Sunday, August 12, 2018

Can your Desk become your Kanban Board? Yes, it Kanban!

Once upon a time, I found I had little space in the office to organize my work.  With the more recent office hoteling policies, while there is more flexible space, there is less of one’s own personal space.  I wanted a place where every morning I can quickly see my work ahead of me. While there are online tools that I can use, I wanted something more tactile.   What I did have was a desktop surface.  I did have post-its, and sharpies.  I decided to experiment with Kanban on a physical desktop. 

As an Agile Coach, I work in iterations and increments much like I educate and coach my teams and organizations.  It allows me to listen to what my customers want and prioritize the work based on value, much like a Product Owner should do. With this in mind, I used my tools to craft a kanban board on my desk.
Before I go any further, allow me to provide you with a brief description of what is a kanban board.  It is a work board that helps you visualize both the work and the flow of that work. It helps you optimize the flow of your work by understanding your WIP (work in progress) limit. In its physical form, it is usually shaped by a few state transitions as columns, the most basic include ‘To Do”, “Doing”, and “Done”. My work card (where I write the activity) was written in canonical form that included when the task was written and then when I completed the work on the card, the “done” date.
I took the initial discovery activities that my client (aka., customer) and I agreed to, wrote them onto post-its with my sharpie, and added them to the kanban board in priority order based on both value and order dependency.  As I completed some of the discovery tasks, I added new tasks from my customers to the “To Do” column and reprioritized on a regular basis.  I experimented with keeping my WIP limit to about 3 activities in “Doing” at a time.
What I liked about this kanban experiment was that each morning when I got to my desk, I had my work right in front of me.  This immediately reminded me of my work for the day. It was very easy to maintain as it only took some post-its and markers to update the board. Every morning I checked the work that was in “Doing” so I knew what I had to get done for the day. I also enacted a quick reprioritization of the work so I knew what to pull from the “To Do” column when I had WIP.  I managed to get a lot of work done this way. 
I’d say the experiment was a success.  What did I learn? That it is too easy to add more activities into “Doing” adding to WIP. This had the unfortunate result of slowing my throughput. What else did I learn?  That yes I kanban!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Who really is the Customer?

As straightforward as this question may seem, it engenders a wide variety of answers that tend to be murky. The real answer is clear. A customer is someone who has a choice on what to buy, external to the company, and a choice of where to buy it.  As it relates to your company, a customer pays you with money to help you stay in business by purchasing your products.  For these simple factors, engaging the customer is of utmost importance.
Most companies like to say that "customer is king" and some indeed are.  But if you ask those in a company when was the last time they actually talked to customers, many say rarely or never. As bizarre as it may sound, there are challenges that companies have in relation to engaging with customers.

The first challenge is that the term “Customer” is being applied to a number of people “internal” to the company who are not really Customers. This means they don’t pay and bring revenue to the company. Instead, they are really internal stakeholders or partners. When you incorrectly title someone a customer when they are not, then when you apply Agile, it will not really be customer value-driven as you are not using actual customer feedback to drive toward customer value.

The second challenge is that some companies do not really engage their customers to get their feedback to understand what they find valuable.  This is often for two reasons. The first is that there is pretend or arrogant certainty from those in the company on what they think is customer value so they don’t really think they need to engage with customers. The second is that the company optimizes for sticking with the plan over adapting to customer feedback. In both cases, this prevents the opportunity of gaining valuable customer feedback. 

The key to engaging customers is to gain their valuable customer input and feedback.  The input and feedback should be the basis for driving a majority of your decisions and setting the direction of the product. As you look to build a customer value-driven engine within your enterprise, the customer or more specifically, customer feedback, is the “driver” that steers the engine of customer value.  The more you incorporate the customer at the center of your company, the more likely you will have satisfied customer and greater business success.

Learn if you incorporate customer feedback with the Empty Customer Chairs technique at: 


