Rich Sheridan: Change Begins With You

Originally published at Thetrugroup.com

Rich Sheridan: Change Begins With You | Part 4: Culture Guest Blog Series

[Intro by trugroup.com admin Scott]


“In this interview, Rich Sheridan — founder of Menlo Innovations and author of the new book Chief Joy Officer — shares the trials and tribulations in cultivating and leading a positive work culture in an ever-changing business world.


I first met Rich Sheridan when we toured Menlo Innovations as part of a career transformation program I was leading in 2010, called “Shifting Gears.” I was taken with Rich’s passion for his team and their culture at Menlo as well as his authenticity, evident as he talked about their mistakes and the way they approached change by performing experiments with daily team-generated ideas


A culture conversation would not be complete without including Rich, and I’m excited to share some of his thoughts with you.”

Q: Tell us a little about the beginning. When did you start your business? Why did you decide to start it? What vision or goals did you have for your business in the beginning?

Menlo Innovations was launched on June 12, 2001, at the depth of the dot-com bubble burst. The decision to found an IT-services firm during the darkest day was born out of two basic ideas:

  • We had recently experienced a dramatically positive transformation of a public company, Interface Systems, where I was VP of R&D, and where co-founder James Goebel had worked shoulder-to-shoulder with me on creating that transformation. While the economic tragedy of the internet-bubble burst had caused us all to lose our jobs, this dramatic downturn couldn’t take away what we had learned in that transformation. We knew we could do it again. As I like to say, when the Titanic sank, it took a perfectly good engine room with it, and it wasn’t the engine room’s fault.
  • A downturn is actually an excellent time to start a business because everything — real estate, equipment, office furniture, you name it — is less expensive! There is also an abundance of available talent seeking work.

We wanted to bring to Menlo Innovations what we had experienced at Interface Systems: teamwork, energy, results and positive culture.

Q:  When did the culture of your business become a focus for you? What were some of the first things you remember doing to start focusing on culture?

Culture was a focus right from the start. We were all in the later stages of our careers and wanted to do something meaningful and compelling. We were past the life stage of simply needing a job. We knew we could all find a job. We wanted something we could build that would last and would have impact. Our belief is that an intentionally positive culture was the only way to do that, and intentionally positive cultures were rare. We wanted rare because it energized us and we knew it would energize our team and those whom we serve.

We started this focus by teaching our culture to others. We began offering all-day classes. It was one of our first offerings to teach our “Why” (namely, to end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology and return joy to software) and our “How” (i.e., the processes and practices of the Menlo Software Factory).

Q: What are three successes and one failure in your journey of establishing a great culture in your business?

Successes:

  • We instituted a brand-new way of hiring that we dubbed “Extreme Interviewing” which energized a very tired process in most organizations. We interview without reviewing resumes and without asking questions. Rather, we conduct an unusual audition.
  • We focused on the physical space of Menlo, and we got lucky and found a compelling wide-open space in which to build our team and practice that was consistent with the values we espoused of openness, transparency, teamwork and collaboration.
  • We opened our doors to tours so that people could come and see exactly what it was we’re describing in words. Those tours quickly increased to more than 1,000 visitors per year and now number between 3,000 and 4,000 per year.

What got in the way:

  • Our intention was to build a team that would operate in this compelling space that we had. Our early clients wanted our staff members to work at their locations. We agreed and started putting staff in several locations around Ann Arbor. This thwarted our ability to grow the culture we intended to build, because we just weren’t spending enough time with each other. Whenever a client engagement ended, half of the team that worked there would end up taking another job with another company.

Q: How would I see your culture in action if I walked through Menlo Innovations today?

The good news is that you could join the thousands who come every year from all over the world to see it firsthand. I often get to walk through our front door with visitors, hoping to catch their initial reaction. Typically, the first word out of their mouths is “Wow,” because they can feel the human energy of our team. You walk in and hear the noise of work, see people working shoulder-to-shoulder with each other at a shared computer and keyboard. You hear laughter. You’re likely greeted by a Menlo dog or two. You might hear the sound of a baby brought in by a parent that day. The space is bright, colorful and visual. Our most important artifacts are push-pinned to the wall, and draw the attention of our visitors. These artifacts include handcrafted posters with our most important cultural values, including a great Frank Zappa quote: ‘The computer can’t tell you the emotional story. It can give you the exact mathematical design, but what’s missing is the eyebrows.’ They also see our famous work authorization boards which outline the daily and weekly project work of our team. The projects are described on handwritten index cards and their status is reported with colorful sticky dots, using strings of yarn to mark the current day in each plan so we instantly know whether we are ahead or behind without having to ask.

Q: As a leader of a growing and dynamic business, how do you personally monitor the health of the culture?

I sit out in the room with everyone else. There is no corner office for me. While, as CEO, I will always get a skewed view of the culture, this presence knocks down a lot of the barriers. Many executives will declare that they have an open-door policy. I can’t do that. I don’t have a door.

