Scaling orgs: Simple tools for Decisions, Risks and Dependency Management.

As we scale up, whether it is our team or services, we also have to adapt and tune our processes that have been working well for us. You see, what used to work well before, may not work anymore.

As organizations grow, situations with complex decision making with competing priorities arise. Risks need to be managed well such that their blast radius is minimum and stakeholder surprises are minimum. And dependencies typically increase. 

I wanted to reflect back and share some tools and processes in which I have learned and found value as I have grown my org. This article is dedicated to sharing simple, free tools to decision making, risk management and dependency tracking. I didn’t use any of this 3-4 years ago, but now they are effective tools in my tool kit as a large org lead, thanks to my leaders who have taught me these things.

I also mentor at PlatoHQ for almost a year now and I have found that effective decision making, risk & dependency management comes more often than I expected. So without more blabber, let’s get into it 🙂 

Decision Making:

As a leader, We participate in a lot of decision making activities. We may not be the decision maker, but we have to empower the people who have the most knowledge about the situation. It is important that we have alignment, documentation and a mindset to “disagree and commit” when a decision is made. One such process facilitates this well in my experience is the RAPID decision framework.

RAPID stands for

R:Recommend : Recommends what should be the decision, solicits input from folks tools; researches possible solution. Most of the work falls on individuals performing this role. 

A:Agree: Agrees or Disagrees to a decision, if disagreeing, promises disagree and commit. 

P:Perform: Individual or a Team that performs the activities necessary to execute the decision.

I: Input: Individuals or Teams that are solicited by the Recommender to make a recommendation.

D: Decide: Individual who reviews the recommendations, asks questions and then decides.

There are many brilliant articles about RAPID and I encourage you to search and read through it, my favorite ones are linked below.

After being part of many RAPID decision making process, here are some best practices

  • Limit the individuals in these roles to these MAX values.
    • R: TWO
    • A:THREE
    • D: ONE
  • Recommender is someone who has holistic information about the problem. They also have credibility with people in the RAPID, especially with D and A. This is where most of the work falls in the process. 
  • Recommendation is in a written form, explaining various options and their tradeoffs.
  • It’s best to have stakeholders in “Agree” roles. The mindset of disagree and commit is applied, even if the folks in the “Agree” role disagree with the decision. 
  • The deciding individual owns the final accountability of the decision. 
  • Always have a timeline for a decision.
  • Decision making meeting is held where everyone reviews the recommendation. This could be done asynchronously as well if the team is mature.
  • Once a decision is made, it is communicated to the performing team and documented. 

Here is a free template to get you started: RAPID Decision Template

The Heilmeier Catechism

This is my new favorite set of questions to ask before decision making. I learned about this recently from a senior engineering leader and now I use it for my own brainstorming. I also recommend my team to write this 2 pager doc when we have any new proposal. This could be used to make the decision itself or provide a proposal.

Official link is: https://www.darpa.mil/work-with-us/heilmeier-catechism

  • What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon.
  • How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice?
  • What is new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?
  • Who cares? If you are successful, what difference will it make?
  • What are the risks?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • What are the midterm and final “exams” to check for success?

I think the above 8 questions are spot on, and if thought thoroughly, makes the process easy.

After doing several of these personally, what I have found is the key questions where I spend most time thinking are

  • Who cares? If you are successful, what difference will it make?
  • What are the risks?
  • How much will it cost?

They really force you to evaluate if the objective is worth the solution you are putting forward. I really recommend this exercise for any leader as a self brainstorming exercise. This also makes a great recommendation document for a RAPID.

Here is a free template to get you started: HC Decision/Proposal Template

Risk Management

Risk Management is another key aspect of any good leader. Any good leader will want to de-risk their team from catastrophic failures, while still pushing them out of their comfort zone from time to time. The major part of risk management is communicating the state of the risk. This risk management framework ROAM, taken from SAFe is simple and has helped me the most.

ROAM the risk, stands for

R: Resolved Risk: Risk is resolved and is no longer a risk.

