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Fear, A Major Speed Bump on the Road to Quality

by Angela 3. February 2017 22:26

I warned you that I’d be blogging about the “messiness” of ALM and DevOps consulting. And this is a long one so grab a cup of coffee, tea, or cocktail of your choice (whatever I won’t judge). It’s actually based on something I wrote for the QAI Quest Magazine. If you haven’t checked out the CQAA (Chicago Quality Assurance Association) community or their upcoming QUEST conference in Chicago this April, I highly recommend it!

Anyway, here is the article:

A large part of my job as a scrum master and agile coach is focusing on quality. Quality of process, quality of teams, and quality of software. While all of these can be challenging to improve, one of the hardest to tackle is quality of the team. I’m not talking about individual’s skillsets, although that is important. I’m talking about the ability of the team to work together as a WHOLE. In my experience, teams that cannot accomplish this cannot produce a quality product. Missed requirements, sloppy handoffs, miscommunication of what is “done”, and a host of other issues arise when the team just can’t seem to come together in a truly open and collaborative environment. Causes for this failure are complex and will vary from team to team. But one that I run into time and time again is fear. Yes, fear!

I’m not a psychologist and I don’t purport to know all the answers, but I can speak from experience - both in terms of myself and what I see in others. I have seen fear manifest itself in the following situations:

· Underestimating feature delivery times to hide a lack of confidence, often leading to painful sprint reviews when committed features aren’t delivered on time, or not at all.

· Code being integrated too soon to avoid being late, resulting in bugs “leaking” into production.

· Misunderstood requirements being implemented without question, and promptly being rejected by QA or a frustrated product owner.

· Resentment when team members feel someone is not pulling their weight, when in reality that person is silently struggling.

· Failure by team members to ask for clarification because everyone else surely must “get it”.

The fear of being seen as not good enough or smart enough by our peers is real and pervasive in IT. Ironically, the end result of hiding our struggles is often working extra hours and even cutting corners to make the unrealistic deadlines that we set for ourselves. This inevitably leads to doing the very thing we are fearful of … letting people down.

Tying this back to quality:

· Imagine if the team was afraid to admit that a requirement was vague, that it would be extremely complex to develop, or almost impossible to adequately test.

· Imagine if they assumed they’d figure it out as they go and plowed ahead.

· Imagine if someone on the team rushed to complete a feature and skimped on testing to prevent blowing their estimates because of fear of retribution for being wrong.

You probably don’t have to imagine it. It’s likely happening on your team right now but no one is talking about it! So, what can you do once you’ve realized that fear is holding you or your team back? What I have learned on my own journey is that it’s not enough to recognize when I am acting from a place of fear; I also have to recognize it in others. And much like quality, it is EVERYONE’S responsibility to create a collaborative and supportive environment.

As a Scrum Master, here are some of the things that I ask myself in order to help address fear on my teams.

· Is someone new to the team, or to their role, and clearly feeling overwhelmed or struggling to fit in?

· Is someone is hesitating to speak up when they clearly have a strong opinion or idea?

· Are people afraid of being judged harshly or told their idea is “crazy” or “dumb” in a team setting?

 

Now, that’s a lot of stuff to keep an eye on. (Hey…no one ever said that being the Scrum Master was an easy job.) So, let’s say that you notice something. What do you do about it? How do you head-off fear and/or actually do something about it?

Well, if someone on the team shares a concern or asks for help, be sure to thank them for bringing it up and offer them support, or try to connect them with someone who can. If people are hesitant to speak up in a large group setting, approach them after the meeting, and discuss it in a more casual environment. If they need some encouragement or support, find a way to share their ideas with the team in a less intimidating way. Find ways to bring new team members on-board and make them feel connected quickly. Make sure no one is discouraging open and honest conversation by dominating conversations or by openly criticizing ideas or opinions, even jokingly. Joking, while good natured, can be misconstrued as criticism, and simply telling a teammate that they “just can’t take a joke” is a great way to alienate them and ensure their participation in future activities is limited. Besides, some of the biggest discoveries in history started with an original premise that was totally out there!

I’ve given talks on fear at a number of conferences, and every time people have approached me afterwards saying “I feel that way too. It’s so good to know I am not alone!” Research shows that around 70% of people struggle with these kinds of fears, and based on my experience, it is higher in IT! That means that in any given meeting you attend, MOST of the people in the room are afraid to share their thoughts for fear of negative consequences. Imagine all of the great ideas being squandered and land mines we are failing to avoid.

Hopefully you’re already thinking of ways to improve the quality of your team, and ultimately of the products you are delivering. Strive to be more vigilant, more supportive, more honest, and you will be well on your way to creating a high-quality and high-performing team!

 

If you’re attending quest, I also have a few sessions there that you may want to check out if this article spoke to you.

Getting Your Agile Team Unstuck! Tips and Tricks for Avoiding Common Agile Setbacks: http://qaiquest.org/2017/sessions/half-day-tutorial-getting-your-agile-team-unstuck-tips-and-tricks-for-avoiding-common-agile-setbacks/

Fear and (Self) Loathing in IT: A Healthy Discussion on Imposter Syndrome: http://qaiquest.org/2017/sessions/fear-and-self-loathing-in-it-a-healthy-discussion-on-imposter-syndrome/ 

And if you’re not attending Quest feel free to send me a message via this blog or on Twitter!

