J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

September, 2014

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    How To Think Like a Microsoft Executive

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    One of the things I do, as a patterns and practices kind of guy, is research and share success patterns. 

    One of my more interesting bodies of work is my set of patterns and practices for successful executive thinking.

    A while back, I interviewed several Microsoft executives to get their take on how to think like an effective executive.

    While the styles vary, what I enjoyed is the different mindset that each executive uses as they approach the challenge of how to change the world in a meaningful way.

    5 Key Questions to Share Proven Practices for Executive Thinking

    My approach was pretty simple.   I tried to think of a simple way to capture and distill the essence. I originally went the path of identifying key thinking scenarios (changing perspective, creating ideas, evaluating ideas, making decisions, making meaning, prioritizing ideas, and solving problems) ... and the path of identifying key thinking techniques (blue ocean/strategic profile, PMI, Six Thinking Hats, PQ/PA, BusinessThink, Five Whys, ... etc.) -- but I think just a simple set of 5 key questions was more effective.

    These are the five questions I ended up using:

    1. What frame do you mostly use to evaluate ideas? (for example, one frame is: who's the customer? what's the problem? what's the competition doing? what does success look like?)
    2. How do you think differently, than other people might, that helps you get a better perspective on the problem?
    3. How do you think differently, than other people might, that helps you make a better decision?
    4. What are the top 3 questions you ask yourself the most each day that make the most difference?
    5. How do you get in your best state of mind or frame of mind for your best thinking?

    The insights and lessons learned could fill books, but I thought I would share three of the responses that I tend to use and draw from on a regular basis …

    Microsoft Executive #1

    1) The dominant framework I like to use for decisions is: how can we best help the customer? Prioritizing the customer is nearly always the right way to make good decisions for the long term. While one has to have awareness of the competition and the like, it usually fails to “follow taillights” excessively. The best lens through which to view the competition is, “how are they helping their customers, and is there anything we can learn from them about how to help our own customers?”

    2) I don’t think that there is anything magical about executive thinking. The one thing we hopefully have is a greater breadth and depth of experience on key decisions. We use this experience to discern patterns, and those patterns often help us make good decisions on relatively little data.

    3) Same answer as #2.

    4) How can we help our customers more? Are we being realistic in our assessments of ourselves, our offerings and the needs of our customers? How can we best execute on delivering customer value?

    5) It is key to keep some discretionary time for connecting with customers, studying the competition and the marketplace and “white space thinking.” It is too easy to get caught up on being reactionary to lots of short-term details and therefore lose the time to think about the long term.

    Microsoft Executive #2

    There are three things that I think about as it relates to leading organizations: Vision, People and Results. Some of the principles in each of these components will apply to any organization, whether the organization's goal is to make profit, achieve strategic objectives, or make non-profit social impact.

    Vision

    In setting the vision and top level objectives, it is very important to pick the right priorities. I like to focus on the big rocks instead of small rocks at the vision-setting stage. In today's world of information overload, it is really easy to get bombarded with too many things needing attention. This can dilute your focus across too many objectives. The negative effect of not having a clear concentrated focus multiplies rapidly across many people when you are running a large organization. So, you need to first ask yourself what are the few ultimate results that are the objectives of your organization and then stay disciplined to focus on those objectives. The ultimate goal might be a single objective or a few, but should not be a laundry list. It is alright to have multiple metrics that are aligned to drive each objective, but the overall objectives themselves should be crisp and focused.

    People

    The next step in running an organization is to make sure you have the right people in the right jobs. This starts with first identifying the needs of the business to achieve the vision set out above. Then, I try to figure out what types of roles are needed to meet those needs. What will the organization structure look like? What kind of competencies, that is, attributes, skills, and behaviors, are needed in those roles to meet expected results? If there is a mismatch between the role and the person, it can set up both the employee and the business for failure. So, this is a crucial step in making sure you've a well running organization.

