Who Do You Think Saves You?

We get into trouble. Sometimes, it’s as simple as turning the wrong way, not following the driving directions. I have funny stories about when I took my daughters college-shopping. I always made at least one wrong turn. My wrong turns occurred before phones had GPS and automated directions. We had paper.

I bet most of us have seen projects that get into trouble. Maybe you’ve experienced when a couple of people or a person have a breakthrough idea that “saved” the entire project. Their efforts helped the project or the team realize what to do and progress.

What about you? All of us have difficulty at times. Who do you think saves you?

In the case of driving, I had backups: local maps, a front-seat navigator, and the courage or stubbornness to try another way.

In the case of projects, someone or multiple someones have an insight. They have data for the rest of the people.

You need backup to help you, in the form of data, ideas, a support network, or all of the above.

But, I don’t think anyone saves me. I save myself. So do you.

In order to save yourself, you need to see your reality, the data for what’s going on. You need to know how to ask for help. And, you need a network of support. You can generate ideas that you use to help save you.

In the case of not following the directions, it was clear fast that we were going the wrong way. “Mom, you should have turned back there.” Oops.

We need the emotional resilience to say, “Oh, okay. Things are not going the way I wanted. What do I need to do now?”

Not following the directions while driving is something you can fix. Maybe not fast, but you can. Many of us have backups now: multiple map applications on our phones, paper directions, and maybe even a paper map. You might not arrive on time, but you will arrive. Saving our drives is not too difficult.

There are many possibilities for solving problems in a project. Sometimes, all you need is to loosen constraints so that the project team can succeed. The team can save itself.

Saving ourselves when we have a personal problem is more difficult. We don’t often have maps to follow. For example, my vertigo doesn’t follow a “normal” path, so how do I solve this problem and save my daily life? I experiment. I have to have data, a support system, and the growth mindset.

That’s the problem with personal problems, such as health or relationships. There is no one to save your or me. We have to save ourselves.

You can rarely save yourself without a support system. I have an extensive support system: family, friends, colleagues, and, of course, my health professionals. I use them for feedback and information. I can then decide what to do next.

We save ourselves. We need support, feedback, and enough emotional resilience to do so.

Take credit for saving yourself, and give credit to your support system. In the end, we save ourselves.

The question this week is: Who do you think saves you?

Do You Need Annoyance to Change?

As we proceed in this long winter, it’s clear that Boston has significant infrastructure technical debt. The subway/bus system, known as the “T” has to shut down to clear the tracks. That’s due to several problems:

  • The system is a combination above-ground and underground system
  • The system is not resilient. Many of the cars are old and still run on DC current.
  • The system has been underfunded for many years. The state has not funded basic preventive maintenance.

Right now, we have about 80 inches of snow on the ground. Normally, in the Boston area, we have thaws, so the snow doesn’t stick around. Not this year. We have been in a deep freeze. None of the snow has gone anywhere.

The streets are narrow. So are the sidewalks. People want to take the T, and can’t.  The lines for buses are crazy-long. The subway cars are full. And, the T shuts down to deal with the snow. It’s nuts.

People are calling for change. We will see if the T gets the funds it needs. Politics abound. Who knows?

I bet you see problems at work just like the T. Maybe you have products with significant technical debt. Maybe you aren’t organized in any way that makes sense for the work you need to do. Maybe your managers are spread too thin to be effective. Those are some of the problems I see. You may have others.

How much annoyance do you have? Is it enough to change?

In politics, we often see the need for high annoyance to provoke change. Maybe this winter is the turning point for the T.

Ir organizations, there is often some precipitating circumstance that helps people see that change is necessary. If you use the Satir change model, that circumstance is a foreign element. Sometimes, people need to see something that jerks them out of their comfortable existence to start to change.

If you need some sort of annoyance to change, you are not alone.

The question behind the need-annoyance question is this: How is this working for you?

If you are happy with this situation, no problem. But, sometimes you might want to choose how you change.

