Saturday, October 25, 2014

What does the Executive Team do in Scrum?

In an earlier post, we described an Executive Team in a smallish company (aka an oversight group in a larger company).  And we described a simple situation.  For example, the oversight group is responsible for 8-10 initiatives. Or, basically, 8-10 Scrum teams.  For now, let's make it simple, and imagine that each Scrum Team is working fairly independently.
What does the Executive Team do?

First, the ET is getting new ideas, new projects, new initiatives.  The ET must decide which things to start and which to stop.  Ideally, we stop an initiative just after the Team has delivered a significant release, so that the productivity of the Team is not wasted.

And the ET resolves conflicts between Teams.  Team 1 wants George and Team 2 wants George.  Often the Teams and/or some individual managers can figure out this problem quite well, but sometimes it requires and Executive decision.

The ET does high-level budgeting.  For example, how many initiatives should the firm have in flight at one time.  And this decision affects the start-stop decisions.

The ET monitors the overall impact of the initiatives on the firm and the customers.  Only with all the different perspectives on the ET, can the ET (as a team) see the overall impact of all the different factors.  (And there are so many different factors.)  No one person sees them all, but the ET (if it has the right people) sees them all.  Or, at least should see them better than any other group.  (We must admit that we are all human, and so the ET too will be imperfect.)

So, the ET must act as a real team, and decide for the overall good of the customers and the firm.  And not have each person focus only on his individual area.

So, in a broad sense, the ET (together) sees and looks after the broader interests of the customers and the firm.  Everything considered.

And, of the 3 levels I mentioned before (Team, business stakeholders, ET), only the ET together sees the overall picture. And only the ET has the knowledge and power to make better, high-level, decisions.


One key thing the ET must decide: The priority order (today) of all the initiatives.  And of all the 'ideas' that might be done.  Only together can they compare and decide on the probable impact to the customer base and the firm.  And then start the best initiatives and stop the least valuable initiatives.


One more key factor: Do not under-estimate the motivational impact to the Team of seeing the ET once per month (briefly).

First, the Team will realize 'hey, this must actually be important work, because the ET cares about us.'

Second, the Team will say 'darn, we must have some good stuff to 'show' every month, to impress the ET.  We can fool around or lose focus.'  (By show, I do not mean a demo to the ET.)

Third, when the ET likes it, the Team can feel proud.

Fourth, the Team can ask for help from the ET.  'Give us some money or some people or just approval to fix our top impediment.'  The Team will need to pull together a decent business case, but the ET must look at and decide on this requests.  (Note that a business stakeholder/manager could also get some of these requests too.)  'Who knew the ET would actually help us?' is what they often say.


What does an ET do for a Team?

Most often two things:

1. 'We like your work and your progress. Please continue.'  If this can be done briefly, at low cost, this should have a big impact on the Team.

Note: While doing this, the ET (for the customers and the firm and the overall motivation of the Team) has re-confirmed, after all the change and everything we have learned in a month, that, compared to anything else this Team might do, this is still one of the Top X initiatives.

2. The ET helps the team with one impediment.  Ex: The ET directs that George give not just 10% but 20% of his time to the Team.  Ex: The ET gives the team $3000 to take a course on some aspect of Java.  Ex: The ET directs that the Team engage the Communications group in the next week.

Let me take that last example, and go a step further.  What should have happened is that the Team itself contacted the Communications dept, and Team and the Communications dept worked out that problem soon enough.  Or, failing that, that the business stakeholders (manager) associated with that Team had intervened and had gotten that conversation going sooner.  And the Communication group also has the responsibility to reach out to the Team and contact them, if they see a need.

BUT (possibly) in this case all those thing had not happened (yet) because the Team and the manager did not see the big picture, and could not know that because of X Y and Z, that engagement with the Communication group needs to happen sooner.  And the ET, seeing the bigger picture, directs that that conversation happen sooner (in this case).

So, we must recognize two things:

1. Human being will fail sometimes.  One failure does not mean that the responsibility should be taken away.  When we manage, we must assume some degree of failure.  So, we have backup systems, but only to some reasonable degree.

2. Even if one has a responsibility, one will not always have the information to execute well on that responsibility.  In this case, the ET, having the broader view (as a full Team) could see the issue and direct a resolution.  (One could call this fixing an impediment.)



We must emphasize the following point.

In managing innovation, there is a strong trade-off between managing things better and the cost/overhead of management.

It has been our tendency to over-manage innovation.  And mostly what that does is destroy the productivity of our knowledge workers.

The ET meeting for any one Team must be brief.  Probably 15 minutes per month.  (One might argue for 30 mins.)  Obviously, if the Team is doing badly, or the ET feels it must take some action, then the meeting for that Team might take longer this time.  In any case, the timebox must be managed; all Teams and initiatives are complex and we easily could talk 'for a long time', but with very little additional value added.

In this context, an 'epmo process' must give the ET some information to do their job effectively.  But we must make sure that process does not over-burden the Team with reporting work.   Also, the 'epmo' itself should not become another layer of management... this is bad.

And it is tempting.  The ET people are by definition very busy.  The unconscious desire is to avoid the tough decisions, and to push work back on the epmo person.  The epmo person will never have the broad perspective that the ET has (as a team, if the ET people share the tacit knowledge as a unified team).

Also, for the ET to be effective, the information flow to the ET must be 'clean' or unbiased.  If the epmo person is allowed to 'take responsibility' for things, the more that happens, the more we get the human desire to hide and to only show what we want to show, ie, the ET gets biased information. This degrades the effectiveness of the ET, possibly almost completely (I think I have seen those cases).

Last warning: Let the Team talk directly with the ET.  (Maybe only the PO and SM attend.)  It is tempting to rely only on reports.  In innovation, a huge portion of the inputs are people.  Hence, only by 'looking at the people' can the ET see what is really going on.  Also, only the people can explain what is really happening (all the tacit knowledge that never gets into a report).  And, if the ET decides or directs anything, the people need to understand.

The Team are indeed human and prone to bias.  We have to accept that that happens to some degree.  So, we also recommend that one or more business stakeholders from the Team also be there in the ET meeting, to also answer questions with less bias.


We hope you can see from this discussion how the management at the ET level would really work in this situation.

We welcome your comments.

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