Capability Insights Consulting



Technology Leaders: Improve Software Quality

Posted on April 26, 2011 at 11:17 AM Comments comments (0)

This post is for IT leaders who want to improve the capability of their software quality group.

The article below is all about understanding the people and process involved in testing the software you build, buy and deploy.

The article is on a great web site called Software Quality Connection. Check out the article and the site!

I Think My Software Testing Group Can Be Better



Managing Software Requirements

Posted on April 26, 2011 at 11:07 AM Comments comments (0)

As a business leader, you can help your IT supporters to build or buy you the software applications you need to enable your business processes.

You, or the people you designate, need to work through your needs of a software application. Your IT analyst can help you. An important area to consider is how your needs or requirements relate to one another. I recently wrote an articale on the website Sofware Quality Connection that talks about requirements traceability or the relationship between requirements.

Have a read and remember to ask your IT folks how they manage requirements on your behalf.

Requirements Traceability: Why Bother?



Managing Requirements for Purchased Software

Posted on April 26, 2011 at 10:37 AM Comments comments (0)

No business runs today without software (aka applications). I recently wrote an article on this topic for a great website called Software Quality Connection. Too often business and IT downplay the need for requirements for purchased software.

Check it out!

Requirements: Not Just for Application Projects

Goals, Magic and Common Sense

Posted on September 7, 2010 at 4:04 PM Comments comments (0)

Very recently a report on whether SMART goals are dumb came to my inbox (Are Smart Goals Dumb).  This report takes direct aim at the SMART goals that so many managers and organizations lean on. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.


This way of thinking through goal setting has been around for years. And I use the phrase “managers and organizations lean on” very purposefully. Way too often goal-setting exercises using SMART goals are a crutch. They are used to make managers and organizations feel good about their management prowess and have little to do with setting the organization, teams and individuals up for success.


One Report

In fact the authors of the study in the above report say, “we discovered that people’s goals are not particularly helpful. In fact, our survey found that only 15% of employees strongly agree that their goals will help them achieve great things. And only 13% of employees strongly agree that

their goals this year will help them maximize their full potential.”


They further found that there was no correlation between SMART goals and individuals and teams achieving great things. Now perhaps goal setting isn’t always about the desire to achieve great things but most of the time it is about wanting and needing teams/individuals to achieve very good things! The study found 8 factors that did correlate with the achievement of great things. They are:

  1. I can vividly picture how great it will feel when I achieve my goals.
  2. I will have to learn new skills to achieve my assigned goals for this year.
  3. My goals are absolutely necessary to help this company.
  4. I actively participated in creating my goals for this year.
  5. I have access to any formal training that I will need to accomplish my goals.
  6. My goals for this year will push me out of my comfort zone.
  7. My goals will enrich the lives of somebody besides me (customers, the community, etc.).
  8. My goals are aligned with the organization’s top priorities for this year.

One book

What I found startling about this list was the similarity between this list and the findings in the book by Geoffrey Bellman and Kathleen Ryan, “Extraordinary Groups: How Ordinary Teams Achieve Amazing Results”. Bellman and Ryan list several things that extraordinary groups exhibit:

  1. A compelling purpose that inspires and stretches members to make the group and its work a top priority.
  2. Shared leadership that encourages members to take mutual responsibility for helping the team be successful.
  3. Just-enough structure to create confidence to move forward, but not so much as to become bureaucratic or burdensome.
  4. Full engagement that results in all members jumping in with enthusiasm, sometimes passionately and chaotically regardless of role.
  5. Embracing differences so that group members see, value, and use their diversity as a strength.
  6. Unexpected learning that translates into personal and group growth.
  7. Strengthened relationships among members characterized by trust, collegiality, and friendship.
  8. Great results, tangible and intangible.

The book has a great model on aspects of self, group and world (whatever the group`s definition of world is) that lays out what is needed in those 3 dimensions to affect transformation and create the environment for teams to achieve greatness.


A Little Magic

I’m always fascinated when researchers and experts arrive at similar places from different paths. In this case, both the report and book also ring my emotional bells. I have been on OK, good and great teams and was able to very quickly relate to what the report and book cover. The two lists are not identical as one is about goals and the other about aspects of high-achieving teams. Yet a few things pop out for me as I go through both lists:

  • A compelling purpose helps me imagine and vividly picture what it will feel like when I achieve my goals.
  • When I can see that my goals are aligned with the organization`s top priorities it helps create a compelling purpose and helps me want to make this work my top priority.
  • For me to be fully engaged I need to participate in creating my goals and share leadership in the group.
  • The compelling purpose must help me see how my goals will enrich the lives of others beyond me. Conversely, when the work will enrich the lives of others it contributes to the compelling purpose.
  • To achieve great results I need to learn, to be pushed beyond my comfort zone; I must achieve personal growth.

