J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

February, 2013

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    The Art of the Agile Retrospective

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    I’ve been asked to do a lot of Agile retrospectives around Microsoft over the years.  I don’t know how it started, but it started several years ago when somebody recommended that I lead a retrospective for their team, and then it caught fire from there.  

    In this post, I��ll share a simple recipe you can use as a baseline to help shape your Agile retrospectives for building high-performance teams.

    Agile retrospectives are a powerful way to help teams go from good to great, and to help less than good teams, get better fast.   The value of a retrospective is the learning and insight that you can carry forward.  A retrospective is a look back with an open mind on the collective learning around what to start doing, stop doing, and continue doing.

    With that in mind, the true value is in the actual change in the people, process, or technology that supports your ability to flow value.

    To drive a great Agile retrospective, it helps to know what gets in the way or what goes wrong:

    1. Lack of clarity on outcomes
    2. Lack of focus during the retrospective
    3. Too much debate and not enough dialogue.

    Below is a recipe that you can use that should help you get started or improve your retrospectives.  Nothing is set in stone, but it helps to see some things that have worked time and again (the timeless truths.)  Be sure to adapt as you see fit, but at the end of the day, remember that establishing is important, and that your best outcome is a short list of what to start doing, stop doing, and continue doing – that you actually implement.

    Keys

    • Set and agenda with a timebox (and allow plenty of time to really dive into the issues)
    • Ask what went well
    • Ask what could be improved

    Outcomes

    1. List of highlights and wins
    2. Inefficiencies and improvement opportunities
    3. Contextualized best practices

    Flow

    1. Agenda
    2. Celebrate accomplishments
    3. Brainstorm what went well
    4. Identify what needs improvement
    5. Talk about the details
    6. Identify 3 actionable things to carry forward, with dates and owners (accountability)
    7. Scrum Master sends out summary

    Switching Perspectives

    I’ve found two Edward de Bono techniques help deal with conflict during hot topics are:

    • PMI (Plus Points, Minus Points, and Interesting Points) – What’s the upside? what’s the downside? and what’s interesting about this?
    • Six Thinking Hats – A way to switch hats to switch perspective to see multiple angles on the same topic.

    I find these techniques help keep an open and curious mind.  Especially if you use them in a question-driven way and keep it simple.  Rather than have people arguing different sides at the same time, have them argue the same side at the same time, and then switch perspectives (or “hats.”)

     

    Category

    Items

    The Hats

    · White Hat – the facts and figures

    · Red Hat – the emotional view

    · Black Hat – the “devil’s advocate”

    · Yellow Hat – the positive side

    · Green Hat – the creative side

    · Blue Hat – the organizing view

    Questions

    · What are the facts and figures?

    · What’s your gut reaction?  How do you feel about this?

    · Why can’t we do this?  What prevents us?  What’s the downside?

    · How can we do this?

    · What are additional opportunities?

    · How should we think about this? (what are the metaphors or mental models)

    Dialogue, Debate, and Discuss

    Sometimes, the best way to help people stay open and

    • Dialogue - listening with an open spirit.
    • Debate - listening to win an argument -- a verbal "fight."
    • Discuss - listening to break apart an issue and pushing a winning idea.

    How to Shift to Dialogue:

    1. How might that be true?
    2. What is it you see that I don’t?
    3. How do you see this differently and why?

    Highlights / Wins

    1. Highlight 1 …
    2. Highlight 2 …
    3. Highlight 3 …

    Affinity Exercise

    You can skip doing an affinity diagram exercise, if folks are comfortable with each other and there's no recent new members.  Otherwise, it's overhead, but it helps for the following:

    1. Get people to open up
    2. Get more people contributing
    3. Give people time to think since new members bring up more issues

    There are other tricks of the trade, but if you focus on a clear agenda, compelling outcomes, and manage the conflict while driving an open dialogue, you’ll be in good shape.

    May the power of Agile retrospectives serve you well.

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    1. J.D. Meier's Blog

      Kanban for Process Improvement

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      A Kanban is a great tool for improving your process.  The real power of the Kanban is that you can start from where you are.  Rather than fit you into a process, you can use a Kanban to mirror or reflect your current process.   You decide how you want to visualize your work, and you divide your Kanban board accordingly. 

