Product Management

Entrepreneurship, Gender issues, Leadership, Philosophy, Product Management

Why there are only 2 women listed in HBR’s top 100 CEOs this month


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Someone once told me that politics and business don’t mix.

I agree. Hence, I am going to be as objective as possible in this post.

I read the November 2016 edition of HBR with interest and have to admit that it took about 10 minutes for me to clock that the faces on pages 46 and 47 in “The best performing CEO’s” list were overwhelmingly, predominantly male.

Debra Calfaro tops number 43 and Marillyn Hewson number 51. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of other groups missing too. Alaypal Banga is at number 64. A lone ranger by the looks of it.

So the world’s top companies are mainly run by White Men over the age of 45. I guess there are no surprises there. But the question I am really interested in, is why.. when women make up around 50% of the world’s potential workforce are they only making up 2% of the top CEO list?

One potential answer might be that there just aren’t as many women at work.

But that just isn’t true!

If we look at the worldwide female workforce there has been a decline since 2005. But it was already pretty high. Women’s worldwide participation went from 52% in 2005 to 50.2% in 2012.http://bit.ly/2i1eptj

So why has it declined so dramatically?

The US has an interesting history on this..

“Women’s labor force participation was driving the overall upward trend in labor force participation through 2000, so the plateau and then decline in women’s participation in the ensuring years is an important factor for explaining the national trend. ..In 1990, the United States had the sixth-highest female labor force participation rate amongst 22 high-income OECD countries. By 2010, its rank had fallen to 17th. Why have other high-income countries continued their climb while the United States has stalled? Research by economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn suggests that the absence of family-friendly policies such as paid parental leave in the United States is responsible for nearly a third of the U.S. decline relative to other OECD economies. As other developed countries have enacted and expanded family-friendly policies, the United States remains the lone developed nation with no paid parental leave.” http://bit.ly/2gDjCKi

43% of CEO’s on the list are from the United States. So, there are 43 slots available to women there. But guess what? Women take up 2 of them.

The only two female slots for top HBR CEOs are occupied by women from the USA.

The USA. Where they also suffer a larger than average struggle to juggle family and career.

So the plot thickens.

I am no statistician and the sample is small, so I will not try to deduce anything from these numbers. All I can give is my thoughts on the matter.

Maybe we can find the answer by looking at the lives of these two women.. http://nyti.ms/2gNlAUY. Debra Calfaro was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Her father was an entrepreneur out of necessity. She has taken a company on the edge of bankruptcy from $217 million in equity and $1.1 billion in debt in 2000 to $5.9 billion in equity and $3.5 billion in debt today. No mean feat.

I bet you are thinking she has no kids.

She has two.

Marillyn Hewson has much in common with Debra Calfaro. http://bit.ly/2hTQAri

Although born to a middle class family, her father died when she was young, “She was born in the middle-class family as the eldest of three daughters and two sons. Her father’s death at her early age burdened the little girl with the responsibility to take care of her younger sisters and assist her single mother in every possible way.”

She has two children.

These women haven’t sacrificed their roles as mothers to get where they are. However, another thing they have in common, is gumption. Both women have been used to fighting adversity from an early age and they aren’t scared of hard work either.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the men on the list didn’t work hard. They had competition too. I’m sure when they had kids they had sleepless nights and a tough time.

But the numbers are intriguing don’t you think?

So what IS the reason for this statistical anomaly? Why did the only women that made it into the top 100, make it, despite the unsupportive family policies of their environment?

There are no obvious answers but it could be one of the following:

  1. Although the USA has unsupportive public family policy, it also harbours a culture of inclusion and ambition. Hence, there is always a place for one or two heroes (or heroines) to make it. Note that Alaypal Banga (no. 64) is based in the US too although he was born in India.
  2. The unsupportive policies of the US mean that women cannot afford to throw themselves whole-heartedly into stay at home motherhood as they do in Europe (having 1yr off on maternity leave for example). They also don’t get a chance to get a taste for it. Perversely, I would argue that the unsupportive family policies of the USA actually put women on a par with men rather than work against them simply because they have less choices than their counterparts in Europe. In for a nickel in for a dollar.

These are just theories I have. I am happy to hear arguments against them.

Interestingly, another HBR article has found that women CEO’s tend to be insiders more often than their male counterparts. (i.e. Working their way up rather than across)..

