Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Dare to be the change you want to see

"Thank you for not having the steering group preparation meeting", he carefully said after the 1st steering group meeting after the holidays. I probably looked puzzled, as for me it was obvious and part of what I had signed up for. I wasn't about to turn into a project manager in an awesome place that has no scrum masters and usually also no project managers. I'm a hands-on tester. But when the previous project manager stepped down and I saw a need for people to meet weekly to exchange management-level news (to leave teams alone unless they pulled the info in), there was no other option than promising to hold the space for the steering group to happen.

Let me go back a little in time. I joined a year ago, and we had no project manager. We had teams of software engineers and quality engineers, and as with new teams, we were finding our way with the guidance of self-organizing. Many of us were seniors, and we got the hang of it.

Meanwhile while we were stumbling to form as individual teams and establish cross-team relations across two sites, someone got worried enough to "escalate". And escalation brought in a project manager.

The project manager visibly did two things. He set up a steering group meeting, where I ended up as a member ("just a tester, but none of us is *just* anything these days"). And he set up a cross-team slot. He was probably trying to just create forums, but they felt more of ceremonies. The cross-team session was a ceremony of reporting to him, as much as he tried to avoid it. And the steering group was a ceremony of reporting cleanly to the management, as it was always preceded with a prep meeting as long as the actual meeting, but only 3 out of 8 people present.

As the project manager left for other assignments, teams abandoned the cross-team slot and started more active 1:1's as they sensed the need. Out of 10 of us, only 2 strongly stated over time the slots were not a good use of time, yet everyone was keen to give them up. Others just came, because they were invited.

And similarly, the steering group meetings turned into actual discussions, creating feeling of mutual support and sharing without the pre-meeting. I stated I was there to hold the space, and that's what I do. I start discussions, and end them if they don't fit the idea of what this meeting is about as per our mutual understanding.

But for the last 6 months, I did not like the way we did things. Yet I too, while expressing my feelings every now and then, went with the motions. I only changed when the environment changed.

All of this reminds me to be more brave: dare the be the change you want to see. Experiment with fixes. And not only when the people leave, as they were never the real bottleneck. It was always in our head. My head amongst the others. 

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