Sunday, January 27, 2013

Golden Nuggets from the Innovation Games Summit

My friend Chad Holdorf describes golden nuggets as those practical things you learned from a conference that you can use on Monday at work. After attending the Innovation Games Summit this week in Santa Clara here are six golden nuggets I'd like to share with you:

1. Many of the attendees at my Silence of Agile talk were trained and experienced facilitators and during our discussions offered two specific tips that I plan on trying at one of our team's next retrospectives.
  • The first tip was to change the voting so that people vote not only for their top 3 ideas but also their bottom 3. When tallying the results use the net votes (top minus bottom) as your top items to work on for that period. 
  • The second tip involves changing the silent writing portion of the retrospective. Instead of writing each individual idea on one post-it, ask each team member to write all their ideas on one paper in a list format. Once everyone has written their list, pass it to the person on your left. Each person then reads their neighbour's list and adds to it. Keep passing the lists to the left until everyone has read and contributed to all the lists. Finally, put the individual items on your board and prioritize them as usual.
2. Innovation Games help you have better conversations and make better decisions. I had already experienced this myself when using these games for retrospectives. However it became even more explicit as we facilitated and observed the San Jose 2013 Budget Games. We had a diverse group of community members at our table who had honest conversations and made tough decisions about topics that are important for San Jose. I can imagine that a great facilitator could also have achieved the same results, but the game did this without much need for facilitation. I'll be looking for more places to try out these games.

3. As a facilitator, it is important to trust the Innovation Game and let the group create their own process and flow within the context of the game. Gerry Kirk was my facilitation partner for the Budget Games and I watched (sometimes in trepidation) as he deftly used good questions to nudge the group along rather than directing the flow. Their process was sometimes a little scary as they tried to work within the game to come to decisions. However, in the end it was their process and their results. The game did its job to provide structure and Gerry's gentle questioning prodded them to a good result much more effectively than a directive approach would have.

4. A new podcast source! Look for Jack Dorsey and others on Standford University's Entrepreneurship Corner.

5. A new book that was highly recommended by Mr. Holdorf: The Radical Leap Re-Energized by Steve Farber.

6. Two 'S's. These aren't agile tips, but useful nonetheless
  • Have sinus trouble when flying? A client of mine recommended Sinusalia by Boiron. Take two pills before you get on the plane and then every two hours during your flight - they are magical.
  • Need music for your training sessions, workout sessions, relaxing at home, etc? Try the Songza app. It has lots of curated music based on themes and also comes with a pretty neat UX experience that suggests musical themes based on the time of day.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Kanban At Home

As Jen mentioned in the previous post, kanban has crept into our home. Here is a quick post to tell you how we build our board, how we use it, and the results.

While some families create a permanent board, we've found that temporary boards serve us well. If you stop by some Saturday morning you'll probably find us in the act of putting post-its on the mirror in our front entrance. It is true that occasionally our board is created in the kitchen or even sometimes the hallway, but the front entrance is currently our favourite location. We have three columns across the top - "Ready", "Doing / Work in Progress", and "Done". You can probably simplify the middle column name to "Doing" or "WIP" but our kids have decreed that we should use both terms.

We populate the "Ready" column with everything we'd like to accomplish that weekend. We're careful to make sure the tasks are clear and not too big. For example, instead of "Clean the House", we create post-its for "Clean the Kitchen", "Vacuum the living room", etc. Our board will have a mix of post-its that are specific to one person ("C practice piano", "A practice drums", "M clean room", "Daddy pay master card") and cards with no names that anyone can grab ("Shovel the snow", "Organize the front closet"). More recently we've also started to add post-its for doing fun things together ("LEGO!", "Family Movie").

Once the board is populated the process is quite simple. Everyone selects a post-it, moves it to the "Doing / Work in Progress" column and goes to work. Once they are done that task, they move it to "Done" and select another. By the end of the weekend, the post-its have made a large shift towards "Done" as seen above.

For our family this board works because it is simple, transparent, and requires little to no 'management' (i.e. nagging). Once the board is populated each person has a clear view of their expectations and can make their own decisions about when to do chores and when to play. On most Saturdays our kids (ages 7, 9, 11) do their chores earlier in the day so that they can spend the rest of the day relaxing without worrying that more chores will be added to their list.

A board we created this holiday season is a particularly great example of the peace that a board can bring in our household. We had just returned from a road trip through Nebraska (Car Henge!), South Dakota (Rushmore and Jewel Cave), Wyoming and North Dakota. The level of grumpiness as we unloaded all of our luggage from the van into the house was historic - we were all tired and the mood was tense. As we stood around the pile of luggage now clogging our front entrance we reluctantly decided to create our board. Among the post-its for "Laundry" and "Unpack Luggage" were reward post-its like "Sleep" and "Spend my $10 Claire's gift card". After agreeing to take care of all the chores before starting any of the reward post-its, we moved our post-its to the "Done" column in record time with zero nagging. In parallel, the spirit of our household moved from grumpy to peaceful with the same efficiency.

