Certifications are great! Certifications are totally not BS!

Many, many, many years ago, I did a two-day workshop ISTQB Foundation. At the end of the two days, there was an exam: 30 multiple-choice questions about software testing. I passed the exam and I got the Foundation Certificate in Software Testing. Did this make me a great software tester? No way. It merely meant that I answered a set of questions correctly, in a specific place, somewhere in time. Was it a waste of money and time? No, definitely not.

We attended the workshop with several software testers and it gave us some great ideas on how to implement testing within an Agile context. Hey, we are talking 2005 here! There were no books yet about testing and Scrum. By doing the workshop, we created a common view on testing and it allowed us to use a common language. One of our testers did not pass the exam. On a side note, within four months that person left the team. Trust me, the exam was not that hard.

This certification was really about verifying basic knowledge. If you were not able to pass this exam, something was wrong. It could be dyslexia, but also a lack of knowledge regarding software testing. It was also about creating a common language: all testers understanding what a Risk Matrix is, and what equivalence partitioning is. It also created a mindset that testers should also develop themselves by doing training, reading books, etc.

I did a follow-up training then: ISTQB Practitioner. The training was eight full days in total and there was again a possibility to get a certification. The certification exam lasted for three hours and consisted of a number of open questions. Just five or seven open questions as I recall. I did the exam and manually wrote 15 pages or so just to answer these questions! No laptop, 15 pages of me and my pencil. It took a month or so before all exams were reviewed and we got the result. I passed the exam and got my Practitioner Certificate in Software Testing. I valued this certificate so much more. Passing this exam really did mean something. I believe only 70% of the attendees passed the exam. By passing the exam, you showed you were able to come up with solutions for complex testing problems, test strategies, test techniques, etc. Still, it did not guarantee for 100% that you were a great tester, but it had much more value for me than the first certificate. For example, when I had to recruit software testers, every software tester who had the ISTQB Practitioner certification was automatically invited for the first interview. I knew those software testers had a passion for software testing, were willing to invest in growing their skills, and definitely had a sound knowledge about testing.

I believe certificates are great as long as you give them the right value. A certificate with multiple choice questions that you can answer without much knowledge does show that you are willing to invest in your skills. If you pass the exam, it shows you have some basic knowledge about a topic. You can talk about the topic with somebody else, you have a common language. Nothing wrong with that. However, it doesn’t prove you can do the job!

A certificate with open questions, where you have to show the experience you possess, has a different value for me. It shows again that you are willing to invest in yourself, and often more than the average professional. It also often shows that you really applied the framework or techniques and that you were able to reflect on the outcome of your actions. Still, of course, no 100% prove you can do the job and of course it also depends on the questions.

What do you think? Certifications BS or not? Should we forget about Certifications? Just use badges linked to experiences?

Experience report: Team Competence matrix

If you are interested in experience reports of Management 3.0 practices, you probably already read a lot about Kudo Cards, Moving Motivators and Delegation Poker. I also shared my experiences with those practices.

In this experience report, I would like to share my experiences with the Team Competence Matrix. Jurgen Appelo does not describe it in one of his books. The Team Competence Matrix (TCM) is an “official” Management 3.0 practice and was developed by Christof Braun.

The TCM is a perfect tool to give a team, or organization insight into the skills they have, and/or need. You can use the practice when you talk about competence development in general, but also when you ask teams to completely organize and set them up themselves. Self-organization is not just a blank page to do whatever you want. TCM can help you as an organization to give team members some constraints and guidelines on how to organize themselves.

It can give you insight as a team, what are your strengths and weaknesses. If you set up a workshop where teams are going to organize themselves, you can use it as guidelines. You can describe upfront which skills you need in the teams, and people can use the TCM as a tool to check if the teams are set up correctly.

In the end, it should be a conversation starter!

Before I dive into the TCM itself, let me provide extra information. I am going to explain skills and skill levels.

