Partnership: Moving from ME to WE

In most cases, managers and even executives don’t get to choose their partners. They have “partnerships” not because they want to, but because they are obligated by contracts or by the structure of their organization.

Here are things I hear from clients who struggle with partnerships:

  •  “I am dependent on this group (or partner) to do X, Y, and Z before I can complete this work.”
  • “This business partner is known to be difficult or challenging.”
  • “I need to work with all these different groups to get the product out the door.”

Do these seem familiar to you? If so, you might be feeling the pressure of partnership just like an organization I worked with about a year ago. They had good intentions and hired me to coach their product teams through an agile transformation.

They created collaborative working space and team members were excited. We got everyone out of their cubicles and started putting practices in place to get them delivering in frequent intervals.

However, these teams had huge dependencies on other teams throughout the organization. The teams wanted to work together, but organizational and leadership constraints made the partnerships tougher than necessary.

For example, two dependent teams worked in different buildings five blocks apart. To make the partnership successful, one team needed to move, but their leaders refused to budge. Instead, product owners had to attend 6-7 different prioritization sessions due to these “partners” optimizing their agile transformations for themselves rather than the whole of the product or organization.

On the flip side, leaders who share common goals for the good of the organization can usually find ways to build strong partnerships or turn adversaries into partners.

I am currently coaching in an organization that has discovered the value of strong collaborative partnerships. For years, they had been pointing fingers at each other—it’s the business’ fault, no its technology’s fault—instead of working together to resolve their problems.

How did they start to make the shift? All it took was two people to realize the value of “we” was way more powerful than the value of “me.”

They realized the organization would be better off if they worked together and not against each other. Once they began to build mutual respect and learned to appreciate what the other brought to the table, then they started working together to find solutions to problems. They consulted each other on decisions. They valued each other’s input, opinions and experience.

I know this sounds simple, but as adults we tend to struggle with partnership at work. Maybe it’s because the culture of the organization calls us to “take sides” or promotes competition. Perhaps it’s a matter of personal ambition or a lack of trust.

Are you guilty of not being a good partner or do you throw up roadblocks just because you can? Take a few moments and reflect. Ask yourself, “What kind of partner am I and what kind of partner do I want to be?”

Adaptability: How do you Respond to Change?

Valuing Adaptability OVER Following a Plan

This month, we move to the finale of our 4-part agile value miniseries. How can transformational middle managers help their team Respond to Change OVER following a plan?

Planning has a place in every organization, but plans shouldn’t prevent progress, and as the saying goes, “the only thing that is constant is change.” For organizations to succeed, managers need to enable adaptability through:

  • Self Reflection. How do you handle change to either scope of work or timelines? Is your initial gut reaction NO or do you start to figure out the “cost” of the change to the project? If so, you might not be serving yourself, your team or your organization well. Middle managers should model the behavior they want to see. Help your team by showing them your flexibility and how it builds partnerships and benefits the overall organization.
  • Focusing on Value. Many organizations try to prevent changes by making it very difficult, if not impossible, to implement changes. This resistance drives many business partners to include everything in their initial requirements to avoid the pain of adding changes later. While this seems like a good idea at the time, allowing change is imperative for companies to ensure they stay focused on what is going to bring the highest value in order to compete in a fast paced, evolving marketplace. By staying focused on business value, teams might actually deliver the product or project sooner with higher value features than originally planned.
  • Rewarding Responsiveness. Make sure performance evaluations/bonuses are not tied to inflexible behavior. Reward thinking and reward change that increases value. Don’t reward those who stay “on schedule” at the expense of strategic opportunities. Again, we aren’t saying that we don’t have a plan or follow a plan with agile transformations.  We need to be able to be able to adapt and easily change the plan to respond and react to meet our business needs.This concludes our journey through the Agile Manifesto. Middle managers play a critical role in agile transformations by applying agile values. Just remember–while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

3 Ways Managers Enable Customer Collaboration

Valuing Customer Collaboration OVER Contract Negotiation
Managers Enable Collaboration

This month, we move to part 3 of our 4-part agile value miniseries. How can transformational middle managers enable Customer Collaboration OVER contract negotiation?

