Agile, leadership, thoughts

Stickers, Scars and ENGAGED Agile Superstars

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.

Sprint Planning

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.

Daily Stand-Ups

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.

Sprint Review

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.

Recognition breeds engagement.
Accomplishment feeds happiness.

Sprint Retrospective

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.

Standard
Finding your way in Chaos with Agile techniques - Cynefin Framework
Agile, leadership, thoughts

Is this normal? How can I deal with chaos?

The one constant in life and business is change.

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.

Complex?

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.

Chaotic?

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 commentshare or like if you think someone else needs a little chaos in their life.

Standard
agilemarketing

Radical Restructures and Self-Organising Teams at TradeMe

trademe numbers

Responsible for 2/3rds of New Zealand’s local internet traffic and with 3.4 million members (3/4 of the local population), TradeMe is New Zealand’s second largest internet company. So strong that eBay can’t edge into their space. Most amazing of all is their ability to sell 3000 chickens on the website each day!

Despite using Agile project management and all the latest technology to build their platforms in a customer centric manner, they still face all the problems of any other internet based business does, in terms of developing their software teams.

The Self-Organising Organisation – Total Squadification at TradeMe

On Wednesday I heard from David Mole @molio and Sandy Mamoli @smamol who described their story and the steps they took to scale their teams using a self organising approach.

TradeMe we’re starting new stories to create features regularly but not shipping at the rate they expected

Last years they were in a situation that might be familiar to some of us. Despite their best estimates and efforts, they struggled to release incremental changes on a regular basis. Deployment wasn’t an issue, they had two deployments a day but team members were being stretched across multiple teams and dependencies and bottlenecks were developing.

Coupled with the odd “I need x by tomorrow” feature that would appear form their CEO, the core original developers were being pulled from teams to work on a specific new feature. Entire new teams were hired to help them do it. This method of growth meant an expert was involved, but that the team went through Tuckman’s phases on a regular basis.

Portfolio cards on the wall showed all the projects going on but still new features were being prioritised and there were bottlenecks with testing, design and acceptance.

Management brought us these “just get it done” jobs and they took someone from the roots of our organisation with knowledge to the top of this new project. If we were playing Jenga – our team was starting to look like this. ~ David

Jenga


Clearly, dictating ‘who works on what and how’ wasn’t working, but what could?

Their FedEx Hackathon days provided inspiration for a solution

FedEx day: A 24 hour build to push out something cool. FedEx days were about getting stuff done in a fun way. Enjoying working with your teammates on something cool. And of course the question arose: why can’t it be FedEx day every day?

If we were privy to a FedEx day we’d see:

  • All participants wanted to be part of a cross functional team.
  • Teams were small. The biggest had 6 members.
  • Nobody is multitasking.
  • Nobody was worrying about being idle.

Much like a great team building day.

Could squads be the answer and could they scale it?
It was Scrum at its finest and it got them thinking of Squads. Small stable teams who work sequentially on one thing. The evils of multitasking never cuts in!

Others had led the way but TradeMe needed to do it on a much larger scale

Spotify have written an amazing white paper and selection of accompanying video presentation about how they structure their development team. Have a look at the white paper tribes, squads, chapters and guilds from Spotify.

fear


Of course fear of change kicked in. There’s a big difference between being agile and doing agile. They were adamant that the process shouldn’t be at the detriment of creativity. So rather than tackling the most resistant part of the organisation which might seem like a good move, they decided to take 20 of the most shining team members and polish them to a diamond.

Then they’d bring others along quickly!

Total Squdification, a pilot and then all in!

After meticulous preparation, in a single day they brought the group of twenty together and asked them to self organise into squads.

Product Owners pitched the steam of work that each squad would work on and despite their fears, the team behaved like trusted professionals and self selected three squads. Fully skilled and with all the team members required. Ready to work with people they enjoyed working with on a project they were interested in.

With a successful pilot as proof of concept, they they implemented Total Squadification across the entire 100 plus member team. Creating 10 of their required 11 squads in a single day.

Sandy has a great write up on the process here and a Team self selection kit to help others wanting to implement a similar model.
It’s a spectacular feat that had many pitfalls along the way. A single blog post wouldn’t do the intricacies of their preparation justice.

It’s also the results that excite me.

Self organising teams upped productivity, morale, retention and business results

When Sandy and David began their squadification day, they asked that the team think not only of what is right for the but also what’s best for TradMe. Thinking of their needs and that of the business has meant that six months in and all metrics are up and continue to rise.