Well, it's Saturday morning. I'm being beckoned...

Monday, January 7, 2013

Living With an Agilist

(Editor's note: The following is a guest post by Jen Rogalsky)

A couple of years ago Steve came home from work and announced, “Podcasts have changed my life.” My natural response was: “What? Podcasts? Not me, not our children, but podcasts?” He persisted with his original assertion. “Yes, podcasts. They’ve changed my life.”

This was my first introduction to the fact that Steve, through podcasts, had begun to learn about something called agile, and his declaration of devotion seemed to leave me with a clear choice: learn a little about this new interest or be left behind by this obviously life changing discovery. We were not immediately friends, agile and I, and yet along with the post-it notes and sharpies that have overtaken my house, some agile practices and principles have slowly become part of my life. I don’t pretend to be an expert in their application in a business context, but as I stumble through trying to explain to someone who asks me “What does your husband do?” I often come out with some kind of statement explaining that agile is applicable in some way to almost everything and everyone. Quite a lofty statement, and obviously somewhat hyperbolic, yet my personal adoption of some agile ideas is a testament to a sliver of truth.
So here are just a couple of examples of how agile practices have seeped through the cracks.

I like to picture myself as quite a broad thinker, capable of pondering and producing on multiple platforms simultaneously, unhindered by the shackles of linear constraints. Okay, so, that may look somewhat unsystematic to the outside viewer. And, okay, that may occasionally result in many simultaneously started, yet unfinished (albeit very creative and useful) projects. As I’ve learned more about agile, however, I’ve become more convinced, although reluctantly, about the value of shorter loops. Just as risky as it may be in a professional setting to invest money and energy in a long arc with feedback and product only at its end, shorter loops have proven their value for me, as well. I churn less often, (although sometimes churn on purpose just to be rebellious, now that I actually understand it for what it is), actively seek frequent feedback from those involved or implicated by my task rather than wait until the end to ‘test’, and force myself to be more systematic at finishing one task before beginning another, fueled by the motivating sense of reward that can provide.
My evolving relationship with kanban has been no less reluctant, and yet equally as relentless in slowly changing my practices. Steve introduced kanban into our household quietly, first making his own boards for house and renovation projects, then producing boards on the kitchen cupboards for when he was in charge of doing chores with the kids. I didn’t object as long as I wasn’t required to participate. “Let’s just do it already, instead of sitting around writing stuff out first!” was my usual response when invited to join the process. Steve’s gentle suggestion that he wasn’t born with the ability to help accomplish our common goals by subconsciously divining the detailed task list in my head wasn’t enough to convince me of kanban’s value. Once again, however, like the persistent drip of water on rock, my resistance has been futile. It began with observing the relative lack of nagging involved when he did chores with the kids. What a wonder to behold when they would eagerly race back to the board to move their sticky from “WIP” to “done.” Or to overhear them debating their preferences in referring to the middle column as “Work in Progress” vs “Doing.” Or to watch their ownership of the whole task process increase as they were given the opportunity to participate in the creation of the list and then freed to choose their own route through to getting all the stickies transferred over to “done.” And now, after a long, slippery slope, most of our Saturday mornings begin with the creation of a family kanban board on the mirror in the front hallway. We are careful to also include the fun and relaxing activities in the “ready” column, and we all share in the sense of satisfaction when, come Monday morning, the board is balanced quite differently toward “done.” kanban’s conquest to take over our house is almost complete, since I recently found a spare bulletin board that seems to be calling to me to be made into a personal kanban board. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Finally, Steve’s passion for all things agile has found its way to the very core of our most significant common project, by influencing the ways in which we parent our three girls. I often find myself thinking, “But isn’t this just common sense? Perhaps we are making these decisions because we’re so incredibly intuitive and such remarkable parents…” and yet I know that our thinking has been shaped by what we have learned about an agile approach to treating people in the workplace and applying these ideas to the little people we live with. A couple of deliberate parenting strategies have emerged. We deliberately try to assume our kids’ competence rather than treat them as inherently incompetent and in need of our micro-managing. We try to make expectations clear up front, but then encourage them to find their own route toward completion within the established boundaries. We’ve learned that feedback is most easily heard and adopted when offered immediately and within a conversation in which the kids are participants. And perhaps most significantly, we are trying to do whatever we can to help them develop what Linda Rising calls an “Agile mindset” rather than a “Fixed mindset.” I almost thought I heard angels singing when my daughter recently told me that she wished her friend would realize that “Life isn’t supposed to be easy! Challenges don’t mean you’re supposed to sit down and complain, just work harder and figure out how to get past them.”
All right, then, if agile ideas can eventually help my kid say something like that, even once, then I guess podcasts have changed my life too.