How To Get From Workplace Burnout To Kindfulness

Burnout is chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

World Health Organisation Definition

What Causes Burnout?

It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle.

Me last week

Working in a fast paced industry is very intense. There is little time for rest and relaxation in the work world at the moment. Work seems to start early in the morning and never finishes. This cannot last forever and there is only yourself who can do something about it. Recognising the causes can be the first step in identifying that burnout could be a problem…

  • Dysfunctional workplace dynamics…  feeling undermined by colleagues and office bullies or micromanaged. This can be so damaging. The small things that happen in the office can manifest and grow in our minds when we’re away from work and by the time we get back in the office, issues can grow into huge problems. Stewing on things that happen in the office can be so dangerous for your own health.
  • Lack of control… an inability to influence decisions that affect your job or resources you need to do your job or unclear job expectations… not sure what is expected of you or overly demanding expectations. Having an input into your role is key. Remember the famous quote by Steve Jobs “we don’t hire clever people to tell them what to do, we hire clever people to tell us what to do”.
  • Extremes of activity …  Monotonous or chaotic activities.  You need constant energy to remain focused which leads to fatigue and burnout. Mind numbing activities do nothing to motivate people. Automate as much of the repetitive work as you can and free people up to do more interesting things. No one performs optimally if they are overworked and tired. Concentration is reduced and nervousness and responsiveness takes over sensible rational decisions.
  • Lack of social support …  Isolated at work or in your personal life resulting in no support or someone to talk to. Having a good network of friends or colleagues is so valuable. Getting through some tough times is so much easier when you have a good group of people around you.
  • Work life imbalance … when your work takes up so much of your time and effort that you feel you don’t have the energy to spend time with your family and friends. Family and friends first, always!

How To Recognise That You Have Burnout?

Symptoms of burnout can be varied with physical, behaviour and emotional signs. Often others recognise these symptoms before you do and sometimes before you know it, you are ticking all of the symptoms

Physical:

  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time
  • Lowered immunity, feeling unwell
  • Frequent headaches, back pain and muscle aches
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits

Behavioural:

  • Withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope
  • Taking out your frustrations on others
  • Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early

Emotional:

  • Sense of failure and self-doubt
  • Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated
  • Detachment, feeling alone in the world
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increasingly cynical and negative outlook
  • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment

How To Reduce Burnout

So you realise your burnout, what can you do…

  • Get support from your manager and colleagues.  Set realistic goals and be clear what you are meant to do. Don’t try to give yourself unrealistic expectations. Break your tasks into a to do list with manageable chunks of activities … there are lots of good (and sometimes free) tools available online like Trello, Todoist, Jira etc. These can help you breakdown your goals into smaller achievable blocks as well as helping you to track and manage them.
  • Seek support from co-works, friends or loved ones.  Take advantage of employee assistance programmes if they are available at your place of work. Talk to your friends or family. They might not know the full details of what’s going on in work, but can often be a good sounding ground and offer good advice. They love and care for you and only want the best for you.
  • Try a relaxing activity such as yoga, meditation or Tai Chi. Mindfulness is the act of focusing your breathing and being aware of what you are sensing and feeling without interpretation of judgement. It is very popular today and again, there are a lot of apps out there that can help like Calm and Mindspace. I have used Calm for about 2 years now and find it really helpful to get some me time as well as read me a bedtime story… I haven’t managed to get to the end of one of their stories yet before falling asleep.
  • Get some regular exercise to help deal with stress and take your mind off work and eat healthy. As we know exercise releases endorphins into our body which help us feel good. Exercising will also give us the energy to face whatever is coming your way.
  • Get some sleep to restore well-being and protect your health. Lack of sleep is a real problem when your mind is still very much active on the things that happened that day or the things you have to do tomorrow. As for mindfulness, apps like Calm can really help to send you to sleep as you stop thinking about your problems and start relaxing listening to the app.
  • Or look to our European friends for some creative ideas …….
Country Tradition
Italy La dolce far niente The sweetness of doing nothing The Italians have a wonderful expression for allowing yourself to be still, quiet and to just be.
Denmak Hygge (pronounced Hue-Guh) The Danish approach to acknowledge a special feeling or moment.  It can be alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary, but it is always cosy, charming or special. 
Sweden Fika A Swedish traditional on having a coffee break, have some cake, slow down and appreciate the good things in life. 
Lagom Teaching yourself how to approach life with ‘everything in moderation’ mindset.
Scotland Coorie Getting back to basics by keeping warm (in heart, mind and body), going outdoors (come rain, hail or shine) Maintaining balance

Niksen Is The Dutch Art Of Doing Nothing

  • Allow your mind to simply wander without purpose (easier said than done)
  • Switch off your devices
  • Look out of the window or gaze into the distance
  • Do semi-automatic things e.g. knitting or walking
  • Daydream
  • Look at the clouds
  • Let your mind wander
  • Helps you relax, see things more clearly and be more productive

From Mindfulness to Kindfulness

I was browsing in a discount bookstore last week and a book title jumped off the shelves to me. It was Kindfulness by Padraig O’Morain.