Skills and Skill levels

To set up a TCM, you first need to make an overview of the skills you need for a project. So, let’s assume we are going to set up a TCM for a project that will last a long time. What kind of skills do you need? Technical skills, depending on your domain it could be how SEO works, or how to make a cup of coffee, or how to develop a microservice. Besides technical skills, you probably also need soft skills. How important is it to communicate with stakeholders, customers, and other teams? Another competence area could be subject matter expertise. Do you need to have in-depth knowledge of taxes, coffee, financial systems, etc? The discussion to decide which skills you need can already be very valuable in my experience. By choosing on the skills, all assumptions are on the table and discussed. How many skills should you define for your project? I don’t know… but 100 sounds like a bit too much, doesn’t it?  I would say, keep it to a maximum of 15 skills and otherwise split the TCM into a TCM for soft skills and another TCM for technical skills.

After identifying the competence areas, you need to agree on the skill levels. What kind of levels are you going to use to indicate which level someone has in a certain competence area? Here are different models you can use.

The first one is the Shu-Ha-Ri model. Martin Fowler wrote a short blog post about it. In short, there are three levels of knowledge:

  • Shu: In this beginning stage, the student follows the teachings of one master precisely.
  • Ha: At this point, the student begins to branch out.
  • Ri: Now the student isn’t learning from other people but from his own practice.

A second model is the one that Christof Braun describes in his practice and they are called: Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master. Based on the guild system of Western Europe in the medieval times.

A third option is to use something like:

  • Expert: I can teach it.
  • Practitioner: I can do it.
  • Novice: What is it?

Also, assign colors to the different levels. Be careful which colors. You could use red, orange and green. However, in my experience, people don’t like red. Red is negative. Maybe use colors like blue, yellow and pink. Think about it at least.

You get the point. Now, why not ten levels, or perhaps even sublevels? Well, keep it simple, In the end, it is all about the discussion and creating awareness. Introducing ten knowledge levels doesn’t help. The focus will be on determining the specific levels, instead of the actual interaction.

The Grid

The first step to create a TCM is to draw a grid. A row for every skill, and a top row for the names of your team members. Then add a column for every team member plus two extra columns. In the first column, you write down the skills. The second column is very important, it will contain the skill requirements you need.

As an example, you are setting up a team for promoting your new product. One of the important skills is SEO. You will need to think about how many experts (or Ri) people you need, how many practitioners (or Ha) and how many novices (Shu) people you need. We assume everyone is automatically a novice. If you really disagree with this starting point, and you believe there is also a difference between a novice and somebody having no knowledge, you could simply introduce one more level, something called noob or such. You just place a symbol for every skill level you defined and write down the number of people you would like to have at that skill level.

It could be that a specific skill is so important, that all team members require that skill at expert level. In that case, just write down the number of team members possessing the expert level after the green dot. Maybe you just need one expert, and the skill level of other people doesn’t matter. In that case, just write a 1 behind the green dot. Maybe you just need two novices and one practitioner. In that case, place the number 2 after the yellow dot and a 1 behind the orange dot. The total number of skills required doesn’t have to be equal to the number of team members. If you just need one master, that is OK. In that case, the skill level of the other team members doesn’t matter. Note that there are some interesting things you need to think about. For example, do you need to have back up for a skill? If so, what kind of skill level should the backup person possess? Do you really need 5 masters of a certain skill?

Dare to be honest?

The last and most interesting step is to completely fill in the TCM with the team. The first column specifies the skills, the second column specifies the required levels, and the other columns will represent your team members. The last step is that every team member fills in their skill level for a required skill. Basically, you are asking every team member to judge their skill level and make it explicit. Interesting right? Assuming you have a driving license, are you willing to state that you are a good driver? I think no one will say she or he is a bad driver. Still, when I commute by car, I always encounter some pretty terrible car drivers. How is this possible?

I believe that if you have a company culture where people feel safe, to be honest, failure is not an issue. People will honestly fill in the matrix. I often add one “rule” though. You need to ask feedback from five other people. What do those people think about your skill levels? Basically, I ask my team members to convince/prove to me that they filled in the TCM correctly. I already used the TCM several times, and I will probably make one change next time. I will add one super expert level and one super novice level. The reason is simple. If you are a novice for a certain skill, you need to select the lowest level. Some people feel a bit uncomfortable doing that, so they naturally go for the mid-level. The expert level maybe is considered a bit arrogant by some so for some skills, people will again choose the mid-level. Therefore, I want to try my next TCM with five levels, where I consider the lowest and highest level just as buffers. Management 3.0 is all about experimenting, just try things out and learn.

