Life seems to be full of changes and modifications. Sometimes this can seem hourly or daily depending on what is happening at different stages of your personal or work life. In order to make sure that life can be successful, there needs to be some level of expectation that is set or understood to be able to acknowledge success or failure. Let’s then look into a few ideas on what is really needed to have success. Key factors exist:
Defined outcome needs to be understood
Regular cadence to measure against the outcome
Sustainable pace to accomplish the define outcome
Ability to reprioritize if the original outcome becomes less important or obsolete
Let’s dive into the first topic shall we…
Understanding a Defined Outcome
Many people believe that in order to be successful with work you need to promise exactly what will happen and when. While many schools of thought support the idea of predictability or commitment, they mean drastically different things. When flying to a given destination, there could be several defined outcomes, Here are just a couple I can think of as a business or casual traveler which mind you could have some drastically different outcomes expected:
Safe arrival at final destination
Timely arrival at final destination
We could go into further detail about the availability of WiFi on the flight, beverage or food service availability, entertainment options or many other things. However, there are certain things that are oftentimes at the crux of what we expect. If we become too conditioned for all the shiny keys, what happens when your flight is delayed an inordinate amount of time but you still arrive safely. Of course, what happens in our mind is that we rationalize it must be the pilot’s fault or how dare we not have enough beverage availability that ruined our flight. Many times. instead we have a sub-optimal experience because of a common trend of setting and resetting expectations so many times that trust erodes. Without trust between a company and their clientele or between individuals, no desirable outcome will ever occur no matter how hard both parties try. Perhaps the best concept to build on is that proper expectations will lead to more success than success itself does. Think about that as we cover a few more topics.
Measuring Against Outcomes with a Regular Cadence
The saying has long been shared in summary that what we measure we improve. But what are we really measuring. A recent conversation I had with a well-meaning Agile team member came to this conclusion of measuring success and making it visible for all of the teams in the organize to see how well they were doing. I field this idea or something similar to it almost every week. It typically goes the course of saying… Why don’t we rank the teams based on their velocity (story points) so they see whether they are doing better than other teams and how they are improving? Tread lightly. Even the Cleveland Browns hate being compared to other teams based on their recent 0-16 season. How much more do teams not created for entertainment purposes or sport not like being compared one to another? While we love the competition, it is hard to truly compare teams one to another by anything other than their ability to be predictable and to plan according to their recent historical performance. We have to make sure we are doing a true “apples to apples” comparison within a team instead of stack ranking teams that have 50 story points, 38 story points or 25 story points per sprint cycle. The comparisons simply do not work. Here are some questions instead to ask when measuring teams against potential outcomes with regularity:
What was the expected outcome?
What has been achieved towards the expected outcome?
What has to be better understood to achieve the outcome desired?
What knowledge is needed to help the outcome be possible?
So, instead of measuring your outcome strictly off of delivery numbers, look at what else needs to be quantified. A team that doesn’t finish everything they set out to do doesn’t get labeled as a failure. Having subjective and objective measures help the desired product or solution get created while still gauging the level of satisfaction towards a potential outcome. Not that theory has been spread on pretty thick, let’s get into the real meat of the issue at hand. How do you truly know what teams are performing better than others? If we want to get our “best and brightest” working on the top initiatives in a company, how do we make sure we do that? Sounds like it is time for our third topic…
Sustainability and Predictability Brings Desired Outcomes
Getting the best possible delivery requires not just the brightest minds, it requires the best teamwork imaginable to be successful. When individuals work together collaboratively in a group, they have the opportunity to become a team. Teams have the greatest success when built upon the foundation of trust, integrity, honesty, openness, courage and respect. When built with these and similar values as the basis of their existence, they can become high-performing. Only then will teams become the smallest form of measurement within a working environment.