Understanding that people know themselves best and that they know themselves better than their manager, was proven. The squads are still intact and working well. The process has also identified the projects no one wants to touch, which has helped them recruit specialist for those projects.

Could this work in your organisation?

On of the greatest benefits I see of self organising is that beyond getting to work with people you prefer to work with on things you prefer the culture changes. I think these type of changes would occur:

  • Not being told what to work on allows teams to follow their passion.
  • Members will feel more inclined to speak up about their ideas for improvements.
  • They will think of the team and the company more than their individual goals.
  • If squadification day became regular, or if trading windows were opened like in football for people to shift squads, then the idea of guilds and chapters would prosper.
  • Chapters of designers would meet regularly to share insights and techniques. Guilds of a specific industry or sector would share knowledge and ideas for how to make each squad function better.

All and all it was an insightful evening and I’m still thinking through this and it’s ramifications on job structure and the sharing economy. A blog post to come soon.

So to wrap up, could this work in your organisation? Are there team members and projects you’d love to work on or instigate? Are there team members that might not make the cut, or some you’d like to buy in from other teams? Let me know in the comments.

Standard
agilemarketing, content marketing, social media

Tuning in to brand channels on social media

New media marketers are adamant that their platforms and channels should be treated differently to traditional media. For decades we as marketers have been placing ads, commercials and the likes into existing channels. Channels that a certain target market are interested in and follow religiously.

View this post on Instagram

Radio

A post shared by Nick Allen (@nickwallen) on

We purchase or rent slots within these channels in the hope that our messages and marketing will reach its target audience. Ads that were expected to sell you things – on a channel where feedback is indirect and can take forever.

To the untrained marketer – Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are seen as channels themselves. When in fact they are merely the media or medium for your channel. Using the old approach you throw in advertising or content that is similar to the work created to fall between engaging prime time shows. Ads with nothing between them, thus creating a channel of sell, sell, sell.

Social media provides instant measurable qualitative and quantitative feedback to your marketing.

Your presence on social ‘media’ are true channels. Excite and entertain your audience!

It is the role of the brand to develop their pages and their @ handles into channels. Channels that would be of interest to the target audience. Channels that entertain, educate, excite and create admiration. Channels that are so engaging that people don’t mind when the odd sales piece comes through or service announcement is slotted in.

And this is where the art of the community manager / channel manager / producers and marketers comes into play. Balancing the content calendar, scheduling upcoming content and insuring that the programming of the channel is as good as the leading TV channels.

They use data to be agile. They chop features with low ratings and iterate winning posts. They create content with twists and turns that keep them coming back. Storytelling, content marketing, an empathy and true understanding of their audience are key to their art.

That art of creating a seamless blend of content that forms a channel that no one can resist following.

Standard
content marketing, Social CRM, user experience

Getting personal with Buyer Personas

Big data and understanding customer sentiment has been a buzzword for the last few years. Garnering insights and adapting your proposition to suit has been taken to a new levels as we learn to crunch big data sets.

Conversely, running qualitative surveys with clients (enough to be statistically valid) can give valuable, actionable insights.

The trick is conveying these insights in a format that is accessible across the organisation.
Buyer personas are a fantastic tool for combining these qualitative insights, social data, CRM records and basic demographics, into a high level summary.

Having a clear idea of your average customer, you can then move on to the best ways to align your product or service to them.

Typically they will define

  1. Priorities
  2. Success and what it looks like to them
  3. Barriers or things stopping them going with your solution or product
  4. Buying process
  5. Decision criteria.

These personas can then be put to great use when working on marketing user stories and creating solutions to their pain points. They’re fantastic for defining content marketing themes and priorities, allocating expenditure on marketing content and the focus across paid, earned and owned media.

They can also help product owners prioritise backlogs and support their prioritisation – when confronting conflicting interests with internal stakeholders.

In fact, the Buyer Persona Institute (yes it even has it’s own movement) marks – internal preconceptions and guesstimates of what the typical client is – as the biggest hinderance to creating successful buyer personas. Basing the personas on concrete factual input from actual client surveys and interviews is key.

For those daunted by the task of creating these very user centric profiles and negotiating internal stakeholders, remember – we do it every day. I noted on Sunday that we all subconsciously create immensely detailed buyer personas. When we make new friends, go on dates or get to know new colleagues, banking what makes them tick and the best approach to resonate.

Social CRM
Moving beyond the buyer persona, I can’t help but feel that social CRM will allow us to have highly detailed buyer profiles. Not just personas, but detailed dashboards of each buyer or customers interaction with our brand, their sentiment for our industry and peripheral products on social networks and even their purchases, buying habits and triggers.

