Archive for the ‘Agile / Scrum’ Category


Appreciation Is Life

May 1, 2019

I was recently looking through one of my favorite classic books How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie.  I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in the Dale Carnegie Program and then to be an Associate Instructor.  But this time, Read the rest of this entry ?


The Empowerment Cycle

March 14, 2019

Empowerment is a word we hear bandied about freely. But what does this mean? Most people struggle to explain it.  When asked the more important question of how you empower people, you usually hear a very short, shallow answer such as you just give them a challenging assignment. Either that or you hear crickets.

However you want to define it, it’s more important to understand how you empower people.  Empowerment is a process and this process has four mandatory components. If any of these are missing, the result will simply be failure.  Here you see the Empowerment Cycle.©

the empowerment cycle

It’s the repetitive, iterating, full cycle process for enabling people to incrementally increase their autonomy so that they can independently and responsibly achieve their goals. Now let me repeat that.

Empowerment is the repetitive, iterative, full cycle process for enabling people to incrementally increase their autonomy so that they can independently and responsibly achieve their goals.

It’s an iterative process because you are not empowering them once for everything they will do for the rest of their life. You are empowering them to handle the immediate task at hand.  Start a person’s empowerment with an assignment that’s challenging but commensurate with their abilities. When successful, give them their next more challenging assignment and move through this cycle again, when that’s complete, rinse and repeat.

Let’s take a closer look at each component of the empowerment cycle.

The first step in empowerment is to Equip the person you want to empower.  Equip means to give them everything they need to be successful in the task at hand. Clearly, they have to have or must learn the skills they need to be successful in the assignment – both hard and soft skills. But don’t forget, they also need to understand your objectives, your vision, and your values. That is, what do you hold is important and your expectations.  If they don’t know what you want, they may execute well but not achieve your desired results.

Next is Authorize. Here’s where many people fall very short. When they supposedly empower people, many think that’s just loading people up with a lot of challenging work and saying, “Have at it”. That’s not empowerment.  That’s making people responsible for a heavy workload.

When empowering, you must give that person the responsibility and the authority to get the job done.  Without the authority, they can only work within their sphere of influence.  Especially in large organizations, your people can easily be ignored by others if they don’t have the authority to decide and act as needed.

Also, you must be clear on the limits of the authority you are lending to them.  What are their decision rights, that is, what is within and what is beyond their authority to decide?  For example, you may give them the authority to purchase items up to $5,000, but beyond that they have to come back to you for approval. They must also understand any boundaries on their authority. For example, they may be authorized to use 50% of Joe’s time on their assignment, but they can’t hire or fire people.  When should they involve certain departments in the work but should not approach others?

And lastly, they must be accountable for the results. Since in the Equip step you made clear your outcomes and expectations, you both must agree on how they will be held accountable for achieving these.

The next step is Support. You must actively demonstrate your support for the person or team you are empowering.  Communication must be honest and open, but tempered, that is, not harsh. This person is stretching themselves into new territory. They need to hear that you have faith in them to be successful. They need to be praised along the way on the small successes, you must make it safe for them to stretch and take reasonable risks. If things go wrong, you must correct them gently, providing guidance and not publicly berating them. You need to create a fail-safe situation for them, allowing them to fall short sometimes, but not letting them do things that would be career ending.

And you must be patient. You have to give them time to navigate their way through territory that’s new to them.

Even when the assignment is over, the empowerment is not.  They and you must Grow from the prior experience and continue learning deeper and / or develop newer skills to prepare them for the next more challenging opportunity. You must show them the growth path for their careers. It must answer the questions “Why should I risk taking on these challenges? I could just do my job. What’s in it for me?”  People need a big enough reason to grow that provides momentum for them to continue to achieve.  Obviously, you’re mentoring of them — not micromanaging them or second guessing them — your mentoring of them is crucial throughout this process. And then the empowerment cycle begins again with Equip.

Yes, this is a lot of work and yes, empowerment takes time. But the positive results have been well documented in the industry. Recent studies have shown that employee engagement in their work is at miserably low levels. When people like their work, they’re more engaged, more innovative, and more committed to doing quality work at their jobs. Trust is enhanced between you and your people. Because you trusted them to get the job done without constant supervision, you, they, and the organization all grow to be more capable and high performing.



Dysfunctional Delusions

November 28, 2016

If you want high performing teams, they have to be built first and foremost on a foundation of trust.  Patrick Lencioni cites the lack of trust as the first (of five) dysfunctions of a team.  The team members must feel that their other teammates will “have their back” when things get rough.  And as a manager or leader, that includes you too.  In fact, if you want to shift your organizational culture to a more empowered, trust-based culture, management must lead the way by demonstrating (not just talking about) the values and behavioral norms you want for the organization.

