Saturday, March 27, 2010

Transparency [Rino Jose]

We say we want transparency in decision-making, transparency within our organizations...but do we really mean it?

Transparency is a Sign of Efficiency

Transparency within organizations is a good thing. It means that teams and functions are communicating freely. It's a sign that decisions are being made with more information and more scrutiny. It indicates that the organization is executing efficiently.

When problems arise in transparent organizations, people can see them immediately and from different perspectives. The organization can respond quickly to unexpected events and save valuable time. Organizational goals can be modified, and the people can quickly realign their activities.

Why Aren't Organizations More Transparent?

There are three main reasons that keep organizations from being transparent. The first is that most organizations have unintentionally developed a "culture of opacity". You can see this when people say their information needs to be filtered and controlled because others can't understand it out of context. You can also see this when people don't trust their own teams to report information. Some organizationl roles exist simply to filter and throttle information.

A second reason is that it can take a lot of effort to be transparent. There may not be an easy way to communicate what's happening or why. People may not even be able to track all of the information that's being generated by their teams, creating a kind of opacity by default. Technology, however, has advanced to the point where this should no longer be an issue. There are tools that can reduce the effort of tracking and presenting information so it's less than negligible (i.e., they actually cut the effort of what you're doing today as they provide transparency for your team).

The third main reason is that...

Transparency Requires Trust

One of the things I said about breaking a "cycle of distrust" was that someone had to go first, to make the first gesture. Transparency is a perfect example of this. We can't say we want transparency within our organizations if we ourselves are not willing to reveal how we make our own decisions. Someone must take the first step.

Why is it so hard to do this? If we feel the need to hide something, we should question that. If it's because we don't trust others in the organization, we should question that, too. Get to the root of distrust and eliminate it. If it's beyond your authority, find someone with more clout. There are always people with influence that want the organization to run well. It's likely that they aren't able to see where the problems are. Build a window into your team so they can see for themselves.

(originally posted on Management Revolution)
Rino Jose is the principal co-founder of Lakeway Technologies, a startup that develops web apps for automating engineering and project management. He has developed software and managed software teams professionally for over 15 years. As a manager and management consultant, he has led turnarounds for multiple engineering teams. Rino holds a B.S. from U.C. Berkeley and a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania with cross-disciplinary focus between Engineering, Computer Science, and the Wharton Business School.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Commitment – Inspiration that Never Fails [Kimberly Wiefling]

Inspiration is important to effective engineering leadership, and every kind of leadership in fact. But we can’t depend on it showing up when needed.It comes and goes, like a feral cat that roams about looking for a bite to eat. We can feel inspiration waxing and waning within us, and the inspiration from the outside world can’t be counted upon to show up on a regular basis. However the important work that we need to do in our projects, and in life in general, remains – independent of whether we happen to be inspired to do it. That’s why I have chosen to be inspired by my commitments. The commitments of a person of integrity are solid, powerful and lasting. These kinds of commitments carry the weight of reputation and intention. They are ever present. If you lead inspired by your commitments it doesn’t matter whether we’re tired, feeling disheartened, low on energy, unappreciated, or frustrated by circumstances. The commitments that we have made call us to action. This is mighty handy when we can’t afford to wait for inspiration!

When we rely solely on external sources of inspiration, such as other people, positive feedback, the positive results of our work, we give away our power. If you’re a gifted painter and no one wants to buy your works, should you stop painting? If you’re a talented musician and no one wants to pay you for your music, should you stop writing or singing? And if you are a dedicated project leader working on a project that truly matters, but that people do not acknowledge, support or appreciate, should you do a crappy job, give up hope, and leave gesturing wildly into the air with one particular finger? I don’t think so. (OK, if the project DOESN’T matter, maybe go with the finger thing.)

Mother Theresa was this kind of leader. A couple of the sayings purported to be among her favorites (and I think useful for today’s engineering leaders!) are “Despite giving your best to the world, you may be kicked in the teeth. Give the best you’ve got anyway.” and “Years of your hard work may be destroyed overnight. That should not deter you from building upon your hard work.” Mother Theresa was not relying on inspiration to get her out of bed in the morning, and she wasn’t relying on positive feedback, encouragement or support. Nope, she knew who she was and what she was committed to doing, and she got up every day and did it. Period.

What kind of leader are you? What are you committed to more than your comfort or the approval of your colleagues, friends, or the world in general? And what’s your commitment worth? If you’re only committed when you’re inspired, well, that’s a bit dicey. But if you are wholeheartedly committed when you give your word, and your word is tightly bound up with your integrity, then you have a chance of living up to your commitments whether or not you happen to have a source of inspiration in your life.

