Category: Leadership (Page 1 of 7)

Agile Pitfalls – How to avoid 3 common mistakes in an agile transformation

Agile transformation

I’m grateful to PM Network Magazine for publishing my article on Agile pitfalls. You can view the article in the December version of the magazine here

The article published by PM Network was a shortened version of my original white paper. Below is the paper in its entirety.

Three Common Pitfalls of Agile Transformation, and How to Avoid Them: By Mike MacIsaac

Agile transformation is becoming an increasingly high priority for companies. Everybody wants to be Agile, from start-ups to large enterprises. In today’s competitive global market, agility is critical for managing changing priorities. As an Agile delivery consultant, I’ve seen the struggles companies face when they set out to become Agile.

For the past ten years I’ve worked with a range of companies, across various industries. Their Agile transformation struggles tend to be similar. In this article I will discuss three common pitfalls I see, and advise on how to avoid them.

Before we can talk about transformation, we first have to answer the question: What does it mean to be Agile? Most people think of Agile as a way of developing software, but it is much more. Agile is a mindset. Agile is a different way of thinking and behaving from traditional management. Agile is putting client needs first. Agile is delivering value early, and often through the use of an iterative, experimental process.  Agile is innovating through self-organizing teams. Agile is all these things—and to better understand why companies need transformation, it helps to understand some history.

A Brief History of Agile

While Agile is the hot buzzword today, understandings of Agile benefits are not new. In fact, we can trace Agile roots back to the 1600s. Francis Bacon, an English scientist, developed a scientific method in 1620 which would later become the basis for the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle. The PDCA cycle was used by Walter Shewhart and it was made popular by Dr. W. Edwards Deming. The concept was an iterative approach for improving products and processes. The continuous cycle of short iterations allowed for agility by adapting for change after each iteration. The PDCA cycle had a huge influence on Japan after WWII, as it helped improve production quality and automotive operations.

The most relevant step to agility in the PDCA cycle is step four, “Check.” The idea is to inspect and adapt. In Deming’s Out of the Crisis he writes, “Step 4 of the Shewhart cycle (study the results; what did we learn from the change?) will lead (a) to improvement of any state, and (b) to better satisfaction of the customer of that stage.” (Deming, 1986)  Notice that Deming puts emphasis on satisfying the customer. Customer satisfaction is at the heart of what Agile is all about.

Although Deming advocated Agile concepts throughout the 20th century, Frederick Taylor’s scientific management theory (referred to as Taylorism) was predominant in American business. Taylor’s approach was all about following rigid processes, with a top-down, command-and-control style of management. Managers told workers what to do, and workers followed orders. Taylor’s management theory helped propel the industrial revolution.

Taylorism ran into problems towards the end of the 20th century. The economy had changed and a new workforce emerged. Knowledge workers became the majority, replacing semiskilled workers. Knowledge workers couldn’t be managed the same way as the factory workers. Well renowned Austrian-born American management consultant Peter Drucker once said, “Workers through history could be ‘supervised.’ They could be told what to do, how to do it, how fast to do it, and so on. Knowledge workers cannot, in effect, be supervised.” (Drucker, 1993)

Taylorism worked well for workers on the factory floor, but not for knowledge workers who dealt with complex problems. In 1986, things changed when Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka published a paper on a new way for product development (see “The New NewProduct Development Game,” HBR, Jan 1986). The paper was instrumental in kick-starting the modern Agile movement. Takeuchi and Nonaka described a new product development approach that looked more like rugby. Teams would pass the ball back and forth as they headed towards their goal. This was different from the traditional sequential approach to product development. This new rugby-like approach, made up of self-organizing teams, allowed for speed and flexibility. It enabled change throughout the product development process.

Fast forward to 2001, and a group of software developers got together at a ski lodge and created the Agile Manifesto. This was a declaration of guiding principles aimed at finding better ways to develop software. After 2001, the Agile delivery movement took off on a global scale.

Today, Agile practices are common, but many organizations still operate in the old world of Taylorism. Knowing they need to change, companies are trying hard to become Agile, but many still struggle. Here are three common pitfalls I see when companies set out for Agile transformation—and how to avoid them.

Pitfall 1, Not Having Goals

It’s amazing how many companies set off on a mission to become Agile without have any clear goals. If you ask their executives what their goals are, they’ll respond with something like “to be better at delivering software.” This response provides no specifics on what they are trying to achieve. It also doesn’t provide any sort of inspiration for the employees who will be in the trenches of the transformation.

