My presentation at Scrum Australia 2016 titled “Lean Discovery” is available on Slideshare.
“The hardest part of building any software system is determining precisely what to build.” – Fredrick Brooks.
Discovering exactly what customers, stakeholders, and sponsors want to create is often the most difficult part of product development. Getting everyone aligned can be fraught with misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Scrum starts with a product backlog, but how do you know that the development of the product supports the growth of your company?
Getting off on the right foot when starting an agile initiative can set you up for success. This presentation will outline a basic flow of light touch Discovery workshops as a way to start your agile product development engine.
And here are some of the tweets from the session:
Along the interior of the stockade, 19 feet from the stockade wall, was a line of small wooden posts with a wood rail on top. This was the “deadline”. Any prisoner who crossed the deadline could be shot by guards stationed in the sentry boxes. 
“The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely” – Agile Manifesto.
The real problem with deadlines, is that any deadline longer than a day or two you are asking people to fail. What you are really measuring with deadlines is the ability to estimate. If you are trying to convince people to get something by a deadline, the only way they could get something done by a deadline is by getting better and better at estimating. This is something you cannot do, even with experience. 
I’ve seen this movie before. The plot is simple: First, you take an urgent date-driven project, where the shipment date cannot be delayed because of external commitments made to Wall Street or customers. Then you add a bunch of developers who use up all the time in the schedule, leaving no time for testing or operations deployment. And because no one is willing to slip the deployment date, everyone after Development has to take outrageous and unacceptable shortcuts to hit the date.
The seven stages of waterfall:
- Perfect plan
- Wild enthusiasm
- Total confusion
- Death march
- The search for the guilty
- The persecution of the innocent
- The promotion of the incompetent
Adapted from Roger Rothstein’s ‘6 Stages of (film/movie) Production’.
Self-organising teams is the antithesis to hierarchical structures that exist in many organisations. Traditional leadership required a strong leader to take control, attract followers and make it happen. Modern leadership is about leaders giving control and creating leaders.
Self-organisation requires autonomy and control to be given to teams. This includes trusting individuals to figure out how to solve problems, make decisions and how to best get work done. With knowledge work the best decisions are those in teams who are closest to the information and customers. However, structure, policies, processes and hierarchy often take the decision making away from these teams.
In his book, Turn The Ship Around!, nuclear submarine Commander David Marquet describes how control was given to the ship’s crew. It required each member of the team to improve his or her technical competence and have a clear understanding and clarity of the organisation’s driving purpose:
Competence: Provide teams with the tools and technical competence to get the job done; create the environment for thinking.
Clarity: Define and communicate the organisational intent so everyone is clear on the vision, goals & objectives. Everyone understands what is the right thing to do.
As a leader you trust the teams are competent and have clarity of vision. Individuals have the freedom to adjust actions and make decisions in line with the vision and intent.
So what does this mean for a leader in today’s ever fast changing world?
As a leader your job is to ensure people have clarity of vision and the competency needed to succeed.
If leaders don’t believe individuals can understand the vision or pick up the skills, why did the leader bring them in the first place? And if there is a competency gap, why did the leaders not mentor or provide training? We all have the extraordinary meta-skill to learn and acquire new skills. If people do not have the competence, the role of leaders is to mentor, give people training and provide the environment for learning.
One of Edward Deming’s 14 Prinicples from his book Out of the Crisis (1982), contains a very astute principle that procurement should grasp:
End the practice of awarding business on price tag alone. Instead, minimize total cost – move towards a single supplier for any item, on trust.
The current thinking and policies for procurement in organisations does not match the agile values and principles. There are infinite tales of troubled projects as a result of fixed price (implicit fixed scope) using agile approaches.
Comparing vendors/partners on fixed price is fraught with danger when product development is inherently unpredictable and uncertainty is the natural order. This is more complicated when vendors attempt to put a price on the work when the team that will work on the product development hasn’t even been assembled (self-organising teams plan and estimate their own work).
Organisations and teams are complex adaptive systems (human systems) that interact and connect with each other in unpredictable and unplanned ways. Complex problems require experimentation and learning. As a result each team will approach creative/knowledge work differently and will highly likely produce different results even when teams have the same starting conditions. Pitting vendors in a competitive position against each other in order to get the best price under these inherently unpredictable and uncertain circumstances wastes time and energy.
are counter-intuitive to [procurement] expertise built on containing risk and ensuring value for money through rigour, clarity and specificity
– Cath Thompson
However, there is a way forward for procurement – it will require a change in mindset to one that understands the need to develop a long term relationship with the vendor/partner beyond just the immediate contract transaction. Procurement needs to realise agile ways of working are easier to govern as a result of increased transparency and visibility, ability to adapt, increased collaboration based on trust, and focus on working solution.
