Managing Resistance To Change: Seven Techniques You Can Start Using Today

Change Isn’t Easy But It’s Not Impossible

I recently had the pleasure of participating in the first cohort of Change Ambassadorship with the state of Nevada. Our certificate program was facilitated by Dr. James R. King, PMP who is currently our Organizational Change Manager with the Nevada Department of Administration. The program was developed to support one of the largest IT initiatives the state has undertaken to date, SMART 21 — Nevada’s response “to serve Nevadans with an efficient and responsive State government by modernizing Nevada’s Enterprise Resource Planing (ERP) ecosystem.”

This post is inspired by some of the lessons we learned during our 3-day course and I hope you gain as much value from it as I have because change isn’t easy. Whether your next, or current, change effort is in the form of a project or an organizational transformation, leaders should arm themselves with the proper techniques to help their employees or customers adopt, utilize, and become proficient with the change. To do that, leaders need to approach their people and:

  • Identify the barriers to change,
  • Focus their change management plans and activities,
  • Diagnose resistance factors from critical people,
  • Understand and measure work-group adoption rates; and
  • Identify opportunities to strengthen the desired outcome

Below is a list of techniques that you, as leaders, can start using today to start managing resistance to change.

Listen And Seek Understanding To Objections

  1. Listen
  2. Acknowledge their desire to be heard
  3. Seek a path that leads to a desired resolution for both parties.
  4. Identify any miscommunications

Listening and understanding are two different things. While being a vocal and active change agent is important, there are also times when you need to just keep quiet and listen to what others are saying. Acknowledge where they are coming from and look for a path that gets them to the desired outcome of the change. I’ve found that just keeping quiet practicing empathy, most objections come from miscommunication.

Focus On The “What” And Let Go Of The “How”

  1. Focus on the desired outcomes
  2. Let your employees own the solutions
  3. Focus on involving each employee

Note that I say, “involve each employee” and not all employees. This means you need to tell a story for each employee and tell them how their participation and involvement is critical to the change. Don’t tell them “how” they’re going to do things different, tell them “what” their involvement will mean for the organization and how their life, or the life of the customer (hopefully), will become easier as a result of the change.

Remove Impediments And Be An Enabler For Success

  1. Consider family, personal issues, physical limitations or finances
  2. Seek to understand each person; impediments may be disguised as resistance or objections
  3. Identify impediments clearly
  4. Determine your ability or the organization’s ability to address the impediments

Part of listening and understanding, is getting to know your people. Perhaps they don’t have the skills necessary for the change so there’s a training deficit? Perhaps that training deficit, to them, reflects on their ego or makes them fearful of losing their job? Your job, as a leader and mentor is to give them the resources they need to be successful and enable their success.

Convert The Strongest Dissenters

  1. Consider special interventions to convert vocal dissenters
  2. Make strong dissenters, strong advocates — they are often equal in their support as they were in dissent

I’ve always felt that ignoring the nay sayers is bad advice. Dissenters have usually been around the block, seen past failures, and experienced a variety of initiatives from different management regimes. Over the course of their careers and tenure, they’ve accumulated sage like experience. Just because they are a bit jaded and skeptical of a new “initiative” doesn’t mean they won’t come around. It just means they likely understand the risks far more than you do. Convert these folks, consider what they have to say, and brainstorm solutions with them and they’ll become your biggest supporters.

Create Hope For The Future

  1. People respond to the opportunity for a better future
  2. Leaders create desire by sharing passion for change, creating excitement, and enthusiasm
  3. People follow leaders who inspire hope and whom they respect

Inspiring hope for the future and getting people to look forward to the change can be tough. While resistance is a natural part of change, you can help people get through that resistance by being a leader they respect and trust. Use the JEDI JED BHUCKLIT acronym to remind yourself of the kind of traits you should be demonstrating to be a leader your people respect.

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new”


Make A Personal Appeal

  1. “I believe in this change”
  2. “It is important to me”
  3. “I would like your support”
  4. “You would be helping me by making this change work”

Sometimes people will make the leap simply because they trust your judgement and believe in your leadership. Making a personal appeal signals your people that you are committed to the change and seeing it through. Asking for their support and demonstrating why you believe in the change can help nudge people in the right direction. Ask for their help. Be genuine. You can’t fake this.

Show The Benefits In A Real And Tangible Way

  1. Show how the change will improve a current process or help the organization stay viable in the long term
  2. Be an information radiator by sharing information and lessons learned
  3. Gather and communicate personal testimonies
  4. Visibly demonstrate the success of pilot programs or trials

Most people can conceptualize why a change is needed. However, having some hard facts, lessons learned from other organizations, or using real and relevant data builds confidence in the change. Pilot programs are a great way for organizations to engage in validated learning before rolling the change out across the entire organization. Go big or go home is risky. Managing organizational change should be done strategically and smartly.

If you’d like to discuss more about managing resistance to change, I’d love to hear from you! Connect with me on social media as well!

