• Mohamed F. Ahmed

Do The Right Thing Even If No One Is Looking!


This is what is called excellence! You want your business or team to always do the right thing regardless of the circumstances to outdistance your competitors. However, this is not as easy as it sounds. You'll always come across choices and controversial decisions. And if you're successful you don't have be there anymore with your team to scale their excellence. So, how can you establish excellence within your organization and scale it as your organization grows?

First, you need to decide, which approach is the best for your situation. Do you want to scale up excellence through replication or through encouraging variation based on set of principles? Replication is about applying organization's exact proven techniques everywhere. It works in businesses that are heavy in operations, or at least used extensively at the operational side of a business or teams' activities. I've experienced, for example, how large cloud providers, such as AWS, manage and run their data centers. They had the same procedures, with exact protocol everywhere. This reduced the cost and time to identify and deploy improvements across the board. We use this approach extensively also with our software services operations, such as deployment, recovery, etc. They're repeatable and can be copied across the board. It also helps everyone to do the right think every time, see scaling mantras below.

Variation based scaling is about encouraging diffusion of customization and allow variation in how business is characterized and run. For example, we ask our teams at The Climate Corporation to always think of the bottlenecks in their critical decisions. How can they overcome these bottlenecks with basic principles that makes the decision much less painful. For example, our operations engineering team had always to argue over if a task should be automated or if it doesn't worth the effort and let's just keep it as is. The team has lots of automation opportunities, but which ones should they pick? They came up with simple rules to help them implement their strategy. Another example, the Test Engineering team has the bottleneck of scaling their impact without scaling the team linearly with the development team. They were able to come up with basic testing principles and simple enforced gateways to guarantee the implementation of these testing frameworks.

Second, you need to think of gaining and scaling excellence as a ground war in which you gain ground inch-by-inch. You consistently apply your principles and always get engaged with activities that would resemble excellence in your organization. For example, if the SLA of your cloud based software is critical for your company, you must be engaged with your teams as they review their numbers and dashboards. The best experience I went through was in AWS. Every week the executives go through the outages and SLA numbers with all teams in one big meeting. It keeps everyone connected to the organization's core scaling principles; customer obsession is one of them of course. Most importantly, it allows the leadership to have ground level visibility and be always to correct patterns that are anti-excellence.

Third, think of spreading excellence in the light of these 3 mottos

It is about the right mindset not a footprint. Maintaining excellence as you grow your organization is about keeping your members with the right mindset. This is how you guarantee they always do the right thing when no one is looking. Creating this mindset is possible by continuously juicing behaviors with incentives by giving gas to good behaviors and de-scale quickly the bad ones. Encouraging good behaviors comes from your subliminal cues in both the physical environment and virtual environments. For example, at Climate we provide email reminders of what the developer should test and do after each code commit.

Build on Individual's Accountability. Focus on providing each individual enough space to do their own work and for others to see it and evaluate it. Visibility of work results and numbers increases the overall accountability within the organization. Don't depend on your leadership to evaluate the work results. Leave it to everyone else to see and evaluate. This will add up good peer pressure and makes team members accountable to each other.

Reduce Cognitive Load. Excessive cognitive load undermines the ability of people to do what they know and believe they should. Reducing cognitive load differs from one place to another. However, you should focus on: (1) Use affordances/cues, such as checklists, templates, etc., (2) Focus on small steps to improve, such as Atlasssian's ship-it days to get features out of the door quickly, (3) make people authors and let them own the output, (4) Make killing load a fun activity, and (5) design jobs to reduce the load; for example, how many steps needed? can you reduce people involved in the decision making?

Scaling up excellence is gained inch-by-inch selecting the right approach for your team/organization, keep them in the right mindset, increase felt accountability, and provide cues to make the right decisions.


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© 2016 by Mohamed F. Ahmed