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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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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Talking About Communication: A Fun Game For Your Next PMO Meeting

Telestrations – A Game For Communication

Today I was cleaning out my school bag and came across some old index cards that I had used in my Advanced Project Management class. We used it during our lecture on communication management and the instructor had us play a quick game of Telestrations

Why It’s Important

One of the greatest threats to the success of any project is the failure to communicate. Our goal, as Project Managers and Product Owners is to ensure the timely and appropriate generation, collection, dissemination, and disposition of information. Communication is the oil that keeps a project running smoothly. 

This game is easy, fun, and provides some laughs. Additionally, it’s a great opportunity for everyone in the Project Management Office to be reminded of the basic principles of communication. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in a PMO meeting and was either bored to death by power point (death by power point… ugh…) or the group wasted an hour and a half reviewing project status reports (couldn’t I have just sent an email?!?… double ugh…).

The game I describe below takes about 2 minutes of set-up and about 5-10 minutes to execute depending on how many participants are involved. It’s a great ice-breaker and will keep everyone focused if you’re one of those evil managers with a habit of scheduling the PMO meeting after lunch.

Supplies – What You’ll Need

  1. Pink (or any color) note cards x4
  2. White note cards x16
  3. Sharpies x4
  4. Stop watch x1
  5. 1 person to facilitate and keep time
  6. 4 or more people to participate


Write 4 different project management topics on your pink notecard (in the examples below, my team used: integration, program management, execution, and procurement)

Place 4 of the blank note cards (or more if there are more than 4 people in a group) under a pink card with the project management term written on it.

Write the following instructions on a whiteboard for everyone to read:

  1. Please get into a group of 4 people.
  2. Each person will be given a group of note cards (keep them together at all times).
  3. The 1st note card will have a Project Management term on it (Do not share this word with anyone in your group until we are done with the game).
  4. Every 1 minute, we will rotate through the note cards as follows (The facilitator will keep time and ensure the note cards pass to each person):
    1. First Person, read the term on the pink card, then place that card behind the stack of cards and draw the term on the first blank note card. Pass all of your note cards to the next person with your drawing on top.
    2. Second Person, Based on the drawing the first person made, Write the term on the next blank note card. Pass all of your note cards to the next person with the term you wrote on the top.
    3. Third Person, Read the term the second person wrote and place it behind the stack of cards. Draw the term the second person wrote on a blank note card. Pass all of your note cards to the next person with your drawing on top.
    4. Fourth Person, Based off of the drawing the third person made, Write the term on the next blank note card. Pass all of your note cards to the next person with the term you wrote on top.
    5. Assuming a group of 4, the first person should have the original project management term they started with — the pink card they first read to start the game. Starting with the pink card, each person read the original term and share the pictures and terms in the order they were drawn. 
    6. Facilitator should allow each person to describe their pictures and encourage a few minutes of conversation.
  5. Final Note: Drawings can not have any written words or prompts on them. Pictures only!

Below is an example of the final results our group had:

Topic: Integration

As you can see, the first three people were able to communicate “integration” pretty well. The fourth person wrote “tools & techniques.” When we discussed this as a group, the pot in the third picture reminded the fourth person of tools and cooking techniques used in the kitchen.

Topic: Execution

This one was pretty funny. I started off this iteration and chose to draw a stick figure getting decapitated at a guillotine. I felt this was a an obvious example of “execution.” Unfortunately, the second person didn’t pick up on this and guessed “penalty.” Naturally, the third person figured this was a “penalty” and related that to budget and drew a picture that led the fourth person to assume “over budget.” We were way off the mark with this and shared some laughs.

Topic: Procurement

On my opinion, this was the hardest topic. During our discussion, the first person stated they had a tough time trying to draw a picture for “procurement” in 1 minute or less (heck yes! I still don’t know what I could draw). The closest thing they could draw looked like communication management and that was what we all guessed at. Again, we weren’t even close!

Topic: Program Management

I think the first person did a great job with their picture. A program is a group of similar projects or activities. The use of a the box plot diagram was straight out of the PMBOK. Unfortunately, as we discovered, the artist chose to use 5 circles to represent the projects inside of the program. The second person focused on this fact and guess “the 5 phases of a project.” The third picture, which is mine, has a stick figure using a phaser on a column of 5 (pretty creative if you ask me). The final person guessed “5 knowledge areas.” I guess my picture wasn’t as good as I thought it was.

