Processes and Artifacts
Processes and artifacts that can help rapidly organize a grouplet, as well as maintain momentum, productivity, and morale.
- The Two-Pager
- The Mission Statement
- Objectives and Key Results
- Kick-Off Meeting
- Weekly Meetings
- Task List
- Weekly Agenda
- Breakout Meetings
- Artifacts, Assumptions, and Measurable Outcomes
- Chat Room
- Exit Strategy
When faced with the task of forming a new grouplet, a very useful exercise is to write a two-page document describing the Mission of the grouplet, its Objectives and Key Results, and the initial set of Roles that will form the grouplet's basic structure. This two-pager helps to clarify your thinking and course of action, and serves as an effective recruting artifact, as prospective volunteers can get a feel for the grouplet very quickly and see how they may be able to pitch in and contribute right away.
It should go without saying that there should be a one-sentence mission statement describing why the grouplet should exist. It is the reason for starting a grouplet in the first place; if you can't articulate that reason clearly, then maybe the grouplet shouldn't exist. It is also the first item in your recruiting toolkit, as it will be the first thing at the very top of your Two-Pager artifact.
Here are a few examples:
- 18F Documentation Working Group: Organize all of 18F’s information and make it universally accessible and useful, internally and externally.
- 18F Testing Grouplet: Ensure the long-term success of 18F development projects by cultivating the best automated testing tools, practices, and training materials available.
- 18F Working Group Working Group: To create an environment in which working groups and guilds can thrive and have a meaningful impact on 18F deliverables and operations.
The "Objectives and Key Results" process, or "OKRs for short", is a quarterly process for setting goals and reviewing progress. It involves defining roughly three-to-five high-level strategic "Objectives" that support the team's overall mission, and defining a number of "Key Results" that implement each objective and serve to demonstrate measurable progress. Ideally most of these are framed in terms of problems to solve, not specific features to build; this enables grouplet members to devise their own creative solutions.
At the end of the quarter, the team will review and self-grade each Objective and Key Result, as well as the OKRs overall, on a scale from 0.0 to 1.0. The "ideal" score is 0.7, which is indicative of a "stretch goal": a goal that was beyond the team's reach, but pushed the team to accomplish more than they would have given a more conservative goal.
OKRs are designed to produce focus and enable calibration of expectations. Self-grading is a feedback process; a low grade doesn't necessarily denote failure, nor does a high grade denote success. The process serves to ensure the team is moving in the direction of its own choosing, and making satisfactory progress according to its own ambitions.
When prospective recruits see a set of OKRs in your Two-Pager, they can better understand the priorities and begin to imagine how the grouplet can succeed in acheiving its goals. This boosts your credibility as a leader, as someone who will ensure that their limited time is well-spent in the context of the grouplet.
As an example, here are propspective OKRs for the 18F Testing Grouplet:
- O: Respond to the automated testing needs and priorities of 18F products
- KR: Survey existing 18F projects to determine current state of automated testing
- O: Effectively disseminate knowledge of automated testing best practices
- KR: Complete a full review of the Automated Testing Playbook
- KR: Develop a Test Certified-like program and recruit three projects to participate
- KR: Develop a body of in-house training materials
- O: Develop, maintain, and promote use of automated testing tools
- KR: Publish an Automated Testing Handbook with tools and technical details for specific scenarios
(Note: At Google, every individual, team, and department maintains a set of quarterly OKRs, as does the entire company.)
Though a Grouplet leader (usually) isn't in a formal supervisory role over other Grouplet members, there is still a strong need to establish a basic, functional team structure. However, rather than adopting a heavy-handed command-and-control style, have fun with the role names! The prospective separation of responsibilities as defined in the Two-Pager give prospective recruits a sense that the team is (or will become) well-organized and efficient, while keeping the actual titles fun send a message that the group is not about piling additional work onto people for the sake of the organizer's personal ambition.
Good roles serve two critical functions: Delegation and Escalation. The Organizers should not be the only ones responsible for every detail of the overall effort. Also, when responsibilities are clear, grouplet members may be able to manage tasks by going directly to the appropriate role-holder, rather than the Organizers having to remain in the critical path of every decision. In other words, "creativity is pushed towards the edge of the organization". (Need "Technical Impact" citation.)
As an example, here is the prospective list of 18F Testing Grouplet roles at the time of writing:
The Walrus (Organizers): Mike Bland and Alison
Assumes ownership of the overall effort. Responsible for: establishing direction and priorities; delegating tasks; removing obstacles; and getting his/her hands dirty when needed.
