7:30 am - Thu, Apr 24, 2014
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Blog Post: The difference between invention and innovation


God bless the Internet and the speed at which venom can be spewed towards tech news.

As Easter weekend was just getting underway, CNET broke a story that involved the Nike FuelBand team being fired and the product line retiring. Since wearable technology is the newest darling amongst tech writers, this was a big deal. One of the original entries in this product category was changing course, and it’s tune.

Rumors spread, and speculation consumed. Just like it always does. For me, however, this was neither a shock or cause for concern. It merely gave credence to the notion that wearables have a long way to go, and companies can’t merely keep trotting out inferior products.

Any product person knows the difference between inventive and innovative products. For something to be inventive, it just has to do something new for consumers. To truly innovate, though, it has to bring a true utility and usefulness.

That’s why Pebble, FuelBand, Shine and FitBit owners enjoy their purchase for a time and then move on. It was inventive to strap a piece of technology to your wrist for a time, but we don’t quite know what to do with it yet.

This is not to say the category doesn’t have it’s defenders. I had a passioinate discussion with a sales rep from AT&T the other day about his Samsung Gear and how useful it was. He purported to save a lot of time by managing his notifications from his wrist, and it made driving a lot safer. Pebble owners at work feel the exact same way. What they don’t realize is for most consumers, until there is a true utility difference between a wearable and a smartphone the product category will go nowhere.

Apple knows this. That’s why they are taking their sweet time on a product offering. They are taking the time to make the software useful and simple. So much so that they met with the FDA to get their blessing. Nike probably knows this, and will most likely have a prominent place in iOS 8 and the Healthbook functionality.

Instead of asking consumers to purchase a product they will discard in a few months, they want a seat at the table for what’s coming next.

Rumors of turmoil on the team and project probably ring true, but if the FuelBand was selling like hotcakes I don’t think the Portland-based monolith would have had any issue making things work.

Om Malik made a great point on Twitter in the aftermath of this announcement. “Nike has a wearable. It’s called a shoe. All they need to do is figure out how connect it to the phone. That’s their unique value proposition.”

It all points to one simple fact: the only wearable device that matters to consumers right now is the smartphone. Until someone figures out a better way to tell the story of my data and notifications in a unique way, more products will go the way of the dodo.

Tagged: apps, fitbit, fuelband, gear, mobile, nike, pebble, Samsung, shine, technology, wearable

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7:30 am - Mon, Apr 21, 2014
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Blog Post: When A Presentation Becomes More Than Just Slides


Regardless of how much I knew the material I wanted to present, and the supreme amount of support I had in the room, there’s always something about presenting to a large group that can make you a bit nervous. It was my third or fourth time presenting the same topic, but this time it was to colleagues that were just as mature in their careers that I was (more likely more mature, at that). I wanted to gain their respect, help them enjoy the time they had blocked out for me, and give them food for thought going away.

I recently had the pleasure of presenting a topic to DFW Scrum, one of the largest Agile user groups in the country. Regardless of how far down on the list of desired speakers I was, the leaders graciously gave me the floor for that month’s meeting on the topic of definition of done. What an experience it was!

Earlier this year, I wrote about how much I learned about myself after blogging for a year. As true as that is, publicly speaking amplifies every point I made and more. You’re words are to actual faces that can raise their hands and question where you are coming from. It’s one thing to present to your team every day for standup. It’s another thing when 130 relative strangers are staring straight at you. You can see above just how packed the house was.

When preparing for the evening, I started with the idea that I would “wow” them with practical knowledge and share war stories of being an Agile leader. After a few trial runs with co-workers, I realized that wouldn’t be enough. If I was sitting in the audience, I would say to myself, “I can read about this topic anywhere, why on Earth did I give up my Tuesday night for this?”

That same thought overcomes me as I get ready for a difficult sprint planning, demo, or even prepare to review a challenging two weeks of work. Why should these people be listening to me?

As philosophical as that sounds, it wasn’t all that difficult to come to an answer. The definition of done is something that many companies practicing some form of Agile talk about, and even possibly post them on boards for teams to see. Yet, when polled during my talk, very few leaders feel that they are actually adhered to on a sprint by sprint basis.

Having heard similar results before, I kept that in mind and asked myself the same thing we ask our teams all the time.


One word kept coming up when I talked to people. Expectations that are either unmet, not communicated, or mismanaged are usually the source of our problems. Not just at work. It’s at home, on the commute back and forth, hanging out with family and friends, you name it.

The talk basically wrote itself at that point. I was allowed to present some practical ideas on how to define “done” in your organization, but it didn’t stop there. I presented a bigger idea that surrounded the topic and gave everyone something to take back to their offices. A few even showed me notes they had made on the way out, which humbled and stirred me to go back and look deeper for more truths.

