2 May 2016

Lessons in collaboration from Thomas Edison

Reading through the Evernote blog this morning I came across this fascinating article detailing some of Thomas Edisons working practices. There's a lot of focus on his note taking obviously and this in itself is fascinating but I was also impressed by his collaborative way of working. In particular, I found this section really interesting:

At about 9 p.m., Edison would order in food for everyone from a local tavern. For an hour or so, the assembled crew would relax, tell stories, sing songs, and even play music together, before heading back to work until the wee hours of the morning. They connected socially, and created a deeper understanding of each other as people and not just workers. This process of midnight lunch transformed employees into colleagues. It served as the foundation for collaboration in all of Edison’s labs. Through midnight lunch, we see the importance of activities that encourage employees to come together in ways that link work with their social lives. For Edison, midnight lunch was crucially important… creating an environment in which collaboration could thrive. It became a powerful link to Edison’s use of small teams as a driver of innovation success.
This struck me as an early example of what we try to encourage in our teams today. Not working to the wee small hours of the morning of course but the collaboration and community that comes with small teams working together and also enjoying each others company. the phrase "transformed employees into colleagues" is particularly interesting. The suggestion here is that sharing a common bond and building friendships that go beyond the polite good mornings and small talk round the water cooler brings deeper collaboration.

I worked with teams based in Linz Austria for the past two years and they practice a similar ritual on Wednesday afternoons and it is clear to all who have contact with them that they are colleagues who enjoy each others company and collaborate really well together.

Thinking through this further and going back a few more years to my time at SAP I realise that we had excellent collaborative spaces for our teams, designed to allow lots of water cooler style conversations to happen where inspiration could spark a discussion and a small group of people could innovate together. One element we missed in many cases was Edisons 'midnight lunch'.

Bring both the creative space, the right people and opportunities for those people to become colleagues and you have the perfect opportunity for magic to happen.

You can read the full article over on the Evernote Blog.

21 June 2015

Effective Facilitation for Busy Agile Coaches

Image by adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
One key element of the agile coach or scrum masters role is that of facilitation. Facilitation requires a fair amount of skill as it's not simply getting everyone in a room and letting them talk until the time is up. You need to help the conversation move along so that the maximum amount of value is gained from the conversation. It is therefore important that you learn the tools available especially when the meetings you need to facilitate include remote workers.

In the modern business arena we have many different tools to help us hold meetings, GoTo Meeting, Skype, Hangouts and Room are just a few of the popular ones out there today and it is in your interest to learn as much as you can about them so that you are able to start run and end meetings as efficiently as possible. The more you try these tools the more you'll become aware of their strengths and weaknesses and you'll be able to react faster in the event of a mishap. If you can quickly react and get the meeting back on track you'll avoid losing the audience and the value they need to bring.

I recommend that you read up on the tools you use but also try out a few 'dummy' meetings with another coach so that both of you benefit from the learning experience. Ask yourself if you are aware of the various options? Can you share your screen or video efficiently? Is the audio clear? What would I do if the audio failed? Can I recover from a lost connection quickly? The answers to these questions will build a disaster recovery tool-kit that will help you maintain momentum should things go wrong.

You should also find efficient ways to get meetings into peoples calendars. Make sure you have access to at least view the blocks in peoples calendars even if you can't see the detail, and check they are free for the full timeslot, there's nothing worse than having someone walk out part way through. Gauge how long you really need the meeting to be and if you need more than an hour you may want to consider splitting the agenda and covering it over two meetings. People live busy lives and have multiple threads on the go so being clean and concise will help the content stick in a busy world.

If you set up meetings regularly with the same people, and as an agile coach the chances are high that you will. Consider a few short-cuts to help you get the meeting set up, like adding a distribution list to your address book with those people on it so you don't have to add each name individually. One fantastic tip that has served me well over the past few years is to use the signature feature in Outlook to hold the relevant meeting details, phone numbers, web links etc. You can set up several different signatures with different details in them so when you're setting the meeting up getting the main dial in info in there is as simple as inserting the right signature. I'm sure you can use a similar method in other email clients.

