Hand Signals: A Remote Technique!

There’s a running joke on my team. If you see my hands moving but can’t hear me, I’m on mute. I talk with my hands. My hands come alive anytime I talk. I can’t help it. But this “bad habit” has created some happy accidents in remote meetings that have enabled me to take some of my hand signals and create a non-verbal way of communicating.

I call this technique Hands Alive.

What is it?

Hands Alive means to use your hands to give speakers or viewers hand signals to give them information. It’s a non-verbal way of communicating.

What are the signals?

This is a short of list of possible hand signals:

  • Thumbs up – “Good” or “I agree”
  • Double thumbs up – “I very much agree!”
  • Stop/Pause – (hold palm flat so it’s shown to the camera) “Stop” or “Wait
  • “One second” – (hold up the index finger) “hang on a second”
  • Time’s up – (point to your wrist to indicate their time is over)
  • Applause – (clap your hands) hooray! or “that was great!”
  • Air quotes – used to paraphrase or quote was someone else has said.

For fun add:

  • Raise the roof – hold your palms to ceiling and push up. Means to “raise a ruckus” or make some noise to celebrate.
  • Running Man – a dance move from the 90s. Doesn’t mean anything but it’s another way I celebrate non-verbally!
The Running Man as popularized by the Fresh Prince. I do this from the waist up to celebrate. It’s really all about the arms anyway!

How to use hand signals

Your team may have other hand signals it uses. Be sure to take a picture of each and add its definitions so you can share with new team members.

Obviously Hands Alive requires a camera. If you read my other posts, I’m a big believer in having the camera turned on at all times. Cameras keep us human and keep us connected to each other.

Why does it work?

Virtual conversations can have a lot going on. Hand signals are a simple, visual way to communicate without interrupting the flow of a conversation. This can make conversations more inclusive and equitable so that participants who may not be able to speak can still participate in the conversation.

Hand signals can also add some fun to your virtual meetings too (see my post on Virtual Team High Five: A COVID Friendly, Remote Technique!)

Hand signals also work well when you have speakers of different languages. These common signals – if worked out in advance – can be easy ways to communicate agreement/disagreement or manage meetings without needing to understand a new language. (Note: make sure to take in account any hand signals which should be avoided in these situations)

Demand Management: Roles & Responsibilities

This is part 3 in my 3 part series on Demand Management. In this post, we’ll look at demand management roles and their responsibilities.

Demand Management Roles & Responsibilities

The key roles in this process are:

  • Requestor
  • Demand Manager
  • Demand Analyst
  • IT & Business Review Team
  • Decision Making Body (ex Steering Committee)

Requestor

The person who submits the idea. This can be the person who came up with the idea or a person designated to submit requests. The requestor:

  • participates in the demand management phases to elaborate on the idea submitted
  • presents the item to the steering committee
  • is accountable for answering questions on purpose, need and priority

Identifying who can submit a request is an important decision when defining this role. Some of the questions to determine this are:

  • Can anyone in the organization submit an item or just certain kinds of items?
  • Do these items need to be vetted or approved before the requestor can submit them?
  • What is the requestor accountable for in each phase of demand management?

Demand Manager

This role is accountable for the demand management process and its outcomes. The Demand Manager ensures items move through the phases. This involves:

  • communicating and updating the process
  • owning and configuring the tools or templates to support the process
  • ensuring that the process runs smoothly
  • providing metrics to the organization about the process
  • performing governance to ensure that the process is being managed effectively
  • reporting on benefits of managing its demand
  • identifying hand-shakes between demand management and the software development lifecycle and project management processes in the IT organization

Demand Analysts

This role is accountable for ensuring that ideas go through the appropriate demand funnel activities. The analyst is accountable for much of the day-to-day work that occurs with the demand management process.

