Consultancy & Training

Philosophy, Product Management, Purpose, Stability

The power of gratitude


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“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

Charles Dickens

It was my good friend Marcus Evans who first introduced me to the concept of gratitude when he returned from India.

It’s such a simple thing. A bit like project management really. Someone tells you how to run a project and it’s well.. a bit “really? is that all you have for me?”

But once you use the stuff you’ve learnt, it is truly transformational.

And so it is with gratitude. A simple twist in perception can have a magnificent impact on our mood and our output.

Gratitude also stops unnecessary striving, which in Eastern Philosophy is what stops us reaching Nirvana.

If anyone’s ever been addicted to Rightmove you know exactly what I mean.  That house, that job.. what is it really?  It’s a reminder that you aren’t happy with what you have. There is a reason why Rightmove has the strapline “find your happy”.

As long as you are still looking they have a business.

“But striving is good for business!” I hear you say.

Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. When you are striving to stay above water at the bottom end of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs then business is about one thing; Money. But once that primary motivating factor is gone, one often finds that this is when the despondence and disaffection really set in.

It is perhaps when we are at the pinnacle of our success that we start to feel the most disillusioned.

This is because (like a product that just pivoted), we have stopped facing the original mission and now have a new one.

Once we have stopped chasing our physiological needs, our safety needs and our social needs, we then turn our attention to self-actualisation.  (I have a philosophical problem with this being at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy with the word “self” in but perhaps that is another post.)

The key point here is that the move from physiological needs to psychological needs is a monumental pivot for us and we need help to surf this transition.

However, it is whilst we are in this state that we are perhaps closest to our true purpose.

Maybe you are already happy. Maybe you don’t need gratitude, or philosophy or anything of that nature.  But maybe, like me you are/were an incessant searcher. Always looking for the best job, the best house, the best holiday.

Maybe you are searching so hard right now that you barely notice what happiness feels like.

Maybe you aren’t.

But does this song get to you?

 

The concept of gratitude seems simple.  But just like the best things in life, you just need to try it and see.

Inspired by this post today..

https://thriveglobal.com/stories/arianna-huffington-small-miracle-practicing-gratitude/

agile, CIO, Lean, Lean PMO, Lean Startup, Philosophy, Purpose, Stability, Strategy

Why purpose driven businesses attract more criticism


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A natural consequence of getting older is the realisation that backing the “right moral cause” doesn’t necessarily win friends and influence people. In fact, sometimes it can do quite the opposite.

Disrupting things for the “common good” can even put a price on your head.  

If a man of the stature of Martin Luther King can have liberal opponents at the height of the civil rights movement, then you can bet your life that whatever purpose you stand for, the criticism with come from every which way. What’s more, it will come from friends and enemies alike.

From Tesla to Gillette and from Cadbury to Laura Ashley, companies have lost the moral high ground for a number of different reasons. PR mistakes, powerful competitors, or just a misplaced purpose that doesn’t resonate with the brand’s customers. Purpose is a fine line to tread and the sands can easily shift.

Tesla’s founder Elon Musk was already facing a storm from powerful players invested in the status quo when he famously fell from grace with the “Pedo tweet”. Gillette recently created an advert that left a huge backlash while Cadbury never quite regained its wholesome quaker, high quality, worker championing reputation after the Kraft takeover. Laura Ashley meanwhile, never moved it’s wifely image with the feminist times and got left behind in the process. https://hbr.org/1999/07/why-good-companies-go-bad

Don’t we just love to bring down the self-proclaimed hero or heroine? What is it about human nature that draws us to do this? Is it just good old Schadenfreude that makes us joyful at the fallen? Is it just that it’s a bigger story to bring down the god fearing priest rather than the self-proclaimed Lothario? Or is there something deeper going on?

As humans we often seem to search for an easy, cartoon style dichotomy and we struggle with nuanced characters. These days working out the baddies from the goodies is actually harder than ever. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_makes_a_hero. Philip Zimbardo, the world-renowned psychologist (perhaps best known for his infamous Stanford Prison Experiment) says, “[A]..key insight from my research has been that there’s no clear line between good and evil. Instead, the line is permeable; people can cross back and forth between it.” 

