How We Improved Performance Reviews – Acting On Feedback

tl;dr No-one really likes performance reviews. But giving your team members good, actionable feedback and setting clear direction with them is very important. In my team we changed how we did performance reviews.

Note: This is the last post in a series on performance management and review. It’s worth reading the other three first:

Acting On Feedback

As I mentioned in the last article, we ran the new process for four checkins, i.e. one cycle and then sought feedback from the team. They told us that:

They Liked

  • Focused sessions are clearer beforehand
  • Keeping track of things and getting constant feedback
  • It’s easier to remember what’s happened in a month
  • Makes the annual review much easier
  • More productive
  • Constructive, thought provoking guidance

They’d Like To Change

  • Some sessions are too similar or too regular
  • Some sessions are too close together
  • The process is too time consuming so could it be shortened?
  • No 360 feedback
  • There’s nowhere to document the managers feedback

So we now had some feedback to work with. Overall the experiment had been a success and was worth continuing with, albeit with some small changes. So what did we change?

New Themes and Timeline

Introducing a ‘Check In’

When we rolled out the initial version of the improved process we wanted to keep things simple. This meant having a small number of different themed sessions (the Atlassian process has six different themes – we had used four of them). One thing that was missing was a session where the team member could just discuss anything that they wanted. This session became the Check In.

It’s a general catch up with no agenda. As with every themed session the team member also discusses how they think they have performed and gives themselves a feedback score, and the manager then gives the team member feedback and a score themselves. Any differences are then discussed, just like in any other session.

Team members are also encouraged to put any important agenda items to discuss into the checkin form beforehand so that the manager has time to prepare.

The session is targeted at 30 minutes only, as usual.

360 Perspective

The second themed session that we introduced was 360 Perspective. Feedback had shown that team members would appreciate getting feedback from not only their manager but also their peers. The company performance management process mandated this should happen once per year.

Feedback is important but most people do not like or feel comfortable giving feedback. There’s multiple reasons for this:

  • Feedback is not requested or given frequently, meaning that people do not get used to giving or receiving it.
  • There is mistrust about what the feedback will be used for. Again, one reason for this can be because it is not received regularly enough.
  • Feedback is requested to be given anonymously, meaning that only the manager knows who has provided it. In some cases this is correct; for example in the case of performance issues, but generally anonymous feedback only amplifies the mistrust.
  • Feedback that is given is either positively or negatively biased rather than being balanced.

The 360 Perspective session gives the opportunity for the team member to collect feedback prior to the session, add that to the form, and then discuss with their manager during the session. Managers are of course free to also collect feedback for discussion as well, but all feedback requests should be open and visible to all rather than anonymous.

In the future we hope to make feedback gathering and discussion a team activity.

A New Timeline

Our team members had also told us that they thought that some of the sessions were too similar. On further investigation this was because sessions that had similar themes (Love&Loathe and Removing Barriers for example) were too close together, resulting in similar topics being discussed in each. Since new themes were also being introduced then there was also the opportunity to change the timeline and space things out better to remove potential duplication and a perception that some or all of the process was not valuable enough.

The new timeline not only spreads things out better but it also aligns key activities such as 360 Perspective with the expectations of the yearly, company wide, performance management process. This enables both processes to effectively co-exist.

This was also a good opportunity to remind everyone of the need to make sessions short and punchy, therefore avoiding making the whole process too time consuming.

Improvements To The Form

As well as introducing the new themes we also made changes to the form (get in touch if you want a copy). We added a clearer section for managers to leave feedback and the results of each session so that the form built up into a month by month record of achievement for each team member.

By doing so we enabled a very simple end of year discussion, as mandated by the companies yearly performance management process. A quick discussion to collate the month by month feedback, combined with feeding back the average of the monthly performance scores is all that is necessary. In order to set expectations as we go through the year then the form also now includes a predicted rating and graph of each team members progress.

So there’s no big performance review session that no-one looks forward to, no surprises for team member or manager at review time, and no concerns or fears about the outcome.

So What Have We Learnt?