As managers, executives and anyone in charge of a staffing decision in an organization, the fallacy of get high performing individuals or all-stars on teams to carry the team on their shoulders needs to be stopped. Greater success comes from talented people working together to learn and perform together as a whole than any number of individuals tuned into radio station WIIFM (What’s s In It for Me?). One organization recently observed had many talented individuals that didn’t know their technology stack entirely, but they knew they could learn what they needed within their team and ask for outside assistance where needed. As they toiled together and learned together, they found that the tasks they needed to complete were irrelevant in their complexity scale as long as they were willing to work together.
When teams are kept together and provided with the tools, support and trust to get the job done, it is amazing to see what happens. Suddenly teams formed, operating and performing under this pretense know what they can commit to. These teams want to continually improve so they visit and revisit their successes and learn from their failures. Failures for them are simply a discovery of something that didn’t work towards a prescribed outcome. They are taken as opportunities to regroup and try something else towards an end goal.
As managers and executives will tell you the world over, predictability is what allows timelines and expectations to be set for potential stakeholders or clients. Without that level of detail, promises are made and missed continually. They would rather have a team that commits and delivers an outcome with regularity than a team that commits and always misses a little bit. Now comes the time for our last topic…
Calculating and Communicating for Changing Priorities
So long as the world exists, conditions will change when trying to predict exactly what will happen on a given day, week, month or year. With those changing conditions, it becomes important to “roll with the punches”, “try to be more agile” or “never tell the customer no”. These phrases and derivatives of them exist too much. They exist as a crutch to what is truly trying to be accomplished in a path towards a company make course changes towards agility. Flexibility is important yes, but that doesn’t make a company Agile. Delivery is important, but that doesn’t make a company Agile. Even predictability is important but it doesn’t make a company Agile. One of the best measures of true agility within an organization is to observe them when the stress level is at its highest and the pressure is at its most intense. I have had a handful of companies of the past few years that when kicking off their training and coaching with me as a trainer and coach wanted to wait until they were in a better place. When observing their current state, it was obvious that they were not ready to give up certain behaviors that were preventing them from having the proper mindset to “be Agile” and not just “do Agile”.
In an effort to be Agile, many companies give updates to their customers on the progress of products or solutions with regular cadence. But every time they update their stakeholders they are further and further from completing anything because something new was discovered. This would be just like a pilot on a flight coming over the speaker to announce that although your flight is scheduled to depart, they need to push back the flight departure another 30 minutes. 30 minutes later, you are told again that the flight will depart in another 30 minutes. Yet again 30 minutes later you get some good and bad news. The good news is that the plane with bee picking up some more snacks and goodies, the bad news… it’s another 1-1/2 hours before the plane will depart. How many times can you set and reset expectations before the experience is soured and you have lost the trust of your customers? I have seen a similar story play out with companies and their client in construction, software development, education, government, ecommerce, logistics and many other areas. If the experience is being damaged by too frequent of changing expectations, it is best to first reset the expectations with reality in mind instead of constantly resetting the expectation in small disappointing steps of no delivery. If something has changed in priority or delivery, the predictability of the solution needs to be called into question to allow the customer to have input on what is most important to them so they can make decisions on reprioritization against their desired outcome. The visibility of impact when conditions change needs to be well known. This can be done with a release dashboard or something else that is clearly visible to show what risks are being mitigated or assumed when moving forward towards a solution.
Let’s then bring everything full circle, everything we do in life hinges on where we are related to a desired state of being or outcome. We have to know what is trying to be achieved or what we are looking for. We have to measure ourselves incrementally to see where are related to that desired outcome. Being realistic becomes crucial when communicating progress and especially when conditions change, which they always will. Making sure that the right outcomes are being achieved makes sure that you can ensure the trust and longevity of the relationships you have with your stakeholders and clients. In the end, the experience that is had will be remembered long after the product, solution, initiative or project fades. Remember the proper setting of expectations has more to do with success than success itself does. Expectations may get set, desired outcomes may change but being willing to recognize the need for adapting is what ensures that success can truly happen.