One client I worked for made this mistake. Without clear goals, they couldn’t tell if they were improving. Employees became frustrated because they didn’t understand what they were trying to accomplish. This caused an unhealthy culture, contention among teams and gave Agile a bad rap. After about two years of little progress, the client finally realized they lacked goals.

Leaders need to take the time to define specific goals that align with the strategy of the company. They need to understand the value generated by an Agile transformation. An example might be something like the following:

“We need to double our production releases from four a year to eight. This will allow us to get new innovative products to market faster. It will also help us meet customer demands and increase market share by x.”

The example above gives a specific goal, with a clear end state. Once goals are defined, alignment needs to be created throughout the organization. A plan can then be put in place, putting the company in a much greater position for transformation.

Pitfall 2, Lack of Prioritization and Executive Sponsorship

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. If leadership is not on board, it’s going to be tough sledding.Leaders often underestimate what it takes for a successful Agile transformation.In a recent report by KPMG, lack of executive sponsorship was a top reason companies struggle with Agile transformation (see AchievingGreater Agility, PMI, Nov 2017). 

In another one of my client experiences, middle management continued to govern delivery teams with tight control. They did so because a) executives weren’t on board with change and b) management was afraid to give up control. Every important decision and process went through a board review and approval process. This of course did not promote a culture of empowerment and trust. It only frustrated and confused delivery teams. It wasn’t long before employees started to leave the company in search for more autonomy.  

Agile transformation is about changing culture. It’s going to take more than forming Agile teams and bringing in Agile coaches. Teams alone cannot change bureaucracy and culture. Leaders need to help remove impediments and promote a new culture built on openness and trust. “Senior executives need to communicate early and often at all levels of the organization to let their people know that the Agile journey will benefit all, and that it is OK for mistakes to be made as long as lessons are learned.” (Cullum, Bagg, Trivedi, Nov 2017)

Target Corp is a great example of the benefits of executive sponsorship. Target executives set out to transform the organization to Agile back in 2015, after the company took a big hit with a data breach. They’ve had great success. In 2017, Target’s CIO Mike McNamara gave a keynote at National Retail Federation (NRF)’s annual Big Show in New York. McNamara said, “What I’m perhaps most proud of is how our new way of working is taking root in other parts of Target, beyond technology teams.Agile sets us up for more innovation and for becoming a leader in how technology and data science can (and will) enhance the retail experience” (see “MikeMcNamara:Technology Transformation on Tap at NRF’s Big Show,”Target, Jan 2017).

Executives also need ensure the transformation a top priority for the company. Lack of prioritization is a common problem with transformations. McKinsey recently published an article in which they wrote “While it is completely OK to start the agile transformation within, say, a small part of the organization,it is important not to stop there and to treat it as a strategic priority for the enterprise. Taking agile beyond small experiments is where the real benefits arise” (see “How to Mess Up Your Agile Transformation in Seven Easy(Mis)steps,” McKinsey, April 2018).  

Pitfall 3, Putting Process over Behavior

Companies are usually quick to put Agile processes in place. If you walk around their offices, you will see task boards with sticky notes and teams having stand ups. They use popular software tools like VersionOne or Jira. From the outside they have all the appearances of being Agile. But if you look deeper, you may find that their behaviors and mindset have not changed. The common reason for this is fear. People are afraid they will be punished for making mistakes. They also don’t trust others enough to be transparent.

Agile values individuals and interactions over processes and tools. This is the first principle outlined in the Agile Manifesto. This is a human element in Agile that is so important, yet often overlooked. To be Agile, people need to talk to each other, and they need to be open and honest.

The best way to drive out fear is through leadership. Managers need to shift their mindset from command and control to coaching and mentoring. Companies need leaders who have strong emotional and social intelligence. With empathy, leaders can foster an environment where people feel safe to make mistakes.

There are various ways to improve emotional and social intelligence. There are learning and development programs available. Google uses a widely popular course called “Search Inside Yourself”. Daniel Goleman is an author and science journalist who offers a framework with coaching certifications.  Aside from development programs, companies should recruit for emotional and social intelligence. Many top business schools are now developing emotionally and socially intelligent leaders. Harvard Business School, for example, offers a program on authentic leadership. The program was started by Bill George, the ex Medtronic CEO and author of True North.