O: Owned Risk: Risk is owned, and someone is working on it, and eventually it will land in other categories, such as resolved, accepted or mitigated.

A: Accepted Risk: Risk is accepted, meaning its not being solved for, and tradeoffs are accepted as is.

M: Mitigated Risk: Risk is mitigated, meaning we have a plan to tackle it.

Next time when you see risks popping, consider ROAMing them via this framework and see if it helps you manage them effectively.This process may be familiar to those who practice SAFe Agile, but this risk management portion applies broadly.

It is important to follow up and re-review with risks time to time, in all categories until they are fully resolved.

As said earlier, if you find this interesting, recommend you to browse various good articles about this over the internet. One is linked below

Dependency Management

Dependency management is also a key aspect on any well planned project. Complex project will have dependency and a good project plan will manage those well. Miss-managed dependencies become risks.

I have found that Grant charts are a simple and effective way to visualize dependencies and they are usually enough to identify dependencies that are actually risks or will be turning into risks soon.

Now, there are tools like airtable which allows you to do this well, but a simple spreadsheet can also get you going perfectly.

I hope you find these simple tools effective as you scale your org. I would also love to know if there are other techniques that you have implemented for decision making, risk & dependency management.

PS: Thank you to Ty Alexander, Binal Parikh for making this blog better 🙂

What I learned after studying some “Business Writing Skills”


Business writing skills credits @flickr

As I am growing in a leadership career, I am finding that I am reading and writing more business documents than code.

I studied for years on how to write code before writing it professionally. I never did that for business writing. Therefore, I decided that i should learn that. I picked a couple high rated udemy classes to get me going. The goal was to identify 5 things I can immediately apply to all important documents I or my teams write.

This article is about sharing those learnings from my perspective. I will talk about 5 key things that I am taking away from my quick education about business writing.

#1: Be clear:

Use clear english. Use the right words in the right way to make a clear point. It means using clear, small words that do the job.

  • Have a clear understanding of why you are writing. Why should anyone care? What do you want from your audience?
  • Use small sentences. It’s hard to maintain the flow in longer sentences and they are often unclear. They fail to communicate clearly.
  • Use Active voice i.e.  Subject predicate Object. Active voices are direct, more influential. They keep the reader engaged.
  • Use simple words. Don’t use complicated words when a simple one does the job. Don’t try to be smart. Try to make your reader feel smart.

#2: Structure is very important:

Think about how you will structure your data. What is the flow of your document? Is the most important information hidden or highlighted? Chances are there is too much information in your document causing ambiguity or reducing interest. Is written communication the best way to handle this topic?

#3: Have Empathy:

You are writing because you want your readers to do something. Potentially differently. In other words, you are writing to influence or make a point. It’s best to always assume

  • Your readers are busy so you have to make it easy for your readers to read your work.
  • It should be inclusive, avoid jargons if you have doubt that they won’t understand (consider audience, think if they are from diverse background, new to the org etc)
  • Have the most important information first (Objective, Action, TL;DR), followed by supporting facts and reasoning.
  • Clearly mention the intent if you are requesting someone to do something by a certain time.

#4: Polish your work:

  • The higher the stakes, the more time it needs polishing. It is important. No one likes to read just a blurb of text. Especially not busy people.

#5: Review, Review and Review:

  • Review that your document hits the point you are trying to make.
  • Review for grammar and spelling mistakes (I make them the most)
  • Review the audience set again before sending and check for inclusion/empathy
  • If stakes are high, consider a peer review
  • Let it bake. Put your document aside for a while, revisit it and you will find that you may have a new perspective.

Summary:

I found these ~6 hours of investment incredibly helpful. Practice makes skill better, so I plan to practice by writing articles such as this. If you typically write to advocate some action. I strongly recommend some education behind business writing skills

References

What does it mean “You own your career” ?

Many companies are in the process of doing their year end reviews this time of the year. This means that a lot of people are thinking about their career, where they stand and how to move ahead and make progress.

