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[Article] Take a voluntary demotion and renew your energy once in a while


Jimi Wikman
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As a manager you often work harder than anyone else in the team. Long hours, often after the workday has ended, or even weekdays sometimes, is unfortunately not uncommon. There are conflicts to be resolved and content switching that will make anyone exhausted. This is a sure way to burn yourself out if you let it and this is why it can be a good thing to take a voluntary demotion once in a while.

This may sound like a terrible idea, but I have found that not only will a voluntary demotion renew your energy, it will reinvigorate your passion for the craft, update you with the latest changes to the craft as well as reconnect with the people you normally lead. It is also incredibly humbling to "step down" and I tend to feel a bit of relief as that fear of not being allowed to fail or loose my position goes away.

For me I like to dive into the design part of my work. This is because I tend to spend time with test and requirements in my management role any way and I prefer to code with no pressure to deliver. I am also not very good with java script, which you pretty much must know inside and out these days.

Design on the other hand is diverse and while the tools change over time, the fundamentals does not. The psychology behind stay the same, even if a few new studies may show interesting changes now and again. In no way is it as fast paced as the world of front end development or as complex as the testing the increasingly more complicated infrastructures of businesses today.

It is also pretty much the opposite of management where you often feel that you have accomplished nothing at the end of the day. This is of course not true, but it's very hard to see concrete evidence of your work when you work with people all day. Design on the other hand is very obvious and it's amazing to see the things you can create using tools like Sketch or Photoshop.

For me this works wonders to renew my energy and I try to add something like this in once every 2-3 years or so. It's usually short assignments, but that is just the way I like it. I did this for Svenska Färghus Gruppen that was even more amazing since I had two colleagues that were design leads and I was just a simple designer for a change. I learned a ton and had an amazing time, much thanks to my awesome collegues Victor Werning and Camilla Romander that took me under their wings.

Currently I work  with ChessIT as a digital designer and again I am having a blast. I am diving into Sketch with new eyes as this is a time sensitive assignment so things must be done quickly. Creating dynamic symbols and font styles is key here. It's also locked down as the front end framework is already in place so I have to work within that constraint. It's a challenge and I am just loving the fact that even if it's fast paced I do not get stressed and I love every minute of it.

As a side effect of taking these design assignments I not only get to be creative for a change, I also stumble upon new tools and work processes which is going to benefit me greatly in future management assignments. It is truly a win-win situation as I get renewed energy, feel happier and also grow my knowledge and understanding of design with hands on experience.

I also get much needed time to reflect and I recently wrote about being caught in my own mental trap. This is that feeling where you fear loosing income or position because it would somehow make me less successful. It's a silly thought because position or level of income does not define your worth or your level of success. It also paralyze you and make you afraid of failing. As failing is the basis of growth and learning that lock you in a self imposed vacuum, which makes you miserable.

So, if you have the opportunity to demote yourself then I suggest you take it. Take a step back and relive the passion that once led to the management position in the first place. Let go of your ego, release your fear of failure and once more become the student so you can grow, as a professional as well as an individual.

I promise it will be worth it.

 


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    • By Jimi Wikman
      It seems that the terms "leader" and "manager" are used a bit casually when you look at role descriptions and titles. The thing though is that they are not interchangeable, but actually have a very distinct definition in my opinion. Leaders lead and managers manage after all and those are two different skill sets.
      Are you a project manager or project leader? That is a question almost no one ever ask, because in most people's mind they are the same. I would argue however that it is not because for me there is a very big difference between someone who lead and someone who manage.
       
      A manager manage.
      "Management (or managing) is the administration of an organization, whether it is a business, a not-for-profit organization, or government body. Management includes the activities of setting the strategy of an organization and coordinating the efforts of its employees (or of volunteers) to accomplish its objectives through the application of available resources, such as financial, natural, technological, and human resources. The term "management" may also refer to those people who manage an organization. "
      - Wikipedia
      Someone with the title manager is often someone who do not directly interact with the people they manage. They handle things like finances, stakeholder communication and reporting. In many ways managers work upwards to satisfy the need of those higher up in the hierarchy. People are often handled indirectly by managers and focus is on delivery and the promise given to those higher up in the organization.
      Henri Fayol have a definition I think is quite accurate:  "to manage is to forecast and to plan, to organize, to command, to co-ordinate and to control."
      Managers need strong skills in strategic planning and structured organization. As they often do not directly work with the people they manage they don't need strong charisma or empathic abilities. That is not to say that managers have these abilities, just that it is less required than for leaders.
      Managers focus on the promise of delivery.
       
