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March 2010
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Empowered Teams Are Dead – Long Live Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

Demotivated Agile methods emphasize and encourage empowerment and creating empowered teams, but empowerment is not enough. Empowerment, according to Daniel Pink author of “Drive: The Surprising truth about what motivates us“, is just a slightly more civilized form of control. This control is part of a broken motivation system corporations use that he calls Motivation 2.0.

Here’s the quick summary. Motivation 1.0 is our basic desire to find food, shelter, sex, etc. Once met, people look to higher levels of rewards to motivate us. Motivation 2.0 has been traditional management’s carrot and stick motivation system. If you do this…, then you get this…. The trouble with IF-THEN rewards is that while we like them at first we quickly tire of them. Then because the reward can never continue to escalate at levels that excite us, we grow used to them and get discouraged if we fail to meet the IF condition and do not get the reward or worse, if the IF-THEN reward is removed.

Daniel Pink states several MIT studies where adults and children were rewarded for conducting work, hobbies and play activities. Once the reward is removed people stopped doing them, even if the had previously happily voluntarily done them before. Once tainted by IF-THEN rewards, the motivation was sucked right out of it.

Pink asserts the current IF-THEN extrinsic motivation corporations use, that he describes as Motivation 2.0 is flawed and needs an upgrade. Hence the need and rise of Motivation 3.0 based on the intrinsic concepts of:
•    Autonomy
•    Mastery
•    Purpose.

Autonomy means giving people control over how they work. Moving beyond empowered teams who are required to be in work for stand-up meetings at set times each day, instead giving them control over:
    Task – the work then do and how they undertake them
    Time – when they choose to work in the day, week, year
    Technique – How they perform tasks and from where
    Team – How they organize, interact and collaborate

I have written previously on Results Only Work Environments (ROWEs) where people are given these freedoms and Ricardo Semler’s Semco is the poster child, but Pink offered additional examples of Meddius and Best Buy headquarters. Not only do people prefer it, but productivity and profits increase as satisfaction and motivation blossom.

Mastery describes the pleasure we get from doing what we love and following our passion. This can be seen when someone is so absorbed in a task that they are in the zone, or what Pink calls finding their flow. “Flow” is a great term to describe the state of mind when time seems to disappear and we are just immersed in the task. This feeling of flow can be difficult to find when our work environment puts obstacle after obstacle in font of us, whether it is admin and rules that limit our time in the role that we love, or restrictive work processes that impinge too much to allow us to get into this flow.

Mastery comes from:
    Flow – having the time, space and freedom to find and exercise your passion for a profession
    Goldilocks Tasks – Not too difficult and not too easy, but just right. We need enough Goldilocks tasks to stretch, engage and indulge our desire for completion and satisfaction.
    Mindset of learning – people who believe intelligence and knowledge is not a fixed capacity we are endowed with, but rather a muscle or skill we can grow. People who are happy to face their limitations and continually find new learning opportunities achieve mastery easier.

Purpose describes tapping into people’s belief that there should be more to work than just making money and being successful. Instead aligning company goals with individual’s aspirations for doing good and meeting a higher guiding principle.

This is why companies like TOMS Shoes were created that give away a pair of shoes to poor countries for every pair sold. Buyers feel good since their purchase has a charitable impact and the workers at TOMS feel good since they are doing more than just generating shareholder value. Instead they are tapping into their motivation 3.0 principle of a compelling Purpose.

Motivation 3.0 for Agile Teams

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High Performance Team

Ips_poster_small For the last 25 years I have been learning about high performing teams and trying to create high performing teams. Well, I finally got to work with one for 3 years solid and I totally loved it.

For the last 3 years I have been working on the IPS project at Husky Energy with the best team and project I have experienced or reviewed. More of a program than a project, we rewrote a number of legacy pipeline control and billing systems in .NET and removed a clutter of spreadsheets and Access applications that had sprung up to fill the gaps left by difficult to upgrade legacy systems.

I had worked with great people before, I have seen the difference good executive support, and engaged business representatives make. However, as the cliché goes, when you bring them together, and add enough freedom to make big changes, the result is much more than the sum of its parts.

Why So Successful?

Freedom to reset and redo - This was a project restart. After several unsuccessful attempts to kick-off the project and then a failed experience with a vendor to out-source it, the project was brought back in house and restarted. I was fortunate to join at a time when management was open to fresh approaches. Already $1M behind budget and 2 years delayed, we were able to introduce changes into an organization receptive to hearing new ideas and changing process.

Executive Support and Business Champion
– These terms “Executive Support” and “Business Champion” are often just titles, mere names or nouns. For our project they were verbs that described their everyday jobs. The sponsor fought to retain our budget during cut backs, the business champion repeatedly went to battle to retain resources, gain exceptions from harmful processes and ensure we had access to the very best business resources.

An experienced, pragmatic team – Most of them had “been there and done that with pure agile”, they had seen the benefits and costs associated with pure TDD, XP, and Scrum. They knew all the theory and had heard the theological debates and just wanted to work now. They were exceptionally strong technically, with mature use of design patterns and layer abstraction. Mainly experienced contractors and some experienced full time staff, humility was high and ego’s low.

Great domain knowledge
– We had an insider, an architect from some of the original systems we were replacing on our team. The bugs, the flaws, the big chunks of tricky logic from the original systems could all be highlighted and explained rather than rediscovered, a great time saver.

Embedded with our business users – Being away from the IT group and in with the business was critical in learning their day job and building rapport. By seeing their business cycles, busy days and deadlines we were better able to plan iterations, demos and meetings. Being face to face and sharing a kitchen helped with conversations and quick questions too.

Right Process – Way behind our people’s influence on success was our process, using a relaxed interpretation of agile, we worked with two week iterations, daily stand-ups, user stories, and empowered teams. Given we were replacing existing required functionality it meant prioritization and detailed task estimates were less valuable. From a perspective of minimizing waste we naturally gravitated to do less story point estimation and lighter iteration planning sessions. It was reassuring to hear David Anderson in 2008 talking about Kanban and viewing estimation and iteration rigour as waste. We were not just being lazy; we needed a certain fidelity of estimation for planning, but beyond that got diminishing returns.

The Outcomes
High Productivity - The last release contained over 1400 function points that were developed in one month by 6 developers. This is approximately 12 function points per developer per day, over three times the industry average and other releases had similar productivity. This was despite the domain being complex, we had a full time PhD mathematician SME (subject mater expert) on the team to define and test the linear programming, and iterative calculations being used.

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