7:30 am - Mon, Sep 15, 2014
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Blog Post: Can Positivity Help Your Agility?

It’s 10:42 in the evening here in Dallas and I am a little frazzled, so to speak. One of the apps I help shepherd just shipped a release but has another one coming right behind it. Another product has — by far — it’s biggest releases shipping in a couple of weeks. I just got a promotion to take on some new internal duties that already has deliverables. To boot, I just got back home from a last minute trip to LA that my sleep schedule still hasn’t recovered from.

All these things on my mind makes me grumpy at home, and certainly makes enjoying the little time I have off difficult. For the record, thank you Karyn for your understanding. It will get better soon.

In this midst of all this turmoil, it can be tough to get your mind right. Often, when you are tired, frustrated, and questioning a lot of decisions, the right mindset can really be the salve needed. That’s why I’m glad I found this post from business consultant Christina Lattimer who posed an apt question:

What if everything were ok?

Sounds trite and cliche, right? That’s what I first thought. It rings of false positivity, and I would just rather be transparent with how I feel. The person who shared this article with me doesn’t usually subscribe to that fluff, so I leaned in.

Lattimer was having a problem relaxing during a swim, largely for the same reasons I have relaxing sometimes. What the question she asked herself provided was the opportunity to block out the outside world. If everything was lined up properly, she didn’t need to think about anything other than her freestyle technique.

After pondering the question further, I saw a ton of application for this question in the Agile world. How would you plan your next sprint if you weren’t behind? How would you run your next ceremony if the team hadn’t just finished yelling at each other? What would your backlog look like if you could wipe all that debt off the table?

The possibilities are endless.

There is a time to be real and transparent about the struggles we have before us. Teams respect that honesty and respond when you are willing to let them behind the curtain. Sometimes, though, the weight of our challenges can block us from finding the right solution. The key to solution-based thinking lies in the notion that things can be ok if you can focus.

See past the problem, seek the solution, and don’t be afraid of a little positivity. I know it fired me up for tomorrow.


Tagged: agile, positivity, problems, solution

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11:44 pm - Sun, Sep 14, 2014

Blog Post: Can Positivity Help Your Agility?

how-a-positive-attitude-leads-to-a-positive-outcome

It’s 10:42 in the evening here in Dallas and I am a little frazzled, so to speak. One of the apps I help shepherd just shipped a release but has another one coming right behind it. Another product has — by far — it’s biggest releases shipping in a couple of weeks. I just got a promotion to take on some new internal duties that already has deliverables. To boot, I just got back home from a last…

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7:30 am - Mon, Sep 8, 2014

Blog Post: Solving The Paradox Of Unknown Risk

Suppose I offered you a chance to win $100. In a box, you have 90 balls to draw from. Of that number, 30 are red in color and the remaining 60 are either black or yellow. Kicker is I won’t tell you what that mix is. If I were to offer you two different wagers, which one would you most likely select:

One that pays if you select a red ball, or one that pays the same if you select a black ball.

Either gamble poses risk, and in fact may hold the same amount. There could be an equal mix of black and yellow balls, meaning that there are 30 of all three colors. Of course, there may be only 2 black balls and would be significantly less optimal to attempt that bet. 

The proposition was posed by Harvard economics student Daniel Ellsberg in the early 60s for his dissertation on decision theory. The accompanying study revealed that of the two choices, most people are more willing to take the gamble with determined amount of risk rather than the unknown — even if the odds were better. 

The study also had a similar gamble where you could choose either a bet that paid if you selected either a red or yellow ball, and a bet that paid if you selected a black or yellow ball. With there being a determined amount of black and yellow balls, it is less of a risk to take the second wager. Again you could have the same amount of red and yellow balls as black and yellow, but the number is not known.

Ellsburg’s dissertation was published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics in 1961, and the principle became known as the Ellsberg Paradox.

Moral is, risk is all around us. If we are going to decide the best route forward, we feel better making choices where we know the amount of risk involved.

When making things the Agile way, the Ellsberg Paradox is often presented. Stakeholders, team members and clients all want to be able to make decisions with a determined amount of risk. In a perfect world, we would have all backlog items properly assessed so the best decision about “what’s next” can be made. We all know that never happens, of course. Some items are fully defined, while others might have some technical questions or unfinished art.

How are we to make the right decision? Is it as simple as choosing the most defined first? Here a few ways that you can solve the paradox of unknown risk and keep everyone informed:

Understand that there’s no such thing as “unknown risk”. If strong communication exists between you and everyone else, there should be no risk that’s not known. Of course, I can’t solve for poor communication in this post, so let’s assume everyone’s talking. 

Once you communicate the risk, you should have everything you need. I would argue that most of the time, risk can be weighed but in a vacuum all risk is equal from the standpoint of just-in-time requirements. You might wish you could know more about a particular item, but knowing everything possible is all you can ask for. If what you know at that moment seems too high to pull the trigger, simply defer it until you can learn more.