Take Aways – Common Mistakes With Communication

There’s plenty of material about the basic communication model. I’ll try not to rehash something we all know, so I’ve just highlighted a few of the key takeaways from our lecture and subsequent discussions.

Confirm communication is actually received and understood.

Research says that in a face-to-face interaction:

  1. 58% of communication is through body language
  2. 35% of communication is through how the words are said
  3. 7% of communication is through the content or words that are spoken
  • Pay attention to more than just the actual words someone is saying.
  • A person’s tone of voice and body language say a lot about how they really feel.
  • Ask people what information they need and when.
  • Plan communications to all stakeholders and project team members and a way that fits their needs.
  • Customize communication standards within your organization to the needs of the project. Don’t stick with a template if it’s not effective!
  • Use multiple methods of communication.
  • Realize that communication is two-sided, to and from a stakeholder or project team member.

Share your thoughts on communication or using the Telestrations game in your next meeting 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

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The Quick And Dirty On Stakeholders

A Scrum Product Owner’s Quick And Dirty Guide To Stakeholder Management

Identify Stakeholders

One of the core responsibilities of a Product Owner is managing stakeholders. Successfully managing Stakeholder expectations, decisions, and time are all signs of effective stakeholder management. There are many tools and techniques to help you identify your stakeholders, however, below is a list of ideas to help you wrangle in those stakeholders and identify who they are:

  1. Follow the money – find out who’s got some skin in the game
  2. Resources – find out who’s giving your their people to assist with development
  3. Deliverables – find out who you are delivering the product to
  4. Decision-Makers – find out who will make decisions before you can deliver the goods
  5. Related Programs/Products/Projects – find out who acts as a supporting function to your product
  6. Organizational Charts – find the organizational chart and make sure it is up to date
  7. Team members – if you’re new, ask your team members
  8. Find Influencers – Unofficial People of Influence who yield power through influence and not their position

Know What Motivates Your Stakeholders

Understanding what motivates the stakeholders is just as important as knowing the organizational goals. Of course, we like to think that everyone thinks, “yes! go team and go us! let’s move towards our goal.” Unfortunately, politics also play a part in the Product Development game. Some stakeholders have their own interests in mind or put their own department needs first. They lose focus on the over-arching strategy of the organization. Effective Product Owners need to be aware of:

  1. The Organizational Strategy
  2. Budget Positioning
  3. Personal Agendas
  4. Stakeholder “Pet Peeves,” “Pet Projects,” and their “Pet People.”

Problem Children

Some stakeholders bring their “baggage with them.” Sometimes they lose trust in a Project Manager, Scrum Master, organizational leadership, the delivery team, or have no faith in the product itself. Some stakeholders might have been recently burned by a project. They can have some sort of “baggage” they carry with them. No one is perfect, and sometimes, as a Product Owner, you just have to own those past issues to keep development moving forward. Saying, “I’m sorry” is free and owning those issues and sharing how you intend to do it better (sharing the lesson’s learned with the stakeholder) is the first step in gaining the confidence of any “problem children.” Below is a list of reasons why your stakeholders may be “acting out.”

Lack of trust in

  1. Project Manager/Product Owner/Scrum Master
  2. The Project/The Product/Product Delivery Team
  3. Product/Project/Program goals not articulated or defined in accordance with the organizational strategy
  4. “Bad Project Experiences”
  5. Your Own Past Mistakes

Problem Children exhibit the following behaviors:

  1. Meddlers: Always inserting themselves into decisions, processes, or meetings where they are not required
  2. The Forever SME (Subject Matter Experts): Usually a high performer who was promoted but hasn’t let go of the responsibilities of their old position
  3. Indecisiveness: Can never make decisions in a timely manner
  4. Lack of Budget: They ask for everything but don’t want to help pay for it

Golden Unicorns

The ideal stakeholder exhibits the below traits. Our “golden unicorns.” As a Product Owner, we want to make sure we keep the trust of our golden unicorns all the way to the finish line.