Conclusion

Agile is a different way of thinking and behaving. For companies attempting transformation, the following are three key areas to address: (1) There needs to be specific goals in place. The goals need to be a top priority in the company, and they need to align with the overall strategy. (2) Executive sponsorship is crucial for a successful transformation. (3)  In Agile, individuals and interactions are valued more than processes and tools. To drive out fear, you need leaders who have strong emotional and social intelligence to foster a culture of safety and trust.  

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or visit Mike’s blog.

Search Inside Yourself To Unlock Your Full Potential

Search Inside Yourself

Heather Wray-Isquierdo, Tere MacIsaac, Mike MacIsaac

Last night my wife Tere and I attended a great event by the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) and Women Leading in Technology (WLiT) program. The keynote speaker was executive coach Heather Wray-Isquierdo. Heather did a wonderful job! She explained the benefits of practicing mindfulness and emotional intelligence. She also provided easy to put in place techniques. You can learn more about Heather at her website.

“Search Inside Yourself” is a training program first developed at Google. The program aims at teaching mindfulness and emotional intelligence. The training has become popular and is now used in 30 countries around and the world and companies like Ford, LinkedIn and The New York Times. For more on the training, check out the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute.

With all the distractions and stress we face today, it’s becoming more important we learn how to quiet our minds. It’s ironic, the more technology advances, the more we see a need for basic human connection skills. Working in IT, I’ve been saying for a long time that we have a gap in emotionally and socially intelligent leadership. The notion that IT people only need to use left brain and analytical thinking is flawed. Technical knowledge and IQ are still important, but they are not enough.

Thank you to MHTA, WliT and Heather Wray-Isquierdo for putting on such a great event! Below are some pictures.

Tere and Mike MacIsaac

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or visit Mike’s blog.

3 Things You Can Count On The Best Project Managers To Do

Leadership

I’ve always had a great deal of respect for project managers. Managing projects, especially IT projects, is challenging. It requires skilled individuals who are strong communicators and cool under pressure. They juggle competing priorities while managing personality conflicts and keeping stakeholders happy.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with some great project managers. Over time I’ve learned there are three things you can count on them to do. Here they are:

1.   They provide clear communication – They keep stakeholders updated through easy to understand written and verbal communication. A lot of project managers struggle in this area, and for good reason. It’s difficult to provide an easy to understand update when managing complex projects. The tendency for project managers is to rush and write up a long email that gets down into the weeds. They think they’re doing a good job because they provided a lot of information. In fact, they leave people confused and frustrated. People don’t want to read a long email and figure out what it means.

2.   They take full ownership and drive the work – Projects are challenging and messy. If they weren’t, there wouldn’t be a need for project managers. Great project managers take stress of their bosses’ plate by taking full ownership. They will drive the project to completion. Yes, sometimes project managers will need help from leadership. When those times come, it’s important they ask for help. But most of the time, great project managers do whatever it takes to lead the project to success.

3.   They stay positive – If the project manager starts to get down and negative, the whole team will follow. It’s so important as a project manager to stay positive, even when the going gets tough. And, it will get tough. I’ve yet to experience any IT project that didn’t come with some level of stress or issues. Problems will come, but the project manager needs to stay positive. This is the essence of leadership. Collin Powell once provided a great lesson he learned on this from infantry school. They taught him: “no matter how cold it is, lieutenant, you must never look cold. No matter how hungry you all are, lieutenant, you must never appear hungry. No matter how terrified you are, lieutenant, you must never look terrified. Because if you are scared, tried, hungry and cold….they will be scared, tired, hungry and cold.”

Summary

Project management is difficult. If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be such a large demand for project managers. If you are a project manager and you want to stand out from the crowd, focus on these three things. First, take the time to provide clear written and verbal communication. Second, take full responsibility to drive the project. Lastly, be positive, especially when things get tough.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or visit Mike’s blog.

What Is Agile Transformation?

Check out my latest video on Agile Transformation. In this short video, I touch on the advantages of Agile Transformation. I also discuss the challenges and what leadership can do to help.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or visit Mike’s blog.

Fall’s Reminder That Change is Necessary

Living in Minnesota, fall is my favorite season. The crisp air, leaves changing colors and smells of chimney’s. It brings back cherished childhood memories. I remember the excitement of playing outside with friends after school. The closer it got to Halloween, the pinnacle of childhood bliss, the more fun we had.