      A leader lead.
      "A leader is one who influences or leads others. 
      Leadership is both a research area and a practical skill encompassing the ability of an individual or organization to "lead" or guide other individuals, teams, or entire organizations. Specialist literature debates various viewpoints, contrasting Eastern and Western approaches to leadership, and also (within the West) United States versus European approaches. U.S. academic environments define leadership as "a process of social influence in which a person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task"
      Someone with the title leader is someone who directly interact with the people they lead. These are people who manage day to day activities within the team to ensure that the team are doing well. Leaders work downwards towards the team they lead and will shield them from the demands from those higher up in the organization.
      Unlike management, leadership cannot be taught, although it may be learned and enhanced through coaching or mentoring. Erika Andersen, author of "Leading So People Will Follow," says, like most things – leadership capability falls along a bell curve. So the fact is that most folks who start out with a modicum of innate leadership capability can actually become very good, even great leaders.
      We can define a leader and someone who possess a degree of leadership. Leadership can be defined as "The act of inspiring subordinants to perform and engage in achieving a goal."

      In order to have others follow you, you need leadership skills and the respect of those that you lead. Empathy is a crucial skill as is charisma and compassion. As a leader you are also responsible for the promise of delivery and need organizational and strategic planning skills. It is just less required than for a manager.
      Leaders focus on the promise to take care of the people.
       
      Blurred lines between manager and leader.
      It may seem that I make a hard distinction between managers and leaders. I know that the lines between the two are not as cut and dry as this article may suggest. Many managers are also great leaders and many leaders are great managers. The point I try to make is that the titles are not interchangeable, but they actually have a definition.
      I think this is important because as long as we mix these roles when describing what role we actually are looking for, then we will continue to get the wrong skill set. This is even more confusing when adding a role definition based on an ability such as leadership.
      Are you a sword or a shield?
      This is a question I often ask when someone tell me they are a manager or a leader of some sort. Being a sword means that you will sacrifice the people to fulfill the promise of delivery. A shield on the other hand will protect the people even if it means sacrificing the promise of delivery.
      Both of these types of managers are needed in an organization and you can often see the correlation when an organization are over representing one of the two. To many swords lead to a detached workforce and health issues among the teams. To many shields lead to difficulties to grow and economical issues.
      In my perfect world we have a mix of both types throughout the organization. A higher focus on swords are at the top of the hierarchy and a higher focus on the shields are at the bottom. If we combine this with good communication and an organization model that focus work, then you have a perfect work environment.
      So...are you a manager, or a leader?

      View full blog article
    • By Jimi Wikman
      It seems that the terms "leader" and "manager" are used a bit casually when you look at role descriptions and titles. The thing though is that they are not interchangeable, but actually have a very distinct definition in my opinion. Leaders lead and managers manage after all and those are two different skill sets.
      Are you a project manager or project leader? That is a question almost no one ever ask, because in most people's mind they are the same. I would argue however that it is not because for me there is a very big difference between someone who lead and someone who manage.
       
      A manager manage.
      "Management (or managing) is the administration of an organization, whether it is a business, a not-for-profit organization, or government body. Management includes the activities of setting the strategy of an organization and coordinating the efforts of its employees (or of volunteers) to accomplish its objectives through the application of available resources, such as financial, natural, technological, and human resources. The term "management" may also refer to those people who manage an organization. "
      - Wikipedia
      Someone with the title manager is often someone who do not directly interact with the people they manage. They handle things like finances, stakeholder communication and reporting. In many ways managers work upwards to satisfy the need of those higher up in the hierarchy. People are often handled indirectly by managers and focus is on delivery and the promise given to those higher up in the organization.
      Henri Fayol have a definition I think is quite accurate:  "to manage is to forecast and to plan, to organize, to command, to co-ordinate and to control."
      Managers need strong skills in strategic planning and structured organization. As they often do not directly work with the people they manage they don't need strong charisma or empathic abilities. That is not to say that managers have these abilities, just that it is less required than for leaders.
      Managers focus on the promise of delivery.
       
