- 7:30 am - Mon, Aug 18, 2014
Blog Post: What I’ve Learned Along The Road To Agile Acuity
a·cu·i·ty (noun) acuity sharpness or keenness of thought, vision, or hearing.
There are three different versions of the word acuity that link back to it’s original etymology. The Middle English, Middle Latin and Old French versions all link back to the latin word acus (or acuo) that means “a needle”. The most common conjugation of the word today is acute, which is mostly used in medicine. If you were to ask me before today what the word means to me, I would describe acuity as something so refined and fine-tuned it resembled a pinpoint.
Then I saw this tweet from one of my Ogilvy brethren:
It got me thinking about my craft, helping people make things better. Was I fine-tuning myself to the point where I could notice things that most would overlook?
This is where participating in a community of practice
will help, because it’s impossible for one person to catch everything. We share, cry, laugh, exhort, and implore. In the end, we have a group that truly doesn’t let things fall through the cracks. Hit me up if you want help setting one up.
The definition of acuity gives the impression that it’s just something you can fall out of bed with. After thinking upon this phrase, that’s why I’m thankful Agile discipline is a craft instead of a skill. We fail, and pass them on to each other. Some of the lessons I have learned might not be as difficult for you. Vice versa, I’m sure.
Here are a few I have come across in my search of Agile acuity:
Every team member deserves your best effort. I did not learn this lesson because I desired to play favorites. Like most leaders, I was confident I could keep a level playing field for everyone around me. The mistake on my part was looking at each team and saying to myself, “I need to nail this relationship if my team is going to make it.”
You pour yourself into certain people, thinking if you can get this right the rest will be easy. Problem is, there’s no guarantee that relationship is the keystone to productivity and completed stories. In fact, it’s the last relationship you expected to in fact be necessary. That’s because they are all important.
You can’t be afraid to make an example. Nobody likes being the bad guy, I know I don’t. I want to say yes to every OOO petition, working lunch request, and work-from-home desires. Not so with my fellow PMs. One at my office told a team member that he would have to cancel his flight, even after he bough the ticket, because he didn’t first check with others around him on a vacation request. Cruel, but his team needed it.
Making an example doesn’t mean you select someone to pick on just because. We don’t lead teams that way. Instead of squashing insurrection, you just announce the team is more important than the individual. As a pastor once put it, “I’m willing to let you hate me in order to tell you the truth.”
Winging it, regardless of the team interaction, is not allowed. I’m a bit quick on my feet. It’s what happens when you grow up speaking faster than you can think; eventually you can just come up with answers on the spot and store an incredible amount of information in the front of your brain. Problem is, it’s always apparent that you are winging it, and your team usually doesn’t respond well to this.
I always encourage new Scrum Masters to have a notepad ready for every standup. You aren’t taking notes to keep tabs and micro manage. You just want to keep track with how things progress and keep handy the things you need to focus on. Anyone who has read the Checklist Manifesto knows the true value of checking things off of lists. This goes with announcements, reminders, vacation days, roadblocks, and key milestones.
Some have said they don’t like the idea of secretive writing. Easy, just use a nearby whiteboard. The bonus of this application is added transparency to team gatherings. They see what you are writing, and there’s no hiding. Just make sure you show up early to jot down the notes you need to remember.
Deliverables are for all to hear. If design knows development was listening when they promised a comp to you by the end of the day, they are more apt to deliver if they have to look them in the face the next morning. If they aren’t afraid of that, don’t be afraid to ask them why they feel that way (see the first lesson). For the record, I have the best art directors in the business. They know they are loved.
I have sometimes neglected to make sure everyone is nodding their head at the same time when I ask for a deliverable. For some team members, you believe them when you see a nod. Others may need to verbalize what is due on what day. Even others might need to respond to a group email in the affirmative. Either way, it needs to be corporate.
Ask others if you can get them help. We’re all big kids, and true self-managing teams will know when to raise their hands when issues occur. Even the best, though, can get a case of “the hero complex.” They don’t want to burden others, or ask me to go back to the client with problems. This is when your awesome one-on-one skills come in handy. Take time to check in with everyone during the week once or twice to see if they are getting what they need.
Many will respond with, “I got this.” Which could be honest. Getting to know them in between ceremonies, however, will reveal those that are just covering up. Find a way to let them know you can lighten their load, or simply treat them to lunch, if they are feeling the weight of the world.
The lessons I am learning along the way to Agile acuity number far more than this, but hopefully they paint a picture of what that path looks like for me. I take my craft very personally, and won’t stop until I reach it. Though not in this list, one of the biggest lessons I have to remember is that my search for Nirvana can’t be more important than meeting my teams’ needs in the moment. As much fun as it is to keep my head at 30,000 feet, my team needs to get dirty with them.
I’m curious as to what lessons you have learned along the road. The only way to grow is to do this together, so now I need your stories. How have you honed your craft lately?
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- 11:07 pm - Sun, Aug 17, 2014
Blog Post: What I’ve Learned Along The Road To Agile Acuity
Blog Post: What I’ve Learned Along The Road To Agile Acuity
a·cu·i·ty (noun) acuity sharpness or keenness of thought, vision, or hearing.
There are three different versions of the word acuity that link back to it’s original etymology. The Middle English, Middle Latin and Old French versions all link back to the latin word acus (or acuo) that means “a needle”. The most common conjugation of the word today is acute, which is mostly used in medicine. If…
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- 7:30 am - Mon, Aug 11, 2014
Blog Post: Five Ways To Increase Transparency On Your Teams
Through a friend, I was recently introduced to an entrepreneur of another digital agency. His customer base is very concentrated and has a headcount that has plenty of room for growth. He’s even in the process of getting a swanky new office for his folks. When he found out what I did, and who I did it for, one question leapt out of his mouth:
“How do you do your thing, while letting creatives doing theirs?”
I could see the frustration in his eyes, because we’ve all been there. Creatives aren’t really the problem in his office, he was just having a problem that particular day with one. Whether we are talking about art directors, developers, testers, and even project managers, there is always a misunderstanding about something. We just don’t always see eye to eye. A more honest way of asking his question would have been:
“How in the world can I get better visibility into my team’s problems on a daily basis?”
Without knowing how deep he wanted to get, I simply gave him what any certified Scrum professional would answer with: increase transparency. We talked about the concept at a high level and how it could be an amazing tool.
Transparency is an easy thing to talk about at a high level, but very difficult to instill and maintain. It takes courage, discipline, and support. Nowhere in that description, however, is the word “impossible”. Here’s some simple things to try tomorrow to increase the amount of transparency on your teams, and celebrate the shipping of a few items on your board.
Put it on the board. We sit together as a team to enable communication. Inspiration happens when we throw ideas out there and discuss how we could implement. Personally, my favorite teams are the ones that take headphones off and have a little lively conversation throughout the day. While all that comes as the result of emphasizing verbal interaction, we can’t actually act upon ideas until they are documented and put on the board.
There is a section of my team walls always designated for art review. This is where creatives can put wireframes and comps for everyone to peruse whenever they have a free second. Sometimes a group will form, and conversation takes place. This is a good thing.
Problem with this scenario is if that conversation (and any of the decisions that arise from said conversation) don’t get documented, something will get missed. Testers will go off an outdated set of requirements, developers will end up writing their own business rules, and artists will miss a button that just came up. You have to write it down.
Create corporate understanding. If the conversations around the art wall are happening organically, chances are not all of the necessary personnel are involved. This is the beauty of the framework. If executed properly, Scrum ceremonies are set up to reinforce the concept of transparency.
You just can’t halfway do it.
This means during your stand ups, you make sure everyone is caught up. Grooming sessions have to include up-to-date requirements or it will be a waste of time. We all have to be nodding our heads when someone asks, “does everyone understand what’s expected of them today?”
Push the limits of every interaction you have with each other. Call out on the board what the goal is and ask how they plan on achieving it today. Surprise them with donuts or brownies as a thank you for the hard work. For sure look for every opportunity to praise and exhort where needed.
Make things actionable. This is the perfect extension of people reacting to circumstances. Simply listen to your team. Oscar Berg posits that the “ability to act on information is what often separates successful companies from those less successful.”
As he says in his post, you aren’t going to trust the facts or quotes in this piece if I’m not willing to share where I got it from. I certainly don’t include links because I love copying and pasting. The same goes for your work.
If our app needs a row of tab icons at the bottom of the UI, be willing to share with the client as to your reasons why. If the code snipped is not sufficient for proper troubleshooting, provide an example of what you actually need. Proposing changes in your team’s process without pointing to the retrospective will make them think you just made it up.
That means documenting, checking, and double-checking. Today’s version of showing up to a gun fight with a knife is not being ready to back up your solution with questions arise.
Do risk and safety checks. One of my earliest mistakes leading teams had to do with “assuming the best” about every circumstance. If the team was behind, I assumed they would catch up near the end of a sprint. If a third-party-vendor was delayed, I assumed they would still deliver in time to meet the client’s demands. You get the idea.
If you aren’t willing to speak up when things start to go sideways, you put your team in a bind. As Bob Galen puts it:
“If you’re transparent, you resist the lack of character & courage to tell the truth about project state for fear of ramification. Instead you routinely tell it ‘like it is’, and look to make healthy adjustments from ‘where you are’.”
Same thing goes for safety. If the team feels unsafe in the team setting, there’s a reason. You just have to care about them feeling safe more than they do if things are going to improve. Ask questions, dig deeper, and the problem (usually personnel) will arise.
Invite outsiders to observe. Nothing makes your team sit up straight than when “chickens” come to sit in on your team ceremonies. It doesn’t have to be anyone’s boss, it could just be one of your co-workers running a meeting for you or another dev lead assisting in grooming/planning. The change of pace either gets people to open up or offer a new idea.
What better way to see things in a new light.
We get comfortable with each other, which isn’t really a bad thing. As time marches on, however, complacency sets in and you get bored with each other. Believe me, there’s definitely the equivalent of a “seven-year itch” when it comes to Agile teams. Just recognize it before they do and switch something up.
There are countless other ways to increase the transparency of your project. If none of these do the trick, you can always start with the Five Whys and go from there. Keep asking why things are happening, and transparency will appear.
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- 7:30 am - Mon, Aug 4, 2014
Blog Post: Do You Participate In A Community Of Practice?
All the PMs at my company have one sacred time each week. Unless you have clients in the office, you should have Thursdays at 2:30 P.M. blocked off in your calendar. We gather away from our teams in one room and have a weekly roundtable.
Best part is we never have to be asked to show. It’s our favorite time of the week.
Sometimes it involves us discussing tactical things our company needs from us. Other times we share issues we are having on teams and solicit feedback for improvement. I’ve even gotten to present a few times on things I’ve read or written about. It’s an amazing time that I almost always walk away fed for the next seven days.
Without knowing it, I was participating in a fully-functioning (and vital) Community of Practice. What I do know it that the time has more than paid for itself. My boss hadn’t even heard of the term, even though it was his idea.
