[Try this!] Introduce yourself with what you are currently learning and build your Learning Ecosystem

Image by Gunter Ladzik from Pixabay

I have been testing a new way of introducing myself, especially when at professional conferences and meetups. Though, I feel strongly you can use this throughout your life.

How many times have you talked for a long a while with a new person only to at the end realize there is a connection or opportunity to learn or collaborate? You then scramble to exchange emails and hope to connect and talk more later. You spent most of the conversation dancing around subjects or worse talking about the weather, when what most people want and need is connection and true exchange.

Let’s be frank, there is too often than not a lot of blah blah Rainy Outside blah that no one enjoys.

So I propose:

Instead of introducing ourselves by just our expertise, we should say what we are currently learning.

It is a bit of a way to create a skills matrix adhoc. It also engenders the mindset that we all (Yes, even consultants!) have something to learn.

Example (and a currently true one):

Hello, my name is Sheila. I am a business coach specializing in lean, agile and product vision. Currently I am delving into Lean Startup, working on my writing and practicing my Spanish. How about you?

Better yet ask them, “What are you passionate about?”

And perhaps, the person will respond, “Actually I am fluent in Spanish! Want to meet up practice? I could pick your brain on agile. I am passionate about…” Or, “I am also learning about Lean Startup! What books are you reading? I found this great one…”

Thoughts? Please, let me know your feedback if you try it.

Être agile avec des équipes distribuées, offshore ou en télétravail + l’importance de choix des mots

J’ai passé au ‘tube … Youtube! Scrum Life est une série formidable sur l’agilité avec un vrai esprit de partage et de communauté. Abonnez-vous ! Ils m’ont invitée pour discuter des équipes distribuées.

Bonne séance ! Attention : Il y a des commentaires / partages supers sur le vidéo donc ne les rater pas. Continuez en bas de cette poste pour une pépite extra.

Il était inspiré par mon talk en 2018. Il y a des diapositives.

Les mots sont importants, même les petits peuvent avoir un grand effet

Pour moi, une grande partie de l’agilité … Oubliez ça … Une grande partie de la vie est la communication. En fait, elle est la partie la plus importante.

On pense que notre choix de mots a aucune importance si le message n’est pas méchant mais ce n’est pas vrai. Même les petites gouttes de l’eau sculptent les grandes pierres avec du temps.

Souvenez la première fois vous êtes appelé(e) “mon petit ami” ou “ma petite amie” ? Et puis vous êtes devenu(e) “mon bijou” ou peut-être “mon coeur”, …. Comment est-ce que vous avez senti ? Que vous apparteniez ? Souvenez une fois qu’une personne rigolait et vous a appelé(e) “bête.” Pas super, non ? Et si dit plusieurs fois ?

Le choix de mots est important pour tout le monde, même comme on parle de soi-même. Mais les personnes qui souvent commencent et entretiennent tout sont les chefs et les leaders. Ça inclut le sujet des équipes distribuées, en particulier les gens “pas chez-nous” (pays ou entreprise).

Ma liste des phrases d’éviter:

  • offshore
  • nearshore
  • équipe centrale
  • équipe principale
  • équipe externalisée
  • les contracteurs / les consultants
  • l’équipe de [Boîte X]
  • les [ethnicité ex: Indiens]
  • les esclaves / les robots (Vous pensez que c’est évident mais ce n’est pas vrai pour tout le monde ! On rigole jamais sur ce sujet, même des petites blagues ont leur effet.)

Quelles d’autre phrases pour vous sont interdites ?

Puis vous dîtes, “Donc on utilise QUOI, Sheila ? Vous interdissez tout !”

Utiliser :

Notre Équipe

C’est simple mais efficace ! Quelles d’autres phrases évitez-vous actuellement et pourquoi ?

Checklist: Do I have the Agile/Learning Mindset?

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

In a series of mini-blogs I will be sharing some checklists and anecdotes, mostly based around the Agile Mindset or as I call it, the Learning Mindset.

I am a very nondogmatic coach for everything (meeting structure, scrum/kanbanban/scrumbanaFeLess?, roles)… as for me it depends on the context and unique needs of the business and market.

Well, I am nondogmatic except for the Agile/Learning mindset! For me and many Agilists it is the #1 prerequisite in work and even private life. This is especially true for the management calling for any Agile transformation. There needs to be at least the self-awareness and desire to adapt, change to, and invest in the Agile/Learning mindset or the “transformation” is dead in the water.

So… Let’s do a self-check quiz. As you strive to be the change you want to see in the world! Or at least around the water cooler.

Do I have the Agile or Learning Mindset?