When all your team members have filled in the TCM, collected feedback, maybe made some changes, we are ready to analyze the TCM.

Talking about the Matrix

It is very simple, and that is what makes the TCM so powerful in my opinion. The second column contains the skills you need. Just count the number of skills people filled in. If you need one master, but there are just seven practitioners, you have a problem. If you just need one master, and you have seven masters, you could have also a problem. Maybe another team could use one or two masters from your team. However, you will also need to check the other skills in that case.

If you have a skill gap, you need to solve it, or not. You can solve it by helping team members to develop their skills, or by maybe hiring consultants, there are many solutions possible. However, there is one thing you need to take in consideration. If you need some skills and they are not on the team, you also need to ask your team members if they want to develop that skill. If, for example, you need a Cobol master in your team that only consists of millennial developers, you have a problem. I have the feeling already that there will be no team members who would like to develop their Cobol skills.

Did you use a Team Competence Matrix already? If so, what did you lean?

Grow a Growth Mindset Organization

It is no surprise, but everything is changing faster and faster nowadays. In a report by McKinsey, the authors talk about there being four disruptions impacting the global economy, and one of them is the accelerating technological change.

I did a lot of recruitment interviews in my career and one of my favorite questions during a recruitment interview is: “How do you keep your knowledge up to date?”

Taking into account that everything is changing ever more rapidly and that you need to keep up to date with the relevant developments in your profession, learning is mandatory. Keep developing your skills is mandatory, but what if you believe that you can’t keep developing your skills? What if you believe that what you can learn is limited?

First, let’s take a look at some theory. Professor Carol Dweck did research about development. According to Dweck, individuals can be placed on a continuum according to their implicit views of where ability comes from. Some believe their success is based on innate ability: these people are said to have a “fixed” theory of intelligence (fixed mindset). Others, who believe their success is based on hard work, learning, training, and doggedness are said to have a “growth” or an “incremental” theory of intelligence (growth mindset). [source wikipedia]

As always, it depends on many factors what your belief will be. Do you believe you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset? I think everyone will say they have a growth mindset.

It is the same with Theory X and Theory Y. Are you an X Person? Nobody is an X person. Still, organizations treat their employees like they are X people. Treating people like X people implies you don’t trust them, believe they are only motivated by money, etc. I believe if you don’t trust your team members, you can’t trust them. It will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. What if the same could happen with learning?

What if an organization believes that most of their people have a fixed mindset? Maybe they will not say it out loud or do it on purpose, but what if they treat their workforce as if they have a fixed mindset. If so, why would they invest in personal development more than needed? Why would they organize exploration days? Why would they give team members time off for personal development?

Organizations who believe in a fixed mindset also don’t appreciate failures. They don’t believe a failure is a learning opportunity. It is a sign you don’t have the knowledge, it is a failure.

Let’s look at the growth mindset organization. What if an organization believes people have a growth mindset? Managers will stimulate people to learn, and employees want to grow themselves. Exploration Days are organized and people join because they like to learn and explore new stuff. The organization is not afraid of mistakes: nobody is perfect and mistakes are an opportunity to learn. People celebrate learning!

Dweck believes that the growth mindset will allow a person to live a less stressful and more successful life. One of the 12 Steps of Happiness is also an experiment, and experimenting is equal to learning.

You can help people to develop a growth mindset. You can work to give your organization a growth mindset.

It is about providing feedback on their work and on the effort people put in a task. If you just focus on the result, tell them they are great, smart, etc. they will feel complimented for the knowledge they currently have. If you compliment people for the hard work, learning, and effort, you compliment them on the actual learning and development. You can also challenge people, not with assignments that are impossible but with assignments just outside their comfort zone. Help them, or provide help, to have them bridge the gap between being in their comfort zone and realizing the assignment. By doing this, these people will develop a growth mindset, step by step.

A growth mindset is not there because you just put a lot of effort into learning. It is also about how you learn: achieve something, talk about it, see where you have a further knowledge gap, and then make the next step.

Sounds almost like being Agile, right?

(This article first appeared on LinkedIn.)

Decide on your salary, or not…

Practice what you preach. As the Happy Melly One (HMO) team we’ve applied our own Management 3.0 tools, ideas, and practices. One of our practices is the salary formula.

