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Multiroom Music – Thousand Options, One Winner

Everybody knows that I’m a technics and gadget geek. And when it comes to music, I actually have nearly all of the options: AirPlay, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV & Fire Tablets, several Bluetooth speakers, Samsung’s AllCast crap, many (useless) DLNA options, Google Music, Spotify, Amazon MP3, Xbox Music, Raspberry Pi with XBMC (now Kodi), and many more – and of course all the devices you need to use this stuff.

But, believe it or not, I have been struggling for quite some time to get (or build) a serious multiroom audio setup. Of course I looked at Sonos (which for long seemed like the option), but also at Teufel, Samsung’s efforts, and most of the others. The only thing that kept me off buying Sonos’ Connect devices is the price – and believe me, I’m not saying that very often. Yes, of course, having all those great features of the Sonos App with your existing HiFi system is fantastic – but 350,- € to enable an existing speaker system is really a lot. Last but not least, while Sonos has great support for many services (especially with Spotify, my service of choice), it is still limited to those options.

A few weeks ago, however, I came across something I have been waiting for quite some time for: Harman/Kardon’s Wireless HD Audio System (often called “Harman/Kardon Omni”). I have always been a fan of Harman’s products, be it Harman/Kardon (H/K) or JBL – they just sound very good across the board, and they never failed me.

The clue in H/K’s solution is actually the simplicity: Instead of being used as a highly sophisticated streaming “brain”, Harman put the focus on essentially creating a Bluetooth-to-WiFi bridge. The Omni boxes (and the speaker-less Adapt connector) find each other via WiFi, and whatever you stream to one box via Bluetooth is replicated on all the others – and that’s just fantastic! It gives you the option to use any music service you want, via any app, on any device, or anything else that can emit a Bluetooth audio signal.
And even better, for people like me, who invested a lot of money in Samsung’s ecosystem (hoping that they would at some point solve the multiroom challenge with a solution like this), it’s the perfect add-on solution: To add your existing speakers to the mesh, you just buy what H/K calls the “Adapt” – a device similar to Sonos’ Connect, but simply working via Bluetooth, for a third of Sonos’ price tag.

Now, one thing remains: Remotely controlling the playing device, which needs to stay in Bluetooth range to the H/K Adapt it is connected to. Fortunately, there is Spotify Connect – the “remotely control every Spotify app / service / device” offering from Spotify. In a sense, H/K’s solution is the perfect extension to Spotify Connect – simply because the Spotify’s cross-vendor, cross-device functionality does not (and likely never will) provide multiroom/multidevice capabilities (it’s just to difficult to synchronise an audio-stream over dozens of hardware vendors).

So, this is it, my multiroom audio setup for the foreseeable future: H/K Omni + Spotify Connect. I will keep you posted on anything new, and whether or not I actually added Sonos to my setup after all.

Take care.

E2E DEBTOR – An approach to managing complexity in large software programs

Large software initiatives are among the most complex constructs to handle in many areas: Project management, architecture, team culture, release coordination, system integration, and many other aspects that lead to constant friction. This article introduces an approach to handle these kinds of challenges, by matching the complexity level of the solution to the complexity level of the problem.

Before we begin, however, I would like to point out that the thoughts and approaches in this article are not new – in fact, they were invented by companies like Spotify, elaborated as part of large-scale agile frameworks (such as SAFe and DAD), and many capable consultants teach variances of these processes all over the world every day.

That being said, each organization has to find its own approach to handling complexity – by selectively using, tailoring, integrating, and constantly evolving their way of delivery digital results. This is our approach: The “E2E DEBTOR” team.

Let’s start by explaining what “DEBTOR” actually stands for. First, it is a list of “specialist skills” needed in every successful vertically integrated, cross-functional team: Design, Engineering (or Development), Build Management, Testing, Operations, and Release Coordination. Second, there is the meaning of the word itself: DEBTOR – “One who owes a debt” – and in our case, that “someone” owes it “end-to-end” (that’s the “E2E” part).

But what does that mean? And how does it work? Before we explain that in greater detail, we take a look at the big picture:

E2E DEBTOR

Of course, there are many concepts in this picture that need explanation.

