Turn that ship around

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My friend Jason Yip shared with me the work book for Turn this Ship Around which comes as a highly recommended book on leadership.

He also had a cool deck of cards I wanted to save to later. Here are some images for when I am ready to do so.

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Reinventing Organizations – Frédéric Laloux

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reinventing-organizations-cover

The following are notes taken from Frédéric Laloux’s excellent talk on his new book Reinventing Organizations – The emergence of a new management paradigm.

It’s basically a summary of the next way in which we may all one day be working at companies. Watch this if you are into organizational theory, liked Dan Pink’s book Drive, and are looking for examples of how some incredible companies today are re-organizing themselves around:

1. Self management.
2. Wholeness.
3. Evolutionary purpose.

Here’s the video (1h:42min). Notes below.

There is something broken with the way we manage or companies today.
It feels exhausted. Disengaged employees.
Show up with bodies, but not hearts.
Not just bottom. But leaders at the top too.
They are tired of the rat race.
Tired of the endless meetings, politics, infighting, bureaucracy.
Another tedious budget cycle, targets that need to be hit.
There should be something more.
There is no meaning.
For many corporations this isn’t an easy question to answer.
Nurse and doctors, teachers are leaving their professions in droves.
Something new is about to be emerge.

Big leaps in human thinking (14:30)

Each stage of human organizational evolution resulted in a new management paradigm.
A new way to run organizations.

levels-organizations

Magic/Tribal level

One tribe agains the other.
Some modern groups today still do this.
Street gangs, mafias, mecenary armies
Boss needs to constantly inspire fear.

Traditional/Argrian

World of rules.
Institutionalized religion – god given rules.
Highly stratified caste systems.
Hieracrhies.
Invented Catholic Church, armies, goverment agencies, public school systems

Key breakthroughs
1. Formal hierarchy
2. Replicable prcocesses

By creating the org chart, for the first time the priests can be priest are aren’t interested in stabbing the boss in the back.

Means can have large levels of organizations with lots of levels of hierarchy.

And by being able to to long term planning, these organizations were able to do things not previously possible with the other groups.
Long term planning.

Scientific/Industrial

World of enlightenment.
Scientific enquiry.
Constant innovation, optimization, to gain profit market share.
Most multi-national organizations operate from here.

Key breakthroughts
1. Innovation
2. Accountability
3. Meritocracy

All the things we enjoy today are because companies have innovated.
R&D departments. Marketing deparments.

In previous organizations bosses gave orders – workers followed.
Here for the first time bosses set targets, people figure out how to achieve.

Management by objective. 360 feedbacks. Budgets. Targets. Annual appraisals.

In all previous organizations Pope was from nobel family. Priests from peasantry.
The best people can rise. Huge liberation.
Organizations as machines. People are cogs.

Post-modern/Information

Now starting to look at the soft aspects.
Cultural driven organizations.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast. – Peter Drucker
Green organizations – Starbucks, Zappos, Ben & Jerry’s
If people are happy – everything else will be alright.
Company values are meaningful here.
Fanatical about empowerment.
Pusing decisions to the lowest level.
Moving away from shareholder model, to stakeholder model.
These organizations, like predecessors, dramatically outperform previous levels.
We are a family.

Wolf packs, armies, machines, and now families.
So what’s next?

Three breakthroughs for next level

1. Self-management.
2. Wholeness.
3. Evolutionary purpose.

Self-management (37:00)

These companies are able to operate at large scale (10,000 employees) without the pyramid.
Here is a different way to think about hierarchy in organizations that is more truthful.
Hiearchy works OK in environments with low complexity.
But as some as you have complex thinking, hierarchy is out of it’s depth.
Hiearchy pushes all the complexity up to the top.
And there is only so much complexity a few people at the top can handle.
The global economy has no boss.
North Korea and Cuba are the only two countries in the world that operate from a pyramid.
We laugh, but this is exactly how we choose to operate of companies.
In this new way of thinking you have lots of structure and coordinating systems – but you don’t have a boss.
Morning traffic. Self regulating system.
Single cell. Our brain. Forests. Many examples in nature.
Having bosses isn’t natural. Nature has not boss. It regulates itself.
Not how complex systems work.
As world becomes more complex, will have to shift how we run organizations to these principles.
Our pyramids can not cope.
However, if you replace a pyramid, you need to reinvent everything.
Decision making, organizational structure, information flows, meetings, conflict management.
All this needs to be recreated and figured out.

