Use the tooling to enable transparency
Use the tooling
You need visibility
Knowing the progression on a complex initiative is very important. It’s important to have both the bigger picture view and an ability to look into the detail. With the effort getting more and more complicated and organizations becoming more and more distributed, obtaining this view of your work is critical. This is where proper tooling may be very helpful.
But like with every tool, you can put it to a great use or to a disadvantage. Let’s talk about how to make it work well for your organization.
The valuable context behind the tool
First of all, you have to keep in mind that a tool shows you a distilled version of reality, but there is a lot more going on, and some of that detail can be absolutely decisive. The teams, for example, may be progressing quite well with the project but what you may not see is that they are on the verge of a burnout and when that happens the actual progression will drastically dip down. If you as leader want to be proactive, and take a full advantage of the tool, you have to couple the usage of the tool with direct observation. Occasionally, go out and talk to the teams, interact with them, hear out their concerns, see what impediments they have that you as a leader could help them remove, and so on. So, next time when you will be looking at the dashboard or specific work areas in the tool, your mind will complement that story with meaningful context. By the way, you may consider establishing regular interactions with teams, maybe it’s going to be during their larger scale planning activities every month or quarter. Or maybe you will join them at their regular problem-solving session.
Measure impact, not just effort
Besides this, keep in mind that in complex work, the effort itself is not a prerequisite of success. For instance, teams may have delivered a whole bunch of software features perfectly on time, to the customer who cannot benefit from those features because the features do not solve the customer problem. So, ask yourself next time you see some 70% progress towards a big chunk of work: is this a 70% of wasted effort or is it 70% of value. To be able to answer this, help the teams establish critical feedback loops. Such feedback loops can be frequent customer demos, more frequent, more incremental delivery to the customer, some early usage measures, maybe NPS score from the customer, and so on. And by the way, for all of this to work, the organization must ensure that they split the work into incremental slices of value, so that those early demos and early deliverables would contain some actual functionality and would elicit really meaningful feedback.
How to ensure objective data
Lastly, a tool is not just for leaders like you. It’s for everyone in the organization. If teams don’t understand why they keep their data in the tool, or maybe feel unsafe exposing some of the data points, what you will see is a distorted picture of reality. So, it is your task as a leader to ensure that the teams have a fair degree of psychological safety behind using the tool. Make sure you are using the tool to provide positive encouragement to teams, to partner with them and help them with problem solving and removal of crucial impediments. At all cost avoid making individual performance assessments based on the data in the tool, because then you will get the data that measures well as opposed to the data that actually is. And when people feel safe as a result of productive partnership with you as a leader, the tool will reflect relevant data and you will be making informed decisions.
Do you have a tool that serves your needs? Do you have the right enablers in place, as described in this article? Answering these questions will likely give you an idea of your next step.