Sunday, December 10, 2017

In your Business, what are you Optimizing for?

Do you optimize for your customers or for the ease of following a plan or process? Many companies like to say that they optimize for their customers.  However, upon a closer look, you catch the scent that some companies optimize for their own internal processes or plan instead.  When you change the plan, it can disrupt schedules and make it less clear on what will be built for the release, as things tend to evolve.  It will also force re-planning, which can impact dependencies and staffing of the work. One of the Agile values states “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” In other words, Agile advocates the importance of interactions with customer.   

One example of optimizing for a plan or process (instead of the customer) is purposefully avoiding customer feedback because it can force you to adjust the plan which can be messy. Another example that I’ve witnessed several times is when actual customer feedback is captured that indicates a change to customer needs, yet the feedback is ignored since sticking the plan is an easier path.  This is a sign that the organization may be optimizing for their internal processes or the comfort of sticking to the initial plan. When paired with management objectives of sticking to a schedule, this often leads to a mindset of avoiding any change. Does this sound familiar?  Be careful not to fall into this trap.  It can be very easy to do.  It can lead to losing touch with the customer and poor business results.
When you optimize for the customer (external), it will often lead to change.  One of the Agile principles states that you should “Welcome changing requirements”.  The more you interact with your customers (which you should be doing), the more they will provide thoughts or feedback on what they really want. This, in turn, leads to adapting the plan to the great benefit of building something the customer wants.  The net result is an increase in better business results. 

There are several ways to gauge if you are optimizing for the customer or for your internal plan or processes.  A first way is to identify how often you actually engage with customers (and how many) in ceremonies like demos and sprint reviews. Engaging with many customers indicates you are optimizing for the customer while none or few indicates a leaning toward the internal plan.  A second way is to capture how often you actually incorporate customer feedback.  Methodically incorporating feedback indicates that you are optimizing for the customer while incorporating little feedback may indicate a leaning toward following the plan.  As you look around your project, product, or company, ask yourself, who are you optimizing for?  Who should you be optimizing for?       

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Embracing Agile in Tunisia

In October, I had the honor of being the keynote at the first Agile conference in Tunis in the past 4 years (generously sponsored by Vistaprint).  While I was grateful for the opportunity, seeing the number of the attendees from different fields highlighted the attention that Agile was getting in this growing Tunisian economy.  I was impressed by the quality of the professionals and students that attended, coming from a range of companies, government agencies, and universities.
 
My keynote was entitled the “Foundations and Future of Agile”.  You can watch the session here. I started my session by asking the question, “Who do you want to be.”  The intent was to get the audience to consider if they can be more than who they are today and make a commitment to Agile as they approach the future.  I followed this up with, “Who do we want Tunisia to be”?  I provided a vision on how Tunisia can be the pride of Africa. I challenged the participants to become the leaders in Agile and the customer value drive mindset.
To begin the “foundation” portion of my session, I focused on the Agile Values and Principles.  I find that too many companies lead with mechanics and forget the mindset of embracing the values and principles.  Leading with the mindset will remind people why they are doing agile in the first place.  As I shared each principle, one at a time, using a roman voting technique I asked attendees if they believed in each principle. I was pleased to see that there was a strong belief in embracing the principles.  This bodes well for their ability to apply Agile methods and practices and the future of Tunisia. 

As I moved into the “future” portion, I shared the importance of becoming customer value-driven.  I suggest that Agile shouldn’t be done for agile’s sake but instead the goal should be to build a customer value-driven engine. It is the customer who we are serving and who we want to make successful.  As they succeed, so will our business.  I shared the modern concepts of the enterprise kanban, customer value canvas, cost of delay, story mapping, and customer feedback loops.  I wove in the discovery mindset including incremental thinking, psychological safety, and, self-organizing teams.
  
I ended the session by asking again, “Who do you want to be? What is your role in building a greater Tunisia?”  With such potential in the audience from everyone I met, I can understand why some companies are already setting up development centers in Tunis such as Vistaprint.  I ended with asking all of the participants to make a commitment to explore in more detail one of the Agile concepts or mindset elements they learned today.  Almost everyone’s hand went up.  This will help make for a better future in Tunisia. I’m looking forward to it!

Note: 
In addition to my session, the conference included a session by Antonio Gonzalez on “The Role of an Agile Leader” and by JP Beaudry on “The Vistaprint Agile Journey”. Special thanks to Nawel Lengliz and Rahma Arfa for coordinating such a great event and to Walid Abdelaziz for sponsoring the event!  

