Team Icebreakers

I am a big fan of using small team exercises to just people out of their “head space” for a moment before refocusing back to the area of work. Sometimes it can be a physical (just stand and stretch, take a team stroll) or be just a small thing to let people begin talking about non work focus items to just relax for a moment. I also appreciate, as does my team culture, the value that humor affords in work.

A great way to start teams talking before a daily stand-up or retrospective is with an icebreaker. I have come across a few simple ones (some I have used in the past) that I think is a great way to just stimulate spontaneous response and to allow the teams to loosen up and get ready  to communicate.

One Second Trivia

Prep Time: 5 minutes or less dependent on how quickly a scrum master thinks on their feet. Questions can be prepared on index cards or scrum master can make them up on the spot.

Run Time: 1-2 turns per team member

Goal: To just relax people with potential humor and “prime the communication pipeline”.

Rules: Only 2.

  1. You must provide an answer within one second.
  2. There is no wrong answer in this game.

Play:

As each team member a question and allow them to give an immediate response (much harder within one second than you think),

Examples:

  • “What can you not grow in a garden”?
  • “Why did you borrow $20.00”?
  • (Fill in the blank) “You superpower is …”
  • “What is a vegetable that should not exist”?
  • “What is Beyonce’s middle name”?
  • (Fill in the blank) “The code word for this product is …”
  • “Where are you keeping that candy bar”?

The objective is just to get the team relaxed and ready to connect. Often time hilarity will ensue as coming up with answers for these in one second typically results in whatever pops into your mind.

You can change things up by allowing team members to run the game and prepare their own questions. It does not take very long and it engages them.

Yes. And …

Prep Time: No real prep time needed, just the ability to seed a conversation.

Run Time: 1-2 turns per team member

Goal: To help team members develop engagement and listening skills with one another as well as reinforce being value additive.

Rules: The objective is to listen to the statement made by the previous team member and continue the story by adding “Yes, and …”

Play:

Seed the conversation to start with a topic or lead-in. Examples:

  • “Yesterday, we went to the zoo …”
  • “When I was preparing for my career as an astronaut I went to Walmart”
  • “Today began as the worst day ever”
  • “I came home last night and decided to bake a cake”
  • “I met my evil twin yesterday in a coffee shop.”

Power Animals

Prep Time: 5 minutes or less. Requires either drawing animals on index cards or finding small pictures to tape on cards, etc so that they can be placed into something to draw from by each team member.

Run Time: 1 turn per team pic member

Goal: To just relax people with potential humor and “prime the communication pipeline”.

Rules:

  1. Respond as quickly as possible.
  2. There is no wrong answer in this game.

Play:

Set the stage – “This is the power animal game. In this (bowl/box/hat) are many types of exotic and amazing animals (make a lot of them really odd or very mundane animals). This animal has specifically selected you to be able to channel some of their special abilities in any time of need.

The goal of this game is for you to relay to the team why this animal picked you specifically to be your power animal and what power(s) did they grant you.

  • Have each team member reach into a shoebox or bowl and draw out a picture of an animal and respond. It’s often not only humorous but can often be insightful into gifts that a team member has or wishes they possessed. Good information for strengthening team member connections with one another and with the scrum master.

Capacity and Performance

“Your capacity to say no determines your capacity to say yes to greater things”        – E. Stanley Jones

This is something in business we all struggle with in my assessment. How to sequence “just the right amount of work” to deliver value and still all the desired ability of an organization to remain responsive to shifting value needs. My organization has struggled with it as I feel confident many of you have as well.

There are a lot of techniques, both agile and not, to determine capacity and we’ll look at a few and I will express my own opinions here and what effects poor capacity planning can have on teams and organizations.

Somebody call 911!

A lot of us live in a world of “firefighting” as an organization. Not literally, but what I mean is that we become reactionary as an organization as opposed to responsive.  Organizations often confuse responsiveness as the ability to handle each fire as it occurs when it reality this is chaos at its core. Often, these organizations are so busy fighting the blaze that they never take the time once the situation has passed to ask why the fire actually started in the first place or they confuse every flare up on the same level as the entire city in flames. This is not responsive, it’s reactionary and although you may be defined as the “hero of the day” in the moment, it eventually raises much deeper problems that can become exposed and have to be addressed.