And here’s a bit of a kōan for you . . . what if you are ‘committed to being inspiring’ whether you feel like it or not? (I guess that’s kinda like saying that you are living vicariously through yourself.) If you are committed to being truly and authentically inspiring then your team can depend on you to inspire them when they need it, whether or not you yourself feel inspired. Now that’s something a great leader should ASPIRE to!

Cross posted at
Kimberly Wiefling specializes in enabling people to achieve what seems impossible, but is merely difficult. She is the author of one of the top project management books in the US, “Scrappy Project Management - The 12 Predictable and Avoidable Pitfalls Every Project Faces”, growing in popularity around the world, and published in Japanese by Nikkei Business Press. The founder of Wiefling Consulting, LLC, she consults to global business leaders. She spends about half of her time working with high-potential leaders in Japanese companies, facilitating leadership, innovation and execution excellence workshops to enable Japanese companies to solve global problems profitably.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Endless Journey-Becoming the Kind of Leader You Admire [Kimberly Wiefling]

The process of becoming a great engineering leader, or any kind of leader for that matter, is a perpetual quest. It is an endless journey of self-discovery. Just like going to church, you can never be “done”. There will be successes along the way, but no failures, only feedback from which you can choose to learn and grow. Sometimes the challenges you face will seem too enormous for you, but you will benefit more from the difficult parts of your travels than the easy roads. When Nelson Mandela was asked what changed about him during years in prison he said he matured in prison (an environment not totally unlike some corporate environments). In my experience, age definitely helps improve leadership wisdom, especially since it brings more patience!

There will never be a convenient time for you to invest in developing yourself as a leader. It will never be the most urgent or pressing task on your “to do” list. But it will certainly be the most important thing that you can do to increase your ability to make a positive difference in your work and enhance your overall career success.

You may be fortunate enough to have help: a mentor, coach or guide who provides valuable advice or support in your quest to become a great leader: but no one can give you what you deny yourself. A mentor can help you make best use of the opportunities that you have before you if you are willing to listen openly to their advice.

Leadership is not a position in an org chart or a title on your business card. It’s a mindset, it’s behavior, a way of communicating, especially listening. Do not wait until you are given a position of leadership to become a great leader. Commit today to becoming the kind of leader you admire regardless of your role or title in your organization. Set goals for your leadership development that extend far into the future, clearly imagining yourself as the leader you admire and then taking steps to become more like that leader every day. As you look back on your journey from the far future you will be amazed at your progress and the positive difference that one person can make in your company and in the world.

Cross posted at
Kimberly Wiefling specializes in enabling people to achieve what seems impossible, but is merely difficult. She is the author of one of the top project management books in the US, “Scrappy Project Management - The 12 Predictable and Avoidable Pitfalls Every Project Faces”, growing in popularity around the world, and published in Japanese by Nikkei Business Press. The founder of Wiefling Consulting, LLC, she consults to global business leaders. She spends about half of her time working with high-potential leaders in Japanese companies, facilitating leadership, innovation and execution excellence workshops to enable Japanese companies to solve global problems profitably.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Next EL SIG Meeting: "Bust The Silos" [Robert Lasater]

The next meeting of the Engineering Leadership SIG of the SD Forum is this coming Thursday evening, March 18. The program starts at 6:30 PM, with the featured talk, "Bust The Silos: How to Improve Groups and Organizations Working Together" by Jeff Saperstein starting about 7:10 PM.

Summary of the Presentation

If you experience difficulties with group collaboration because of job description and functional department silos, lack of time for people to provide guidance to each other, and a mismatch between rewards and encouragement of group outcomes, then you are not alone.

Demand Creation orientation and practices can improve collaboration—based on new business processes supported by technology—to enable an organization to be more customer centric and responsive resulting in increased productivity and sustained, profitable growth.

In this session we will explore what hold us back from collaborating better and Jeff Saperstein will speak about what he has learned in his research to write Bust the Silos: Opening Your Organization for Growth.

About Jeff Saperstein:

Jeff Saperstein is an author, teacher, and consultant. His books and case studies focus on best practices for innovation. He has worked with governments, corporations and non-governmental organizations to use marketing to increase growth. Mr. Saperstein teaches at San Francisco State University College of Business, at Cisco, and other corporations, He teaches seminars on Tech Clusters and Innovation at the European School of Management in Paris and hosts International MBA groups for immersion tours in Silicon Valley. In addition he leads technology bloggers on writing trips to regional centers of innovation excellence including Israel and London/Cambridge. He is also co-founder of "Traveling Geeks".


