Achieving Extraordinary Results with Ordinary People – Marty Cagan

Notes from a talk by Marty Cagan, at a Product People meetup hosted at Geovation on 19 October. Marty Cagan is from Silicon Valley Product Group has worked at places like Netscape and eBay back in the day, and advises lots of startups on how to do tech product management.

Empowered teams

Bad approach:
Tech teams exist to serve ‘the business’.

Good approach (product culture):
We set up teams to serve actual customers, meeting their needs in a way that they love, but in a way that meets the need of the business.

Why don’t most organisations do this?

Trust. Senior management don’t think that they can trust subordinates with decisions. They think the people aren’t capable.

Coach Bill Campbell, who coached Amazon, Apple and Google founders:
“Leadership is about recognising that there’s a greatness in everyone, and your job is to create an environment where that greatness can emerge”

The role of leadership

Leadership is about inspiring people to a goal. Leaders need to provide:

  • Product vision – a north star aligning every discrete product team in the organisation. Needs to be inspirational. It’s the main recruiting tool.
  • Product strategy – the plan for getting from the current state to the desired end state. Not a product roadmap – more a sequence of big milestones.
  • Product principles – princples to help you make difficult product decisions. e.g. at eBay resolving the fact that the seller team had a lot of power, and that could lead to buyers being treated worse. So eBay established a principle of always favouring the buyers, because if you take care of the buyers then the sellers will come.
  • Product priorities
  • Product evangelism. “If you ease up on evangelism there’s always someone that is going to take your resources”

The role of (people) management

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” – Steve Jobs was negative, but he didn’t tell people how to fix things. He gave them space to do that.

  • Staffing. Put the right people in place and don’t set them up to fail.
  • Coaching.
  • Objectives (Not roadmaps. Give people business problems to solve. Let the team figure out how to solve the problem. Make sure that different teams’ objectives are reconciled with each other. )

The Basis for Trust

You need to get the right competencies in the team.

Trust needs competence and character.

Often managers don’t know or understand the needed competencies.

The All Blacks have a “No Dickheads” rule. They’ve kicked players and coaches over this principle of character.

“Cultural fit” is a bad thing to recruit for because it leads to hiring people like the people you already have.

The best way to recruit is to go for competence and screen out the jerks.

How to tell if a team is empowered

  • The team is staffed with competent people with character, covering the necessary range of skills. (e.g. having teams with engineers and product and design)
  • The team is assigned problems to solve, and they are able to decide the best way to solve those problems. (Not implementing features on a feature roadmap. 3/4 of those features won’t solve the problem. Do whatever features you need to do to solve the problem.)
  • The team is accountable for solving the customer or business problem (i.e. delivering an outcome). Leadership gives the objectives – e.g. make the churn rate better. The team gives the key results – e.g. saying that we think we can do a 10% improvement. Teams can suggest objectives, but the organisation needs to think about coordinating and prioritisation organisation-level objectives, so needs to drive this process.

Bonus: Cagan’s thoughts discovery

3 things you need in a good team:

  1. Are they tackling the big risks up front? (value, usability, feasibility, business viability) PM responsible for making sure that we resolve these risks (or at least well enough) before we write production code.
  2. Are they collaborating closely around the problem, rather than passing it around between disciplines?
  3. Not about implementing features, it’s about getting results. shipping things on time and budget is not important – it’s about getting results. time to money is more important than time to market.

What is [email protected]?

Yesterday’s Digital Project Managers London meetup looked at the Scrum @ Scale framework.

The event was mostly questions and answers, so what follows is a blend of that material, bolstered with content from the Scrum @ Scale website.

The goal of Scrum @ Scale is to allow organisations to scale effectively, rather than finding diminishing returns as growth leads to complexity and confusion. So it’s solving a higher level problem than the Scrum framework, which is focused on individual teams.

The Scrum @ Scale framework is deliberately minimalist. It’s a “minimum viable bureaucracy”. So you can build what you need on top of it to fit your culture or existing practices.