      A leader lead.
      "A leader is one who influences or leads others. 
      Leadership is both a research area and a practical skill encompassing the ability of an individual or organization to "lead" or guide other individuals, teams, or entire organizations. Specialist literature debates various viewpoints, contrasting Eastern and Western approaches to leadership, and also (within the West) United States versus European approaches. U.S. academic environments define leadership as "a process of social influence in which a person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task"
      Someone with the title leader is someone who directly interact with the people they lead. These are people who manage day to day activities within the team to ensure that the team are doing well. Leaders work downwards towards the team they lead and will shield them from the demands from those higher up in the organization.
      Unlike management, leadership cannot be taught, although it may be learned and enhanced through coaching or mentoring. Erika Andersen, author of "Leading So People Will Follow," says, like most things – leadership capability falls along a bell curve. So the fact is that most folks who start out with a modicum of innate leadership capability can actually become very good, even great leaders.
      We can define a leader and someone who possess a degree of leadership. Leadership can be defined as "The act of inspiring subordinants to perform and engage in achieving a goal."

      In order to have others follow you, you need leadership skills and the respect of those that you lead. Empathy is a crucial skill as is charisma and compassion. As a leader you are also responsible for the promise of delivery and need organizational and strategic planning skills. It is just less required than for a manager.
      Leaders focus on the promise to take care of the people.
       
