Niko-Niko – The Emotional Calendar

When I saw Niko-Niko recently in the management 3.0 practices, it reminded me of the emotional seismograph I do during release retrospective. I will explain more on the emotional seismograph later, but the Niko-Niko looked like an amazing way to constantly capture the mood of the people.

The practice is very simple where a person while leaving office tells the mood he/she is leaving with. Either the whole teams do it together describing the mood in few words if possible, or worse case you just mark it in the public visible calendar. Some people use colors, others just update the box with smiley. This time I gave them the choice to choose colors.

The intent is very clear; we want to know the emotional sentiment of the team as they work. Scrum Teams work as a team which rallies around work or in a typical sprint around the goal, and a team having team members unhappy some days in a row is alarming. While I often tell managers not to challenge people on why they are happy, I tell them to look at trends or the patterns.

While introducing the technique 1 challenge I faced was some people telling to remove the names. I’ve removed the names in the image for Confidentiality, but if you see on the left names are written for each person inside the scrum team (I do it scrum team wise, but actually can be done at any level). The thing I explain people is that if I feel that people telling how their day went can’t be public, there is another issue which needs to be solved. It means people are not safe. Safety is a bigger issue to address. If my teams are not safe to reveal this, I’ll have that issue resolved first, because psychological safety is priority for me. So I’m always able to convince people that let there be names, because people feel safe, and if they are not, then that team needs attention from a different perspective.

One day before sprint end, probably everyone is busy, and expecting a good day is tough, and same way the second day of the sprint is probably good for everyone. Again, these observations might be wrong generalizations and I believe data should speak for itself. Again, this data is so unique with each team, and with everyone. You don’t get to hear a story or a reason, but then the objective data is enough to identify if the team is in stress, or if an employee is feeling too bad.

The patterns are often useful in 1-1 conversations or even tea conversations. I’ve even seen team mates talk to each other, what happened dude, you are having bad days every day. And it’s good because as human beings it’s good that we try to be happy, but it also makes sense for us to show empathy if someone else is not.

I take the monthly data and try to get patterns and share that with leadership. A Team recently was stretching a lot, and I could see constant full team bad moods, and while talking to some folks, I could easily figure it out. I gave the feedback to them to slow down. Again, the idea is to get inference and do something on inference. It should have some intent and purpose attached.

Often a blank sheet gives more noise.

In same way the emotional seismograph Is what I do at every release retrospective, where I make a line graph, plotting a sad and happy smiley on y axis, and then on x axis either keeping sprints or months (depending on size of release). I start the release retrospective using this, where I tell people to draw points and hence connect points to get a line showing how their release went from a team perspective. It solves multiple purpose, firstly I tell them that while you are drawing your line, think about all the sprints, kind of self-reflect because it is a release retro and they need to think about the entire release. It also shows the emotional quotient of the team. If you see in middle of the release the line going to sad for majority, something happened. If the ending of the release was ending for everyone at a low, something bad happened in the end. And intent is for people to get these points in their mind for the next activities. Again, I’ve done this at least 40 times, and every time it teaches me things.

The Human sentiments is a powerful thing not because humans are sensitive, but because the sensitivity drives the passion, the behaviors and they tell how we will work. A happy employee is what everyone wants, but we need to know if they are unhappy and act accordingly.

Happiness is a big thing.

If you want to learn more about Niko-Niko calendar, you can look at the management 3.0 page here on the same.

Moving Motivators and how the motivators Move

What motivates you in life is important, and you knowing what motivates you is more important. Often, it’s like the things which makes you happy, while there may be others which really don’t matter much in life.

Whenever people ask this question what motivates you, trust me money comes in mind the first for most of the people. You might not say it as it doesn’t look good, but yes, money does motivate. Is it the only thing, a big NO.

There is a famous Dan Pink video which shows that at some point, giving more money works the other way, which is surprising but true. Money motivates till money is a factor on the table, once you take it off the table, there are many other things. And then it cites some examples like development of Linux where people made it for free, but the motivation was very high. They had their jobs but developed a free operating system. Big motivations often come from passion people have.