If you don’t want to wait for an emergency, or a huge problem, you may have to learn to recognize annoyances when they are small.

I have a client who thought they were “doing agile.” They never quite got to done on their stories. They did not have releasable software at the end of each iteration. They had a growing backlog of test automation they needed to do “in the future.”

I suggested that they use their retrospectives to discover why they never quite finished stories. I suspected they had a number of interrelated causes. They postponed that internal assessment.

One day, a Big Manager came to the project manager and the product owner and said, “We need to ship next week.” The PM and the PO said, “We’re not ready. We have too many defects. We can’t ship next week.”

Big Manager said, “You have a week to release. I don’t want to hear any complaints.” Big Manager was a very large annoyance to the team, in addition to their product problems.

The project team had been working around those annoyances of not quite finishing. Now, those annoyances were gigantic obstacles. What could they do?

They did have a retrospective. They discovered several root causes. They started to swarm over each feature (no more tasks), and they made tremendous progress in one week. They also learned they could change much faster than they expected.

Little annoyances are the first sign you might have a change coming, or that you need to change. You don’t want those annoyances to grow into obstacles.

The question this week is: Do you need annoyance to change? (That provokes me to ask: Is that a risk you can live with?)

How Do You Manage Risks?

I live in the Boston area. We’ve had several storms in the last couple of weeks. We have more than 70 inches of snow on the ground at my house–and throughout the Boston area. We have more snow than we know what to do with.

We’ve had travel bans and snow emergencies. And still, the plows can’t keep up with the snow. There’s no place to put it.

Our snowbanks are crazy-high–maybe 12-14 feet tall. The streets are narrow. My street used to be wide enough for two cars. Now, it’s down to one lane. Maybe if the plows come by again, it will be one and a half lanes wide.

We have snow-removal-debt. The snow fell so fast, the plows could not keep up. Because they didn’t clear the street all the way between the curbs, the streets get narrower. The more snow we have, the narrower the streets become because the plows can’t clear all the way to the snowbanks. Our town is having trouble maintaining garbage pickup days. And, when we have garbage pickup, we have to be careful where we put the bins and trash. It needs to be off the street, but where??

We have many risks now:

  • Roofs collapsing because of the weight of the snow
  • Slow traffic because the streets are clogged
  • Because the sidewalks are quite narrow, people walk on the streets. This is high accident potential. Even if you see the pedestrian, you might not be able to stop in time.

We are living in a risky situation.

As adaptable problem solvers, we need to manage risks all the time. I like asking “What’s the Worst Thing That Can Happen?” That’s a nice start.

After you ask, you need to act.

Mark got a snow rake. Aside from the driveway and front walk, he’s been raking snow off the roof. Today, we had people with large snowblowers move snow away from the house, so we don’t get leakage when the snow finally melts.

We don’t let the refrigerator get quite as empty as we normally do. We’re not over-buying; we are buying enough food that we could eat comfortably for a few days if the grocery stores stop having deliveries.

That’s this month, certainly a month that isn’t normal.

What do you do to manage risks all the time?

  • You can always ask the Worst Thing question.
  • You assess your current reality. When you see what’s happening, you can plan better.
  • You can plan to replan, so you use the data you have now to make better decisions.

Imagining risks is just the start. If you don’t act based on what you imagine, you lose possibilities. You may not be able to solve problems.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, this is your question of the week: How do you manage risks?

I’m looking forward to spring.

What Motivates You?

I like to learn. I like to read. I like to write. I like teaching people new things. I like the discussion that comes when people consider alternatives. When you combine all those things together, you can see I have just about a perfect career as a consultant who speaks, teaches, writes, and coaches. I don’t have to worry about dragging myself into work. It’s all I can do to stop working.

Motivation is internal. If you haven’t seen Dan Pink’s video or read Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, you should. Here’s what motivates us:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

Do you have that in your work? If not, what would it take to get it?

When people say, “I’m not motivated,” they might be afraid to be successful. And, they might not have enough autonomy, mastery, or purpose in their work or life.