    Once you have the right people in the right jobs, I try to make sure that the work environment encourages people to do their best. Selfless leadership, where the leaders have a sense of humility and are committed to the success of the business over their own self, is essential. An inclusive environment where everyone is encouraged to contribute is also a must. People's experience with the organization is for the most part shaped by their interaction with their immediate manager. Therefore, it is very important that a lot of care goes into selecting, encouraging and rewarding people managers who can create a positive environment for their employees.

    Results

    Finally, the organization needs to produce results towards achieving the vision and the objectives you set out. Do not confuse results with actions. You need to make sure you reward people based on performance towards producing results instead of actions. When setting commitments for people, you need to be thoughtful about what metrics you choose so that you incent the right behavior. This again helps build an environment that encourages people to do their best. Producing results also requires that you've a compelling strategy for the organization. Thus, you need to stay on top of where the market and customers are. This will help you focus your organization's efforts on anticipating customer needs, and proactively taking steps to delight customers. This is necessary to ensure that organization's resources are prioritized towards those efforts that will produce the highest return on investment.

    Microsoft Executive #3

    1. Different situations call for different pivots.  That said, I most often start with the customer, as technology is just a tool; ultimately, people are trying to solve problems.  I should note, however, that “customer” does not always mean the person who licenses or uses our products and/or services.  While they may be the focus, my true “customer” is sometimes the business itself (and its management), a business group, or a government (addressing a policy issue).  Often, the problem presented has to be solved in a multi-disciplinary way (e.g., a mixture of policy changes, education, technological innovation, and business process refinements).  Think, for example, about protecting children on-line.  While technology may help, any comprehensive solution may also involve government laws, parental and child education, a change in website business practices, etc.
    2. As noted above, the key is thinking in a multi-disciplinary way. People gravitate to what they know; thus the old adage that “if you have a hammer, everything you see is a nail.” Think more broadly about an issue, and a more interesting solution to the customer’s problem may present itself. (Scenario focused engineering works this way too.)
    3. It is partially about thinking differently (as discussed above), but also about seeking the right counsel.  There is an interesting truth about hard Presidential decisions.  The more sensitive an issue, the fewer the number of people consulted (because of the sensitivity) and the less informed the decision.  Obtaining good counsel – while avoiding the pitfall of paralysis (either because you have yet to speak to everyone on the planet or because there was not universal consensus on what to do next) is the key.
    4. (1) What is the right thing to do? (This may be harder than it looks because the different customers described above may have different interests.  For example, a costly solution may be good for customers but bad for shareholders.  A regulatory solution might be convenient for governments but stifle technological innovation.)  (2) What unintended consequences might occur? (The best laid plans….).  (3) Will the solution be achievable?
    5. I need quiet time; time to think deeply.

    The big things that really stand out for me are using the customer as the North Star, balancing with multi-disciplinary perspectives, evaluating multiple, cascading ramifications, and leading with vision.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Cuttable Scope

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    Early on in my Program Management career, I ran into challenges around cutting scope.

    The schedule said the project was done by next week, but scope said the project would be done a few months from now.

    On the Microsoft patterns & practices team, we optimized around “fix time, flex scope.”   This ensured we were on time, on budget.  This helped constrain risk.  Plus, as soon as you start chasing scope, you become a victim of scope creep, and create a runaway train.  It’s better to get smart people shipping on a cadence, and focus on creating incremental value.  If the trains leave the station on time, then if you miss a train, you know you can count on the next train.  Plus, this builds a reputation for shipping and execution excellence.

    And so I would have to cut scope, and feel the pains of impact ripple across multiple dependencies.

    Without a simple chunking mechanism, it was a game of trying to cut features and trying to figure out which requirements could be completed and still be useful within a given time frame.

    This is where User Stories and System Stories helped.  

    Stories created a simple way to chunk up value.   Stories help us put requirements into a context and a testable outcome, share what good looks like, and estimate our work.  So paring stories down is fine, and a good thing, as long as we can still achieve those basic goals.

    Stories help us create Cuttable Scope.  

    They make it easier to deliver value in incremental chunks.

