Genchi founder, using individual sentiment to reveal team health and project status.
It seems clear that the world is going to be different after the Covid19 crisis is over. I think it behooves us to make sure it’s a good different. Businesses large and small are going to be facing so many headwinds that we desperately need to cut loose some of our anchors to offset. This might seem like the wrong time to implement change, but if we don’t shed some of our bad habits, we’ll never rise to these challenges.
I want to specifically address project management. While this might seem like a dry topic, remember almost all of our efforts are team based. Also, to be frank, this is the area in which we can lock in the most gains quickly. Whether remote or in person, it still feels we’re not taking advantage of the newer (and more effective) tools and methodologies. Specifically;
For the most part the tools we have are effective in getting the job done. However, the short-coming with current solutions is that they conflate
the doing of the work with providing visibility to how the work is progressing. For example, JIRA is a great workflow engine but if you are not directly involved with the day-to-day activity of the team, it is impractical to dig through JIRA tickets to try to see what’s going on. Slack is a great
communication tool, but it isn’t easy to dip into a team channel and sift out key operational updates from the regular team banter. These problems are compounded when you’re involved with multiple teams.
In spite of a professed acceptance of “Transparency” and a desire to be “Agile” it is still too bloody hard to see what is going on. I would normally cite the cost associated with this lack of visibility in terms of how much it lowers velocity, or impacts team health, or even the dollar value of missing customer milestones. However, the most relevant cost today is just the sheer cognitive burden on individuals that are already overloaded.
We simply don’t have the luxury of “business as usual” in a world that is anything but.
There is a better approach, and the good news is that it can be easily adopted by establishing some simple habits, reaffirming some common values, and making a few tweaks to your tool set. The key principles are;
These principles should feel intuitive. Largely they build upon existing Agile concepts, and tweak processes you’re likely already doing. The biggest cultural challenge is to really buy into transparency as a core value. While many organizations pay lip service to transparency, its often missed that transparency needs to be paired with trust in order to be effective. Trust as it turns out, is a harder value to adopt. Trust only works when it is a two-way street, and the human default is to want the other person to trust us, while remaining reluctant to trust them.
It is important for team members to acknowledge that managers (at all levels) need to know what is going on. This is not as a result of any “Big Brother” imperative, but because they are ultimately responsible for knowing what is going on. They are habitually asked this question by their managers and have to vouch for your work. In addition, they actively want to help, but often can be uncertain where and when to apply that help (which is a common source of friction).
Creating an effective feedback loop is a virtuous cycle that will benefit both parties.
Managers (at all levels) have to remember that while team members
actively want to share status and indicate progress, they tend to be unsure exactly when to do this and at what level. Sharing negative updates is particularly troublesome and anxiety inducing, especially in times like these when normal processes are disrupted.
However, this is exactly when they need a clear mechanism to share progress (or to be transparent about lack thereof). The key for managers to be mindful in how they respond. Encountering problems is to be expected but intervene judiciously. Trust that your team knows how to do the job you hired them for.
The way to build trust is with structure and consistency. You need to form a habit. Have a regular forum for expressing what’s happening, ideally at the same time, and in the same way every day. The daily stand-up, or scrum, has become widely adopted for a reason. People tend to think
they only need to give updates when there is a problem. That’s like thinking you only need to buy car insurance the day you have a crash. It is impossible to predict when the problems will arise, and don’t under-estimate, how valuable it is for other people to know that things are OK. That is an important piece of information that is also often buried.
The tooling is the last piece of the puzzle. While I do believe there is a gap in the market and it would be beneficial if everyone had a way to easily share individual sentiment and visualize project status (which is why we created Genchi), there is no fundamental need to re-invent the wheel.
In all likelihood the project management tools you are using are effective in getting the work done, but strive to share status more regularly. Overtly adopt transparency and trust as values. Be explicit about how your teams should communicate (both internally and externally). Hold stand-ups and do it regularly to form the habit, so you don’t have to think about it.
Making incremental changes to make the status of your teams more democratic and available, will have a disproportionate impact on your outcomes and act as a force multiplier in your efforts. These are actionable and practical steps to rise to, and overcome, the challenges of this new world, and it sure beats continuing with business as usual and just hoping for the best.
(Disclosure: The Author is the Founder of Genchi, a multi-team stand-up tool that uses individual sentiment to visualize project status. Get a Free Trial by Clicking on the Writer Ad on my Hacker Noon User Profile)