Jack Skeels, Author of UNMANAGED, CEO of AgencyAgile
- 🌎 Jack on LinkedIn
- 🌎 Jack's company: AgencyAgile
- 📖 Jack's book: UNMANAGED
- 📝 Jack's Medium Article: The Humanistic Agile Manifesto
- 📖 Jack's book recommendation: Humble Inquiry
- 📖 Jack's book recommendation: Change your Questions, Change your Life
About this podcast episode
Jack Skeels, CEO of AgencyAgile, shares valuable insights on agile leadership in the Agile in Action with Bill Raymond Podcast. Jack discusses the transformative power of teams and productivity through the lens of his new book, “UNMANAGED.”
Bill and Jack discuss the hidden costs of management and how a manager can focus their role on growth and empowering teams.
✅ How to embrace “Unmanagement”, redefine traditional management, and boost team autonomy and creativity
✅ The cost of management by recognizing how over-management can hinder productivity
✅ How you can empower teams by encouraging self-management for better problem-solving and efficiency
🎉 Communication methods to prevent misunderstandings and project delays
(transcripts are auto-generated, so please excuse the brevity)
[00:00:00] Introduction and Guest Background
Bill Raymond: Hi, and welcome to the Agile in Action podcast with Bill Raymond. Today, I’m joined by Jack Skeels, founder of AgencyAgile and author of UNMANAGED: Master the Magic of Creating Empowered and Happy Organizations.
Bill Raymond: Hi, Jack, how are you today?
Jack Skeels: Doing well, Bill. Nice to be able to join you here. Thanks for having me.
Bill Raymond: Yeah, thank you for being on the podcast. I’m excited about this conversation. We’re going to talk about becoming a great manager. Before we get started, could you share a little bit about yourself with our audience?
Jack Skeels: Oh, sure. I’m a let’s see, I’ll rewind a little bit. I know you and I have some some common history in this way. Started out as a software developer, a programmer, as they used to call them back then. And I quickly became a project manager, management consultant, ended up at a think tank, RAND Corporation, where I was a senior analyst for several years and worked on how knowledge worker organizations should optimally operate and the like.
Jack Skeels: And then back out in the real world of actually over the last 20 plus years proved out a lot of the ideas that, that are in the research. And that’s the genesis of my new book as well. And of course, our practice here at AgencyAgile.
Bill Raymond: Thank you very much for that. And by the way, the book is great. You were nice enough to give me a copy of it and I can’t say how good a read it is. So thank you for writing that and sharing that with the community.
Jack Skeels: Cool. I saw that you had a very dog eared page marked copy as well in our earlier discussion. So yeah, thank you. I appreciate the ultimate, the ultimate tribute to an author is if someone wants to actually read parts of the book again.
Bill Raymond: Yes, exactly.
Jack Skeels: Yeah, thank you.
Bill Raymond: Yeah, of course.
[00:01:37] Understanding Agile and Agility
Bill Raymond: We’re going to talk about two core topics today. One of them is the cost of management and the other is managing in the context of what you call and refer to as UNMANAGED. Before we get into that, I always like to ask the question, what is agile and agility mean to you?
Jack Skeels: Wow. It’s, that’s, we could do a whole podcast on that one, of course, and you do all the time, right? I, I think those are two, two very different ideas, and even Agile, I do a lot about this in the book, is that we use overloaded words a lot, and Agile is one of those, right? Agile means anything from classic software Agile to Doing things that kind of look like software agile, even if it’s not the right thing to do, or saying that you’re doing agile when you’re not really doing it, there’s a whole gamut.
Jack Skeels: And I think the sad thing is that the idea that probably one of the best things for most businesses out of. Agile was the idea of maybe we could be more flexible I think it’s been widely abused by management consultants and has had all kinds of challenges and black eyes and all that kind of thing.
Jack Skeels: I think at the heart of it is it taught us a couple of things. And I dive into this slightly in the book, but I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a book about agile. I think one of the things that it taught us is that really, we are not letting people get work done as well as they could, right? That we’re under utilizing our teams and the profound impact that software agile had in large scale software development projects really came from the same thing that the book is about, which is deleveraging or unmanaging the management in the organization and letting people just get work done and take ownership of the work and the like.
Jack Skeels: And I think that’s the, for me, that’s the spirit of agile right there is that, that we’re all very clever human beings evolved over hundreds and thousands of years, and we can solve things. And that doesn’t mean that because I’m a manager, I can solve things better than anyone else. What software agile did is it proved that teams can actually manage.