Decision making

Traditionally two ways to make decisions.
Hierarchical decision making or consensus.
Here the boss decides or the group decides.
Boss isn’t always right.
Group is long and exhausting – make a decision already!
There is a third way – Advice process.

Advice Process – any person can make any decision (including spending company money) under two conditions.

1. They must have sought advice from people with expertise.
2. They mush have sought advice from people how will be impacted by the decision.

Don’t need to integrate my decision into watered down consensus.
This works because it’s a process of collective intelligence.
But it stays an individual decision. So if I feel strongly about something I can just make it happen. No one can stop me. Every is empowered to do whatever they feel is necessary.
Imagine the kind of energy that liberates.

And it leads to interesting dynamics. Because one of the few ways people can get kicked out of these organizations is if they don’t respect their peers advice. And instead just go and randomly make decisions. You are putting whole system at risk.

Who makes how much money

Morning Star (a tomato paste distribution company in the US).
Once a year you write a letter in which you state I grant myself a raise of X% and then you state all the reasons you feel this is justified. 360 degree f/b.
They each plant, elects a committee, which puts all these letters beside each other, and the only thing this committee does is give advice.
Committee gives advice.
All information is public.
And then you decide.
Either you earn the raise or you don’t.
People are incredibly good at choosing their salaries.
Forces everyone to grown up.
People don’t talk salary here because it isn’t an issue.
If you don’t like your salary raise it – and see what happens.
All the strategizing, haggling and complaining, falls away.
Everyone is just an adult.

Wholeness

Most organizations there is an expectation that we show up in a specific way.
A professional sefl.
Most orgs push us to wear a mask.
It’s become acceptable to show up and work, with ego, and to fight for what we want.
But showing up to work, and asking questions with deeper meaning – isn’t.

55:00 Imagine for example the advertizing executive who shows up Monday morning and says:

Hey guys. I want have a really important disucssion with you guys. I sometimes wonder what we are busy with. We are creating all these needs for people, for goods that they don’t really need, for goods that get produced in China, pollute the world, get shipped over, used once, get thrown away, trash the planet, and all those people who can’t afford them become unhappy. What we are really dealing with.

The person that calls in the meeting proably won’t have a very long career.

Same for a doctor in a hospital. We’ve changed hospitals into these kind of factories and we’ve forget about what it really truly means to care. The relationship with the client.

What these companies have discoved is that when this is the case, people only show up to work with 1/16 of their abilities. Their hearts, minds, and passions that same for other things. They don’t bring these to work.

But those companies that have found ways to align these, are recieving peoples best. And outperforming all others. They have create very deliberate practices to open up this window and tap that energy. Full glory of how humanity of who we are. People here brim with energy because they can be who they truly are.

It’s about creating a safe space. When we show up we are vulnerable. So they work hard to create a safe place.

Meetings without egos (1h:00)

At every meeting they have these hand symbols.
When ever he or she feels that some is speaking from their ego, or trying to win an argument for the sake of winning an argument, or serving themselves and their career, or group, someone chimes two bells.

The rule is while the bell rings everyone is supposed to be silent for a minute and ask themselves who they are trying to serve. Am I serving me? Or am I hear in service of something greater.

All these organizations have these meeting practices because meetings tend to be these places where egos tend to come out. Meetings without egos.

This is only possible when people have been trainined in active listening, non-violent communication. A whole common knowledge around this.

There is a public school in Berlin that is entire self managing.
But what they’ve really nailed in how to make kids truly be themselves.

One pracice they do is they gather every Friday afternoon, for 45min, they start by singing a song (to get everyone in tune). And then they have this practice of open microphone, and the only rule is you walk up to the microphone to either thank someone or make a compliment.

What happens is people tell mini-stories. But actually what they are reviling is things about themselves. Adolesents how go out there and thank their classmates for helping them in all sorts of things.

You have kids daring to be authentic and vulnerable infront of 500 people. This school has no violence problems. Children are just so passionate to learn because they are accepted for how they are. No masks.