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Outcomes Matter in an Agile World

The primary outcome of Agile is achieving better business results. This is why outcome based measures are much more aligned with Agile then output measures. Output measures focuses on how much you delivered, while outcome measures focus on the results of what you deliver.  It is the results (aka, the outcomes) that matter. 

Outcome based measures are drivers to help you understand business success.  You may still need some output measures to help you on your way.  Just ensure that they are relevant to help you determine if you are reaching the outcomes you are looking for.  The output could be the delivery of a release or the number of releases.  The outcome is how many customers either bought or used the product release.  Often times people focus on outputs because they tend to be easier to measure or are a carry-over from a more traditional mindset.  
The danger of focusing on outputs is that you may have a high number of outputs with a low number of outcomes.  Outcomes are what drive business success. As illustrated in the chart, it appears that the output of the 4th quarter is best.  However, if you look at the outcomes chart, the 3rd quarter is better with revenues of $80,000 instead of only $20,000 from the 4th quarter. While the output of four releases sounds good, $20,000 is not favorable to good business results. Outcomes  ask you to measure different things, with a particular focus on customer value.

In addition, an outcome focus changes our perspective from internal to a customer or external focus.  This helps us better understand what we are aiming for in the customer value-driven world we need to establish. So next time you are considering measures of success, just remember that outcomes matter!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Agile Games to Accelerate your Agile Transformation

Games are essential to humans to learn and grow. In many cultures, children use games to simulate and gain the skills that they will need as adults.  As an adult, a game can be a quick way to understand a new concept or practice. In the Agile world, Agile games can be used to grasp Agile related concepts. 
As Agile is typically implemented within organizations as they embark on an Agile transformation, games can be key to help them adapt toward an Agile mindset and accelerate the learning.  They can be used to grasp many of the Agile values and principles and the concepts of customer value, flow, and feedback. 
What is an Agile Game
An Agile game is an activity focused on teaching, demonstrating, and applying the Agile mindset through using game theory. An Agile game has a learning objective in mind.  The objective is to teach the player an Agile concept, practice, or technique that supports the Agile values and principles.  Games without objectives are meaningful to learning. 
For example, in order to learn about customer value, a game may be introduced that asks team members to differentiate between different types of currency.  You may learn that it isn’t always easy yet feedback may be used to better understand the value of the currency.  This simulates what it takes to understand customer value in the real world. 
Why use Agile Games
Games can jump-start the learning of concepts that can lead to an accelerated transformation. This can be useful in an Agile transformation. Games can also be used to model complex concepts or give you insight into processes.  They can give the participants the ability to assess why they work or don't work.
Games insert energy and excitement into learning. Games are often hands-on and get you out of your seats.  They get the blood going in your body and more importantly into your brains. 
Typically Agile games teach basic and mid-level concepts.  More complex and deep concepts should be accompanied by deeper studying, experimenting, and applying of the concepts and practices in real-world environments.   
Getting started with Agile Games
The first step in getting started with Agile games is to identify your specific learning objective.  An objective is often focused on exercising a specific Agile concepts, practice or technique.  Once you have identified your learning objective, you may search the internet for games that may support your objective.  A good place to find a variety of Agile games is at TastyCupcakes.org.  

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Ways to Mitigate the Challenges of moving to Self-Management

If you are considering Self-Management, first you learn what it is.  Then it’s important to understand the difference between Self-Organization and Self-Management. Next you should gain insight on some of the steps to put Self-Management into action. This article, the fourth in this four-part series on Self-Management focuses on the number of challenges you may encounter when moving toward self-management. Let’s explore some of those challenges.

Lacking Management Context
One of the concepts of self-management is that you operate as if there are no managers.  However, this is much harder than it seems.  Most employees do not have the working context of a manager.  Who do you contact for finance questions or issues?  How do you begin the interview process? How do you escalate issues? Do you have enough context to make decisions that cross the border of your team? What do you do to mitigate the lack of context?
  • Pick the brain of your manager on the various topics such as budgeting, human resource, hiring, expenses, and any area that they have had responsibility. 
  • Become aware of oddities and exceptions on how things work within an organization and what has been tried.     
  • Decide who on the team will be the new contact for different areas.  The contact may rotate.
  • Connect with and meet with those contacts from other departments.

