Lean Thinking

Tuesday, 03 April 2018 13:07

The Solution Trap

Published in Agile

"Don't come to me with problems", says the boss, "Come to me with solutions". We've all heard it before. It's supposed to be terrifically empowering - giving people the agency to fix their own roles instead of expecting the boss to do it for them. It's become a kind of mantra for modern management. Empower your people. Ask them for solutions. And it can be empowering. Sometimes.

Quite often though, I find myself talking to a leader in an organisation who says something like "I don't like having problem discussions with my people. They always just whinge at me. They never come to me with solutions. I have empowered them to come up with solutions but they don't, they just whinge all the time". When we look a bit deeper at the reasons for that (usually by asking the leader what they would do about the problem if they had to solve it), it's usually because the problem is actually quite hard to solve. There may not be a clear solution. The symptoms are usually apparent but the causes may not be. The data to understand and solve the problem may not exist. Jumping straight to a solution in this case is not a good idea. I call it the solution trap.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018 15:59

Leaders Are Not An Alien Speciees

Published in Agile

I have been talking a lot about leadership and the part leadership plays in agility. A lot of the feedback I get on that are comments along the lines of "that's great but I can't talk to leaders". When I dig further, there are two separate problems here. One is an access problem. Some organisations make it difficult to talk to leaders, and sometimes someone will be in an engagement at a level where access is extremely difficult to arrange. Team coaches can often find it hard to get access to senior leaders because they are engaged at the team level. There isn't much I can do about that problem. The other class of people are ones who basically respond "because I don't know how".

The facetious answer is "well you engage your brain, open your mouth and words come out". But so many people have said it that it got me wondering why. Why do so many people have this in their heads? Why do so many people say to me that " you can't just walk up to leaders and talk to them, you need to handle them differently". Why do I keep getting told that "only specialist leadership coaches can talk to leaders"? Apart from specialist leadership coaches trying to secure their future work pipeline, that is all absolute crap. Leaders are people just like the rest of us, with the same concerns and pressures as the rest of us. They are not some alien species that needs to be handled in a special way. I think the main problem is a language one. People start talking to leaders in the same way they talk to teams and it just doesn't connect. Then they get discouraged and leaders become this remote species that you can't talk to. So I'm going to give you my 7 point cheat sheet for leadership communication to help get those conversations started.

Tuesday, 06 March 2018 15:54

Control vs Empowerment

Published in Agile

There has been a lot of talk at work about increasing empowerment and employee engagement. The common complaint I get from management is that "we have empowered our people but they just won't make use of it". It's a common story. Management gives empowerment but nothing at all happens. Things go on as they did before - everyone looks to management for direction. No one takes initiative. No one takes ownership. No one is empowered.

Empowerment takes more than a few words from management. You can't just tell people they are empowered and lo and behold, they are empowered. Empowerment is something people can't be given. They need to take it, it isn't something you can give. It is something people need to become. Management can't give empowerment. What they need to do is create an environment that allows people to become empowered.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017 17:30

Agile Leadership

Published in Agile

In previous posts (here, here and here) I have called out the need for really solid agile leadership to enable change. Without great leadership, change falters. We know what bad leadership looks like - directive, dis-empowering, disconnect between what they say and what they do. We all know the symptoms of bad management. But what does good management look like?

We can do the obvious and just say that good leadership looks like the reverse of bad leadership - non directive, empowering, behaves in accordance with what they are saying and so on. All that is true, but I have seen really empowering, non directive leaders who were still bad leaders at driving change. I think there is something fundamental that all leaders need to make them effective at delivering lasting change. That thing is the ability (and desire) to change themselves.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017 17:19

Lead by Example

Published in Agile

Leadership is crucial to a large scale agile transformation. You can go so far bottom up but to achieve any sort of real scale you need to get some leaders involved. A lot of what I do day to day is get leaders involved and engaged in the transformation process. When talking to leaders, this question inevitably comes up - "What is the single most important thing I can do as a leader to make this work?" For quite some time, my standard answer has been "Set a good example."

Have we ever seen this situation - the boss has just announced a fantastic new agile change program and that he or she is right behind it. "Agile is the most important thing the organisation can be doing" they say. But over the next few weeks it becomes clear that they aren't turning up to the business scrum, are too busy to make the sprint review, can't afford the time to attend backlog refinement. Then other people's attendance starts to drift off. "Too busy" becomes the standard excuse for missing something. The agile transformation falters, struggles on for a while, then vanishes without a trace.

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