We start at the upper right corner, right where it says “P2”. The angle we are looking at here, going from the upper right side to the lower left side, is called the “project perspective”. Projects are temporary initiatives (meaning, with a defined start and end-date) that deliver a specific outcome or product within defined tolerances. In our context, we are using the “PRINCE2” methodology as governance framework (and it’s “bigger brother” MSP for the overarching program structure) for all our projects. PRINCE2 provides a lot of things to make sure that there is at least a chance to deliver a successful project. Among these things, the most important one is the business justification – without it, there should not be a project. But more about that later.

On the next level of the “project perspective”, going further from the upper right side to the lower left side, we find two examples for something called an “Epic”. Epics are actually well understood and clearly defined in many iterative, incremental, and agile methodologies (see the SAFe explanation), so we will not spend a great deal defining them here. Briefly described, Epics are high-level initiatives, outlining goals to be reached by the project that is responsible for their implementation.

The third level on the “project perspective” is composed of several plus signs (“+”), as well as some triangles (“Δ”). The “+” signs symbol so called “Feature Teams”, while the “Δ” is labeled “Foundation Teams”. In order to understand how these concepts work, consider the following situation:

(…)

Must-Reads for Managers in the 21st Century

Despite many similarities to “normal” craftsmanship, Management is a very special field of knowledge. It primarily deals with the effectiveness and efficiency of working with people, and being responsible for the results these people produce. Yet, despite thousands of books (of which I assume I read probably more than 100), the “one way” to do it right is probably wishful thinking.

Having said that, there is a lot of things to learn out there and we can see that in fact managers become indeed more effective and efficient by studying them. This is my personal list of absolute “must-reads” for managers (especially managers working on digital products or in the software industry):

  • What Makes Great Leaders Great (by Frank Arnold): If I could only recommend one single book on management, this would probably be it. First published in german (“Management – Von den Besten lernen…”), Frank Arnold has made a remarkable job to collect the essence of management wisdom in an interesting, yet powerful format.
  • Management 3.0 (by Jurgen Appelo): While the title of this book is complete crap (and frankly, I wouldn’t have bought it under normal circumstances), it is actually one of the best books about managing software development teams. Without going into too much details, the book explains many principles and practices of modern management, focused on handling the complexity that is created by setting up a team of humans. Great read, despite the title.
  • Managing – Performing – Living (by Fredmund Malik): Malik is indeed one of the best management thinkers of our time. Having been in several of his seminars, I admire the way he has assembled knowledge and presents it in a very clear and concise way. His book (also published first in German) has just been released in a new edition, and while I sometimes think he could be a little bit more humble in interviews instead of always expressing that he knew many things a along, I have to admit: In regards to many topics around management, he actually nailed it.
  • Making It All Work (by David Allen): While many people swear on “Getting Things Done” (including myself), this book does not only include the GTD methodology, it goes even beyond that. Everyone should read GTD, however, for managers, that’s just not enough. Management is not only about one’s own effectiveness, it is also about giving priorities and direction to the people being managed – and that’s where Making It All Work brings a lot of tools and insights.
  • Making Things Happen (by Scott Berkun): Who would have thought that the first book I ever read about Project Management would remain one of – if not the – best I would ever touch. Making Things Happen is more or less the most practical book you can ever read about management – it avoids a lot of the mumbo jumbo that can be found in the “methodologies” and “get certified” literature (such as PRINCE2, PMP, IPMA, and so…). Of course these methodologies have their place, too, but if you really would like to learn how to actually do a project, you should read Scott’s book first.
  • The Courage to Lead (“Mut zur Führung” – an interview with Helmut Schmidt): Many books about leadership are written by people that studied great leaders. This book is an interview with one of the most respected German leaders of all times, former chancellor Helmut Schmidt. It’s not an interpretation of how managers and leaders worked and why they did it – these are the actual words by someone who led one of the most successful countries of the world for years in various government positions. Helmut Schmidt is a great man, an authority on statesmanship, a brilliant mind, and one of the few great leaders of our time.
  • The First 90 Days / Your Next Move (by Michael Watkins): It is true what Michael stated in many interviews – managing job transitions is one of the most neglected areas of management reality, training and literature – with the results that someone at McDonalds moving from making Hamburgers to selling them on the counter gets actually more training for his new assignment than the average “manager”. Unfortunately, it is also true that it is critical to get transitions right, because managers make transitions all the time (at least if they are successful). That’s where this book shines.
  • Manage It! (by Johanna Rothman): This is again a book much more focused on managing software projects than “other kinds of projects”. Nevertheless, it is one of the best books about iterative, incremental, emerging management in general. The human nature to “predict” things (and actually fail and fail again) is one of the biggest obstacles to modern, results-centric management approaches. Johanna explains the reasons for that, and provides the advice how to implement it.
  • The Back of the Napkin (by Dan Roam): Management is – among a few other things – about synchronizing people’s minds and providing direction. For nearly all people I know, visualization is a crucial ingredient in this process. Many managers have a tendency towards PowerPoint – and even worse, they often start there before thinking about what they actually want to put across. Unfortunately, artificial boundaries (like those imposed by Office software) have a very negative impact on creativity and clarity alike. Reading The Back of the Napkin helps managers to break free of these boundaries.
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (by Steven Covey): I know, I know, I know. It’s the book everyone recommends. And yes, the author was a mormon. And sure, the book is old. All of that is true… however, what is also true, is the fact that there are probably not many books of that caliber that provide indeed universal principles on how to deal with one’s own inner world as well as with the people that share our lives. It’s probably best if you read it yourself, and form your opinion afterwards.
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People (by Dale Carnegie): Another very old book, another really bad title, but also one of the most important books you will ever read. Manager (and other kinds of leaders) must help other people to achieve great things – that’s there job. However, there are many ways of doing that, all involving to have a lot of interactions with them. This book provides timeless (and I don’t say that lightly) guidance on how to approach them, how to treat them and how to form a productive relationship with them.
  • First, Break All the Rules (by Marcus Buckingham): While I said in the beginning of this post that there is no such thing as “the way” of doing management, there was (and hopefully no longer is) something like a universal “treat everyone equal” approach to management that poisoned the minds of a lot of people. This book is about what you should do instead: Treat everyone differently, and according to his/her personality, his/her strengths, his/her talents, and his/her unique way of “drive”.
  • Good to Great (by Jim Collins)
  • What Got You Here Won’t Get You There (by Marshall Goldsmith)