Contract negotiation comes across the desk of middle managers in several ways – working with 3rd party vendors, engaging teams within the organization, or collaborating with end customers. As you find yourself in these situations, cut through the contract jargon by focusing on these three tasks:

  • Develop Shared Understanding. Do I understand the other party’s needs and capabilities, and do they understand mine? Do we both see the vision of the problem we are trying to solve? Without a common understanding and a candid picture of abilities to deliver, we set ourselves up for a contentious relationship as time goes on.
  • Establish Clear Milestones. It’s often tempting to try and define all deliverables (and the penalties for failing to meet them) while negotiating a contract. Instead of giving into temptation, consider a Deliver-Inspect-Adapt routine that allows both parties to surface the need to change quickly and collaboratively.
  • Define Success. Don’t focus on checking off contractual clauses, define success as the delivery of business value with quick validation. If we can talk to one another as though we are on the same team, we can deliver value rapidly in a win-win environment. On the flip side, if we find that we can’t work together, we can quickly and mutually agree to discontinue the relationship without the need for any prolonged contractual maneuvering.

The manifesto does not ask you to abdicate your responsibility to “protect the organization” when working through contracts. Instead, it encourages us to focus on the conversations and understanding that will lead to working relationships that drive business value.

3 Ways Managers Enable Working Software

Valuing Working Software OVER Comprehensive Documentation 
Managers Enable Working Software Over Documentation
This month, we move to part 2 of our 4-part agile value miniseries. How can transformational middle managers enable Working software OVER comprehensive documentation?

As a manager, your job is to pave a smooth and gentle path for your team. Excessive documentation is a huge barrier to success, especially when it provides ZERO value to the customer! Here are 3 ways you can demonstrate the power of working software OVER documentation:

  • Create partnerships. Work with groups who require documentation (audit, security, PMO) to understand their needs. Help them understand how your teams operate. Work together to streamline and produce valuable documentation.
  • Align metrics. Metrics like number of defects opened (for testers) or number of defects closed (for developers) are counter-productive to the overall goal. ALL team members should have the same goal: produce valuable working software. Metrics should align with this goal in a way that increases cooperation, efficiency and value to the customer.
  • Modify status reports. Work with stakeholders, project managers, etc. to remove status reports focused on % complete. Working software is either done or not done–there is no 50% or 75% in agile! Instead report on the amount of business value delivered in the form of working software.
The manifesto does not give you permission to eliminate all paperwork, but encourages you to question the value, level of detail, and format of every “required” document. 

5 Ways Managers Can Enable Individuals and Interactions

Managers Hold the Key to Unlock Agile Transformations
Managers Hold The Key To Enabling Individuals And Interactions
Everyone has seen the famous commercial with little kids posing as adults saying, “I want to climb my way up to middle management.” It may not be the pinnacle of our professional aspirations, but middle management is often the “make it or break it” point on the career ladder for you and your organization.

This is especially true for organizations transitioning to agile. As I reflect back on my past coaching engagements and training sessions, it’s clear that mid-level managers are actually the key to unlocking agile transformations. Middle managers get executive authority to “make it happen.” They are EXTREMELY powerful in enabling (or disabling) an organization’s agile adoption!

To provide a bit of support for transformational middle managers, we’ll dust off the agile manifesto and begin a 4-part agile value (mini)series. This month’s value:

Individuals and Interactions OVER process and tools.

As a manager, your job is to promote the power of people over the power of processes. Here are actions managers can take to create an environment where individuals interact to get the job done:

  • Work with facilities to build team rooms with a team board so face to face communication is easy
  • Change the structure of your global teams by building cross-functional teams in the same geographic location
  • Break down departmental silos by having Development, QA, BA’s, etc. report into the same manager who can enable the team as a whole and rely on centers of competencies to bring coding, testing, automation, etc. standards.
  • Build partnerships with other managers to streamline processes, which are cumbersome (audit, release management, security).
  • Evaluate the tools with your team(s)- are they getting in the way of how we collaborate and/or communicate?  Is there a better or easier way to leverage them or replicate them, allow your team(s) to find the right balance of tools needed to get their jobs done.

It won’t be easy or quick, because there are no silver bullets. Change is hard and transformations need to be seen as a journey.

Next: How do managers enable Working Software OVER comprehensive documentation?