Teams

The Advantages of Product-Based Execution

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With all the well-publicized challenges inherent with project-based work, could there be greater benefit to operating in "product mode" by organizing ongoing business capability-focused teams around products and product lines? This is the subject of a fascinating article on MartinFowler.com by author and consultant Sriram Narayam (Agile IT Org Design) titled Products Over Projects.

For quite some time I've been suggesting to clients to consider organizing by product, so I'm delighted to see the concept so well articulated and thought out.

Problems with Managing by Project

As Narayam points out, with projects, an initiative is funded, a team is formed, and the outcome is delivered. Then a new project is assigned, and in all probability a new mix of players that have to go through the whole "forming/storming/norming/performing/adjourning" cycle all over again. And forget about ideation, that's a whole separate process done by "other folks." Prioritization also generally happens external to the project. Lastly, the rest of the product lifecycle, including benefits realization, is disconnected.

With a narrow focus on the scope of the project, you run the risk of getting exactly what you asked for (if you’re lucky) but not what you need.

What is Product-Mode and What Kind of Environments is it Applicable To?

In an organization that operates in "product mode," the flow from ideation to build to run is much more holistic. A team is funded based on the needs of the product category, product line, or strategy that they're meant to foster and nurture. The team generates ideas and prioritizes work. The team leads the delivery. The team owns the benefits realization, and is measured by meaningful KPIs, not just whether they delivered to a set of requirements. 

Equally important, the team sticks together beyond the lifecycle of a single project or initiative. They build knowledge and gain rapport, remaining at peak performance throughout. While the article focuses on this approach in the IT sector and the digital realm (beyond just software development), I would add that this concept is broadly applicable and increasingly employed in R&D, Professional Services, NPD organizations, and more. 

Why not create programs around your product categories, products, or product lines and have the teams responsible for the prioritization, development, and nurturing of their area? It's a much more integrated approach.

Narayam uses a case study about the development of a Retirement Calculator as an example. A financial services company needed the calculator in order to steer prospects toward buying retirement products or improving their plan contributions. A project team was assigned to develop the calculator and then… well, that was it for their role. A product-based team would have instead been focused on solving the problem of increasing sales and plan contributions, of which a calculator may have been part of. 

Impact on Resource Planning

Most articles that talk about agile and product-based approaches ignore the ever crucial resource planning aspect. Fortunately, this article doesn't, and specifically cites the staffing utilization challenges, which differ somewhat from that of project-based environments.

For instance, team sizes need to be periodically reviewed to adapt to changing business needs. Areas with light roadmaps may need to be combined with others.  As for prioritization, a central component of resource planning, cross-team "initiative" priorities must still be set centrally, with team-specific "roadmap" priorities managed by the team.

From a cross-team utilization perspective, the article notes that some team members may take on multiple roles if they have bandwidth. However, Narayam wisely cautions against optimizing solely for utilization, implying that optimizing for speed of delivery and value is more beneficial in the long run. He also offers suggestions for employing different types of teams, and even having hybrid core/flex teams, augmenting core teams where appropriate with additional resources.

All in all, Narayam makes sound points in illustrating a refreshing approach to work that is built to foster an increased value focus, reduced time to market, and greater benefits realization. I think the article is an absolute must-read for anyone pursuing greater business agility and value-focused work methods.


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn.

How to Include People AND Make Expedient Decisions

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In his insightful article on PM Times titled The Power of Team Belonging, author George Pitagorsky (The Zen Approach to Project Management) raises the importance of inclusiveness, along with some interesting predicaments. For instance, what if a team is under pressure and in the interest of making expedient decisions, excludes one or more members? 

There's something to be said for avoiding time-consuming debate, but there are always methods for including and considering alternate ideas, and informing people why certain approaches are being taken. It also avoids active sabotage. There are even ways of reframing the "outsiders" as external contributors or advisors, whether or not they're part of the core team. Pitagorsky talks about this in the context of defining formal role definitions for stakeholders.

