June 26, 2015

What Creates Trust in Your Organization?

By Johanna Rothman

I published my most recent newsletter, Creating Trustworthy Estimates, this past week. I also noted on Twitter that one person said his estimates created trust in his organization. (He was responding to a #noestimate post that I had retweeted.)

Sometimes, estimates do create trust. They provide a comfortable feeling to many people that you have an idea of what size this beast is. That’s why I offer solutions for a gross estimate in Predicting the Unpredictable. I have nothing against gross estimates.

I don’t like gross estimates (or even detailed estimates) as a way to evaluate projects in the project portfolio because estimates are guesses. Estimates are not a great way to understand and discuss the value of a project. They might be one piece of the valuation discussion, but if you use them as the only way to value a project, you are missing the value discussion you need to have. See Why Cost is the Wrong Question for Evaluating Projects in Your Project Portfolio.

I have not found that only estimates create trust. I have found that delivering the product  (or interim product) creates more trust.

Way back, when I was a software developer, I had a difficult machine vision project. Back then, we invented as we went. We had some in-house libraries, but we had to develop new solutions for each customer.

I had an estimate of 8 weeks for that project. I prototyped and tried a gazillion things. Finally, at 6 weeks, I had a working prototype. I showed it to my managers and other interested people. I finished the project and we shipped it.

Many years later, when I was a consultant, I encountered one of those managers. He said to me, “We held our breath for 6 weeks until you showed us a prototype. You had gone dark and we were worried. We had no idea if you would finish.”

By that time, I had managed people like me. I asked them for visual updates on their status each week or two. I had learned from my experiences.

I asked that manager why they held their breath. I always used an engineering notebook. I could have explained my status at any time to anyone who wanted it. He replied, “We so desperately wanted your estimate to be true. We were so afraid it wasn’t. We had no idea what to do. When you showed us a working prototype, that’s when we started to believe you could finish the project.”

They trusted my initial estimate. It’s a good thing they didn’t ask for updated estimates each week. I remember that project as a series of highs and lows.

That’s the problem with invention/innovation. You can keep track of your progress. You can determine ways to make progress. And, with the highs, your meet or beat your estimate. With the lows, you extend your estimate. I remember that at the beginning of week 5 I was sure I was not going to meet my date. Then, I discovered a way to make the project work. I remember my surprise that it was something “that easy.” It wasn’t easy. I had tracked my experiments in my notebook. There wasn’t much more I could do.

Since then, I asked my managers, “When do you want to know my project is in trouble? As soon as it I think I’m not going to meet my date; after I do some experiments; or the last possible moment?” I create trust when I ask that question because it shows I’m taking their concerns seriously.

After that project, here is what I did to create trust:

  1. Created a first draft estimate.
  2. Tracked my work so I could show visible progress and what didn’t work.
  3. Delivered often. That is why I like inch-pebbles. Yes, after that project, I often had one- or two-day deliverables.
  4. If I thought I wasn’t going to make it, use the questions above to decide when to say, “I’m in trouble.”
  5. Delivered a working product.

PredictingUnpredictable-smallEstimates can be useful. They can show you the risks. And, I’m sure that only having estimates is insufficient for building trust. If you want to learn more about estimation, see Predicting the Unpredictable: Pragmatic Approaches to Estimating Cost or Schedule.

June 26, 2015 03:16 PM

June 24, 2015

Predicting the Unpredictable is Available

By Johanna Rothman

PredictingUnpredictable-smallI’m happy to announce that Predicting the Unpredictable: Pragmatic Approaches to Estimating Cost or Schedule is done and available. It’s available in electronic and print formats. If you need a little help explaining your estimates or how to use estimation (even #noestimate), read this book.


June 24, 2015 01:27 PM

June 22, 2015

Management, Humanity and Expectations

By Johanna Rothman

There’s a twitter discussion of what people “should” do in certain situations. One of the participants believes that people “should” want to learn on their own time and work more than 40 hours per week. I believe in learning. I don’t believe in expecting people to work more than 40 hours/week. My experience is that when you ask people to work more than 40 hours, they get stupid. See  Management Myth 15: I Need People to Work Overtime. If you want people to learn, read Management Myth #9: We Have No Time for Training.