The Demand Analyst may also:

  • facilitate the demand management meetings and events
  • work with the requestors to prepare the deliverables needed as the idea works through its lifecycle
  • produce the metrics and updates to show the demand management effectiveness
  • capture the dispositions of the demand items and ensure they move into their next phase based on those outcomes

IT & Business Review Team

This is a group made up of representatives from across IT that will participate in the review, discover and estimation of items coming through the process.

This group should be made up of architects, tech leads and analysts and other “big picture” type roles that can focus on areas like:

  • if the organization has the right tools, skills or capabilities to solve the problem
  • how best to solve the problem using existing or new technologies
  • identifying the hidden or unknown impacts or risks that solving the problem may expose
  • providing ROM (rough order of magnitude) estimates based on high level information

Decision Making Body

This is a decision-making body made up of business and IT representatives that will make several different decisions in the demand management process:

  • is this idea worth exploring? and
  • is the proposal worth pursuing?

The roles described in this post are key to managing items coming through the demand funnel. Your organization may need other roles depending upon size of the organization, compliance or regulatory factors which impact your demand or any other criteria which makes your demand unique.

A simple approach to demand management can solve many problems. This series was intended to give you some background in how to do that.

Have more questions? Reach out to me at The Virtual BA Coach.

Demand Management: Categories of Work

In Part 1 of this series I introduced a simple 4 phase Demand Management process. In this post I look at categories of demand and how they can help you scale your demand management process.

Categories of Demand

Categories of demand are used to scale the process and identify the specific activities needed to explore, pursue and plan the work.

Standard categories of demand include:

  • Projects – large efforts needed to meet strategic goals.
  • Enhancements – changes or updates to existing systems.
  • Support – work to run existing systems. Support work is divided into 2 categories: operational requests and service requests.
    • Operational requests are work items like applying patches to the OS or installing upgrades to existing systems.
    • Service requests are requests for work like resetting a password, running a batch job or fixing an inoperable laptop.

Every organization should identify its demand categories when planning their demand management process.

Planned vs Unplanned Work

Demand can represent planned or unplanned work

Planned work is work that comes in advance or is anticipated, such as during an annual planning exercise.

Unplanned work is work that comes in at any time with little or no notice. Service requests, bugs and even some enhancements can be unplanned. Unplanned does not always mean “unexpected.”

Planned and unplanned work definitions help identify where work is coming from and how quickly a response to it is expected.

Scaling Demand Management by Category

Michael Gentle in IT Success! Towards a New Model for Information Technology uses a funnel to illustrate an ideal demand management process. Sales funnels represent the journey that customers go through to make a purchase. Opportunities start as leads. The lead goes step-by-step through activities in the funnel which result in winning or losing the sale. Not everything that enters the funnel leaves the funnel.

Project demand works much the same way. Not every proposal for work that enters your demand funnel will result in an approved work request. And that’s the whole point of this process!

Below is an imagined demand funnel that layers categories of demand over the activities and decision points to show how work might flow through a demand management process. Some categories need more evaluation and decisions but others need just a little decision-making.

Diagram borrowed from Michael Gentle.

In the last post in this series, I’ll describe the roles that support this demand management framework.

A Simple Process to Manage Project Demand

Does this sound like your organization?

  • Do you have more projects than you can finish?
  • Is every project an emergency?
  • Do you have multiple ways that work is submitted, tracked and managed?
  • Do you have trouble determining what the priorities are?

If your project work is coming in faster than you can deliver it, you need a Demand Management process to give order and priority to your work. I’ve worked in a number of over-committed project organizations in my 20+ years. Through research and some trial and error, I’ve come up with a simple process that helps organizations plan and prioritize work and enables teams to work smarter (not just harder).

What is Demand Management?

Demand management is a process which guides how customer demand is taken in, analyzed, prioritized and planned. Proper demand management helps to:

  • plan and prioritize their organization’s work, services and assets
  • staff the project-related organization to support customer needs
  • identify trends in demand and help their customers take a more proactive approach to technology needs
  • anticipate and budget for future work

How Did I Get Interested in Demand Management?

