Branding risks as personal impact, lessons in coaching # 2

Getting folks to pay heed to risks in time , is hard

no-worries

I recently finished a coaching gig with a leading agriculture industry org here in Christchurch. My key responsibility was to coach their internal Test Lead to ,

a) frame a Test strategy for their multi year change management programme

b) provide on going coaching service as the strategy is delivered for initial phases of the programme.

The coachee were an extremely talented and knowledgeable business user and from an engineering+lab testing background , but were new to enterprise software Test management.

Yesterday, I had a catch up with them several weeks after I had finished the engagement . The focus of the discussion was on their experience of Test management so far and how could we as a “test strategy” Team have done better?

One of the things that they raised in the retro really captured my attention as something that I need to personally improve, here is how the conversation went

Coachee :: “Looking back at my first Test management project, one of the things I really I wish I could do better was to persistently advocate risks”

Coach :: “Fair point . However we did have a process to register all programme and project related risks in the risk register and had a process to discuss/escalate them on a regular basis . Didn’t that process work?”

Coachee :: ” Umm,the process was there  but I did not advocate testing risks as often I should have ”

Coach :: “Why was that ?”

Coachee :: “Because they were project related risks and part of the PM’s realm of responsibility”

Coach :: “Let us re-frame that….they are testing related risks that have a project impact , so are inherently your responsibility too?”

Coachee :: “Yes but over time they stopped feeling like testing risks to me”

Boom …pivot….this suddenly changed the whole dynamic in the conversation, I suddenly felt this rush of regret that I had missed a trick in coaching them on risk advocacy. And that I needed to get to the bottom of this !

Coach :: “Could you elaborate on what you mean by stopped feeling like testing risks over time ?”

Coachee :: “See, as you know this is my first software management project,while I could understand how the risks impacted the project I could not accurately gauge how  would those affect my ability to manage testing for the programme ! Due to this they did not bubble up often and high up enough on my list of things to worry about, hence I did not advocate them with senior leadership as often as I maybe should have? Over this long drawn programme I just left them as some-else’s job . However a lot of those risks materialized  and bit me  ”

Imagine these two articulation of risk ::

Example 1 :: We dont have a complete and good set of requirements . This is a critical risk to the project because if we dont have requirements we can not build and test the new features that the client is asking by this date . And that means that the project will slip it’s delivery date or would not be delivered at all

Example 2 :: I have reviewed the current set of requirements from a test-ability prescriptive. As per my analysis the requirements are neither complete nor can be reliably used as a basis for writing effective tests to critique what we are delivering . This will  hinder the ability of the test manager to estimate and the Team to complete design and execution phases of the project , which in turn puts the current delivery date at risk.

If I were a test manager reading the risk register with the above risk(s) in it or if I were a test manager hearing a tester articulating those risks

— am I more likely to advocate and bubble up the first or the second risk ?

Why ?

As throbbing sapient beings we all have a cognitive limit and biases towards what we let occupy our mental space (both for the good and the bad).

In complex , enterprise level projects this space gets filled very quickly.

And it is by no means selfish to admit that we worry more (and often) about things that affect us directly  , that are visceral to us ,that might impede execution of our personal roles.

Now revisiting the two examples again and comparing the text in red 

Example 1 :: We dont have a complete and good set of requirements . This is a critical risk to the project because if we dont have requirements we can not build and test the new features that the client is asking by this date . And that means that the project will slip it’s delivery date or would not be delivered at all

Example 2 :: I have reviewed the current set of requirements from a test-ability prescriptive. As per my analysis the requirements are neither complete nor can be reliably used as a basis for writing effective tests to critique what we are delivering . This will  hinder the ability of the test manager to estimate and the Team to complete design and execution phases of the project , which in turn puts the current delivery date at risk.

The message in red,in the second example is more personal. It answers the question , “how does the risk impact me/us?” , explicitly than example 1.

My mistake was to under-emphasize the importance of articulating how those risks could hamper the coachee’s (audience of the risk advocacy in this case) ability to execute their own role.

I was the victim of my own experience as I was seeing the so called bigger picture (of the impact on the project and the programme and beyond ) but missed the obvious, i.e. to start with how that risk impacts the coachee first .

This was a critical miss because I did not my advocate’s heart and mind on board.

Learning –

1.While coaching, always remember that I am serving the coachee first before their project /programme.

2.While advocating risk, in addition to articulating what the project/programme/commercial impact of the risk and articulate how that risk will impact the decision maker’s role and responsibilities that they are accountable for.

And if you do it well, irrespective of whether they are the Test Manager or the CEO , they will listen

 

 

 

 

Don’t await wizardry,lessons in coaching # 1

OogwayPoTalk.png

Close your eyes

Ask yourself to picture the word “Coach”

What are some of the images that come to your mind ?