One participant also said that people should leave their emotional baggage (my word) at home. Work supposedly isn’t for emotions. Well, I don’t understand how we can have people who work without their emotions. Emotions are how we explain how we feel about things. I want people to advocate for what they feel is useful and good. I want to know when they feel something is bad and damaging. I want that, as a manager. See Management Myth #4: I Don’t Need One-on-Ones.

People are emotional. Let’s assume they are adults and can harness their emotions. If not, we can provide feedback about the situation. But, ignoring their emotions? That never works. It’s incongruent and can make the situation worse.

I have a problem with “shoulds” for other people. I cannot know what is going on in other people’s lives. Nor, do I want to know all the details as a manager. I need to know enough to use my judgement as a manager to help the people and teams proceed.

When managers build trust with people, those people can share what is relevant about the way they can perform at work with their manager, and maybe with their team. If they have a personal situation that requires time off, depending on the team, the person might have to talk to the team before the manager. (I know some agile teams like this.) The team might manage the situation without management help or interference.

If you are in a leadership position, don’t impose your “shoulds” on other people. You cannot know what is happening in other people’s lives. You can ask for

You can ask for the results you want. You want people to learn more? Provide time during the week for everyone to learn together. You want people to work through a personal crisis? Provide support.

Don’t expect automatons at work. Expect humans and you’ll get way more than you could imagine.

June 22, 2015 01:11 PM

June 17, 2015

Trust, Accountability, and Where Does the Time Go?

By Johanna Rothman

As more of my clients transition to agile, many of them have a fascinating question:

How do I assess who is doing what on my team?

When I ask why they want to know, they say it’s all related to reviews, rewards, and general compensation. They are still discussing individual compensation, not team compensation.

When I ask why they want to reward individuals instead of the team, they say, “I am sure some people do more work than others. I want to reward them, and not the other people.”

Interesting idea. And, wrong for agile teams. Also wrong for any innovation or learning that you want to happen as a team (regardless of whether you are agile or not).

Agile is a team-based approach to work. Why would you want to reward some people more than others? If the team is not sure that they are working well together, they need to learn to provide each other feedback. If the team doesn’t know how to manage team membership, a manager can facilitate that membership discussion and problem-solving. Then, the managers can transition team membership issues to the team, with manager as backup/facilitator.

What I see is that the managers want to control team membership. Instead, why not let the team control its membership?

I often see that the managers want to control feedback: who provides it and who receives it. Instead, why not train everyone in how to provide and receive feedback?

When managers want to reward some people more than others, they imply that some people are less capable than others—something agile is supposed to fix with teamwork. Or, they wonder if some people are wasting time.

If managers trust their teams, managers don’t need to worry about accountability. They don’t have to worry about people “wasting time.” Agile creates transparency, which helps people to learn to trust each other and know when they are working on relevant work or not. If you encourage the team to add pairing or swarming (or both), you have the recipe for whole-team work and team momentum.

I don’t know anyone who goes to work thinking, “How can I waste my time today?” Do you? (If you do, why is that person on your team?)

I know plenty of people who do waste their time, because of technical debt, or experts creating bottlenecks, or team members who don’t want to work as part of a team. I bet you know many of these people, too.

But I don’t know anyone who wants to go to work to waste time and collect a paycheck without doing anything. Sure, there might be some people like that. I don’t know any.

In an agile team, the team members know who works hard and who doesn’t. A manager could trust the team to handle their compensation.

And, that would mean the manager has to relinquish control of much of what managers have done recently.

  • The manager would have to provide feedback and meta-feedback to people who want to learn how to provide and receive feedback.
  • The manager might provide coaching as to how to work in a team effectively. (This can be tough if a manager has never been part of a team that worked well.)
  • The manager would allow the team to control their compensation.

There’s more, and I’ll stop there.

What would managers do? They would stop interfering with the team’s progress. The manager might read “If Managers Don’t Give Performance Reviews, What Happens?

Managers control much less in agile. Managers enable more. They have to trust the teams. This is a culture change.

If you can’t trust your agile team or its team members, there is something wrong. You can investigate and either fix (manage the project portfolio) or ask the team to fix it (maybe with retrospectives as a first step). If you need to know who is accountable for what, you are asking the wrong question. The answer might be you.

If you are managing an agile team and you want to know about individual work or accountability, ask yourself what you really need. Ask yourself if there is another way to obtain the results you want. Maybe you won’t waste quite as much time.

June 17, 2015 06:56 AM