  • I can tell you my big-picture vision and “Why” (raison-être) and that of my team and our product. I let this drive me versus the “What” (how we do it) which is flexible.
  • I seek to take small iterative steps that deliver value (end client functionality or service quality), but keep in mind the mid to long term vision.
  • Despite having set my vision, I revisit it often and always leave room to challenge and change my preconceptions and end goal.
  • I am driven by continuous improvement. I believe in testing, learning from my “failures” and adapting. In fact, I believe there is no such thing as failure!
  • While change and questioning is good, I still know I must also decide universally with others, implement and fully test before changing again.
  • I know that every person in my life and team have their own unique skills and point of view. I strive to understand them, empower them and learn from them.
  • I believe in clear communication, including the definition of roles and needs. I seek to express my needs and listen to the needs of others.
  • I work alongside others. I understand I cannot control others nor should I try.
  • I admit when I am wrong and apologize if necessary. It is my strength not my weakness. I feel the same for others when they apologize and I listen to them.
  • For me, it is more important to have a functional product then a beautiful or “perfect” product.
  • I think in terms of a living product that continues to live after it is released versus a project that ends. I understand change and evolution is a constant and not negative.
  • I desire to get to know my customers and create a partnership.
  • I test my product with real customers as soon as possible. Best yet, I test a prototype before building or releasing it. I do not stop there, but continually seek client feedback.
  • As well, I seek feedback on myself, as it allows me to grow.
  • I respectfully give feedback.
  • For me, documentation is “living” meaning it changes often and is light enough to be usable and maintainable.
  • I believe: No process is immutable. We, together, question and adapt processes and how we work.
  • I go into all situations, even “old” ones with an open mind, ready to collaborate and progress.

Any to add?

Hello Parenting World: Pregnant? Have a newborn? Lean and Agile tips to save your sanity

It seems fitting and perhaps cliché that my first blog as I emerge from the great hibernation that is parental leave is about Lean and Agile parenting.
Ha! Irony! No sleep was part of it!

But it makes sense: I love Lean and Agile and I am now part of the parent cult. That makes two cults! Plus, what is a better test of these methods than some real life situations? Some would argue it is one of the most important life situations ever.

Zombies, but happy Zombies

My goal for this article is to share four methods to start you off, that I used as a new parent to not lose my mind [read as: to not completely lose my mind]. This is inspired by my professional experience of 10 years using the Agile and Lean mindset and methodologies and will hopefully help spare you some of the learning curve.

Quick Intro to Agile and Lean for the N00bs (or skip to next section)

It is not necessary to understand the A-Z of Agile nor Lean to implement them. In fact, that is more fitting with their spirit. But still an overview may help you.

Agile is a mindset and a methodology usually used in the production of software, where you iteratively build, test and adapt. There is a great emphasis on communication, autonomy and team empowerment. Here is the mother doctrine.

Lean, which is known for one of its most famous flavors, Lean Startup, is a methodology where proven business demand drives production. Simply put, we first provide an inexpensive carrot to see if the horse will even come before investing in the cart or the stable. Or, better yet, we make a fake carrot out of free trash laying around. Yum.

Thank you stock image contributors and your wackiness. #blessed Source Alexas Photos

Like Agile, Lean favors iteration, feedback and adjustment, which is called validated learning. But, there is even more emphasis on austere methods and cutting waste: limiting money spent, automation and scaling before proven viability.

Lesson 1: Your baby and the parent in you are the great unknown so put away the crystal ball

Agile and Lean are great for complex situations and that is why they were developed. What could be more complex than bringing a new being into the world? It is the equivalent of the longest and most important blind date.

Your baby could be chill, a crier or love sports, despite them being primarily constructed of pizza while you were pregnant. Babies and family situations come in all forms. Forget your baby being the unknown… especially, if this is your first rodeo, you as a parent are the great unknown.

So taking a page from the Lean handbook:

Wait til you see the ‘demand’ until you invest.

No, I am not talking about deciding to throw the baby out if you do not like it (along with the bath water). Keep the child, that is one good sunken cost.

You are next kid. Source Henley Design Studio

I suggest to buy the absolute minimum. Then wait and see what your baby’s personality is and how you emerge as a parent before investing in all that baby paraphernalia. Do no listen to those Facebook ads, even if they know all your personal desires.

Buy a couple test items or better yet, borrow them and then see how your baby reacts before you pull the purchase trigger. If it makes you feel better, you can bookmark items and keep them ready to buy once a proven need arises. Though be careful to not go overboard because what is hot now may not be a few months later. Hello, Nose Frida.

Learn from my mistake: Carried Away

We did pretty good at resisting filling the house pre-baby. I did though have four baby carriers… of all the types… for one baby.  As surely my child would love being worn!