In my book, Managing the Gray Areas, I talk about seven common leadership dilemmas, one being how to balance the needs of individuals with the needs of the organization. Pitagorsky deftly addresses this issue head on, suggesting ways to make people feel included, even when ruling against their ideas or keeping them external to the core team. 

In essence, an ounce of inclusion is worth a pound of disenchantment. Plus you may get some good, alternate ideas or issues to consider.

Pitagorsy sums it up best:

The trade-offs between the perceived burden of communicating, managing relationships and doing due diligence in decision making, and the benefits of healthy long-term relationships, problem avoidance and optimal product quality should drive the decision makers.
— George Pitagorsky

I highly recommend reading the full article, and considering the impact of belonging whenever making team decisions.


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Are You Leveraging Your Team's Strengths?

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Robert Heinlein said, "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig."

It's wise advise. So why do so many organizations keep trying to do this to their teams? 

How many of you have seen this: Accidental project managers who are great subject matter experts, but don't know a thing about influencing people or bringing a project home; Excellent technicians who can't relate to human beings but yet are thrown in customer relationship-heavy positions; Leaders who don't in any way, shape, or form belong leading people, but who were put there because they were good "doers" (aka the Peter Principle).

How much time is wasted coaching and training in attempts to fix people's weaknesses instead of amplifying their strengths? I was once asked by a client to help their best technical person, a real workhorse, become more customer-friendly. It was apparently causing him and the team frustration when customers complained. I said, "Why on earth would you want to do that? He is who he is, which happens to be a superstar technician. Better to pair him with someone who IS customer-friendly." Fortunately, they had someone in mind (once they freed her up from some activities that weren't in her area of expertise) and it worked wonders.

Having team members work against their strengths creates what I'd call "negative flow," counteracting any resource productivity improvements.  If Flow (as its conceptual creator Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines it) is about finding the optimal balance of applied skill and challenge, having people work against their strengths (negative flow) creates friction and resistance, slowing team progress along the way. This is very much a resource planning and productivity issue, yet is often overlooked as such. 

One colleague in the positive psychology movement compared it to bringing in a pitching coach to strengthen the left arm of a right-handed baseball pitcher. It's fruitless. Likewise, Tom Peters once lamented that you don't take a first violinist in an orchestra and automatically say, "He's so good, let's make him conductor!" yet companies do the equivalent all the time.

You can learn "stuff." Attitude and natural strengths, not so much. Fortunately, there are tools for assessing your natural strengths. Perhaps the best known is the CliftonStrengths Assessment (formerly called Strengthsfinder) from Gallup, made popular in Marcus Buckingham's books, which I highly recommend.

Perhaps Peter Drucker said it best when he said, "The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make weaknesses irrelevant."

Knowing this, think about your teams. What are some ways you can pair or augment strengths that can make their weaknesses irrelevant? It can be a tricky puzzle, but it beats the alternative.


WEBINAR ANNOUNCEMENT: Join me and PDWare CTO Paul Samarel this Thursday, June 28 at 11am EST for a one hour FREE Webinar on Strategy Execution. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER.


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Team Culture Boosts Resource Productivity

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More and more, organizations are planning and working in teams. That's an important fact to remember when talking about resource productivity and planning. Yes, heroes can and do save the day (and that's just fine. As Michael Jordan said, "There's no 'I' in team but there is in win."). And yes, the "I"s in the team are just as important to nurture as the "We." But there's no doubt that having a great team culture can boost individual productivity and happiness, and improve the overall culture of the organization. 

This article in Forbes by Molly Nuhring on Five Questions to Help You Guide Your Team's Culture is a great place to start. Specifically, Nuhring points out five areas to consider. I've paraphrased below:

  1. Team escalations - The more the team escalates issues, the less effectively they're operating as an empowered, decision-making team.
     
  2. Finding the influencers - The influencers in an organization aren't necessarily in management positions. Identify them and make sure there's vision alignment. Get their input in shaping the culture.
     