  • Feedback is better when it is timely and bite sized. By introducing a monthly, targeted process then we enabled timely and frequent feedback, thus removing the anxiety around performance management. A key aspect of feedback is to amplify the positive and the more that this can be done the better.
  • Regular and specifically themed sessions enable managers to coach team members more effectively. They enable to process which becomes known and trusted by both manager and team member, not a yearly session that no-one looks forward to or enjoys.
  • Regular, short term goals which are set by both the manager and team member create buy-in. Regular reviews and visible progress help motivate and encourage team members to grow and improve.
  • Having each team member propose a feedback score every month enabled far richer and more valuable discussions around their performance than the previous process whereby only the manager told them how they thought they had performed. Many companies, including Atlassian, have taken this further and removed rigid and strict performance scores. Having to work this process within a yearly process where a score was required meant that this is not an option for us. Yet.
  • Encouraging team members to prepare for sessions and document their thoughts in one place not only helps make the sessions short, but it also builds up a record of their achievements through the year.
  • Keep iterating on the process and incrementally improving it. We’re not done with improving performance reviews – the next step is to look at how company objectives can be built into the process, taking the Google OKR concept. The intention is to then be able to use the process not only to help each team member improve, but also to promote consistent and challenging goals across the whole team.
  • Don’t get hung up about tools to support your process. We’ve run this as an MVP for almost one year now and it’s been very valuable. We use a Google Sheet we designed ourselves to document feedback, objectives and thoughts.
  • If you want to change something then do it. Figure out how to work within whatever processes you are required to do so, but don’t let that stop you implementing something new

Further Reading

If you want to learn more about introducing a more regular and valuable performance feedback and review process then the links below are worth reading:

 

 

How We Improved Performance Reviews – What Happened?

tl;dr No-one really likes performance reviews. But giving your team members good, actionable feedback and setting clear direction with them is very important. In my team we changed how we did performance reviews.

Note: This is the third post in a series on performance management and review. It’s worth reading the other two first:

What We Did

In part two of the series I talked about how my team and I took the performance review and feedback system that is used at Atlassian and adapted it to suit our groups context. I talked about the themed ‘checkin’ sessions and how we got the whole group working to a common timeline for review and feedback, and the advantages that brought.

We what happened? How were the changes received and what was the feedback from the teams?

Selling the Idea

Once we were clear on our direction, we had agreed as a leadership team how we wanted the process to work and what themes we were going to use, then we prepared to sell our idea to the rest of the team. I strongly believe that one should not dictate changes that affect people’s career development or relationship with their manager, and so it was critical to us that the team members were bought into the ideas of the changes and our reasoning for proposing them.

We gathered the team together and explained the new process and how we felt it benefited them. I explained how I felt that the traditional process was sub-standard and could be improved. The key messages were this:

Feedback is better when it’s timely and so we want to start a process where that timely feedback enables higher quality discussions about you

As a group we agreed to run the process for one cycle and then review the results. If, after that, the teams were happy to continue then we would continue and if not then we would stop and revert back to the company-wide yearly cycle.

Kicking It Off

The issue with selling an idea to a group is that often, in private, people will express their reservations more freely. So it was key to ensure that managers then spent time with their team members and gave them the opportunity on a one-to-one basis to discuss the new process. This was also a good opportunity for managers to explain the process in more detail and seek additional buy-in.

The checkin sessions themselves are intended to be 30 minutes long in order to ensure that the process does not take too much time every month. It ensures that only the valuable things are discussed, and the sessions can be to the point and targeted at what matters. However, since this was a new process then we ensured that the first few checkin sessions ran to an hour so everyone could get the hang of it.

Writing It Down

Since checkin sessions were short and punchy – although not literally 🙂 – then it was critical that everyone prepared for them. The checkin’s process works if the team member comes to the session having already prepared what they want to talk about. In order for them to be able to do that then we needed somewhere that they could document their thoughts.

Being an MVP then we did not want to spend much on supporting tooling (there is an excellent tool called Small Improvements which supports this sort of process) so instead we designed our own form. It’s simple and includes questions that the team member should answer in order to prepare for the session. The idea is that they fill in the relevant tab before each session, the manager can then review and prepare based upon the information they’ve entered, and then the checkin session itself can be focused on the discussion and actions from that discussion, rather than the actual ‘thinking’ time. It allows sessions to be targeted and valuable.