The key point is that you have scaled daily scrums going up the organisational hierarchy.  Issues that can’t be resolved at one level are taken up a level.

You have scrums, scrums of scrums and (if you need it) scrums of scrums of scrums. The scrums above the normal scrum are delivery focused – so made up of Scrum Masters or Delivery Managers. Focused on the ‘How’.

The highest scrum is at executive level. This Executive Action Team has the political and financial power to unblock impediments. So if a team needs a policy change it can get senior attention on it that same day. (Of course, that senior level chooses what it wants to do with that escalated issue.)

This Executive Action Team has a transparent backlog and ideally daily standups. It’s responsible for the transformation backlog and for the quality implementation of Scrum in the organisation.

 

 

There’s an equivalent Product Owner / Product Manager framework, focused on the ‘What’ and the ‘Why’.  It includes key stakeholders, not just Product people. On a sprint by sprint basis you have coordination of backlog prioritization at each of these levels.

The MetaScrum exists to:

  • Create and express an overarching product vision.
  • Build buy-in to the prioritised backlog.
  • Measure value and metrics
  • Create a shared definition of done that applies across scrums of scrums.

The Chief Product Officer sets strategy and vision for the product.

MetaScrums can scale up like Scrums of Scrums can.

You get up to the executive meta scrum level. At this level, organizational vision and strategy is set, aligning all teams around common goals.

Camp Digital 2018

A summary of the talks I attended at Camp Digital 2018 at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.

Ending It. Emotionally, Responsibly, With Your Business Intact – Joe Macleod

With death becoming less visible in society, we expect perpetual heavenly consumption.

Consumer narrative structures are unusual in that they don’t have endings.

Consumer packaging often avoids recognising the real end of a product. So people generally aren’t aware of the fact that they can recycle old electronics.

Designing for endings and multiple engagement is a good idea:

  • Permitting no fault divorce reduces suicide.
  • Even the best gyms have 30% of people leaving per year. So design a good ending experience to get people back later on if they’re a serial gym-leaver.
  • 50% of new financial product consumers leave within 90 days.
  • 71% of app users stop within 90 days.
  • GDPR and the right to be forgotten empower people to initiate endings. How might you make it easier for that person to come back? (GDPR is generally thought of as about privacy and data. But it’s also an opportunity to design for endings, and tidying things up.)

Designing from the perspective of novelty is bad:

  • The promise of novelty:  New process, materials, products -> an improved life.
  • Not sustainable.
  • Fails to provide individual reflection about consomption. Doesn’t acknowledge scarcity.

Designing from the perspective of endings is better:

  • Design something from the perspective of the end of its use.
  • Plan for recycling and for repeat use.
  • Reclaim resources
  • Reflect on consumption
  • Develop and design new things.

What does a good closure experience look like?

Consciously connected to the rest of the experience through emotional triggers that are actionable by the user in a timely manner.

Some well-designed ending experiences:

  • Epson’s PaperLab gives a visible ending and rebirth as it devours old paper and makes new paper.
  • Marie Kondo’s Tidying Technique includes a thankful, meaningful goodbye to things that we have consumed.
  • Fair phone lets users access their phone’s insides and update it.
  • Kia cars plan for death in 7 years. This opens up the chance for them to sell more.Increase in market share from  1.3 to 3.5% due to the 7-year warranty.  No change in design or price point.

Navigating the ethical minefield of digital design – Per Axbom

We’re hearing a call for ethics because people are being harmed by digital.

Some examples of design hurting people:

One terminally ill person shared their prognosis on Facebook, but Facebook didn’t show this update to their friends. Their friends had no idea they were ill. They probably died thinking that no-one cared.

Grindr exposing HIV status to other companies.

Of people who are getting hurt by design, mostly it’s happening unknowingly.