Most of the people who read this are leaders of some type. You might not be one in title (don’t worry, I’m not either), but you are a leader whether you know it or not. You have the ability to spur your teammates and co-workers on to bigger and better things. When you have the occasion to speak to them, even if it’s over lunch or on the way to a meeting, ask yourself for the deeper truth that lies beneath the surface. It gives your words a weight they aren’t expecting, but a reason for them to come back for more.

Instead of asking themselves why they are talking to you, they actively seek you out for more. It makes the difference between a leader who enjoys talking (which I have been at several points in my career), and one who desires to bring out the best in those around (which I hopefully do more of today).

Thanks again to everyone from the group who reads along to my posts. I can’t wait to see you guys next time!

Tagged: agile, definition of done, expectations, leadership, public speaking, scrum

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7:30 am - Mon, Apr 7, 2014

Blog Post: Protecting a team sometimes means “from you”


The best part of coaching is getting to listen and interact with co-workers about what problems they face on a daily basis. You don’t need a title to have this enviable role, just the desire to care about others around you and help. I was afforded one such occasion recently when I noticed a frustrated smile on someone’s face as I passed them in the hallway. As with most coaching conversations, I began with an empathetic, “what’s wrong?”

“Have you ever walked up to a developer at the end of the day and asked them what they accomplished today?”

I sat down, because this was clearly not a simple question to answer.

Nuts and bolts, a PM on this co-worker’s team had approached an engineer in this manner. It obviously irked said developer and was voicing his frustration. After a few more qualifying questions surrounding the experience, I ventured some honest words that hopefully shed some needed perspective on the situation.

Truth is, I have approached team members with that request. I’m not proud of it, and wish I could tell the interested party I had never strayed.

Reason for that is, self-managing teams should never need to be micro-managed or suffocated with needless questions during the course of their work day. Scrum masters are taught to bring a notebook and take notes on what is going to be accomplished that day and then wait for the next morning to validate if that happened. Once upon a time, I was meticulous in this exercise because I wanted to have a written track record of how successful the day was for everyone and be able to point out when roadblocks were cropping up.

(In fact, I would still recommend this activity for new SMs, PMs or Ms of any kind. It’s a good muscle to train to keep up with the daily tasks of your teams.)

The challenge leads back to expectations, I warned. If you say that you will only have a meeting to discuss progress once a day, you must leave them to it and swallow your questions. If you pester them throughout the day with status updates, you will only create an unsafe atmosphere for them to raise their hands for help. I had to learn that lesson the hard way once upon a time.

That being said, you can find all sorts of ways to get status without pestering. If a dev is waiting on a comp from art, there’s nothing wrong with asking either party if the deliverable had been met. If QA finds a high priority bug, you are more than welcome to ask what an engineer is in the middle of so you can re-prioritize.

You could just ask for permission to change the rules for a day — like on release days — but that would just teach the team that you can change the rules whenever it suits you. Respect boundaries first and then learn how to push them on occasion.

As I said when I ended the conversation, “protecting the team sometimes means even from you.”

Tagged: agile, boundaries, expectations, lean, micro-manage, progress, scrum, standup

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7:30 am - Mon, Mar 31, 2014

Blog Post: Are You Better At Focusing On The Future Or The Immediate?


Agile coaches, project and product managers all have their strengths. While the specifics tend to differ wildly, I can usually divide them into two camps: the immediate and the future.

The immediate specialists are awesome day-to-day negotiators of roadblocks and issues that arise on the team. They love spending time with the team, keeping meetings short, and protecting heads-down time. For these leaders, headphones are only used to drown out all the laughter while they answer emails.

Future leaders see the big picture and won’t let anything deter the team from that goal. They schedule time with their headphones and thoughts, fill notebooks with ideas, and only step in when the team really needs them. As my grandfather once told me, these people, “dont sweat the petty stuff and dont pet the sweaty stuff.”

I recognized this in my fellow agile leaders a long time ago, and proceeded to spend just as long deciding which is best. Managers will offer points on which is better for their departments, but the reality is both have a crucial impact on success.

So I spent some time trying to do both.Crazy as it sounds, I asked a ton of questions and tried it.

Most will read this and say we aren’t built this way. Scrum teams are even built to accommodate for both types of thinkers with scrum masters and product owners. One should focus on what needs to be built and the other on how it will happen. That way, the team keeps one eye on the now and the other on what’s next

Problem is, it’s not fair to either role to force them to be the keeper of each flame. With a little discipline, it’s possible to spend some of your time on each. Which area you spend the most time on will depend on your specific role.

Strategists need a lot of time with their heads in the clouds, but that shouldn’t stop them from helping make day-to-day decisions. Project managers should never play in the clouds for too long or current sprints will flounder.

