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We all know how hard it might be to create alignment in the team. Getting all the team members on the same page and getting them focused is not an easy task. So I would like to share with you the easiest tool to use tool I know for creating alignment.
But, first of all, WHAT is alignment?

The simplest form of alignment in the team is when everybody on the team works together towards the shared goal or with a shared purpose ALL THE TIME.

Despite sounding simple, it is often hard to achieve due to:

  • Individual priorities being more important than team purpose
  • Loss of focus
  • Conflicting or multiple priorities
  • Handling Interruptions and “reality” that has “happened” (firefighting)
  • There is no buy-in for the shared purpose

The root cause for all of the above is the inability of team members to make good decisions, aligned with the shared purpose individually. So why can’t they do so?

There are four reasons:

  1. There is no common understanding of what makes a good decision.
  2. They don’t have enough information (or too much) about the current state of things
  3. It is hard to predict how their decision will affect the current state
  4. Lack of examples of good choices that were already made

Let’s look at each of these reasons and how they can be resolved.

Decision-Making

First, let’s take a look at the aspect of making good or bad decisions. How can we say whether a decision is good or bad (before acting on it)?

We can try to assess all the possible outcomes of a decision and compare it to the other possibilities.
This is usually difficult and time-consuming since we often have a vast number of options and the outcomes of the decision might not be predictable or might have a high level of uncertainty. Thus, this approach is difficult to use for day-to-day decision making, and it is mainly applicable to large-scale/strategic decisions.

Alternatively, we can check if it is good enough by using our values, principles and shared purpose.
Values are something that we don’t want to sacrifice no matter what we do. If we have a list of 3-5 key values, assessing the quality of a decision is easy, since we don’t want to compromise any of these values. Values set a direction in making a decision.
Principles is a collective agreement on how we work together. Unlike values, principles serve to mould the actions related to a decision – how do we aspire to act?
Shared purpose serves as a measure of success. The closer a decision takes us to achieve the common goal, the better this decision is.

Not only this allows us to assess the quality of a decision easily, but we can even use that to shape our choice. Caveat: values and principles should be short, crystal clear and few. 😉

Having Enough Information

What does it mean to have enough information but not more than needed? In order to have the right information, we need to:

  • Know where we are relative to the common goal
  • Know what the current situation is.
  • Know what IS the goal
  • Know what can affect our decision and what can in turn be affected by our decision.
  • Know the options that are available to us

Anything less than this is not enough. More than this is too much.

Consequences of our Decisions

How can we account for the consequences?

The most obvious way is to simulate what will happen. However, if simulation is too complicated – we will not be able to do it, so we  end up not doing it instead.

Alternatively, we can try to see what currently influences the achievement of the goal and how our decision affects these influences. Then we can make a decision based on whether this influence is positive or negative without predicting the outcome.

Examples of Good Decisions

Where can we get examples of good decisions?  Here are some ways to gather examples:

  1. We can try to recall them from memory. It will add vagueness and subjectivity to examples and will diminish their value.
  2. Make up a bunch of examples like “when things were like this, we’ve done that and it was really good because of…”. Such examples will be useful but will quite quickly become outdated.
  3. We can make recent decisions we and other people made visible, so we can easily see examples of previous choices and also improve them if we have doubts about their quality. 🙂

Creating alignment

First of all, we need to define a common purpose, our values, and principles. Each of these would require additional work on discovery, which I would cover in separate articles. Here I will give just a basic idea.

  • For purpose: Think about why this company/team group was created. What was the driving force for this? What kind of ideal outcome were you aiming to produce?
  • For values: Start with the decisions made by your team that annoy/upset you the most. Usually, it is a sign that one or a few of your values were violated in this situation. Write down these values. Out of them, pick 3-5 that you absolutely can not give up.
  • For principles: Engage your team and together come up with the first version of 4-5 rules that describe how you decide on what to do based on purpose and values. These rules will have to be reviewed regularly to see whether they work or not.

The rest of these requirements can be easily satisfied with a single tool – information radiator.

Information radiators

An information radiator is a highly visible display of critical information. Some people from the Agile community also call them “Big Visible Charts”, but they were used way before Agile have appeared.

There are many varieties of information radiators, but all of them share the same qualities. They are:

  • Current
  • Relevant
  • Simple
  • Useful
  • Hard to miss

Let’s look at them one by one:

Current – the information radiator provides information that is up-to-date and reflects the present state of the reality, for example, currency exchange rates or current gas prices at a gas station. If the information shown is an information from a few days ago, you would quickly learn to ignore it.

Relevant – presented information is relevant to you according to your needs and goals. If we look at the previous example, unless I drive a car or have currency to exchange, these will be irrelevant to me. In a team setting, good examples of relevant display would be something that shows team’s progress towards the goal, individual contribution to it and information related to the way we work.

Simple (and clear) – if it takes more than a couple of seconds to make sense of the presented information, then this radiator is not simple or clear enough. An excellent example of a simple information radiator is a clock – it (usually) conveys information in a straightforward and clear form.

Useful – you can use the information provided by the radiator to make your decisions, or it would instruct your actions. Road signs are good example of an information radiator as they prove useful information for a driver. Can you turn here? Can you stop? How fast can you go? Those are useful information that a driver need.

Hard to miss – you will lose all the value described above if you don’t see the radiator when it is necessary. Imagine that you required to launch an app on a mobile phone to find out current speed limits while driving?

Examples of information radiators

Kanban board

A board/wall that shows steps of the process to complete work and all the work that is currently in progress. Usually, it has a column for each step of the process but it can be as simple as “To do, Doing, Done”. It serves the purpose of controlling the flow of work and setting priorities.
This type of radiator helps people to make decisions about what they can work on without waiting for someone else to assign the work for them.
Kanban Wall

Promises board

A board/wall which displays current and planned commitments against the timeline. This is based on idea of a heijunka box. It serves the purpose of planning and balancing the workload, especially in  an environment with many projects/services per team or for managing multiple initiatives/products.

Each column represents a time period (day/week/month/etc), each row represents project/product/initiative, cards represent promises/commitments. I also suggest placing cards horizontally if the commitment is made, and diagonally if “we wish to get it done by this date but have not committed yet”.
This type of radiator helps to understand current commitments, identify problems/overcommitment/gaps in plans, make decisions about new commitments and assists with planning.

Kaizen “wall of fame”

A wall which shows off all the improvements implemented within a team/company. Each improvement should have enough details to define the context and to allow other people to perform a similar improvement in their workplace.

The core purpose of this information radiator is to share the knowledge and motivate people to be more inventive and to contribute more.
It helps to foster an atmosphere of continuous improvement, create a sense of unity, and to share the knowledge across the company.

Quality/performance displays

We can see examples of this in the airport – the number of planes that landed/taken off/flown through the territory.It is also found in software companies showing the last build/test run success statistics; And in operations – the number of parts produced/planned.
It helps people to understand how well are we performing, and allows to adjust their actions to improve/maintain the performance. Also, to be proud of the high levels of the performance.

Product/project-specific displays

There are a multitude of  examples of this information radiator. The primary purpose of this is to provide the necessary high-level information regarding the project/product. For example, it shows a customer profile/avatar for marketing teams, product architecture for software teams.
It helps to foster collaboration between me beers of the team on the things they are working on together.

There are more variants of the useful information radiators that you can use, and I would  encourage you to use the ones that are applicable to your situation/team/company while keeping them current, relevant, simple, useful and hard to miss. 🙂