skill makes a big difference. But isn’t it a bit unfair to turn all problems (process issues and lack of training issues alike..) into people problems? And which of these where actually created by the very system that the manager is running?

So, let’s choose a better way of managing:

  •  managers who understand how work is done, by observing the work
  •  managers who knows the capability of their teams
  •  managers who asks questions, when capability drops
  •  managers who challenges assumptions, forcing us to understand the problem before solving it
  • managers doing this, every day

This is what I call a Lean manager, a person who improves the capability of his organization. A person who goes and sees real work. And we more of this, and less people problems.

As a manager, I am responsible of the design of the system

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One of the things I really like about Lean is it has a build in management system. Managers play an active role in operations by pulling managers in if there is a flow problem . In this way, forcing them to update and revise their mental model of the real state. 

In own kanban implementations, I typically expect managers to participate in problem solving for issues streching beyond team borders as a minimum requirement. (For really good managers mentioning this is always unnecessary, this is part of their DNA)

But today David Anderson said something that struck a cord in me.

"Managers are designing the system in which their people work". 

He continued:

"And what we want is to make people think consiously about the problems that needs be solved in their context, rather than blueprinting solutions."

That sounded completely right. A manager is responsible for designing the system in which people work and for the needs they face. And this cannot be traded away. Tools in this design is policies, WIP limits, training, hiring, degree of governance etc.

Thus it makes perfect sense for a system designed to create highly differenting products (game development) to look completely different to a system designed to deliver fairly predictable features to a mature markets (for example legislation compliance)

Bottom line: Designing the system is not a responsibility managers can trade away. Only improve. 

This is going to me my take (until I find something better :).  I encourage our kanban community can to debate this thought.

The Manager Sanity Check

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So, you’re planning the future. There are is a lot of stuff you are eager to do. But stop and think – are you pushing forward in the right direction?

Make sure there’s a balance between:

  • Product – what would makes up evolving in the eyes of our customers?
    We are not pushing features for ourselves right?

  • People – what would make this a better place to work in?
    Are we leveraging the skills at our disposal?

  • Process – are we limiting WIP, improving quality, surfacing problems early?
    Done right we should gain time to experiment and fulfilling creative ideas.

  • Purpose – are we contributing to the society around us?

The Manager Sanity Check

Posted on by

So, you’re planning the future. There are is a lot of stuff you are eager to do. But stop and think – are you pushing forward in the right direction?

Make sure there’s a balance between:

  • Product – what would makes up evolving in the eyes of our customers?
    We are not pushing features for ourselves right?

  • People – what would make this a better place to work in?
    Are we leveraging the skills at our disposal?

  • Process – are we limiting WIP, improving quality, surfacing problems early?
    Done right we should gain time to experiment and fulfilling creative ideas.

  • Purpose – are we contributing to the society around us?

Two views on Steve Jobs

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Here is a real world story about Steve Jobs:

"I wish you could have seen Steve in action with Lee Clow of Chiat/Day, working on Apple’s ‘Think Different’ campaign. Lee, the living legend whose creations ranged from the ‘1984’ Apple commercial to ‘Yo Quiero Taco Bell,’ showed an early version of ‘Here’s to the crazy ones’ from the ‘Think Different’ campaign. A full minute of black-and-white pictures of Picasso, Einstein, Muhammad Ali, Rosa Parks, Bucky Fuller, amazing music and Richard Dreyfus reading this poem, seeing it for the first time brought the hair up on the back of my neck. So here I am, practically with tears rolling down my face, and Steve just looks at Lee, shakes his head, and says, ‘You’ve lost it.’

I thought, ‘What?! That’s one of the greatest ads I’ve ever seen!’ And here’s Steve going, ‘No. The music isn’t right. It was right before. And you’ve changed the pace of the pictures, and you’ve got them in the wrong order.’ He sends them packing, back to LA. They came back after probably 30 hours with no bodily functions, and I was stunned. It was a lot better. Steve has a vision of what great is, and he’s never going to settle for anybody else’s standard of great.

(Excerpt from an interview with Ed Niehaus at Coopers Journal, full story here)

Two views:

  • I’d love we had more product owners working like this! Not about making an ad campaign that has to be this or that, – it’s about making a great experience!
  • How would we have experienced Steve in any other role? Probably like a egocentric lunatic complaining and whining  "not good enough" all the time. A "non team player". People like Steve are rare but when whining they simply express a need for role where they can outlive their excellence. Our job is to create an environment so that can happen.

What you should know about performance appraisals

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In a famous Leadership IQ study, we surveyed 48,012 CEOs, Managers & Employees about their performance appraisals. Here’s the shocking results: Only 13% of Managers & Employees thought their performance appraisals were effective. And only 6% of CEOs thought their appraisals were effective. We also discovered that only 14% of employees say their performance appraisal conversation offered meaningful and relevant feedback.

So are we
 a) continuously allowing people work on what they like to do, with minimum overhead, or
 b) adding makeup to broken processes

Read Esther Derbys excellent followup

Getting management involvement in Scrum

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If your aim high, say for 2x or 4x performance, the impediments in your way must be removed. A sample can be:

  • Environment coherence and access
  • Not getting help from business
  • Removing worthless routines
  • Tools and machines

Doing this can be tricky since they rarely live within the team limit. However, dealing with impediments is an excellent task for your management to chew off.

If you need to ask for one single thing off your manager – it is to get their commitment to help you with impediments. However,  be humble and recognize that their effort and capacity is not endless. Battling organizational tasks is not "easy wins". So you are better off if they deal with a few at a time, but actually resolve them.

What I do is I ask team managers to assign two slots for impediments. And in the same way as team has their board,I make them visible outside the managers door:

Team manager impediment slots

The slots can be filled by the team. Good sources are daily standup or the retrospective.  If both slots are filled, team cannot assign one more impediment to the manager.

Rule: Team decides if the impediment has been solved or not.

Now, don’t not stop there. If team manager can’t get the problem solved he can escalate this to his department manager:

Department manager impediment slots

I’m surprised how well this worked, both in getting real help and  in not setting unrealistic expectations from teams point of view. A team biggest fear is often that an impediment will be "dropped" or "lost" over time. This lowers/removes that fear.

A learning experience is that all managers who tested working in this way have all made significant impact resolving even difficult issues.  In the beginning most slots were filled  But after 2-3 months free slots started to appear. So expect a "peak" early on, levelling out over time.

If you can’t get permission to make impediments visible outside the managers door, try  the ‘fridge’ guerilla technique.  (Invented and tested by my collegue Hans Brattberg). Put open impediments on the fridge door. That also does the trick!

The Manager’s Role in Scrum

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Here are the slides from my Scrum Gathering presentation “The Managers Role In Scrum“. The pictures will make most sense if you were at the presentation :o)