      If you need more visibility, then you can break your Kanban board down even further.   For example, when you start off, maybe you just want to know, what’s in development and test, and what you’ve released:

      image

      As you go, you might find that development really involves requirements analysis and design, so you might add those:

      image

      Change Your Stages

      In this way, you can unfold your process to add clarity and visibility.   You can evolve your process as your team evolves.   And that’s really the beauty.   You don’t have fit yourself into a canned process.  Instead, you mirror your process on the wall.   This helps everybody on the team see the “system” of development at a glance.   If you see it, you can improve it.

      Because it’s a living process, it’s very easy to adapt as you learn, and to add meaningful stages, or consolidate as needed.

      Your stages ultimately reflect a significant or meaningful change in state (e.g. The item was in development, and now it’s in test, or now it’s ready for release.)

      Debottleneck Your Flow

      When you visualize your workflow with a Kanban, you’ll also more easily notice where your bottlenecks are occurring.   If everything is getting stuck in test, you might find be able to do a few things up stream to improve the flow.  For example, maybe there are a few simple guidelines or checks that you can do during development to simplify your test stage.

      A great approach is to add notes below each stage, such as key checks or process improvements to perform.   Everybody will get to see and feel the impact of the process improvements.   Flow is feedback.  If things aren’t flowing, something needs attention.

      Breaking Things Down

      One of the things a Kanban helps you do is to break things down.  You can use a Kanban to divide and conquer your work.  If you notice that things are bottlenecking at a certain stage, you can pay attention to how big things are.  Can you break them down further?   Don’t let the big get in the way of the small.   Similarly, don’t let the small derail the big.

      Progress is a key to happiness and job satisfaction.   Your Kanban can be a powerful tool for collaboration, productivity, and process improvement.

      Wanting to improve is not enough.  Taking action, getting feedback and responding is.   It sounds simple, but it’s one of the most powerful ways to rapidly improve your results. 

      See it, do it, review it, improve it.

    2. J.D. Meier's Blog

      Diversification, Coordination, Replication, and Unification

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      Your operating model is determined by your choices around how you handle integration and standardization for your business processes.  Your choices around your operating model can dramatically influence and impact your ability to compete in the market.  

      A clear operating model decision has a profound effect on how you implement your business processes and IT infrastructure.  For example, if you don’t have a clear operating model, then it can be like starting from scratch, each time you have a new imitative.   You won’t be able to bring forward any automated, pre-existing, low-cost capabilities to your new strategic pursuits.

      The challenge is that selecting an operating model is a commitment to a way of doing business.  The upside is that if you make deliberate choices around the integration of shared data, you can gain increased efficiency, coordination, transparency, and agility.   And, through deliberate choices around standardization of business processes, you can drive efficiency and predictability across the company, which can lead to dramatic increases in throughput and efficiency.

      In the book, Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David C. Robertson write about how to analyze and categorize your company or business unit’s operating model based on four models: Diversification, Coordination, Replication, and Unification.

      Why It’s Worth a Clear Operating Model

      You can increase your operational excellence, customer impact, product development and strategic agility through better choices around business process integration and business process standardization.  Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:

      “Our research suggests the payoff for making that choice can be huge.  Companies without a foundation for execution supporting an operating model reported 17 percent greater strategic effectiveness than other companies – a metric positively correlated  with profitability.  These companies also reported higher operational proficiency (31%), customer intimacy (33%), product leadership (34%), and strategic agility (29%) than companies that had not developed a foundation for execution.”

      Business Process Integration and Business Process Standardization

      When you analyze how a company approaches business process integration and business process standardization, four different quadrants emerge.  This helps you see the distinctions between each strategy in a s simple way.  Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:

      “We have developed a straightforward two-dimensional model with four quadrants, representing different combinations of the levels of business process integration and standardization.  Every company should position itself in one of these quadrants to clarify how it intends to deliver goods and services to customers.”

      4 Types of Operating Models

      According to Ross, Weill, and Robertson there are four operating models for how a company addresses business process integration and business process standardization.