Remember to consider that people may be in different geographic locations so you'll need to include as many options as possible for them to connect. Some services like GoTo Meeting offer dial in numbers for multiple countries, be sure to select the ones that cover your audience. Offer free numbers in case some need to dial in from home, we don't all have that fully inclusive telephone bundle you know. Also consider mobile friendly dialling options, if you format the number correctly it can be as simple as tapping a link in the invite to get dialled in without having to hunt for and remember the meeting id or access code.

Remember you want to make the process of joining your meeting as effortless as possible so that people are in the right frame of mind when they come in. If they have had to mess about with phone numbers and codes the chances are they will be late and flustered and not really in a positive frame of mind so you'll not get the best from them. Also remember people are on the go all the time and trying to squeeze every minute of home life out of every day so some calls may be taken on their commute. You need to consider if the time of day fits the type of call you want to hold, a video conference with screen-sharing is going to be a pain if you are on the bus or in the car. They can always stay in the office later I suppose but then we are back to positive frames of mind and how much they'll hate you for keeping them late. Sometimes it's unavoidable but don't make a habit of it.

Finally you may want to consider reaching out for feedback after the meeting. Some of your audience will reply and the information they give you will help make future meetings better. I've received feedback in the past that has helped me be more mindful of my audience like booking rooms for remote offices to save people hunting for a meeting room, avoiding the meeting room with a dodgy mike or even uncomfortable chairs, not booking rooms that hold 20 people if there are only 3 in the meeting. All of this is valuable and will contribute to better meetings that focus on the content and value each person brings to the table rather than the tools and environments you use.

Pulling all this together, you can make your facilitation as effective as possible by following a few simple rules:

  • Know your tools and be prepared for disaster
  • Know your audience and make it effortless to attend
  • Find ways to make it easy to set things up
  • Get feedback and continually improve
I hope this helps you become a more effective facilitator, I know it's helped me.

1 May 2015

Leadership Quotes - Leadership

The ultimate leader is one who is willing to develop people to the point that they eventually surpass him or her in knowledge and ability.
-Fred A. Manske, Jr on Leadership

I have adopted a personal mantra of sorts over the past few years "enabling the success of others". I can't remember if I heard someone else use that or if I pulled it together from some material I was reading, however I got it it serves to remind me of everything a leader needs to be.

26 April 2015

Leadership Quotes - Synergy

Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than in the one where they sprung up.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes on Synergy

How many times have you heard someone claim an idea as their own when the seed of that idea actually came from you, or someone else? You may have done that very thing yourself. Synergy is something that should be encouraged and in Design Thinking it's the fuel that allows the process to flow. Where synergy breaks down is when our human emotions kick in and we try to claim the result of the synergy as the product of our own isolated thinking.

As an agile coach I don't particularly care where the ideas come from or who was responsible for the idea as long as the result is a benefit for the team and the organisation. Of course it is a good idea to congratulate the team for their synergistic approach and the result, you may even call out an individual as a strong driver of the synergy but it's the result that really matters and that's a group effort.

1 April 2015

Start With Why

Start With Why is one of those books every leader should have on their bookshelf as a well read resource. In it Simon Sinek helps us focus on the real value of our message by focussing on the most important part of it, the why.

Since I first read the book I have changed the way I communicate elements of the agile development process with my teams and I believe it has improved my effectiveness as an agile coach and leader. I would strongly encourage you, if you haven't already, to grab a copy of the book and digest it well. Sinek draws from great examples including the rise, fall and rise again f Apple and how the 'why' helped them rediscover who they were. But this is one of many great examples he uses so grab the book and learn how a subtle change in your message can reap much richer rewards and help you become a much stronger leader.

The book is available on Amazon UK and Amazon US in multiple formats.

And as an extra treat, here is Sineks presentation at TedXPugetSound from 2009 where he shows us how great leaders inspire action by starting with why.

28 March 2015

Learning From Others - Spotify Engineering Culture Part 2

Last week I shared part 1 of the Spotify engineering culture and I hope it inspired you to think about your own company culture and how you might modify your own engineering practies, whether that's adopting agile development practices for the first time, or inspecting and adapting the practices you have in place today. I hope it at least fired you up to think about things differently.