Here are some easy tactics to hone your skills:

  • Schedule some real alone time. I recently started spending a couple of hours on Sundays at my neighborhood Starbucks. Once you remove all of the emails, calls, and walkups, you will be amazed how much you can do in a concentrated period of time. Most productive day of the week by far, and I can make sure I start the week with my eye on what’s coming up.
  • Take your headphones off and ask questions. As much as I love grooving to my jam while cranking out some work, you miss so much when you can’t hear and see what’s going on around you. Developers and testers decry this as the reason for remote work, but if regular breaks are instituted that include purposeful time asking questions of your teammates you will be amazed at the results.
  • Mostly importantly, realize the value in this concept and be okay with the discomfort. Depending on the company and project, I have found myself stuck in ruts with both mindsets. It can be comfortable just putting out fires every day or isolating yourself from the problems that need attention. I have met some amazing leaders who force themselves to go from the ground level to 30,000 feet at a moments notice.

Your teams will see you pay attention to their needs while remembering to keep them focused on the larger goals. Curious to know which one you are, and how you trained yourself to change your focus when needed.

Tagged: agile, coaching, leadership, lean, product, project, scrum, strategy

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7:30 am - Tue, Mar 25, 2014

Blog Post: Look Past The Obstacle Towards The Goal


Inspiration comes to me every day. Sometimes it’s in the form of an encouraging tweet, a text, or a phone call. Most of the time, though, I’m sleeping right next to inspiration. My wife shows me every day the realization that we are a work in progress. She wakes up every day and asks tough questions of herself, of me, and everyone around us. 

She just completed her first half-marathon yesterday. I would love to say she did it because of her awesome support system, but the reality is she worked her tail off. 

There were many days worthy of calling it quits. That’s the way it is with things worth going after.

We’ve all had fits of exhaustion and frustration in our endeavors. The chapter that just won’t come together. The development sprint that seems to fall flat on it’s face. The meeting that results in wild gesticulation and obscenities. Moments where we have to ask tough questions.

Best part of Karyn is, she didn’t see quitting as an option. Sure, the idea most likely hung in the air a few days, and she could have stopped. That’s just not how she’s wired. 


Little by little, she worked over 3 months to get to 13.1 miles. If she had tried that on the first day, quitting would have been easier. She could have done a 10k and called it “good enough”. Instead, she never stopped looking at the end goal and working towards it.

What tough questions are you having to ask yourself this morning?

Rather than looking at the obstacles in the way, look past them to the goal. Only then can you find a way to negotiate those hurdles and get closer to the prize. Thanks for reminding me of that honey.

Tagged: agile, goal, half-marathon, inspiration, lean, obstacles

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7:30 am - Thu, Mar 20, 2014

Blog Post: How Does Android Wear Improve Wearables?


Building for the sake of being first is a recipe for disaster. Only when we see the true value of the product can we see the tipping point towards behavior and purchases changing for good. Malcolm Gladwell, Jim Collins and Seth Godin made careers writing about that very subject. Apple has made billions with that philosophy.

While I’m not in them, I used their words to describe every piece of wearable technology until now. Google Wear might just get me to see real value in the product category.

By now, you’ve seen the glamor shots on social media and news sites about Google’s version of Android geared towards wearables. While marketing is talking about what the OS could be versus what it actually does, it’s the promise of future innovation that has me actually thinking of purchasing a device.

The Moto 360, to be specific. LG, for all the elegance of the Nexus line of devices, seems content to make the same square junk that Pebble and Samsung have already flung at the market. Motorola’s offering, though, seems to get what we actually need a smart watch to do. It’s not another gesture or interaction to view notifications either.

I simply look, speak, and get back to what I was doing.

In this promotional video, that’s the first thing that stood out. If I wanted to look at photos, capture video or check my calendar, I would pull out my phone. Many of my emails will also require a keyboard (actual or virtual). However, if I wanted to capture data about my fitness, respond to a text from my wife, or remind myself to take out the recycling when I get home, there’s no need to touch anything. 

Just tell my watch to do it.

Part of me doesn’t even want to touch the interface. I know there are some experiences that will absolutely require a touch or swipe, but part of the fatal flaw of all smart watches to date is it requires two hands to still use. One for holding and one for interacting. I might as well use my phone then.

The question will be can Android Wear be used with other brands of phones. I have no desire to change from an iPhone at this time, but if the open integration will pull all my notifications (for comparable apps and APIs of course) they might have just sold another device. Might not even need to wait and see what Apple has to offer. It’s that good.

Google Now makes lives that much better. While a Nexus 5 does that already, I can see my wife being more comfortable with checking traffic or notifications from my wrist rather than a larger device.

Consider me officially intrigued.

Tagged: Android, apps, Google, mobile, notifications, technology, Wear, wearable

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7:30 am - Mon, Mar 17, 2014

Blog Post: What Can A 12-Step Program Teach You About Professional Growth?