“The consistent theme in the data is that steady focus wins the day. The median long stint for these women CEOs is 23 years spent at a single company in one stretch before becoming the CEO. To understand whether this was the norm, we pulled a random sample of their male Fortune 500 CEO counterparts. For the men in the sample, the median long stint is 15 years. This means that for women, the long climb is over 50% longer than for their male peers. Moreover, 71% of the female CEOs were promoted as long-term insiders versus only 48% of the male CEOs. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for hopscotch early in women’s careers.” http://bit.ly/1smI4dD

This still leaves us with the question at the start of this article..

“Why are there only 2 women listed in HBR’s top 100 CEOs this month?”

A summary of the facts so far..

  1. Only 2% of the top CEO’s as chosen by the Harvard Business Review are female.
  2. Neither made the top 40.
  3. The ones that did make it into the top 60 both had children. Perhaps disproving the motherhood theories?
  4. Both women live, work and were born in the United States. Perhaps suggesting a unique environment in the USA.
  5. Both women faced early life challenges which one could argue single them out as ‘survivors’ in tough circumstances.
  6. There are no women represented from any other country despite the highly supportive family policies of places such as Europe.
  7. Female CEOs have to stay at a company 50% longer than their male counterparts to end up as CEO.

Potential reasons for the 2% outcome..

  1. HBR are sexist in their selection? (note they have been specific about the criteria so I doubt this)
  2. Are women just simply bad at being CEOs?
  3. Is the CEO role better suited to the male psyche?
  4. Are women too busy having children to work up to the level of CEO?
  5. Do women neglect to apply for the role of CEO for some reason?
  6. Is the CEO role too tough for women?
  7. Are women treated unfairly when applying for the CEO position?
  8. Do women generally shun the CEO role due to personal preference?
  9. Is the CEO role incompatible with family commitments?
  10. Do pro-family policies contribute to a lower participation of females at top levels of business?
  11. A bit of everything above?

Answers on a post card please..

About the author

Steph is CEO and Founder of www.magicmilestones.com. She is interested in the economics of female participation in the workplace. Steph has had a positive experience throughout her career but believes that women face unique challenges in their careers. This is not necessarily a problem to be solved but a problem to be understood.

Product Management, Teams

A Good De-Clutter


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This week I set myself the task of sorting out some areas of the office that aren’t used as often as others. We can try to avoid it as much as we like but whether personal or professional, somewhere in the building there is always that ‘Monica cupboard’. It’s what I discovered whilst doing it that gave me food for thought. I’m not talking about dead bodies or lost employees; but more the information that is kept ‘just in case we ever need it’. I found the notebooks of previous colleagues, project plans and strategy roadmaps from the last 9 years of  Magic Milestones. It made me feel quite nostalgic.

I spent more time than planned working my way through the paperwork identifying what should be kept and what can be recycled and I couldn’t help but think about all those who have moved on and smile fondly at the challenges (successes and failures) that have lead us to become the business we are today. Those lessons have been what have helped to shape us and I think we ought to be proud of the companies history. I know I am lucky to have been part of the Magic Milestones story for almost 3 years now. Its a great people focused company that makes me feel appreciated and also offers me (and all its employees) great flexibility ensuring an excellent work life balance. The last three years have raced by, time really does fly when you’re having fun!

The most positive result in this exercise, apart from a lovely clean work space, is reflecting on how we have grown and progressed over the years with help from all of those good and bad experiences, and of course our current and past employees. It made me realise how proud I am to be member of the Magic Milestones team. I’m already looking forward to having another de-clutter and reminiscing over our ‘yet to be written’ story in another few years.

By Rachel Wheeler

Consultancy & Training, Lean PMO, Product Management

Having the Courage to Take Risks


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A refreshing change

I had a refreshing meeting with a client last week, when my client talked about how she wanted to encourage the leadership team in her organisation to start taking more risks.   Not in the dangerous sense such as taking up cycling in central London, or investing their departmental budgets with the local bookies. She was discussing how to foster a more innovative culture within the organisation. This particular organisation isn’t funded on a purely commercial model and as such, is under a great deal of pressure, both regulatory and morally, to justify how it invests its money.  As you can imagine, this doesn’t necessarily lend itself to creating an innovative, risk taking culture. 

