Accountability, Leadership, Learning Lessons, Technology, Tools

How to Avoid Micromanagement

This post stems from a one-on-one conversation I recently had with a team member. For the record, this was approved by the TM prior to publishing this post.

Holding people and teams accountable is really hard. Asking for updates, emphasizing deadlines, and pushing teams/people to accomplish goals can sometimes make you feel like you are playing the “bad cop.” This can be uncomfortable, especially if you don’t do it often.

A team member who is leading one of our projects mentioned they were feeling uncomfortable asking people about task updates because they felt like they were micromanaging.

Quickly, per Wikipedia, micromanagement is “a management style whereby a manager closely observes and/or controls the work of his/her subordinates or employees.”

First, this post is not arguing for or against micromanagement. A micromanagement style may be needed in certain situations. In this scenario, it seemed like there could be an opportunity to try something that isn’t as micromanagement oriented, an approach that would help the team member feel comfortable and provide the team member with more tools for their tool belt.

How to avoid micromanagement:

Set Vision

  • Create a vision/end goal in mind and if possible, have everyone on the team help add input to this process.
    • If everyone knows where we are going, then it reduces the need to constantly check in to make sure they are doing the right things. This doesn’t mean you set it and forget it (see next item).

Be Natural

  • Check-ins are still necessary, so make it natural.
    • In technology, one way we do this is via stand up.
    • Another suggestion is to have smaller more digestible visions/goals per build, per week, or per day that align to the larger vision.

Help Out

  • It may be helpful to ask “Does anyone have any roadblocks and how can I help?” rather than asking ‘where are they at with their task.’
    • By phrasing the question with an assistance first approach rather than looking over someone’s shoulder approach, it demonstrates to team members that we are all in this together trying to achieve the same vision/end goal.
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Leadership, Learning Lessons, Tools

Are We Professionals?

Recently, I attended a two day Scrum workshop. Someone in the workshop asked our facilitator if there was a better way to estimate the amount of work we could accomplish in a two week sprint to avoid dropping work. After some back and forth, our facilitator said, “We are professionals. The team does not hold each other accountable, we hold each other up.”

This comment made me think, “Do we think of ourselves as ‘Professionals’? And if so, what does professional mean to us?”

For most of my life, I only thought of athletes as professionals because there are tiers below the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, etc., where people are considered semi-pro or amateur and working towards “professional” status.

So do we, as engineers (quality and software), team leaders, business analysts and others in the technology world, consider and treat ourselves as professionals?

Overall, I think we do because I think professionalism comes down to meeting, and hopefully exceeding, clear expectations.

For example, a professional athlete is expected to be healthy, on time for practice and games, attend team meetings, practice their craft, mentor younger professionals (ie: rookies) and be a role model for non-professionals.

Similarly, as a technology professional, I expect all of my team members to be on-time, attend their meetings, work on their craft, mentor newer team members and more.

I found three tools that helped clarify what it means to be a professional in our technology world.

  1. Team Agreements – Everyone on the team brainstorms ideas about what expectations they would like everyone on the team to meet. Eventually the team filters the list down to 5-10 clear items to live by. Some examples that my team came up with: Everyone be able to read and diagnosis application errors, have a team discussion for all walk-ins, and take care of yourself first – healthy mind and body = successful team members, to name a few.
  2. Team Values – Values are your DNA; it’s what drives you and your team. One value my team lives by is “Give a damn.” Giving a damn is a fun way to say you care and when you care about your work, you will give it your all.
  3. Definition of Done – When you finish a feature, what does it mean to be done? Is the software working? Is the feature in your production environment? How much testing should you do before you consider a feature done? Answering these questions is important because it helps set a professional standard of what it means to be done with your work.

These are some tools I’ve found to be useful. What are some concepts you use to set a level of professionalism?

7 Habits, Leadership, Learning Lessons, Self-Awareness

A Proactive Challenge

This post is stemming from an email I sent to a mentor of mine. Coincidentally, he is also reading the book at the same time (this was not planned).