      Blurred lines between manager and leader.
      It may seem that I make a hard distinction between managers and leaders. I know that the lines between the two are not as cut and dry as this article may suggest. Many managers are also great leaders and many leaders are great managers. The point I try to make is that the titles are not interchangeable, but they actually have a definition.
      I think this is important because as long as we mix these roles when describing what role we actually are looking for, then we will continue to get the wrong skill set. This is even more confusing when adding a role definition based on an ability such as leadership.
      Are you a sword or a shield?
      This is a question I often ask when someone tell me they are a manager or a leader of some sort. Being a sword means that you will sacrifice the people to fulfill the promise of delivery. A shield on the other hand will protect the people even if it means sacrificing the promise of delivery.
      Both of these types of managers are needed in an organization and you can often see the correlation when an organization are over representing one of the two. To many swords lead to a detached workforce and health issues among the teams. To many shields lead to difficulties to grow and economical issues.
      In my perfect world we have a mix of both types throughout the organization. A higher focus on swords are at the top of the hierarchy and a higher focus on the shields are at the bottom. If we combine this with good communication and an organization model that focus work, then you have a perfect work environment.
      So...are you a manager, or a leader?
    • By Jimi Wikman
      If you have worked in IT in the past 10-15 years or so, you probably have endured the endless regurgitation of meaningless information in a daily stand-up. You have probably felt the anxiety of being judged and been annoyed over your teammates doctoring their results to look more productive. You probably also wished you did not have to go to the meetings once or twice. What if I told you there is a better way to manage daily stand-ups? Because there is.
      First let us figure out what the purpose of a daily stand-up is and where it comes from. The need to organize groups and to collaborate is as old as time itself and while many consider the daily stand-up, or daily scrum to originate from the Scrum framework, that is not true. Regular meetings have been a common practice since long before Scrum, and it is also why it is the most used aspect of Scrum in less than Agile work processes.
      What Scrum did however was to add psychological stress to the formula with the intent of increasing productivity. This was done by putting emphasis on proof of progress rather than collaboration. It is an effective way to shame people into becoming more productive, and it is a typical behavior for extroverts to seek the admiration and praise of others. The downside is increased levels of stress, which is counterproductive. In many cases it also leads to manipulation of data and fragmentation of work, especially in continuous delivery situations where people tend to work on multiple things at the same time.
      For many years Scrum had three questions that was the law to regurgitate every daily meeting:
      What did I do yesterday that helped the development team meet the sprint goal? What will I do today to help the development team meet the sprint goal? Do I see any impediment that prevents me or the development team from meeting the sprint goal? In the 2020 scrum guide they have backed off from this a bit, but they still focus on the feeling of guilt by pushing the conversation towards progress.
      This is even more emphasized in the statement of the benefits of the daily stand-up:
      Again this is clearly written from the perspective of an extrovert because for many introverts this is NOT a forum for improved communication. The idea that the daily stand-up eliminate the need for other meetings is not true. It most certainly can consolidate questions into a more focused forum, which does reduce the need to bother developers and others multiple times, but you often find reasons for more meetings, not less.
      How do we make this better?
      Let us first decide why we want to have daily meetings in the first place. The most obvious reason is to gain control. This is how most managers that are detached from the team see the daily stand-up because it is the only way they can stay on top of things, so they can look good in other meetings. That is not what daily stand-ups are for however and as a manger you should instead manage your time and make sure you work with the team and not act as a proxy.
      The reason we have daily stand-up should be to make sure everyone in the team have a voice and to make sure everyone is informed. By making sure everyone in the team get a voice we can find impediments and help each other solve problems. We can lift concerns and ask questions in a safe setting that allow the team to feel safe. It allows for a common forum for information, so everyone can feel that they have the information they need at all times.
      We do this because questions and doubt are the bane of productivity and team health.
      The first thing we do is to remove the time cap. Our minds are very sensitive to time and performance under pressure, so we remove that. Instead, we add a 30-minute slot every morning where we spend as much time as we need. Sometimes it is just 5 minutes, sometimes we extend the 30 minutes and change it into another type of meeting.
      The second thing we do is remove the need to report what has been done. This is the cause of much anxiety and in a healthy team you should not need that type of information anyway. Instead, we focus on questions, impediments and requests for help. We make sure everyone in the team get a chance to speak, and we make sure that everyone feel safe, so they dare to say what is on their mind. This is important because one thing we want to capture is if time estimates need to be extended or if new tasks might be needed.
      We sort things that come up as team related or personal, so we can focus on the team related issues first and then take personal questions after the meeting to make the disruption as small as possible. To make this disruption even smaller we put the daily meeting as early as possible without limiting peoples freedom. This means that you most likely have people in the team that have kids or other family situations that require them to have some flexibility in the morning and afternoon. 9 or 10 are common times, but you can just as well do this after lunch for example. The aim is to avoid disrupting the team as content switching is bad.
      The final part is for the team lead and architect to inform the team of things happening outside the team that is relevant to the team.
      I strongly suggest that you make this daily meeting as comfortable as possible instead of actually making it an actual stand-up. The reason for that is that most people are more likely to raise questions and ask for help when they are comfortable. If you can align this around a coffee break or breakfast, then that is excellent.
      The summary:
      Schedule the meeting as early as possible without limiting the flexibility of your team members. Go around the team and let everyone ask questions, request help and raise concerns if there are any. Team lead and Architect give information relevant for the team. Confirm activities such as additional meetings or request for information or to solve impediments Grab some water or coffee and then return to work again. I find that these types of daily meetings often lead to better productivity for the simple reason that people feel less stressed when they get information and can get their problems solved. The outcome of these meetings often lead to technical discussions to answer technical questions and sometimes new activities to refactor things that might not have been captured otherwise.
      So if you are stuck in a daily routine of regurgitating Jira numbers where you feel the need to adjust numbers a bit just to look good, then I suggest you give this approach a try instead. 
      Management by fear and intimidation is a poor substitute for making your team feel safe and informed.
    • By Jimi Wikman
      If you have worked in IT in the past 10-15 years or so, you probably have endured the endless regurgitation of meaningless information in a daily stand-up. You have probably felt the anxiety of being judged and been annoyed over your teammates doctoring their results to look more productive. You probably also wished you did not have to go to the meetings once or twice. What if I told you there is a better way to manage daily stand-ups? Because there is.
      First let us figure out what the purpose of a daily stand-up is and where it comes from. The need to organize groups and to collaborate is as old as time itself and while many consider the daily stand-up, or daily scrum to originate from the Scrum framework, that is not true. Regular meetings have been a common practice since long before Scrum, and it is also why it is the most used aspect of Scrum in less than Agile work processes.
      What Scrum did however was to add psychological stress to the formula with the intent of increasing productivity. This was done by putting emphasis on proof of progress rather than collaboration. It is an effective way to shame people into becoming more productive, and it is a typical behavior for extroverts to seek the admiration and praise of others. The downside is increased levels of stress, which is counterproductive. In many cases it also leads to manipulation of data and fragmentation of work, especially in continuous delivery situations where people tend to work on multiple things at the same time.
      For many years Scrum had three questions that was the law to regurgitate every daily meeting:
      What did I do yesterday that helped the development team meet the sprint goal? What will I do today to help the development team meet the sprint goal? Do I see any impediment that prevents me or the development team from meeting the sprint goal? In the 2020 scrum guide they have backed off from this a bit, but they still focus on the feeling of guilt by pushing the conversation towards progress.
      This is even more emphasized in the statement of the benefits of the daily stand-up:
      Again this is clearly written from the perspective of an extrovert because for many introverts this is NOT a forum for improved communication. The idea that the daily stand-up eliminate the need for other meetings is not true. It most certainly can consolidate questions into a more focused forum, which does reduce the need to bother developers and others multiple times, but you often find reasons for more meetings, not less.
      How do we make this better?
      Let us first decide why we want to have daily meetings in the first place. The most obvious reason is to gain control. This is how most managers that are detached from the team see the daily stand-up because it is the only way they can stay on top of things, so they can look good in other meetings. That is not what daily stand-ups are for however and as a manger you should instead manage your time and make sure you work with the team and not act as a proxy.
      The reason we have daily stand-up should be to make sure everyone in the team have a voice and to make sure everyone is informed. By making sure everyone in the team get a voice we can find impediments and help each other solve problems. We can lift concerns and ask questions in a safe setting that allow the team to feel safe. It allows for a common forum for information, so everyone can feel that they have the information they need at all times.
      We do this because questions and doubt are the bane of productivity and team health.
      The first thing we do is to remove the time cap. Our minds are very sensitive to time and performance under pressure, so we remove that. Instead, we add a 30-minute slot every morning where we spend as much time as we need. Sometimes it is just 5 minutes, sometimes we extend the 30 minutes and change it into another type of meeting.
      The second thing we do is remove the need to report what has been done. This is the cause of much anxiety and in a healthy team you should not need that type of information anyway. Instead, we focus on questions, impediments and requests for help. We make sure everyone in the team get a chance to speak, and we make sure that everyone feel safe, so they dare to say what is on their mind. This is important because one thing we want to capture is if time estimates need to be extended or if new tasks might be needed.
      We sort things that come up as team related or personal, so we can focus on the team related issues first and then take personal questions after the meeting to make the disruption as small as possible. To make this disruption even smaller we put the daily meeting as early as possible without limiting peoples freedom. This means that you most likely have people in the team that have kids or other family situations that require them to have some flexibility in the morning and afternoon. 9 or 10 are common times, but you can just as well do this after lunch for example. The aim is to avoid disrupting the team as content switching is bad.
      The final part is for the team lead and architect to inform the team of things happening outside the team that is relevant to the team.
      I strongly suggest that you make this daily meeting as comfortable as possible instead of actually making it an actual stand-up. The reason for that is that most people are more likely to raise questions and ask for help when they are comfortable. If you can align this around a coffee break or breakfast, then that is excellent.
      The summary:
      Schedule the meeting as early as possible without limiting the flexibility of your team members. Go around the team and let everyone ask questions, request help and raise concerns if there are any. Team lead and Architect give information relevant for the team. Confirm activities such as additional meetings or request for information or to solve impediments Grab some water or coffee and then return to work again. I find that these types of daily meetings often lead to better productivity for the simple reason that people feel less stressed when they get information and can get their problems solved. The outcome of these meetings often lead to technical discussions to answer technical questions and sometimes new activities to refactor things that might not have been captured otherwise.
      So if you are stuck in a daily routine of regurgitating Jira numbers where you feel the need to adjust numbers a bit just to look good, then I suggest you give this approach a try instead. 
      Management by fear and intimidation is a poor substitute for making your team feel safe and informed.