    A healthy project start includes a baseline set of stories that help define a Minimum Credible Release, and additional stories that would add additional, incremental value.

    It helps create a lot of confidence in your project when there is a clear vision for what your solution will do, along with a healthy path of execution that includes a baseline release, along with a healthy pipeline of additional value, chunked up in the form of user stories that your stakeholders and user community can relate to.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Ten at Ten Meetings

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    Ten at Ten are a very simple tool for helping teams stay focused, connected, and collaborate more effectively, the Agile way.

    I’ve been leading distributed teams and v-teams for years.   I needed a simple way to keep everybody on the same page, expose issues, and help everybody on the team increase their awareness of results and progress, as well as unblock and breakthrough blocking issues.

    Why Ten at Ten Meetings?

    When people are remote, it’s easy to feel disconnected, and it’s easy to start to feel like different people are just a “black box” or “go dark.”

    Ten at Ten Meetings have been my friend and have helped me help everybody on the team stay in sync and appreciate each other’s work, while finding better ways to team up on things, and drive to results, in a collaborative way.  I believe I started Ten at Ten Meetings back in 2003 (before that, I wasn’t as consistent … I think 2003 is where I realized a quick sync each day, keeps the “black box” away.)

    Overview of Ten at Ten Meetings

    I’ve written about Ten at Ten Meetings before in my posts on How To Lead High-Performance Distributed Teams, How I Use Agile Results, Interview on Timeboxing for HBR (Harvard Business Review), Agile Results Works for Teams and Leaders Too,  and 10 Free Leadership Tools for Work and Life, but I thought it would be helpful to summarize some of the key information at a glance.

    Here is an overview of Ten at Ten Meetings:

    This is one of my favorite tools for reducing email and administration overhead and getting everybody on the same page fast.  It's simply a stand-up meeting.  I tend to have them at 10:00, and I set a limit of 10 minutes.  This way people look forward to the meeting as a way to very quickly catch up with each other, and to stay on top of what's going on, and what's important.  The way it works is I go around the (virtual) room, and each person identifies what they got done yesterday, what they're getting done today, and any help they need.  It's a fast process, although it can take practice in the beginning.  When I first started, I had to get in the habit of hanging up on people if it went past 10 minutes.  People very quickly realized that the ten minute meeting was serious.  Also, as issues came up, if they weren't fast to solve on the fly and felt like a distraction, then we had to learn to take them offline.  Eventually, this helped build a case for a recurring team meeting where we could drill deeper into recurring issues or patterns, and focus on improving overall team effectiveness.

    3 Steps for Ten at Ten Meetings

    Here is more of a step-by-step approach:

    1. I schedule ten minutes for Monday through Thursday, at whatever time the team can agree to, but in the AM. (no meetings on Friday)
    2. During the meeting, we go around and ask three simple questions:  1)  What did you get done?  2) What are you getting done today? (focused on Three Wins), and 3) Where do you need help?
    3. We focus on the process (the 3 questions) and the timebox (10 minutes) so it’s a swift meeting with great results.   We put issues that need more drill-down or exploration into a “parking lot” for follow up.  We focus the meeting on status and clarity of the work, the progress, and the impediments.

    You’d be surprised at how quickly people start to pay attention to what they’re working on and on what’s worth working on.  It also helps team members very quickly see each other’s impact and results.  It also helps people raise their bar, especially when they get to hear  and experience what good looks like from their peers.

    Most importantly, it shines the light on little, incremental progress, and, if you didn’t already know, progress is the key to happiness in work and life.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Cloud Changes the Game from Deployment to Adoption

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    Before the Cloud, there was a lot of focus on deployment, as if deployment was success. 

    Once you shipped the project, it was time to move on to the next project.  And project success was measured in terms of “on time” and “on budget.”   If you could deploy things quickly, you were a super shipper.

    Of course, what we learned was that if you simply throw things over the wall and hope they stick, it’s not very successful.

    "If you build it" ... users don't always come.

