Category Archives: Blogs

Making Product Owners redundant?

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In my time as a Scrum Master and Coach it was always very clear to me that my objective was helps teams to improve, providing them with training, tools and techniques to make themselves more effective over time and eventually make myself redundant in the process. I’m about to move into a Product Management role and this got me thinking about the objectives for that role in an Agile team.

 

In some teams the Product Manager/Owner can be seen as the person who creates user stories and tells the teams in what order to attack the product backlog, however should a vested and well experienced development team be able to decide in what order to create the product and sprint backlogs if the Vision and Strategy for the product is clear? if customer research, competitor analysis and industry trends are gathered and shared? if the team is actively involved in focus groups and customer testing and interviews.

 

Product ownership for me can perhaps be abused, all decisions devolved to the single person in the team, it can also perhaps breed egos in some POs who now have an awful lot of autonomy.

 

I think that everyone in an agile team should consider attempting to make themselves a least a little bit more redundant. If we can train others, share knowledge, automate manual low value tasks then it means we can spend our time doing even more interesting things.

 

Once we become reliant on individuals we leave ourselves open to inefficiency and blockers, if the PO isn’t available or leaves the company could the team confidently soldier on delivering value towards a clear and inspiring vision?

 

As product managers it’s crucial that we motivate and inspire our teams to deliver amazing products solving customer problems. We need to ensure that our product and vision and strategy relate to the overall business vision and the measures of success are clear and that we communicate priorities, progress and risks clearly to our stakeholders.

 

So always question as a PO am I making a decision that anyone else in the team could make or am I just doing it because i’m the all powerful PO?

 

Live long and Agile.

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Stay hungry, stay foolish…don’t settle

“If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today”

“Whenever the answer is no for too many days in a row I know I need to change something”

“Work is going to fill a large part of your life and the only way to be truely satisfied is to do what you believe is great work”

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do, if you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, don’t settle”

These are just a few great quotes from Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech. 

With those inspiring words in my head, today I took the brave, or perhaps foolish, decision to resign from my relatively new job.

I haven’t got another job lined up just yet and I’m not completely sure what my next challenge will be. All I do know is that I didn’t have the right challenge where I was or the chance to influence the change required to make a good business great.

I don’t want to be in a position where I’m taking a salary and not giving the most value back to that organisation or client. 

Where I cannot see how I contribute to the improved performance of the business.

I need the business to be aligned to my values and to be in a learning and continuous improvement culture. 

Surrounded by like minded peers who hold the agile and lean values dear.

I’ve learnt a lot over the last 4 months about my own personality and how this both supports how I work with others but more importantly the type of environment and challenge that will get the best out of me.
“The INTJ brain has two modes of operation: uninterested or utterly obsessed.” 
I don’t want to be uninterested. 

I’ve drawn up a prioritised backlog for future roles, always open to review and change though, in a very agile way:
Learning new things

Able to influence change

Working with like minded individuals

Able to receive mentoring

Able to create new and exciting products and experiences

Able to coach and mentor others

Able to collaborate with senior leadership

Central location

Fair renumeration

Clear career paths

Other considerations:

– is there agile/lean training?

– what’s the release cadence?

– is there a visible strategy?

– can I meet senior leadership?

– is how success is measured clear?

I’ve found it really useful to think about the things at work that are really important to me, the real intrinsic motivations that are often invisible or hard to specify.

 
I have leapt into the unknown, I now have 13 weeks to find a new role, although I’m much clearer on the type of challenge which will get the best out of me and in turn ensure I’m able to enthuse and inspire those around me.

If anyone wants a driven Agile Coach/Delivery Manager/Product Manager to help make a difference, embed a spirit of continuous improvement and a mindset of learning and experimenting to create amazing products and fun and fulfilling workplaces, I’m available.

Directors and giving directions

Over the last 15 years i’ve worked with many Directors, all very different, different motivations, leadership styles and personalities.

I’ve used this variance to help shape my own management and leadership style.
But what does it mean to be a Director?
Maybe first it’s useful to understand the definition of Director and the difference between direction and directions.
Director: a person who is in charge of an activity, department, or organisation.
Direction: a course along which someone or something moves.