      1. Diversification (low standardization, low integration)
      2. Coordination (low standardization, high integration)
      3. Replication (high standardization, low integration)
      4. Unification (high standardization, high integration)

      Two Questions to Determine Which Quadrant Your Company Belongs In

      According to Ross, Weill, and Robertson, companies adopt different models at different levels.  For example, they might adopt one operating model at the enterprise level, but then a different model at the division, business unit, region, or other level.  To figure out which of the four quadrants your company or business unit mostly belongs, Ross, Weill, and Robertson suggest asking two questions:

      1. To what extend is the successful completion of one business unit's transactions dependent on the avaiability, accuracy, and timeliness of other business units' data?
      2. To what extent does the company benefit by having business units run their operations in the same way?

      This helps you figure out your business process integration requirements and your business process standardization requirements.

      Diversification

      Diversification is effectively "independence with shared services."  Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:

      "Diversification applies to companies whose business unit have few common customers, suppliers, or ways of doing business.  Business units in diversified companies offer different products and services to different customers, so central management exercises limited control over those business units.”

      Coordination

      Coordination is "seamless access to shared data."  Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:

      “Coordination calls for high levels of integration but little standardization of processes.  Business units in a Coordination company share one or more of the following: customers, products, suppliers, and partners.  The benefits of integration can include integrated customer service, cross-selling, and transparency across supply chain processes.  While key business processes are integrated, however, business units have unique operations, often demanding unique capabilities.”

      Replication

      Replication is "standardized independence."  Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:

      “Replication models grant autonomy to business units but run operations in a highly standdardized fashion.  In a Replication model the company's success is dependent on efficient, repeatable business processes rather than on shared customer relationships.  The business units are not dependent on one another's transactions or data; the success of the company  as a whole is dependent on global innovationand the efficiency of all business units implementing a set of standardized business processes.   Accordingly business unit managers have limited discretion over business process design, even though they operate independently of other business units.”

      Unification

      Unification is "standardized, integrated processes."  Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:

      "When organizational units are tightly integrated around a standardized set of processes, companies benefit from a Unification model.  Companies applying this model find little benefit in business unit autonomy.  They maximize efficiencies and customer services by presenting integrated data and driving variability out of business processes.”

      For a deep dive into each of the operating models as well as case studies and examples, check out Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, by Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David C. Robertson.   It’s one of those kinds of books that you can tell is born from experience, rather than just theory.  It’s rich with data and authoritative, prescriptive guidance to help you mature and transform your company to compete in today’s arena (it’s a powerful collection of proven practices and timeless advice, and extremely relevant to our emerging digital economy.)

      Make your operating model a clear choice.  Choose the appropriate levels of integration and standardization that help you build a strong foundation for execution and improve your strategic agility.

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    3. J.D. Meier's Blog

      Architecture Linkage, Business Linkage, and Alignment Linkage

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      Your company's foundation for execution will make or break your survival in the market for the long haul.  How can you incrementally build and shape the foundation, while executing projects?  How do you connect and align IT with your business vision, while shaping your foundation for execution?

      You can use three linking mechanisms to build and shape your company's foundation.

      In the book, Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David C. Robertson write about three linking mechanisms that help you build and shape the company's foundation.

      Why You Need Good Linking Mechanisms

      Linking mechanisms are the key to building and shaping your company’s foundation for execution.  You can incrementally shape the foundation as you drive projects.   You can also inform your company’s foundation as you learn from your projects.  Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:

      “Good linking mechanisms ensure that projects incrementally build the company's foundation and that the design of the company's foundation (it's operating model and enterprise architecture) is informed by projects.”

      3 Linking Mechanisms that Build and Shape the Company's Foundation

      According to Ross, Weill, and Robertson, the three linking mechanisms are:

      1. Architecture Linkage
      2. Business Linkage
      3. Alignment Linkage

      Architecture Linkage

      Architecture linkage connects projects to IT governance choices about architecture. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:

      “Architecture linkage establishes and updates standards, reviews projects for compliance, and approves exceptions.  Architecture linkage connects the IT governance decisions about architecture with project design decisions.  For example, a company working to increase integration may have a mechanism for insisting that a supply chain project -- rather than focus narrowly on its own data needs -- restructure an inventory database so that it facilitates anticipated future uses of the inventory data.  Companies may fulfill architecture linkage with one mechanism, such as an architecture review board.  More commonly, firms employ multiple mechanisms, ranging from architect training programs to architecture exception processes.”