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

Thoughts On The 15 Leadership Traits

During my time in the Navy, I was housed on a Marine Corps base; it was just a few blocks away from where my ship was moored. It was my time there that I befriended a Marine Corps Sergeant — we were close drinking buddies and remain friends today. More importantly, we were both Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) in our respective military branches. One topic we discussed at length was leadership. Somewhere during my career, I learned the acronym JEDI JED BHUCKLIT, which has helped me remember the 15 traits of leadership. Each of these traits have specific meanings for a military leader, however, they are timeless qualities of leadership and endure for leaders regardless of their organization.

So, what is leadership? In the military, we define leadership as “the ability to lead, guide, or influence others so as to accomplish a mission in the manner desired.” This definition has stuck with me for as long as I can remember. Some leaders are defined by their position in the organization and are recognized formally by their title. Others are considered leaders because of their influence on others or their technical expertise. Regardless of your current position, you can always be a leader if you possess and strive to practice the following traits.

Leadership is the ability to lead, guide, or influence others so as to accomplish a mission in the manner desired.

The 15 Traits Of Leadership (JEDI JED BHUCKLIT)

Judgement – The ability to weigh different facts, opinions, or the expertise of those who serve under you. Taking in information, whether complete or not, and making a decision based on your own experiences and training.

Enthusiasm – Radiating genuine excitement for the goals of the organization. Emotions are contagious and a leader who sincerely believes in the goals of the organization will inspire those around them to believe in those goals as well. 

Dependability – Reliability and consistently following through on personal and professional commitments.

Initiative – Spotting a problem and taking action to address it in the absence of instructions from supervisors, managers, or even peers. 

Justice – Giving clear and concise expectations. Remaining consistent when delivering rewards or punishments based on those expectations. Holding oneself and others accountable in accordance with those expectations. 

Endurance – Keeping long and short-term goals in mind. Following through with them to completion, even in the face of adversity. 

Decisiveness – Making decisions in a prompt and timely manner — making your decision known and easy to understand for others to act on.

Bearing – Being a team player and presenting yourself in a positive manner, even in the face of adversity or stress.  

Honor – Treating yourself and others with esteem and respect. 

Unselfishness – Lifting others up and sacrificing one’s own comfort for the sake of others or the mission at hand.

Courage – Recognizing one’s own weaknesses and fears but proceeding forward with calmness and firmness. Pressing forward and following your values, even in the face of criticism. 

Knowledge – Skills and expertise related to one’s profession and recognizing when to lean on the advise and expertise of others.  

Loyalty – Remaining faithful to one’s subordinates and organization and acting in a way that best servers their interests over yours. 

Integrity – Doing the right thing, even when no one is looking. 

Tact – The ability to speak honestly to others without creating offense. 

Thanks for taking the time to read. I’d love to hear your thoughts on leadership. If you’d like to have a discussion, leave a comment below or contact me. I’d love to connect on social media as well!

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Ditch “The Three Questions” And Adopt The Agile Mindset Already

Ditch “The Three Questions” And Adopt The Agile Mindset Already

Scrum teams that have been using Scrum for a while are most likely settling into the new framework. The chaos and dust from the change has settled and things are normalizing a bit. However, each team has their own unique way of doing things and, from the outside, managers may be holding onto their “command and control” mindset. Shouldn’t a process, like the daily scrum, be repeatable and look the same for all teams? Perhaps their mentality is that Scrum is a “methodology” and it should be strictly adhered to vs. a light weight framework in the “Agile toolbox?” Maybe they’re too focused on accountability of individuals vs. team autonomy? Whatever the cause, the Agile mindset just hasn’t quite set in yet. With a little bit of coaching, they’ll get there. Exercise patience.

One thing I’ve observed from leaders who haven’t quite fully adopted the Agile mindset yet is their insistence on strict adherence to “The Three Questions” during the daily scrum. There exists a feeling that “Vanilla Scrum” is the best way to do Scrum (There’s no such things as ‘Vanilla Scrum’ by the way). There’s a perception that the best way to do Scrum is to make everyone answer the three questions:

  1. “What did you do yesterday?”
  2. “What will you do today?”
  3. “Do you have any impediments?”

While I agree that the scrum guide can be prescriptive at times, the three questions listed above are not, in fact, mandatory. Seriously, read the section on the Daily Scrum and then come back.

Welcome back. So now that everyone’s educated, let’s talk about creativity. There’s a lot of room for creativity from each team and every individual. The Scrum Guide tells us “What we should do,” however, each team is left to figure out “How best to do it.” The format of the daily scrum is no different and there’s a lot of room for creative and constructive discussion questions. Strict adherence to the three questions can become an impediment to communication.

When speaking to your leaders, it’s usually not a good idea to open the scrum guide and show them where they’re wrong. It’s not very tactful and you miss a great opportunity to make the conversation a teachable moment.

When discussing this with leaders, start by asking some simple questions. I usually start with, “what does ‘vanilla scrum’ look like to you?” Their answer will likely reveal one of two things.

