One of the reasons I was nervous about blogging was that it felt very one way…listen to me. Well, an opportunity presented recently where I happily get to share someone else’s ideas/results. Today’s guest blogger, Dallas Hinesly. I had the pleasure of first meeting Dallas in 2014. I’m extremely honored she was willing to write this post.
Watermelons. I love them. I’m an eighties kid, so eating huge slices of watermelon and drinking from the water hose were my summers. Cutting into a watermelon that was beautifully green on the outside and deep, deep red inside was the way you knew if you were going to have a good day. So, you can imagine my delight when I was asked to help with the Watermelon Project early in my career. Spoiler Alert: Delight might have been the wrong response.
As I started getting involved in the project, I brought my imaginary toolbox of agile knowledge, facilitation skills, and many successful projects under my belt. I was far enough into my coaching journey to know that I needed to sit back and observe before I could jump in and help the team. Below were my two biggest observations in the first hour of the day.
Red means you failed.
Having anything but a big fat green dot on the project, gave everyone hives. I remember early in my career that I felt very uncomfortable turning a project red or even yellow. Was my competency or skill going to be questioned? Was I going to be asked to lead a project again? Was I going to get fired?!? I had learned that it is necessary that a project’s health is accurately reflected to the team, leadership, and stakeholders…especially when it is off track. But I forgot that you must learn that skill. It does not come naturally to everyone! Commonly, the environment of an organization enforces negative consequences on yellow or red projects. I’ve seen this when leadership decides that anything other than a green status needs a negative consequence to counterbalance the ‘bad’ status of the project. I am pained to say that I have team members who are responsible for projects with yellow or red status indicators having their bonuses and performance appraisals affected. Many times, there can be good intentions behind these negative consequences but usually, they’re a reflection of poor leadership.
There are many shades of Green.
When we are in this environment, we will do practically anything to prevent a project from moving to yellow or red. Enter, the multiple shades of green.
We have green- true green, where risks are known, and we have gotten through the complex part of the work so we know there are no last-minute surprises that lead to the second 90% of the project.
Then we have chartreuse green, seaweed green, pear, pine, moss, basil. Etc. This happens when we have not aligned on what ‘green’ means. We will try to minimize scope, cost, and resources by using magical thinking that we will see improvements quickly, and the issues we have really aren’t that ‘big’. We start reporting projects in terms that our leadership wants to hear versus what would radiate the true information. This buys us the time to address the things we do not want to talk about. It’ll be received well during that meeting, but our house of cards is doomed to fall, ya’ll.
We can’t hide this for long and when it does become visible, it is usually painful. In the summers of the eighties, along with watermelons and water hoses, we went to the pool a lot. One of the games that we all played was pushing a beach ball under the water. We pushed, we tried to sit on it, and we could usually hold it down for a few seconds. But, when we were not able to hold it down, it popped up and usually nailed you in the face. (I did have a bloody nose from this when I was 10, true story) The same goes for pushing that red or yellow color down. You would only be able to hide it for so long until it comes up and nails you in the face, hopefully metaphorically.
Have you ever been in an emergency meeting (usually at 4 pm) where there are 3 levels of leaders present, all team members, and some random people you’ve never seen in your life? Usually, the intent is to ‘fix’ the problem. Habitually, a massive change in direction and new people are put into place and we are saved by a project hero! When in reality, the project devolves into a spiral of daily status meetings, more reports, pontificating, and overall, the best CYA activities you can put into a PowerPoint.
So, what can you do? While these have deep-rooted core causes (busy culture, lack of transparency, single points of failure, etc), there are things we can do to make these less painful while we work on the big things.
You’re missing the black and white.
Develop a Working Agreement around colors and reports. Define the bands for red, yellow, and red. If we are all looking at our projects through the same lens, it will help ease the pain of having a red dot on your project page. It’s not you making the call, you are following the working agreements that everyone agreed upon.
Things to consider when creating a working agreement for reporting:
- What must be true for a project to be green?
- What kind of risks are big enough that a project will now be yellow or red?
- Did you lose a subject matter expert?
- Did you not get the hardware needed to test things adequately?
- Did you learn something that is game-changing during experimentation and discovery?
- Use trend signals with green, yellow, and red.
Set parameters that are clear to everyone so that everyone is reporting the same way on their projects. This will also help with the blame game. It is not a project manager or ScrumMaster’s fault if the project is not green. Having concrete criteria will make the environment more consequential. When this happens, we start thinking that this is the system output rather than someone assigning a bad grade to us.
Stop playing Fear Factor.
The sooner we acknowledge we are off course, the better the entire organization will be. Learning about what challenges you will have early in a project provides the organization with more chances to respond to that change. You can lean on yellow and red statuses as tools in your toolbox to get the help you need and the resources that will support your resolution of issues. Being open and honest about all aspects of your project can do a lot without additional effort. It positions you in such a way that you can quickly and effectively respond to problems and blockers as they come up.
Watermelons are so 1980s, let’s make Lime Projects a thing. What can you do?
Dallas helps companies realize the full human, operational and technological potential of an Agile environment by providing the training and tools for a successful cultural transformation. In today’s rapidly changing economy, doing business as usual is no longer an option for companies that want to succeed. Many have turned to Agile to gain a competitive advantage but often the people side of that equation is overlooked. Enter her specialty: humaneering. Agile practices can’t thrive if the groundwork isn’t laid down first in terms of involving every level of the organization into the conversation to align the work being done with the workers doing it and the customers receiving it. Drawing upon her experience as a developer, Scrum Master, team, and enterprise coach, she understands and has worked through problems at every level of an organization, including leading the merger of the financial system of Whole Foods Market and Amazon upon acquisition. She brings not only technical expertise to address a company’s issues but also a set of holistic practices drawn from science-based theories on human behavior to ensure that not only is the product honored but also the humans involved in making it, creating more of a symbiotic relationship than one that has to be starved for the sake of the other. Helping people tap into more intrinsic motivations to work makes for happier employees and happy employees do badass work!