Dangers of Optimizing for “Role Success”

Could you imagine what the human body would be like if each organ in the body were incentivized and managed according to separate role-specific criteria?

Perhaps we want all our body parts to pull their weight and be productive. The heart may be encouraged to increase its beats per minute by 15% day over day. Your poor eyes might be measured on reducing blinks to ensure more constant sight. The stomach could be subject to any number of possible scenarios – keep up the flow of digestion with less stomach acid (“do more with less!”) or ramp up productivity by creating more acid (“100% utilization!”). Just think about how your lungs could be subject to performance management! What a mess it would be… the human body would be so out of sync you might even question if it could remain functioning. No need to wonder; when we manage the body this way, the results are catastrophic.

If the detriment to complex systems is evident in managing parts, why do we similarly manage our companies to the tune of “Role Success”? Continue reading

In Opposition to the Convention of Hiring: New Principles for Hiring

Annie looked down at the table and softly said to her fiancee, “I’ve never been this nervous, or excited, about a job.” Sitting on the table was a package from the company she had been interviewing with. The interview process had been unlike anything she’d ever experienced; she felt fairly evaluated, trusting of the company mission and values, and she knew the company was a perfect fit for her. The day prior, the company informed Annie she would receive a package–the very package on her table–and would contain everything needed: the company’s hiring decision, feedback, and other insights from the hiring process.

Annie took a deep breath and opened the package. Continue reading

Towards a Culture of Teams

Have you ever been asked to work with a team, then observed team members interacting with each other, well… never?

The desire to transform an organizational culture to one inspired by teams is understandable. There is no shortage of evidence, both anecdotal and scientific, which suggests teams (and teamwork) are a competitive advantage. The desire for such results through the use of self-organizing teams has led to the popularization of teams as a common organizational design.

What I’ve found in my career, however, is a tendency for organizations to both manage and incentivize teams like a “matrix” (of individuals) despite the assumption or label of “team”. The net effect is predictable: silos within teams. Research has shown my experience to be prevalent and related to inattention of cause-effect relationships between people and their environment, plus absent knowledge of base conditions which invite teamwork (Devine et al., 1999). Continue reading

Scrum Guide Sliders

It was Monday afternoon on her first day of work at a new company and Sarah was feeling anxious. Having studied Scrum over the last few months, Sarah had been hired to serve as a Scrum Master and she was eager to begin applying her new skills, however nothing she had been told today seemed congruent with her lessons. As Sarah listened to her new manager explain why the company’s software required the organization to field a “UI team,” “service team,” and “back-end team,” she felt especially troubled by the phrase she’d heard multiple times on this day: “No one does Scrum by the book.”

“If no one actually follows the design of Scrum,” she wondered to herself, “why did my Scrum trainer teach it to me?”

Continue reading

Rebooting Metrics for Agile

broken_tape

I’ve been measured as a 3.6 out of a possible 5 “performance” points. I’ve been measured on my sales volume per hour. I’ve even been measured on my percentage of overtime hours as a percentile representing “efficiency”. From salespeople, to service workers, to manual laborers, it’s nearly impossible to meet a worker that hasn’t been exposed to metrics as a form of management, motivation, or appraisal.

Deming, Drucker, and a host of wisdom spoke on the utility of metrics and, over time, business leaders have responded. An obsession with metrics is everywhere and there is no question that measurements of valuable business processes can help improve outcomes necessary for success. Enter the pursuit of (demand for?) “Agile metrics”. Continue reading

Real Values in Hiring

seedlings

Earlier this month, Jason Kerney–a team member at Hunter Industries and practitioner of mob programming–wrote an article detailing the interview process his team uses for bringing new people into “the Mob”.

This post dives into Jason’s narrative covering the principles that challenge the convention of hiring and seemingly radical tactics that answer a simple question: what is the difference between hiring a person and filling a position? Continue reading

Rubbish, Folly, and Hiring

blind

This is not a rant caused by a spell of unemployment, nor is it a cry for help or an invitation to a raging pity-party. This is a reminder of the convention of hiring knowledge workers, especially within the software industry, that we allow to coerce our decision making at the expense of our organizations.

In fact, the thoughts in this post have little to do with my present lack of an employer, even while knee-deep in wildly ineffective hiring conversations. Instead, this post primarily contains notes from past engagements where the hiring process felt like throwing darts blindfolded. Continue reading

The Machine Doesn’t Run on Theory

gears

I recently sat down to chat with a company looking for help with a Scrummy / traditional / Agile-to-us / status quo / project manager / ScrumMaster type position. One of those common positions that companies open up to see what Agile looks like without actually changing anything at all.

As I sat down to interview with the two directors, given the obvious inconsistencies with Agile principles in the job description, I was there to vet them just as much as they likely wanted to interrogate me.

I wanted to hear about culture and team-centric work systems. They wanted to hear about control and tactics. You can imagine how the conversation went and a quote from one of the directors stuck with me:

“In the absence of specific tactics that you will use here, all you have is theory. And our business doesn’t run on theory.”

Continue reading