Set and Manage Expectations Or Work Hard and Fail Anyway

Originally published on LinkedIn.

You work hard and perform well for your client. And somehow, the client is dissatisfied with both the journey and the result. Both parties perceive the other party failed the engagement.

Your options are simple:

A. Grumble about the client’s IQ in private.

B. Debate with the seemingly confused client to set them straight.

C. Together explore where the journey went off course — and correct it.

Who messed up? At least one of you. Most likely, both of you.

Expectation setting and management must occur, on purpose, by both parties, at every milestone and moment of an engagement. Beginning, middle, and end. Constantly. Doing so enables trust through transparency, allows the client to stay in control of the direction, investment, and definition of done, and contributes to the probability of your mutual success. Look at it as the difference between being a short-term vendor or long-term partner.

There are four steps. They have a non-negotiable order. They apply to all people on an engagement. And they must all be present, or the relationship will break down into dissatisfaction, dissension, and potentially dissolution.

Step 1: Set Engagement Expectations

Many people are familiar with contracts. A legal framework between two parties outlining the parameters of the relationship. While contracts, with counter-signatures, obviously matter, they only enable forward movement in a fenced direction. Contracts are permission to engage. Client delight happens because of relationships. And relationships happen through intentional communication and listening.

The entire engagement depends upon a clearly understood, documented, and ratified problem statement and set of desired outcomes. Knowing these two things defines everything that follows in the engagement.

“Why are we here?”

“How do we know when we are done?”

“What must we navigate to get from here to there?”

Figure 1. Set Engagement Expectations at the Beginning (Day 1)
Figure 1. Set Engagement Expectations at the Beginning (Day 1)

With an agreed-upon, documented problem statement and one or more desired outcomes, you are building your house (your engagement) on rock. You have a very high probability of success in this situation because you have mutually agreed upon a point of reference – your starting point.

Without an agreed-upon, documented problem statement and one or more desired outcomes, you are building your house on shifting sands. You have a very low probability of success in this situation.

Interestingly, doing this step alone doesn’t get the job done. There are more steps to setting and managing expectations.

Step 2: Set Deliverable Expectations

Now that we’ve established the problem statement and desired outcomes, we’ve together set the foundation upon which we will deliver value together.

Next, we need to discuss how we are going to work together and what we will be delivering along the way. We’re talking about the operational framework of the engagement.

Figure 2. Set Activity/Deliverable Expectations at the Beginning (Day 1)
Figure 2. Set Activity/Deliverable Expectations at the Beginning (Day 1)

What we know so far on this engagement is the following:

  • Why are we here
  • What will we do together
  • How we will know when we’re done
  • How we are going to operate together

What we have not yet established is living and working together during the journey.

Step 3: Set Operational Expectations

So far, we’ve mutually agreed upon the problem statement, the desired outcomes, what will be delivered, and how we will be doing it along the way. Now we must manage the day to day expectations, operation, and results. We must communicate and listen intentionally.

The purpose of setting and managing daily, weekly, and iteration level expectations is to manage the journey together by bringing the client along with us. We are working with and for our client, not doing things to the client. Build a relationship, not a reporting structure.

For the benefit of all parties, the frequency and method by which we interact and communicate needs to be low ceremony, low overhead, natural, and relational. Short. To the point. Done.

Figure 3. Set Individual Expectations Daily/Weekly/Iteration
Figure 3. Set Individual Expectations Daily/Weekly/Iteration

When a client is actively informed and involved, they have confidence in us, our team, our abilities, commitment, direction, and circumstances.

When a client is not actively informed or included, it is only a matter of time before unanswered questions and concerns lead to distrust and breakdown in the relationship.

Step 4: Manage Expectations As They Change

This step is where a breakdown in relationships frequently occurs and where I’ll amplify critical path considerations.

We had a plan. Something in our control, or outside our control, changed. The change has ripples that mildly or substantially impact our original plan. The change will affect time, complexity, and potentially the look and feel of the solution itself. It may even impact safety and security. You have three options:

Option 1: Try to eat the change on top of your existing commitment.

Option 2: Hide the change and act like nothing happened.

Option 3: Communicate the change immediately and discuss next steps.

Option one is controversial. Option two is unprofessional. Option three has the highest probability outcome.

The first option is controversial. Competitive people will say to each other, “No one cares. Get back up off the ground and get it done. You can do one more.” I’ve done it. It can work. However, you need to know yourself and your team very well, their history, attitudes, aptitudes, and capabilities, as well as the risks, issues, and dependencies. The stakes are high.

Option one can also lead to martyrdom. When a team falls on its proverbial sword to get to the end of the engagement without a hiccup, it can alternatively lead to team disillusionment, burnout, and disbandment. And if you don’t make it to the line, client dissatisfaction. So you may lose your team, your client, and potentially yourself walking this path. It is a gamble.

For some who don’t value people, option one looks useful to them. And for those who believe everyone should just suck it up and get it done, option one seems like a normal choice. As a leader, this is your call. Results are not guaranteed. Casualties may be high.

Option two is immoral, unprofessional, and foolhardy. It isn’t an option for a company, team, or individual who wants to build a reputation of integrity, value, and professionalism. Your last name is your reputation. Your company brand is your professional reputation. Choose.

Option three is best. The benefits include client delight, a healthy, happy, battle-tested team that sticks with you engagement after engagement, a reputation for valuing people, successful partnerships, and delivering value, not just contracts.