When looking to become more innovative as an organisation, its vital to understand that innovation necessitates some risk taking. You can’t get away from this, as the very nature of doing something new means its hard to predict how its going to turn out.  Its a big deal to ask your organisation to invest a significant budget into commissioning a new product or service when you don’t have hard and fast facts about how its going to be received by the intended customer base. However, it’s a lot less scary and indeed sensible, to take a small educated risk, rather than a giant leap in the dark.  Here is my advice on how to take the right kind of risks.

Use a technique that repurposes the language of risk into something more positive and turns a risk into a hypothesis that can be tested and learned from. Take for example Lean Start Up http://theleanstartup.com/principles and Google Sprint http://www.gv.com/sprint/. Rather than invest significant budget into creating that all singing and all dancing product, these techniques encourage you to work out what the smallest thing is that you can deliver to provide customer insight and feedback.  While a few brave leaders might be willing to gamble a 6 month investment in a vision for a product that is based largely on matter of opinion; many more will be much more comfortable to take a risk with a week’s worth of budget that will provide valuable customer insight and data that can be used to inform strategy and therefore, budgets going forwards. In turn, the organisation becomes more comfortable with taking risks within the structure of selecting a hypothesis to test, collecting the data and then using fact based decision making to deliver a strategy.

How does your typical Project Management Office view risk?

In the context of traditional Project Management Offices, the language of risk normally comes with a lot of negative connotations, those which are typically addressed by ensuring that RAID (Risk, Actions, Issues and Decision) Logs are up to date.  Project Management Offices tend to be very concerned with documenting how risks will be mitigated and managed, monitoring when risks need to be escalated to senior management and creating governance systems of gates and approvals that manage those risks. While its very sensible to protect your delivery from the risks that could knock it off course, it would also be good to use some of that PMO effort and energy to support the good kind of risks.

Project Management Offices usually operate within a governance structure that requires detailed business cases, which are often based on shaky or assumptive data and information.  Typically, these business cases require large chunks of a budget to be allocated for the year ahead.  As a result, project sponsors and stakeholders, will sometimes manipulate the data, or simply be overly optimistic in their projections, in order to get their business case signed off and their project initiated. In more risk averse cultures, the project won’t get put forward at all and never sees the light of day, leaving the business exposed to a risk that could ultimately be avoided.

Using the PMO to drive risks and innovation

From my experience the solution is to facilitate a sensible risk taking culture, by putting in place a governance structure that supports the concept of testing hypothesis; such as a Lean Project Management Office (Lean PMO).  In this instance, the Lean Project Management Office should support management decision making by implementing a business case model to support governance, that can demonstrate the delivery of value.  The decision making “gates” in this process will be used to demonstrate that a product based hypothesis has been tested, together with the results and a summary.  The decision on whether or not continued investment should go ahead will be dependent upon whether or not the results of the test or experiment, show that progress is aligned to the organisational strategy.

The Lean PMO

At the beginning it’s difficult for organisations to take risks.  It’s a challenge, not least in changing ingrained behaviours; though taking risks is critical to any businesses growth. Of course risk comes with dangers, but executed and planned properly, using the right methods and empowering your team with the right training, can bring successes. The traditional PMO needs to evolve into a Lean PMO https://magicmilestones.com/lean-pmo/

Its a lot easier for us all to take risks if some one is there to provide some structure and boundaries to stop us from making really big mistakes. Is your organisation the kind that encourages you to take risks or do they deter you from it?

By Ann McPherson

Leadership, Product Management, Teams

Kerching! Money as a Motivator


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Now I’m sure that by now you are all sat on the edge of your seats waiting to see how motivation levels are going at Magic Milestones, so here goes the last instalment of my motivational blog trilogy. 

I’ve been working with the Senior Management Team to help bolster everyone’s self-confidence throughout the company and get the whole team really believing in their ability. Everyone seems to be really motivated and giving things their all. The Sales Team particularly are already starting to see the fruits of their labour and the buzz they are generating in the office is great to see. As we have seen such great motivation levels within the Sales Team, we have now thrown out our motivational experiment to all teams across the company. So it is with great optimism that I turn to look at the third topic on motivation – money and rewards.

Rewarding staff for their hard work and success is something every employer knows is important. Making staff feel valued and appreciated goes a long way to helping create a motivated team as well as having an impact on staff retention.

