Do a Little Planning


Communications Plan

Most complaints about communication in and among teams boil down to the “5 Ws and an H” done wrongly:

  • Wrong Who—The content went to the wrong person(s).
  • Wrong What—The content was not what the receiver needed.
  • Wrong When—The content did not get there in time to be useful.
  • Wrong Why—The sender missed the point: A message can be 95% of what the recipient needed but still fail because of the missing 5%.
  • Wrong Where—The sender used the wrong medium to reach the receiver, such as e-mailing instead of calling when an immediate response was needed.
  • Wrong How—The way the message was worded upset the receiver.

Only one of these has to go wrong for the message to fail to meet the receiver’s needs, and therefore the sender’s. You can prevent or reduce the impact of miscommunications by identifying your communication needs as team members and the needs of your stakeholders. A Communications Plan (download form) helps you do so and decide the best way to meet those needs.

At the least, if conflicts have been arising with certain stakeholders, conduct these steps with those individuals or teams. You should see the incident counts go down.

⇒ Steps: Create Communications Plan

Continuous Improvement Plan


A rising bar graph with a trend line pointing upwardsLike the old joke about the weather, a lot of people talk about fixing team problems, but no one does anything about it. “Continuous improvement” (CI) is often given such a low priority against what executives consider “real work” that it almost never gets done. Yet a large number of case studies and academic papers have demonstrated that companies which neglect CI harm their profits, and thus their owners, by doing so.

Creating a Continuous Improvement Plan (CIP) gives the team a means of making life easier whether or not upper managers see the value. The CIP is a project plan for fulfilling the team’s mission statement. But it isn’t a traditional or “waterfall” project plan. Instead you are going to identify goals and how to achieve them, then add those tasks into your regular work mix at a sustainable pace.


Keep it SMART

The first step is to create three to five goals for the next year. These should be SMART, a common term in the business world which FuSca defines as:

  • Specific—Use wording so clear that everyone on the team will be able to agree when it has been achieved.
  • Measurable—Include numbers or language that anyone could use to declare the item “done.”
  • Action-based—Include an action verb like “add,” “increase,” or “reduce.”
  • Realistic—Though the item should be hard to achieve, it should also be possible given the team’s resources (people, time, money, and so on).
  • Time-bound—Trying to achieve this within the year (or less, if you prefer) maintains a sense of urgency. In agile teams this is not a deadline per se. It is just a checkpoint, like the end of a sprint or action item report date, that provides the value of some deadline pressure.

Say your team had a mission to, “Be the best delivery team in the company.” This raises a series of questions:

  • What does it mean to be “the best?”
  • How can you measure “best-ness?”
  • How much does that measure have to change for you to become the best?
  • Is this goal possible, given the team’s resources and work assignments?
  • By when do you want to achieve this?

A SMART version of this goal might be: “Achieve the highest on-time delivery rates in the company in six months.” The next three sections go into detail about “M,” “R,” and “T.”

Make it Measurable

To create the “M,” you need three elements:

  • A measurable standard, such as 12 widgets per hour.
    Example performance standards:

    • Customer support: Cost per field technician, cost per warranty callback, service cost per unit shipped.
    • Information technology: IT expense to company expense, data-processing expense per CPU hour.
    • Materials storage: Parts picking time, storage per square foot, stockout rate.
    • Order processing: Orders processed per employee, sales per order-processing employee.
    • Personnel: Rate of offers accepted, hires per recruiter, department expense to total company expense.
    • Production control: Inventory turnover rate, items in inventory to items not moved in 12 months, order cycle time, total production per shift/month/hour.
    • Quality: Units returned for warranty repairs as a percentage of units shipped, bug reports per customer.
    • Receiving: Handled-to-unloading labor hours, receipts processed per workday.
    • Shipping: Orders shipped on time, demurrage charges to total non-labor expense, packing expense to total shipping expenses.
    • System testing: Labor hours per run-hour, test-equipment calibration time, test expense to rework expense.[1]
  • A process or system for doing the measuring: In other words, if the standard relates to errors made, what method do you have to count errors? Or if you are producing services, how will you gather the data?
  • A system for analyzing that data: Does someone on the team know how to run spreadsheet charts, or can you get help from another team?

Realistic and Time-Bound

If some members think the goal is for “next quarter” and some think “by the end of the year,” conflicts over priorities are guaranteed. However, we are not trying to create a traditional project plan with delivery dates, just a milestone date against which we will measure progress. This can be as simple as “Our Goals for this Year,” or check-in dates where you check trends. As long as things are measurably better at each check-in date, you are achieving the primary goal of continuous improvement even if you don’t hit the specific numbers you targeted. But again, having some sort of date provides the psychological value of deadline pressure.

Initial Tasks

Define the first set of tasks needed to begin work towards achieving each goal. For each task, you need one or more volunteers and a report-back date, as with an action item. Pay close attention to tasks that need to be done before other tasks can start or be finished.

⇒ Steps: Start Continuous Improvement Plan

Confirm the Agreements

Finalize Drafts

Drawing of a paper ballot going into a box saying, "Vote Here"Congratulations! You are done with the first phase of the team’s development. The Team Charter, Continuous Improvement Plan, and any work procedures are living documents—they will never really be “done.” As circumstances change or you grow as a team, the documents will have to change. Nonetheless, formally agreeing on the initial versions enables forward progress.

⇒ Steps: Finalize Drafts

Verify Approval

Approval of the team documents is a big moment. Tying your individual success to everyone on the team is a leap of faith. Give everyone a chance to voice their approval as shown in the steps linked below.

You will increase your manager’s support for your teamwork efforts if you ask for their approval of the documents as well and offer to negotiate desired changes. There is no need to wait for that approval, however, unless the manager has required it. Instead, ask the manager for the date by which they can complete the review, and say you will implement the documents the day after unless you hear otherwise. If you hear nothing back by that date, send a reminder but say the team is moving forward.

⇒ Steps: Verify Approval

Celebrate with a Social Event

Drawing of people dancing in Disco Era clothesA special accomplishment deserves a special celebration. Beyond that, getting to know each other as people will improve communication, cooperation, and understanding on the job. To those ends, consider holding a Social Night with guests after the team documents are approved. If the company is willing to pay for it, excellent! If not, you could hold a “pay your own way” event as a team, or a potluck. Some activities are suggested below, but this event is mostly about relaxing together and getting to know each other better.

Allow each member to bring an adult guest, but consider carefully before including children. Parents have to pay attention to their children, obviously, so inviting youngsters may reduce the value of this work-related event. On the other hand, if parents cannot afford babysitting, inviting the children is better than excluding those team members.

The only rule is this: Have fun with your newly self-directed, agile team!

Self-Directed agile | ← Charter the Team | → Scrum/Kanban

Full references are in the Teamwork Bibliography.

[1] Most items directly quoted from Ross & Ross 1982. List reordered, shortened, and some terms updated or added.

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