  1. Focus on the process; or
  2. Focus on individual accountability.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? As a manager, their ability to reliably deliver products, services, or projects is a reflection on their ability to lead their unit. Managers are accountable to stakeholders, customers, and their bosses. Yes, managers have bosses too. It’s pretty simple when we put ourselves in their shoes and I think we can empathize with their position. It can be a great deal of stress. Management isn’t for the weak of heart.

Yes, managers have bosses too.

Creativity Over Strict Processes

Command and control via processes can be effective. Set up a process. Follow the process. Repeat. But at what cost? I’d argue at the cost of creativity. I’d argue at the cost of low employee engagement. I’d argue complete and utter mediocrity. Of course I’m not advocating for zero processes either. That would be irresponsible. The people and process dependency is a balancing act, but let’s not rehash that discussion.

My recommendation would be to challenge the manager’s perspective about creativity and engagement. They may say they value it, but their actions may speak differently. Perhaps they view the daily scrum as a status report? That’s an anti-pattern you don’t want to have. Trust me. Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt.

Scrum shouldn’t be “standardized across all teams.” If the pain point of the organization is variable quality and unreliable delivery, Scrum won’t fix that for you. But if you allow creativity to happen, then your employees will become engaged. And engaged employees who are empowered can move mountains. They’ll fix things on their own because at the end of the day, everyone wants to go home at five thirty, have a beer and spend quality time with their family. It’s the mindset, not the framework that we should strive for. Intrinsic motivation, not another carrot.

Responsibility Over Individual Accountability

I’m not advocating for zero accountability. Again, that would be irresponsible. But, the need to hold people accountable for their actions is another “command and control-ism” and it makes people fearful for their jobs. As a result, it stifles creativity and people will do just enough to stay of the RADAR and out of trouble. This is a much tougher problem to address because a manager focused on “holding people accountable” likely suffers the same from their own management. We can all empathize with our managers on this. Just like us, they’re subject to the same influences of organizational culture. As a coach, you must be courageous enough to address this with everyone in the organization, especially when another witch hunt is just around the corner. Are we trying to figure out who put crappy code into production? Or are we trying to figure out how crappy code got into production? You see the difference? The first question is about assigning blame. The second question is about addressing a problem. Stop with the witch hunts. People make mistakes. It’s a part of doing business.

My recommendation would be to re-frame the conversation around responsibility. Accountability is for Product Owners who must own the success or failure of a project. They are the single wring-able neck. However, responsibility can be shared and is something reserved for teams who share the responsibility of managing risk, keeping on schedule, staying within scope, and producing quality work. Product Owners are accountable for the overall performance of the project and guiding the team with a product road map. The Product Owner provides the what. The Team provides the how.

Stopping the flow of communication so they neatly fit the mold of the three questions can introduce risks into the project. It jeopardizes the quadruple constraint (Scope, Schedule, Cost, and Quality). So let your team discuss the sprint goal. Let your teams talk about the future beyond the next 24 hours. Let them self-organize in a way that’s most comfortable for them. They’re responsible for delivery — have the courage to step back so they deliver.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the daily scrum or the anti-patterns you’ve recently spotted. If you’d like to have a discussion, leave a comment below or contact me. Feel free to connect with me on social media as well!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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A Story On Anti-Patterns

The Anti-Pattern

In one of my past posts, I asserted that the Product Owner Steers The Ship and that as a coach, we don’t want to make assumptions about the anti-patterns our Product Owners may have inherited from their previous roles. After a few conversations I had with people, I decided to expand a bit on the topic of anti-patterns. There are multiple areas in Agile that need their own list of anti-patterns and context. But isn’t that true in life? I think so. So for this post, I’m going to dive into anti-patterns as a behaviors and a mind-set and treat you with a story. Enjoy!

“An anti-pattern is a common response to a recurring problem that is usually ineffective and risks being counterproductive”

-Andrew Koenig

Design Patterns


Figure It Out, Larry!

Samantha is a District Manager for a manufacturing company and she’s dealing with a new employee, Larry, who isn’t quite performing up to par with the rest of her team. For the third week in a row, Larry has submitted “sub-par work.” The numbers and calculations in his reports are way off from the previous ones she’s used to seeing. It’s obvious to Samantha that Larry isn’t following the templates and checklists correctly. But, she can’t figure out how to get through to him. She doesn’t want to start micro-managing his assignments, but she and her team have been so backlogged that she expected him to follow all the documented procedures and figure it out. He seemed so bright on paper. Maybe she was wrong about her newly hired employee?

After reviewing his first report, she made a passing comment, some thing along the lines of, “you really must have grinded this out at the last minute, Larry?” It was meant as a half-serious joke. She doesn’t really know Larry that well, being that he’s new to the team, but she’s known for being sarcastic in the office and most of the team dish it right back at her. His first day on the job the team had a particularly rowdy meeting. He knew what was up and that no one took the jabs seriously. She has a healthy working relationship with her team, despite what it looks like on the outside. She has full confidence in her staff and she chooses to be hands off with them. Everyone is brilliant. Except maybe one?