      Business Linkage

      Business linkage links projects to business goals.  Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:

      “Similarly, business linkage ensure that business goals are translated effectively into project goals.  Business linkage coordinates projects, connects them to larger transformation efforts, and focuses projects on attacking specific problems in the best possible way.  For example, a key linking mechanism for companies pursuing companywide standardized processes is the use of process owners with primary responsibility for designing and updated processes.  Business linkage also includes incentive programs to guide behavior as new projects demand new ways of thinking.”

      Alignment Linkage

      Alignment linkage connects business and IT relationships.  Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:

      “Alignment linkage mechanisms ensure ongoing communication and negotiation between IT and business concerns.  Business-IT relationship managers or business unit CIOs are typically a critical linkage for translating back and forth between business goals and IT constraints.  Other mechanisms in this category include a project management office, training and certification of project managers, and metrics for assessing projects.”

      Linking Becomes an Organizational Habit

      It’s a maturity thin.   The more you practice the linking mechanisms, the more it becomes an organizational habit.  Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:

      “Earlier we noted that a company's management practices evolve through the stages of architectural maturity.  Many of these evolving practices are linking mechanisms.  As they are implemented and improved, they contribute to increasing sophistication of the IT engagement model.  Over time, linking mechanisms can become increasingly embedded in IT governance and project management processes so that linking becomes an organizational habit.”

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    4. J.D. Meier's Blog

      How To Build a Foundation for Execution

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      A strong foundation for execution for your company includes an operating model, an enterprise architecture, and an IT engagement model. If your company builds a strong foundation for execution, you can experience higher profitability, faster time to market, and lower IT costs.

      In the book, Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David C. Robertson share how a company can build a foundation for execution.   

      According to Ross, Weill, and Robertson, the operating model is the vision of how the company will operate.  The enterprise architecture is the key architectural requirements for the foundation for execution, as defined by the Business and IT leaders, and based on the operating model.  The IT engagement model specifies how each project benefits from, and contributes to, the foundation for execution.

      The key benefits for building a strong foundation for execution include better profits, faster time to market, and cheaper IT costs.  But, those aren't the only reasons you would want to build a strong foundation for execution.  Additionally, growing complexity in a company's systems can create inflexibility in the systems, and excessive costs, without added value.  Also, business agility depends on a strong foundation for execution. More agile companies have their core processes digitized.  Changes in regulations are another reason to have a strong foundation for execution so that you can increase the likelihood that necessary data is available or can easily be obtained.  Lastly, building a foundation is less risky than the alternative.  You can use ongoing projects to steadily build your foundation for execution, while decreasing IT costs, and increasing business efficiencies.

      3 Keys to Building a Strong Foundation for Execution

      According to Ross, Weill, and Robertson, the three keys are:

      1. Operating Model
      2. Enterprise Architecture
      3. IT Engagement Model

      Operating Model

      The operating model is the level of business process integration and standardization for delivering goods and services.  Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:

      “The operating model is the necessary level of business process integration and standardization for delivering goods and services to customers.  Different companies have different levels of process integration across their business units (i.e., the extent to which business uits share data.)  Integration enables end-to-end processing and a single face to the customer, but it forces a common understanding of data across diverse business units.  Thus, companies need to make overt decisions about the importance of process integration.  Management also must decide on the appropriate level of business process standardization (i.e., the extent to which  business units will perform the same process the same way).  Process standardization creates efficiencies across business units but limits opportunities to customize services.  The operating model involves a commitment to how the company will operate.”

      Enterprise Architecture

      The enterprise architecture is how you organize the business processes and IT infrastructure to support the operating model. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:

      “The enterprise architecture is the organizing logic for business processes and IT infrastructure, reflecting the integration and standardization requirements of the company's operating model.  The enterprise architecture provides a long-term view of a company's processes, systems, and technologies so that individual projects can build capabilities - not just fulfill immediate needs. Companies go through four stages in learning how to take an enterprise architecture approach to designing business processes: Business Silos, Standardized Technology, Optimized Core, and Business Modularity.  As a company goes through its stages, its foundation for execution takes on increased strategic importance.”

