Monthly Archives: May 2014

Team management in large organisations

Recently I’ve been asked to help some design teams in the bbc deliver better work faster.

This got me thinking.

I’ve spent a few years reading about management approaches and more recently have been working as part of the product management team on iPlayer radio. This involved me being responsible for day to day work in one of the teams, as well as being involved in strategy and prioritisation discussions – all great fun.

During my work with the iplayer radio team we tried a variety of approaches from agile, lean and kanban schools of thought.

As you might guess, I have realised there is often no quick fix, no magic bullet.

Hey, you know, like good management is hard!

It is likely that a particular team with a particular set of skills, will need to optimise itself in a unique way.

How do you know you’re making a good decision?

I believe that company values should help you make good decisions. Looking around, many company principles do not actually help you manage a team. Recently created companies like Facebook and Google may prove better at having company values that you can apply to management choices. “Don’t be evil” – right then that’s option b off the table, “move fast and break things.” – don’t worry too much if option d does break things – we will fix it, but it should help us get somewhere useful fast. The BBC’s “trust is at the heart of everything we do.” – helps make decisions, but also makes the leadership risk averse – will it work all the time, can the user trust it? I suspect that value was intended for content, but it is applied across the organisation – is it encouraging the right behaviour for software development? When we are also told to ‘optimise for speed’ that feels like 2 values that can conflict – this is something the BBC should discuss, since conflicting values make decision making harder, slower, and make ‘the right option’ less obvious.

Many times corporate values don’t help with decision making – “creativity is the lifeblood of our organisation.” (Bbc again, sorry) That value isn’t really going to help me make daily decisions, but it might help with longer term decisions about team membership and recruitment.

My theory remains: a few guiding principles for a project should help make quick good decisions. Determining those values may be different for each team. Likewise determining how to apply those values and how much you can apply them will vary from team to team.

My current values to help me make decisions.

Here are my current values that I try to apply on the projects I work on.

1. Optimise for speed, particularly “don’t fall in love”

“Don’t fall in love” comes from Facebook, and means get feedback from the customer within 2 weeks of your initial idea. Any longer than that and you’ll risk being in love with your idea, and therefore a little resistant to changing it based on user feedback, so move fast.

2. Optimise for learning

This is from lean management , and also peter drucker -,your team should learn as much as they can to do their jobs better.

3. Colocate the team members whenever possible.

This is my experience – multi discipline teams that are physically close are more likely to minimise communication errors and collaborate more often and more successfully.

4. Encourage open honest collaboration, no egos and a ‘one team solving problems together’ attitude.

5. Delegate responsibility. Optimise signoff processes and people.

This is really a repeat of Optimise for speed, but in large organisations the decision making is often slow, as :signoff’ involves many senior (overworked) managers, so focussing specifically on this should help the team move faster.

Reviewing progress with retrospectives

Hopefully the above principles help any manager in a large organisation. As a practical process, having used them to run a team of engineers and designers, I’ve found agile team retrospectives immensely useful (even when you’re not a particularly agile, lean or kanban team). Asking the team to focus on ‘What can we do to optimise our performance?’ has been great. Letting ideas for team optimisation come from the team is also part of applying the principle of empowerment. Applying the teams values to this conversation allows us to ensure that the teams behaviour changes in the right way. Suppose the team believes they should improve quality….If a team believed that they should introduce more process to achieve higher quality, that would probably slow down the team, so applying ‘optimise for speed’ makes the team focus on ‘is there a way to improve quality whilst optimising for speed? These values should alter what the team chooses to do. Equally, if the values are useful they can free management up through not having more decision making escalated to them.

What values do you use?

So those values are my starting point, but what values do you find useful? Tweet me @songschris or email