As someone who is very aware of mindfulness as a concept, I was very interested in seeing what Kindfulness was about. The standard Google search returned that it is bringing together kindness, not only to one’s self but to others and Mindfulness which brings the busy mind back to the present moment in a non-judgemental way.

Kindfulness is about being a friend to the person you are now, not putting it off until you become a perfect person, which for most of us never arrives.

Padraig O’Morain Kindfulness

Rather than judge yourself and others, be kind to yourself and others. It will make you and them feel so much better. Remember, it’s only a job after all and we are all at work for more wakings hours than we are at home.

Hiring For Digital – Be Proud and Un-Prejudiced !

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a digital company in possession of some good vacancies must be in want of some staff.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

( I couldn’t help the intro, I’m an unapologetic Jane Austen fan.)

It’s an insanely competitive market to hire good skilled people in digital transformation. We, like our competitors are feeling the pain! It’s well documented that the digital skills gap is causing every digital company a headache.

How Do You Attract Good People?

You create a buzz!

We set about trying to create an enviable workplace culture. I want everyone who comes into our office to either want to work for us or take our practices and approaches and apply them to their own organisations.

We created this by strengthening our digital culture through a collaborative, supportive, mentoring and learning environment that is different to anything they have seen before.  One of our partners, just this week said we have the best environment and facility they have seen in the North East.  

When people come for an interview we need to tell our story and bring alive the experience of working with us.

What attracts Digital Talent?

During our recent hiring activities it’s been interesting to talk to the different candidates about what attracts them to accept a digital job offer including …

  • Opportunity to participate in a wide variety of projects for a world class client base
  • Upskill through training and hands on experience
  • Mentoring from technicians and engineers who can share their knowledge, skills and experience
  • Good personal development opportunities
  • Access to uptodate relevant technologies, tooling and technology
  • Exciting, positive digital culture and environment
  • Market rate salary and benefits (usually last on the last of criteria from feedback during this process).

Finding Workers Is Hard Work

two woman chatting
Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

It takes a lot of effort and commitment from the team involved in sifting CVs, interviewing, going through the hiring process security clearance and then when they arrive positive on boarding. 

 

As well as the local chapter leads, who were amazing at finding the right candidates, we also had the benefit of our wider talent acquisition team who gave us some great insight and worked tirelessly to identify some amazingly talented people.

We also built some good relationships with a small number of partner companies who helped us identify some talent including Dev Academy, ECR Global, Tek Systems, Hainton and Zenith People and others. 

We played to the strengths of the different partners and allowed them to focus on their areas of speciality e.g. Dev Academy with our entry level, ECR Global with our more senior roles, Zenith People and Hainton with Analytics and specific programming roles and Tek Systems with the more typical Dev Ops and Engineering roles.  

It’s Ok To Show Off (a little bit)

We hosted a number of events during this period to showcase the company, our environment and culture as well as  our work and the opportunities that we could give people including…

  • Speed Hiring
  • Hackathons
  • Stemette events
  • Local Industry Interest Groups
  • Local Industry Leadership Events 

These events are a great way for us to show the art of the possible for the candidates regarding the client base, the type of work we can offer them and a first hand experience of our culture. 

All of our competitors and industry partners are going through some of the same challenges with filling the digital skills gap.  We hosted a joint event with Zenith People and local industry leaders and technology and community influencers around how we can introduce a digital mindset and opening up people’s interest and appeal towards digital roles.  We hope to be able to join with these digital companies in the region for more events as it was clear there is a lot of collaboration and co-operation we can do as a regional industry to promote tech roles.

Recommend and Return

One of the best recruitment techniques is recommendation and referral. In the last 6 months we have hired over 175 new people and a good number of  those came through referrals from the existing team and new team members.

It is a fact that we will lose people along the way, but in some cases we have managed to bring back some of those who have been here before and left to work for competitors (the grass isn’t always greener).  It has been a great confirmation of how we have developed as an enviable place to work when we have people coming back to join us who had previously left.  To hear how different and much improved things are has been very surprising  as we forget just how much we have developed when you are living it every day. 

It’s Not Too Late

Despite hiring over 175 people, we still have some excellent vacancies.  If you’re looking for a digital role in the North East of England or at some of our other key Digital Transformation locations in the country (North West and London or Hook/Aldershot area) feel free to get in touch and send me a message through this page or Linkedin. 

 

Creating A Culture Through Good Leadership And Role Modelling

I am sure that if we all looked back on our career there are people who we have encountered who stay in our psyche for both good and not so good reasons. We look at those who have inspired us as positive role models and take the good lessons from them and remember how amazing they made us feel and apply those actions and traits to our own situations now. Also, unfortunately as a counter, there are some people who teach us how not to do things ! Sometimes these lessons on how not to do something are the most valuable.

A Role Model is a person who someone admires and whose behaviour they try to copy. They serve as an example of the values, attitudes and behaviours of a particular role.

Be Inspirational

There are many theories around organisational culture, but my experience has shown that the culture is driven by the personality of the leaders and how their teams respond. My Linkedin timeline is full of articles and blogs that talk about how people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.