Directions: a statement that tells a person what to do and how to do it : an order or instruction
So is your Director giving direction or directions?

This is perhaps aligned to the difference between being a manager and leader. In my experience modern businesses particularly in technology now require leaders direction rather than managers giving directions.

I’ve recently been reading about Intent based leadership as inspired by the book turn the ship around by David Marquet. In the book the story is told of his time as a captain in the US navy aboard a troubled ship the Santa Fe.

David found more success by explaining to his team the destination and the reasons (mission) for reaching that destination. How fast the sub moved and along which course was entirely up the team. They had the mission but decided the specific tasks, how to overcome blockers, all David asked was that team members stated to everyone what they were about to do, this gave visibility to the team, allowed them to support and also for the person making the action that final small amount of consideration time.

 Command and control was no more.
So why should our Directors be inspired by this story and by intent based leadership?

Well it has benefits such as a motivated workforce but more importantly those talented specialist people you have employed can have autonomy to make decisions that affect their work.

IN AN INTENT BASED ENVIRONMENT IT IS POSSIBLE FOR:
– PEOPLE TO FEEL VALUED AND PROUD OF BEING A PART OF SOMETHING BIGGER THAN THEMSELVES
– PEOPLE TO KNOW THE ORGANIZATION’S GOALS AND THOUGHTFULLY CONTRIBUTE TOWARD THEIR ACCOMPLISHMENT 
– PEOPLE TO FEEL INSPIRED, BY PUSHING CONTROL AND DECISION-MAKING DOWN THE ORGANIZATION PEOPLE TAKE RESPONSIBILITY AND HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO RISE TO THE OCCASION, EVEN DURING TIMES OF CHANGE 
– THE ORGANIZATION’S SUCCESS BE ON THE SHOULDERS OF ALL PEOPLE AND NOT SIMPLY THE “LEADERS”
– LEADERS TO BE AT ALL LEVELS
So to those who find themselves in a Director role, what are you doing to motivate and inspire your teams? Are you giving direction or directions?

Don’t be a robot

Spotting patterns, complex logic, common sense, will, curiosity all amazing traits of humans.
  
So why do we insist, particularly in the service industry and specifically in this example contact centres, on controlling each and every interaction tightly?

Managers will say it’s striving for high standards and consistency, I would say whilst that’s important each customer doesn’t always have a simple problem to help resolve.
A complex issue with your product or service, if met with scripted responses, will only antagonise your important customer.
I have recently had a few “dealings” with a large mobile telecoms company, a red one, and been the poorer for doing so both financially and in spirit.
I clearly have a bug in my account setup, it’s non standard as I have bolt ons and a joint account with shared allowances with inbuilt thresholds. That said every time I encounter issues with service or products I always get the same default responses.
It might be a systems limitation that mean the cases raised in the system of my previous interactions might not be visible to the agent or it might be that steps 1 to 173 on the script must always be followed and in order (i’d at the very least love a complex decision tree)
In this recent example I’m trying to continue my subscription with Spotify which is managed via the red mobile organisation.
I received an SMS a few days ago, which I’m now thinking was in error, offering me the opportunity to create the spotify subscription for my contract.
On logging into the site my current subscription has been flagged for cancellation.
So i reregistered, it failed, I say failed, it wasn’t successful, no error though. I contacted the contact centre 4 times and on each occasion settings were refreshed and things removed and added, no errors were seen but now cannot see any subscription. My spotify premium still works though, madness.
I think the thing that frustrates me most, given I’ve explained my recent interactions, is i’m forced to try the same things again. In this example, turn off and on again and wait [input random time here between 30mins and 24 hours] for things to refresh, never works and my time has been wasted.

Who knows if ill ever see a spotify subscription again all I do know is if people are forced to follow scripts i’s rather speak to the robot, AI with the ability to learn is far more preferable.

Herb Kelleher of southwest airlines fame focused on the satisfaction and autonomy of employees, if they were motivated and empowered and believed in the company then they would ensure customers had a great experience whatever steps were needed, this resulted in customers coming back and recommending them to friends and family.