Nothing makes you take a hard look at yourself like a 12-step program. While I am not finished yet, I am close enough to see the whole picture as it was meant to unfold. Having forced myself to look upon my past, and recognized what impact it had on who I am now, I can now set a course towards an overall healthy future.

There I got it out of the way, here’s why I bring it up.

The tenth step of Celebrate Recovery realizes what you have been through: make lists, admitted faults, reconcile relationships. All while coming to grips that I can’t do this all by myself. After all that, it would be easy to think that you are done. Instead, you’re asked to take the whole process and do it again.

Every. Single. Day.

“We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.”

Agile and lean coaches teach this principle to their teams all the time. The retrospective, which I have written about many times before, asks everyone to stop and ask themselves how things are going. The idea isn’t to question if improvements can be made, but which ones should we focus on next.

While contemplating what I learned in the tenth step, it dawned on me that this applies to all of my co-workers. Looking critically at each day of your life and listing the triumphs and failures is something anyone can use to get the most out of every morning we wake up.

When I began the step, I downloaded the app Day One to my iPhone. I have heard good things about it from co-workers, and because I could set an alarm to go off every evening before my head hits the pillow. Decompressing from the past 18 hours, I can jot these items down and make an action plan on how to resolve them.

Perhaps there’s a colleague I got defensive with when I was questioned. A task I was putting off for my boss because it didn’t seem like very much fun. A pithy email I fired off without thinking everything through. Possibilities are endless. You can imagine the traction it got me when I started revisiting each item and giving each person the dignity they deserved.

Of course, you can take the process one step further. By opening the app in the moment, I’m forcing myself to deal with it in the moment. Instead of spending the next day making amends, you can instead make some new progress instead of righting old wrongs.

The ultimate is after a few weeks or months of this endeavor, sitting down with the list an realizing two things: you might still have a long way to go, but you have come a long way. A daily inventory shows you how each day may have gone, but six months of that list shows a sapling becoming a mighty oak.

Before this idea becomes too daunting, just try this tomorrow. Write down one awesome thing that happened and one struggle you had. For each idea, ask yourself the root of that event, and if there are any action items. Be honest with yourself. Growth doesn’t come from you babying your own life.

Transparency shows the world you are real, genuine and intentional about being a part of their lives. Couldn’t we use more of that in our offices, our work and our world?

Tagged: 12 steps, agile, celebrate recovery, inventory, lean, recovery, retrospectives, transparency

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7:30 am - Mon, Mar 10, 2014

Blog Post: Where, Or Who, Can You Mine For Resources?


A friend was recently telling me about his family’s land in South Texas. You see, while his father’s family were very hard workers, they grew up with equally meager surroundings. It was easy to acquire land back then, because it was cheap and not worth much other than herding cattle. When his grandparents died, they passed down about 100 acres of land each to their five kids. Nobody really celebrated, because there wasn’t much to be done with it.

Oil was struck in all five plots. My friend’s grandparents were walking around a gold mine without knowing it.

I smiled the entire time this story was being told because I know that exact feeling. Not that I live on unearthed crude oil (that I know of). What I was enjoying was the concept of un-mined resources, because it happens on every team I have led.

For example, one of the best assurers of quality I have is an art director on my team. The tester we have is not just gifted, she was born to test on a mobile device. So you would think we have quality sown up. When we got really heavy into the testing phase of the first release, though, I saw several bugs that weren’t related to art being raised by said art director. I started to say something, but instead sat back and watched things unfold. The QA and AD sat side by side, and would often talk about things they saw and how to best document it. As a result, we had a very solid build to deliver as a release candidate (that was also beautiful).

What would have happened if I or the QA tester had stood up and said, “that’s not your job,” to the AD? Some would say that the best artists are also great at finding bugs, but that’s not necessarily part of their scope as a designer. Many in her position would just let it go and, “leave it to QA” to do that job.

As a coach, this kind of passion excites me, and inspired me to look for further un-mined resources. The strategist, who does some development on the side, is gifted in architecting features with the right services. Nearly every developer, while not a designer, has amazing ideas on how to animate and present pixels from their fellow artists. The tester I mentioned earlier is amazing at running and documenting meetings if I have to be out of the office. A team of people that see their job description as a starting point instead of a box to not deviate from.

Imagine if we all started looking around us for resources that have been under our noses the entire time. Would we discover an entire team that can ensure quality? A few extra UX designers that have been dying to have their opinion solicited? Maybe our solution could be architected a little more solidly if we only asked for volunteers to raise their hands.

I can guarantee there is oil all around us, waiting to be struck. The question is, are you willing to ask and then do something about it when you find it?

