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Career, Customers, Entrepeneurship, IT is business, Practical examples

Two main errors your agile project may have right now and how to solve them

March 12, 2020

Doing agile for software development is way beyond leaving the heavy documentation behind and produce more. According to an HBR study of 2018, 25% of enterprise companies are already using agile and 55% are in the process of doing the same. The data doesn’t lie: the masters of DevOps and Agile grow and are 60% more profitable than the rest. Agile brings many benefits, but it also brings new challenges built-in. The single point of adopting agile is already a major challenge. But after them, new challenges are still there and you might not have noted them.

1st – Involuntary blindness from POs

A day in the skin of a PO (Product Owner) is tough. They own the product! And are responsible for its evolution. Basically they are responsible for translating the company’s macro strategy for that product into the actual final product. It sounds pretty simple, but this process is where commonly things get fuzzy. A PO also:

  • Solves questions from the development team on their tasks;
  • Keeps feeding the backlog;
  • Helps the Scrum masters with decisions for prioritization;
  • Eventually, changes prioritization and delivery plans because of special requests from the management;
  • Monitors metrics of the product;
  • Is responsible for meetings with high management to discuss the metrics she’s been monitoring;

Many of the items above would require a person full time working to fulfill it successfully. But given this load of work, the PO often leaves behind one important thing: hearing what the market is saying and still staying aligned with the macro strategy. By that I mean the PO frequently doesn’t have time to think, judge and decide appropriately after a new demand came from a BA (Business Analyst) or high management. Due to lack of time, she leaves behind the most important task of his job, which is enhancing the product. Let’s go over one example to better illustrate:

A page never used in a hotel website

Years ago I was the SM (Scrum Master) leading a team developing a hotel website. I remember as if it was today. We had a big deliver at the end of 3 months and in the last week, my PO brought me the news that we missed one important page to showcase the hotel’s partnership with an entertainment channel. Guess what? We worked several hours more than planned and delivered just a small part of that page. Also kept working on the same page even after the deadline. We released the final page a few weeks later, and I was checking Google Analytics. I found out that that page had less than 5 percent of the website visits.

The summary: we spent at least one entire month of work on a page that less than 5% of our target public was actually interested in. We wasted one month of money for a team with 4 dedicated people. There was no regulatory thing and no contract binding forcing them to have that page live. It was just a request from a board member. In that situation, the PO SHOULD have argued about not doing that and going for the e-commerce system as a priority. This was actually something the users were asking strongly.

But why did the PO let it stay that way? The answer: she didn’t know that page was about so few accesses. She was so dived into the deadline and reports and monitors and tests that she just accepted the request without questioning it. If she had had time to think about it, with the appropriate information from her BAs, she would have taken a better decision.

2nd – Deficient hands-off of tasks from the PO/BAs to the delivery team

The second thing that often breaks plans is when the planning meeting is already going on and the technical team finds out a task is much bigger than the PO/BAs thought at first. When the PO is defining the next tasks for the backlog, she must be well aligned with the software architects. When a major feature (an epic) comes to the table, the technical team has to adapt the software to develop that new task accordingly. Let’s go over one more example:

The “just one more report”

This one happened during a project for one company in the manufacturing industry. The software had been running for months and was stable. We were in a phase of acting over bugs, security and small features. We were also generating some reports for gathering new metrics. When the planning started, our PO explained about the task of adding more columns and creating a new report with charts. The charts were fine, but those new columns were stored in other systems which we didn’t have control over. We had to talk to people on the other software to create an API for us to consume the data, and the simple report took more than a month to be finished.

The interesting part of this example is that the report was promised to be delivered after one week and took almost 2 months. The management had to wait for the new report to take new decisions because of the important information. The change from 1 week to ~2 months created an unneeded discussion between the project team and the management. All of that wouldn’t have happened if somebody with a brief technical vision of the project was involved during the grooming/prioritization of the backlog and had properly communicated with management.

If a task much bigger comes with no previous preparation, it generates delay. The way to solve it is to have technical senior people checking the backlog periodically and being closer to strategic decisions. This way they will be able to anticipate such moves and tackle big tasks little by little.

At last

Agile is not exact sciences. You will have to find your own set of practices that will create your own agile. These are the two main challenges I found are often hidden and people don’t actively tackle them because they don’t hurt at first, but yes have side effects that can turn into a big mess. And what are your main challenges?

Career, Practical examples

6 steps for the best feedback you’ll ever give

November 19, 2019

After some years leading IT teams and dealing with many different scenarios, I’ve been refining the techniques for giving a good feedback. A good feedback session usually has just the last 4 steps written here.