Email to my mentor:

I am reading 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Have you read this or heard of it? So far, I really like it, but at the end of each habit, there are a few tips to applying what you learned.

The first habit focuses on a being “proactive.” The premise is you control your response to various stimulus, and rather than blaming others or giving excuses (ie being “reactive”) you can choose to respond with a more “proactive” approach. The book defines proactive “…as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings to values. We have initiative and the responsibility to make things happen.”

The first chapter really dives into this definition and premise of choosing our responses. The book suggests becoming more self-aware of how “reactive” you and others around you are, so you can begin building a “proactive” habit. The author suggests doing a day long challenge, which I plan to do tomorrow (I actually did this on  3/15):

Full day challenge

Listen to your language and listen to the language of others around you. How often do you use or hear “reactive” phrases?

  • “If only…”
  • “I can’t…”
  • “I have to…”
  • “There’s nothing I can do…”
  • “That’s just the way I am…”
  • “He, she, it, they make me so mad…”
  • “They won’t allow that…”
  • “I must…”

My findings

The single biggest thing I noticed was how often my team members and I said, ‘I have to go to this meeting.’ I tried to move toward a more “proactive” response, especially during my team’s stand ups, to say ‘I am choosing to go to these meetings.’

It felt very uncomfortable to say I am choosing to go to 1 on 1s with my team members or choosing to go to a Scrum Ceremony because there may be consequence to not going to these meetings. (For context: The Family of Companies promotes Servant Leadership and Title Source Technology adopted Agile principles to our software development life cycle.)

Choosing to go to another meeting instead of attending a 1 on 1 may impact the relationship between me and my team member. Similarly, by missing a Scrum ceremony, I may lead my team to think ceremonies are less important than my other appointments. There are times where both of my teams’ ceremonies are at the same time. If this is the case, I try to balance my time or prioritize the importance of each ceremony to determine the one I should attend.

A few other observations

The most used phrase by far (I didn’t count the exact usage) was “I have.” The FOC culture does a really great job of pushing team members to be as “proactive” as possible by figuring out solutions when most would say “I can’t” or “there is nothing I can do.” This doesn’t mean I haven’t said these words or I haven’t heard team members say these things, but I definitely don’t hear it that often. Furthermore, I never noticed anyone say “That’s just the way I am…” or “He, she, it, they make me so mad…”

I believe two things played into this. First, I think the FOC promotes a very proactive culture. Second, the day I picked to be uber self-aware, I just didn’t catch myself or others saying these “reactive” phrases.

Moving forward and next steps

Try this challenge yourself and see what you find out! Once you identify reactive phrases, try turning them into more proactive attitude and behavior.

Reactive Proactive
“If only…” “I will…”
“I can’t…” “I choose…”
“I have to…” “I’ll choose…”
“There’s nothing I can do…” “Let’s look for alternatives…”
“That’s just the way I am…” “I can try…”
 “He, she, it, they make me so mad…” “I can control my feelings…”
“They won’t allow that…” “I can create a plan to change their mind…”
“I must… “I prefer…”

I will continue working hard at being more self-aware of my “reactive” and “proactive” behavior and attitudes. The critical thing I’ve realized is every meeting you choose to attend, action you choose to take or words you choose to use, matter. The critical component of being self-aware is learning when and how to control your response to these stimulus (meetings, actions, words etc.) and strive to choose your response (attitude and behavior) based on all the information you have. Sometimes you will choose to attend a meeting over a 1 on 1 or choose take an action in one direction rather than the other way. Again, these are your choices. You control your choices by your “proactive” response, rather than letting the conditions around you control you to trigger a “reactive” response.

If you take on this day challenge, feel free to share your findings here or directly reach out to me and let me know how it goes! #challengeaccepted

(Featured Image Citation: http://www.endare.com/blog/endare-challenges/)