3410 Hillview Avenue, Building 1
Palo Alto, CA

In the Palo Alto hills above the Foothill Expressway, between Page Mill Road and Arastradero.


6:30 - 7:00 Registration, Free wine, beer, snacks, pizza, soda and networking
6:33 - 6:58 Engineering Leadership Roundtable (New and Expanded!)
7:00 - 7:10 Introduction and brief announcements
7:10 - 8:20 Keynote and Q&A
8:20 - 8:30 Other announcements (next month's topic & speaker, jobs, blogs ...)
8:30 - 8:45 Informal networking
8:45 - 8:50 Clean up and have a safe trip home!

Engineering Leadership SIG events are primarily about Engineering Leadership, and are not restricted to software development. Audience reaction tends to be overwhelming positive, with participants giving recent presentations 4 or more on a scale of 1 to 5.

SNACK and BEVERAGE Sponsor for this Month: ProjectConnections provides practical project management know-how to the people who are leading and managing projects, teams, and people. Our goal is to help you save time, avoid or solve problems, and ultimately be successful on your business-critical projects. The site provides practical just-in-time tips, techniques, tools, and advice through a broad set of online project-related resources, with support for new and experienced managers alike, and both individual and organizational plans available to support everyone who's depended on for the success of your projects.

We would like to thank ProjectConnections for their sponsorship!


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Cross Posting on the EL SIG Blog [Robert Lasater]

Crossposting is an old and established tradition in the Blogosphere, and I am happy to announce the blog of the Engineering Leadership SIG of the SD Forum is adopting it.

Kimberly Wiefling is a key person to making this Engineering Leadership SIG work. Her energy and enthusiasm are truly remarkable. She has agreed to cross post some of her work from SV Project Management on this blog. One of her postings has already appeared and some more will be appearing over the next few days.

If you have a blog you would like to have cross posted here, or have selected postings you would like to contribute to this blog, please send email to or


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Problem Solving and the Black Swan [Matt Schlegel]

In past blogs I have described the importance of creating a clear statement of the problem before you jump into a problem-solving project. The challenge with creating this problem statement is that not everyone has the same problem. In fact, during good times the types of problems that people have grow diverse and less severe. Then, in flies the Black Swan, a disruptive event that impacts a great number of people. This event presses the problem-solving reset button.

In The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes the impact of infrequent events. Taleb calls such an infrequent event, “a Black Swan.” In terms of problem solving, the impact of a Black Swan event is clear – a large number of people come to share a common problem. Whatever smaller issues those people may have faced before, there is a huge problem in front of them that many must address.

In the corporate world, a Black Swan event may be any number of situations: the departure of an important leader, customer or vendor; the restructuring of a division; a merger or acquisition of another company. The list goes on and on. Any of these events gets the attention of everyone in the company and creates a natural urge to want to help solve the problem.

The great news about a Black Swan event is that it gets everyone focused and working together. In large organizations this is hard to do, but when it does happen, seemingly miraculous accomplishments can occur. For instance, once Apple was at the brink of bankruptcy in the 1990’s, the company became very focused on its “core” values and has thrived every since.

When people share a common problem, they are naturally compelled to work together to solve that problem. The important first step of any problem-solving process is the creation of a clear problem statement. Black Swan events grab everyone’s attention and help create a common problem for all. As if a reset button were pressed, it brings everyone to the first step in the problem-solving process. As organizations get larger and larger, these Black Swans can perform an important function in re-aligning people and creating a common problem statement. With that common problem, people focus their energy and overcome even the most difficult challenges. Today, as I reflect on the US and how divided the nation has become and remains, I wonder what Black Swan will cause us to focus our energies again.
Matt Schlegel developed his problem-solving methodology over the past decade. He continues to use the process to help companies solve big challenges, and folds those experiences into the refinement of the process. He also consults for companies developing products jointly with Asian companies. Matt can be found at


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Manage Cows, but LEAD People [Kimberly Wiefling]

Lately I have trouble saying “project management” because, when I do, I always have the urge to blurt out “You can manage cows, but you must LEAD people!” So I’m going to dedicate this week’s blogs to exploring leadership with no apologies to leaving out “management”, and even “project”, every now and then.