Today, fall reminds me that change is necessary. As the leaves drop, it’s a good time to reflect inward. What changes do I need to make?  Leadership is about change, and often the most important thing to change, is ourselves.

 

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or visit Mike’s blog.

 

 

 

4 Proven Steps For The C-Suite To Drive Greater Agility

In our current age of digital disruptions and continuous market changes, C-level executives must prepare to achieve greater agility. This is true across all industries and sectors, not only in technology. Enterprise wide flexibility has far reaching advantages, including revenue and profit increase and faster speed to market.

Achieving greater agility is not only about software development and engineering methods. It’s also about culture change, which often is the biggest road block to agility. Changing culture requires commitment from the C-level. In a recent report by PMI and Forbes Insights (Achieving Greater Agility), they surveyed C-level executives across the globe. Only 27 percent of executives surveyed considered themselves highly agile.  “In fact, culture emerges as one of the biggest hurdles to adapting to higher levels of agility, with 50 percent of respondents calling it challenging. In this light, it is troubling that only a quarter of all executives find their cultures to be strong enablers of agility.”

Below are four steps for the C-suite to drive culture change towards greater agility. These are the steps that Walmart and other large companies successfully used:

  1. Start small – For large organizations, start by using a small piecemeal approach. By creating small pockets of cultural change, you will have more success scaling. Structure small teams that are empowered and autonomous. Your odds of transformation success increase even more if you have people who will embrace agile values. Enable them to make decisions, and get out of their way. Most of all let them have fun!
  2. Teach your leaders – Management needs to learn a new way of doing things. Agility is about empowering and coaching teams. Command and control needs to go to the wayside. This is a mindset change for management that is so critical for success. Teach management to let go of control. If they don’t, it will be an absolute killer to agility.
  3. Set expectations – The Company needs to be clear about expectations for a new way of working and expect some attrition. Agile is not for everyone, and it’s best to be up front with people. If anyone wants to move on and not be part of an agile culture, that’s fine. Be clear and set expectations up front.
  4. Invest in training – You have to invest in the training so people can learn how to work in an agile environment. The key is driving out fear so smaller teams feel safe making decisions on their own. Sending people to a two day course is helpful, but not enough. Embed training and learning as part of the culture that is ongoing. Create practice groups and promote learning.

Whether you are a small company or a large enterprise, agility is the key to survival. The C-suite has a responsibility to engage and promote agility. With their efforts, driving culture change can be accomplished.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or visit Mike’s blog.

 

 

 

 

 

Leadership Is About Enjoying The Success Of Others

Leadership

I don’t know about you, but I love the feeling I get when I’m able to help someone.  This is especially true in the workplace. Recently I provided an opportunity for someone to give a presentation.  After some resistance, he proceeded and did a great job! Afterward, I gave him well deserved recognition. I also sang his praises to the rest of the leadership team.

Leadership is about helping others and empowering them to lead. It’s also about enjoying the success of other people.

Unfortunately, sometimes people get put into “leadership” positions, when they shouldn’t. Some people don’t enjoy helping others, or seeing others succeed.  That’s okay. This doesn’t make them a bad person, but it does mean they aren’t leaders. If you’ve ever experienced working for someone who never praised you for a good job, you know how terrible it is. Most people, more than anything, want to feel appreciated.

It’s ironic but by helping others, we help ourselves. If you think about the great leaders you admire, they all have something in common. They surrounded themselves with good people, and they empowered them. Steve Jobs once said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

In your role at work, regardless of your job title, ask yourself, am I helping others? Am I helping to develop and empower people, and am I enjoying their success? If the answer is no, it may be time to reevaluate whether you are in the right role. Or, you may need to realign your core values and priorities.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

Leadership Is About Owning Up To Your Mistakes

Elon Musk, the tech billionaire behind Tesla and SpaceX, recently made a huge mistake. When his plan to help a boys soccer team trapped in a cave in Thailand (all were eventually rescued) using a submarine failed, he lashed out in irritation. Musk’s actions of getting into a feud with one of the rescuers and calling him a “pedo” (short for Pedafile) was awful. It appeared Musk was more concerned about the spotlight than the trapped boys.