Last week, one of the Agile user groups I participate in hosted a presentation on creating strong and passionate Communities of Practice. Hosted by two people I consider friends, I attended because I wasn’t exactly sure if I knew what a CoP was. Context clues aside, it sounded like something I needed.
If you meet regularly with people with a common interest and are trying to improve their time in said interest, that’s exactly what you are called. Want to improve your Scrum ceremonies? Do you all want to be a professional gamer? Interest in joining the party planning committee?
All qualify, you just need a few tips on how to make sure your gatherings go to the next level.
One of the things that came up in conversation a lot was the idea that usually one person gathers the others and thinks that it benefits the group. Said leader is usually the boss, and doesn’t understand how to take feedback. The first rule of CoPs is making the event mutually beneficial for all. That means including them in the process (and presentations).
If you want to see the full deck of slides, check them out here. For now, let’s start with the high points on establishing the right kind of group in your community:
- Establish goals and the mission of your group. Agile leaders won’t be surprised to hear this, but if even one person is confused by the reasons for your meet ups you have failed. Touch upon it every time.
- Switch up the format. If you can find an outside expert to come tell some stories, great. Just find an internal speaker to present next time, or solicit the group for a problem that needs solving. Don’t forget social events either!
- Draw from each other any time you can. If there’s an issue you are having, chances are someone had it before. Raise your hand, even if it breaks the agenda a little. The main goal of gathering is to improve.
- Constantly ask each other who are the kind of members you are looking for, and then look for them. While it would be nice to have your group grow just from word-of-mouth advertising, most of the time you need to ask others before they come. Go get ‘em!
- The group will vote, one way or another. If you can’t seem to have enough free seats, you’re on to something. Same goes for people walking out in the middle. Attendance is the only vote that counts, regardless of how awesome your Powerpoint is.
- Finally, if your only reason for getting people together is to just be better employees, ask yourself if the mission is on point. What separates a CoP from a simple user group is shared passion. Getting together to problem-solve, or tell stories, should be fun!
Does your company or city have a Community of Practice set up? What things are you guys doing to passionately push each other to amazing heights?
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- 7:30 am - Mon, Jul 28, 2014
Blog Post: 5 Ways to Set Yourself Up For Cognitive Success
Stop me if you’ve ever spoken or heard this during the work day:
“He was depleted after a long day of meetings.””She did not forget about the meeting. She was completely focused on something else when the meeting was set and just didn’t hear you.””He didn’t bother to check whether what he said made sense.”
Once, I would have thought those to be incongruous statements. Each has happened to me many times, and looking back on each situation I could easily explain the reasons why. The meeting was not as stimulating, I was rushed by a tight deadline, or I had too much on my plate at the time. See how easy it is?
While they have to do with some sort of mental capacity, it’s easy see them at face value and miss the deeper message: we are sometimes misled by our fast and slow-thinking processes. That’s what Daniel Kahneman is teaching me through reading his book Thinking, Fast and Slow.
The Israeli-American psychologist, along with a long-time collaborator, did so much research into our instinctive and deliberate thought processes that he was awarded a Nobel Prize in 2002. The 80-year old academic did so much for the psychology community that the APA give him a lifetime achievement award seven years ago. The man is a legend.
Our mind works in two states. There are some things our mind is asked to negotiate intuitively, and on the spot. A question that qualifies is, “what is your favorite color”. This is referred to in the book as System 1.
Some things take a little more thought. If I were to ask you to count the number of punctuation marks on this post, that would qualify as something that takes a little more concentration and time to accomplish. Kahneman refers to this as System 2 in full effect. It is possible that some activities could become more intuitive, as does our driving ability. Just takes effort and time.
The research in Thinking, Fast and Slow blows you away when you see what exactly it takes to be a deliberately thoughtful person on a daily basis. So much of what we do during the day, and how we behave, can be explained with science. Got me thinking of how this could be applied to improve things, if even only a little.
I’m not even halfway through the book, but here are five things you can try tomorrow that will show immediate improvements.
1. Mentally challenging tasks should be saved until you are not just rested, but fed well.
This is because of the revelation I learned that thinking takes actual energy. Eight parole judges in Israel were unwitting participants in a study that measured how we perform cognitive activities throughout the day.
Spending entire days reviewing cases, their response time and approval rates were measured. The overall approval rate of parole during the study was 35%, but the approval rate jumps to 65% right after meals are eaten. It dropped to nearly zero right before the next meal.
What does this mean for your day? Why not schedule your most difficult mental task, such as a tough feature to implement or that meeting you really need to concentrate during, right after lunch? Your brain not only needs that energy, but will respond better.
2. Our intuition lulls us into a false sense of security when problems arise.
Quick, give this math problem a quick glance and blurt out the first answer that comes to mind:
“A ball and bat cost $1.10. The bat costs $1 more than the ball.How much does the ball cost?”
Most would say the ball costs $0.10. When I say most, 80% of college students give that answer (ivy leagues aren’t immune either, 50% of them fall for it). The correct answer is actually $0.05, and no I did not get it right either.
It’s important to note that our mind would preferably solve problems quickly, because there are surely more important problems in the world to solve. Kahneman calls this concept a “Lazy System 2″. If we can negotiate something quickly, our ego kicks in and sorts the task under System 1 as opposed to question how easy a problem actually is. Action item from this section is to do just that: question your problems more. Are you putting the right amount of mental effort into this task? Don’t let your mind be lazy!