“Mooooom… you are smothering me” O.G. Attachment Parenting Source SeoulInspired

Four carriers, for my daughter, who came out 55cm (21.6 inches or 100th percentile) after 58 hours of labor. My mom only ever did seven hours max, so I was not expecting it. My back was destroyed. On top of it, my daughter was born during a heatwave.

My baby hated baby wearing. We tried our hardest for three months. Three of our carriers have gone unused. We now primarily use a stroller. The end.

How to apply this lesson

Golden rule: The bigger the investment (money or space) the more time you should wait to purchase, and if possible, find other ways to test the need.

For example, renting cloth diapers from a local service before investing in any one brand.

I suggest you make a list of must-haves in the final two months or four months, if at risk of premature birth. Buy these items and then stop searching for more until the baby is born. I suggest to wait until last trimester as you may have some indicators of your baby’s size.

Plus, let’s be honest, if you live in a city, you can run down to your local store or order on the internet and get almost anything within hours. The cost to store, move around and potentially overbuy rarely validates the savings of prebuying.

Example list

First start with a goal. Setting a goal can keep yourself in check and edit your list. Because afterall, who watches the Watchman?

Example Goal: Baby warm, safe and can be laid down to sleep and transported. Mama can recuperate asap.

  • Five outfits in newborn size or one month size, depending on last sonogram
  • 10 outfits and 5 pajamas in 0-3 months size – This, in my case, came into use pretty quickly due to her unexpected size
  • A sleep solution. I chose a cosleeper.
  • Aftercare items for mama
  • If you decide to breastfeed: Breastfeeding bras, bra pads and a long pillow for breastfeeding. I used my maternity pillow so did not buy another. I also went naked the first week… so no bras necessary right away.
  • Two swaddles or blankets
  • One baby hat
  • Three pairs of socks that can also be put on hands as mittens
  • One baby carrier, stroller or way to transport baby
  • Car seat for those with cars, to get back from hospital at minimum. You may also rent a taxi with a car seat or rent a car seat.
  • Thermometer and infant fever/pain medicine in case of fever the first nights back home
  • Optional: One bag of disposable diapers newborn size and wipes

Afterwards you will get most of what you need from the hospital [Sorry home birthers] and for those with family nearby or a partner, they can run out and supplement once you understand the baby: Diaper size, does breastfeeding work for you or do you now need a bottle and formula for home, etc.

Or perhaps, you will find you need to purchase a pacifier as the baby is not quite so happy to be on dry land.

Lesson 2: Scale only after proven need, just start iterating

This is similar to the last point but warrants its own mention.

OK, great you know more about your child and your needs… NOW it is time to buy ALL the things. Right?

Nope, nice try Captain Capitalism.

What you get when you search capitalism in a stock image site. LOL Source Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke

I suggest you encourage the mindset of lean and minimalism by:

Only advance down the rabbit hole, as you see that your demand deepens.

For example: OK, you now see that breastfeeding works for you. Still, you should resist buying a wardrobe for the next year, including that snazzy breastfeeding friendly ballgown for your work Christmas party. Instead, buy some tops to get you through the next month of current weather.

Start with a hypothesis of your needs evolving every month, and check back in later to see.

  1. Does [fill in blank ex: breastfeeding] still serve us?
  2. Do we have any unmet needs?
  3. What could the solutions be? Are there any solutions that do not require purchasing?
  4. Decide and Implement
  5. Repeat Cycle

For example, due to health issues I was not able to breastfeed longer than 5.5 months. Good thing I did not invest in a portable pump for work! Nor that ballgown… #postpartumWeight

Lesson 3: Data is queen: Create a measurable feedback loop

Trust me you will most likely have only two neurons to rub together after the birth.

So grab one of the many free apps and start tracking a couple things. Or use a notebook, but I found an app was good to synchronize easily with my husband. I used Baby Daybook. I started with a core set of categories, but then slowly started dropping those that no longer were needed. Accruing and maintaining information for no reason is not good either.

For example, when my daughter was newborn, we tracked:

  • Feeding amounts and times
  • Medication given to her or me and timing
  • Diapers: timing, quantity and poop/pee/both

Then four months later my app looked like:

  • Feeding amounts and times
  • Pumping amounts and times
  • Nap times and lengths

As time passed, my daughter’s digestion ability developed and her health stayed good so we were able to drop tracking medication and diapers. On the other hand, my milk supply was low, so I had to start tracking pumping. In addition, we started getting her on a schedule so sleep was key to track.

Now since she was seven months old, we track only her monthly measurements as now we are in the groove.

Note: There is a saying that: When the data is actually useful you often do not have it. So, you must project and starting accruing for “Future You”’s needs. That being said, luckily and unluckily for you, your baby will have very short cycles of change, so no worries, if you did not track exactly everything you need from the start.

