I really like the Scrum retrospective format that I used last year so I decided to use it again this year 🙂 One of the things that I really like about Scrum is the focus on continuous improvement. The retrospective is one the easiest way to allow me to focus on the things I accomplished last year and also think about the changes I want to do for the following year.
- Understand the business problem and ensure that the process solves the business problem
This really is not very different from developing a technology solution for any business. Like all solutions, they need to resolve a business problems. In this particular case, there were multiple stakeholders and each of their needs were different. The stakeholders comprised of the client’s business management team, the client’s technology management team, Deloitte’s management team and the Deloitte’s support team. The client’s business management team required to receive adequate support in a timely and consistent manner. They had a business to run and their own clients to support. The client’s technology management team required to be able to justify that outsourcing was a viable solution to provide similar levels of support to the business while drastically cutting their ongoing technology costs. The Deloitte management team required to be able to report the support team’s ability to meet the agreed to Service Level Agreement by quantifying quality, identify issues and react to them accordingly. The Deloitte support team required to be able to do their job without being caught up in the process. The process should be a by-product of the support process and should not take up more than 10% of a support resources total day.
- Involve the people who are going to participate in the process
This often sounds simple but it often isn’t done well because it is time consuming. We had the luxury of developing and implementing the process in about 3 months. This was reasonable and acceptable to all stakeholders because this was a major change for the client. There was a lot of negotiation between the client business, technical and Deloitte teams to come to a process that was acceptable to all. The solution was compromise for all parties but the reality, like most development projects, is that most good solutions is a result of compromise. What makes them good solutions is that is the solution is acceptable by all parties albeit grudgingly. I had a Project Manager who once taught me that a sign of a good negotiation is when all parties come out as though they have given up more than they should. It means true compromised has happened.
- Make conscious effort to improve the process
Knowing that my team was going to find any kind of process burdensome, I entrusted the ownership of improving any processes back to the team. It gave them ownership of something that they found cumbersome but they were also the ones that would be the group that would most likely be able to suggest relevant improvements. Doing this indicated to the team that the promise made at the start of the project that we would be making process improvements more than just lip service. My role in improving these processes was to understand the change, ensure they met the business objectives and then negotiate the changes with the rest of the stakeholders. The key was to make this a living process. The process had to be relevant to all stakeholders.
- Accept that documented processes are best used as a communications tool not a problem solving tool.
It is useful to help communicate to new members joining a team what is typically expected of them. It is also useful to communicate expectations of when and where other parties are interacting within the same workflow. I’m a big believer that processes should not solve all problems; they should provide the general guide and not meant to resolve every question or issue that the team will face. You have to trust that the team you have is talented and intelligent and the process has to be flexible enough to allow team members to make appropriate decisions to resolve issues creatively without ignoring the process.. It is much better to replace a resources that isn’t performing than to try modify a process to deal with a small number of members that aren’t performing.
- Keep the process simple
The reality of complex processes is that they will fail. Complex processes are cumbersome and are difficult to maintain. A process should enable the team, not restrict them. Complex processes are generally very restrictive.
- It’s difficult to properly handle the growth of more than 8 individuals
This is speaking mostly from personal experience. It’s hard to help mature and grow the talents, skill and professional maturity of any individual. Each individual requires an investment of certain amount of time and energy in order to do it well. And all this has to be done in conjunction to the other responsibilities that you have as a manager. My magic number is 8. This number is derived from me taking about an hour of the morning or afternoon for each individual. 4 days a week allows me to focus on 8 resources leaving Friday to catch up with my own needs or issues.
- Democracy is ineffective in team management
Democracy is great in politics but has no place in technology management. I’m personally a believer in hiring the right team and that often means hiring a lot of smart people. The biggest benefit of having a really smart team is that they are going to have a lot of great ideas. The biggest detriment of having a really smart team is that they are going to have really good ideas that are going to contradict each others and chaos typically ensues in a flat structure. Technology decisions should be driven by purpose. You need someone to make the decision that aligns to the technology vision of the company otherwise the result is a fragmented solution that becomes difficult to support and extend over a period of time.
- Nobody is an expert in everything
Beyond accountability, there also is the issue of expertise. You want to pick the best solution/technology for the problem on hand. When developers are stuck on an issue, they have the tendency to not want to go for help. Creating functional responsibilities around areas of expertise helps you as a manager. You need to have go-to individuals for expertise when you have to make a decision. The team is no different. The team should have go-to people to accelerate the solution of certain problems.
- Roles and Responsibilities are the minimum requirements for individuals
Most people look at formalized roles and responsibilities as limits to what they can do. In most consulting organizations, fulfilling your prescribed roles and responsibilities guarantees that you don’t get fired only in the good years. In lean years, most consulting organizations will look at individual performers and keep anyone who is performing above and beyond what is expected of them. Roles and responsibilities should be used as the MINIMUM requirement for any individual. To be eligible for additional reward, you have to perform above and beyond what is expected of you.
- Responsibilities is not a reflection of value
A manager has different responsibility from a developer but it doesn’t in any way reflect the developer is more valuable than the manager. A good manager cultivates that culture by fostering the growth and mutual respect for every member of the team regardless of responsibility and title. In certain organizations, I’ve created lead responsibilities within a team that are meant to rotate from member to member. I’ve also created special teams where in those projects I would function as a business analyst reporting to team members who would otherwise be reporting to me in the overall project.
I’ve never been one to follow politics closely. Not because it isn’t interesting but rather that the players over the past little while have not been that interesting. I’ve been quite inspired by Obama in the few times I’ve watched him speak. I like that his speeches are simple and quite articulate. He gets the point across while making it simple for the everyday person to understand; I like that he keeps his stories relevant and to the point. There were a couple of highlights for me in particular. The first was to brush aside the finger pointing with the AIG mess and to take responsibility. “While it’s not a mess that I created, it’s my job to fix it.” The buck stops here. I like that throughout the conversation he never once diverted from that message – he didn’t try to subtlely blame the Republican for the current decisions, he focused on the fact that it was up to him to make sure that these things don’t happen. Here’s another tip – regardless of whose fault it is, he focused on trying to figure out the solution to the problem and ensuring that the problem doesn’t happen again.
Another thing that really impressed me about Obama was the ability to focus on the future. “If we’re being out-educated today, we’ll be out-innovated tomorrow” or some variant of that. It’s so true. So often leaders focus on the immediate only and neglect the future. At the same time, he understands the concessions he has to make to get to the future. “It’s not like I like paying out the banks but we need credit flowing now.” The trick is not to stop on the short term fix. So often it’s so tempting to just focus on the short term fix because it can be so tiring to just get the short term fix done.
Another sign that impressed me about Obama is that he actively listens. In the final question, he was speaking to a man who lost his job in October. He talked briefly about his overall economic plan and quickly realized that he didn’t know enough. He followed up by asking specifically what the man used to do and then tailor his answers specifically to his situation. It would have been easier to left it generic.
I like Obama. It’s nice to be inspired by an individual. He has great ideas and great attitude. It’ll be interesting to see if he has the right people to help him execute it.