The infamous Mark Ridley once said (yesterday in fact) “evolution gave you a brain, may as well use it”.
A recent report on the register (http://m.theregister.co.uk/2016/06/28/forrester_reports_ai_will_create_jobs/) whilst calming fears on all of humankind being replaced by robots, did once again confirm that this would be most desirable outcome in the customer service environment. It’s already happening with software creating automated but personalised responses based on customer input. In fact, maybe I’m already talking to robots. Just wish it wasn’t the off and on robot.
So, if you don’t want to be replaced by a robot stop acting like one…. 

 

Strategy and password resets

It’s Monday morning, the start of another week, as stare out the window whilst my laptop boots up i begin pondering the week ahead, I’m driven by creating an environment where great people can do amazing things and this is another week to help remove some blockers affecting my team.

Oh for god sake why hasn’t my laptop booted yet, oh wait I first need to enter the password to get past the hard drive security, done.

Now back to pondering….we have a ways of working session this week which should be an amazing opportunity to encourage the ethos of continuous improvement.

I’m distracted by the windows logon screen, password entered successfully again. I’ll go get a cup of tea I think. I meet a very talented colleague at the hot water machine. They are learning to fly light aircraft and working to gain the Private Pilots License. Very cool.
I head back to my desk. Windows has now booted, now to enter my password again to access skype. I’m all set, oh wait, outlook requires my password aswell. Done.
Right now i’m definitely ready to tackle any challenge. Enthused, energised. 
Let’s just check my emails….ok, I’ll wait a few minutes while outlook syncs with the exchange server.
While I wait I’ll connect to the wifi, I love TED talks. Hmmm I’m connected to the wifi network but I don’t have an internet connection, odd.

Oh yer! The password I used resets every Monday. Need to register again. Slightly agitated I remove (forget) the wifi network and logon again. Once on the register screen shows, I enter my email address and mobile number.

After a few minutes I receive an SMS detailing my new password to access the internet. After entering my credentials again I am now all set, 7 days of interrupted sorry uninterrupted internet access.   

So I head off to Youtube to search for an inspiring TED talk about intrinsic motivation to start my week off, um sorry? You are joking? The internet policy forbids me from accessing this site? I need to raise a ticket with the service desk that my manager will need to approve, it’s low impact and low urgency, it’s only my motivation that’s impacted and that isn’t listed as a system so i’m “other”.
OK, no bother i’ll get on with some “real work”. I was on leave on Friday so probably a good idea to check emails I flagged when I was going through them on my phone during my day off, god bless technology, ensuring I’m “always on”.
My email isn’t syncing? A popup? That’s annoying. My password has expired and needs to be changed? FFS it’s been 28 days since I last changed my password, to think I scoffed at the 6 day reminder last week, how time flies.
So I reset my password and my emails begin to sync, while I wait I find myself pondering again.   
Maybe a new challenge would be good? This environment is quite restrictive….so what next? Coaching?, consulting? My own venture?….i’ve been quit interested working with Director level roles and supporting with strategy creation and observing leadership types, maybe that’s an area? 
My emails have synced, I’ll give that all some more thought later…….
On reflection this really is a case of local optimisation, teams doing their best locally not understanding the impact to the wider value stream by making changes within a specific team. Often this happens as there is no clear strategy in these areas and no idea of who is impacted when change is made. 

Our IT support teams are busy implementing the latest security standards and policies without balancing that risk reduction versus the massive inefficiency and creation of waste across the business.

Whilst we are driven to create amazing products and deliver great service to our customers, we also should not forget the engagement and motivation of our staff, I don’t mean via the annual engagement survey and “working parties”. What I’m talking about is from a strategy perspective understanding what you want to be good at as a business and how can you bring your teams with you.

If high staff motivation, engagement, effectiveness, low churn, autonomy and development are important to the organisation then put the measures of success in these areas clearly up on the wall. Let the teams know it’s important and encourage them to talk about these things all the time, that’s where agile and in particular Scrum help as they ensure regular discussions about feeling, happiness and effectiveness. Don’t let frustrations eat away at your teams motivation. The talented ones will walk away and those that stay will use the annual engagement survey for a good old rant. 

