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2

Course Corrections – Part 2

For a period of time, a friend of mine prevailed on me to take up golf. To begin with, it seemed like I was doing random gardening on a long walk. I became very conscious of my muscle movements in a swing, which club to choose, and experimenting with little rituals, like the number of times I looked up at the target spot I was aiming for. I also became aware of two things that could undermine my performance as the game progressed: my inner emotional state after a ridiculously bad shot, and my physical stamina - or lack of it.

For me, golf was like random gardening on a long walk.

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I realised that the inner game of golf was all about self-awareness. What I became acutely focused on was being aware of my muscle movements, grip and so on. If I made a bad shot, I would attempt to adjust and see if I got a better result. I was constantly correcting myself.

In yesterday’s post, we looked at the Apollo 11 mission and how the accuracy of the launch targeting was a delusion; the reality was that they landed within the lunar landing zone by a process of constant correction - a sort of feedback loop.

Then I moved to talking about a more personal kind of feedback loop, the Daily Heads-Up technique that I use for my personal organisation.

At least every week, I review, hone and improve my key workflows.

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Feedback loops can operate at different cycles, such as at:

  • the weekly cycle. I ask myself the questions: What could I do differently this week to get better results than last week? What must I complete this week? What results to I want? I have noticed that these questions at the weekly level help me to work on my workflows. I’m continually reassessing and honing, for example, how I compose and publish articles like this one.
  • the monthly cycle. At this level, there is some overlap with the project cycle. It deals with somewhat more seasonal challenges. We are in the run-up to Christmas now, so my questions are centred a lot around being ready for the family visits, gifts, etc.
  • the annual cycle. I’ve just been through this, reviewing where I want to be by the end of 2017. This has really been an adjustment from positively saying ‘no’ to certain kinds of work, and positively saying ‘yes’ to replenishing events such as vacations, and positively moving towards the kind of work more aligned with my passions and chosen destiny. This is a less obvious, but profound level of course correction.
  • the project cycle. I’m coming to the end of a book publishing project. It’s not quite complete: you can’t find my book on Amazon yet (but you can find it here!!) And I’m about to start an online Leading Yourself programme very soon. Of course, there should be course corrections within the project cycle. Agile is very good at this, Waterfall less so.

In each case the feedback loop provides the opportunity for us to correct our course, to learn, and to get better results.

In the next post, I’ll look at how neglecting the course corrections, the feedback loop can hinder our effectiveness and growth, and why it is so easy to neglect this.

Tools that evolve with your work

My son Robin is a remarkable Agile software developer. He runs a company called Degu. Currently, he is developing a pretty cool business model around his film workflow management software. He has invited me in to advise him on strategy. 

We  need tools that can evolve with our work.

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When the business is effectively YOU, you have to be very critical about your priorities and your choices. So I'm pleased to say Robin is reading through my new ebook on Leading Yourself. He is an avid practitioner of Personal Kanban, a technique I explore in the book.

Both he and I use Trello.com for our personal and team kanbans, so he shared with me his current board. I thought it was worth sharing here because it illustrates how he is owning the process and the categories and continually reworking them to suit his circumstances.

Robin Mayfield's Trello card labels

For example, he has a very interesting set of labels for his cards. Also, his Board has developed on from the standard To Do/Doing/Done to what we see below.

Robin Mayfield Personal Kanban

As well as his "Backlog" column (otherwise known as the "To-Do" column), he has moved to using a "Stuck!" column. This allows him to park otherwise-frustrating work in this column and come back to it later. He is finding that when he does this, often he finds that that piece of work becomes un-stuck and he can move on.

He also has a couple of other columns I haven't shown: "Mentor" and one for a key client/partner. This illustrates to me that Robin is working on his workflows and not becoming legalistic about them. They are evolving, as indeed his working life is evolving.

Progressive knowledge workers need the flexibility of tools like Trello.

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Increasingly I find progressive knowledge workers like Robin need the flexibility of tools like Trello and techniques like Personal Kanban. These tools and techniques help us think about our priorities and work areas dynamically as our work contexts and careers evolve.

