Did we get it done?

Whatever Works

In my twenty some odd years of working in collaborative projects I’ve encountered dozens of management theories on productivity and effective models for working. I have always tried to pull from the relevant portions of each process into my work when it brings value to the team I’m working in or leading. Initially I called my process for selecting which pieces of whatever management theory (Earned Value , Scrum, Kanban, Matrix Orgs) => “Whatever Works”.

In time I modified it to to Whatever Works Well (after having hit the shoals hard when some agile metholodies were ported poorly from one organization’s blog post to a new org)

Lately I’ve been thinking about a decision framework I’m calling Whatever Works Well Together. (adding an emphasis on that good old fashioned value of Team Work) These thoughts are hastily offered up without much production for mass consumption. Just some notes, with some proofreading provided by new dev manager team at Avvo.com. We are executing within a Matrix process that emphasizing Journey Teams, and my current thoughts are about how to best work within that framework, leverage its inherent benefits, but do it at scale, and with higher speed.

Think of Whatever Works Well Together as heuristic framework that asks and answers the following 4 questions.

[ ] Did we get it done?
[ ] Did we do the right thing?
[ ] Is everybody happy?
[ ] Could we do better?

We can abstract these to 4 organizational elements, it’s easy to see this as a system of dependencies. A simple circle can illustrate.

Work, Vision, People, Culture

Work is a job. It’s work after all. Often it’s not fun but even when it’s not, it still has to get done. It gets more fun when you have more skill. The better you get at something the more fun it becomes until it doesn’t. Then it gets boring. So you have to increase your challenges so you can increase your skill again and the work becomes fun again

Vision is the why of the what. It’s focusing on current funnel optimization instead of retention oriented features in order to help the company grow. It’s measuring your product and users and using this data to prioritize the highest impact opportunities. With Vision, work becomes meaningful and filled with purpose. The most demoralizing thing in the world is to discover that the hard work and sacrifices that you’ve made have had no impact. Nothing destroys an enterprise more than wasted and fruitless labor. Without vision we are just thrashing around in the dark. In the modern company vision must be accompanied by data and evidence. The whole point of BI and analytics is to be able to measure if the work is delivering to the vision.

People, we’ve all known people that were so skilled at their jobs and had such intuitive instincts that they could deliver amazing products and achieve business successes with no formula or process whatsoever. This can also happen in groups. Small start-ups, 10 to 20 people can achieve amazing things without ever having defined any rules or process to govern their work.

Imagine you hire only rock-stars, can you skip this section now? No. Even the best team effort can be foiled by the misalignment, or the presence of the wrong people in the wrong roles. We can say: When the right people are working on the right things magic happens. Are we done yet? No. If you’re lucky enough to have the best people as individuals, they must function well as a team. If the group isn’t healthy and happy then any investments (adding team members) in development efforts will only slow down the work. Let’s assume you treat your teams well, provide them with career options, and lead them towards meaningful and productive work, can we say we’re done with this yet? No. When healthy, happy, skilled, visionary people do not have enough autonomy — they will perform poorly, and they won’t likely remain happy and healthy for very long

An inclusive, supportive, welcoming, and nurturing workplace that enables and relies upon autonomy, alignment and accountability is essential for the health of a team and the organization as a whole. There are no unhappy players on a team that has just won the championship. If we want to win, people need to be happy, healthy, and motivated to work autonomously in alignment towards a common vision for which we are all accountable. Simple Right?

Culture is just the transmission of values and experience. Culture is the way to institutionalize success (or failure). The work will not always be good or on time, the vision will not always be right and the people will not always be at their best. In order to change, adapt and improve, an organization must have a healthy culture that invites new ideas, encourages lessons to be learned and the organization can adapt. It is culture that completes the circle and allows the work to be executed according to a commonly understood vision with happy productive people who are improving and achieving amazing things.

Notice there is no Process in this circle. I’ve seen this cycle work with absolutely no process. We all have, small teams come together all the time to get the right thing done with happy people repeatedly with no rule book or instructions. Sometimes prescribing a process helps, even surgeons use checklists to ensure they don’t make tragic avoidable mistakes. Process is most useful when there are many competing, interdependent and complicated pieces because it is a formalization of effective communication. When processes work well, every things is working, but when they are too heavy they introduce waste and cost more than they add value.

You might mistakenly use P for process in the circle above, but any organization that intends to scale in a cost efficient and urgent manner needs autonomy and top-down process in the driver seat is a poor alternative to having the right people in the right place working in the right conditions. So if not prescribed process then what?

Effective Communication is always listed when successful organizations describe what worked well for them. While not mutually exclusive (process and communication), ongoing and effective communication is the reason that process works. It is the glue for all other efforts in improvement. It’s a cultural value and it requires effort and discipline to achieve and maintain.

The teams that work well with little process almost always have effective communication. They are aligned
In order to

✅ Get it done — Work 👷

✅ Do the right thing — Vision 👁

✅ Make everyone happy — People 😁

✅ Do it better next time — Culture 📲

there must be open and effective communication. To keep doing this loop means transmitting and socializing your experiences and values and requires effective communication.

It’s easy enough to say a company values effective communication, but what does it look like in the wild. I can’t tell you how to achieve it, but I know it when I see it, and it almost always has these three characteristics: Trust, Mutual respect, And a hunger to do better, together

Organization Scalability

A final thought, to scale all of this requires varying measures of autonomy, alignment, accountability in the organization as a whole. Engineering, Product, Marketing, Sales, Data & Analytics, Operations, Human Resources, or any department you may have in your company must all function with a hunger to get the right thing done, with happy productive people who can repeat and improve the process. Sounds easy right? Jusk ask yourself:

✅ Did we get it done ? — Work 👷

✅ Did we do the right thing? — Vision 👁

✅ Is everybody happy? — People 😁

✅ Could we do it better? — Culture 📲

Of course we got it wrong


the internet was always going to be disruptive

Maybe we should listen to Alan Watts a little more.

kindly let me help you or your ill drown, said the Monkey, putting the fish up a tree

Of course we got it wrong. That’s pretty much the default outcome. It’s how evolution works. The danger is in refusing to recognize when it’s been gotten wrong and simply continuing down the same paths that lead us to ruination and displeasure.