So once again putting my MBA head on, what do the theorists have to say on this matter? J. Stacy Adams, a workplace and behavioural psychologist, developed his Equity Theory in 1965. It focuses on the need for a fair balance between what employees put in and what they get out and suggests that when the feeling of fairness is not achieved, employees become dissatisfied and create lower levels of motivation (Adams 1965). The idea of there actually being ‘demoralisation costs’ for companies when this fairness failed to be achieved was first put forward by Michelman in 1967.

So how is a sense of fairness achieved within a company? The most obvious answer is remuneration. If employees feel that the money received for their hard work is not a fair amount when compared to the effort expected in doing the job, then they won’t feel particularly happy or motivated in their role. If they feel they are being paid fairly then they are much more likely to put a fair amount of effort into doing the job they are paid for. I know from experience (as I’m sure most of you reading this also do) that simply paying a fair level of salary is not a magic key to having a highly motivated team. So how are we meant to interpret this theory?

Money as a motivator has been discussed from many view points over the years.

Pepper et al’s study (2013), based on the motivation of senior Executives; shows a clear linear improvement between the amount being paid and the effort placed into performance (Pepper et al 2013). Akerlof (1982) falls very much in line with Adam’s Equity theory and Pepper et all’s research, holding fast to the argument that if earnings are less than the perceived fair wage then the level of effort input into the work will fall to reflect this, while being paid a higher amount will increase the level of effort being input. (Pepper at al 2013). However, Herzberg and his Dual Factor Theory argues the contrary stating that money and pay are ‘hygiene factors’ (Job dissatisfaction causes) rather than ‘motivators’. He argued that eliminating issues that fall into the hygiene factor category would stop dissatisfaction at work, but would not be able to improve motivation. Motivation, he argued could only be addressed by looking at ‘motivators’, and as such money should not be used as a reward due to its basic inability to motivate (Hertzberg et al 1959).

To me this sounds like paying a ‘fair’ wage is only enough to stop dissatisfaction. To actually achieve an increase in motivation, there must be seen to be some form of ‘extra’ reward above and beyond basic salary to act as a true motivator. Does it really matter though if this extra reward comes in a money form or in some other guise? I decided to take this question to the Magic Milestones Team and see what they thought. I was also interested to see if there was any difference of opinion between the Sales and the Operations Teams.

Everyone agreed that some kind of bonus/ reward scheme is indeed motivating for them. The Sales Team was quick to voice their opinion that they preferred the cash based bonus scheme that has been in place for a while, rather than receiving vouchers or prizes. However various other staff put forward ideas such as being able to earn extra holiday days due to good performance, or shopping vouchers that could be saved up and awarded for Christmas time. The idea was also suggested of a ‘friendly’ competition between members of the team or even between departments with alcohol or chocolates being awarded on a monthly basis to the team/ individual who wins. I came out of the discussion thinking that yes, money can play an important part in improving motivation but it isn’t the be all and end all. The team atmosphere and recognition of effort being put in also goes a long way.

The experiment we have been conducting over the last few weeks at Magic Milestones has shown me that by involving the team in target setting, supporting their work performance with regular feedback and helping them to gain a real ‘can do’ attitude, the level of motivation has continued and in many areas even increased. To keep the existing buzz going I think ensuring there is some form of ‘extra reward’ system in place is a definite win/ win situation. As well as motivating the team to go the extra mile it also helps to make sure they feel valued and appreciated. I think the decision on whether the reward should be money or an alternative, is something that needs to be decided upon for each individual team, as people don’t all value things the same way. Although money will be a powerful motivator for some, for others the opportunity to ‘earn’ extra days’ annual leave and a bottle of champagne may well be the perfect motivator.

Cheers everyone, and here’s to all of our highly motivated teams. Long may it continue!!!

By Helen Milanes Tidmarsh

Product Management, Teams

The Power of Believing in Yourself as a Motivator


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We’re now into September and the evenings are noticeably beginning to draw in. Me and the Magic Milestones Sales Team are busy with new potential clients, catching up with existing or old contacts and developing a new sales target list to focus on for the next 3 months. Everyone has come back off annual leave excited and focused, and it’s my goal to make sure they stay that way!

As I mentioned in my last blog, getting the team involved in target setting and ensuring that while those targets stretch the team they are still realistic and achievable has made a real difference. Enabling them to have input and be able to discuss their goals with managers, really seems to have helped achieve more team buy in and higher levels of motivation.