That’s it (for now).

Managing People: Synchronization, Compatibility, and Tolerance

Executives – meaning, professional workers with decision authority – face many challenges throughout their career. Hard assignments, huge projects, the need to deal with severe problems, and all of that in the context of corporate politics and complex personal relationships. In the end, it is very likely that they cannot accomplish anything without the support and service of other people – that is where Management and Leadership become the essence of success.

All conversations about these topics, and the countless articles and books can never replace many years of learning and practical experience – however, knowing some things upfront can make it easier. One of these things is to understand the underlying principles of shared values and team culture – or how I like to call it: The difference between Synchronization and Compatibility. Successfully leading and managing people depends very much on these two factors, but unfortunately, most teams don’t know about it. Actually, even those who apply this principle successfully often figure it our on accident. So, what does that mean and where is the difference?

Synchronization means that there is a strong congruence in the way people use their minds, hearts and hands. While that may sound a little bit philosophically, let me give you an example: Would you accept to work with (let alone depend on) someone who has a different interpretation of trust than you do? Would you give an important task to someone who has never shown your level of commitment? Would you ask someone for advice or for his opinion if his interpretation of the big picture was to deviate significantly from yours? Or, to give a last example, would you share your fears / doubts with someone who defines confidentiality differently than you do?

You probably wouldn’t (provided that you know). Basic elements of human interaction (like those mentioned above, and maybe a few more) must be tightly synchronized between people that work closely together – if they are is disagreement about these important aspects, the work they are performing and the results they have to deliver will always remain below their potential. In a sense, if you take a famous and often cited model: You can only have people in your bus that satisfy these requirements.

So what are the things that I consider to be the baseline for synchronization in order to ensure that teams can be successful? Here is my initial list (yours might differ) – actually in no particular order:

  • Loyalty, Trust & Mutual Confidentiality
  • Giving and Receiving Appreciation
  • Humility and Recognition
  • Candor, Openess to Feedback & Level of Constructive Critisism
  • Initiative + True Commitment
  • Results-Orientation and Resilience
  • Quality Consciousness & Self-Demand
  • Ability and Receptiveness to Change
  • Responsibility / Accountability
  • Contribution to and Understanding of the Big Picture
  • Focus on Goals based on Common Objectives
  • Making Use of Strengths vs. Dealing with Weaknesses
  • Handling Mistakes and Errors
  • Satisfaction through Work
  • Pleasure of Achievements

On the other hand, people are different and that is not only great, but even important for better results and real successes. Actually, teams assembling different characters are known to perform much better than teams that are composed merely of clones. While I will not go into the reasons, there is one thing to point out: What is often forgotten is the fact that there needs to be a level of compatibility between these people – they need a way to deal with each other effectively (and if possible even efficiently). Experienced Managers and Leaders spend a lot of time to optimize the level of compatibility, for example by bringing in external advice and coaching, and by tailoring the assignments of people based on their strengths, learnings and feedback. Going back to the mental picture used before: In terms of compatibility, the second step is to get the right people in your bus into the right seats – and to understand that you should think very carefully before throwing them of the bus to early.