Evolutionary Purpose (1:06)

Most companies prioritize making money above most other things.
Most people are cynical about their mission statements.
Most companies hide their competitive advantages from competitors.
No Berjekalen. They did the opposite.
He wrote a book explaining in exact detail how he and his company (who have managed to secure 80% of the market) to each of his compeitors.
Because for him, the purpose is not his organization.
It’s greater than that.
Market share doesn’t matter.

Leadership

In most traditional organizations we believe it is the role of the leader to determine the vision and the stragey. And then some execution plans to get there.

That way of thinking makes sense if you believe organizations are static, inanimte object. Like a machine. You need to program the machine. It’s a ship. You need a captain.

But organizations are like living beings.
The organization has a sense of direction.
It’s own creative spark about something it wants to manifest.
And our role as leaders is to listen to where does this organization naturally want to do.
And align with that.

Noe of these companies have a strategy.
They have a very clear intent and purpose.
But everything flows from that.
Most don’t have budgets or targets.
Anything they put in the ground, in terms of a plan, is a distraction from reality.

When we try to predict the future, we stop listening to reality.
When we try so hard to stick to the plan we stop listening.
Instead we should have a very clear intent on where we should do.
And then we should listen intently on how to get there and constantly adjust.

1:15 Great story of how Bjorkshallen got into prevention, shared it with the CEO, and asked him if he thought they should change direction. He said I don’t know, let’s share with everyone else and see if there is energy to support it. Some ideas/innovations flourish. Some don’t. The company as a whole decides. If someone wants to drive and champion they will.

Not playing God. Listening to what is happening.

Summary

It might not be crazy to think there is a new way to run organizations.
They are built on these three breakthroughs.

1. Self management – can operate without hierarchy
2. Wholeness – bringing our wholeselves to work
3. Purpose – will become central. More about clear intention

I was personally blown away by this talk. I think many of us in the Agile community feel this already. And I am excited to see how quickly these new ideas spread and catch on. I will take years. But I believe the change has already begun.

Cheers – Jonathan

The Power of Not Knowing – Liz Wiseman

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http://ecorner.stanford.edu/authorMaterialInfo.html?mid=3379

Notes from a great talk by Liz Wisemen at Stanford Entrepreneurial School.

Is there a danger in knowing too much. A danger to our companies, teams, and innovation.
How does what we know, get in the way of what we don’t know, but perhaps need to learn.
Is it possible that really smart leaders don’t create smart organizations.
That really smart leaders can shut down intelligence, and brilliance, and innovation.

Want to explore the power of being a rookie.
And the power of inquiry.
Explore the power of not knowing.

Experience creates a number of troubling blind spots.
You build up scar tissue – reminder of not to do certain things.
Then when someone new comes along and suggests something that brushes your scars you instinctively reject that idea and say no. We already tried that.

You need a deliberate ritual to get back to your roots.

Bob Hurley tells this story of once meeting Wayne Barthoromyy (Rabbit – reigning world champ from Australian) on Huntington beach, and asking him why he wasn’t surfing where the good waves are. Wayne replied that he liked surfing with kids because that’s where he gets his energy.

So he goes out and surfs with the amateurs. He seeks out the newcomers. Recent college grads, and just hangs out.

Can smart leaders create dumb teams?
Why are we so smart and capable around some, but not others?

Diminishers believe that because they are the boss, they must know better.
Since they are management, they conclude they are the smartest ones on the team.
Therefore my job is to tell, instruct, micromanage.

Multipliers do it differently. They ask questions. They also have hard edge.
They are demanding. They have a hard edge.
They have high expectations.
They challenge. They have become really comfortable asking others to become uncomfortable.
They let you suffer a bit. They let you squirm.

Diminishers operate from a place of knowledge. Their knowledge. They tend to be empire builders. Tyrants. Creating anxiety, stress, micromanagers.

Multiples operate from a belief that people around me are smart. I hired them smart. They are talent magnets. They give accountable to others. They operate from a place of inquiry.

Most of the diminishing done in companies is done with the best of intentions.
People who think they are doing a good job.
The idea guy who spouts ideas.
Or the always on leader.
Or the rescuer. The leader who doesn’t like seeing others suffer.
Or the pace setter. Who sets the pace hoping others will follow.
But instead they don’t. They walk. Because they’re not winning.
Because it’s not fun when you can’t keep up with the boss.

How might you be shutting down intelligence and capability?

