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How to Stop Admiring Your Problems

It is unclear when the phrase “stop admiring the problem” came into my leadership tool kit, but I have been using it to improve my personal and business life for about two decades.

I know that you may wonder how we admire problems when a word like “admire” mostly describes pleasing or wonderful things. In this case, it is about the ongoing approval of existing problems by our own actions or inactions.

Ways we admire problems

The way we do this is by not taking action to fix the issue. We may even backlog the problem, take it out again and admire it in a later meeting, only to just put it back on the backlog again. This is something that I see in far too many Agile retrospective meetings. Even in non-Agile rituals, I have seen this done. We have meetings around defect prioritization. In those meetings, we spend hours talking about the defects with a large number of people who could be fixing the issues rather than talking about its priority. Again, this is just admiring the problems.

The easiest way to detect that we are doing this is how many times we don’t move past talking about the issues and put it on some sort of list to address it at a future date. For example, if your Excel sheet where you document your impediments has not changed for months, then you may be guilty of admiring.

Moving past admiring with quick wins

Perhaps the easiest way to move forward is starting to take action to fix something. Now I am not saying fix the biggest and ugliest issue you may have on your list. Instead, you identify a problem you can fix quickly–fix it and have a party! I am not kidding about having a party. Nothing helps motivate people to fix things like a party and making the process fun. It is about taking the approach of fixing stuff where you are making a 1% improvement in the team and organizational performance weekly.

One percent may not seem that much, but doing it weekly is where the power of the approach is. Twenty-five weeks of 1% improvements mean you now have 25% better performance. At the same time, you can reinvest the capacity gain from fixing those things to close down more problems or invest in new ways to provide value to your stakeholders.

Warming up to the bigger fixes

The approach I am calling out is a way for you and your team to warm up to take on bigger issues. It does this by first getting people used to making continuous improvement a valuable habit. As we know habits don’t happen overnight.

I know we are all guilty of admiring problems, but you can take small incremental steps to improve. Remember to take the time to celebrate even the little improvements as you build the energy to take on those bigger things.


Do you want to hear other improvements people made in 2019 and are planning to make in 2020? Then listen to our latest Agile Coaching Network podcast.

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