Here’s the link to the entire text of the article – Reinventing the office (Cath Thompson, Procurement Leaders, September/October 2015)
For the past 10 years I have been working with various organisations to humanise the workplace, help improve the leadership capability and dampen the toxic culture that may currently exit. A recent article (28 Oct 2015) in the news has provided no relief.
The article indicated that the thinking and culture of tomorrow’s leaders being taught at school’s today still resembles ‘traditional’ management of command and control borne out of the industrial era and Taylorism. Traditional command and control is about managers telling subordinated what to do, when to do it, where to do it and how to do it. There is very little thinking required of the subordinates and very little autonomy in this hierarchical culture.
The article has quoted a student stating to some other students:
Just remember your parents work for mine, so don’t go complaining to them.
Remember to say ‘hi’ to me when I’m your boss one day.
Girls who replied to the thread were told to shut up to “let the men handle business”:
Could all woman (sic) please refrain from expressing there (sic) opinions thank you
This type of thinking is a big contrast to modern management and leadership styles of ‘Servant Leadership’ where the leader is servant to those they work with.
The student’s comment resembles Level 1 of John Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership. Level 1 is more about “hierarchy” rather than “leadership”.
There is a real leadership debt in some organisations. We have too many leaders who work “in” the organisation rather than working “on” the organisation. Organisations and machines don’t build great products and services, people do. It is the collaboration and the human spirit that are at the heart and mind of great work. We need to stop viewing people as ‘resources’; treating them as robots or commodities who are easily interchangeable. We need to enable performance rather than manage performance.
Humanising the workplace is about making a work environment that puts a greater emphasis on knowledge, passion, inspiring people to collaborate towards common goals, and fostering teamwork where creativity can flourish. Leaders have a large role to play in humanising the workplace.
Effective leaders are increasingly collaboraters rather than being command and control. Effective leaders realise great outcomes from setting appropriate context, rather than trying to control people. Modern leaders provide vision and purpose that allows individuals and teams to be self-organising and self-disciplined. It’s not about “managing” people but more about “leading” people and being more facilitating.
Further to my last post, Malcolm Turnbull – The Agile Australian Government, Turnbull has said:
We need a different style of leadership. A style of leadership that respects the people’s intelligence, that explains these complex issues and then sets out the course of action we believe we should take and makes a case for it.
We need to stop accumulating more leadership debt and start erasing this debt in schools so we can survive the challenges of today and tomorrow and build better world for the future.
My presentation at last year’s LAST Conference 2015 titled “Agile Start Me Up – Using the Minimum Viable Discovery (MVD)” is available on Slideshare.
The Australian Government took a pivot 2 days ago with a new Prime Minister after a leadership spill. In his acceptance speech, Malcolm Turnbull talked about a more ‘agile Australia’ and urged Australians to ’embrace disruption’. He said his government would be “focused on ensuring that in the years ahead as the world becomes more and more competitive and greater opportunities arise, we are able to take advantage of that.”
The Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile, that is innovative, that is creative. We can’t be defensive, we can’t future-proof ourselves. We have to recognise that the disruption that we see driven by technology, the volatility in change is our friend if we are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it. – Malcolm Turnbull
I have been following from afar the evolution of UK Government’s Digital Service Design Principles. In summary the 10 principles are:
- Start with needs – Talk with customers, have empathy with users
- Do less – Government should only do what only government can do, for all else link to others
- Design with data – Let data drive decision-making, not hunches or guesswork, take a a Lean Startup approach.
- Do the hard work to make it simple – Don’t take “It’s always been that way” for an answer. The right thing to do is make things simple although that is hard to do
- Iterate. Then iterate again. – MVPs and agile, do I need to say more?
- This is for everyone – Build for needs, not audiences. Everything built should be as inclusive, legible and readable as possible
- Understand context – Don’t design for a screen, design for people.
- Build digital services, not websites – Uncover user needs, and build the service that meets those needs.
- Be consistent, not uniform – Use the same language and the same design patterns wherever possible. Make sure the approach is consistent (but this is not standardisation).
- Make things open: it makes things better – Use open source, but return the favor by sharing with others too.