Coming to the IT world, I remember my initial discussions with a mentor asking me what motivates me. For me it’s probably been Mastery and my goal. But again, motivators are not constant. What motivates me today, might not motivate me when I become CEO.

Coming to Management 3.0 “Moving Motivators”; When I introduce the game, I often see people getting confused with the images and the text of the cards we distribute (You can see in the image). I tell them not to worry because every individual has his own interpretation of an image or some text. Something like Power might mean that I can control things around; for someone it could be that he has authority to take decisions and for someone could mean being a CEO. So, the words and their meanings are not important, but it’s the underlying story which is important.

I start by telling people to order the motivators from left to right thinking about their whole life keeping the left most which is least significant motivator to the right most telling the most significant one. I pair them up and let them describe in groups how the motivators motivate them in real life. Then I tell them to think about last quarter and move 2 cards up which are high motivators currently and 2 down which are least. I’ve seen some of their high motivators go down, which is interesting. Imagine something is a high motivator for me in life, but in the last quarter it was my least motivating thing. Some powerful stuff.

In one variation, I again make pairs and let them tell stories in the room to everyone. In another variation, I make triads, and tell them to get me a real-life story of how they show that the motivator is a big motivator for them.

One thing I realized in time is how they take this back and use it, so post 2 initial such sessions, I introduced a section where I ask them (not me telling because I was doing this initially) on how they can use this information for themselves or others. It’s like first telling I can use my motivator in such way, and then they are telling about a friend “Now that I know his motivator is xyz, I can do abc”. And this is very effective, because it tells how they can really use it. Makes them understand it very well. I’ve seen people take notes which doing this.  

I remember in one of my leadership trainings in GE, there was this activity on StrenghFinder (there was a book as well). The book explained well how finding your strengths and using them to your benefit is important. This runs for me on similar lines.

Again, the more I do this and hear stories, I realize how motivators are so important for people, and I see people going beyond the call of duty to really work hard if they are given their motivators. For example I saw one of the guy had acceptance as  a motivator, and people around used to constantly doubt him, post the session we saw people giving him the right acceptance, and showing some level of trust, which made him work harder and it was a win-win situation where the team was happy to see him perform well and he was happy to get the acceptance from the team he wanted.

Would recommend this activity for any team and especially new managers to play with their team, or team plays with themselves too. It makes you open with the team, and the story-telling makes it very powerful.

If you want to learn more about Moving Motivators, you can look at the management 3.0 page here on the same.

KUDOS Wall with KUDO cards

What is a Kudo? As told by Management 3.0:

  • “A Kudo is not just given from the top down, but peer-to-peer and bottom-up. Across departments and organizations, anyone can recognize someone else’s work. It’s a way to break down hierarchical limitations and to encourage everyone to offer instant positive feedback.”

Sometimes waiting for a production release to finish to give a reward is not sustainable, maybe the employee doesn’t get motivated to live by the time the release goes out. Traditional managers often use this type of extrinsic motivation (money, grades) when they want people to work harder, longer or more effectively. This is dangerous and often kills intrinsic motivation. While failing to pay your employees on time is a sure demotivation, today’s workers are more motivated by internal motivators. This means that when they do good, they want to be motivated then, they can’t wait for the outcome to get the reward.

A kudo wall is a public wall which is visible to everyone where people can walk up, take KUDO card (of the 8 types of card: “Great Job”, “Thank You!”, “Many Thanks!”, “Well Done”, “Very Happy”, “Proud!”, “Totally awesome”, “Congratulations” ) write a note, and then stick the Card on the wall. Now anyone walking by can see the card. So, the person whose name is on the card gets the motivated. It creates a proudness factor, and it is an immediate recognition for the work done. I’ve seen teams getting Kudo for Excellent Demo. I’ve seen people get Kudo when they gave KT which was good. I’ve seen people still give appreciations on outcomes like a release. But then the best part being that anyone and everyone can give a Kudo.

While the concept is very simple and straight forward, some people do feel afraid at times to appreciate people and for that we need to ensure that an environment of psychological safety is maintained in the team and people are free to appreciate others at free will.