  1. Belief in the Product/Program/Project
  2. Don’t revel in the past — even if they had a bad project experience
  3. Communicate their needs well
  4. Availability
  5. Team Player
  6. Excellent Manager and Employee
  7. Positive self-esteem
  8. Helps motivate team members and other stakeholders
  9. Accountable & Responsible
  10. Can make timely decisions

Share your thoughts on stakeholder management 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

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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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Improving Agile Retrospectives With SMART Goals

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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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Improving Agile Retrospectives with SMART Goals





Improving Agile Retrospectives With SMART Goals

Soccer goal on an green field

Improving Agile Retrospectives With SMART Goals

Agile retrospectives are one of the best feedback loops built into Scrum. It allows delivery teams to pause from their day-to-day work to inspect and adapt their way of doing things. One of the final deliverables of an effective retrospective is a plan to implement improvements on how they build their products. Some of the things a delivery team may choose to look at are:

  • Tools & Techniques,
  • Processes & Practices,
  • People & Communication,
  • Quality & Risks,
  • Project Scope & Schedule,
  • Technical Debt & System Architecture,
  • Organizational Culture & Priorities.

A Caution For New Scrum Masters

While the above listed topics usually elicit deep, and sometimes passionate discussions, new teams may fail to actually develop and implement an effective plan to address the insights they generated. When I first started running my Agile retrospectives, my delivery teams would generate valuable insights, have deep and meaningful conversation, and then leave feeling a bit exhausted but generally glad that some dirty laundry was aired.

The result was mostly positive. Team members would develop better working relationships with each other and be more open to practicing empathy on a day-to-day basis. However, after a while, I observed that the discussions kept gravitating towards the same things over and over again. I realized some teams weren’t developing and implementing any plans to improve themselves.

As a scrum master, I was letting my teams down. I was facilitating great discussions and watching the teams develop better working relationships. Of course this was an accomplishment, however, that accomplishment was blinding me to the fact that the teams were maturing and ready to tackle process related problems. They moved past their interpersonal differences and were ready to tackle deeper issues. It was easy to recover from that fumble and SMART Goals helped me do it.


A SMART goal is an acronym based goal setting guide. It stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. It’s simple to use and forces teams to think, plan, clarify, and begin measuring their goals. To help your team set a SMART goal in a retrospective setting, I recommend allocating the last 20 minutes of the retrospective and writing the following quote and the word “SMART” on a white board.

“A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.”

– Harvey Mackay

S – specific

We want to be as precise as possible with what the team is trying to fix or improve on. One tool I use comes directly from scrum — I have the team write a user story.

As a <delivery team> we want to <address some issue> so that we can <some improvement to be made>.

This should be done in an iterative fashion if the user story is not specific enough. Asking the below questions will help the team zero in on the specifics of their SMART goal.

  • Why do we want this?
  • Who is involved?
  • What resources are constrained?
  • Why is the goal so important to us?
M – measurable

What gets measured gets done. Think of this portion as the acceptance criteria of the user story. The measurements will be unique to the goal, but try to use quantifiable items. Ask questions about the desired end state. If the SMART goal is centered around the project you can use the 10 knowledge areas

  • Project Integration Management
  • Scope Management
  • Cost Management
  • Schedule Management
  • Quality Management
  • Risk Management
  • Resource Management
  • Procurement Management
  • Communication Management
  • Stakeholder Management
A – attainable

This is our first check point — the team should reflect and assess if their SMART goal is realistic. Like effective user stories, we need to check if the SMART goal is independent and free of dependencies. If the SMART goal isn’t free of dependencies, the team may need to return to the Specific portion of their SMART goal and address any dependencies that exist.

R – relevant

This is our second check point — the team should reflect and assess if their SMART goal is germane to the insights discussed during the retrospective. As a Scrum Master, you can ask questions like:

  • Is this a worthwhile effort?
  • Are we the right group of people to take on this effort?
  • Is this the right time to address this effort?

Again, if the team doesn’t define the SMART goal as worthwhile or discovers they are not the right group of people to take on the effort, they should return to the Specific portion of their SMART goal and identify something within their span of control.

Note: if the team discovers that another group is more suitable to address the issue discussed, the Scrum Master should take the generated insights and work with that group after the retrospective adjourns. 

T – time bound

The final step is to establish a target date. Teams tend to work better when there’s a deadline in place. The team, armed with the specifics of their SMART goal, defined metrics, and an ideal end state should be able to set a realistic date. In my experience, the date should be no more than 2-iteration lengths (4-weeks total assuming 2-week iterations).