In hindsight these principles were quite advanced for a Government given these came about 3 years ago. More recently the UK Government has released the Digital by Default Service Standard. In particular, one of the standards is very explicit:
Both these principles and standards are wonderful and you will notice there a lot of modern delivery and management thinking behind them.
If you go from the UK across the North Atlantic Ocean you will find that the US digital services projects do not work well, are delivered late, or are over budget. To increase the success rate of these projects, the U.S. Government created a new approach with the U.S. Digital Services Playbook:
- Understand what people need
- Address the whole experience, from start to finish
- Make it simple and intuitive
- Build the service using agile and iterative practices
- Structure budgets and contracts to support delivery
- Assign one leader and hold that person accountable
- Bring in experienced teams
- Choose a modern technology stack
- Deploy in a flexible hosting environment
- Automate testing and deployments
- Manage security and privacy through reusable processes
- Use data to drive decisions
- Default to open
There are striking similarities between the UK Government Design Principles and Standards and the US Digital Services Playbook with both taking a citizen-centric view of customer needs as their first point.
When I last worked on some initiatives for the Australian Government there was no such principles and agile approaches were not widely adopted. A search on Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) website revealed only one reference related to agile – Behold the Power of Agile.
Early this year (2015) the Australian Government established the Digital Transformation Office (or DTO) to lead the government in transforming their services to improve customer experience. The DTO has come up with their own Digital Service Standard. A close look at these standards will reveal that it has been adapted from the UK Government’s Digital by Default Service Standard (almost exact word for word), and it includes the similar statement:
I would recommend you spend 30mins of your time to review the various governments Digital Standards and Principles.
Being a customer and citizen of the Australian Government I am eager to see the government put an agile value and principles approach on the agenda so that products and services are delivered faster and meets my needs. The future will judge Turnbull’s comments of a more ‘agile Australia’ – is there going to be real change? or are these just buzzwords?
A bad system will beat a good person every time.
– W. Edwards Deming.
I believe that everyone does their best given the context and environment at hand. I subscribe to Deming’s views that it is the organisation as a system, not the people working in the system that determines the organisation’s performance. The other view is that the people, not the process or the organistation, is the source of low performance.
Due to the inherent complexity and variability of product development it is often difficult that the scope, details, or effort commitments estimates are certain. When things fall behind schedule (or finish ahead of schedule for that matter), it assumes that the original plan was correct in the first place, but this is often not the case. Plans often over-simplify the complexity of human interactions and creativity. Many of the challenges faced by teams today isn’t necessarily related to technology but can be described as a social problem – product development teams is a complex adaptive system that requires collaborative actions and shows complex behaviour as it adapts in and evolves with a changing environment.
So when there is a performance gap (actual performance vs desired/planned performance), there are generally 3 options that are considered:
- Add more people (or resources)
- Work harder
- Improve performance
Option One of adding additional people may make things later as described in The Mythical Man-Month Is Not A Myth. This option is also has budgetary and financial constraints and managers are reluctant to go down this path.
So when there is a performance gap, there is pressure for managers to close this gap to meet the original commitments by pressuring people to spend more time and energy doing work by working harder often in the form of overtime (Option Two). This is played for an apparent short-term win. This quick-fix reaction results in shortcuts which have a relatively long-delayed and indirect impact – it may be sometime before the decline in performance or capability is known. This is one way how technical debt occurs and requires more effort to maintain a level of performance. This technical debt often never gets rectified as managers deal with the next performance gap problem, and things get worse reinforcing the downward spiral. This option is a popular strategy as it solves today’s problems and meets the immediate KPIs.
The Third Option is improve performance through investment in training, applying agile and lean-thinking strategy of removing waste to improve the flow of value and experimenting with new ideas. Time spent on improving the capability of a process typically yields the more enduring change 1. An hour spent working produces an extra hour’s worth of output, while an hour spent on improvement may improve the productivity of every subsequent hour dedicated to product development.
In an MIT supported paper by Repenning and Sterman they observed that working harder (eg overtime) wasn’t merely a means to deal with isolated incidents, but is instead standard operating procedure. I have frequently overhead team members say “that is normal, we are used to it” when presented with overtime work. Agile Manifesto Principle #8 states that
Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
Some overtime work may be justified but don’t rely on constant overtime to salvage a plan.
