Archive for the ‘Coaching’ Category

A real "class act"

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

I learn so much from failure it’s hard to ignore the good that comes from it.

This week I parted company with a client long before their goals were reached.

Sadly, I knew from the start they would be a challenge and made the mistake of ignoring the warning signs.  Never again.  Honest!

This entry is as much for coaches and consultants as it is for teams, staff, management and leadership.

There are several tell-tale indicators of success and/or failure.  In our own ways and in their own contexts, experienced coaches and consultants know what these indicators are.  Well-rounded, experienced, and seasoned practitioners within companies know them too.  In fact, most people know them instinctively, somehow.  I can therefore safely say that whether it’s through experience or instinct, we all know many of the same indicators.  In fact, we can probably sum-up every indicator in one word: Attitude.

So, yes, Jeff Keller’s famous self-help book, "Attitude is Everything", applies as well.  In organizations, "attitude" is frequently interchangeable or encompassed by company "culture".  And yes, attitude is a derivative of culture.  But sometimes culture is harder to pinpoint than attitudes.  Attitude shows up in your interactions with the company from the very start of your prospecting dance.

Here are some attitudes you may encounter and whether or not they spell greater odds of success or failure:

Failure-prone attitudes:

  • Hassling about price/cost/time but expecting the same scope and performance outcomes.
  • Focusing on deadlines and schedules instead of real results.
  • Not owning the work and expecting off-site outsiders to invent working approaches.
  • Shallow goals that aren’t S.M.A.R.T.
  • Mistaking a task for an outcome or goal.
  • Ignoring, denying, and filtering information that indicates problems.
  • Poor communication (which often starts with poor listening skills).
  • No allocation of explicit time and/or resources to make improvements.
  • Failing to recognize the importance of the right people in the right roles for the right reasons.
  • Delivering materials for review with no lead-time for turn-around.
  • Persisting in propagating bureaucratic policies despite the obvious lack of value-add.
  • Executives who are mostly (if not exclusively) involved in decisions involving budgets but not in making changes.
  • Repeatedly using external influences as excuses to not make important changes.
  • Assuming a victimization attitude instead of owning up to their circumstances.
  • Failure to learn and apply new ideas — even after being presented with the benefits of those ideas.
  • Management by motivation 1.0 or 2.0

Success-leading attitudes:

  • Focus on results not the cost of getting them.
  • Clear, S.M.A.R.T. goals.
  • Executive involvement and ownership of leading the changes.
  • Respect and appreciation for everyone’s contribution and effort.
  • Active concern for overtime, unplanned work, and defects.
  • Accounting and planning for everything that takes time by everyone involved.
  • Taking full ownership for all the work (irrespective of the “divisions of labor” as seen by the customers).
  • Clear-eyed view of effort and not planning around "best case only" scenarios.
  • Ability to appreciate the need for non-technical, non-managerial skills in the roles of leading change.
  • Seeing beyond the surface: A desire to learn and understand the meaning behind the work, not just following the specific language of the work.
  • Dealing with people as people and not numbers.

My best clients have always had direct, clear and unambiguous evidence of two things:

  1. S.M.A.R.T. Goals, and
  2. Executive involvement in making the changes happen — not just lip service and budget authorization.  This usually took the form of the top leader (or 1-step away) taking personal involvement in not just setting direction, but in working through the best way to make things happen with the people who will be most affected.  (What does NOT count is a “top” leader with a purely administrative role and no executive accountability or responsibility.)

In experiencing the failure with this client, I admit to learning about at least one critical oversight on my part (there were others but this one takes top spot).  As we were interviewing each other, I failed to interrogate the leaders of the company for specific improvement goals.  The only "goals" they came to me with was to make their processes "leaner" and to attain a CMMI Maturity Level 3 rating with leaner processes.  Which turned out to really mean little more than to replace their heavy-handed compliance-oriented approach with a set of processes more projects could comply with more easily.  Again, note that they were still about "compliance".

Despite claims to the contrary, I didn’t fully realize until well into the engagement that compliance was still their primary attitude — at least among the people who were charged with overseeing the process assets for the entire organization. 

During the engagement, I repeatedly worked to identify meaningful improvement goals that being "lean" could help them attain.  I then created a strategy that would bring them closer to these goals and presented it to the majority of the executives.

Despite wide agreement on the goals and the strategy, when it came to rolling out the necessary changes, it was met the same-old resistance to change and fears that I knew spelled doom.

Nonetheless, I had high hopes for this organization so I decided I would bring them around by modeling the behavior I was trying to help them see.  A few people caught on but, alas, not the people who held sway in the organization.  Our mutual falling-out began early when it became apparent that desire among the leadership to achieve a maturity rating without upsetting the apple cart was overshadowing the desire to actually reach the performance goals being a leaner organization would achieve.