Figure 4. Reset Expectations As They Change, Real-Time
Figure 4. Reset Expectations As They Change, Real-Time

If you want to meet or exceed expectations, you have to set them first. And when they change, you have to reset them in real-time. Only when you feel like you are over-communicating are you coming close to communicating enough.

Checklist for Meeting and Exceeding Expectations with Anyone

  1. Before you do anything else, verify the problem statement and desired outcomes.
  2. Recommend options to address the problem and achieve the desired outcomes.
  3. Agree on the chosen direction and approach.
  4. Reiterate the problem statement, desired outcome(s), and chosen direction.
  5. Prior to engagement start: Set expectations clearly by stating what work will be performed, what will be delivered, and any dependencies or risks that exist potentially impacting success. Be sure to articulate what work will not be performed and delivered.
  6. During the engagement: Daily communicate progress. What happened yesterday, what will happen today, and if there is anything stopping, changing, or otherwise altering progress and direction that needs addressed.
  7. During the engagement: Dynamically communicate change and ripples. Communicate the event, the implications, and what it means to the activities, deliverables, and timeline. “We had a plan. Something has changed. Here is what it means to us.”
  8. At the end of the engagement: Communicate results. Begin by communicating what was committed, what changed, and what was delivered.

You will need to dial this into whatever level of detail and frequency the intended recipient desires. Some people value daily updates; others weekly. Remember, to meet and exceed expectations requires constant and vigilant interaction with the person, team, or company with whom you are allegedly providing value. When people don’t hear from you, they form their own mental story-line. Manage the message or have it managed for you.

Be ever-present, over-communicative, and intentional.

Or be second-guessed, questioned and replaced.


Filter the Noise. Communicate and Listen Intentionally.

Originally published on LinkedIn.

Many of us have heard the saying, “Don’t grocery shop while you’re hungry.” The reasoning is simple: If you are hungry and at the grocery, you’ll tend to purchase things that address your sight-driven appetite now instead of your mind/body-driven meal plan later.

In business and technology, many of us have also heard how important it is to know what problem you want to solve before looking at a new tool or process. The reasoning is similar: If you don’t know what problem you want to solve, the flashiest vendor demo, best salesperson, or most impressive UI/UX may influence your purchase. Whether or not the tool solves a problem or creates new ones remains to be seen.

Have a goal or bend to the wind.

And many of us have been taught similar behaviors when it comes to meetings, have an objective and an agenda, or the only real thing that happens during a typical interaction is meandering rubbish.

The above illustrations require intentional plans in advance of the experience. Absent a plan, results vary.

Communicating Requires A Plan. Talking Does Not.

Were you to measure how much talking you do in a single day, what do you believe is the signal-to-noise ratio? How often do you think your message is lost in the noise? Does your method of communicating trample your message?

Figure 1. Speaking without a desired outcome and plan to get there often buries the intended message in noise.

5 Simple Steps to Getting Your Point Across

  1. Determine what you want to happen AFTER you talk.
  2. Plan your points which lead to the desired outcome.
  3. Communicate your points intentionally.
  4. Leave space in the conversation for the other person to talk.
  5. Know when to be quiet and know when you’re done.

Talking is easy. Communicating is hard.

One happens without much thought. The other requires a goal and a plan.

Listening Also Requires A Plan. Hearing Does Not.

How often have you experienced someone talking to you, or at you, where it was difficult to discern the real intent or message? Were you caught off guard? Did you receive a message different than expected? What was your default response?

Similarly, how often do you hear information, whether on the news, radio, social media bitstreams, or at work, where the message seems unwieldy, scary, or overwhelming?

The same is true when listening to someone talk.

5 Simple Steps to Listening to Anyone

  1. Evaluate who is making the statement.
  2. Evaluate what statement they are making.
  3. Evaluate why they are making that statement.
  4. Strip away your emotional response to the person, method, and medium. Decide if you agree or not.
  5. Ask questions. Refer to the communication steps above.
Figure 2. Communicating AND listening must be intentional.

Talking doesn’t guarantee communication. And hearing doesn’t guarantee listening.

Both must be intentional to realize desired outcomes.

Otherwise, it is just noise.

No signal.

Spend (And Enablement) Must Be Intentional

This article was previously published on LinkedIn.

For most companies, there is no room for projects built on hope and wonderment – every dollar matters. Today’s marketplace is unforgiving. Shrinking markets, opportunities, and budgets are forcing difficult decisions. Many companies have already struggled with the choices to furlough, layoff, or otherwise change company spend.

Now is the perfect (and expected) time to analyze spend and understand what investments are intentional, and what investments are designed to bring value to the company. It is also the ideal time to cull projects/spend that seem appealing but have no discernible value in today’s marketplace.

Let’s look at a simple example.

Examine a Typical Digital Transformation Project

Your IT budget is USD10MM. Said budget spans typical OPEX and CAPEX subjects, including people, benefits, hardware, software, office miscellaneous, travel, and training. The number of corporate strategic objectives for the year requires more project capacity than your headcount. Each of the lines of business (LOB) want their needs addressed, each of them vying for priority over the other. Some of us call this a typical Thursday.

A few folks on your team have ideas that may potentially transform your IT operation, enabling quicker response times, more straightforward systems changes, and the flexibility to adapt to the changing winds of the business happening now and in the anticipated future.

It appears the idea may simplify operations and lower long-term spend. While everyone else is fielding daily lights-on operations, handling one-to-many (1:N) projects, participating in meetings, and performing hands-on-keyboard technical things in fits and starts, you green light your lieutenant (Lt.) to explore new ideas looking forward to the future.

