Tag Archives: Business

Myth of Management With No Hierarchy

TL; DR

Leaders exist; therefore, hierarchy exists. A flat organization is not truly flat, it is made of many leaders. Those leaders have the responsibility to train others to replace them. The company has the responsibility to help those leaders be successful and be diligent on keeping things safe.

A flat organization is not truly flat, it is made of many leaders. Click To Tweet

Leaders are Essential

‘The Harvard Business Review’ has the article: Hierarchy is Overrated. This article paints a very favorable view point of flat hierarchy, but does not address the need for leadership at all. People will become leaders. This is an essential and natural process.

However, much of what needs to be accomplished by leaders, functioning in a flat hierarchy, is not natural. One of the main responsibilities of these leaders, is to move to stop being a leader, the sooner the better.

The way a leader stops being a leader is to train and inspire. Say that someone feels passionate about team building. They take up the reins, figure out ways to start building team communication and unity. They start the ball rolling. Now they need to look for someone else who cares about team building. They will collaborate, train, and inspire them to both take over and train someone else.

Potential Problems

There are a host of potential problems. Everything from dissatisfied employees to locus of control. Most problems will stem from one of these three root causes:

  • Denying the existence of leaders
  • Team not trained in essential leadership skills
  • Organization not really being flat

Leaders Exist

Leadership needs to be recognized, and its existence acknowledged. This allows an organization to better define how leaders behave and what it means to be passionate about some aspect of the organization. Don’t deny them, embrace them, try to understand them.

Everyone Trained as a leader

Train everyone to be leader. This is a lot of work, but it pays off as people can step up and handle issues and opportunities that they feel passionate about. Leadership can be more easily distributed and handed off from one leader to another. Everyone is capable in guiding and supporting leaders as they venture into new ideas and interests.

Here are a few sources I recommend:

A Flat Organization

Having an organization that has a distributed hierarchy can be challenging. The leadership, the people with the titles, needs to support it. They must trust people to do the job, and enable everyone to be trained. The highest paid people in the room have the greatest potential to do harm with the simplest word.

So, there is a need to prevent their hidden biases from polluting down into an unintentional hierarchy with certain people being ‘more equal’ than others. This can be done by really paying attention to building a safe environment. By encouraging those beneath them, in title at least, to contradict them and actively stepping back, these biases become smaller.

Giving up Control

The goal of every leader, should be, to eventually not be the leader. Each person should be looking at passing the torch, and ensuring multiple people can replace them. If this is not done they become the bottle neck and get in the way of success. The idea is that everyone can take a vacation and nothing stops working.

Each leader finds someone else who is passionate about the task at hand. They share responsibility, and train as needed. Eventually they will stand back and give their protégé or partner a chance to run things.

In Conclusion

A truly flat hierarchy does not exist. This is a good thing. What real world flat hierarchies enable is everyone with the inclination can be a leader. There are difficulties which can be overcome with hard work and trust. It is rewarding to work in one of these organizations and they can be more effective if you acknowledge the existence of leadership, train for it, and upper management supports it.

The Power of a New Voice

TL; DR

Too often the person with the least experience is ignored. This is a shame because they are often the person who can lead us to the most significant insights. They will see things we overlook or have become accustomed to. They can help us question the things we have started to not question. They are a powerful voice for improvement.

A new perspective can help us question the things we have started to not question. Click To Tweet

Question Everything

Like @WoodyZuil says: “Any method or practice we use without question should be questioned.” https://twitter.com/WoodyZuill/status/881711076089384964

The problem is if we are practicing something without question, we can often be blind to the fact that we are practicing it without question. A new set of eyes can see these things, but we must encourage them to point them out. If not, we risk that they too will become accustomed before we have gained benefit from their newness.

Intimidation

The problem with capturing input from someone who is new, is that most people do not feel comfortable giving feedback while they are new. This means that we must be extra careful to foster that feedback. It is something that must be intentional.

The first step is listening. When a new person offers input, listen. Use both Active Listening and Comprehensive Listening. Do not interrupt, and take a moment before replying. This shows respect for what they have to say, and consideration of their point.

The next is to treat the comment and question as if it is valid, and wanted feedback. They may not understand all the context to the thing they are questioning. That is the point. Do not explain to them how they are wrong, instead explain to them how they are right. That does not mean that you do not explain your context, but instead use it understand what they offer.

What if they are wrong?