One of the biggest reason why a good talent leaves your company is poor management. In a survey of over 7,000 employees – 70% of respondents have said that their manager’s behaviour is responsible for how engaged they feel at work and 50% of respondents reported that they had to quit their job because of ‘bad managers’

Gallup poll Employees Want A Lot More From Their Managers

Personality Led Leadership

We all have personality types and there are lots of theories discussing how our natural leadership style correlates to our personality type e.g. introvert vs extrovert, sensing vs intuition, thinking vs feeling, judging vs perceiving.

There are a lot of characteristics that help you succeed and be relatable as a leader including

  • Have integrity, loyalty and show ethical and moral standards and lead by example.
  • Be honest and transparent and be able to communicate and listen.
  • Be self motivated, positive, encouraging and supportive.
  • Be humble, likable and have some charisma
  • Love what you and the team do and earn the respect of the team

There are some people in my career who have really influenced who I am as a leader. They probably don’t even know it ! It’s easy to identify what good looks like by the way situations make you feel. Here are some of the lessons I have learned from some great role models…

  • Praise and Recognition… If you see something amazing or even slightly good, let people know. Every one feels good when they are recognised for a good act, piece of work, effort or result.
  • Don’t criticise… help people learn lessons. We don’t do a post mortem when things go wrong, but look at how to do things better next time. Never humiliate or shame anyone for making a mistake, especially to their colleagues and peers.
  • Be positive… Positivity is contagious (so is negativity). If you find yourself surrounded by negative people, it can be very difficult to keep a positive outlook. Don’t get sucked into other peoples issues that aren’t yours. Don’t stew over things that are slightly annoying or upsetting and manifest them into something that they are not.
  • Be passionate… If you want to make a difference show passion for what you are doing. Passion is also contagious and encourages others to be brought along on the journey. When you do something half hearted, it shows ! Enthusiasm and passion have resulted in some amazing things, just be careful to not get carried away.
  • Be nice… This is not a sign of weakness. When kindness, compassion and niceness are missing then all we are left with is a toxicity and bitterness. Don’t mistake niceness for being a walk over. You can be firm and fair at the same time.
  • Don’t be scared to disagree… You can push back on bad ideas or actions that don’t make sense. Just remember to be respectful and willing to listen, but make sure you are listened to also.
  • Be Inspired and Inspirational … Sometimes you encounter people that give you the energy to be creative, productive and fully inspired. Try to bring that out of others by encouraging creativity and ideas and considering others point of view.
  • Listen.. Take advice and inspiration from others. The people in my team know so much more than I do about their own role and what they need to be successful. Listen to what they need and enable them to succeed.

Do you Zap or Sap?

Some years ago, a member of my team mentioned a book they were reading about whether people were ‘zappers or sappers’.

Zappers – encounters with zappers filled you with energy and gave you positivity, make you feel stimulated and enhance creative expression.

Sappers – encounters with sappers sucked the energy and life out of you and made you feel negative. They reduce motivation and make you feel drained.

We can all be both zappers and sappers at any time, but as a leader or team member you need to be very conscious on which one of these traits you bring to the surface. The impact can be huge either way.

I know this is a very simplified way to look at personality styles and the impact they have on you and the reactions they bring, but it is very easy to relate to. I expect we can all think of situations where we have been zapped or sapped or been zappers or sappers! A few years ago I mentioned this book to my own manager at the time, and he very recently spoke to me about how this had stayed with him many years later and that it was inspiring for him to think of things differently.

Even when we try to be good role models, we often have our off days. One of my team recently noticed that when I was stressed and not my normal self this affected the team around me. Note to self… chill out and don’t get too stressed by what I can’t influence! Be a zapper, not a sapper !

Role Models, Mentoring and Coaching

The terms role model, mentor and coach are often used to cover the same or similar areas, however there are differences.

A mentor is someone usually more experienced than you who knows and cares about you and tries to help you succeed. There is a two way relationship with a mentor.

One of the best ways to help others to be better is to be a mentor. Being a mentor is a great opportunity to bring out the best in others and help them progress or overcome difficulties. I’ve mentored many people over the years and have always gotten a lot out of the relationships as well as supporting others through their challenges, development and issues.

Good mentors show empathy, have good listening skills, give encouragement and sound advice. They have good rapport with their mentor and shares their experience and wisdom. The mentor and mentee relationship should be confidential and built on trust.

Mentoring is relationship oriented, long term and development driven.

Coaching is a form of development where the coach supports a learner in achieving a personal or professional goal by providing training and guidance.

Coaching is usual focused on a specific task or activity. For example, you can be coached on how to deliver better presentations. The coach should be able to show and guide the person on how to develop their skills. Sometimes they use techniques to get the person being coached to reach the answer to a problem through guiding them through so they can make their own decisions.

Coaching is task oriented, short term and performance driven.