So what now – how can I (and the rest of the Senior Management Team) try and maintain these levels of energy and enthusiasm? The next step is to keep our team motivated and get them into a positive upward sales cycle.

Well you know I like my theories so here it goes! Self Efficacy Theory- simplistically is an individual’s belief that they are capable of performing a task. Bandura (1997) states that ‘Self-efficacy beliefs regulate human functioning through cognitive, motivational, affective, and decisional processes’ (Bandura & Locke 2003 pg 87). In essence, the higher the self-efficacy of an individual, the more confidence they have in their ability to succeed and in turn the more likely they become to achieve success. They are also more likely to respond positively to negative feedback.

It’s critical to note, Managers and Team Leaders can have an important role to play in achieving high levels of self-efficacy which coupled with the Pygmalion effect (a form of self-fulfilling prophecy) could start to make a big difference to a team’s results, especially those in sales. If a Manager shows they believe in their staff or their team’s ability this can lead to self-belief, and therefore creating the right mindset for them to achieve their set goals. Coupled with ongoing feedback and regular meetings around planning and goal strategy this theory continuously gives great results.

Similarly to the self-efficacy theory, Victor Vrooms’ Expectancy Theory (1964),‘argues that the strength of our tendency to act in certain ways depends on our strength of our expectation of a given outcome and attractiveness focusing on three relationships’: (Robbins & Judge 2015 pg 237)

    1. Effort – performance relationship
    2. Performance – reward relationship
    3. Rewards – personal goals relationship

Although there are many theorists that have criticised Vroom arguing that not many individuals see direct links between effort, performance and rewards, many organisations reward individuals for seniority and skill level rather than performance.

This could well make it an invalid motivational theory for many teams, but in the case of Sales Teams it might just be worth some consideration. If a Sales Team earns commission as part of their package, then the level of commission will almost always be related to their achievements. So here we can see the direct link between effort, performance and rewards. What we must consider for the expectancy theory to really have an impact on a team as a motivator, is that the team must see the rewards as desired and at an appropriate level. If targets are being hit but the reward is perceived to be too low for the effort invested in achieving it, motivation will be more likely to reduce than increase.

The Magic Milestones Sales Team seem happy and bought into their agreed targets, and they are really working hard to hit and even exceed them! I now need to make sure that they really believe in themselves and their abilities. So this week I am discussing with the rest of the Senior Management Team how we can implement ongoing feedback and support to help them believe in themselves and their ability.

The mention of rewards as a motivator brings us nicely onto the theme for next week’s blog. I hope to be able to report that our Sales Teams motivation is still high and they are full of self-belief! 😉

By Helen Milanes Tidmarsh

Product Management, Teams

Post Holiday Blues, How do you Re-motivate your Team?


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Step aside summer…

With the summer holiday period coming to an end I’ve been looking back over our KPI’s for July and August. With the majority of the team on annual leave at some point over the summer, this time of year always tends to be relatively quiet for the Magic Milestones team and September always feels a bit of a fresh start for us. This led me to thinking about the best way to get everyone fully motivated as the long sunny days begin to become a distant memory.

As anyone who knows me will have heard about, I am currently halfway through studying an MBA. Work motivation is one of the subjects we covered early on so I decided to look back at some of the theories and see if there is anything there that could be useful in motivating the team and be worth sharing with you guys. It has turned into a slightly bigger exercise than I planned, so over the next three weeks I’m going to be sharing some of traditional methods and how we have been trying to adopt them. I also cover those we rejected.  My Blog Schedule is:

  1. Post Holiday Blues, How Do You Re-Motivate Your Team?
  2. The Power of Believing  in Yourself as a Motivator
  3. Kerching! Money as a Motivator

This week we’ve been looking at KPI’s for the sales team so I began discussing motivation with them. Interestingly everyone had slightly different interpretations of exactly what motivation meant to them. As we continued our chat the discussion led me to share some academic views on motivation.

Dr Craig C. Pinder, Professor of Organisational Behaviour within the Faculty of Business, University of Victoria, British Columbia describes it as ‘a set of energetic forces that originate both within as well as beyond an individual’s being, to initiate work-related behaviour and to determine its form, direction, intensity, and duration’ (Pinder (1998, p.11) cited in Latham and Pinder 2004)

We came to the conclusion that one of the most challenging aspects in any business is not only how to initially motivate employees but also how to maintain that level of motivation long term. How can managers get employees to work hard and achieve the best results that they can on a monthly basis? Businesses need continually motivated teams to be able to achieve ongoing success within their markets. All these are questions, and more, we ask ourselves at Magic Milestones on a regular basis.