The second report came in and she was a bit agitated. She decided to remind everyone at the next staff meeting about using the correct template and the expectation of “quality work from each individual — everyone is busy with their own projects and programs and is expected to pull their weight.” She made eye contact with Larry, letting him know that the message was meant for him. Larry didn’t hold her gaze for long. It was clear he got the message.

After week three, Samantha lost it when she got Larry’s report. Not only was the report turned in late, but Larry was no where to be found. Who was Samantha going to yell at? Samantha immediately navigated to the HR SharePoint page and downloaded the Word document titled “formal written reprimands for employees.” It was time to send a message to Larry, “it’s time to shape up or ship out” she thought to herself. Three weeks and he still hasn’t figured it out.

Samantha went through the report closely and began documenting discrepancies like formatting and the fact that the report wasn’t turned in first thing in the morning — she noted each item on the reprimand document. She combed through it more closely than she had in the past few weeks and saw that Larry added a section titled, Raw Material Rework & Waste. “What is this?” Samantha asked herself. She went on to read the report, “each plant has had a remarkable spike in waste due to poor raw materials after switching to the new South American supplier, Corpo Corp resulting in 18% of  all finished products requiring rework and 2% of finished products un-shippable and designated as waste.” If this was true, Samantha had a serious problem on her hands. This was a multi-million dollar problem. It could end the career of the plant manager.

Samantha saw that Daniel Ramon, one of her plant managers and a close friend, was listed as a reference on this part of the report. She quickly pulled out her phone and called his personal number.

“Samantha, to what do I owe the pleasure?” Daniel’s booming voice broke through the noise of the factory in the background.

“Hey, Daniel. I’m just reading Larry’s report here and I had a few…” Samantha was abruptly interrupted by Daniel.

“Larry saved our butts, Sam! I tell you, you got an eye for talent! He’s here with that intern from upstairs helping us out! I tell ya’, since we switched to that new vendor, Corpo Corp or whatever they’re called, the materials we’ve been getting in have been shit, Sam! I can’t believe this! Larry is just finishing up over here, do you need him?”

“Finishing up with what?” Samantha’s heart was beating hard.

“He helped us re-organize the plant lay out so we can do re-work without missing our ship dates! Ain’t you know what your boy is up to out here?” Daniel laughed.

“You don’t say… uhm.. No, I’ve been so behind… I was just checking in… honestly, no I haven’t looked carefully at his reports until just now,” Samantha admitted and felt a weight on her chest and she was suddenly felt with grief. She was getting ready to write Larry up, to begin his journey to termination, and he was busy saving her ass. Saving Daniel’s ass.

“That’s okay, Sam. Larry didn’t say much about what’s been going on between you two but I heard through the grapevine. Anyways, I scheduled a meeting with some of the big wigs in two weeks. I want you and Larry to present his results to those penny pinchers up-stairs, you got more pull upstairs than anyone and it’s a good way to introduce Larry to the new CEO. You let them know that switching over to this cheaper vendor is actually costing us money in OT, re-work, and useless product,” Daniel exclaimed.

“Of course, Dan. If you don’t mind me asking? When did Larry first start helping you out at the plant?”

“About three weeks ago, I ‘reckon! That boy came down here on his own for a tour of the plant. Don’t you usually bring the newbies down here? Oh, right. Too busy. Anyways, after about twenty minutes of my showing him the place, he had the audacity to tell me that ‘there’s too much waste.’ Can you believe that, Sam? Lecturing me! ME! ABOUT WASTE! I’m the Six Sigma trainer over here and have been the plant manager for going on eight years! I reckon..” Daniel was known for swearing like a sailor and long winded rants. Samantha quickly interrupted before he could take another breath and continue.

“So he tried to tell you how to do your job?” Samantha interjected with a question.

“Nah, not really… Maybe I was bein’ too defensive with the young gun. I had a busy morning fighting fires and I could tell he didn’t mean anything by it when he started blushing and pulled out his binder and reports from purchasing, payroll and sales. He showed me the data and pointed down to the plant where we had bottlenecks and piles of work building up. He showed me there’d been no increase in sales or large volumes of material from purchasing, but our payroll has gone way up in over-time. I wouldn’t have caught it for another two weeks from now because we’ve been practicing lean and Six Sigma for so long that I usually only need a monthly report anymore,” Daniel lowered his voice and took on a serious tone.

“I dropped the ball on this one, Sam. I didn’t have the feedback loops in place to catch this. We would have been screwed royally this quarter if it weren’t for your boy Larry. We still have to deal with the re-work until we can get our old vendor back, but we’ll have minimal overtime and we should be able to meet all our ship dates with Larry’s re-design. I told sales not to run any discounts so we don’t have any large swings in production just to be on the safe side. We’ll break even this quarter but we need our old vendor back,” Daniel finished.

