Scrum and Agile Guru Mike Cohn wrote in his weekly Agile Tips email that we should mark the moment to focus on what our teams have achieved. Triggered by the bigtime Thanksgiving celebration in the USofA, Mike wrote how we often struggle to recognise the past good work done because we are focused on how much we can improve in the future.  He said:

“There are literally hundreds of ways in which a team may have improved. Find a few and then share the good news with the team. Praise them. Thank them.”Mike Cohn

(Btw, you can subscribe to Mike Cohn’s emails here)

The most important by-product of this is to make the achievements concrete. It would be great to make them persistent, but I’d settle for short-lived crystallisation into the real world.

Why? Because it’s so easy for teams to forget their achievements and to gloss over their successes.

In fact, the better the team, and the more outcome-focused the team is, the less they seem to celebrate; except perhaps some wry or sarcastic comments, a few obvious high-five’s and maybe an ‘Attitude Adjustment’ session at a pub.

But this tends to disappear quickly and all that’s left is maybe a sore head and an expense claim to file.

It’s as if the really good teams just have a higher standard of what is “superlative achievement”, or they have higher level of critique for their work and perhaps only see the flaws.  They certainly love what they are doing and just want to move off one project and on to another so that they can do it some more.

Towards the end of the Bigpond Engineering / SD&A days at Telstra, we were asked by senior management (along with all the other directorates) to compile a six-month summary of everything we had delivered. You might remember that SD&A was the largest internal software development team in Telstra: at one time during Transformation days we were at around 650 souls and were working as hard as I think I ever have.

Whilst some inputs to this list were easy (just pull projects out of the Clarity PPM system) there were many achievements that had to be self-reported, and it was like pulling teeth.  But in the end we had a list of something like 120 initiatives that had been rolled out the door.  All were non-trivial in terms of project size and/or integration complexity and/or impact on the business. Only 10%-20% of which had ever had any “top of mind” promotion or senior executive visibility.  Many had even been forgotten by their participants.

Put together like that it was very impressive and solid record of achievement.  I was directly involved in just a handful but felt a sense of pride just being associated with these projects.  From other members of the team, managers and individuals alike, the response was wonderful: big smiles and obvious great pride and satisfaction.  I heard a repetition of comments like “I’d completely forgotten about those” and “did we do that?” and “oh, yeah the business was really happy with that one”.

The positive effects and good vibes lasted for a while, but of course they were back at work pretty quickly.

I was lucky to be part of that team, and to have been able to collate such a wonderful list.  Sometimes the achievements are not so big and obvious, but they are nonetheless significant to the team.  Mike writes:

“If they’re doing more automated tests than before, point it out. Maybe fewer defects are escaping to production. Point it out. Maybe team members are working together more closely than before. Point that out.”Mike Cohn

Keep in mind that the achievements to record and use as cause for reflection should be meaningful and material.

As a counterpoint to the Bigpond story, I recall an IT services / outsourcing company not so long ago showing me a 3-ring binder that they used to extract signed statements from their customers to validate every single little thing that they thought was “above and beyond” the call of duty. There were things in there like “worked an extra 30 minutes to finish a document” and “spent half an hour explaining <some relevant topic> to someone in your team”.   They even included bringing various experts to talk about technology and other subjects, when really all those visits were was pre-sales.

This company put two of these 3 ring binders on the table proudly, and almost demanded that I work through it and compliment them. They had reams of it and it was totally creepy.  I almost expected them to ask me to sign one of those forms to attest that I’d been shown the folder!!

More recently, I saw something similar the email signature from the executive assistant (EA) to the CEO of a vendor that I was dealing with. The EA was promoting something that she called a “GIG” file aka “Gee I’m Great” in which she recorded “atta-girl” comments and similar low-level contributions from various people in preparation for her annual review.

The two key takeaways from Mike’s email and the above are:

1) make sure you do take the time to crystallise your team’s achievements so that they can keep the perspective on how much is changing due to their good efforts;

2) keep it real.

And, if the above doesn’t work, then Attitude Adjustment is definitely required.