The importance of performance

Speaking recently about the importance of Product Owners being aware of the importance of performance of products, not just based on more business focused KPIs but also from a technical perspective. Google in particular are ensuring that we ensure sites and apps perform well for users.

It’s complex though, we have to balance time to market, many different technologies and cost.

This video talks about things to consider.

 

 

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To innovate or to disrupt?

 

For years now we have been trying to shock leaders into action with statements such as “innovate or die” or “burning platforms” or “your industry competitors in 10 years time haven’t been founded yet”.

Whilst most still haven’t really grasped what it means to create and foster true organisational agility, we are shifting the goalposts again.

A few years ago, it was enough to do business with a few of the top right quadrant cloud SaaS vendors and setup an innovation hub.  Now it seems the only way to survive and gain an advantage on your competitors is to create the disruption yourself.

I must admit, the most inspired I have ever been is when my CTO stated that if you are expecting to be disrupted, why not seek out and create that disruption yourself?

There seems to still be a kind of arrogance in large enterprise businesses, in particular I’ve observed in retail.  A sense that we are still too big to fail and if we do tomorrow what we did yesterday, then we will still have high spending and loyal customers.

I’m being harsh, there is some great work that goes on under very challenging circumstances.  However, customers care little for legacy infrastructure and high levels of technical debt; they are more interested in software that makes for friction-less and valuable experiences.

So what am I jabbering on about?  I suppose it’s the fact that whilst sat at some recent “IT” conferences, I felt that although there is a world of opportunity out there, we only ever seem to be playing catch-up.  Talking about what could be possible, if only we had the time, money and capability.

Retailers always bemoan being one step behind their pureplay/digital/startup counterparts, in a constant battle to stay relevant.

I would suggest it’s time to be brave.  We need to accept that every single company will eventually go out of business, some faster than others, but all will fall.  Some will pivot business models, some will launch new brands and some will move into entirely new sectors.  Only Trigger from “Only Fools and Horses” would claim that it’s still the same broom.

I think it’s time to start looking at that broom and stop thinking about the process and materials taken to make the broom faster and cheaper.  Stop thinking about sweeping and start thinking about why we need to sweep in the first place.

When thinking about traffic congestion, Elon Musk decided to go down not up.  This took him on a journey to create the boring company, challenging each and every assumption along the way.  He had no real right and no real experience to question long standing rules and regulations, but we are all glad that he is.

We are on the cusp of another wave of change, often referred to as the fourth industrial revolution.  Whether you believe it, all or some of it will touch our lives very soon and some already has; robotics, chatbots, automation (RPA), cryptography, block chain, distributed ledger technology, predictive medicine, drones, iOT, platform economy, AI, machine learning, human 2.0, Elon Musk….

As Matthew Griffen said: “Do you want to innovate or do you want to change the world?”

Answering this question in any business is crucial.  I know change is hard, I know transformation is years in the making but as leaders ask yourself this – if our company, our brand, our products did not exist, would anybody be worse off?

Grasp that and turn it into a vision.  Know why you exist, know what problems you are solving and inspire not just your customers but most importantly your employees.  Those teams that work in your innovation hubs don’t (in the main) come into work simply for the money.  They want to do their best work knowing that the work they do is meaningful.

In the same way coming in and playing with cool gadgets will not motivate many for long.  The snooker tables and bean bags are not the main requirement for innovation, they become symbolic of the culture you are aiming to foster.  One of trust, autonomy and experimentation.

The exciting but terrifying thing for most leaders in this new and ever changing world is that we cannot create a roadmap, set deadlines and set teams to work safe in the knowledge we will be successful.  A lot of ideas, however much we validate them, will ultimately not have the desired impact.  The behaviour of humans is changing.  The way we interact with the world and each other is changing.  So we must be open to experimenting and learning.

For those developing eCommerce solutions, voice could completely change the way you do business, it could even make the idea of a brand irrelevant. “Alexa, order me some batteries”.  People won’t ask Alexa for a specific retailer and possibly not even a particular brand of battery.  For those doing logistics, machine learning coupled with autonomous lorries and robotics could change all that you do.  This is no longer just interesting futurology, this is reality.