See a need? Gather 2-3 days of data and you can usually make a pretty good hypothesis to advance.

Lesson Four: One hypothesis at a time

It will not always be possible to boil your mysterious bundle of joy into a scientific hypothesis. No matter how hard you try!

Sorry for the disturbing mental image of baby stew. Seriously, if not for your own sanity, I suggest to only change one thing at a time and wait a cycle before adapting.

In addition, I suggest if you co-parent to be on the same page as your partner on what you are testing/changing and why. This includes other caretakers.

“Oh, sorry honey I thought you meant I needed to eat the child not give her more to eat. Silly me.”

Yum, baby stew.

Enjoy the ride (it is a flume down a very high waterfall into river of tears… and rainbows!)

I have more to share but will leave it at that for now. Parenthood can be an extremely complex, emotional and primal experience. The more you can approach it in an methodological Lean and Agile way, yet stay open-minded, the better. This could save you some tears, energy and money. But there will still be tears, trust me.

Perhaps you can use that to measure your progress? +1 for less tears?

Pretty much sums up parenthood. Source Tatyana Kazakova

Until next time, drop me a comment if you enjoyed or hated this article. Please share with me your own learnings and experiments as a parent.

Agile-Antipattern #221817 : Slicing a waterfall vs delivering value

We discuss often about what agile methodology IS, but today I want to address one of the most frequent NONagile practices done by who think that they have mastered the methodology. While what I will introduce is nothing new, it always helps to have several voices in the choir to ensure everyone hears.

More like Carnival singer… as a silly hat helps carry your voice. (Source Pixabay)

How the dialog goes …

« We develop in two week iterations. »

Automatically agile?

FAUX – FALSE

« We develop and deliver to production in two week iterations. »

WARMER – Tell me more

« We develop and deliver to production, in two week iterations, customer value (or our best guess) »

AGILE

« We develop and deliver to production, in two week iterations, customer value experiments that have results we can measure. »

AGILE + LEAN: ENLIGHTENMENT

Agile DOES NOT equal just iteration. It equals iterative and utilized VALUE. Just see the first principle on the manifesto, if you do not believe me.

Because it means nothing without a meme. For your sharing pleasure to shame the others. Errr… I mean share the good word.

While shorter development cycles are a good first step, do not stop there:

Your end game is to get the product out as soon as possible with the best value and quality, so that it is used… or better… yet bought.

If you build a product in an iterative manner and it does not get used by any sort of customer until 6 months or a year later, it is still waterfall.

Agile is challenging yourselves as a team (all voices included) to find the smallest iteration or story “slice” that can be actually released (even in beta) for the best beginning value. It may not be perfect, but it is a start that will already get you feedback! Feedback is the most precious-ness… my precious…

And as indicated above, the best of all, is when you measure the results to see you were successful. But that can be a whole article for another time.

EVERYONE LOVES A METAPHOR (AND S’MORES)

Mmmmm s’mores… (Source Pixabay)

I think of Agile delivery planning as a campsite rather than a house.

A house is meant for sleeping and eating. First the foundation is poured, then the structure is built, the insulation is added, etc. This is all well and fine if no one is going to live in the house until the end.

But here is a test… if someone wanted to move in half-way through the construction, can they sleep and eat in my house?

Not if they like a soggy head and soggier toast when it rains!

Good lighting though, during the day. Source: Flickr

Same goes for your product. Always ask, “If after this sprint if the project is immediately canceled, would what we have still be useful?” Trust me as someone who has had projects cancelled mid-sprint that you will be happy you built it in this way.

A campsite though is a better example of how you should construct your product: a campsite is meant for sleeping and eating as well but built quickly and modularly, delivering value with each part. First a tent (already able to sleep in, and your food will stay dry), a firepit for cooking, then some stools as our legs get tired while heating s’mores, etc…

Lucky suckers… Source: Flickr

Get started building your campsite. There are bears!

That kid has NO CLUE how many bears there are around… Source: Pixabay

For better slicing based on value, I suggest these resources to get started:

Also, good technique is when looking at your first planned iterations, to step back and ask yourself :

  1. Does this serve the base customer value that I want to test?

  2. Can I do this more simply?

You can test this further by actually removing a part of the product and then looking back at question #1.

Something to think about: For team leaders, project managers, etc, how do you splice your projects in general? Is it a roadmap with no deliverables for three months, six months, or a year even? Why not apply the same technique?

Good luck, Happy Campers! Avoid those waterfalls; there are bears there!

Valently striding into battle and certain death! Source: Pixabay

Make that big change… or not! Thanks to these self-retrospection exercises

Unhappy in your job, but uncertain if you changed, what you would do? Or perhaps you have a job you used to love, how do you rediscover that passion?