What are the things that need to be compatible within a well-performing team? One very common example is the so called leadership style. Of course every organization needs leaders at multiple levels and in multiple facets. What is important is that the ways of leading people – especially in matrix organizations – are compatible with each other, and of course also compatible with the individuals being exposed to them. However, note the distinguishing between synchronization and compatibility: The leadership style of different people can (and actually should) differ, as long as it is compatible and the synchronization on other aspects is given.

The same is true for things like decision making, the way people organize things, how they solve problems, their personal method of working, and how they deal with complexity. Actually, here the contradiction is that the level of difference might actually increase the likelihood of great results as long as the compatibility is ensured.

Of course, there is a nearly indefinite list of things that have to be compatible when working as a team – the importance is to understand that each team needs their own list. Consequently, I can only share my own list and the most significant topics on it – feel free to adjust and replace whatever feels right for you:

  • Leadership Style
  • Definition of Management
  • Communication and Information Exchange
  • Authority vs. Collaboration
  • Decision Making & Problem Solving
  • Measuring Progress and Results, as well as Exercising Control
  • Governance and Organization
  • Application of Methods and Tools
  • Professional Conduct and Necessary Competencies
  • Dealing with Complexity and Uncertainty
  • Defining / Planning vs. Executing vs. Learning / Feedback
  • Customer-Orientation and Stakeholder Engagement
  • (this is only a starting point and will differ from context to context)

The general approach to differentiate between synchronization and compatibility can also help to get a better grip on buzzwords like “culture” and “values” – because it differentiates clearly where culture includes or excludes people, and also where values must be strict and where they promote tolerance.

Das Management-Modell

Management prägt als Wissendisziplin jede Organisation und jede Gesellschaft. Im Zentrum des Managements stehen stets dieselben Verantwortungs- und Aufgabenbereiche. Das folgende Modell stellt diese grundlegenden Elemente im Zusammenhang dar. Es fokussiert dabei insbesondere den Bedarf (Need) der wichtigsten Stakeholdergruppe (im Zusammenhang mit Wirtschaftsunternehmen ist dies der Kunde) im Einklang mit anderen Stakeholdern (Business Owner, Employees), den zu generierenden Nutzen (Benefit) sowie die Bereitschaft der Stakeholdergruppe, für diesen Nutzen eine Gegenleistung (Geld, Zeit, etc.) zu erbringen (Appreciation). Aus dieser ergibt sich die Rechtfertigung (Justification) für ein Engagement bzw. eine Investition (Beispiel wäre hier ein Business Case).

Die zentrale Aufgabe und Verantwortung des Managements besteht darin, Rahmenbedingungen zu schaffen, um die Bedürfnisse des primären Stakeholders zu erkennen und diese so zu befriedigen, dass die bezogene Gegenleistungen der Organisation erlaubt, als Institution innerhalb der Gesellschaft zu existieren. Um dies zu erreichen, muss die das ihr entgegengebrachte Angebot (ein Ergebnis oder eine Leistung) aus drei Perspektiven betrachtet werden: Der Zweck-Perspektive (Purpose), der Visions-Perspektive (Vision) und der Missions-Perspektive (Mission). Nur wenn aus allen drei Perspektiven ausreichende Rahmenbedingungen existieren, wird die Organisation den an sie gestellten Forderungen gerecht werden können.

Das “Warum?” – Die Frage nach Zweck & Mission

Die Existenz jeder Organisation begründet sich in der Erfüllung ihres fundamentalen Sinns für eine Gesellschaft. Dies gilt ebenso für das Deutsche Rote Kreuz, den Apple-Konzern und die katholische Kirche, wie für internationale Waffenhersteller und politische Parteien. Zu den wichtigsten Aufgaben von verantwortungsvollem Management gehört, diesen Zweck in den Köpfen und Herzen der Organisation zu verankern und als Grundlage für jede Handlung zu etablieren. Die Zweck-Perspektive beantwortet – im Einklang mit den Bedürfnissen der primären Stakeholdergruppe – damit die Frage nach dem “Warum?”. Die Antwort auf diese Frage ist oftmals deutlich schwerer zu finden als es zunächst den Anschein macht – sie ist aber von elementarer Bedeutung für die Formulierung einer klaren Vision.

