In this conversation with Nina Dedic, we talk about the importance of exchanging knowledge and information in teams as a way to keep your staff engaged and motivated. We also touch on the importance of continuous learning and giving back time as ways to enable people to do better work.
(You can also 🎧 listen to the episode or 📷 view the bite-sized version of this article.)
Who is Nina Dedic?
Nina is an IT professional with experience in software engineering, project management, and product development. She studied Computer Science at the University of Salzburg and started her career as a Software Developer in 2004 to then become a Project Leader utilising the Waterfall methodology. After working several years as a Project Manager, Nina became a Product Owner using Scrum (around 2010-2011). As of last year (2021), Nina works as a Development Lead, and she’s currently Head of Core Development.
When does Nina Dedic do her best work?
Nina does her best work when she’s able to assess the existing situation, identify what problems she’s trying to solve, and find the exact team members who can help in solving those problems. She enjoys having meetings with her team and always strives to brainstorm and consider a problem from different perspectives to try and find the best possible solution at that point in time.
What keeps Nina engaged and motivated?
Nina highly enjoys the opportunity to work on projects that are unique. All projects have a starting point, a goal they need to achieve, and an outcome that has to be chosen. There’s always a discovery journey involved. And that’s something she enjoys about her job. It’s what keeps her motivated, much like a child who gets a new toy and is trying to assemble it. This is how Nina feels every time she gets a new project to work on.
Translating the requirements from various departments into software products is exciting, Nina shared. At times, her team will create products that will be used for a long time. Other times, they’ll be thrown away after a couple of months. But that process is what keeps Nina engaged. Plus, there’s always something to learn, which is what makes the work fun (and sometimes equally exhausting).
When things get tough (for example, there’s a difficult problem to solve, a tight deadline, or a client who isn’t happy), Nina focuses on keeping the outcome and end goal of the project in mind. She recognises that sometimes goals have to change because during the course of the project things can happen, and the team has to react to them. But talking to people, asking for help, and getting others’ perspectives is what gets the team out of a tough situation. The real problem is when the team stops talking and exchanging knowledge and information.
How does Nina keep her team engaged and motivated?
The key to keeping her team engaged, Nina believes, is exchanging knowledge and information on a regular basis. And for Nina, it’s not just about the technical knowledge about the project at hand. It’s also about sharing from a personal perspective. Nina will always try to find out if there’s anything bothering her team members or if she can help with anything. She has an open-door policy so her team members know they can contact her at any time, whether it’s via chat, email, or phone. Whatever the medium, Nina thinks that open communication is the main ingredient in keeping team members engaged.
Another aspect that helps motivate team members is enabling them to present their work to others and share their knowledge. Nina believes it’s important that her team know they can get in touch with anyone – not just their leaders or Heads of Departments, but also members of other teams or departments. Everyone should have the opportunity to collaborate on different levels and be given access to the knowledge and information available in the company. There will always be times when people need to solve a problem. And it’s important they know who to contact who may have experienced something similar.
The importance of continuous learning
I asked Nina about her view on learning, which is a big part of what makes her work interesting. In fact, Nina believes that taking the time to learn and apply what you’ve learnt to your work is fun. Nina has a busy schedule and recognises that finding the time to learn isn’t easy. However, thanks to new technologies and online platforms, learning has become easier.
In previous years, it wouldn’t have been possible for Nina to organise specific events, but now, with more avenues and platforms available, learning is more accessible. So on a daily basis, Nina will find a few minutes to watch a video, or read an article or a book – she makes time for continuous learning.
When it comes to deciding what to learn, it could be a recommendation from someone she knows or a course or a book that someone shared on LinkedIn, for example. Or she might find herself in a situation at work that needs additional input, so she’ll intentionally look for insights and inputs to find a solution to that specific problem. But she also has a backlog of courses she wants to take or books she wants to read.
Enabling the team to exchange knowledge and information
To enable her team to exchange knowledge and information, Nina will encourage both one-to-one meetings but also regular project meetings – either weekly or monthly. What’s important is that meetings are focused – aimed at solving or discussing a particular problem or situation.
In order to keep meetings both productive and enjoyable, Nina ensures they have a specific goal. She also tries to lead from the start, so they don’t get off track. This enables everyone invited to speak up and share what they think about the solution or the next steps. Nina also likes to arrange 45-minute meetings (rather than one-hour) to encourage people not to get lost in the discussion. This means that often people get a few minutes back in their diary, which is the most precious gift.
Nina also organises regular meetups where people can present the work they’ve done over the past 2-3 months that might interest others. These meetings focus primarily on achievements, but she also encourages specific ones to concentrate on areas of improvement. At the back of those, the team tries to come up with measures to get rid of technical debt, for example. Nina believes it’s important to talk about failures too – not in a way that makes anyone feel bad, but with a view to finding a solution. It’s never about accusing someone of doing a bad job.
The key factors that enable people to do their best work
According to Nina, these are the key factors that enable people to do their best work:
- Giving people time.
- Ensuring everyone is being paid enough and is happy with their salary.
- Ensuring the conditions required for people to do their work are fulfilled. This could mean having a laptop, a mouse, and a monitor, for example.
- Enabling people to communicate openly so they know they can address any problem that arises along the way.
- Ensuring everyone knows how tasks are organised and what they need to learn to tackle any jobs allocated to them.
- Giving everyone the opportunity to learn to grow.
- Ensuring people feel they are trusted and know they can rely on their employers or bosses too.
The importance of giving people time
On the topic of giving people time, in a world and culture where we focus on productivity, moving faster, and doing more, I asked Nina how she ensures her team has the time they need. This is especially important when a business agrees on project deadlines before clarifying the scope. And that can put people under a lot of stress.
To take some of this pressure off, Nina will only assign necessary tasks. She will then move everything else until after the project deadline. It’s about prioritising and negotiating with the stakeholders to tap into the understanding that people are human beings – we cannot do everything. We achieve a lot, so it’s acceptable to slow down. Working 40-60 hours a week isn’t necessary.
I personally like the analogy that your company isn’t a bicycle that falls over when you stop pedalling. You can leave early, go on holiday and not check your emails, and nothing too dramatic will happen.
Allocating tasks to team members
I asked Nina how she creates transparency and allocates tasks in her team to ensure everyone knows what they’re doing. Nina thinks that breaking down tasks is one of the main activities required, so it has to be done cautiously. It’s important to assign tasks to the people who can solve that problem. And that process takes time – there’s no perfect recipe for that. In the beginning, there might be a large task that needs to be broken down into smaller ones. And that has to be done together with those involved in the project or in new product development.
I also asked Nina about how much choice her staff has when it comes to choosing what they’d like to work on. She confirmed that unfortunately, there are always tasks that need to be done, even when we hate them. But Nina believes people should have a choice around what they work on at least 20-30% of the time. The remaining 70-80% of the work is whatever is assigned to them.
Waterfall or Agile?
One of my parting questions to Nina was about the project management methodologies Nina has experience in – Waterfall and Agile. Is one better than the other? Nina shared that she likes the iterative, incremental approach of Agile. Doing the work in small steps, she believes, allows you to adjust and adapt along the way. In Waterfall, you typically have to plan from the beginning to the end. And usually, by the time you finish, the world looks completely different. And unfortunately, that sometimes means starting over.
The final thought Nina shared with us is that it’s important to take care of our mental health and continuous learning. Because we need that balance between technical and human skills.