A few years ago, when Jurgen Appelo was still the Emperor-God-Overlord of the team, we decided to implement a salary formula. After some debate, where the team discussed if they should take location, country, family size, experience, etc… into account the team decided on a very simple formula.

The maximum salary you can make is fixed for everyone and based on your Commitment Level (CL). If you work one day a week for HMO, you are on a CL 1. If you work five days a week for HMO, you are on CL5. Your CL is between 1 and 5. Furthermore, we have a fixed salary per CL. For example, 1 CL is equal to 100 euro.

The other part of our salary is merit money, a monthly bonus system based on appreciation. You can read more about that here.

We liked this approach. It is simple, fair, and 100 percent transparent. As Chad said, he can tell his friends that everyone on the team makes the same money. How cool is that?

Times Change

At the end of 2017, we had some discussions about our salaries. We were paying everyone equally so for example, our Financial Queen, Tahira, makes the same money as our Web-Craftsman Hannu, or our Illustrator Chad, or me the Chief Empowerment Officer. We don’t take into account location, experience, or anything else. Is this fair? Is everyone equally important?

We also wondered if we would be able to find new team members with the current salaries being as low as they were.

We work with freelancers and some us would like to spend some more time on our work for HMO/M30. However, because the salary is not that high, it’s a financial challenge. So the question remains, should we pay some people more than other people in order to make sure that some people can spend more time on HMO?

What to do? We starting looking around us, and I also looked at our sister company, Agility Scales. How are they approaching salaries? Their approach is that you decide your own salary. Yep, take a few minutes to think about that. Wouldn’t that be great? Decide on your own salary. Great summer holiday here we come! Team members deciding on their own salaries! I loved the approach! Why make it complex, you just decide how much you make.

It turns out this approach is not unique; there are more organizations who use this approach. For example Morning Star and Gore.

You decide

When I proposed this to the team, there was silence. The silence where you think that the video is frozen.

I explained the idea to the team. You write a salary essay with a maximum of two pages. In the essay, explain what salary you would like, and of course why. The why can be related to your location, your role, your experience, etc… Whatever you think is relevant to your salary should be included. When you have your essay ready, you discuss this with the team in a virtual face-to-face meeting. People can ask questions, ask for clarifications and they can agree or disagree. Based on the feedback you maybe need to review your salary essay. You can read my salary essay here.

Deciding on your own salary is not just shouting out a random number. With great power comes great responsibility, so you definitely need to describe the why.

For this approach to work, you’ll require full transparency and a team that dares to challenge each other. A team that feels safe, to be honest with each other and a team that is capable of giving each other feedback.

We decided to try this approach. All team members wrote their salary essays.

Firstly, everyone had to determine what kind of work he or she does. Sounds easy no? But how would you compare our Zookeeper to other jobs? How do you compare the Guardian of Content, or Facilitator’s Guardian to other roles?

Secondly, we had to find benchmarking data. For example, our Social Media Master is located in South-Sudan. Trust me, there are not that many websites that show data about how much a Social Media Master in South-Sudan can make. They have serious other problems over there.

Thirdly, when you work as a Financial Queen in India for an international team, do you compare your salary to people who do the same in India for local teams or do you use data from organizations in the U.S or do you use data from organizations from Europe?

Fourthly, how do calculate your salary when you have the role of Chief Empowerment Officer and Guardian of Content? Do you take the average?

Finally, we have the merit money bonus system where we give peer-to-peer recognition using bonus points. Do you take this into account when you look at your new salary? Do we keep this the same or do we change the bonus system?

To summarize it one word it is complex.

What did it bring us?

Nothing; Or did it?

In the last meeting where we discussed the process of salary essays, we asked ourselves as a team: What should we do next? We had three options:

  1. Keep everything the same
  2. Use the new salaries as proposed in the salary essays
  3. Keep salaries equal and give everyone a raise of 20 percent

We voted, and the team voted number three. We said no to raises of 35 percent or more… seriously some people said no!

Even our Financial Queen said we could afford to pay the new salaries. Minor detail, but important :). Some us would get a raise of 50 percent or more. Not sure what I did wrong but in the end, me as a CEO would make the least amount of money. I was, by the way, the only person who voted for the new approach.

