About transparency

Some years ago, I attended an inaugural lecture by a division head in which she analysed current figures from her reports, identified discrepancies and resumed. She concluded that these discrepancies indicated deliberate cover-ups. A circumstance that she will change. Because only a transparent system is able to provide people with the opportunity to act in a purposeful way.

I endorse the last sentence with all the knowledge and experience I have. Cheating, estimated figures or sloppiness combined with an 80s “management by objective” apparatus are the best possible nursery ground for mismanagement. At the very best, they cause frustration in individual areas, when everything fits according to the specifications, but the overall result is poor.

My own example above, by the way, did not end well; a new system was created that was consistent above all. This could be observed closely in the defects that were subsequently closed. I cannot say whether the original intransparent system was created intentionally. But I am very sure that the new system which was created aimed at concealment.

Now, there are certain areas where transparency is not permitted. Reasons for designated restrictions on transparency are, in my experience, Almost always fabricated. “We can’t give you the current figures, as you know one of our parts of the company is listed on the stock exchange.” When systems strive for transparency, it usually has a very different ring to it: “We want to better understand how our services are viewed by customers, so we compare x-and-y. The listed part of the group can only be included in the analysis in such-and-such way. But we are continuing to work on possibilities here as well.”

It’s about what you want to measure and what you can measure. People who understand Lean or Agile know that it’s a journey. Establish metrics which really move you forward, and in the best case these are lead-measures. Not forgetting to use the existing possibilities of “what you can measure” creatively and to create better chances.

In my experience, real good transparency is always a journey, not something you can finally achieve or even set by decree.

Transparaenz

Why I like visions

Often, visions come with a bad name. Some even see them as irrelevant decoration. This is true for many visions. You can find global-galactic versions, all-encompassing more-beautiful-further-faster editions to preposterous visions that are essentially meant as a kind of misleading advertising.

In my experience, managers who don’t think much of vision can very rarely say in a nutshell what direction they want to take. When asked about the direction, they typically say something about making money in the industry in which they work. But customers don’t buy from me so that I can make money. Money is the compensation for something that is worthwhile.

Having visions can be a particularly good North Star. In programmes or projects, a half-day vision workshop is definitely rewarding, especially if the project is under time pressure. The people involved then know where they stand and have fewer wrinkles on their foreheads. They decide more often in a concerted direction. When problems arise, the alternative options for solving them are usually properly pre-sorted.

Visions are directional for every kind of team. Newly formed teams find themselves together more quickly. Teamwork has fewer friction points. Especially when the business is in transformation, people find anchor points.
Even visions that are too specific and too near prove to be helpful. Especially because dealing with the destination together contributes to team-building. With some guidance and time, dealing with vision, mission, company purpose, values, etc. becomes more and more professional.

For practice, it’s best to think about yourself: What do you want to achieve? How do you want to succeed? Why do you want exactly that? Just like above, the first answer to such questions will be a solid “Um, uh”. And that’s a start!

Spitzer Bleistift

A matter of blame

In my professional experience, I had the chance to work for a while as an escalation project manager involved in several projects that suffered from substantial imbalances. I was usually called in, at very short notice and had to get a clear picture of the project and the current situation in just a handful of days. It often disturbed my work when my time was wasted in initial meetings with mutual finger pointing. The topic of “blame” never got me any further, because it is more likely to cause losses for the projects – and yes, I am talking about blame eats real money.

The most remarkable instance was a project in which three providers had to implement a long overdue migration for a customer. One of the providers was our company. Several milestones had been missed, we had to pay contractual penalties and the go-live date seemed hopeless because almost nothing was done.

The project was managed by an external project manager who explained to me in great detail that the three providers were not working together and told me many stories. After the third or fourth anecdote, I asked him what he had done to remedy the situation, but he did not give me a clear explanation. Which was not a good omen.

Together with the representatives of my own team and the other two providers, there were massive finger-pointing disputes. Within the team as well as outside of it. These discussions went on and on. I hardly managed to find a way to discuss the most important next steps with the parties involved or even to draw up a battle plan for the next few weeks. Again and again it was a matter of blame. At some point the idea crossed my mind, which I actually said out loud, “OK, I’ll make myself available as a scapegoat, I’ll take all the blame!”.

The next 4-5 accusations – which of course came up – I accepted and said, “Stop, I’m the one to blame, that’s what we agreed” and such discussions came to an end. I did the same with colleagues from the other providers who were typically our competitors in other bids. This enabled a bit more focus to the large project group. So we had enough material and discussed the most important issues in a smaller group on the next day.

Apparently, a crucial obstacle had not been addressed in the project, the customer’s contribution was lacking everywhere. That’s why even the teams that could have worked independently were stuck. It also seemed strange to me that contractual penalties were paid even though there were almost no contact persons named on the client side.