“Of course, I’ll get with Larry and we’ll make sure HQ knows what’s going on, Dan” Samantha assured her long time friend.

“Thanks, Sam! And hold on to Larry, he’s a rockstar! I’m taking him and that intern out for a few drinks tonight after we wrap-up over here. Meet us at AppleBee’s around quittin’ time if you ain’t got any plans for tonight,” Daniel finished and hung up the phone.

“I’ll be there,” Samantha said quietly to herself. She owed someone an apology.

That evening, Samantha walked into AppleBees. She spotted the two at one of the tall tables in the bar area, but she knew where to look because she could hear Daniel’s loud and booming voice over the chatter that filled the crowded restaurant. She ordered a martini and two more drinks for Larry and Daniel before making her way to the table to join them.

“Sam, I’m glad you made it! I was just telling Larry here about the company barbecue and the finer points potato sack racing!” Daniel boasted with a hearty laugh.

“Dan, are you trying to recruit poor Larry here so you can reclaim that trophy? You know My hubby and I won’t be giving it up this year,” Samantha smiled over at Larry who was looking down at his feet.

Daniel looked over at Larry and then at Samantha who was looking ashamed. He excused himself for a much needed restroom break so the two could have a moment together.

“Larry, I owe you an apology. I’m so sorry for the way I’ve been treating you. You saved us from a disaster,” Samantha met Larry’s gaze as he looked up with an embarrassed smile.

“It’s okay, water under the bridge,” Larry said lightly.

“No, it’s not okay. Just like how Daniel didn’t have the appropriate feedback loops in place to catch the re-work issues, I don’t have the appropriate feedback loops in place to see that there’s something wrong with the way my team is running,” Samantha said with sincerity. “Help me out, please?”

“Okay, then can I give you some honest feedback about some of the anti-patterns I’ve seen?” Larry asked tentatively.

Samantha hadn’t heard that term in a while. Anti-patterns was something she remembered during her Lean training last year but could never think of an instance that it applied to her so she forgot about it. He paused and then went on when Samantha nodded her head and smiled; signaling for him to continue.

“Well, I sense there’s little room for outsiders in your group. When I first joined your team, I felt like I an outsider looking in. The first meeting I was in, there was a lot of inappropriate joking and the team engaged in put downs. I don’t know if I can fit in with a culture like that. I believe it’s important to treat each of my team mates with respect and to act professionally,” Larry went on.

“We all respect each other, Larry. There’s so much trust in our group that we can do that and there’s no hard feelings,” Samantha countered.

“Right, I know that. I don’t mean to imply that the group isn’t tight. It’s obvious you are — but, there’s a consequence when those types of behaviors occur. New people feel like outsiders and communication is effected,” Larry said firmly.

Samantha thought on this and saw his point. “Okay, what else?” Samantha asked.

“Well, I observed that everyone on the team is really wrapped up in their own work. People don’t pair up on work or double check things for each other,”

“That’s only because everyone is so swamped with work. Even I put in late nights and weekends just to stay ahead,” Samantha said matter of factly.

“Right, but taking the time to double check each other’s work ensures quality and protects us from mistakes. Pairing up on projects and special tasks ensures the highest quality of work is produced. It’s just like in the factory. We can churn out product quickly, but if we’re doing rework constantly, then we’re really not as productive as we would like to think. It’s no different in the office.” Larry explained.

“True, but that’s why we have established processes and procedures,” Samantha answered.

“Yea… when’s the last time those were updated or even audited?”

Samantha closed her eyes and thought to herself. She couldn’t recall. She opened her eyes and saw Larry starring at her with a look that said he already knew the answer. “I guess it’s been a while.”

“Right, why do you think I made those changes to that report? It was dated and wasn’t fitting our needs anymore. Always be ready to adopt sensible alternatives to fit your needs; otherwise, you’ll be too busy doing work that isn’t adding value. Or worse, people stop thinking and blindly follow a process,” Larry said softly to soften the feedback.

“But, we spent weeks creating that process,” Samantha recalled working on it when she first took over as the District Manager.

“Simplicity. Focus on the most simple and direct solutions possible. I know it can be hard to kill a process that you worked hard on. But if it’s complex and hasn’t been updated in a while, it probably isn’t really being followed anymore or needs to be removed.”

Samantha started to feel the weight on her chest again. She knew deep down that everything Larry was saying was right. It was all so painfully obvious but she had failed to see it. Even after starring it in the face for so long. She must have been deep in thought because she didn’t notice the server take her empty glass away and return with another drink.

Daniel’s hearty laugh finally snapped her out of her haze and she looked up and saw him returning to their table. She looked back to Larry and smiled. “Larry, I’m glad I hired you. I guess I need to make some changes.”

Larry smiled back, “one step at a time; we’ll figure it out.”