Both are really talking about tapping into the individual`s and team`s heart, not just head. The book talks about the magic that seems to happen when a team transforms itself and its result into something great. Having been there it does indeed feel like magic and sticks as a defining set of memories that I constantly seek to replicate.


And Some Common Sense (The Hard Part!)

Of course, not too many organizations are ready to manage by magic! Neither the report nor book authors suggest that either. The report outlines a different way of approaching goal setting (HARD: heartfelt, animated, required and difficult) and the book has many good suggestions for creating the best team environment possible.


But in spite of my concern about how SMART is implemented, I`m not ready to throw out SMART goals just yet. As the saying goes, let`s not throw out the baby with the bath water.


The concept of SMART is not all wrong:

  • Some level of specificity is needed. Look at number 3 on the report`s list. If you can say that meeting the goal is an absolute necessity for the organization you can probably specify it to some degree. The compelling purpose (point 1 on the book`s list) very likely contains some statements that will help derive some specific goals.
  • Having only goals that cannot be measured in any way won`t help with motivation or help sustain the groups energy. Number 7 on the report`s list (My goals will enrich the lives of somebody besides me) and number 8 on the book`s list (Great results, tangible and intangible) both speak to some level of measurement, sometimes. I will say though that not every goal needs to be measurable in a specific timeframe. The individual or team may have a goal of their work having a positive impact on customers for years to come. That can be made more specific by talking about the kinds of impact but those impacts may simply not be measureable in any reasonable timeframe. Allowing some room for intangible results gives individuals and teams room to expand and grow beyond what you – or they – can imagine right now.
  • Both lists clearly show that individuals must move out of their comfort zone and individuals and teams must learn something in order for great things to happen. Goals that are easily achievable and completely realistic today will not help! But, I`d argue that goals that are truly unachievable or unrealistic are simply de-motivators and can stop a team or individual cold. Individuals and teams must be part of the goal setting exercise and goal-setting cannot be something that is done once at the beginning of the year or the beginning of a project and cast in stone. As learning happens and as the individual or team is better able to assess the evolving reality and likely impact of their work, the goals should grow with them.
  • Having some goals that are achieved within a set timeframe can help the individual or team have a real sense of progress. Having these should be part of every goal-setting exercise. But insisting on a set timeframe for every goal is limiting the potential of the individual or team.

In the end, what is wrong is a slavish following of SMART as an annual or team start-up thing to do vs. recognizing that setting goals is one component of the larger picture; or saying that every goal must meet the SMART rule vs. allowing room for some goals that allow the magic back into the work.


Since the vast majority of work today gets done by teams, setting goals independent of setting a good team environment will not net us the results we need for the organization. I understand the desire for models and rules to help us manage and lead. But leading and managing is about using those models and rules intelligently, in context and with an understanding that they are never the be all and end all.


I won`t throw out SMART goals. I think they can live alongside HARD goals. And I will attempt to remember the purpose of goal setting is not so I end up with a list of things I can manage against but rather about one of the things I do with individuals and teams to enable them get the results the organization needs. There are no shortcuts!




IT Productivity Means Change

Posted on August 29, 2010 at 2:09 PM Comments comments (0)

Unlike my regular posts, this one is a link to an article I wrote for Dell and IT Expert Voice. Check it out!


Here's the link...





12 Lessons in Leadership or Hitting Brick Walls While Gaining Gray Hair

Posted on August 24, 2010 at 6:48 PM Comments comments (1)

Leadership isn’t something that is available only to those of us with gray hair. But, there is something to be said for the lessons that the University of Life teaches us along the way to those gray hairs!


So, below are 12 lessons I’ve learned (or more realistically that I am working on learning) around leadership.


