Declutter your meetings, rule 1

😥 You are swamped. Swamped with meetings. And if you take a close look at your calendar, most of them are recurring meetings you have weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or something like that. 

🤨 And of course every meeting has a clear goal, every member including you is needed in the meeting, there’s a clear agenda/topics to be discussed and in last for 45-50 minutes to make sure people have time for their needed bio-breaks (yeah, right…).

Still you need less of them, to stop the back to back meeting days.

✅ Use this rule:
Recurring meetings have a maximum of 6 occurrences. In the 6th meeting there is an extra topic: evaluation. Outcome of this topic:
– Continue yes/no
– If yes, how (cadence, length, improvements, members, etc.)

Solve your Organisational Debt, the Boy Scout Method

Technical debt
There are 3 fundamental ways to deal with Technical Debt:

  1. Stop everything for a period of time and just tackle the technical debt. Examples are “technical debt” sprints. Or in worst cases, a legacy system is so bad, the only sensible thing to do is just to rebuild the damn thing and replace it, with all the additional problems of phasing in and out.
  2. Take a certain percentage of time/effort every time period and deal with a piece of technical debt. That usually means have a full overview and then chop it up in pieces and deal with it very week. Sometimes you see even a separate backlog for technical debt… Don’t do that by the way, technical debt is part of your product, so it goes on the normal list
  3. The Boy Scout Method: when you deal with a piece of your product/code, leave it better than you found it. That means when touching code for a new solution, you also look at the code and see what you can improve.

Big chance you are dealing with your technical debt in a combination of at least 1 and 2 and sometimes 3. If possible, my advice is do 3 and not 2, but at least make a conscious decision about it. 

Organisational debt
In analogy, your organisations probably also needs to deal with Organisational Debt. Just as in technical debt, you make all kind of decisions that in the ideal situation you would not have had (to make) and your organisation is not at it’s peak happiness or performance.

The same three strategies
If the analogy applies to the problem, that of technical or organisational debt, does it extend to the solution strategies as well? Let’s try

  1. You stop everything (meaning organisational change) for a period of time and prepare a re-organisation of the team/department. Worst case you need to re-invent everything and a full company wide re-organisation is needed. 
  2. You make a “backlog” of everything that needs change and you hire a “transformation manager” to lead a change program where every team spends a bit of time every period on changing something. When one thing is done, go on to the next.
  3. The Boy Scout Method. You as a leader know that a lot needs improvement, but you don’t organise a program. With every change, (new team member, letting someone go, new system, new tool new process, new crisis, etc.) you change what you find and deal with the organisational debt related to that part of your organisation. No big bangs, no separate change programs, just improve what you find.

Note: when dealing with organisational debt, you will always find more than you’re bargained for. I use to call them pandora’s boxes where everything that comes out is in the form of a skeleton in the closet. That also means that every transformation plan needs immediate adjustments as you go along.

My opinion

  • As a leader you try to make sure that option 1 is never needed. I know that sometimes it cannot be avoided due to external unforeseen circumstances. And even then, were they really unforeseen? Or didn’t you do your due diligence to make sure risks could have been prevented? For everything that IS under your control, you do your best to not go into option 1.
  • It could be that your problems are so big that option 2 comes to mind. But starting a transformation program takes time and energy on its own and sometimes there’s not time or energy. Of course getting a quick overview of what’s going on and then thinking of a quick strategy is good, but that should not take more than a few days. The best thing to do is to start changing and adapt as you go.
  • I prefer option 3 of course. Dealing with organisational debt always brings new unseen problems, pandora’s boxes and skeletons out of closets you didn’t know even existed. That means the only way is to make use of a change and improve on the organisational debt it touches. Never waste a good “crisis”.

Oh. And never forget, organisational debt as with technical debt is payed with interest!

He Freelancer, these days happen as well!

Sometimes you might not have an assignment. Of course that happens when you choose to, but sometimes it also happens when you don’t. Keep busy and don’t dispair!

