May 11, 2016

The Most Powerful Word in the Workplace

As we approach the mid-year point in our jobs, I often find that knowledge workplaces have a tendency to slow down a bit and lose some steam - even the ones that leverage Scrum. Early-year milestones have been met (sometimes at an unsustainable pace), Teams are in 'recovery mode', and forecasts for the rest of the year are taking shape for a second-half push.

However, this is an ideal time of year to avoid momentum loss by aggressively reflecting and implementing strategic improvements in ourselves, our Teams and our organizations. How can we influence this behavior in others? In last year's short post entitled The Most Dangerous Word in the Workplace, I shared my own insights on the word "why" and its potential for driving negative toxicity in an organization's culture.

However, this very same word can foster positive dialogue that leads to significant organizational improvements.

Asking "Why" About ... Everything


I recently witnessed this mindset on display in my own company - it was inspiring to watch. It involved a number of software Product Development Teams who had just completed the launch of a highly successful new Product. Fresh off a big win, it would be easy to relax and let this success carry the organization forward on cruise control.

Instead, these teams were aggressively seeking new learnings and challenging the status quo - with thoughtful multi-Team retrospection and purpose - simply by asking"Why?" about everything. Some questions that emerged for the Teams and Leaders included:
"Why" do we exist?

"Why" are we working on these particular Features? What makes it essential for our Customers?

"Why" do we use Scrum to optimize business outcomes? How can we make it better and more focused?

"Why" do we have to follow this operational procedure in this way? How can we change it to improve our organization's Agility?

This powerful collaboration resulted in a reinvigorated improvement backlog for the Scrum Teams and the larger organization. And despite their recent success, there was zero complacency - teams immediately started implementing improvements that will lead them to even greater success for the rest of the year and beyond. This is the Lean pillar of Continuous Improvement in action!

A Call to Action for all Scrum Professionals

As you enter your workplace tomorrow, consider challenging the status quo - politely and respectfully - using "why". Discover "why" your work matters to the larger organization. Seek out a wasteful process and ask "why" do we do it this way.

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