But something happened last week and made me add two obvious steps that are often forgotten before the actual feedback session. Just because giving good feedback is way easier, here I present the steps to give feedback when you need to talk about behavior, a mistake, or even to have a regular talk to help somebody with their career progress.

1 – Build trust

A trustworthy environment is the base for a good feedback moment. There’s an exchange between the one who gives and the one who receives feedback. Who gives it learns and gets experience. Pretty often understands how and why things are going the way they are going, and then has the opportunity to adapt and evolve together (this is part of the leader mission btw). The one who receives the feedback is thirsty for evolution and progress on their career. Usually seeks feedback for improvement constantly. But what if they don’t trust each other? Who gives feedback gets afraid of self-exposure. Fears not being enough to make things happen and help to develop the other side. And who receives feedback easily dives into an ego that will make the suggestion for improvement sound something unreal.

The trust between the two parts is crucial. Do you have trust within your team? Is talking to each one of your team individually part of your routine? Do you enjoy to stay together? Does your team come to ask you a point of view or advice when something goes wrong? Do you back them up when things go wrong or do you expose them? Do you feel like you accomplish stuff together? If the answer is no to a few of the questions, my guess is you don’t have a trustworthy environment.

2 – Set the goal

Since now you have trust, it’s time to together plan how far, how, and why the feedback receiver wants to go. What do they aim? This is the core of what will motivate them. The side missions can be something close to the goal, but the big missions must always be something clearly pointing to the individual goal. As a leader, it’s your duty to understand even if the individual will evolve more with another leader than would with you.

The key to this step is to always have a plan to follow. There is always stuff to be improved. What are the short, mid and long term goals for the one you are giving feedback? Does the feedback make sense when compared to the goals? Once you have the macro plan, SMART activities might help people see progress happening, depending on the team you are leading.

3 – Start with a good point

Ready for the real feedback moment? Why should you start telling something good? Starting by mentioning something the individual does well is a good way to start and to create empathy. You will be showing you recognize the good job being done besides the feedback you are about to give. It will increase the chances of the feedback to be received in a positive way, deeply understood and connected with real scenarios to help you explore the subject even more than what was planned.

4 – Show the FACT

Just show the fact. What happened? Was it a bad posture during a meeting? Was it a delayed task? Did they offend a colleague? Show the problem without judging. Do not make comments about what happened. Just say what has to be said looking in the eyes. It’s something important and has to be understood as a message. Straight.

The fact cannot be something you suspect. If you are not sure, it might be unfair. If you suspect and it’s a reality in your team, just pay more attention and you will see the thing happening. Go back to step 1 and get closer to your team if you don’t see it.

It cannot be something somebody told you. If you go for this way, there’s a huge risk of creating an environment of gossip. And then you’re back to the 70’s leadership style.

5 – Show the impact

Often people who commit mistakes don’t see or don’t want to see the impact. People don’t want to be seen as they are pulling the performance down. Why was the goal, delivery or whatever compromised by the FACT?

Was the fact a lack of commitment? The impact can be the delayed delivery and a bad relationship with your client (internal or external).

Was the fact an argument during a meeting? The impact can be damage to the team relationship.

6 – Build the action plan

You can create the action plan once the fact and impact are understood. What will prevent the same thing to happen once again? What happens if the situation occurs again?

For the action plan, you have to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-framed) goals. When you will check again if the issue was solved? If it’s not solved, another feedback session will occur, but if it was solved, it’s important to note and recognize the progress made.

Avoiding problems, Career, Customers, Practical examples

Communication issues? Maybe it’s engagement issues

December 24, 2017

I started thinking on this article as my self year’s end retrospective. And I realized the biggest thing I learned during this year regards engagement.

I’ve been hearing, for years, that “80% of the projects that fail, fail because of poor communication”. That’s a sad true, but this year I realized this is an easy but messy abstraction. When you say that communication is the problem, you are hiding many serious problems, not only in your project, but also in your organization. And after that eureka moment, a new one came: people do “communicate the proper way” if they are engaged and have support to develop themselves.


