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Confessions of a Waterfall project manager turned (sort of) Agilist

I've been a project manager for about 25 years and an independent consultant (and instructor) in same for about 15 years. For the great preponderance of that time I've been a waterfall guy, largely because that was pretty much the only option I had. (For the uninitiated, it's called waterfall because it's a sequential, linear process with phases that cascade forward like a waterfall.) In 2001, the Agile manifesto was created providing the world with a different approach to managing projects. So now instead of planning, planning, planning and then (hopefully) delivering what stakeholders expected, it defined an approach that worked in shorter bursts with much more day-to-day stakeholder involvement and (revolutionary!) self-organizing teams. I was slow to jump on this particular train. Oh, I read about it and got familiar with it. But while that train started rolling out of the station, I was still pretty much involved in waterfall, largely because my clients were familiar with it and, frankly, so was I. In early 2013, I decided I'd better see what all the fuss was about and got certified as a Scrum Master. I liked it, liked what I saw about the approach and wanted to use it as soon as feasible. Given that I had a heavy teaching and consulting schedule, it wasn't possible to adopt any of those techniques right away. Gradually I got involved in Scrum and I found that in the organizations I was consulting to, there were varying levels of adoption from zero to, well, not [...]

By | 2018-10-31T13:11:54+00:00 October 31st, 2018|

Unleashing the Power of People at Work

I've been fortunate to focus my attention on helping organizations shape intentional thriving culture at this point in my life and career. It boils down to the emotional experience People have at work that promotes (human) #Engagement, engenders #Trust, fosters frictionless #Collaboration, makes “space” for #Innovation (many organizations are 2BZ2 Think), and speeds time to #Value. This is true for any organizational endeavor be it operations or change programs, the latter of which has suffered greatly with failure rates still pegged in the 70-75% range, a sad state-of-affairs that organizations simply cannot afford anymore. More and more, organizations are realizing that People matter most in the digital age as the true source of organizational agility and prosperity. It's a paradox isn't it? In the digital age People (Humans) matter most. Machines cannot replicate human creativity and collaboration bringing new ideas and capabilities to life and speeding them to market. Shaping a culture where People thrive unleashing their productive capacity individually and collectively (as a Community) is the key. Do you want to increase your organization's speed, agility, productivity, innovation, and resilience? Look to your People and unlock their potential by getting and staying culturally fit. The great tension - Investors | Customers | Employees. Where does Leadership place the accent? In the past, Investor interest ruled and People were mere resources, treated as necessary cogs in the Machine. This was true since all that was needed were hands, not minds. Engineer the Machine that produces the financial return. People executed finely defined tasks [...]

By | 2018-10-31T12:39:09+00:00 October 31st, 2018|

Value of 360 degree analysis

Imagine your boss coming into your office and saying that you will soon be involved in an analysis that will survey your peers, your staff, and your boss to find out what people really think of you. Then, all this information will be compiled in a report and presented to you as a type of career development. Would you look forward to it? Would you run for the door? Would you run to the restroom to throw up? Hopefully you will look forward to it. It's called a 360 review and it can be a great learning and growing experience. Before discussing the numerous potential benefits of being involved in a 360 review, I'd like to share my experience with this type of review. I have done two 360 reviews in my past. Both were part of a company-wide initiative that gave 360s to all manager-level employees. The first time, the person being analyzed was the only one who received the results. The second time, which was at a different company, the person's manager also got the results. This simple difference, namely who receives (or doesn't receive) the results made a huge difference. In the first one, the people who filled out the surveys (for their boss, peer or subordinate) tended to give honest and helpful feedback. I learned a lot, both good and bad, from that analysis. The second analysis was very political, deals were made between peers, and very little was learned by the participants. The moral of the story is [...]