I became interested in demand management because I was on the receiving end of many of those project “emergencies” and poorly prioritized work requests. It was only when I started working on an IT process improvement initiative that I had the time and the buy-in from our leadership to understand the root causes of our chaotic work in-take processes. We discovered that our IT organization never said “no” to anything in an effort to be responsive. However, this created backlogs, challenges and misfires that could be easily avoided by dedicating a little more time upfront to discover if the project should be and could be done. This lead to the development of a simple demand management framework with 4 phases.

A Simple Demand Management Process in 4 Stages

I’ve seen a lot of work in-take processes, simple and complex. What I’ve discovered is there’s really just one process for managing project demand. It contains 4 simple phases and a few stage gates. The process can be scaled up or down depending upon the type of work requests that are coming in.

The steps within the phases are placeholders for activities that an organization can tailor to their needs.

Exploring

This first phase, called Exploring, is all about clarifying the problem to solve and deciding if it even needs to be solved. The stage gate at the end of this phase asks question “Are we going to pursue this piece of work?” This question acknowledges that evaluating the work request has an unrecoverable cost so the organization should be confident that this is a problem worth solving.

The request is declined if the answer is “no” at this stage gate. Else, the request moves onto the 2nd phase: Pursuing.

Pursuing

The Pursuing phase involves identifying high level requirements to understand more about the request, its costs and impacts. The organization is not creating a full set of requirements, just enough to provide a high level estimate.

“Big thinkers” perform most of the work of this phase. They are usually high level team members who can take in abstract information and see across silos to come up with a variety of ways to resolve the demand item. They see outside their roles to bring new perspectives to the request.

The Big Thinkers should be non-essential project members, like architects, technology leads and business analysis leaders, because projects in the Pursuing phase may not receive approval or funding. Essential team members, whose focus should be prioritized, approved and budgeted work, are not part of this phase.

This phase ends with a stage gate that asks the question “Are we going to do the work requested?” “No” means that the work will not be pursued. “Yes” means the request will be pursued and is forwarded to the next phase.

Planning

The Planning phase involves setting the budget and finding resources to perform the work. Some approved work may not be formally budgeted. Support work, for example, may be part of a team’s Run budget. But every approved work request includes the costs, time and resources. These outputs are documented so they can be shared with the delivery team.

The 3rd stage gate in this process does one last check to make sure the work is still needed. “Has the priority or need for the work changed?” A “no” stops or delays the work until the time is right. A “yes” forwards the work to the next phase.

Executing

The final step in the demand management is the execution of the work. At this stage, the work request is transitioned into the software development lifecycle (SDLC) for the team or into a project management tool, if the request is not technology-related.

Get Control of Your Project Portfolio: The Course

Want a more in depth look at IT demand management? Check out my short online course Get Control of Your It Project Portfolio: An Introduction to Demand Management. Enter code DEMANDSEPT to take the course for FREE!

I’m passionate about making great things possible. That means great ideas, great teams, great teamwork, you name it! Great things can happen when organizations have smart, consistent processes in place. Too much work, poor quality work or work that doesn’t move the organization forward is a recipe for overwhelmed teams and under-performing IT organization.

Get control of your IT work

Earlier this year I published a 2-part series on a simple 4 phase demand management process. I’ve used that simple process over the years to help IT leaders get control of their work and have seen dramatic improvements each time. But I’m one person and there are a lot of IT organizations that need to hear about it.

I’ve been working hard this summer to finish an online course on this very topic that’s been a pet project for FIVE YEARS! Today, I have finally launched it! Get Control of Your Project Portfolio with Demand Management: An Introduction to Demand Management is live on Udemy starting today.

Interested in learning about this simple framework? For a limited time, you can take the course for FREE. Email The Virtual BA Coach for the code.

