John Cutler tweeted something interesting yesterday (here) that got the brain juices flowing. He got me thinking about the kinds of work we do, the impact of those modes of working (mandates, as he puts it), and the people impact of it all. Come with me whilst I jot down my thought process and some conclusions that I find particularly interesting.

First of all, let’s set the scene. Let’s steal from Jeff Gothelf a little and assume we’re working in a Lean / Sense & Respond kind of way. We’re thinking in terms of visions, impact level metrics, leading indicators, hypotheses etc.

Now, let’s picture that as an end to end activity (ie. creating a vision right the way through to shipping a feature and iterating on it) and think about who are all the people who’ll be involved in that work. We might have a large group of people, dipping in and out at different times, such as:

  • CEO
  • CPO
  • CTO
  • CCO
  • Product Manager
  • Designer
  • Engineer
  • Product Marketing Manager

So, a diverse group, with diverse responsibilities and needs. Awesome.

This is where John’s idea about team and individual mandates gets interesting. They’re a function of our skills, the psychological safety of our teams, interpersonal dynamics, debt of all kinds, and where we are in our work. At any given moment, all of the people involved in our product’s evolution could be experiencing the same, different, or multiple facets of John’s mandate model

I’m going to commit a sin to illustrate this, and I’m going to show the life of a product linearly and I’m going to over-simplify enormously. I know, I know. It’s a narration aide, so please indulge me 😉

If we assume the above is broadly true, there are enormous implications for us on the ways that we should think about alignment, communication, and facilitation. For example:

  • Big impact thinking, laden with assumptions, is lost as we progress. This gets worse as time goes on. For the team that’s executing in this example, the PM becomes the only link back to that. How do we ensure that someone ‘has a mandate’ to maintain a contextual link throughout the process?
  • Each mandate (eg. impacting long term outcomes vs doing something highly prescriptive) requires us to be sensitive to:
    • How we frame discussion.
    • How we facilitate it.
    • The biases that are at play.
    • The participation preferences of the team.
    • The stresses we introduce.
  • At a given moment, we may all have different mandates at play. Some may compliment one another, and some may conflict. How do we acknowledge and handle that?
  • Variation and volatility can be perceived as disorganisation if not anticipated and/or handled well. By being cognisant of these ever changing individual and team mandates, can we improve the flow of our work?
  • How do we arm everyone with the knowledge, skills, and sensitivity required to have discussions about these things?

If you’re reading this, you probably also put a great deal of effort into planning and facilitating discussions, workshops, work etc. You want to get the most out of those interactions. Ask yourself, how often do we think about the impact these shifts in focus and responsibility, some meta and some specific, have on our teams? My gut tells me not enough, based on even this very brief assessment.

Does this mashup of ideas mean much to you? What techniques do you use to understand or mitigate the challenges this raises? I’d love to know. Join me on Twitter and share your thoughts 🙂