What do you use? Are your tools evolving with you or are they locking you in to a particular way of working?

Question:

What tools are you using? Are they evolving with you or are they locking you into one way of working? Leave your comments below.

2

In Praise of Public Servants

Someone once said that life was like learning to play piano in a public concert. I think I know what they mean. We all feel vulnerable when we make mistakes. Nobody likes being seen making a mistake. So we try to do this secretly, don’t we?

When it comes to the area of project management and strategic change this works itself out in a different way: it is very hard to see good case studies. Why? Because a “warts and all” account might show the organisation or people within it in a poor light. They would not publish such a report.

This is a pity because the rest of us could learn valuable lessons. We could learn from their mistakes and so avoid failure in those areas.

But that is not going to happen. Organisations can suffer reputational damage, even damage to their stock prices if some juicy failure leaks into the public domain. As a result, there is a dearth of learning.

[shareable]Unwillingness to share case studies – good or bad – means a dearth of learning.[/shareable]

The opposite can also be true: an organisation innovates, makes a breakthrough, a disruptive change. As a result, that firm makes huge inroads into a market previously dominated by its competitors. So is it going to share how it achieved the breakthrough? Senior management gets uneasy. Surely this would erode their competitive advantage. Better to keep it under wraps. And so more potential learning is kept from us all.

An Outstanding Exception

There is an outstanding exception to this pattern. And this exception has played no small part in my own career. The exception is the public sector; particularly, the UK Central Government. Here we have a Government that is subject to intense, and sometimes very public scrutiny.

In the area of major public projects, over the three decades from the 1960’s, there were some major failures: such as Trident, TSR2, and Nimrod. The UK Central Government began to set about identifying and defining what it called project management “best practice.” It codified it, first into a methodology called PROMPT, then PRINCE®, and finally PRINCE2®.

And it did this publicly.

Private sector consultants were not ready to praise these efforts too quickly. Some were even quite critical, in fact, but the truth was we all benefited from this sharing.

A Rude Awakening

For the early part of my career, I worked in the public sector in the UK, in local government across three bodies. After 15 years of working in local government, I made the transition to the private sector.

Yes, Minister, BBCAt that time, we were watching TV programmes like, “Yes, Minister.” I believed the stereotypes. Public bodies were extremely bureaucratic, stuffy, hierarchical, formal, and conservative, whilst private sector organisations were all entrepreneurial, more casual in dealing with each other, and, above all, innovative.

In 1990 I made the transition to the private sector.

I was in for a rude awakening.

I found the organisation I had joined was far more hierarchical, bureaucratic, self-indulgent and inert than I had experienced in the public sector. My government days felt positively entrepreneurial. This was counter to all the stereotypes.

The truth was, and still is, that within central Government there is much progressive, innovative work. This had to come forth when the public was seeing so much waste on major projects. Excellence emerged.

[shareable]My government days felt positively entrepreneurial.[/shareable]

Much of my career has centred around progressive management approaches such as PRINCE2®, MSP™, P3O® and more recently, Better Business Cases™. These have all helped UK public programmes succeed more often than not. Partly driven by HM Treasury, partly by the Cabinet Office, and partly by the National Audit Office, the UK Government has raised its game in programme and project management significantly. And all this in the context of a fairly hostile national press and intense political scrutiny through the Public Accounts Committee.

Managing Successful Programmes™

With MSP (Managing Successful Programmes), I recently was part of the panel on a Webinar, hosted by Axelos the owners of MSP, and I noticed keen interest from all over the world. This framework is, in many ways, ahead of its time. For example, I was asked: “Can you make MSP agile?” My answer, in brief, was, “It already is agile.” And I went on to explain why.

Last year the Banco Central do Brasil invited me to speak at a conference in Brasilia on MSP programme management. I used the London Olympics Case Study. You can imagine, less than 17 months away from the Rio Olympics they were all ears. I am continuing to discover other countries benefiting from the wealth of good practice coming out of the UK Central Government.

