Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Six Positive Expressions To Say When You Have a New Challenging Task

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Learning how to thrive when we have new assignments, projects or tasks, or perhaps a new job, can become very daunting. This is especially true when the task we are about to embark on is challenging by nature and will require a lot of our energy.
However, research shows that most of us stay engaged and motivated when we constantly try new things at work, particularly the type of things that increasingly add more complexity to the job that we do. These tasks continually push our knowledge to the limits and beyond, propelling us to learn more, maybe becoming more effective, creative and innovative.
But how to really stay engaged and inspired when we are assigned a new challenging task? How can we ensure that we are taking the most out of it? How to maximize the opportunity for us to fully step up our professional level by successfully completing the new task?
I compiled this list of six expressions that are worth repeating to ourselves every time that we set out on a new challenging endeavor. They will help us stay focus, energized, inspired and, most importantly, confident in our current or potential abilities to successfully complete our duty:

1. “I can do it”

Most of the times, when we are assigned a new task in our workplaces, it’s because our leaders see the potential in us to do it, and do it well. “I can do it” is a positive self-reinforcement that we can potentially succeed in completing the assigned task. “I can do it” doesn’t necessarily mean that we currently have the know-how. Instead, it means that we will get it done by learning how to do it.

2. “I will learn how to do it”

Research shows that people tend to think and verbalize their current inability or lack of knowledge to engage in a specific task. This is especially true when people are about to apply for a job and they don’t have 100% of the skills for that job. In those cases, they think “I’m not good enough for this job” or “I don’t have the talents or the skills to do it” (this is particularly true for women, as shown in the research in “The Confidence Code”).
Well, we got to get all that BS out of our minds and change our mental negative story for a more positive one. Succeeding in new tasks has never been about knowing from the onset how to do it or solve the problems that will arise. Instead, it has always been about our capacity to learn quickly and move on. “I will learn how to do it” is just too powerful, because it brings up the positive energy that makes us think about what is possible, regardless of the current state of our knowledge.

3. “I will seek help”

Seeking help and support when engaging in a new challenging task is paramount for success. It’s very unfortunate that many people think that seeking help is synonym of less self-worth or, even worse, that that will send the message that “I’m not fit to accomplish the task”. On the contrary, seeking help is perhaps one of the most sublime ways to open the doors for collaboration, teamwork and new ideas that will eventually impact the realization of the task at hand. Never hesitate in seeking help.

4. “If I fail, I’ll get up, learn and move on”

Og Mandino said “just as any gem is polished by friction, I am certain to become more valuable through this day’s adversities”. Failing is not a mandatory preamble for success. However, I don’t really know anybody who hasn’t failed at least a tiny bit in the quest to achieve their dreams and goals. Engaging in a new challenging task is daunting, especially because of the fear of potential small or big failures. Rest assured that the road will always be bumpy.
However, we will increase our knowledge and value as long as we learn from the adversities and move on. We shouldn’t dwell in failures (neither in successes). Just learn as quickly as we can and apply our brand new knowledge in the next step to accomplish our task.

5. “I will get the most of out of this experience”

Sometimes we like the new challenging task, and some other times we hate it. It doesn’t really matter whether we love or hate the task in itself. What we have to do is think about how that specific experience will make us better, more valuable. We have to learn how to love the idea that any task in which we engage will always leave a legacy in us. And that legacy will make us better, because it will give us more tools and preparedness for whatever comes after.
I really think that as we progress in our professional life things continually get more complex. And it is because of our previous experiences that we are shaped to strongly face whatever comes next. Never miss or waste the opportunity to get your hands in a new task, because it will for sure make you better.

6. “If I succeed, I’ll be humble about it and use my knowledge for the next level”

Finally, when we successfully accomplish a complex task it is fundamental to celebrate our success. It is the medium for self-inspiration. Celebration is our pat in the back, but it should never come with arrogance. Accomplishing a task is not about winning a competition, but about winning the race against our previous self. Our new self knows more now and is well-prepared for what comes next. Let’s be humble about our successes, and yet celebrate them as an important life milestone. Then, let’s keep in our minds how the experience made us better and what to use for the next task.