Prime Mover (Manager): Mike Bland
Ensures the meeting agenda is prepared and posted ahead of time; reserves the meeting room and manages remote coordination; ensures that the Historian’s minutes are posted in a timely manner.
Historian: Mike Bland
Responsible for documenting, summarizing, and archiving notable issues or activities and their artifacts in a centrally-accessible repository. Meeting minutes fall under this rubric.
Minister of Communication: Mike Bland
Ensures that the Slack channel and other communication media are accessible, useful, and broadly used by the group. May suggest alternate communication media or innovative uses of the media already in use.
Ministers of Information: Shawn Allen
Solicits and helps cultivate content; in this context, ensures that all important information is integrated into or linked to by the Hub system, and that missing information is actively solicited.
Wordsmith: Mike Bland
Explores and promotes standardized means of organizing artifacts and their content, e.g. the use of tags, application of CSS styles, traditional SEO techniques for organizing content and making it more easily discoverable.
Hackers: Shawn Allen
Responsible for the active development of any associated programs or systems.
Notice the number of roles with the organizers' names next to them in red. You can point recruits at this list when pitching them, or during the Kick-Off Meeting, and explain this: The grouplet's long-term chances of success are inversely proportional to the number of Roles that have the organizers' names next to them in red! People can quickly see where help is most needed and jump in accordingly.
Also, there need not be a one-to-one correspondence between roles and individuals. One person can serve more than one role, and one role can be filled by more than one person. The important part is that the functions and those responsible for them are made clear.
"MacGuffin" is the film industry term for an object that drives the action of the plot. In Pulp Fiction, it was Marsellus Wallace's suitcase. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, it was the Ark of the Covenant. It's handy to have a MacGuffin at the outset of the grouplet as well.
A MacGuffin provides recruits with tangible proof that the grouplet exists and is up to something. It should be an artifact that invites cultivation and can grow along with the grouplet itself, and can provide the foundation for one or more of the grouplet's initial Objectives and Key Results. Some examples:
- 18F Documentation Working Group: The 18F Hub
- 18F Testing Grouplet: The 18F Automated Testing Playbook
- 18F Working Group Working Group: The 18F Grouplet Playbook
So you've defined a Mission, broken out Objectives and Key Results, defined fun-sounding Roles, started implementing a MacGuffin, and encapsulated all of this into a Two-Pager. Now you're ready to shop around for prospective grouplet members!
There are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there's still time to change the road you're on:
- One-on-One: Set up brief appointments with prospective recruits to engage them in-person. Walk them through the Two-Pager and ask for their thoughts and opinions. If they seem into it, recruit them into one or more of the available Roles.
- Broadcast: Send the Two-Pager out to a broad audience and respond to any bites. Follow up with one-on-one invitations, or announce the initial Kick-Off Meeting at the same time.
With your Two-Pager in-hand, use it as the official agenda for the first Kick-Off meeting. Ideally you've already had a one-on-one recruiting chat with most of the people in the room; this ensures that the meeting goes quickly, and that other people besides the organizers have a chance to speak about some of their own ideas.
After the warm-fuzzies of the initial recruiting phase and the Kick-Off Meeting have worn off, it's critical to maintain momentum and team cohesion by holding brief weekly meetings, ideally only thirty minutes. Though modern professionals have grown very wary of meetings, when run well, they are the best tool in the box for making sure people continue to identify with the grouplet and feel a sense of constant forward progress.
That said, it's incumbent upon the organizers to ensure these meetings are run as well as possible. There should be a grouplet Task List that is reviewed every week. The organizers should draft a one-page Agenda and publish it at least one day prior to each meeting, to give people an idea of the week's business and to provide the opportunity to put new items on the agenda. Given these items, the organizers should impress upon members that everyone should come prepared to discuss the items for which they're responsible, to make the best use of everyone's time.
One of the most important things to keep in mind: take turns talking! No one wants to be lectured at by any sort of leader for one minute, let alone thirty. Do what you can to foster healthy, dynamic discussion between grouplet members, even if that means biting your tongue when no one will speak up! If you let the group get used to you breaking all of the silences, it will gladly let you continue to do so.
The grouplet should maintain a centralized Task List to keep track of all the different efforts underway, large and small. The beginning of each weekly meeting should be a very quick review of this list; items should be added to it as necessary during the remainder of the meeting.