The project manager told me that he was not responsible for this, he explained to me in many words why this was not covered in his mandate. I was already fed up at this point, so I met with the other two providers and went to the client. With the help of sales we had high ranking contacts who were shocked and provided (slightly) better support as well as stopping the penalty claims immediately. This was actually due to a bit of luck, a moment of surprise and, above all, the well-connected sales department.

The next day, the project manager entered the office with a bunch of papers – which turned out to be his contract – and wanted to explain to me in writing that he was not responsible. I was sure he was in for a bad surprise already. I asked him if he really wanted to explain, that he was not responsible for a monthly saving of a lower 5-digit amount on behalf of his clients.

All three of us providers were able to reasonably save the project together. Somehow a good esprit de corps evolved quickly in the project. We dismissed the project manager in unison from his contracts and – each in his own organisation – replaced some team members to the best of our ability or filled them in with freelancers. After that, we worked jointly, took care of each other’s tasks, provided test systems and managed to get the project done almost on time. The necessary approvals were obtained just in time, mostly on beta releases, version 1.0 could only do the most essential tasks and the final version was 6 weeks late.

An initially very upset head of department from the customer eventually helped to ensure that the 6-week delay was probably only noticed by a few end customers. Everyone was proud of the work and competitors thought it was sad to wave valuable colleagues good bye at the end of the project.

However, I wanted to write about blame. The blame game didn’t help us at all. And when I think about it, the people who fighted on blame the loudest were those whom we had to exchange. Not being guilty and blaming others often translates in not willing to take responsibility.

I have used this line “OK, I’ll take all the blame!” many more times. Because I never experienced in any of these problematic projects that there was really that one person or department to be blamed. The closest thing to “blame” I have experienced is incompetence. When companies send people into projects who don’t have the necessary professional competence, that make massive mistakes, then again we’re not talking about blame, but a lack of professionalism.

Blame almost always leads to unaccountability, which is often combined with financial harm. There is actually a type of employees who don’t care that their company is losing money. The problem is not their fault, after all, but someone else’s. End of story for the mindset of such persons.

Projects and organisations that cultivate blame as part of their culture are in fact zero maturity in most maturity models. There is a good reason for this, not only because it sucks to work there, but also because blaming is like an anaesthetic for progress. Striving for efficiency or even innovation is not wanted in those organisations because exploration always brings risk, errors and failure.

You do indeed find this kind of culture in projects more often than you think. Usually as a kind of senseless scapegoat principle, the blamed parties don’t actually have to fear any serious consequences, in the next project they sit on the other side of the table and then they nominate the scapegoat.

If people need a scapegoat, that is perfectly understandable, but it is simply a lack of culture.

What did I take away from that time?

  • Blame is neither productive nor does resolve problems.
  • A scapegoat culture encourages non-responsible behaviour, which always costs money. Lack of efficiency is also expensive.
  • Unfair blaming is a gigantic demotivator for project workers
  • A history of ignoring or killing the messengers is a huge burden for projects. Problems never disappear, but messengers get quiet. Late phase problems cost a lot of money. Try to get their trust back.
  • In complex projects or in projects that progress empirically, mistakes are inevitable and must be used as a driving force. Blame has no part in this.
  • If you succeed in looking at the big picture, many a “not responsible” party will turn into a quite capable project worker.
  • Winning trust can even motivate an employee who has been beaten and kicked by his management as a scapegoat. I succeeded once, this good man was 15 months short of retirement, which made me very happy.

The “Everybody has such a thing at home” game

Yesterday we arranged a virtual Christmas party via teams in the team. In the end it was 4 hours of games, gifts and entertainment, it was really nice – within the actual range of possibilities. In the process, we invented a game that I’m happy to share with you. And it goes like this:

The host names items that you have to get in your house. Run, search, find, then:

  1. Hold the object briefly in front of the camera
  2. Write the requested name in the chat
  3. Now as evidence hold up the object again

The 3 quickest will be ranked, it is important that the written word in the chat window matters. Remember to clear the chat window before the first round. If necessary, turn off the background effect, because it hides objects. And please also take barriers out of the running path, please take off cable handsets carefully and remember, it’s just a game. Run through the house with care and caution.

The game starts with very simple objects. For example, a tea bag, the moderator now says “I need the flavor of a tea bag in the chat” now you run out, get a tea bag, hold it briefly in the camera and type in “chamomile”, “winter apple dream” or similar.

Now in the progress of the game there are items that not everyone has in the household. Then get some substitute, be as creative as possible. If you don’t have a tea bag, then coffee beans or a bottle of iced tea or, or,…. Whether your substitute items are valid or whether there is even a place 4 for particularly creative substitute, that decides only the host. The players are of course allowed to tell the moderator off or to influence the decision. I can already tell you that drawings of the objects or even pictures searched by cell phone on the Internet hardly have a chance with me.

T-Bag

But be careful, it can also be 2 items that belong together, e.g. shoe and socks. The host will always announce it so that you can run after the second item. “I need 2 items, in the chat please type the color of a shoe and don’t forget to bring a sock”.