Jack Skeels: You don’t necessarily need a manager for a team all the time, right?
Bill Raymond: Absolutely. And it’s, It’s interesting to see that evolve and then devolve. I feel like sometimes there’s this structure that you put in your head and you say, I like things to be this way because I like this level of control. And sometimes that level of control can slow things down.
[00:04:14] The Cost of Management
Bill Raymond: And that probably leads us right into topic number one, which is the cost of management.
Bill Raymond: Can you talk about what you mean by that?
Jack Skeels: Yeah, I think you were, in fact, getting right on the point, which is the management is actually far more costly than most people know. And I go into a thing which I won’t necessarily really go deeply into now, but the, for certain types of organizations, which are known as project driven organizations, which you probably in hearing that term, your listeners will be like yeah, we mostly do projects, project driven organizations.
Jack Skeels: Actually tend to end up getting over managed for a wide range of reasons, but actually all organizations suffer from the cost of management as they grow. And this is widely known in the research literature and someone won a Nobel prize around the idea. Actually, it’s that profound of an idea. In the book, I identify five different forms of what I call the manager tax. It’s the idea that maybe not everything that managers do or even the existence of managers actually makes the organization more productive. The manager tax is goes back to a piece of organizational research that says the greater your managerial intensity, the greater the number of people, the number of managerial structures and the amount of managerial action that happens inside your organization, the lower the productivity.
Jack Skeels: Managing and productivity are inversely proportional. And this is a really interesting idea because if you ask managers, you say, are you responsible for productivity? They will say, yes, of course, my job is to ensure productivity. Yet in some very strange and interesting and even humorous ways doing less managing actually is probably the best thing you can do for productivity as a manager. I’m going to give you one quick example too, which I think I came up on a podcast the other day that I was doing. And I, back in the old days of the factory, I’m a manager. I’ve got 10 people working for me and they’re all working on an assembly line and we’re producing 200 widgets a week or something like that.
Jack Skeels: And that’s how I’m getting measured. Okay. I am the manager. My department’s getting measured on productivity. Did you make 200 widgets or more? Hopefully. And so I decided to go be a manager today. I’m going to call a meeting and I pull everyone off the assembly line for a two hour meeting. I’m going to talk about managerial things and ask how everyone’s doing and all that kind of thing. So we only get 38 hours of productivity and then we come in at 188. Widgets that week and my boss calls me, he goes, what the hell is going on? You, your team only produced 188. What’s the mistake?
Jack Skeels: I was doing some managing. I wanted to call a meeting. He’s like, don’t call meetings. Let people produce widgets. So this very sharp contrast between is my job as a manager to manage. Or is it my job as a manager to actually ensure productivity, which may not require much managing, right?
Bill Raymond: It’s probably worth mentioning right now. We talked about agility and we talked about project driven organizations, and now we’re talking about managers and UNMANAGED, I think it’s really important to state right now that we are not trying to say that agile in some of its forms or project management in some of its forms aren’t bad, right? We’re not trying to say one way or the other, and we’re not saying that we shouldn’t have managers.
[00:07:40] The Concept of UNMANAGED
Bill Raymond: I think that’s probably worth mentioning up front because the next topic of our conversation is what did you, what you mean by UNMANAGED?
Jack Skeels: Yeah. And so I’m gonna, I’m gonna follow your lead with the other part of it real quickly. Do you need managers? Yes, of course you need managers. There, there are key managerial functions and the like. One of the things I go into in the book, A lot is that complex, chaotic project driven organizations tend to bring in other people into managerial roles.
Jack Skeels: And I’ll just explain real quick, but I think it’s a, it’s the thing that causes the need for unmanagement, which is this, that in those complex environments, I start bringing in people like project managers. Now project manager is actually, manager is a sort of overusing that word. Because when we say manager in an organizational context, we mean someone who is in charge of a department, presumably of workers, people who are getting work done.
Jack Skeels: But a project manager isn’t in charge of people or shouldn’t be anyways. Okay. There are actually a administrator of the project, right? It’s that they’re keeping track of things and all that kind of thing with that administrative function is very useful, but what happens as we see a proliferation, these organizations have project managers, whole departments of them.
Jack Skeels: They have client managers. Or quasi product owners or requirements managers and all these people have manager in their title. And the idea that you’ve got manager in your title, all of a sudden starts saying you should start behaving like a manager and you have the authority of a manager.