Most of the experiences that have increased my cynicism over the years are due to failures of leadership, both my own and others. I spent the first 10 years of my career naively expecting people in official leadership positions to step up, do the right thing and lead courageously, even at great possible cost to their own livelihood and career. (OK, I said I was naive.) From the perspective of my minuscule position of relative powerlessness, my organizations were steaming heaps of dysfunctional behavior and inefficiency, and what our official leaders needed to do seemed blindingly obvious. I just couldn’t understand why they were standing around smiling and slapping each other on the back about meeting monthly numbers while smoldering embers of inevitable corporate downfall were poised to burst into flames all around us.

It never occurred to me that things looked different from the top of the totem pole. It wasn’t until years later that someone told me that the hierarchy in companies is like a bunch of monkeys sitting in a tall tree. When you look down you just see a bunch of smiling faces, but when you look up . . . well, you get the picture. The guys at the top didn’t even perceive the gaping holes in our business fabric, while I saw tattered remnants resembling the effect of acid rain on clothing.

In those days I found myself constantly looking for help to descend from above, but help was not coming, at least not from that direction. The big whack on the side of my head that brought enlightenment was that I had a responsibility to lead no matter what my rank in the company. Leadership is not a position in a company org chart or a title on a business card. Leaders exist at all levels of an organization. They come in all shapes and sizes, from all kinds of backgrounds and different sorts of education. Leaders can be identified by the way they talk and the way they act.

Great leaders do not see themselves as victims of their circumstances. They do not lament their lack of formal authority, and they do not wait for others to come to their rescue. They accept responsibility for their contribution to the situation, and they are committed to making a positive difference.

What is leadership? Leadership is not the same as management. What’s the difference? In spite of the bovine reference, both are essential to successful businesses, but many organizations are over-managed and under-led. Budgets and schedules, while easy to measure and track, do not occupy the center of a great leader’s attention. Leadership is far different from management, and just as important. According to HBS’s Kotter, managers plan, budget, organize, staff, control and correct, while leaders set direction, align people, motivate and inspire.

Leadership is an inside-out job. I think of it as 5 concentric circles that build upon one another. It starts within through becoming consciously aware of ourselves, who we are, what we stand for, what we care about more than the next raise, promotion or the approval of those around us. Awareness enables choice, and is at the core of self-leadership. Once we can lead ourselves then we can reach out to lead others one-on-one. Aside from the example we set, the only way we have to lead other people is through communication, both talking and listening. Once we are capable of leading one person through effective communication we can tackle the more complex social dynamics involved in leading a team – keeping everyone rowing in the same direction. Beyond team leadership lays the challenge of leading a cross-functional organization, which is more like being the captain of a super-tanker. You can’t just grab the wheel and make a quick turn, and it can take a very long time to get your direction to turn into changes in where the ship is headed and how quickly. Beyond is the ultimate test of a leader, where culture, currency exchange rates and chronological obstacles plunge you into the truly Olympic sport of global leadership.

While leaders perform many valuable functions, the areas where they can provide the most practical benefit are:
- to help their people avoid two of the most common causes of failure: lack of clear goals and poor communication.
- to inspire people to overcome their inherent fear of failure and have the courage to set bold and challenging goals that may initially seem nearly impossible.

Many people occupy the position of leadership without demonstrating the qualities of leadership. Truly great leaders enable ordinary people to work together to accomplish extraordinary results out of reach of any one person’s grasp. Leadership is a journey to future possibilities that frequently seem impossible. Leadership unleashes the greatest potential of people in support of making a positive difference. And on a daily basis leadership is behaving in a way that inspires and sets an admirable example for other people. The purpose of leadership is to achieve what we cannot accomplish alone, to tackle dreams and possibilities that we can only fulfill together. Right now this planet is facing quite a few threats that could benefit from the collective genius of the human population. Based on watching the news (a big mistake: people who watch the news have been statistically proven to be more depressed), I’m thinking we’d better not wait for the official leaders of the world to solve these problems. Perhaps it’s time for a consciousness conspiracy? Wanna join?

Cross posted at
Kimberly Wiefling specializes in enabling people to achieve what seems impossible, but is merely difficult. She is the author of one of the top project management books in the US, “Scrappy Project Management - The 12 Predictable and Avoidable Pitfalls Every Project Faces”, growing in popularity around the world, and published in Japanese by Nikkei Business Press. The founder of Wiefling Consulting, LLC, she consults to global business leaders. She spends about half of her time working with high-potential leaders in Japanese companies, facilitating leadership, innovation and execution excellence workshops to enable Japanese companies to solve global problems profitably.