We designed our own form to support the process. If you’d like to see a copy then get in touch. We used the questions below to drive discussions: 

Another advantage of using the form was that each team member built up a record of their year, what they had done, and how they had performed. This meant that when we did need to provide yearly feedback into the main company process then it was simply a matter of extracting the information we already had in each form. It was also great to encourage team members to look back through their forms to see what they had achieved throughout the year.

Not Just Qualitative Feedback

By meeting with our team members every month for themed, targeted performance and career management discussions then it also meant that we had a great opportunity to give them quantitive feedback. Like a lot of companies, we use a four point scale and at the end of each year every employee receives a performance review score which has an impact on salary and promotion – standard stuff in most companies.  Once per year with no indication in-between how they are performing relative to that four point scale.

This seemed unfair so we adapted the checkins process to also include giving the team member feedback each more on how they had performed against the scale and why. This helped solve multiple complaints against a yearly system:

  • One key aspect of feedback is to amplify the positive and managers could tell their team members about the good things they were doing.
  • Since the manager and team member were setting goals together as part of the checkins process then we wanted managers to act more like coaches. Having the team member measure themselves them this helped to amplify ownership of their goals and performance.
  • Team members got timely feedback that meant that they could adapt quickly if they weren’t on track.
  • Managers could give timely, targeted feedback with recent examples, in order to drive meaningful improvement. No more having to keep a years worth of notes or trying to remember what the whole team were doing a year ago.

However, merely getting a feedback score from the manager still presents a surprise and it was important that the manager was able to have a meaningful two-way discussion about performance. In order to drive this we asked each team member to give themselves a score, on the same scale, before the session. This enabled the manager to then understand how the team member felt they had performed, and it encouraged the team member to think about their achievements during that month. The discussion, held towards the end of the checkin session, could then be focused on any differences between the manager and team members interpretations of their performance.

Running The First Rounds

The first rounds went smoothly. One thing we learnt pretty quickly was that it took time to adapt to the process and so running the first couple of checkins for each team member as hour long rather than 30 minutes was definitely necessary. There was also some prompting required of some team members in order to get the forms filled in prior to the checkin session rather than during the session but this was to be expected given that the process was different and new.

People were surprisingly happy to provide a feedback score for themselves and by asking them to do so, we were able to make more meaningful and example based discussions on how they had performed.

Feedback

As we had promised, we ran the process for four checkins, i.e. one cycle and then sought feedback from the team. Broadly speaking it looked like this:

We Liked

  • Focused sessions are clearer beforehand
  • Keeping track of things and getting constant feedback
  • It’s easier to remember what’s happened in a month
  • Makes the annual review much easier
  • More productive
  • Constructive, thought provoking guidance

We’d Like To Change

  • Some sessions are too similar or too regular
  • Some sessions are too close together
  • The process is too time consuming so could it be shortened?
  • No 360 feedback
  • There’s nowhere to document the managers feedback

And So…

We now had some feedback to work with. Overall the experiment had been a success and was worth continuing with, albeit with some small changes. Overall we had:

  • Designed and rolled out a process which enabled timely, targeted, example based feedback to each team member
  • Enabled each team member to take responsibility for their own development and think about it each month, before the checkin session
  • Set clear, regular, expectations on people’s performance throughout the year
  • Made it far easier to deliver what was required by the companies yearly performance management process.

In the last article in this series I’ll explain what we did in order to improve the process to suit our context even better, and some of the key learnings we got from running the process over a longer time period.

 

How We Improved Performance Reviews – What We Did

tl;dr No-one really likes performance reviews. But giving your team members good, actionable feedback and setting clear direction with them is very important. In my team we changed how we did performance reviews.

Note: This is the second post in a series on performance management and review. If you haven’t read the first one on Improving Performance Reviews then I recommend you take a look at that first before reading on.

What Was Wrong?

As I mentioned in the previous article, a cycle with yearly performance reviews doesn’t work. Objectives become irrelevant or forgotten, the business and team landscape changes, and people simply don’t get comfortable being a part of, or good at, something that only happens once or twice a year. As a result the traditional performance reviews and objective setting cycles that a lot of companies use end up becoming de-motivating for both team members and managers and are just something “to get out of the way” each year before moving onto “real work”.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

So Why Not Change It?