In business and agile product management, we talk about “pivoting” a product to meet the market. Pivoting is tweaking, changing direction, rebranding and more. But what about ourselves? Why not use the same product management and agile skills to improve ourselves, the most important product of all?

Business People doing Business Things
Obligatory motivational business photo with vague symbols and action lines. This could be you!

How do we pivot ourselves to meet our own “internal market” so that we may perform our best, motivated by our passion, and increase our return on investment (aka more happiness)?

Enough of these questions! The answers lie within you. Here are some self-retrospection exercises that have helped me and others make that big (or small) change towards happiness.

Exercise #1: Papertrail retrospection: What is “Past You”‘s “why?”

What makes you happy? Dogs make me happy.

Before knowing your next step, it is first important to reaffirm your baseline of what motivates you when out in the wild. Much like a business must construct the “why” of their product and test it, so must you. This is facilitated by looking back at your past life “tests” or experiences.

This exercise is especially important when considering big changes, and the answer can keep you in check in the future.

  1. Print out your CV, your Facebook/Twitter feed, your last couple emails, etc. or have them pulled up on your computer screen and grab a notebook to make notes. Do not just go off memory as you are bound to forget the important small details.
  2. Highlight/note the experiences where you were legitimately happy and/or proud.
  3. Take it a step deeper: WHY were you happy? Keep on asking “Why?” until you get to the underlying value that motivated your efforts. This may take a couple sessions of reflection to discover and it could evolve over time.
    Example: I was happiest when I helped launch that new website for a volunteer association. Why? Because it helped multiple countries. But why that? I was able to achieve something with a multi-national group. But why that? I met new interesting people and learned about myself. But why that? I enjoy new experiences with new cultures. But why that? I like diversity and challenging my own perspective. But why that? I need to continually grow and feel part of a global community.
  4. Now brainstorm what activities can you cut out to focus on only those that build you toward happiness. Or, do you need a complete change? No worry. you already have experience. Just look at your highlighted CV or notes!
    Examples:

    1. I only do websites as a hobby. I will focus on increasing my programming skills in my off time and start applying for international freelance projects.
    2. I will liberate time in my schedule by cutting out unnecessary meetings, and I will from my boss request approval to participate in the companies’ culture think-tank.

Bonus activity: Recreate your CV putting your highlighted experiences in the forefront and start floating it around on recrutement sites or consider going independent. You will be surprised how many bites you may get and how more motivated and convincing you will be in your interviews if it something you ACTUALLY like.

You recreating your CV.

Cannot find ANYTHING in your CV that makes you happy or proud?

That is why I also suggest searching your social media feeds, old photos, or personal emails. What makes you smile? You can still use these items to professionally progress. I know someone who once got a development job due to the personal WoW videogame forum he created. In interviews, I have successfully used my volunteer dance teaching and event organisation experience to boost myself. Often these personal experiences show more your motivation than paid gigs.

Me in college contemplating how I can spin “making wine in my closet” in my next job interview

Exercise #2: Classic Retrospection… Do, Rinse and Repeat

As I wrote about in my last article, retrospection can be applied in organisations on varying team levels. Also do that for yourself! I am a firm believer that the Agile methodology does not just apply to business.

This exercise is good to do on a continuous basis. Reflecting on your entire life or one area (personal, family or side professional project), ask yourself:

In [AREA OF MY LIFE]…

What has made me the happiest?

What takes away from my happiness?

What are some solutions?

Journal out your responses; focus on one solution (we cannot change Rome in a day); and then return to this in your next self-retrospection in the coming week, month, etc. Find your rhythm and stick to it.

Yellow jacket not required.

The End Result

The end result could be:

  1. You do love your job and now you know why you love it. In addition, you can use this knowledge of your “why” to decide in the future on new endeavors or commitments.
  2. You love your job but you currently are spending too much time on happiness-detractors derailing you.
  3. You would like to change within your field.
  4. You have exhausted all possibilities, and now, want to completely change.

All these are fine responses. Reflect (but not too much) and then just do it. Take your next step or embrace where you are.

Ever feel like you are waiting for a sign? Oh well, back to the game!

A Personal Case Study:

These activities are based upon past mentoring experiences and my own recent personal journey. For those interested, my recent foibles go as follows:

I started as a web developer and designer. Seven years ago, I transitioned to team and product management. Now I am an Agile organisation and product vision coach, trainer and writer.

Accurate depiction of me

Five months ago, I took my latest leap to coach 100%. After 12 years in the industry, this change in hindsight now seems natural, but it took some not-so-evident reflection.

You see, I had an issue for despite gaining more and more opportunities and acknowledgement for my product work in larger and more prestigious companies, I was not happy.

This unease befuddled me, my husband, my friends, my family, and the random barman I would sulk to.