Goal setting is seen as the norm within most companies today, but the idea was first put forward by Edwin Locke in the 1960’s. The concept of goals being used as motivators was then developed further by the suggestion that goals needed to be specific. Locke and Latham (2002) both claimed that by setting specific goals an employee would know exactly what is expected of them and how much effort is required. This would be much more likely to increase an individual’s level of motivation that being given vague goals with nothing to measure against, and being left to interpret them in their own way. We tried this theory and it seems to be working really well.

Other ideas about how targets can affect motivation are around how achievable the targets are seen as by the individual. Vroom’s Expectancy Theory (1964) argues that ‘the strength of our tendency to act in certain ways depends on the strength of our expectation of a given outcome.’ (Robbins & Judge 2015 pg 237)

So workplace goals need to be realistic otherwise they can have the opposite effect. For example in a sales environment, if the targets are viewed as too high, realising that achieving the targets is unrealistic can change an individual’s behaviour and reduce motivation levels significantly. This can then lead to a self-fulfilling cycle where goals are rarely hit and the individual finds it increasingly harder to recover.

However, used correctly goals do give direction and structure to a team allowing them to work more cohesively to hit given targets. The buzz the team get from achieving the targets will then help them keep momentum and stay motivated.

With this in mind, our sales team then started discussing whether the boss should set individual and team targets alone or if working together to agree targets following feedback given, would lead to happy and more motivated team. We agreed that often this would depend on the individual, but that some level of discussion or explanation around target levels would go a long way to getting people more bought in to achieving them. Locke and Latham (2002) show that most theorists agree with this.

So how can feedback help improve motivation? Ashford & Black state that active feedback seeking by employees (especially new ones) is related to high performance achievement. (Latham and Pinder, 2005 ).

Of course, feedback needs to be given at the correct moment; when something has happened or there has been a result (negative or positive), so that it will have the right impact on employees. Frese & Zapf (1994) stated that it is feedback that gives employees the understanding that enables them to achieve their targets. This shows that it is just as important to give feedback when successes happen as this helps re-inforce to employees where they should focus their energy and effort.

Over the summer break we expected things to be quieter in the sales department and the reduction in target reflected this. Of course we all know that the targets then jump back up in September and the team fully understands the reasons why. Hopefully discussing the September sales targets together and making sure we agree that although they are aimed to stretch us, they are achievable, coupled with giving constructive feedback (positive and negative) to the team about the summer performance will help ensure our team are all set with a can do attitude and high levels of motivation.  I’ll let you know next week how motivated we are all still feeling! 😉

By Helen Milanes Tidmarsh

Product Management

Handing over the baby BEFORE you go on Maternity leave


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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.  http://www.agile42.com/en/blog/2013/04/11/lean-project-canvas/
  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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leadership, Lean, Lean Startup, Product Management, Project Management, Stability, Teams

Did you just build the wrong team?


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No-one goes to work to do a bad job.

Sometimes it may feel that way but really… they aren’t!
Some people may be in the wrong job, someone may be having a bad day, they may have a completely different agenda to you but 99.9% of the time they aren’t trying to fail.
So why do technology teams so often fail? How can we be so bad at ensuring that technology teams actually succeed?
Well my team and I have been pondering this for some time. We’ve been working on something called ‘Team Genes’. Looking at the genetics of what makes a good team so that we can replicate this for our clients. This is my current stance on the subject..

If we built software like we built teams we wouldn’t be so surprised at the outcome.

Organisations consistently go about building project teams with no purpose, design or thought behind them at all and wonder if they have built the wrong team later down the line. The usual process is this:

  1. Bill says he needs an X
  2. Jill is an X
  3. Jill is available to do X (sort of)
  4. Bill meets Jill
  5. Bill and Jill get along
  6. Jill joins the team!

So imagine the same in the software process:

  1. Bill says he needs an X
  2. Acme’s product is an X
  3. The organisation already bought 20 licenses of Acme product
  4. Bill uses Acme product for an afternoon…and he likes it!
  5. Let’s roll out Acme tomorrow!