Sometimes, you do things that feel like drudge work. For me, posting already-published articles on my site can feel like drudgery. I do it because I want people to have easy access to my writing. That’s my “higher” purpose: to allow people to consider alternatives. Knowing “why” is important for me.

Maybe you are more motivated by “who am I working with?” In that case, you might make decisions based on belonging to a group. Who do you work with so you can identify with them? That might be your motivation.

Maybe you are more motivated by “what are we doing?” In that case, you might be motivated by belonging. What do you have to do to keep this group together and have it thrive?

Maybe you are motivated by “when do you need it?” If you know when you need to finish something, you might be motivated to do it.

We are all different. What motivates me might not matter to you. And, when I see people asking how to motivate others, I worry.

We need to explore our autonomy, our mastery, and our purpose to find meaning in our lives. We might each have different primary questions about where our motivation arises. And, discovering our motivation means we can do a great job.

If you are not motivated now by your job, what would it take for you to become motivated? Maybe all you need is a project charter. Charters discuss the purpose of the project, who will work on the project, who the team will be, a target completion date, or the interim milestones to get to done. Once you explain that, the people know enough to discover their autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

If you find yourself lacking motivation, examine why. Look inside yourself, to know if you are afraid you can’t do a good job. If you’re not afraid, maybe you need to answer some questions about the work.

If you examine common problems with motivation, you see:

  • Micromanagement, which does not allow autonomy
  • A feeling of “just do it already,” which does not allow people to feel mastery
  • No understanding of why we are doing this, which does not explain the purpose

People meet your expectations, including you. If you don’t expect them to succeed, they won’t. If you don’t expect to succeed, you won’t either. If you do expect them to succeed, they will find a way. Your motivation and the motivation of others depends on autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

That is the question for today, adaptable problem solvers: What motivates you?

What Do You Pay Attention To?

Have you ever asked, “Honey, where’s the milk?” You know where it’s supposed to be in the fridge. But, you can’t see it.

Honey replies, “It’s right where it always is. In the door, next to the OJ.”

You finally see it. “Oh, thanks so much.”

You have (fe)male eye disease. In our house, we have noticed that it’s an equal opportunity problem. I don’t ask about the milk; I ask about the mail.

We do this for any number of reasons. Often, I’m thinking about something else and not paying attention.

Attention is what we need. Sometimes, we don’t spend enough time paying attention. That can change what you see.

Our mental models can change what we see, also.

We have to be present, in the here-and-now, to see what’s going on around us.

I realized this the other day, talking to a client, a manager. He wanted to know why their agile transition wasn’t working. He had all the necessary data. He didn’t see it.

I suggested he review his actions over the past week.

  • What had he asked the team to do, in addition to their committed-to work?
  • Who had he moved on or off the team?
  • What obstacles had he created?
  • What obstacles had he removed?
  • Who had he spoken with, one-on-one, to build relationships?
  • What work had he done, that looked agile?

He told me I asked him difficult questions. As his coach, that’s part of my job. Otherwise, he can’t see his reality.

When he asks the team to do additional work that’s not on their backlog, he’s working out of previous mental models. Intellectually, he realizes he’s asking the team to multitask. But even knowing that, he’s not making decisions that enhance the organization’s or team’s agility.

He’s not paying attention to the data. The data is right there, staring him in the face.

The team’s velocity is decreasing. Their cycle time is increasing. When they have retrospectives, their manager is one of their obstacles. But, he is still stuck on what he thought worked in the past.

Our mental models of how the world works are the lenses through which we see the world. We can change these models with data, assuming we see the data. We can change them with metaphor, assuming we can develop a good metaphor. We can change them with experience, assuming we have experiences we can learn from.

Sometimes, we change our mental models in an instant. Sometimes, it takes longer. Sometimes, in order to change, we need to pay attention to data or different data.

That, my dear adaptable problem solvers is the question this week: What do you pay attention to?

How Resilient Are You?