Sunday, June 3, 2018

Six Tips to make Story Mapping more effective

Story Mapping is a practice that helps you experience a customer or user journey. You would first capture the end-to-end customer experience by asking what would a user do? This includes establish a backbone, steps, and options.  
The story mapping process promotes the team to think through elements of what the customer finds as valuable from a process perspective. It moves away thinking of functionality first and instead advocates thinking about the customer experience first.  Then you would use an incremental approach of building, inspecting, and adapting for the next increment. What might be some tips to help you more effective work through a story mapping session? 
Tip #1 – Craft your Persona (aka, customer)
Draft the persona that will be taking the customer or user journey.  Place the persona at the top or head of the story map. This provides empathy for the user and inspiration for those that are attempting to craft the journey through the eyes of the user (via the story mapping practice).  Learn more about personas at Personas - Getting to really know your Customer 
Tip #2 – Everyone stands up around the story map
As simple as it sounds, have everyone working on the story map session stand-up and around the story map as they are creating it. This keeps everyone engaged on crafting the story map.  
Tip #3 – Everyone writes options
When it comes time to imagine options for each step along the customer journey, provide everyone with a post-it pack and marker.  Ensure everyone knows that they should put up the option ideas as they think of them.  This gets lots of options up quickly. This also reduces any single threaded thinking where only one person is doing the writing.  
Tip #4 – Promote lots of chatter during Affinity of options
After a number of options are written by a number of people, it is time to determine if there are affinities.  This is a good opportunity to promote conversation for understanding the customer journey together as each option is discussed.
Tip #5 – Ask owners of options if they are similar
If two options are similar, ask the owner of each to determine if they form an affinity.  Often times when there are similar options on post-its, those that didn’t write them speak up to discuss if they are indeed related. Instead, those that wrote them should determine the affinity (or not) as they would know better.  
Tip #6 – Use verb/noun
Use short verb/noun phrases to capture the backbones, steps, and activities (e.g. capture my address, view my order status, receive invoice). This helps with understanding the expected action for each step of the user journey. 

You can learn details of executing a story mapping session at Story Telling with Story Mapping.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Importance of Treating Psychological Safety as a Journey

Amy Edmondson defines psychology safety as “a belief that one will not be punished for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.” The benefit is that this can lead to high performing teams and innovative ideas.  To align with a shared belief at a team or organization level, it explicitly requires a change in the way a culture works and this will take time. 

More specifically, a culture shift that must occur in the following areas: openness to asking questions instead of staying quiet for fear of looking ignorant; admitting mistakes instead of hiding them for fear of looking incompetent; offering ideas instead of holding on to them for fear of looking intrusive; and challenging norms instead of sitting back for fear of sounding negative. 

As it can take time to shift to a culture of psychological safety, I have seen great benefits in treating this as a journey.  I encourage this as my experience has shown that attaining psychological safety requires several components that work together.  With that in mind, I’ve created, tested, and applied what I dub the Psychological Safety Roadmap.  This roadmap is meant to be adaptive as your starting point and the dynamic as each organization is different.  The journey and practices therein are meant to be spaced-out and applied over months as building psychological safety takes time.  As you proceed with your journey, you may also add or adapt the components of the roadmap.  
The components or metaphorically the cities along the journey to psychological safety include: Get to know one anotherEstablish Safety NormsShow Vulnerability; and Practice Safety via Feedback.  Within each city, there are a lot games and practices you can visit or try, each supporting the city you are in.  It is important to understand that the roadmap is not meant to be sequential and instead, several cities may be visited concurrently.  The only exception is you should visit the city of Getting to know one another before visiting the city of Showing Vulnerability.  My experience has shown that it is easier to show vulnerability after you get to know someone. 

Now let’s visit each city on the roadmap.  The city of Get to know one another includes practices and games where team members will, well, get to know one another.  The intent is if we know about each other, conversations tend to be safer and easier. This includes practices and games such as “Who am I?”, “If I were an animal, what would I be?”, “How do we educate ourselves”, and “Checking-in”.  

The second city on the roadmap is Establish Safety Norms.  The intent here is to make meetings a safe space to encourage speaking up with ideas, questions, and concerns.  This includes practices and games such as “All voices will be heard”, “Learn to repeat”, and encourage such attributes as being curious and non-judgmental. 

The next city is Show Vulnerability with the intent that being open and showing vulnerability helps build trust and creates a safe space within a team.  This includes practices and games such as “Circle of Vulnerability”, “I Feel Safer When”, and “Three Before Me”. 

The fourth city on the roadmap is Practice Safety via Feedback. The intent is giving feedback with good intent helps build trust and create strong relationships.  This includes practices and games such as "Appreciative feedback", "Differentiating feedback", and "Reflection for improvement".  

As you approach the Psychological Safety Roadmap, remind yourself that it is not meant to be a sequential journey nor are the games and practices a definitive list of what can be applied along the journey.  You (or your team) are meant to visit several cities (and practices and games therein) sometimes concurrently and it will take many months to achieve psychological safety.  Enjoy the journey and remember that your goal is to create a safe environment for people to speak up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.  This can lead to high performing teams and innovative ideas. 

To learn the basics of psychological safety, consider reading: Psychological Safety leads to High-Performing Teams.