So let’s break down where Bill went wrong on the product front and then maybe we can learn how he goes wrong on the people front..

  1. Bill’s assertion that he needed an X wasn’t really challenged by anyone.  (Ring any bells?)
  2. The organisation is already familiar with a product so it decides that’s enough to be a contender.
  3. Hence, no-one goes out to look for any other options thus assuming the organisation’s first choice of product was a good one.  Note that the requirements have had a cursory glance at best.
  4. Bill’s happy so let’s go!

The dangers of choosing a software product in this way are that:

  1. An organisation repeats its mistakes time and time again
  2. Politics tend to rule over substance
  3. There is no strategic relationship built with the supplier or investigation into common values and goals.  Hence, the organisation may find the vendor giving them less value over time.

And most CIOs would laugh at Bill.  Silly Bill.  Rash Bill.  And yet the product that Bill was assessing was worth maybe, 10K a year in licenses.  (These days probably a lot less).

But the person that Bill is assessing in the first example is going to cost the business between £200 and £800+ PER DAY!! People often cost between 10 – 20 x more than software does and yet we use MORE RIGOUR in choosing the former than the latter!

Here’s where you might be thinking the following..

This doesn’t apply to my company as we always create job specs for all roles

Newsflash.  A job spec isn’t a requirement.

Do we write a product spec when we go looking for software?  Hell no! We write user requirements.  We state the problem and not the solution.  (Well most of the time anyway).  A person specification would be something like this.. “My name is Bill.  I’m a busy Product Owner with a day job and I’m currently writing all my own user stories.  It would be great if I had someone who could reduce the team’s reliance on my time by creating user stories for me.  I could then spend the time I do have with the team answering their day to day questions about business processes.”   Yes the answer might be to get a business analyst in.  Or, it might be to utilise the test team differently.  Or, it might be that the Dev team lead is totally happy to help out here.  Unfortunately, because we are so used to the status quo we leap to the solution in the blink of an eye.  This is partly because we want our problem solved and partly because in most people’s hiring process, the quickest way to get your problem solved is to ring up an agent and say,

“I want a business analyst please.  For the rest of the project. 3 months would be good and I want them ASAP please”

Let’s look at the next part of the process.  Jill is available.  So Jill is suitable.  That’s the problem with hiring ASAP.  Suddenly there’s a drought for the thing you need the most.  So we look at who is available.

Are you now throwing things at your computer?

Of course I only hire people who are available!!  Why would I do anything else?

Well this point is kind of related to the last one.

Sure someone may not be available, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help you.

Being lean is about minimising waste and waste (when applied to people) comes in the form of under-utilisation.  But how many companies truly assess this ruthlessly before going off and hiring?

Finally, let’s look at the 3rd part of Bill’s process.

He likes her.  He hires her.

Well here’s where I can totally disagree with you.   We hire people using personality assessments as well as those for competency.

Okay not bad.  What if Jill hates doing X? Wants to move away from X and you are just making her do more Xing?? We rarely find out if people are interested in roles just whether they are competent enough.She might be good at it sure but is she passionate about it?

Last but not least, Bill and Jill may not even be working together to produce the same stuff. Jill gets parachuted into a brand new team and left to fend for herself. We used to let software out of the packaging to fend for itself but we soon stopped that. We realised it was insane to impose software on people without due care and attention and yet this is exactly what we do when we impose one person on a whole group of people and vice versa.

Doesn’t that sound a little insane?

How about we do this instead?..

  1. Write a problem statement not a job spec, rather like we do for products
  2. Let the team interview the person rather than their prospective manager or someone who ‘knows’ about the area in which you are hiring
  3. Test where Jill naturally sits in a team and assess if Jill would clash with anyone else or whether there is still a gap.
  4. Ideally do an assessment of your team before you hire ANYONE.  Then you can use this information to inform your choice of both role and the type of person you need.
  5. If they are costing more than around £8K per month, try them out for an afternoon.
  6. Be prepared to accept a failure has occurred – fast – and take action if necessary.  People are rarely fired for swift action provided it’s backed up by evidence.

But that sounds a bit of a long winded process.

Really?  How many hrs did you spend interviewing people last week?  You probably did at least 3.  That’s 3 hrs of your time.  That doesn’t include anyone else’s either.   HR?  Your boss?