Someone…. “grey haired” “knows all,full of wisdom” “motherly figure” “years of experience” “pointing to the north star”

Is it necessarily true that the best coaches are folks who have accomplished a lot, have had very long illustrious careers ,have all the answers,are “the non-playing captains” of their Teams ?

Not necessarily!

The best coaches that I have worked with , people who have changed some of my ingrained beliefs with their insights and experience , people who have taught me “how to fish” had these traits in common,

  1. They were not at the fag end of their careers or disseminating boardroom wisdom from an armchair
  2. They were selfless in giving time to others
  3. They were honest about not knowing everything
  4. They were not ashamed to speak about their vulnerabilities
  5. They did not hold back from coaching because they had lots to learn , still

These are the foundational principles and behaviors that I strive to model during my coaching gigs

I dont think we have to wait to achieve coaching nirvana to act as coaches.

I think we just need to show courage and be driven by our intellectual honesty,a desire to teach the process that has worked for us ,a desire to share knowledge and to improve others and ourselves.

And doing all this as a personal choice rather than a demand of the role.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Murdering empathy

empathy_cartoon2

Imagine the remotest tropical utopian island.

It is the island that is the coveted dream of every leader ,because on that island lies the formula to understand what success means…….?

What success means, to each of your Team members?

You yearn for that formula because if you have it ,you hold the key to authentically connecting with your team

Now imagine a raft. The raft will get you to that island, to the secret formula

That raft is empathy .

Now imagine sharks, yes great whites. Aka negative emotions and biases ,these are what the waters are full of.

They are trying to devour you or destroy your raft and then devour you.

An alternate term that I will use for those sharks is empathy killers.

Empathy killers are behaviors(fuelled by negative emotions and biases) that threaten your raft , the build of it , the existence of it.

The more you use or let these empathy killers exist in a working relationship the stronger will be the current of apathy that will take you away from the island , from making an authentic connection with someone in/outside your team.

Reflecting back on instances where I have been eaten by the sharks or I have fed someone to the sharks , I want to share the following empathy killers

Whenever as a leader you exercise any these behaviors ,empathy dies a little death.You drift away a little from that Team member who are struggling with their performance,from that peer with whom you are trying to mend fences, from that introverted person whom you can not convince about your strategy, from the business stakeholder who is failing to relate with the reasons why your Team can not keep their commitments.

This by no means is an exhaustive list , feel free to add your empathy killers to it .

  • Asserting that your problems or the company’s problems are bigger and more complex than theirs (just because you operate at a higher hierarchy level in the business)
  • Telling them that they don’t see the bigger picture (when they call out something which did not align with the company values charter pasted on the front door)
  • Taking it personally and giving back in the same coin (angry emails from them at 8 in the evening are responded by angry emails at 8:35 )
  • Raising things that they need to improve only when you are about to say no to something. 
  • Not being there due to lack of time. 
  • There but pretending to listen . 

[ Bonus material — What listening level are you at ? https://hbr.org/2016/07/what-great-listeners-actually-do ]

  • Assessing their performance from a different lens than them. Especially without telling them which lens you are wearing and when?
  • Comparing. Yes ,comparing full stop. Comparing them with that high performing star in the Team as a means to justify your decision.
  • Quoting your (legitimately) vast (but invalid or unrelatable) experience to win the argument .

e.g. Because you have not worked at <x> you can not understand this.

  • Using glass half-empty as a motivation methodology .Corollary -> Also instilling fear of the glass being half empty, fear that it must not be broken, must not be filled with the wrong content or not being the type of vessel that you expected.

For a moment ,forgo metrics,forget numbers,forgo strategy,forget vision….just reflect on what your number one duty as a people leader is,

To create an emotionally safe environment where you can genuinely connect with your Team to understand what success means to them and where they can fearlessly connect with you to understand from where you are coming from.

Empathy, like charity begins at home . Start by being empathetic to your own emotions first, acknowledging them, questioning them, detecting patterns and then doing something about them.

I don’t claim to hold the secret formula from The Utopian island but I have started to know more about “my” great whites, learning to out maneuver them, learning to keep the raft safe.

Creativity , the heck ?

If you are failing to put your idea/thought/experience out there to be ridiculed as audacious

If you are failing to put your idea/thought/experience out there to be dismissed as infeasible

If you are failing to put your idea/thought/experience out there to be ignored as unoriginal

If you are failing to put your idea/thought/experience out there to be chided as nonconformist

then,you should seriously ask yourself why you are in the pursuit of anything creative ?

Creativity,starts by putting it out there ( to be ridiculed,dismissed,ignored and chided) and continuing to repeat it .

 

 

 

Going live

 

When there are no more bugs that need to triaged out as “no one will use it this way”

When there are no more end users who need convincing that “this is what it is and will be”

When there are no more apolitical voices to be ignored

When there are no more features left to turn into enhancement requests for future releases

When there are no more feasible workarounds left with the legacy product

Meet me there, because that is when, it will be time to “Go-Live”