When the focus is constantly on production work people are often “too busy delivering”, and working overtime and harder quickly becomes routine, we have no time to improve or learn. Capability starts to decay and as a result, the performance gaps increases forcing the need for heroic efforts (that are rewarded) and people to work harder and longer hours which takes them further away from improvement. This is sometimes called being in a constant “fire-fighting” or reactive mode.
Increasing pressure to do work (delivery) leads people to spend less time on non-work activities like breaks and to put in overtime. For knowledge workers such overtime is often unpaid and spills into nights and weekends, stealing time from family and community activities. There are, however, obvious limits to long hours. After a while there is simply no more time. If the performance gap remains, workers have no choice but to reduce the time they spend on improvement as they strive to meet their ever increasing objectives. -Repenning and Sterman
A key principle of Lean and Agile is to continuously inspect and adapt the way we work so we can improve the way we deliver to our customers. Agile Manifesto Principle #12 is about making improvements to the way you work continuously,
At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
One way to improve is to do regular retrospectives and operation reviews and then spend some time on the identified improvement activities. Kaizen, the Japanese word for continuous improvement, was popularised by the Toyota Production System. The culture of Kaizen is one of the reasons why Toyota has been more successful than many of the Western firms. Kaizen is about making small improvements continuously, so we can get 1% better every day. Just like compound interest on your savings account, overtime these 1% improvements can provide significant performance gains. As the performance gap falls, workers have even more time to devote to improvement, creating a virtuous cycle of improved capability and increasing attention to improvement.
However, there sometimes can be a delay before the benefits from the improvement efforts will be realised, so you need to have a strategic view and an emphasis of investing in improvements. Treat each improvement activity as an experiment and learn from your mistakes.
As illustrated below, working harder results in an immediate performance impact at the expense of improvement work but has a delayed capability trade-off in the long run. Whilst working smarter requires some investment in improvement that will require a short-term negative performance impact before things improve but has a longer lasting productivity gain. In reality, both of these continuously reinforce each other with each decision loop either having a virtuous cycle of reinforcing the performance curve positively (working smarter) or a vicious cycle lowering performance (working harder). Which one will you choose?
Note about the ‘Too Busy To Improve?’ image:
This image has been adapted from Hakan Forss’ work. His ‘Too Busy To Improve’ image is not free to use so I have adapted his image which can be shared under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license. Whilst this image is not as evident as Hakan Forss’, it hopefully still convey’s the same theme. You may share my image but you cannot create a derivative of it to respect Hakan Forss’ intellectual property. I would like to thank Hakan Forss for allowing me to adapt his work.
1 Nobody Ever Gets Credit for Fixing Problems that Never Happened, Repenning & Sterman, California Management Review, 2001
[Thanks to Daniel Prager (@agilejitsu) for passing on this paper]
It is not the strongest species [organisation] that survives, not the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.
Over two jam packed days, there were a lot of new ideas to experiment with but there were also some basics to cater for those just starting out on their agile journey. The vibe at the conference is that Agile is no longer a fad and is transforming across the wider organisation – we have crossed the chasm from IT agility to business agility. However, speaking with people from the trenches there are still many struggling to get the benefits of agile with existing hierarchical management style at odds with the horizontal product delivery focus of agile. James Shore summaries this well when he said
agile is about how you think and that organisation thinking overrides team thinking. Therefore success with agile depends primarily on organisational culture and investments.
Here’s some highlights from the conference:
David Marquet (@ldavidmarquet) – Intent-based leadership
David Marquet is a former nuclear submarine commander and author of the book ‘Turn the ship around‘. His opening Keynote looked at the future of Leadership.
- In the future leaders will get people to think (not do)
- In the future Leaders will help people feel safe (not scared)
- In the future leaders will push authority to information (not information to authority)
- People doing the work can make better decisions because they have the information. You will get better speed of execution because you don’t have a delay.
- In the future leaders will focus on getting better (not being good)
- In the future leaders will fix the environment (not the people)
- In the future, leaders will give control & take leadership
- The only thing hard about this is you, we have been genetically and culturally to take control and attract followers. What you want to do is give control and create leaders.
During his keynote, David did a live poll of the audience on what it would like to work in an environment where the leadership style meant controlling people . I hope the managers and leaders in your organisation are not creating a work environment like this….