3. Slow down; we are never as hurried as we think.
Another reason the ball and bat problem proves difficult is we are prompted with the request to just give the first answer that comes to us. If we were prompted with the directive to take 3 minutes before answering, I think the correct percentage rises.
Part of the mind’s need to solve as many problems intuitively as possible is because we all have an internal metronome. As Kahenman states in the book:
“Just like the juggler with several balls in the air, you cannot afford to slow down; the rate as which material decays in the memory forces the pace driving you to refresh and rehearse information before it’s lost.”
If you are feeling hurried by something that you doing during your day, there is a good chance that you’re mind is just juggling different ideas at the same time. In fact, the more ideas a task involves, the more hurried we will feel. A little organization and reflection on your task can take these multiple ideas and transform them from airborne balls to grounded principles. Kind of like a mental Kanban board.
4. There is something to be said for batching your tasks.
After we are fed, set aside laziness, and organized our thoughts, what have we done to ourselves? Quite simply, we have prepared ourselves for long periods of effort without having to exert willpower. It’s what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow”. The book defines this term as:
“People who experience flow describe it as, ‘a state of effortless concentration so deep that they lose their sense of time, of themselves, of their problems,’ and their descriptions of the joy of that state are so compelling that Csikszentmihalyi has called it an ‘optimal experience.’”
The quickest thing that can pull us out of our flow is having to exert mental energy to switch back and forth between certain tasks. Instead of taking advantage of this heightened mental state, we stay stuck in Interruptville. Cut to every single developer on my teams nodding their heads vigorously.
It takes effort to set this zen garden in our mind up, why would we intentionally trash it with answering the text you just got? Pomodoro is a technique I have written about before, and can easily give you the freedom to offload unimportant tasks until you have the time and mental capacity for this.
5. You can prime your mind for success.
Ever hear of word association? It’s a fun game that we’ve undoubtedly all played, but did you know we can be primed to give specific answers?
Take the word “SO_P”. Now if I were to mention food before asking you to tell me what word you are thinking of, what would you say? This time, if I were to talk about washing my clothes, would you answer differently? Kahneman thinks so. The greatest example is in a study that uses the “Florida effect”.
An NYU study asked two groups of students to assemble four-word sentences from a group of five words (the example is “finds he it yellow instantly”). One group involved words associated with the elderly, such as “Florida, forgetful, bald, gray, or wrinkle”. The others didn’t. Once finished with the task, each set of students was timed walking down a hallway to exit the room. Which group do you think walked significantly slower than the other?
As funny as that study was, we can prime ourselves for mental success with some playful word association. Instead of the family photo as your desktop background, try using a solid color or a positive trigger word. Before you have a difficult call or meeting, there’s nothing wrong with pumping yourself with some stickies with positivity abounding. Triggering success can be that simple every day.
Which ones have you tried before, and what kind of effect did it have on your day?
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- 7:30 am - Mon, Jul 21, 2014
Blog Post: Do You Really Think You’re All Alone In This?
Back in my teens and 20′s, I knew each Sports Center anchor better than my own family. I memorized their catch phrases, read their books, and laughed along while ESPN was making each and every one of them a star. My first job out of college was as a sports anchor, and I shamelessly imitated. After Chris Berman, and before Bill Simmons, these men and women walked the earth like rock stars.
Of course, getting older and more domesticated has all but ceased my connection with Sports Center anchors. Even if we weren’t watching highlights in a new way today, I still wouldn’t be devoting time to the show because I have commitments elsewhere. As such, I wasn’t even aware of Stuart Scott’s fight with cancer.
Apparently, it was found by accident, sent to remission, and then returned with a vengance. I hurt for the man as much as I can, and hope he beats it a second time.
Last week, because of his profile and fight, he was presented with the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at last week’s ESPY awards. Almost like a Make-a-Wish kid, Stu was presented with the award by his favorite actor, Keefer Sutherland. I would have gone with Jim Carrey in Joker makeup, but you go, bud.
In his speech, he was humble in comparing himself to previous winners, declaring his intention to keep fighting the good fight, and stating his responsibility in winning the award. It was rote in nature until he got to this critical part in the speech.
“I can’t do this ‘never give up’ thing by myself.”
In the sports world, we talk about individual achievement like it’s second nature. Insurmountable odds are overcome by people every day. They see the goal, and train day and night to reach it. How in the world could Stuart Scott be highlighting the important part of his survival is relying on others?
“When you get to tired to fight, lie down and rest and let someone else fight for you.”
Deep down, we all get that. There’s only so much time in the day, energy in the tank, desire to overcome. At some point, we are going to have to lie down and let someone else pick up the baton.
“I couldn’t fight, but doctors and nurses could,” He stated.
The next few minutes were accolades for family and friends taking his calls. Bosses that offered to bring over meals. His two daughters that helped him feel like a normal dad, while still providing all the inspiration he needed.
So what happens if he dies? Does that mean he failed? Scott disagrees:
“You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.”
All of this reminds me not just of the little success I have had in my daily fight with Type I diabetes, because it was only when I asked for help that my numbers improved. I was reminded of the fight my teams face every day in trying to march together towards a single goal with insurmountable odds.
Some days are just really hard. Clients demand the best from us, complex systems are difficult to integrate, and last minute polish items sometimes throw us into a tailspin. In those moments, we try to just push through and tough it out. Scott reminds us that sometimes, it’s okay to just rest and let someone else fight for us.
That’s what teammates and communities are for.
Agile coaches often help me find the right result, development circles frequently post issues and help each other up, QA groups sit together and help find the issues often missed. In each of those situations, along with millions of others, relief only comes when we admit our struggle and raise our hand.