Across the next days and weeks, the exploration project updates happen in hallways, at lunch, over a few coffees, and dinner one night. The updates are exciting, new tool possibilities pretty cool, and the potential for a modern architecture changing the operation for the better are enlightening.

As weeks turn into months, the excitement builds as new programming languages, tools and ecosystems coalesce into a working prototype of things promising an upgraded tomorrow. Your Lt. asks for permission to bring a couple of other folks on board the exploration project to increase velocity. You approve. They’ve privately named their project, Rocket Man, to illustrate the value of this project promising to propel them into new territory. Meanwhile, your role as CTO continues to require constant progress on Line Of Business (LOB) projects, executive meetings, prioritization activities, capacity challenges, attrition, and budget revisits due to market shifts.

Nine months elapse. Seven people are now full-time dedicated to the informal, doesn’t formally exist yet project, which has consumed 15 percent of your annual budget, and you need answers. Finance is asking why seven folks are logging time against overhead time codes, LOB leaders are knocking down your door for solutions, and your CEO is hearing some hallway chatter making her curious how you’re doing.

At one point, a peer jokingly asks about your kids and their toy-box project, but you smile, brush it off, and redirect the conversation.

Post-haste, you ask your Lt. to provide a purposeful briefing to understand money spent, time elapsed, people, responsibilities, progress, and definition of done. You privately wonder how this effort made it so far down the road.

The team presents a sharp, polished presentation deck complete with video clips explaining tool chains, sharply drawn architectural diagrams, a few technical cartoons, code snippets in new programming languages not used in today’s operations, and a component architecture status report showing percentages of things done, in progress and not started. They smile with the pride of success, turn off the presentation, turn to you, expect validation, encouragement, and continued support. They feel they have worked hard and performed admirably.

CTO: How do you know when you’ll be done?

Lt.: We’re working to decide on the final programming languages, tools, and solidify the architectural direction. We will have answers in the next couple of weeks.

CTO: When will this be ready for production?

Lt.: We don’t know yet. We’re still working out the plan.

CTO: We’ve spent USD1.5MM to date. This spend is now on the radar of the larger company. How much money do you need to finish the prototype?

Lt.: We’ll come back to you with a number.

At this point, the CTO knows a bunch of money is spent, doesn’t know what he has, when he will have something usable, or when he will be done spending money. At the same time, he is behind on LOB prioritized and funded projects, is still fixing financial spend details with the CFO, and needs to manage the message with his boss, the CEO.

The options appear to be:

  1. Formalize it, publicly communicate and fund it
  2. Kill it, shelf it for later, and tag it as R&D with Finance
  3. Let it go on for a while longer until the answer reveals itself

What did the CTO do well, and what must the CTO change?

What the CTO Did Well

  1. Encouraged innovation
  2. Trusted and supported his team
  3. Gave people latitude to learn, grow, and become more
  4. Invested in the future proactively

What the CTO Must Change

  1. Trust people while additionally setting up engagement parameters
  2. Define desired outcomes in advance of engagement
  3. Set and manage Keep Going / Let’s Stop triggers
  4. Set, manage and communicate expectations laterally and upline

Read Leadership in Absentia for additional suggestions on ensuring people are empowered to grow, learn, and care about successful outcomes within a premeditated framework.

10 Recommendations Enabling Exploration and Discovery

  1. Encourage new ideas, approaches, and solutions at any time, from any person, on any subject. Permit people to explore.
  2. Have a single repository for all new ideas to be logged, explored, collaborated, prioritized, and developed.
  3. Consider designating time per week or month for people to explore, discover, prove, or disprove ideas and assert priority.
  4. Consider having regular lunch and learns or spontaneous blitzkrieg meetings whereby authors present and explore their problem statements and innovations collaboratively.
  5. Have teams create and review value propositions to receive formal funding.
  6. Use Go/No-Go decision milestones during the funding period.
  7. Encourage folks to explore their ideas on their own time or designate hours per week or month where folks are free to experiment with their ideas.
  8. Define funding parameters within which each effort must exist to manage time, risk, security, and spend.
  9. Know when to say when.
  10. Set and manage expectations with your uplines and peers.

We are all required to change, adapt, and evolve regularly. Exploratory thinking and testing is an enabler. The CTO did the right thing investing in the future and trusting his people. And the Lt. did the right thing working to discover options for the future. They were both intentional.

However, desired outcomes, operational parameters of the engagement, and go/no-go decision points need to be articulated and agreed upon in advance. Outcomes, spend, and activities must also be intentional. Else, it will only look like a toy box project leaving everyone wondering what value they are receiving for the spend.

A common approach taken by companies starting a “digital transformation” initiative is to create an innovation team. What they are really doing is breaking up a delivery team. Unknowingly, they leave people behind who must catch up and learn the “new way.”

This short video clip outlines the problem. Keep watching to learn how to avoid or overcome this challenge.

Approaches to Leadership: Hurricanes, Wakes, Ripples and Deserts

This article was previously published on LinkedIn.

Leadership styles make or break companies. Why?

Teams reflect leadership.

It doesn’t take long to look in the mirror. If you don’t have a mirror, it only takes a cup of coffee to ask some teammates to reflect on your history working with people, projects, teams, and companies.

If you’re dissatisfied with your company, teams, projects, progress, and output, look in the mirror first. It could be you

Hurricane Leaders

Hurricane Leadership

Erratic, unpredictable, contrarian, immeasurable collateral damage

No one sees you coming. No one knows where you’re going. Teams see you’re on a rampage, but don’t know how to help. So, they stay out of the way and otherwise ensure damage to themselves and their interests is minimized – hoping you don’t swing back around for another go. The general assumption when you are present is a higher probability of storms with damage than rain enabling growth.