Some examples
  1. We have a contract to watch an online app. It’s not very critical, but we still have SLAs to accomplish when it’s down. Then one issue comes and the person from OPS forgets to tell the customer, during the first 15 minutes, that he’s looking for a solution. Beyond that, he takes one more hour to solve the problem, than the 4h regularly expected. It will cause an argument during a meeting between the managers and everybody will finish the subject saying that they had a communication issue;
  2. We evolve a very critical solution, that deals with money, to a customer. Then the developer didn’t create the automatized test and the app breaks when goes to production. It will cause an argument during a meeting between the managers, and everybody will agree that the QA guy didn’t communicate properly to the DEV guy about the missing test.
  3. The project manager tells the project is delayed, but doesn’t tell how much it is. When something goes bad and someone ask for it, he defends himself saying he told about the delay, and had an interpretation issue because those who read didn’t understand the message he wanted to say. Then after that meeting, everybody will agree that he haven’t communicated the right way;


Why these things happen

What I learned during this year, regarding engagement, was to identify why these examples happened:

  1. The person from OPS team didn’t tell the customer he was working at the first 15 minutes, and forgot to tell he would take one more hour to solve the ticket, because he was not well empowered of its position. He doesn’t understands his position. If he forgets to tell the customer about the down time, the customer won’t be able tell the users. The users will start calling the call center, and it will generate an overhead on the call center team. So at least 10 people will have more work to do, forcing the company to pay for that extra hours, because of one missing news. The person from OPS wouldn’t have forgot to tell anyone needed if he truly understood the scenario.
  2. The second example has nothing to the QA. The responsibility affects the developer. He hadn’t created the test because he doesn’t know that every one hour of that system stopped, makes the customer to loose US$ 10.000,00. Nobody, when old, will want to tell stories to their children like “hey, once I stopped the production environment, and screwed many people’s life”. So the developer was negligent about the test because he is not well empowered of its responsibilities and capabilities.
  3. The project manager will is not to hide information. He gets paid, essentially, to keep people informed. When he waits one or two months to say the project is delayed for 2 months, he doesn’t think the people from project will be needed in a next one, and it will cause a loss on the company. Since people won’t be available, the original project’s budget won’t be enough, and the whole company will spend more money to hire new people to the next one.

So if you are inside any of these examples, think on the other side as your true friend. Would you let, any of these examples to happen, if you knew how deep it would affect them?


Solving the wrong way

It’s easy to put all these problems inside one basket and label them as communication issues. Then, our technical minds will think about processes to guarantee that:

  1. The tickets system automatically send and email telling the customer we’re working to solve the issue;
  2. We will create an integration between the task acceptance tool and the code repository to check if all the tasks have at least one test designed;
  3. The project manager will always present the status report having the customer on it’s side, so no information will be missed again;

The suggestions above are not wrong and shouldn’t be faced as something to be avoided. But they must be the last alternative. They are all mending to lack of people engagement.


Solving the right way: build together

People tend to be good. When you share the right way their responsibilities and how their activities affect each other, they will feel inside the group and will always try to help everybody. So why not asking each one of the actors of these examples how they would solve the problem? Present the problem, tell everything that happened because of their behavior. How to solve? This is the most difficult part. Probably the first thing coming from them won’t be the perfect solution or the solution you thought. Then it’s time for to show a better solution and check if it makes sense to those who will put it in practice. A mix of the ideias can be a good start.

And now we talk about people’s maturity to solve problems:

  • If they are junior people with good potential, just letting them to know their responsibilities can solve the problem. They have good intentions! They won’t forget to tell anybody the next time about what’s happening;
  • If they are overwhelmed, you will advice about looking for self management tools. And also will help them to focus on what is important and not getting overwhelmed again;
  • If you realize its needed, why not using one of the process solutions described above as the wrong way? Take care because if must make sense to everybody affected. It depends on people maturity to not feel pushed;


The main goal is to look for a mindset of empowering and networks, as described on the image below:


Always have next steps

Once I was invited to join a retrospective. The goal was to help a team with an external vision so they could improve their processes. The first thing I asked was where the “next steps” of the previous retrospective were. For my surprise they weren’t.

Always keep track of goals and results. It gives you sense of improvement, and if it doesn’t it will be clear to find where new mistakes were made. Have a periodic checkpoint with each one of the scenarios above until it fits a track where the problems don’t happen again.

After that, when you have the whole solution, you will be able to share your good practice to other teams around you:

  • What happened; Why happened; When happened;
  • What did you do to solve it, what were the first trials, and what actually solved it?
  • What did you learn from it? Next steps;
Career, Entrepeneurship

Opportunities and how to get prepared to them

November 26, 2017

I’ve already wrote a very wide and generic article about career talking about guidelines and macro objectives. Then the self-retrospectives and motivation check came to help you to keep on the track. But even if you accomplish all of your own objectives as a master, if your goal is a promotion or a new position in your company, you will need an opportunity to grow.

Then let’s talk a bit about posture and how people will look at you while you are trying to grow, and how you will be evaluated to receive that opportunity or not.