I am a firm believer that we own our career ourselves. This is also the advice I usually give to anyone who asks me “how can I grow?”. One of these times my team member bravely asked – What exactly does it mean to own your career? While I understood what it meant for me (I think) I realized it’s genuine and probably a very valid question. How do we define this? What does it translate to?

I will make an attempt to describe it in my way what does it mean: “You own your career”

What is a career?

In order to talk about career, I need to talk about the big picture. Without that we are just travelling with no destination. In my opinion we all should have a big picture, a destination in mind on where we want to reach. It does not always need to be achieving high ranks (although there is nothing wrong with that if that’s your goal e.g. to be a CEO). It should be what’s meaningful for you. A few examples could be, being a visible voice in your industry, being financially independent to retire early, a significant contribution in your field or org. It should be something that is organically yours and does not change from company to company.

Ultimately the professional journey towards your big picture is career.

Lot of us, spend most awake hours everyday working and making a career.

What is ownership?

There are so many amazing articles and books about ownership that describe it in so much more elegant manner.  In simple words, it means taking charge. Taking charge to change or maintain something is ownership and when we act like owners, we empower ourselves to make decisions that impact that ownership for the better.

Breakdown: You own your career.

Most companies I have worked with, there has been a career ladder. A level 1… to level n and a tool that drives what are the expectations and needs from a certain level. Performance reviews are benchmarked against those levels and as the company grows they get to tweak  accordingly.

The most common story I hear is, “I want to go to the next level and I need help from my manager to get there”. It is very important that your manager knows about your plans and intent to move to the next level. This is actually one of the steps in owning your career. What’s critically even more important, is that you and your boss know about your big picture goal. I believe most people miss this latter part.

It’s important to understand that current level and next level are mere tools to your big picture. As I said earlier, ideally the big picture wouldn’t change from company to company. It is likely that climbing that ladder is necessary to achieve that goal (it may help you with skills, relationships, money etc needed for the big picture). Being aware of the big picture helps you and your manager to see other paths to get to the bigger goal.

Let’s continue on what would be a good example of owning a career, where the immediate next step would be to go from level current level to next level.

  • Establish a baseline
    • Get an idea of where you stand today (are you performing above, at, or below expectations of your current level x) after discussing it with your manager.
  • Understand the why
    • Why do you stand where you stand? It is easy to interpret as, understand your weakness, but also understand your strengths. if I had to pick one, I would advise focus on your strengths1
  • Understand the level next level
    • Does your company have a written guide on what are the expectations on the next level, what are skills needed?
      • If your company does not have a written guide, ask your manager to provide that guide for you. Ask your manager to review job descriptions of the next level and help you figure it out.  (It might also be smart to go work for a company that has thought about growing their employees and have invested in written guidelines)
    • If so, have you read them?
    • It is probably more generic than you like, have you thought how does that apply to you?
    • Have you asked clarifying questions to your manager?
  • Who in your org is working effectively at that next level?
    • Understand few people in your org are working really well at that level?
    • Try to understand what are the things they are doing that makes them effective.
  • Workout a plan
    • Based on all above understanding, plan on how you will get to the next level.
      • Understand what skills you need to perfect.
      • Understand what relationships you need to build.
      • Understand what short term and long term projects/problems your organization wants to solve. Solving these projects will act as a tremendous catalyst for your growth.
        • How can you help solve that project/problem by your skills and relationships?
  • Team up with your manager
    • Share and align your plan with your manager.
    • Confirm that the projects/problems you have identified are worth going after.
    • Confirm the skills/relationship you need to build.
    • Adjust the plan after collaborating with your manager (make the most of your manager’s extra visibility in the org)
    • Utilize 1-1 to effectively communicate progress and gather input.
  • Adjust the plan as business pivots
    • Your company will grow over time (new managers, new business, change in priorities, pandemics) and everytime that happens, understand how it affects your plan and discuss with your manager.
  • Repeat until you reach the next milestone.

You may have noticed that the ownership of most of the work I described here falls on the person seeking to go to the next level. Your manager can and should always partner with you to tune your plan to have the most chance of success, but your manager cannot build the relationship and/or skills you need to gain to perform well at that next level.

