Saturday, June 13, 2020

Three Tips for Engaging Remote Meetings

How do you make remote meetings productive and engaging? With the time of COVID-19 and working from home in general, it is important to have real practical tips to make remote meetings engaging.  What are some tips?  Here are three that have been tested to provide greater odds of helping you keep sessions productive and engaging.
Ask people to turn on their cameras.  When people have their cameras turned on, it creates a visual environment that makes people realize that they should be engaged much like in an actual physical room.  You know everyone can see you and you can see everyone.  This helps keeps you and others engaged.

Check in on people.  Checking in on people throughout the session helps keep them engaged. Examples include “Gemma, what do you think about this?”, or “Trey, does this make sense?”, or “Rami, what would you add to the discussion?”  Ensure you rotate who you check in with so everyone is engaged and you don’t pick on anyone more than others.  This has an added benefit of getting people’s feedback on the direction of the session. The longer the session, the more frequently you should check-in.

Ask people to co-host or lead.  Often times, a meeting is in several parts. Invite a few people to lead a section or discussion during the session.  This could simply be asking them to read the slides (ensuring they are tuning in) or asking them to facilitate a discussion on one of the topics (or a combination).

As remote learning and working from home is becoming more prevalent and even the norm, it is more important than ever to have practical tips to make remote working more engaging. Ultimately it is important to keep people engaged in any type of session, whether remote or in-person.  Keeping people engaged is both a science and an art, ergo it isn’t easy.  Try these tips and let me know if it helps you.   

Monday, May 25, 2020

Visualizing your Team with the Team Constellation

Your team is real. It is made up of real people that support each other toward common goals. We often get so engrossed in our work that we forget the important connections and relationships across and beyond a team. What really is a team?  Emergn defines a team as having a shared purpose, compelling direction, complementary skills, shared responsibilities, and common performance goals. It is important to imprint the team in a visual way.  Equally important for a team to visual themselves is for those that support the team to be visually connected.  
One way to envision a team is through the visual Team Constellation.  The team constellation is a visual way to share who is on the team and who may contribute to the team.  The question is how to create the constellation? If you have a team room or area, you can construct one on a white board or on large poster paper, although in either case, I recommend using post-its to represent the people. I’ve had some teams print out small photos of their faces. For distributed teams, you can create a digital online constellation via a number of graphic or illustrative tools and place them on team sites or printed out so they can be shared.
I typically recommend a Team Constellation with three tiers as there are three levels of responsibility that typically are needed to embrace the team’s needs.  The first tier includes the core team who are committed to work directly on the product or service and meet the definition of team (in the first paragraph). They provide leadership for each increment, self-organize around the work, build the deliverables, and attend team ceremonies.
The second tier are the extended team that contribute to the team but are not fully committed. They may provide subject matter expertise in a specialized area or a missing temporary skill needed by the team to build the next increment. For work done in an increment, they should participate in any planning, stand-up, or demo related ceremonies.
The third tier are the stakeholders that support and advocate for the team.  Those in this tier, have an interest in seeing the team’s work become successful.  This will include providing sponsorship in terms of people and resources.  They help with communicating progress more broadly and may attend team demos to observe what is being build and may provide feedback. They may also help the team remove roadblocks beyond the team level.

Consider taking time to visualize your team via a team constellation. Take a moment to adapt the definitions of each tier. I suggest making it publicly available so that others understand those that work on and support the team. It can also help you solidify what it really means to be a team.  

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Optimizing Sandwich-making to feed the Hungry

Over the past two months, my family made 200 sandwiches each week for the hungry who were impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Outside of the New York/New Jersey area in the US, the Boston area is the next hardest hit by the coronavirus.  Many people in the underserved community lost their jobs and their ability to earn income. As the US doesn’t provide the same level of support as most European countries, there are many lacking food security. This is where my family wanted to help. The idea of helping the hungry was really the brainchild of my wife, through one of her friends. I am merely a cog to ensure the manufacturing of the sandwiches are optimized. 

When we started to make sandwiches, I immediately wanted a manufacturing line with the least number of bottlenecks to optimize the speed of making sandwiches. Sounds a bit geeky?  Yeah, that's who I am, that's what I do.  Per the illustration, we created 5 stations.
  • Station 1 is where multiple bags of bread was opened up. 
  • Station 2 is where scoops of egg salad are placed into pieces of bread. 
  • Station 3 is where the scoop of egg salad is spread across the bread and a top piece is added to form a sandwich.
  • Station 4 is where the sandwich is cut. 
  • Station 5 is where the sandwiches are stacked into trays.


In the first increment of the process, I opened the bags of bread in station 1 and put the scoop of egg salad on the bread in station 2.  In station 3, my younger daughter spread the egg salad and pieced the sandwich together. In station 4, my older daughter cut the sandwich and in station 5, my wife put the sandwiches in the tray, sealed the trays when they were filled, and staged the next tray.