Keep priority in perspective. The tough part is priority is often independent of risk. Clients may want a feature done right away because of external deadlines, yet it may have the most risk assigned. Kano analysis or weighted values might narrow down this some, but it still doesn’t solve the problem of what to do with risk.

Some teams will rate the risk just like the priority of a defect. Others may pad estimates because of the risk associated. To be fair, none of them are completely full-proof or faulty in design. The more you can build risk into your priority, the more outside stakeholders will feel a part of the decision making process.

Comfort level is associated with risk. Epics are going to have a fair amount of risk just because of the sheer size of the work. As you break them down into smaller pieces of work, the assumption is you will solve for some of it as it moves closer to the top of the backlog.

My experience of risk doesn’t have to do with challenging pieces of integration. Rather, it has to do with new APIs or third-party vendors. If the team has never worked with it before, there’s going to need to be some padding. Once a research spike or working session is complete, the work item could be moved up as more is known. Assess the team’s comfort level when a new item is first introduced and help groom the risk like all other requirements.

In the end, solving for risk is an exercise in transparency. If you understand, communicate and groom risk as a part of your regular activities, it is nearly impossible to make a poor decision when the time comes.

How are you solving for risk on your teams?




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4:35 pm - Sun, Sep 7, 2014
Blog Post: Solving The Paradox Of Unknown Risk

Suppose I offered you a chance to win $100. In a box, you have 90 balls to draw from.

Blog Post: Solving The Paradox Of Unknown Risk

Suppose I offered you a chance to win $100. In a box, you have 90 balls to draw from.

7:30 am - Mon, Sep 1, 2014

Blog Post: 3 Ways To Improve Your Daily Checklists

Before a pilot can throttle up and take off from a runway, there are 30 items that Boeing recommends checking off for a standard 737. The World Health Organization has a 19-point checklist for all surgeries to keep infections at a minimum. OSHA has 33 items on a computer station safety checklist alone. It’s safe to say we are starting to lick the ability to identify and perform tasks on a day-in-day-out basis.

Our jobs as app makers aren’t immune to this concept. Each release we send to clients for app store submission has a development and quality assurance checklist. Both sign offs are performed to ensure adherence to platform and user-needed guidelines. That way we give everyone our best on each launch.

Yet, it’s imperative that we remind ourselves every day we can’t live on checklists alone. We have to remember the heart behind them.

The heart behind our technical checklists is obvious. When clients and users see the Bottle Rocket logo appear on a splash screen, they know they aren’t going to see a glitch that takes them away from an amazing experience. For our UX strategists and art directors, the lists haven’t been as rigidly defined before. Even creatives, though, have a tuning fork that goes off in their stomach when they see something that doesn’t feel right. Management use them to make sure the plates keep spinning and we keep getting paid.

Even so, it doesn’t seem enough. Isn’t there a level deeper than we could go? There has to be a level of authenticity to our daily lives if we are truly going to see past the pragmatic. What’s truly at the heart of it all?

That’s where the checklist comes back into play. Here’s a few things you can start now to see the real meaning of your to-do lists:

Work with transparency and authenticity. We must work more openly if we are going to step it up. That means broadcasting app mission statements, sprint goals, and user testing headlines. My mother- and father-in-law each have their own personal mission statement as well as a family mission statement. They didn’t write these statements once and then walk away. At least four times a week, all three items are restated to each other and they ask how they are doing at carrying them out. Inspiring, and at the same time an exhortation.

When was the last time you asked yourself what your goals were besides what had to be done that particular day? Better yet, when was time you asked a co-worker about their goals? Progress towards or away from the goal can spark many creative conversations.

Corporately discuss your screw ups. Once we address how we are progressing along the road of our mission statements, undoubtedly some missteps will be identified. There’s no shame in these statements, there’s a good chance they weren’t even your fault. Regardless, they happened, and you need to talk about them.

People around me need to know when I make a mistake. I’m tired of hearing old-school managers talk about only focusing on the positive, or “just moving on” when things happen. We don’t trust each other when we know just good news. Just ask anyone who spends time on Facebook.

Personally, I like to use daily stand ups for this purpose. If I could have served the team better, I admit it and let them know how I’m going to try and avoid the same thing happening again. Hopefully, people trust what I say more as a result. Trust each other with your faults, you’ll be surprised when you see the results.

Examine your mission constantly. Once you have the answers from all the questions the first two points brings up, adjust the original mission statement and re-broadcast it. There’s no harm in telling clients that the original mission statement you wrote was fine, but less informed than your current iteration. That kind of authentic transparency endears us to the mission of pushing the envelope and embracing the impossible. 

The peek behind the curtain gives everyone a chance to learn and grow together. If the experience changes as a result, then we can all discuss the cost of the change and decide if it’s worth the effort. Many a team has looked at the cost and said, “sign me up.”