Isn’t that surprising? So was everything we did for nothing? Was it a waste of time? Totally not! It was one of the best experiments we did in the last year. We learned a lot.

Let me explain.

First of all, everyone did some research about his or her role. We found out that some people in this world make a lot of money doing the same things that we do. That was a surprise, and some of those people are probably overpaid, but it did show that we should increase our salaries.

We realized HMO is a special team and we have some  great perks:

  • We have two in-person retreats every year, where we gather as a team. We have a great merit money system, a possible 20 percent bonus every month.
  • We don’t check on our team members, you can work from anywhere at any time. We don’t care where you work or at which time you work.
  • We have great colleagues!

Also, the flexibility is great, if you have less time for HMO next month because of other projects, that’s no problem. Just lower your CL, and also the other way around. You need to spend more time on HMO, just raise your CL. We trust each other 100 percent. Our salaries are maybe lower than what you can make with other companies, but where do you get this kind of freedom? It is something you sometimes take for granted, but by doing this experiment, the value became very clear for us again.

It turns out that we can (still) trust each other. Nobody came up with an exceptional, unrealistic salary request. Everyone was realistic and explained why he or she wanted to make the salary they proposed. It all made sense.

Why did we as a team then decide for just a raise?

The team realized they value fairness above everything. We are a flat team, everyone is the same, no hierarchies, no differences, we value everyone making the same money. We don’t want to have the feeling that other team members make more money because they are more important. We need everyone in the team to grow Happy Melly and Management 3.0. We need our Financial Queen, our Zoo Keeper, our Illustrator, our Social Media Master, our Web-Craftsman Developer, Facilitator’s Guardian and our CEO. You can write a book or song as an individual, but you need a team to make Happy Melly and Management 3.0 great!

Final Words

I know it was a long read, but it is hard to share this experience in only a few words.

If you can, try to run the experiment in your organization. It will give you so much insight.

We ran the experiment and we learned so much about ourselves and our team. It was a great experience! I am proud to be part of this great team!

Team, you rock!

This post was first published on Happy Melly One, click here.

How do your metrics help you?

I love to measure things. I can look up the temperature in my house for the last two years. Did you know it was 16.5 degrees Celsius on November 2, 2017, at 02:12 AM? I track the downloads of my book Doing It. 2736 downloads up and till 2018-05-20 7:02:00. I measure the steps I take every day, did you know I took 287.216 steps in October 2015? As I said, I love to measure things.

I hear you thinking… nice Ralph but how is this going to help me as a professional? Not. It is not going to help you. The more important question for me is, how is this going to help me as professional or person?

Silence… I don’t know. I don’t see how the history of the temperature in my living room is going to improve my life. I don’t see how the number of the steps from the past is going to improve my health in the future.

If you are a lead or manager, you probably need to create a report every week. Maybe you have automated it, and you created a dashboard. A dashboard where management can check the metrics of your team or organization. Regarding that dashboard, sorry to disappoint you, but I expect your manager hardly ever checks the dashboard.

Take a look at the report. Which data is there? Probably data that is easy to measure. Like the living room temperature, the steps I take, etc. We tend to create reports on things that we can measure easily. Often these measurements are related to output. Something happens, and some data is available. We call these indicators, lagging indicators.

Lagging indicators are often easier to measure, but it is hard to make a change in a process based on lagging indicators. For example, I measure the temperature in my living room, but the temperature is something that already happened. I can’t change it anymore. Measuring the number of new hires is also a lagging indicator. It already happened. You can’t influence the process anymore.

We also have leading indicators. Leading indicators say something about what is going to happen. For example, the temperature outside could be a leading indicator of the temperature in my living room. When the temperature outside is 35 Celsius or more, I know the temperature in my living room is also going to increase. If the influx of candidates is growing in an organization, I can expect the number of new hires also going to increase.

I will give you another example. I try to maintain a stable weight. A lagging indicator is measuring myself every day. It already happened, there is nothing I can change anymore. A leading indicator could be to measure my activities, and food I eat during the day. These are leading indicators. I know when my activities decrease, the number calories increase, my weight will probably increase.

The question is when you look again at your dashboard or report, what kind of indicators do you have? Leading or lagging indicators?

Would you like to learn more about good metrics? Join my workshop on July 3rd in Utrecht. More information can be found here.