Archive for the ‘Execution’ Category

What is Agile?

These types of discussions are happening more and more frequently now that Agile 2015 is over.

Somebody: What is Agile?

Me: Have you ever had a software project that you waited twelve months for, and when you got it, you realized it wasn’t what you wanted?

Somebody: Yeah, of course.

Me: Would you prefer to know within one to two weeks whether or not the project was off track?

Somebody: Yes. Obviously.

Me (on soapbox): Yeah, well, that’s Agile. For teams that are new to Agile methodologies, you’ll know within two weeks whether or not you’re building the right thing. For mature teams that have been executing Agile for at least a year, you’ll know whether or not you’re building the right thing and you’ll consistently be able to hit deliverable dates*.

*Keep in mind that software development is a discipline. If you don’t adhere to the rigor of Scrum, Kanban, XP, FDD, or Lean, then you really can’t hope to get the results back out.

Agile Adoption is Cathartic

Bridge of FaithFor those of you going through Agile Transformations, or about to, one of the many things you’ll need to deal with is the complete panic you feel from leaving the old ways behind. Admittedly, everyone knows that things are broken or could be done better, but what’s been used for so long is at least “comfortable” when compared to the unknown. I liken it to the scene where Indiana Jones steps of the side off the canyon trusting that there was something there to catch him. To put it another way – you know those times when you almost fall off a barstool but manage to catch yourself? Yeah, it’s like that. For months.

With Agile there’s no hiding. Every day you’re expected to deliver some sort of value, something back to the team. If you’re not doing that on a daily basis you’re letting the team down. Others start to notice when someone isn’t doing a damn thing. That’s un-nerving for people accustomed to having 9 months before the project gets implemented. The bulk of the work completed in the last 1-2 months with a series of all-nighters. In reality, since you’re getting closer to the deadline, the least critical items of the project should be underway, not the most critical. The highest priority items should be done by now.

Adopting Agile, whether it’s Scrum, Kanban, XP, whatever, is going to expose every flaw in your organization’s ability to consistently and predictably deliver a working product. The product and dev teams will feel more scrutiny and the management team will begin to realize that there’s a rather large gap between what they want to accomplish and what the organization is currently capable of. Everybody is going to be pissed. And that’s why this is cathartic – you begin to understand that executing a waterfall project is “working harder” and an Agile project is “working smarter.” The management teams also begin to understand that telling the teams what day a project is due is not a prescription for enabling them to actually hit that date.

My wife, @IamAgile, and I have discussed this numerous times. Give the adoption one year. Follow the Agile principles exactly, don’t try to adjust them to the organization before you fully understand them. After you’ve made it through a full year, then try to tinker with them. She’s been leading Agile for more than three years and recently had a development team want to cut out the Morning Standups in favor of meeting 2-3 times a week. After the first week they realized that they had not idea what each other was doing and they were in complete disarray. The daily Morning Standups went back in place immediately. Only after you’ve lived the discipline for a while to you really begin to understand when you’re going off course with changes to the process. Stick with it for a single year, get through the pain. Because on the other side is a very disciplined, predictable, reliable organization.

Entrepreneur: Day 102 (Tracking Progress)

There’s times when you’re heads and down pounding shit out that you forget how much progress you’ve made. At one point I was keeping track of stuff to do (aka “Action Items”) with Things on the Mac but about 30 days ago stuff started happening so fast that I didn’t even have time to enter them. At some point I started to get overwhelmed and thinking nothing was happening fast enough. That’s when I stepped back and took a couple of hours to make note of everything we’ve done. To be certain the “to do” pile is bigger than the “done” pile but there’s things in the “done” pile I thought would take a year to finish. The overwhelmed feeling disappeared and I got my ass back to work. It’s a necessity to keep track of what you need to do, but seeing what you’ve done will get you through the rough spots.

Also, a bit of thanks to the following people for direct support or encouragement: Stephanie (for setting the bar WAY high for work ethic!), Marvin Scaff, John Morrow, Miss Destructo, Joel Lopez, Prof Bill Jackson, Daniel James Scott & Gazelle Lab, WaltonDesigns, Brantley Smith, Adam Crall for sage advice, Douglas Lee Miller for listening to me rant about entrepreneurship and innovation, Dishtopia for relaxing tea (in a doilie free environment) and to 717 South for refuge and great martinis.

And for those of you that are curious, we should be ready to announce some of what we’re working on within the next 90 days…

Entrepreneur: Day 24 (Task Lists & Budgets)

Two things I’m pretty bad at – creating task lists for myself and sticking to a budget. Neither have I had to really manage tightly over the last fifteen years and it’s taking some getting used to. I’m not a low-level detail person, my Myers-Briggs personality type is ENTP and they’re not exactly nit-picky about details. However, I realize that I need to be closer to the details of the operation of the new company as well as more closely manage my own finances. Three tools that I’m using are Things, Basecamp, and I’m using Things for personal projects and tasks like “renew my drivers license” and “grocery” lists. There are versions for Mac, iPhone and my iPad and they all sync together as long as you’re on the same network.  I’m using Basecamp’s free version to get the company off the ground and launch the first product. It doesn’t support task dependencies but it gets me close enough. To manage my own finances I’m using – they’ve already saved me about $2,000 a year on car insurance by switching to eSurance. Seriously. And I can set a monthly budget for gas, coffee, food and as many other categories as I need. It’s been about ten years since I needed to be on a budget and this is a great tool to keep me honest and see how I’m tracking according to plan. So although I thought all these posts would be about starting a company and launching a product – it’s also about fixing some of my own weaknesses that I can’t exactly hire someone to handle.

Entrepreneur: Day 18 (Pitching)

Don’t pitch ideas, pitch results. And never say “I’ve got a great idea!”

I’m working on two separate types of presentations – one for investors and one for strategic partners. For investors the key points are how much money can we make, how fast can we expect a return, what’s it going to take to get there, and what results we have so far. For partners it’s how do we support the brand and improve the consumer experience. In neither case will I discuss how good the idea is. Instead I’ll be pushing what we’ve accomplished, how we scale the solution, what our next steps are and where we are according to plan. That’s what is in both types of pitches although they’re both aimed at different audiences and have vastly different expected outcomes. So if you’re getting ready to pitch the next big thing, focus on what’s in it for everybody but you.

Entrepreneur: Day 12

Start saying “NO.”

There’s a lot of things I want to be doing and that I want to get involved with.  There are three or four events all coming up that need help and I want to jump in and make sure each of them succeeds. After all, I’ve got all this free time, right? Well, there’s a part of me that says “Shut the hell up and get to work!” I caught my self today getting ready to contributed more time and effort, but when I stepped back and asked “Do I really need to get involved with this?” and “Is this more important to me than what I’m working on?” both answers came back a solid “No.” It’s great to get involved with community projects but you have to take care of your own stuff first. So focus, launch, grow and then get involved with a lot of other projects.

Innovation Furnace. Execution Engine.

In reality, the 80/20 rule is 90/10 when it comes to innovation. Only 10% of “ideas” that are generated could be considered in the “good” category. However, of the entire population of ideas, 1% would be considered “great.” The difficult part to begin to grapple with is that of all ideas that a team comes up with, only .001% will be in the “fantastic” category. That’s it, 1 in 1000. For some, just coming up with that 1/1000 is enough of a thrill. All too often that’s the extent of it. There is no follow through, no attempt to build a consensus of opinion, and no attempt to prioritize and take the “idea” all the way to the “product” stage. For some, “I thought of that” is enough. But that doesn’t create sustainable business and it doesn’t create effective people and teams. What does create a business is follow through. After reading Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky, it’s clear that a process is needed to move things from the innovation stage to the execution phase.

As Scott puts it…

Only through organization can we seize the benefits from bursts of creativity.

So how do you move repeatedly from idea to launch? In my experience the easiest way to make this happen is to create a simple project plan and set milestone dates and stick to them. For example…

  1. Brainstorm, conceptualize and refine the idea for 30 days.
  2. For the following 3 days we will review objectives and prioritize.
  3. In 15 days we’ll have a working prototype.
  4. For 10 days following that we’ll review results and have a working solution.
  5. In 5 days we’ll launch in specific pilot areas.

Keep going from there. Put a process together that you can follow. Not too detailed just a general sense of what everybody is doing. If it’s more complicated than a football play then you need to stop and rethink because nobody can follow it. Pick a project manager to oversee the process. No Gantt charts, just clear and simple markers to show where you are as opposed to where you should be. When dates slip, ask “why” not “who?” If the “why” is associated to the same person every time then the “who” will answer itself. It also polices your process. You should also let the people following the process police it as well. In my opinion, anyone that is a part of a process should have the responsibility of calling “bullshit” on any portion of the process that impacts them directly. They should also be required to offer a workable solution, not just complain that the process is broken or too difficult. Once the issue and a potential solution are voiced, the rest of the team following the process needs to have a say in changing the process. Whatever you do, don’t wait to make the change if everybody approves. Make it now. Test it. Do a dry run and see what happens.

Once you’ve got one team up and running with this, split off a smaller team and move new people into the original team. Add people slowly so they can get their feet under them and get accustomed to the culture. Have the teams work on different cycles, one conceptualizing and the other executing. Create a pool of the top 10% of ideas to draw on and see if they can be enhanced. The two teams should get together at regular intervals to discuss what they’ve learned about each other and about the process. Have ONE process. Not one for EACH team. Shuffle people around from time to time to avoid group think. Mix things up again by having a different person lead the initiative. That gives people experience at leadership and making decisions without all the facts available. That type of experience will prove to be invaluable to your people, your teams, and your company.

What Problem Are You Fixing?

What problem are you fixing, and who’s problem is it? If you’re fixing your own problem and then pushing it at your customers, step away from the keyboard. A better question to start asking yourself is this, who approves the purchase of the solution I’m creating? If you’re not fixing an explicit problem for that individual then you’re wasting your time. If you’re making it easier to order your products then ask yourself if the decision maker that you’re pitching to sees order entry as a problem. Call the decision maker, make it a point to understand where this individual is experiencing pain – then create a solution to address that pain point. That’s a product which is sale-able and in demand by at least one person. Hopefully they’re not the only ones experiencing this same pain point and you’ll actually have a market for your solution. Unless you are a complete visionary and see a demand for a product that nobody is asking for yet, then stick to the basics. Do your research and talk to people.

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