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.

Paris Tips – Internet Access – Free and Not – For unfortunate souls like me

So… in the nonstop sitcom that is my life (minus the laugh track and the ability to change the channel quickly) I currently am with out electricity at home for an extended period of time. This means no internet as well. Which is definitely not the first time I have encountered a long period of no internet since moving here due to my many apartment moves.

But you get to profit from these experiences with my list of suggestions for: If you are traveling in Paris or live in Paris and need that sweet sweet internets.

Free Internet in Paris

That’s a keyword phrase for ya!

Your potential view as you use the free city offered Wifi at Parc de la Tour Saint Jacques.
Your potential view as you use the free city offered Wifi at Parc de la Tour Saint Jacques.

  1. Libraries – You do not have to be a resident to enjoy the perks of libraries. Not only can you get a library card without live in Paris but also there is free good internet access, desks, serenity, power outlets and the ability to brag you were in the library all day. If possible, always check the opening hours as they can vary (usually closed sundays and mondays and open afternoons only during the summer).
    Library Locations (in French)
  2. Parks and other Public Places- You heard it. Free wifi in the what seems to be most the public parks in Paris plus some other spots. No power outlets but lots of basking in the grass like a vrai Parisian.
    – Parks such as: Buttes Chaumont, Parc de Belleville and Tour de Saint Jacques – Full Park Listing Here (in French)
    – Listing of all Free Wifi Spots and Instructions thanks to the Marie Here (English)
  3. McDonalds – Okay, not free as you SHOULD purchase something but you can always sneak in there and show it to the man if need be. I hate to admit it but McDonalds has saved my life as a traveler several times.  Toilets, food, cheap coffee (actually not too bad espresso in Paris), a rare power outlet and internet is nice.
  4. Apple Stores – Rumor has it offer free internet and computer use… if you can squeeze your way into one.  They are always crowded so no porn perusing!

Free (with purchase) Internet in Paris

Café at my favorite bar/café which happens to have free wifi.
Café at my favorite bar/café which happens to have free wifi.

  1. Some Cafés – You gotta keep an eye out but some cafés and brassieries advertise free wifi (usually posted on a small sticker on their door) like my favorite café L’Assassin in the 11ème. Be sure to buy something though! Also power outlets will not always be available.  If you are only going to buy a drink, be sure not to sit at a table with dish settings as to not raise their ire. The best perk if you come there enough you may reach the coveted “regular” status.
  2. Starbucks – Depending on the branch, you need to use a code on your receipt to activate an hour or more internet use.  Power outlets sometimes are available. While not as common as in the US, you also can find Starbucks in Paris, mostly in the center of the city a.k.a. the business arrondissements/quarters.
  3. FreeWifi and Other Citywide Wifi Telecom Providers – FreeWifi is not free. It is woefully/trick-fully the name of a company. You in fact need to have an account or a very nice friend with an account, BUT if you can score one, these providers do give city/country wide wireless codes with most telecom accounts. Let’s say you actually live in Paris but are awaiting or internet carrier to hook things up, ask them what your citywide Wifi login details are to get a jump on things.  In fact that is how I am typing/saving this article. right. now.
    You can also connect to their services “SFR”, “Orange”, “FreeWifi”, etc and see if you have the ability to buy a day pass.
  4. Internet Cafés – All around the city you can find internet cafés with computer/internet booths, usually indicated by a neon glowing @. In addition there is the chain called Mlik which is open 24/7. These places are also useful if you need to print, fax, scan something (paperworrrrkkkk?) or call someone. I tend to price shop (walk and look at the menus of several I pass) before I decide who to patronize as prices will vary.
  5. Coffee Shops with Work Stations or Internet Access – I do not know many but I do see them starting to pop up, like Craft.  There is sometimes a minimum order or fee, such as, 9EUR at Craft.
  6. Coworking Spaces  – Coworking spaces or labs are where you can collaborate with other professionals or work on your own personal projects privately at a big person desk or on a cool person comfy couch.  They include places like Super Belleville, La Mutinerie and La Tank,  La Cantina and La Rouche. Some do require a pre-application or monthly signup.  While others you can rent hourly or use the space for free during certain periods and networking events.
    – You can find a list of coworking spaces on the TechList for Paris – here.

Blurry picture from my last yummy productive visit to Craft.
Blurry picture from my last yummy productive visit to Craft.

Rewind a bit… why does Sheila have no electricity?

Even this little dog has internet - Paris Subway Add
Even this little dog has internet and electricity – Paris Subway Ad

So in my recent move to a new apartment I messed up in signing up for electricity. They shut it off August 1st… and the first appointment we could make because our neighborhood/arrondisement’s office is on vacation is August 16th. No joke. August in Paris is the worse.

Let’s take this as a learning lesson. When you move into an apartment you have two months to change it to your name after the old tenant has cancelled it and be sure to VALIDATE our contract.  I messed up the steps and did not reply to a text that was sent to me to validate the contract (EDF is the carrier), hence the shut off.

C’est la vie. – S

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