Why Trust Is Essential For Success in the Workplace

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Imagine that you're assigned to a new project with a new team, but you know from the onset that there’s not enough trust among your team members. What do you think would be the overall impact of the lack of trust on the team's performance?
Perhaps, and most likely, the impact would be quite significant. Lack of trust will mess up with the potential for effective communication, collaboration, effectiveness, information and knowledge sharing, the quality of the decisions made and, ultimately, the successful accomplishment of the project at hand.
Such a scenario is not a made up case. It actually happens every day, among many teams in hundreds of organizations around the world.
Trust is essential for success in the workplace, as it is the oil that keeps the organizational machine lubricated, working smoothly and effectively. Trust is fundamental to ensure engagement, productivity and innovation.

Research says…

According to a report by the World Economic Forum, 58% of CEOs are concerned about how the lack of trust impacts their companies’ growth. In addition to that, a 2010 research by Deloitte showed that around 65% of Fortune 1000 executives think that trust is a relevant factor for voluntary employee turnover.
Trust is essential for success in the workplace, both at the individual level and at the company level. For example, when it comes to trust in the organizational leadership, research by Interaction Associates and the “Building Workplace Trust 2014/2015” report shows that 82% of the people think that trusting the boss is fundamental for effectiveness in their job. Unfortunately, more than half of the interviewees don’t trust their boss, and that number seems to be increasing year after year.
Trust is more important than ever to keep organizations relevant and sustainable, with engaged and inspired employees, and high levels of productivity and innovation. It is essential to increase the levels of trust both between leaders and people, and among colleagues.
These are some of the key ways to increase trust in the workplace:

Moving forward past the lack of trust

If you are in a position of leadership and aware of the lack of trust in your organization and the impact it has in performance, it is YOUR responsibility to begin the process and move forward past the lack of trust. Since you are admitting that there’s a problem (lack of trust) that needs to be solved, you need to begin changing the patterns that perpetuate the problem.
Below are some ideas. However, it’s useful to simply acknowledge in front of your team members that you see the problem and you are concerned about it and want to get everyone onboard to make things better. Then, you need to immediately go from talk to action.

Getting input and involving people before making decisions

One of the most critical ways to increase trust is by involving and engaging people before any important decision is made. I hope you are not one of those who think “this is my job, I get to make the decision” or “they don’t know about this topic”. That’s not going to get you too far in building trust among your colleagues, leaders or subordinates.
Going back to the example at the beginning, an important milestone in influencing a positive culture of trust would be to ask people to come together to solve problems, identify opportunities for the project, propose ideas, etc.
Usually, people are eager to get involved, but the lack of trust prevents them from participating more. They don’t want to tell their ideas to others who might not acknowledge them or give the proper credit later, or they don’t want to be shut up by their leaders. Begin by opening the communication channels and allowing people to participate.

Giving information to promote understanding

Eventually, there will come the time when a decision has to be made. After getting people’s input and analyzing all the available information and data, any decision will somehow validate some ideas and save others for later. It is fundamental to communicate with clarity and transparency why a decision is made. This promotes understanding and acceptance. Not necessarily total agreement, but at least the capacity to say “the decision was made taken into account all the input given”.
The problem in many organizations is not that people dislike a particular decision, but that they are not fully informed of why that is the decision made. Unfortunately, dislike for the process of making a decision gets confused with dislike for the authority making such decision, or the decision itself. And leadership then gets a wrong opinion on their people’s behavior as a consequence. Leaders could think “people are not engaged because they are not fully implementing the decision”. Well, perhaps the problem is about understanding and not about disagreement.
While it is true that people will disagree with some of the decisions an organization makes, having available information about the rationale behind such decisions can prove to be effective.

Creating an environment for success

Setting up your colleagues and teams for success is a basic component of trust. That means providing the tools, resources and opportunities that people need to succeed at the individual level. An organization’s success is equivalent to the success of every single individual. Therefore, ensuring that people have what they require to succeed is a hallmark in increasing trust.
Creating an environment for success doesn’t mean that people won’t fail. On the contrary, it means that they have the opportunity to learn from each experience without punishment.

Promoting safe space for risk-taking and honest mistakes/failures

If somebody doesn’t feel that risk-taking is allowed or they are afraid of being punished for making a mistake, they will never have the level of trust necessary to openly communicate whatever is happening with their work. Consequently, the impact could be catastrophic. Instead of communicating and learning from mistakes and failures, people will hide them in order to avoid punishment.
It is essential to let people know and feel that risk-taking is accepted (and necessary for effectiveness and innovation). At the same time, coach them when they make honest mistakes. The fear for failure has to be radically decreased in the work place in order to everyone to be open about what is really going in the everyday operation.