At a macro level – aggregating these could provide a realtime singular buyer persona or multiple profiles. A daily dashboard to drive strategy and the direction of the company.

At a micro level – the trick will be up-skilling as an organisation to know how best to use this data. Finding the balance with your customers between stalky big brother-ish and delighting interactions and touch points.

Standard
agilemarketing, Strategy

Digital Marketing Strategy and The Product Owner’s Vision

Last week I touched on brand storytelling for businesses. Conveying the ‘why’ you are in business – and how you got there – to your target audiences. This ‘why’ for many companies is core to their business internally as well. Not just in their outward facing sales/marketing/recruitment pitch.

Converting that ‘why’ into strategic digital marketing goals is paramount for an affective web presence. Knowing what success looks like enables you to define key metrics to validate success. It can in most cases influence tactical decisions as well. Guiding your design and execution.

20130505-195454.jpg

Today we sat in the castle grounds and I’m pretty sure from this shot, even blurred, you can tell it’s a castle. Understanding it’s a castle you know what is needed or entailed in the creation of a good castle. Turrets, fortified, gate, maybe a moat, and 9 times out of 10 made of brick or stone. You also know what you don’t need and potentially after building a few, know what works and what doesn’t.

Product owners and their clear vision

Your strategic goals should have a similar broad stroke definition. They should tell you it’s a castle, but not how to build the windows or the finer details of execution. If your site is about new business generation, it should be highly optimised and proportionately text rich. If it is about sharing images it will have a whole different shape. As a lead in digital marketing or product owner for digital, this story belongs to you.

The vision should be well articulated, regularly, to the team.

The clearer the vision, the easier it is for those working on the website to make decisions and proceed. This also extends to epics, and then individual stories or groupings of work.

The vision and prioritising the most important features to users (internal or end users) means that even for release one your website is providing value to users. Much like the journalists inverted pyramid.

From there the vision will dictate your next iterations and the success of the site.

Today’s podcast

A few extras on evaluating you tactical adjustments and refinements against your core goals.

Standard
agilemarketing, thoughts

Digital Project Management and Tuckman’s Phases

Mentoring teams for digital projects and web development can be plain sailing. No, really.

The Psychologist Bruce Tuckman came up with the memorable phrase “Forming, storming, norming and performing” back in 1965 to describe the path to high-performance that most teams follow. Later, he added a fifth stage that he called “adjourning” (that others often call “mourning” – it rhymes a little better). Wikipedia covers them here –  Tuckman’s phases.

Mad Life

The phases can be seen in project teams of any size, formal or informal and in any setting. Understanding the phases is step one. Knowing how to navigate through each phase at an appropriate speed is the leader’s art. But also a skill for all team members.

Icebreakers, the more embarrassing the better, are great tools to break down the barriers in a Forming team. Unravelling interlinking hands, naming the teams mascot, balloon passing –  all feel a little bit childish. Yet remember how innovative we were as kids. How free our thoughts were…

The Storming phase, despite its name, can be innovation at its best. In a strict management led project – where the projects manager dictates workloads, task and roles – the manager can control overtly domineering team members and assert their positions, tasks and roles. They can also encourage the introverts and push the team through the phases.  Self selecting and self regulating teams, like those in Scrum don’t have this “luxury”, which in a way is a blessing. Team members fall to tasks which they can best perform.

The Product Owner’s job is to ensure they are focusing on the most valuable tasks to complete the project. They must instil an understand of what it is brining to the end product. Giving them an understanding of what, why and when lets them focus on the how.

A good example of teams passing through the Forming and Storming stages in subsequent iterations is the improvements in sizing. As the team learn to understand those that are optimistic and pessimistic about the complexity and time involved in tasks, they learn to how to explain their positioning and understand that of others.

When the team reaches the Storming stage, adhering to strict scrum processes and routine can comfort those who are worried about decisions being made. Point out the phases to team members that have concerns. Also, bear in mind that if your project has dependencies or requires new members mid project, your team to a certain extent, will revert to Forming again.

One Scrum practice that is paramount to the growth of the team is the retrospective after every sprint. An aid to the Mourning or Adjourning phases, the retrospectives focus on open and frank conversation around improvements. This highlights the strengths and weaknesses in the team.

The Mourning, of how things were in their old team encourages members to take the good points through to their next project.

They’ll carry experience of when to sail into the storm and when to tack.

Standard