Scott understands this, mostly because he doesn’t have a choice anymore. Would he know how to let others fight for him if he was in this same spot? Tough to tell, but often many of us think we are all we need until we are at our weakest. One thing I want to teach my kids is not to wait that long. Admitting you aren’t an expert not only raises your profile, but can also help remove your problem sooner.
Whatever your situation, just take Scott’s word to heart and take steps to widen the circle:
“This whole fight is not a solo venture.”
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- 7:30 am - Mon, Jul 14, 2014
Blog Post: What Is The Makeup Of A Great Leader?
One of the beauties of the Agile framework, specifically with a Scrum implementation, is that 10 different teams can work 10 different ways. One team can run early morning stand-ups, with a regular grooming meeting, and combo retrospective with planning. Another could run late stand-ups, skip the grooming and run a longer planning session separate from a retro.
There’s no one way up the mountain, and the anarchist inside all of us loves it that way.
Same thing goes for types of Agile leaders, there’s not one specific type of person that can accomplish all of these ceremonies. My boss loves to tell people that he doesn’t hire one specific type of PM, he wants a toolbox filled with different skills that he can use at any time.
So how do you know if you have what it takes?
In my experience, leaders fall into two basic personality types. This applies whether you are a project manager on an IT team, an NFL head coach, or CEO of a billion-dollar organization. You are either a macro-oriented or micro-oriented leader.
Oh sure, there are many flavors of those two archetypes. You might be really detail oriented, but an awful delegator, which is the traditional “micro manager” we all tell horror stories. Other types of micro-oriented leaders end up alright, though. If you can see every detail, while at the same time having a vision for execution and actually allow others to handle it, you might be alright.
Macro-oriented leaders tend to be great at delegating and planning. Some are creative, and possess the ability to adapt to whatever comes their way. Others are great mentors and coaches, but don’t function well on the day-to-day management of their team’s needs. Look at these macro peeps as the “player’s coach” persona. As much as I would love a little of the other camp, I’m a macro-oriented leader to the core.
Identifying where in the range you fall is important to your development. While many tend to see themselves as only one type of leader, I’m here to tell you that the world is your oyster. If you paint yourself into the corner as not being detail-oriented enough, difficult in one-on-one relationships, or “not enough of an arse” to succeed, then you might as well not try.
While we each have different skill ratings in areas such as creativity, vision, or guidance, those can be used to still succeed. This post on the 8 types of leaders was shared to me from my boss once and it completely changed my view on what a “successful leader” meant. I may not be in a position to be a Super-Bowl-winning coach or use drones to deliver packages, but I can identify with the leadership style of Tom Coughlin or Jeff Bezos. Sure, they were both micro-oriented leaders, and could be called a few colorful names by former employees, but they put them in a position to be successful leaders.
So, that leaves us with one simple question. How exactly can we take how God made us and craft a leader?
- The parts of your job (yes I’m talking to the man in the mirror, too) that you don’t enjoy, that needs the most attention first. If it’s a report that doesn’t make sense, work on it every morning for a week. If there’s a relationship on your team that needs some gardening, ask them to lunch once a month. If you can’t seem to plan beyond a few weeks, spend 30 minutes a day on the roadmap.
- Find other leaders that can do what you want. There’s a distinct possibility you have a skill they desire as well, which makes the pairing fortuitous. Either way, shadow them a bit. Volunteer to ride side saddle and learn. You will learn a lot more, a lot faster, than you realize. Just make sure you write about it and validate what you are observing with them.
- Get some fresh air from your comfortable surroundings. That may mean you ask the company to send you to a conference or training. If that’s not an option, though, there’s plenty of monthly user groups to get acquainted with. Reach out on LinkedIn to peers at other companies and ask a ton of questions. Any of these will give you perspective and embolden you to stand before your team with panache.
- Read, a lot. I’ve said this on Twitter before, but any book on how to be a successful CEO applies to you as a team leader. As a PM, I’m the CEO of my team and need to act like one if we are going to meet our objectives. My latest suggestion is this book by Ben Horrowitz, but you can’t go wrong with some of the classics like Collins, Fried, Christensen, and others.
This effort will not be easy, but will bear fruit that lasts your entire career. It won’t be smooth, so let me offer this: when you get down, please don’t think that you don’t have the right personality to be a successful leader. I recently had a conversation with an amazing co-worker who wondered if you needed to be a jerk to have the respect of your peers.
Took me a few days to realize the truth, but this idea couldn’t be further from it. Yes, there plenty of examples to the contrary, but you don’t need a particular makeup for success. While some people are gifted knowing what they want and going after it, they might also struggle with opening their mouth too fast and stepping on their own toes. As I said earlier, there are skills we all have, and you just need to understand yours to best use them.
Knowing yourself, and working with what you have, will generate a lot more success than trying to be someone else. Now go do it.
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- 7:30 am - Mon, Jul 7, 2014
Blog Post: Do Push Notifications Really Bring Value To Users?
Let’s say you’re average. Yes, I know my readers are a cut above, but just place yourself in the “normal” category for a few minutes. How often do you think you look at your phone per day? Over 30? What about 50 times a day? Twice that?
That’s where the most recent numbers I could find pegged it. After you get off work, the average person looks at their phone every six seconds. That’s on the low end of the spectrum, too. Others think it’s closer to 150. Nir Eyal, wrote the book on addiction and we show it every day when we pull our mobile devices out. In the midst of all that usage, there’s a question I haven’t been able to shake this past week.
Why in the world do we need to be “notified” of anything on our phone other than a call?
Every time I open my phone, there are badges directing my attention all over the place. My boss emailed me, my wife texted me, my brother tweeted at me, I have a voicemail from my doctor’s office, and my photo was liked on Facebook. Every app telling me, “Come here first! We have what you need right now, don’t mess with those other jokers!”
That doesn’t even get into all the games reminding me it’s time to come back and log some resources so I can build my town or army up. If I allowed notifications from games, I would never sleep.
People are about fed up with notifications as well. Joel Gascoigne, co-founder of my favorite app Buffer, announced recently that he turned them off on his device. Was a revelation, and I have spread the gospel as fast as I could. If all a notification does is beg for attention that I’m already giving my device, why would I need them?
Then along came Yo.
Since I don’t live in Northern California, it’s hard for me to understand if Silicon Valley is the main reason apps like Yo, Secret and Slingshot become popular or not. Regardless, Yo is a thing right now, and it thinks the push notifications you get are silly.
When someone messages you from Yo, that’s all the notification says. It’s that simple, and Yo CEO Or Arbel thinks that’s enough. In an interview on Product Hunt’s podcast, Arbel talked about the end goal of the app changing how we look at the technology.
“Everything you need to know is in the notification itself,” he said. There is nothing to open. There is nothing to read. There is no badge”
So, now we are notifying each other just because? Granted, ideally you would receive your “yo” and then hop on the app to respond in like. If the goal isn’t really to elicit anything from users, what is the real end goal of notifying them of a new message?
In response, the community has done what it does best and create a ton of silly knockoffs. Now, if you don’t really want to send someone a “yo”, you now have the option to send them a “hey” or “Hodor“. I started to search for more and quickly realized I had better ways to spend my time. Trust me, they are out there.
Does that mean the new “hello world” app has shifted from Flappy Bird knockoffs to Yo clones?
There is some gold in the Product Hunt interview, though, and if the app can get enough traction there might be enough app developers fed up with how we talk to our users. Instead of throwing junk in front users begging for attention, we should be asking what the purpose the event should have.
As Gascoigne stated in his post, the key to notifications is seeing the interaction for what it truly is: a dessert mirage.
“Notifications create a sense of urgency around something that’s not important at all. I don’t need to know right now that someone liked my status on Facebook.”
It’s important to note that the main push Joel has behind turning notifications off is to gain control over his device again and choose to engage in what he wants, whenever he chooses to do so. I can’t help but think, however, that some of that comes from the deluge of pop-ups developers have decided to bombard us with. Things with true value don’t have to be “turned off”.
Much like direct mail, which strangely enough is still an effective marketing technique, the notification gained some notoriety for reaching users and is now utilized by every single app we download. This will only change when we stop allowing them and tell startups to deliver more value if we are going to allow them to “send us” their message.
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- 7:30 am - Mon, Jun 30, 2014
Blog Post: How To Set Your Failure Up To Succeed
Failure is a scary word in our work today. While the startup culture has embraced failure as the best learning took in the market, the word still has chilling effects on today’s business leaders. An Amazon search reveals over 22,000 books include the word “failure” in some fashion. Another few thousand can be added on this list by changing the word to “fail”, as Ryan Babineaux does in his popular tome. Failure, as it seems, seems to be yet another cottage industry.
For the most part, we still do everything we can to avoid it. In my most disturbing Google search to date, I even found that certain project management circles are using something they call “best practices to avoid project failure”. I sat there wounded for a good five minutes.
Yet, the tide seems to be turning.
Forbes, The Next Web, and Harvard Business Review have done their best to change the tenor of the word with pieces positing how important it is for companies to embrace the idea of not getting everything right and start learning from their mistakes. It’s tough sledding in some industries, but every little bit helps.
One of the tenets of agile is the idea that we, “move fast and break things,” to quote Zuckerberg. We have the first part down, or at least a little better. Accelerating the speed of work delivering causes some friction in all aspects of business, and I for one am happy to see the lessons learned from this attempt. It’s amazing the stuff you can live without when you force yourself to do so.
Being a bull in a china shop leaves a gigantic mess, though, which brings me to the second half of that famous phrase.
Countless blogs wrote about the amazing lessons everyone was learning in the absence of success. Since we can’t really read more than 1,000 words at a time anymore, we read how important it is to fail and we set off with that goal. The result is advice from some you should, “fail a lot”. Hopefully, nobody is reading that seriously. That’s why an equal amount of blog posts have been devoted to denouncing the idea that failing fast is a good thing.
Failure has a price, which many are willing to pay, but only if you do it with a few caveats. If you are starting off on your own venture, please dont be scared to try something and not succeed. That’s for another generation. Just keep these things in mind to help set your failure up to succeed.
- Define what success looks like for you. I can see I’m already losing you, so let me caveat this caveat: it’s okay if you don’t know what success looks like in every situation. While metrics can be hard to define, most of the time we know what it will look like if we do something right. You just have to think about it in advance. Oh, and for the record it has to be more detailed than “get a crap-ton of users”.
- Let the world know. Even if “the world” is defined as a few members of your team who you want to bring along for the ride, it’s important to write it down for others to see. There’s a little accountability involved, and if you tell others what you are trying to get out of them they are usually more receptive to the concept.
- Measure along the way. Don’t wait long before you measure the success of your idea and adjust if needed. I’ve written a few times about retrospectives if you need a nudge in this area.
- Courageously change course. Takes a big person to admit they failed. Humility is the trait that will serve you best in this endeavor. The small amount of respect I have garnered in my career has come on the heels of me owning my faults and asking for a change. Either your data or people around you will have the answers for you, but true failure comes only if you don’t heed advice.
- Finally, don’t rush headlong into failure. While you do learn immensely when you aren’t successful, it would still be nice if you set your people up for success. Show me a team that has failed a ton and I will show you a team that is beginning to lose faith in it’s leader.
Failing is not something to blindly embrace or run from in fear. I see it as the one key stakeholder in the room nobody wants to address, yet can be the biggest pigeon in the room. Once you come out of the closet and have that difficult conversation with failure, though, it’s easy to simultaneously avoid and learn from it.
Your team’s and company’s success, depends on it.
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- 7:30 am - Tue, Jun 24, 2014
Blog Post: Coming Out Of Your Own Closet
While I’m not proud to admit it, I am a people pleaser by nature. I’m inclined to go an extra step if I think it will gain favor in someone’s eyes, and I’m hesitant to lovingly speak tough truth if I think it will cost me that relationship. It’s debilitating to picture myself in those situations, and downright paralyzing to actually go through it. I’ve gotten a little better over the years at facing the music, but part of me will always struggle.
What’s worse, I know I’m not alone.
In one of the most powerful TED talks I have heard recently, I came across this TEDxBoulder talk by Ash Beckham on coming out of the closet. While her sexuality is addressed, she used the phrase in a more broad sense. A closet, according to Ms. Beckham, is any difficult conversation we are faced with.
Imagery immediately flooded my mind. I can picture myself having to call a client to say we needed an extra day to ship. My wife sitting me down with that serious look on hear face because we needed to “talk”. My boss asking me to come into his office and shut the door. Each time, I can see myself in a dark closet needing to come out and face the light.
This is not to compare or contrast those feelings with the more traditional sense of “coming out of the closet”. I have never been in that spot, and I can only imagine how it grips a person needing to have that conversation. It was Beckham, however, that gave me the courage to see that while circumstances surrounding the conversation are different, the challenge is more similar than I thought.
Take those situations I mentioned. What do you think most likely happened when I got up the courage to gingerly wade into those waters? Quite simply, it wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be. The client, while disappointed in the delay, understood the reason for it and thanked me for being proactive. My wife just needed a clarification on something I said earlier and accepted my apology when I admitted it came out differently than I intended. My boss actually wanted to ask my opinion on something, not chastise me, and ask for help in implementing a new policy in the office.
Each time, the dread of what each conversation could mean was worse than it’s actuality. While a closet could turn into hurt feelings and lost relationships, experience says that many times it was the best thing in that moment. Just like Will Wheaton said in his famous comic convention answer last year, someone else’s problem with you rarely has anything to do with you.
Beckham’s insight emboldened me to not only face tough conversations in front of me, I was actually excited to have them for once! My encouragement is not to fear your closet. In her talk, she mentions that it doesn’t matter what color it’s painted, you just know it’s dark. That’s what unites us all. Stepping into the light is the only way to move toward healing, progress, and certainly a heaping amount of respect along the way.
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- 7:30 am - Mon, Jun 16, 2014
Blog Post: How Owning A Useful Device Might Have Changed My Mind On Wearables
In the past 12 months, most of the conversation around wearable technology has related to how “useful” the devices are. When I say conversation, it’s not necessarily questioning if current the technology is useful. There’s no question of that, when you compare devices released by Pebble, Samsung, Nike and others. The only reason anyone is questioning how useful any of these devices are is because they aren’t really selling up to expectations.
That hasn’t stopped people from coming up with their reasoning why wearables aren’t useful yet. I’ve been on that same bandwagon, espousing the duplicitous nature of these gadgets. They promise more than what your smartphone is providing, yet when a blogger’s Fuelband or Fitbit has issues, more and more aren’t making the same effort to get them back into action.
I’m here to potentially backtrack that rhetoric, slightly.
At the suggestion of my doctor, and some trepidation on my part, I joined the wearable revolution recently by adding a continuous glucose monitoring system to my health regiment. Pictured above, the Dexcom G4 connects a sensor and transmitter attached to my body to a wireless receiver via bluetooth. While it does not necessarily “test” my blood sugar constantly, it does use the numbers from my regular glucose tests as part of a complex algorithm to show me where I currently stand and how my body is trending.
In a sense, I made myself a cyborg to get better real-time data into my current health to make less drastic decisions during my daily care of Type I diabetes.
Before I get all the comments on Twitter, I realize there is quite a difference between a small circle that tracks how many steps I have taken every day and an implanted sensor that delivers real time blood sugar stats to a device. What time with this technology has taught me, however, isn’t that different than the current challenges in this product category:
- This was completely optional. I was not required to have this device to live. Giving you control of it wouldn’t put my life in your hands (unlike an insulin pump), just gives more relevant data throughout the day. That said, real value was generated from this device and made it’s purchase and use well worth it.
- Data is not always 100 percent accurate. The device woke me up four times in the middle of the night when I first brought it home even though I knew I wasn’t as high or low as advertised. It took several days before the algorithm really started to get to know me a bit and adjust to my body accordingly. There were also many days where the device was 50 points off — which is a gigantic disparity in Diabetesland.
- My dashboard of information fails a bit in terms of data overload while at the same time of not putting it into relevance. Anyone with a fitness band knows what I’m talking about here. While the current number I’m at is the only vital data needed, there is a ton of other stuff that might help diabetics if the UI helped frame trends properly.
- It’s more than a pain that I can’t have this thing connect to my iPhone. My Dexcom receiver uses bluetooth, as does my smartphone. It would be awesome to carry only one piece of hardware. For the record guys, we make apps for a living, we should talk.