There’s a survey over on HBR, Assessment: How Resilient Are You? If you have read the resilience literature, you know how to answer the questions. The questions are all hypothetical, which make them even worse. Sigh. On the other hand, maybe you haven’t read the resilience literature :-) You might get something out of it.

Not surprisingly, I rated very high on the resilience scale. There are several sections: Challenge, Control, and Commitment.

Challenge is how you respond to challenges at work. What happens when you have setbacks? Do you view them as learning opportunities, or do you retreat into a shell? (You have multiple options between those two extremes.)

Control is how you manage your responses to what you can and cannot control. Do you act when you can, and relax (my word) about the things you can’t?

Commitment is about how you manage your work/life balance, and pursue what means something to you. If you’ve read Manage Your Job Search, you know how I feel about work-life balance: “You only have one life. Live it.”

Living with my condition has provided me more insight than most people, I suspect. I can maintain my workouts, work on eating properly for my condition, and not worry about the rest. I work at being the best I can be in all aspects of my life. I have said many times, “I am a work in progress.” That’s a sign of the growth mindset and resilience.

You don’t need to have a condition like mine to be resilient—thank goodness! I was resilient before. I still have times when I am not feeling resilient at all. And, because I am optimistic and hopeful, I can work on my resilience.

If you review Siebert’s resilience levels in The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure, and Bounce Back from Setbacks, they are:

  1. Level one: Optimize your health
  2. Level two: Skillfully problem solve
  3. Level three: Strengthen your inner selfs
  4. Level four: Synergy: Learning and positive expectations
  5. Level five: Mastering serendipity for breakthroughs

I have focused my questions of the week on levels two and three. In my experience, those are the most difficult to learn. Once you practice those resilience levels, getting to levels 4 and 5 are easier.

We can be emotionally resilient.

Johanna's Problem Solving Loop

Johanna’s Problem Solving Loop

I have found it’s better to assess where I am (see the reality), generate options, take a small step and measure.

That allows me to find my balance (hehe), physical and emotional. I am special. I need both kinds of balance.

When I take small steps and assess the feedback or measurement, I gain more confidence.

When I was relearning to walk as a dizzy broad, I did this. When I realized I needed a cane, and then a rollator, I used this. Was I better with assistive devices? Yes. Did I want to need them? No. But my experience showed me I was dizzier and needed more help. I was optimizing my health, so I could get on with my life.

We do this at work all the time. How is your project proceeding? Is it where you want it to be? If not, what options can you consider, and experiment with?

I decided long ago that my life was about learning. Sure, I can be sad, just as everyone can. Then, I remember my growth mindset, and use the resilience levels and my problem-solving. I ask, What else can I do? Where do I go next?

Resilience gets us through the tough times. It helps us grow.

My dear adaptable problem solvers, that is the question this week: How resilient are you?

Do You Have a Gnarly Problem?

Do you have gnarly problems to solve? Gnarly problems have many causes and many effects.

Some causes can become effects, especially if there are delays in the situation. Sometimes there are time delays built-in. You can’t think about the problem as a straight line, in a linear fashion. The problems bounce off each other. They have a multiplicative effect.

Take an example of geographically distributed agile team. Some of these teams work quite well together. Some do not—not even after years of trying.

Here are some problems I’ve seen:

  • These teams have multiple managers: managers “here” and “there,” and both sets of managers feel as if it’s their job to give the team work. Yes, you and I both know it’s the Product Owner’s job to provide the team a backlog, but that doesn’t matter. These managers still assign work for the team, or what’s worse, individual team members. When managers do that, they make it difficult for team members to deliver completed work on time.
  • The team members can’t depend on each other to finish their work on time. That leads to lack of respect.
  • The team members don’t respect each other. Sometimes, this is because the team members don’t finish work on time. Sometimes, it’s because the team members have work outside of the project work because the managers assign more work.
  • Sometimes, the managers think they can yank team members off this project and onto another project.