After reflecting on how we did in the first increment, I realized that I may be the bottleneck as I had to open bags of bread in station 1, scoop egg salad in station 2, and pass that to station 3 where my daughter would sometimes be waiting.  For the next increment (i.e., the next week), we adapted a little bit for better flow.  This time my wife opened up the bags of bread in station 1, and I then could focus my effort in station 2.  This improvement helped reduce the overall time by 10% to create the 200 sandwiches. 

Upon approaching the third increment (i.e., the third week), I recognized with the adaption during the second increment, the bottleneck moved to station 3 where the spreading occurred which left the sandwich cutter in station 4 occasionally waiting.  For the third increment, not only would I scoop the egg salad onto the bread in station 2, I would occasionally spread it when I saw station 4 low on sandwiches to cut.  This helped us optimize flow and reduce the overall delivery time by another 8% by identifying bottlenecks and addressing wait states.

While it is an exercise in optimizing flow which gets my geeky side excited, overall it is really about feeding the underserved community during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m proud of my wife and family for having the motivation and charitable spirit of making sandwiches that helps feed the many hungry families.  

To learn more about optimizing flow for faster delivery, visit Value Flow Quality at: https://www.emergn.com/articles/3-guiding-principles

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Cost of Delay to express COVID-19 urgency to act

In learning how different countries are handling the COVID-19 pandemic, what is clear is that each are acting with varying levels of urgency. The level of urgency indicates how quickly a country acted to protect its citizens. Those that are acting with greater urgency and quality care, are saving more of their citizens. Those acting slowly and inconsistently have introduced a cost that translates to a loss of life.  I call this the cost of delaying health practices in light of the virus or cost of delay. 
What specifically is this cost of delay (CoD)?  Taking a page from blackswamfarming.com, the concept of Cost of Delay (CoD) is a way of communicating the impact of time on the outcome of we hope to achieve. In other words, for every period of time (e.g., a week or month), if we do not deliver value, there is an impact. Where CoD is typically used for financial considerations, I have turned it on its head for life and death considerations. 
What does this mean in terms of today’s COVID-19 pandemic? In a simple scenario, imagine that value is applying lockdown practices which includes stay-at-home orders, personal protective equipment (PPE), and social distancing. The positive impact of applying the lockdown practices is saving human lives.  The cost of not applying the lockdown practices is lost lives. As illustrated in the graphic below, for every week that we do not apply social lockdown practices, a number of humans die. 
Adding real numbers to the mix, this concept becomes much more tangible. Imagine if 40,000 people died over a period of 8 weeks.  For every week you fail to get lockdown practices in place, 5000 lives are lost (e.g., 40,000 divided by 8 = 5000).  This is real and substantial.  If another week goes by and lockdown practices are not yet implemented, then another 5000 people die.  The lives lost helps you understand the urgency in implementing the lockdown practices. The above illustration is an urgency profile where the benefits are consistent and long lived.  

The reality for COVID-19 is that it is an urgency profile is relatively short-lived which is represented by a steep curve up and then a steep curve down.  This means the longer we wait to implement lockdown, the greater the cost to human life and the less it can benefit the people. Current estimates in the US indicate that two-thirds of the casualties could have been saved if action to protect Americans just 2-weeks earlier like social distancing orders would have occurred. Below is an illustration of an urgency profile that is short-life affected peak.  


For more information on cost of delay, consider visiting Cost of Delay section of Black Swan Farming site. There you will also find various urgency profiles.

Monday, March 2, 2020

"How often do I touch my face?" Observation Game

It's time to play the "How often do I touch my face?" observation game. Stand (or sit) still for 10 minutes. Count how many times you touch your own nose, mouth, or eyes in 10 minutes. Why play the game? It can be more important than you think. 
Scientists believe that COVID-19 mainly spreads through droplets when a person sneezes. When those droplets land on surfaces or objects, and a person touches those objects and then touches their own nose, mouth or eyes, you could catch it.
Many studies have shown that people touch their face (e.g., nose, mouth, and eyes) much more frequently than they think. An article entitled "How often do people touch their face - and how is this related to Coronavirus?" shares many studies on surprisingly how often we touch our face. Studies are on thing. More importantly is for you to be aware of how much you touch your own nose, mouth or eyes through this game. You'll be surprised.
The best way to play it is to record yourself sitting or standing for 10 minutes. Then review the recording and observe how many times you touch your nose, mouth, or eyes. Generally, this game is a good way to become aware of how often you touch your face. It can make you aware of your face touching habits to improve your hand movements for public speaking, acting, and in this case for your health.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Lead the Change you want to see in the World

A collaboration by Kyle Cahill and Mario Moreira

In the beginning, the world was filled with doers.  There was so much to do that there was only time to get things done.  These were the no-nonsense types who like to just get on with it. They like to act first.