This week I'm presenting you with part two and as always I'm interested in hearing your comments about how you've melded new development practices similar to this or how the experiences shared here have inspired you so hit me up in the comments and share with the group ;0)


Spotify Engineering Culture - part 2 from Spotify Training & Development on Vimeo.

27 March 2015

Leadership Quotes - Potential

It is never too late to become what you might have been.
- George Eliot on Potential

Don't stop believing in yourself. Keep driving hard to be the best you can be, put in the work and you'll be rewarded with success. Also never give up an opportunity to learn, those lessons will equip you with the tools you need to unlock your potential on a daily basis.

22 March 2015

Product Review - Todoist

Staying on top of things is crucial for me as a busy Agile Coach. I have responsibilities for several teams covering lots of different products and can have 5 or 6 threads active at any time. On top of that I still have a desire to maintain a life outside work.

Over the years I've tried various tools and methods to try and stay in tune and avoid dropping the ball, sometimes successfully and others not so much. Over the years there have been lots of different tools and services come and go and there appears to be a trend in monetising the to-do list which is frustrating when the app has nothing but listing and sorting options on offer.

I was a major fan of Any.do until late last year when they started to charge for some of the features I used and with what seemed like a pretty high price for me. After that I resumed my hunt and landed on Todoist.

Todoist is pretty much a to-do list manager like any other but differentiated by a very rich feature set backed up by a robust cloud infrastructure and a suite of apps to cover every platform you might possibly want (except Pebble). As with all organisers these days there is a free and paid option available with the paid option giving you reminders with alarms, location reminders, automatic back-ups, more colours for tasks, calendar sync, project templates and a handy productivity tracker they call Karma which awards points for completing tasks and using features within the app and deducts them if you miss your deadlines. If stats are your thing you'll find it interesting, it is definitely an interesting motivator.

Simple and clean interface

Karma for stats junkies

The thing that sold this to me was that buying the Premium option is only £18 ($29) for the year which is a bit more affordable than any.do for example which is $45 per year (currently $26.99 as a launch offer). If you don't need the premium features then stick to the free version which is pretty good by itself, though you will see items in the app marked as Premium only which can frustrate, and you'll be without reminders which can be a big loss if you need to stay on top of things.

The other thing that tipped me over the edge in favour of  Todoist beyond the affordability was the sheer amount of coverage they have. This app is available everywhere, I swear there's a washing machine out there with this on it... OK maybe not that but they have an app for every platform so you'll never have a problem staying on top of things. I particularly like the Outlook plugin which allows me to set a task from an email, as you can by default in Outlook but then I can get to that task anywhere and not just through Outlook. The drawback with this feature though is that while the email is used to create the task you will need to be in Outlook to view the email, making it more of a link to the email rather than an attachment but it still works out for me in practice. There are also a huge number of integrations with common tools and apps like the popular IFTTT which can set up triggers to add tasks automatically when you add stuff to Pocket or YouTube watch later for example. There are way more options than I have space or time to describe so you'll be wanting to hop over to their site to check out if there's a combination that will work for you

There are plenty of options in the app for sorting, tagging and filtering, you can set up your own projects and manage them quickly and easily and if you have things you'll work on with others you can share projects too. Sharing does not require everyone to be on the paid tier either which is nice. Adding tasks is also relatively fuss free allowing you to type things like 'call Bob on Tuesday at 5' and you'll get a call Bob task with a reminder set to Tuesday at 5 (if you have unlocked reminders).

Using Todoist over the past 5 months as my daily task manager has really been great, I have definitely found it to be the premier option for me and find myself tracking a lot more stuff than I used to simply because it is so much easier to add items. My productivity may have increased slightly because I don't forget or delay as many items as I have in the past but I also have a clearer picture of what I am doing through a day because I am capturing more. I even sit down with a coffee and add several quick items I may have done since last getting in front of the screen like 'chat with Bob and Mary about thing x' just because I can and the picture I build up about my day is quite interesting.

So, if you are on the market for a decent task list manager with options I would recommend you pop on over to todoist.com and give them a whirl.