Leave your thoughts on Agile retrospectives or SMART goals in the comments below or if you’d like to have a discussion, please contact me or connect with me on social media!

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The 5 P Pyramid Model. Assessing Policy, Process, Procedure, People and Personalities In Scrum.

The 5 P Pyramid Model.

I recall my first software development project as both exciting and nerve racking. Luckily, I was paired with an extremely talented Business Process Analyst who’s approach to requirements gathering was both methodical and like watching an artist at work. He introduced me to several ways of thinking about organizations — what I now call the 5 P Pyramid Model. This model has helped me analyze business processes and has been a wonderful tool for change management and exercising business agility. I continue to refine his ideas and accumulate my own knowledge, however, I would like to share his lessons with you by using the Scrum Process as an example.

“When eliciting requirements or attempting to document information from your stakeholders, keep the following items in mind:

The 5 P Pyramid Model
  1. Policies,
  2. Processes,
  3. Procedures,
  4. People, and their
  5. Personalities”


Policy is about understanding the landscape you operate in and those affected by your decisions. Policies guide decisions and provide rationale for their existence. Well written policies describe the what — they do not describe how an organization will fulfill the requirements of the policy. Generally, you can bucket your policies as external and internal. Internal policies also have two characteristics: De jure and de facto.

  • External policies are the laws and industry standards your organizations must adhere to. These include international, federal, and state laws you must adhere. In the case of Scrum, a government agency has policies regarding purchasing. Here is a great article regarding public-sector purchasing using Agile.
  • Internal policies are the policies related to the organization’s vision, mission, and goals. Whether undergoing business projects or internal IT projects, policies regarding how products and projects are delivered also exist. In the case of Agile, an organization’s policy describes the use of iterative and incremental development techniques vs. gated and sequential development.
    • De jure internal policies: Have been formally evaluated, approved, and adopted by the organization. Usually, they are easily accessible, understandable, and “written in stone.”
    • De facto internal policies: Have been widely adopted and accepted by the organization, however, they are not written and documented — leaving room for interpretation. Finding and documenting these policies can be difficult. At times it can feel like you’re on a journey to find the tribal leaders who can teach you the “song of the tribe.” It becomes increasingly difficult to find the tribal leaders to teach us their “songs” as more people retire and the trend for job hopping continues to grow.


Business processes are the high level activities that an organization accomplishes in order to fulfill policies. They can and should be analyzed at different degrees of resolution. Think about the saying, “Give me the 30,000 foot view” vs. “At the ground level.” They should be assessed and dropped into three different categories:

  1. Operational processes are the processes related to an organization’s value chain. They are the core business activities that organizations engage in to deliver their goods and services. Using the processes that our Scrum teams use, we can see that the Sprint Review and Pushing Code to Production directly add value to our customers because this is where our stakeholders review and accept the code (sprint review) that was developed during the iteration and the delivery team makes it available to for use (delivery of shippable code).
  2. Supporting processes are the secondary functions that exist within the organization. They support the core business processes but do not provide value to the customers directly — Sprint planning and the daily scrum is where our delivery team plans what will be worked on (planning) and discusses the work being done over the past 24 hours to address any impediments to meeting the sprint goals (daily stand up). 
  3. Management processes help coordinate the operations and supporting processes. They drive for business efficiency and success. The sprint retrospective is used by the delivery team to inspect and adapt their daily work to improve efficiency and product backlog grooming is for prioritization, addressing dependencies, and writing effective user stories before the next planning meeting.


Scrum Process Diagram
A 30,000ft view of the Scrum Process

Procedures & People

Procedures are the steps that need to occur in each process to reach desired outcomes. They are normally fulfilled by a combination of people & technologies and are sometimes referred to as standard operating procedures. Let’s look at the procedures in our Scrum processes as an example and identify the people involved.