And boy, are we sucked into the news story when they do!

Meanwhile, in today’s media jet-washed, squeaky clean world we are lacking the main quality of leadership – authenticity.

Unfortunately, these days our leaders are incentivised to be less authentic in order to avoid the media backlash should they say something “wrong” or be caught “dancing to the wrong tune..” as Teresa May was said to have done. This makes purpose driven entrepreneurs (and politicians for that matter) arguably more courageous than ever before if they step outside of societal norms to give an opinion that swims against the tide. Reputation damage is the new death blow. At the same time, the Gillette advert and other similar contentious campaigns, have perhaps left the consumer more distrustful of the purpose-led narrative overall.

So is this all just rather depressing or is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

Well maybe there is. The existence of this opposition may actually be doing purpose-driven entrepreneurs some good! Take Gareth Southgate’s England experiences as an example from Sport. On the one hand he was once the most jeered at man in football. Today? – Today he is the hero and an archetypal leader. This is apparently known as “Adversarial Growth” (http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/3626/)

“A number of studies have shown that extremely negative, stressful experiences  actually lead to  positive psychological outcomes. ..positive cognitive abilities like efficiency of cognitive processing, problem solving and acceptance, optimism etc can all be enhanced by experiencing and dealing effectively with negative, stressful experiences.” (https://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2018/jul/06/zero-to-hero-the-psychological-benefits-of-gareth-southgates-experience)

Furthermore, the people with the most critics are often the ones with the most passionate and vocal advocates too. Take Elon Musk as a good example. His car doesn’t even need advertising https://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/tesla-paid-advertising/310008/. Why is that? Because Tesla have created a sales force bigger than any other – its customers.

As businesses looking for our voice, we should therefore

embrace authenticity and purpose and go out into the unknown with courage.

This is what leading people do and from the statistics it appears that this is what leading companies do. “According to New York Times bestselling author Simon Mainwaring, 91% of consumers would switch brands if a different one was purpose-driven and had similar price and quality.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/hayleyleibson/2018/01/25/the-power-of-purpose-driven/#a213d9c5dca6

So as we reflect on the nature of purpose (and indeed it’s worth) we should perhaps accept that we may not convince everyone of our brand’s wider virtues. Indeed we may attract opposition and even downright animosity towards our organisations. However, if we stick to the truth of who we are, our values and what our companies were built to do. Then, I am willing to wager we will fly rather than falter. And.. if we don’t fly as far as we’d hoped? Well, knowledge and friends are certainly a good launchpad in the new disrupted economy.

Stephanie Chamberlain is CEO & Founder of Magic Milestones a company that helps large organisations keep their product roadmaps agile yet in line with their strategy & purpose. www.magicmilestones.com 

Consultancy & Training, Entrepreneurship, Graduates, Stability, Teams

Hiring the next generation: Why they are easier to recruit than generation X and Y


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“This is not a shy bunch,” he says. “They’re much more confident and assertive about their goals, and a lot more knowledgeable about employers, than Millennials were at the same age.” Dan Black, Former Head of Recruiting at Ernst &Young http://fortune.com/2016/08/14/generation-z-employers/

My business partner and I have done a mammoth 3hr recruiting stint today. I did a previous one at another prestigious business school for an earlier internship we were offering and the results were very much the same.

We had a choice.

When recruiting Gen X and Y 10 years ago, I can safely say we had a choice of 2. But never 3 or 4! This situation is crazy. What it means is that the competition is now higher than ever before and the bar is higher still.

Our applicants today were straight A students with extra curricular activities.

Let’s just compare this to my CV at age 19 shall we?..(I am paraphrasing somewhat but you get the picture..)

19, Wants a first but will probably get a 2:1 by cramming, Philosophy and Theology graduate who doesn’t know how to use Word or PowerPoint and doesn’t use email even though it’s 1999. More interested in boys, beer and playing the guitar/ Irish fiddle (badly).

Why a number of ad agencies in London interviewed me I will never know but unsurprisingly, I didn’t get much further. When I waltzed into their offices aged 30 to show them how to build better software products, I felt a lot better. But it took me over 10 years to learn how to sell myself and my company.

