Categories
Coaching Leadership

Refinement

The desire for perfection often stops us taking that first step. Once we accept that nothing is perfect, that’s it’s valuable to learn from an initial effort, and that “better than before” is so much better than nothing, then we are able to get moving and start making positive change.

The next phase is to return to that effort and to refine what you’ve done. In technology, it’s a key way that we identify we’ve moved away from a project focus and into the more powerful product mindset. Things are never done, we can always refine them to make them better.

This is true whether it’s a product feature, a technical solution, a series of meetings, or even something like a blog post!

When you think about your refinement approach, you can try to explicitly carve out some chunks of time for improvements. This can be a tough sell, especially if your improvements aren’t as immediately visible as the next bright and shiny thing. When I sit down to write, I certainly find it easier to work on a new article than go back to an old piece to freshen it up.

Instead, you can build your refinement in to your process. Whenever you are working in an area, if you spot something out of place then take a few minutes to leave it in a better place than it was before. Cleaning as you go gives you lots of quick improvements, without big investments in tracking, remembering what you were going to do, or continually fighting to carve out this time.

For example, I’ll write and edit in a couple of passes. I schedule posting a few weeks in advance. When a post goes live I’ll check it out with fresher eyes, and use that as a chance to clean up any rogue words or phrases that aren’t as clear as I’d thought they were. If I share links, or link back to an old article, then I’ll scan through and check for updates then. It’ a much easier process than sitting down for an hour to just do edits!

So, once you’ve gotten started, and put your initial efforts out into the world, look out for opportunities to slot in improvements whenever you are back in the area. Make it routine, it’ll be easy, and you’ll quickly see the compounding benefits of these small refinements

Categories
Leadership

Not Fit for Purpose

When we work in a agile fashion for long enough, we always almost encounter the “Not Fit for Purpose” complaint. I’ve certainly seen it in a number of different contexts, and depending on your organisation, you might be stuck with it almost every single day.

When we work agile, we aim to launch new iterations early and often. We are very clear that our product will not have every single feature from day one, and that it may never have every single feature a user could desire. We recognise the cost of adding and maintaining each new feature, and balance it against the benefit it brings.

“Not Fit for Purpose” raises its head when you encounter someone stuck in a closed mindset, usually a person who is looking for the perfect solution, rather than something that is better than they have today. This can really drain excitement from a new product, so you need to counteract it quickly and decisively.

Your first move is to force the complainer to get specific. Generic grousing like this is easy to do and hard to address as you are aiming at a moving target. Any justification you bring will be countered like a reed moving in the wind. Instead of letting the negativity frame the conversation, take it on. “What do you mean by that?”, “What exactly is the issue?”, “What specifically are you missing?”.

By taking the vagueness out of the conversation, you are able to squash the nebulous negativity, and move towards positive problem solving. Even asking these questions can kill off a lot of general negative feeling. People who are just complaining for the sake of it will often just go away when put on the spot like this.

Now you get to start unpicking some more genuine concerns. For the perfectionist, they may be unhappy that some features aren’t available yet, or they aren’t complete. Combat this by showing progress, and setting expectations based on the previous progress you’ve made. This challenge quite often comes from people who think in terms of projects, chopping and changing from different streams of work. They aren’t thinking in iterations, and they think that v1 is also v last.

As you’re working in an agile fashion, you’ll have previous launches to show (even if they were initially just to internal users). You’ll also have your prioritised list of future work to show. This progress is a powerful tool. If your naysayer is also your decision maker, then you can give them control by agreeing what is “Good enough”, launching when you hit it, and continuing to iterate to make it great. This is also a good point to specify and experiment, so that “Good enough” decision is driven by data, not the feelings of the perfectionist.

Also, you can use the “Is it better than what you have now?” approach. This brings you away from abstract perfection, and down to the brass tacks of the real day-to-day. It’s hard to say no to something that’s better than you have right now, even if it’s not what you want in the long run. Again, I’ve seen lots of complaints just go away when the complainer sees what they are getting is an improvement on the current status-quo, even if the gap to what they hoped for is still large.

Finally, you might have a purpose mismatch. The complainer has a different vision, or a misalignment of what’s important. What they want is not what you are going to give them. For these people you need to hear that concern, and address it by reminding them what the goals of your product are, and what the problems are you are going to solve. With this mismatch, sometimes you just have to fire a customer. If they are never going to be a good fit, then it might not be worth the effort to serve them.

To recap, “It’s not fit for purpose” is a poisonous phrase, often deployed by those who aren’t able to embrace the agile journey. You need to counter this actively to stop them sucking the energy out of your powerful change:

  1. Force them to be specific, drive out any real concerns so they can be addressed, and silence the serial complainers immediately.
  2. If it’s just “not perfect”, then show your pace of progress, and what’s coming in your next iterations.
  3. Next, agree “Good enough”, and use an experiment to put data into the decision.
  4. If your purpose doesn’t align, don’t hesitate to fire the customer, putting half your effort into 1% of your users is not a winning strategy.