Tagged: agile, art, design, development, leadership, lean, mobile, scrum, ux

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7:30 am - Mon, Mar 3, 2014


I am often reminded of how wonderful it is to be working in this current time period. Not only do I get to work with the greatest technology ever known, but I am paid to interact with it on a daily basis. I get to wear pretty much anything I want to the office, and that’s not even the greatest perk I have when I head in. When I sit down with my boss for a one-on-one talk about how things are going, I am frequently asked about my happiness.

Never do I remember being asked this question early on in my career. Despite my young age, I remember being repeatedly told that my paycheck was the only “thank you” I deserved. My how times have changed.

Happiness is something discussed in human relations circles, as well as industry leaders. As pointed out by agile grand poo-bah Jeff Sutherland, ensuring the happiness of your company can produce 50 times the productivity. When he’s not busy passing on his wisdom of Scrum, he’s teaching many of us on how important it is that we are happy at work.

Since then, many have tried to take the idea down a pegor two. While important to acknowledge the limitations of any measurement in the workplace, there have been numerous studies that have backed up Mr. Sutherland.

The basics are simple: everyone is anonymously asked how happy they have been recently and then follow up with open-ended questions about how things could improve for you. Individually, a nameless survey on this information is useless, but when grouped together it can signal good or bad times coming for your company. Imagine the possibilities this information could open up. 

The best part is when you take this one step further. If happy people produce better work, enjoy coming in, and gladly sacrifice for the greater good…is there one specific thing you could do to improve happiness?

Matt Killingsworth, as part of his doctoral research at Harvard, created a survey where people were asked at various points in the day how happy they were. You can still sign up, I highly encourage it. Amongst the metrics measured were if the subject wanted to be doing what they were currently in the middle of, what exactly it was, and if they were thinking about something else. The most telling stat was the focus of the subject.

In his TED talk about the subject, Killingsworth said respondents were overwhelmingly happier when they stayed in the moment of whatever they were doing. As ridiculous as it sounds, thinking about your commute while you are in the middle of it produces a higher happiness rating than the music trying to distract you.

Peter Saddington addressed the idea of multitasking and how study after study shows it to be a myth in his Agile 2013 presentation “The Science of High Performance Teams”. Not only are we incapable of putting 100 percent behind two things at the same time, it actually diminishes the results of all tasks conducted.

So, if happy employees produce better work, and focused people are generally happier, wouldn’t it make sense to find any way possible to train yourself to focus at work?

Many roles make this tough, I know mine does. Problem is, sitting in a meeting while responding to emails means you aren’t writing your best while not retaining anything from the meeting concurrently. Will this kind of shift mean radical changes in how we work? Absolutely, but the results of batching work into a series of Pomodoro Techniques can make all the difference in your happiness. 

Curious of your thoughts, have you had experiences in this kind of measurement at work? 

Tagged: agile, focus, happiness, pomodoro, productivity, scrum, TED

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7:30 am - Mon, Feb 24, 2014
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Blog Post: What Can A Benedictine Monk Teach Agile Coaches?


It’s crazy to think about how long TED talks have been around. Long enough for them to be an unknown quantity, diamond in the rough, huge hit, lame, hit again, lame again, and so on. I view each one as a box of Cracker Jacks. You know there’s going to be a prize inside each one, it just may be a sticker instead of a ring. I’m past the mystique of it all, and choose to listen to the audio podcast version. Makes my work commutes much more enjoyable.

The best ones are always out of nowhere surprises. Recently, I went into a talk by Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast on happiness with very low expectations. I’m fascinated by the subject (as is the rest of the world), but I don’t need “5 tips to increase them” because that trick has been played. Instead he argued that gratefulness was the key. True happiness, he went on to say, comes from when we receive something valuable and have a chance to reflect upon it. That’s where gratefulness comes in. 

Of course, not every situation is easy to be thankful for, but he doesn’t think that’s where gratitude fits in. Instead of being grateful of awful situations, instead reflect on how amazing it is that we have a chance to respond. With grace, kindness, affection, transparency, sincerity, or merely be thankful that you have another chance to try again next time.

As an agile coach, and aspiring leader in this space, I think I have opportunities to not only demonstrate gratitude, but help encourage this attitude amongst the ranks. So my ears perked up. I started wondering, is it possible for an agile leader to learn something from a Benedictine monk to help his or her team?

Steindl-Rast, who started a non-profit called gratefulness.org, states that to bring out more gratitude in our lives, we must put more stop signs up in our lives. When we are at a stop sign, we stop…then look around…then go. He encouraged us to do all three things more often. It encourages gratitude, which raises the happiness in what we do.

Stop me of you’ve heard that before guys. Where have we heard this before?

If only we had something where we stop every couple of weeks, look around, then move forward with a fresh perspective. Our iteration retrospectives provide that distinct stop sign to, regardless of what’s going on, stop and look around. The kicker will be to have the right attitude of this ceremony. We can be pragmatic about finding what needs to be improved, or we can be grateful for all the lessons we have learned. 

