Posts From September, 2012

I Love This Book! The Culture Code

Build Your Project Team Culture

The Culture Code Reveals the Power of Safety

“When we talk about courage, we think it’s going against an enemy with a machine gun. The real courage is seeing the truth and speaking the truth to each other.”
         –Dave Cooper, Retired, Commander Master Chief, SEAL Team Six (From The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle)

Why is it so hard to see the truth and speak the truth to each other? Why does that demand courage? And, can any team reach their potential without this ability?

Safety: The Foundation of High Performance

Daniel Coyle, in his new book, The Culture Code, offers three necessary cultural elements of what he calls “highly successful groups.” These elements are safety, vulnerability, and purpose. After reading the first few chapters, I became convinced that safety should be the primary focus for every leader, especially project leaders

I’ve always thought of safety at the office and in my work group as physical safety. Coyle refocused my attention to that of emotional safety. Frankly, I am surprised I haven’t seen it before. I’ve been reading and writing about project team performance for about twenty years. I’ve always known that trust is crucial to creativity and innovation, but Coyle’s angle brought a fresh light on the foundational role of safety. His theme is that for teams to reach their potential, each member must feel safe enough emotionally to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is critical to giving and receiving authentic feedback, which is the only way a group will improve its performance. Feedback within the group is directed toward serving the purpose. Purpose becomes the North Star. That logic is tough to dispute.

Project teams are temporary, formed to accomplish something unique. These teams solve problems and make decisions every day. Versatile’s high-performance team checklist lists nine characteristics that enable a team to survive the “give and take” of creativity and problem solving while maintaining trust and keeping relationships intact. But I have to admit that emotional safety has always been assumed, rather than explicitly called out.

Coyle’s logic, that safety precedes trust and trust precedes authentic feedback and team learning, lays bare the importance of establishing emotional safety within our teams. The quote at the beginning of this article comes from a key story in the SEAL Team Commander’s evolution as a leader. In Cooper’s early career he advised a superior that a particular course of action was dangerous and should be avoided. That superior ignored his  advice and the result was exactly what Cooper had feared. Cooper took away from that experience a desire to be the kind of leader that invited opposing points of view and encouraged criticism from every member of his team.

The Primary Focus of Every Project Leader

Do you want your team to “see the truth and speak the truth to each other”? What could be more important? From creation of a business case and charter, through risk identification, scheduling, and daily problem-solving, your team is making decisions and working through conflicts.  Every day of every project is affected by team culture. Pick up Daniel Coyle’s Culture Code. He illustrates his theme with stories from a wide range of teams and follows up with specific actions for the reader. I predict his lessons will stick with you and reignite your focus on team culture.

Tenth Anniversary of Delivering Innovation

Innovation is on everyone’s mind these days, but best practices for delivering innovation aren’t new. This summer marks Versatile’s Tenth Anniversary of our Delivering Innovation course, designed and delivered specifically for Lockheed Martin’s Engineering Leadership Development Program.

Delivering Innovation stresses the critical contribution of risk management, engaging stakeholders, and requirements engineering to the innovation experience. It isn’t enough to produce a breakthrough product or service – it must also pass the Cost/Benefit test. That’s the innovation challenge.

Risk Management provides a logical, repeatable framework for increasing the probability of success when our projects break new ground.  It is a systematic process of identifying potential problems and then developing strategies to either avoid the problems or at least reduce the negative impact.  Rigorous risk management contributes to affordable innovation because it makes it safer and less expensive to try out new ideas.

Stakeholder Analysis recognizes that a wide range of people judge the success of our innovative solutions. Some will be the customers we want to satisfy. Others may include departments from whom we’ll need cooperation in order to complete the project. Not everyone will view our project or product in the same way, so we need methods to understand the variety of stakeholders, what’s important to each of them, and to predict their influence and contribution related to implementing using our innovation. Stakeholder analysis contributes to cost-effective innovation because it brings the project closer to the customer.

Requirements Engineering is the foundation of affordable innovation.  Innovation solves a problem in a new and better way.  Affordability adds the constraint of choosing the optimal combination of capability and cost.  Requirements create the context for creative problem solving. Requirements engineering is the disciplined approach to clearly understanding the customer’s problem and decomposing that problem so that the problem can be solved by a team, all the while keeping track of each element of the problem.  It is the discipline that enables a project team to see the total set of potential capabilities and to prioritize them to achieve affordability.

Requirements, stakeholders, and risk exist on every innovation initiative. Ignoring any one of them leads to almost certain failure. So why aren’t these the major focus of discussions on innovation? I have a few opinions about that, and would enjoy hearing your ideas (post a comment below). Here’s my take:

  • Other innovation topics have more sizzle – such as creativity.  It’s more fun and a lot more visible when we get creative.
  • Like much of project management, performing risk, requirements, and stakeholder management well creates the absence of error – which is pretty difficult to measure and therefore difficult to justify.  They each take constant, steady focus with no specific result that is tied directly to these activities.

Let’s be clear: I love creativity. But innovation is creativity that adds value.  Creativity powered by clear requirements that are discerned from the right stakeholders and strengthened by risk analysis is a formula for breakthrough results.