Also with what you need to type in, it can be brand names, properties, colors, weights or memories. The moderator always holds examples of the items in the camera and, while you are still looking for them, types them in as examples for his objects. If you have forgotten whether to type in the brand name of your shoe or the color, look in the chat, it will say “black” if the moderator has held up a black shoe plus sock.

And by the way, don’t rush off, sometimes it is faster to reflect. With socks and shoes, most people will just have to hold their leg up to the camera. Don’t forget to type in “brown” very quickly. The order in the chat counts. And please everyone, do not cheat, some people are tempted to write the word in the chat and get the objects afterwards. The game is for fun and the host can not keep his eyes everywhere.

I hope you like this idea, if you need anything else, examples or a rating matrix, contact me. I’ll be happy to share it.

Forgotten milestone of a magnificent journey

I am a fan of certifications, acquiring knowledge, taking demanding exams, obtaining a certificate and then applying the knowledge. On this trip things were different, but thanks to a kind colleague I walked back for a moment, took the certificate and was very happy about it, because it gives me the rare opportunity to look back.

It’s about a journey we took as a team, and lean management was one of the orientations. We changed a lot because we wanted it that way and many good ideas emerged from outside. In 2016 we organised a training Lean Sense&Respond in Germany, because some of us found it very exciting. This is a set of methods created by Fujitsu for Service Management. But my team consists of consultants, which is probably the reason why it was so exciting.

In the coming months and years we attempted to adapt the methods for us, made mistakes, learned, stood up again, improved and failed better. And whenever you doubted yourself, there was always someone in the team who had the energy to go one more try and took you with them.

In retrospect, I can only say that adopting these methods was like a catalyst for developing a culture in a team. As an obvious example, all “concerns” (obstacles in daily work) were initially assigned to me, a normal consequence in a hierarchical system. Until we all realised that it would not work that way because it was too many points for one person. Today, team members find such obstacles and remove a lot of them by themselves, sometimes even problems from the category involving hierarchy. So basically problems that could be easily assigned to me. “We analysed the problem, worked out three solutions and made an appointment with the business unit involved. Can you please attend.”.  Yes, I am happy to attend, thanks for preparation.

Since these problem fixing actions and solutions are usually clearly structured and offer alternatives, we are much less likely to encounter a negative response than before. A team of consultants is working on many projects at the same time, so there are quite a lot of obstacles in our work, which are cleared away with a fantastic speed. Everybody in the team is motivated to tackle, so you can surely imagine what a positive influence this has on our work. Looking back, it seems to me quite stupid to pass all these obstacles through one person “the boss” as a bottleneck. So I can concentrate on the problems that lie in the hierarchy or are new territory. In other words, putting my back into the right direction.

Certain decisions that seem absolutely logical or even necessary from today’s perspective were not so clear to me at that time. The most outstanding example here, arising from the question of why we have so few female applicants (and thus team members), we were able to hire four great female consultants in a row and I am sure there will be even more in the future. Today we all know that this decision constitutes an absolute enrichment of our competence. I even believe that the biggest doubters of this undertaking have now grown into biggest fans.

Decisions in general, I just find it amusing when in a movie the heroes always do everything better than their team. Imagine chief engineer “Scotty” who fixes, improves and solves everything on the starship Enterprise as a sort of one-man-show. Even though he has technicians who stand beside their aggregates every day and are much more proficient with them. Scotty should encourage his young technicians now and then as a coach. Okay, it’s only fiction. Apart from supporting individuals, we also have the challenge of rapidly developing technology. To make predictions for the future here is wonderfully balanced in a team, more brains more guts. Sticking to decisions is a matter for the management, finding decisions in complex contexts it is better placed in expert teams.

On the topic of efficiency, which is one of the main topics of Lean, I can only report amazing things. We help and support and improve each other, we are often the swiftest and have increased overall performance many times fold. At least if you take internal and external customers as a benchmark. Here, too, a great cooperation with our service management neighbours has been established. When I read headlines today “Companies want to go back to the offices to gain back control over their employees”, I wonder as if we were living in a very different world. I don’t control, I offer my help and try to keep up with how everyone is doing. Here I would also like to thank the team, because we all look after each other. Personal crises, whether small or big, are part of our lives, we are there and stand in for each other, so that we can at least give each other some comfort here. One last sentence in order to control, if something is important to me, I work along like everyone else.

I’m just realising I’ve had a wonderful journey, I could tell you a couple more paragraphs about it. Maybe I will write on the challenges in the future. The work for all of us is not getting less, just different. Getting efficient is great, being efficient can be a burden. In any case, I thank him for the suggestion to take the “Bronze Certificate” after all. Even though we are probably already “silver” consultants somehow. We will take care of that too and I promise that this time it will not take four years. Here it is:

P.S.: If you want to know where the journey is heading. In autumn 2019 and January 2020 we did an Agile training as a team 🙂 Although I stick to the initial words, even Agile is just a way to inspire culture.