Friday, November 21, 2014

Managers : Impediments

It should not be confusing how to manage in Scrum (agile) Let's put a scope of this. We are talking about the management of innovation, using Teams. Not the management of BAU or regular production or whatever your firm calls that. I am less sure these principles apply in those cases. First, you have a Team that should be a real Team. And they (the full Team) should mostly self-manage. Second: ask a few questions as a manager. Ask the Team things like this:

1. How is it going?

Then listen carefully. Don't 'talk', listen.

2. Am I (or is 'management') an impediment to the Team?

It is remarkable how often, in trying to help, we managers actually get in the way. We distract, we interrupt, we just don't help them. OTOH, sometimes things that actually are helpful are not understood that way. But if the Team does not understand (in your opinion), at least listen carefully to their opinion. They might actually be correct. Always recognize that management is 'overhead' and by definition is in some way 'getting in the way' of doing the real work of innovation.

3. Where is your public impediment list?

Review it with them, especially the top items. And you might suggest impediments that they should consider. You want to see a good, current list of the top 20 ways they think they can improve.

4. Let's discuss the impediments you have fixed lately (in the last sprint) and how much impact that has had.

Comment favorably on the progress they have made. Reward that behavior. Ask them: having done that, 20-20 hindsight, how might you (or you all) have done that better (the next time)?

5. Are there any impediments you would like me to help you with?

This is THE essential question. In fact, the answer always must be 'yes', and the only real question is deciding which one. It probably will be one where the manager is competent to help. And then, more competent than the Team itself to fix.

6. Is the Team spending enough time 'sharpening the saw'? What percentage is that?

"Sharpening the saw' is from that famous story in Covey's Seven Habits book. Human beings 'naturally' never spend enough time sharpening the saw. They seem to be thinking that it is 'better' to just do the work with brute force. Perhaps in the middle of a battle, hand-to-hand combat, that is the right thing to do. But not with our knowledge work. I recommend that the Team spend about 1/7th of the 'power' on getting better (aka fixing impediments). *** Some notes: The public impediment list will be prioritized, and the priorities could change with time. The order should include cost-benefit analysis, at least to the degree they can do it. You might need to help them think that through. Often they have little or no experience in doing that. Political cost is among the costs to consider. But we do expect managers (and teams) to take political risks, in a measured way. You might not agree with the priorities, especially at first. Discuss that with them, without using your power. Don't worry about the priorities too much. Even if you do them 'out of order', a significant part of the benefit of fixing impediments is that you did what they wanted you to do. It has a huge motivational impact. You are saying via action their work is important. Now, I am not saying spend tons of money just to have them 'feel good'. But do not ignore the motivational factor. There are many many more things to say about impediments. But I hope for many of you managers, these notes are a good start. I think if your encourage 'removing impediments' in these ways, I think you will be surprised how much better the Team becomes. *** Please comment....

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