It’s a brave new world out there and one I am really looking forward to.

So ask yourself this, what’s your product or service equivalent to the broom?  Ask do we even need a broom?  Do we even still need to sweep?

Never waste a crisis.  Now is the time to make change.

trigger

 

 

Respecting time – trains, school bells and meeting etiquette

wedgies Google Search

It was a rainy Thursday morning and again, despite my good intentions, I found myself leaving the house with only minutes to spare before the train pulled in.  As I dashed down the road, I could hear the train approaching.  A glance at my overpriced Apple watch suggested I still had 90 seconds.  I got to the station and straddled my way down the many steps, just as the doors closed and the train pulled away.  “Damn and blast!” I thought to myself, whilst trying to style out the fact I had just run all the way from my house, some 6oo yards away.

Whilst waiting for the next train and gathering my breath, well, trying to stop gasping for air actually (it’s been many years and several pastries since I last did any strenuous exercise), I pondered my frustration about the train doors closing “early”.  If you read the website terms and conditions (which I did), the facts state that the timetabled time is the time that train leaves the station.  Several activities take place before this time including all doors being shut, the platform checked, signals checked and controls activated in the drivers cab.

So by rights the train doors should beep 30 seconds before the stated time of the train, remembering that the stated time is the time the train should depart, not the time it arrives.  I think we have fallen victim to the trains being constantly late.

I then started to consider this behaviour within schools and our workplaces.  When we were at school, the times stated on the timetable were the times the lesson started, similarly when at work we state the start of the meeting time.

However, when at school, someone else takes on the responsibility of ringing a bell 5 minutes before the start of the next lesson, giving us ample time (in theory at least, not taking into account trips and wedgies on the way) to wander to the next lesson so that we started on  time.  Do we ring any bells when at work?  We have all at some time or another discussed meeting etiquette and how we should arrange meetings with a clear agenda, that start on time, set clear actions with clear minutes and end on time.

How often in reality have we spent all day apologising for being late rather than apologising for leaving 5 minutes before the end of the current meeting to avoid being late for the next?  It’s not rude, its ensuring we offer courtesy to each and every meeting we have accepted.  Remember, if meetings are arranged where you are not clear what the agenda is or why you are needed, ask.  Your time and the time of others is precious, don’t waste it.

P.s. I’m a fan of meetings, for me they are not something to be mocked, rather to be valued, they are opportunities to collaborate with our amazing peers, so respect that time and respect your peers, ensure there is an agenda and make sure you adhere to the timebox.

Remember, it’s OK for meetings to deliver value early.

Agile and strategic thinking – conference talk – aginext.io London 2017

For those who were able to watch my first talk back in September 2016 this latest video is iteration 4 of the same subject matter, hopefully becoming more valuable.

 

Agile Success conference talk

My talk last year on Agile success. Linking strategy and vision to objectives and measures of success and how measures can impact behaviours. Behaviour defines culture so getting the right measures of success is crucial.

 

 

 

Agile Coach or (Agile and Coach)

agile-coaching-33-638.jpg

 

I recently started thinking about job titles.  Working in Agile and the transformation environment  means you see a lot of differing titles, each with a given objective and sentiment for the role holder…

 

Scrum Master – Utilise and teach the benefits of Scrum

Delivery Manager – Agile aswell but please just get things delivered and quickly

Agile PM – Erm get stuff done and be agile about it

 

The most popular currently seems to be that of an Agile coach.  I’ve also got caught up in this craze. Seeing Agile Coach as a promotion from a Delivery Manager or Scrum Master.

 

I think this was wrong and does the intention and importance of the role a dis service.

 

Park that for a second.

 

I also saw a trend 10 years ago in the difference within the unified process between Business Analyst, Systems Analyst and Solutions Architect.  At the time Solutions Architect was not a job title it was a project role. So a BA could take on a SA role for a given project.  This in theory was alluding to the T shape that we seen in agile.  Solutions design and not just a collection of use cases of functional requirements.