Sprint Planning
  1. Scrum Master: Opens the planning session, sets expectations, announces the agenda, and enforces a “time-box” throughout the planning session.
  2. Product Owner: Presents a prioritized and groomed product backlog to the Delivery Team and states what business objectives the stakeholders want attention during the iteration.
  3. Delivery Team: Examines the high priority user stories, asks clarifying questions with the Product Owner, identifies potential risks & dependencies, and helps refine acceptance criteria.
  4. Scrum Master and Delivery Team: Reviews the velocity from the last few iterations and plans their capacity for the coming sprint.
  5. Delivery Team: Uses relative estimation to size the user stories.
  6. Delivery Team: Uses their past velocity to benchmark how many user stories should be responsibly committed to.
  7. Product Owner and Delivery Team: Finalizes the Sprint Goal together.
Daily Scrum (aka. Daily Stand-up)
  1. Scrum Master: Ensures the meeting occurs, ensures no management interference on the free flow of information and discussion, and enforces a 15-minute “time-box” on the Daily Stand-up.
  2. Delivery Team: Conducts the meeting and discusses the progress towards the Sprint Goal.
  3. Product Owner: When available, attends the meeting to answer questions for the Delivery Team and makes decisions when needed.
  4. Scrum Master: Makes notes of any impediments that the Delivery Team is facing and immediately takes action following the Daily Stand-up to resolve impediments.
Sprint Review
  1. Scrum Master: Opens the Sprint Review, sets expectations, announces the agenda, and enforces a “time-box” throughout the review.
  2. Delivery Team: Presents their work in accordance with the acceptance criteria agreed upon during the planning meeting to both the Product Owner and any stakeholders invited to the meeting.
  3. Product Owner & stakeholders: Once the Delivery Team has finished presenting their work, the Product Owner and stakeholders are invited to ask clarifying questions and interact with what was built.
  4. Product Owner & Delivery Team: Takes notes of any issues, risks, or concerns from the stakeholders related to what was built or will be built in the near future.
  5. Product Owner: Accepts or Rejects each user story the Delivery Team worked on during the sprint.
Delivery of Shippable Code

Teams and organizations have their own way of pushing their code into their production environments. Due to the various best practices that exist, a separate blog post will be posted to address this at a later time. Seriously! This could be a ph.D thesis!

Sprint Retrospective
  1. Scrum Master: Facilitates the meeting, enforces a “time-box” and “sets the stage” –all information shared during the Retrospective stays within the meeting. I call this the “Vegas Rule” because what happens in Retro stays in Retro.
  2. Scrum Master: Starts with an ice-breaker if the Delivery Team is new and reviews past velocity with the team. The Scrum Master may also reminds the team of all the impediments that occurred during the sprint if the Delivery Team faced any during the sprint.
  3. Scrum Master and Delivery Team: The Scrum Master facilitates “Data Gathering” activity and the Delivery Team produces the data.
  4. Scrum Master and Delivery Team: The Scrum Master facilitates an “Insight Creation” activity and the Delivery Team creates the insights.
  5. Scrum Master and Deliver Team: The Scrum Master facilitates a “Prioritization” activity and the Delivery Team prioritizes what they want to improve.
  6. Scrum Master and Delivery Team: Decides how they will improve their own processes (either operating, supporting, or managerial processes) and creates a realistic plan to execute on. Scrum Master may need to coach new Delivery Teams about developing SMART Goals or some other goal setting techniques.
Product Backlog Grooming
  1. Product Owner: Prioritize the Product Backlog based on business objectives.
  2. Product Owner and Scrum Master: Gathers the requirements from stakeholders and writes preliminary User Stories and Acceptance Criteria
    • User Stories: As a <some role or person>, I want to <some procedure>, so I can <achieve a business outcome>.
    • Acceptance Criteria:
      • Functional
      • Non-Functional
      • Performance
      • Security
  3. Product Owner, Delivery Team, Scrum Master and invited stakeholders: Scrum Master and Product Owner facilitates an activity for the stakeholders and Delivery Team to refine the user stories and acceptance criteria.


The personalities of our employees influences their effectiveness for their role(s). Selecting the right people with desired personalities ensures that the procedures and processes are completed correctly and in a manner that matches the organizational culture. While I won’t go into the different “types of personalities,” I will speak to the types of characteristics and traits that make an effective Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Delivery Team member.

  • Scrum Master
    • Ability to coach others with empathy.
    • Ability to resolve conflict and communicate with empathy.
    • Deep understanding of Agile and Project Management.
    • Facilitation skills and creativity.
    • Servant Leadership.
    • High level IT skills and knowledge.
    • Business acumen.
  • Product Owner
    • Strong leadership.
    • Ability to prioritize work and competing demands.
    • Ability to make decisions independently.
    • Ability to gather business requirements and elicit information from stakeholders.
    • Understanding of Agile and Project Management.
    • Domain knowledge.
    • Tactful communication skills.
  • Delivery Team Member
    • Ability to work well with others.
    • Openness to coaching.
    • Strong communication skills.
    • Strong technical skills.
    • Ability to analyze and solve problems.
    • Honesty and integrity.
    • Understanding of Agile and Project Management.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the 5 P Pyramid Model in the comments below or if you’d like to have a discussion about Business Process Analysis, please contact or connect with me on social media!

