[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.

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.

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.