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
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By ©Jimi Wikman
In the last 3-4 years I have noticed an increase in the speed of which things are done within companies. By that I do not mean that we produce things faster, I mean that we take decisions or share information faster. That may sound like a good thing, but as always when things are done fast the quality drops. What I see however is even worse and that is that people, often young people, are getting hurt.
Management is not an easy profession, regardless of position in an organization. There are important decisions to make, ton of information to absorb and people that need to be cared for. This is nothing new, but what is relatively new is a sense of urgency, that seem to spread to an almost frantic pace these days. In some cases it's more like full panic mode even.
I have seen organizations that spend more time in meetings than actually do anything on a management level. Some organization even take this to a whole new level. The lack of proper communication and a complete lack of trust within the organization lead to hundreds or even thousands of people who spend most of their days shuffling information back and forth in meetings.
This is a very, very dangerous situation because when managers process information with no context and little to no actual knowledge of the topic they process then poor decisions are taken. If you add a constant stress to that situation where managers spend 30+ hours in meetings with other managers then the decisions quickly become erratic and irrational.
I see this in many large organizations these days and I hear it from friends and colleagues in other organizations as well. Most agree that while this has always been the case in management to certain extent, it has never been as bad as it is today. No one seem to think that this is something that will change anytime soon either. Quite the opposite as we have seen this slowly escalate over the years and it has come to the point where people are getting hurt mentally and physically.
I have seen people pass out in meetings and more than one person that leave mid day to never come back to their work again. I see daily people in the development areas with dark rings below their eyes and tired eyes. I hear people almost weekly that ask to leave their assignment due to health issues or mental fatigue.
Everywhere I see the same tragic trend and that is that management is running frantically making poor decisions with little to no communication. People are frustrated, confused and more often than not they are becoming defensive as their managers mistrust everything they do. More often than not there will be control mechanisms that are implemented to control rather than improve the work.
This will make people feel like they are constantly being judged and mistrusted. With an increased pace from the managers demands that comes with unclear information and little to no access to clarification there is no wonder people are breaking down. In some companies there are even activity based offices as icing on the cake to make things even more stressful for the already battered employees.
People are getting hurt from this and you have most likely seen more than one employee cringe when you mention the Agile word or the Activity based Office. That is not because they are against these things, it's just that they are so abused by managers to avoid taking proper responsibility for making sure that communication and interaction are working.
There is still hope!
It is easy to blame the managers for the situation, but the fact is that most managers are really, really great people. They are also suffering from the situation of an increased pace and stress. I know more than one manager that have taken a time out in the bathroom where they silently cried over their hopeless situation. So the managers are not the problem, it is the collective sense of urgency and lack of control.
Step 1 - Reduce the meetings.
Meetings are the cause of many issues today. We have meetings for almost everything with little to no thought of why we have them. Many managers are easily in 20-30+ hours every week and most meetings include 10+ people where half is just there to make sure they do not miss information. If you want to measure something, then this is something to measure to reduce waste of resources and cost.
Make it mandatory with one full day with no meetings. This allow managers to process the information and make educated decisions what to do next. For best effect, make it the same day for everyone.
Also follow up on meeting statistics to make sure that no more than 15 hours each week can be allocated to meetings. That is 3 hours each day, which should be more than enough if you have the communication and information strategies in place.
Step 2 - Establish trust.
Control is a big problem if there is no trust in the organization. The reason for that is that no matter how well the development teams are doing it will not matter of the management chain can not feel sure about that. If all managers are always sitting in meetings, then how will they get the information they need and how will they have time to forward this information up the management chain? The first step is of course to free up time by reducing the time spent in meetings.
The second thing is to clarify responsibility. It is very difficult to provide the right information if you do not know what is expected from you. Once you know what information you need to provide, then the flow of information will improve with relevant information.
Once you clarify responsibility and expectations you will reduce confusion, which in turn will reduce frustration. Clarity also will make it possible to provide accurate information from the development teams when it comes to estimations. This will make it easier for manages to feel that they can trust the information from the development teams. This is done by having clear role definitions and a proper process for clarifying requirements for the development teams.
Step 3 - Establish proper communication channels.
The last "easy" fix is to make sure you have communication channels. One thing that I see often is that just to implement a documented decision process will improve the understanding in the organization a lot. If you can understand what a decision mean, why it was taken and who took the decision, then it is much, much easier to understand. Verbal decisions are easily misunderstand, easy to override and easy to ignore. So make sure that important decisions are clearly documented and easily accessed.
No common way of working is also a big problem. You should define a baseline for everyone to avoid that everyone in your organization create their own way of working. This is especially important in the handover points where you handover information between different groups. If this handover is done in dozens or hundreds of different ways, then that will not only cause confusion and frustration, it will cost thousands upon thousands of dollars.
Having a common way of working does not mean that you can not have different ways of working. It just mean that you can understand the reason for having a different process as there is some need that the common way of working can not fulfill. The changes are not arbitrary as they are when there are no common way of working.
Step 4 - Take care of your people
No matter where you are in the organization you have people around you that you work with every day. Make sure you take a moment on a regular basis and look at the people around you. If you see someone that does not seem to feel well, then make sure you act on that. You can support the person by talking to them and listen to their problems, you can tell your manager or your managers manager and you can contact HR.
If we fail to see the people around us that are slowly being broken down from stress, then that person could end up being sick. Some refer to this as "hitting the wall", others being "burned out". This is one of the most devastating events in a persons life and it is something that you never really get over.
So take care of yourself, the people around you and please, please....
stop running, because people are getting hurt.
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By ©Jimi Wikman
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. "
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?
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By + Magnus Lindblom
Entrepreneur, business developer and manager with experiences from radically improving test organisations and starting, operating and selling restaurant businesses.
Specialties: Business and organizational development. Strategic test management in complex environments such as in banking and insurance.