      IT Engagement Model

      The IT engagement model helps align business and IT, and ensures that individual solutions are guided by the enterprise architecture.  Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:

      “The IT engagement model is the system of governance mechanisms that ensure business and IT projects achieve both local and companywide objectives.  The IT engagement model influences project decisions so that individual solutions are guided by the enterprise architecture.  The engagement model provides for alignment between the IT and business objectives of projects, and coordinates the IT and business process decisions made at multiple organizational levels (e.g., companywide, business unit, project).  To do so, the model establishes linkages between senior-level IT decisions, such as project prioritization and companywide process design, and project-level implementation decisions.”

      If you want to stay in your market for the long-haul, exploring how to build a strong foundation for execution, if you don’t have one already, can be one of your best moves.

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    5. J.D. Meier's Blog

      347 Personal Effectiveness Articles to Help You Change Your Game

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      I did some cleanup on Sources of Insight to re-focus on personal effectiveness.   You can use that link to easily browse 347 personal effectiveness articles (and growing.)   Personal effectiveness is your key to making the most of what you’ve got.

      I think of personal effectiveness as the ability to produce a decided, decisive, or desired effect through your abilities, energy, skills, talent, and time.   Personal effectiveness in action is really the ability to be effective in any situation by knowing how to play your cards well.  This includes knowing yourself, and reading the situation, so you can play your cards more effectively.

      While you might pursuit to be the best in the world, the reality is, in many cases, your best move is simply to be effective.   If you do happen to be the best in the world at something, the other key is to avoid being ineffective in all the other areas of your life.  This is especially true if you want to be better balanced across all aspects of skilled living.  And, by balancing across the key areas of your life, you can set yourself up to more effectively pursuit being the best at something.   That is, *if* you make the space for it, and hone your personal effectiveness.

      Your personal effectiveness is really the synthesis of your abilities, energy, skills, talent, and time.

      The synthesis is key, and that’s why frameworks or systems or routines or habits help.  In fact, a big reason behind why I wrote Getting Results the Agile Way was to create a simple system for personal effectiveness.  I wanted to combine the best of what we’ve learned from productivity, leadership, personal development, motivation, time management, and more, into a system that’s personal, and that helps you bring out your best.  It’s also a continuous learning system, so you get better over time, by learning and adapting, with the system on your side.

      One of the most important things to keep in mind is that skill makes a big difference.   So does mindset.  When you combine a learning mindset, with a focus on gaining skills and experience, and using an effective feedback loop, you create rapid results.  When you really pay attention to feedback, you can stay the course, or change your approach.   It’s your willingness to change that often makes the difference.

      Here is a sample of some of the articles from the personal effectiveness set, that you might enjoy:

      1. Find Your Purpose
      2. Find Your Strengths
      3. Find Your Values
      4. Change Patterns: A Language for Introducing New Ideas
      5. How To Scale Yourself as a One-Man Band
      6. 5 Things that Determine What Things Mean and What You’re Going to Do
      7. For the Love of Project Management
      8. Work-Life Balance is Hot
      9. Living Your Process
      10. Work Hard
    6. J.D. Meier's Blog

      Getting Started with Agile Results Revisited

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      As I’ve delivered Agile Results training to more organizations, I’ve had to really get crisp on how to get started.   Like anything, there are so many possible ways, and what people really are looking for is a simple way to test the waters to see if it’s for them.

      I’ve updated my Getting Started with Agile Results page.

      I think it really captures the spirit now.   The most important insight I’ve learned is that the easiest way to adopt Agile Results is to focus on Three Wins:  Three Wins for the Day, Three Wins for the Week, Three Wins for the Month, and Three Wins for the Year.  And, the easiest way to get started with Agile Results is to write down Three Wins for today.

      I remember the time when a friend of mine was telling me what he liked about Agile Results.  He said he liked the fact he could write down Three Wins on a piece of paper and he’s doing Agile Results.

      It took a while to sink in, because I knew how much more Agile Results is capable of.   But, eventually, time and again, it’s adopting this one habit that helps adopt the others.  It’s a great place to start.

      Why is writing down your Three Wins a great place to start?  It almost sounds too easy.   In fact, it sounds so easy that it’s easy to dismiss.  And, that’s exactly the problem.   We don’t usually walk around knowing what we want out of our day.  We usually just know all the things we have to do.   We get mired in muck and don’t take a few minutes to figure out what’s the value before diving in.   Imagine how many times you’ve thrown hours at something, only to find out that it didn’t matter or it was nice to do, but when you look back, it was a complete waste of time?