I tried this at the next retro. Instead of doing our usual “continue, stop and start” questions, I just opened it up to the team for some shout outs. Scared that the team would think it was lame, I tried anyways. Instead the team launched into a sea of gratefulness that washed over the team. I even got one, and I would be lying if it didn’t make me feel awesome!

Being self-aware while you are in the moment of something is difficult. So instead of working to fix every moment, just put some stop signs in front of you and your teams more to look around. If you can increase gratefulness, you just might find yourself surrounded by a happier team. We all know the kind of work happy teams do.

Tagged: agile, gratefulness, happiness, retrospectives, scrum

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7:30 am - Mon, Feb 17, 2014
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Blog Post: How Do You Define ‘Fail’?


If we’re going to puff up our chests and be all macho about it, nobody really wants to fail at anything. You’re reading the words of a man who doesn’t have patience when I have to explain something twice — regardless of how well I articulated my point. The minute my wife challenges an opinion, I get defensive and wonder why the world is conspiring against me. When I finish a scrum ceremony with one single misaligned expectation, I grit my teeth and wish I still smoked and drank.

Good news, though. None of those scenarios describe true failure.

That’s why I feel for statements like this from Pandora CTO Tom Conrad:

“There’s this motto in our industry that says fail fast and fail often,” he stated at a recent summit. “But none of us can actually do that right? We have all kinds of constituents — employees, investors, users — they are expecting you to do smart things, not dumb things. So one of the first things I said was let’s not pretend we can just try things and some will work out and some won’t. That’s not winning, that’s losing.”

Bold words, and he should be taken seriously when there is a new app started every day trying to destroy Pandora. Yet, there they still are. To this day, my wife still prefers them to Spotify, iTunes Radio, Slacker, or any other usurper. Problem is, I would argue his words amount to little more than posturing for the press. Like any other successful company in the tech industry, Pandora could make a list a mile long of missteps along the way to fame. I could point to the ever-evolving algorithm, as point one.

Without knowing him personally, or witnessed this statement live, I can only speculate what he meant. If we leveled our understanding of the word “failure”, I think he would say the same thing agile coaches state every day:

There’s nothing wrong with failing.

Maybe you hear the latest single from Arcade Fire too often. The button you added for Google authentication probably wasn’t placed in the right place. Perhaps iPhone users want all sounds muted when they flip the switch, that means you too videos. Those are all pieces of failure. 

This applies to technical requirements, interpersonal relationship management, business behavior, and so on. What Pandora is thankful for is the fact that they have learned from little failures every day to stay on their lofty perch. Yes, the brand doesn’t quite have the punch it used to, but many leaders in Silicon Valley will tell you that staying alive is winning. Conrad may see “failing fast” as losing, but I would take the opportunity to pivot over shutting my doors any day.

Stop being afraid of putting your failures out there. Your peers will see your transparency and respect the fact that you are growing and learning through them. Those are the people I want to work with — and who’s products I really want to use.

Tagged: agile, fail fast, failure, lean, pandora, scrum, startup

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7:30 am - Mon, Feb 10, 2014

Blog Post: What Barriers Will New Input Methods Remove?


Remember how it was ludicrous when you heard the number of advertising messages you receive a day? Thousands, or rather hundreds of thousands, of different brands and ideas are projected to you every day for consumption. Now, we just try to make sure we understand all of them and process the ones important enough to us. We even flock to curators of content to help with this task.

While the numbers are not comparable yet, the amount of ways we can input data into computers is accelerating just as fast.

Almost 30 years ago, the fine folks at Apple and IBM introduced us to the first two methods of input. They both depended on our fingers: the keyboard and mouse. Crazy to think that I have been perfecting my typing and clicking skills for that long. Before we chuckle, think of the computing ability both methods gave us. We could write, play games, create art, read, research, publish, and countless other activities with just our hands.

Makes sense why there wasn’t a need to iterate past those two. Fortunately for me I was born at the right time. By the time I finish this post, my father can bang out a paragraph or two. You know I love you Dad, but it’s true.

My how times have changed.

Mobile devices and the multi-touch interface started a revolution. Now that we can take computers wherever we want — with data connectivity to multiply our productivity — why limit our imagination? 

The question was multiplied after rewatching a talk from Luke Wroblewski at the October 2013 dContruct conference. It’s worth the time to watch, because he takes us from 2007 to today with all the various methods. Just to name a few, here are some of the ways we can currently provide our devices input:

  • Light
  • Motion
  • Your Voice
  • Temperature
  • And this is just for starters!

In the future, you will have the ability to use your heartbeat to unlock and start your car. A special grip could be used to open your house door. Certainly, you will soon be turning any flat surface (or just project it into the air) into a touch interface. The Starbucks table I am working on certainly will need a good cleaning before that happens.