    It was easy to confuse shipping projects on time and on budget with business impact.  

    But let's compound the problem. 

    The Development Hump

    The big hump of software development was the hump in the middle—A big development hump.  And that hump was followed by a big deployment hump (installing software, fixing issues, dealing with deployment hassles, etc.)

    So not only were development cycles long, but deployment was tough, too.

    Because development cycles were long, and deployment was so tough, it was easy to confuse effort for value.

    Cloud Changes the Hump

    Now, let's turn it around.

    With the Cloud, deployment is simplified.  You can reach more users, and it's easier to scale.  And it's easier to be available 24x7.

    Add Agile to the mix, and people ship smaller, more frequent releases.

    So with smaller, more-frequent releases, and simpler deployment, some software teams have turned into shipping machines.

    The Cloud shrinks the development and deployment humps.

    So now the game is a lot more obvious.

    Deployment doesn't mark the finish.  It starts the game.

    The real game of software success is adoption.

    The Adoption Hump is Where the Benefits Are

    If you picture the old IT project hump, where there is a long development cycle in the middle, now it's shorter humps in the middle.

    The big hump is now user adoption.

    It’s not new.  It was always there.   But the adoption hump was hidden beyond the development and deployment humps, and simply written off as “Value Leakage.”

    And if you made it over the first two humps, since most projects did not plan or design for adoption, or allocate any resources or time, adoption was mostly an afterthought.  

    And so the value leaked.

    But the adoption hump is where the business benefits are.   The ROI is sitting there, gathering dust, in our "pay-for-play" world.   The value is simply waiting to be released and unleashed. 

    Software solutions are sitting idle waiting for somebody to realize the value.

    Accelerate Value by Accelerating Adoption

    All of the benefits to the business are locked up in that adoption hump.   All of the benefits around how users will work better, faster, or cheaper, or how you will change the customer interaction experience, or how back-office systems will be better, faster, cheaper ... they are all locked up in that adoption hump.

    As I said before, the key to Value Realization is adoption.  

    So if you want to realize more value, drive more user adoption. 

    And if you want to accelerate value, then accelerate user adoption.

    In Essence …

    In a Cloud world, the original humps of design, development, and deployment shrink.   But it’s not just time and effort that shrink.  Costs shrink, too.   With online platforms to build on (Infrastructure as a Service, Platforms as a Service, and Software as a Service), you don’t have to start from scratch or roll your own.   And if you adopt a configure before customize mindset, you can further reduce your costs of design and development.

    Architecture moves up the stack from basic building blocks to composition.

    And adoption is where the action is.  

    What was the afterthought in the last generation of solutions, is now front and center. 

    In the new world, adoption is a planned spend, and it’s core to the success of the planned value delivery.

    If you want to win the game, think “Adoption-First.”

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    How To Rapidly Brainstorm and Share Ideas with Method 635

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    So, if you have a bunch of smart people, a bunch of bright ideas, and everybody wants to talk at the same time ... what do you do?

    Or, you have a bunch of smart people, but they are quiet and nobody is sharing their bright ideas, and the squeaky wheel gets the oil ... what do you do?

    Whenever you get a bunch of smart people together to change the world it helps to have some proven practices for better results.

    One of the techniques a colleague shared with me recently is Method 635.  It stands for six participants, three ideas, and five rounds of supplements. 

    He's used Method 635 successfully to get a large room of smart people to brainstorm ideas and put their top three ideas forward.

    Here's how he uses Method 635 in practice.

    1. Split the group into 6 people per table (6 people per team or table).
    2. Explain the issue or challenge to the group, so that everybody understands it. Each group of 6 writes down 3 solutions to the problem (5 minutes).
    3. Go five rounds (5 minutes per round).  During each round, pass the ideas to the participant's neighbor (one of the other participants).  The participant's neighbor will add three additional ideas or modify three of the existing ones.
    4. At the end of the five rounds, each team votes on their top three ideas (5 minutes.)  For example, you can use “impact” and “ability to execute” as criteria for voting (after all, who cares about good ideas that can't be done, and who cares about low-value ideas that can easily be executed.)
    5. Each team presents their top three ideas to the group.  You could then vote again, by a show of hands, on the top three ideas across the teams of six.

