📬 The Backlog

📬 The Backlog is Thomas van Zuijlen's weekly newsletter on practical agility, with annotated articles on Scrum, facilitation, collaboration, and (product) development.

05 July 2021

📬 The Backlog #139

How to record decisions to help yourself and your new colleagues, how to help organisations effectively speak about outcomes, and how we might reconsider an obsession with personal productivity.

  1. I’m in the process of onboarding myself onto a new organisation. You probably have some similar experience: The introduction to a new org or team is just you getting handed a set of diagrams of reporting structures and some out-of-date spreadsheets. The connective, everyday tissue surrounding them is opaque, so you’re still left wondering what it is we actually do and why we do things that way.

    Marijn Huizendveld wondered something similar: “Imagine… Reading through the history of a project in 30 minutes or less.” His article Decisions should not be boring to read is a call to action of succinctly documenting not only your team’s decisions, but also the reasoning behind them.

    His idea being, that the existence of a decision-making record will make it easier for new joiners to gain situational awareness. Not only that, it will help your org or team create transparency around implicit decisions or reasoning - and challenge them.

    “The principle that it is okay to change your mind will become embedded within the team’s memory because when needed the team will revise a decision. The team overwrites a prior decision with a new decision that is made with more situational awareness and the team feels good about it rather than sloppy.”

    Huizendveld includes some concrete steps towards building the discipline to record decisions. (KISS: just create a text file and you’re on your way.) He also name-checks The Backlog favourite Architectural Design Records in this context (see issue 073) — and calls them enormously boring, demonstrating a far easier-to-read spin on that concept.

  2. Charles Lambdin’s Strategy and Outcomes describes a workshop format for connecting an organisation’s vision and tactics, through strategy. The idea is to establish clarity while getting people to think and speak about outcomes over output. That’s usually hard because people are more comfortable speaking either about high-level visionary goals or day-to-day tactics, but that leaves a crucial gap this workshop can help you close.

    If you remain steadfast, that is. Says Lambdin, “[D]on’t throw the concept [of ‘outcomes’] out. This layer is the main value of the exercise. If you cave and let participants skip this part, then they are largely just focusing on goals and tactics again. There is still value, of course, in aligning an org on a crisp vision, cleaning up its goals and prioritizing a small, clean set of objectives and measures, but there is even more value in moving the org to an outcome-based roadmap. Hold their feet to the fire!”

    I like how Lambdin describes both the theoretical underpinnings of each step, and the crucial practical value from a facilitation or product development perspective.

    The way he combines techniques is also a humbling eye-opener. For example, in step 7, where the workshop moves from diverging to converging, Lambdin gets participants to use not only dots but also checks to vote; dots to denote value, checks to denote likelihood of outcome achievement. This provides a strong and transparently participant-driven lead-in to the next steps of converging and plotting.

  3. Work (time) boundaries are sometimes blurry, or blurred. “Working hard” and working long hours, are simultaneously treated as sources of frustration and aspirational states.

    Writing from an American context, where this situation seems to be even more pervasive than in my western European context,
    Vu Le quite frankly states We need to talk about our toxic obsession with productivity

    His article denotes six effects of over-emphasising busy or long work: e.g. “We’re defining individuals’ worth by their contributions in work hours […] This further devalues and dehumanizes disabled people, elders, and others who may not be able to work or to work in the ways that society expects. Everyone has intrinsic worth and should be treated with respect and dignity whether they can work or not. Our value to society should not be dependent on what we contribute to do it in the form of work hours.”

    Le also includes a set of proposals on how to help ourselves and each other move away from this situation, including things like “Take time to talk as a team about this topic” and suggestions that amount to a gradual enabling of asynchronous work. A good read that may spark a conversation or two in your organisation or company.

Have a good week and Scrum on,
Thomas van Zuijlen