One of the most powerful shifts you can make is shifting from knowing to inquiry.
You need to be able to ask the right questions that share the burden with the team.

The best leaders not only give pats on the back, they give a push and get their people into the uncomfortable areas.

It’s irresponsible to let your team suffer.
But you need to remember to give the pen back. (50:47)

Leadership and Choice – Carly Fiorina (former CEO HP)

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There have been two excellent podcasts from the Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leader series that bear recording. One from Carly Fiorina. And another from Carol Bartz of Autodesk.

What resonated most with me about these two podcasts was:
1. Don’t try to overplan your career.
2. That old cliche about change being hard.

Carol (a straight talker) came right out and said: ‘No body cares about your career except you and your mother.’ And that you shouldn’t create fixed narrow straight up the ladder career paths because:
a) your focus will be too narrow
b) you won’t have a good foundation

If you want to be CEO, VP, or some high-level executive a broad range of experiences is better than shooting straight up the ladder – because eventually you will fall over.

I also like the fact she never knew exactly where she was going next. Her whole attitude was is you saw something that was interesting, run with it, do it well, and chances are someone will notice and reward you with another opportunity. Just do it!

This is empowering. It means if there is a job or position you want, just show the initiative, get involved, and go for it. Chances are it will work out.

Carly gave what has probably been one of the best leadership talks I have ever heard. She describes leadership as facing two huge obstacles:
1. Fear
2. Status quo

Everyone fears something. And people in positions of power want to preserve the status quo. Not because they are evil people. But because it’s comfortable, and it’s good for them! It’s natural and many of us would do it to in similar circumstances.

But leadership isn’t status quo. It’s about creating that vision for change.

Carly has one of the best stories of leadership I have heard. She describes how after studying medival history at Stanford as an undergrad, and dropping out of law school after a year much to the disappointment of her parents, he talk a job as a secretary at a local business and worked there for a couple months.

A few months in, two gentlemen approached her and told her they thought she had potential to do more than answer the phone and asked if she would be interested in learning more about what they did around there.

That’s leadership. It’s seeing the potential and possibilities in others and then helping them seize them.

Income statements and balances sheets are lagging indicators

An income statement of a balance sheet is an indication of decisions already made. Somebody has bought a product, that’s revenue. A manager has made a decision about expenses, that’s an expense you post. Lagging indicator. Important but you are looking in the rear view mirror.

THere are things that tell you where a business is going. Asking the right questions of customers is really important. Customer satisfaction is the leading indicator of how a company is doing.

Single greatest indicator of a company’s health

Carly’s single greatest factor as to whether a company is doing well or a company is doing poorly is customer satisfaction. This is why Carly boldly announced in 2002 that in a few years time HP would be the world leader in technology surpassing both IBM and Dell in sales. She knew this because she knew HP could replicate Dells cost structure, they could replicate their distribution and Dell had stopped innovating, and there customer satisfaction ratings were falling while HPs were going up.

Dell had quit innovating. They had stopped taking risks. They had stayed with the same competitive model for too long and their customer satisfaction was straight down.

A companies ability to take risks is also an indicator of a leading business.

Customers always know what’s wrong. And every time they do, it’s an opportunity.

Leadership

Carly then goes on to describe leadership further as:
1. Capability.
2. Collaboration.
3. Character.

Capability

Every company eventually hits a point where the old answers don’t work anymore. And when that happens it’s only creativity, risk taking that can save the company (innovators dilemma).

Learn something every day. Those most adaptive to change survive. True of species, organizations, and people.

You can’t ever settle in. Don’t get old before your time.

Collaboration

Good decisions are a result of diverse people coming together and examining every point of view in a deliberate, rigorous, process, and then making a decision.

Groupthink is the enemy. People all alight and get together and agree. It’s human nature because we all want to surround ourselves with people like us. It’s comfortable. It’s easier. You finish each others sentences. You can relate. But one day you are going to miss something.

The goal is to always build a diverse group of people. Because you make better decisions. It’s harder. But it’s better because you get better answers.

Anybody can play today. But not if we can’t leverage. So learning how to collaborate with people with different POV than you is a very important leadership skill.

Character

Character is about judgement, perspective, and ethics.

Judgement – being able to take loads of information, and distill it down to it’s core. Should I act? Or should I pause. Do I have all the information? How do I filter the good information from the bad. The necessary from the irrelevant. That’s judgement.