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Urban Legends In Our Organization. Listening To Our Naysayers, Seers, and Jaded Sage

Urban Legends and The Organization

I recently started binge watching a show called Supernatural. For those of you unfamiliar with Supernatural, it’s about two brothers, following in their father’s footsteps, traveling across mid-west America, solving mysteries of the paranormal. They’re a part of a small community of “hunters” who vanquish demons, ghosts, shape-shifters and other urban legends (great show! I highly recommend it!).

While watching S01E05, an episode based on the “bloody mary” urban legend, one of the brothers makes the statement, “all urban legends are based on some version of the truth.” This got me thinking about the urban legends that exist in our organizations and prompted me to reflect on when my own organization first adopted Agile to manage our projects.

“The seed of an urban legend find fertile soil at the corner of tragedy and imagination.”

― Thomm QuackenbushWe Shadows

Bad Advice: Ignore The Nay Sayers…

About a year and a half ago, I was one of the leading change agents in our IT Operations Section. I coached and taught Agile to our Server Group, Network Group, Desktop Support Team, Service Desk Agents, Database Administrators, a GIS team, and a Software Development team. Each team had one or more people labelled by management as the “naysayers.” I was warned to ignore them and push forward. However, I felt this was the wrong approach.

Naysayer or Jaded Sage?

I say embrace the naysayers. They are the organization’s seers. They have been around the block, seen past failures and experienced a variety of initiatives from different management regimes. They’ve lived through the failures of past projects. Over the course of their careers and their tenure, they have accumulated sage like experience. Unfortunately, the naysayers have become a bit jaded and skeptical of “initiatives” they’ve seen fail in the past. One might say they’re not quite ready to start “drinking from the kool-aid.”

Some of these urban legends sound like…

  • “They’ve tried this before…”
  • “Just another management fad…”
  • “Why are they trying to reinvent the wheel…”
  • “They’re asking us to do things outside our work performance standards…”
  • “They can’t throw this in the mix, we’re busy trying to keep the lights on…”
  • “They keep shifting priorities, we can’t keep up…”

Identify Project Risks With Respect and Empathy

Seeing repeated failure is frustrating. It’s only human to become frustrated and fear failure. Sometimes it sounds like the naysayers are full of “doom and gloom” but their urban legends really only spur from a place of fearful imagination. Because of their fear, there’s a certain level of “attitude” and defensiveness we may face we when first initiate a dialog with our jaded sages, however, treating them with respect, dignity, and lots of empathy will go a long way. This attitude will quickly dissipate and they’ll open up and impart some of their wisdom and lessons learned.

Our Goal Is To Identify Project Risks Early

Our goal is to identify project risks quickly and find that grain of truth in their urban legends. Their wisdom should never fall on deaf ears. As a coach, project manager, or product owner, it’s our duty to ensure our organization doesn’t miss out on opportunities to learn from past mistakes and to identify risks as early as possible so they are not realized, or at the very least, so risks can be mitigated and managed.

As a project manager, we can add these items to our risk management plan and start a qualitative analysis with the project team. Product owners and scrum teams can conduct a retrospective focused on the risks. Some of my favorites are:

  • The Sailboat – Use this technique to identify what things are helping the project, what is slowing the project down, and what risks are ahead (I like to draw a pirate ship and jagged rocks below the water line and differentiate between known risks and possible unknown risks for prioritization).
  • The 5 Whys – Use this technique to help identify root causes of known risks and get at the root of problems.
  • SWOT Analysis – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. A classic technique usually used to form organizational strategy can easily be framed for risk identification. I like this one because “opportunities” can include good risk that we should plan for (example: We are planning an event for 200 people, however, what if 1000 people show up? This would be a good thing but jeopardize the success of the event if we don’t have a contingency plan to accommodate the extra 800 guests).

If you’d like to discuss more about managing risk and dealing with naysayers, I’d love to hear from you! Let’s connect and have a conversation.


Photo Credit: Flickr