    The outcome is that each person will see the original three solutions and contribute to the overall set of ideas.

    By using this method, if each of the 5 rounds is 5 minutes, and if you take 10 minutes to start by explaining the issue, and you give teams 5 minutes to write down their initial set of 3 ideas, and then another 5 minutes at the end to vote, and another 5 minutes to present, you’ve accomplished a lot within an hour.   Voices were heard.  Smart people contributed their ideas and got their fingerprints on the solutions.  And you’ve driven to consensus by first elaborating on ideas, while at the same time, driving to convergence and allowing refinement along the way.

    Not bad.

    All in a good day’s work, and another great example of how structuring an activity, even loosely structuring an activity, can help people bring out their best.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    10 High-Value Activities in the Enterprise

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    I was flipping back over the past year and reflecting on the high-value activities that I’ve seen across various Enterprise customers.  I think the high-value activities tend to be some variation of the following:

    1. Customer interaction (virtual, remote, connect with experts)
    2. Product innovation and ideation.
    3. Work from anywhere on any device.
    4. Comprehensive and cross-boundary collaboration (employees, customers, and partners.)
    5. Connecting with experts.
    6. Operational intelligence (predictive analytics, predictive maintenance)
    7. Cross-sell / up-sell and real-time marketing.
    8. Development and ALM in the Cloud.
    9. Protecting information and assets.
    10. Onboarding and enablement.

    At first I was thinking of Porter’s Value Chain (Inbound Logistics, Operations, Outbound Logistics, Marketing & Sales, Services), which do help identify where the action is.   Next, I was reviewing how when we drive big changes with a customer, it tends to be around changing the customer experience, or changing the employee experiences, or changing the back-office and systems experiences.

    You can probably recognize how the mega-trends (Cloud, Mobile, Social, and Big Data) influence the activities above, as well as some popular trends like Consumerization of IT.

    High-Value Activities in the Enterprise from the Microsoft “Transforming Our Company” Memo

    I also found it helpful to review the original memo from July 11, 2013 titled Transforming Our Company.  Below are some of my favorite sections from the memo:

    Via Transforming Our Company:

    We will engage enterprise on all sides — investing in more high-value activities for enterprise users to do their jobs; empowering people to be productive independent of their enterprise; and building new and innovative solutions for IT professionals and developers. We will also invest in ways to provide value to businesses for their interactions with their customers, building on our strong Dynamics foundation.

    Specifically, we will aim to do the following:

    • Facilitate adoption of our devices and end-user services in enterprise settings. This means embracing consumerization of IT with the vigor we pursued in the initial adoption of PCs by end users and business in the ’90s. Our family of devices must allow people to be more productive, and for them to easily use our devices for work.

    • Extend our family of devices and services for enterprise high-value activities. We have unique expertise and capacity in this space.

    • Information assurance. Going forward this will be an area of critical importance to enterprises. We are their trusted partners in this space, and we must continue to innovate for them against a changing security and compliance landscape.

    • IT management. With more IT delivered as services from the cloud, the function of IT itself will be reimagined. We are best positioned to build the tools and training for that new breed of IT professional.

    • Big data insight. Businesses have new and expanded needs and opportunities to generate, store and use their own data and the data of the Web to better serve customers, make better decisions and design better products. As our customers’ online interactions with their customers accelerate, they generate massive amounts of data, with the cloud now offering the processing power to make sense of it. We are well-positioned to reimagine data platforms for the cloud, and help unlock insight from the data.

    • Customer interaction. Organizations today value most those activities that help them fully understand their customers’ needs and help them interact and communicate with them in more responsive and personalized ways. We are well-positioned to deliver services that will enable our customers to interact as never before — to help them match their prospects to the right products and services, derive the insights so they can successfully engage with them, and even help them find and create brand evangelists.