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ALM and DevOps Focused Consulting is Messy

by Angela 13. January 2017 17:56

Lately I have been hearing this a lot, both as a general statement and more often than not, as a lament. However you define ALM (Application Lifecycle Management) and DevOps (definition hotly being debated in board rooms everywhere), and lord knows there are 82 ways to define each of those terms, they have a common thread – people. And people are messy. We are emotional, unpredictable, and our motivations are not always obvious. So of course consulting in any area that heavily involves interactions with people - like ALM and DevOps - will also be messy. I don’t mean that as a criticism, it’s just a fact. I also don’t just mean working with OTHER people is messy, working with *me* is messy. Some days, I am a tired, hormonal, hot damn mess, and that’s OK. You probably are too once in a while. As long as we all agree to help each other out on those hopefully rare bad days…and yes I am in fact advocating that even in IT we have to get our hands dirty and support our coworkers in ways that don’t involve pull requests or PowerShell.

So where am I going with this? Well, a lot of places eventually, my hope is to start a series of blog posts where I veer from my technically focused topics to even harder stuff – people stuff. And I make no promises on consistency of how often I release those posts, or how many I’ll be writing. Something I struggle with is fear of disappointing people, and as a serial over-committer I’m starting this series off by NOT over-committing. Look, progress, already!

Not sure where I’ll go first, but likely I’ll start with something <sarcasm> light and fun </sarcasm> around failure and vulnerability. I’ve actually blogged about both of those topics before, but it’s been a while, and I’ve learned a lot since then. Mostly about myself, but in a lot of cases I can apply some of those learnings to others as well. I’ve also been working with a really great life/career coach for about 15 months now, and I’ll share some of that experience here as well. Approaching terrifying vulnerability territory there, but like my friend Ben says, a great way to really hone your coaching skills is to see a therapist!

If you have requests, let me know! I cannot guarantee I’ll be able to address every topic with absolute clarity and wisdom, but I’ll do my best to at least share my experiences and ideas. Talk to you again soon.

Tags:

ALM | Application Lifecycle Management | DevOps | Imposter syndrome | soft skills | Fear | Consulting

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Exposing My Imposter Syndrome, One Conference at a Time

by Angela 18. August 2015 17:38

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that while I tend towards posting about community events, all things TFS, and agile, I sometimes get introspective. Maybe it’s my age.The older I get, the more navel-gazey I get. And at 41, well, that’s a LOT of introspection.

About a year ago, I wrote two posts that were really difficult but necessary to share: a post on fear and vulnerability, and a post on giving yourself (and others) permission to fail. Both had been inspired by a combination of recent experiences and a few really great books I’d read. And I’ll admit, I was terrified to hit submit on each of them, and the feedback was both dramatic and positive. I don’t know if it is cognitive bias, or if the industry is turning a corner, but talks about these kinds of topics seem to be more and more prevalent at the professional conferences I’ve been going to over the past year. Entire tracks devoted to things like fostering a healthy corporate culture, work-life balance, and effective leadership are cropping up everywhere and I love it! Not that sessions on the hottest new JavaScript libraries or ALM tools isn’t also fun, but having a positive and supportive environment to work in is just as critical as the tools that you use to do your job.

As conference season approached this year, I decided to add a soft skills talk of my own – on imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is something I’ve struggled with for all of my adult life, and most of my adolescence. Being a woman in a field like IT certainly doesn’t make it any easier either. Most people are shocked to find out this is something I experience, given how readily I’ll volunteer to speak at large events or even guest host a podcast. But keep in mind, Imposter Syndrome doesn’t mean I can’t do awesome things, it just means I refuse to believe I am ever really good enough or smart enough to DESERVE any of the success I achieve. Or that even if I do them and do them well, people are just being nice when I am praised, and they don’t REALLY mean it. Confused? It’s complicated. Luckily I have a presentation on it that you can look at on SlideShare. The animations do not display perfectly, but you’ll get the idea. My plan is to eventually record it, and post it someplace public like YouTube, but this was a big enough first step and I don’t think I’m ready for live video just yet.

What initially gave me the chutzpah to make the leap and submit the topic was a post by someone I worked with at Microsoft, a geek celebrity of sorts, who also struggles with imposter syndrome from time to time. Somehow I missed Scott Hanselman’s awesome post on imposter syndrome when he first shared it, but ran across it again while researching my talk. In that post, he also admits to feeling like a phony and seriously, THAT guy? I reached out to him about my talk, and you know what he said?

image

Yeah, that got favorited for like all freaking time Smile  And it was a nice reminder that many of us feel this way, and just MAYBE if someone were brave enough to get up there and say it, we could all breathe a sigh of relief and start learning to live with it, and thrive with it. I decided I’d be that person, around Chicago anyway. Now, just creating the slide deck made me feel like vomiting, and with every new slide I added to it I kept thinking “why would anyone listen to ME? Who am I? People are going to think I am full of CRAP!”. It’s funny trying to write a talk on imposter syndrome when you struggle with it, but honestly who else could give it right?

Anyway, fast forward and now I have given it at both  Chicago Code Camp and ThatConference, and trust me, it was TERRIFYING for me. And these are my people! My plan is to continue sharing this presentation, giving this talk at conferences and user groups, and hopefully making a difference for some of the folks out there who have always felt this way and didn’t understand why. I’ve had an overwhelming amount of positive feedback, and a lot of private messages and emails from people who were so very thankful that I had the courage to give the talk. And you know what? I still feel like a phony sometimes, and it’s ok.

Tags:

Imposter syndrome | career growth | soft skills

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