Being a reactionary environment is inefficient. It means that there is a significant amount of waste happening waiting for the disastrous event or worse yet it is a sign that work is improperly sequenced to allow a balance of responsiveness and performance. Signs of this are often team member turnover, sick time increases, increased deep policy to attempt to be preventive (the “ban all matches” approach) or just a general negative outlook to solving a problem. Be vigilant in observation for these types of issues as one you define yourself as this type of an organization, it is often very painful to change.

Capacity, Performance and the myth of being busy

One of the things that I have always believed is “do less better”. Ensure that you are meeting the highest value items for an organization but in the face of emergent needs you have to deliberately create slack within your work capacity for numerous reasons. Things like actually being responsive to the emergent pet project that comes up, capacity to nurture your teams and team members to allow them to grow and give back to the organization in doing so and generally to improve performance throughput

Basically capacity boils down to “how much something will hold” from a true math reference bt in our terms it means how much time and work can we consider and remain effective in our performance. Finding area and volume of a given shape to determine capacity is a relatively simple formula but when it comes to people and time, it often gets tougher (although I know many PMP folks who would explain to me formulas of resource management, resource being a word I strongly detest when referring to “people”).

A general rule of thumb is that you will never receive the maximum capacity of a given person or team. Accept this. If a person works an 10 hour day, the best you can hope for us 70%-80% which is roughly 7-8 hours at the high ends. The reason for this is that people are social creatures and have needs like going to the restroom, checking emails, diverting their attention after prolonged focus, casual conversation, meetings, etc.

If there are CIOs/CFOs/COOs/CEOs reading this in awe and shock, welcome to the reality of people. And it is even possible that 10% of your overall workforce is performing suboptimal based on lack of skills, poor work ethic, sickness, burnout or whatever reason. So how do you handle this and still maintain a level of performance without remaining in a constant hiring frenzy of cycling burnout workers?

First, accept your reasonable capacity levels and plan strategically. If you do, you will find that you optimize the flow of delivery within that capacity and you often see higher percentages executed (which can be a different topic to watch for … “dark work” that has no visibility and creates strain but as things are delivered on time no one questions).

If you think more bodies are the answer. You’re wrong. Read the Mythical Man Month. As you increase complexity to any systems you fragment pathways making performance degrade. Think of a small intimate dinner gathering and how conversation can flow well between 2 couples (as they can keep up with topics or break into smaller sub groups and still reflect to the group). Now introduce 2 more, and 2 more, and 2 more. Make it a large dinner party and afterward come home to discuss the topics of conversation. The pathways are too complex. You cannot keep everyone in the loop on all of the conversation occurring.

The same thing occurs with software development. As you introduce more and more staff you increase the complexity in the forms or handoffs, communication pipelines, individual or small group decisions that get made, etc which make it slower as rediscussion, rework and deeper changes are often a result. This is often why I prefer product feature teams as opposed to component teams whenever possible.

Secondly, if you want to be responsive; be deliberate in building in slack to your approach. Let’s take 3 examples; road networks, servers and teams.

Road Networks:

You are driving to work. There are 30%-50% of other cars on the road. You make your commute in a reasonable amount of time. But we are not utilizing all of the capacity of the road! So let’s crank it up to 100% and make that same commute. What is the expected result? Traffic jams, delays due to accidents, road rage. We actually decreased our performance by trying to fill all of our capacity.

Servers:

This is a little tougher as in the day of invisible scalability of cloud networks it may seem a poor example, however, if a server capacity is maximized to 100%, performance degrades; it is a given. It results in unneeded swapping just to meet all requests. It may seem negligible but if you have ever been frustrated waiting for a web page to load, you may have been experiencing exceeded capacity.

Teams: 

Filling a team capacity to the brim can result in whiplash when trying to meet those emergent needs With that allowed focus, you have teams that maximum their throughput through selection, self-organization and a regular cadence. If they have other responsibilities (support, meetings, etc) not building in that capacity that is aware of these things will result in feelings of being high performing but in fact often degrade performance and hide a lot of work being done on an employee’s own time (which can result in a whole host of issues).