Perspective – understand the difference between the interesting vs the important. Not everyone is like you. Need to understand those differences. Carly encourage people to read history, art, travel the world. All that gives you perspective about what’s out there.

Ethics – in most organizations and in most endeavors if you do things that are on the line, or one the edge, you can get better results in the short term. That’s why a lot of businesses tolerate businesses that are on the edge.

Values are what guides your behavior when no one is looking and don’t think anyone is going to find out. Leaders most important job is making people understand that values actually matter. Ethics count.

And that we are not going to do things on the edge, because eventually we are going to cross the line. Devastating things then happen. You can’t hide anything anymore. So you can’t get close to the edge.

Summary

This was an awesome talk about an awesome leader and I encourage anyone interested to listen to the full podcast on the link(s) below.

Note this is also available on iTune as a podcast (great for commutes).

http://ecorner.stanford.edu/authorMaterialInfo.html?mid=1557

http://ecorner.stanford.edu/authorMaterialInfo.html?mid=1679

10 Tips For Leading Your Agile Team

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Here are the slides from today’s Norwegian Developer Conference.

10 Tips Leading Agile Team

And here’s the video: http://vimeo.com/43690645

A big thanks to all who came out. Best of luck on leading your agile teams!

Mange takk – Jonathan Rasmusson

10 ways to better lead your agile team

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Leadership is one of those personal things I find hard to give advice on. As if there were merely 10 things you needed to do to successfully lead your agile team. I feel no more qualified to tell you how to lead your software project than I do telling Wayne Gretzky how to play hockey.

Having said that, there are some things I’ve seen really good team leads do that enable them to:

  • make the delivery of ‘bad news’ a non-event,
  • tell very early whether their project is going to ‘make it,’
  • create and maintain a culture of excellence from day one on the project,
  • and make coming in to a work a joy while being able to sleep at night not worrying about the craziness of tomorrow.

Not everything on this list is going to work for you. Like I said, leadership is personal and everyone has got to find their own style and way.

But if you are looking for a starting point on how to lead your agile team, you could do a lot worse than starting with these.

  1. Ask the Tough Questions Early
  2. Go Spartan
  3. Make the Truth Self-evident
  4. Deliver Fiercely
  5. Set the Bar High Early and Keep It There
  6. Make Yourself Obsolete
  7. Make the Team Accountable
  8. Cheerlead
  9. Give Up Control
  10. Accept Three Simple Truths

Let me expand on each of these points a little.

1. Ask the Tough Questions Early

Working Down Under, I had the opportunity to ride shotgun with one of ThoughtWorks’ top salespeople—a gentleman by the name of Keith Dodds. One of the many things Keith taught me was the importance of asking the tough questions at the start of any new engagement or sale.

  1. How much experience does your team have?
  2. Have you ever built a search engine before?
  3. Do you foresee any problems with two analysts and thirty developers?

At the beginning of your project you want to do the same thing. You want to get all the skeletons out of the closet and into the open. What’s the single most important thing this project needs to do? Anything keeping you up at night? Everyone clear on what success looks like?

It’s about alignment and making sure you’ve got the right people on the bus, and everyone understands the direction we’re headed.

My favorite tool for doing this is the agile inception deck, a lightweight project chartering tool consisting of ten questions you’d be crazy not to ask before starting any agile project.

However you do it, call out any craziness and deal with it before the project begins.

2. Go Spartan

This is one of the best strategies I know for setting expectations around dates, and determining whether you’ve got schedule risk with your project.

The premise is pretty simple. When you start delivery, build the simplest, most spartan, stripped-down, bare-bones version of the system you can. Build a couple of critical end-to-end stories and see how long that takes.

Why? Because if after three or four iterations of this it becomes apparent the date is out of whack, delivering that message after you’ve gone spartan is way easier.

Even going flat out, delivering the most simple stripped-down version we can, there is no way we are going to able to that date. What do you want to do?

Going Spartan is great because it enables you to have this conversation from a place of integrity, honesty, and conviction. Something has to give. No drama. No need to get crazy. Just a case of too much to do and not enough time. In other words, the state of any interesting project.

By doing this, you are also making the truth self-evident.