Both me and my management team were becoming frustrated by being part of a performance management process with yearly performance reviews that we felt was not enabling us to get the best out of our teams. We wanted to change things. But, as part of a large company with pre-existing people processes, we did not have the mandate, nor the time, to initiate company wide change. So what we did was driven by a need to make both a positive change for our teams and also to still fit within the existing yearly cycle that the company uses. An attempt at getting the best of both worlds. And to fly a little under the radar while we proved the concept.

Let’s not forget, as Grace Hopper once said – “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission”.

So we made some incremental changes which we feel has had a positive effect on our team’ member’s career development, their motivation and our motivation too.

So What Did We Do?

When it comes to anything involving people then it pays to seek advice from as many different people and sources as possible. We looked at how a number of different companies were doing their performance management, companies ranging from those that did no formal sessions, to those that did a lot. There was one that really stood out – Atlassian. What Atlassian had done with performance management seemed like something that would fit with our thoughts on the types of changes we wanted to make.

I won’t explain why the Atlassian model is good in too much detail, because they have done a great job of that themselves. I suggest you read their posts which explain much more.

In short, what they had done was take the traditional model, split it into bite sized chunks, distribute these throughout the year and enable timely performance feedback. Exactly what we were looking for.

Now, it’s very easy to read blog post after blog post about other companies cultures and how awesome they are. I’ve seen it argued that a key measure that investors use when deciding which start-ups to invest in is the company culture, and so companies blog copiously about their perfect culture. Even if they aren’t exactly the whole truth. It’s always wise to treat these article with a pinch of salt and find somewhere else that has actually adopted similar changes. Fortunately we found that REED, a large UK based recruitment site had taken the Atlassian model and were using it day-to-day.

So we contacted REED and spent some time with their technology leadership team discussing how they had implemented the Atlassian model and what their experiences were. After those discussions we felt confident that the Atlassian model, while it would require some adaptations to suit our context, was usable, workable and something worth trying.

Start Small And Iterate

Given that we needed to work within the company performance management cycle and policy then we were able to take some parts of the Atlassian model but not all. The model overall splits into four different areas:

  1. Rip apart the traditional performance review – and redistribute the good bits into more frequent sessions
  2. Stop paying individual performance bonuses
  3. Create bite sized chunks (of feedback and career review)
  4. Performance is still evaluated – but no exact rating is given and a two axis feedback system is used to promote a more coaching based set of conversations.

Unfortunately we had no control over the payment of bonuses, and the performance evaluations (a.k.a a yearly performance ‘score’) needed to be fed back every year. Changing this just for my group was not possible and even if we had been able to do so, it would have presented a very confusing view to the team members who are also part of a wider technology team not using our new process. There was also the danger that if we started to evaluate our teams differently then that could have impacted how they were evaluated in comparison with their peers outside of the team, with potentially negative consequences. So we focused on implementing a system with bite sized chunks of feedback and review, together with ‘scoring’ using the same four level system that was implemented across the company.

MVP

The Atlassian model uses six different themed sessions called Checkins to drive performance and career development conversations. These are held monthly, targeted at taking about 30 minutes each and the discussions are led by the team member. Everyone has the same checkin at some point within the same month.

For our initial MVP of the process we decided to use four of the themes:

  • Focus Areas
  • Love and Loathe
  • Removing Barriers
  • Career Long Term

It was very important to explain the different checkin themes to the team, set expectations on what the team member needed to do to prepare and what the intended outcome was of each session. That way we could explain the value that could be gained from each session. We prepared cards that each team member could use to understand more.

Focus Areas

Love and Loath

Removing Barriers

Career Long Term

One Common Timeline

It was also important to ensure that it was clear to everyone when discussions needed to take place. By ensuring that everyone in the group (managers included) had the same themed checkin discussion each month then, as a leadership team, we were able to meet at the end of the month and identify any common themes that had arisen from discussions. For example, was there something that was blocking a lot of people? Could we allocate some budget or additional focus to doing more team building, changing a process, buying more equipment, etc that would benefit the team as a whole? Were there some stakeholders that multiple team members were having issues with connecting with? What was making the team members happy and therefore we should be doing more of?

By having a common dataset at the end of each month we were able to have far more meaningful and valuable conversations about change than we had been able to have before.

We used the timeline below to ensure a common focus across the team.

