December 17, 2019

Defining Key Attributes of Exceptional Delivery Managers

How to find Delivery Managers who predictably and repeatably deliver value.

Matthew D Edwards

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

Monster team sizes, long delivery timelines, embarrassing expenditures, more headaches than deliverables, hypothetical and yet intangible value, unknown compliance and team attrition. You thought you had the right leadership team in place to deliver your desired outcomes. Now you're wondering.

Reliable delivery is something we all seek in our organizations. We all face the same questions when approving priorities and efforts, allocating money, forming projects, teams and, in particular, appointing leaders.

We all ask: "What problem do I actually need to solve?" And, "Who can I depend upon to make sure this happens?"

It always comes down to leadership. While it seems like it should be easy, finding the right person is actually hard. We don't know we're staffed incorrectly until we're already heading off the road (or in the ditch).

Title history, degrees, professional certifications, training programs and certificates of completion should, in theory, weed out people who can deliver from people who might not or cannot. In my experience, all of those things point to someone who desires learning, advancement and success, yet doesn't always equate to great attitudes, aptitudes, abilities or results. In other words, often those things are false positives.

Then how do we increase the probability of finding someone who will predictably and repeatably deliver value for our organizations?

If you're looking for a shortcut, I don't have one. I do, however, have some experienced recommendations. And if you take the time to follow these steps, the return on investment window is long.

Your company is on a journey of growth, opportunity, change, aggressive pursuits, adaptation, highs, lows, easy days, hard days and sometimes ludicrous days. You need someone leading your projects who is on a journey just like your company. In the fight, not just studying it over a weekend for a two-day certificate of completion and calling it good enough.

For me and my teams, there are three classes of information I explore when considering teammates as members of our delivery teams. It isn't foolproof. However, it has been very reliable. I have found great people who delight our teams and clients. I ask and research the following areas:

  • What behavioral attributes do we want exhibited in our company and people?
  • What knowledge attributes do we expect leaders to gain or bring with them?
  • What experience attributes do we expect leaders to gain or bring with them?

A challenge for anyone trying to find the right people is with so many titles, words, certifications, methods, philosophies, influencers, founders, books, conferences, etc., how do we know which ones are meaningful at all, let alone for our unique context?

For example, what is the meaningful difference between a Program, Project or Product Manager? When do we use a Scrum Master or Product Owner versus a Delivery Manager? If I have a Scrum Master on my delivery team, am I good? Do today's Agile titles mean we're doing things new and better? Are pre-Agile ideas less valuable? Are PMI certifications outdated while Scaled Agile certifications are actually the best solutions for our tomorrow?

I believe these are all interesting philosophical conversations we can have over a pot of tea, but not the most important problem to solve. We want to hire a great person, not a great bowl of word soup.

We want great people who predictably, repeatably deliver value in our teams, across our projects, in our companies, and with our clients. If we're debating certifications and titles, let alone hiring based upon them, we're discussing the wrong subject. We want people who illustrate themselves by their past and desired journey versus define themselves by their past alone.

The below attribute lists are our ideal target lists. Given everyone is on a journey, we're looking for people who bring these attributes with them, are on a journey to attain them, or have the right attitude and aptitude to be taught.

1. Look for People with Healthy Behaviors

At the end of the day, our teams, projects, and clients will be a reflection of the people we hire. We want people who want to win. People who never quit. People who regularly bring out the best in themselves and everyone around them. People who will never stop yearning to become more today than they were yesterday and expect the same of everyone around them.

2. Look for Diverse Bodies of Knowledge Awareness

It is fine to be an expert in a body of knowledge. Even expected. However, to believe that body of knowledge will transcend industry, context, and time is small, limited thinking. We look for people capable of more than one thing; else our results will be limited by the one thing that person knows. Find people who pursue knowledge, have broad interests and are life-learners. If you don't know what all of these things are, why you care, or when you would use them, get busy.

3. Look for Diverse Experience

There is value in experience. For a life-long learner, experience is the ultimate teacher. We look for people who have breadth and depth of experience because we like people with larger and larger experiential data sets upon which to reflect, learn, and apply their realizations.

