Posts Tagged “mismanagement”

Superflu weekend struck our family — and all the families in our daughters’ playgroup. Based on preliminary reports (and my own condition) this could stretch into superflu fortnight.

This reminds me to ask the question: Has anyone planned for sick days in February?

I spotted a trend a few years back that I blogged about in 2009. Now I’m convinced that February is the Northern Hemisphere’s worst month for sick days. And I do account for February sick days in the delivery commitments that my teams make.

Of course, there are other perspectives. I once had a manager who, when contemplating the likelihood of illness-reduced delivery in February, rebutted: Plan at the standard velocity. That’ll encourage the healthy employees to work overtime and cover the shortfall.

He was all about morale, that one.

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Have you been put in charge of a development team but you don’t know what you’re doing? Do you want to get ahead in your organization and don’t care about the price others have to pay? If so, the Best Practice Carpet Bomb might be just the thing for you.

You only need two things to execute this Anti-Practice. First, you must to select a handful of time-intensive best practices. Second, you will need time – enough time to drop one best practice on your team each month.

Try checklists in the first month. They’re in fashion right now. Checklists save lives in the operating room. And anything that helps guys with starting salaries of three hundred thousand dollars has got to provide some boost to your team. Right? Pass the word down that over the next month every member of your team needs to compile five checklists. No, it doesn’t matter that we don’t have a plan for where to put them or how to use them. It doesn’t matter that a forty person department times five checklists equals two hundred new documents that need to be organized and maintained. They’re checklists and they save lives. The more the merrier. And, because this is the new best practice that everyone’s talking about, this just makes us more agile.

Try something completely different the second month.

How about frequent demos? No, not the end of sprint demos to present our shippable product. We DO need to do those, but they’re so 2002. What we need to start doing – because it’s an up-and-coming best practice – is demo to each other so we can show off how cool we are. Team to team. Individual to team. Team to office manager. Whatever audience we can get. And we need to consider our audience and our presentation posture. We don’t demo real applications because they can break during the demo and make us look bad. Screenshots, scripted talks, and multiple rehearsals – that’s the way to do it. No, it can’t be more relaxed just because you work daily with these people. This is about putting the time and effort into effective communication. And that is SO agile.

On to month three. How about mandatory and standardized incident reporting whenever anything breaks? Or let’s mandate that every new idea gets the A3 and paper prototyping treatment. Yes, every new idea. Wait wait I’ve got a better one. Let’s all start internal blogs and we can spend our evenings blogging at each other. Well, no, that’s not an established best practice. That’s ok. We’ve adopted enough best practices from other teams. It’s time to start making our own. We’re gonna be the next Google.

Now, remember, in month three your teams must also sustain the best practices from months one and two. Otherwise, what would be the point of adopting best practices? They are, after all, best practices, which makes them crucial to our success.

The same rules hold true for months four, five and thereafter … until your team crumbles into a pile of malfunctioning bits that have adapted to satisfy a succession of noisy organizational mandates in the place of quality delivery.

And you know the best part about using best practices to wreck teams? You can blame those very teams for their failure. Had they done as you had instructed them, and implemented the best practices correctly, they would have succeeded in their delivery goals. Time your exit right and you’ll be promoted because of your ability to lead and innovate using best practices. You’ll be off to bigger, better opportunities while some poor sap gets conscripted to clean up behind you.

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Vision – or the lack of communicated vision – is a problem I’ve been trying to tackle on multiple teams for the last several months. The specific problem is caused by Product Owners (or Customers) who do not have a vision for the system they own.

It’s not that there isn’t anyone in the organization who has a vision for the system–that’s often the Product Owner’s boss. Rather, the troubles start when the boss delegates responsibility for product ownership but doesn’t take the time to instill that same individual with his or her desires and dreams for the system.

And what is the result of this failure to delegate vision with product ownership?

  1. Teams focusing on less, and even unimportant, features such as sophisticated admin functionality that only benefits Product Owner.
  2. An undercurrent of doubt within that team that the development path is not directed toward an overarching, understood, and meaningful goal. (This undercurrent will, at best, draw away productivity and, at worst, foster team-wide infighting over the development direction.)
  3. A completed system that does not deliver business value.

In one word, it’s waste.