So What Happened?

In the next article in this series I’ll explain what happened. How did we roll out the new process to the team? How did we continue to evaluate performance in-line with our new monthly process and the companies expectations, and how did we ensure a common approach to preparing and recording the output of each of the checkin discussions? How was the new process received by the team?

 

Improving Performance Reviews

tl;dr No-one really likes performance reviews. But giving your team members good, actionable feedback and setting clear direction with them is very important. Yearly performance reviews don’t encourage this to happen.

Note: This is the first part in a multipart series of posts on performance management. In my team I changed how we do performance management. Future posts explain what changed and what happened as a result. This post sets the scene.

So What’s Wrong?

It’s fair to say that the traditional way of doing performance reviews is exactly that, traditional. Many companies work on a yearly cycle, with managers setting their people some objectives at the beginning of each year then reviewing them at the end. It’s likely that it’s been that way for ever. Sometimes if you are lucky then they’ll also be a mid year review.

I have a problem with this way of managing performance. We try to teach our teams to think in the present, to inspect and adapt their ways of working and the feature sets of products themselves, regularly and iteratively. Yet when it comes to the people we do the opposite. It doesn’t make sense.

The Problems With Performance Reviews

I’ve seen the following problems with the yearly review cycle in a number of companies that I’ve worked in. The same concerns and feedback every time.

The Forgotten Objectives Problem

Firstly there’s a huge gap between when someone is set some objectives and when those objectives are reviewed. Objectives get forgotten. A person’s goals and motivations change. The business landscape changes. You get to the end of the year, review the objectives and discover that none of the objectives that a person has are relevant anymore. The logical action when faced with this situation is to just ignore the objectives and review someone based upon feedback and your own personal viewpoint. Your team member gets the same performance score they did last year and then the whole cycle starts all over again.

In this situation you should think about the message that this is sending to your team member. You’re essentially saying “objectives aren’t really that important”. Don’t be surprised when you don’t get the buy-in next time objective setting comes around.

The Disruption Problem

When companies are tied to yearly performance review cycles then early December and late January are the periods that managers hate. Believe me, it’s where you really get to be the bottleneck. There’ll be expectations from HR that you do all your reviews by a certain deadline. It’ll be the same deadline as all the other managers have. Everyone will be running around trying to do the same things. Free meeting rooms will be pounced on by the first person who sees free space in the calendar. Everywhere will be full of people in groups of two talking quietly.

Preparing for a performance review is extremely important and a manager can’t just rock up to one without having prepared. There’s a lot to be done. Feedback to be requested, notes to be collated, memory banks to be queried to remember what happened almost twelve month’s ago, feedback to be re-requested, notes to write, the review itself and subsequent follow-up. That’s just for one team member.

A yearly review cycle effectively takes the entire management population out of delivery work for two months a year. It creates bottlenecks. It’s one big performance management big bang. That’s not how we deliver software anymore.

It’s also disruptive for the team members. Suddenly everyone is being asked to provide feedback on everyone else, everyone is preparing for their own reviews at the same time and because those reviews only take place once a year then they take a long time to complete.

Feedback Is Better When It’s Timely

There is nothing more annoying than being told “well that thing you did 6 months ago – that wasn’t good”. You have no chance to change the situation and little chance to effectively learn from the feedback. The time will have past and the opportunity to change may well have gone as you’ve moved onto something new.

Yearly performance review cycles don’t of course preclude managers from giving regular feedback to their team members. But they do make it easier not to give that feedback, and not to seek it from others. They subtly encourage us to think that ‘proper’ feedback is only needed to be given once a year. That’s wrong.

The Infrequent Problem

When you do something regularly then it becomes easier. You learn how to do it, your brain becomes wired to do certain parts of the activity almost without thinking, and you lose your fear of something new. Mastering a new skill and gaining the confidence to do it well takes time and practice.

We don’t get to practice the art of performance reviews regularly in a yearly cycle. At best a manager may well have done about ten reviews a year for a couple of years at a company. Those reviews come round only once a year, by which time a lot of the skills are forgotten or take time to become natural again. You make mistakes, those mistakes de-motivate your team members and just as you feel like you’ve got your review mojo back, then it’s time to put it away again for another year.

