Sunday, February 13, 2011

Michiko Diby's Ah Ha Moment

A few years ago, I lead a team of 10 business analysts and engineers, testers, and trainers.

When I first took on the job, the team was organized in a hub-and-spoke configuration; the lead (my position) was the hub and they were the spokes. And there were team dynamic problems. People weren’t talking to each other, cliques had developed and information wasn’t being shared. Funny thing was that most of the team was in the same large room! They were co-located and I spent the first month hearing from people who were so miserable at the atmosphere in that room, that they threatened to quit. I mean... tears... and frustration.

I tried to work one-on-one with each person but found that backfired. What would happen is that I would have a talk with someone to get to some solutions. They would go back to the room in a better mood. The other team members would think that person got something new that they didn’t have. And the gossip would start again and make things worse.

Meanwhile, the client’s deadlines were fast approaching, the quality of our work was ok, not great. And after about a month, I started to become the momma on the team, not in a good way, but in a “I’m going to tell on you to momma” kind of way. It was nuts. Some people quit.

Around that time I was reading a blog about Google, and how Google allows their folks to have one day a week to work on an independent project and I thought... A-HA... That’s it. At Google, employees are trusted to do great work and to manage their time. The company realizes that smart people do better when they can be the masters of their own destinies and therefore builds in the time for that during the week.

Now, giving these folks a whole day to work on their own project was not feasible given contractual restrictions. But the idea to trust them as smart people who needed time to stretch their minds and think about better ways to do things, was something I could work in.

So instead of a full day, I set up working groups that would meet for one hour on Fridays. The groups were built around software disciplines; systems engineering, business architecture, testing, training, and QA and change management. When I introduced the groups, I emphasized freedom. They were free to attend or not attend. They were free to go to any group meeting. They were free to discuss what they wanted to as long as it pertained to the discipline, even if that meant they weren’t necessarily discussing client deliverables. They were free to ask me not to attend, if they didn’t want the “boss lady” there.

Each group had a leader, but that leader did not have my authority to give work to others. I still created the project plans and maintained the resource allocation. Rather, that group leader had the authority to be the most knowledgeable about the discipline and to teach and train others about the discipline. My only real rule was that I wanted to see the learning applied to our deliverables as soon as possible.

It felt good. And it took off. The groups started meeting, and elected a leader. They started talking about ideas and innovation, instead of each other's shortcomings. Without me in the room, they started to develop new ways of relating to each other. Surprise, friendships started to blossom.

And our productivity....toook offf!!! We were able to take our organization from a CMMI 1 to a CMMI 2 in one year. Our deliverables were top notch. We had full traceability from requirements to development. Our change management process was well documented, customer approved and tight. We got more work. The team started doing happy hours together.

My a-ha moment was that people need the freedom to innovate. People need to be the masters of their domain, they need to be trusted to do great work, and they should be allowed time to develop their craft. It may feel difficult to ‘let go’ of some authority, but in the end, trusting people to be great yields incredible rewards. Just look at Google!

Bio: Michiko Diby, PMP, is the owner and principal consultant of SeaLight, LLC. For more than a decade, she’s been a Change Agent, Project Manager, Process Improver for Fortune 100, DoD and small and medium sized enterprises for years. Her popular Project Management blog, Preventing Project Failure, has been voted one of the top 100 PM blogs by her peers. She is also a leader in the PMI Washington, DC chapter, chairing the International Project Management Day committee, and founding PMIWDC Project Manager of the Year award. Michiko has a Master’s Degree in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University.

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