But we have to keep people busy

Do we? Did we hire the individual with a specialized set of skills to ensure they remained “busy” or did we hire them to ensure that we had the necessary skills to realize the end result of value?

If a manager pops into a team room and a team is relaxed, having a conversation about Dr. Who or some world event is that ok? Sure it is. If they are personally making their commitments and failing to deliver value, then you might sense a problem which could be everything from they are sandbagging to they are being disrupted externally for other work to the guidance they are receiving is creating deep and counter productive conversations at the time of delivery from a lack of understanding. It could be lots of things.

The point is not to keep people busy. In trying to do this based on observations of social interaction as a sign of low productivity, you toss the idea of capacity out the window. For me, I want a highly motivated team that wants to come to work and deliver because they know they have a direct voice in setting and communicating reasonable expectations for feature delivery. Does this not mean that occasionally the team may not be forced to ramp up commitments to meet a deadline? Absolutely not. But if you trust the people doing the work to be reasonable and responsible in communication, transparency and of the delivery of that work; often times I find teams will rally to address the hard need.

Otherwise they are back in firefighting mode.

Seeking to ensure teams and team members are “all busy” is a false goal. It equates people with server throughput. People should be cultivated and grown if you want to create longevity of any sort in your company with employees. They will become your greatest champions and advocates if you embrace this. They will tell others of the great company they work for and they will work hard to deliver of their commitments.

I write this post today not out of any personal or professional frustration but from an observation that many organizations focus on “busy” as opposed to intentionally creating space to be responsive to emergent needs. Just like a home’s unused space get filled, professional people fill the unused space (through skill acquisition, environment improvement, idea sharing, etc). But just like a home; should you inherit your grandmother’s giant steamer trunk if you have filled all of your capacity of space it gets placed in an odd location or you “make room in the attic”.

Be honest and kind to yourself as an organization, your people and reflect a true understanding of capacity by considering more than just “delivering more” or “being busy”. Understand what other impacts that people have that impinge on capacity and to become truly responsive, be intentional in creating slack within your overall capacity.

As I always say and I will say once again … “Do less better”.

 

Customer Service

“You are serving a customer, not a life sentence. Learn how to enjoy your work.”                      – Laurie McIntosh

This weekend I had to run some errands and I arrived at a local business just as they were opening to pickup a delivery. I stopped at the drive up window, rang the bell and patiently waited. A clerk came rushing in sat her items down and opened the window … “Name”, she asked sharply to which I provided her my name. She fumbled around and said in a tone as if a burden were being placed upon her “We just opened. It will be at least 30-45 minutes”. I thanked her and said I would return in about an hour. She closed the window and walked away.

As I drove to another place where I could occupy an hour (as returning home and then coming back would be pointless due to the drive) I began to think about customer service. Not about this particular incident specifically but what “customer service” really means. Customer service is defined on the interwebs as “the assistance and advice provided by a company to those people who buy or use its products or services.

This being the case, on face value, this woman provided customer service as she indicated how long I should expect before my delivery was prepared, correct? Sure, she absolutely met the definition of “assistance and advice”. But did she delivery it in a way that made me happy to be a customer? I would say not. Her rush into work and exacerbation from that experience translated to how she provided that customer service. I get that we are all human and are affected by life’s experiences but sometimes in the service of others we have to rise above all that. Easy to do, no. But something we should think about in terms of customer service.

The reason I began thinking of this as it made me reflect on a story I had read about Zappos and its early beginnings. One of the values that Tony Hsieh strives to instill in each and every employee is the ideal of amazing customer service as the experience from that places an imprint on people that make them want to return and do business again.

When his company was first starting out, he was courting  all of the major shoe manufacturers to stock his warehouse (as they learned that controlling the shipping timelines was another way to maintain a good customer experience) with their brands so he could provided diversity and brand loyalty names. On one particular case, he had been out for dinner and a lot of drinks with a particular rep from a company and they returned to the hotel at the early hours of the morning. Tony had spent the night selling the representative of this manufacturer on the core customer focus that Zappos had and how their superior customer service. The representative, probably a bit tipsy, told Tony that he wanted to see how “customer focused” his staff really were and if they were as he said, he had their account. Tony agreed to take that gamble.

