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People managers may be the biggest impediment for increased performance

Image by tibchris

Since the introduction of the PC in the workplace, dramatic performance improvements have been few and far between. In an age where there are more jobs in services than in manufacturing in Canada and where the employees are highly educated, we can wonder why there isn’t any dramatic performance improvements. There certainly isn’t a lack of innovation in organizations, so could it be that something else needs to change?

It is true that the people entering the workforce refuse to be managed like their parents were. They expect to be treated fairly, be given a challenging position where they can learn and apply their skills, and manage their schedule. In this context, standardized work practices and traditional management styles no longer help increase employee performance, it can actually reduce the teams’ performance. Traditional work methods also have the negative impact of driving people away or making it difficult to attract new talent.

Very few people would debate that it takes time to develop highly performing teams and once you have the team on the road to success, you wish to retain your employees. It is these high performing teams that are often the source of innovation within an organization. As long as the organization creates the right environment for people to generate new ideas.

Ever since the 1900’s with Fayol‘s – Plan, Organize, Direct, and Control – managers have been following a traditional approach to people management and we believe that changing the leadership style – to become Agile leaders – is likely to deliver better results and performance.

Why Scrum increases team performance?

As I recently mentioned, traditional managers are used to

  • Assigning work to team members
  • Determining priorities of the tasks
  • Monitoring progress of the activities
  • Making decisions for the team

Whereas Scrum transfers the authority to the self-0rganized team. The underlying concept being that the best solutions will emerge from the team itself.

  • While the manager determines the objective to be reached (the WHAT?), the team determines the means to achieve it (the HOW?)
  • Once the goals is established, management (aka The Product Owner) determines a budget and time lines under which the team will operate
  • Management maintains responsibility to prioritize the activities but without assigning the work
  • Commitments are negotiated between the manager and the team, as opposed to being imposed by the manager – negotiated agreement greatly increases commitment
  • The team is responsible to deliver on its commitment and the Scrum Master is there to support the team in doing so
  • Peer pressure is more effective than authority at getting people to work collaboratively
  • The people closest to the work are in a better position to determine the best way to accomplish their tasks and to potentially introduce innovation in their work methods
  • Frequent inspection and retrospection of the work accomplished creates visibility on the deliverable and prevents faulty results from being delivered
  • The iterative process allows the team to learn from their experience and improve the process
  • People are more motivated when they manage their own work
  • People are more committed when they make their own commitments
  • Teams and individuals are more productive when they are not interrupted
  • Teams are improving when they solve their problems by themselves
  • Productivity is compromised when changes are made to the team composition
  • Face-to-face communication is the most productive way for a team to work and exchange

Seeing how Scrum positively impact productivity and team performance, it becomes critical to determine how the managers must behave to support such progress. As such, managers must:

  • Transfer authority and responsibility to the team so it can do its work adequately
  • Avoid interference and micromanagement
  • Promote collaboration and teamwork
  • Support learning and not systematically penalize failures
  • Review best practices in order to adapt them to changing realities
  • Make adjustments to the facilities so the environment facilitates the execution of Agile projects
  • Adapt the management style to the context of the team

Instead of consequence delivery, managers should focus on making sure the team has learned from their mistakes and have taken appropriate means to fix the issues in the future. In addition, peer pressure is a much stronger motivator and intrinsic motivations are stronger than external motivators.

I believe there is still a lot of value with having managers as long as the new Agile Managers adapt their leadership style and activities to their team. What do you think?


Congratulations, you have the best player. Does this mean you will win the cup?

Image by wstera2With the hockey season well on its way and the Canadiens doing well so far, an interesting question popped in my head – is the winning team, the one with the best players? You can guess I am less interested in hockey than I am with business teams when that question appeared.

As a manager or a leader, isn’t our job to find the best players for our project or our organization? If we don’t have the best players, aren’t we doomed to fail?

With that question in mind, I did a not-so-scientific exercice. I looked at the winning teams in the last 5 years and determined if there was a correlation between the best player (in this case, the best offensive player) and the winning team. Much to my surprise, in the last five years, only in 2008-2009 did the best offensive player(s) win the much coveted Stanley Cup when Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby played with the winning team (Pittsburgh Penguins).

Much in line with a post I wrote last year, it makes more sense to focus on creating a highly performant team than to hire on “the best” individual contributors. The same seems to be true in hockey as it is in a business setting. Wouldn’t you agre?

2009-2010 Stanley Cup Winner Chicago Black Hawks
Player Team Pos GP G A P
1 Henrik Sedin VAN C 82 29 83
2 Sidney Crosby PIT C 81 51 58
3 Alex Ovechkin WSH L 72 50 59
4 Nicklas Backstrom WSH C 82 33 68
5 Steven Stamkos TBL C 82 51 44
6 Martin St Louis TBL R 82 29 65
7 Brad Richards DAL C 80 24 67
8 Joe Thornton SJS C 79 20 69
9 Patrick Kane CHI R 82 30 58
2008-2009 Stanley Cup Winner Pittsburgh Penguins
Player Team Pos GP G A P
1 Evgeni Malkin PIT C 82 35 78
2 Alex Ovechkin WSH L 79 56 54
3 Sidney Crosby PIT C 77 33 70
2007-2008 Stanley Cup Winner Detroit Red Wings
Player Team Pos GP G A P
1 Alex Ovechkin WSH L 82 65 47
2 Evgeni Malkin PIT C 82 47 59
3 Jarome Iginla CGY R 82 50 48
4 Pavel Datsyuk DET C 82 31 66
2006-2007 Stanley Cup Winner Anaheim Ducks
Player Team Pos GP G A P
1 Sidney Crosby PIT C 79 36 84
2 Joe Thornton SJS C 82 22 92
3 Vincent Lecavalier TBL C 82 52 56
4 Dany Heatley OTT R 82 50 55
5 Martin St Louis TBL R 82 43 59
6 Marian Hossa ATL R 82 43 57
7 Joe Sakic COL C 82 36 64
8 Jaromir Jagr NYR R 82 30 66
9 Marc Savard BOS C 82 22 74
10 Danny Briere BUF R 81 32 63
11 Teemu Selanne ANA R 82 48 46
2005-2006 Stanley Cup Winner Carolina Hurricanes
Player Team Pos GP G A P
1 Joe Thornton BOS, SJS C 81 29 96
2 Jaromir Jagr NYR R 82 54 69
3 Alex Ovechkin WSH L 81 52 54
4 Dany Heatley OTT R 82 50 53
5 Daniel Alfredsson OTT R 77 43 60
6 Sidney Crosby PIT C 81 39 63
7 Eric Staal CAR C 82 45 55

2010 World’s Most Agile Manager (WMAM) Contest

Image by Mays Business SchoolWe are already approaching the end of 2010. With the Agile Manifesto turning 10 years-old next year and the growing interest of Agile in organizations, I am launching the 2010 World’s Most Agile Manager (WMAM) contest.

Do you know a truly Agile Manager?

The adoption rate of Agile is increasing and there is growing acceptance that in order to be long lasting, Agile transitions need managers to modify their leadership style.

Are managers actually adapting their management style to support self-organized teams? Is there a new breed of managers whose profile are fully in line with the Agile values and principles? Do you know such a manager?

Are you one of the lucky few who have had the opportunity to work with such a special individual in 2010? If you are, recognize the efforts and contribution of such an individual and submit their name to the WMAM contest.

How to enter this contest?

You must submit the name of a manager you have had the opportunity to work with during 2010, who clearly demonstrated his/her adherence to the Agile values and principles.

Simply enter the name of the Agile Manager as well as the name of his/her organization. In addition, provide a short explanation why you believe this individual deserves to be selected as the World’s Most Agile Manager.

Who can participate?

To participate, the Agile Manager has to have people or project management responsibilities and has to have clearly demonstrated alignment with the Agile values and principles.

What does the winner receive?

In addition to public recognition and the rights to brag about being the World’s Most Agile Manager, the winner is likely to receive countless job offers, a potential salary increase from his/her existing employer, much publicity in well-known blogs, and maybe even a plaque to be posted on his / her office walls.


This contest ends January 15th, 2011. The public will determine the winner of this contest. The winner will be the candidate who receives the most votes on their submission. Good luck to all participants. Don’t wait, enter the contest now!

Get the logo

If you have been nominated for the World’s Most Agile Manager, you can download the logo and add it to your web site. Tell you friends to vote for you.

3 behavior changes to increase team performance

Image by Marc WathieuIn addition to working on a new Vision (more on this in an upcoming post) and establishing new strategies, I’m operating a small cultural transition.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” – Peter Drucker

Our organization’s culture is “collaboration / cultivation” (from The Reengineering Alternative: A Plan for Making Your Current Culture Work) and like other organizations with a similar culture (and despite our success), there are a few areas for performance improvement.

As such, I believe there are 3 behaviors that are preventing our organization and the various teams from reaching the “High Performance Team” level (The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization). My attempt to increase the teams’ (and the entire organization) performance level is by focusing on the following 3 behaviours:

  1. Setting clear agreements
  2. Eliminating gossips
  3. Operating with integrity

Why focus on these 3 behaviors?