Q: What final wisdom or advice would you share with a leader that wants to create healthier culture in their own business?

Know that change begins with you. You have to become the example to lead a dramatic change. I was taught to be a different kind of leader early in my career. I had to unlearn some things and re-learn others. Ultimately, I found that if I could learn how to bring my authentic self to work and share my joy in the present and my hope for the future, I could set the stage for a very positive and intentional culture. This kind of leadership requires the ability to envision a bright future and to pay attention to the minute details of running the business today.

My other broad advice is to stay in learner mode, and one of the best ways to do that is to read. Culture is not a program or an initiative that is separate from our daily work. Culture is the way we work.

Hear more from Rich Sheridan at IIL’s first Leadership & Innovation Conference 2019

For more ways to learn about Menlo, or Rich Sheridan, view the original article here.



Agile for Traditional Projects

By Susan Parente | Risk Management Guru – Agile Generalist – Instructor and Consultant, IIL

“Can Agile practices be incorporated with traditional project management?” This is a very common question today, and the answer is yes!

In this blog, I’ll cover two great Agile practices that teams have found to be valuable to incorporate on traditional projects, and which may help your team make the shift from traditional to Agile project management: A Daily Stand-up meeting and a Kanban board.

The daily stand-up meeting

The daily stand-up is used in Scrum, one of the most popular frameworks for implementing Agile. In this meeting, the project team members answer the following three questions:

  1. “What have I completed since yesterday that supports the iteration goal?”
  2. “What do I plan to complete today to support the iteration goal?”
  3. And lastly, “What are the barriers or impediments that are getting in my way in completing the work I have to do to support the iteration goal?”

This truly is a stand-up meeting, where all participants are standing. The meeting is time-boxed which means that it must end at the allocated time, generally 15 minutes. This forces people to prioritize what they talk about and to make sure they are efficient with the use of meeting time. (If you decide to have a daily stand-up meeting and let it run over 15 minutes, you’re not actually doing the practice of a daily stand-up, as it is a time-boxed event).

What you will likely find is in the first few daily stand-up meetings, not everyone will have an opportunity to speak; however, after a few meetings, people will figure out how to be succinct so that everyone has an opportunity to speak. It’s important for the Project Manager (PM), team lead, or facilitator in a traditional project to allow the team to work through this, as it is a part of the process of team development.

It is also important for the PM to take the lead and provide meeting support, but only to remind team members to focus on the three questions they need to answer (as noted above) and remind them if they’re getting off-topic with doing so.

Keep in mind that the purpose of the daily stand-up meeting is for the team to provide status to all team members, not to report to the project manager or the customer. Of course, it is valuable for the project manager to attend this meeting as the team facilitator; however, their role is more focused on listening and enforcing process than leading the team.

The Kanban board

A project Kanban board, or task board, is used by agile team members to work through project tasks. The project sponsor need not know that you are using an Agile method, and neither do your team members. In some organizations, it can be worrisome to customers and team members to use ‘Agile’ if they don’t know much about it. It can be an intimidating change. Using the Kanban board has been very effective for teams that I have coached or led because the teams had multiple tasks that changed every week. It is an easier way to manage these tasks and to make sure they get completed in a prioritized order while being able to track who is working on which tasks.

As designed, a Kanban board minimizes the project work-in-process and allows the team to complete all of the project work, not knowing necessarily how long each task would take. As each task is completed, the team member who completed it updates the board and assigns themselves to the next prioritized task.

Other Agile practices that teams have found to be valuable to incorporate for traditional projects include:

  • Information radiators
  • War rooms (collocation of the team)
  • Team retrospectives
  • Burndown charts
  • Relative sizing/estimating
  • And others

What is nice about incorporating Agile practices while doing traditional project management is that you may receive some benefit from using these practices while your organization may not be ready for an Agile project management approach. As a PM, you probably have some authority as to how your development team works and are able to use some of these tools even without agreement from senior management, or from your customer.

By incorporating Agile practices into traditional project management, you can reap the benefits of these practices and also, in the meantime, educate your team and your customer on Agile practices so they are more comfortable with using them. 

Related Courses from IIL:

Courses can be tailored to meet your organization’s needs. Request a free consultation

 

Susan Parente (PMP, PMI-RMP, PMI-ACP, PSM I, CSM, CSPO, CISSP, CRISC, RESILIA, ITIL, MS Eng. Mgmt.) is an instructor and consultant at IIL, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Virginia, Post University (CT), and Montclair State University (NJ). She is an author, mentor and teacher focused on risk management, traditional and Agile project management. Her experience is augmented by her Masters in Engineering Management with a focus in Marketing of Technology, from George Washington University (DC), along with a number of professional certifications. Ms. Parente has 18+ years’ experience leading software and business development projects in the private and public sectors, including a decade of experience implementing IT projects for the DoD.