The representative called Zappos, again in the wee hours of the morning, and got through to a customer service representative. The call center responder answered with zeal and said “This is Zappos, how may I help you”? The shoe representative said; “yes, I would like to order a pepperoni pizza please” in a tone of seriousness, fully expecting the call center to become angered and explain to him :”that is not what we do here sir”.

Instead, the call center representative said in a pleasant tone, “may I have your location sir”? The shoe manufacturer provided it to which the call representative stated “please hold one moment, sir”. The shoe manufacturer waited a moment and the call center came back on the line. “Sir, I apologize that we are unable to meet your need directly, however, based on the location you have provided to me, I have a list of local pizza shops that I can provide to you, the closest being open until 4 a.m. Is there any other way I can assist you sir?” Flabbergasted, the  shoe representative took the number and thanks the call center representative. The call center representative closed the call by thanking the customer for their call.

Over a late night pizza, the shoe manufacturer gave Zappos their business.

This may be an urban legend, but it makes for a good story for sure it demonstrates to me what customer service really entails. The call center representative adapted to situation. They did not become frustrated because some intoxicated person called wanting to order a pizza, clearly not what they did. Instead, they used the situation to continue to provide excellent customer service and potentially establish a customer for tomorrow.

Isn’t that the core of customer service? Our goal is to “help the customer”. This is something that we cannot always do directly but if we go back to the definition of customer service as “the assistance and advice” this means that sometimes we help them by providing them with a direction, not a solution. We have to be willing to maintain that focus to help assist and advise even if out of scope. Does it take more time, sure. Does it mean we may have to try and find information that they could have found for themselves, absolutely. But being focused on customer service means you are there to guide that customer to solve that problem through your direct action or by helping them get a point of direction to that solution if at all possible.

So, coming back to my experience; did the lady provide customer service? Of course she did. She told me when I should return and my order would be ready. And when I returned, it was ready. I thanked her and went on my way.

Could she have left her frustration for being late for work out of the context of her customer interaction with me? Maybe. But that is an area for personal growth for her, not the basis upon which I judged if she provided the end customer service. I weighed this against the outcome. Her brief frustration did not make it a situation where I felt as though I received bad customer service. She was rushed from being late to work. It happens and as a result if we are faced with an immediate interaction, I cannot say that I would have handled it any better.

Are you “advising and assisting your customers” or just merely dealing with them?

 

 

Recommended Read

“If you’re comfortable with the amount of freedom you have given your employees, you probably have not gone far enough”. – Lazlo Bock (Work Rules!)

I recently completed the audiobook of “Work Rules!” by Laszlo Bock (I went back a read passages I really wanted to dig into in the paperback as well). For those of you who are unfamiliar, Laszlo Bock is the Senior Vice President of People Operations for Google. He shares a very interesting insight into how they apply programs, policy and practices that impact employees and surprisingly how much data they collect to understand if they are actually making any real impact to the employees or the culture at large.

Some of the mystery about what/how and why Google does some of the things they do were outlined in the book. A few of them were:

  • Many of the services (like the haircut bus) provided to Googlers are at no cost to the company. It is often a brokerage between people operations and businesses for them to generate business buzz and customers. Many of things are often out of pocket for employees but adds a convenience factor for them to not have to schedule time to go and do these things.
  • The “micro kitchens” famously known at Google that allow googlers to grab a snack, a coffee, water, etc are actually spaced throughout the campus with intention to stimulate “unplanned interactions” where people from groups that might not directly work together might interact or spark and idea in one another.
  • Google has a performance management process and it gets scrutinized for effectiveness and adapted to bring the most value.

There are some really interesting ideas in this book. Not all of them are applicable to every organization but the underlying message is. If we have people focused on the operations of people and people are our greatest company investment, where is the downside?