Jack Skeels: And the research actually calls them quasi managers, right? They’re really not mad because the real manager is the department manager. That’s the. Classical definition. And the challenge is that all these other people think that they have the authority imperative to like you indicated, Bill to assert control to assert their opinion, to tell people how and what to do and all that kind of thing.
Jack Skeels: And so we end up with this environment where we have a lot of managers. Effectively per team member per worker and the like. And so we end up with an overmanaged environment, not out of ill intentions. Because everyone, by the way, I don’t think I’ve ever met a manager I thought you’re just pure evil.
Jack Skeels: Are you just trying to make things bad? Every manager is trying to do a good job and most managers love the idea that they could be helpful. The problem is in a way, it’s server too many cooks in the kitchen thing too much help in getting the job done is not helping to get the job done.
Jack Skeels: That’s the key idea behind UNMANAGED. And I opened with a vignette like that, where we talk about. A huge project that I was, that I happened to take over when it was just about full disaster mode. And literally the way we saved the project was to relieve the project of over managing. That’s the idea of UNMANAGED.
[00:10:38] The Role of a Manager
Bill Raymond: I’d like to dig into that a little bit deeper, but before we do that, could you share with me what you believe the role of a manager should be?
Jack Skeels: It depends on which type of manager we’re talking about, right? We actually have a model I have in the book called the four key managerial moments? It’s why understanding the why of the work, the what of the work, the go doing it and the grow function.
Jack Skeels: The department manager is primarily responsible for the grow function. In other words, how do I develop the people in my organization, empower them, include them, challenge them, support them, all those things. That’s my job is that, that sort of developmental manager, department manager.
Jack Skeels: And in today’s modern organizations for the listeners you have in, in, in this podcast, especially. The other managers have other roles inside the organization. And so that any given one like project managers should be, for example, keeping track of what’s known. Okay. And like we teach in our methods, how to keep track of what’s not known because the fundamental uncertainty in the work we do in project driven organizations is a bigger problem than, than the, the certainty. You know, There’s well, it’s what we don’t know that gets us into trouble in projects, not what we do know. And project management, for example, is a discipline designed around draw, drawing up plans based on what we do know.
Jack Skeels: And if I draw up a plan based on what we do know, But we don’t know a lot. Then the plan is wrong, but it doesn’t look wrong. Okay. And I can go around the sort of around the circle of all these other managers and the requirements manager writes up a definitive requirements document. And yet there’s a lot we don’t know, but the document doesn’t necessarily say that we don’t know things.
Jack Skeels: It just says what we do know. And all these things start creating this illusion that everything is solved and they’ve removed the biggest capability we have inside of all of us, which is to ask, yes, but is that it? Is that everything we need to know? What if, or what, how could this be wrong? All those wonderful questions all go away in the, in this sort of chaos of over management.
Bill Raymond: Yeah, I can understand that, I certainly seen that before, I’ve had my fair share of managers that had so many meetings and had so many reports that they needed that it felt like I was never actually getting the work done. I felt like I was always trying to meet some need, and I didn’t fully understand what that need was, because it wasn’t communicated well.
Bill Raymond: And so for me that. That is something that needs to be cleaned up, right? That to me was something that, when I was with those managers, I had to work really hard to understand what it was they were trying to get. And very often after you understand that you can actually reduce the workload yourself and say you asked for these three reports every week.
Bill Raymond: And you telling me that this is what you need this information for. Let’s cut that down. How about we just give you the access to this system. We’ll give you a little dashboard. And then all of a sudden there’s more free time for me to do the work that I think is valuable and hopefully my manager thinks is valuable.
Bill Raymond: But I think what you’re saying here is that as a manager, we also need to step back and think about how we are managing our teams and regularly think about what our objective is to help our teams focus and deliver faster.
Jack Skeels: Yeah. I love your example, by the way, Bill, I think it’s great. I think the, what occurred to me while you said it, which I wish I had used in the book is. Meetings can often be weaponized managing. Okay. In other words, the, you think the classic one is I’m going to schedule a meeting on Friday just to see where everyone is with my project.
Jack Skeels: So I’m going to take an hour of productivity out of everyone’s life, okay, so they all have to be there. Also I’m setting up this sort of like test where if you show up to my meeting on Friday and you didn’t do anything on my work, right? So now I’m actually forcing priority. And what we see is this starts, this sort of weaponization of meetings starts leading to meeting wars, right?