By | 2018-10-26T02:25:57+00:00 October 26th, 2018|

Digital Transformation: Completing the Picture with IT Leadership Soft Skills

Digital Transformation (DX), by its very name, refers to how digital technologies can be used to generate new revenue streams, create new markets, increase internal organizational productivity and more. While the use of established and leading-edge technologies is, of course, paramount to Digital Transformation related endeavors, soft skills, such as interpersonal communication, change management, influence and others, are the unsung heroes of successful Digital Transformation implementations. The reason being, unless you’re using bleeding-edge technologies, the technology is often the easy part. From a CIO perspective, the biggest non-technical DX challenges are: • How IT is positioning within your overall corporate entity to drive DX • Your ability, as CIO, to drive business vision, not only technical vision • You team’s ability to be viewed as equal business partners with their non-IT counterparts IT’s DX positioning within your overall corporate entity IT’s ability to be the driving force behind the organization’s DX endeavors is based on two key factors: • IT’s Organizational Clout • IT’s innovative business and technical nature IT’s organizational clout (vertical axis in Figure 1) refers to how IT is viewed within the organization regarding its competency, importance in driving profitability, the C-Suites philosophy of technology and other related factors. The more IT is respected and trusted by their business counterparts, the easier it will be for the CIO and his/her senior team to lead the organization’s DX endeavors. IT’s innovative nature (horizontal axis in Figure 1) refers to its willingness and ability to innovate on behalf of the company, not [...]

By | 2018-10-26T02:21:27+00:00 October 7th, 2018|

7 Interpersonal Communication Skills that Drive IT Manager Success

I’m often asked by technologists why they should spend their precious training time and dollars studying soft skills. After all, they know how to ask questions, listen to others and so on, they have been doing it their whole lives. My answer is “Rather than using gut feel when negotiating, influencing, resolving conflict and/or just talking with others, if you learn and use structured interpersonal communication processes and techniques, you can improve your effectiveness through continual process improvement.” That is to say, just like any other defined process, experience using defined soft skill techniques, allows you improve them over time. These soft skills techniques can enhance your job performance, position you for promotion and/or simply help get you the best projects and technologies to work on. This first blog post is an overview of how IT Managers and IT Executives can improve their craft and accelerate their careers using this non-technical side of their skill set. Future posts will dig into each of these topics more deeply. In the IT Management ranks, being a successful IT manager requires four primary types abilities, unrelated to the technology being overseen. These abilities are: • Interpersonal communication skills • Leadership skills • Management skills • Business-of-IT skills Today, I’d like to discuss the seven skills that fall within the “Interpersonal communication” category. When reviewing this list, it may surprise you to see that Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is not among them. The reason is that every successful human interaction requires a certain degree of EQ. Therefore, EQ [...]

By | 2018-10-16T19:35:41+00:00 September 7th, 2018|

Emotional Safety At Work

Emotional safety is a prerequisite for unlocking and optimizing human contribution, connection, and collaboration in the workplace. Without it you get individual compliance, nothing more, and it comes at a high price. People will give as much as they need to, to survive, while looking for other opportunities, you guessed it, to survive. Emotional safety, also known as psychological safety, is a precondition for highly productive relationships. In fact, it is the initial building block. It is the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. A lack of it silences People's voice, robbing an organization of its collective benefit as a consequence. Mistakes are hidden, opportunities to improve are withheld. A sense of fear permeates the environment. Have you experienced this? How did it make you feel? Perhaps you are in such an environment now. Being bullied, ostracized, marginalized, excluded, maligned, and so on (feel free to add to the list!). These are toxic, corrosive behaviors, yet all too often they are allowed in the workplace. A lack of emotional safety creates an environment of fear which severely constrains, or even shuts down, cognitive systems as humans go into survival mode. Perhaps we have just resigned ourselves to its presence and have grown to accept it as a condition in the workplace. Obviously, it doesn't have to be so. We can ban and route out these corrosive behaviors. Who allows fear to permeate the workplace? Leadership does, whether knowingly or not. Leadership [...]

By | 2018-10-26T01:39:03+00:00 August 16th, 2018|

Managers Must be Communication Highways

By communication, I don’t mean talking about Monday night’s New England Patriots game against the New York Jets, or perpetuating office gossip, I mean accurately and articulately conveying business-related material in an effect manner. By design, a manager’s job is to manage people. This requires telling your staff what to work on and then providing them feedback on their job performance. It also requires that you provide upper management with the status of projects, accomplishments and issues. At a department level, it’s also your role to facilitate the coordination with other department such as HR, finance and your peer departments. The bottom line is that the better you communicate, the easier it will be for you to become an effective manager. Depending on your professional area and your personal strengths and weaknesses, good communication can be a difficult thing to achieve. From an educational perspective, I went to college for accounting and computer information systems. Of the fifty classes I took over four years as an undergraduate student, only one optional elective dealt with personal communication. This was a class on public speaking. For many of us, particularly those of us in technical roles, we were told that we did such a good job as an individual contributor in our profession area, that we should take a new job (as manager) where we had no formal training, no on-the-job experience, and no formal education on proper business communication. Thus, a new manager was born. As a manager, communication takes many forms, as outlined [...]