    • Software development. Finally, developers will continue to write the apps and sites that power the world, and integrate to solve individual problems and challenges. We will support them with the simplest turnkey way to build apps, sites and cloud services, easy integration with our products, and innovation for projects of every size.”

    A Story of High-Value Activities in Action

    If you can’t imagine what high-value activities look like, or what business transformation would look like, then have a look at this video:

    Nedbank:  Video Banking with Lync

    Nedbank was a brick-and-mortar bank that wanted to go digital and, not just catch up to the Cloud world, but leap frog into the future.  According to the video description, “Nedbank initiated a program called the Integrated Channel Strategy, focusing on client centered banking experiences using Microsoft Lync. The client experience is integrated and aligned across all channels and seeks to bring about efficiencies for the bank. Video banking with Microsoft Lync gives Nedbank a competitive advantage.”

    The most interesting thing about the video is not just what’s possible, but that’s it’s real and happening.

    They set a new bar for the future of digital banking.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    10 Big Ideas from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

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    It’s long over-do, but I finally wrote up my 10 Big Ideas from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

    What can I say … the book is a classic.

    I remember when my Dad first recommended that I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People long ago.   In his experience, while Tony Robbins was more focused on Personality Ethic, Stephen Covey at the time was more focused on Character Ethic.  At the end of the day, they are both complimentary, and one without the other is a failed strategy.

    While writing 10 Big Ideas from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I was a little torn on what to keep in and what to leave out.   The book is jam packed with insights, powerful patterns, and proven practices for personal change.   I remembered reading about the Law of the Harvest, where you reap what you sow.  I remembered reading about how to think Win/Win, and how that helps you change the game from a scarcity mentality to a mindset of abundance.   I remembered reading about how we can move up the stack in terms of time management if we focus less on To Dos and more on relationships and results.   I remembered reading about how if we want to be heard, we need to first seek to understand.

    The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is probably one of the most profound books on the planet when it comes to personal change and empowerment.

    It’s full of mental models and big ideas.  

    What I really like about Covey’s approach is that he bridged work and life.  Rather than splinter our lives, Covey found a way to integrate our lives more holistically, to combine our personal and professional lives through principles that empower us, and help us lead a more balanced life.

    Here is a summary list of 10 Big Ideas from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

    1. The Seven Habits Habits of Effectiveness.
    2. The Four Quadrants of Time Management.
    3. Character Ethic vs. Personality Ethic
    4. Increase the Gap Between Stimulus and Response.
    5. All Things are Created Twice.
    6. The Five Dimensions of Win/Win.
    7. Expand Your Circle of Influence.
    8. Principle-Centered Living.
    9. Four Generations of Time Management.
    10. Make Meaningful Deposits in the Emotional Bank Account.

    In my post, I’ve summarized each one and provided one of my favorite highlights from the book that brings each idea to life.

    Enjoy.

  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Minimum Credible Release (MCR) and Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

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    A Minimum Credible Release, or MCR, is simply the minimal set of user stories that need to be implemented in order for the product increment to be worth releasing.

    I don’t know exactly when Minimum Credible Release became an established practice, but I do know that we were using Minimum Credible Release as a concept back in the early 2000’s on the Microsoft patterns & practices team.  It’s how we defined the minimum scope for our project releases.

    The value of the Minimum Credible Release is that it provides a baseline for the team to focus on so they can ship.   It’s a metaphorical “finish line.”   This is especially important when the team gets into the thick of things, and you start to face scope creep.

    The Minimum Credible Release is also a powerful tool when it comes to communicating to stakeholders what to expect.   If you want people to invest, they need to know what to expect in terms of the minimum bar that they will get for their investment.

    The Minimum Credible Release is also the hallmark of great user experience in action.  It takes great judgment to define a compelling minimal release.

    A sample is worth a thousand words, so here is a visual way to think about this.  