Jeremie Benazra (@jemben) – How forgotten knowledge will help you avoid regrettable decisions
Jeremie’s presentation took a interesting look at turning some common questions we may face into reality checks using some common principles that we know today. Whenever we make decisions we need to be grounded (and often reminded) that there are certain principles that may challenge our biases.
|Principle||Question you want to ask||Question you should be asking|
|Moore’s Law: Information systems doubles capacity for the same price every two years||“Which technology is the best to invest in now?”||“How long do we want to maintain the product using this technology?”|
|Allen’s Curve: The communication efficiency decreases exponentially with the physical distance between the persons||“How much could I outsource?”Or what I come across a lot is a statement that “outsourcing is cheaper”.||“How much effort are you ready to dedicate to make outsourcing work?”|
|Parkinson’s Law: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion||“How long do you need to get this done?”||“Do you have any time constrain? What is your deadline?”|
|Little’s Law: The lead time is proportional to the number of items in the system and their time in the system.||“Tell me when I could expect to get this done as well?”||“How urgent is it compare to what is currently in progress?”|
|Meskimen’s Law: There is enough time to do it right, but there is always enough time to do it over.||“How complete are you? How far along are you?”||“Could you help me clarify what we consider complete?”|
|Brooke’s Law – The Mythical Man Month: Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.||“How many people do you need to get this Done? Faster!“||“What are you ready to trade off, scope?”|
|Conway’s Law: Organisations are constrained to produce designs which are copies of their communication structures||“How could you improve our customer experience?”||“How could we remove some organisational silos to work better together?|
Bernd Schiffer (@berndschiffer) – Concrete experimentation in Agile environments
Bernd talked about a problem that many organisations face today, struggling turning change ideas into tangible outcomes so they get better at being Agile. What we need is a way to use experiments to drive change throughout the organisation and Bernd introduced a nice mnemonic to help us remember how to perform an experiment to drive change and improvement – CAT SHOE, SIC! It’s really simple of course:
- Clear goal – what are the outcomes you want to achieve
- Arranged – A plan how you will approach the experiment
- Trackable through metrics – measure the improvement/change. did it have an impact?
- Small – make small incremental experiements, short timeframe, small/one team.
- Has due date – do I need to say more? timebox the experiment
- Out in the open – make the experiment visible eg use ganban boards
- Evaluated through hypothesis – leveraging the lean startup approach, what hypothesis are you trying to prove? what does success look like? what does failure look like?
- Safe-To-Fail – it is an experiment after all so we need to take some risks, but balance risk taking with impact if it fails. You need to be able to recover (and learn) from failure
- Impelled by champions – need people (1 or 2) to sponsor and champion the experiment – they will own the outcome and be impelled to make it happen
- Communicated before start – be transparent and make sure everyone understands and is comfortable with the experiment before starting
Stuart Bargon (@StuartBargon) – Don’t scale Agile. Descale your organisation.
Anders Ivarsson (@anders_ivarsson) – Autonomy and Leadership at Spotify
Linda Rising (@RisingLinda) – Myths and patterns of organisational change
|Myth||Pattern for Change|
|Myth #1: Smart People are rational
||Take on a role of a Evangelist.You need to believe and have a passion for the change. What you have is your belief that your idea is a good one and that it will work.Create short term goals – build on your successes and learn from your failures – do small experiments, just do it, time for reflection, baby steps.|
|Myth #2: Good always triumphs over evil. (Just World Fallacy, one of our many cognitive biases.)
Data clearly shows, that when we are eating we are more open to influence.All languages speak to this connection. When we eat together, there’s a feeling these are the people we trust – its a great influencer even if its a bad idea.
|Myth #3: If I just had enough power I could make people change.
||Personal Touch.You must address a genuine user need. Data does not equal empathy. You need to reach out and try to understand the viewpoint of people who you want to change and give them a reason (sell your idea as a way for them to be better).Different people accept new ideas differently, so you will need to address people differently and answer the “What’s in it for me?” and bring them along the journey.|
|Myth #4: Skeptics, cynics, resistors—THOSE people, well, they must be BAD or STUPID or BOTH!! Ignore them!!
||Fear LessUse resistance to your advantage.
Listen, really listen and learn all you can, even from the cynics. Respect and build on the resistance.Find a Champion Skeptic: Encourage a resistor to play the important role of “Devil’s Advocate.” Treat the person as valued partner in the change effort. Get them to help get better.
|Myth #5:You’re a smart person, so you don’t need help from others. After all, it’s your idea!||Ask For HelpThe idea is yours and you believe in it, but the change must NOT be “all about you”.You need other people’s help. And when others help you, recognise their contribution with Sincere Appreciation – this is a powerful influencer! The thanks must be sincere, timely, contain details of what they did and the impact of their help.|