Show you care, make maintaining and improving motivation and team efficiency and effectiveness part of your strategy. It needs to be encouraged culturally and needs support from an investment perspective, it won’t happen by magic.

Stay lean. Be agile.

Do you understand what agile means?

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Agile, oh agile, what art thou.

For those that understand the values and principles and can apply them begin to understand that agile is about attitude and mindset. Seeing change as a positive thing for individuals, our teams, our companies and the wider world around us.

For some, agile is simply another project management tool, for some its process transformation and for some it’s a way to change culture. Because it’s a set of values it will mean something different to everyone.

If you only change the way you manage projects then this might not be effective if the organisation strategy doesn’t allow reaction to industry, technology or consumer behavioural change, if you only change process but don’t recruit for mindset and values then culture might be impacted as teams might not collaborate and be driven to continuously improve and keep quality high and costs low. If you only do things aesthetically then you will have beanbags and pool tables but no autonomy, mastery or purpose for your talented team.

I recently joined one of the best known multi-channel and multi-national department stores and was lucky enough to be able to spend 3 months observing behaviour. Everything is driven out of behaviour good or bad. That is created by the things we make clear as measures of success.

“Tell me how you measure me, and I will tell you how I will behave” Eli Goldratt

In our case revenue, margin and cashflow. Teams work hard, long hours and try and keep morale high but without a clear vision, strategic objectives and company wide measures of success then the waves of more projects just keep coming.

Agile isn’t just project management and delivery related, to understand the values of agile and to a different extent the sentiment of servant leadership then you start to realise how detrimental a prescriptive and visionless set of Directors can be. With projects and timelines and costs strictly controlled from those above, with no way to prioritise work holistically and with measures of success unclear, where does the autonomy, mastery and purpose come from?

No longer can companies professing to be “going agile” and “focusing on digital” being “customer centric” and “mobile first” look to treat IT and the wider business as simply a code delivery machine. The whole purpose of cross functional, co-located, autonomous teams is to encourage a clear focus on solving customer problems and motivation through delivery of goals.

Hitting budget and dates and scope is meaningless if the outcome isn’t met, or worse the outcome never really known.

“Let’s refresh the [input something here] part of the website….Why? We haven’t changed it for a while”.

I’ve heard statements like that alot over the years. I’m sure we are all trying our best and applying our knowledge as best we can but if this were our company and our money would we really be investing it in this way?

If we stick to agile and lean principles then these amazing people we have in our companies will deliver even greater results. What we as leaders need to understand is that to facilitate this we need to change, we need to be servant leaders not dictating project deliverables and timelines, we need to provide vision, inspiration, clear measures of success and most importantly our time and support.

Leaders sat in offices, door shut, making decisions is a thing of the past. Companies that persist with this behavior will drive the best talent away.

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

Acknowledge many aspects of your organisation will be challenged when you ask teams to focus on agile and lean values and most importantly help to solve them.

I recently heard the statement that an aspect of our ways of working was “off the table”, really sad to hear as this particular thing was most certainly a blocker, persisting with such stubbornness will only mean the organisation fails in the long run.

So my real point is when, as a leader, you decide we are “going agile” make sure you are ready to truly support your amazing teams in evolving your business, it won’t just be about code and deployment. You will likely be discussing remuneration, recruitment, finance capitalisation policy, governance, risk management, accounting, contracts, supplier management, software licenses, budgets, PMO, line management, training, coaching, mentoring, technology stacks, user centred design, C level roles and responsibilities, strategy, vision, leading measures…..and many more.

It’s all very healthy and all very expected. Remember change is the new constant. Evolve or die.

Stick close the the values and you won’t go far wrong.

The values of the Agile Manifesto
Individuals and interactions
Working product is the measure of success
Customer collaboration
Responding to change

Principles of lean

5stepslean

The tea run


It occurred to me today when waiting to use the hot water machine why the ‘tea round’ bothered me so much.

It wasn’t that my introverted self hated the interaction or the reliance on others, it was in fact due to it being anti lean.
Without knowing it the lady in front of me was batching. She was negatively impacting me and others. 

 The tea round ensures her team can remain focused on important work and deliver value as expected. For me and those behind me we remain idle.