Anti-Patterns Are Hard To Spot… Even When You’ve Been Starring Them In The Face For A Long Time

It’s hard to spot anti-patterns. Mainly because we, as humans, are a collection of past behaviors, our genetics, and the environment which acts upon us. Of course, we’re not just behaving creatures, we feel and think as wellMany times, we are unaware of the secondary effects of our behaviors. We start with a certain intention and behave in ways that are similar to our past; however, there can be unintentional consequences that impede the results we initially wanted. This is an anti-pattern.

Just as Larry explained above, Samantha never intended to foster a team culture that made outsiders feel unwelcome. In fact, she felt her team culture was one of trust. But her new employee was unwilling to speak up for himself. Team members were unwilling to pull themselves away from their work to help out a new team mate. It was clear that everyone on that team, even Samantha, was using the same anti-pattern.

Larry also went on to explain that there is too much work on everyone’s plate. So much so that old processes have not been updated and that the quality of work being produced by Samantha’s team was probably questionable. Did you know that putting more paper in the printer doesn’t make it print any faster? There’s only so much we can do in a given work day, and we should ensure quality is a part of our ever day work routines.

Producing quickly should not be the goal of a team. It’s not efficiency either. It’s stability and effectiveness. How long do you think Samantha was receiving that report without really questioning the quality? Without questioning how effective it was anymore? It wasn’t until Larry came along and started doing things effectively that Samantha even noticed.

Putting more paper in the printer doesn’t make it print any faster. Producing quickly should not be the goal of a team. It’s not efficiency either. It’s stability and effectiveness.

One quality of an effective leader is the ability to prioritize work. Not everything is “priority 1.” That sort of defeats the purpose of the word ‘priorities’ and if that’s your management style… Well, your employee turn over rate is probably high and employee satisfaction is likely low. Just saying. Figure out what’s important and let your team know. Only change the priorities after a business need exists. Command and control the priorities, not the people. People can’t produce quality work if they’re constantly being pulled in multiple directions by several priority 1 projects.

One quality of an effective leader is the ability to prioritize work. Command and control the priorities, not the people.

Anti-patterns are not unique to Agile. Or business. They exist in every day life. They can have an impact on our relationships, finances, diet, and our health. That’s why it’s important to constantly seek feedback. Challenge yourself to get perspectives from the highest level and all the way down in the weeds. Challenge your own perspective and poke holes in your logic. Why do you think so many successful leaders read books? Why do you think they take time to meditate? Or take classes or take up new hobbies? It’s because these kinds of activities shape perspective. They help us learn new behaviors and ways of thinking about the world. They help us spot those anti-patterns. They make us better leaders and people.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on anti-patterns or the ones you’ve recently spotted. If you’d like to have a discussion, leave a comment below or contact me. Feel free to connect with me on social media as well!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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The Five Levels Of Conflict

Reflections On Courage: What Rocky Balboa Taught Me About Failure

Once a year, I have a ritual and binge watch all of the Rocky movies. For those unfamiliar, the series is about an Italian-American boxer portrayed by Sylvester Stallone named Rocky Balboa. The saga begins with Rocky, a small-time boxer, trying to make ends meet as a collector for a loan shark. As the series progresses, Rocky is faced with multiple challenges. He achieves success, failure, loss, even ridicule — not just in the ring, but in life as well.

While many consider each movie an action/sports film, I feel that the series is a set of beautifully crafted dramas that just happen to have boxing in them. The series connects with me in a few ways, however, what keeps me coming back to the series each year is the lessons about picking yourself back up after a failure. Perseverance and the courage to keep moving forward, even when no one believes in you, is how ordinary people achieve extraordinary results.

The Rocky Saga

Below is a brief synopsis of each movie. Don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers here.

  1. Rocky is about when opportunity meets preparation you can achieve success.
  2. Rocky II is about proving you belong even in the face of criticism and self-doubt.
  3. Rocky III is about failing because of complacency and picking yourself back up and starting over.
  4. Rocky IV is about facing seemingly impossible challenges with the world watching you — even after suffering a traumatic personal loss.
  5. Rocky V is about losing your success because life has a funny way of working that way. Continuing your legacy and keeping what’s most important in life ahead of you (even if we forget about what’s truly important at times) is the greatest success we can have in life.
  6. Rocky Balboa again, is about facing seemingly impossible challenges, even with the world watching, because that’s the way you live. It’s the way you’re made. You don’t know how to live differently.

While I love the newest movie in the series, Creed, I want to stop right here. Because in Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone has one of his most powerful scenes in the entire series. It resonates with me every time I watch it.

That Speech About Life, Taking Punches, And Moving Forward…

Rocky’s son, now a young man in his 20s, is upset with his father for taking an exhibition fight with the reigning champion, Mason Dixon. Rocky’s son explains how difficult it is to live in the shadow of someone like his father. That because he shares the same last name, if his father makes a fool of himself, or worse gets hurt, it’ll somehow hurt him, his career, and reputation.