 

Sadly its human nature for us to take everything literally and within a few weeks we were hiring the job title of Solution Architect, this of course unsettled alot of BAs as they saw SA as a promotion.

 

I also see this now with Agile Coaches, recruiters encouraged to hire Agile Coaches and not Scrum Masters.  Scrum Master is also a role and in theory not a job title, a team should choose the framework and processes that make them most efficient so with that said we wouldn’t have a Scrumban Master or a Xanpan coach.

 

That all said take the agile word away and you are left with a coach, someone who possesses the skill to coach others.  Coaching is an extremely powerful skill and has to be taught and refined.  I actually do not know very many Agile coaches who have had any real coaching training or experience.  

 

To me this makes for a dangerous misalignment of role expectation and ability. I have worked with some Agile coaches who whilst they live and breath agile and can help teams deliver from a coaching point of view they have destroyed relationships.  So the process of doing the work is great but the softer human side is eroded as they lack the expertise and self awareness required.

 

My feeling is that those with an understanding of agile principles and the ability to work with teams to deliver and continuously improve how the work is done is very different to coaching individuals and teams outside of the context of the actual backlogs.  How to be more effective as a group regardless of the domain or product.  Some individuals will want this support some will not.

 

Perhaps question if your delivery focused team based Scrum Masters or Kanban practitioners are part of the digital/IT/product organisation and your coaches are a learning and development function. Coaching is a fantastic investment if supported and delivered effectively.  Else it’s an exhausting waste of time for the coach.

 

Approaches such as Management 3.0 and the thinking behind teal organisations have far reaching implications for organsiations way outside of simple IT delivery.  An interesting future lies ahead.

 

What do you think?

All it takes is a little initiative

initiative

In recent roles I have been much more focused on ensuring the people around me understand the agile values and principles and the benefits they can bring to enjoyment and fulfilment at work.

 

Agile leads us to talk alot more about the importance of mindset and the belief that if you hire for attitude and train for skill but can you hire for skill and train attitude?

 

I have had a couple of team members and peers recently whos attitude and behaviour has been brought into question.  When speaking with them many techniques are used with the core objective to bring a sense of self awareness.  Why are they behaving in a particular way and did they realise the negative impact on others.

 

Whilst on most occasions this has seen an improvement in behaviour, in the short term at least, we encountered another issue of questionable initiative.  Initiative? Where did that come from? Did we test for that in interview? What does it even mean?

 

We talk about creativity and curiosity which when coupled with initiative are extremely powerful but what affects people’s ability to be perceived as having and using initiative?

 

I started to realise that there is something much deeper going on.  Whilst we can claim that some people just simply lack initiative our upbringing, society and work culture do have a direct impact on how much we are encouraged to use these important attributes.

 

If we have tight boundaries as we grow up and are not encouraged to try new things and gain some independence then this can have an impact, in society a shift towards a “blame” culture, deferring responsibility and becoming extremely risk averse.  In work how much autonomy are we actually afforded to explore new things?

If we are in an environment where instructions are given top down and output is templated and constrained then how can we complain when in given situations individuals do not use initiative? Those full of creativity, curiosity and initiative may have already moved on to find a more suitable environment.
So when you are in a situation where you are questioning someone’s apparent lack of initiative think about how you can help them, understand what might be impacting their ability to use it and encourage them to be more self aware.  You might also want to think about how initiative can be given freedom to show itself within group scenarios when interviewing potential new employees.

But the Scrum book says no Business Analysts…..

business_analysis_role

5 years ago I planted a seed, an Agile Scrum seed at the company where I worked. It took a year to germinate and I actually left the company during that time. I was lucky enough to rejoin to take up the role of a Scrum Master.

The role I left behind was that of a Business Analyst. Like many others I have read all the recommended Agile and Scrum books. They do not speak of the BA role. It becomes very simple, become the PO, become a developer, move into commercial analysis or go to a company not doing agile or doing agile ‘wrong’.

I had the gut feeling that the BA team I so proudly managed would not be required in the new world, I’ve never written this down before and I regret not sharing this view with my team. I protected myself from this fate and moved to another company as a BA whilst I pondered my viewpoint and whether I could leave the profession behind.

