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I have noted down a list of ways I think we can drastically improve our efficency. Mainly relating to an inefficient attempts at using an Agile methodology. I have some big improvements to suggest in the way we approach a project and managing the backlog/sprint planning.

How can I raise these suggestions to my leaders and my team without offending them, as I am the least senior person on the team!? By suggesting these changes I would effectively be implying their management has not been as good as it could/should be...?

Our company values include questioning the status quo, speaking up and raising concerns. But in reality, people don't seem to like it when you question the status quo.... Any tips?!

  • How do they express not liking the status quo? – user8365 Nov 18 '15 at 16:15
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    Do you have Retrospectives in your agile process? That would be the best way to suggest improvements. – nvoigt Nov 18 '15 at 18:03
  • I feel your pain. However, I think it might be difficult for people to accept suggestions. You're looking at efficiency issues in workflow management. That ties in closely with company culture. IMHO suggestions for improvements in that domain are not going to be as openly received as, say, in the software engineering/coding domain itself (e.g. "I found a way to speed up this function by a factor of 10"). – user1071847 Nov 18 '15 at 19:26
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    As for "company values," if you mean proclaimed ones, they're meaningless. Our company recently revamped ours, and one of them is "valuing people". But they still lay off long-term employees without batting an eyelash and offshore their work. – user1071847 Nov 18 '15 at 19:28
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    The first suggestion to your leadership should be: Take suggestions for improvements without being offended. – gnasher729 May 6 '16 at 7:43
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Instead of presenting suggestions, you can ask questions and start discussions. Where possible, treat it as something newly possible -- it's not that the people who set up the current system were bad or incompetent, but now there are new opportunities:

  • "I see that the new version of (some tool or platform we use) would allow us to do X. That sounds useful; have we ever talked about doing X? Should we consider upgrading?"

  • "I was chatting with a friend who says his team's sprints run really smoothly, and he mentioned that they do X. That sounds like it would help us with A and B. Would that be worth trying?"

  • "Hey, did you see that article in the new issue of (some journal)? Sounds like they have some of the same challenges we do. What do you think about the ideas there?"

The trick here is to bring up the idea without claiming that either it's the best idea (we need to do this) or that you're dispensing wisdom to the rest of them. You're just sharing ideas, like colleagues do. Some will be winners and some won't. Let the discussion focus on the ideas, not the person suggesting them, and you'll get a franker discussion. You might find out, for example, that this team tried that very idea you're suggesting and ran into such-and-such problem that you never anticipated. Or they might think it's a great idea and work together as a group to refine it.

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    >You might find out, for example, that this team tried that very idea you're suggesting and ran into such-and-such problem that you never anticipated. You are right. things are usually the status quo for a reason. Like say the sugar isn't beside the coffee pot but on other side of room. Every day you get some coffee, take a few steps to get sugar, you can't figure out why. One day you think you are smarter than everyone, and decide to move the sugar. Later that day, there are ants all over it, and the boss is running around asking who moved the danged sugar. – Dan Shaffer Nov 18 '15 at 17:20
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    "You are right. things are usually the status quo for a reason." Yes. And sometimes the reasons are merely weak or even irrational. – user1071847 Nov 18 '15 at 19:32
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If it's not criticism or pointing finger at someone, then everyone would listen to you.

No one likes criticism, so explain to them in a soft and friendly manner, by guiding them clearly with how the new practices would boost productivity and value.

By suggesting these changes I would effectively be implying their management has not been as good as it could/should be...?

Improvement doesn't have to be criticism of existing methods. It's just updating the system and the team, so as I already mentioned, instead of criticising the present system, stress on how the new system would help improve performance.

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    "If it's not criticism or pointing finger at someone, then everyone would listen to you." I'd say, rather, it would increase the chance of doing so. For example, I made some pretty reasonable requests recently that would make our development and knowledge sharing environments much more productive. Was met with a friendly, "no, we're not going to do that," end of discussion. – user1071847 Nov 18 '15 at 19:28
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Giving unsolicited advice is always dangerous.

You should first make sure there is a question or request you can answer.

So, approach the people who decide that such evaluations are useful/necessary, mention that you have seen some things that you think could be improved, and ask if they are interested in your ideas.

If they say yes, there is now a 'listening' you can 'talk into'.

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It's a lot easier when people admit there is a problem. You can prompt this with some general questions about the length of a project or complexity of a certain implementation.

Once someone recognizes there is a problem, you need to see if they feel there could be a solution. The more they are convinced nothing is going to work, the tougher it's going to be to get them to buy into any solution. Hopefully you can convince them to try something new with something more than a "what have we got to lose?" defense.