When I explain via writing what happens, you can see the problems more clearly. You can see that when team members don’t complete their work on time and having managers assign work to team members or remove them from the project can cause multiple problems.

You might see these problems in a Five-Whys exercise. You might not.

What can you do about gnarly problems?

You need to recognize that in gnarly problems there could be several causes creating one effect. In turn, several effects might cause another effect.

  • You can graph a gnarly problem. You can show flows of information, and who connects to whom and how.
  • You can explain it in words. Sometimes, writing down what happens helps you think through the problem.
  • You can create a value stream flow image, showing the source of the information and the flow, and who the customers of that information and flow are. If you include the delays, that’s a value stream.

With a gnarly problem, you want to take a holistic view of the situation. If you see the problem linearly, you might miss significant clues for the problem reality.

As adaptable problem solvers, we want to see the problem. We want to consider multiple was to discover all the issues causing the problem. Then we can create solutions that allow us to experiment and see what would work.

That is the question of the week: Do you have a gnarly problem?

Who Do You Want to Be?

When we’re young, people ask us what we want to be when we grow up. We consider professions such as doctor, lawyer, policeman/woman, teacher. That’s because when we’re young, we don’t know about options such as computer programming. We answer with professions we’ve seen. As we learn more about professions, we can choose again.

When I was in junior high and high school, I wanted to be a doctor. I knew the doctors had power and made money. I thought diagnosing and fixing people’s problems would be fun.

I discovered software development in college, and decided that I would do that. I had more options. Since then, I’ve been a developer, tester, project manager, program manager, manager of all kinds of things. I run my own company now. I have had many choices and made them.

But, I rarely thought about who I wanted to be.

Oh, I wanted to be nice (but not sweet), and courteous, and someone people would want to work with and have fun with. I still work at that, and I mostly succeed.

But what about what drives me? What about the conscious decisions I make that make me the person I am?

Long ago, I decided I could set goals and meet them if I did a little every day. I learned that with piano lessons, swimming lessons, and when I learned to program. I had to practice often to get good. I couldn’t slap-dash something together and have it work. I am not that brilliant or innately good at anything.

I decided I would ask forgiveness rather than permission. If I discovered a way to fix something or prevent a problem from happening, and that approach was reasonable, I could ask forgiveness, as long as I delivered the results people wanted.

I also decided that I could not fix people, but I could fix situations. I focused on that. How could I do that better, in my work, at home? I started doing this in my first job and haven’t stopped. I see problems and resolve them.

I decided I would be a life-long learner. That’s because I’m curious and want to know how things work.

I decided I would be hopeful. Not really an optimist, but hopeful, to look at the glass as being able to add more to it.

First, these were unconscious decisions. Then, I became aware of what was driving me, and I decided to do more of it. And that’s the point of this week’s question.

We often resolve to be different in the New Year. I don’t believe in resolutions. I see a change I want to make, and I don’t wait for a Monday or a new year to start. I start when I want to be that changed person.

If you don’t know who you are, you can’t decide who you want to be. You might need to see your reality first, and then decide what you want to change.

It’s not about who-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up, because we are always as grown up as we are going to get. Why wait? Why not be the best you right now?

If you know who you want to be, you can make decisions that match that who. If you don’t know who you want to be, you might find it difficult to make decisions.

What kind of a person do you want to be? If you know that, you can start. You don’t need a resolution; you become that person. If you’re having trouble, you can fake it until you become it.

That, my fellow adaptable problem solvers is the question of the week: Who do you want to be?

What Are You Going to Remove?

As you approach the new year, you might have a resolution or two. I don’t believe in resolutions. I believe in trying to change my habits, one small thing at a time. I decided to start this week, not waiting for Jan 1. Yes, I am strange. That’s fine.

But here’s the problem. If you add a habit, what are you going to remove?

In my experience, if you want to change a habit, or resolve to do something different, you might need to remove one thing, as much as you want to add something else. This works for personal and organizational change.

