In this issue:
If you're like me, you learned a lot by walking around and listening when you were in the office. I saw and heard the state of the various teams. I could see in-progress work. I could see and hear how the team members treated each other. I could understand the state of the environment.
Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot by just watching.” He was right.
Given that we're remote, how do we walk around and listen?
It's not the same!
Here's how you might address this with your team:
- Explain why you want to see what's going on and clarify you're not stalking people or the team. Explain the data you'd like to see.
- Ask the team to share their outcomes and work in progress.
- Ask questions to see where you might serve the team.
Let's start with what you might say to people.
Clarify Why You Want to “Walk Around” Remotely
Sue, a VP Engineering, explained her thinking to her management team. “When we were all in the same office, I saw you folks collaborating. I could peek into meeting rooms or offices and see you. I didn't mind if you were talking loudly or quietly. I could see the system. I could see you working towards greater goals. I can't see that now. I need your help to see the environment. Because I can't see the environment, I don't know if it's working for or against you.” She paused. “I don't want to micromanage, but I can't see the environment.
Sue's directors discussed the problem. They all agreed they had the same problem—how to see the environment. They decided to ask the teams when the team would show their work. How often could the managers see the demos? And, and to measure cycle time and cumulative flow in addition to anything the teams wanted. Cycle time would show the work time and wait time. Cumulative flow would show if the teams built too much inventory instead of finishing work.
Show Progress and Measures
One of my clients, Ralph, a senior manager in a smaller organization, liked to read the code, tests, and checkin comments. He said he had a good feel for the progress when he did. I asked him when he'd last seen a demo. Several weeks ago.
I suggested he didn't know if the code or tests or comments contributed to a working product. He saw the illusion of progress, but he didn't see real progress. When he started to ask about demos, he learned the teams hadn't integrated anything in several months. The teams needed a couple of weeks to create a usable build. Their cycle time was quite high. Their cumulative flow showed too much inventory.
Sue and her directors had encountered that trap several years ago. They didn't want to fall into that trap now that everyone was remote. Sure enough, several teams had longer cycle time. And, some teams had trouble integrating their code. Some of the other teams reduced their cycle time and created demos more often.
Now, the managers could ask intelligent questions.
Ask Questions Instead of Inflicting Help
Jen, a director, served two of the teams with longer-than-previous cycle time asked each team how she could support them. One team explained they didn't have the right build environment. Jen was able to remove that impediment.
The other team had trouble finding collaborative time to work together. Jen offered to facilitate new working agreements, specifically about collaboration time. Even with that, several team members had the problem of young children at home. Jen helped the team rethink when and how to work. And, she realized they would continue with longer cycle time for a while.
Dave, another director, realized a team no longer had a steady cadence of learning. He offered to help facilitate a cross-organization community of practice. And, he asked if the team wanted other forms of learning. That team did, so Dave organized it.
Remote Work Challenges Our Ability to See the Environment
These ideas worked for Sue's organization. Her explanation helped everyone see she (and her managers) didn't want to micromanage. Focusing on outcomes helped everyone else focus on outcomes, too. Her measures made sense for her organization. And, Sue and her managers avoided inflicting help.
Let me know if you tried this and what happened.
See Distributed Agile Success for all of my self-study classes with Mark Kilby based on our book, From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams: Collaborate to Deliver.
If you liked this Pragmatic Manager, you might like the Modern Management Made Easy books. The books are still in editing, so wait if you prefer to read finished books.
Are you new to the Pragmatic Manager newsletter? See previous issues.
Here are links you might find useful:
- My Books. (BTW, if you enjoyed one of my books and you have not yet left a review, please do. Thanks.)
- Online Workshops
- Managing Product Development Blog
- Create an Adaptable Life
- Johanna's Fiction
Till next time,
© 2020 Johanna Rothman
Tags: geographically distributed teams, leadership, management, Modern Management Made Easy, problem solving, servant leadership, WIP