I’m in that position right now, “between assignments”. Not by choice, I’m ready to start, the right assignment just isn’t here at the moment.

Of course I like spending just a bit more time with the kids, although as family is pro 1, I do spend a lot of time with them anyway. I can’t run unfortunately due to an injury, but I try to do different things (biking, swimming). I read a lot of books about all kinds of things, just to learn and keep my mind occupied. I’m trying to acquire and/or refresh new habits:

  • Journal at least 1 page a day as part of my morning routine
  • Write 1 website/linkedIn post per day. All go here some also on LinkedIn
  • I’m back on rack on getting up early in the morning (as I would do when running)

Still, I’m under-stimulated, but physically due to the injury and mentally by not working. I love helping others solving problems, facing challenges, helping them feel they have a choice. I get that from my assignments.

So, these days and months are also all about patience, appreciating your freedom and realising how much you love to work.

I knew it! I’m an optimist!

Here’s why:

“Optimism is a belief that the odds of a good outcome are in your favor over time, even when there will be setbacks along the way. The simple idea that most people wake up in the morning trying to make things a little better and more productive than wake up looking to cause trouble is the foundation of optimism”

The psychology of money, Morgan Housel, p. 177

Ask this during an intake/interview

🙋 Ask this question as in (interim) manager during an intake/interview:

“What answers/solutions to your problems/challenges do you actually already know or have been told by your employees, but you just don’t dare to act upon?”

In most of my assignments I’m hired to help out when problems are bigger than the company can solve themselves. They need an outside look on things or just an interim manager to fix things. In my experience, a lot of the solutions are already known. They just don’t act. Management doesn’t dare to, or they need an outsider to confirm thing and clean things up. I once even opened my analysis of what’s going on with the following single sentence on a slide.

🤨 “What if everything I’m going to tell you, has already been told to you by your employees? Why would you listen now?”

❓What are your experiences with this?

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.”

I heard this saying (a Chinese proverb) a couple of times in the last days. Today again in Buitenhof, a tv talkshow. And I think I read it in “Steal like an artist” from Austin Kleon (highly recommended by the way). As it is December and almost everybody is thinking about new years resolutions, the saying resonates.

🤮 One part of me mentally throws up a bit every time somebody talks about new years resolutions. The reason is that you can start with something new every day. Every day can be a new beginning, a new year, so start now.

⏰ On the other hand, it helps to have some kind of marking moment to try to get the right start. It helps to give a basis, a “special” moment in time to give the starting moment a bit more emphasis. And it helps if others do the same, so you can keep each other accountable.

🎬 The proverb also helps to realise, that yes, a needed change could and maybe should have been done earlier (days, months or even years), but there’s no changing the past.

What you can do is to start NOW.

Antifragile instead of Agile

I think Antifragile is a better term than Agile.

Agile for me is a term related to flexible, able to go with the flow, and “bend” to change and able to move quickly. But do you really want to bend to change? Do you really want to move quickly all the time?

Antifragile is a term introduced to me by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book with the same name: Antifragile, things that gain from disorder.

The definition is: “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better”

For me antifragile includes agile, but you need more than just agile. The idea is that you get better with every change or set back you have, you come out stronger. That’s what you want as a company.

Stop hiring Agile Coaches

You don’t need them on a permanent basis.

First, I’m all for the values and principles in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. And I believe these same values and most of the principles apply beyond the realm of software development.

Second, I’m all for collaboration within and between teams. If the Scrum Framework is a set of instrumental rules that helps use them. As a means, not as an end in itself though.

Third, I’m all for outside help with these values/principles and collaboration rules if needed. 

