TBM 16/53: The Boring Bits

Cleaning up meeting notes. Putting in the time to run a great activity. Sending a link to the one-pager folder two days in advance of the workshopping session. Doing the pre-read and taking good notes. Re-taping the physical kanban board to reflect the new working agreements. Running a meaningful offsite. Writing the weekly recap.

These are the boring bits that busy people often don't have time for. It's crazy lately! We've got to be nimble! Who needs that bureaucratic bullshit? "Individuals and interactions over processes and tools!"

The skepticism and reticence has merit. We've all experienced crappy management at some point. We've all endured process that oozed distrust and in no way benefitted customers and the team. Compliance by Jira. But there's a good deal of boring but necessary work needed to help a product team do meaningful work.

This work often goes under-appreciated. And in some cases ridiculed and diminished. But while tactics (and org culture) vary, most effective teams figure how how to make (some amount of) it happen.

A big challenge is that some things suck at first. Value emerges with practice. Take learning/decision reviews. Learning reviews are a bit nerve wracking when you start out. They are a lot harder than showing off a new feature. You have to unravel your process and decisions. The folks listening need to pay attention and work hard to ask good questions.

It is easy for a team to quit after a couple tries and get overwhelmed with a new, shiny project. Many teams treat the meta-work as something you do on top of the "real" work. There's no time. But if you keep at it -- take the leap of faith, and carve out the time and energy -- there's a good chance your team will benefit.

Another quick example: learning backlogs. Sure this makes sense. But it takes just a bit of extra work and focus. If you’re maxed out or too rushed (or chasing efficiency), you’ll drop the practice.

Final one: a coworker who used to dedicate one full our of prep PER ATTENDEE when it came to important meetings like kickoffs. To many that is a waste. But no joke…the return on investment was huge.

How do you build the trust of your team to take this leap and give it an honest shot before nixing the experiment?

  • Commit the time required to make something a habit.

  • Frame it as an experiment.

  • Limit change in progress.

  • Be willing to walk away if it doesn't work. Engage your team in detecting whether something doesn't work. Engage your team in designing the experiment.

  • Be crystal clear when you expect a dip...a period of "this sucks".

  • Lead by example. Don't be the first to bail. Do your part. Take the notes. Run the meeting. Write the follow ups.

This is on my mind lately as some very effective teams have shared their "process" or system with me. Of note is the best seem to strike this interesting mix between rigor/repetition and being flexible and adapting continuously. It isn't one or the other. They try things that don’t initially make sense or seem efficient. And quickly jettison those things after giving them a fair shot.

Andric Tham describes this nicely:

So, how do you go about building support for the boring bits? Let me know.