Wichtige Einflussfaktoren bei der Definition eines Zwecks und der damit verbundenen Mission sind die Kultur (Culture) und die geltenden Werte (Values) derjenigen Menschen, auf denen die Organisation selbst aufgebaut ist. Ein Manager beeinflusst die Kultur, die Normen und die Werte einer Organisation vorallem durch seine Vorbildfunktion. Auf diese Weise nimmt er durch sein eigenes Beispiel gestaltend Einfluss. Neben der spezifischen Kultur, den besonderen Werten und den speziellen Normen, die in jeder Organisation unterschiedlich sein können, gibt es allgemeingültige Aspekte, die jeder Manager in seiner Funktion als Vorbild bedenken und – soweit möglich und sinnvoll – annehmen sollte:

  • Uneingerschränkte Wahrnehmung von Verantwortung
  • Persönliche Integrität als Grundlage für notwendiges Vertrauen
  • Fokus auf ganzheitliche Ergebnisse im Sinne des größeren Zusammenhangs
  • Fordern und Entwickeln von Menschen durch wirksames Delegieren
  • Synchrone Vergabe von Verantwortung und Autorität
  • Überzeugung, Anerkennung und Begeisterung für Leistungen und Ergebnisse
  • Konzentration auf Stärken und Differenzierungsmerkmale
  • Aufrichtiger und offener Umgang mit Risiken, Problemen und Fehlern
  • Lernen aus und konstruktiver Umgang mit allen Erfahrungen
  • Beuwusster und zielgerichteter Umgang mit Ressourcen
  • Nachhaltigkeit in allen Entscheidungen und Handlungen
  • Investition in Planung unter Berückstigung sich ändernder Umstände
  • Fokussierung auf konstruktive und zielgerichtete Kritik
  • Fordern und Honorieren von Eigeninitiative und Selbstkontrolle
  • Anerkennung von Komplexität und Überführung in einfache Lösungen

Sollte die Zweck-Perspektive nicht in Harmonie mit den anderen Aspekten von gutem und richtigem Management sein, ist die Leistungs- und Überlebensfähigkeit der Organisation in signifikanter Gefahr. Für den Fall, dass die Kultur, die Werte oder die Normen – entweder insgesamt oder nur ein einzelner der drei Aspekte – eine maßgebliche Ursache für die vorliegenden Probleme der Organisation darstellen, muss das Management sich auf eine lange und intensive Auseinandersetzung einstellen: Von allen Perspektiven ist die Veränderung des Zwecks (Purpose) am schwierigsten, schwerfälligsten, gefährlichsten und problembehaftesten.

Die Wechselwirkungen zwischen der Zweck-Perspektive (Purpose) und den anderen liegen stets auf einer schwer zu messenden und in den Auswirkungen nicht immer klar abschätzbaren Ebene: Kultur, Normen und Werte beeinträchtigen stets die Definition und Umsetzung von Strategie (Strategy), Zielen (Objectives) und des Leitplans (Roadmap). Die umgekehrte Wirkung, in welcher die Visions-Perspektive (Vision) Einfluß auf Kultur (Culture), Normen (Norms) und Werte (Values) nimmt, findet in ihren Auswirkungen vorallem zeitversetzt statt – sie folgt dem Gesetz der kontinuierlichen Veränderung, dem alle Systeme unterworfen sind, wenn sie den Menschen in den Mittelpunkt stellen. Die Disziplin des Change Managements nennt heute im Regelfall die folgenden maßgeblichen Aspekte, um nachhaltige Veränderunge in Organisationen zu bewirken:

  • Etablieren von Notwendigkeit und Dringlichkeit
  • Volle Unterstützung aller Autoritäten und Führungspersönlichkeiten (formal / informell)
  • Darlegen, Erklären und Reflektieren einer gemeinsamen Vision (s. auch Visions-Perspektive)
  • Mit Beispiel vorangehen und durch Ehrlichkeit, Klarheit und Begeisterung überzeugen
  • Widerstände offen ansprechen und intensiv dagegen anarbeiten
  • Verbesserungen als “Quick Wins” sichtbar machen, solange diese nicht das langfristige, nachhaltige Ziel negativ beeinflussen
  • Unteilbaren Fokus auf die langfristigen Ziele legen und keine Verschiebung der Prioritäten akzeptieren
  • Die Veränderung in der Organisation installieren und institutionalisieren (s. auch Missions-Perspektive)

