Thursday, May 3, 2007

Leaders, Managers, Bosses, and Administrators

The Poppendiecks are coming to Charlotte next week, to teach their Lean Software Development - Practitioners course. In their book, Implementing Lean Software Development: From Concept to Cash, the Poppendiecks talk, as one of their topics, about leadership.

They raise several excellent points.

1. A team needs leadership. Which is to say, vision. Someone to inspire and someone to help them put their hearts in the game. And keep it there.

2. The project needs decisiveness. If the team has too many leaders, and the leaders squabble about decisions, then the team wastes time. The team needs to know how it will make decisions. There is a trade-off between making the right decisions, and making decisions quickly.

3. Generally, the team needs to learn to make decisions only at the last responsible moment. So, much of the decision-making is about when to make a decision. At what point have you learned enough to make a good/better decision?

4. The project needs business decisions and technical decisions. This is very true. So the team needs business people and needs technical people who are ready and able to make those decisions. And, preferrably, business people who understand technology and technology people who understand business (and the customers).

5. And there are many other types of decisions to be made too. People decisions. Decisions about whose insights to go with on specific areas. Process decisions. Decisions about who is working effectively and who is not. Decisions about how to get the team to communicate better and learn faster.

6. In Scrum, we have ScrumMasters and Product Owners. These roles are endowed with certain leadership aspects. This is different than the leadership of the Chief Engineer, which is a role Toyota uses.

7. Project managers have also provided leadership. (And we have the whole PMP, PMI thing, too.) PMs have also provided managership, bossiness, administration and other things.

8. We know that no bosses are wanted. We want all the best from every person, and a boss will only inhibit that. A boss wants to command others, and thinks he knows all. These are not helpful traits in a learning situation. (So, semantically, we are using "boss" here to represent all the bad things that a boss can be. Of course, few managers or leaders are as bad as a boss, but we all can be that way sometimes.)

[Note: One can certainly argue whether everything in the 8 items above was said, implied or meant by the Poppendiecks. Doubtless at least some of it is me muddying the water.]

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Let us add some additional thoughts.

We always find true leadership in short supply. A true leader does not just say "Go there!". He or she must explain things to the group (the team and those around the team) in such a way that they understand. In such a way that they agree not only with their mind but with their heart.

Thus, we say that everyone can lead and should lead. In some way or another. (This is not to invite conflicts about turf and other silliness. See below.)

Leadership and all these other topics are great to talk about in the abstract or as generalities. Where the rubber meets the road is after you have found the best people you can, and they start to take on certain roles. The role was made to help the man, not the man to fit into the role. Always adjust the role to fit the people involved.

Decision-making: We want to distinguish this from what we mean by leadership. First, the team must be very clear (a) when a decision needs to be made, (b) that all parties with anything to say on the subject have the opportunity to contribute, and (c) the team knows how the decision will be made (eg, maybe that one person will make the final decision on X topic). (Note: At the other extreme, the team norms might say that the team will vote on every decision. In my experience, this approach can work with some teams and not with others. There is a long explanation as to why.)

If you "decide" correctly about (a) what is the question to be decided, and (b) when should this decision be made, often the final step (what we might call "the decision" itself) is quite easy.

We take the view that most decisions are reversible. So, often the decision is more "what is our working hypothesis for now". Most decision-makers realize that deciding is like batting in baseball. If your batting average is .400, that is a great percentage; you just want to get yourself more "at bats".

One of the toughest issues is what I call "turf wars". This is the instinctive human (animalistic) thing where we try to decide you is top dog. You can get this whether you have no titles, few titles, or many titles. The team needs leaders (of all sorts) who help the team to minimize this animalistic stuff (caution: never expect to eliminate it). And then develop a more advanced version of managing and leading.

There are other points to make, but we leave them for later posts. One of them is about followership.

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