Life objectives and your behavior

When you are planning a trip, moving to your own apartment, making a move towards that person you always have a look, you are very well motivated, right? When you talk about that stuff, you are always motivated and specially your humor is always good. So since you act like that to everything that really MATTERS to you, why don’t you apply this behavior to your career?

A research from Harvard tells that people with good humor at the work place seem more confident and competent. Your work place is not a place to make jokes during all the time, but it is a place to be optimist.

A very known cliché sentence very helpful here. You are the image people have from you, and not what’s inside your mind. It means that if you are a pessimist person, always complain, always find something to judge someone, people will end having a bad thought of you. When they think of inviting you to do something important, you can be discarded because people tend to get distance from those who just complain. Sports can be very helpful here. Serotonin is not fiction. It changes your humor and consequently how you will face the things that come to your day. If you are happy, everything will be easier. If your mood is not good, everything will start as a problem.

Being critical is an important quality, do not loose that. But when a moment of discussion come and your thought is to disagree, try to realize if you are disagreeing because there is a real problem or because you are putting a barrier to that subject by yourself. You won’t win all the fights, so pick up and win the important ones. For the rest, to try improve them as much as you can with your ideas.


Be consistent

Nobody likes people who always change their mind. It causes the impression of untrustworthy. So be consistent with your thoughts and don’t change your mind with the flow. Get your principles and stand with them, but you will have to know how to negotiate something different.

It doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind. Changing is good, and on labor environment it’s turning into something very valuable. But always change to a level above. That phase when people had proud and wouldn’t change their mind even if it means loosing their business is gone. When you change, it means you learned something new that made you improve your mind, and then you evolved, and then you got better.


Be prepared

The opportunities will come for those who are ready. You already have a plan to develop your knowledge (as explored here) and now you will be able to develop a plan to your own look and how people look at you.

An example of assuming an opportunity and getting prepared for the others: for sure you are a reference for someone in something in your life. You can be a leader for something trivial in your life, such as the sunday’s family barbecue. It’s you who invites everybody, picks up needed stuff, goes to kitchen and tell jokes to make everyone happy during that moment. Now imagine yourself when you are performing this activity. It’s so natural you don’t have to think about doing the next thing. Someone will admire how you do the things you do. In this case your specialty is to be a good cook. Now whenever you get into a new group of friends and the barbecue time doesn’t have a leader yet, you will have the opportunity to get there, coordinate everything and the benefit of making new friends easily.

Now why don’t you get prepared for something like that in your work? What’s your companies goals for next year? For sure there’s one you will fit inside. How can you get prepared to be a reference for some of them?


Show you are prepared

Your physical appearance means and tells a lot about you. When you see someone at the streets yelling, complaining or with a bad look in their face, you will get distance from them. So your clothes and how you talk business matter. Don’t underestimate anyone who’s around you.

Since people don’t know what’s inside your mind, you have to show what’s your will. Sharing knowledge about that specific subject you are getting prepared to receive an opportunity is a good start. Also giving speeches and being a professor, can be activities to make you turn into a reference for that something new.

You will receive an opportunity if you are well prepared to that. So try to talk to people you actually want it and to walk around people who can actually give you that.


Career, Entrepeneurship

Self-retrospectives and motivation check for career

October 9, 2017

I have already spoken a bit about retrospectives here. But that was regarding the professional environment and your office mates. Retrospectives are always a good way to keep improving anything you are discussing about. So why not retrospectives surrounding your career and yourself?

It’s not post-it talk

It’s obvious that the intention is not to follow a regular retrospective ceremony. The goal here is to check if what you planned (or even what you haven’t planned) is going well.

Let’s say you have that plan, and are able to break it down to some tasks and practices that will lead you to the big goal (which I won’t talk about right now. Just keep your own goal to yourself). Some examples:

  1. Enroll AND finish that online course – because you want a promotion;
  2. Find a sport you can get addicted – because you have pain in your back;
  3. Learning a new language – because you want to travel to Yemen and there they speak Arabic only;
  4. Forget your fears and give a speech to more than 100 people – because you want to try the academic career at least once;

You can see that I structured the sentences above as: “task” – “motivation”. Or even: “what I will do” – “what I want to achieve”.

Once you have this big tasks, let’s plan at least one thing a month you will do to move forward on this steps. Keep in your mind from now on that some tasks will require a lot of discipline to do whatever you have planned.


How did you make it happen?

After a few weeks (two weeks is a good rhythm) of work on the list, it’s time for a retrospective. You can always take a look back at what you are achieving and check if it’s the result you were looking for. Remember to keep discipline and avoid building barriers that will prevent you to do things you consider as ‘boring’.