KUDOS as a concept has been very beneficial when it comes from a senior person, I’ve seen people feel happy and satisfied to read their names on the wall. Sometimes putting that on the board is like announcing in public, which is so good for the intrinsic motivation of employees.

My experience with KUDOS also involved convincing the management to approve this, since I wanted this to be common for my whole portfolio, and the challenge I faced was that: “is this really going to help?” or “what if people start giving kudos to each other and dilute the concept?”. Often public recognition is what employees needs but is rare. I had to explain them about the need of intrinsic motivation and how the wall helps the management to give a tool for instant appreciation for employees even for the smaller things which they feel should happen. Something like a technical session given, something like a person solving a typical production issue, we need those people to be known of the good things.

KUDOS concept at my company spread to some other teams. Whoever saw the wall was like wow, and then I saw some people talking to me to help them create the wall as well. And I felt the motivation factor is a big win for anyone and everyone, because after all it’s all employees feeling happy, engaged and motivated, and everyone around wants that.

I also saw teams submitting the KUDOS cards on emails to the global audience, at some point of time I even saw some people giving it for our Global TV telecast, making the kudos visible globally. Who doesn’t like their name on the Kudo, everyone does!

I started this with my team and 3 other teams got motivated, and I’m sure this will grow as I move along in life, because every manager wants to make teams happy and happier and make the motivation factor always high.

If you want to start this in your team, the kudos card pdf is available for free at the management 3.0 site here. And in advance a big KUDOS from me to start this at your office 😊

If you want to learn more about KUDOS cards, you can look at the management 3.0 page here on the same.

The Power of Improv and Story Telling

While we do a lot of things in our lives daily, the interesting fact is that our life is nothing but a combination of various stories. Some might be good, some might be bad. Some we realize later, some sooner and while all the stories revolve around us, we tend to keep moving on. On a reflection these stories are important to connect the dots. If you heard the famous speech by Steve Jobs, it tells how connect the dots backwards it all makes sense, and how important that it.

Story telling started in my life early in various forms, but with improv from m3.0 it was another flavor. I’ve tried the m3.0 improv cards with teams for retrospective, and then with leaders for their views, and lately with kids to take their feedback.

Let me start with the most common way I’ve done this which is in the sprint retrospective. Like any other retrospective, the main purpose is to collect what went well and what could be improved. Only that this time I lay down a pack of cards. In one variation I hide the images, so that it can be a random image which the person gets whereas sometimes I just lay down all the cards (like you see in image) and seeing the image the person tells 1 thing which he/she thinks went well or can be improved.

One Interesting aspect is where I feel that each image has a different perception amongst everyone, and so I never let them help each other. I just tell them to use their own imagination and think what it is. Because the image is not that important, as the story linked to the image. While some people have a story in mind and just link the image to the story, others create the story with the image (which is the interesting one).

Often when you do storytelling, you remove the persona’s out of the picture, and you just narrate the whole incident as a story, which makes it valuable, non-offensive and very open like a fact. The facilitator often notes the output of the story, and then we discuss on the story if needed.

The images are cool, so you see people smiling and thinking at times. Other times, they complain that they don’t understand the image, but again I tell them to use their creative minds.

While we go along the room, we suddenly see people being more energetic and active. The improv cards have that effect on people who start realizing that they can tell a story with the good/bad without it looking like a blame or a cry which is brilliant. It’s like a superpower at times which is funny but true.

So, we go across the room and the facilitator takes public notes, hence discussing actions.

Another way I did once was the team to lead the activity, and they themselves making the notes, hence self-organizing on what was important.

Another variation I tried was “A day in the sprint” way, where I tell people to tell a story of a day in the sprint where 1 thing good or 1 thing bad or a combination happened. It could 1 good from one day and 1 bad from one day, but it should be 1 story.

I tell them at times to pick multiple cards too, if it helps them. Again, the power lies in the story.

With the leadership team, when I use the cards, it’s mainly for their views/feedback/observation, like let’s discuss about this team, and while people like to keep silent, the improv gives them voice and suddenly we see stories.