After the severity of the damage of his actions took hold, Musk did the right thing. He tweeted an apology to the rescuer he insulted, and he took all the blame. I remember reading Musk’s apology tweet and thinking, this was the best thing he could do. He messed up, and he’s taking accountability.

The mishap Musk got himself into is a great reminder that leadership is about owning up to your mistakes. I’m sure Musk’s intentions were good, but when things didn’t work out his way, his frustration got the best of him.

If you are in a position of leadership, you will make some mistakes. When they happen, don’t pass blame or make excuses. Instead, show vulnerability and accountability by owning up to your mistake. Not only will it help defuse the situation, it also provides a great example for those you are leading. We are all human, and none of us are perfect.

 

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

You Don’t Need A Great Idea To Start A Company

Most of us at some point think about starting a company. We fantasize about what that might look like, then fear usually kicks in and we go on with our lives. We have this misbelief that if only we had a brilliant idea, then we could start a company. We watch shows like Shark Tank and we get the impression that great companies only start by a great product idea and the backing of large investments.

In reality, most great companies do not start out with a large capital investment, or a great product idea.

In the book Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras summarized their results after studying the habits of visionary companies (companies that lasted). Collins and Porras compared the habits of similar companies that didn’t do as well over time, with the habits of visionary companies. One theme they found was that most of the visionary companies didn’t have a great idea in mind when they first started.

The notion that founders must have a “Great Product Idea” to start a successful company is a myth.

Collins and Porras actually found that waiting for a great idea may be a bad thing, because it prevents people from starting companies. A central theme of visionary companies was that they focused not on single product or idea. These companies believe the greatest creation was the company itself.

The following is a short excerpt from Bill Hewlett, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, one of the most successful information technology companies in the world:  “When I talk to business schools occasionally, the professor of management is devastated when I say that we didn’t have any plans when we started-we were just opportunistic. We did anything that would bring in a nickel. Here we were, with about $500 in capital, trying whatever someone thought we might be able to do”.

 

References

Hewlett-Packard Company Archives, “An interview with Bill Hewlett,” 1987

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant forMacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog

Here’s a simple way to vastly improve employee satisfaction

Employee Satisfaction

What do you think would give your employees more satisfaction? Better pay? Better office? A more prestigious position with more authority? For sure these things could improve their satisfaction, but would it last?

We are seeing more employees dissatisfied with their jobs. In Gallops latest state of the American Work force report, 51% of employees reported they are not engaged at work. These employees are looking for a new job or looking for openings. US workers are confident and ready to leave.

A big reason employees don’t feel satisfied is because they don’t feel appreciated. Gallop reported that only 3 in 10 employees strongly agree that in the last 7 days they have received recognition or praise for doing good work. According to the Gallup study, employees report that the most meaningful recognition comes from their manager.

I was reminded by my friend the other day just how important recognition is. She told me how she made major contributions to a technology project. She worked hard to ensure the project delivered on time. After the project was over, the managers handed out thank you cards to those who worked on the project. The problem? They somehow neglected to give my friend a thank you card. To say she was upset would be a major understatement.

It’s funny, some of the basic lessons we learn when we’re toddlers about human nature, we lose sight of as adults. When we were kids and we did something good, our parents and teachers gave us positive reinforcement. They would tell us how happy they were with what we did, and it made us feel great. Not only did it make us feel great, but it motivated us to continue to improve upon the positive behavior. The result was an emotional connection that fostered positive behavior and positive feelings.

Here’s my advice to managers, or anyone who wants to improve an employee’s satisfaction, its really simple. First, try to slow down. We are all so busy and distracted that we become overwhelmed and lose sight of what’s important. Start to work on your self-awareness and mindfulness.  Once you’re able to slow down and see the bigger picture around you, you will start to see the good work of others.

Once you realize an employee has done a good job, let them know personally how much you appreciate their efforts. Simple, right?

Yes, it may be true that not all people are motivated by intrinsic factors. Some people for example would be horrified if they were recognized in front of a crowd. Others may love the spotlight. When I refer to recognition, I’m talking about thanking someone in person for a job well done.  Email is good too, but there’s something about that in person recognition that really enriches employee satisfaction.

So, go ahead and start providing personal recognition to your employees who deserve it. We can’t afford to have our good employees dissatisfied and unmotivated. Remember, we all have an inner need to feel appreciated.

 

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

 

 

 

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