4. Log Aggregation, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence

Using one too many redundant and/or popular terms of the day, companies increasingly pursue the ideas of log aggregation, data lakes, data warehouses, and data cubes on a regular basis.

  • How do I get the data out?
  • How do I put it all in the same place?
  • How do I correlate, corroborate or otherwise discover patterns and relationships which reveal new ways of seeing, thinking, deciding and acting thereafter?
  • If I put all of my data in one place and start using machine learning to process, organize, and extrapolate meaning as my data set grows, how do I use it?
  • And, if I want an artificial intelligence (AI) to begin making decisions for me where it makes sense, how do I leverage that as well?

I submit to you that an exceptional delivery manager encompasses all of these things including data aggregation, constant learning, and an intelligent decision layer.

At the same time companies pursue these ideas in modern technology, they are overlooking these qualities in experienced Delivery Managers.

Look at the below picture. Consider that the knowledge, behavioral and experiential attributes are the ever-growing data pool of a great Delivery Manager. Consider that your Delivery Manager is your machine learning solution which continues to derive patterns and possibilities by constantly increasing the data pool with new knowledge while continually churning the data, relationships, realizations, and decision possibilities thereafter. Consider that your Delivery Manager becomes an increasingly valuable AI seeing, hearing, learning, thinking, deciding AND thereafter acting on your behalf.

A two-day "how-to-deliver" certification course will not get you, your Delivery Manager, or your company and clients where you want to go. It is only a blip in the data pool. A valid experience that led to specific acquired knowledge. A very small, singular, moment of data on a long journey. Do it anyway. And then do 10 more.

5. Do Your Job to Enable Exceptional Delivery Managers

No matter who you hire, all Delivery Managers will need to know your desired outcomes and any particular constraints that matter to you and your organization. Look at it as defining done (desired outcomes) and the parameters of the game (methods and tools).

Your company and teams need to know where they are meant to go and under what conditions they can travel and arrive there.

An experienced Delivery Manager will notice if you have them in place, if they are clear and achievable, and help create, modify, manage, and complete them accordingly.

Their job is to see the entire company, not just the problem of the moment.

What does that look like? Let's look at a snippet of a conversation between a senior leader at your company and an exception Delivery Manager being considered for hire.

Senior Leader at your company speaking: 

"Hello Janice. I'm happy you've considered ABZ Company for your next adventure. We're currently a USD 50MM pharmaceutical company on track to be an 80MM company in the next five years. We have adopted Scaled Agile for our preferred technology delivery framework, love the Agile space, but need help becoming more educated, experienced, and successful along the way. Most of our tool-sets are modern, our folks have been training on many things in the last three years and we have clear goals we'd like achieved over the next 18 months. We've been having quality and compliance problems with our deliverables, and I'm not sure how we need to fix this using our current tools and methods. What are your thoughts?"

Exceptional Delivery Manager Janice: 

"It sounds like you are experiencing quite a bit of success regarding the company, as well as, cultural transformation. Those are both hard alone; but doing them both at the same time and well, says a lot about the leadership and people in this company. Impressive.It is outstanding that you know where you are and where you want to go. And it is outstanding that you know how you'd like to get there using the Agile body of knowledge, new tools, and retraining your people for the future. Well done.You mentioned you've been having challenges with quality and compliance. Of course, I have very many questions and cannot pretend to fully understand your company in such a short period of time. However, I wonder, since your company has adopted Scaled Agile to help with delivery behaviors, have you also introduced evolutionary ideas for the engineering and information security teams? In other words, while Scaled Agile is designed as a delivery framework, it is not itself, and it is not designed to be so, an engineering and information security body of knowledge. You have to look elsewhere for those things. Teach me about the engineering changes that have been introduced to date."

You, as a senior leader, are continually faced with more questions than you have answers, and always looking for options and recommendations which lead to choices. If you don't know something, you tend to look in places where the data pool is deeper and wider than you currently possess.

Hire exceptional Delivery Managers. They are the embodiment of ever-increasing pools of aggregated data with the machine learning and AI you seek. Just like no software is ever done, so too is it with exceptional Delivery Managers. Yesterday was good. Today will be better. Tomorrow, better again.