But

If a team/department or even an entire organisation needs permanent help with this, there’s something wrong within your team/department/organisation that has nothing to do with Agile/Scrum. There might be something wrong with any or all of these things (and the list is not exhaustive):

  • Leadership, especially with leading by example
  • Basic work ethics, such as showing up for meetings on time
  • Meaningful work as a team (ticking of to do’s, instead of solving problems)
  • The right person for the right job at the right time
  • Team dynamics on a more personal level

In any of the above things, leadership needs to step in!

Of course Agile coaches can help to teach and coach on the Agile values and principles and with the chose Agile collaboration framework of choice (except SAFe or LeSS, they are just evil). But it is a temporary thing, not a permanent thing. Here are some examples and a timeframe.

New Team > 3 months max

If you have a bright new team, with people that have never worked together an Agile Coach can help to set up the right rhythm of feedback loops and meetings, helping to crate a safe working environment and the “rituals” the team needs. So no by the book Scrum implementation please. If in 3 months the team hasn’t found their rhythm, something else is wrong. By the way, this is not full time work for 1 Agile Coach, so if you don’t have an Agile Coach that coaches several teams (5-10) hire a freelancer.

Existing team with “challenges” > 1-2 months max

If an existing team faces challenges, an outside coach can help to sort things out. Emphasis on outside coach, a person not in the team and preferably not in the organisation that reflects with the team on what’s going on and helps them out. When deeper shit surfaces and/or the problem cannot be solved in 1-2 months, there something else going on an normal management needs to step in.

Large organisation with 10 teams or more

Preferably, have a network of a couple of freelance Agile coaches that can help out. If that’s not possible, hire 1 or 2 Agile Coaches on a permanent basis to help out teams when they need them. These Agile coaches need to be fully independent and self-starters, their only job is to help solve a problem and then leave the team again. Or if new teams are formed, get them started and then leave.

Leadership that isn’t Agile > 3 months max

Now you definitely need an outsider. Never, ever use an inside Agile Coach to teach you the simple values and principles. Leadership needs to live it, action it and not just know it. If you as leadership cannot do that, look in the mirror! And for a max of 3 months you need that mirror to come from outside your organisation.

By the way: Same applies for Scrum Masters…

When frameworks and manifestos start dying

Manifestos and frameworks (Agile, Scrum, PrinceII, ITIL, <insert example here>) start dying the moment they become “ends”, goals in themselves.

Usually they start as a means to an end, or a set of values and principles. Of course, it could be that people don’t immediately understand them and some learning and coaching is needed. That’s a means to spread the idea/framework/manifesto.

All still fine.

But then some people think they are better in it than others and start selling trainings and certifications. At that moment the framework changes from a “means to and end” to “the end”.

At this point we could still resuscitate the framework.

That moment passes the moment frameworks of frameworks emerge, for example scaling frameworks such as SAFe, ITIL4 , LESS etc.

You know something is really dead when the manifesto or framework becomes religious. That happens when the first person declares him/herself as …-ist, for example “Agilist”.

Could be a nice article, the 3 stages of a dying framework…

Hurry when you have time, so you have time when you need to hurry

🪖 The first time I heard this was during my 2-weeks basic training in the National Reserves. And it hit home. Not because it is super profound or anything, just because of the simplicity of it and its practical use in every aspect of your life.

🫡 During basic training we usually got orders like:

“You have to clean your gun, have lunch, chance clothes, clean your desk and everything is done in 50 minutes time. A good soldier can do this in 40 min, so you have 10 minutes to relax.”

That usually meant this as a reaction, “I’m a good soldier! I can relax now for 10 minutes and be finished on time”

🚨 WRONG (most of the times). Something always happens!

  • Your gun is dirtier than expected
  • Lunch comes 10 minutes late
  • You cannot find the second clean sock
  • There’s a stain that just won’t go away

🧘 The ones that started working on their chores immediately, usually got 5 min to relax after everything was done. Because they had time when they needed to hurry

😰 The ones that started relaxing, usually were late, had more stress at the end, making mistakes, or didn’t finish a chore, meaning more work! And more work in the Army isn’t always fun…