Archive - July 2012

30.07 20120

The Price of Everything…

The Irish writer, Oscar Wilde, once said, “The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”  In order to maintain momentum as innovative organizations, we have to fight cynicism from becoming prevalent in our groups.  In a downturned economy, it is easy to become cynical about our fates. During a downturn, companies begin to exercise protectionist strategies that usually involve reducing expenditures, including the workforce. As more and more reductions in force occur in an organization, employees become more and more paralyzed, feeling an inability to impact their own fate.  Often times, the predominant view of the situation is that the company views its employees only as a cost instead of seeing their value. People generally perform their work at the level equivalent to how much we value them.  When the workforce begins to feel devalued, their work product declines, just at the time when the organization needs their creativity and focused work the most.  Morale for project teams during economic stressful times can be challenging, leaving project managers wondering how to get the most out of teams when team members are primarily worried about their own personal survival.  There are a couple of strategies that seem useful for organizations managing through a downturned economy.  In the book, The 12 Pillars of Project Excellence, Adil Dalal discusses the importance of valuing the people, the only appreciating asset in an organization. Money for raises and bonuses may not be available; however, motivation for your group may not be financial.  Motivation could be saying to your group, “You are an important asset to us, and we value your skills and need them the most at this time.” “Low tide exposes rocks”… the companies’ problems and issues become more apparent when they are uncovered in economic rocky times.  Pain is an essential teacher, necessary for survival and growth.  Let team members know that their skills are more essential now than ever to help the company innovate, correct problems and manage through the downturn.  It is important that the team knows that management knows that their importance has increased rather than decreased. While money may not be available for outside training and promotions, let the people know that the company is still focused on personal growth.  Identify people’s strengths and give them an opportunity to be challenged in that area…giving a sense of purpose and growth.  Give people internal training in terms of establishing formal mentor programs where mentors are rated based upon how well their mentees perform.  This creates a sense of advancement of knowledge in the group and a sense that the team members are growing in useful skills. As in Dalal’s organization, let the company be known as one that leaves a legacy of people…when people retire, their value is measured by the success of the people they have helped.  Let the organization be known as the organization that knows the price of capital but knows the value of human capital.      

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23.07 20120

An Attitude of Gratitude

I got to hear J. Loren Norris, a motivational speaker, present at the July Breakfast meeting for the Dallas PMI group.  Norris spoke about the exciting topic… “PDA.”  The group that I was with came up with a couple of interesting ideas about what this could mean.  Some people thought “PDA” meant “Public Displays of Affection.”   Others in the group were excited because they believed “PDA” referred to “Personal Digital Assistant.”  Actually, it was exciting because Norris was referring to “Public Displays of Appreciation.”  The appreciation concept is one that can truly change your life and the life of your organization. According to Norris, lack of appreciation is the number one reason people leave their jobs.  It is costly to both the employee and the organization.  It leads to depression, conflict and undesirable drama in the work place.  Emotional stress in the work place leads to missed work hours and limited productivity.  Retraining and replacing staff is one of the biggest costs a company faces. In order for an appreciation program to be effective in the context of a project, explicit expectations must be established regarding what is valued.  These expectations are best set by using the organizational vision statement as the basis for defining superior, customer-focused performance on project work.  The vision statement applies to all levels of an organization and is the overall guide to the purpose of an organization. The project vision statement creation should involve the project team with guidance from a project leader.  High priority areas must be established for the project and are the foundation for creating a powerful vision statement. Priority areas are converted into effective phrases that motivate and encourage the team during execution of the project. The highest standards and rewards must be set for exceptional performance on these value-add areas that are identified. According to Norris, appreciation only has meaning when it is sincere.  The giver must have authority to offer such praise.  The praise must be authentic and transparent, meaning that the person offering the praise acknowledges the better idea.  Lastly, the praise must actually encourage the person; it must be done in a way that is acceptable to the receiver. As shared leadership models continue to evolve, there is more involvement and feedback from members of the team verses one-directional leadership feedback:  therefore, developing a shared appreciation tool where workers can commend each other for exceeding vision statement priorities is a great way to empower groups to develop the “attitude of gratitude.”  An online system where workers acknowledge each other for exceptional work is great for team morale and works for geographical dispersed teams as well.  An environment where team members encourage and praise each other creates a group of satisfied employees and increases retention of the organization’s most valuable asset---the people.  The biggest impact to your organization’s bottom line is the ability to appreciate others’ contributions. People operate best with a mission or goal to achieve and with the knowledge that once they achieve that goal, their work will be appreciated… that it has meaning.  We work for a paycheck, but we also work to know that what we do matters to others and that we are interconnected and have meaning in the life of others.  The biggest reward we can receive is to know that the group with whom we spend the bulk of our waking hours recognizes our contributions.

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16.07 20120

The Fastest Learner Wins

By: michelemuse Categories:Agile

Remember that guy in school…you know the one…the one always with his hand up asking questions? When the teacher handed back exam papers, he was sliding back to his seat with a smirk on his face.  Where do you think he is now?  I bet he has his own successful "start-up."  Why do you think that is?  It is because the fastest learner wins.  The only way to learn fast is to figure out what you don’t know and ask the right people the right questions in the right way.

Increasing amounts of global competition necessitate that organizations, whether large or small, work faster and smarter and continually innovate. Traditional product development processes of developing a solid strategy and a good plan through extensive market research do not work for developing innovative solutions. Innovation means “who the customer is” or “what the product should be” is many times still unknown.  Planning and forecasting are only accurate when a product has a long, stable operating history in a static environment. The book, The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries, offers processes for innovators to address new market conditions.  The biggest danger for an innovator is to build a product that no one wants.  In order to build a product that customers want in a competitive timeframe, an organization must take hold of the idea of “validated learning.”  This type of learning helps innovators to build a sustainable business.  In this model, learning is validated scientifically by running frequent experiments to test each element of the innovator’s vision. In the project world we call this type of learning “progressive elaboration.”  Things become clearer as we go along, and we alter our course accordingly.  Changes can just happen to us, but we prefer to be a part of driving the process, proactively making those changes.  In his book, Ries promotes using the process “build-measure-learn” to gain “validated learning.” It is the process for turning ideas into products, measuring how customers respond and learning whether to “pivot” or “persevere” with the vision.  Good processes help to accelerate feedback and speed product development along. In the world of science, the process used for Ries’ “validated learning” is called the scientific method.  The innovative product development model can be defined in terms of the scientific method.  Business development makes observations about the environment and  formulates "questions" about the company vision, breaking it down into testable assumptions.   Business development then develops a "hypothesis" about a question, making optimistic or pessimistic assertions about customer behavior and outlines "predictions" of outcomes based upon what is believed to be true from what is currently known. Then, business development delivers requirements in terms of customer stories to the technical group to build a “minimum viable product” for "testing" how customers interact with the product to see if the hypothesis is correct and predictions are as assumed.  The key concept to note here is that the testing takes the form of a physical interaction with the product verses merely questioning customers about what they want.  Customers do not know if they want an entirely new, innovative idea; they only know if they like it and are willing to use it when they see it. Lastly, feedback is received.  Business development uses "analysis" of the results of the testing to determine the next steps.  One of three things will happen.  The product will go into a full-scale launch; the scientific method process will be reiterated with new assumptions based upon information learned; or the entire build will be scraped to “pivot" the organization in a new direction based upon customer feedback. The process requires a great deal of flexibility and an ability to move in a different direction quickly on the part of all groups involved.  In most cases, a technical group can build a product in any way desired; however, it is of little value to build a product on time, on budget and to business development’s specifications if the customers do not want to use the product.  The business development group has the responsibility to determine what the technical group should build.  The product the customers will use only can be known by continually testing what the customer will use so that the technical group knows what to build.  This is a continual learning loop of "build-measure-learn"  in which the fastest learner (company) wins. Everyday we are being tested by our customers to see if we are providing value to them.  In order to pass the test, we have to learn what we don’t know by asking the right people the right questions in the right way.  We need to be the fastest organization at learning from the customer.  When we take a look at the growth numbers of our companies, we will know if we passed the test.

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03.07 20120

Turn Your Light On

If you could think of several characteristics of the ideal work environment, one that realizes the unlimited potential of its employees, what would the characteristics be?  In today’s competitive business environment, it takes innovation and creativity to be successful.  Innovation and creativity happen in an organization where members are bold and fearless, taking risks in an atmosphere of trust.  Would you be surprised if I told you that this environment of unlimited potential and success only could be created through failure? It is not that failure should be promoted, but rather it is that people should know what to do with failure and how to turn failures into successes.  The best project leaders understand that failures are unavoidable.  The difference between organizational success and ultimate failure lies in the approach we take to “set-backs.” I recently read the book, The 12 Pillars of Project Excellence, by Adil Dalal.  In his book, Dalal discusses the subject of learning from failures. In today’s corporate world, we often see failure as the opposite of success.  In projects, failure is not meeting scope, time, cost, quality, resource or risk baselines. Depending upon the organizational culture and the criticality of the project, a failure may be tolerated or lead to termination of an individual. According to Dalal, there are three project failures:  system failure (organizational issues), process failure (methods issues), and human failure (human error issues).  Most project managers focus on human failure because it is the quickest and easiest way to deal with problems; however, investigating and “nailing a target” are not enough.  We must learn lessons from our mistakes so that we never repeat them if we are to move closer toward success.  Focusing only on human error has serious implications for organizational culture and success of organizations. Dalal points out that with a human error approach when a failure occurs, a man-hunt is conducted for “who caused it,” and the focus is placed on punishment of the guilty and a quick-fix for the problem.  The “heads-will-roll” approach means that failures are generally reported to the project manager only after they occur and after damage has been done.  This approach leads to a culture of fear, distrust, and risk aversion, reducing creativity and innovation.  Team members blame each other and finger-point.  Team cohesiveness is impacted and performance problems occur due to a culture of negative attitude.  Team members become hesitant to take risks, fearing the ramifications.  The same failures happen again and again because the team and organization do not learn from mistakes. Dalal remarks that great leaders and innovators see failure differently.  The best project leaders use failure as an opportunity to address root causes of the system, creating desire to understand so the whole organization can avoid similar results in the future.  They understand the human error often results from process or systems errors.  They focus on root-cause analysis to use failures as learning opportunity for the team and the organization.  They utilize problem solving through scientific methods, helping employees increase confidence in proactive problem solving.  They create an “open-learning” culture, promoting creativity and innovation.  They turn the stigma of failure into opportunity. Dalal begins the “Learn from Failures” chapter of his book with a story about Thomas Edison.  Thomas Edison attempted to find a filament for the incandescent light bulb almost 1800 times before he succeeded.  Along the way, he was questioned about his lack of success, and he replied that he had gotten lots of results; he knew a thousand things that would not work.  His perspective made the difference; he gained knowledge from failure that eventually led him to unprecedented success.  Edison survived “failure” because he did not label it as such, but rather as a step toward achieving ultimate success.  We need to follow Edison’s example and “turn the light on” in our organizations by creating an environment where members learn from failure and use it as stepping stone to success.

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