    Let’s say you had a pile of prioritized user stories, like this:

    image

    You would establish a cut line for your minimum release:

    image

    Note that this is an over-simplified example to keep the focus on the idea of a list of user stories with a cut line.

    And the art part is in where and how you draw the line for the release.

    While you would think this is such a simple, obvious, and high-value practice, not everybody does it.

    All too often there are projects that run for a period of time without a defined Minimum Credible Release.   They often turn into never-ending projects or somebody’s bitter disappointment.   If you get agreement with users about what the Minimum Credible Release will be, you have a much better chance of making your users happy.  This goes for stakeholders, too.

    There is another concept that, while related, I don’t think it’s the same thing.

    It’s Minimum Viable Product, or MVP.

    Here is what Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, says about the Minimum Viable Product:

    “The idea of minimum viable product is useful because you can basically say: our vision is to build a product that solves this core problem for customers and we think that for the people who are early adopters for this kind of solution, they will be the most forgiving. And they will fill in their minds the features that aren’t quite there if we give them the core, tent-pole features that point the direction of where we’re trying to go.

    So, the minimum viable product is that product which has just those features (and no more) that allows you to ship a product that resonates with early adopters; some of whom will pay you money or give you feedback.”

    And, here is what Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA, has to say about the Minimum Viable Product:

    “The Lean Startup provides many strategies for validating the worth of a business idea. One core strategy is to develop a minimum viable product – the smallest offer you can create that someone will actually buy, then offer it to real customers. If they buy, you’re in good shape. If your original idea doesn’t work, you simply ‘pivot’ and try another idea.”

    So if you want happier users, better products, reduced risk, and more reliable releases, look to Minimum Credible Releases and Minimum Viable Products.

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  • J.D. Meier's Blog

    Continuous Value Delivery the Agile Way

    • 2 Comments

    Continuous Value Delivery helps businesses realize the benefits from their technology investments in a continuous fashion.

    Businesses these days expect at least quarterly results from their technology investments.  The beauty is, with Continuous Value Delivery they can get it, too.  

    Continuous Value Delivery is a practice that makes delivering user value and business value a rapid, reliable, and repeatable process.  It’s a natural evolution from Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery.  Continuous Value Delivery simply adds a focus on Value Realization, which addresses planning for value, driving adoption, and measuring results.

    But let’s take a look at the evolution of software practices that have made it possible to provide Continuous Value Delivery in our Cloud-first, mobile-first world.

    Long before there was Continuous Value Delivery, there was Continuous Integration …

    Continuous Integration

    Continuous Integration is a software development practice where team members integrate their work frequently.  The goal of Continuous Integration is to reduce and prevent integration problems.  In Continuous Integration, each integration is verified against tests.

    Then, along came, Continuous Delivery …

    Continuous Delivery

    Continuous Delivery extended the idea of Continuous Integration to automate and improve the process of software delivery.  With Continuous Delivery,  software checked in on the mainline is always ready for release.  When you combine automated testing, Continuous Integration, and Continuous Delivery, it's possible to push out updates, fixes, and new releases to customers with lower risk and minimal manual overhead.

    Continuous Delivery changes the model from a big bang approach, where software is shipped at the end of a long project cycle, to where software can be iteratively and incrementally shipped along the way.

    This set the stage for Continuous Value Delivery …

    Continuous Value Delivery

    Continuous Value Delivery puts a focus on Value Realization as a first-class citizen.  

    To be able to ship value on a continuous basis, you need to have a simple way to have a simple mechanism for units of value.  Scenarios and stories are an effective way to chunk and carve up value into useful increments.  Scenario and stories also help with driving adoption.

    For Continuous Value Delivery, you also need a way to "pull" value, as well as "push" value.   Kanbans provide an easy way to visualize the flow of value, and support a “pull” mechanism and reinforce “the voice of the customer.”    User stories provide an easy way to create a backlog or catalog of potential value, that you can “push” based on priorities and user demand.

    Businesses that are making the most of their technology investments are linking scenarios, backlogs, and Kanbans to their value chains and their value streams.