3. Make the Truth Self-evident

No one likes being the messenger of bad news. Fortunately, agile makes it easy to let the facts speak for themselves by tracking and making visible things like:

  • team velocity
  • projected delivery dates
  • blockers keeping the team from delivering

You don’t ever have to say: “The project is late.” It will be obvious the project is late! Everyone can see it. You’d look foolish trying to ignore or deny it. No wishful thinking required. Just acceptance.

And if you did the inception deck, you will have already had the conversation about what you were going to do when this happened. You can cut scope, push out the date, or something else. But at least you are dealing with it. No one is hiding it, or denying it, or setting someone up for failure later.

By creating a visual work space, and showing and making the true state of your project obvious to all, you won’t have to be the bad guy. You are simply showing that which is.

How management deals with this news is up to them, not you. So don’t take it personally. It’s just our duty to make sure they know early enough so they can do something about it. Which is why we like to deliver the bad news early.

4. Deliver Fiercely

Some people are afraid of spiders. Others, snakes. Those things don’t really scare me so much (snakes maybe a little). Nope. My greatest fear in life (and software projects) isn’t failing. It’s not trying.

Failing I can deal with. I fail all the time. I write blog posts that don’t resonate. I write software no one cares about. I regret how I handle certain situations and conversations.

But I try. And as long as I know I did my best, I’m good. That’s what lets me sleep at night.

Success is peace of mind attained only through self satisfaction and knowing you made the effort. Do the best of which you are capable. Don’t try and be better than someone else. Just make the effort to be the best you can. Don’t expect to make tremendous improvements each day. Make a little each day. Make each day your masterpiece. -Basketball coach John Wooden

This is what I call fierce delivery.

It’s showing up every day ready to work. It’s demoing the first version of your software two weeks into your project. It’s being a professional—even when you don’t feel like it.

Delivering fiercely does two things:

  • It builds trust with your client.
  • It makes everything easier.

When you’re busting your hump, iteration after iteration, your customer is going to notice, and they are going to like it. Trust me. There is no better way to build street credibility and trust than to simply rock up and deliver.

If they are like most customers I know in large, slow, bureaucratic organizations, they aren’t going to be used to this level of service. You are going to blow them away. Then with all that trust and goodwill you’ve built up, everything suddenly becomes easier. Your customers are going to be more forgiving on schedule. They’re going to give you the benefit of the doubt when you screw up. They are going to trust you to do the right thing and get things done.

It’s a way more fun way to work, and once you’ve earned that trust you are never going to want to lose it. It’s better than money.

Display your intent—deliver fiercely.

5. Set the Bar High Early and Keep It There

It’s way harder to correct bad behavior late, then to set good behavior early.

Take testing. If you don’t make it clear that writing automated tests is part of development for a story, some developers won’t.

Or continuous integration. If people don’t understand why it’s important to keep the build pristine, production ready, and working 100%, they’ll see no problem with checking in on top of a broken build and not getting excited when it fails.

Production readiness, quality as a team responsibility, refactoring, whatever is important to you and the team, make it explicit and set the bar high at the beginning of the project so everyone knows what the rules are going in.

6. Make Yourself Obsolete

Teams work best when they can take initiative, solve their own problems, and think for themselves. They can’t and won’t do that if they are highly dependent on you.

The best-led agile teams I have seen are the ones where the leader could disappear for a week and no one’s the wiser. It’s not that the leaders aren’t valuable, or they aren’t contributing. It’s more that they do such a good job setting the project and team up for success that they aren’t needed day to day.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Would you rather have a team lead who can set his or her team up for success, teach them how to take initiative, and fend for themselves if he or she stepped out? Or would you want that guy who hoards information, takes all the credit, and entrenches himself so deeply in your world that having him leave would kill your project?

I am not saying you can’t lead and be valuable. But if you want to serve your customer well while freeing yourself up to move on to bigger and better things, make yourself obsolete.

7. Make the Team Accountable

You still with me in this article? Good. Because you know what? There are a lot of people, in a lot of companies, who don’t care about software the way you and I do. I know it’s shocking, but it’s true.

Good teams don’t have a problem with accountability. They make themselves accountable. You couldn’t stop them if you tried.

Other teams, however, need a little help. That’s why, if I suspect that a team I’ve got is lacking the accountability gene, one good way to instill it is to have them personally demo their software.