      By writing down the Three Wins that you want to achieve for the day, you take a moment to engage your brain, and actually check whether it’s worth it.  Are those really “wins” or just things you’re doing?   What’s the challenge or opportunity?   What’s the challenge and what’s the change?  (Tip – the value is always in the change.)  

      Here’s a quick example.   Clearing my workspace might seem like a win.   But, the real win is if I re-organize my workspace so that I’m more effective on a daily basis.  I move up the stack.  I change my routine into something better.

      My wins come from changing something into more value, or responding to key challenges and opportunities.    Wins come from turning things into something that is better, faster, cheaper.   Wins come from moving yourself up the stack, by turning routines and things “below the line” into value that’s “above the line.”

      The value is in the change.

      One of the messages I don’t think I stressed enough is how Agile Results helps you become a more effective change agent.  It’s a powerful tool for personal transformation.  It’s a powerful system for winning in work and life.  The change agent aspect is the fact that the wins you identify as part of Monday Vision or as part of your Three Wins for the day, Three Wins for the month, or Three Wins for the year, are really powerful changes.   They are powerful because you’ve articulated a change.   They are powerful because they help you take action against a meaningful outcome.

      Change is a challenge, and the advantage of Agile Results is that it puts the power of routines, repetition, and results on your side.   By putting just enough structure in place, you move up the stack.  Routines and repetition help you concentrate your effort and find ways to do things better, fast, and cheaper.   This keeps you moving up the stack versus reinventing how to do the basics all the time.   It also scales with you and stretches to fit.   If you’re ready to take on bigger challenges, then focus on bigger wins.

      Agile Results is really like a Russian nesting doll.   It’s simple, but there is more than meets the eye.  You can open it up and find more inside.   And you can open that up, and find yet more.  What keeps it “Evergreen” and timeless is that it’s a system that’s principle-based, value-driven, and built on the basics.

      If you haven’t done so already, a great way to master getting results is 30 Days of Getting Results.   It includes little lessons and exercises you can do to profoundly improve your ability to get results in work and life.   The funny thing is I used Agile Results to create 30 Days of Getting Results.   I made it my 30 Day Sprint, and each day, I used a 20 minute timebox to write as much value as I could about how to get results.  What you’ll notice is that as the lessons progress, my writing flowed more, and I gradually got better at creating better daily lessons and insights.  Looking back, I’m actually amazed at how I was able to create each lesson in 20 minutes or less, but I’m glad I did, and it’s a great reminder of what’s possible with focus, inspiration, and a compelling vision.

      If you’re already a master of Agile Results, challenge yourself to lift others up and help them use Agile Results to win at work and win at life.

    7. J.D. Meier's Blog

      How To Turn IT into an Asset Rather than a Liability

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      Why do some companies survive and thrive in the face of global competition?  What do some companies do differently so they are growing and making money, having more productive employees, getting more from their investments, and having more success with their strategic initiatives?

      They digitize their core processes.

      In the book, Enterprise Architecture as Strategy, Jeanne Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson write about how to turn IT into an asset rather than a liability.

      Digitize Your Core Operations

      Companies that survive and thrive can execute their core operations in a reliable and efficient way.  They can do so because they’ve digitized their core operations.  In this way, they’ve turned their IT investment into an asset versus a liability, and they’ve achieved business agility.   Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:

      “We believe these companies execute better because they have a better foundation for execution.  They have embedded technology in their processes so that they  can efficiently and reliably execute their core operations of the company.  These companies have made tough decisions about what they must execute well, and they've implemented the IT systems they need to digitize those operations.  These actions have made IT an asset rather than a liability and have created a foundation for business agility.”

      More Value from IT Investments AND Lower IT Costs

      Digitizing your core operations can lead to higher profitability, faster time to market, and more value from IT investments.  And, lower IT costs.   Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:

      “We surveyed 103 U.S. and European companies about their IT and IT-enabled business processes.  Thirty-four percent of those companies have digitized their core processes. Relative to their competitors, these companies have higher profitability, experience a faster time to market, and get more value from their IT investments.  They have better access to shared customer data, lower risk of mission-critical systems failures, and 80 percent higher senior management satisfaction with technology.  Yet, companies who have digitized their core processes have 25 percent lower IT costs.  These are the benefits of an effective foundation for execution.”