My Inspiration

I have lots of role models, both those who are in the public as well as at work and personal. Here are some of them…

  • Michelle Obama… I received her autobiography for Christmas and was fully inspired by her story of coming from a relatively poor area of Chicago and worked hard to become a successful lawyer, then obviously she met and married Barack and became one of the most influential women in the world. She took her position of influence and used it to wonderful effect whilst at the same time being thoroughly nice!
  • Jane Austen… I just love a good period drama! Austen was so ahead of her time in writing about strong female characters who had personality, strength, courage and passion. Even if her stories were about young women looking to find husbands, the characters brought that era to life. I could lose days to watching re-runs of Pride and Prejudice or reading Persuasion.
  • Martin Luther King… I was privileged to visit the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis last year, the site of MLKs assassination. To see the inspiration he brought to millions around the world in standing up for the rights of everyone and how much of a difference he made will stay with me forever. Also, last year I stood on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on the very stone where MLK said his ‘I have a dream’ speech and got to visit his Memorial in Washington where a line from the speech is cut into the stone “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.’
  • Dame Stephanie ‘Steve’ Shirley… I was very lucky to attend 2 talks given by Dame Shirley in recent years, where she relayed stories of how she came to Britain as a child during the 2nd World War and later started her own IT company giving opportunities to women with children who needed to work from home with flexible hours. This team of predominently female coders (3 male programmers in the first 300 staff) produced some critical IT solutions including Concorde’s black box flight recorder.
  • My Mother… She caught polio when she was 6 months old and spent most of her childhood in hospital having multiple surgeries. She is the most tenacious women I know. Despite her disability, she never lets this stop her, has the most positive outlook on life and always tries to help those who need it never thinking twice about her own disability.
  • My Sons and Daughter… My daughter has the most amazing zest for life than anyone I know. She is bold, daring and can make anyone feel good about themselves. We have so much fun together on our travels. My 2 sons both have been inspiring to me.. one of them had to deal with health issues when he was younger and overcome missing long periods of school and has since achieved great academic results at university. My other son is the most caring and thoughtful person I have met. He will help anyone and is incredibly kind.

Who is your role model?

Boiling The Ocean

There is one phrase that we quote regularly in the Digital Transformation Centre when speaking to clients and that is “Don’t Boil The Ocean“. Usually it is in the context of promoting the use of Agile as a delivery methodology, so we can demonstrate the value of breaking down large scale transformations into smaller problem statements, which can easily be tackled – hence addressing lots of small puddles rather than oceans.

Are You Ready?

The phrase “Don’t Boil The Ocean” has been popping into my head more and more recently around change in general and keeps drawing me back to thinking about the importance of change factors such as scale, maturity and readiness for any change, not just software or digital transformation.

I’ve recently been involved in a corporate wide initiative that impacts all levels of the company. To make this a success we need to avoid using one strategy or approach to manage the change for everyone at the same time. We should look at the different variables in the various levels and ecosystems we are changing e.g global, region, country, campus and immediate team. We also need to consider where each group are on their transformation journey.

At the same time as the corporate wide changes, a number of teams are about to move into my organisation and I’m excited about helping them on their transformation journey and support them using the benefit of mine and my teams experience, methods and frameworks that have proven successful.

Not forgetting my current teams who I can’t leave to stand still and not keep continuously improving and remaining relevant.

In any one day I need to consider all of the different groups above thinking about where they are on their maturity of digital change and taylor the plans and actions to meet each unique area so they get the right support and enablement to be successful.

Every Ocean Is Different

Don’t Boil The Oceans

Going back to our boiling the ocean analogy, not every ocean starts with the same climate, maturity, readiness or ecosystem.

If we think very literalyl… Let’s boil some of the oceans of the world taking the same approach of using a big fire to heat each ocean to 100 degrees…

Arctic Ocean … Starts at -zero degrees. Take much longer to warm up, can’t get to the right place to start the fire due to the build up of ice, then melts the ice caps and causes global warming.  Result…  Total disaster! The environment isn’t ready, causes huge impact to current state and impact runs wider than local environment.  Oops!

Indian Ocean … Starts at 35 degrees. Already pretty hot, doesn’t take long to heat up and wastes time waiting for the fire to be hot enough to start making a difference. Result …  Sees increase in temperature as a waste of time, as it’s already warm and doesn’t need to go through a large part of the heating up, but could do with a the fire starting at a hotter temperature to make any difference.  Why bother ! Disengaged and disinterested ocean.

Atlantic Ocean … wide range of temperatures from 13 to 35 as it is so large and covers many different environments Varying degrees of success, as some of it is already hot, some of it is freezing and creates an unfair unequal environment.  Can’t please everyone and could cause resentment with different parts of the ocean.

Approaching Transformational change is exactly the same. If we apply the same technique across the board, we will have different results due to readiness for change, maturity of existing change programme all specific to the different environments or ecosystems (or change programmes).

Ocean TypeMaturity and ReadinessDon’tDo
(Indian Ocean Groups) High Maturity Transformation OrganisationsReady for Change. Already undergoing change. Want to improve not keep moving backIgnore what they have already done. Drown them with retrospective impacts where they see them as a waste of timeLearn lessons from their experience – both successes and failures. Keep them engaged, so they motivate others by being good role models.
(Arctic Ocean Groups) Resistant and Feeling Vulnerable OrganisationsNot ready for Change. Need incremental change at a steady pace. Need to build trust that change is good and things are getting better. Tell them what to do without listening to their point of view. Rush change and have multiple change programmes running at once. Get their perspective of what a successful change looks like to them. Get and give regular feedback. Show progress and give evidence that you are taking notice of their view point.
(Atlantic Ocean Groups) Multiple levels of resistance and maturity to change Mixed levels of readiness and maturity. Hold back those who are already highly change mature. Ignore those who are feeling vulnerable due to the changes. Assume that everyone is the same. Show what good looks like for everyone. Demonstrate that change is a journey and people are at different stops of the journey. Utilise good support and mentoring as well as role modelling from those more mature in the transformation journey.