Your presence breaks things, sometimes people.

Leaders Who Leave Wakes

Leaders Who Leave Wakes

Purposed, directional, controlled, consistent, enabling

People see where you’re going and want to be part of the journey. And because of your plan, communication, and choices, teams who journey with you can be part of an experience that changes in all directions.

Because of you, those who journey with you can make use of the wake you leave behind in a constructive, growing, and useful manner. Your wake changes the company, culture, people, and teams.

Leaders Who Leave Ripples

Leaders Who Leave Ripples

Modest, enjoyable, optional, a lovely time

Who doesn’t love a pleasant afternoon aboard a boat with friends? The gentle hum of the motors barely noticeable, a warm, gentle breeze, the time just between a hot afternoon and dark evening, both without clouds. Sunset.

Leaders who want a sunset cruise with chums enable others to relax. They need only aspire to the level exemplified. No need to rock the boat, make big waves, get out there and jump wake walls, increase skills, or otherwise even get out of the boat. This leadership style is peaceful. People like to be with you knowing that the demands may be low.

Your ripples eventually make contact with other parts of the ecosystem. To what extent change is stimulated, at what velocity or frequency may be variable, even unnoticed.

Desert Leaders

Deserts Leadership: Not Present

When there is no vision, mission, set of objectives, or desired outcomes, people do not know why to gather, what to work on together or even why they, or the company, matter. Leaders are looked upon to cast a vision, rally the people, lead the charge, and foster culture. In the absence of present, active leadership, folks tend to look for someone else, somewhere else, where they are recognized, valued, a part of something bigger than themselves.

Your impact on the culture, team, project, and company is negligible. There are no hurricanes, wakes, or ripples. Nothing is happening as a result of your leadership.

How Do You Choose Your Leadership Impact?

  1. Know what problem you want to solve
  2. Know what desired outcome you want after solving the problem
  3. Plan your leadership approach to foster desired change
  4. Communicate the what and the why of the problem and outcome
  5. Include the teams in solutioning, structuring, and implementation
  6. Continually adapt your leadership style contextually

What type of teams do you have in your company? They usually reflect leadership.

I’ve made a commitment to write more articles in 2020. It is material we discuss every day at Trility and with our clients. If you’d like to keep informed and even interact, please connect or follow me on LinkedIn. Or we can send you an email

We are also always looking for system thinkers to join us – those who can see the larger landscape and do the work as well.


Defining Key Attributes of Exceptional Delivery Managers

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

Monster team sizes, long delivery timelines, embarrassing expenditures, more headaches than deliverables, hypothetical and yet intangible value, unknown compliance and team attrition. You thought you had the right leadership team in place to deliver your desired outcomes. Now you’re wondering.

Reliable delivery is something we all seek in our organizations. We all face the same questions when approving priorities and efforts, allocating money, forming projects, teams and, in particular, appointing leaders.

We all ask: “What problem do I actually need to solve?” And, “Who can I depend upon to make sure this happens?”

It always comes down to leadership. While it seems like it should be easy, finding the right person is actually hard. We don’t know we’re staffed incorrectly until we’re already heading off the road (or in the ditch).

Title history, degrees, professional certifications, training programs and certificates of completion should, in theory, weed out people who can deliver from people who might not or cannot. In my experience, all of those things point to someone who desires learning, advancement and success, yet doesn’t always equate to great attitudes, aptitudes, abilities or results. In other words, often those things are false positives.

Then how do we increase the probability of finding someone who will predictably and repeatably deliver value for our organizations?

If you’re looking for a shortcut, I don’t have one. I do, however, have some experienced recommendations. And if you take the time to follow these steps, the return on investment window is long.

Your company is on a journey of growth, opportunity, change, aggressive pursuits, adaptation, highs, lows, easy days, hard days and sometimes ludicrous days. You need someone leading your projects who is on a journey just like your company. In the fight, not just studying it over a weekend for a two-day certificate of completion and calling it good enough.

For me and my teams, there are three classes of information I explore when considering teammates as members of our delivery teams. It isn’t foolproof. However, it has been very reliable. I have found great people who delight our teams and clients. I ask and research the following areas:

  • What behavioral attributes do we want exhibited in our company and people?
  • What knowledge attributes do we expect leaders to gain or bring with them?
  • What experience attributes do we expect leaders to gain or bring with them?

A challenge for anyone trying to find the right people is with so many titles, words, certifications, methods, philosophies, influencers, founders, books, conferences, etc., how do we know which ones are meaningful at all, let alone for our unique context?

For example, what is the meaningful difference between a Program, Project or Product Manager? When do we use a Scrum Master or Product Owner versus a Delivery Manager? If I have a Scrum Master on my delivery team, am I good? Do today’s Agile titles mean we’re doing things new and better? Are pre-Agile ideas less valuable? Are PMI certifications outdated while Scaled Agile certifications are actually the best solutions for our tomorrow?

I believe these are all interesting philosophical conversations we can have over a pot of tea, but not the most important problem to solve. We want to hire a great person, not a great bowl of word soup.

We want great people who predictably, repeatably deliver value in our teams, across our projects, in our companies, and with our clients. If we’re debating certifications and titles, let alone hiring based upon them, we’re discussing the wrong subject. We want people who illustrate themselves by their past and desired journey versus define themselves by their past alone.

The below attribute lists are our ideal target lists. Given everyone is on a journey, we’re looking for people who bring these attributes with them, are on a journey to attain them, or have the right attitude and aptitude to be taught.