Agile methods are simple, but that doesn’t mean they are easy. Watch out for these types of challenges and combat them effectively to drive significant high-value change and launch truly impactful products.

Categories
Coaching Leadership

Action Triggers

When you want to start taking steps towards change, but you are finding it hard to get going, then set yourself an action trigger to help kickstart the effort.

This is a simple mental plan to execute an action when you encounter a particular situation. It’s a great technique to help you build up or change a habit, by preloading some decisions in our mind.

It’s a simple technique. First of all, pick what you want to change. For example, you might want to show more gratitude when someone does a great job.

Next up, get specific. Exactly when and how are you going to do this? If it’s too loose, it won’t be effective in changing your behaviour. When we’re praising people, it has greatest impact close to the good activity, so you might set an trigger of “When I see someone asking a great question in a meeting, I will actively thank them for that input”.

This is good because it’s a specific situation (great question), and a specific action (thanking them). As you’ve already made this decision, you take away the concern of what “a great job” looks like, and how you’ll “show more gratitude.

When you make it easy, you are more likely to take these actions and change your behaviour. The complex processing that exhausts your Type 2 brain is dealt with ahead of time, letting you shift these changes to the quick and lazy Type 1.

If you want to be even more likely to be successful, then either say your trigger out loud, or write it down. Make the commitment public and it give you even more impetus to succeed.

This technique is not a panacea. It will only work if you want to make a change, and it will only help move you towards good behaviours. It’s not going to change your direction 180 degrees, and it’s not going to shift you fundamentally.

To make some positive change and build energy in your flywheel, setup a couple of action triggers to preload some complex decisions and make it simple when the situation occurs.

Categories
Leadership

Who Benefits?

Making any kind of change is difficult, especially in a large and complex organisation.

One really useful technique is to identify who is going to benefit from the change. Think about everyone who will be impacted, ranging from customers to suppliers, your internal stakeholders to your immediate team.

If the only benefits that you identify are to you or your direct team, then you are going to be treading a long and lonely path. You may find that this kind of change is one to put on to the backburner, as it’s going to struggle to build momentum.

In the majority of cases, you’ll find some people where the costs outweigh the benefits that they’ll see, and you’ll find some who benefit more from the change than the effort it’ll cost.

Those who benefit more will be your key allies in bringing this change to bear, and should be the first people you enlist in building momentum in the group. Getting these people on board is key to success. Make sure they see the benefits that will accrue to them, and they are likely to become enthusiastic supporters of the change.

When you have that initial support, it will be easier to convince those who may be neutral towards the change, those who are neither going to gather major benefits or costs. There’s a lot of value in there being visible and vocal allies to convince others. A lone voice can be dismissed as an outlier, multiple advocates are positive reinforcement and can start to move the group.

Finally, you can start to move those who are more impacted by the change. With a range of supporters, the change is gaining momentum. There’s a point where people will start to support it to make sure they are not left behind, being part of the group is important. You might need to commit some additional effort to bring around the most impacted, but if you’ve built the platform with your supporters, it will be less than you might think.

So, find out who is going to benefit and enlist them in your change effort. Many voices will bring success more quickly than a lone effort. Show the value you’ll bring and get those supporters lined up to move the group forwards quickly.

Categories
Coaching Leadership

How Do You Lose?

Winning is great! It’s an awesome feeling to come first, to see the reward for all your effort and to be recognised for your successes.

You aren’t going to win all the time. The more you are pushing and stretching, then the rarer those wins might be. So you need to think about how you handle losing, and how you can take those losses and make them positive experiences.

First up, check out your public response. What are you presenting to the world? Most of the time, even for something high stakes like a promotion, you’re winning or losing is in the context of a continuing relationship. Showing anger, complaining loudly or disparaging the winner are actions that are unlikely to be looked on favourably in that ongoing relationship. Think about losing gracefully, respecting the game and showing good spirit.

Remember, no-one ever overturned a referee’s decision by arguing with them in the heat of the moment!

Of course, that’s not to say that you won’t feel hard done by, that decisions were unfair or that someone won out on attributes that weren’t being measured in the ‘official’ rubrics. Take a breath, count to ten and complain in private if you have to! Then think about how you’ll drive some constructive change in the future.

Now you’ve covered that public response, the reflection and learning is the next, and most important, stage. Losing is a perfect opportunity to learn from your performance, to do even better next time.

What did you do well? What went badly? Was it a close run thing, or were you played out of the park? Get honest here, and use feedback or external sources to ensure that the honesty is true.