      Cutting Waste, but Not Adding Value

      Some companies just don’t get it.   They cut, but they don’t create value.  Meanwhile, the companies that do get it, pull further ahead.  Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:

      “In contrast, 12 percent of the companies we studied are frittering away management attention and technology investments on a myriad of (perhaps) locally sensible projects that don't support enterprise-wide objectives.  Another 48 percent of the companies are cutting waste from their IT budgets but haven't figured out how to increase value from IT.  Meanwhile, a few leading-edge companies are leveraging a foundation for execution to pull further and further ahead.”

      A Strong Foundation for Execution Accelerates Your Advantage

      With a strong foundation for execution, you can achieve business agility and profitable growth.  Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:

      “As such statistics show, companies with a good foundation for execution have an increasing advantage over those that don't.  In this book, we describe how to design, build, and leverage a foundation for execution.  Based on survey and case study research at more than 400 companies in the United States and Europe, we provide insights, tools, and a language to help managers recognize their core operations, digitize their core to more efficiently support their strategy, and exploit their foundation for execution to achieve business agility and profitable growth.”

      I’m lucky enough to be on the Enterprise Strategy team at Microsoft.   A focus in Enterprise Strategy is to help a company identify their core business and IT capabilities and to pick the best opportunities to transform their business in a scenario-based way.   Changes at the capability level have a ripple effect across people, process, and technology.   It’s effectively the business of business transformation.  The goal is to accelerate business value and help these companies survive and thrive in changing times.

      Speaking of changing times, the Cloud is really a great forcing function for business transformation.   More and more companies are looking at what they should do to make the most of what Cloud, mobile, social, and big data bring to the table.   I’ve been watching the transformations unfold and hearing the stories from the trenches.  

      I’ll be talking more about the book, Enterprise Architecture as Strategy, in the near future, as it’s one of the best books on how to create a foundation for business execution, and I get to see it in action.    Our Enterprise Architects tell me stories about how they are leading their customers on journeys to the Cloud and transforming IT for competitive advantage.

      These are truly exciting times to be at the leading edge of business transformation.

    8. J.D. Meier's Blog

      Roles on Agile Teams

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      You can think of a role as a group of related tasks, activities, and responsibilities.  By knowing the responsibilities and core types of activities up front, you can help make sure you have the right people on the team so that you can achieve project success in a healthy and sustainable way.

      On smaller teams, the key roles include: team lead, team members, product owner, and stakeholders.  The team lead is often a “project lead,” or a “team coach” or, in Scrum, the “Scrum Master.”  The main activities being performed by team members include design, development, and validation against requirements and constraints.

      On larger teams, additional roles include architecture owner and integrator.  Some of the key issues to orchestrate and coordinate include: architecture and technical issues, project management activities, requirements management, and system integration. As teams get bigger, the strategy becomes a "team of teams" approach.  At Microsoft, this is a common practice.

      A few key concepts for Agile teams include: "whole team", "product owner," "self-organizing team", and "sustainable pace."  Whole team is an Extreme Programming (XP) practice where the team has all the skills it needs to complete the project, without relying on external experts.  Product owner, in Scrum, is a project's key stakeholder, and usually a lead user or customer advocate.  In XP, this was the on-site customer, but is now part of "whole team."  The main idea is that the customer is available throughout the project to shape, guide, and validate the priorities and acceptance criteria for the team.  Self-organizing is the idea that teams are empowered to organize themselves, rather than fit canned roles.  "Sustainable pace" (originally, "40 hour week" in Extreme Programming) is the idea that you set a sustainable, measurable, and predictable pace for the team.

      In practice, there are a couple more concepts that help team success: team stability and generalists.  To achieve team stability, avoid swapping out team members.  Teams go through forming, storming, norming, and performing so swapping out team members is more than just losing the knowledge and experience, it disrupts the team chemistry.  As Fred Brooks reminds us, adding members to an already late project just makes it later.   Using generalists (that are specialists in one or more domains) helps create a more flexible team that can respond to challenges and better support a "whole team."

      On the Microsoft patterns & practices team, these are the roles and responsibilities that we typically defined at project kickoff:

      Roles Responsibilities

      Architect           
      Developer
      Development Lead
      Lead Writer
      Product Manager
      Program Manager
      Test
      Test Lead
      Subject Matter Expert

      Architecture and Design
      Budget
      Business Investment
      Collateral
      Content Structure
      Customer Connection
      Design Quality
      Development
      Evangelism
      Feedback
      Product Group Alignment
      Product Planning
      Project Planning
      Quality
      Release
      Requirements
      Scope
      Schedule
      Simplicity
      Support / Sustained-Engineering
      Team and People
      Test Execution
      Test Planning
      Usability

      Nothing is worse than getting mid-way through a project, only to realize you don't have a "whole team" that can execute successfully, or that you don't have the right "product owner" to validate that what you're shipping meets the needs of your users.

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    9. J.D. Meier's Blog

      The Gamification of Education

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      One of my colleagues, Marc Ashbrook, has written a fantastic guest post on how gaming and gamification are reshaping education:

      The Gamification of Education

      Marc specializes in social collaboration, gamification, and productivity so his insights are always great to see.  I’m currently working with Marc on the impact of social in the Enterprise, and it’s a fascinating journey, and very eye-opening.   We’ve spent several brainstorming sessions on looking at the ways in which social tools can accelerate employee learning and productivity as well as how companies can use social to connect with customers on a much deeper level, and gain new insights.

      Education is a great place for innovation and change.   It’s one of the hot spots I called out in my Trends for 2013 post.  Challenge and change are breeding grounds for innovation.   In our age of insight, one of the biggest bottlenecks is how quickly you can learn and adapt to our ever-changing world.   Related to that, how quickly can you learn new skills or build new capabilities.

      Continuous learning is your friend.

      The trick is how to learn more rapidly and effectively, while enjoying your learning path.   That’s where gamification steps in.   You can choose your own learning adventure, and the world’s information is at your fingertips in more ways than ever before.  This sets the stage for amazing immersive experiences, and finding ways to learn that suit your style.

      Game on.

    10. J.D. Meier's Blog

      Getting Things Done with SWAT Mode

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      Getting things done during a big project can be a real series of humps and hurdles.  You can quickly get overloaded and overwhelmed if you don’t have a way to stay on top of things and to outpace your problems.

      I wrote a post on SWAT Mode for Extreme Productivity

      “SWAT Mode” is the term we used on one of my early teams in patterns & practices.  When we would start falling behind and our backlog was out of control, we would go into SWAT Mode.   In SWAT Mode, we used extreme focus and high-energy to get things done.  We would swarm our problems as a team, in an “all hands on deck” sort of way, and blast through our backlog like it was nobody’s business.

      What I didn’t realize at the time, but later appreciated, was how these short-bursts of extreme focus and energy created momentum that helped us complete our projects time, on budget time, and high impact, time and time again.   During any significant project, it’s easy to fall behind, and gradually get overwhelmed by a lot of little things that add up.

      Going into SWAT Mode, really starts with a mindset.   You drive from a sense of urgency, with the intention of getting things done.  You switch gears into overdrive and you plow through the pile that stands before you.

      The beauty of going into SWAT Mode is not just the fact that you get back on top of things.  It’s also that while you are in SWAT mode, you often experience states of flow.  You’re fully engaged.  You’re not distracted.  You’re challenged and putting your skills to the test at a faster pace.  You’re fully engaged.

      It can be hard to get people into SWAT Mode if they haven’t done it before.  One of the simplest ways is to take the team offsite, and focus for the day.   Changing the environment makes it easier to try something new.   The best way to start off is to put a short list of the high impact outcomes you want to achieve.   These are the things that have eaten away at your energy and bogged you down.  It’s time to tackle them and blast through them, or at least put a serious dent in them.

      The worst case scenario is that you don’t make as much progress as you wanted.  The best case is that you’ve gotten rid of the things that were starting to hold you back and wear you down.   Instead of you getting overwhelmed, you overwhelmed your problem.   Sometimes, that’s exactly what it takes.  The more you learn to outpace your problems, the more you learn to stay on top of things in simpler and more sustainable ways.

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