Me in my short stint as the lead singer of my dad’s rock band.

If you look back at my life and professional career as a series of iterative experiments, as far as advancement, all would point towards not pivoting.

After all, only now, Product Management is really getting the acknowledgement and the solidification that it deserves. Now companies are finally waking up. They are hungry to define and fill these types of postions with better compensation and recognition.

But only money and advancement matters, right?

It depends. For some people, “Yes.” That is fine, but reflecting back again, obviously as someone who gave up everything to restart her career in “salary-poor” Paris, money is not my greatest motivator (though it is nice… I am not a robot and need money for cheese… my greatest “why”).

Really what is not to love? This cheese did this on its own… in ambiant room temperature.

So after doing further self-retrospection and the activities above, I realized of all my experiences I was the MOST happy when it was facilitating team growth and product vision, but not necessarily orchestrating it.

When teams were more efficient, autonomously delivering better quality and were happier, I was happier.
When companies lost in the woods discovered the product vision they had been searching for thanks to my advice or facilitation, I felt found.

You see, despite my titles not reflecting it, I did amass five years experience helping teams transform whether as a manager, teammate, or agile advocate within the company. While often this was a side goal given to me or for which I volunteered, I started becoming known for my Agile expertise. In fact, in my last position they hired me expressly as a Product Owner whose first mission was to complete the Agile transformation and advocate for new ways of working.

Here is another cheese photo to break it up a little.

So now, after all these experiments (and I have changed jobs often), what rose to the surface naturally? It was this passion to facilitate the growth of others. I would have never come to this conclusion without wiping the slate clean, including the red-herring that was my past goal of product management upward mobility.

Flush Out Your “Idea of You” as You Grow

There is no perfect answer or perfect life “test”.  Here is a great TED talk by Ruth Change about making tough life decisions for inspiration. What is important is to move forward and cultivate an attitude of self-introspection.

Not sure how to put your past non-professional ‘happy’ experiences to work? Leave a comment. Have you made a leap recently? Share your own story.

Are you now a pilot?

Meanwhile, I will keep you all up to date with my own journey.

The First Agile Baby Step Is Inwards

When it comes to big new life changes, I am as guilty as anyone in my need for premature optimization, meaning my first instinct is to not start before all is ‘perfectly’ planned… sometimes so that I never actually start.

Paralyzed, I want to change in a big WATERFALL kind of way where everything is planned out and all items implemented at once.

But then I shake myself a little, say a few choice words in the mirror, and step forward in an agile, iterative, and most importantly, reflective way.

Because the first step is the most important.

Not HOW you do it. But JUST the fact you do it.

So, the first step for transforming your business towards agile is … ?

The same goes for transforming your business, project, team, etc. to begin using ‘agile’ methodologies. It is a big company culture change! You must resist implementing all at once. When I am ranting on about how much I adore agile, I am quite often asked :

Okay, but how do I implement it? Where to start?

There is a glimmer of fear in their eye as they reach for their coffee or beer (Yes, I ramble on about agile outside of work… often.)

CC Alvaro Perez
Copyright Alvaro Perez

This question is hard to answer without meeting the team and knowing the particular intricacies of the project and the overall production needs. In addition, it is best not to prescribe too much as it really depends on the team’s unique DNA and what THEY want to do first (Yay, autoorganization!)… as top down rarely works with these kinds of changes.

The first step I often recommend and one of the easiest to implement (once the team is convinced) is putting into place: “Retrospectives” or “Retros”.

What is a Retro?

A retrospective can take many forms and often should change and adapt with the team over time (if not to add some spice). The overall idea is the team gets together to reflect upon:

Since the last retro…

  1. What went well?
  2. What could improve?
  3. What are some solutions?

Then two or three of the solutions are collectively chosen and teammates volunteer to follow these points until next retrospective. After all, we can not change Rome in a day! Here are some ideas for retro formats.

How often and who?

Depends on your team! Typically retrospectives are at the end of the development cycle for development Scrum teams.  I suggest conducting retrospectives at least once a month for non-development teams, especially in the beginning.

Oh, that is right.  I suggest retrospectives on all levels. It is not just the developers that produce, so why not spend that valuable time improving on all levels?

You have multiple product owners? Do a scrum to scrum retrospective! Do a company wide one! Marketing team one! All levels will profit from regular introspection, though the time intervals and format will vary depending on the scope.

The key is though to not turn retrospectives into ‘diss’ fests against people or teams not present. This should be watched for and any point involving those not present should be noted and taken up in the next retrospective including them or by their manager in private. If it is solely a personal conflict then it is best discussed between the two people involved.

In addition, I am a big advocate for having mixed profiles in the retrospectives including managers. BUT it is important that the managers exercise listening and letting each person, especially those naturally timid, feel free and safe to express themselves.