If you did well, then take heart from the experience. You are likely to just need to tweak some parts of your performance. Double down on some of your strengths and turn areas you were good, to places you can be great.

If you did less well, then it’s time for some deeper reflection. Did you really overreach yourself? Even so, what did you do well? Can you take those positives and build on them for the future? Is this an opportunity to set an intermediate goal and aim there next time?

Losing is the fastest teacher around, take the knock, dust yourself off and get back on with it to drive forwards to success!

Categories
Book Review Leadership

Made To Stick

This is the classic guide to helping you shape your stories to make them sticky. It gives you a set of simple tools and techniques that enable you to refine your message so it becomes more effective.

The particularly great news is that these skills are something that you can learn, it’s not just the gift of the instinctive storyteller. You can deal with the curse of expert knowledge by taking dense and statistics heavy messages, and turning them into short snappy stories that really resonate with your audience.

You will be introduced to the principle of SUCCESs:

  • S – Simple
  • U – Unexpected
  • C – Concrete
  • C – Credible
  • E – Emotional
  • S – Story

Take any message you want to spread widely, test it against these criteria and refine it until you hit more of them. Do this and it’s certain you will hit more people, and the message will stick better with each person you reach.

Simple and practical, this is a great guide for those of us who default to the position of the expert, and who sometimes need to step back a bit to pull others along on our journey.

Categories
Coaching Leadership Uncategorized

Know Your Strengths

I really rate the Clifton Strengths assessment as a method of understanding your own strengths and preferences. It costs about $50, but it will bring you many multiples of that back in value if you make good use of the report.

You’ll get an ordered list of 34 different strengths across a range of themes (Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building and Strategic Thinking). You’ll get a range of reports, ranging from the full list, to a deep dive into your top five strengths. The detailed reports will give a high level summary, a range of phrases that explain the strength, and also an indication of what could be a negative if you overuse that strength.

It’s really great that the reports invite you to reflect on the specific themes that resonate most to you, rather than forcing you to box yourself in to a single descriptor.

As an example, one of my top strengths is “Analytical”, which is 100% not a surprise (Maths graduate!). This means that I like to work with data, that I like it when ideas are well formed, and I enjoy when people are able to “show their working”. This strength will mean that people will seek me out when they want support to build up an idea (or knock down one that’s not yet well formed). However, if overused, it can cause people to stop seeking my advice, if they feel their ideas may not yet be rigorous enough.

With this awareness, I’m able to put this analytical strength to good use. I’m able to support people to build up ideas, pairing up with people who work in a more instinctive way to help them connect their inspiring idea to the data that backs it up.

I’m also able to look out for those times when the emotional connection is the right one to make, so that I don’t drown it out with data!

If you know your strengths, then you can spend time making sure you apply them whilst also looking out for situations where overusing them might be a handicap.

If you don’t have this awareness, then will find it hard to recognise what you are great at, you won’t recognise where you are struggling, and worst of all, you won’t know where your default behaviour is going to cause you difficulty.

Categories
Coaching Harvard Business Review Leadership

Choose your Time

It’s better to spend a few hours a day doing important work than filling ten or a dozen with activities that don’t move you towards achieving your goals.

Kick it off by making sure you know what’s actually important to you. Do the work to understand your values, and then frame your goals.

Then, take stock of the current situation. Where does your effort go? Track your time to understand it. You’ll learn something for sure!

How much effort goes towards wasteful activities that are low value to you? Can you delegate away, or maybe just not do them at all? Recurring meetings are an area worth particular focus. Review your calendar, and try to cancel, short or spread out as many as possible.

Next up, where are your high value activities? There are probably not enough yet. Look at where you are doing good work. Can you extend these slots with the time you’ve just saved?

Big spans of time are better for doing activities that lead to real change, so extending an hour to two is powerful option.

If you can’t do this yet, then go back to that calendar and look at those gaps. If it’s anything like mine was, you’ll have a patchwork of meetings, with small gaps between them. You’ve cleared out the cruft now, so there’s not much left to get rid of.

Instead, start shuffling. Meetings you own are easiest, but any small group session is up for grabs. Two things help here. Knowing your own high performance times, so you can keep them clear for focused work. Then knowing your organisations culture. Start of week for team syncs? Planning mid-week? Retrospectives and demos on Fridays? There’s a cadence there. If it’s a big org, then understanding this is key, you’ll struggle to shift this culture quickly. If it’s small or just getting started, then it’s not fixed yet, so don’t be afraid to grab it and shape it a bit.

Now you’ve made the space, you have to keep it. Hold the time with calendar bookings that highlight the great work you are doing. Stay strong when people inevitably try to overbook and just say “No” (or at least offer a time outside your focus space).

Choose how you spend your time, and you’ll spend more of it contributing towards your goals and achieving the successes you deserve.