Today’s interns are a different kettle of fish.

They are worldly wise already. They may even have already made the leap to live in a different country at the tender age of 19/20 even if they are stuck at home for the short-term saving money. They often speak more than one language and it isn’t just holiday French or German. They present a pristine image.

I am in awe of their ambition, intellect, confidence and bravery.

But that’s not even the weirdest thing. I have been here before. After 11 years of recruiting I have now seen my fair share of grads. The Gen Y’s have somewhat of a bad rep but I believe they have a shorter route to the work life balance that us Gen Xers who didn’t really manage that one at all.

What’s more, they will do all of this while still achieving their life goals aka Tim Ferris https://www.amazon.co.uk/4-Hour-Work-Week-Escape-Anywhere/dp/0091929113. While they are industriously going about their business we reprimand them for their 10 O’Clock starts. But by 11am they have already taken over the world while we Gen X’ers have just about managed a coffee and a donut.

But they still weren’t as slick as Gen Z.

Gen Z are prepared.

Gen Z are listening to podcasts about productivity while working out at the gym.

Be afraid.

Gen Z is coming and your latest offspring will probably be working for them.

Hell, you will probably be working for them..

Steph Chamberlain, CEO Magic Milestones Limited.

Magic Milestones has relationships with the following university graduate schemes- check them out!

http://www.aston.ac.uk/alumni/volunteering/internship/

https://warwick.ac.uk/services/careers/workexperience/wsi/

agile, Investment Management, Leadership, Lean PMO, Product Management, Project Management, Project Office, Scrum, Stakeholder Management, Teams

SAFE: The good, the bad and the ugly


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Why Scaled Agile Framework? SAFe® 4.5*

There are lots of things that recommend SAFe to any organisation looking to Scale agile.

  1. It has some pretty comprehensive open source documentation that helps you work out how to implement it https://www.theknowledgeacademy.com/courses/agile-training/certified-scaled-agile-framework-leading-safe-4-5-training-and-exam/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIzvSO_47n2QIV5r3tCh0dGQLLEAAYASAAEgLHo_D_BwE
  2. For organisations where a framework needs to look ‘meaty’ in order to have any weight.  SAFe sure has the look of a meaty method.  There are lots of new words to learn, lots of additional organisational structural changes to be made and it looks and smells like a worthwhile endeavour just because of the sheer time investment needed to understand it.
  3. The Program Increment Planning session is a pretty good tool for any scaled agile team.  It takes a lot of people and it aligns them behind one plan.
  4. When an organisation is used to governance, and quite heavy governance at that, there are items such as the Portfolio layer of SAFe 4.5 that give these organisations some comfort in how to mesh the agile ways of working with the current governance of the organisation.  It doesn’t look too big a jump.  As such, it isn’t a bad middle ground if something like LeSS seems too big a jump.
  5. In terms of the layers needed to scale up SCRUM https://www.scrumalliance.org/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIhoKYs5Dn2QIVTb7tCh3zkQU2EAAYASAAEgIIrPD_BwE  SAFe does truly look at each layer according to the usual project management requirements.  You have the team, project, programme and portfolio layer easily mappable (especially in SAFe 4.5).

So what’s NOT to like…

  1. The documentation while extensive is cleverly written so that only people who can really decipher it are those that have attended the course or who have direct experience of it.  If you are looking to implement SAFe with just this information at your fingertip, beware!  It won’t get you there like the Scrum Guide will.
  2. Just because a method looks meaty doesn’t mean it’s going to work.  Given how hard straight SCRUM is to get people to get behind, a whole new framework is even harder.  It is made harder by the SAFe folk insisting on using Scrum terms such as “Epic” in entirely new ways.
  3. Although the Program Increment Planning session is good.  It isn’t just one ceremony.  Early PIPs need preparation and the guides don’t tell you this.  The first PIP isn’t as easy as the PIP agenda suggests it might be.  As such a few ‘dry runs’ might be required before you attempt the big one!
  4. Although SAFe is fairly comprehensive, the biggest area in which it lets the practitioner down is in the proposed structure of the team.  The roles in SAFe just don’t make a lot of sense.  They are a mesh of an old world meeting a new and the beauty and simplicity of Scrum is lost in the new jargon.  This is further confounded by the assertion that roles such as the Solution Architect can be enacted by more than one individual.  The benefit of Scrum is the clarity of roles and this is lost in the SAFe framework IMHO.
  5. Governance in SAFe is probably the best part area.  It gives the best account of Portfolio level than any other scaled agile method in my opinion.  However, there are still some significant gaps in the ‘how’ of all this.  No doubt these will be ironed out in SAFe version 5.  At Magic Milestones we already have a Lean PMO method that fits nicely into this space and could support SAFe if required but could also support many of the other frameworks too.