Unfamiliar with Structures, Processes, and Policies
Within each company, there are often a maze of processes and policies.  Most employees are exposed to only a small number. When becoming self-managed, those on the team must become more familiar with the array of processes and policies. In addition, when there are reorganizations or a change in structure in different departments, a manager typically learns what this means.  What do you do to mitigate this unfamiliarity with structures, processes, and policies?
  • After a reorganization or change in structure, take time to fully learn what the change is and how this may impact your team. 
  • Take time to learn the processes and policies within the organization.  This will vary from country to country.  Consider doing this as a group. 
  • There may be unspoken policies.  Ask your manager if they are aware of any and have them explained.   

Not respecting Knowledge and Experience
There is often a misunderstanding that now that you are self-managed, that everyone is the same.  Self-Management within a team context does not mean everyone is created equal.  You may have some people who have knowledge and experience in self-management and some who have none.  What do you do to mitigate this lack of knowledge and experience?
  • If you have little or no knowledge or experience, be honest about it.  Be open to continuously learning as self-management is a journey.  Explore, learn, and adapt.
  • Be willing to take guidance from those that have experience.  Recognize and value others’ experiences.
  • As moving toward self-management is hard, be honest if you (as a team) are not ready to assume some of the responsibilities early one. 

Lack of discretion about your Self-Management
It is important to understand that few teams will have the unique responsibility and ability to direct their own future with few constraints that self-management brings.  This can make other teams envious. You can find yourself creating problems if you share this too broadly.  What do you do to mitigate the concern of discretion?  
  • Act with discretion.  Only share your self-management experience when asked. 
  • If a team is exploring the idea of self-organization or self-management, then consider sharing those portions of the topic that may benefit them. 

Confusion around Communications and Stakeholder Management
When there is a manager, there is often communication both from the outside to the manager and the manager to the team.  There is a more complex pattern of communication when everyone from the team is involved.  Who gets the communication?  Who do you communicate with?  How do you solicit feedback from your stakeholders?  What do you do to mitigate the confusion around communication and stakeholder management?
  • Create a communication strategy both amongst the team and outside of the team.  This ensures that everyone gets the information in a timely manner and no one is missed.
  • Be mindful what you communicate outside of the team.  A manager often adapts the message depending on what information is to be shared so it is delivered in the right tone and balance.  Learn to adapt the message.
  • Identify who communicates to whom outside the team.  This may be one person, a rotation, or different people depending on the topic at hand. 

Additional Workload on the Team
When moving to self-management, the team absorbs the responsibility of the manager. This shouldn’t be taken lightly and injects a whole full-time equivalent amount of work onto the team as the manager’s responsibilities are transitioned to the team.  Where does all of this work go?  It gets shared across and amongst the team.  What do you do to mitigate the additional workload?
  • If the team already has enough work to fill the number of people on the team, then they will need to reduce the workload in order to absorb the new responsibilities of the manager when moving to self-management.
  • Consider creating a percentage of slack time to be able to adapt to the peaks of activity that may be needed.
  • Add the manager’s activities as real and visible work on the team backlog

Lack of ownership
There can be an illusion that in self-management that everyone owns the work. While this is generally true, it is misunderstood. There is a saying that ”When everyone owns the thing, no one owns the thing.” There will be a need to have theme owners of work to ensure the work is adequately being guided with appropriate strategy. What do you do to mitigate the lack of ownership?
  • Identify theme or epic owners who understand the work more closely, who prioritize the work in increments, who get feedback, and who craft the strategy.
  • Add the owner as the primary contact for the work. Anyone can own a particular activity relating to the theme or epic. 
  • While there should be owners of buckets of work, input from other team members should be continuously collected. 

Increase Team Conflict
A manager has a certain hierarchical position.  When the manager moves toward the background, team members need to step up.  This can cause conflict when some personality types jump at the chance at leadership roles and some that shrink from it.  However, this doesn’t mean that the extroverts should automatically get the opportunities or are better at the responsibilities.  Who enacts the leadership roles now that the manager is not around?  What do you do to mitigate the potential increase in team conflict?
  • Allocate thinking time to discuss how to manage potential conflict.  This may include ways to negotiate leadership opportunities and rotations.
  • Work on conflict-management, problem solving, and decision-making soft skills as a team.  
  • Build team knowledge and experience in giving and receiving feedback. 
  • Recognize that you may be re-entering the forming and storming phases (per Tuckman’s model) and team-forming activities may be needed.   