      View full blog article
    • By Jimi Wikman
      I must admit that I am amused at the sheer number of posts that flood the Internet the last months that all revolve around how to make remote teamwork work. They all seem share one common thing and that is that they are written by, or for, managers. The thing is though that for most of us that work in IT this has worked for decades and it is for many of us a part of our daily routine.
      It is with a sad smile that I see the complete hysteria from middle and upper management when it comes to working from remote. It is as if the last 20 years of advancement in that area never actually reached this group. Their futile need for control and the withdrawal symptoms from not getting your daily meeting "fix" is in my eyes nothing new, but it becomes so very obvious in times of crisis.
      We see large organizations cutting away their workforce and while they try to trim away across the organization it is pretty obvious that it is people who are close to the consumers that suffer the most. Stores, restaurants, hotels and travel are all sadly on the brink of extinction. On the technical side of things we see less work as well, but not because the work is no longer needed, but because investments are more careful when the cash flow is less stable.
      We see an upswing for collaboration tools such as Miro and Trello while at least my daily feed is filled to the brink of articles on how to remain productive from remote. Most articles are so basic that I have to wonder who they are written for as most development teams have this as part of their daily work. Things like "focus on direct calls instead of chat" and "make sure your team know how to reach you" is utterly ridiculous however and in many articles I feel like I am being patronized and addressed like a five year old.
      Working from home is not something that should be strange or confusing in 2020. If you do not have work processes that work for that, then I would argue that you have been neglecting to evolve as an organization for a long time. To be a manager that are having problems functioning within a remote teamwork environment is not only a liability in this crisis, but for the foreseeable future. If you are having issues with that now, then I suggest you start looking into improving that right now. It is a skill that you must have in this day and age.
      The silver lining with this situation however is that many organizations now are forced to transform. We see it already that some larger organizations are reducing the middle management section for faster communication and more direct management. Meetings are heavily reduced, which is because many meetings at middle management levels are just to transfer information. In a remote workforce that is wasteful, so sharing information are done more efficiently.
      We also see how badly communication between business, IT and Operations are working. I don't think I have seen this many articles about DevOps or Incident Management in the last decade. I have seen a big upswing in Quality Assurance discussions, especially surrounding requirements and facilitating workshop on remote. Portfolio management is on the rise and I get more questions about Portfolio for Jira, BigPicture and Structure than I think I have ever had. Clearly people are in need of ways to get an overview of the work to satisfy their need for control.
      It is also interesting that I have not seen a single request for Jira Align...
      While business and management are in a bit of panic mode at the moment I see the opposite in the development and test areas. People are working well from home and I see productivity is skyrocketing. The pressure on management is increasing to get better requirements and improve communication, but as long as the development teams get the information they need, then they are golden it seems. I hear people are less stressed, better focused and I even hear that things like system stability and technical debt is getting a bit of focus lately.
      I hope that this crisis can lead to some change in management in the long run. Having more time to actually think and being forced to learn how to communicate more efficiently should benefit management greatly. Having the tools and processes to work from remote is a good way to future proof your organization. I also hope more managers will realize that working from home does not make you less productive. In fact it will greatly benefit some groups that not only can get more focused, but also can work when they are most productive.
      If you are a manager that are struggling with remote teamwork, then don't chase articles that give you platitudes and nonsense advice. Talk to your development teams instead. They most likely already have this in place for working from home or to collaborate with other teams or offshore. Take this opportunity to slow down, process the information and then communicate it clearly instead of just running all the time. If you lack the tools or infrastructure to work efficiently on remote, then invest in it now. It is a good investment, not just for a crisis like the current one, but also for meeting the future demands of the employees.
      Embrace Remote Teamwork, just like the rest of us did back in 2005. 😉
      DISCUSS REMOTE TEAMWORK IN THE FORUM
       

      View full blog article

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