It’s About People

Whether you are changing technology, process, direction, infact anything the biggest consideration is the People.

Even in the digital transformation space, everything still impacts people whether it’s learning new skills with the dev ops tooling, programming languages, agile delivery methods, application or platform solutions or even changing roles due to automating repetitive tasks so people end up changing their job.

There are many theories around change management out there that give us advice on how to manage and handle change. The table above does show some of the do’s and don’ts based on my experience, but there are some other things that we can do…

  • Good communications are critical and this must be 2 way between those making or introducing the change and those who are impacted by the change
  • Identify your change agents. These are the people who can help support their colleagues on the journey. Usually very positive, encouraging and supportive colleagues. These are needed at all levels of the business.
  • Make change relevant and relatable. Don’t forget the questions “What’s in it for me?” and “So what?”.
  • Realise that change will never stop and now things change at a much faster pace than at any time in our history. We are now in the Fourth Phase of the Industrial Revolution and each phase since the days of steam power and rail to where we are today with artificial intelligence, robotics and fast internet is getting shorter and faster.
We are now in the Fourth Phase of the Industrial Revolution

Changing Your Ways

Change is never easy. Digital organisations need to be incredibly mindful on how we make change happen for ourselves and our people. Sometimes it feels like we, as digital leaders are between a rock and a hard place where we can find change difficult ourselves and at the same time need to enable and support our people through the journey. We need to remember that today’s change, will be tomorrow’s lesson learned and something else will be queuing up waiting to be changed.


Stephenson’s Rocket

Stephenson’s Rocket at Discovery Museum Newcastle 2018

Since I mentioned the industrial revolution, I just wanted to finish on a picture I took of Stephenson’s Rocket – the very first steam locomotive. The Rocket was on display in the Discovery Museum here in Newcastle upon Tyne as part of the Great Exhibition of the North last year.

Taking The Plunge – Moving From Waterfall To Agile

images

Many people have the idea that moving to agile methodologies from traditional waterfall will bring chaos where decisions change by the minute and no one knows what is going on.  Infact, it’s quite the opposite – if done correctly.

We have more useful governance using Agile approaches than we had wasteful using Waterfall.

Based on our experience, successful adoption of Agile can be achieved and here are things to consider.

Prep The People

The first success factor of adopting Agile is getting your team onboard.  If your people aren’t prepared to put their doubts to one side then you will be doomed to fail.  Making the mindset change can be very difficult for experienced professionals, but it can be done.

Give all of your team the right training from day one.  Make sure they understand :

  • The responsibilities and expectations of every role within the team including Product Owner, Scrum Master, Engineering team members and understand who the stakeholders are.
  • Have everyone speaking the same language.  Make sure terminology is clearly defined and understood.
  • Be clear about the agile ceremonies including sprint planning, retrospectives, stand ups, show and tells, estimation exercises etc.  Ensure everyone knows the part they play in the ceremonies.
  • Add a backlog item to each sprint for ‘Team Training’ so time is allocated to give the team the chance to develop new skills as they go depending on the learnings from each sprint.

What’s Your Problem?

Have a clear business outcome to solve and break it down into specific achievable problem statements.

IMG_0969

Break down the Problem Statement so you have a good idea of how you will solve the problem – this will help define and develop your backlog epics and user stories.

An Epic is a large block of work that has a common objective.  It could be a feature, request or requirement.

If there are more than 5 user stories for the same project area then you should have an Epic defined and link the user stories to the Epic.

A User Story is a short and simple description of a feature told from the perspective of the person who desires the new feature…

As a <type of user>, I want <a goal> so that <a reason>.

User Stories can be sized and estimated.  A Story Point value should be assigned to each user story based on it’s complexity and size, so the team can gauge what work will fit within a sprint. For example, a team might be able to clear 50 story points per sprint and if you know the story points allocated to each user story the team will be able to effectively plan the content for that sprint.

Work with your stakeholders to develop your team ‘Definition of Done’ and know what your success factors are.

A Definition of Done is a shared understanding of what it means for work to be complete and can cover either the release, a product increment or a user story.

When a Product Backlog item or an Increment is described as “Done”, everyone must understand what “Done” means.  (Scrum Guide)

Keep your Definition of Done on your scrum board so everyone has a visible reminder of what you are trying to do.  Also, be prepared for the Definition of Done to evolve throughout the life of your project.  Review this as part of the sprint retrospective ceremony.

Your product backlog items will be “Ready” to be included in sprint planning.  The Definition of Ready is linked to having  good user stories that are actionable and understanding what it means for them to be “Done”.  Sometimes it’s not possible to have all of the information up front for user stories to be deemed as “Ready”, but it will give you a good chance to have a successful sprint.

Think About Your Framework

Once you’ve decided to adopt Agile, it doesn’t stop there.  The next question should be what type of Agile framework should you use for the best fit for what you are trying to deliver.

Kanban, Scrum, SAFe, Nexus, Pragmatic Agile are all good options, but don’t all fit with every scenario.  Pick the best framework for your team and project.