Your manager will act as a facilitator, enabler and advocator for you, but not a doer for you.

Your manager also has a lot of responsibilities that will indirectly help you achieve your next steps.

  • Provide a written guideline of what are expectations at each level.
  • Provide clear feedback/feedforward on where you stand today and how you are progressing.
  • Help in finding the specificity that you need in your growth plan.
  • Create enablement for you so you can learn new skills or master what you have, build relationships.
  • Hold you accountable to your goals.
  • Think wider than their own org, i.e help you grow, even if it means you won’t report to them anymore. Identify new opportunities
  • Understand your unique style and find you mentors as necessary.
  • Build a team that supports each other’s growth.

In simple terms, if you have taken the time to think about the big picture, break it down to smaller accomplishments and next steps, worked towards understanding what your business values, partnered with your manager on a plan and are working towards that plan, then you my friend have owned your career. 

Thank you Praveena Johnson, Ailene Kim, Joe Chung, Binal Parikh for making this article better.

Related reads: 

1:https://www.asiaspeakers.org/blog/why-focusing-your-strengths-going-make-you-more-successful

How to find Potential Leaders in your team

Hi friends, I would like to share something that I recently had to figure out as I thought about my succession planning. As a leader of group of people, I was in a lookout of who can potentially be the next leader in the team. After lot of reading of leadership pipeline and blogs, articles and combining it with own experience, I boiled it down to three pillars. I would like to share them with you, in case you are finding leaders in your team 🙂

There are three things that I call pillars of identifying a potential leader. I believe its really important for you to observe and measure in these three categories to identify next set of potential leaders in the team.
The goal I had was to identify potential leaders and have conversations with them about potential pursuit of leadership, after all leadership is a choice.

This venn diagram will give hints!

Credibility: I really think credibility is really important for someone to be considered as potential leader. What is credibility? – Its a quality of being trusted and believed in. If you have someone who you consider can be trusted and believed in probably any work and they will give their best effort to produce great result. They are credible people. The interesting part is trust, it comes when one demonstrates that ability over and over. So really people who had repeatedly delivered high quality work regardless of the problem space, are credible people in your team. After all, influence is really important for a successful leader, and it comes from being credible

Self-Motivation: People who don’t wait to be told what to do are self motivated people. They don’t settle. They always look for ways to change, improve and are hungry for tiniest bit of improvements. They find ways to accommodate those improvement in difficult times. If you want to give team a leader, that will continuously strive for improvements self-motivation is a definitely required. In my opinion, the leader of team can motivate the team, simply by exhibiting self-motivation.

Leadership: This sounds odd, I know. You may be thinking that why I am putting leadership as one of the pillars in my quest to find potential leaders? In your attempt to find your team the next leader, you need someone who have exhibited some qualities of leadership. There is so much to learn and practice in leadership (I personally still have ways to go) but anyone can demonstrate leadership traits, example finding real joy in delivering value via others, empowering others, coaching, active listening etc. Seasoned leaders sometime fail to demonstrate the above mentioned skills, so if you have someone who have demonstrated signs of above, there may be more potential. Dig in.

So I talk about these three pillars, but the way I think about is, the next most potential ideal leader would be someone who exhibits all the three things consistently.

Let’s say you you found people in your team that fit in the star in the venn diagram, now what?

The next step would be to have a conversation! Have an open conversation with them about why do you see them as potential next leader, what would it be like and are they really interested in doing something like this. So many leaders assume that everyone wants to be a leader, I know so many people that find pure joy in just being individual contributor and thats totally ok! so just because you thought of them as leaders, doesn’t mean they did, so talk to them and have an open career conversations.

What if you didn’t find someone, or found someone close enough but exactly there. It’s still our jobs to have a conversation and see where they want to go, what they want to do and if they want to be a leader, what are the next steps to bridge the gap! Have a career conversation, have them prepare a plan for bridging the skills. At minimum, they will find it really encouraging that you saw potential in them and are willing to work with them on their strengths and improvements

Cheers, hope this helps you in your quest of finding new leaders in your org.