Better Business Cases

Better Business Cases (BBC) is another gem. Pioneered out of Whitehall and the Welsh Government, BBC takes the business case and turns it into a strategic tool that develops in a most appropriate way throughout the start and life of a project. We hear of the UK’s NHS using this to good effect.

Say “business case” to most project managers, and you can watch their eyes glaze over. BBC turbo-charges the approach and handling of the business case.

[shareable]Better Business Cases is another gem.[/shareable]

So, all’s well then?

So, is all well then with UK Government “best practices”? I’m not so sure. Not so long ago the Cabinet Office effectively sold off its ownership of most of these management methods and practice to a private concern, Axelos. To give them credit, it seems that Axelos is making gains in scaling adoption across the globe but I’m not sure that the development of these products will be as vigorous, rigorous and authentic as it was when it clearly came out of public sector ownership.

Also, major government projects now have the Major Projects Leadership Academy (MPLA). Several of my clients have been through this programme and speak very highly of it. One of my associates has actually worked with the faculty. However, there is a strong protection by Oxford University’s Said Business School of its intellectual property. This is a traditional academic value system of protecting and hoarding intellectual capital, and this School has a particularly assertive commercial agenda. So the rest of us are not likely to benefit from some of the key learning within the Academy as much as we might from a more generous, sharing approach.

It seems that more Central Government outsources, no doubt for otherwise good reasons, there is a loss in helping better practice more generally, that nobody in the private sector can give.

[reminder preface=”Question:”] What are your views and experiences on this?[/reminder]

 

A creativity killer you may not be aware of

Most of us have come across the saying that every five-year-old is an artist, and by the age of ten very few of them are. It does ask questions about creativity and how we raise kids. I’m convinced that if we have a broad enough view of “creativity” nearly everyone can express creativity. When we realise this, the damaging self-narrative of “I’m not creative” can be identified and challenged.

But there is a more subtle deceit that can impede genuine creativity.

Recently a vendor of a virtual learning platform pitched to us. His platform allowed all kinds of pearcemayfield knowledge assets to be collected and formed into learning programmes. Whilst I was having lunch with Maya, our social media marketer, the other day, she reminded me what this guy had said: “You can create or you can curate.”

As I thought about this, I was reminded of a story Bill Johnson wrote about in his book,  Dreaming with God :

Fotolia #114343579Years ago I bought a jazz album on a whim. I eagerly looked forward to something fresh and new as I placed the album on the turntable. But I was horribly disappointed. It sounded like a child randomly pounding on a piano, with no melody or harmonies, no consistent rhythm, nothing to give it purpose or direction. Coincidentally, I found a magazine article by the same musician a year or so later. In that magazine he described a particular season of his life in which he tried to be completely original, without being influenced by any other musician. He referred to it as a dark season of his life. (pp.47,8)

Johnson goes on to say that it was obvious that the album had come from this season of the musician’s life. And then he refers to a key conclusion from this musician in the article:

He said that to really be creative he had to go back to what he had learned from others, and use that as a platform from which to create. (p.48)

All true creativity honours the masters before them. Pure originality is a myth. We all stand on giants’ shoulders.

[shareable]Pure originality is a myth.[/shareable]

Striving for originality used to inhibit me. Now I delight in the work of others and, with due attribution, I seek to connect it with other ideas and sometimes I might even achieve in taking these ideas further.

Recently there has been some analysis on successful innovation and how it is often the second adopters who make the breakthrough.Horseless carriages were too much for society when they first came on the market, but someone had the idea of putting a dummy horse’s head, a sort of masthead, on their cars and it began to get traction. Innovation through evolution seems to be very close to this idea of creativity building on others’ work. We see this in the rise of Agile which is shameless in cannibalising and evolving first ideas.

Maybe we should just relax from the attempt to be original and seek to hone and improve what already is.

[reminder]What examples can you think of where a breakthrough innovation was building on the concept of an earlier approach? What about examples in your own life? Where have you built on the ideas of others? Please leave your comment below.[/reminder]