  3. Rewarding the right behaviors - Be careful what attributes you may be subconsciously (or consciously) rewarding. Note: I'd add that it's a good idea to use team rewards to build a shared sense of commitment, while rewarding and encouraging individual behaviors as well.  Just be careful to craft individual incentives that are counterproductive to team performance. It's often more an art than a science, so it's important to look at things in the context of both the team and the individuals.
     
  4. Watch Your language - Using the right vocabulary can make all the difference in a team's culture. Using words like "compliance," "mandatory," "headcount," etc., can set a certain tone, and it's not a good one. So can phrases like, "No, that'll never work" or "We've always done it this way." Likewise, Nuhring points out that it's not just language, but interaction and demeanor that you need to observe. Is there a sense of empathy on your team? Are people having fun? Do they feel comfortable sharing ideas? I'd add that language can often influence this.
     
  5. Fix One Thing at a Time - Find out what the one thing is that's holding your team back culture-wise and focus on that. Then you can move on to the next thing.

This is just a summary, so I encourage you to check out the full article. Your teams will thank you, and so will your bottom line. For now, remember this:

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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Focus Matters on Agile Projects, Too: Oscillation versus Iteration

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In my last post, I talked about the importance of focus. Nowhere is focus more needed than on Agile projects, where change is king. I particularly recall an excellent article by one of the Agile founders, Jim Highsmith, where he talked about Oscillation vs. Iteration

As Highsmith pointed out, with short iterations and close customer interaction, it can be tempting to switch gears more than once. In fact, in some Agile projects, the gears are switching constantly. The customer keeps changing their mind. Multiple customers chime in with different needs. An emerging business imperative forces a change in tactics. Or worst of all, you didn't quite understand the need to begin with (or it wasn't articulated well enough).

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This is where I always point out the need to be an "anthropologist." Using the Toyota's lean manufacturing principle of Genchi Genbutsu (go and see for yourself) or Honda's Sangen Shugi ("three actuals," representing the actual place, actual product, and actual situation), you shouldn't just assume that what a customer asks for is what they need or want. Go and see for yourself what the situation is. At the very least, you'll have a better understanding of what they're asking for.

Likewise, just because you have an iterative, Agile project doesn't mean you shouldn't have design guidelines or requirements, or even an understanding of scope. Agile doesn't mean no planning or scope. It simply fixes the time and cost, and estimates the features and scope (as opposed to Waterfall, which does the opposite, estimating time and cost to deliver a fixed scope of work). With Agile, you're estimating what can and should be delivered to meet a certain objective, both in terms of defined iterations and for the ultimate project (typically a targeted release).

But back to our oscillation discussion, Highsmith cautions that it's not always easy to tell when you're oscillating vs. iterating. For instance, if government regulations keep changing or there are legitimate learnings that dictate a new course, then it's a normal part of Agile iteration.

In any case, the point is to be aware of when you may be oscillating, and if so, take corrective action before it gets out of hand.  And to avoid unnecessary oscillation to begin with, be sure to gain an understanding of the goals and objectives of your initiative (seeing the situation for yourself where possible).


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Finding a Balance with Virtual Teams: Don't Let Them Get Lost in Space

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Maximizing resources isn't just about putting the right people on the right work at the right time. It's about harnessing the collective strength of your people. And in today's world, that means leveraging virtual and remote teams effectively.

In the recent CIO article "How to Lead a Virtual Team: 5 Keys for Success," author Josh Fruhlinger points out the need to boost communication with remote teams; document team agreements and action items; balance autonomy and connectedness; break into small teams where possible; and last, but not least, to never let "out of sight" be "out of mind."

This is sound advice for sure. Finding the right balance in making sure remote team members feel included but not micromanaged is vital to success. Likewise, in the sea of new collaboration technology, it's all too easy for decisions and information to get "lost in space" -- along with the remote workers themselves.  

Fans of the Lost in Space sci-fi series will no doubt be familiar with the robot's battle cry, "Danger, Will Robinson!" That's also what you should be thinking if your remote team members aren't being kept in the loop, or worse, are feeling micromanaged. 