Scrum is very good if you have an end vision to achieve and know what you will be committing to at the end of a sprint.  It recognises that things change and product requirements, technology and risk can be volatile based on what the team learns throughout the project.  Scrum allows the teams to respond to change and be self organised without losing focus on the outcome.

SAFe, Nexus or other scalable frameworks support large delivery of enterprise size software and systems.  It allows for the collaboration, alignment and synchronisation of multiple agile teams.  It views deliveries from different layers including portfolio, programme and individual teams.  It takes advantage of continuous delivery pipelines or an Agile release train.

Kanban allows you to tackle fluid requests and a continuous flow of work.  Understanding the availability capacity of work within the teams is key so as not to overload the team so they become unproductive.  Balancing demand and capacity by setting work in progress limits is the key to making Kanban effective.  Keeping the workflow moving and avoiding bottlenecks is also one of the main focuses within Kanban.

Almost all agile frameworks are well complimented with dev ops, automation and tooling as well as bringing built in quality throughout the project by having multi skilled scrum teams doing pair programming, test driving development and automated testing.

Tooling and Metrics

There is a world of Agile tooling available to teams today and identifying the best one for your delivery should be a priority for any Agile team.

Often the tooling is dependent on the framework that you choose e.g. Kanban frameworks are well suited to using ‘To Do list’ type tooling like Trello or Teams Boards.

More scrum focused deliveries are a good fit for VSTS and Jira where you can take advantage of the metrics around story points, burn down and velocity.

There are some good retrospective tools freely available including Retrium, goReflect etc. which help to document what was learned in the sprint.

Comparing Agile metrics with Waterfall metrics on time, quality, productivity are often one of the best ways to prove to management that moving to Agile has delivered improvements.  However, metrics alone shouldn’t be used by management to come to conclusions on the effectiveness and success of the team.  Metrics need to have context!

The most common metrics used in Agile are …

  • Velocity – this is the amount of story points that were moved to Done during the sprint.  Velocity usually improves as teams progress through sprints and as it matures can help with estimating the amount of work (story points) that can be delivered by a team.
  • Burndown – shows how quickly the team are burning through the user stories.  It shows the total effort against the amount of work delivered.
  • Recidivism – is the ratio of user stories that come back to development.  This might be due to quality failure or changing requirements.
  • First-time Pass Rate – is the % of test cases that pass the first time they are run.  Using test automation should help with regression testing of old features to make sure they have not broke with the latest changes.
  • Defect Count By Sprint – is the number of defects identified during the sprint.
  • Defect Count by Story Points – This is less binary than the defects by sprint count as it looks at the ratio of defects to story points in a sprint.  With sprints that don’t have many story points just counting defects would not give a true reflection on the quality of the delivery.
  • Story Completion Ratio – This is the number of stories completed in a sprint compared the number of stories that were planned.
  • Story Count Completion Ratio – Looks at what story points were delivered compared to the estimate.
  • Blocked Items Count and % – These can be used to understand the number of stories that are blocked and the %.

A Good Product Owner

The Product Owner is the most important role to ensure a successful delivery – FACT.

 The Product Owner is responsible for maximising the value of the product resulting from the work of the scrum team – Scrum Guide 

The most basic definition of a Product Owner is “someone who knows stuff and is empowered to make a decision”.

The Product Owner should fully understand the business and the problem the team are working to fix.   This allows them to make good decisions for the benefit of the project.   They are the link between the client and the scrum team.  They understand the priorities and are involved and available to the team to support, plan, clarify and decide.  A good product owner is involved in sprint planning, reviews and retrospectives.  They can where possible be part of the stand ups too.

Don’t underestimate the value of a good Product Owner.  They can be the critical success factor of an Agile delivery.  If you don’t have a Product Owner who is knowledgeable, empowered and willing and able to spend quality time with the team, the risk of not achieving a successful delivery is increased.

If you haven’t got a good Product Owner – Get One !

Stand Up and Don’t Stand Still

It’s a fact that you spend a lot of time on your feet with Agile.

It isn’t just the daily stand ups that get you up and about, you need to get out of your seat and talk to people.  Collaboration and transparency need to be active in Agile teams.  If you have a blame free culture where your team are not afraid to fail, but take it as a learning opportunity then collaboration and transparency will become part of the team’s DNA.  Don’t stew over a problem on your own, share it with your team and you can collectively overcome the problem.  The sooner you share, the sooner it’s fixed.

Don’t forget to share with the stakeholders too.  There’s nothing worse than waiting until the end of the sprint to let them know that things aren’t going well.  Bring them into the problem – they would rather help fix it than not meet their goal.

Use the sprint retrospective process to reflect on what went well, what didn’t go so well and what you can improve going forward.  The retrospective is an opportunity to discuss  things without blame, criticism or accusation.  These are and should be very positive.  Take it as a team building opportunity.  Think wider than just the sprint.  What improvements can be introduced to the way of working, comms, tooling, collaboration, mentoring, training…  It is a time for the team to collectively improve.