This also applies to your team members. They get reviewed once per year. In fact it’s worse – they get fewer opportunities to get good at reviews than you do.

It’s human nature to fear change and to feel anxious and apprehensive about something that is new. A yearly performance cycle becomes something that neither manager nor team member looks forward to, precisely because it happens so infrequently that no-one get’s the chance to feel confident doing it.

The “I’ve Forgotten What I Did” Problem

When reviews are yearly then it you can find yourself trying to remember what both you and your team members were doing almost twelve months ago. Even with the best notes in the world, and the most fastidious team members, there will be points that are forgotten.

Feedback from other team members and stakeholders won’t focus on what was done in the past – when under pressure to provide feedback for multi people (which happens more under a yearly cycle) then people remember the recent past far better than something that happened months ago. And if they do remember something from months ago then it was probably an event they perceived as negative. Bad memories stick better than good ones.  The feedback you get will come with an unintentional negative bias. Or it may not even be true at all.

There’s a Long Lead Time

I’m a strong believer is delivering software iteratively, seeking regular and timely feedback, and adapting as a result. In my career I’ve done this enough times to feel that this is the least risky way to deliver. We learn as we go along, and we change approach, feature set, timescales, etc when required.

One key metric I like for a team is lead time. How long does it take us, from the point at which we receive a request, to the point at which we deliver it? Enabling a suitably short lead time to enable the team to be nimble and adaptive is key to delivering valuable software. A yearly performance management cycle has a lead time of exactly that, one year. The opportunity to adapt is tiny.

So What Should We Do About It?

I believe the traditional yearly performance review cycle does not work. It does not enable timely feedback, does not exploit our desire to work in the present, it’s time consuming and it’s demotivating for both team members and managers.

In my team we decided to do things differently. We changed how we do performance feedback and performance reviews. The next article in this series will tell you what we did, how we did it and what happened.

 

Creating a Team Charter

Team Charter

Having your team all working towards a common set of goals is extremely important. However, as leaders and managers we can sometimes get far too hung up on what needs to be delivered and forget about who is actually doing the work. Forgetting about the people and focusing only on delivery goals may get you to one particular deadline but failing to build the team effectively and align them around a common set of principles will rapidly cause longer term problems. A team charter can help prevent this.

At it’s heart a team wants to perform. People want to do good work; after all, feeling like one has not done the best one can possibly do is not a good feeling and as humans we naturally want to feel good. I like to sum this up like this:

Your team are a group of awesome people who want to deliver value. Your job as a manager is to enable them to do that.

So how can you help your team to bond around common goals, and ensure that these are not purely focused towards delivery or individual achievement? One way is by working with them to produce a team charter.

What Is a Team Charter?

A team charter is a set of principles that the team live by. It should be produced by the team, owned by the team, and be visible to not only the team, but also all those who work with them. It defines who they are and how they like to work.

In short, it’s the team’s rules of the game.

When everyone understands the rules, were part of defining those rules and as a team they own those rules, then the team is stronger.

A Team Charter Workshop

I recently organised and ran a workshop with my team in order to produce a charter. For some background, we consist of four different sub teams, each with around 6 people in them. The teams are cross functional software engineering teams, wth developers and testers, plus they have the skills and experience to push software live and build and maintain our infrastructure. In short they own our products from cradle to grave.

The Workshop

Starting Point

It was important first to set the scene and explain to the team what a charter is and why having one would be a good idea. A charter should be simple and so should how you explain one.  Here’s how I explained charters to the team:

  • It’s the ‘rules of the game’
  • Helps us have a team culture of safety and confidence
  • Manages our expectations of others
  • Can include practical things
  • Is short and snappy so that we can remember it (7 items is perfect)
  • Will go on the wall so everyone can see it

Examples

I thought it would help to give the team an example of a charter. I’d heard Stephanie Richardson-Dreyer talk at a tech meetup at MOO a few weeks beforehand and she gave me the idea for the charters, and had fortunately also written an excellent blog post on the subject based on experience from GDS. I recommend reading it – her team’s charter looked like this:

  • tech support is a learning experience, you should aim to learn more about how GOV.UK operates during the week
  • work together, be inclusive and don’t leave anyone out or alone
  • it starts at 9:30, be there
  • feel free to go to essential meetings, but tell people ahead of time and see item 2
  • make small improvements to make it better for the next team (e.g. documentation, automation)
  • there’s no such thing as a stupid question
  • help others and be patient – not everyone knows the same things

This was a great starting point and example for my team.