  1. The only way to grow power is to give it away. I have not yet met a leader who isn’t drawn to power. That does not make them megalomaniacs! It is with power that we can accomplish change, grow organizations, or improve situations. But power does not grow when hoarded by the leader. If you steal other’s power you leave them powerless. Powerless people accomplish nothing. And leaders need others to get things done. See lessons 10 and 11! So, to grow your power base and opportunity to accomplish things, you have to give those around you the power to meet their highest potential. Simply put, power shrinks exponentially when hoarded and grows exponentially when shared.
  2. To gain control, you have to first acknowledge that you don’t have it. Should be so obvious shouldn’t it! The problem is that many of us who like to “be in control” also suffer from the assumption that we are in control. This is especially true when things are going well; we must have things “under control” right? My experience says that is wrong. I do a better job as a leader when I recognize that I’m not likely seeing the whole picture. That I need to keep looking, keep questioning and keep digging so I can find the things lurking around waiting to sidetrack me, the team or the work. I can keep moving forward while I’m looking. This is about replacing control with awareness.
  3. Control and leadership don’t have much to do with one another. For a start, review lesson 2. Once you’ve accepted that you are rarely “in control” of things, you need to recognize that you are never in control of people. People will choose to follow you or not. You may have the illusion of control because of the position you hold but it is an illusion. At best when you think you are controlling people you are getting compliance, but never passion or innovation or commitment to the task at hand. Passion, innovation and commitment from everyone can grow your power (see lesson 1) to get things done (see lesson 10).
  4. If you want to speed up, slow down. “I want it done, and I want it done now. Don’t talk to me about issues or risks or anything else that sounds like negativity. Just do it!” The problem with this is that we’ll end up tripping over ourselves. Urgency is good, rushing is bad. As counterintuitive as it may feel, a little upfront planning and analysis will get things done faster. You will discover issues that could have derailed you and be able to deal with them before they take up much time. You’ll know what your major risks are and have a plan to handle them before they become time-sucking, soul-deflating crises. The people around you will take you seriously when they see you doing some planning for this project or change.
  5. Over-planning does not lead to over-execution. Yes, this is a contradiction to rule 4, so see rule 12. You can over do planning. Just enough planning is absolutely necessary. You need to leave some room for opportunities and changes to be brought into the fold. You need a plan with flexibility. Too much planning is all about the need to be in control. You cannot control everything. Review lessons 2 and 3.
  6. Managing up is not leadership. Being a “yes man” and taking orders may make you popular with the boss but won’t help you grow your leadership skills or your leadership power in the long run. Leading up is different. Being a model of good leadership won’t always be comfortable when dealing with those above you, but you’ll keep learning and helping everyone around you (up, down and sideways) to learn as well. Those that manage up well often do climb the organizational ladder very quickly. Then they find that no one wants to follow them once they get to the top – or even the next rung. So they struggle to get things done. See lessons 10 and 11.
  7. Leadership is not a sell job. This is not about having a great idea and selling it to everyone. It is certainly not about continuing to sell even when it’s abundantly clear no one’s buying. Having an idea is great, but it isn’t a great idea until it is punched around, tweaked and morphed into the idea that the whole team rallies around and plans for with passion and commitment. This may be one of the most humbling aspects of true’s not about me or my ideas. It’s about...well, see lessons 10 and 11.
  8. Leadership is not a democracy. Yes, this is another contradiction. This feels like the opposite of lesson 7, so see lesson 12. There are times, hopefully rare, when you cannot share all the information you have, you cannot wait for everyone to have an opinion and you are accountable to make a decision. You have to tell vs. influence, guide and lead. The secret is to let your team know this is one of those situations. If you have built up leadership credibility they will trust you. If this seems to be happening a lot, you are not being honest with yourself. Review lessons 1 and 2. Leadership credibility will soon disappear if it keeps up!
  9. Yes, you can kill with kindness. Not telling someone about a problem because it might hurt their feelings is not helping them improve their performance. Not being direct about a situation because you don’t want to deflate them, is leaving them to guess at what you are saying. Keeping someone who is just not working out is not kind. They feel like a failure on the job and the rest of the team gets resentful. No one wins. Constantly stepping in to make up for someone else’s non-performance means you do not have a team working at optimum power levels. You need power to accomplish things, see lesson 1. Getting things done is the purpose of leadership. See lesson 10. So, as hard and as uncomfortable as it may be, you just have to deal with people performance or behaviour issues. If you have done your best to provide remedial or professional development, coaching etc and it is not working... Stop it.
  10. The purpose of leadership is not to lead, it is to get things done. This one should be obvious as well, but often gets lost in the desire to lead, be seen as a leader, be acknowledged as a leader, feel the power of leadership etc. Having power is pretty lame if it isn’t used to do something. Getting things done is a pre-requisite for maintaining leadership for any period of time. Just try explaining to your boss that you might not have accomplished anything but you lead beautifully. And, getting things done requires more than just you, so see lesson 11.
  11. Getting things done takes more than a leader. Leadership involves getting things done through others. It is not a solitary endeavour. Just like there is no “I” in team, there is no “I” in leader either. That means attending to team dynamics, the individuals on the team, the collective strengths and weaknesses of the team etc. Review lessons 1-10!
  12. Leadership is often contradictory and messy and hard. And you’ll get dizzy following the lessons around. If it were easy there would not an entire industry around it. You can read about it, train on it and get advanced degrees in it. Check, check, check on my part so I’ve clearly been pulled into the messy vortex of this thing called leadership. About the only thing I’m really certain about is that these lessons are not the end for me, just the beginning.