Jack Skeels: Where it’s like, well, I would have done that for you, Bill. But I was in Gina’s meeting all yesterday morning, right? And Gina, of course, was trying to get me to do something else for her. And it’s this meetings are not a problem. They’re a symptom. Okay. And if you, and I love your example, by the way, which is if we go after the symptom, what is the real thing that’s causing this need for a meeting?
Jack Skeels: Usually you can get rid of meetings. And and most people think, Oh, we just need to run meetings better. We need a purpose, all that kind of thing. That’s not it. Meetings are a managerial weapon, if you will, again, not ill intentioned, but they have huge external consequences to them.
Bill Raymond: Absolutely. I do think that the every time you’re in a meeting or interrupted, there’s a percentage of brain power that that takes where it pulls you out of the thing that you’re supposed to be delivering. Whatever that might be. And, you have a meeting that pulls you out of that zone that you’re in, where you’re in the flow, you’re doing your work and now you’re in a meeting.
Bill Raymond: And then it’s going to take you another hour or so to finally get fully back into it. I don’t think we can context switch as quickly as we may think sometimes.
Jack Skeels: Yeah, you are so correct on that. And I actually have a whole section of the book. There’s six main sections in the book, but a whole section on the book on essentially this idea of productive flow. And you’re right. There’s a little challenge, which is we perceive our ability to think in a different way than our actual ability to think.
Jack Skeels: And so essentially, because part of our brain can multitask on trivial things really well we actually think the deep thinking part of our brain can do that as well. And it can’t, you’re right. There’s a stop start cost. There’s an interruption cost. And again, these are some of those things that if you think about it, If I’m a manager, and I feel like I need to talk to you, Bill, about something, right away, I think, because part of the problem is, it’s not necessarily right away that I need to talk to you, it’s just I don’t want to sit with this waiting for maybe a time when I can talk to you.
Jack Skeels: So I’m going to go over right now and interrupt you in the middle of your work. And I do so without realizing the consequence because I start with a phrase you’ve heard before. Hey Bill, you got a minute? And it’s not a minute. Okay. Even if you and I somehow magically completed our conversation in one minute, you’re absolutely right about the side effect, which is it would take you 10, 15, 20, 30, even longer, but 10, 10 to 30 minutes to actually get back into what you were doing. And so I could literally, if I walked around and I’ve done this before, I didn’t know walk around the office to people about random topics. I’m a one person productivity wrecking ball at that moment. I’m literally just good. I’m well intentioned. I’m like, hey, I just want to let you know. I saw Kathy our client.
Jack Skeels: She loved the work. He did the other day. See you later. Boom 20 minutes of productivity killed. And again, this is the idea behind unmanaging and back to your original point. It isn’t that managers are bad. And I truly believe almost every manager I’ve ever met is really trying to do the best they can, but they’re doing so with a very limited knowledge set of really what it takes to be a great manager.
Jack Skeels: And what it takes to be not a demonstrably great manager, proving that you’re managing by scheduling meetings and making people produce reports, but actually by generating productivity, enabling productivity inside your teams and workers and makers.
Bill Raymond: And that’s really the point, isn’t it? It’s enabling this productivity and, we have a lot of leaders and managers that listen to this podcast and they might be thinking, all right tell me some of the things that I should be looking out for in myself that might be pointing to the fact that I might be hurting productivity.
Bill Raymond: One of the things that, I think probably one of the first things that I bookmarked on your book was. This really easy to read image that you create. And it was the siren songs of over managed projects. And I’m wondering, can you give a overview as to what some of those, if you will, leading indicators might look like that might say, oh, I’m slowing down productivity?
Jack Skeels: Yes, absolutely. So I think that a lot of it has to do with, again, the sheer optimism and energy and passion that some of these managers put into their craft. I think I mentioned earlier, the project manager, for example, we only understand the project to 60 or 70 percent because that’s what a project is like.
Jack Skeels: And we’ve got to figure out some stuff as we go, but we tell the project manager, we need a project plan right now. And they’re that project manager is getting managed by managers who basically say, if you can’t create a project plan, then you’re not much of a project manager. And so the project manager creates the plan well intentioned, but it’s missing all the things that are missing, but everyone goes.
Jack Skeels: Wow, we’ve got a plan now. That’s the plan. And it’s not, but it looks like it’s the plan, right? And that’s one of the sirens, just follow the plan, okay? But the plan can’t be correct because we don’t know everything yet. And then you’ve got the client or account manager who’s saying, hey, everyone loves this project.