8months later I took the decision that the time was right and the opportunity was available to move into Scrum Mastery, I didn’t fancy Product Ownership at that point as I wanted to be able to influence a change in the approach to ‘how’ the work was done not the ‘why’, ‘what’ or ‘when’.

When I returned, my old team had indeed moved out of the new ‘Scrum’ feature teams mostly because they were either seen as ‘waste’ or as a frustrated ‘proxy PO’.  They sat all together away from the teams, making up business cases for upcoming work.  In hindsight it was almost a necessary growing pain for the whole company. We questioned the value of the role, it evolved into product insight and commercial and financial analysis and they are in a really strong position now as a collective analytics, BI and data science team(s).

The standard role of a BA (interface between the business and IT) is too simplistic and means most agile teams fail to document new/changed logic for the future to make, in particular, operational support easier, to make change in that same area easier and cheaper in the future. To consider not only technical (non functional) but also customer facing considerations.

Agile encourages the T shape of skills and embrace exactly that, ‘skills’. Whilst we may question having one person sitting in the BA position, as we sometimes do with QA or SM. We still need the skills that the role normally brings.  We must train the team with those skills even if we make the roles non mandatory. Maybe we should all take the view that we should work to make ourselves redundant, share all our skills and automate as much as we can.

Besides there is always something more interesting to work on 🙂

work to make ourselves redundant, share all our skills and automate as much as we can.

So, fast forward to the present, I have a Scrum team with a BA and a PO, what’s that all about? I no longer see it as an obvious problem but I would advise you to review the team, the skills in that team and the context of the work they are doing. My view now is that you need either role or both roles and occasionally neither.

As businesses ‘go agile’ and they add POs and SMs and if you retain BAs, you will notice that the cost of teams stays quite high, I recently read that on average a traditional Scrum team costs £1million per year.  That’s a lot of revenue they need to generate. Thus the risk is quite high.

So why not start with the problem being solved/the objective being set and review the skills you think you need. Build up those skills as required, add people to the team as required. Start everything like a startup, review the potential value in solving the problem or doing the work and be strict on who you need involved. Its really simple, time invested = cost and we must generate more value than the cost.

Inspired by lean we should move the people to the work, so don’t just assign random features and projects to existing scrum teams, question who is best suited to achieve the goal.

It’s harder to manage but will be a better investment for the business as a whole and should hopefully encourage more learning in your teams, higher engagement and better products, always hopefully leading to happier customers.

we should move the people to the work, so don’t just assign random features and projects to existing scrum teams

We are all valuable and teams need a mix of skills, the lesson here is to be very honest about what skills we need, look to train skills within teams and recruit people eager to learn.

We need to move away from the days whereby to start more work we need a new team and that team by default needed 8-10 people. £1million is a lot of money, invest wisely.

 

No more Scrum Masters

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[Context: Sat in a meeting room reviewing Scrum Master CVs and interview performance…..]

I’m in the lucky position to be part of a company looking to digitise it’s customer facing and internal systems and processes, striving for better customer satisfaction and efficiency. We have new backers and money to spend and growing a team of talented people.

We are though hitting a lot of the common challenges when working in and around Agile teams.  The need for a clearer strategy, linking metrics to the features being delivered and understanding the best way to measure improving team performance.

As part of hiring for a Scrum Master we had the age old debate as to why we need a Scrum Master, it became obvious that those around the teams had done a good job at creating the perception that the teams were working well.  However when talking to the teams themselves there remains a number of areas for improvement that the teams need support with.

The complication with Scrum Masters is that typically they command a fairly high salary and often do not add direct tangible value to the software solution.

There are many statements that are banded around that can confuse senior leaders, a Scrum master is there to make themselves redundant, a Scrum Masters success is a reflection of the teams. But what is a ScrumMaster? for most we do not need to defend this too strongly as Scrum Masters come out of the box with Scrum and i’ve been lucky enough that previous Directors understood the value of the role.

Change agents, leaders, mindset enablers and other such visionary statements.  However we live in a world where its hard to think long term, we want results today or we might not be in business tomorrow.