Take The Plunge

Don’t be scared to move to Agile.  Things won’t be perfect, but you have the power to continuously fix things and make them better.   Agile gives you the power to be flexible, but still have a solid framework to support and govern a delivery.  Once you are working in an effective Agile way, it just seems like common sense and you’ll ask yourself why you didn’t take the plunge sooner.

 

 

Creating A Digital Identity And The Digital Skills Gap

Everyone talks about the digital skills gap. For me it’s a real problem that my team face every day. Trying to grow the workforce in a digital business when some people do not  know who you are and what you do adds an additional layer of difficulty. Competing with other companies to retain our current people and attract new talent is a very frustrating environment for a resourcing lead.

Establishing a relevant corporate and work identity is only one element of getting over the talent attraction minefield. It is becoming more and more relevant as digital leaders to establish a personal digital identity too and show that not only the company is somewhere people want to work, but you are someone people want to work with.

Post Merger Identity

After 18 months of being a new company formed from 2 of the IT service and infrastructure giants, a lot of the potential talent still don’t know our name and our true brand.

I’ve been to many recruitment events and people look at you behind your nice and shiny branded stand and don’t recognise us. People start the discussion with ”What do you do and who are you?”. Our responses are always ”We used to be…”. Then we see the spark of recognition in people’s faces when we mention our previous globally recognised brand – then you can start to have a conversation.

Corporately the CEOs and CIOs know who we are, however still think of us as we used to be.

News flash to the IT talent and the CEOs / CIOs…

We are very different today than we were 18 months ago, both in what we do and who we are.

We are an exciting, dynamic and amazing team of people learning and improving every day and taking our people and clients on an incredible transformation journey.

The digital world does not stay still and we are not only moving with it, but we are giving it a good push on it’s way.

Retaining Staff – Loyalty Is All About The Culture

All IT digital companies are in competition for IT talent…. FACT!

With the right skills like Dev Ops, Agile, Automation, Cloud, Robotics an engineer or agile delivery lead can be king or queen in the jobs market.

We sit in some amazing locations across the UK and the globe, but so do other similar companies.  We also have more varied competitors now…

  • Our historic competitors  – the large scale and mega IT companies
  • Small and Medium IT software houses – (let’s be friends and work together – call me!)
  • Public Sector – DWP, BPDTS, HMRC – pushing up the market salary rates (why is my tax pound being used to pay such over the top market rates?)
  • Internal IT – insourcing is real when development is less about lines of code and more about graphical interface tooling and ‘ready to go’ IT

Culture vs Cash

We have invested a lot of effort in creating a place where people want to work and most of that was done by listening to the team and what would make the difference to them including training, mentoring, learning from experienced people, freedom to innovate, health and wellbeing time, new and interesting assignments, recognition from their colleagues etc.  Interestingly the one condition that is usually mentioned last is salary.  This only becomes top of the agenda when people are attracted to a competitor for more money.  Even when they get offered highly salaries elsewhere they usually don’t want to leave us and we need to fix that.

Attracting Staff – Is All About Being Different and Surprising

My team have been working on creating an enviable workplace culture for the last couple of years and if we can get people through the door and into the building we know they will want to join us.

Our goal is to make people want to work with us or inspiring them to make their work culture and environment like ours.

The difficulty lies in getting people through the door to see how good it is here.

Attracting new talent is really difficult with so much competition… FACT!

The digital resourcing manager needs to be creative in today’s competitive environment. We cannot wait for people to knock on our door announcing they have arrived.  We need to find them, show them what we are about and guide them through their journey to their Career and Dream Job.  There are lots of different streams of workforce now to hire from  including …

  • Traditional experienced permanent hires
  • Early career apprentices, interns and graduates
  • Dedicated digital training/hiring companies
  • Tapping into the Autistic workforce – they can be amazing in an IT work environment with small adaptations to support them in their role
  • Ex armed forces looking for their next career
  • Part retired experienced hires – who are a little bored in their retirement and want to get back into work – they have so much to bring to the workforce especially upskilling and mentoring the early career hires
  • People with potential from non standard backgrounds who have passion and learnability – we have brought into our company people from many diverse backgrounds including a nursery nurse, chefs, carers, catering etc. who have been amazing

Without a good career brand reputation it is difficult to break people’s preconceived ideas.  I recently asked the team to consider sharing their reviews of working for us on Glassdoor – being honest and truthful and representing what we are today.  We did actually get some good reviews.  One of the team later saw a comment on an online article about our company saying “They had noticed we were getting some positive reviews and the management must have forced their staff to post or they were fake comments”.  We didn’t!  The reviews were positive, but truthful and constructive.

Creating Your Own Digital Identity

Everyone is surrounded by brands and we all have our favourites including Apple, Microsoft, Starbucks, Lego, Amazon, local business, regional brands etc.  In the digital world People are also brands and what they put out in the ether on their social media presence is increasingly important.

We have done some research with the  leadingedgeforum.com on the 21st Century Human and having a Digital Mindset, Skillset and Identity.  Take a look at their site for more information on their fascinating work.

To be a credible digital leader you need to show your team and clients that you understand their problems and can help them.  Speaking the same digital language is the first step.  Understanding the terminology to be able to have a meaningful authentic conversation is so important.  As leaders we might not have all of the minute detail, but you do need to be able to ‘get it’ and enable the team so they ‘totally get it’.

