• Mohamed F. Ahmed

Principles of Scaling Excellence - Part II


In my previous post I mentioned that excellence itself is a mysterious creature and touched on 2 principles of scaling excellence. It is a challenge for many to define it in a concrete way. I addressed its definition in a previous post: Do The Right Thing Even if No One Is Looking. I'll share with you today another 3 basic principles that you should think about throughout your excellence journey.

Help Your Teams Live The Right Mindset. What is the right mindset that you want your team to have? What's the most important reference point for the right mindset? This is what defines your team culture and company's unique values. For example, Amazon is known for its customer obsession. This is the reference point that any controversial decision makers gravitates towards and makes everyone in the same mindset. This is something that you and your team do everyday. Discuss it with your leadership or team members and ask them: what would be the ideal decision given our values? How can we make sure that we're consistent in our decisions? In my operations engineering team, we authored our SMaC (Systematic Methodical and Consistent - after Jim Collin's SMaC list in Good to Great) as a reference point for all our planning and decision points. For example, we wanted to spread the mindset of tasks automation; so a SMaC item is: Never do a task more than 3 times. We made this as a reference to all team members to stop repeating a task and get rest of the team to think about how we can eliminate this manual step.

Juice Behaviors Through the Right Incentives. These incentives are meant to keep your organization in the right mindset and be accountable for what your teams do. The regular incentives such as money are useless and sometimes harmful if you don't use them the right way to juice the right behaviors. It can be used as either a tool or as a drug. If you accompany your incentives with a high physiological magnitude they become a great tool. For example, don't provide a bonus without clearly recognizing your team member efforts in front of everyone. The lower in economic value, to a certain limit, the more ROI you're going to have. Another way to juice behavior is by providing subliminal cues. For example, we had more than 20% increase in our test coverage by providing an auto-generated email after each code commit reminding them that 90% of services keep their SLA has functionally tested before deploying it to production. Such a cue made developers gradually check more functional tests and build more reliable services.

Cut cognitive Load but Deal with Necessary Complexity. Reducing the complexity has many known techniques but the problem is that many leaders underestimate the effect of large team sizes and the daily complexities that their employees need to go through. The first and most important strategy to follow is to optimize your teams size and structure based on: (1) Who will make the decisions, (2) Where the knowledge need to be shared, and (3) Where do you want to contain majority of the communication. If the decision is distributed across more than one person in most of the cases, you will be doomed to failure either due to slow decision making or lack of buy in from everyone. The right level of specialization drives efficiency and speed within your teams. You want to make sure that there is a clear specialization and clear separation of concerns for teams to trust each other and deliver solid outputs.

Cutting cognitive load can be also achieved by:

  • Use affordances, such as check-lists or basic rules to decide on usually contentious area. For example, what are your team's simple rules to rewrite an old system as versus continue maintaining it.

  • Adopt small and consistent steps. For example, many software companies use hackathon days/events to help its engineers with minimum time explore new technologies, test new concepts, or fix chronic problems.

  • Throw the chart out and focus on the functions. Be flexible about your org, but not too crazy. Many organizations get caught in old way of thinking because of their culture and their inability to touch their sacred caws.

  • Turn people into authors. When you give people the freedom, they will amaze you. We had a hackathon and the prize was to let the team to select their own prize. We where surprised by what they selected! They didn't ask for a cash or selfish prize. They asked a support from leadership to further experiment with it and turn it into a product!

In my next post(s), I'll discuss these principles of scaling excellence.

  • Engage all five senses of your team to immerse them in your cause

  • build, connect and cascade centers of excellence

  • How can you increase your scaling capacity through increasing your talent density and overall felt accountability

Stay tuned!


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© 2016 by Mohamed F. Ahmed