Notwithstanding, there were other tell-tale signs from the list above that this organization didn’t have the attitude to make the changes necessary.  I won’t belabor you with the complete saga.  Instead, I’ll return to my point about this entry.
You as coaches, consultants, and staff can’t want to better than your leadership is prepared to be.  The signs are all around you.  Pay attention to the signs early.  You will save yourself a lot of time, heartache and frustration.  If you believe you don’t have enough experience to justify your powers of observation, then trust your instincts.  Is the organization defensive about their entrenched position on their circumstance?  Do they make excuses instead of setting goals?  Are the goals devoid of any real results? 

You don’t even have to go that far.  How are you treated as a person, as a professional, is about all you really need to know about whether or not there’s a hope that things can get better.  If you’re not appreciated, if your organization is willfully blind to the things that cause you grief, if you see signs that tell you the organization lacks "class", you don’t need 20 years of experience telling you you’re right to know you’re right.  This organization is doomed to mediocrity.  Is that the kind of organization you want to be associated with?

I don’t, and, I won’t ever be again.

People over Process . . .

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

The agile manifesto makes clear the authors’ value of people over process.  With that, many readers/users of the manifesto somehow misconstrue this as “People.  No process.”

Others, being more intelligent and reasonable, do see the value of having and using processes, they’re thinking a little beyond the next 11 seconds and are reflecting a bit deeper on the roles of and interplay between people and processes.  Such people are seeing that the real question isn’t about people or process, but that what they struggle with is how to find value in what people do and the processes they perform.


That’s a powerful word.  I love this rich word.  You can get all sorts of people to stop and think about what they’re doing when you ask them the value of their effort.

Asking about value can come full circle – even for process people.  What’s the value, for example, of checking on a process?

Many use process audits, but what’s the value in it?  Especially if the process works fine, and, there’s a cost to check on it – with a net result that you spent time (= money) checking for something that didn’t and might not happen.

Calling them “objective evaluation”, CMMI® is replete with efforts that are expected to check on processes.  (GP2.9, PPQA, OPF, et al.)  Though, CMMI® is purposefully thin on exactly how to accomplish this, many have chosen to carry out “objective evaluation” using ‘audits’.

Audits not only invoke a confrontational and defensive entrenchment, but also have the attribute of easily devolving into “process policing” and other non-value-added paradigms.  Don’t misunderstand, we’re not saying it’s not important to keep tabs on your processes, but there are more and less value-added approaches to how you go about doing them.

At the risk of sounding too much like advice from an Eastern mountain top, I propose that you allow people to be the process.

That is, imbue a cadre of people whose jobs are to know the processes best.  Not CMMI® processes, not Agile practices, but the processes the organization wants everyone to know and use.  How else will anyone know what to do?  Great organizations do this all the time.  No one questions their use of such people.

Clearly, it would be out of character for me to suggest that you don’t have processes, or that you create “lottery sensitive positions” (i.e., critical, single-point-failure positions whose loss would be severely disruptive to success).  So, this is not what I’m saying.

But if the idea is that you want everyone to be on the same page, that you want to create processes that people want and love and that they can identify with;

if you want to create a reliable culture of excellence where everyone truly participates in creating exquisite results;

where everyone is fully invested in the organization and its success;

in the language of CMMI® — where the processes are firmly institutionalized;

that people who know the process very well and whose jobs are dedicated to helping everyone else learn and use the process are out in the projects coaching and mentoring teams in the process, facilitating retrospectives, demos, peer reviews and whatnot…

There isn’t a non-CMMI® or a non-Agile thing about this!

We’re talking about coaching, mentoring, and facilitation.

Self-directed, self-organized teams still have coaches, Scrum masters, and someone to turn to when things are stuck or just don’t seem to be working correctly…

… you want to grow an organization where everyone knows what to do without being told?  Use coaching and mentoring of your patterns in your patterns.

There can be a smaller organization of just such coaches, mentors and facilitators, with others rotating in and out of on some regular cadence, these people can also gather lessons, collect information, spread new ideas, create experiments, and routinely check to see whether and how well what teams are doing is working.

If/when there are new and better ways of doing things, these coaches can help refine them and make them usable by other teams, when things are broken, they help fix them.

Why do audits want to know whether the process is being followed?  If it’s compliance, then it might very well be a waste of time.

The real reason is to learn about the process and to use the audit as an opportunity to learn about and share what’s working and what doesn’t.  So, instead of audits, why not jump straight to the real purpose behind them and ask, “what are you doing?” and  “how’s that working for you?”

You’ll get the same benefit without all the baggage, waste and negativity.

Doesn’t everyone know this is what having a defined process is?

Doesn’t everyone understand that this is how process evaluations or audits are supposed to work?

No?  Really?  Huh!

People over Process, Right?  Great!  Let people *be* the process!