Just like the past two years, 2012 was full of action and change at Conscires and in our personal lives. As I find professional and personal life deeply inter-connected, here’s what I am grateful for in the past one year:
1. Conscires becoming a fully profit-sharing company.
2. Adopting peer-rating as a way to give feedback to each other on how each person is contributing to the company.
3. Evolution of the Pay-it-Forward Training model, as five more trainers (Derek Wade, Lizzy Morris, Lola Stice, Sanjeev Raman, and Savvy Katham) joined Pay-it-Forward Training across the US.
4. Conscires India being very successful in its first year of operations: Training around 700+ folks across 8 cities in India.
5. All our training partners in India who made our first year of operations in the country relatively effortless.
6. I am grateful for being able to do Scrum trainings in my home town, Trivandrum, and to my Uncle and Aunt for attending the training.
7. Grateful to my daughter, Thumbi, for filling our life with joy, laughter, and certainty and helping me to be a little bit more patient with life and reminding me to not take it too seriously.
8. Grateful to my wife, Rahmi, for continuing to find resources to read that enriches our life and continuing to challenge me and help me grow.
9. Grateful that we could slow down life after our move to India.
10. Being able to work with some of our close friends and still continue to be friends with them.
11. To our friends in India, especially to Indu and Neeta and their lovely families, for their support during our move to India.
12. To all our friends we happened to share a meal, sleep under the same roof, and spend time with your respective families in the past year.
Thanks, again, one and all! May you and yours have a beautiful Thanksgiving!
A couple of months ago, a friend asked me for directions to my house. I sent out a detailed email, listing out the landmarks he should look for, the turns and exits he should take. My directions were impeccable; nonetheless, he landed up two blocks down the street. The next time I had to give directions to another friend, I sent out a hand-drawn map that I had scanned and kept ready. There was nothing new in it that I did not mention in my first email, but this friend found the way to my house without any confusion.
The impact of visualization can be illustrated with another real-life example. If you tell a small child that ‘an apple and a tomato have the same color’ he would probably blink. Instead, show him an apple and a tomato and then tell him the same, he would immediately get what you’re trying to say. It is an inherent habit that we all possess – the ability to grasp and recollect faster when information is demonstrated rather than explained verbally.
We see it in action everywhere, yet we close our eyes on its significance. We can apply it on any task that consists of a set of activities. For example, recently my wife and I utilized this method to plan and manage our monthly expenses. The exercise turned out to be quite effective and fun at the same time!
If we translate this concept to work, every project or activity that involves a set of steps can be further broken down and made into visual sequence. For most of us, reading a lot of continuous text, even beautifully bulleted ones, requires a lot of effort – that could as well be the one reason we put it for later. When there is a pictorial representation, the effort required is less. The pictures, colors and shapes jump out of the screen and impress themselves right onto our brain. It is next to impossible to ignore or forget them! It also has the added advantage of providing clarity on the complexity of the task in question. With clarity come determination, focus, the ability to prioritize and remove what is out of scope.
It is a fact that the tougher a job looks, the more lethargic we become. Even the easiest tasks can be made to look complicated by converting them into ten-page documents. On the other hand, illustrations, with colors and shapes thrown in to distinguish between their priority and status, give the impression that it is easier to achieve and help to keep the goal firmly in mind.
Taskboards, story maps and vision boards are visual depictions of a project. With one of them at hand, there is no fear of losing sight of the target or diverting from the path. They also show how close the work is to the end, and as such, act as motivators for the team.
The advantages of having a visual taskboard are many-fold.
For an individual, breaking down of a bulky task to smaller chunks, having a visual indicator of progress and setting aside each completed activity are steps that bring him closer to the target. The visualization gives a clearer picture on how much work is pending, what has been completed and how close we are to the end.
For the team as a whole, visualization creates a common understanding of the goal, gives clarity about the many pieces involved in solving a problem and helps each individual pick up tasks they can complete.
For the project, this method of depiction ensures that all the aspects are captured properly, and it avoids concerns of never getting around to address some of the items in the list.
From the leadership point of view, it is perhaps the most effective and visible way of communicating the mission of the company and rallying the overall organization around the company’s vision. The leadership, in turn, gets a glimpse of the progress that the teams make towards the completion of goals.
To make all these possible, it is essential to keep the visual tool clutter-free and up to date so as to make the most out of it. Once it is created, it is easy to weed out redundant or irrelevant data which may create a negative impact.
Vision is indeed the most powerful of all our senses. The easier we make it on our eyes, the better it engraves itself on our brain. After all, there is a child in all of us!
My wife, Rahmi, and I founded Conscires Agile Practices in 2010, with the intention of making more money and also out of frustration from and sympathy towards the sad state of affairs in large corporations trying to create teamwork.