The spirit of this book will hopefully inspire you to just think differently about how you can impact your culture in small ways and use data to determine if the “perks” you are providing are doing what you intended. I was so inspired by this book that I bought an extra copy so I could share some of this with our human resources, who are progressive thinkers as well.

I would highly recommend this book if you are leading a team, transforming an organization or maybe are part of people operations in your own company.  It will definitely inspire you to think about what things that you might be able to do to enhance the work environment and how you determine if it is working.

Stay Agile! 😀

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being Genuine

“You need to believe in yourself and what you do. Be tenacious and genuine.”

– Christian Louboutin

Genuine. Authentic. Real.

I think about these words a lot. I continuously question myself if I believe what I believe or do I just do what I do. Sounds like a lack of faith and maybe it is. I can exude real confidence in ideas I believe in as ideas are often very meaningful to me and my life.

I love to think, discuss, brainstorm, pontificate, learn, grow, teach, coach and collaborate. So ideas hold a real tangible value for me. But often times, as I awake in the morning or make my drive home in the evening, I stop to question myself as to what my true beliefs might be and if the allure of the idea has me thinking I “think” that way.

You may wonder why so I’ll tell you.

One thing, if I had to identify that thing, that makes my blood boil or loses my respect is people who talk about doing something a certain way or following a certain path and then abandon all those things central to that in reality of what they do.

They “talk the talk” but are unwilling to “walk the walk”. The reason I question myself is that I believe in agility, the power of teams and the ideal that amazing things can happen through motivated, collaborative teams in which the economy of scale is end value and not time. This means something very special to me as I not only believe it, I have seen the power in it actually working.

However, being human, I am inherently fallible. My biases, my environment, my mood, history in general can all push me away from making decisions in alignment with these beliefs I hold. I realize that and always question what I know and what I am doing to ensure I am truly being genuine in my thoughts and my actions. And guess what, it’s a struggle. It’s a battle. You stay on the defense for this creepy crawly to come along and get you.

Just like the dieter who struggles to avoid Krispy Kreme donuts brought to the office, sometimes it takes will-power and the admittance of failure. But my realization of my ability to be wrong and my willingness to admit and learn when at fault keeps me going where I want to go at this point.

I am very fortunate presently to have one particular person that keep me honest that works in my group. They challenge me regularly about my thoughts and often make me examine things that might be uncomfortable to think about from a perspective of an observed flaw. They basically exercise the carte blanche that I extend to the people I work with to call me on my B.S.

But I truly respect and appreciate it, even if sometimes at the onset I may not be too  as often happy, feel annoyed at the challenge or just clouded from the value I am receiving from those conversations. What they do for me though, more than anything, is they force me to evaluate the perception of another about me and probe more deeply into myself to see if my actions are genuine and in alignment to my beliefs and values. This often helps me examine why I might be out of sync to my beliefs or presenting a poor perception of my intentions or actions.

In the grand scheme, I am respect and appreciate this relationship that I have with this colleague. One thing it does is allow me to gauge myself on my skills to actually listen to this feedback without feeling the need to respond. I know that this is a skill that I need to continuously work on. If you have never done a “seatbelt meeting” (where you strap yourself in and just listen to the good, the bad or the ugly feedback without response or defense but simply allow you to hear someone else’s perception) with someone, give it a shot. Not as easy as it sounds to do.

So take a moment and think about yourself and your actions. Are you being genuine?

 

 

 

Leading from where you stand

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn, more, do more and become more, then you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams

One thing that I have never been accused of is not leading from where I stand in an organization. I have been one that is constantly thinking “fringe” ideas that may not have dropped into mainstream just quite yet. I often describe it as a lone person shouting into the wind waiting for the others to show up, which on occasion, they do.

I think this is something that many of us are aware of in our own personal makeup. I truly believe that a great deal of people often out of sheer curiosity investigate something, see a need, a possibility of change and work to make a difference. I also feel that in the face of poor or no leadership that there are others who will rise to the call. These are often the leaders from within the organization that through sheer desire to do something amazing inspire people to join them.

I am known to say frequently “if you drop 5 people on a desert island, someone will rise to lead the others. And it is not necessarily the one with the title to do so”. So I wanted to discuss this idea in this post. How, no matter where you are, you have the opportunity to lead. It’s usually a matter of inspiration and context that define how that unfolds.