Ultimately, organisations should be shuffling off the mortal coil of projects in favour of product structures and processes.  So as an interim between two states SAFe can be a good middle ground.  However, ultimately if you want to get to the punch-line quicker you will choose another method to get there.

*When referring to “SAFe” in this article it is always the trademarked version available to read about here.  https://www.theknowledgeacademy.com/courses/agile-training/certified-scaled-agile-framework-leading-safe-4-5-training-and-exam/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIzvSO_47n2QIV5r3tCh0dGQLLEAAYASAAEgLHo_D_BwE

Magic Milestones is an independent advisor on Scaled Agile methods and is not allied to one method over any another.  We train in all methods in order to choose the best options for our clients.

agile, Consultancy & Training, Lean PMO, Product Management, Scrum, Strategy

Wow! A PMO that are exactly what the world needs right now..


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So we can’t call them out because we are under NDA but wow.

I am currently working with the best PMO I have ever come across.

Forget Magic Milestones.  They don’t need us.  Why?  Because the people that are in the PMO aren’t even “can do” people.  They are “done before you even thought it” people.  So they can learn a little from Lean techniques and methods, yes sure.  But they have something that makes our job way easier and something which catapults a team to huge success.

Enthusiasm

Commitment

Delivery mentality.

I can honestly say that in 10 years I have not found a PMO more awesome than this one.  I guess it helps when the partners we are working with are also pretty awesome too but it is the PMO in particular that has made me wowed out this week.

Here’s to a wild time guys.  It’s going to be a challenge but a blast!

 

Consultancy & Training, Gender issues, Philosophy, Stability, Stakeholder Management

If change managers helped with.. babies


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We have change managers in business all the time. But in life we are somewhat lacking. If we had a change manager when a baby came into our lives – what would that look like?

I met a colleague this week. He won’t mind me saying this. He has looked better.

I took a small amount of pleasure in thinking about the last time we met. I had big bags under my eyes that time. Now those indicators of night time nonsense seem to have leapt across the room – right into his.

He is well versed in this by now though. I think it’s his 4th. He knows that this moment in time is fleeting. Amazingly, he seems to be enjoying the fact that he and his wife now have to play “whose bed is it anyway?” as his kids run amok at 4am.

So I have randomly googled a change management guru this evening to help us all in this tricky dilemma. In doing so, I have found 5 key themes that good change management call for. I then ask, “why, when we spend millions of pounds/ dollars in our work lives on investing in getting people to swallow the pill, do we not learn how to take the pill ourselves, during one of the most disruptive times of our lives?”

Let’s take each point in turn shall we? I take my change management steer from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM_87.htm

  1. Sponsorship: Ensuring there is active sponsorship for the change at a senior executive level within the organisation, and engaging this sponsorship to achieve the desired results.

Okay.. hopefully you were both in on this. If one of you wasn’t in on it all I can say is oops and good luck!

2. Buy-in: Gaining buy-in for the changes from those involved and affected, directly or indirectly.

This is a wide one. All stakeholders. Well, that’s a long list. You know why? Because once you have a baby almost the whole world will be involved. I remember taking my first born out for a stroll in August (in the UK) and being told by a well-meaning middle aged lady to “be sure to put on a hat now”. Hmmm it was 70 degrees but even strangers have opinions on these things. Again, let’s hope both parties were involved in the decision. “Mistakes” might be hard to handle at this point as I’m sure each person blames the other for the “changes affecting them directly or indirectly”. Oh dear. Take cover. Mother-in-law/ Mothers are also very important at this point. Ignore them at your peril.