Getting the Team To Think

After some warm up ice-breakers then it was time to start thinking about what should go into our charter. While it could have been productive to jump straight to getting the team to think about what defines them as a team, previously I’ve found this is not always the easiest thing for them to do, and jumping straight to the solution doesn’t always get the best results. Sometimes trying something different helps people to think and come up with ideas more easily.

So I flipped their thinking around. Instead of thinking about what would define us as a team and what a good team would look like, I got them to think about the exact reverse.

What Would the Worst Team In the World Do?

Worst Team

Reversal is a popular problem solving technique and one that I’ve used on numerous occasions. I find it works for me. And sometimes, thinking about worse case scenarios can be fun. So the team were encouraged to think about the characteristics of unsuccessful teams then:

  1. Discuss them in small groups
  2. Group them into categories:
    1. People
    2. Processes and Comms
    3. Delivery of new features
    4. Technology
    5. Stakeholders
  3. So we would not get too many items then the teams were encouraged to dot vote where there were more than three in a category, to get the three the team thought were the most important

We then got the teams together and each team played-back their thoughts to the whole team. It was fun. We clearly knew what bad looked like 🙂

And Then Reverse

This is then where the reversal came into play – the teams were now encouraged to take their ideas (and any they had updated as a result of what they had heard from other teams) and  note down the characteristics of successful teams instead. We encouraged them to think about their own context and the overall team, and how they wanted to work together and be recognised by stakeholders and other teams.

Bringing It Together

Once the teams had reversed their ideas we brought the ideas from each group together. A group discussion enabled us to find the commonality, discuss each theme and agree on importance. The result was a number of themes, one per post-it note, on the board. There were a lot of ideas.

Now it was the team’s turn to agree on what the most important items were to them. These would be the one’s that ended up on the charter. So another dot vote was called for. Each team member dot voted on their top 7 characteristics of our team.

The Result

We have our team charter. It looks something like this. It’s framed and on the wall for everyone to see. It defines us as a team to each other and to those we work with.

Team Charter

And when the time is right we’ll revisit it and update it if circumstances change.

Should Your Team Have a Charter?

I think so. The exercise of producing a charter brings team’s together and helps them bond around common goals and principles, and shows that the most important thing is the team. When new people join the team it helps them to understand what defines the team and what’s important. When new teams work with us then they can easily see what makes us tick.

Why not try a produce one with your team?

Want To Learn More?

I found these two blog posts very useful when learning more about charters and preparing for the workshop with the team:

 

Useful Resources For a New Agile Coach

Here’s a short list of useful resources if you are starting as an Agile Coach (bit London biased but then so am I). What would you add to the list?

Conferences

Meetups

Books

Why Projects Fail

I just got sent this great list on how to make a project fail. Hopefully a useful resource of things to watch out for.

1.      Ignore the project environment and stakeholders
2.      Push a new technology to market too quickly
3.      Don’t bother building in fallback options
4.      When problems occur, shoot the one most visible
5.      Let new ideas starve to death from inertia
6.      Don’t bother conducting feasibility studies
7.      Never admit a project is a failure
8.      Overmanage project managers and their teams
9.      Never, never conduct post-failure reviews
10.  Never bother to understand project trade-offs
11.  Let political expediency dictate project decisions
12.  Make sure the project is run by a weak leader
What would you add to the list?

West London Lean Coffee – 2nd March

We had some great discussions at the last West London Lean Coffee session which was held in Carluccio’s in Westfield on 2nd March. Here’s a brief write-up of what we talked about.

What We Discussed

Finding the Right CTO For a Tech Startup

We talked about how to go about finding a CTO. If, as a founder, you have a great idea but no clue about how to get the technology enablers completed in order to get to market then what should you do?

We discussed using specific CTO and founders meetups and websites to help with the search. It’s important to spend a lot of time choosing the right CTO (so many startups fail due to differences of opinion between the founders and early employees). Having a strict spec can be un-helpful and it’s as much about whether one can work with someone, than it is about their pure technical skillset.