They will often be wrong. The suggestion, or question, will be wrongly worded. They will most likely not understand what it is that made them feel the way they felt. Don’t let the fact that what they say is wrong stop you from learning. Instead, examine the situation. There will be truth there, and that truth will lead to improvement.

At the worst case, if they are utterly wrong then you will have provided the opportunity to learn in a way that makes them feel appreciated. This learning will be retained longer. It will encourage them to voice more, and thereby learn more. Eventually they will teach you something, because they are willing to voice what they don’t understand.

The Warning of a Silent Voice

Pay attention to what is happening regarding the new voice. If that voice is silent, this is a waring. It means that there is something that is causing that person to fall silent. It means that the team is not welcoming that person’s insights, and not listening and accepting of what the new voice offers.

This is the loudest indicator you will often get to small problems on a team. These problems can- not always, but definitely often enough- grow into big noisy, and explosive problems if not handled at this point.

In Closing

It is hard to listen to the point of view of a new person. That person may not know the social norms, or the current environment. It is easy to just brush off what they say, as they do not know better. However, when we do ignore the “new voice” we lose a lot of valuable insight.

Listening to the new perspective is not always natural but it is crucial. Click To Tweet

#NoEstimates Story Sizing

A way to determine if a story is small enough without estimating it.

TL; DR

“No Estimates” is a modern movement in software development that focuses on eliminating wasteful estimates. However how do you know if a story is small enough to be accomplished without estimating its size? There are a series of rules that when followed guarantees a bite size bit of work.

There are a series of rules that when followed guarantees a bite size bit of work. #NoEstimates Click To Tweet

Setup

“No Estimates” is built on continuous delivery of valuable product. That means that the business must be able to measure the output of a development team in near real time. If releases are regularly weeks or months away, then you leave the business with few tools to measure with. Faster the delivery the better they can measure. Stories need to be small enough to complete daily.

How do guarantee that the average story is small enough to be completed in a day without estimating?

The Rules

There are three rules that can be followed to ensure that a story is as small as possible. In all three rules, the word team means much more than the development team. It means the whole project team including the developers, the product owners, testers, management, executive management and anyone else who has a stakes in the product being delivered.

  1. Does everyone on the team have the same understanding of what the story delivers, and what need it addresses?
  2. Does everyone on the team have the same understanding of when the story is completed?
  3. Is the story free of any known preconditions?
Three simple rules for sizing stories in #NoEstimates Click To Tweet

Understanding

Gaining understanding about a story that crosses skill and role boundaries is difficult. To better communicate intention, we must be communicating simpler ideas. The first two rules do a lot to limit the size and scope of a story.

The first two rules also ensure that the right thing is done. A shared understanding means a shared vision and shared responsibility. If we understand what is to be done, and when it is done then we do not mistakenly build the wrong thing.

Preconditions

Once everyone understands what is to be done, and when it can be considered complete then we have a certain level of understanding about the story. If at that time anyone can think of a precondition that must be done before the story is complete, then the story is too big to be worked on. Maybe it is time to work on the precondition, or something else entirely.

The operative word in the last rule is “known”. We could spend an infinite amount of time looking for and understanding preconditions. It also goes without saying that we may find new preconditions as we start working. The important thing is that no preconditions are discovered in the process of gaining group understanding.

During the doing of the work, if we do discover a precondition we then need to decide if we continue or abandon the current story? Most often we can continue, especially if the precondition that was discovered meets the 3 rules, which means we must communicate our progress effectively.

Summary

In short, by following the three rules we can ensure work is taken in bite size chunks, even without estimating.

Employee Feedback without Unicorns

I am talking at #Agile2017 about giving meaningful, helpful, and humane, employee feedback. The secret is that the employee needs to be central.

TL; DR

The only person qualified to give advice to an employee regarding their career is the employee. That means we need to empower the people who work for- and with- us to analyze their career. If we can empower people to better their lives they will do more and do it better.

The only person qualified to give advice to an employee regarding their career is the employee. Click To Tweet

Questing

What if employees looked forward to receiving feedback? What if they found feedback valuable and able to improve their lives? What would that look like? How would we provide that environment? Our department asked these questions and the whole department swarmed to tackle the problem. The solution we came up with worked well in our context, and I also believe the lessons learned while figuring the answer out are valuable to others.