I just don’t have enough power.

I have spoken with a lot of people over the  years who try and convince me that they are unable to affect change in the organization as they do not hold a position of power or influence within an organization. While I believe fully that there are organizations that are so entrenched in hierarchy that impact on a broad level can be very difficult, what about affecting change at a local level, a micro-level, a personal level?

I guess what I am getting at here is that nobody is completely powerless to the random acts of circumstance. There has to be a realm for each of us in which we have the potential to influence. If not, you are most likely a lemming; watch out for that cliff coming up, that first step is going to be a doozy.

What I am really asserting is that sometimes there is absolutely no one who is going to sanction what you know needs to be done or can impact a positive change. In most cases, if you are waiting for that to happen, it may be a very long wait. I am not advocating that you proceed in an anarchistic manner to “do whatever you want to do”. But as Ghandi said, “be part of the solution”.

It’s really easy to identify problems. If I put my mind to it right now, I could create a list of 20 problems in no time flat. But here’s the harder part … is solving the problem.

Or even better, just come up with a potential solution, any possible solution, that can be immediately actionable. Not something that depends on a funding stream, 14 departments to change their process or the CEO to be fired in scandal. What is the simplest possible solution that you could try today? Have one in mind? Willing to try and implement it?

Are you a little worried? Good. You probably should be.

Most of the time fear of failure or putting ourselves out there with an idea that is different to make something better is deeply nested in a heavy dose of fear. It’s what inspires some and crushes others from even getting started. That fear usually reminds us that there are consequences to our actions, which is a good thing. Leaders often take risk. It’s what they do.

Please do not feel alone in this idea of fear. I have it. Each and every time I take a small risk and try something new, I have that fear inside me. It’s just part of who I am. It has stopped me as much as it has inspired me. It’s not unnatural.

However, true leaders may often be so consumed and impassioned by an idea or the potential of change that they feel compelled to champion thi cause in the face of potential failure. This is what often inspires other in these leaders to listen and follow them. They are on a mission and we just want to be part of it because we want to be part of something great.

Their unwavering belief in what they are seeking to change can be truly inspirational! So fear is not necessarily a bad thing, it just reminds us to consider how impassioned we may be to solve a particular problem or champion a cause as balanced to the risk we are willing to take for our vision.

Where you stand today.

So back to our original idea, can you lead where you are now? Are there immediate problems or opportunities that you can tackle and make things better? Are you willing to take these on with passion no matter in anyone joins you in your quest?  Then you may actually be ready to start leading from where you stand right now.

It’s not a difficult thing to do but we often get overwhelmed by the idea of change on a grand scale. We perhaps see the larger issue and often stand the risk of getting bogged down  with those items that far beyond our scope of influence and can take the wind out of our sails. I have done it times myself.

Seeing the sheer amount of effort that lies ahead of us to run a marathon can often keep us on the couch. Don’t fall into this trap. One of the supporting agile values is the “value in the work not done”. You have to be willing to make changes where you can. This often takes a prioritization approach, which is hard. Most people agree that having 3-5 priorities is manageable. Even Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great” indicates that “if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority”.

But what if we could step back from the grand “save the world” solution and perhaps take a moment to reflect on those tiny pain points that might make things a little bit easier, more productive, more visible or solve some small problem; wouldn’t that be a good thing? I think it might.

But shouldn’t we set really big goals for ourselves? Sure, why not. Let’s not forget they exist but let’s put them into perspective They are often called BHAGs.

BHAGS

BHAG stands for “big hairy audacious goals” and are those things that may drive the small actions we take to get there. This term comes from the book “Built to Last”, authors Jim Collins, and Jerry Porras (Jim Collins being known for his follow-up book “Good to Great”) when they examine successful visionary companies. A BHAG, as described in the book, encourages companies to define visionary goals that are emotionally compelling. Whereas a lot of companies set goals in months, quarters or years, the target of a BHAG is a 10-30 year goal to progress to an envisioned future.

The  book defines a true BHAG as:

A BHAG is clear and compelling, serves as unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines.