A small number of people have problem seeing the cards and telling stories, but I give them time. I feel a kid inside a person always lives who knows how to stich a story which is so important.

Leaders often are vocal, but the story again makes it more factual, and it’s to draw points from stories in my experience.

Another variation I did recently was with bunch of kids. Here is how I went about with them:

I distributed six improv cards to each kid. All of them were wondering what the heck was this? They were thoroughly amused looking at the strange images. The idea was for them to use the images and tell things about their life looking at what has happened.

I emphasized on the fact that sometimes in life, we need to seriously reflect on what all we are doing, what is done and where are we headed. The emotions and facts that surface during self-reflection is a powerful thing. I’ve sat with people talking about this and seen them sometimes ending in tears, but always emerging with a clearer sense of where they may want to go from there. So, we started the activity with instruction to use a minimum of three out of six cards and narrate a story from their lives. In parallel we created a word cloud from what came as stories (you can see in the images).

With something as simple as this, the topics which emerged like gender, society, aspirations, dreams, parents were quite powerful, and I felt the session went way beyond what I had initially thought of. While some reflections were tough for me as a person to digest, others were good to hear. We don’t realize in life that when we keep the problem or state the problem, we are in a way seeing the problem in absolute starkness. We see it from a different perspective, and again this is necessary. The word cloud was simply illuminating compared to some of the other sessions I’ve done before.

Lastly, I’ve also done improv using Story Cubes. You can read about them here.

Again, for me all the 3 set of people (Scrum Teams/Leaders/Kids) had unique experiences with Improv, but I can always see the kid stitching the story and I feel very good when I listen to through insightful stories. I think this art of storytelling makes this practice of m3.0 very powerful.

If you want to learn more about improv cards, you can look at the management 3.0 page here on the same.

Lean concepts in Scrum

Some Lean Core Concepts are : Pulling, Kaizen – Continuous Improvement, Even flow, Limiting WIP, Reducing batch size , Team Work

As per me all the Lean concepts are applicable to Scrum. Let’s look how they are applied:

  • Pulling – At the time of sprint planning we pull stories from the Product Backlog, and we pull what we can deliver inside the sprint boundary. The pull is done by the full team in mutual agreement. We often tell to pull less than more, because if we are left with time we can still pull again if needed, but a push is not good. Often new teams are told to plan very less to ensure that there is less push.
  • Kaizen – The Sprint Retrospective is one event in the Scrum Guide where the team thinks about how things went and how to improve. This is not the only place to improve, in the daily scrum also the team see’s their progress and how it is going and often seeks new ways to improve from where it is. For example, if a person has an unplanned leave the team sees how it can rally to meet the team goal. Kaizen is a very essential core element of Scrum I feel.
  • Even Flow – Every n week (2 weeks for some teams), the team pulls work of x story points and do that. Teams take less initially and grow more to find their average velocity. With time the maturity increase, and velocity might or might not increase. But the team keeps sprinting, there is no hardening/Sprint 0 as Scrum/Agile believes in Quality delivery so while sprinting they keep burning story points continuously.
  • Limiting WIP – It can be done by limiting # of user stories ongoing at any time in a sprint to 2, which “forces” team to collaborate, and focus on completion. It is quite powerful.
  • Reducing Batch size – When a new scrum team starts, I’ve seen team say let’s take sprint of 4 weeks and initially I don’t say no. But while time passes, we see how to reduce the size of the sprint to 2 weeks. The main reason of reducing boundary is ensure that the team can Dev/Qa/Validate all in a short span and they can really improve/inspect for that short time. The shorter the duration the easier it is to see failure too.
  • Team Work – This is a very much needed in Scrum. The team rallies towards the sprint goal together, the Scrum Team is important to have good team work rhythm to ensure that they rally with each other to reach the desired goal. Apart from this the team members constantly help with scrum roles, like PO defines initial requirements, the Dev/QA confirms the requirement, then the Dev finishes coding, QA does validation, in all this work a lot of team work is needed for smooth transfer and create less waste.