Product Management

Handing over the baby BEFORE you go on Maternity leave

I appreciate that this is a rather niche post. However, it isn’t a post about babies and women.  It’s a post about self organising teams and empowerment.

Last week, (for the second time in my 9 years of entrepreneurship) I handed over the business for 6 months in order to have my ‘real baby’.    I always used to call Magic Milestones my first baby and indeed there are many similarities.

Just like the first time I have used belts and braces to ensure that the business can be handed over in tip top shape.  It’s amazing what a fixed deadline can do to focus the brain (even a baby brain).

However, despite a full sales pipeline and great financial results, the last 2 weeks have been very very tough.  Rather like the first time you leave your child at nursery, handing over your business needs to be a highly disciplined process.  Otherwise, the wrench can cause unforeseen consequences.

I was particularly good at handing over ‘Real baby no. 1’ to nursery..

  1. I booked an apt for the whole hour so that I had to leave her promptly.  No sulking in the corridor for me!  It was a clean break.
  2. I wrote comprehensive documentation on her current state knowing that this would change but at least there was a smooth operational handover.  As an aside, they soon knew more than I did about her bodily functions, day-time sleeping habits and cognitive abilities.
  3. I trusted the people the cared for her, even when slight mistakes were made.
  4. There was a constant feedback loop but I only found out what I needed to know.  A bump on the head.  Yep, need to know.  That Jayden yanked a toy off her and made her cry? – not so much.
  5. Most importantly, I didn’t feel jealous that she loved her key worker because I knew this meant she was happy and prospering when I wasn’t there.

I was rubbish at handing over the business the first time though..

  1. I did indeed hand over the business fairly cleanly.  Tick.  However it was to one person not a full senior team that covered every business function.  It was very much MY business.  In particular, we had no Financial Director back then and no Marketing Director. A massive error.
  2. I did write documentation but I probably did too much.  I wrote about the business I was handing over rather than the operational stuff that mattered for the first 2 weeks.  I wasted valuable time documenting business processes that got changed (for the good I may add!)
  3. I “trusted” sure.  But then I resented the mistakes that were made in my absence.  Not cool.
  4. I didn’t check in regularly.  I just checked out.  That was my view of a self-organising team.  Hire the best leader, handover, set the direction then let them find their own way.  That was empowering in my mind.  It sort of worked.  I didn’t go into the detail but then again, I wasn’t over the big stuff either.  Ultimately, I could have done with being over the big stuff because some things tripped us up later.  I could have helped.
  5. When I came back I wanted to wrestle all the power back again.  I felt challenged.  I’d made a huge leap forward by giving up control in the first place but I simply wasn’t emotionally ready for my old job to be filled permanently by somebody else.  Even though it affected my own progression.

What we’ve done differently this time..

  1. I handed over to 5 people, not just one.  They see it as their business.  We put a product based structure in place supported by a comprehensive functional one.  There is someone better than me at Finance, there is someone better than me at Marketing, someone better at HR etc.
  2. I didn’t just leave on my due date.  I concentrated on a few key tasks that would add the most strategic value and I operationally ensured that people could make it to the next meeting without me.  After that, it was down to them.
  3. I’m still working on 3.  Hey I’m only human 🙂  However, number 1 helps because I know that the collective team are better than little old me on my own trying to take over the world between the hours of 9am and 3am.  Also, we have a handful of key metrics at our disposal now and an awesome real time tool to monitor them.  So it isn’t just the captain that spotted the iceberg, everyone saw it miles back and is already steering the ship away from it.
  4. The plan is to leave them alone but we have a 1hr meeting scheduled fortnightly so that I can act as an advisor if necessary and keep everyone focused on the key metrics that count.

And 5?  Are you gong to wrestle your old job back?

That’s an interesting one and I may have to keep you posted.  However, the key thing is that the job I do now is already partially outdated.  The restructure has meant that my role is now much more focused on the key things I can bring to the table rather than spreading myself thinly across everything.  For instance, today we had an IT issue.  I didn’t solve it.  I was nervous about a meeting yesterday and felt I needed to be there.  I didn’t have to be.  The Managing Partner confidently nailed it on my behalf.  I will of course add value on my return but it will be in the areas I am most passionate about and competent in.

So how is this relevant to self organising project teams?

I appreciate I’m lucky.  I don’t have a choice in this handover business.  But next time you go on holiday (or have to leave the team to their own devices for any other reason) try testing the true extent of your self organising team.

Before you leave..

  1. Make sure everyone’s roles are clear
  2. Ensure ‘sprint goals’ or fortnightly goals are in place, that key delivery metrics have been set and most importantly that they are visible to EVERYONE on the team no matter where they sit in the hierarchy.
  3. Pick the metrics that need to go to Stakeholders and ensure that someone is in charge of getting those communicated.
  4. Review the problem that the project is trying to solve.  Use a project canvas if necessary to review all the key features.
  5. Set overarching metrics backed up by personal metrics for each team member ensuring there is a ‘golden thread’ to the overall project goal.

While you are away..

  1. Check in at pre-defined times once a week for half an hour but only if you really have to.
  2. Do not read your emails.
  3. If you don’t have to check in, then don’t!

When you return..

  1. Delete your emails from the team.  If you feel brave delete them all and follow up with stakeholders as soon as possible
  2. Be gracious about the team’s efforts
  3. Assume a coaching role on your return even if you don’t stay in that mode after the first week back
  4. Delete the words “I told you so” from your vocabulary
  5. Leave your ego at the door
  6. Realise you weren’t there at the time when decisions had to be made and that hindsight is a wonderful thing
  7. Review the metrics in detail
  8. Follow up on failures with the intention of truly learning from them rather than pointing out people’s deficiencies or worse, your own superior knowledge/ experience/ expertise
  9. See the big picture
  10. Celebrate successes

Finally and most importantly..

Bring in local delicacies, rather than photos of you and your partner in your swimmers.  No-one needs to see that at work however gorgeous the sunset, however great your body or gorgeous your other half might be.

It’s detail they just don’t need to see.







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