Do this weekly. Heck daily – if you’re brave enough. Challenge your team to do regular retrospectives.
The biggest #GROWTHHACK I can think of is consistent and regular review of:
– What worked?
– What didn’t?
– What are we going to change?
The best organisations have mastered this rapid iteration and constant velocity of improvement. Taking cues from Ray Dalio’s Principles – the top 1% document their change decisions so that even the way they learn (and make decisions) evolves.
I’m an Achilles heel, but I know it! The nature of our industry implies we have teachers, head teachers, academic leaders and a principal or CEO.
This centralised hierarchical structure means we have clear interfaces with the government and regulatory bodies, roles with built in dependancies, and bottlenecks when it comes to decisions. From a risk perspective these bottlenecks are strategic weak points. Heck even my current job title, Head of Marketing, sounds ripe for lopping off and leaving a lifeless directionless body…
It’s an org structure that historically has been well adopted, but is it the right structure for today’s VUCA world?
Beyond my KPIs as a Marketing Director, I see my role in any organisation as head of distribution. Where possible moving from a centralised system to a distributed model. At least in terms of our marketing capacity if not the wider organisation.
Creating scaffolding. Enabling with tools that allow open records, transparency around actions and accountability, and systems that empower my team to make decisions that better serve customers.
So why did the centralised systems form?
When we identify chaos our first reaction is to classify what we’re seeing, create order and build complex systems to make the chaos understandable and tolerable. It’s why we have forms, policies, procedures and why everyone (except well intended guests and relatives) puts the coffee cups back in the same spot. It creates efficiency.
But at the start, who decides if your draw goes knife-fork-spoon or spoon-fork-knife?
Historically we had tribal leaders that knew what to do and could make decisions. Without procedures or scaffolding, we would look to those leaders for guidance. It seemed like the right way to run a company. When you get a lot of bodies together it seemed easier to control them through orders and one commanding voice. Think of that guy on the megaphone at a busy ferry terminal or at the start of a marathon, barking orders usually on a platform in a top down fashion.
A tribal leader was usually, in Darwinistic fashion, the toughest or strongest one that could win the battles.
Decentralised Was A Step Forward
As globalism spread, we realised that a certain degree of decentralisation had to occur. If just, as an example, to scale and let the East India Company make decisions that couldn’t be shipped back and forth like goods every month.
Progressing slightly, decentralised movements gave some resilience. Each node has a head and the required body parts to function. But the constant battle is to standardise processes and procedures again in order to make sense of the differing markets. You loose economies of scale, as you gain some independence and diversity of revenue.
Distributed Independent Organisms – Starfish over Spiders
Modern first world society has become so dependent on centralised structures that we are all just 9 meals away from anarchy. So how do we mitigate this reliance? Re-wilding and home grown organics maybe? We’d be distributed for sure.
What if we look back beyond our assumption that an organisation is a tribe that needs leadership. What if we saw it as an organism?
Highly responsive, naturally resilient and adaptive, distributed systems and organisations cannot be controlled. This is in fact the basis of internet, a distributed system.
Here are a few more examples:
Wikipedia – Where no one author or contributor is responsible for verifying an entry, it has become a very strong source of basic encyclopaedic knowledge.
Terrorist cells – Modern terrorist cells are very hard to immobilise as each cell operates independently and can do so without revealing themselves through communication with others. In fact the most effective counterterrorist efforts have been conducted in cell like, rogue units, operating disconnected from the typical structured (predictable and traceable) Seal and SAS efforts.
Epidemics – AIDS and Bird flu are particularly hard to fight as our antibacterial usage struggles to combat continuous mutation and developing separate strains.
Enspiral (New Zealand) a cohort of self managing, distri ventures.
But why create something so organic/different from our current societal norms Nick?
Are generation X,Y and Z customer and cause, not company focused?
Centralised organisations are very internally focused and looking up for guidance. Internal noise in many instances can drown out the outside world. At the very least it can leave your speech filled with acronyms and make communication with customers difficult.
Leaders now need to focus on managing the environment, connecting people with the purpose of the organisation and maintaining accountability.
Is it time to remove our exoskeleton and open up a connection with the customer?
Should we let the customer decide or lead the way?
Developing small distributed agile teams I believe is the way to go. It will take a while, and many may never to shed their hierarchies.
Design thinking and distributed teams are a good step in the right direction.
If they ever perfect teleportation I’ll be a late adopter. Sure it would save time but for so many events arriving or getting there is the best part. Think of the pilgrimages, flying around the Sugarloaf mountain into Rio de Janeiro, or into Manhattan from JFK in a yellow cab.
All too often in business we are far too focused on the end goal and ignore the journey, the learning it offers and the chance to improve as we go.
More importantly, we don’t give proper recognition to progress. Why do we wait until a project is complete rather than celebrating the little wins along the way? Quick wins deserve celebrations too!