Side Note: As a sci-fi author (in my other life), I'm a guest and speaker at lots of pop culture conventions. It just so happens I spent the weekend with a couple of wonderful Lost in Space actors, Marta Kristen (Judy) and Mark Goddard (Don West) at a show in Delaware. You never know where inspiration can come from!

But I digress.

Anyway, here's the thing. In today's world, millennials and other employees expect to work remotely, at least part of the time. Mergers, acquisitions, offshoring, and global expansion mean teams may be scattered all over. Even Agile teams, for which co-location is a founding principle, are now adapting to using technology for boosting virtual collaboration where necessary. 

In all, there are three areas to explore when leading virtual teams, along with certain dynamic tensions to consider for each:

  • Engagement -- How can remote people remain engaged while also being trusted to operated freely and independently?
     
  • Governance -- How can guiding themes and principles ensure consistency, while allowing for local needs and personal creativity?
     
  • Technology -- How can collaboration technology serve as an enabler without overloading people with too many tools to use or making them feel micromanaged? 

Mastering these areas is more of an art than a science, and what works for one team member may not work for another. Preferences could be location or culture-dependent as well. That's where good old candid communication comes in handy, talking to people about their desires and needs. 

Similarly, you don't want to burden remote team members with constant standard recurring meetings. I see this all the time as a weak substitute for good team collaboration. Again, some team members might prefer it. Some will see it as an annoyance.

Meanwhile, I'd challenge leaders to find ways to keep people in the loop and engaged while minimizing recurring meetings, though some may be needed for specific projects. Or make the meetings monthly, with ongoing collaboration in between. Again, this is more an art than a science, and can vary with each team member.

One last bit of advice. Always try to plan a face-to-face gathering, ideally at least quarterly, but no less frequently than yearly. Every virtual team I've come across touted huge boosts in belonging and engagement after each face-to-face meeting. A face-to-face meeting can go a long way.

Whichever approaches you settle on, just remember author Mark Sanborn's words, "In teamwork, silence isn't golden, it's deadly," That's when it's time to say, "Danger, Will Robinson!"


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Do You Have a Group or a Team?

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Much has been written about effective teams. But some people get confused as to what a team really is, let alone how to make it effective. As this Forbes article by Jeff Boss points out, titled "What You Don't Know About Teams May Be Hurting You", teams and groups are not the same thing.

In a true team, the people are joined in a mutual endeavor and will share the same fate. If someone doesn't do their part, the whole team can fail in the mission.

In contrast, with a group, the individuals can succeed or fail on their own merit without impacting the others in their group. In fact, with some groups, there's built-in competition, with individual incentives for those who achieve certain goals.

A department full of salespeople or business analysts, for example, is a group. Each person is likely working on something that bears no impact on the others in the slightest. However, one of the business analysts could also be serving on a project team.

Boss rightly points out that, for teams to be effective, there should be team-based (not individual) incentives, a team decision-making process, and shared goals. He also suggests building connection through better conversations. My dear friend and fellow author Judith E. Glaser wrote an excellent book on this topic alone, Conversational Intelligence, which I highly recommend. Stay tuned for a post with more on what Glaser calls C-IQ (Conversational IQ).

(Note: I was a founding member of Glaser's Creating WE Institute, an organization dedicated to helping organizations progress from a group of "I"s to a sense of "We," through research rooted in the crossroads of leadership and neuroscience.)

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In addition to team-based goals and incentives, team decision processes, and better conversations, I would cite complementary skills as a key component of effective teams as well. Think Star Trek's Enterprise crew, with Captain Kirk's boldness synergizing perfectly with Mr. Spock's logic. Or any other great team (fictional and otherwise), for that matter.

Noted author Patricia Fripp cites complementary talents as well in her article "A Team is More Than a Group of People".  (Side note: Fripp's brother Robert is the founder and lead guitarist for one of my favorite bands, King Crimson). 

What DOESN'T work is sending everyone to a single teambuilding workshop and expecting all the lessons to magically turn them into an elite team. However, soft skills training does help. So does making transformational changes toward a better team culture. Having the right mix of people doesn't hurt either.

As Robert Redford said, "Problems can become opportunities when the right people come together."


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn