Management

Self-Organization & The Planning Board

Last summer I wrote about how I used some agile principles and practices to handle three problems we faced when living four families together in a small summer house. You can find that blog post here. When my vacation started, I spent some time thinking on improvements for this year’s stay (bringing together in total 19 persons). When everybody arrived I had prepared some new ”tools” for self-organization, with the Planning Board as the major new idea!

”The

These are the ”tools” we used

The Planning Board

The planning last year was compelled of a to-do list, and a schedule for the daily meals put up on the most central place in the house (i.e., the fridge :)). This set up worked well enough, but I wanted to improve it this year, and ended up with the Planning Board as shown in the picture above. It’s a matrix for each day in the week (that consisted of our stay in the summer house) with time slots (before lunch, lunch, afternoon, dinner and evening). To fit on the fridge the largest pager I could use was in A3 format, so I had to do my own stickies to be able to fit it all (cutting pieces of paper and using tape). As you may recall, ruler, scissors and tape are amongst my favorite agile tools! 🙂

”The

Above is a picture of the completed planning board, before any stickies were added. As you can see, I took the opportunity to make it colorful. Some additional information was also added to the board.

Below you can see the planning board, before the week started placed on the fridge (as said, the most central place in the house, where everybody passes several times a day).

”The

Initiatives

A sticky on the planning board represented an initiative. Maybe we could have used the word activity as well, but initiative felt better and more generic to fit our purpose. Each initiative had a driver (marked with ”D: <Name/s>”) on the sticky. The driver was the main responsible person for the initiative. Some initiatives regarded all persons, so they were marked with ”D: All”.

Some of the initiatives were given from previous years (like some shorter trips we like to do), so I added them before the week started to the planning board.

So could anyone just add an initiative? The answer here is both yes and no! Yes, because there were no rules for who could add a new initiative and no because some ”secret rules of self-organization” applied. I will explain them now. First, the driver needed sponsor(s) for the initiative. I.e. person/s that agreed and would ”join in”. Since most of the initiatives didn’t involve any major costs, finding sponsor(s) for the driver was pretty easy (”Shall we do this? Yes, that sounds like an good idea, let us add that to the planning board.”). A few initiatives involved cost, and they had to be funded, i.e. agreed upon with the owner of the summer house.

”The flyer”

To communicate about the initiative the driver in some cases used a flyer. Those didn’t fit on the fridge so we used a door for that. On the flyer the following information was stated:

  • Name of the initiative
  • Short description of the initiative
  • Name of the driver(s)
  • A motto
  • If participation was mandatory or not (the children put up a show every year, and attendance to that is always mandatory 🙂 )
  • Preferred time for the initiative (maybe if it was best suited as an evening activity)
  • An inspiring picture
  • Additional information.

The door

”The

Here you can see the door in the beginning of the week with five flyers added. The door also contained some feedback boards, that gave the opportunity for anyone that wanted, to give feedback (whether it was positive, negative or suggestions for improvements).

The planning meeting

After the dinner when all the participants had arrived, we held a planning meeting. At the meeting, this years new ”tools” were explained and we also did the first version of the planning (i.e., putting up all the stickies) on the planning board. Later some stickies changed back and forth during the week, mainly because some of them were weather sensitive. So the planning was like a guideline that we could follow, not rigid, and given the possibility to be flexible. This worked out really well during the week!

Self-Organization

With the ”tools” describe above the ecosystem was set enough to allow for self-organization! No-one was forced to do an initiative. Naturally the driver started and others would ”dig in”. This worked out really well during the week!

Hey, so you mean no problems at all occurred? Well yes, of course some problems occurred and needed to be sorted out. Mainly those discussions were handled by the four siblings (representing the four families). They came to an agreement in consensus, and in all cases I am aware of, everyone else aligned to that decision. Metaphorically, you can see this as the driver seeking sponsors to fund the initiative.

What happened?

Initiatives (a lot of them)

A lot of initiatives, with high commitment and value! It felt like more activity than previous year. New initiatives emerged during the week (I’m super happy with this, that showed that the ecosystem for self-organization really worked). Here is an example: One of the first evenings, an adult conducted a music quiz, following evenings many of the children held there own quizzes (with their music, almost impossible for the adults to guess :)).  Another example is building of a new porch for one of the smaller houses. This was an initiative that kept going ”in the background” during several days of the week (first to tear down the old porch, get rid of that, and then building the new).

