Stuffing my face in the name of digital

Picture the scene, in fact no, just look at it below….

Walking across the Thames after a beer after work with a friend and off home to retrieve my dinner out of the dog. When alas I discover the trains are delayed. Damn Govia Thameslink!
What to do? Sit and wait 30mins for the next train? What a waste of time. So my hungry self decides to walk back across the river and take in the magic of London on a summers evening. 

At that moment I had a craving for burger, not just any burger, a gourmet burger. I looked on their mobile site to see if they did takeaway, I was inspired by a story of George Osborne having one delivered (that might have been Byron).

On pressing takeaway I was invited to download the app, 90 seconds later it was installed, almost brings a tear to the eye considering that would have taken all evening in the late 90s.

I registered on the app, got my card out my wallet and scanned it, all numbers were magically lifted into the app (ignoring the fact they didn’t have apple pay or paypal, having to get my card out, what a disgrace).
I chose a burger, camemburger as I’m a cheese fiend, and it detected my nearest GBK (only have 0.3miles to stagger) and paid using my previously scanned card. Even 3D secure wasn’t required for this transaction ūüôā

My estimated time was a short while after I arrived so I used the facilities (needed due to the aforementioned beer). My burger arrived early at 20.30. 

I then headed off to the train station to inflict my disgusting burger eating on other innocent train passengers……Don’t look at me, I know I’m disgusting…….

God bless our connected world from turning a train delay into an efficient and delicious dinner, driven by digital.

Agile is just words?


I started thinking the other day about words and just how important they can be when associated with creating, driving and influencing change.


I remember talking to a frustrated developer who questioned the Agile movement and all the new words particularly in Scrum and in our adoption of the Spotify model.¬†Scrum, sprints, guilds….they were still doing the same job so what was different?


I had the same realization when I worked with the HR department. Lots of HR teams have re-branded as ‘people teams’ but again, what do the new words mean, why bother?


I’ve worked with supportive and knowledgeable people teams and i’ve worked with some unhelpful and process driven people teams. It wasn’t until recently that I realized the importance of words being supported by strong leadership and purpose.

“Strategy Without Execution Is Hallucination”


When a company introduces the spirit and values of agility in it’s people, processes and strategy or when it renames HR to the People team what we really are looking for is a change in behavior.


I once remember a conversation about the use of the word ‘resources’, one company CEO demanded the word be banished from all conversations, processes and internal communications. A strong statement that they cared about people and did not wish to dehumanize them with the phrase resources.


That got me thinking that words are used to change behavior, once the behavior is changed and the right habits are in place the words become less important. In some companies we can talk about people as resources because the behavior and culture is already at a healthy level.


The same can be said for Agile, some will say it’s just common sense, and I agree, but the words are there to remind us of what values and principles we are aiming for and to help influence a change in our behavior.


So remember, next time you are invited to a retrospective or Kaizen, these are not just silly names for project updates or briefings these are your opportunity to embrace and influence change, collaborate as a group and talk about how you feel about your purpose, the team and the wider business.


The people team should also remember that they are there to support the growth, development and success of people rather than just becoming admin and pointing people to pages on the intranet. Cultivating talent and leading by example, ensuring learning and development is a core value rather than just something available if people have time.


If you are crafting words then choose your words carefully and embrace the power of change, if you are someone questioning “yet another new internal communication with new words” really think about why these new words are being used, what is Agile, Kaizen and Scrum? better still go and ask whoever wrote it or said it, as they should know the change they are trying to influence and the behavior they want to see.




Making Product Owners redundant?


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.

The importance of being human in recruitment


I’ve just had the privilege of going through the recruitment process with a few very different organisations and the experience of each was very different.

I started to wonder if some companies really truly think about how they recruit and how this affects the type of individual they attract, hire and retain.

From the ease at which you can make any written application, through to the medium you choose for the first human contact (email, phone, video call) to how you keep candidates engaged and motivated throughout the process.

The very best experiences I had, and I’m very lucky to say the roles I were offered, kept in contact with me throughout, understood me as a person, my motivations and my personal life and family considerations.

They were clear to keep thoughts, objectives and the process steps transparent. Understanding that any recruitment needs to be mutually beneficial for both of us and I need to know how I will benefit the company and vice versa.

Some HR teams seem very process focused, “we need a [skill]”, here’s 5 CVs, lets do a few face to face interviews and get them in and straight onto the project. In that regard even if you get lucky and get someone with the right mindset as well as the the correct experience this might not be the most engaging start for them.

I’ve also observed how a sluggish process where decisions and stages seem to happen in batches and with long lead times become almost symptomatic of the culture and process of the organisation, a limited number who are available and can make decisions and perhaps too much process and governance to allow agility.

In the worst of these cases the bulk of the recruitment process was outsourced to an agency. It was many weeks before I got to speak to the actual managers within the organisation. Very little was done to introduce the company.

Think in this situation what does this say about your focus on getting the right people? why would an agency understand your culture and required mindset better than your actual teams? if you feel like you are simply jumping through hoops to be sifted you will quickly lose patience.

I am a big believer in an agile approach,¬†bringing the teams into the recruitment process, these new team members are exactly that and it’s fundamental you get the right people with the right attitudes, behaviors and mindset.

Run recruitment as you would anything else, with focus, with honesty and transparency.

Engage teams in the process, be informative, ask candidates what they will do when they are in the role. Make interviews collaborative, ensure the recruitment process places importance on the values of your organisation, if teamwork, ownership and respect are important then test for them.

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior…..

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.

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 ( 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.