She was also inadvertently changing the behaviour of her team. Rather than drink when their own body decided it was right they are locked in this self enforced sustenance batch. 

All tea value comes out at the end. The tea made first gets cold. You will make one first, there is always one person who wants green tea or worse just hot water so that they can put a slice of lemon in it……madness. So quality suffers.

So next time you offer to make the team tea think about the impact on those teams around you, don’t batch, avoid locally optimising. Be aware of others using the tea system and the impact on their lead times.

Maybe I shouldn’t think so much and lighten up? Never. Get lean.

 

Servant leadership, the baby and the stairs

As my beautiful daughter undertook her first trip up the stairs not only did I feel a wave of emotion that she was growing up faster than I would like but also about servant leadership and Agile, I never stop thinking about Agile (not even when buried in a waterfall)

My daughter knew where she wanted to go and an instinct on how to get there. Those things are very important.

She was clear on the why (the mission), in this case I believe it was to retrieve her beloved doggy who was on the landing. She also had a good idea on the how, she had climbed single steps before to get between rooms so how hard could 14 steps be?

So armed with a desire and some previous simple experiments to arm her with some knowledge, she set off. On the first attempt she got a little over confident and lost her balance and bumped down a few steps. After the tears we set off again, I say we, this was her mission.

Following her up to step 5 she suddenly made a lunge for a glass lamp that you can get to through the banister (she wasn’t aware that grabbing and throwing a glass lamp would have undesirable consequences). So I grabbed the lamp and put it back on the shelf and set her focus back on climbing the stairs.

From then on she was getting quicker and more confident only occasionally losing her footing and I could put my hand under her to make sure she didn’t fall.

She got to the top of the stairs and retrieved dog, she was so pleased with her achievement she immediately demanded milk, shaking it furiously like Lewis Hamilton afer a recent Formula1 victory, I then closed the stair gate, exhausted by the sudden progress in her and realising the stairs were now a game.

On reflection I realised that I had just fallen back into servant leadership.
Lead when people ask to be led, at all other times see how you can serve. It was my role as someone with more experience not to tell/show her how to climb the stairs or to tell her she wasn’t allowed. It was something she wanted to do and I had no reason to stop her other than fear of the unknown.

I made sure I kept behind her to make sure she could make mistakes but nothing that would hurt her, bumping a few steps is something she can learn from, smashing lamps of falling the full flight of stairs isn’t what we want.

She figured out all by herself the correct movement for her to navigate the steps. Right leg first to push up and left for balance, I didn’t need to force her technique on her.

As leaders we don’t always need to set the mission (although we must ensure there is a visible mission) and we don’t always need to force our teams to follow a certain technique or working practice just because we think it’s the most effective.

As leaders we must inspire our teams, lead when we need to lead and serve when we need to serve ensuring our teams learn through making mistakes without putting themselves or the products, business or customer in danger.

 

Curiosity may have killed the cat but at least it died trying to be innovative

Curiosity may have killed the cat but at least it died trying to be innovative   Google Docs

Agile principles should provide the perfect environment for the innovation fire to burn brightly.

Autonomy for development teams, cross functional and self organising in nature.  Understanding the why, access to customers and an eye on technical excellence.  So why does it seldom spark the blaze?

curiosity and innovation   Google Search

Curiosity is not asking questions – that just elicits information for a solution – that’s problem solving. True curiosity is to engage your interest in whatever is happening currently, large or small,  interesting or tedious.

Throughout history we have seen creativity and innovation come from the most surprising of places.  

The invention of the post-it note and Splenda, to the cure for Smallpox, have all come from those involved using curiosity to discover solutions to problems.  Hooking onto sometimes tiny details that others would miss.


So how was the cure for Smallpox discovered? Was it a bolt of inspiration that created the cure? Lots of work with medical experts? The creative thinking came from a conversation with a milk maid.
Those who had Cowpox had built an immunity to Smallpox. This led to the creation of the vaccination that would give immunity to the rest of the population.

Everyone knew that there was a pattern meaning milk maids were at low risk of getting Smallpox. It was so common place that there was this link, so obvious, that it was overlooked.  It was also due to the fact that Edward Jenner had the tenacity and conviction to bring attention to the fact and ensure widespread education and immunisation.