1. Look for People with Healthy Behaviors

At the end of the day, our teams, projects, and clients will be a reflection of the people we hire. We want people who want to win. People who never quit. People who regularly bring out the best in themselves and everyone around them. People who will never stop yearning to become more today than they were yesterday and expect the same of everyone around them.

2. Look for Diverse Bodies of Knowledge Awareness

It is fine to be an expert in a body of knowledge. Even expected. However, to believe that body of knowledge will transcend industry, context, and time is small, limited thinking. We look for people capable of more than one thing; else our results will be limited by the one thing that person knows. Find people who pursue knowledge, have broad interests and are life-learners. If you don’t know what all of these things are, why you care, or when you would use them, get busy.

3. Look for Diverse Experience

There is value in experience. For a life-long learner, experience is the ultimate teacher. We look for people who have breadth and depth of experience because we like people with larger and larger experiential data sets upon which to reflect, learn, and apply their realizations.

4. Log Aggregation, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence

Using one too many redundant and/or popular terms of the day, companies increasingly pursue the ideas of log aggregation, data lakes, data warehouses, and data cubes on a regular basis.

  • How do I get the data out?
  • How do I put it all in the same place?
  • How do I correlate, corroborate or otherwise discover patterns and relationships which reveal new ways of seeing, thinking, deciding and acting thereafter?
  • If I put all of my data in one place and start using machine learning to process, organize, and extrapolate meaning as my data set grows, how do I use it?
  • And, if I want an artificial intelligence (AI) to begin making decisions for me where it makes sense, how do I leverage that as well?

I submit to you that an exceptional delivery manager encompasses all of these things including data aggregation, constant learning, and an intelligent decision layer.

At the same time companies pursue these ideas in modern technology, they are overlooking these qualities in experienced Delivery Managers.

Look at the below picture. Consider that the knowledge, behavioral and experiential attributes are the ever-growing data pool of a great Delivery Manager. Consider that your Delivery Manager is your machine learning solution which continues to derive patterns and possibilities by constantly increasing the data pool with new knowledge while continually churning the data, relationships, realizations, and decision possibilities thereafter. Consider that your Delivery Manager becomes an increasingly valuable AI seeing, hearing, learning, thinking, deciding AND thereafter acting on your behalf.

A two-day “how-to-deliver” certification course will not get you, your Delivery Manager, or your company and clients where you want to go. It is only a blip in the data pool. A valid experience that led to specific acquired knowledge. A very small, singular, moment of data on a long journey. Do it anyway. And then do 10 more.

5. Do Your Job to Enable Exceptional Delivery Managers

No matter who you hire, all Delivery Managers will need to know your desired outcomes and any particular constraints that matter to you and your organization. Look at it as defining done (desired outcomes) and the parameters of the game (methods and tools).

Your company and teams need to know where they are meant to go and under what conditions they can travel and arrive there.

An experienced Delivery Manager will notice if you have them in place, if they are clear and achievable, and help create, modify, manage, and complete them accordingly. Their job is to see the entire company, not just the problem of the moment.

What does that look like? Let’s look at a snippet of a conversation between a senior leader at your company and an exception Delivery Manager being considered for hire.

Senior Leader at your company speaking: “Hello Janice. I’m happy you’ve considered ABZ Company for your next adventure. We’re currently a USD 50MM pharmaceutical company on track to be an 80MM company in the next five years. We have adopted Scaled Agile for our preferred technology delivery framework, love the Agile space, but need help becoming more educated, experienced, and successful along the way. Most of our tool-sets are modern, our folks have been training on many things in the last three years and we have clear goals we’d like achieved over the next 18 months. We’ve been having quality and compliance problems with our deliverables, and I’m not sure how we need to fix this using our current tools and methods. What are your thoughts?”

Exceptional Delivery Manager Janice: “It sounds like you are experiencing quite a bit of success regarding the company, as well as, cultural transformation. Those are both hard alone; but doing them both at the same time and well, says a lot about the leadership and people in this company. Impressive.

It is outstanding that you know where you are and where you want to go. And it is outstanding that you know how you’d like to get there using the Agile body of knowledge, new tools, and retraining your people for the future. Well done.

You mentioned you’ve been having challenges with quality and compliance. Of course, I have very many questions and cannot pretend to fully understand your company in such a short period of time. However, I wonder, since your company has adopted Scaled Agile to help with delivery behaviors, have you also introduced evolutionary ideas for the engineering and information security teams? In other words, while Scaled Agile is designed as a delivery framework, it is not itself, and it is not designed to be so, an engineering and information security body of knowledge. You have to look elsewhere for those things. Teach me about the engineering changes that have been introduced to date.”

You, as a senior leader, are continually faced with more questions than you have answers, and always looking for options and recommendations which lead to choices. If you don’t know something, you tend to look in places where the data pool is deeper and wider than you currently possess.

Look to and hire exceptional Delivery Managers. They are the embodiment of ever-increasing pools of aggregated data with the machine learning and AI you seek. Just like no software is ever done, so too is it with exceptional Delivery Managers. Yesterday was good. Today will be better. Tomorrow, better again.