- With all the talk of data security in health, I haven’t met one person that feels strange about this information being public. My wife can check my numbers without even waking me up in the middle of the night and have peace of mind. That fact right there make the G4 invaluable to me. Putting data in patients hands only improves the job of doctors, why can’t we stop the stranglehold on medical information and release a bit more?
I could go on, but honestly this is just after a short while of use. As I use my device more, the learning will improve and my ideas will crystalize more. Does this really change how I feel about smart watches, fitness bands, and the future of wearable technology? I would initially say, “a little” with the caveat that the same takeaways from my medial wearable should be utilized for consumer devices.
We need to help consumers understand how valuable the right kind of data is. Instead of selling devices based upon the glut of raw data available, companies should help write apps that put the right context around really useful data. My blood pressure by itself isn’t very helpful, but taking the number in context of my work calendar and combine my glucose numbers to help me understand how my day went in the office.
Consumers also can’t expect perfection in the data department, and learn to look at a single reading for what it is: part of the larger picture of your life. I don’t freak out when my receiver beeps at me anymore, because I know that I don’t have to overreact anymore. The number may be off, or I may need to make a small tweak. See the bigger picture.
Finally, we need to understand that the smartphone will be the hub of our lives for the foreseeable future. Recent tablet sales numbers have shown that as much as we want larger screens, nothing is replacing my iPhone anytime soon. As such, I don’t need devices to replicate any of the functionality I currently enjoy. There’s no different between raising my arm to see a text and raising my phone as long as I have to push a button either way. I have to carry my receiver because I can’t get my CGM’s numbers, but you can bet as soon as I can get Dexcom to make an app I will be ditching the device.
So, I may not be ditching the dis on wearable devices anytime soon, it won’t be because I don’t really see them as useless. I just know what they are capable of if the focus on delivering true value is chased after. If I can help one small bit in making that happen, I will be one happy diabetic.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to implant some more technology into my body. It’s time to shift testing areas.
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- 7:30 am - Mon, Jun 9, 2014
- 3 notes
Blog Post: Solving The, “Am I The Only One With This Problem?” Problem
Whether you are a team of one, or one hundred, we are presented with the daily opportunity to introduce positive change into our work environments. Asking tough questions is a challenge to say the least, but it is also imperative to foster growth in today’s climate. With teams somewhere in between those two numbers, my biggest challenge and thrill comes from championing this effort every day.
Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to widen my scope a bit from team-oriented change to company-wide. In an effort that has taken a few months to get going, I would like to share about my experience.
At your place of business, some of you have large projects. Having spent a few years consulting in the telecommunications industry, I can sympathize with gigantic road maps involving hours of work in the thousands. Product teams have work that seemingly never ends, because the product is always out there being improved. To introduce change, you simply take your steady team and perform regular retrospectives. Gather information, assess the cause of what ails, hypothesize change, and prioritize the most important at the top of your next backlog.
It doesn’t happen this way at Bottle Rocket.
Our projects have a short life. Some apps are shipped in as little as two months, and the average time a team has together is five to seven months. The project I currently run is tracking to last about 12 months, but we have staffed up and down to meet the client’s needs several times.
We don’t get to stay together for very long.
My call is to still lead with transparency and ask the team to inspect and adapt regularly. Regardless of the timeline, agile leaders can still demonstrate the principles we learned long ago. The question I kept getting asked was, what happens to all that change we shepherd on projects?
Once the project is over, the team is broken up and moved in several directions depending on the sales pipeline. The PM picks up a new client, and a new team. Most likely, they aren’t the same as their previous project. Often, we have to start over from scratch. To boot, when a colleague has an issue on their team, a recurring question is asked.
“Am I the only one with this problem?” From the CEO of our company, all the way down to the newest employee, we all ask that question.
The final problem to solve was how retrospectives are run. Project managers are given a tremendous amount of freedom in running our teams, including retrospectives. We are just asked to do them, regardless of the method. As a result, mine looks different than all the others. Tough to compare apples to apples in that sense.
With the help of our analytics expert, I tackled this problem and am now pilot testing a unified method of inspecting and adapting. The call on me was straightforward:
- Gather the same information company wide.
- Keep it anonymous.
- Still give PMs the freedom in executing their retros.
- Move the ceremony to be more solution-based instead of focusing on the problem.
- Organize information into a concise repository to allow full transparency to the company.
I’m not the first agile coach to suggest a survey in advance of the ceremony, nor am I the first to acknowledge that retros are sometimes glorified “gripe sessions”. What I did try to do, though, was carefully curate what kind of information would help my company gain insight and incorporate a rating with each question (value-stream mapping style). The questions may evolve over time, but I wanted to share the first iteration of the survey to get your feedback:
- How satisfied were you with this sprint?
- How productive was the team during this sprint?
- How effective was the communication among the team?
- Rate the quality of the deliverable/brand experience the team created during this sprint.
- How effective were you in fulfilling your role on the project?
- What recommendations do you have for future sprints or projects?
The first five questions have a rating of 1-10 associated, as well as a follow up question of why the responder felt that way. It allows for some metrics to be gathered as well as help people identify their feelings better and assess the team’s progress.
Looking forward to getting some results and get feedback from the pilot teams. Thanks to my fellow PMs for allowing me to execute the desires of many and get smarter information towards improvement. The point isn’t to be more organized, although that can be a benefit. The point isn’t to insert “one more thing” for our teams to do as part of our process. It isn’t even to more closely watch from above what’s going on.
The point is to measure better to grow stronger.
, project manager
, scrum master
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