Problem is, it kind of seems overwhelming to process all of this. Not only will there be specialized apps collecting and curating this data, but we will need to consume it.

Nobody dared come up with different input methods once we had the keyboard and mouse, because usage patterns solidified. If the QWERTY keyboard has kept it’s current configuration for this long, how are we to process all of these new input methods?

Just because we can create data all of these ways, does that mean we should?

Removing hurdles will be the barrier most important for input creation in the next 10 years. It’s no big deal to attach a device that automatically uses my heartbeat (which is as diverse as a fingerprint) to authenticate my identity, so the price of those devices will be the key barrier. If price is okay, but the heartbeat is too easy to fake, then how viable will it be?

Greatest example is what gesture typing is doing on the Android platform. We type on our mobile devices just like on a keyboard just because it’s what we are used to. When apps like Swype arrived a year or two ago, though, you could type a single word in one type. Even the hard ones. I will admit, it’s one of the reasons I bought a Nexus 7 instead of an iPad. One barrier is removed, allowing for easier input.

What will be the next barrier to fall? Can’t wait to see.

Tagged: apps, data, devices, input, mobile

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7:30 am - Mon, Feb 3, 2014
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Blog Post: Is Your Team Really Ready To Start?


We do short release cycles at Bottle Rocket. Mobile technology has called for smaller code bases, but I don’t think it’s just this industry has this issue. The days of being paid per line of code, or large applications being seen as higher quality, are over. To allow for pivoting product priorities, easier maintenance, and faster refactors, companies worldwide are in the middle of slicing their platforms to allow for more agile development.

At the end of every release, there are a few days of code freeze to solidify the release candidates for our clients. It’s not revolutionary, and every company handles code freeze differently. When my first project hit this stage, I talked to all of the appropriate leads and department heads to understand the entry criteria for the release sprint. I validated, completed feedback loops, and then set off to deliver some amazing code.

To say it flopped on me would be an understatement.

There were many factors outside of this conversation that had an effect. Talking to everyone on the team, they felt the main culprit for our challenging few days was highlighted by not understanding if we were ready or not. As a side note, this is the sign of an incredibly mature group of creators to see them quickly come to this realization. They are awesome for seeing this (among other reasons they rock).

My mistake was thinking all I needed to do was ask the right questions. If everyone says they understand what’s expected, I thought, nothing should go wrong. Instead, we should have detailed it together.

The retrospective revealed that even though we all knew what was expected, we looked at entry criteria in generic terms. Instead, we should have looked at our current release. Conversation needed to be had surrounding particular polish items, highly rated bugs, and non-functional pieces missing. So, when we hit the next freeze period, you can bet we had that discussion. 

Questions started flying around the validity of certain items and how necessary they were for release. Both Android and iOS platforms had their specific problems that still weren’t solved. In the end, we realized we needed another day or two before we hit our freeze period and entered with a full understanding of how we needed to finish this sucker off.

What resulted was a much shorter frozen period, and instead of looking at each other in frustration, we were joking around and delivered amazing builds to the client that were immediately accepted.

Best part, they aren’t done “defining ready”. The retrospective showed they want to do this every single release, no matter how small. They want to constantly ask each other if they are ready or not. Instead of resting on our laurels, we want to do that with every new feature, API integration, or client review.

Beauty of this conversation is it never gets stale. “Ready” may change for your team as it grows and matures. You may want to start delivering art sooner or later. Testing may want to happen side by side while integration happens. Development may want to perform a research spike before taking a stab at a feature. Process can be added or subtracted, depending on your comfort level.

Regardless of the day or stage in your release or sprint, dare to ask your team to define “ready” for you. Might be surprised at the results.

Tagged: agile, definition of done, definition of ready, lean, mobile, scrum

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7:30 am - Mon, Jan 27, 2014

Blog Post: Is Mobile Ordering The Missing Link for Retail?


We hate waiting in line, not to mention that once we finish waiting…there’s more waiting. There’s the whole, “need to pull out my wallet and give you currency” hassle. Then, finally, whatever I paid for needs to be produced. Goodness, I hope all this was worth it. Honestly, I just want what I want and I need it faster.

First world problem or not, this is what most companies that serve some sort of product in a brick-and-mortar retail product are discussing this very minute. They’ve seen the Amazon Effect, watched Best Buy fight back, and noticed how Starbucks makes 10 percent of it’s revenue off it’s mobile app. Retail is in desperate need of a salve.

Funny thing is, as I’ve stated before, retail locations aren’t really in trouble. They just need a boost of new technology to reduce the hurdles. Enter mobile ordering.