Curiosity As A Strength

I was having a conversation with a colleague about domain expertise. We were talking about the benefits of having deep expertise in an industry and how that made us better analysts and designers. “But,” I said, “I don’t think we have to feel like our path to success is in one industry. Our skills are transferable across many industries. It can be an asset that we don’t know anything about the industry we’re working in.” Curiosity can be our strength when we don’t know something.

Being a subject matter expert in a particular domain can limit us. We can forget to be curious because we know (or think we know) the answers. Being unfamiliar with a particular domain allows us to rely on our curiosity as a strength. We can:

  • ask “dumb questions” that others with advanced expertise may be too afraid to ask
  • request background details that may re-acquaint our subject matter experts with information that they may have forgotten
  • free associate to make connections and see opportunities that others with domain knowledge can’t see

Curiosity is a strength and it can require some confidence to use it. It shows that we are interested in learning; however, it puts us in the position of being a student. For some, this can feel like a very vulnerable position to be in in front of a group of experts. But here’s the thing – the more you use your curiosity, the more you learn and the more confident you become. That’s how a growth mindset works. And if you aren’t growing, you are probably leaving a lot of knowledge on the table.

Try This

Here’s a couple of techniques you can try to practice your curiosity:

  • Ask questions and then listen. Don’t jump ahead to your next question. Listen to the response quietly and let it sink in. (See my post on The Difference Between Hearing and Listening)
  • Paraphrase. Repeat back what someone has said in your own words. Paraphrasing can 1) confirm that you’ve understood what you heard and 2) help you “file away” that new thing you learned in a language you understand.
  • Think out loud. Sometimes you’ll start to connect things real time as you’re learning them. Don’t be afraid to say “Just thinking out loud! Does this sound correct?” and then go for it. This is a great feedback loop and can take conversations in new and interesting places.
  • Use the “new guy” card. When I’m the only one in the room who doesn’t know something, I’ll ask to play the “new guy.” This lets people know I’m going to start my questions from the very beginning – you know, “dumb questions” – so I have a common starting point. I often find that others in the room have similar questions and appreciate that someone is taking the “new guy” role. This gives them permission to learn and add their own questions to the conversation. Subject matter experts are often students too!
  • Don’t be afraid of silence. Your expert may need a moment to think about your question. You may need a moment to process the answer. Learning involves a lot of cognitive processing. Don’t be afraid to have little silence while the conversation takes shape.
  • Breathe. Modeling curiosity and confidence while learning in real time can create anxiety. Remember to breathe.

Starting From Solutions: When a customer requests a solution

Gerald was leading a discussion on a feature. The customer asked to have a specific system behavior added to the system. He wrote down what the customer said and submitted it as a requirement. The architect soon intervened to let him know that what was requested wasn’t possible. Gerald was confused. The customer had requested that solution. He thought the request was the requirement.

When the customer requests a solution

I’ve been part of meetings where a customer expressed a need as a solution like in the example above. If left unanalyzed, this can set expectations that cannot be met by the system. The customer is telling you how they would experience the solution; however, assuming the behavior is the requirement can create solutions that don’t solve the problem. More exploration is needed when this happens.

But “Don’t talk solutions” is a bunch of malarkey

There’s a camp of purist analysts and designers who will tell you “don’t talk about solutions” when you’re discovering needs. I am not in that camp. I recognize that some customers will tell you the solution they want but not realize they’ve offered one. We should meet our customers where they are. (Check out my post on The Difference Between Hearing and Listening on how to do this) That is, we should start the requirements discovery from how they might see this problem solved. Note that that is not the same thing as assuming their solution is the requirement.

Striking a condescending tone (“I don’t think you really need a drop-down.”) or being abrupt (“We don’t need to talk about solutions”) will make the conversation awkward and could damage your relationship with the customer.

What do I do if the customer tells me how they want it coded?