There’s also the opportunity to consider part time CTO’s to help guide you. We also talked about whether having one right from the start is even required and that time would be better spent iterating over an idea, testing it through marketing or consumer research, before even thinking about how to partner with someone to built it.

How To Choose The Best MVP

What does a good MVP look like? How do you go about defining it?

We talked about whether it’s actually better to look at Minimum Pitchable Product first, vital for securing funding. We also discussed trialling ideas on customers, segmentation and why it’s important to consider that the customer base is not a base of you.

Revenue can be your best proof of an idea or a minimal pitchable product. You need to prove that you can deliver value.

In that respect I’d certainly recommend reading The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris which contains a lot of tips.

What Are The Key Behaviours That An Agile Coach Can Demonstrate?

What should you look for when choosing an Agile Coach? What behaviours make great coaches? We came up with this list:

  • Calm
  • Knowledgable
  • Lack of arrogance
  • Contextually aware
  • They want to make themselves out of a job or contract
  • Good agile knowledge but not prescriptive
  • Behaviours are the most important thing

Alignment Of Lean/ Agile To Customer Value

How can we ensure we are aligned to the needs and value gained from customers? We talked about gathering value as early as possible. But in order to do that one needs to understand what value means and this has to come from stakeholders. Identification and relationship building with those stakeholders becomes is so important.

How Much Transparency Should a Team Provide During a Sprint?

How much should a team feedback progress during a sprint vs just getting their heads down and getting on with it?

Our discussion started by talking about the pros (stakeholder management primarily) and the cons (perceived lack of trust, reporting overhead) of providing visibility. We agreed that the key point was not to disrupt the team during the sprint and to that end, automated reporting solutions (within popular tools like JIRA, Trello, etc) were key. But on their own reports could be misunderstood and lack context so if teams do want to report during sprint then there is a human overhead to do that, perhaps falling to the Delivery Manager or Scrum Master.

What We Didn’t Get Time To Discuss

  • Product Owner role in a larger product company
  • How close to an actual customer do you take user stories?
  • Sharing failure stories – good or bad
  • Process of website up and pitfalls (yep – I don’t understand what this really means either 🙂
  • Have you ever worked with someone who stood out in a positive way and why was that?

The next West London Lean Coffee will be on March 30th in Carluccio’s in Westfield at 8:30am. Hope to see you there!

State of Testing Survey 2017

The guys over at QA Intelligence and Tea Time with Testers are running The State of Testing Survey 2017 again this year.

A survey which allows us to get a wider view of our profession and our community can only be a good thing in my book. It can help us understand our joint challenges far better, and to set the future direction. I’ll be a part of the survey and I hope you will be too.

The survey is open. You can find it at the QA Intelligence blog.

Note: I’m not affiliated with the survey or those running it, I think the survey is a good idea so I’m supporting it.

West London Lean Coffee – 15th Dec

We had another great West London Lean Coffee session on 15th December with some excellent discussions.

Here’s what we talked about.

Things We Discussed

Online Boards Vs Physical Boards

We talked about whether it was better for a team to use an online board or a physical one. We felt that for visibility then a physical board could be better, however the use of large touch screen boards means that the line between physical and virtual can now be blurred. The act of physically moving cards on a board has an important effect on people and shouldn’t be discounted. However there is more chance of losing cards from physical boards.

We also talked about how there were various JIRA plugins that could allow you to photograph your physical board and update the JIRA project automatically which are useful. Here’s an example.

Top Three Benefits of Agile For the Customer

We talked about earlier demonstration of value, the adaptive nature of agile to change and how that could help the customer influence a product. There’s also a greater chance of good quality when using agile methodologies

Challenges Implementing OKRs

OKRs are Objectives and Key Results. We talked about how roadmaps could be themed to link results and deliverables to metrics and also the customer impact.

The Best Test For a Service Company

We talked about how validating a service company really shouldn’t be seen as different from a product one, particularly when one looks at how to identify the customer base and test assertions and business strategies on it.

Things We Didn’t Get To

  • Top 3 Benefits Of Agile For People In The Business
  • Lean Today – Is The Waste Really Eliminated?
  • Estimation Costs – Waterfall vs Agile

The next Lean Coffee will be on January 26th. Hope to see you there.

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