Committed drivers (most of them)

In most cases, pin pointing a driver was really beneficial for the initiative, and the outcome was much better than leaving this with ”handled by whom it concern”. For one initiative I had higher hopes on the driver. In reflection maybe I should have taken a step back to get more involvement (I produced the flyer for this initiative, while not being the driver).

Alignment

Very little arguments or problems occurred during the week (less than previous year). All the people were aligned in terms of them knowing what was going on (a child knowing what day the Aqualand visit is planned, to an adult knowing who is responsible for making the dinner). The whole week was pretty much smooth sailing all the way!

Agile things we used

Open Space

If you are unfamiliar with Open Space, you can read more about it here. Basically I thought of the week like a long open space where initiatives (instead of topics) where put into time-slots.

Visualizations

The Planning board and the feedback boards are examples of visualizations.

Feedback door

Jurgen Appelo have come up with the idea of a feedback door. That inspired me to our door, as seen in the picture below (depicted after the week had ended).

”The

Planning meeting

Like the sprint planning meeting (in Scrum), we had a planning meeting with all participants to get understanding and alignment.

Self-Organization

I got some new inspiration regarding self-organization from reading the book ”Team of Teams”, which is may latest book review that you can find here.

Summary

Reading the feedback that was given about the week, it seems like a success (the only thing people complained about, was the weather – which wasn’t as good as it can be). I’m happy that everything I’ve set up worked out well, and that we improved from last year (kaizen – continuous improvements, remember?). It was also great to see the high commitment in the initiatives! Hopefully you now have some ”tools” to use when you want to bring structure to many people living together in a limited area during their vacation, or if you can use them in your daily work!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Team of Teams

Time has come for another book review. The Summer is, for me at least, time for reading and reflection. I’ve seen the book ”Team of Teams” been recommended within the agile community, and therefore it caught my interest. I really liked ”Turn the Ship Around” by L. David Marquet, retired from U.S. Navy. This book is written by General Stanley McChrystal, retired from U.S. Army. The subtitle is ”New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World”. It holds some 250 pages, and was released in November 2015.

”Team

Content

The book consist of 12 chapters divided into five parts. The chapters are:

  1. Sons of Proteus
  2. Clockwork
  3. From Complicated to Complex
  4. Doing the Right Thing
  5. From Command to Team
  6. Team of Teams
  7. Seeing the System
  8. Brains Out of the Footlocker
  9. Beating the Prisoner’s Dilemma
  10. Hands Off
  11. Leading Like a Gardener
  12. Symmetries

So what is this book about? I find this quote in the foreword: ”Management models based on planning and predicting instead of resilient adaptation to changing circumstances are no longer suited to today’s challenges”. The main story told in the book is the one about General McChrystal’s experiences from leading the Task Force in Iraq in their war against Al Qaeda. How they were badly beaten and had to change the whole organization from silos to to a network, to be able to succeed. The primary lesson that emerged, was the need to scale to adaptability and cohesiveness of small teams up to the enterprise level. General McChrystal calls this ”Eyes On – Hands Off” leadership. Meaning supervising of processes ensuring that silos or bureaucracy that dooms agility were avoided, rather than focus on making individual operational decisions.

Some new vocabulary, for me at least, from the military is used throughout the book. One example is ”limfac”, that stands for limiting factor (the one element in a situation that holds you back). I will start to use that!

For a very long time the focus of management have been on efficiency. Getting the most of a desired output (y), with the least available input (x). Now the focus needs to be on adaptability.

”Efficiency is doing the things right; effectiveness is doing the right thing.” – Peter Drucker

Sadly, in many cases still, the opposite holds true. Greatly summarized in the sentence: ”Great landing, wrong airport!”, that I’ve seen heavily shared within the agile community.

How we set up physical space really matters, and is reflected in how people work and behave. ”If you lock yourself in your office, I don’t think you can be a good executive” is a quote by Michael Bloomberg found in this book.