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Just one day after I wrote my first post on the CTA here in Chicago I was exiting one of the shiny new stations that the CTA has been blowing my hard-earned dollars on. Apparently, the station is too shiny. It was a rainy day and I was descending from the train platform. As soon as I hit the bottom of the steps I saw they guy right in front of me nearly do a face-plant on the flashy marbled floor.

More than one hundred years in the mass transit business and the CTA cannot even select the right flooring. Concrete may not be all that pretty but at least it’s not a lawsuit magnet.

The coup de grâce came as I was exiting the station. The attendant began shouting over the public address system: “Passengers enterring the station be careful. The floors are slippery when wet.”

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If you ever want to watch a perpetual train-wreck (sometimes literally) of mismanagement in action, come visit Chicago and ride the L trains. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), which runs the L as well as bus system, is vilified citywide for its inability to ever run a train on time, the extreme tendency of its buses to travel in packs, blowing money on pretty platforms instead of more trains, and having a serious excess of people standing around in over-sized, day-glow orange CTA vests not doing anything.

Tangent: If you’re a public transit company and you’re dressing your people up like walking caution cones to make them highly-visible so they don’t get hit by trains wouldn’t you also tell them to at least look busy so they’re not highly-visible when they’re doing absolutely nothing in front of all of us sales- and property-tax payers who are footing their salaries?

For the record, I really do know people who live a block from an L station and work a block from an L station who drive to work anyway simply because they hate the CTA that much.

So, some of the CTA’s problem is honest and utter incompetence, but some of it is also perception. Traffic really can wreak havoc on the spacing of buses, sometimes you do have to have a couple extra hands simply at-the-ready to deal with unexpected problems, and when they mayor has a friend with a platform-lighting company that sells over-priced vintage lamps what else is a city transit company supposed to do?

What occurred odd to me this morning (as I stood on a shinny new platform amidst vintage lighting waiting twenty-five minutes for a train) is that the CTA doesn’t appear to even try to deal with the perception problem — especially when they can.

I take the purple line to the office any day that I cannot absolutely avoid it (which, unfortunately for me, is about every day). When I started taking the purple line I checked the train schedule and always arrived at the station two to three minutes before the train was supposed to arrive. The trains were scheduled to hit the station in fifteen minute intervals. Sometimes I’d catch a train on time, sometimes I would wait about five minutes, and sometimes I would have to wait more than twenty.

After losing several hours off my life standing on windswept train platforms, I resolved to write a blog post blasting the CTA for its utter inability to run trains against its own posted schedule. So I synchronized my watch with USNO time and started to keep a log of how long I had to wait for a train and how off-schedule each train ran. What surprised me was how quickly a pattern emerged from the log. The trains nearly always arrived plus or minus five minutes of their scheduled time. The key is that the trains were just as likely to be five minutes early as they were to be five minutes late. I adjusted my schedule to arrive at the station five to six minutes before the scheduled time and for the last five months I have on only rare occasion had to wait more than ten minutes for a train. While I still feel personally violated for the amount my money the CTA embezzles or wastes, at least I am spending much less time on train platforms thinking about it.

But here’s the odd thing, and it actually shocks me that the CTA has yet come to this realization on their own with all the analysis on usage patterns that they claim to do. The CTA could drastically improve their perceived performance without actually doing anything (at least on the purple line) were they to simply change the posted scheduled for each train to five minutes earlier than the current schedule (but still run the trains on the current schedule). Basically, they should tell riders to arrive five minutes early. Without changing anything else that they are doing, the CTA could cut in half the typical wait range for a purple line train. That is, riders would typically only have to wait up to ten minutes for a train instead of the current twenty (remember that the trains typically run at fifteen minute intervals and if the first one ran ahead of schedule there does seem to be some wicked constant that causes the next one to run behind schedule).

Cutting wait times by fifty percent would be a huge perceived surge in competence on the part of the CTA, regardless of the fact that they would need to do nothing to actually improve performance. Now that’s the kind of easy win that I’d like to be able to line up for my project team.

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Sometimes putting a name on something helps us to easily recognize it and more easily deal with it. Management by PowerPoint is my current name for a dreadful anti-practice that I observed at a client site some time ago. I recommend instituting this practice only if you wish to guarantee the rollout of fear, loathing, and whip cycle management across your organization. Read the rest of this entry »

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