I drink a lot of caffeinated coffee and tea. And I’m on airplanes a lot. Drinking coffee and tea. I’m making a commitment to write more articles in 2020 – and increase the number of speaking engagements at which I drink coffee and tea. It is material we discuss every day at Trility and with our clients. It is material that you may find helpful as well. If you’d like to keep informed, and even interact, please connect or follow me on LinkedIn. Or we can send you an email

We are also always looking for system thinkers to join us – those who can see the larger landscape and do the work as well. If this resembles you, email us


Leadership In Absentia

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

Hire new people. Separate them from the rest of the company. Give them a landfall budget. Tell them to innovate using the newest cool words. Maybe all of the words at the same time. Tell them they do not need to care about the existing people, teams or operations that currently and historically generate revenue for the company. Do not give them a time limit to show results. Don’t create it, but allow a “they are special” mentality in the culture. Tell the folks on the existing (legacy) side of the house to “keep the lights on” while the new folks bring fresh ideas, play with all the new technologies and receive the accolades.

If you want people to leave, let them know they aren’t working on the most important things, aren’t valued as much as the others and there is no budget to explore ideas for improving their situation. Just tell them to keep working. For good measure, yell at them.

This recipe sounds horribly negative and absolutely does not value people.

There will be no culture that builds a company using this recipe because there will be no people. Taking a company and splitting it down the middle using, “old stuff” and “new stuff” mentalities breaks the culture, the loyalty, commitment and positive outlook of the people. And it guarantees time and money will be spent. Not guaranteed is whether the company will be better in the end.

A healthy company is “we.” An unhealthy company is “us/them.” Which one you experience is attributable either to active, purposeful leadership or leadership in absentia.

No one does that. Do they? Sadly it happens in the conversations which also use the words “innovation” and “digital transformation”. The goal is quite logically to move a culture and company into the next chapter of life.

We see quotes from Peter Drucker, Lee Iacocca, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson or Jim Collins floating through social media and other published material regularly. They are leaders with a history of influence and success. And what we often hear they said is, “Hire great people and get out of the way.”

What we do not hear in the same conversations is, “getting out of the way” is predicated by giving people the direction, parameters, latitude and resources to do great things and then get out of the way. “Hire great people and get out of the way” makes it sound like people require blank checks, blue skies and absolutely no friction, pressure, expectations, knotholes, constraints, guiding attributes, parameters or leadership.

Getting out of the way still requires active leadership.

Getting out of the way as a leadership tenet still requires two crucial attributes: (1) there must exist a clear objective, and (2) there must exist rules of engagement.

Before you cast off this material as drivel, ask yourself this: If you needed to liquidate personal assets to grow a company, would you want clear objectives and rules of engagement to exist before your personal money left the bank? As you spend your employer’s money, are you similarly disciplined?

The recipe for growing and transforming people and companies isn’t hard. It is time-consuming. It will require active planning, re-planning, leadership and management. It will require communication and over-communication. As many companies attest, there is no shortcut. Organizational change must be all-in, top-down, on-purpose.

It will absolutely require work.

1. Cast the Vision (What)

A vision tells people at a high level where you want to go compared to where you are.

Examples of vision:

  • Build a shareable smart city platform.
  • Move us completely into the cloud and out of brick and mortar.
  • Practice test-driven development for all product development and evolution.
  • Be EBITDA positive.
  • Implement a document management solution for our enterprise.
  • Implement an automated build, bundle and delivery process.

2. Describe the Outcomes (Why)

Outcomes tell people what it will look like when the desired vision is reached.

Examples of outcomes:

“By building a shareable smart city platform, we will enable approved third-party partners and vendors to work with us to serve our clients through real-time bi-directional sharing of information, more systemic feature and function opportunities, greater influence over the direction of the smart city industry, as well as, increasing the value of our data and brand along the way.”

“We are an insurance company. We irrevocably owe it to our clients to manage data privacy, provide real-time interactions and always be available to their needs at all times. We also owe it to them to be wholly focused, wholly available for their needs. We do not want to be in business of owning and managing physical data center assets in the future. By moving into the cloud we enable a larger percentage of our company team members and assets to focus on serving the real-time, interactive insurance needs of our clients than ever before.”

3. Identify Desired Objectives (Attributes of Done)

Objectives are explicit statements that are tangible, have a clear definition of done and are usable/useful solutions in the end.

Example objectives:

  • Enable a complete digital exhaust picture for all documents that enter, exist within, and exit our corporation including, but not limited to: when create, edit, delete, by whom, from where, sent/shared to whom or to what.
  • Enable a complete digital exhaust picture for all software that enters, exists within and exits our corporation including, but not limited to: create, edit, delete, by whom, from where, to whom or what, how and when tested, how and when statically and dynamically inspected, how and when assessed for vulnerabilities, how and when penetration tested, when deployed, what was in the bundle, sent where.

4. Provide Resources

To enable success for any team, they need access to the resources necessary to achieve desired objectives and outcomes. Sending them off with duct tape, hope and zeal will have results. Whether they are the results you desire remains to be seen.

Great People + Clear Objectives + Required Resources = High Probability Outcomes

This is the step people sometimes mistake as the entire recipe for, “Hire great people and get out of the way.” If we give them time, people, money and latitude, magical things will happen.

If you want dependable outcomes, the “hire great people and get out of the way” mantra also requires clear rules of engagement.

5. Set Rules of Engagement

Rules Of Engagement (ROE), also known as constraints, parameters or attributes, help define the context and conditions of done. They are not designed to limit innovation opportunity or success. Rather, ROE help direct all of the great people, time, energy and resources into a direction that is most beneficial for the context.

Examples of bad/no constraints:

  • Hire a building contractor. Whether they build homes or commercial buildings you don’t know. Write them a check. Tell the contractor, “You have one year. Surprise me.”
  • Schedule an appreciation party for your project team. Hire a chef. Tell the chef to prepare enough food for twenty people. Tell the chef your folks like exotic meat and hot, spicy things and to make it memorable.

