I was asked to run a training for a small group of new Product Owners. They were about to be part of a new project starting soon. The team and the Scrum Master have worked together before, but with other Product Owners. So they asked me to help these new Product Owners to understand some context on Agile, Scrum and what is the role of the Product Owner.
I have done this kind of training multiple times before so didn't need to do anything specific. I loved the fact that they came from a Lean mindset and some of the concepts that usually take time to discuss, went very smooth with them. Loved it!! I even asked them if I could shadow them for a day and see what they do. Their titles were "Manager of Continuous Improvement team", how cool is that!! (ok, there is something wrong with me).
Part of the training is also an exercise that I run with them where I take a real project and I walk them through Intake process and then building the Story Map together. This means that they start by explaining me the project, the goal, the benefits, etc. This project was about setting ways to track and measure people's activities in order to use it for their performance review.
All of a sudden, all the joy I had built up while discussing with them about the Lean mindset and Agile way of working, was all shuttered and broken into little tiny pieces. While they kept explaining to me how they wanted to measure 100% people usage, and how they wanted to measure if in a team of two people one of them did 40% of work and the other 60% of it, my mind was spinning on a different dimension. I so wanted to stop them and say "But guys, they are people, not machines! Why would you want to measure people like this? What kind of performance are you measuring like this? What kind of behavior do you expect to see after you do this? You even want to spent a lot of money and have this project to build a system that will measure this!..." I think I started boiling inside and was coming up with ways to get them to stop this monster project. So I asked if in a higher level, was this the most important project to invest? Maybe this team can be used to build something more useful to business needs. And they told me that even higher level managers prioritized this project to High and they want to see it done. I think my face was changing shape and color because at one point they stopped and they were looking at me with a confused look.
So I asked "Have you received any feedback from your end users on this product? We need them to be involved". And the answer made me drop my jaw "They asked for this! We prioritized this high because they have been asking us for a long time about this!"
Everything dear to me about people management, all Management 3.0 ideas, everything that Deming has said, all models about Trust, team work, team health...everything went for a moment down the drain! Then I had the opposite idea: Is this company to a level of operation where they have done all the things I had in mind and now they have found other revolutionary ways to work with people?!!
And then something came in my mind that helped me to get back to chill mode again.
CONTEXT!! Yes, Context is truly everything!
I had forgotten that the people that would be measured by this system were not knowledge workers. They were people that worked in shifts at a distribution center. Very manual work, with scheduled breaks and an agreement on the time they would take for a coffee/smoke break. Even their titles are the ones I have heard before from Amazon, such as "pickers", "shippers", "people on the floor", etc. So Taylor's theory still works for them. They go to "performance review" meetings without knowing how they were being measured. They all moved boxes from a trailer to the conveyer or vice-versa. They all get to work at the beginning of the shift and they all leave when the ear-piercing buzzer goes off. So they were asking their managers "What does it mean to be a good employee? How do you know who is a high performer and who is not? Why X is being told is a good employee when he takes a lot of coffee breaks?" And managers asked for help to create a system on how to give sense to what these people do, set up a way to measure the lead time for a certain process based on some parameters, and then make this visible to everyone so they know what do they need to do in order to get a bonus!
After this, I started collaborating with them on creating the Story map and other conversations related. At the end of the day I was still thinking the ethical side of what I did today, and at the end I think I did the right thing and helped some people that wanted to solve a good problem. I just had to move myself into a different environment from where I am usually used to work, consider different parameters and inputs, looking to solve a problem from a different dimension.
If you read this, and you are an Agile coach, I would love to hear your feedback.