First, assume the customer is sharing a future state with you. Your job will be to help them unpack it by asking smart questions that identify their real needs. Do that by retro-engineering how they got to that vision and start your discussion from there. The customer can correct or elaborate further on what you’re asking. This gets the discussion out of the design realm and back into a discovery mode.

Here’s an almost real-life example:

Customer: I want a drop-down on the page that includes the form number and name.

Me: How would showing both identifiers help you?

Customer: I wouldn’t have to keep a list of the form names on my desk when I’m writing a policy.

Me: OK, so you need the ability to know which form you are selecting when you are writing a policy? And you’re just picking one form at a time?

Customer: No, I can select one or several forms for that policy but I need to see their names to make sure I’m picking the right ones. (note to reader – this confirms that a drop-down might not be the right implementation).

Me: I see. You need to be able to multi-select forms as well. And can you pick any form in the list?

Customer: No. I can only pick certain forms based on the policy type. I have to keep that list on my desk too.

Me: Got it. You need the system to ensure that you only see the forms that you can pick for the type of policy.

Customer: Yes, that’s right.

The takeaway

Notice that I’m not taking the conversation forward to elaborate further on the solution provided by the customer. I’m taking the conversation backward by asking probing questions to find out how she got to this future state vision. I’m not committing or disagreeing to the solution either.

If I had just walked out of the room with the “I need a drop-down” statement, I wouldn’t have fixed the problem AND I might not have uncovered additional needs. That’s why we can’t assume that the request as phrased by the customer is the requirement. But, because we started the conversation from where the customer was, we could use her vision as a way to explore her needs.

Bottom line – don’t discount how can use the customer’s vision as a starting point for requirements discovery.

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Virtual Team High Five: A COVID Friendly, Remote Technique!

I’m back with another remote meeting technique to add to your catalog (check out my last remote technique Take Five to Socialize: A Remote Technique!). It’s the Virtual Team High Five. Nothing says team spirit more than high fiving but social distance and plain ‘ol distance makes that impossible for remote teams these days. Read on for what a Virtual Team High Five is, how to do it and why it works!

What is a Virtual Team High Five?

Back in the “old days,” people would slap their hands together to celebrate, to greet each other or congratulate someone. Those days are behind us but we don’t have to give up high fiving! Just flatten your palm, stretch out your arm and give your camera a little tap. See below. Puppy cuteness is optional.

What’s the history?

A million years’ ago I had a boss who loved to give live team high fives. I thought it was dorky but it made me laugh every time he did it. “TEAM HIGH FIVE,” he would yell. One day years later I was on a web call. Excited about our team’s progress, I instinctively reached out to the camera and yelled “VIRTUAL TEAM HIGH FIVE!” I got a laugh and a few high fives back. Done-zo! Into the virtual facilitation bag ‘o’ tricks it went.

How do I start?

The key to virtual high fiving is sincerity, a willingness to be a bit of a goofball AND your cameras must be on. Find that moment in your meeting where the team is feeling good, having a virtual “moment” as it were, then reach out and tap the camera with your open palm. Don’t forget to yell “VIRTUAL TEAM HIGH FIVE” so folks don’t think you’re trying to swat a bug away or something.

Why does this technique work?

At its core, high fiving is a gesture of togetherness and positivity. It simulates a human touch and therefore conveys a physical connection with others. That’s what many of us need right now and it’s COVID-friendly.

But there’s also a physical energy to it – reaching out quickly to bop the camera – that can transcend the camera and flow to our colleagues, sending them good vibes and positive feelings. Plus it just makes people laugh which gets them to relax and have a little fun.

So the next time you’re looking to celebrate with the team, forget the stuffy “Thank you” email and give them a virtual team high five!

I’d love to know if you’ve incorporated this into your virtual meetings. How did it go? Let me know at susan@thevirtualbacoach.com!

Take Five to Socialize: A Remote Technique!