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It is important to learn about the challenges of self-management so that you don’t stumble into these problems. Instead, proactively be prepared. Consider adding self-management challenges as part of your self-management education.  Also, as you embark on your self-management journey, consider regular retrospectives so that you can understand what is going well and what can be improved.  Good luck!
Consider reading the rest of the Self-Management series:

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Putting Self-Management into Action!

Applying self-management is a journey that requires deliberate steps. This article, the third in this four-part series on Self-Management explores those steps. The first article explains what is self-management, the second focuses on the difference between self-organization and self-management.  The fourth article shares the challenges in moving toward self-management.  Let’s explore some steps in applying self-management. 
Gauging your Readiness
The first step in approaching self-management is to gauge whether your culture is ready to accept self-management and if there is enough of a mindset that an experiment can be tried.  After all, it is a shift in mindset. Equally important is to gain agreement from your manager that the team can operate in a self-managed way.  This step shouldn’t be taken lightly, since if the environment is too traditional and not accepting of self-management or if you don’t have manager’s buy-in, then you may have some ground work to do before you can get this to happen. 
Leading with Education   
The second step in applying self-management is to understand what is and isn’t self-management (e.g., this can occur in parallel to the first step).  Begin education regarding self-management including what it is and what it isn’t. Consider reading part 1 (What is Self-Management and is it good for Agile?) and part 2 (The Difference between Self-Management and Self-Organization) of this series as a good place to start.
Learn the concept of Bounded Authority as this is a critical element for moving toward self-management.  This concept captures the essence of understanding your baseline of ownership and then allows you to better consider which activities to incrementally move toward the team.
Building your Self-Management Activities Matrix
Create a self-management matrix of those activities the team should own in the first column labeling it “Activities”.  This should include things like backlog management, planning, prioritization, stakeholder management, budget management, staffing, growth, performance feedback, vacation management, space management, guiding principles, and more.  

Then create two more columns to indicate who currently has that bounded authority for those activity.  The minimum bounded authority configuration is 1) the manager owns the activity and 2) the team owns the activity.  This may become more nuanced to 4 bounded authority configurations such as 1) the manager owns outright 2) the manager owns with team input, the 3) the team owns with manager input, and 4) the team owns outright.  There is also a more nuanced bounded authority configuration called the Delegation board by Jurgen Appelo with 7 bounded authority configurations.  I recommend starting with the manager and team columns.   
Understanding your Baseline of Ownership
The next step is to understand where you are right now with ownership. Once the activities and your bounded authority configuration are on your self-management matrix, identify where the current ownership of those activities live today (e.g., manager or team – bounded authority configuration).  This will help you understand where you are today. 
Progressing with an Incremental Approach
Applying an Agile mindset, I recommend an incremental approach in moving toward self-management.  This helps you focus on just a few areas where you think the team can benefit most and/or where it may be easier or more challenging depending on which approach you want to take.  
Discuss your incremental strategy.  Do you want to start with those activities that may be easier to move ownership from management to the team or those that are harder?  Also, determine how long do you want to experiment with this increment.
Now review your Self-Management Activities Matrix and identify 2 to 3 activities that you’d like to move toward self-management.  Discuss what it means to move an activity from manager to team.  This involves understanding what it means to own an activity and the details of an activity.  For example, if the team moves staffing from manager to team, the team should understand what is involved in staffing, who to contact, what processes are involved in hiring, how to get new staff on-boarded, how to get them a work space, computer, id, and more. 
Getting Started
Now it is time to get started.  Once you select the activities to move to self-management, begin the experimentation and adoption process of those activities.  Treat the self-management experiment as a real project or task as it takes time to adopt.  Have checkpoints along the way.  At the end of the increment, consider a retrospective to discuss how self-management and the adoption of the new activities are going (e.g., inspect and adapt).
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Finally, it is important to keep in mind that the manager plays an important role toward self-management.  They are effectively giving up control of the many activities listed on the matrix.  The manager will trust the team to methodically own the activities being moved, the team must ensure that it handles the activities with accountability.  Consider periodically communicating progress to the manager.  Remember that it isn’t always easy for a manager to give up ownership of activities so that team must appreciate and embrace ownership in a serious manner. Consider reading the rest of the Self-Management series: