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Posts tagged ‘budget’

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 UtilitĂ© 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 !

Warning Business Users! People are Wasting your Budget

Secret World of IT Development

Secret World of IT Development *

First of all, this blog post is directed toward everyone working outside the IT department who would like to know what is going on within that department.

I want to let you in on a well kept secret in IT departments around the country but before I do, I need to warn you about the consequences of being exposed to such information. Once you know the secret, you will feel compelled to do something about the situation you are about to uncover, so beware. If you read further you may start doing things you never did before.

Did you know that those geeky looking software development guys are spending your budget and deciding on your behalf? Yes, the same guys who wear pac-man t-shirts and have lego blocks and lava lamps on their desks are deciding what is good for you and your department. I can’t tell if this is part of an evil plan to take over your company but in all honesty, you can’t really blame them for what they are doing.

This is bad, you say.

As with many organizations, the IT development guys are under a lot of pressure to show value and this is typically accomplished by delivering software or reports, usually software artifact that gets deployed to business users. They need to show value and most importantly, they need to show it fast. Since business users haven’t spent much time and energy working with them to define what will make their job easier, they started to decide what is good for the business by themselves.

In this context,  if business users spend little time giving requirements to the development team, they will go away programming what they believe they understand of the business users’ needs and after a few weeks they bring back a piece of software. Game over, pass go and collect $200. They can then move on to the next project and show value.

Here’s the secret, this doesn’t work and you can easily understand why.

  • the business requirements may have changed;
  • the solution may not meet your expectations;
  • the solution delievered may not actually provide business value.

So in a nutshell, your precious budget is being wasted and although everybody complains their projects have been in the queue for a while, the IT department can walk in to the next management committee meeting show how many projects they have provided to the organization.

Here’s how you can disrupt this pattern.

  • Find out what the development team is working on. Do you know when your projects are scheduled to be delivered? Are they the highest priority for your department?
  • Is your project really important for your organization? If it isn’t, don’t waste the resources. Instead find someone who has a higher need for their project and strike a deal with them to bump up their project’s priority. You will ensure the resources are put to better use and will make friends within your organization along the way.

If the project is indeed important for you, treat it as such. Assign a knowledgeable and trusted person from you team to work in close collaboration with the development team. Even better, have your business ressource sit with the development team.

Despite the preconceived opinion, you will be surprised to see that most of the geeky looking development guys will be very happy that the business users are working with them on the project. Most of the development guys I’ve worked with over the year truly prefer to work with the business. They don’t always show their true feeling to the business community – it’s a secret code within their expertise – but here are the reasons why they appreciate the close collaboration:

  • They like to contribute value: Nobody likes to produce something that doesn’t get used, even worst, something that gets thrown away.
  • They like their expertise to be recognized: Technical people spend years developing their abilities and when they get to use it to solve a business issue, their expertise gets reconigned.
  • They get to understand the business: Contrary to popular beliefs, most technical resource like to understand the bigger picture and how a technical solution is applied in the business context.
  • They actually like to work with people: Flat screen, keyboards and mice are less emotional but development resources do prefer to work with people. 

So there it is. Now that you know the secret, you can no longer walk away from an IT project without getting involved. Asking questions is a good way to start. Showing interest in your project is even better.

Post a comment below with a question and I can give you some tricks to improve the situation.


* Picture by illustriousbean used under the Creative Commons (CC) agreement. The view expressed in the blog post is the one of the author. The photographer does not endorse in any way the content of this blog post or the work of the author.