Jack Skeels: It can’t be that hard. Everything, there’s an optimism that goes into selling and making the project deal and all that kind of thing. We also see the department managers systematically overestimate how productive people can be both from that interrupted productivity, but also just sheer personal capability, right?
Jack Skeels: One of my favorite ones in this is yeah, Friday is doable. And that was the one that always sets me up, I hear Friday is doable or makeable. What that means is, can Jonathan get done by Friday? Yeah, Friday is doable. That means Friday is doable if in fact we know every single thing we need to know about what Jonathan’s trying to do.
Jack Skeels: And Jonathan knows that too, which probably isn’t true. It’s true if nothing else interrupts Jonathan for the rest of the week, which probably will never happen. And. It’s probably actually not that it’s doable doesn’t mean yes, it’s absolutely definitively to get, we’ll get done. It means it’s at least a 30 percent chance it could get done, right?
Jack Skeels: So me saying Friday is doable is really saying, yeah if everything goes right, then maybe we’ll see it on Friday, but that’s, again, that’s that optimistic information. And think of being Jonathan in that situation. Think of being put in the spot by your department manager saying, yeah, Jonathan should be able to get that done by Friday, right?
Jack Skeels: And being oblivious in a way and it’s lovingly optimistic, right? Towards what their people can do in the and by the way, they even overestimate their own ability to produce stuff. So it’s not a, it’s not even an evil thing that they’re doing only to others. But these are these sorts of stories that we tell, and it’s almost when you watch the patterns and I do a lot of vignettes in the book so people can hear it. And you, I know you probably recognize, you’ve seen those in projects before where all these four managerial roles conspire to say, Hey, we’ve got this covered.
Jack Skeels: How bad could it be? Should be doable. Just follow the plan, just read the requirements projects yet struggle terribly in the real world.
Bill Raymond: Yeah. And I think you and I have both seen this maybe even more than normal because we’re both consultants, right? So if you’re working on a project in your organization, you probably have that one project and maybe another tertiary one, you do that for six or eight months and then you do another one as consultants, we’re regularly. kicking off new projects and we’re watching, all of these scopes of work, if you will, go out to customers. And I absolutely was that person, the optimistic one. I consider myself to be a very optimistic person. And so I always think well, we can do this faster then the rest of the team thinks that we can. And one of the challenges of course, was that we thought we’re implementing packaged software. And that’s the wrong way to think about it.
Bill Raymond: I was thinking about that as we’re implementing package software, we have the experts on this package software. We can come in and we can do it. But one of the things that we don’t realize, and that’s the thing where I had to step back, and this was one of my big, UNMANAGED moments, if you will, was that I realized we’re not implementing software. What we’re doing is implementing change in an organization.
Bill Raymond: That organization, if they want to be more productive using our software, that means that we have to introduce productivity gains. And that means that we have to maybe change the way people work. It might mean we need to change roles. It might mean that the culture needs to change. And so there’s all these other elements behind that, and it ends up being a much larger and complex thing.
Bill Raymond: One of the things that I ultimately started to do was include that in our scope of work and our competitors didn’t. And that meant that our prices tended to be about 30 percent more than everyone else’s. But guess what? When you do that the customer recognizes that you are trying to help them through the process, as opposed to just shove some products down their throat, and it ends up being more productive working together and the team becomes more productive because they have that extra focus that they didn’t have before to help make sure that this was a successful implementation and organizational change.
Jack Skeels: Yeah. Look at the brilliantly put Bill. I think that there’s a, I go into it a little bit in the book. You really need to have a change model in mind if you’re really looking at significant project work of any sort, which is what does it mean? Where are people now with what they do and where are they going to end up?
Jack Skeels: And I would say half the challenge of implementing something well doesn’t have to do with actually the software platform component of it. It’s actually this is very human thing. So I think you’re spot on there. I think one of the other things is that and you got at it as well as is that sort of optimism again that we bring into these situations and part of that optimism actually goes back to this idea that somehow a project driven organization can be a process and product driven organization.
Jack Skeels: And you said it clearly. And you said we’re just implementing software packages, right? No, you’re not. And you are doing a change project, but you’re also customizing the software package to fit the situation. And there’s all kinds of things to learn about how they’re going to use it and that kind of stuff.
Jack Skeels: So the illusion that we can create something repetitive, mildly at the surface, repetitive as a process is not the same as a repetitive process. Okay. And that’s, I think it’s one of those cognitive gaps that we have. We don’t realize how much uniqueness there is in the things we do how much we don’t understand about what we’re doing.
