The thin veneer

You think by changing your process you’re going to change your business.

You think that plastering post-its over the corporate beige walls will somehow make the corporate-think disappear.

You think that agile is an ‘IT-thing’.

You think innovation is great and you’re so glad your company has an innovation lab. You promise yourself that one day you’ll pop in and see what it’s all about.

You say “let’s just be agile” when your team asks you about the business case for your new idea.

You say “we’ve been doing agile for years” when you’ve never met one of your customers.

I wonder where all this will leave you when those hungry, nimble, adaptable start-ups force you to pack up your desk, your 15-year old In-tray and your suffocating pot plant?

The ladder is only one way up

The corporate ladder only goes one way. Up. You would think it would go down too, but with all the jostling, pushing and fighting, the only way down is falling.

The role of the next rung up is usually a manager of sorts. You do something well, so you’re promoted out of that role and into one of managing a team of others doing that role you did so well. That may be fine for some, but it certainly isn’t fine for everyone.

Think of an orchestra. If you’re a violinist in the back desk of the violins, your career progression is to potentially move to the first desk, possibly even becoming the principal first violinist. You wouldn’t get promoted to the conductor. If you did, all that mastery of your instrument is lost to the orchestra. Those long hours of practise would be wasted. Even worse, you wouldn’t have the necessary skills to be a good conductor because you would’ve been focusing on the violin, not conducting. The whole orchestra would suffer.

Yet this is what we do regularly in the workplace. We only give people a single path of progression. If they want to progress and get more money, they generally have to move into a managerial role. Doesn’t this strike you as extremely counter-intuitive?

Mastery is where it’s at. Mastery of your particular skills. Companies create career paths for employees, but are those really the paths you want to travel? Are they taking you in the direction you should be going in? Is it right just because everyone else is doing it?

Choose your own path. Make a conscious decision where you want to take your life. It may be the corporate ladder, it may not. But make sure it involves mastery.

Frowned upon

Working from a coffee shop is a great way to observe people, their actions and interactions. I look around at other people working on their laptop and what I notice is how many people frown while working. The furrowed-brow look.

There’s the pensive frown by the aspiring writer while she tries to place the lead character’s sequence of events into the overall story arch.

There’s the corporate rung-climber with his intense “I’m so busy with difficult, important work that has to be ready in an hour for my next exco” frown.

Then there’s the caffeined-up internet troll, angry and affronted by the world and living in victim-hood, scowling into his screen.

So many emotions. So much expression. The human animal is a fascinating species.

Cross-functional + Poly-skilled = Grooving!

One of the main tenets of agile is working in cross-functional teams. This means that individuals in the team each have their own functional expertise,together working towards a combined goal. Having different functions working together increases the chances of creating a great solution; one team member will be able to highlight issues that the others didn’t think about. A person’s blind spots are usually compensated for by others in the team.

But cross-functionality often doesn’t go far enough. Bottlenecks can still manifest. If the next stories on the backlog need some serious analysis, you will find that the BA becomes the bottleneck and the development slows down. Similarly, if the developers have finished the development of a story and that story needs a lot of manual testing, you’ll find that stories start backing up and can’t be marked as “Done”. Sometimes the Scrum Master needs to spend a lot of time dealing with external stakeholders dealing with dependencies and the team may lose focus without the Scrum Master on the floor. Too often a project involving many technology layers may need a specialist in a certain technology who is supporting a few teams and the velocity of the team slows down while they wait for that specialist to complete their tasks.

In these cases it helps to have poly-skilled team members. Testers could perhaps pair up with the BA to do some of the analysis, as they usually understand the underlying systems very well. Developers could lean in and help the testers with some of the manual test cases (We all know it’s more important to get a story through to “Done” rather than have multiple stories in progress, don’t we?) BAs often stand in for the Scrum Master when the Scrum Master isn’t on the floor, as the BA is intimately aware of the business priorities and can help keep the team focussed.

Developers can pair with the technology specialist to help transfer the skills and become more “full-stack” in their capabilities.

So instead of a team comprised of specific roles with one person performing a role, we end up with a team of people, each with a variety of skills, picking up any tasks that they can do, and learning more skills as they go along. That’s when things really start to groove.

The light and dark of confidence

Confidence is powerful. It’s a sign to others that you know what you doing, that you know the answer, that others should listen and take note. We tend to gravitate towards confidence; we want to be close to what we perceive as strength.

What’s interesting about confidence is that it is separate from ability. Confidence is a belief in abilities, not the measure of the abilitie themselves. We’ve all experienced deluded confidence, that person that believes wholeheartedly in their abilities, but their abilities simply don’t match their perception. These people still tend to thrive and they manage to get ahead. Our perception of others is often more persuasive than their truths.

We also see the opposite: extremely capable or intelligent people that simply don’t have any self-confidence, even though others can see it. These people tend to languish in the back rooms of companies and social events, lost gems of potential, shut away behind their own cloaks of inadequacy.

How often is this world pushed in a specific direction because the incapable own the stage when the truly capable don’t want to be anywhere near the spotlight?

I’m not going to try to reach those in the first camp. They’re usually too caught up in themselves to be able to view themselves objectively. But those in the second camp need to be pushed a bit for the benefit of all. Change the way you think about yourself. Try on the Cape of Confidence. Give it a whirl even though you may not believe it fits you. Fake it until you make it. Soon you’ll realise it was tailor-made for you.