Rocky is taken aback by this, and his son continues, “doesn’t it bother you that people are making you out to be a joke and that I’ll be included in that?” Rocky is disappointed. He takes a moment to reflect. Then delivers one of the most powerful speeches I’ve ever heard…

“You ain’t gonna believe this, but you used to fit right here.

I’d hold you up to say to your mother, ‘This kid’s gonna be the best kid in the world. This kid’s gonna be somebody better than anybody I ever knew.’ And you grew up good and wonderful. It was great just watching you, every day was like a privilege. Then the time come for you to be your own man and take on the world, and you did. But somewhere along the line, you changed. You stopped being you. You let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you’re no good. And when things got hard, you started looking for something to blame, like a big shadow.

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!”

– Rocky Balboa

It’s a powerful speech and when you get a chance, watch the movie. If you haven’t seen a Rocky Balboa movie, watch this one. It’s a gritty and inspiring film. If you disagree, you can fight me… just kidding… kind of…

Let The Team Take Their Punches

So how does this relate to coaching? Well let me tell you about one of my own failures. When I first started out as a scrum master, I held onto the “failure is not an option” mantra. I brought this mantra with me from my time in the military. I was a ‘helicopter parent’ in a lot of ways and did my best to protect my teams from failure because I didn’t want it to reflect on me or be viewed as an inability to be an effective servant leader.

I would interject when I saw the team laying down railroad tracks aimed at a cliff. I would coerce them to adjust before they realized it was necessary because they weren’t look at the big picture. I didn’t want them to make a mistake — I didn’t want us to fail. As a result, I failed my teams. I took away the their ability to have a shared experience. A shared failure.

I’ve learned from my failure and if you can relate, as am sure some of you do, I encourage you to have the courage to watch your teams fail at new things. Letting your team fail together means they grow together. Failure, just like success, is not final. It’s having the courage to continue, to take those punches and keep moving forward that counts.

Leave your thoughts about failure in a comment below. If you’d like to have a discussion about the Rocky Movies, please contact me or connect with me on social media!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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Scrum Product Owners Part 2

The Product Owner Chooses Business Value

As the “single wring-able neck,” the Product Owner is tasked with maximizing business value and setting the direction for a new or existing product. She shares the guiding view into the future and collaborates with customers, stakeholders, technical teams, and supporting roles to steer the product to the desired end-state. In this article, I would like to share my favorite two value areas that effective Product Owners understand.

  1. Customer Service
  2. Operational Efficiency

1. Customer Service

An organization is nothing without it’s customers — they are either external or internal customers. Customers are the people who use the product to fulfill a specific need. A product that is easy to use and accurately fulfills a customer’s needs is valuable to the organization. Design considerations like User Interface and User Experience need to be considered when crafting user stories, however, the main consideration is, “how are we best serving our customer with this feature?” 

External Customers look to “exploit artefacts[sic] produced by the organization with specific requirements and specifications” (Hobbs, 2016). External customers are essential to the success of the organization as it operates to produce the artifacts specified by external customers.

Internal customers are all members of the organization who rely on assistance from each other to fulfill their duties in the production of artifacts specified by the external customers.

“If you build a great experience customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.”

— Jeff Bezos, Amazon

2. Operational Efficiency

An organization is unable to best serve it’s customers if it’s inefficient. While running the air conditioning in the middle of winter is wasteful, Product Owners go beyond the obvious to make operations more efficient. Below is a list of operational efficiencies in a ‘lean’ context that Product Owners should consider in their user stories. Product Owners should start with, “how does this feature improve our operations or reduce waste?”

  1. Reducing defects – features aimed at reducing defects strive to reduce errors, mistakes, rework, and preserve data integrity of internal and external customers.
  2. Reducing motion – features directed at reducing motion strive to automate a formerly paper-driven process. This helps improve efficiency and standardizes the quality of those processes. Additionally, frees up resource capacity so internal customers can engage in more technical work.
  3. Creating a common language – features sighted on centralizing information in a common place creates a lexicon synonymous with the organization. It simplifies the way information is shared and understood throughout the organization. Internal customers are all speaking and sharing the same meanings and when extended to client-facing applications, external customers speak the language too.
  4. Improving decision making – features trained on increasing transparency allow internal customer to make decisions quickly — ultimately helping organizations exercise business agility and ‘pivot’ when the internal or external environment prompts for it. 

Leave your thoughts on Product Ownership or Business Value in a comment below. If you’d like to have a discussion, please contact me or connect with me on social media!

Photo Credit: Pixabay


Hobbs, B. &. (2016). Projects with internal vs. external customers: An empirical investigation of variation in practice. International Journal of Project Management Volume 34, Issue 4, 675 – 687.

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Scrum Product Owners Part 1

The Product Owner Steers The Ship

The Product Owner can be described as the “single wring-able neck” in Scrum. They are responsible for maximizing value and setting the direction for a new or existing product. They work with development teams, stakeholders, groom & prioritize their backlog, and share a guiding view into the future. The Product Owner is the most important role in the organization and only a special kind of person volunteers for it. The rest are usually ‘volun-told.’