Now that you can pay – and be rewarded for doing so – using your mobile app in a local Starbucks, the company has announced plans for mobile ordering. If the barrier for giving your barista money is eliminated, wouldn’t it be even better if you could tell them you are on the way and have it waiting for you? Instead of the “mosh pit” in front of the counter, you can just grab the latte and a seat to enjoy with your paper or Kindle app.

They’re not the only one. Chick-fil-A understands customers hate the mosh pit. Heck, Apple darn near makes the mobile app required for entering their store. It’s taking off in the UK too.

Companies are trying to crack mobile payment currently, but are missing a crucial part of the feature. Yes, I want to get rid of my physical wallet and need only my phone to leave the house. Until the government comes up with a virtual drivers license, though, I have to have one. So I need more of an incentive. Starbucks uses a loyalty-program to encourage users to pay with their phone, but it’s no different than punch cards. The app is super-shaky too, depending on your location and time of day.

If I could pay with my phone and skip the line, though, now we have a game changer on our hands.

Lines stink, as I stated at the beginning. We put up with them because regardless of how fast the service is, there will usually be people that are in front of us at the counter and drive-thru. For the same reason we put up with traffic, we wait for our Whataburger. There’s no “fast pass” for quick-service retail right?

Of course, once retail cracks the line, then you need to give customers a reason to stay. Being first in this category will result in a bit of a bump by early adopters, but I personally don’t like hanging around in fast food locations longer than it takes to get my food. There are some stores that found a way to keep my kids entertained, so they get bonus points. Once my kids outgrow the playgrounds, though, you’ve lost your edge.

This is where iBeacons sensors under tables, augmented-reality menus, and mobile registers come into play. That’s all coming. For now, I’ll just settle for being able to sit down at my favorite spot and let them bring my preordered, prepaid food to me.

Tagged: apps, e-commerce, m-commerce, mobile, ordering, product, retail, strategy

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7:30 am - Tue, Jan 21, 2014

Blog Post: Are We On The Same Page With Smart Watches?

I am currently in the middle of an argument with my client.

Sounds dramatic, right? Even gave the sentence it’s own paragraph. It’s not exactly an argument, because my client wouldn’t have that title much longer if I was really arguing with him. What’s really going on is there is one topic he keeps bringing up that gets a reaction from me: wearable technology.

It all started when he got a Pebble watch for Christmas. Hayden, the account manager on my team wears a Pebble as well. In fact, I know several people with one, or something similar. Smart watches are the topic of many conversations right now in mobile technology because they, and the valuable data-gathering sensors, are going revolutionize everything. 

My argument to said client and Hayden, is that I already have the best wearable technology on the market: my phone.

Of course, this gets everyone all flustered and smiling in that patronizing way, but what I am trying to do is challenge the “smart watch” category of wearable technology and challenge it’s true purpose. I wish I had the source, but I read on Twitter the other day that the top feature for many smart watch wearers is the clock. If that is indeed true, maybe I’m just not the right buyer for this device category.

Currently, Pebbles offer users a limited range of features, but they are valuable for someone that has a desire to still wear a watch. If you’re going to be strapping something to your wrist, might as well be something that deliver SMS and email notifications as well as track some basic health data. For Galaxy Gear owners, you can even take pictures and use it as a crude sort of bluetooth headset for phone calls. 

Even then, I’m not interested.

It took me a while to become a tablet owner. Sure, the price was a fairly high hurdle to get over, but if there was really a reason I would have found a way. Main reason was I could do everything I wanted with my iPhone, so why introduce another device that I had to relearn habits on. I can’t be the only one.

Wearable technology, which is a much larger product category than just watches, will be changing our lives very soon. I, however, don’t think that change will come strapped to our wrists. It will be in our shirts, our shoes, our belts, bluetooth headsets, maybe even our contact lenses someday. 

Technology that is truly “wearable” is all about data collection and the services it connects to. A slight few of them might turn around and display information, but true revolution in this category won’t come for a very long time. Personally, I think users would prefer it to not be obtrusive, and a watch is still a fashion statement.

With all that in mind, I have held off on getting a Fitbit or Nike Fuel band because I’m waiting for just the right item to attach to my wrist. Could Apple change my mind with a slick design? Will Samsung stop being creepy and come up with something I’m actually interested in? Is my wrist going to be empty from here on at this point?

For the record, Pebble is satisfied with sales numbers (almost 200,000 to date), but several of their users have a bit of buyers remorse afterwards. Samsung can’t seem to give these suckers away, so I don’t blame Apple for slowing their roll a bit. Watches will need to show me something new and different my phone. Even if I don’t “wear” it on a daily basis, my iPhone is always within reach and gives me everything I could ever need (and more) in a fashion statement.

And if he’s still reading, my client is the wind that helps me soar to new height. If you don’t see that as a bet being won, I can’t do anything for you.

Tagged: data, iphone, mobile, pebble, samsung gear, smart watch, wearable technology

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