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?