Can you map out the 1st, 2nd and 3rd order effects of your work?
Eating chocolate is good in the moment, but has negative 2nd and 3rd order effects. Exercising is the reverse. How do you prioritise between them?

Good Inclusive Design is changing how we deliver public services – Katy Arnold, Head of User Research, Home Office

How to do it:

  • Hire people with access needs
    Diverse teams are more likely to design well for diversity.
  • Dedicated people and time
    Even if you don’t have budget. You might need to do it on top of the day job. Build networks with different organisations and groups to help you recruit users with different accessibility needs. As soon as you can, dedicate money and people to design.
  • Set a high bar
    e.g. “include 1 person with an access need in each round of user research”. This has helped push contextual research, as you want to test in context with a user’s own devices and setup, not just in a lab environment. It also makes you think about ethics, consent and data protection. So the Home Office team joined the Market Research Society and got their researchers tested.
  • Support innovation
    e.g. Home Office sharing posters with accessibility tips.
  • Leadership
    Provide cover for good work. Set expectations . Reinforce the approach. Give practical support.

Building a new digital culture – Eve Critchley, Gareth John

The team wanted to move “From helpdesk to strategic partner”, and to encourage people away from tactically chasing individual pots of funding.

The team asked “What’s the biggest problem we need to solve?”
Mind is good at information provision. But next steps for information-seekers to take aren’t always clear. This is the most important problem to solve.

3 goals:

  1. empowering information at all touchpoints
  2. marketing and income generation
  3. using digital to improve the way the organisation works

Some tips on getting colleagues on board with change:

  • 1:1 at the start of the transformation process helped understand pain points and desires. This seeded future conversations making the case for change.
  • These champions were cultivated over time.
  • Competitor research, including out of sector. But you don’t want to go too far with this because each charity serves a different set of user needs.
  • Opportunity cost and ROI are useful frameworks to build shared understanding.
  • Some pieces of collateral or public decision-making act as boundary objects.  They render the project visible and intelligible to people on the outside and help them feel involved.
  • Build buy-in incrementally.
  • Storytelling helps.

Tech, polyphony and power – Ella Fitzsimmons

“You can’t control the story anymore, but you can choose what to emphasize”

https://twitter.com/AmyMcNichol/status/991691656025034755

Stories are political

CIA sponsored abstract expressionism, to boost American soft power, combating USSR’s Soviet Realism.
Abstraction was interpreted as about being a space for free, Western individuals. Societ realism showed lots of people working joyfully together, implicitly focusing on social confirmity.

The Iowa Writers’ workshop was also sponsored by the CIA. Individualistic, senses-driven, narrow, quirky, materialist, warm stories. Not about systems, ideas, injustices or castles in the sky, which was more the USSR style.

Most of the stories we tell today are about heroes

In the hero’s journey narrative, tech startup garages are the liminal or otherworldly space.

The heroes journey narrative for tech sector is:

  • kind of an outsider (A bit of a lie – rich and well-educated)
  • uniquely gifted (See above)
  • moments of doubt
  • perseveres
  • returns with the elixir

What happens when a heroic CEO is the centre of the company’s vision and what it builds?

It encourages certain kinds of personalities and behaviours, and the centralisation of power. It bleeds into the rest of your work – e.g. your software. It also leaves the organisation vulnerable, and shapes unrealistic expectations of a single person.

What can we do to change this?

  • Change the stories, bring new people in.
  • Amplify different voices.
  • Show individuality without setting people up as heroes.
  • Start to tell stories about many people.
  • Facilitate other people telling stories.
  • Shine Theory.  Amplify the ideas of other people to start raising expectations.
  • Who is quoted matters. Don’t just quote heterosexual cisgendered white men.
  • “Attribution is a revolutionary activity”. Show the community of people that you are part of. Disrupts the idea of lone genuises.

