Episode 3: Getting Bearings

Picture of Kanban board

After the first week in my new role was completed I was ready to get down to business.  Based on my one-on-one conversations with my new employees, I had some direction on where to direction on where to start, but the todo list was daunting.  Hiring two employees (one part time and one full time,) learning about my new business partners, standardizing work practices, standardizing project planning, better defining job roles and descriptions, just to name a few.  Unfortunately, all of these items would have to wait until my third week on the job.  My second week on the new job was filled with a previously scheduled user conference that I had committed to speaking at.  This was very unfortunate timing. This timing was made worse by the fact that it was an intentional decision.  As I learned, it is critical to spend as much time as possible with you new team and you manager during the first few months in a new role.

As soon as possible, you should meet with you new boss and clearly establish expectations during your ramp up period over the first 90 days.  My first week on the job, my boss, Robert was at a conference in Philadelphia and the second week on the job I was at a conference in Chicago.  As a result, my first real conversation with Robert in my new role didn’t happen until the third week on the job.  This was undesirable, not because I was moving in the wrong direction with my new team, but because I didn’t have clarity on what Robert’s top priorities were for me in my new role until my third week on the job.  During this conversation, Robert identified his top priority as having the upcoming Tri-Annual updates go well.

The Tri-Annual update has its roots with our former CIO.  This originally started as a quarterly update the Information Services gave to each of the other 6 divisions at Associated Electric to update them on the various projects that IS was undertaking on their behalf.  This started as a communication tool that our CEO implemented to improve communication and collaboration between IS and the other divisions.  Today, under the leadership of our current CIO, it is an open forum to present Information Services’ KPI and gain alignment on our project plan.  The team that I had inherited had a very wide variety of was to track and manage their work, so getting KPI’s and putting together three formal project plans in four to six weeks was a fairly tall order.

In Information Services, we break our work apart into three categories: project, support and meta.  At this time, most of our KPI’s revolved around the “support” type work.  This is type of work (for my team) is typically your tier two help desk type work.  We don’t plan for this type of work; but rather, we budget a percentage of time for this type of work and strive to complete this work as quickly as possible.  Standardizing emergent (support) work became my primary focus for the team.  Without a standard was to track our support work, I would not be able to compile any support related KPI’s.  Many of our teams use Team Foundation Server for managing our work and that was the system of record that my team was going to start exclusively using.  Accomplishing this required everyone to get out of the habit of immediately resolving support requests and into a habit of documenting what they were being asked todo.  To make this easier, we kept it analog and a created a physical Kanban board on some of the exterior cube walls.  I clearly laid out the expectations for the team that, at a minimum, every support request that you receive needed to be documented on a 3×5 index card.  No entry into TFS if they didn’t want to, I would take care of that and allow them to focus on the work.  Some of my employees habitually recorded everything into TFS, but for those that didn’t, my gesture greatly improved their buy in.  After all, I was only asking for a few words to be written on an index card and pined to the cube wall.  The results were immediate, we went from about 5 recorded tasks a week, before I joined the team, to an average of twenty.  The second problem to solve was to ensure that team members that habitually used TFS properly categorized their work for future analysis.  This was easily accomplished by using a TFS query pinned to the home screen in TFS.  Below is a picture of the Kanban board and the TFS home screen that I use to keep all the work straight.

Picture of Kanban board
TFS home page
At the end of my first month, the entire team was now managing emergent work in a consistent manner and we were beginning to collect KPIs to measure and improve our performance.  Lessons I learned include avoid traveling during the early days of the transition.  During the first two weeks in my new roll, I did not have a chance to speak with my new manager because either he or I were out of town.  This cause delays in the two of us gaining alignment on immediate priorities, preparation for the triannual updates.  That said, the best thing you can do for yourself when entering into a new role is to have a direct conversation with your new manager to negotiate and align expectations.  Once we had that conversation my focused immediately turned to the triannual updates.  That preperation would continue into the second month with a focus on the team’s projects.