Finally, you can get to potential solutions to identified problems, but you may be better off listening to other suggestions first. They may come up with something close to what you have and then you can offer some specifics, potential pit-falls, etc.

The less you know about people the harder it is to go about this. You could be suggesting things that have been tried or some people strongly oppose them. When you're new, it is important to listen more. What problems do people identify? What are things they never talk about? You may want to pick some individuals and talk to them one-on-one first. The person who keeps saying, "I just do what I'm told." won't fight for change.

If you can get people to admit there is a problem, you can make suggestions. Don't expect them to adopt your strategies right away. You may have to make several suggestions over and over before anyone will want to make a change, so don't give up. Just because they don't listen to you the first time, don't go around thinking they never listen to me. It takes work. You're probably not good at sales and marketing, so don't expect to be good at this right away.

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You need to get the team into a culture/position where they will be receptive to new ideas about working methods and foster an environment where all new ideas are considered and then get some "air time" for your ideas by submitting them into that process.

I suggest that you start small. Can you propose to the group that you set aside a small amount of time, perhaps weekly, for looking at "process improvement"? As far as I understand it, this is a built-in part of the Agile mindset, so you may be successful proposing it as part of that "continuous improvement" process. If you keep the demands on the team small (i.e. don't propose a two-hour workshop!) then you may well find the team receptive to looking at this.

Then, pick your best one idea and submit it into that process, whilst at the same time encouraging everyone to submit their ideas. If your idea is a good one it will rise to the top and gain the support of the team. All well and good.

As the continuous improvement process beds in, continue to submit your ideas into the process alongside everyone's. Try to make sure, if you can, that others do submit ideas for discussion else it will become Bekahland's personal soapbox pretty quickly and everyone will lose interest. Be careful to foster an engaged, collaborative and inclusive culture for the continuous change meetings if you can. Be prepared to listen to other people's ideas and continue to work with them even if you are convinced from the get-go they are not correct or not workable. If they are truly not good ideas then the group will reject them. Conversely if yours are truly good ideas they will get trialled and adopted.

Using this method it becomes the responsibility of the group to support and deploy the changes (even if it is you that is "driving" those changes) and as such there should be much less in the way of political barriers derived from your relative seniorities.

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It really depends on the team culture. Or what your leads want to hear in the first place.

A blunt approach might actually work - especially in a technical environment/culture: "why aren't we doing X?" - or even "I think we should do Y". IMHO, that's what retrospectives are for and a lead that isn't willing to listen to suggestions shouldn't be one.

One thing to keep in mind though: it might also be they have thought about your idea, weighted it, possibly tried it in the past, and discarded it. Seniors are not seniors just because they've been sitting at their desk for a while. In theory at least, they have accumulated experience (and expertise) that allows them to be better equipped to evaluate an idea actual worth.

...which should in no way prevent you from reaching out: with a good lead, the worst that could happen is a (possibly lengthy) explanation of why they don't think your idea holds water. Not necessarily correct (nobody is infallible), but a good data point to build your own experience.

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Sure Fire Way To Get Your Ideas Implemented

Nobody likes ultimatums. "We should implement X and it would speed up Y and save Z." It doesn't matter if your idea is spot on. Your boss will see this as an ultimatum and it will get snubbed.

Here is a sure-fire way to get your ideas implemented without causing any friction between you and your boss.

Step 1 - Define a Specific Problem

Define a very specific problem that you know can be fixed that will make life better. Make sure that the problem is specif and well defined and not some giant solution. For example: Bad: We need an new check out system that increases efficiency. Good: We need to redesign the check out page so it's easier for our customers.

Step 2 - Create 3 Different Solutions

Develop three similar but slightly different solutions to the specific problem identified in step 1. Make sure you write down each solution on a separate sheet of paper.

Step 3 - Ask Your Boss For Help

This is extremely important. Presentation is everything. Walk up to your boss and ask for his/her help. (the word "help" is the key). Something like this:

"Hey boss, I could use your help. I'm trying to fix the customer check out process so it easier for our customers and I can't decide on which one of these approaches is best."

At this point you place all three solutions in front of you boss asking him/her to help decide which one is best.

Result

Chances are you boss will be thrilled that there's a decision he/she needs to make. For example:

Take the top and bottom from solution 2. Take the left side from solution 3. Take the right section from solution 1. That will work great.

Bottom Line

Do you really care what solution your boss picks? No, because all three of them were your idea.

I taught this to a room full of junior Marines. I told them it would work so well their boss wouldn't have a clue what they were upt to. When my discussion was over I asked them if they thought it would work. They all agreed it would.

I then asked them if anyone had tried this technique. One Marine stood up and said yes. I asked him who he had done this to and he said, "I did it you you Staff Sergeant and you had no clue."

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