Examples of good constraints:

  • Our time to market must be six months
  • Our time to revenue must be nine months
  • Use only open-source software
  • Ensure we are NIST-CSF compliant for Day 01 launch

6. Create Teams that Consider the Whole Company

Oversimplified, there are two types of people in companies:

1) Those who only see what is in front of their face (component thinkers); and

2) Those that know what is in front of their face is only a fraction of what can be seen in the larger landscape (systems thinkers).

Hire people who naturally think about the whole business and client experiences, not just the parts they want to think about. Set clear expectations with teams and projects that they must consider end to end implications of decisions and solutions, not just the parts they know about. Create cross-company teams that consider yesterday, today and tomorrow to ensure you bring along your people, your company, your clients and your future.

If you truly value your people, include them in defining tomorrow so that they take ownership of the journey and the result.

7. Stay Actively Involved

When leaders hire people they trust, it is easy to step back, get out of the way and just believe all will be well. If leadership defines the vision, outcomes, and objectives for the company, leadership must stay involved in the journey until realization as well – that is leadership.

  • Regularly meet with the teams to let them know the project is important, their contribution and effort is important and that you want to hear what they have to say regarding activities, challenges, roadblocks, and progress.
  • Request and expect to see tangible, demonstrable output on a regular basis. Do not take someone’s “word” that progress is happening; nor should you accept status reports, presentations or glossy materials discussing output. See the output or there is no output.
  • Regularly ask people how they are making the business better, how they are making better experiences and solutions for clients and what the time to value, time to market, time to revenue will be as a result of this investment.
  • Eliminate toy boxes. All money must lead to a return on investment in some way that benefits the people, business and/or clients. If there is no evidential relationship between investment and return, the effort is likely a toy project for someone, but not a high-value proposition for the business. Eliminate toy boxes or they will eliminate your money.

8. Know When to Say When

Knowing when to stop investing in an idea is something you must determine before the investment begins. After you’ve been on the journey for a while, it has the propensity to become personal. After all, you’ve labored over this idea, spent time, money, blood, sweat and tears.

Decide before the effort begins and regularly and iteratively ask the same questions:

  • What do we want to see from the team that shows us this is a worthy investment?
  • How much time and money is enough to validate, refactor or trash the idea?
  • How much risk exposure exists now and will exist as a result of the current solution direction? Will this solution increase or decrease our business and technical risk exposure? What is our risk appetite?
  • What are the triggers that make this investment good, at-risk and a candidate for termination?

Active leadership is a great deal more than getting out of the way. It means you hire great people. You don’t leave others behind. And you go on the journey with them once you’ve cast the vision, expressed the desired outcomes, provided the ROE and resources to be successful. 

If you truly value your people, include them in defining tomorrow so they take ownership of the journey and the result.

If you’d like to keep informed, and even interact, please connect or follow me on LinkedIn. Or sign up to receive our emails

We are also always looking for system thinkers to join us – those who can see the larger landscape and do the work as well. If this resembles you, email us


Ways To Die While Scuba Diving

Originally published on LinkedIn.

Years ago when I began diving, I had originally viewed diving as blue water with whales, dolphins and gorgeous coral reef. I quickly learned how diverse diving could really be.

I was trained in cold, brown water. Like all forms of diving, cold, brown water diving requires special attention to detail. Gear for staying warm, tools for extricating myself from unplanned situations such as fishing line, vines, branches and roots, multiple lights for seeing in the dark, murky waters and very good compass navigation skills.

As I expanded my learning and experience portfolio, I came to realize the preparation and skills necessary for warm, cold, caving, cavern, blue-water, brown-water, ocean, quarry, lake and river diving may seem the same, but each and every one of them have unique requirements within themselves. What I knew yesterday helped with today, but there was always more to learn. I realized a pattern of behaviors always required: plan, execute to plan, situational awareness and prepare for adversity, always. In all cases, be disciplined before, during, after and between dives.


I enjoyed compass-diving in brown water with 0-12 inches of visibility where many times I couldn’t see my hand when fully outstretched. I loved every minute of it because I never knew for sure what was coming and I needed to be ready for anything, at any time. Blue-water diving in the ocean offered infinite views in all directions. Nothing below, beside or above me other than sunlight coming down through the water – just blue infinity. Night diving meant that sometimes, were it not for my equipment, I could easily be upside down at 100 feet thinking I was right-side-up at 35. Like all forms of diving, all three of these experiences require many of the same skills.


And like all forms of diving, in all three of these experiences, one could become disoriented and make the decision to continue doing what you’re doing, make incremental and adaptive changes, or make poor, reactive and over-corrective decisions, which make things worse immediately. Over and over again diving – and living – came down to education, experience, discipline, planning, situational awareness and the need to make informed, responsive, level-headed decisions.

As I gained more experience, I made more diverse decisions increasing risk, complexity and potential return on decisions. Which then required more experience and more on-going education. To amplify learning diversity, I began to study how divers die and sought to understand how these deaths could have been prevented.

Reasons Divers Die (listed, not rank ordered):

- Failure to plan
- Failure to maintain and improve equipment
- Failure to maintain personal health and fitness
- Failure to keep themselves in check (emotions, ego, risk-taking)
- Failure to practice/improve/increase skills and knowledge

Diving is fun, adventurous, character-building and educational. It does not have to be deadly. The National Center for Biotechnology Information and the Diver’s Alert Network reported 59 diving-related deaths in the United States in 2016. That is a small number. Yet it is 59 too many. I encourage you to explore snorkeling and scuba diving for yourself. Get educated. Be disciplined. Have fun.