I hire only people with Agile experience, so why do I need a ScrumMaster to teach them what they already know?

I’ve lucky enough to have moved through all roles within the software development lifecycle and most recently floated in and out of IT and Business teams and from Scrum Master to Coach to Product Owner.

As a Scrum Master my role was to remove blockers for my team and ensure we delivered. However my own interests (Agile, lean, management3.0, strategy) meant that slowly over time i moved away from the team.  It’s human nature for people to be career driven and for budding Scrum Masters this will often mean Seniority and Agile Coaching.

This move from the specifics of the work into the focus on the process and happiness of the team leaves you terribly exposed, if senior leadership do not value the role then, in more difficult circumstances, it leaves you in a difficult position to justify the cost of you.

So……should we hire a ScrumMaster?. I think you really have to question the objectives for the role to ensure you get the right person. In our case we do not simply want someone to facilitate the process, we need our teams focused on some very strict delivery deadlines, someone technically minded who can work between teams and systems. Isn’t that the role of a senior engineer i hear you say? well there are multiple ways to solve every issue and multiple ways to deploy your headcount, this is just our current thinking.

We think we might be looking for a Delivery Manager (popularised by Government Digital Service), i’m even reconsidering my view that that person cannot be the line manager of the team. We need to try and detach personal development through delivering solutions, versus learning and improving skills versus career planning. You can get these from multiple people, its just a case of having the right networks and time permitted for it to be of use.

So that’s decided, no more Scrum Masters for us? maybe, I’m not even certain we should be using Scrum as the outcome we want is fairly certain, but that’s another different conversation.

I’m far more open minded that I used to be, we can make any structure or process work well if we have the right people with the mindset to continuously improve and ideally those that have worked with the more frustrating and inefficient project mgt/software delivery frameworks.  Get the right person and the job title doesn’t really matter, as long as the objectives are clear. I’m confident now that I could take on the role(s) of Product Owner, Scrum Master and team line manager and succeed.  That’s based on my experience and empathy I have gained by getting it wrong in the past.

So……what about Business Analysts and Product Owners.  Life is odd isn’t it, having built a Scrum Master and Coaching team and phased out Scrum Masters in the past, I’m now in a position where I’m prepared to do the opposite.

Essentially, we need to get things done, as quickly and cheaply as possible whilst ensuring high enough quality.  We need the teams to be comfortable, inspired with where we are going and know why we are going there.  They can decide the path to get there and advise if its not the right destination as we start to travel.

Without wishing to bite the hand that once fed me I’m starting to wonder if all the theory based preaching, the happy clappy, everyone loves everyone and trusts everyone, no need for managers, holocracy, setting each others objectives and salaries etc etc is actually doing the whole Agile movement a dis service, it’s too far from reality in most mature organisations.

Businesses only exist to serve a purpose and make money doing it.   If we cannot clearly tie the value of all this hugging to the bottom line then we will lose the faith of the very people that employ us.

HOWEVER, I still see value in embedding the Agile mindset at the more senior level, to ensure the business has agility, could this though be an Agile Coach sitting in the HR/People or L&D team? I’m quite interested in the work  Jen D’jelal is doing. If our recruitment teams understand Agile then thats really positive for the future of the business culture and if someone in L&D can train when required then this feels like a great place to be.

Don’t get me wrong I live and breath the Agile values and embody the mindset, however I feel the value much more embedded in project ownership talking about how we are going to increase customer and business focused measures far more than I was getting teams to right their names on balloons.

Why not discuss this further with me……

Lean coffee meetup

Tuesday, Dec 6, 2016, 8:00 AM

All Bar One Milton Keynes
Unit 2, 320 Midsummer Blvd Milton Keynes, GB

3 Members Attending

Join us for discussion on Agile, Lean, Testing, Development or whatever else you’d like to talk about. Propose your topics join the group discussion, or just listen and get inspiration.How does a Lean Coffee work?Lean Coffee is a structured, but agenda-less meeting. Participants gather, build an agenda, and begin talking. Conversations are direct…

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