3. Involvement: Involving the right people in the design and implementation of changes, to make sure the right changes are made.

From decorating the nursery to what to feed ’em. Again, your stakeholder list will be very, very long. Involving everyone in these decisions is exhausting but better than the alternative. If you involve NO-ONE? They will laugh at your smugly as you struggle to attach the buggy on Sainsbury’s car park. Ask everyone for their opinion. Then ignore them all.

4. Impact: Assessing and addressing how the changes will affect people.

Oh dear. I really messed up here on my communications plan. My main aim was to set expectations early. My 4 year old found out about the impending cuckoo at about 6 month’s from blast off. BIG MISTAKE. Never tell people about a change too early. Often they don’t know enough and it bugs them. She bugged me for all that time because she just wanted to know what sharing me was like but I couldn’t really tell her. As a result she turned into the female version of The Omen until finally she realised what she was dealing with.

5. Communication: Telling everyone who’s affected about the changes.

Here is the question of WHEN to tell people. I am of the opinion that the 3 month rule is a stupid one. Mainly because anyone that knows me well, also knows I’m pregnant the first time I say “I’m not drinking tonight.” That aside, the 3 month rule leads any long suffering puker to have to suffer in silence. For the first 3 months what they really want to do is get as much sympathy as possible as they deal with (what feels like) the worst hangover they ever had in their life. One that no carbohydrates in the world can make better. Any men still listening to this.. you are having to deal with the worst individual you ever lived with and nothing you can do can ever be good enough unless you too are puking at the same rate. Don’t get drunk to try to achieve this. At least don’t be around when you do this. It doesn’t help.

6. Readiness: Getting people ready to adapt to the changes, by ensuring they have the right information, training and help.

So there are a number of people to get ready for this change that you are about to embark upon. Sorry.. let me rephrase.. A change that will happen to you. But the two people who are never made ready are the parents. Dads are not put into an SAS style, sleep deprivation setting that prepares them for just 4hrs sleep a night. They aren’t taught how to follow this up with a 4hr conference call across 4 time zones with people who think the words “plucking the low hanging fruit” are acceptable phrases in polite society.

And mum..

The new mum is not prepared for the biggest change of her working life. She was pregnant yesterday but at least she was still a teacher/lawyer/CEO/banker/entrepreneur/social work/ nurse/ doctor/ business analyst/ scientist/ blogger.

Now she isn’t pregnant anymore. But she isn’t the above anymore either. Instead she is a cleaner, cook, nursery teacher, swimming instructor, bottom wiper, nose wiper, poo sniffer, expert stain remover and her partner in crime is the worse deputy that ever lived. He hasn’t been on any bloody courses either!

But they are also both overwhelmed, amazed, blown away and happy beyond words. Love will sweep them up and take them on a roller coaster ride of epic proportions. No matter what. They will be

But if anyone had painted this particular picture for them – they wouldn’t be able to truly enjoy it. A paradise promised by a brochure is not half as sweet as the one we just happen upon.

Now, my major stakeholder is calling me. Best get off to see what she wants..

agile, Brexit, CIO, Investment Management, Leadership, Lean, Lean PMO, Politics, Stability, Strategy

A Nifty Article Fifty Breakdown


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If you are a UK CIO you have a lot to think about if June 8th takes article 50 to its natural conclusion…

Here is a nifty breakdown from CIO.com..

“The major milestones for CIOs to keep an eye on include the following:

  • U.K. parliamentary review of Great Repeal Bill (Late 2017): This will provide the first opportunity for an initial assessment of legal impacts on managed service agreements and other IT contract documents.
  • Royal assent of Great Repeal Bill (Mid 2018): At this point, any gaps in the legislation should be addressed, enabling IT organizations to confirm legal impacts and initiate contractual change activities.
  • Brexit negotiations wrap up (Fall 2018): This will create clarity the regulatory, operational, audit, and reporting impacts on IT services.
  • U.K. Houses of Parliament, European Council, EU Parliament, and remaining 27-member Parliament vote on deal (Early 2019): This will confirm IT impacts and enable CIOs to begin related IT change programs
  • Transition period begins (March 2019): CIOs can structure timelines for completion of IT projects to address necessary digital transition and transformation requirements.”

http://www.cio.com/article/3189040/it-industry/how-brexit-will-impact-global-cios-and-it-services.html

However, with all these (less face it) rather boring boxes to tick and cross there will be little resource to deal with the ever increasing pace of change within the wider economy.  As such, the threat of Brexit is not just one of legal and commercial wrangling (Although that will certainly feature heavily).  The real issue is going to be that already stretched IT departments are going to be hit with “Regulation, Regulation, Regulation” when they also have to deal with “Innovation, Innovation, Innovation”.

If Brexit goes ahead the latter is likely to be the biggest casualty.

So how can the CIO keep pace with this?

During this period 3 things will be key to the post-article 50 CIO:

  1. A razor sharp focus on investment in the biggest IT return.  Yes Brexit projects will HAVE to happen but others will need to be picked for their direct impact on organisational outcomes.  This might be revenue or reputation, either way it will be high on the agenda.
  2. Use of Agile to ensure that those BAU projects are kept on track.  Agile methods and techniques such as KANBAN will be needed more than ever to keep visibility high.
  3. IT departments will need to become product centric and better at marketing than the marketing department!  No-one will use your internal product let alone your external one if your team can’t break through the noise of Brexit.

Magic Milestones has a number of services specifically designed to give you maximum bang for buck in times like these.  Read more here.. https://magicmilestones.com/services/

Consultancy & Training, Lean PMO, Product Management

Having the Courage to Take Risks


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A refreshing change

I had a refreshing meeting with a client last week, when my client talked about how she wanted to encourage the leadership team in her organisation to start taking more risks.   Not in the dangerous sense such as taking up cycling in central London, or investing their departmental budgets with the local bookies. She was discussing how to foster a more innovative culture within the organisation. This particular organisation isn’t funded on a purely commercial model and as such, is under a great deal of pressure, both regulatory and morally, to justify how it invests its money.  As you can imagine, this doesn’t necessarily lend itself to creating an innovative, risk taking culture. 

When looking to become more innovative as an organisation, its vital to understand that innovation necessitates some risk taking. You can’t get away from this, as the very nature of doing something new means its hard to predict how its going to turn out.  Its a big deal to ask your organisation to invest a significant budget into commissioning a new product or service when you don’t have hard and fast facts about how its going to be received by the intended customer base. However, it’s a lot less scary and indeed sensible, to take a small educated risk, rather than a giant leap in the dark.  Here is my advice on how to take the right kind of risks.

Use a technique that repurposes the language of risk into something more positive and turns a risk into a hypothesis that can be tested and learned from. Take for example Lean Start Up http://theleanstartup.com/principles and Google Sprint http://www.gv.com/sprint/. Rather than invest significant budget into creating that all singing and all dancing product, these techniques encourage you to work out what the smallest thing is that you can deliver to provide customer insight and feedback.  While a few brave leaders might be willing to gamble a 6 month investment in a vision for a product that is based largely on matter of opinion; many more will be much more comfortable to take a risk with a week’s worth of budget that will provide valuable customer insight and data that can be used to inform strategy and therefore, budgets going forwards. In turn, the organisation becomes more comfortable with taking risks within the structure of selecting a hypothesis to test, collecting the data and then using fact based decision making to deliver a strategy.

How does your typical Project Management Office view risk?

In the context of traditional Project Management Offices, the language of risk normally comes with a lot of negative connotations, those which are typically addressed by ensuring that RAID (Risk, Actions, Issues and Decision) Logs are up to date.  Project Management Offices tend to be very concerned with documenting how risks will be mitigated and managed, monitoring when risks need to be escalated to senior management and creating governance systems of gates and approvals that manage those risks. While its very sensible to protect your delivery from the risks that could knock it off course, it would also be good to use some of that PMO effort and energy to support the good kind of risks.

Project Management Offices usually operate within a governance structure that requires detailed business cases, which are often based on shaky or assumptive data and information.  Typically, these business cases require large chunks of a budget to be allocated for the year ahead.  As a result, project sponsors and stakeholders, will sometimes manipulate the data, or simply be overly optimistic in their projections, in order to get their business case signed off and their project initiated. In more risk averse cultures, the project won’t get put forward at all and never sees the light of day, leaving the business exposed to a risk that could ultimately be avoided.

Using the PMO to drive risks and innovation

From my experience the solution is to facilitate a sensible risk taking culture, by putting in place a governance structure that supports the concept of testing hypothesis; such as a Lean Project Management Office (Lean PMO).  In this instance, the Lean Project Management Office should support management decision making by implementing a business case model to support governance, that can demonstrate the delivery of value.  The decision making “gates” in this process will be used to demonstrate that a product based hypothesis has been tested, together with the results and a summary.  The decision on whether or not continued investment should go ahead will be dependent upon whether or not the results of the test or experiment, show that progress is aligned to the organisational strategy.

The Lean PMO

At the beginning it’s difficult for organisations to take risks.  It’s a challenge, not least in changing ingrained behaviours; though taking risks is critical to any businesses growth. Of course risk comes with dangers, but executed and planned properly, using the right methods and empowering your team with the right training, can bring successes. The traditional PMO needs to evolve into a Lean PMO https://magicmilestones.com/lean-pmo/

Its a lot easier for us all to take risks if some one is there to provide some structure and boundaries to stop us from making really big mistakes. Is your organisation the kind that encourages you to take risks or do they deter you from it?

By Ann McPherson

Leadership, Lean, Lean Startup, Product Management, Project Management, Stability, Teams

Did you just build the wrong team?


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No-one goes to work to do a bad job.

Sometimes it may feel that way but really… they aren’t!
Some people may be in the wrong job, someone may be having a bad day, they may have a completely different agenda to you but 99.9% of the time they aren’t trying to fail.
So why do technology teams so often fail? How can we be so bad at ensuring that technology teams actually succeed?
Well my team and I have been pondering this for some time. We’ve been working on something called ‘Team Genes’. Looking at the genetics of what makes a good team so that we can replicate this for our clients. This is my current stance on the subject..

If we built software like we built teams we wouldn’t be so surprised at the outcome.

Organisations consistently go about building project teams with no purpose, design or thought behind them at all and wonder if they have built the wrong team later down the line. The usual process is this:

  1. Bill says he needs an X
  2. Jill is an X
  3. Jill is available to do X (sort of)
  4. Bill meets Jill
  5. Bill and Jill get along
  6. Jill joins the team!

So imagine the same in the software process:

  1. Bill says he needs an X
  2. Acme’s product is an X
  3. The organisation already bought 20 licenses of Acme product
  4. Bill uses Acme product for an afternoon…and he likes it!
  5. Let’s roll out Acme tomorrow!

So let’s break down where Bill went wrong on the product front and then maybe we can learn how he goes wrong on the people front..

  1. Bill’s assertion that he needed an X wasn’t really challenged by anyone.  (Ring any bells?)
  2. The organisation is already familiar with a product so it decides that’s enough to be a contender.
  3. Hence, no-one goes out to look for any other options thus assuming the organisation’s first choice of product was a good one.  Note that the requirements have had a cursory glance at best.
  4. Bill’s happy so let’s go!

The dangers of choosing a software product in this way are that:

  1. An organisation repeats its mistakes time and time again
  2. Politics tend to rule over substance
  3. There is no strategic relationship built with the supplier or investigation into common values and goals.  Hence, the organisation may find the vendor giving them less value over time.

And most CIOs would laugh at Bill.  Silly Bill.  Rash Bill.  And yet the product that Bill was assessing was worth maybe, 10K a year in licenses.  (These days probably a lot less).

But the person that Bill is assessing in the first example is going to cost the business between £200 and £800+ PER DAY!! People often cost between 10 – 20 x more than software does and yet we use MORE RIGOUR in choosing the former than the latter!

Here’s where you might be thinking the following..

This doesn’t apply to my company as we always create job specs for all roles

Newsflash.  A job spec isn’t a requirement.