In science credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not the man to whom the idea first occurs.

— Francis Galton

Creativity is not always a sudden event, it does not occur as you sit more or less passively, it is not a thing its an activity,  the attention we pay to the small things around us.  Listening to an answer and following up with other questions, taking a real interest in people and situations.

We are too often in the modern workplace too busy to really pay attention to the small things that matter.

Inspiration develops from the habit of consistently paying attention to life’s small moments.

Another important emotion is embarrassment (gap between what you feel you should have done and what you actually did). Its instinctive to avoid it by covering up the mistake and not having the conversation.  Even those who own up to mistakes and recover the situation and even laugh at themselves, still seek to move on quickly.  What if you try to stare down into the gap and look for unexamined assumptions and bring them to light.

In the Labs of Queen Elizabeth College a worker was handling substances relating to new and improved insecticides.  He misheard what his lab boss said and although he was asked to test it he thought they said he should taste it. Not put off by his embarrassment he spent a year then perfecting a sweetener, known as Splenda.


18s16f3bzctidjpgShortly after the end of World War II, Percy Spencer, already known as an electronics genius and war hero, was touring one of his laboratories at the Raytheon Company. He stopped momentarily in front of a magnetron, the power tube that drives a radar set. Feeling a sudden and strange sensation, Spencer noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket had begun to melt.

Spencer, who obtained 120 patents in his lifetime, knew how to apply his curiosity. So he did what any good inventor would do – he went for some popcorn. Spencer didn’t feel like a snack, he asked for unpopped popcorn. Holding the bag of corn next to the magnetron, Spencer watched as the kernels exploded into puffy white morsels.

From this simple experiment, Spencer and Raytheon developed the microwave oven.


travelcheck

A dislike of wastefulness is the mother of invention – when time is wasted you can lose your temper and replace the item or act with curiosity – how can I prevent waste happening again.  

James C. Fargo, president of the American Express Company, was well off and well known. It’s not surprising that he felt insulted when he couldn’t get cheques cashed during a trip to Europe in 1890. But the European bankers were steadfast. Fargo was not known to them, so they would not cash his cheques. Was an American always going to have a cash problem when travelling in Europe?
An employee of the American Express Company, Marcellus F. Berry, set out to find a solution. He wrote later: “There’s one thing every person does in a distinctive way. That is writing his signature. Therefore the foolproof device for taking money to strange places must carry the signature of the bearer. It must declare that it will be cashed only when a second, and matching, signature is added before witnesses.” On July 7, 1891, Berry was granted four copyrights for what he called “the travelers cheque,” and William Fargo, James Fargo’s son, got the first one. He had no difficulty when he wanted fifty dollars a few weeks later in Leipzig, Germany.

Creativity doesn’t require any special talent only attention.  Kaizen steps can help you become attentive.

We often hear people describe innovation as a thing that people do, if only we had more time for it, if only we had a team for it, without realising that innovation is everyone’s  responsibility. We just need to encourage the curiosity.  To create that trusting and safe environment where failure and embarrassment are not just acceptable but encouraged, where its seen as a learning tool.  Where ideas can come together.  To be seen as  a learning organisation.


Actually getting out there and talking to your customers and helping solve their problems, not just sitting alone in your office waiting for a great idea. Inventiveness occurs when you truly care about the little problems.

fearWhilst all of this sounds easy  its not actually how  we  are  all designed to react in these situations.  The chemistry of the body  and the brain  mean that we will find it difficult to react in this curious way whenever failure and embarrassment occur.

There are techniques such as mindsculptor to help with training yourself to be more curious, to overcome fear and inhibition.

Some of the best products and services come when people react in a curious way when in stressful situation. Curiosity is not our instinct, the Limbic system in our brain (amygdala) is activated by stress and the body is then flooded with anger and worry.  The creative cortex is shut down.  

You can learn to react differently to stress, replace fear with curiosity and get that creativity back.
Rehearse acting in a curious way. Only you can do it.  Do something amazing.

Article inspired by the book, the Kaizen way by Robert Maurer

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