Let me start with a simple example to highlight what typically happens in many (including ours) organizations. You will certainly quickly understand why this is dysfunctional and can easily lead to sub-optimal performance. I invite you to follow a typical conversation…

  • Sarah: “Mi Mark, I’ve been having issues with payments from a customer. Can you help me?”
  • Mark, in the middle of typing an email: ” Sorry, I wasn’t listening. You need help with something Sarah?”
  • Sarah: “Yes Mark, we have sent reminders to your customer but still haven’t received any payment. Since you are the account manager for this customer, I was wondering if you can help me?”
  • Mark: “Yeah. Well, of course. What do you need me to do?”
  • Sarah: “I don’t know. Maybe you can give them a call to see why they aren’t paying their latest invoice.”
  • Mark: “OK. I have a few things to take care of today. I should be able to help you”.
  • Sarah, walking away: “Alright. Thanks.”
  • [3 days later]
  • Sarah, talking to herself: “I can’t believe it. I asked Mark to help me with something important and he still didn’t get back to me. Doesn’t he understand that receiving payments is important for our company. It’s always like this with him, he says “yes” but never does anything.”
  • [Sarah enters the coffee room]
  • Mary, smiling: “Hi Sarah. How are you today?”
  • Sarah, clearly upset: “Not good. Mark is so unreliable. I asked him to help me contact a customer and he still hasn’t done anything. It’s been 3 days already.”
  • Mary, nodding: “I understand what you are saying. I’ve asked him to contact a customer to invite them to an upcoming conference and he still hasn’t done anything. It’s over 2 weeks already.”
  • Sarah, pouring milk in her coffee: “Why is it that we have to do everything around here?”
  • Mary, approving: “You know, Mark is not the only one. Do you know that I’m waiting for Don to submit new content for the web site? It’s been 10 days already and Don hasn’t done anything. I don’t know what to do!”
  • Don, entering the room to get a coffee: “Good morning ladies!”
  • Sarah, walking away with a cup of warm coffee: “Good morning Don. Have a good day!”
  • Mary, smiling to Don: “Hi Don, how was the hockey game last night?”
  • [For 15 minutes, Don and Mary continue their conversation about the hockey game]
  • Mary, walking away with a donut and a coffee: “Nice talking to you Don. Have a good day!”

I doubt that these conversations only take place within our organization but what I’ve noticed is that they are detrimental to high performance. Here’s what’s wrong with this story:

  • Lack of clearly defined agreements – who does what? by when?;
  • Absence of difficult conversations – when commitments are broken, people don’t have open discussions around the situation at hand;
  • Talking to others about someone else’s issues – people resort to involving third parties in a situation that would better be resolved between those who had an agreement;
  • Not living up to the promise – commitments are taken lightly and there are no consequences for not delivering on them.

So here’s what I’m proposing to the teams in an attempt to take the organization to the next level.

Setting clear agreements

It is critical to establish clear agreements in order to avoid disappointment and mis-trust. To obtain a commitment and make sure that people have a true agreement, it is critical to make a clear proposal that can:

  • Be accepted in full;
  • Be rejected completely;
  • Be renegotiated.

Once the agreement has taken place, each party must then honor its commitments.

Eliminating gossips

Gossip is idle talk or rumour, especially about the personal or private affairs of others. It forms one of the oldest and most common means of sharing (unproven) facts and views, but also has a reputation for the introduction of errors and other variations into the information transmitted. The term also carries implications that the news so transmitted (usually) has a personal or trivial nature, as opposed to normal conversation […] The term is sometimes used to specifically refer to the spreading of dirt and misinformation – Wikipedia.

Instead of pretending to address a situation by involving a third party, eliminate gossip and go directly to the person with whom there is an issue and work at resolving it with them.

Operating with integrity

integrity is the inner sense of “wholeness” deriving from qualities such as honesty and consistency of character. As such, one may judge that others “have integrity” to the extent that one judges whether they behave according to the values, beliefs and principles they claim to hold – Wikipedia.

For me, integrity is very simple as it means to “Do what I say and say what I do”.

Finally, in the possible event that someone can no longer deliver on their commitment, they must inform the other party as soon as they realize they won’t meet their commitment and re-open the agreement.

This may seem trivial and very simple to implement but I doubt any organization has actually been able to implement these behaviors on a large scale. I trust that we will become a highly performing organization once we are successful at doing this.

Feel good Scrum or wishful thinking Agile

I sat with one of our customer last week to review the 2011 budget for their Agile initiative. The client had a good start in 2010 with 10 pilot projects adopting Scrum. Not a small accomplishment considering their objective of transitioning over 3,000 people to Agile. The client shared with me that in addition to highlighting potential issues around their projects and increasing the teams’ performance, Scrum helped many of these teams substantially increase employee satisfaction – which is an important factor for employee retention within that organization.

During the meeting, the client explained that now that they had experience with 10 pilot projects, they no longer needed help coaching other project teams in the organization. They recognized the benefits of working with coaches to quickly develop the rights skills and abilities but they could now do it all by themselves.

Let me state it clearly, I believe the end goal of external consultants is to ensure their client can become fully independent and autonomous.