A questionnaire to subjectively assess the level of trust in your organization

These are some questions that will help you assess the levels of trust in your organization:
  1. How do people share their ideas in the workplace? Do they do it freely?
  2. What are the levels of collaboration? Does collaboration happen naturally and spontaneously or is it forced from the top leaders?
  3. What happens when somebody makes a mistake? Do they openly share what happened, the lessons learned and move on, or do they hide the situation in order to avoid punishment? Do people point fingers at others instead of taking responsibility?
  4. Is the rationale behind major decisions communicated to team members? Or are the decisions communicated without any explanation or “why” behind them?
  5. Do people have the tools necessary to successfully perform their work and succeed at their task? Are they open about what they need in order to succeed?
  6. Do people like to voluntarily participate in new projects? 

How To Manage App Developers As A Non-Technical Founder

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Seek Assistance While Hiring

If there’s one thing that should get your maximum focus, make that hiring the right people – whether it is in-house or outsourced developers.
Bad developers make bad software. And that’s the end of your mobile app business. And most entrepreneurs blame their tech team on the poor quality of the product. But, if they hired the right developers in the first place, those non-technical founders could invest their time in marketing or sales.
Whether you’re hiring an in-house team or outsourced, seek assistance. It’s tougher to hire a developer to join you if you don’t speak their language – you gain no respect and you can’t tell their level of skills.
Look into your network and get introduced to a senior technical person who could help you choose the right developers once you’ve shortlisted.
If hiring an outsourced team, whet them by their portfolio – download their recent most apps and check for design, user experience and whether the apps function well without lags or bugs. Then, ask for their three most recent customer references.
If the outsourced team engages in a meaningful discussion about your app idea and its category and offer suggestions to make it better, they’re more likely to help you build a better app.

Your App Is Only As Good As The Brief

If you expect your developers to deliver a fantastic app, you’ve got to give them an equally good brief.
Detailing of your app idea via mockups or preparing a detailed requirements brief not only helps your developers understand your expectations well, but it also helps to bring clarity to your own thoughts.
Give as detailed a brief as you can illustrate, as you don’t want your developers to draw any assumptions while developing your mobile app. Take that extra time creating a workflow, mockups or wireframes with description of your app idea before you engage with a developer.
Before the actual development begins, insist your developer creates a detailed functional specifications document to go further in depth into every workflow and functionality of your app.
You can download a sample with few pages of a functional specifications document we create at Arkenea. This will give you an idea of the level of detailing you must have for your app before the development begins.

Learn About Technology, Don’t Learn To Code

A lot of non-technical founders make the mistake of learning to code. While it certainly does no harm, and can only benefit in understanding technology better, but it does no good in the process of building a mobile app.
The reason is that the developers that would be creating your app have several years in learning to code plus several years of experience in real world building applications that have live users.
Spend some time learning about the different technology stacks at the backend, database options, web services, hosting solutions (AWS, etc) and front-end technologies rather than learning to code. You will be better informed, make better technology choices and can engage effectively with your developers.

Don’t overcompensate for lack of technical knowhow

Developers don’t like someone shadowing them and micro-managing during the development phase, especially when it comes from someone that doesn’t understand coding.
Non-technical founders tend to overcompensate their lack of technical knowhow by micro-managing development projects. Don’t be that person – as a founder of the business, there are many other areas that require your expertise and attention.
For instance, you need to prepare a marketing strategy and implementation plan for pre-launch, launch and post-launch of your app. You need to start building an audience, whether it is an email list or via Facebook group. You could be starting to build partnerships while the development is ongoing.
Keep a keen eye on the progress of the app development and play an active role in evaluating the build at each stage, continue to provide feedback and test for quality. But, don’t expect a code push and build to check every day or each week during the development process.
Development takes time and oftentimes, there isn’t much to showcase as progress that you can evaluate in terms of a build on the phone.
As a non-technical founder of several technology businesses, my advice to you is not to feel challenged because you don’t have technical knowledge or skill sets. There are many aspects of running a technology business that are equally or more valuable. Focus on those skills that you have which can make your business stand out and let developers do their job.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

5 Mistakes Every Project Manager Should Avoid

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Mistakes Every Project Manager Should Avoid

To err is human. But if you’re a project manager, erring isn’t really something you can afford to do.
Even a tiny mistake on your end could cost the organisation a lot of money, or worse still, the entire project. And if things go really bad, all your colleagues will end up losing faith in your ability to get work done.
However, you can save yourself from the perils of making serious mistakes while managing your projects. Here’s a list of common pitfalls facing project managers, and how you can avoid them tripping you up.

