Skip to main content

Be Proactive

I once spent an hour at a facilitated "C-level" meeting where we discussed what we could learn about leadership by considering the "Dancing Man at Sasquatch Music Festival" video.  Yes, the meeting was compulsory.  Excerpts from my meeting notes:  "Note the importance of the moment when the SECOND crazy dancer joins the first!"  "How does one man eventually become a crowd?"  "What is the tipping point?"  "What are YOUR day-to-day 'crazy dancer' moments?"  "Let's all go be crazy dancers!"

This type of meeting, along with any event in which adults need to play musical chairs or "self-organize" into groups using color-coded name tags, is what keeps Scott Adams in business with Dilbert.  If there's an important lesson to be learned from the crazy dancing guy, it's probably: "if you want your average executive to be courageously proactive, you will need to get him drunk and send him to Saskatchewan."

And yet, bucking this pragmatic wisdom, I, for one, prefer to work with proactive people.  Not glum naysayers, not snide peanut-gallery-mutterers, and especially not "assertive people" who position themselves for a promotion with no regard for their overall contribution to the business.  And also not people who go through the motions but block forward progress.

How much time do we waste every day in email conversations, meetings, and memo wars, in which there is never a problem identified, a solution proposed, or a plan agreed to?  How many times do we "follow the process" but never create anything in particular?  What did we deliver?  What value did it bring?  What did it cost to build, and what will it cost to maintain?  It's a sad, cynical world we live in.

What's the alternative?
  • Always have a plan.  You should make one up, or someone should give you one, but you need to have one.  Why are you going to do something?  What is it that you should do?  Will the plan work?  The thing you plan to do, supported by reasoning and tested by agreed-upon criteria, is your first plan.  Your plan is likely to grow from a vision to something bigger, and it is likely to "pivot," as the Lean Startup people say, but you need a plan.  If you don't have one, you are already lost, and you are certainly not in a position to be proactive.
  • Supply your own energy.  Are you an emotional black hole?  If so, it's highly unlikely that you will be a proactively contributing member of any team.  I don't care how brilliant you are--if you have to be propped up by your peers all the time, you're almost as bad as a bully.  Add energy to the gatherings you attend.  Do not subtract.
  • Have skin with variable thickness.  Sometimes it is appropriate to be sensitive to every nuance of every breath taken by everyone on your team, all day long.  That's how you notice trouble, and that's what puts you in a position to head off problems while they're still getting organized.  But sometimes it is appropriate to let a peer or a stakeholder attack you directly or in a back-ally, back-stabbing kind of way, and just shrug it off.  Know the difference, keep your balance, and remain graceful.
  • Take breaks.  Medieval medicine, while relying in a regrettable way on leeches, also considered recreation, in the form of sports or the arts, as necessary to human achievement.  The proverb was "the bow that is always strung does not shoot straight," or something like that.  If you don't relax sometimes, you will gradually wear yourself down to nothing and someone will put a leech on you.  Okay, no, that won't really happen.
My daughter worked on the kitchen staff of an immersion French camp in Minnesota this summer, and part of the staff indoctrination was to learn this cheer:  "qu'est-ce qu'il faut? DE L'ENTHOUSIASME! et de quoi encore? UN PLAN! et si on n'a pas de plan? PLUS DE L'ENTHOUSIASME! mais on devrait vraiment avoir un plan..."

If you aren't fluent in French, or have an actual fear of French as I do, she has provided this translation:
What do we need?  Enthusiasm!  What else?  A Plan!  What if we don't have a plan?  More Enthusiasm! ... But We REALLY SHOULD HAVE A PLAN.
That really sums it up for me.  Be enthusiastic, have a plan, and take yourself and your team forward. 

A plan with no heart is a waste of your time, and enthusiasm alone, while it makes for an inspiring music festival YouTube video, is just silly.  As we say in science, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate.

Popular posts from this blog

A Corporate Agile 10-point Checklist

I'm pretty sure my few remaining friends in the "small, collocated team agile" community are going to desert me after this, but I actually have a checklist of 10 things to think about if you're a product owner at a big company thinking of trying out some agile today.  Some of these might even apply to you if you're in a smaller place.  So at the risk of inciting an anti-checklist riot (I'm sorry, Pez!), I am putting this out there in case it is helpful to someone else.

Here's what you should think about:

1.Your staffing pattern.  A full agile project requires that you have the full team engaged for the whole duration of the project at the right ratios.  So as you provision the project, check to see whether you can arrange this staffing pattern.  If not, you will encounter risks because of missing people.  Concretely it means that:
a.You need your user experience people (if applicable) and your analysts at the beginning of the project, as always, b…

Requirements Traceability in Agile Software Development

One of the grim proving grounds for the would-be agile business analyst (henceforth "WBABA")  is the "traceability conversation."  Eventually, you will have to have one.  You may have seen one already.  If you haven't, you may want to half-avert your eyes as you read further.  It gets a little brutal.  But if you close them all the way, you can't read.
WBABA: in summary, we complete analysis on each story card, and then we support the developers as they build it that same iteration!Corporate Standards Guy:  but how do you do traceability in agile?  You have to have traceability.  It's broadly recognized as an important factor in building rigorous software systems. These software systems permeate our society and we must entrust them with lives of everyday people on a daily basis. [The last two sentences are an actual quotation from the Center of Excellence for Software Traceability website!] WBABA: [cowed silence]Corporate Standards …

The Agile Business Case

Many agile teams have never seen a business case, ever, and they may even be proud of it.

Our mantra is that we deliver "business value," not just "software," quicker, better, and faster, but if so, we certainly don't spend a lot of time reporting on value delivery, and in fact we may be scornful about "analysis paralysis."  As software developers, we consider ourselves to be doing quite well if we can deliver the software every two weeks (or continuously).  And this is particularly if we've enabled this frequent high-quality delivery through automated testing and automated build-and-release techniques.  We've reduced business risk by making results visible more often, and allowing the business to change direction more frequently.  We assert that along the way of course we're also delivering value.  But how would we prove it?

I've recently posited that we shouldn't even think of doing agile projects without capturing and recording s…