Jack Skeels: And it’s partly it’s our hubris, partly it’s our optimism, our love for what we’re doing. And I also think there’s just some, cognitive things that will hopefully get fixed over the next 20, 000 years of human evolution, where we assess risk better. We assess what we don’t know rather than just what we do know.
Jack Skeels: And that kind of thing. I think those are some of the challenges in there for managers. And I think the great manager ask questions, doesn’t make statements. The great manager says things like, are we sure that we really know everything? Because the minute I ask that question, then I get everyone else thinking about what we might be missing, and in fact, if I put it in an exercise where we’re doing some work together and make people, all right everyone just brainstorm things we might be forgetting, right? That kind of thing. That’s managing because that’s actually, I’m dealing with part of the problem that teams need to overcome rather than just monitoring and controlling teams.
Bill Raymond: Yeah. And I think that’s an important lesson that I’ve learned over the years is to ask more questions. Although I will say one of the great things about having a podcast is the whole point of this is that you’re expecting me to ask you questions so that you can share your insight.
Bill Raymond: So that’s one of the things I love about this, but sometimes when you’re with a team and you start asking lots of questions, it’s real easy to get into fix it mode. And I have a tendency to ask a lot of questions and then people start wondering, why is he asking all these questions?
Bill Raymond: What’s the deal behind that? And I sometimes have to say right up front, I’m probably going to ask you a lot of questions. Please don’t worry about trying to defend any decisions that you made. I’m not here asking these questions to try and dig into why something went wrong, what I’m trying to do is get to the to the root cause. And once you do that, I feel like people will open up and they understand that, technique that you’re using, if you will. But then at the same time, I have to take a very careful step every single time to ask myself, are you asking a question or are you going to start fixing the problem?
Bill Raymond: And I think as a manager there’s times when yes, the team says Bill, take this to leadership because there’s a bigger problem here. And so the team has come up with that decision. I think that’s the important thing is a team comes up with a decision.
Bill Raymond: And if I start telling them what to do, then I’m starting to do this sort of control mechanism that says do this thing, even though the team may not agree with it.
Jack Skeels: Yeah, I think you’re spot on. I think there, there are at least two roads to any destination and the roads aren’t the same. In your example that you just gave, there is the act of directing people and this is, there’s cool research on this about empowerment and productivity and engagement and quality and all that kind of thing.
Jack Skeels: The act of me telling someone what to do and how to do it and when to do it doesn’t actually move the needle on any of those things. People, if anything, get slightly less productive and less engaged. If I, however, turn it around the other way and say, I think, yeah, I think something needs to be solved here.
Jack Skeels: Here’s what I see needs to be solved. How do you think you should do it and let them do it? That starts opening the door for growth. Okay. Framing look as a manager, as a leader you have tremendous skills of insight because you’ve seen so much and you probably ask amazing questions because that’s how you got to where you are.
Jack Skeels: And you’re finding the answers was part of your ascension to your managerial role, and you nailed it, Bill, because one of the big things you need to do is you need to give up on being the person who has the answers or even if you have the answer, you gotta get them to have the answer, right?
Jack Skeels: And that, the best way to do that is with questions. Absolutely right. I, by the way, recommend a guy named Edgar Schein. Edgar Schein’s book, Humble Inquiry, is a great starting point if you want to learn about better questions. And also, Marilee Adams and Change Your Questions, Change Your Life.
Jack Skeels: It’s pretty, pretty far reaching, but both great books on asking questions. I cite them a couple times in my book as well.
Bill Raymond: That’s fantastic.
[00:29:58] The Unmanager’s Manifesto
Bill Raymond: And I will make sure that I include links to those in the podcast to make sure that anyone that’s listening to this podcast, if you want to read those books, you can go ahead and find the links on the https://agileinaction.com website.
Bill Raymond: We talked a lot about what it looks like to unmanage and we’ve shared some great stories about ways to free up the team so that they can be more productive and they can continue their flow. You have an interesting section in your book and it’s like the, I think you call it the unmanagers manifesto with some really great just bullet points of things that you can take away very easily if you’re thinking about becoming a better manager or rethinking how you currently manage, but one of the first ones that I was interested in hearing your thoughts about was you say, we are fans of our humanity. Could you explain what you mean by that?
Jack Skeels: Yeah. Yeah. Thanks. And that’s a, by the way, that list it’s at the back of the book. And it’s also, you can search I think it’s called the, I’ve called it the humanistic agile manifesto on Medium so if you search on that, my name, but the the list is actually a list that we use largely as ground rules for how managers and teams should interact.