A couple of weeks ago, I realized I had not read my professional magazines. I had some of them dating back to July. (Yes, I realize it’s December.) This is a Big Problem. I needed a different system to manage my reading, didn’t I?

I decided I had to change my nightly reading habit. I normally sat down on the couch after dinner with my iPad or my kindle. Well, no more. First, I had to read one magazine before I read fiction or non-fiction. If I finished one magazine each night, I could get through all of them by the end of the year.

I did. Mission accomplished.

But, that doesn’t address how I got in this position, with a backlog of professional reading in the first place. I thought about this, and gave myself these options:

  1. Read them all on my iPad. I am not good at this. I don’t read the weekly magazines that come to my iPad now.
  2. Stop subscribing to all of them. Reevaluate which subscriptions I want to keep.
  3. Move the pile of unread magazines to a different location that will allow me to read a magazine each night, while I have unread magazines.

I decided to go with #3, and keep evaluating (#2) as I proceed. Do I really need my subscriptions? Do I like those magazines? Is it time to change?

This is a similar approach to the supplies I use. I have an office supply addiction. Don’t even ask about pens. When we moved into our new house, our move coordinator was astonished at my pen and notebook collection. A couple of years ago, I decided that if I bought any more office supplies, I had to move some out. I had to be “office-supply-neutral.”

This works the same way with your job. If you take new responsibilities with your job, you need to relinquish some of the old ones. Either you delegate the old responsibilities to someone else, or, as in my case, you pay someone to do them, or you transfer those responsibilities to someone after you coach them. But, you can’t continually take new responsibilities without giving up some of the ones you have now.

If you want to change something, think about what you’ll give up, what you are not going to do. You might ask these other questions, Is Anyone Using This? Or, Does This Enhance My Life? Those questions might help you start.

Maybe you don’t need resolutions. Maybe you need to stop something, to remove something. That might be a great way to start the new year.

Dear adaptable problem solvers, the question this week is, especially if you plan to change: What are you going to remove?

Have a lovely New Year’s and I’ll see you next year.

What Have I Learned?

Create an Adaptable Life Vol 3 #3: What Have I Learned?

December 23, 2014

What Have I Learned?

At this time of year, we often retrospect, to plan for the new year. I like to do that, too. It’s another question, just like my questions of the week.

Sometimes, it’s hard to ask the “What have I learned?” question. It’s too big. You can make it smaller.

One way to make the question smaller is to make the timeframe smaller. When Mark and I have dinner, we can ask, “How was your day?” We discuss the day’s events. Sometimes we laugh. Sometimes, we shake our heads over the nonsense we encounter.

It can be difficult to learn from just one day. How do you make meaning from just one day? I journal so I can learn from more than one day’s worth of history.

If you don’t like writing, you might try gathering data each week and at month intervals. When I started writing down my weight in my notebook on the first of every month, not just each week, I had two trendlines: each week and each month. I could learn from each week’s timebox, and I could learn from each month. I learned a lot.

Sometimes, your learning arrives long after the event that spawned the learning occurs. I see this in my coaching all the time.

I ask a client to experiment with something, such as smaller stories or more servant leadership. We discuss how to do so. The client selects how to proceed and tries something.

They receive immediate results. Often, those are good. But what happens later is the interesting part.

Several weeks or even months later, the client and/or the team members realize that they have learned more than they expected.

They didn’t realize that my suggestion for smaller stories or to watch their work in progress or to change a question would produce such dramatic results. Certainly not as an experiment.

When you ask this question, “What have I learned?” you open yourself to possibilities. The possibilities are about what you could do next. Isn’t that great?

I have learned much this year, both by asking and answering my questions of the week. The biggest thing I have learned is to embrace my handicaps and small successes. I have learned to build on both.

I wish you a happy and healthy holiday season and much learning for 2015.

Increase Your Learning Potential

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Read More of Create an Adaptable Life

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And, if you only read this newsletter or blog, you might want to read my other blogs, Managing Product Development and Hiring Technical People.


© 2014 Johanna Rothman