    Value Planning Enables Continuous Value Delivery

    If you want to drive continuous value to the business, then you need to plan for it.  As part of value planning, you need to identify key stakeholders in the business.    With the stakeholders you need to identify the business benefits that they care about, along with the KPIs and value measures that they care about.

    At this stage, you also want to identify who in the business will be responsible for collecting the data and reporting the value.

    Adoption is the Key to Value Realization

    Adoption is the key component of Continuous Value Delivery.  After all, if you release new features, but nobody uses them, then the users won't get the new benefits.   In order to realize the value, users need to use the new features and actually change their behaviors.

    So while deployment was the old bottleneck, adoption is the new bottleneck.

    Users and the business can only absorb so much value at once.  In order to flow more value, you need to reduce friction around adoption, and drive consumption of technology.  You can do this through effective adoption planning, user readiness, communication plans, and measurement.

    Value Measurement and Reporting

    To close the loop, you want the business to acknowledge the delivery of value.   That’s where measurement and reporting come in.

    From a measurement standpoint, you can use adoption and usage metrics to better understand what's being used and how much.  But that’s only part of the story.

    To connect the dots back to the business impact, you need to measure changes in behavior, such as what people have stopped doing, started doing, and continue doing.   This will be an indicator of benefits being realized.

    Ultimately, to show the most value to the business, you need to move the benefits up the stack.  At the lowest level, you can observe the benefits, by simply observing the changes in behavior.  If you can observe the benefits, then you should be able to measure the benefits.  And if you can measure the benefits, then you should be able to quantify the benefits.   And if you can quantify the benefits, then you should be able to associate some sort of financial amount that shows how things are being done better, faster, or cheaper.

    The value reporting exercise should help inform and adjust any value planning efforts.  For example, if adoption is proving to be the bottleneck, now you can drill into where exactly the bottleneck is occurring and you can refocus efforts more effectively.

    Plan, Do, Check, Act

    In essence, your value realization loop is really a cycle of plan, do, check, act, where value is made explicit, and it is regarded as a first-class citizen throughout the process of Continuous Value Delivery.

    That’s a way better approach than building solutions and hoping that value will come or that you’ll stumble your way into business impact.

    As history shows, too many projects try to luck their way into value, and it’s far better to design for it.

    Value Sprints

    A Sprint is simply a unit of development in Scrum.   The idea is to provide a working increment of the solution at the end of the Sprint, that is potentially shippable.  

    It’s a “timeboxed” effort.   This helps reduce risk as well as support a loop of continuous learning.  For example, a team might work in 1 week, 2 week or 1 month sprints.   At the end of the Sprint, you can review the progress, and make any necessary adjustments to improve for the next Sprint.

    In the business arena, we can think in terms of Value Sprints, where we don’t want to stop at just shipping a chunk of value.

    Just shipping or deploying software and solutions does not lead to adoption.

    And that’s how software and IT projects fall down.

    With a Value Sprint, we want to do a add a few specific things to the mix to ensure appropriate Value Realization and true benefits delivery.  Specifically, we want to integrate Value Planning right up front, and as part of each Sprint.   Most importantly, we want to plan and drive adoption, as part of the Value Sprint.

    If we can accelerate adoption, then we can accelerate time to value.

    And, of course, we want to report on the value as part of the Value Sprint.

    In practice, our field tells us that Value Sprints of 6-8 weeks tend to work well with the business.    Obviously, the right answer depends on your context, but it helps to know what others have been doing.   The length of the loop depends on the business cadence, as well as how well adoption can be driven in an organization, which varies drastically based on ability to execute and maturity levels.  And, for a lot of businesses, it’s important to show results within a quarterly cycle.

    But what’s really important is that you don’t turn value into a long winded run, or a long shot down the line, and that you don’t simply hope that value happens.

    Through Value Sprints and Continuous Value Delivery you can create a sustainable approach where the business can realize the value from it’s technology investments in a sustainable and more reliable way for real business results.

    And that’s how you win in the game of software today.

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