Jack Skeels: We start. Most of our trainings by basically going through that list one way or another. And actually, one of the things we do is we don’t write that list out. We ask people what they think the good rules for working are. And then again, back to our point, using questions to expose it. The one that you bring up, fans of our humanity, it was designed to attack problem, a perceptual problem, and that is there’s a very mistaken belief that some people are wildly superior over other people and the some people is actually all of us because there’s cool research like if you survey a room full of people and ask everyone, where do you rank yourself relative to the average capability in this room? And the average rankings, everyone ranks themselves around 70%, which is impossible, right? It just literally is impossible. So we tend to think of us as ourselves as superior to others. It’s just, we’re wired that way. But this can get quite severe when you get into multi level managerial organizations and multi level, senior, mid level, junior roles inside of the development organization and the like.
Jack Skeels: And no one stops for a second and thinks that, you know what, we were, we’re born so similar in terms of skill sets and all the, so much of what we do, like language and our reasoning processes are all just the product of evolution. Education teaches you how to use these things. Okay.
Jack Skeels: But education doesn’t create these things. And, I have a line in the book where I say, the situations is Eric ready to take this project on? And I say, Hey, Eric’s ancestors from 400, 000 years ago called and said, Yes, Eric’s been waiting to do this project for a while.
Jack Skeels: And the idea is that we don’t tap into those untapped resources as well in our people as we should. We as managers and leaders need to become more like soccer moms or soccer parents, if you will, not to be gender inappropriate but say, everyone’s got to get out on the field and play right.
Jack Skeels: I got to believe that the best way to become great at doing this is to just go do it. I got to believe in people. And more than more often than not, and way more often than not. You’ll get satisfied as a manager by the growth in people. When you really get behind that idea that we humans are ridiculously wired for success and problem solving and working together and all those things.
Bill Raymond: That’s really good insight. I appreciate that very much.
[00:33:37] Actionable Steps for Managers
Bill Raymond: And with that, I’d love to know if there’s any actionable things that someone could take away from this podcast and start doing as part of their daily if you will thought process for becoming a better manager for their teams.
Jack Skeels: Wow, that’s such a it’s a tough one because it’s a tough situation. We have models of how we’re supposed to manage and what’s the one thing Jack can say that someone might do? I think the one that comes, came to mind, and I don’t know if it’s the best one, but it’s the one that comes to mind right now, is I think one of the great skills, and this is in section six of the book, is asking a question that looks something like this.
Jack Skeels: Someone says something, makes a statement, and people make statements in business settings all the time and they aren’t necessarily true. They’re just people making statements, right?
Jack Skeels: And to start getting good at pausing and asking, yes, but is that asking inside your head, yes, but is that so? And think about, and this is when I was at Rand, the think tank, I was actually good at doing this because of some other things that happened in my life. But it’s one of the key skills is the ability to say, okay, I, we do know X, but is that all there is, is just X?
Jack Skeels: Could there be something behind that, something else that we’re not talking about? Should we be so easily satisfied with an answer when there are no simple answers in the world? And so I think a great thing as a manager is to just start questioning things. If you believe at all, or even have a hint of belief in what I’ve been talking about or certainly what you read in the book, I, I think if you just stop and go, yeah, yeah, but was that meeting really something we should have done? Or do I really need to go interrupt Bill right now about this thing? Asking those questions is probably the single most important thing you can do. And to have an attitude of doubt around what is the right thing to do rather than just act.
Bill Raymond: I think that’s a really good one. I was thinking about this as you were talking. Not too long ago, I was working on a project with a client, and one of my roles coming in there was to start talking to people that are going to be impacted by the project. And so I’m asking them what they think about the team, what they think about the current process.
Bill Raymond: How are you doing? What do you think that we’re going to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish at the right level at the right time? And there was very upbeat and positive responses, but they said, except for this team, we all know that this team is just no good. And, those kinds of, I don’t want to say that those, they used those exact words, but the responses that I was getting from everyone was, but this is the bad part.
Bill Raymond: This is the bad team over here. And I started digging into that and I used your process, which is well, is that so? I started asking more questions. Tell me why? And they were always delivering on time. The deliverables weren’t that bad.
Bill Raymond: So what exactly are you saying? Ah, then I saw the emails. And then I attended a few of the meetings, they had a poor lead that was doing the communication. It was that person. And I don’t even want to say that lead was the wrong person. They were the technical leader put in that role because they didn’t put a, if you will, someone that knows how to communicate with the business.