1. Forgetting The Team

When you launch a project, it’s imperative to identify all the stakeholders, and make sure they’re all on board with your plans.
This includes everyone who invests time and energy into the project, and is directly affected by it. If you fail to understand that every single member of your team is important, you could end up undermining, or even causing the complete failure, of your project.
Tip: Check out this article on how to engage stakeholders because your team members are stakeholders too!

2. Lack Of Communication

Would you like to see your project systematically self-destruct? All you have to do is stop talking.
If you don’t set up elementary communication channels and guidelines into place right at the beginning of the project, you can forget about results or completion. Make sure you do regular status checks, target reviews, and team temperature checks; this will keep you and the team engaged and motivated at every stage of the project.
Tip: Build out a communications plan at the beginning of your project. Don’t know where to start? Here’s a free project comms plan template.

3. Being A Robot

Yes, numbers are important, deadlines are important, and clients are important. But if that’s all you care about, you might as well just replace your heart with a battery pack.
You’re working with people, not machines; everyone has feelings, and everyone gets stressed out. Try and understand that if you act like a walking talking spreadsheet, these people aren’t really going to care about your problems (in this case, your project) either.
Tip: Your business case is important, and deadlines matter, but people are people too! Think about how you lead teams so that you show empathy, consideration and respect in your interactions.

4. Prioritising Budget Over Quality

In order to finish the project and stay within the budget, some managers make the mistake of focusing only on getting deliverables out of the way.
In the process, all quality checks are bypassed; what goes out is an end product with lower quality standards than the average fast food joint.
Tip: Plan for quality. Set your quality standards at the beginning of the project and make sure these are both communicated to the team and agreed by the end users. Then check you are on track to achieve them every so often during the project so there are no surprises. [Note from Elizabeth: Here’s my take on why quality plans aren’t all they are cut out to be.]

5. Failing To Understand Effort

Now that we’ve made it clear that deliverables aren’t just ‘things that need to be pushed out of the door’, let’s talk about something more important. Meeting deadlines and quality standards takes time and energy.
If you’re unable to ensure quality, or if you’re unable to meet deadlines because of the high quality requirements, you should be able to explain to your client why this is happening. Don’t come charging into office and start admonishing your workers about how the client is harassing you for something.
This just shows that you have no idea what your team’s capabilities are, and that you couldn’t care less about them either. Not the greatest idea, that.
Tip: Projects take effort. Involve your team in creating the estimates so that you have a better idea of what is involved. Keep the communication going in both directions so you know what they are able to deliver – and you don’t overpromise to your client.
These are just some of the few mistakes you should be wary of making when you embark on a new project and a few things you can do to stop them causing you headaches.
Just keep in mind that sometimes, whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Don’t get bogged down if a project doesn’t go as expected—use it as a learning experience, and don’t repeat the same mistakes in the next one.

Achieving Leadership Excellence: Inspiring Great Teams

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Image result for leadership

Great leaders are just ordinary people who have certain traits that set them apart — and enable them to achieve the extraordinary. Despite differences that stem from culture, gender or age, all leaders who have been a true inspiration to their teams share similar patterns of behaviour.
They lead the way. Leaders establish their minimum benchmarks of excellence, and then set out to show others how to go about achieving them. They lay out principles for others to follow, and targets that they should achieve.
They inspire and motivate. Inspirational leaders are passionate about envisioning the future, and enthuse the team to share their vision of what the organization can become. They create exciting possibilities that everyone can achieve together, working as a team.
They innovate and challenge processes. Great leaders question existing processes, and look for ways to do the same thing in a better way. They are willing to experiment, are not afraid of risks, and take failures as learning opportunities.
Leaders delegate with care. A good leader knows the strengths and weaknesses of each of his team members. By delegating tasks appropriately, and trusting the team with his ideas, he can free up his time to work on higher level tasks.
They appreciate the efforts of others. Recognition works wonders, and by acknowledging individual contributions and celebrating accomplishments, leaders make their people work twice as hard! Genuine appreciation kindles determination, and instigates teams to work with sincerity.
They build trust and foster team collaboration. Teams that work well together achieve extraordinary success. Leaders foster team trust and strengthen teams, helping each member to work with transparency and accountability.
Above all, great leaders are honest. Honesty and sincerity should be the bedrock of any successful business. By setting themselves up as an example, leaders can influence the workspace to reflect ethical behaviour as a core value.