I believe that we have tasted success, as we have offered our services to around 2000+ individuals from around 100+ companies in the last two years. Modest, but hey, something is better than nothing!
Along this journey, my perspective about owning a business has changed! Primarily due to my life experiences through the interactions with friends and family, the fellowships that I was involved in the past two years, and also the change in perspective brought about by Rahmi in areas like parenting, unschooling, childbirth, the food we eat, farming, to name but a few!
All these experiences made me feel that Rahmi and I owning Conscires would stand in the way of the beautiful souls working at the Company from taking more ownership in what they do. I also found it hypocritical to create a Company that relies on self-organization to get the work done but does not rely on the same principle to decide “who gets what or how much: salary, profit, etc”.
So, in April 2012, I decided to start a discussion at Conscires about turning the ownership of the Company to its employees. After a round of meetings, we decided that from 1st June 2012, any profit made by the Company would be shared amongst all its employees.
We are still trying to figure out how exactly the profit would be shared (equally, based on the number of hours worked, or on the complexity of the work) and it seems to be something that the team is uncomfortable at deciding, as it so accustomed to the “owner” deciding for them. Whatever it is, I am sure a solution will soon emerge!
I was recently humbled by an incident that took place at our beautiful, little company, “Conscires Agile Practices”. For those who are unaware, we are a group of around 15 people who promote Agile & Scrum as a new way of approaching work. We conduct and promote trainings, webinars, and workshops in Agile & Scrum.
About four months ago, we decided to split our team of 15 individuals into two teams, with each team working exclusively on either one of the two types of classes we offer. Two months later, I decided to become a member of just one of those teams and to detach myself from the work of the other team. The primary reason for this decision was to practice what I preach during coaching and training: be a part of just one team, so that you can be better committed towards your work. Another reason was because I thought it would be best for each team to figure out how they would run the business for itself, rather than being directed by a manager/supervisor and thereby inadvertently creating dependency in the long run.
Let me tell you about an incident that that took place in the team that I had distanced myself from, which tested my faith in self-organization. Under my leadership, we were earlier having consistently full classes at a particular city. However, after I had stepped out of the team, there were only six registrants a few days before a class in that same city. Understandably worried, I had a discussion with a particular team member, without revealing my opinion that the team was not getting its act together and yet hinting that better marketing strategies would have yielded higher enrollment. I must admit that although I thought I believed in the power of self-organization, a part of me was also waiting for validation of my lack of faith in it (How bad is that!).
To make a long story short, the team employed aggressive marketing strategies and concerted efforts in the last five days before the training, which led to a total of 16 registrants! This is yet another case where I am happy to have been in the wrong!
Self-organization truly works; people can indeed work together without being supervised. It leads to the creation of work environments where EVERYONE is in-charge, irrespective of the race, hierarchy, or physical location of the team members.
I am humbled and grateful for the experience that I had and I am so glad that I didn’t call a meeting with the team when I doubted them. FYI, I am no longer sceptical about their abilities; who am I to doubt those people anyway! Thanks Indu, Edith, Jeena, and Vanessa for teaching me an invaluable lesson…one that I thought I already knew! I now know that humility, faith, and trust in others come from letting them be self-organized!
One of the most common problems often seen in organizations is incomplete (or the lack of effective) communication. Everyone knows the problem exists, but it is permanently in a “there is this communication problem we need to fix ASAP” mode. The ASAP just never arrives.
The team does not report issues in time, the higher management does not inform changes or decisions or changed decisions in time.
The management thinks, if there’s a problem the team will let us know, and never asks.
The team thinks, if there’s a change, the management will let us know, and never asks.
The management assumes the team knew about the changes.
The team assumes the management knew about the issues.
Everyone tries to do their best without causing inconvenience to others, but, with competing priorities, many fail to understand how their actions (or lack thereof) impact others. More often than not, a project manager, or someone in a similar position, is the scapegoat torn between not knowing the decisions and having to answer the team. At the last moment, all are in different pages of a vast book called Miscommunication.
The whole project topples.
No software or tool can fix this issue. Only transparent communication can. A solution often wrongly followed is to hire a “communicator” to bridge the gap.
The simplest and most effective solution is to provide opportunities for open conversation. The Agile way of working recommends regular meetings of the team and stakeholders to discuss ‘What worked well’ and ‘what didn’t work well’ – this will help bring issues out into the open, and explore potential solutions. These meetings, if conducted well, gives everyone a chance to speak up; thus ensuring that everything relevant gets communicated between them. If communication gaps do exist, they are brought to everyone’s notice.
Once the team starts meeting regularly, they will understand the impact of lack of communication and be inspired to take corrective action.
Do not wait for the gaps to occur – Get the team to talk regularly and sort out potential issues!