Bill Raymond: They’re sending all this technical jargon that no one understood. And so the easy answer was, let’s give someone that, if you will, can speak both of those language and put that person in that role. And then the communications improved and everything was great. It wasn’t that was a bad team.
Bill Raymond: It was just that the communications were pretty off between the expectations of what one person thought needed to be communicate and what a group of people thought they should have been communicated.
Jack Skeels: Yeah, it’s such a great example of our ability quickly as a human, like what the crowd had done in that story, right? Which is, taking something that isn’t working and deciding that someone’s to blame for it, right? Is that there’s that someone is lesser than in some way, right? Yeah. The other thing you could have done is trained that person, right?
Jack Skeels: But either way, it was a very human solvable problem that there really wasn’t about someone not being adequate, but just that we didn’t have it set up.
Bill Raymond: Yeah, and in that case, that person hated the role and was very happy to, because, we asked, like, how’s it going? And that it turned out that, yeah, no, I just don’t like doing this. And I know that people don’t like it, but you know what, this is the point and I think this is why I really appreciated your book and the things that you share on this podcast was that could have destroyed the project.
Jack Skeels: Oh, totally. Yeah.
Bill Raymond: That it would just have blossoming and blossoming and more people would have heard of it. And then it would turn into rumor that the whole project isn’t going well. And then it just implodes on itself and you don’t, and you don’t want that.
Jack Skeels: Yeah. I, I’m also I. There’s another thing I remembered while you’re telling that great story. I think that one of the questions that we really, when we get good at managing, we start asking is the sort of open ended questions that are so powerful, but one of them would be, so what could go wrong here?
Jack Skeels: Just simple things like that. Like what are our risks? And when we’ve done projects like this before, where have we had problems? What is it that we need to do better and different? That, just that whole idea that that the open discussion, I love that you did it with those stakeholders find out what, where the challenges are.
Jack Skeels: Okay. And it’s, I think it’s so easy and believe me, I had years of decades, probably doing this. It’s so easy to want to be able to come back with a beautiful answer, all wrapped in beautiful paper and it’s the holiday season, right? But say here’s the perfect gift for you. This project is going to be great.
Jack Skeels: And there’s everything about that idea probably leads to greater project failure than starting out and saying, okay, let’s start fighting the fires right now. And you end up having a better project as a result, right? So that sort of that pessimism can be so powerful.
Jack Skeels: And I love what you were describing in your story.
Bill Raymond: Yeah. And I appreciate everything that you’ve shared. And once again, I think your book is great book for anyone in the management community.
[00:39:49] Conclusion and Contact Information
Bill Raymond: Jack Skeels, I appreciate your being on this podcast today. I appreciate everything that you shared. Before we wrap up for those that are watching the video, maybe they want to see a cover of the book.
Bill Raymond: I think you’ve got a copy of it there. There it is.
Jack Skeels: you don’t confuse it with all the other UNMANAGED out there. Yeah, exactly.
Bill Raymond: Exactly. For those that can’t see it and they’re on the podcast, it’s a nice bright blue cover with bold yellow text that says UNMANAGED and you can purchase it wherever you can purchase your books. But, before we wrap up, Jack Skeels, how might people be able to reach you?
Jack Skeels: Oh yeah. The best way to reach me at LinkedIn, happy to connect with you. And if you have questions and the like, and also of course, AgencyAgile is our consultancy that helps with basically all the techniques that I, and more of the identified in the book. So you can contact us at either place. We’d love to hear from you, of course.
Jack Skeels: And thank you by the way, Bill, just a wonderful to chat with you again.
Bill Raymond: Absolutely. Absolutely. Jack, you spent a lot of time with me. We always do these prep meetings, and then we record a podcast, and every now and again, a few times a year, we have some sort of a recording problem and you had to deal with some some challenges that I had on my side and getting this rescheduled.
Bill Raymond: And so I really appreciate your doing this a second time for us so that we can get the full recording out.
Jack Skeels: I like to think it got better. How about you?
Bill Raymond: Yeah, absolutely. I think we actually covered some more interesting areas and I appreciate that. But if you need to, if you would like to reach Jack Skeels, he just provided his LinkedIn and AgencyAgile links, and of course, I will make sure that those are on the https://agileinaction.com website. Or just go into the comments, the show notes, and you’ll see the links there as well. Thank you once again, Jack Skeels. It was a great conversation.
Jack Skeels: Thanks, Bill. A real pleasure.
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