Guidance For Leaders: 5 Tips for Communicating in a Time of Crisis

Dear friends and colleagues,

As someone who was in the workforce during 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis, I have witnessed many examples of poor leadership, and some outstanding examples of good. Over the last two weeks, I gathered these tips to share. They are written from my own experience and from listening to fellow leaders, and most recently, from having great discussions with my incomparable professors at Harvard’s Extension School in the Industrial-Organizational Psychology graduate program. I sincerely hope you find them helpful, and I wish you all much success as you serve as role models and agents of calm compassion in a world of unknowns.

  1. Give crystal clear guidance, even in the face of changing conditions. Good leaders navigate ambiguity so that those they are leading don’t have to. Lower the cognitive load for your people. This is especially important in the world of virtual work, because people no longer have each other readily accessible to “figure it out” together. The self-organization process is much more difficult when people are working individually from their homes, so leaders are advised to not depend upon it happening the way it did when teams were collocated.
  2. Be clear about what specifically may change. Even if you think everything may change, state that clearly. Limit surprise for your people.
  3. Be honest about what you do not know, and share what you are doing to gain needed clarity. Build confidence in your leadership.
  4. Listen to others without reaction. Anyone can react to a crisis. Leaders proact. It is important to still be compassionate, but know the difference between being compassionate and coming across as though you are unstable or do not have any answers.
  5. Tell people when they can expect an update from you, and follow through. Even if you have nothing new to share, stick to a frequent communication plan – depending on the crisis, this may be hourly, twice a day (morning and night), or daily. Updates should never be less frequent than daily during a crisis; it allows too much time in between updates for speculation, rising panic, and rumors to spread. It is much easier to keep repeating yourself rather than have to dispel rumors!

Are You A Thief-Coach? Agile Coaching By Invitation & Not-Safe-To-Fail Situations

Don’t do this to your teams.

Remember when you were a kid, and were in the middle of doing something you were excited about, and an adult came along to tell you what you should do next?

Remember how deflating and frustrating that felt?

Coaches, this is what happens to teams and people when you offer help they haven’t asked for: You are stealing from them. You are a thief-coach.
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Self-Organization Walks Into A Bar…

self-organizing nanobristles.
Self-organizing nanobristles.

My micro-blogging has gone from being in the back seat of priorities to being out past the trailer, riding on a skateboard hanging on to a rope tied to the axle. That being said, the topic of self-organization keeps launching itself onto my windshield like a southern cicada in August, so it’s time to take to ye old keyboard. 

Let’s clear some of the proverbial air around self-organization by understanding the origin of the concept. It did not suddenly find itself inside of agile principle #11 one morning after a bender.

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Build The Right Team – Build The Team Right

Improving Accountability and Predictability of Delivery in Agile Teams

In Henrik Kniberg’s Agile Product Owner in a Nutshell video, he draws the Venn diagram that illustrates what agile teams are challenged with every day: Building the right thing, building the thing right, and building it fast. Ideally we want to stay in the zen-like balance of having all three in equal parts. The trouble is, building software is a team sport and teams are made up of humans, not robots (no offense to robots). We have to focus on the people to understand the team and its performance if we want to stay within the nucleus of the agile Venn.

With that as our goal, let’s take our concept of building “the thing” and replaced it with “the team.” Read More »

An Emotional Intelligence Retrospective for the New Year

perplexed bird
This bird is perplexed. Or just fabulous.

Something about the new year always makes me think of retrospectives. After all, what better time to have a personal retrospective than when everyone is thinking about a resolution – aka an improvement – for the new year? Yeah, okay, so most of the time I was sitting on my couch watching old IT Crowd episodes and eating cheese, but this holiday season I was also thinking about deeply profound things like “how do I know that I helped people this year?” and coming up with things that I wanted to try out in the year ahead.

It occurred to me that my biggest challenges and biggest accomplishments for the year were rooted in emotional intelligence. And that made me remember one of my favorite days from 2015: A retrospective I created and dubbed the EI retro. My fellow agile coaches were kind enough to let me try it out on them, and it went a little something like this:Read More »

The Accomplishment Partnership Retrospective

Raccoons. Organized. With Light Sabers.
Raccoons. Organized. With lightsabers.

Recently I was going through old emails to review some key events that occurred on one of my projects from a few years ago (if you’ve never done this, try it – it was like finding a treasure chest of real-life lessons that were amazing to recall!). I came across a special retrospective exercise that I had designed just for my team at the time, which I dubbed the Accomplishment Partnership Retro. It’s great to have a team that trusts you enough to help them through this, because the exercise can be challenging for teams who are uncomfortable with being vulnerable with each other – but the gains are tremendous. Here’s the gist:

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#NoEstimates #YesThroughput #AgileAlienAbduction

Agile Sacred Cow.
Agile Sacred Cow.

When I recently posted a tweet that said I’ve become a believer in #noestimates, I received more than a few confused and surprised responses privately from friends and colleagues. Rest assured, my fellow PMPs, that I have not recently suffered from a project management lobotomy. I was not abducted by agile aliens (though not gonna lie, I wouldn’t mind if David Duchovny showed up at my door). I do still understand that this is business and we cannot just build in a vacuum. People with the money need answers to their questions. Read More »

Geeking Out On Prioritization

The Backlog.
The Backlog.

The product backlog – or the wretched hive of scum and villainy, as one of my old teams had officially named it – often gets a bad rap. It can be a dumping ground of random stakeholder wants (like that guy with tassels on his shoes who thought a “Print Now” button was an awesome idea) and it can become a discouraging list of overwhelming proportions that a team totally avoids. It is where both good and not-so-good feature requests often languish in a limbo of “not-now” versus those lucky features that get moved into the “now” – the few, the proud, the top prioritized – and it is the vile Rancor that the team also gleefully acknowledges is not theirs to domesticate.Read More »

Holy Holacracy, Batman…

When my organization decided to do away with titles and hierarchy, and organize our teams around passions and products – a holacratic approach – the reactions were mixed. Most of the Project Managers outspokenly predicted imminent demise (one even wept openly), Dev Leads were quietly skeptical (as long as our kegs were still there, they really didn’t care), and just about everyone else took a let’s-try-and-see approach. We were already implementing an agile approach to our projects, so implementing an agile approach to our organizational structure was not totally freakish.Read More »

The Zucchini Lesson: Lead By Not Doing

My 12 year old son was helping me with dinner. I laid out the cutting board and two zucchini, and asked him to slice them up – something he had never been asked to do himself.

He started with the washing. Was there something to wash them with? No, I said, just wash them with water this time because we’re all out of veggie wash. He did.

Next was the knife selection. Was there a certain knife he should use? I replied simply that he should choose one of his own liking, any out of the knife block. After examining a few, he opted for a rather thin carving knife.Read More »