Why do you believe leaders and companies fail? It would seem that companies and diving have nothing in common until we compare the lists.

Reasons Leaders and Companies Fail (listed, not rank ordered):

- Failure to plan and adapt
- Failure to maintain and improve themselves, teams and systems
- Failure to maintain and improve personal health and fitness
- Failure to keep themselves and others in check (emotions, ego, risk)
- Failure to improve skills, knowledge and experience

How would you rank this list as it relates to you? Your boss? Your company?

Like diving, leading companies and teams require continuous data and decision-making. And in order to have continuous data that enables decision-making, there needs to exist a plan, situational awareness, a data feed, a pre-meditated, cool-headed ability to make decisions and the willingness to adapt.

Plan Your Dive or Plan For Failure

- Have a plan. Continually evaluate the plan. Be prepared to change.
- Know where you are in relation to the plan. Be prepared to change.
- Continue to purposefully improve yourself, your teams and your company. 
- Practice being thoughtfully responsive versus thoughtlessly reactive.

When you’re the only diver in the water, you are welcome to make any and all bad decisions available to you. You may (or may not) be the only one that will suffer from your mistakes.

However, when you’re in the water with others who rely upon your plan, your ability to see, hear, realize and adapt to incoming data, and they trust that you are capable of making the hard decisions in hard circumstances – your preparation, emotional maturity, adaptability and decisions matter.

Early on in my journey, an old, crusty diver made a dark comment to me that stuck with me permanently and heavily influenced my preparation, maintenance and overall discipline:

“When you’re down there doing what you do and you’ve failed to plan, failed to maintain your equipment, didn’t pay attention to the information in front of you or just plain didn’t keep a cool head, just remember, at 200 feet below the surface, no one can hear you scream.”

His point? Be disciplined. Plan. Be aware. Be adaptive. Keep your head screwed on correctly. Make context-driven decisions. Live to dive again. Make sure others with you have a good experience, learn and live to dive again.

The teams at Trility regularly help people create, modify and implement plans for successful dives, gain access to data in real-time so they can adapt, as well as, equip people with the solutions they need to keep cool heads at 200 feet.

Authors Note: We’re not really going to help you plan your dives. In fact, we may never dive together. You might be crazy. I just wanted to keep the analogy going. If you want to dive, join the military, attend a commercial diving school or reach out to diver training organizations like PADI.

If you want to learn how to digitally transform your company, influence your leaders, train your teams, plan and deliver some of the dirtiest, nastiest, most complex projects from the bottom of the deepest, darkest ocean that no one else wants to do – then do call or email us.


Growth Requires a Plan

Achieving growth, change, and success without a plan is a blessing. And these blessings lead many to believe they don’t need a plan. Said folks may even believe they are smarter than most and didn’t have a plan in the first place.

For the rest of us, achieving growth, change, and success over and over again in a predictable, repeatable manner that consumers and shareholders can bank on requires a plan.

In our personal lives, we refer to this structure as goals and plans. In companies, we tend to state things in the form of strategic objectives and roadmaps.

Plans and Goals Evolve with Age, Wisdom

When we ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, they often (understandably) have no idea, let alone what it will take to get there. Yet, they are exploring and dreaming – limited only by their imagination (Figure 1 below).

When we ask young adults how far they want to go in the sport of their choice. They often state, “We want to win it all.” And they go on the journey with an idea of a plan (the season schedule), objectives (win all of the time), and a goal (be the best). They may not understand everything necessary to get there, but they are on the road to understanding. Experience helps. These young adults are only limited by their will to win and dedication to the journey.

We ask professionals in organizations about their personal and professional goals and the answers are often crystallized into promotions, higher salary, more responsibility, bonuses, achieving professional certifications, and recognition. These folks often understand goals are composed of one or more objectives that require tasks to achieve them and are limited only by time, opportunity, and a plan. Experience breeds wisdom.

A Strategic Roadmap that Spans Organizations and People

Now consider companies themselves. Do they have strategic objectives for the coming year or years? Are there roadmaps spanning the organization that help the company achieve those objectives?

If there are strategic objectives, does everyone in the company know what they are? Should they? And if there are roadmaps, do they map to fulfilling the corporate objectives? Do all of the team members know how their projects relate to the roadmap which leads to achieving the strategic objectives?

Not having strategic objectives and a roadmap is one class of problem.

Have objectives and roadmaps without general population knowledge and understanding of what they are, what they mean, and how we’re all getting there together? Different class of problem to solve.

Can you imagine a company that has no clear objectives, no roadmap, has experienced intermittent growth, change, and success without a plan and believes working hard and being busy is actually the plan?

Figure 1. The relationship between age, wisdom, plans, and goals.

Ask any adult their plans for a holiday. They will most likely tell you exactly when it starts, where they are going, how they will get there, what they plan to do with a timeline, when they start for home, when they will be back at work, and generally how much the whole endeavor will cost.

We need to see the same attention to detail incorporate strategic objective setting, roadmaps, and projects.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where – ” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“– so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

Dodgson, Charles Lutwidge (pseudonym, Lewis Carroll). Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. London. Macmillan and Co.1865. Chapter 6.

A parting thought: whether we discuss children, young adults, professionals or corporations, the journey will require much of us – including money. Most people are happy to spend money on children, young adults, and ourselves in pursuit of goals. And most folks are happy to spend their company’s money as well.

Question: If this were your company and your money, how would you feel about the company and people spending your money without clear strategic objectives and a roadmap to get there?