That being said and before I go on with this post I need to say (to be truly candid and transparent) that I have told the client – in person – what you are about to read.

The client’s objective is to successfully complete over 20 Agile projects in 2011 and then 200 in 2012. In itself, that sounds like an aggressive but feasible plan but here the catch: the client believes in magic!

Magic? You be the judge.

The client explained that they had to cut back on the budget for the coming year – which I fully understand – but despite the set back, they were continuing their organizational wide Agile transition. “We have everything we need”, they said.

  • “We are heavily recruiting Agile coaches” – considering the size of our market, it is doubtful they will find all the people they need;
  • “We are putting the heads of the various PMO (project management office) bureaus in charge” – having worked with some of these traditional individuals, it is difficult to see how they could lead an Agile transition;
  • “We have produced a detailed guide to adopting Scrum” – I asked if they remembered Individuals and interactions over processes and tools;
  • “Our people managers are already Agile” – I wondered what that meant;
  • “We have hired a change management expert to document the roll-out process” – Individuals and interactions over processes and tools;
  • “We expect each project team to go out and get the help they need to transition to Agile” – Why not help them?.

“Are you involving the teams and people who will be impacted?”, I asked.

“No need”, they answered. “They only need to execute on the plan we will give them”.

I hope that there is something I am not seeing and I truly hope for them to be successful but as it currently stands, I have serious doubts. Maybe I should offer some magical-Scrum-powder…

A great team building activity, let’s do a budget

Picture by Ammar Abd RabboIf you are looking for an activity to increase team synergy in an attempt to develop a high performance team, what choices come to mind? A rally? An adventure race? A week-end away? A parachute jump?

Unless you are my wife, the thought of using a budgeting exercise to build team synergy seems ludicrous, especially when the team is mostly composed of senior software engineers and marketing people!

I knew that for most people, the thought of sitting for two full-days of budget planning would be more terrifying than a visit to their dentist for a root canal. Without fear or hesitation and listening only to my courage, I decided to leverage this important corporate exercise (aka. The Budget) with the goal to create a highly performing cross-functional team.

In line with a post recently published by Mike, I followed very simple guidelines to maximise the impact of the exercise.

Invite people to the exercise

In his book (The Right Use of Power), Peter Block suggests that proceeding by invitations when asking people to participate in an exercise or a meeting is much more powerful than deciding yourself who should (or shouldn’t) be part of the group. Since the cross-functional team I was working with needed to represent each area of the organization and I only wanted one representative from each unit, I asked for volunteers. In traditional organizations, the participants would have been selected based on specific criteria. Instead, I opted to ask for volunteers. This had the dual benefits of increasing active participation during the meeting and helping people buy-in to the results once the exercice was over.

Establish roles and responsibilities

To build a self-organized team, I wanted people to determine what each of the participants contributed to the overall discusion. Coming in to the meeting, each participant knew their role was to represent their community. As such, they needed the authority to make decisions on behalf of their group and have a good understanding of the business assumptions so as to know what could (and couldn’t) be changed in their budget. What is typically called empowerment totally applied in this case.

Establish clear objectives

The group was informed ahead of time of the objective they were to reach “x% operating income for the coming year”. All other variables were left to the group to decide. How each group would reach their own objective and how that fit into a global perspective and their strategy was left entirely to them.

Establish an agenda and ground rules

The agenda for the exercise was clearly established ahead of time in order to support the group in reaching their objectives. In addition to the agenda for the two days meeting, ground rules were established.

(translated from French)

Ground rules

  • Active participation in the discussions
  • Pay attention to what others are saying
  • Be open to constructive feedback (it is not personal)
  • You can enter and leave the room only when the door is open
  • Be on time
  • Accept to step outside your comfort zone
  • Express yourself (kindly) when you are upset
  • Have a bit of fun (it is already included in the budget)

I have seen too many sessions being facilitated without any ground rules or a clear agenda which typically leads to bad meetings. Wanting to avoid wasting a great opportunity to build team synergy, I made sure those two items were well taken care of.

Get a skilled facilitator

I took charge of facilitating the meeting. I have a few skills and facilitating meetings is one of them 😀


After two very intense days of work, the cross-functional team was able to reach an agreed upon target. Coming in to the meeting, nobody believed we could establish challenging targets for ourselves and most importantly, no one thought they would take full ownership of the end results once the exercise was over.

Once again, in traditional organizations where budgets are a top-down activity imposed by the CEO down the chain of command, ownership of each unit’s budget is un-heard of. In our case, people agreed that the exercise had High Value with a perfect 5 / 5 (see Utilité below), Return on Time Invested of 4.1 / 5 (see ROTI below), and a fun factor of 3.3 / 5 (see Fun below).

Not bad for an exercise that was originally compared to a visit to the dentist !