Intention and style shape the effectiveness of a Product Owner. Like all of us, Product Owners come from different backgrounds or roles. Angela Druckman, of the Druckman Company has a wonderful series on Product Ownership and I have personally worked with her and attended her Certified Scrum Master and Certified Scrum Product Owner courses during our Agile Transformation at the Nevada Department of Transportation.

As a coach, we don’t want to make assumptions about the anti-patterns our Product Owners may have inherited from their previous roles.

“An anti-pattern is something that looks like a good idea, but which backfires badly when applied.”

-Jim Coplien

Never assume that an ex-project manager uses “command and control” with their teams or that ex-business analyst will struggle with emotional intelligence. Leave all judgement to Judge Judy. Your job as a coach isn’t to fix anti-patterns. It’s to tap into people’s potential. Anti-patterns will extinguish as each person’s potential is unlocked and the agile mindset becomes a part of who they are. 

Captain & First Mate: Product Owner & Scrum Master

The first thing I want to stress is the relationship between a Product Owner and Scrum Master. These two roles, when combined with the Delivery Team, are a lot like a Project Manager and Delivery Team. Let’s take a 30,000ft view of the 10 Knowledge Areas of Project Management and see where the Product Owner and Scrum Master have responsibility in regards to traditional project management and its’ relation to iterative product development.

  • Integration Management
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager via a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and Gantt Charts.
    • Scrum: This responsibility is shared among the Delivery Team, Product Owner, and Scrum Master via collaboration and iterative development.
  • Scope Management 
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager and Change Control Board via the Scope Baseline and Change Management Process.
    • Scrum: This responsibility is the Product Owner’s via collaboration with stakeholders, prioritizing business objectives, and the product backlog.
  • Cost Management
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager via the Cost Baseline, budget, and Change Management Process
    • Scrum: This responsibility is the Product Owner’s via iterative delivery, business objectives, and budget.
  • Time Management (formerly Schedule Management)
    • Traditional: This responsibility fall onto the Project Manager via the Schedule Baseline, critical path, and Gantt Chart.
    • Scrum: This responsibility is shared among the Delivery Team and Product Owner via iterative releases.
  • Quality Management
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager and delivery team via Quality Assurance (QA), Quality Control (QC), and User Acceptance Testing (UAT).
    • Scrum: This responsibility is shared among the Delivery Team, Scrum Master, and Product Owner via Quality Assurance (QA), Quality Control (QC), Sprint Reviews with stakeholders & Product Owner, Scrum Master resolving impediments during the daily stand-up, and Agile Retrospectives.
  • Procurement Management
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager and stakeholders via the organization’s Project Management Office procurement Policies, Processes, and Procedures
    • Scrum: This responsibility is not defined in Scrum, however, the organization’s Policies, Processes, and Procedures should be followed. A Scrum Master or  Product Owner should work closely with the Project Management Office.
  • Stakeholder Management
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager via the stakeholder management plan.
    • Scrum: This responsibility is shared among by the Product Owner and Scrum Master. The Product Owner elicits requirements from stakeholders and the Scrum Master insulates the Delivery Team so they can focus on the product.
  • Communication Management
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager via the communication plan.
    • Scrum: This responsibility is shared among the Delivery Team, Product Owner, and Scrum Master. The Delivery Team meets daily and communicates progress and impediments. The Product Owner manages stakeholder expectations. The Scrum Master can assist with managing stakeholder expectations, facilitates the Daily Stand-up, Sprint Planning, The Sprint Review, The Sprint Retrospective, and coaches the principles of Agile to everyone in the organization.
  • Resource Management (formerly Human Resource Management)
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager via the Resource Management Plan.
    • Scrum: This responsibility falls onto the Delivery Team and Scrum Master via iterative planning sessions, capacity planning for each iteration, and relative estimation and using past performance to forecast velocity.
  • Risk Management
    • Traditional: This responsibility falls onto the Project Manager via the Risk Register, Risk Management Plan, and Contingency Reserves.
    • Scrum: This responsibility is shared among the Delivery Team, Scrum Master, and Product Owner. The Delivery Team and Scrum Master use retrospectives to address risk and improve how they work. The Product Owner sets the guiding view into the future, sets the priorities for each iteration via the backlog, and makes informed decisions based on the technical expertise of the team and the strategy of the organization.

While the above is a high-level, “vanilla,” list of the shared responsibilities and activities, it illustrates my point. The Product Owner and Scrum Master are a lot like a Project Manager split into two roles. This allows them to share responsibilities and specialize in select areas — making them more effective and increasing the chances of success. As a coach, we need to make sure these two stand as a united front. The Product Owner steers the ship and the Scrum Master is the first-mate.

Leave your thoughts on Product Ownership, Scrum, or Project Management in a comment below or if you’d like to have a discussion, please contact me or connect with me on social media!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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