By | 2018-10-26T02:22:06+00:00 August 7th, 2018|

Do People Really Resist Change?

It's likely you've heard the phrase 'people resist change'. Have you ever delved into why that is? The answer to the question is: Yes. We are biologically wired to resist change. We crave certainty. Uncertainty is an existential threat. Resisting uncertainty is wired into our evolutionary DNA to survive. Here's an interesting video on the topic: The Neuroscience of Creativity, Perception, and Confirmation Bias by Beau Lotto, author of Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently. Beau points out: 'to ensure your survival, your brain evolved to avoid one thing: uncertainty if your ancestors wondered for too long whether that noise was a predator or not, you wouldn't be here right now. Every behavior that we do, we do to reduce uncertainty. We do it to increase certainty. Our brains are geared to make fast decisions based on assumptions (confirmation bias), questioning them in many cases quite literally equates to death. No wonder we're so hardwired for confirmation bias. No wonder we'd rather stick to the status quo'. Paradoxically, we are in a period of accelerating, exponential change. How do we respond? Is it possible to create an environment where people embrace change, and thrive on it? Yes, and the secret lies in addressing the twin pillars of safety and meaning. If we crave certainty, as its opposite, uncertainty, is an existential threat, the countermeasure is to remove or mitigate the threat, ergo, create an environment where a state of uncertainty is safe to dwell in, that there is a state of Trust that [...]

By | 2018-10-26T01:44:20+00:00 July 14th, 2018|

The How and Why to Managing up

Managing up is one of the most important things that you must learn to do. To a large extent, the levels of management above you control your success and future at the company. If they like you, respect you, and think that you can help their careers, they will increase your responsibility, promote you, raise your pay and generally make your work life more pleasant. Keep in mind, managing up effectively does not mean kissing someone's backside, sucking up, brown nosing or what ever other cliché you would like to use. Effectively managing up is about the following: • Communicating news, status, issues, successes, and needs to your manager • Gaining the trust of your manager in regard to decision making, team leadership, task competency, and other related items • When appropriate, standing your ground for an important cause, issue, team member need, or customer need • Producing quality work • Being responsive to all levels of management as requested or as business necessity requires • Meeting your deadlines It also means that if your boss needs a report by Friday, get it to him/her on Friday, or Thursday if you can. If you need additional resources, do your homework and clearly explain why you need them, how much it will cost, and its return on investment (i.e. better analysis, faster service, cost savings, etc.) Managing up is also the art of using your boss to help you get things done. Generally speaking, if you have good ideas that your boss likes, [...]

By | 2018-10-26T02:22:29+00:00 July 7th, 2018|

Making the Transition from Waterfall to Agile in Projects

Making the Transition from Waterfall to Agile in Projects I'm currently working with a Cambridge, MA-based software company, implementing a Project Management Office (PMO) for the Chief Technical Systems Officer. Among the many challenges is getting our arms around and prioritizing the many (100+) ongoing initiatives and establishing better cross-functional communication. (Too many silos.) But one of the biggest challenges is in making the transition from waterfall-based project management to Agile. Everyone throws those terms around but let's take a second to define them. Waterfall is a name used for the classic project management methodology that plans extensively and then executes to that plan. Changes can and will be made during the life of the project but waterfall is plan-oriented, not change oriented. (It's called waterfall because phases roll forward and down as in a waterfall.) Agile, however, while hardly averse to planning, operates in shorter bursts called iterations or sprints. Sprint duration is anywhere from two to four weeks which allows not only for quicker results but also allows for - and even encourages frequent change. (As well as a tighter connection between doers and business.) Now, despite the greater adoption of Agile methodologies worldwide and its recent embrace by the Project Management Institute not all companies are 'going Agile.' In fact, in a 2017 survey by Changepoint, very few organizations are going pure Agile or even adopting it at all. In fact, 'one third of organizations manage fewer than a quarter of their projects with pure Agile, and 20 percent of [...]

By | 2018-10-26T02:06:58+00:00 June 14th, 2018|
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