In grundsätzlichen Fragen streben alle Systeme stets einen stabilen Zustand an – dies gilt vorallem für menschliche Systeme. Dauerhaft im Fluss befindliche Veränderungen in elementaren Bereichen einer Organisation sind daher zum Scheitern verurteilt. Aus diesem Grund ist es unerlässlich, kontinuierlich ein klares, konsistentes Bild und bewertbare, gemeinsame Erfolgskriterien an alle internen Stakeholder zu kommunizieren – die Definition dieses Bildes ist die Aufgabe der Visions-Perspektive: Es muss stets klar sein, was Erfolg ist und wann man das Ziel erreicht hat – selbst wenn der Weg dorthin nicht immer eindeutig oder leicht sein mag.

Das “Wohin?” – Definition von Vision und Zielen

Die zweite elementare Aufgabe des Managements ist es, aus dem Zweck des Unternehmens unter Einbeziehung seines Umfelds (Environment), dem Markt (Market) in dem sie sich bewegt und den sonstigen allgemeinen Rahmenbedingungen (Context) eine richtungsweisende Zielsetzungen abzuleiten. Dabei genügt es nicht, mithilfe von grob vereinfachenden Parolen das “Abliefern” von abstrakten, eindimensionalen Erfolgsgrößen (Umsatz, Gewinn, etc.) von einer Organisation zu verlangen. Vielmehr darf auch hier nicht der Dreh- und Angelpunkt verantwortungsvollen Managements vernachlässigt werden: Die Zufriedenstellung der primären Stakeholdergruppe (den “Kunden”) über die Erfüllung eines spezifischen Bedarfs (Need) und die Transformation von Ressourcen der Organisation in Nutzen (Benefit). Die entgegengebrachte Anerkennung für diese Ergebnisse seitens des Leistungsempfängers (Geld, Zeit, etc.) ist hierbei vorallem als Bestätigung – und eben ausdrücklich nicht als eigentliches Ziel – für die eigentlichen Resultate zu betrachten. Eine gute Vision setzt sich daher aus einer klaren Strategie (Strategy) und eindeutigen Zielen zusammen.

Unerlässlicher Bestandteil zur Realisierung einer Vision ist der Aufbau einer klaren Strategie. Strategie – hier definiert als ein Plan, dessen Umsetzung langfristigen Folgen hat – basiert stets auf klaren Zielen (Objectives). Die Definition von Zielen ist eine mehrdimensionale Aufgabe, bei der mindestens die folgenden Zieldimensionen abgedeckt werden sollten:

  • Zielart: Sowohl quantitative (messbare) als auch qualitative (bewertbare) Aspekte sollten berücksichtigt werden, wobei in jedem Fall bei späterer Bewertung von Ergebnissen die sich stetig verändernden Rahmenbedingungen beachtet werden müssen – im Zweifel sollte Qualität höher wiegen als Quantität
  • Zielbalance: Ausgewogene Zieldefinitionen beinhalten stets die Aspekte “Leisten / Erreichen” und “Abschaffen / Unterlassen” – es sollten aber auch klare Erwartungen an die Bereiche “Verhalten / Angewohnheiten”, “Gestalten / Entwickeln” und “Erhalten / Fortführen” formuliert werden
  • Zielvektor: Da Ergebnisse stets nur außerhalb einer Organisation existieren, ist der Blick auf zu bewirkende externe Veränderungen der wichtigste – dennoch darf der Blick auf interne Verbesserungen und Optimierungen (insb. in Schlüsselfunktionen, aber auch darüber hinaus) nicht außer Acht gelassen werden

Bei der Festlegung von Zielen sind außerdem folgende Prinzipien zu beachten:

  • … (etwas zu groß) …
  • … (intrinsisch motivierend) …
  • … (keine Kopplung von Belohnungen / Strafen) …
  • … (schriftlich / zwei Perspektiven) …
  • … (Stärken / in wichtigen Bereichen) …
  • … (Einfachheit / wenige / Konzentration) …
  • … (gegenläufig: vermeiden) …

Ziele gelten stets vorallem als Messkriterium für die Effektivität einer Organisation – die damit verbundene Vision ist vorallem als richtungsweisend zu verstehen.