Categories
Coaching Leadership

Swing and a Miss

We all give feedback to lots of people, in a wide range of situations. Sometimes it’s really well balanced, hits the mark exactly and really helps that person drive forwards to a positive change. Sometimes it doesn’t land perfectly, but with some reflection they find value. Sometimes it’s a total miss, that elicits a negative or even hostile response.

What do you do?

First up, consider the response. Reflect on the content. Is it an emotional outburst? Is the person giving additional context or information? Where’s the difference between what you were aiming to share and what they’ve taken from your communication?

If you struggle to unpick this, then take a bit of a break. It’s very normal for your own emotions to spike out if you hit this type of reaction, and reacting in turn will not help matters! It may be helpful to reach out to a less involved third party to get their view, especially if they witness the situation that arose to the provision of the feedback.

Now you’ve got a better picture, you need to decide what to do. When feedback misses badly, it can put a real dent into a relationship. You’ll need to do some work, and it’ll take some time to get back to where you were.

First off, were you just wrong? If the recipient has given some more information and you recognise that something you said was factually incorrect, then don’t be afraid to offer a strong and full apology. “I’m sorry, what I said was incorrect and I recognise this has upset you. Thank-you for sharing the additional information, I will ensure that I’m fully up-to-speed in future before commenting”. Then follow through on that commitment, and demonstrate to the recipient the learning you have stated you will undertake.

If you were factually correct, but the recipient has reacted emotionally, then you still may apologise (It’s not nice to make people feel bad). If you are doing this, make sure to make it a real apology, no soft “We apologise for any emotion you have felt”, nor ones that make things worse “I’m sorry you took that so badly”.

As a leader, you may still need to land the message to drive a change in behaviour, so your next step would be to reframe the feedback (repeating it will certainly not work). Focus on what you observed and the impacts of the behaviour you saw. In this higher stakes scenario, practice this reframing before delivering it. Write down your observations, run them back and check that they are better than before. Review them against Situation/Behaviour/Impact or your own favoured feedback framework.

It’s also great at this point to recognise it’s a tough conversation! It might feel meta, but highlighting this gives you the chance to remind the recipient the value that can come from these tough moments.

Finally, you will look towards rebuilding that relationship. Again, depending on what your miss looked like, this will take different forms. Listen again to what the recipient is telling you. The fix might be as simple to change the style or format of the feedback. This is a very likely outcome in the remote world, as text chat can come across many times harsher than the same message given face-to-face in real time.

Alternatively, the recipient may have given you that extra information that changes the situation somewhat. Here you can provide additional support by removing a blocker or doing something else to smooth their path forwards.

As you are repairing the relationship, you must ensure that whatever you commit to in this stage is something that you stick to and continue to do, even beyond the initial repair period. This is how to build back trust that you have damaged.

So, sometimes feedback misses the target, and sometimes it misses in a destructive way! If you spot this early, then you can correct it. It’ll take some effort, but doing it with care and attention can rebuild a damaged relationship and even strengthen it for the future!

Categories
Coaching Leadership

Bringing in the New

I’ve been watching the theatre across the road being built for over a year now, and it’s really great to see some of the parallels between construction in the physical world vs the crafting of software in the virtual.

As we get into the New Year, then it’s very likely you are starting to put into practice some of the new ideas that will help you start building up your flywheel of change and achieving your goals. Today I’m sharing a couple of insights on how to do this well, from what I’ve observed throughout this construction process.

Every time a new material arrives on site, there’s a simple approach used to get it into the construction process. The experts in the particular area will fit a small area (something like a single window in a frame). They’ll review it, look at how it’s sitting in the shell of the building. If it looks good, they’ll show it to other workers, who are able to go and fit the rest of the items across the full facade. If it’s not working out, they’ll re-work this area, re-do the process and learn in a low risk corner of the site. If it goes really badly, then they’ll strip it out, and wait until improved materials can be delivered.

This low risk test and learn allows the construction to proceed at pace and in a more predictable way. There’s two clear stages in play, once the process is great and easy to apply, then it’s rolled out quickly across the whole building. The rework is limited to the testing phase, where it’s quick to correct any issues.

This is absolutely the best way to approach launching new practices and processes in your organisation, or building and launching new software products.

The most powerful part is to recognise when you are switching between the learning cycle and the rollout cycle, as that’s the point you change how you are delivering that change. This is also the most important time to communicate clearly and set expectations as to how that change will land.

So, in summary, to make your change a success:

  1. Test out a process or product in a controlled space
  2. Learn quickly, and adapt your approach
  3. Loop around again if it’s not right yet
  4. Recognise when it’s good enough, and roll out at pace

This approach gives the best chance of landing significant change with the smallest cost.

Get out there and do it!