Do we write a product spec when we go looking for software?  Hell no! We write user requirements.  We state the problem and not the solution.  (Well most of the time anyway).  A person specification would be something like this.. “My name is Bill.  I’m a busy Product Owner with a day job and I’m currently writing all my own user stories.  It would be great if I had someone who could reduce the team’s reliance on my time by creating user stories for me.  I could then spend the time I do have with the team answering their day to day questions about business processes.”   Yes the answer might be to get a business analyst in.  Or, it might be to utilise the test team differently.  Or, it might be that the Dev team lead is totally happy to help out here.  Unfortunately, because we are so used to the status quo we leap to the solution in the blink of an eye.  This is partly because we want our problem solved and partly because in most people’s hiring process, the quickest way to get your problem solved is to ring up an agent and say,

“I want a business analyst please.  For the rest of the project. 3 months would be good and I want them ASAP please”

Let’s look at the next part of the process.  Jill is available.  So Jill is suitable.  That’s the problem with hiring ASAP.  Suddenly there’s a drought for the thing you need the most.  So we look at who is available.

Are you now throwing things at your computer?

Of course I only hire people who are available!!  Why would I do anything else?

Well this point is kind of related to the last one.

Sure someone may not be available, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help you.

Being lean is about minimising waste and waste (when applied to people) comes in the form of under-utilisation.  But how many companies truly assess this ruthlessly before going off and hiring?

Finally, let’s look at the 3rd part of Bill’s process.

He likes her.  He hires her.

Well here’s where I can totally disagree with you.   We hire people using personality assessments as well as those for competency.

Okay not bad.  What if Jill hates doing X? Wants to move away from X and you are just making her do more Xing?? We rarely find out if people are interested in roles just whether they are competent enough.She might be good at it sure but is she passionate about it?

Last but not least, Bill and Jill may not even be working together to produce the same stuff. Jill gets parachuted into a brand new team and left to fend for herself. We used to let software out of the packaging to fend for itself but we soon stopped that. We realised it was insane to impose software on people without due care and attention and yet this is exactly what we do when we impose one person on a whole group of people and vice versa.

Doesn’t that sound a little insane?

How about we do this instead?..

  1. Write a problem statement not a job spec, rather like we do for products
  2. Let the team interview the person rather than their prospective manager or someone who ‘knows’ about the area in which you are hiring
  3. Test where Jill naturally sits in a team and assess if Jill would clash with anyone else or whether there is still a gap.
  4. Ideally do an assessment of your team before you hire ANYONE.  Then you can use this information to inform your choice of both role and the type of person you need.
  5. If they are costing more than around £8K per month, try them out for an afternoon.
  6. Be prepared to accept a failure has occurred – fast – and take action if necessary.  People are rarely fired for swift action provided it’s backed up by evidence.

But that sounds a bit of a long winded process.

Really?  How many hrs did you spend interviewing people last week?  You probably did at least 3.  That’s 3 hrs of your time.  That doesn’t include anyone else’s either.   HR?  Your boss?

We think life’s too short for endless interviewing.

So.. here’s the news.  Magic Milestones can set this up in under 24hrs and it saves time beyond just the first hire.  No-one gets near us without a competency check anyhow so that bit’s done.

To be a member of the Team Genes club our people are tested all year not just when you ask for their services.

Using a different method of hiring is brave.  We know that people’s habits are hard to change.  Why don’t you start the ball rolling and find out more here.

In the meantime, I’m just going off to help Bill out of a fix..

 

 

Entrepreneurship, Failure, Investment Management, Philosophy, Product Management, Strategy, Teams, Uncategorized

The Boy and the Starfish


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When the tide is coming in..

You need a team or a consultancy that can focus on solving one problem at a time.

A man was walking along a deserted beach at sunset. As he walked he could see a young boy in the distance, as he drew nearer he noticed that the boy kept bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the water.
Time and again he kept hurling things into the ocean.

As the man approached even closer, he was able to see that the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time he was throwing them back into the water.

The man asked the boy what he was doing, the boy replied,”I am throwing these washed up starfish back into the ocean, or else they will die through lack of oxygen. “But”, said the man, “You can’t possibly save them all, there are thousands on this beach, and this must be happening on hundreds of beaches along the coast. You can’t possibly make a difference.”
The boy looked down, frowning for a moment; then bent down to pick up another starfish, smiling as he threw it back into the sea. He replied,

“I made a huge difference to that one!”

Author Unknown