Here are a few examples of BHAGs:

Google:  Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Microsoft: Empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

Amazon: To be Earth’s most customer-centric company.

Facebook: To make the world more open and connected.

JFK’s Moon Challenge: This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.

So having a “big hairy audacious goal” is, in itself, a  good thing. An envisionment of the future that inspires on an emotional level. But we must ensure that we do not become overwhelmed by trying to continually compare our short term achievements to that BHAG directly as a measurement of progress as not to underwhelm us to our achievements and impact we are making today. Look at it as a roadmap, not a measuring stick.

So let’s get our leadership on!

So we talked about several things that help point us in the direction of leading from where we stand. Let’s recap.

Questions we might ask ourselves:

  1. Do I have or need a BHAG for what we want to do? Is it something that emotionally connects for me and potentially for others? Am I seeking a broader future goal or simply a local immediate change?
  2. Where is my level of influence? What things can I impact today to make a difference to help me get move towards my perceived future? Is the change I want to make within that level of influence?
  3. One thing we did not really discuss, Am I being responsible to (myself, my co-workers, my organization) and reasonable (again to the same parties) in what I am trying to do? Am I being self-servant or “serving” in my actions?
  4. Does the thought of failure concern me more than the positive impact of change itself? Am I willing to accept the consequences of the actions I take, good or bad?
  5. Am I waiting for the authority to enact change or am I using this as a mechanism to not instigate the change myself?
  6. Whom does this change impact? What are their motivations?
  7. Am I willing to accept failure and learn from it?

So we have examine the items surrounding the change, now is  the time to put things into action. If we have indicators that we are willing to champion this change, accept the consequences and seek to rally additional champions of impact, we should get things into motion.

The CEO of PureWow, Ryan Harwood states that “the worst decision is indecision”. This is a modern restatement of a battle strategy that indicates “when confronted with an enemy on two possible hills, the worst decision is to not charge either hill”.

So if you make the decision to affect change from where you stand today, make it happen!

 

Using Agile Outside of Software

“There is a better way to do it. Find it.” – Thomas Edison

One of the core principles of the agile manifesto is the response to change in opposition to following a plan. That is not to say that development and following a plan is not valuable but there is a heightened value in remaining responsive to change.

I was approached this week by a colleague and friend who asked my opinion on a very structured change management framework for organizational initiatives. They have personally really grown to appreciate the idea of approaching things in an agile manner and the use of collaborative teams to find innovative solutions so the idea of this highly structured process framework seemed to raise some concern them. I thought about this a great deal and speculated that “change” could be managed just like a sprint or use of a kanban pull system just as easily.

I think that at its core, the agile manifesto (if taken out of the context of software) guides us to:

  • Value collaboration with people to solve a problem over rigid processes or elaborate tooling.
  • Produce a working value item as opposed to documentation defining what the items is to be produced so we can inspect and adapt a tangible item.
  • Remain close and communication often with customers to again help us reflect and review on progress to date and gauge possible improvement.
  • Embrace change and be open to adaptation when change occurs.

I postulated the following approach to them based on the scrum framework (these are not really new ideas, just a rehash of those before me but I find the idea of applying agile frameworks outside of software fascinating):

The Artifacts

  • A change initiative backlog consisting of specific items of change sought by the organization. This should be prioritized with highest value change initiatives first and lesser valued items much lower in the backlog. I might create these very similar to user stories with a persona who will gain value, a business value need and an expected benefit. In place of the typical acceptance criteria of a story, I might use something like expected result from change (maybe a benchmark) or maybe even some other type of indicator. Unsure there but think the key takeaway would be to split the concepts so that they could be delivered in one to two weeks but no more than a month to keep the inspect and adaptation horizon low enough to “pivot or persevere”.
  • Tasks could be decomposed by the team to address the change initiatives, again like you would with a typical backlog item and provide them an insight into progress during the change sprint.
  • In development of the initiative, I might even develop personas reflecting the target impact audience and their perceived benefits and perhaps even develop an initiative roadmap that reflected where logical “releases” of the initiative made sense.