One key factor that trust is built on is consistency.  Are you consistent in your behavior?  Are you complimentary one moment and then arrogant or dismissive the next?  Are you puerile?  Vindictive?  People trust their leadership when the feel they know how you will react in various situations.  With trust they will feel they can bring issues to you for help when necessary without risking their positions.  If your behavior varies significantly, your teams realize they cannot understand what your reaction to any given problem will be.  They won’t feel safe to be honest with you.   In other words, they won’t trust you.

And if you think you can behave one way in front of your teams and another in private, you are deluding yourself.  When it comes to sensing duplicities, people seem to have x-ray vision.  They are very good at detecting such contrary behavior.  And when they do, trust may never develop.

To be a true leader you must build trust.  Otherwise your teams won’t progress and you’ll remain simply a taskmaster.


Agile Pneumonia and the Manifesto Blues

July 15, 2015

Sung to the tune of Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Blues by Johnny Rivers, J.Vincent and H. Smith.

(If you don’t know it, you can listen here first >>> )


Agile Pneumonia and the Manifesto Blues

Blocked tasks, they decorate out wall
I wanna holler, but the team room’s small

Old PM just doesn’t know what to do
I got the agile pneumonia and the manifesto blues

Large stories, medium, and small
Do anything so that our points don’t fall

New Scrummaster’s got a hold of me too
I got the agile pneumonia and the manifesto blues

Squeeze in more stories with two days to go
We’d deliver but our velocity’s low

Business just doesn’t understand what we do
I got the agile pneumonia and the manifesto blues

Only an hour with the new PO
That’s not how agile’s supposed to go

Wish the PO would guide what we do
I got the agile pneumonia and the manifesto blues

Long day and now I’m hurryin’ home
Can’t finish planning ‘cause we’re takin’ too long

Let’s do this right or I think that I’m through
I got the agile pneumonia and the manifesto blues.

Rockin Pnuemonia label

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Video Blog : Distractions Kill Teams

January 2, 2015

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Are You Human?

October 8, 2014

Isaac Asimov’s science fiction short story “The Bicentennial Man” tells the tale of a robot named Andrew. With the help of some human benefactors, over a long time, Andrew replaces his robotic systems with biological parts, piece by piece by piece. So the question becomes: When does Andrew stop being a robot and becomes a human (or something else)?

Does Andrew’s behavior remind you of your team? Or yourself perhaps? Maybe you are well on your agile journey. Maybe you are just starting to adopt agile. Even with the best intentions you may find yourself facing the same question as Andrew if you’re not careful.
What I have found in many teams and organizations is that there is almost an innate drive to change things as soon as they learn (but have not mastered) them – ‘Now that we’ve learned this agile stuff, let’s:

a) Not have the daily scrum every day
b) Not have the whole team participate in planning
c) Just have the “leads” do the estimation and tasking
d) Not work with the Product Owner regularly – just at the end of the iteration is fine
e) Ignore our velocity when planning the iteration – the Project Manager will tell us what to commit to
f) Some of the above
g) All of the above
h) More than all of the above.’

Sound familiar?

Now I’m not an agile purist. I believe in adopting agile pragmatically. Once you have mastered the basics and are successfully delivering value regularly and you want to adopt your approach to improve how it can work better in your organization, try it. It may work.

But don’t do this haphazardly. Make sure you understand why the various agile techniques are what they are and do what they do. Consider carefully why you want to change things – to make it “easier” or “save time” or to just be more personally comfortable? Make any justifiable changes like you deliver software – incrementally. Then inspect and adapt the change as appropriate. Just be patient. Get good at this stuff first. There is no rush.

If you keep changing things too quickly and prematurely you may find yourself in a dilemma similar to Andrew. But you won’t be asking “Am I still a robot?” You will find yourself asking “Am I still behaving agilely?

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The Baker’s Dozen of Coaching Leadership

May 11, 2014

1. Be Dedicated – to your client, your team, yourself. Commitment builds trust.
2. Be Curious – about your profession, your client, other fields. Learn continuously. If you think you know it all, you have limited your potential.
3. Be Humble – no matter how successful, smart, or well-known. Arrogance destroys relationships.
4. Be Energetic – Do you bring energy into the room or do you drain the life out of it?
5. Be Engaged – Your client doesn’t value an aloof advisor who provides little value.
6. Be Perceptive – See their gifts. Does your team have cheerleaders (encouragers), pragmatists (guides), jokers (morale builders), dreamers (visionaries)? Leverage these soft abilities as much as hard skills.
7. Be Empathic – See their needs. Be sure to serve their actual needs, not yours.
8. Be Resourceful – When your team has no answer and neither do you, take the initiative to go find a new option or approach for them that may be useful.
9. Be Uplifting – Don’t criticize the doubtful, the non-believers. Encourage and uplift them.
10. Be Persistent – when you hear “we’ve always done it this way”. You are a change agent. You can’t sail the seas when you are tied to the dock.
11. Be Resolute – Reject rejection. Take the high road. Repay your critics with kindness, service, and understanding.
12. Be Fun – Celebrate with your teams whenever they succeed, big or small.
13. Be Caring – Remember, they are not assets or resources. They are real people. With real lives. Just like you.

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