Depending on your personality type, the checklist is either embraced or shunned. Either way, it’s merely a tool to help accomplish goals. Being prepared is tactical, but the purpose is bigger than that. It allows us to live openly with our colleagues and fuel work we never thought imaginable.

For the past year, I have focused on the mission of helping those around me make things better through a improved process. What I have learned is I can’t spend my time on just that spectrum. There are times when the process of making things is super-ceded by what needs to be made in that moment. Projects evolve and teams change, and I can’t just keep my head in the clouds.

I would like to amend it and ask for your help in accountability. For the next year, I am going to focus on finding the right balance between “building things right” vs. “building the right thing.”

I’m going to learn a lot, can’t wait to see what checklists this produces.




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4:30 pm - Sun, Aug 31, 2014
Blog Post: 3 Ways To Improve Your Daily Checklists

Before a pilot can throttle up and take off from a runway, there are 30 items that…

Blog Post: 3 Ways To Improve Your Daily Checklists

Before a pilot can throttle up and take off from a runway, there are 30 items that…

4:30 pm
Blog Post: 3 Ways To Improve Your Daily Checklists

Before a pilot can throttle up and take off from a runway, there are 30 items that…

Blog Post: 3 Ways To Improve Your Daily Checklists

Before a pilot can throttle up and take off from a runway, there are 30 items that…

7:30 am - Mon, Aug 25, 2014

Blog Post: Why Should I Memorize The 12 Agile Principles?

At our monthly meet up last week, the fine folks at DFW Scrum concocted a little rope-a-dope for yours truly. The title online simply read “Agile Jeopardy“, leading me to believe we were going to play a little game to test our knowledge of the framework. In the Trebek-led gameshow, answers are the questions and questions are the answers. I’m a quick study, and read everything in front of me regarding the industry, so I walked into the room confident of my victory. This was going to be easy.

Or so I thought. My team ended up winning, but not because of me. I sat there on my hands for most of the evening.

As many people familiar with Agile practice, there were four main tenets of the framework written 13 years ago. They are not wordy, and simple in format. The questions regarding those items were fairly straightforward for us, and teams jumped all over them.

Tricky part of the Agile Manifesto is the four pillars are very broad and don’t really lead you down the whole path to implementation. In the writers’ wisdom, I’m sure this was by design. For further instruction, they penned 12 principles that gave leaders across the globe everything they would need.

Thing is, they are verbose and difficult to memorize. To be honest, I couldn’t even remember the last time I read them through. Some Agile leader I am.

I mentioned earlier that my team ended up winning. Reason for that is one of my carefully selected teammates took the time to memorize the principles (or at least enough to lead us to victory). Afterward, when everyone was sitting around conversing, I asked him why it was so important for him to know them off the top of his head. I know what they all refer to, and I have the Internet in my pocket, so in my mind I didn’t think it was an absolute necessity.

“At least one is quoted every day at work,” he said. “If I want someone to see me as an expert, and follow my advice, I need to state where I got my ideas from.”

That concept rings true, regardless of your industry. Agile has so little core documentation — for a reason. You can choose to implement the ideas in whatever way make sense to your organization, but you can’t ignore the manifesto and principles. So often I hear people use the phrase, “that’s not Agile,” when condemning an idea. It’s annoying to me, but now that I see the principles in a new light I can see why someone would say that.

That same week, I stood before my fellow PMs at Bottle Rocket and admitted to them I had let them down. If I was going to continue to help lead the Agile transformation here, I needed to do a better job of reminding everyone why we do what we do. Because I don’t use the principles very often, neither do they.

That will change, and soon.

When you have a chance, read through them again. Ask yourself if you know what they refer to, and if you feel this principle is adhered to where you work. We’re kidding ourselves if we think we do them well every day, but identifying and admitting shortcomings is the first step to improvement. Make a list of principles that need to be implemented better, and how this would happen.

Just like being able to quote the manifesto in a meeting, you have to do the work to transform your organization. Imagine being told, “give me the three things we need to do right now to be a more Agile organization.”  As terrifying as that proposition is, more and more of us are being asked to lead the way. If you don’t have those items ready, and the reasons why, you won’t be taken seriously the next time.

This is where I need the most work. I love improving with co-workers and thinking on my feet. If I only prepared a little more and documented my ideas for the company, I could at least propose how we can take it to the next level here. So, I’m going to start prioritizing my list of ideas. You should have yours too.

Call it your “transformation backlog”. I have your first user story:

As an Agile leader, I must identify the principles that are poorly adhered to so that I can suggest new practices.




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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:
 
khai
 
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

DPN 800 x 544-LARGE
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…

View On WordPress

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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9:32 pm - Sun, Aug 10, 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.

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.

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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10:06 pm - Sun, Aug 3, 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.

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.

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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