The Rituals

  • You might perform some base forecasting to get a shared sizing indicator but I would probably forgo fibonacci and opt for t-shirt sizes, animals, etc. I would let the team determine the appropriate sizing rubric. I am really not sure that this would be necessary as you might better employ a pull system to visualize work process for something like this.
  • I would only consider keep sprint planning so that the team could make the commitment to the change owner if I were to use more of a scrum process than kanban. I think either could work effectively here although I do personally appreciate creating a sense of urgency and team buy-in with a stated commitment.
  • I would definitely keep a timebox  of 1-4 weeks to allow the team to remain focused and keep the end goals in mind. I think that this review horizon for progress with the team is essential so that they are invested and reflect the realistic amount of work that can be accomplished.
  • I would keep the concept of a stand-up and work to set the timeframe in relation to the need for risk mitigation of not meeting the commitment. I would probably stick with daily as it tends to level set people for things they have accomplished and remaining tasks to be performed. I also think that this helps reinforce the ideas of self-organization and self-management by allowing the team to reflect together on items done and undone and organize themselves accordingly. Even if using a “pull system”, I would use this opportunity to have a guided “walk of the board” so that the team could reflect on bottleneck areas, self-organize to impact them and visualize the overall flow. I would start simply with a “To Do, In Progress, Done” approach and tailor as the team learned more about its general workflow states possibly.
  • As I stated earlier, I would define a timebox for progress demonstration of the initiative items and team reflection like the scrum framework review and retrospective.

The Roles

  • A “change owner” (just like a product owner) represents a group of stakeholders for the organization and is the single voice to the team when it becomes stuck, needs clarification or needs an immediate decision. This person would need to be empowered by the business to own this change effort as they will have the ability to provide iterative feedback to adjust course accordingly at the review.
  • A cross-functional team. One of my favorite design firms is known for this idea. In applying this to the concept of of an organizational change initiative, I believe that you would need to ask yourself some clarifying questions:
    • Is it more important that I have all the skills necessary for the delivery of a change item?
    • Is it more important that I get a good cross section of my organization of all types of roles that are critical thinkers and “doers”so that I can get a better reflection of the organization as a whole and to provide broader context?
  • I would also use the concept of a scrum master type role to help keep the team focused and productive. I might tag them more as a team coach focused on helping them through the process, teach them heightened skills to work as a team, assisting with impediment removal and assisting them to reflect on the process for continual improvement of the team.

I think the key components to making this work in a non-software situation is to still be value and customer focused and treat the initiative like a product so that it could be developed.

Folks who typically read my blog may be saying to themselves “yeah, this just makes sense” but for people outside the world of software, sometimes the concepts of iterative building seem foreign and they see things in “final state”. This is just an idea for them to see how they might apply this to their domains of business. I do think that providing the team the concept of focused effort would make this more productive but in the context of business domains this might be difficult. Capacity management strategies, micro teams or just allowing them to suspend their daily effort and focus for a timebox (by having others manage the daily activities) could be an option. I do think using a pull system might allow for an interrupt driven process but I also would be concerned that most might have difficulty determining true criticality of work they typically are expected to perform today. Being an agile leader and allowing this focus may draw some criticism but you might treat it like an experiment, run a few sprints with focused effort, reflect on the work accomplished and adjust as needed.

One thing that I told my bosses when I pitched my first scrum pilot to help secure buy-in was “you will review progress every 2 weeks. At this time, you can choose to continue, adjust or stop funding the project altogether and abandon the effort. Failure should be an option but the goal should be to fail as fast as possible if we do so.”

We are already seeing this done a great deal in many industries, automotive, design, marketing, education and even in areas such as program development at NPR. So this is definitely not a new phenomena but it is interesting to take a step back away from the world of software and ask ourselves how might we harness what we know already about agile principles and processes and apply them in a unique way to build something other than software. It fascinates me. So take a moment, is there somewhere that you see complexity in an effort that would benefit from an empirical approach. Maybe you should be a catalyst to help someone try something new.

I leave you with this quote that I have always appreciated …

“Success isn’t about what you accomplish in your life. It’s about what you inspire others to do” – Unknown