Beware of anyone who tells you that leadership is easy for them, that they are a natural at it or that they don’t really work at it. They just haven’t hit their brick walls yet!




What Does Good Sponsorship Look Like?

Posted on June 9, 2010 at 5:55 PM Comments comments (6)

Recently a friend of mine wrote an article for Project Times (From The Sponsor's Desk; In Your Face) on a project I led a few years ago. As he and I emailed back-and-forth about his article I was reflecting on went well with that project since successful projects are never just about the project manager.


We had a skilled and enthusiastic team and we had great sponsors. As I further thought about other successful projects I’ve led or been part of it seemed that great sponsorship was a consistent pattern. Strong teams and strong project managers may overcome mediocre sponsorship to deliver not-bad projects. Truly great projects need all of strong teams, strong project managers and great sponsorship. 


Of the many great sponsors I’ve been lucky enough to work with, few have had the same personality or business skill set. So, I started to think about what they did share. Here’s my list of things to look for in a sponsor or aspire to as a sponsor. I’m sure many of you can add to this list and I’d love to hear from you!


Clear understanding and definite dissatisfaction with the current state

  • They understand what is wrong or not working and why
  • They understand the business consequences of the issues
  • They believe the current state is untenable
  • They share this with everyone, often – not by blaming, rather by explaining

Clear sense of the future direction without preconceived notions of the final solution

  • They know what business results they need from the project
  • They believe the project can and will provide a solution that delivers the results needed
  • They trust the project team to come up with solution options and a recommended solution as part of executing on the project
  • They communicate all of this with everyone, often – with a sense of passion and persistence

Active in risk management

  • They are not head-in-the-sand optimists nor are they afraid of people that bring forward risks and challenges
  • They expect those identifying risks to also propose risk mitigation actions
  • They see risk plans not as pessimism but as the method to ensure realistic and sustainable optimism
  • They share that brand of optimism with everyone, often

Makes the right decisions

  • They set clear boundaries and a framework for decision making in partnership with the project manager and based on the needs and situation for that project
  • They do not usurp the project manager and team’s role in making the project-based decisions on how the project is run
  • They do make the decisions they are asked to make as quickly as possible to help the team avoid delays
  • They facilitate getting decisions made by others when (not if, when!) politics threatens to derail progress
  • They are not afraid to make decisions and they stand behind the decisions they make and that the project team makes
  • They communicate decisions needed or made as often as necessary to whoever is necessary

Willingness to serve the project and the project team

  • They expect the project manager to let them know when there are problems – yet they are not invisible until a problem arises; they check in to see how things are going not as micro-managers, but as servants to the team, ready and willing to help
  • They clear roadblocks that only they, with their authority and position, can clear
  • They do not take over problems the project team can handle; they trust the team to do its job
  • They provide a dome of protection and focus for the project team; they support the project manager in ensuring the project team is not raided for its talent or diverted to things that do not meet project goals
  • They keep the project visible and reiterate its importance to everyone, often

Expects results and is willing to pay for them

  • They set high standards of behaviour and action and expect the same from the project team
  • They do not set unrealistic or unachievable goals; yet they expect the team to be better than the sum of its individual members and to stretch themselves
  • They do not expect to get great results at bargain basement prices nor do they provide an open wallet
  • They provide that sense of balance on the path to results to everyone, always

Acknowledges results

  • They celebrate the interim results and the final results
  • They provide ongoing encouragement to the project team and to everyone involved in or impacted by the project
  • They deflect the glory to those that worked on the project in any capacity
  • They share their excitement and pride widely

I can think of many more detailed items but these are the key things I look for from a sponsor.  


Perhaps it is no surprise that this is a very similar list of things I look for in a leader!