So many project wins are an anticlimax that could be chopped into micro moments of merriment!
A framework exists for working in incremental micro-moments, that creates agility, flexibility, and engagement. Agile Project Management is spreading throughout the organisation, not just in software development teams.
Why move to Agile Project Management?
May teams move to Agile project management because they can see the productivity and velocity benefits, or they like the idea of being able to change the product being created as they go – a misguided idea. The real benefits I think are in the way teams are recognised and released to do their best work.
The Scrum Tight Four: Sprint Planning, Daily Stand-Ups, Sprint Review, and Sprint Retrospective
Beyond their original intent – helping software teams build better products – the Scrum framework is fantastic for employee engagement.
A recent Gallup poll suggests 30% of employees strongly agree that their manager involves them in goal setting. Employees whose managers involved them in goal setting are 3.6x more likely than other employees to be engaged.
Sprint planning before each period of work allows the Product Owner to prioritise and refine the stories (goals) they wish to complete for the sprint. AND it involves the team doing the work, they help form the solution, how long it will take and what done looks like. They have ownership of the goal.
Every day the team communicate with each other (not to their boss) what they have done since last time, what they are working on today and what is impeding their work.
Done – creates a sense of belonging, responsibility and a little bit of competitiveness and support. If one team member is ahead the others might compete to get more done, or offer support to someone who is struggling.
Doing – lets the team see what they aim to accomplish, they can see if others are in need and where there are external dependencies, they can choose to cooperate or collaborate. My sales teams often prioritise between themselves when there is a queue to get something done externally.
Impediments – any impediments should be minimised but when all the developers are held up by something it needs fixing and you have strength in numbers to get it done.
At the end of the sprint, the team gets to show off the value they have created for customers. Internally, within the team this creates connection as they see how each element is coming together to form a whole. Externally, it allows others to see what the day to day heads down grind is accomplishing. The regular and often reviews create recognition and emphasises the feeling of accomplishment.
Two of the US Navy’s highest performing leaders Leif Babin and Jocko Willink will tell you that there’s no such thing as a perfect team. Circumstances and opponents change, a team must constantly grow. What makes a ‘high performing’ team is their discipline and constant analysis of their performance.
“Don’t count on motivation, count on discipline” – Jocko Willink
Retrospectives allow you to reflect on what’s working, what’s broken and what you’ll do differently next time. The team develops ownership of their performance and what they will do to improve it.
What’s key to a great Retrospective is that it is impersonal. It’s not a time for blaming others, it’s about taking ownership and changing actions for better outcomes. It’s also a time for reflecting on what’s working and doing more of that!
Create discipline around relentlessly doing what it takes to succeed.
Discipline di.sci.pline ˈdɪsɪplɪn: Train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way.
Stickers and Scars
The daily Scrum and the scrum environment always focus on a visible Taskboard. A Whiteboard containing the teams Sprint goals, backlog items, tasks, tasks in progress, “DONE” items and the daily Sprint Burndown chart.
DONE – The DONE column is a spot for STICKERS, patches, and signs of the team’s accomplishments. Every completed Story and Epic is something to hold up, be proud of and stick to the wall for others to see. Pin release feedback, customer star ratings and industry awards to those stickers and attribute them and the team’s actions to your wins.
SCARS – Scars are where strong teams take the lead. They pin their failures right beside their stickers. Reminders of what not to do with analysis and actions from it.
Take Action with Agile
I’m starting personal analysis now but my guess is teams using the Agile framework that recognise Superstars regularly will out-perform those who get a complement sandwich and annual bonus.
If you’re interested in boosting engagement, velocity, visibility and transparency in your teams by adopting Agile practices, get in touch.
When it’s your socks that need changing most people can sense, assess and respond with appropriate action. But when you’re marching days into the arctic circle, your main issues is survival, not stench. Frostbite, not the fragrance of your socks.
When normal is abnormal and you have multiple inputs you look to group and rationalise so that you can act accordingly. You create routine and discipline to make things simple.
The day ends, socks from everyone in the family go in the wash (grouped in the washing basket), we put new ones on tomorrow (found in our individual drawers).
In fact, I’m grateful that most of us have accepted the standard daily routine and haven’t chosen to optimise or experiment in sock longevity.
How about when things are more complicated?
How do you deal with multi touch attribution in marketing, while the market is in flux? How do you fund your entry to a new market with confidence, while exiting another?How do you work out if something is normal, when you’re doing it for the first time?
Huh, it’s no wonder there’s mixed satisfaction with first times given the varying research, scenarios, and inputs that go into them.
Heck if THAT first time had a stakeholder brief, a pre-meeting meeting, budget analysis, room allocation and a pre-mortem I’m sure billions would have far better memories of their first time. Such is the irony that those who have worked in large corporate multinationals can attest to: you often have far too much planning involving far too many, for events that should be a walk in the park for two.
So standard events and first times we can handle, but what do you do with chaos, disruption, and disorder?
“Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.” — Mike Tyson
Dealing with utter chaos
There’s a framework I was introduced to a couple of years back that builds from the Agile cycle of Launching, Analysing, Learning, and Adjusting. The Cynefin Framework, penned by Dave Snowden almost 20 years ago is the perfect aid for today’s VUCA world.
Simple or Complicated?
When confronted by seeming disorder, in most cases we can: sense, categorise and respond. Some points may require analysis but overall we can form best practice and good practice to deal with most scenarios.
When things are complex we can: probe, sense what’s happening and respond. This works when there is some sort of flow or pattern occurring that we can see happening. Think of putting patches on a leaking boat to see which stops the water coming in.
When there are one hundred holes in your plan, profits leaking everywhere but it’s all going in one direction you can probe, sense which holes are now leaking less, and respond. The patterns are complex, but you can start to move them into some complicated best practice.
When there’s no order, rhyme or reason: act.
Things seem uncontrollable, so act through which you control, sense what happens and respond.
Next, hunt for leverage.
Act. Start creating and pulling levers one by one.
Discover the biggest lever and pull harder.
Turn the chaos into order and set the direction you desire. The art is focusing on the right big levers.
“ You’re better off not giving the small things more time than they deserve.” — Marcus Aurelius
From Chaos To Simplicity And Back
The best companies in the world and products, take us from seemed chaos to simplicity.
Spotify use machine learning to take us from a bunch of CDs on the wall to a play list that suits us, our mood, and activity.
Amazon takes the chaotic world of online shopping creating a simple categorised way to hunt for your Christmas gifts.
Apple took a complex digital camera and put it in your phone for in-focus shots from your lock screen. They combined it with a bunch of other things that used to take a backpack to carry, but now fit simply in your hand.
The key for growth being that continual path from chaos to simplicity and ensuring that for your customers: simplicity doesn’t equal boring and repetitive. The most thriving brands and platforms have variety, novelty, and investment. They’re not just simple.
Their simplicity enables complex and chaotic interactions.
You came to Facebook or Instagram for the easy photo uploads and the novelty filters or old friend connections. But you come back because of the variety and unpredictable messages (almost chaos) your connections post. You keep coming back because of the investment you’ve made in data, shared history and connecting with a community.
Anyway, before you jump over to Facebook or Instagram…
Spot the complex, get complicated and dive into chaos!
Oh, and please comment, share or like if you think someone else needs a little chaos in their life.
Agile Project management techniques, lean principles, learning and iterating are things that I’ve become quite passionate about over the last years.
Seeing the results that “Going Agile” can bring to an organisation in terms of delivering value to the end user and business value over and beyond traditional methods gets me happy. It makes me think of the other applications for agile outside of software development – ways to really challenge organisations to take it to other teams like marketing and even into the sales and the recruitment process as well.
I even think in minimal viable product terms when I look at websites, marketing materials and even my renovation list at home.
I’ve been down in Christchurch today. Our fighting city in New Zealand that’s grinding its way to recovery from two city flattening earthquakes. A town of survivors, reminded of loss each day. A town that needs to iterate fast to get back on its feet and adopt new practices. We talk of digital disruption, we’ll this town has every disruption, from its core, to its psyche, it’s direction, transportation, infrastructure and lives turned upside down.
Many would say the town council needs to adopt some lines from the agile manifesto “working content over documentation” and “Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – is essential”. Getting themselves up to speed again and functioning in a new normal shall we say.
Despite the hardships the city faces, Jason Wills the CIO of Harcourts introduced me to an excited team. Enthusiastic, that’s focused on improvement and learning. A team that is excited about bringing value to our end users. A team that has adapted Agile project management quickly. Despite being only in their second year of agile the team sizes epics with great accuracy (chunks of work taken into a cycle of development) and knows what they can accomplish in a sprint cycle (the time frames they work in).
Jason and I had a fantastic day and thought we’d summarise some of the key points in a podchat – yes autocorrect I’m making a new word – for you.
Some of the pieces that most surprised me were:
Our commitment to agile, going all in with a coach and training
The rate of agile adoption in New Zealand amongst CIOs
The surprising side effects of agile adoption
The breakdown of knowledge silos
The resolution of business continuity issues through the sharing if knowledge
How it has lead to greater transparency
How the artefacts of scrum, like the scrum board with post it notes depicting workflow, have really helped business prioritisation
And yes, even some agile marketing slips into the mix which I’m amplifying as we role out our strategy.
I’ll let Jason continue the journey but please let me know what you think of this podcast format and if you’d like to hear more. I’m keen to start talking about incremental improvements, business value and that crossover between online and offline.
I’ve been talking to another of our Harcourts leaders Gilbert Enoka, the mental skills coach for New Zealand’s greatest sporting team the mighty All Blacks rugby squad. Hopefully he’ll share some tips and insights in a coming podcast too!