The Path of Least Resistance

4 examples of how to optimize your teams' ways of working

Just in time for Fall -- Lean UX and OKR self-paced courses

Grab a seat for every team member to my latest course on Objectives & Key Results (OKRs) and it's brand new complementary self-paced course on Lean UX and Product Discovery for Agile Teams from Josh Seiden and myself. Both courses are made up of high-quality videos, interactive exercises and short quizzes to help you get the basics of each practice down on your own, with your team and entire organization. 

Single seats for the OKR course are available here for $249 and Lean UX seats start at $599. If you want to purchase a group of 10 or more seats or a site-wide license for your company, reach out and let me know.

Hey folks --

Getting your teams to do their best work means making that way of working the path of least resistance. As a leader, this is your primary responsibility. The path of least resistance has the least amount of obstacles on it. Here are a few obstacles you can remove and examples of situations where I’ve seen it done:

Research

One of the biggest challenges for teams is getting approval, budget and time to do proper research. The excuses inevitably end up with some combination of “we don’t want to bother our customers” to “this will take way too long” to “we don’t have the budget for this right now.” 

We once worked with a CEO of a large European media company who gave his organization an unlimited research budget. Yep, no limits to the amount of money that could be spent on research and no need for approval. In doing so, this leader not only explicitly cleared one of the main obstacles — budget — but implicitly cleared the others by signaling that research was a top priority for the organization. 

How can you make research the path of least resistance in your organization? 

Pragmatism over process religion

“That’s not agile!” Sound familiar? This question and its various permutations consistently criticize how teams work even if the process they’ve hacked together works well for them. Shared understanding and common starting points are important for building cross-organizational cohesion and alignment but diminishing successful ways of working that don’t conform to those starting points defeats the purpose of continuous improvement. 

I had a boss once who didn’t care what the process was called. Lean startup? Agile? Scrum? Design thinking? Lean UX? These questions didn’t matter to him. He primarily cared whether we were making progress towards our goals and learning from our mistakes along the way. Regardless of what it was called, being agile and continuously improving was always the top priority. 

How can you make agility the path of least resistance with your teams?

Transparency

We expect our teams to be aligned and focused on a shared vision and strategy. We expect them to maintain motivation and ensure continuous forward motion for the company. But more often than not we keep our employees in the dark about how the company is actually doing, what progress is being made and where performance is lacking. I regularly run into individual contributors who can’t name the product strategy for their organization nor why they’re working on it. 

Years ago I worked at a high-growth startup that shared financial and other performance data every Monday at a brief all-hands. We saw where we were excelling and where we needed more effort. As our priorities shifted we knew why and could see the impact our work was having on the organization as a whole over subsequent weekly all-hands meetings. We were aligned as an entire organization because we all had access to the whole picture. 

How can you ensure that alignment is always the path of least resistance between teams and departments? 

Career Path

While many organizations have career paths, job descriptions and salary bands defined, that information is rarely made obvious for employees. Staff members are left to determine if they should vie for a promotion or a raise or explore opportunities elsewhere. In addition, because it’s easier and cheaper to hold on to an employee than to hire a new one, many organizations will not make it obvious when you’ve peaked at a company and it might be a good time to make a move to the next employer. 

In 2012 I started an agency with Josh Seiden and Giff Constable. As it grew we clearly defined the roles we hired for, at what level and the compensation for each role at each level. This hiring matrix was published publicly on our website. Career paths in our company were clearly defined. This meant that as folks joined it was easy to answer questions about what level they’d come in at, what level they could aspire to achieve, what that would entail and what compensation they could expect. This made it clearer to every employee if we were the right place for them to work and when it was time to move on to another employer. 

Knowing when to stay and when to move on was the path of least resistance in our company. How can you make it clear to your teams what their best career opportunities are at any moment?

Clearing obstacles, that’s your job

Your teams will optimize for the work they *think* they can get done. Your responsibility is to remove obstacles for them so they know they can do their best work. Make it your job to make the best way of working the path of least resistance. You’ll be amazed at the results. 

[Jeff]

@jboogie

New on the blog:

When is Amazon done? When do they decide they've built the best possible systems, turn off the lights and go home? Read on to find out why this is a ridiculous questions.What's the difference between output, outcomes, impacts and KPI's? I break it down clearly in this short post.Two super popular posts related to my most recent book, Forever Employable, have been on the topic of building equity in yourself and rethinking your career trajectory in terms of systems thinking so that you become a magnet for career opportunities. I'd love to know what you think.

I'm coming off a lengthy vacation where I spent the summer with family and friends and doing a lot of writing. I'm excited about the upcoming launch of the 3rd edition of Lean UX and the second season of my podcast, Forever Employable Stories.

What I'm liking at the moment: 

Listen: Bruno Mars / Anderson Paak and friends -- Only a couple of tracks available so far from this collaboration but it's worth every second.

Watch: BattleBots -- I tried to avoid this. I really did. I knew what it was and figured I wouldn't like it or that it was predictable but then Netflix implemented this "play something" feature and this started playing and, well, I got hooked. These makers are inspirational and the battles are a ton of fun.

Read: The Hero with A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell -- Finishing this book up now for my book club. It's a tough read with lots of words, names and and unfamiliar assumptions in the text however it's thoroughly impressive how a consistent, coherent narrative can be found across every civilization, culture and religion on Earth.

As always, if you want me to work directly with your company on training, coaching or workshops on the topics of organizational agility, digital transformation, product discovery and agile leadership, don’t hesitate to reach out.Like this newsletter? Forward it to a friend. 

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