In the digital world you can’t afford for your team to be in catch up mode, you need to keep reinventing to be relevant and rather than being told what to do, you need to decide what needs to be done ahead of time to hold onto any competitive advantage.

Final Thoughts …

The Digital world is so much part of our DNA now.  It is central to us all from the moment we wake up (I bet almost everyone uses their phone or digital assistant as their morning alarms), all through the day with, online banking, online shopping, booking a holiday, TV, entertainment, social contact and communication, relaxation, exercise tracking, digital assistants etc to our falling asleep reading a Kindle or listening to an Audible book at bedtime or using a mindfulness app to meditate and read you to sleep.

The largest part of our waking digital day we spend at work and we a have a responsibility to our teams to make that time as enjoyable, meaningful, full of learning and development and productive as possible so we can retain and attract the right people.

Pragmatic Agile

I was recently talking to an Agile Coach who was visiting the Digital Transformation Centre, about how we apply agile techniques to our projects.  I mentioned to him how we were far from being scrum purists, but instead we were quite pragmatic about what techniques and approaches we applied to the different types of deliveries using a common sense approach including …

  • Scrum
  • Kanban
  • Mega Kanban
  • Uber Scrum
  • Safe
  • Nexus
  • Scrum of scrums

When I mentioned our Pragmatic approach, he said ”you do realise that Pragmatic Agile is an actual approach”.  Of course I didn’t, I just thought it was us applying common sense and trying to use the best techniques that fitted what we were trying to achieve.

Once back at my deks, the first thing I did was Google Pragmatic Agile and true enough it really was a thing!

There are many definitions of Pragmatic Agile all over the internet, there is even a Pragmatic Agile group – who knew?

Finding The Best Fit

We have such a wide variety of work within our portfolio. All for different clients doing a wide range of activities.

Some of our work is more dynamic where we receive ongoing requests – Kanban fits perfect for this. Using tools like Trello or Microsoft Planner and a good old fashioned white wall and post-it notes.

Our software development or dev ops platforms projects are often better suited to scrum, where we can effectively plan a sprint and manage the backlog at the start of the sprint and have a clear Definition of Ready and Definition of Done. We tend to use Jira or VSTS displayed on the TV screens in each delivery bay as our tool of choice – as well as complementing with the white wall.

Overall governance is covered by our Scrum of Scrums which allows us to have an overall view of what is going on in each stream of work across all of the Centre. We all meet every morning at 9.30 including myself, the Centre delivery lead, all scrum masters and the operations team. This is one of the most valuable half hours of the day. It allows for total transparency across all of the teams. We focus on blockers and try to resolve these by talking and collaborating to find the best solution. More often than not, someone has already experienced the problem before and we can share our knowledge and experience. With this approach we can make decisions on resourcing, technology, approach and often it’s a great opportunity for the scrum masters to bring things to the table that just need talking through. It’s also a good way for everyone to know what visitors we have in the Centre that day and any new work, training or events that are going on.

We have a squad of around 16 Bionix Robotics Process Automation engineers who have within their own teams around 12 projects ongoing at any one time. To handle this they have a Mega Kanban 3 times per week which is similar to the scrum of scrums, but focuses on the many different areas and clients that come to them with their specific RPA and automation problems.

Every 2 months we host an Uber Scrum where I basically cascade and share interesting and useful info to everyone. These sessions allow full openness of two way discussions across everyone in the team and gives anyone an opportunity to raise any questions, bring some ideas out on the table and feel part of something bigger than their own scrum teams or squads.

Industrialisation – sounds very serious!

One of our latest apps to cloud transformation projects is going to be large scale using 3 scrum teams in the UK over 2 locations and up to 10 teams offshore in India. We need to make this seamless and consistent and are currently looking at the best scalable agile fit with either Safe or Nexus. We have had a similar scale project previously where we took (again) a common sense approach and took elements from different methodologies that worked for us. It is going to be interesting how this works out!

I do have concerns over Safe Agile as this brings back some of the layers and processes that look to be more waterfall than our current pragmatic approach to agile, but I understand with work of a certain size we need some level of governance and oversight. Watch this space!

Manifesto

If we look back to the reason why Agile methods were first introduced, the Manifesto fir Agile deliveries (to me) is very much in keeping with a pragmatic and common sense approach…

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Whatever approach to Agile is being used you must always review the approach regularly, for example as part of the regular delivery retrospective ceremonies or a specific approach retrospective to learn from what you have been doing and ask yourselves …

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go very well?
  • What can you do better?
  • Any ideas for improvements?

Agile Guilding

Within the Centre our scrum masters have a self managing guild where they can share experiences, train each other, provide coaching and mentoring and most importantly give a safe place where they can collectively solve problems.

Anyone can take a problem to a guild and with the collective experience and ideas from the scrum masters they can help solve a multitude of problems including approach, agile tooling, metrics, resourcing, in fact anything that needs some attention and thought.

In summary, don’t get too bogged down by only being a scrum purist. Figure out what works based on your experience and knowledge for the different projects. Not everything fits into one box. That’s not to say you need to cherry pick or have a miss match for each piece of work, but don’t be afraid to make change and do things better. Constantly learn and improve !