Make your progress visual and mannual. Many researches, such as this one, say that you commit and pay more attention to things you write with your hands, than things you type with your fingers. Then put it into a place you will look at daily. The board must be ~ staring at you ~.


So let’s keep up with the track this far:

  1. Have you enrolled to the course? Or are you prioritizing other things with this money and kept telling yourself you don’t have money enough?
  2. Have you found a sport? Or are you still complaining about pain on the back, which will never go away because you don’t do sports?
  3. Have you at least downloaded Duolingo and invited that old friend, who you haven’t seen in a while but speaks arabic, to a bar? Or you kept speaking your own language avoiding contact to people who speaks the new one because you are too shy?
  4. Have you found a book about techniques to speak for big crowds? Or did you ask for a colleague to present that teamwork at the university?


Do you want the result or the barrier?

During your own retrospective, try those regular questions: 1) what went well during your last cycle? 2) What went wrong during the last cycle? 3) What else could be done? After analyzing the answers, you will find out that some of the tasks were achieved, and for some of them you managed to create a barrier.

For each one of your goals, if the answer for a question (as the examples above) were ‘the barrier’, two things may have happened: either you don’t have discipline enough yet, or maybe you created tasks too hard to achieve (you will know the right answer). The fact is that if you are not well motivated to get those tasks’ results, you will build/find yourself a barrier. Are you pretty comfortable with your current motivations? Is it challenging enough and makes you feel guts?

So if you are finding them too hard to complete, try to break it into smaller steps. If it continues to be a challenge, you can replace the goals and save those replaced for some time in the future where you have more discipline, or are more motivated to get those tasks’ results.


Remember that if you stop improving yourself and wining over the goals, the biggest chase won’t come from your girlfriend neither from your family or your boss. The biggest chase will come from yourself.


Career – how

September 16, 2017

It’s very hard to find someone who says that is satisfied with its current position at their company, or someone who doesn’t want to move forward on their career. But the majority of people just get confused on how to show their real intentions, and consequently, getting a raise or a promotion.


First of all, what’s the plan for your career?

Since everybody want to grow, they probably know where to go, right? It’s not the reality for the majority of people.

A friend of mine once told me that he had a very detailed plan to grow in their company. He works at Coke and wanted it to sell 50% more in two years. That would be great, and I guess that if he manage to achieve that, he would make huge steps to be the next cover of Forbes maybe. But the plan had no sense. He planned to create what he called Coke’s Uber, where someone would just ask for a Coke using their phone. The mistake was that he forgot it already exists and is called pizza delivery.

Do you feel like your career will be like a technical professional for the next 20 or 30 years? Then the plan may be to become a technical leader. Or do you like the customer relationship? Maybe you want to change to an administrative or commercial area and then make there your name.

It’s very important that this plan come from you, otherwise you could get frustrated in few years. If you don’t plan for yourself, other people will do, but lets say you REALLY don’t know where to start: a good starting point about this plan could be: understanding your organization needs for your current position and ask yourself: do you perform it perfectly? Is it very unusual to hear problems coming from your position? If that’s true, it’s time to think bigger. How can you make your same tasks in a much more efficient way? Where can you contribute to the organization’s big plans? You do want to be different from the rest of the team and show that you are doing even more!

Just to be very clear: the truth for all of this alternatives is that you must never stop qualifying yourself, no matter what happens.


Make it clear to your organization where you are heading to

Nothing will change if you have a great plan, but can’t practice it. First think to yourself about what is needed to start practicing your plan. Then you must be very clear to your current leaders about your intentions. Ask for a moment to talk about career and then try to understand the organization expectations with you. This is the moment where you will find a match between your plan and the organization needs. A good way to conduct this conversation: “I have this plan (the one you created before), it includes this goals, this tasks and this milestones, and I want to understand how does it fits to this organization. How can I add value here? What can I do to evolve it and evolve myself here?”. If you have good leaders will you probably get feedbacks and suggestions on your plans because of their knowledge on market and on how the organization works. They will probably help you with some advises and to map the doors where you should knock.

By doing that, the result probably will be a plan committed with you and your leader to develop yourself. Be addicted to that. If you have new responsibilities or new tasks to do besides the regular ones, it will be a challenge to find time to focus on your plan. Make it happen trying to be more efficient about your own time. Go for time management practices and set your priorities the right way. If you don’t have time to do something, it means it’s not your priority.


The magical formula

What I can get from this big text is that the magical formula to get a raise or a promotion is getting more responsibilities. If you are a good professional, you probably already have a good income and gets paid for what you do. If you want more than that, the magical formula is to contribute more and more to your organization. And here is where your plan starts.