How many times do you think a team will show up unprepared with:

  • no demo environment,
  • no test data,
  • that looks terrible,
  • that crashes on startup?

Once is usually enough.

When teams know they are the ones who will be giving the demo, and that they are the ones who will explain why things do or don’t work, they’ll become accountable. And if they don’t, you’ve got a bigger problem.

8. Cheerlead

When you’re delivering fiercely, and pumping stories iteration after iteration, it’s easy for the team lose sight of the great work they’ve been doing, and the difference they are making to the lives of their customers.

Remind them.

Give them boost. A sincere hug. A pat on the back, or just appreciation and acknowledgement for a job well done.

Companies don’t do this nearly enough—so sometimes you need to do this for them.

How? Call out people who do exceptional things at standups. Make your team look good in front of the customer when demoing. Remind people of how cool the technologies and tools are that we have to work with, and how lucky we are to have jobs!

Injecting life, pulling peoples’ heads above the clouds, and a box of donuts can go a long way to lightening things up and making people feel good about themselves. Which leads to better work.

9. Give Up Control

This is the hardest point on the list. It’s counterintuitive, it can be highly contextual, and yet when done right it can lead to outstanding results even with average teams.

It stems from the understanding and acceptance that everyone who works for you is a volunteer. They don’t have to be there. They could be doing something else, and if you don’t serve or lead them well, your best and brightest are going to leave.

Don’t believe me? Try holding on to great talent today.

Our industry’s best and brightest crave three things above all else: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. You take away a their autonomy and you’ve taken away a huge motivational lever.

What does giving up control mean? It means letting teams take initiative and figure things out for themselves.

Don’t have a server? Go get it.

Need some feedback from the customer? Make the call.

Pushing code live becoming a pain? What could we do to fix that?

That’s doesn’t mean you don’t contribute your best ideas or stop teams from going off a cliff. It just means that you understand that people are going to take way more responsibility and ownership if they solve problems themselves instead of constantly having someone (like you) tell them what to do.

Self-organization is big part of agility. It’s what enables teams to get quality stuff done fast. But it only works if teams are empowered and trusted. And that means you’ve got to loosen the reins.

10. Accept Three Simple Truths

It is impossible to gather all the requirements at the beginning of a project.

Whatever requirements you do gather are guaranteed to change.

There will always be more to do than time and money will allow.

Once you accepte these three simple truths, leading agile projects becomes a lot easier.

You don’t stress as much about schedules (we know we’re already late!) You stop trying to own problems that are outside your sphere of control. And you just accept that there is always going to be more to do than time and money allow.

You stop taking things personally.

And software is personal. You put a lot of yourself into a software project, and it’s easy to take feedback, criticism, and things like schedule pressure personally.

But accepting these simple truths frees you from all that. It allows you to see that which is clearly, and to not try and change something that can’t be changed.

Bonus point:

11. There Is No Leader

This list makes a big assumption: that there is a single leader on an agile project. That is rarely the case.

That doesn’t mean that agile projects are leaderless. There can be many leaders on agile projects, and they may all lead at different times and in different ways.

You can have the strong vocal expectation setter who watches the bottom line, and makes sure the customer is getting the greatest bang for their buck.

You can have the quiet, behind the scenes analyst, who doesn’t say much, but when she speaks everyone listens.

Then you’ve got the developer who refuses to let any bugs into production and whose diligence and attention to detail causes everyone to raise their game.

The point I am making here is that leadership on an agile project is more about meritocracy and less about titles and roles. So don’t get stressed, if you’re the leader in title, but find others are leading in fact.

Agile teams are generally flat, and leadership is something to be earned (not taken or assigned). In fact some of the best projects I have been on have had no explicit leader. Just a team, a customer, and a commitment to getting things done.

Enjoy the ride.

Leadership is one of those topics that is hard to give advice about because it’s so contextual. For every point I just made on that list, I am sure you can think of examples where it won’t work. Great leaders make it up as they go, and you are going to have to do the same on your project.

But that’s a good thing. You are going to have your own style, charm, personality, and strengths, that make you effective in your own way. Work with that. Everyone leads differently, and what worked for Walt Disney and Steve Jobs won’t work for you and me.

Take what you need from this list. Ignore the rest. And find your own voice and way.

Really, the best advice I can give is:

Follow your gut. Serve your team. And be prepared to get out of the way.

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