The One and Only Reason for Failure

There are certain statements about the job of a manager that can’t be repeated to often. Here are two of them: Under-promise and over-deliver -and- Clarify, clarify, clarify.

The reason for their importance is that mismanaged expectations are not only “one of many”, but even “the one and only” reason for failure. So why is that? Because “failure” always means that someone’s expectations regarding your results were quite different from those you actually achieved. Of course the degree of failure always depends on the significance of the people who have those expectations, but the fact remains that “success” is not something that exists in a vacuum – it always involves judgement about the work that someone performed and judgement is only possible in relation to a certain set of expectations.

In the end, not managing expectations is and always will be the only reason for regarding work or its results as failure. Or, as J.D. Meier put it: “Managing the expectations as the stakes go up, becomes increasingly important in how your work is received, acknowledged, and rewarded.” – or to quote General George Patton: “Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.” (read more here)

So how can we manage expectations effectively? As always, the first thing to do is to acknowledge that there are expectations somewhere and invest time to understand them. The most efficient way to do that is very simple: Ask the right questions!

In our basic consulting seminar we have a section called “assignments & expectations”, which I already described partly in my blog post “How to Approach New Assignments”. The second part of this section is basically about how to invest time for negotiating what success means to the important people around you. Some of the vital questions we suggest to ask are the following:

  1. What is your perspective on the current situation?
  2. What are your minimum requirements for a desirable outcome and what would success look like?
  3. What are your goals in this given context and what else is important to you?
  4. What should be my goals from your point of view and how would you proceed to achieve them?
  5. What kind of backing / support can I get from you?
  6. Which early wins should we aim for without sacrificing sustainability?
  7. How would you set priorities within the current context?
  8. How can we win other stakeholders to our way of thinking?
  9. How can we team the necessary mindset that enables change to other stakeholders?
  10. How can we keep other stakeholders focused on what is really important?

Of course there are many more questions you can ask, but for successfully managing expectations – and in a way avoiding outright failure – these should be the vital few.

The second key to successful expectations management is: Keep asking! Just having some initial answers to the questions above might be fine for a limited amount of time, but expectations inevitably shift and often change drastically over the course of a relatively short time frame. Therefore, establishing a routine for periodically reassuring that you’re still on the right track is equally important for performing well and achieving success.

The third recommendation we give is embodied in the two statements at the beginning of this post: Always reduce your commitment to the lowest common denominator and never promise anything you can’t keep. In addition, always restate your understanding of every agreement and ensure that everything you say has been understood in the same way by all stakeholders.

If you keep these principles in mind and take the necessary actions, you will probably still fail – but your degree and your rate of failure will be much lower than your rate of success. Even more importantly, however, will be the trust and the faith people will have in you and in your ability to produce successful outcomes. And that is something money can’t buy.

How to Approach New Assignments

Transitions are one of the few situations in every career where time is of the essence and therefore acting quickly and decisively is critical for success. But are new jobs the only situation in which the environment changes nearly instantly and in which you have to adapt to completely new goals and expectations? If your job has something to do with projects or you work as a consultant, the answer is probably “No”.

So instead of wasting time with the wrong things and trying to figure out what you should do in which order, why not use the ECM framework to provide you with a simple step-by-step process  that can help you to master your new assignment successfully.

  1. Invest Time to Collect, Process and Organize All Available Information
  2. Analyze the Situation and Take a Look at the Big Picture
  3. Search for Root Causes and Define the Minimum Requirements for Success
  4. Ensure Your Visibility without Sacrificing Sustainability
  5. Outline the Strategic Direction and Set Goals based on a Realistic Scope and Timeline
  6. Get Feedback Early, Negotiate Support and Build Strong Coalitions
  7. Get Your Reporting in Order and Make Sure, You Know Always Where You Are
  8. Manage the Expectations of Others and Build Productive Relationships
  9. Focus on the Real Priorities and Balance Conflicting Interests
  10. Align Structures, Processes and Systems with Your Strategy
  11. Get the Right People with the Right Skills into the Right Jobs
  12. Execute Your Plan, Control Your Results and Adapt to Change Quickly
  13. Make Sure to Receive and Incorporate Feedback

Interested in learning more about the ECM framework? Stay tuned…