Then the second type of person came into being called the thinker.  Thinkers were the armchair philosophers. They are great at stepping through the arguments. They are awash with mental models and can run the thought experiment in their heads. One's ability to critically analyze the situation starts with uncovering the problem and this means ensuring the right question is asked. As Albert Einstein (was thought to have) said: “If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Einstein understood that hard thinking was to correctly identify the problem so that the solution becomes easy and addresses the real problem.
Over time, the third type of person emerged who has an extra skill. Not only can they think and act, but they are also talented communicators. Communication is easy to understand the concept but hard to do effectively. Communication at its essence is the imparting or exchanging of information. The ability to effectively communicate ideas can determine if the idea succeeds or fails. Often in today’s business world, you must win the war of ideas and this war is won not just by having the right idea but also by communicating it effectively.

Finally, the world evolved to create agents of change. They are the doer, thinker, and communicator combined. And they have a fourth attribute, they can help people and organizations transform by focusing on better outcomes and motivate people to take ownership of the change.  These are the people who propel the world forward, crush inertia, and break the chains. If you want to change the world (or anything for that matter), you need to be this type of person, who can think of ideas in context to the right problems, communicate well, be the doer to propel the change, and the motivator to get others to be the change.  It is the consistency of the actions that can remove inertia and break the chains that will change the way people work…forever.


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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Pair Protocol - where Two People Work as One

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Pairing isn't just for programming, it can be advantageous to have two people pairing on any type of work. Have you ever had to pair up with someone on a piece of work?  Have you ever launched into the work only to realize that you haven't discussed how to pair up or realized that you aren’t really working well together? There are dozens of different ways to work as a pair so it is important to have protocol on how to work together through a piece of work.  I call this the Pair Protocol.  This is a guideline on how two (or more) people engage together in a piece of work to have the maximum alignment and productivity. The objective is to get two people to work as one. 

Setting the stage 

You need a piece of work, team of people, and the right pairing mindset. The piece of work can be a feature, a user story, a requirement, an increment, or similar that has been refined so the work ahead is clear.  This forms the basis for what you pair around.  You need people who are coming together for a common purpose, know the context around the work, and are willing to work together.  You also need a mindset of “we” and “us” over “I” and “me” as pairing implies that all collaborators of the work in harmony and get the credit together.   
Pairing up 

The first step is for two people to volunteer to do the work together.  This implies each person is ready, willing, and able to do the work. It also means they can self-organize around the work (e.g., to have the option to volunteer for the work and have the ownership to determine how to do the work).  This typically occurs in a session where the work has been discussed and it's time for people to volunteer to do the work. This could be in a form of a planning session (e.g., for Scrum it would be Sprint Planning, for Kanban it would be the Queue Replenishment, and in traditional approaches, it would be a project planning session. The outcome is that two people (aka, the pair) have willingly volunteered for a piece of work.
Working together

Once the pair has been created and the planning is done, the first step of beginning the work is aligning on how the pair will work together. The pair will briefly meet to re-familiarize themselves of the work (e.g., discuss the “why”, acceptance criteria, etc.) and then discuss how they will navigate through the piece of work (e.g., through task decomposition). This includes an agreement and commitment on who will do which tasks, how they will do the tasks, and when they will do the tasks. As this is pairing, there may be tasks where the pair works together. If so, discuss and gain agreement on how this will occur (e.g., working session, etc.).
Capturing Discussion
As you pair through the sprint, increment, or time period, you should capture important conversions and decisions where the work definition (e.g., user story, etc.) is recorded. There may be ‘discussion’ functionality that can be used that allows the pair to remind themselves of the discussion. 
Incorporating Feedback 

It is important to agree on how you will notify each other when a task is complete and what types of feedback loops you will use with each other and with those outside the pair to gain feedback to ensure the work is moving in the direction of value. There should be an agreement on what feedback loops will be used (e.g., review sessions, etc.) and how will feedback be incorporated back into the work. This information can be recorded in the work definition (e.g., user story details, etc.). If the planning or backlog management tool has a “follow” feature, then activating this will help keep each other aligned with the progress.     
Sharing Results
As the work comes to a conclusion, there needs to be a way to agree that it is completed and meet the acceptance criteria. This should occur prior to sharing the results with the greater team or those outside the pair. Sharing results include identifying the venue where the outcome of the work can be shared and discussed. If you are using Agile or Scrum, the Sprint Review or demo can provide the venue for sharing the work and gaining any additional feedback. The pair should also discuss who would demo the work, collaborate on what type of feedback they are looking for during the demo, then jointly agree on whether they’ve met the acceptance criteria of the work, and what are the next steps (if any).