Much like brainstorming sessions, the participants must freely be able to communicate their ideas and thoughts. Only later when you vote on the most important solution upon which to work , should there be a HEALTHY debate on the pertinence.

Here is the kicker: You have to actually do it for it to work

Now over the years of seeing various companies/projects/teams transition to agile, one of the biggest stifling factors has been cutting off open communication or not prioritizing it. For example: just filing away retros as “another meeting”. This I have found especially true for non-sprint organized teams.

Ug another meeting?
Ug another meeting? Meetings have been hated since well before 2016.

“Ahh… well I have so many meetings… so much to do. Do we REALLY have to have our retro? Didn’t we just have one? I would appreciate it if we could push it off… I have this [INSERT DEADLINE] coming up.”

Respond, “No, sorry. It is important.”

Hey, secretly, you may even want to cancel it! It takes time and energy to communicate openly and establish healthy channels to do so. But giving that loving push to yourself and others to keep to the retro routine is important.

Trust me; of all the times my teams have wanted to cancel the retrospective… Where people grumbled, “Well, what do we really have to say to each other? We talk a lot already.”… those OFTEN turn out to be the best retrospectives. People leave smiling and feeling loved because they took the time to improve themselves and their team, vent their frustrations and find solutions.

Pro tip: Bring candy. People love candy. Or ask people to volunteer taking turns cooking or purchasing food to bring. Food = love, commitment and yumminess. Plus, it gives the team a sense of ownership. They will want to be at that retro so that they did not bring food for nothing!

4751483994_fbfd158921_o
Copyright Lottie

But why?

Well other than the free candy… In your agile transition or project life you may not always make the right decisions. The first steps may be off path, BUT if you bake in moments of reflection, you can easily fix these mis-steps and learn from them. Turn them into an investment and not a loss.

So no crazy long, overly optimized roadmap of how to transition to agile is necessary.

CC CP Ewing
Copyright CP Ewing

Just start by talking with each other.

Just take that first step and keep at it and the rest will eventually fall in line.

 

Seven Tips For Keeping Creative While on Deadline

Creativity is for hippies… and well everyone else as well.

In my previous post (“Ode to the Art of Product Development.”), I waxed on the artsiness of product and UX development.  Still these professions are not always treated so.  Often there is a trap that even I fall into, where we expect that anyone can plan/layout a site as long as they understand user experience concepts or the product goals. And that when the site moves to the graphic designers, that’s when the real artsy magic happens.

 

But it takes some serious problem solving, inspiration and creativity to lay out a site in a logical, readable, attractive manner that supports the product goals and suits the target market’s needs.  This especially can get difficult with more “tool” like websites that must be easy to use for a variety of different workflows.  Or for those in product development, discovering that perfect product or “tool” for your market.

Glad I never worked in a place like this...

 

Knock Knock. Mr. Deadline who?

 

But we don’t have time!  Deadlines press on us and the world turns!  And often we try to set a time limit on the product and UX design process.

Sometimes an hour is not enough...

Marty Cagan speaks about this in his book Inpired: How to Create Products Users Love (a must read for web professionals even if you are not a product manager recommended to me by the awesome Mr. Tim Rosenblatt).  I feel that this conundrum of needing to meet deadlines but allowing time for creativity  effects all areas of the web development process including UX design, marketing and software development.

 

Following are some tips that help me when on deadline and needing to work quickly and creatively… Applicable to all though I may tend to write from a product/ux/consultant point of view.

1.  Research Should Not Be Sacrificed

No matter how snap the decisions have to be made: do not let it snap your necks.  As in, take the time to do SOME research, even if you have to timebox it to a short period of time.  This research can be as simple as searching the internet for inspiration.  All your decisions need to be informed, and being more informed will in the end give you more ideas, helping with your creativity. Best yet, giving you informed ideas! 

2.  Keep Open

 

While working under pressure do not let that limit you (easy to say, huh?).  Maybe you won’t have time to wireframe out all your pearls.  But atleast start by listing or sketching out all your ideas before pursuing one.  As with research, to ensure you stay on deadline be sure to timebox your brainstorm session.

What is key is to not judge these ideas right away.  The biggest poison to creativity is closing yourself off by judging prematurely.  SURE the idea may be stupid at first, but if you have a little time to follow the thought process out you may arrive at a golden solution. And if you train your brain to judge your ideas immediately, you shut yourself off from fully utilizing its creativity.  Meaning, less ideas come out when you blockoff pathways.  Also, when you move on to picking the key ideas you will pursue, you still have a list of ideas to fall back on.