The point of the task list isn't to make members feel guilty for the tasks they've not made progress on; as a volunteer effort, one should expect grouplet tasks will often fall onto the backburner given higher-priority tasks from members' officially-assigned projects. The point is to ensure that good ideas and promising action items aren't forgotten, and to make a habit of celebrating those items that are completed, so that members feel like their efforts are recognized and appreciated.
Tracking tasks like this can also be useful for writing weekly status reports or personal snippets, as concrete reminders of tangible progress.
A sharable medium for the list is best; this can be as basic as a shared spreadsheet, or a full-blown issue tracker or project management program. As an example, the 18F Documentation Working Group Trello board is publicly-accessible.
Publishing a one-page weekly agenda is one of the most important items for ensuring weekly meetings remain focused. Members who attend should read the agenda ahead of time, know clearly what to expect during the course of the meeting (in terms of structure, if not detail), and come prepared to discuss any items for which they're responsible. If something they would like to discuss is not on the agenda, they should be free to add it. The Historian can then use the agenda document to keep the meeting minutes, which will help reflect how closely the meeting stuck to the intended structure.
A sharable document works best for this, naturally, but an imperfect something's better than nothing. A recommended structure for the document is:
- A link back to the previous week's agenda document
- A link to the grouplet's Task List
- Top-level agenda items, possibly followed by supporting comments or artifacts
- A spot for "other business" at the end, where the Historian can note other topics that may have arisen during the meeting
Sometimes topics will arise that are too large to discuss during the course of the weekly meeting. Rather than let the Agenda fall by the wayside, it's good practice to announce a breakout meeting to discuss one specific item. These meetings can actually be much longer than the weekly meeting, since they will usually engage fewer people who are particularly interested in the outcome of a single issue. Those who attend the meeting will be expected to take notes or produce some other resulting artifact to present at the following weekly meeting of the entire grouplet.
It's not always necessary for the organizers to be at every breakout meeting. Given a cohesive Mission, set of Objectives and Key Results, well-defined Roles, and a well-maintained Task List, it's possible that a subset of members are aligned and motivated enough to hold their own special meeting without oversight. This is actually healthy for the grouplet, as members see themselves as autonomous contributors within a community of peers, rather than mere followers of the organizers. It's also a chance for members to takes turns driving meetings and initiatives before inheriting the organizer role one day.
This exercise is about evaluating the assumptions behind the "Key Results" component of the Objectives and Key Results process. Create a table with three columns:
- Doing/Building this: A Key Result action or artifact
- Will get us this outcome: The intended impact of the Key Result
- We'll know we are right when we see: The measurable outcome of the Key Result that demonstrates the intended impact
Here's an example from the notes for an 18F Documentation Working Group Breakout Meeting to discuss the group's 2015 Q1 OKRs (credit: Nick Brethauer):
If it's convenient, having an online chat room in which members can discuss grouplet business and make announcements is a great way to foster community and make progress in between meetings. It's also a great way to ensure that members distributed across multiple work sites remain fully-integrated into pertinent discussions. 18F is a heavy user of Slack; naturally every grouplet-like group has its own Slack channel for this purpose.
A "Hub" is basically an information radiator that enables grouplet members to share and discover information easily. It can take the form of a shared drive, a wiki page, a chat room channel, an issue tracker/project management tool, or some combination of these tools and others. In the case of 18F, the Documentation Working Group maintains the 18F Hub project as a means of taking this concept to the extreme for the entire team, not just for the working group itself.
Fixits are traditionally one-day sprints where people are asked to put aside normal project work and focus on "important but not urgent" tasks. They are also fantastic for rolling out new tools across an organization.
In practice, Fixits can be of any length and size. Organizing and/or participating in a Fixit has many important side-benefits in addition to the stated goals of the Fixit itself:
- Fixits focus both organizers and participants on concrete goals that contribute to an overall strategic objective.
- Motivation for participation can take the form of prizes for participation, recognition for good deeds, and a sense of good karma from doing the right thing.
- Fixits punctuate the larger "story arc" of overall culture-change with exciting events that raise the morale of everyone involved, thanks to all the positive energy that's generated.
- Fixits often advance the state-of-the-art by focusing energy and momentum to push beyond a tipping point, ratcheting the overall culture-change effort up to a new plateau.
A healthy grouplet doesn't depend on the vision and effort of one or two people. As an organizer, you should start scouting for a successor on day one. Cultivating members to rise up through the ranks helps the grouplet remain vibrant and active, and will one day free you to move on to new challenges with the comfort of knowing that the team you helped to build continues to thrive.