We think life’s too short for endless interviewing.

So.. here’s the news.  Magic Milestones can set this up in under 24hrs and it saves time beyond just the first hire.  No-one gets near us without a competency check anyhow so that bit’s done.

To be a member of the Team Genes club our people are tested all year not just when you ask for their services.

Using a different method of hiring is brave.  We know that people’s habits are hard to change.  Why don’t you start the ball rolling and find out more here.

In the meantime, I’m just going off to help Bill out of a fix..

 

 

Investment Management, Negotiation, Product Management, Project Management, Project Office, Stakeholder Management

Plagued by Seagulls


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Looking out onto the Cornish coast this morning I was having a lovely relaxing time. Then the gulls came..

Apologies if there are any gull lovers out there but for me these creatures are pretty awful. Ever since one nicked my cheesecake next to the Sydney Opera House I’ve never quite forgiven them as a species. They have circled me menacingly and dive-bombed me in a Kayak. They have kept me awake at 4am with their incessant child-like wailing. They have deposited the unthinkable over my lovely new coat. They are something I could live without. However, they are there and I do unfortunately, have to live with them.

But why are seagulls relevant to delivery management?

The seagull is the person who circles overhead or stalks you on the ground. For some reason your project is both enticing and toxic to them. They poop from on high over your delivery efforts or else they just peck at your feet. Either way dealing with Sea Gulls on a project is irritating and tricky.

Pellet guns are not allowed

As tempting as it may be, shooting Seagulls is illegal. Likewise on a project that option is not the best to pursue and may indeed get you fired.

So what is the best approach, if circled by a seagull?

Identification

Know your Seagulls. They could be lurking anywhere and strike at any time. The common ones are:

  1. Security experts. They play a vital role and that role involves swooping in when you least expect it.
  2. Technical Architects. Beware not having this person on side. If you break the rules be prepared for the inevitable whitewash of your technical plans.
  3. Finance bods. Less Seagulls and more rug pullers but the effect is the same. If they aren’t bought in they will ruin your delivery plans.
  4. Members of department under-going change. Perhaps the least expected and most prevalent they can undermine a change at the last possible moment leading to certain failure and a possible pecked head. These guys tend to come in pairs.

Don’t

  • Try to get them fired. This may backfire like the pellet gun approach.
  • Avoid them. Ever tried avoiding a Seagull? They don’t get the hint.
  • Feed them. If you are doing a bad job at delivery or stakeholder management you are doing their job for them. Try not to get distracted or they will nick your cheesecake when you aren’t looking. They may even tell everyone it was theirs to begin with.

Do

  • Involve them as soon as it is practical to do so
  • See their point of view. Seagulls have their own agenda. They are feathering their own nests. How can your project help them? Work it out and see if your agenda can align more with theirs. It may not be possible but worth some thought.
  • Keep them out of pecking distance but make sure you know they aren’t roosting nearby. Keep them in the communication loop and make sure that others know their intentions. Otherwise, they could potentially shoot you out of the water with an argument that disrupts your project entirely.
  • Pre-empt their arguments and prepare your defence.

sunSince I’ve been writing this the Seagulls have gone and the sun has even come out.  Waiting is another option as Seagulls are often on the look out for other threatening projects and their attention can be deflected elsewhere.

Just make sure yours isn’t their focus today and grab a large umbrella if they start losing their proverbial cannons.

 

 

 

 

Entrepreneurship, Failure, Investment Management, Philosophy, Product Management, Strategy, Teams, Uncategorized

The Boy and the Starfish


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When the tide is coming in..

You need a team or a consultancy that can focus on solving one problem at a time.

A man was walking along a deserted beach at sunset. As he walked he could see a young boy in the distance, as he drew nearer he noticed that the boy kept bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the water.
Time and again he kept hurling things into the ocean.

As the man approached even closer, he was able to see that the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time he was throwing them back into the water.

The man asked the boy what he was doing, the boy replied,”I am throwing these washed up starfish back into the ocean, or else they will die through lack of oxygen. “But”, said the man, “You can’t possibly save them all, there are thousands on this beach, and this must be happening on hundreds of beaches along the coast. You can’t possibly make a difference.”
The boy looked down, frowning for a moment; then bent down to pick up another starfish, smiling as he threw it back into the sea. He replied,

“I made a huge difference to that one!”

Author Unknown