3.  Keep Focused Via the POWER OF LISTS

 

 I. Love. Lists. As anyone that knows me… well, knows.  YES keep open but at a certain point you need to hone in (or clear the clutter of your frantic mind).  The best way to keep your priorities straight is to have lists. Make a list at least of your top product goals (or other goals if you are not a product manager).  Also a clear list of feedback is good, when reviewing your solution for a 1st,  2nd or 3rd time.  Try to keep these lists short though… even with feedback, try to boil it down to key points.

Now you have these lists, use them.  When you get lost, refer back to them and center yourself.  Another reason why for product manager’s personas (<– click there to read all about the magic of personas) are key!

 

4.  Digitally Brainstorm, Save Trees, Save Time

 

For the first three tips you could do this on paper.  And for sketching that is often the fastest unless you have a tablet and software skills.  But for the rest, try to do this using google docs, a word processor program or a awesome list software like WorkFlowy.

Why? Because when the time comes to present your ideas, spec your ideas, etc, you already have them typed up.  Clean them up and VOILA.  Saves you time from parsing your scribbles on paper and transcribing them for that power point. Yay, for copy and paste!  In addition, those brainstormed ideas are digitally saved for later.

5.  Feedback early and often

No one likes to waste their time (or your client’s, colleagues, etc).  You will find when you are working close with your client (maybe even in the same room) you will move faster.  Or if this is not a client situation, your teammates, test user, etc. Like in a game of Marco Polo, you need to get feedback often or you may hit into the wall of the pool opposite from your target.

For those who have not played Marco Polo. Basically you close your eyes and flail around in a pool trying to tag your friends. When you call "Marco", they must respond "Polo", helping you find them.

Do not do get feedback via email – if possible.  Even if you have to arrange an impromptu, walk over to your client/boss/colleague’s desk for advice or video skype meeting, be sure not to waste your time writing up some big email just to get quick feedback.  Also that way you can see their reaction first hand and quell any worries on their behalf.

6.  Feedback as Inspiration

 

To continue the last tip’s line of thought, you need to strike a balance between showing people your product too early and shutting them off from you following that train of thought and getting the feedback you need.  This is especially true for consulting… and I could write a whole novel on this. So while I encourage early feedback, do take some time to fully explain your idea and make it clear this is just the beginning of the baby’s life.  Depending on the client, you will have to find the sweet spot, where early is not too soon.

What is important is, do not let feedback/judgement stymy your creativity.  Take it as a challenge/new aspect to design around and not necessarily a reason to move on immediately.  Feedback is not a final deathtoll and is is just a reason to reflect and adapt your idea.  At points you do need to give up the ghost on an idea, but the first negative feedback should not be the death rattle.  And starting over should be avoided especially when on deadline, unless with more feedback you realize its a deadend.  Even then parts and main concepts learned for your idea should be salvaged (thank you Mr. lists).

7.  Take a break

 

When especially frustrated… take a walk!  Bounce a ball against the wall!  Or if you cannot rip yourself from the computer, just peruse the internet for inspiration.  Something as simple as searching for your key goal words in google images, to see what comes up.  Work smarter, not harder.

 

 

 

 

GO TO YOUR HOME!

 

So in summary, the above tips are for creativity when in a pinch.  There are of course more tips necessary just to ensure you MEET your deadline. Such as avoiding the dreaded feature creep beast.  But that is a post for another time..

 

Let’s end with a laugh shall we?  This is what I think about every time I cannot figure out where to place an item while wireframing:

You too good for your home? – S

Ode to the Art of Product Development

Lately I have been working with a company giving UX advice and revising wireframes for their new site.  It has been a fun and rewarding experience!

Friday it struck me once again, with a sappy sort of realization how creative the user experience design process is.  This should be evident but by the word, “design” but often the process is not thought of as so.

Product Development as well demands such creativity (and really any of the web professions, when you need to problem solve and develop).

I wrote a WHOLE post about creativity, tips, etc, but that needs to be honed and posted another day. (Edit: That day has come! Seven Tips for Keeping Creative while on a Deadline)

But for now I present a metaphor…

 

I like to think of the product development & user experience process like sculpting.

You happen upon a big lump of concept in which you can see a glimmer of an fully formed profitable product inside.

You chip at it and make something that you think is pretty darn good looking, using inspiration from experience, other artists out there (past and present), books about sculpting and what you know about your future viewers.

Sculpt
By TochiPhotos

But then you step back or have an art critic look at it… And its a hunk of crap.

Ew

And with the feedback you roll up your sleeves and jump back in with your chisel.

And repeat this… for who knows long until FINALLY you step back, look at it from all angles, have that critic come back over to gander, show your mum and some random passerby… and it is right!  Or right enough to test further. 🙂

Funny things is it often looks MUCH different from what you originally invisioned… but if done right…

By KittiVanilli

It’s better.

– S