Being remote means never having water cooler moments. The moments where you chat with your colleagues. I don’t really miss being in an office but I do miss those “in real life” encounters where you learn something about your colleagues. I’ve coined a phrase –Take Five to Socialize – that describes how I build social moments into my virtual interactions with colleagues and customers. (I talked about this in my post Coaching the Remote Product Team) I’m not sure how much of an actual technique Take Five to Socialize really is but let me tell you about it.

What is Take Five to Socialize?

This is my lingo for remembering to take five minutes at the beginning of a remote meeting to do a little socializing! Nothing fancy here. The purpose is to NOT talk about work in those 5 minutes.

What’s the history?

Funny you should ask. Prior to COVID, most of my team was remote but our customers weren’t. We would start our virtual conference and wait for those in the office to get into their room, fire up the equipment and join. We had time to kill at the top of the meeting. Not wanting to sit in silence, I just started telling a story or doing a little show and tell. I would do anything to get the group already online talking and having a little fun while we were waiting. Participants joining a little late arrived in a meeting with lots of chatting, laughing and good vibes. Who doesn’t want to join THAT meeting?! It became a great way to start what was usually going to be an otherwise dry topic.

How do I start?

Don’t overthink it. And don’t use the same topic each time.

Weather. Boring! What you did over the weekend? Snooze. Politics. NO WAY!

For fun, I went back and listened to a few recordings where I kicked off with this “technique.” Here are few ways that I started the fun:

  • “Hey, (participant name)! Let’s see the new kitten!” (ulterior motive: gets the participant to turn on the camera).
  • “(participant name), I see you’ve got a snazzy button on your jacket. What is it?”
  • “A deer gave birth under my deck! Here’s a picture of the baby. I named her Celery!” (true story)

I considered adding a list of topics to start with but that felt . . . contrived. This technique is all about being genuine and having real interactions. I don’t come prepared with a topic. I let things unfold as participants join.

This technique has an emotional intelligence element to it. It involves reading the participants’ body language and facial expressions (or lack of a face, if their cameras aren’t on) to gauge how they are feeling. It’s a virtual way of “warming up the room” as the Masters of Ceremonies say.

Why does this technique work?

This works because we’re humans and not robots! On a deeper level, this technique works because it builds trust and camaraderie. In this virtual world, people still want real interactions. This technique helps to build in those moments.

I’d love to know if you’ve incorporated this into your virtual meetings. How did it go? Let me know at susan@thevirtualbacoach.com!

Plan Your Best Meeting: When Your Participants Aren’t Ready to Work

It happens to us all. You’ve prepared for your workshop, sent out the pre-work and then your participants aren’t ready to work. It can sometimes be hard to get participants ready to work because they are usually the ones who are running the businesses we’re supporting. How much more can you really ask of them? Here are a few things I’ve tried over the years.

Changes you can make to your workshop

The first thing we can do is use all the levers that we can control like:

  1. Giving appropriate time to do the pre-work
  2. Being respectful of the amount of pre-work we give. Or break up the pre-work into more consumable chunks across multiple, shorter meetings
  3. Checking in with the group to explain the importance of the pre-work before sending it and, if necessary, adjusting the meeting schedule to times when they can commit to being ready
  4. For longer workshops, create a working agreement with the group about pre-work before you start workshops. I often dangle the “we can get done faster if you’re prepared” carrot in front of them as incentive to get ready.

Help the participants help themselves get ready

Sometimes these levers just don’t work so we have to get creative. If the group isn’t ready to participate:

  1. I’ll ask if they’d like to use the time to get themselves ready. I give back the time or I leave the meeting so they can do prepare together.
  2. we’ll decide together when they can be ready and I’ll reschedule the meeting based on that commitment.

Ultimately, my rule is that I will not read documents to my participants so the options above might seem a little a draconian. These might impact my timeline but, honestly, no more than having to extend meetings because participants aren’t prepared.

Have you had this happen to you too? What did you do to get your group ready to work? Drop me a note at susan@thevirtualbacoach.com