A Simple Way to Run a Sprint Retrospective by Mike Cohn

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A Simple Way to Run a Sprint Retrospective

There are perhaps as many ways to run a retrospective as there are teams to conduct them. I want to describe my favorite way, especially because it's an approach that has stood the test of time, having worked for years with many, many teams.

The Start, Stop and Continue Retrospective

I like to conduct a sprint retrospective by asking team members what they would start, stop and continue doing. This type of meeting becomes known as a “start, stop and continue” meeting.
The start items are things a team member thinks the team should add to its process. Some examples would be:
  • Showing the software to customers early
  • Specifying acceptance tests early and with customers
  • Doing code inspections
  • Being on time for daily standups
  • Finishing one story before starting the next
Items on the stop list are things that someone on the team thinks are inefficient or are wasting time. The team should stop doing these. Examples from past retrospectives include:
  • Checking in code without being sure all tests will pass
  • Taking more than 15 minutes for daily scrum meetings
  • Skipping product backlog refinement meetings when we’re feeling behind at the end of a sprint
The continue list contains items the team would like to continue to emphasize but that are not yet habits. So any of the start or stop items above could go onto the continue list and stay there for a few sprints.
Eventually--once the item became a habit--it would be removed from the continue list. Otherwise, the continue would become tremendously long.

Ask for Items in Different Ways

A ScrumMaster can ask team members for items in different ways. The easiest is just to say, “Yell them out,” and team members are free to intersperse start items with stops and continues. This is my default mode.
But, it can get repetitious sprint after sprint. So, I’ll mix things up and sometimes I’ll go around the room asking each person to give me one item, perhaps making two passes around the room before opening it up for additional items.
Other times, I’ll want to emphasize a specific type of item--often the stops. So I’ll ask all team members to yell out nothing but things to stop doing. Or, I’ll combine approaches and go person-by-person around the room asking each to identify one thing to stop in the team’s current process.
There are plenty of ways to mix up the idea generation in a start-stop-continue retrospective so that it will take a long time before it gets boring or repetitious.


After enough ideas have been generated, have team members vote for the most important item or items. It’s often obvious when it’s time to do this because the creativity has died down and new ideas are not coming very quickly.
The ScrumMaster can have each team member vote for the one, most important idea or can use any typical multi-voting approach. For example, give each team member three votes to allocate as they wish (including all three votes to the same items).
I like multi-voting in a retrospective. The nature of most retrospective items is that many do not really take time to do it. Many are more behavioral. Consider being on time for daily standups from the examples above. That doesn’t take any time. In fact, perhaps it saves time.
Multi-voting would allow a team to choose to work on that behavior and perhaps another couple of items. Generally, I’d pick no more than three. Even if they don’t take any (or much) time, choosing too many items does detract from the importance of those selected.
In addition to voting for new items to pursue, discuss whether items on the continue list have been achieved, are no longer important or should be otherwise removed from the list.

The Next Retrospective

In the next retrospective, I suggest the ScrumMaster bring the list of ideas generated at the previous retrospective--both the ideas chosen to be worked on and those not. These can help jump-start discussion for the next retrospective.
I tend to write them on a large sheet of paper and tape it to the wall without any fanfare or discussion. The items are just there if the team needs them or wants to refer to them. I then facilitate a new start, stop, continue discussion.

Benefits of Start, Stop and Continue

I find that conducting retrospectives this way is fast, easy, non-threatening and it works. A start, stop and continue meeting is very action-oriented. No time is spent focused on feelings. We don’t ask team members how they felt during a sprint; were they happy or sad, warm or fuzzy.
Each item generated will lead directly to a change in behavior. The team will start doing something, or they will stop doing something, or they will continue doing something until it becomes a habit.
Yes, I’m prepared for many people to leave comments saying it’s important to work through people's’ feelings first. Or that we won’t know how to act until we’ve first dealt with how people feel. Go ahead. In some cases that may be true. But in plenty of other cases, we can identify what to do (“we need to start testing sooner”) directly.
And that’s the strength of a start, stop, continue approach to sprint retrospectives.

What Do You Think?

What do you think? How do you like to run retrospectives? And specifically, is there anything you’d like to start, stop or continue about your own retrospectives?