Personal

The first lesson we learned was that if we want to give meaningful feedback to individuals was that it had to be individual. That means we must do things to consider, protect, and appreciate, the single person who is receiving the feedback.

Our solution, currently, is to do a personal retrospective for the person. This retrospective is private, personal, confidential and facilitated by a peer who the person trusts.

Trust

It is important that the retrospective is personal and private. Without this security, there is no safety. Without safety, truth is limited, constrained and lost. The goal is to allow the employee to have real insight into how they can improve their career path, their entire career path, not limited to that within the company.

Facilitation

It is also important that this retrospective is facilitated. Facilitation gives the opportunity for the employee to explain their thoughts to another. The process of explaining leads to insight.

The facilitator is to listen, and ask questions only to gain understanding. They are not to judge or comment. They are not to burden the person whose retro it is with their own opinions. We decided to provide facilitation training for everyone who is interested in being a facilitator.

The facilitator is invited by the employee who is undergoing the retrospective. Invitation is important, as it signifies trust. It is just as important the invited facilitator be allowed to refuse without explanation. Not everyone is comfortable with facilitation.

The last thing to note about facilitation is that the facilitator will make mistakes. After all, these are not professional facilitators. Mistakes are okay. Even if they disregard all their training, just by being there for the retrospective, they will make the retrospective more successful.

Output

The content of the retrospective is private and personal. The things talked about during this meeting need to be protected, unless there is a legal obligation. If not, we again lose trust.

The product derived from this retrospective is a set of possible goals. One or two of these goals will be decided upon and acted on. They will be shared with the director who will help to achieve the goals. He uses this information to understand the ebbs and flows throughout the department.

When a goal is not achieved, the director needs to know if the department hindered its progress, and if so, how. If a goal is completed the director wants to know how the employee felt about the goal, if there is more that can be done to improve upon the accomplishment, or if knowledge can be shared.

Rewards

These goals, the retro, and information gained through this process, except where there is legal obligation, is disconnected from compensation. This frees us from the burden of creating an accidental game where the outcomes can become harmful.

The only reward is the ability to take an analytical look at your career and take steps to move it into a direction you want.

Plug

Please come to my talk, where I will talk in depth on this. I hope to see you there.

I will be watching Facilitation Without Unicorns at #Agile2017 Click To Tweet

Onboarding a human into a human system

Onboarding is much more than a meeting with HR, it is the integration of new person.

TL; DR

Onboarding is an important endeavor. If we approach it seriously and conscientiously we can make the new person feel more welcomed and part of a team.

Initial Onboarding Meeting

Human Resources has a job to do with its onboarding process which is important for all kinds of reasons. This onboarding covers legal issues and is often the first, if not only, exposure a new hire has with the company’s culture as defined by its executives. However, this should only be the start of the onboarding process.

Integration

It can take several months to integrate a new person into an existing team, so that they are emotionally and mentally part of that team. During this time, we need to help them, guide them, and be there to support them as they have questions.

Our goal in onboarding should be to help and guide a new hire in becoming a member of a team. Click To Tweet

My department has extended its onboarding process to three months and provided the new hire with a buddy. We choose a buddy from the newest employee who has been at the company at least six months, who are on the same team as the new hire, and is willing to accept the responsibility. The buddy is chosen this way to maximize the empathy for the new hire since buddies have the most recent memory of what it was like to be a new hire.

Buddies

They are a buddy, not a mentor. Buddies are there to answer questions and give support. They are not there to teach. Which is to say buddies are not given any authority over the new hire and are a model of the flat organization structure of the department.

Department and Team

We also extend the onboarding process to the team and the department. When a person is added to a team, that team is no longer the same team. To emphasize this fact, the team, the new hire, and their buddy all undergo training about the Satir Process Change Model by Virginia Satir.

This creates a cycle of repetitive learning for the new hire. The new hire learns about the process as part of their onboarding. They then learn about it again with each new hire brought onto their team. They again learn it when they become a buddy. We do this because we believe understanding of the Satir Process Change Model is important to the successful integration of a new person into an existing system.

The team and department then undergo activities to introduce the new hire to everyone, and to introduce everyone to them. These activities might include a Market of Skills, a Lean Coffee on hobbies, or many other activities. One of the main goals of an onboarding process is to make the new person feel welcomed, wanted, and appreciated. These activities done over a three-month period seem right to me.

Request for Comment

How do you, and your company/department/team approach onboarding in a new way? I would love to hear about it.