Scenius – the genius of the scene. Jobs: “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”

  • Show what people do, not just what they look like.
  • Ask, ask again, and offer support.
  • Talk about money, both with people who are like you, and with people who aren’t
  • Mix up who works on important projects
  • Ask someone new to do the boring work.
  • Give people time to prepare for presentations

Designs of the Year, and Print in the Digital Age

Here are my highlights from the Designs of the Year exhibition at the London Design Museum.

Warka Water

A 12-metre tall bamboo tower that gathers water rom the air. About 100 litres of clean drinking water per day. Inspired by lotus leaves and spider’s webs,
The project is named after the Warka tree, an Ethipian fig.

Refugee Text

A text chat-bot to give refugees trustworthy information on their phone.    

Refugee Nation Flag

Being stateless makes it hard to access rights, and being away from home makes identity and belonging more difficult. But creating a nation through a flag gives some identity, coherence and hope.

Mrs Fan’s Plug-in House

Designed as an upgrade to the historic hutong districts of Beijing, this pre-fabricated house slots in to the existing courtyard structure. It should be affordable so that existing residents can stay living there.

The renovated Sala Beckett Theatre

The building was previously Barcelona’s Peace and Justice Cooperative Building. Some of what was there what been retained – the bare plaster walls, exposed timber and rose windows – but many things have been added.
I enjoyed the playful sense of remixing the past, of function and style shifting  over time. In its confusion it feels alive with possibility.

There were some interesting items here – but I did wonder if the exhibition should shift its focus towards designed things that go beyond the physical. Refugee Text was an example this year (and GOV.UK in the past) – but what about great services, concepts or algorithms?

Print in the Digital age – redesigning the Guardian newspaper

The concise popup on the Guardian’s new tabloid format was worth a quick visit.

I’d assumed that the new tabloid format was primarily about saving money on printing costs. But it was also an opportunity to re-design the approach to preesenting printed information. Digital content design has now influenced print desig. Writing and formatting is intended to facilitate scanning, with fewer blocks of text. Infographics are used more too.

Compare the two ways of presenting a single article in the images below:

 

 

Public Service Design – Cross Government Design Meetup 22

Today I attended a Cross Government Design Meetup at the Design Museum in London. Here are some of the highlights I took away.

Introduction – Lou Downe

“Bad service design is one of the biggest costs to government”

In the future, “Services will shape government, not the other way round.” “Transformation will never be done” so focus on helping change to happen sustainably.

Dan Hill, Associate Director, Arup – Design and the public

The contrasting experience of two social housing projects shows the need for service design:

Wohnpark Alt-Erlaa, Viennna; image by Thomas Ledl – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Alterlaa Kunstwerk.jpg
By Thomas Ledl – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

 

The Robin Hood Estate; image by stevecadman – Flickrtik hartua, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

 

Hill argues that the key difference between the success of the former, and the demolition of the latter is the ongoing maintenance, service and engagement.

Design needs a service blueprint. You aren’t just designing a one-off object – you’re building for life and for ongoing use. You need to design a service.
This is what was missing in the Robin Hood Estate.

There’s been a steep decline in the percentage of architects employed in the public sector. In 1970, 50% of architects were employed in the public sector; today only 0.7% of architects are.

Hill presents this as an opportunity. Digital has an opportunity to build design intelligence back into government. And we can build in this view of service design, making things better than before.

Prepare for the future by preparing to transition smoothly

It’s hard to know what the future will be like. So “The best focus for people is to make the transitions as effective and painless as possible as opposed to worrying about what the end point is.” – Michael Spence

The public sector needs to set out a vision for the future, otherwise the private sector will do it, leeching value out of a city and sending it to California.

Jean-Louis Missika, deputy mayor of Paris:
“We should announce, before 2020, that in Paris, no private owned AV will be allowed it will be only mobility as as service; not mobility as ownership”

Research in Zurich, Singapore and New York suggests that 80% of car use could be replaced by shared autonomous shuttle fleets.

DVLA – John Hewson

90% of DVLA interactions are now digital, up from about 9% in 2007. But that’s still 23 million paper applications per year, 5 million pieces of casework.

DVLA have made big changes to the user experience, but they haven’t yet made improvements to their internal systems.
Redesigning internal systems is another challenge, requiring slightly different expertise to building user-facing websites. These users often value efficiency over user-friendliness. One key piece of software is from 1990 and doesn’t even support a mouse, so this is a quite a challenge.

But the core discipline of prototyping, using best practices from the Service Manual, and testing iteratively will always work.

Panel discussion

https://twitter.com/Martin_Jordan/status/909797152427270144

The discussion reinforced the importance of applying service design to business models and procurement process – not just external user journeys. Take a service design approach to problem solving right through organisations.

Similarly, design for failure. Don’t just design for the perfect digital frontend – plan the whole service, and for all aspects of that service.

Design for the gaps between different nodes in someone’s experiences – e.g. a journey through healthcare. Each node can have its own effective risk register, but things can get lost in the cracks because there’s not always a holistic view.

Doing the hard work to make it simple – Tom Loosemore

Below is a video and summary of a talk by Tom Loosemore at the Camp Digital conference, 2016.

Design is inherently political, and we must not ignore this

Ask yourself: who is the “we” that gets to build the future?

If you don’t understand how something works, you are a consumer, not a citizen. Don’t be fooled by ‘magic’.

Richard Pope – “Software is politics, now” – it shapes power dynamics.

GDS came up with the design principles so that people would have a new language to use to change reality.

The advantages of working in the open

Child benefit tax calculator. They made a mistake, so someone suggested a fix on github which has now been incorporated.

Ministry of Justice – problems with a form used by divorcing couples. Proprietary software. Took months to fix.
The change on github took 3 days. Massive difference.

What is digital, and what is our job in a digital world?

Definition of digital: “Applying the culture, practices, processes & technologies of the Internet-era to respond to people’s raised expectations.”

It’s not about technology – it’s about taking advantage of technology to redesign services and organisations to meet changed expectations.

Focus on delivery

Martha Lane Fox’s 4-page report gave just enough cover to start delivering. No need for a big strategy.

“The strategy is delivery” – key phrase at GDS.

Internal metric: write 100x more lines of code than lines of business cases justifying code.

Guy Moorhouse designed icons for GDS. But then he tested and found out that they didn’t help people, so he removed them and blogged about why.

Building the political case for change

GDS alpha was done openly. This was to create buzz outside the system to convince ministers that it was a good idea. This helped overcome reluctance from senior civil servants.

Do something valuable -> build political capital through an early win -> get rid of the ‘no’ people (spending all of the political capital)

Old approaches to service delivery are flawed

When Tom Loosemore started at the DWP in 2013, he asked ‘so, what have you been doing with all this time and money?’ For 3 years of work, they showed a 600 page policy design manual.

The DWP senior leadership thought of Universal Credit as a policy. But they hadn’t designed anything – they’d written a document. It had thousands of untested assumptions about people’s behavior.
“a document full of false certainty”

When Tom arrived, the DWP processes were as follows (with each step done by a different team):

  1. Invent policy
  2. Guess requirements
  3. Procure IT system
  4. Inflict on users
  5. Operate (aka ‘stasis’)

This is the wrong way to deliver services.

You must observe real user behaviour

People don’t know what they need. You have to observe real people in the real world
“observer their actual behavior. Surveys are useless. Actually focus groups are useless.”

“Watch what they do, don’t listen to what they say”

“False certainty if our mortal foe”

“Start humble, stay humble”

Start small, build a shared vision and empower the team

Start really small. Iterate based on how people actually use the service.

Craft a vision that everyone can use to steer every decision. Use simple language.

Empower people to make decisions based on this vision without having to run it up the hierarchy.
And because you have governance check-ins every 2 weeks through a show-and-tell (demo), things won’t go out of control.

Build an empowered multi-disciplinary team

The multidisciplinary team worked together in a room.

To enter the room, you had to be fully empowered by your bit of DWP or HMRC or LA to make decisions in the room. No one senior. It was surprising how easy it was for the organisation to identify who needed to be in the room.

Video of user testing convinced IDS to make a change to the benefits policy immediately.

Start multi-disciplinary; stay multidisciplinary.
Don’t just remove these people once you’ve ‘launched’

Obtain a mix of mindsets: Pioneers, Settlers, Town Planners.

“User research is a team sport”

Continually assess your knowledge and your readiness

Each sprint, they asked themselves: What have we proved? Do we understand user needs better? Have we designed the service to scale massively? Do we know how to operate?

“If you can’t release software every day in an emergency you’ll never be secure, because a new threat will emerge and if you can’t respond like that *clicks fingers*, your organisation is inherently insecure”

Governance

“Governance was very simple: Ministers come to the show and tell, we’ll show you what we’ve made, we’ll show you what we’ve learnt, and what we’re going to do next, and we’ll talk about risks and issues if you want. But the real governance is seeing the thing being made and seeing the evidence and user research that it’s likely to have the intent that the minister wanted. Every week. And give credit to ministers, they turned up.”

“If your senior management doesn’t show up to show and tells, look them in the eye and tell them that they are failing at governance. Use that word.”

“Show the thing” – a thing you can use, not a thing you can see.
If you’re sending screengrabs, you aren’t showing the thing, you’re showing pictures of the thing.

10 tweet summary of NFP Tweetup 33

This NFP Tweetup included sessions on PPC, Oxfam’s digital fundraising work – and app – and Cancer Research UK’s digital transformation. Lots of great ideas were shared – I’ve tried to pull out 10 of the very best tweets to summarise the event.

The Case for Investing in Adwords – Kate Sanger, Head of Communications at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust

They worked with a paid search agency, but with the explicit upfront aim of upskilling the in-house team.

The agency audited and restructured their ad copy. Incorporated call out and phone extensions. Refined keyword matching so it wasn’t just ‘broad match’. Set up an information flow between analytics data and PPC performance data. Added ‘do you need adwords?’ question to the comms brief that the digital team receives.

The My Oxfam app and more – Matt Jerwood, Head of Digital Fundraising at Oxfam UK

The Oxfam App displays content for the period during which you’ve been a regular giver. The idea is to show the impact of your donation.
The app displays third party news, to increase credibility.

It shows your gift history, and displays income generated from items you’ve sold in Oxfam charity shops. It lets you manage your direct debit level in-app, moving it up or down.

There isn’t currently a designed journey for people who dial down their direct debit – e.g. prompts or encouragement to increase it after a period of time. Again, the app is very much about the soft cell.

I bet the CRM integration was really complicated. But for the user, the experience is simple. That’s the way it should be.

No firm evidence of success yet, but initial results suggest that it improves retention.

They’ve improved the single donation experience too. They added Apple Pay and PayPal payment options, massively reducing the time needed to make payment

We didn’t get stats on the impact on the donation value or reduction in dropoff at the payment page.

From dinosaurs to digital masters: our mission to change our DNA at CRUK – Kate Simmons, Head of Customer Experiences at Cancer Research UK

Cancer Research UK surveyed people’s experiences of working with the digital team.

People felt that digital was something done to them, rather than something they had control over.

They produced a word cloud and the biggest word was ‘patronising’.

The CRUK team survey relationships with other teams every 2 weeks.

You need to recognise that people go through a change curve. It’ll get emotionally difficult before it gets better. You need to look after your digital team and build their resilience to help them with this element of their work:

Interesting lessons from advanced hub-spoke model: people feeling out of place and leaving

So empower people to make change in their own teams after you’ve upskilled them through cross-team digital working. And if they don’t feel part of the digital team, but don’t feel part of their original team either, help craft a third identity for them.

Cancer Research UK avoid the words: “digital”, “agile” and “ways of working”. They set up a Modern Marketing Academy.

Aside: Cancer Research UK made the case for improving findability on their intranet by working out how much time was being wasted by the poor user experience, and what the resultant cost was.

Some recommended follow-up reading:

Behavioural psychology approaches to service design – Alisan Atvur

Below is a video and summary of a talk by Alisan Atvur at the Camp Digital conference.

Psychology knows that behaviour is seldom rational. So we need to study behaviour.

Create a common design language with “nonviolent communication”

Marshall Rosenberg argued that there were 3 categories of non-violent communication:

  1. 88 human needs
  2. 91 positive feelings we wish to experience
  3. 153 negative feelings we want to avoid

To be non-judgmental, clear and constructive in our use of language, use a “Rosenberg deck” of feelings cards as a conversation prompt.

Map behaviours with “rational emotive behaviourism”.

Albert Ellis, the founder of CBT, argued that Activators trigger Behaviours, which lead to Consequences.

Map out a user journey. Use an Ellis Matrix. Identify the causes of user behaviours. Propose what new Consequences could be, and what new activators and behaviours could be.

Map motivations with “guiding self ideals”

A lot of we do is a result of feelings of inferiority. (See the work of Alfred Adler.)
We seek a “fictional final goal” – if I do [BLANK] I’ll be finished and happy.

So ask ourselves: what would happen to us as an organisation if we never tried to solve this problem?
What would happen to the user if we never tried to solve this problem?

Then ask: What is an aspirational place for us to be? What if we did do this?
Can you clearly indicate what the result would be? – for us and for users

You need to map this out to get an overview of a potential new area of work.

Good leaders and designers empower the team

Lao Tzu quote on leadership, from Tao Te Ching:
“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him and worse when they despise him. But of a good leader, when his work is done, his aim is fulfilled, they will all say we did it ourselves.”

Digital Transformation – Charity Comms networking event

“What does it actually mean, and what does it look like for your charity?” This post is a quick summary of the most interesting ideas that came up in discussion at this Heads of Digital networking event, 15 March 2017. The event was held under the Chatham House Rule, so I won’t be sharing anything identifiable.

Upskilling everyone equally might not be as useful as significantly upskilling some key individuals.
Build a community of product owners, train them and empower them through management of their own backlog and budget.

Digital transformation sees digital outgrow its regular home in communications and move into:

  • Service delivery
  • Business transformation
  • Making sure that the organization meets user needs.
  • Foundational business processes and infrastructure.

Don’t be proscriptive with change. Instead, invite teams to let you know where you might be able to help them achieve their goals more effectively with digital tools.

If you start by optimising a small number of key user journeys, this can give you a clear way in.
Follow this thread towards transformation. The necessary changes emerge organically, and it’s easier than getting buy-in upfront.

Management and Leadership of the Agile Organisation

Notes from a talk on Agile management and leadership culture at the Digital Project Managers meetup on 9 March by Chris Davies. Video available.

 

A large number of the reported causes for failed agile projects are management-related.

ranking of leading causes for agile failure, highlighting cultural factors

This is down to management’s way of thinking.

Why do managers think differently?

Managers still often follow the scientific management principles of Frederick Winslow Taylor:

  1. It is possible to know all you need to know in order to plan what to do.
  2. “Planners” and “doers” should be separated.
  3. There is only one right way to do things.

The harmful divide between “Planners and “Doers”

This distinction between “planners” and “doers” causes an uneven power dynamic.

The powerful (planners) are focused on ambition, politics, mistrust, greed and fear.

The powerless (doers) are focused on resentment and resignation.

This approach is manifested in management creating plans for resources to follow, in milestones, steering groups (the idea that these people set direction and the doers just follow along), progress reports, measuring individual performance, annual budgeting, organisation silos and timesheets.

The split between “planners” and “doers” may have made sense in the early c20th factory system, where you didn’t have an educated workforce. But it doesn’t make sense now that university education is widespread – and it particularly doesn’t make sense for knowledge work, where the “planners” probably won’t be expert in the fast-changing specialist domains of their subordinates.

As Steve Jobs observed:
“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do”

Why do we tell people how to do their jobs?

We tell people how to do their jobs if the outcomes we want aren’t materialising.

We set objectives, then make plans to meet these objectives, and then carry out the necessary actions.
But we might not get the outcomes we want.

This can happen because of problems in the flow between these steps:

  • Knowledge gap: a difference between what we think we know and what we actually know. Assumptions.
  • Alignment gap: a difference between what we want people to do and the actions people take.
  • Effects gap: a difference between what our effects are and what we want them to achieve.

How does scientific management approach problems?

  • Knowledge gap: give me more detailed information
  • Alignment gap: I need to give you more detailed instructions
  • Effects gap: need more detailed controls

This disempowers people in the organisation.

How else might we approach problems?

Scientific management isn’t the only approach. Prussian General Von Moltke in 1869 advocated a different way.

  • Knowledge gap: “Do not command more than is necessary or plan beyond the circumstances you can foresee”
  • Alignment gap: “Communicate to every unit as much of the higher intent as is necessary to achieve the purpose” Intent more important than how to achieve it in practice.
  • Effects gap: “Everyone retains freedom of decision and action within bounds” everyone decides how to achieve that purpose.

So a superior management approach is to establish alignment on intent and give autonomy on actions.

  • Define and communicate intent
  • Allow each level to define how they will achieve the intent of the next level up and ‘backbrief’
  • Give individuals freedom to adjust their actions in line with intent.

diagram showing how the knowledge, alignment and effects gaps can be resolved

 

graph showing impact of high and low alignment and autonomy in combination

Some examples of this approach

  • A BA check-in staff member was presented with a gold customer running late for a flight that was taking off in 20 minutes. All the formal rules suggested that nothing could be done, and she couldn’t get in touch with her manager or with customer services. So she took the initiative to hold up the flight and personally escort a gold customer to the gate, allowing him to make his flight. This was against formal rules, but in alignment with the company’s values “To ensure that BA is the customer’s first choice through the delivery of an unbeatable travel experience.”
  • Netflix avoid top-down decision-making. They focus on ‘context, not control’.
  • Submarine Captain David Marquet (author of Turn the ship around) divested control to his subordinates. Instead of giving orders, he’d ask people to tell him what they intended to do. He’d then potentially ask a few questions. He’d then give assent. Subordinates would internalise the required dilligence, and grow in their own competence and professionalism. His focus was on providing clarity of purpose.
  • Buurtzorg – a nursing company predicated on empowered, independent teams of nurses. Teams hire their own people, and decide how to operate. Patients love it because nurses spend more time with them. And yet the need for care is 40% less than it is in other organisations. The US would save $49 billion a year if it had this system.
  • Favi – brass foundry. Legendary for on-time elivery, having not missed a deadline in 28 years. Staff empowered to do what it takes to get results, including delivery by helicopter if that’s what’s needed. This builds trust in delivery and the brand, far beyond the costs.

Changing culture results in bigger gains than changing processes

Simply adopting agile practices will generally give about a 20% benefit.
Adopting an agile culture gives about a 300% benefit. This is much more powerful.

How people rewarded or punished in an organisation determines your values. Management sets boundaries by how it treats failure. Any cultural change needs to address this.

You need to evolve into theory Y management to realise benefits from agile. Change from theory X management to theory Y management.
Put in place supporting structures, processes and practices.
Role model these behaviors by people with moral authority in the organisation.
Recognise that work is accomplished by teams not individuals. Monitor and value groups.
Divest control within teams. Give teams autonomy and boundaries to work unimpeded.
Encourage people to explore and challenge their personal beliefs. They’ll leave if they don’t like it.

Command and and control versus team-based approaches to work:
diagram showing the difference between top-down and team-based approaches to work