I chapter 9, The Prisoner’s Dilemma is introduced. From a management perspective it has interesting implications. It suggests that there are circumstances in which cooperation is better than competition. This seems obvious, but many managers assume that the healthy competitiveness between companies (that is the lifeblood of the free market), also shall be used within companies. People and departments within a company needs to see the whole to be able to cooperate fully, without having their own ”hidden agendas” (that can be the case in many companies today). The infamous problems with the car models Chevy Cobalt and Pontiac G5 (where GM had to recall 800,000 vehicles in 2014) is summarized with the following sentence: ”It was a perfect and tragic case study of the consequences of information silos and internal mistrust”.

Instead the following quote from Alan Mullally, CEO of Ford, leading their successful return in the market during recent years, shall be a guideline:

”Working together aways works. It always works. Everybody has to be on the team. They have to be interdependent with one another.”

Sandy Pentland, a MIT professor, states the two major determinants of idea flow; ”engagement” within a small group like a team or department, and ”exploration” – frequent contact with other units. In other words: a team of teams.

Finally, how should a leader lead? General McChrystal belief is (and I totally agree) ”leading like a gardener”, meaning:

  • Shaping the ecosystem (instead of ”moving pieces on the board”).
  • Delegate decisions to subordinates.
  • Creating and maintaining the teamwork conditions (”tending the garden”), a delicate balance of information and empowerment.
  • Drive the operating rhythm, with transparency and cross-functional cooperation.
  • Shape the culture.
  • Focus on clearly articulated priorities by explicitly and repeatedly talking about them.
  • Leading by example (it is impossible to separate words and actions, so they have to ”be the same”).

Recommendation

”The leader’s first responsibility is to the whole.” – General McChrystal

In summary the ”Team of Teams”-book tells very many stories, from the Army and the industry. Some of them appeals to me, other don’t. Overall the message told in this book really resonates with my own believes regarding teams, and how they should interact in a larger context! If you are interested in teamwork, and the war against Al Qaeda, you should buy this book.

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Doing It

I first learned about Ralph van Roosmalen and his work when I participated in a video chat about ”Exploration Days”, hosted by Jurgen Appelo. Ralph is passionate about Management 3.0, and now he has written a book about his learnings called ”Doing It – Management 3.0 Experiences”. The book has 157 pages, with foreword by Jurgen Appelo, and was released in 2017.

”Doing

Content

The book consists of 13 chapters, and I thought that I should give you a short description to each and one of them.

1. Management 3.0? Huh, what?

Ralph starts out with setting the arena and tells what Management 3.0 is. In short: ”Management 3.0 is about engaging people, improving everything, and delighting the customers.” This short and to the point introduction also have references for more information.

2. What is the role of a Manager?

Management 3.0 highlights six areas for you as a manager to focus on:

  1. Energizing people
  2. Empowering teams
  3. Aligning constraints
  4. Developing competence
  5. Growing structure
  6. Improving everything

3. Move your Motivators

This chapter introduces The Moving Motivators game. This is connected to the first management area: energizing people. It has ten motivators (the CHAMPFROGS model):

  1. Curiosity
  2. Honor
  3. Acceptance
  4. Mastery
  5. Power
  6. Freedom
  7. Relatedness
  8. Order
  9. Goal
  10. Status

4. Surprise your team during their next review?

When it’s time for the review meeting, the first question you ask your team member is, “How are you doing?” They respond, “Er … good…” Then you say, “Okay, why good?” “Just good, you know … good.” Does this sound familiar?

Do you recognise yourself in the quote above? Then this chapter can help you make the review meeting fun again.

5. Traditional HR combined with Management 3.0

Here you will learn more about Delegation Boards. ”In short, just think of them as a spreadsheet that vertically lists the decision areas that you want to delegate to others, while the horizontal axis sets the amount of independence a team lead has.”

6. Implementing Cudo Cards

Next up is an introduction to Cudo Cards, a peer-to-peer rewarding system.

7. Visualise values and name your team

To get a team together you need to find the team values and then visualise them. Here you find concrete tips on how to do that.

8. Team 1 and Team 2, boring

Let the team themselves decide on their team name. Even better let them find a symbol that they can associate with the team! For example Yoda from Star Wars to symbolise mastery.

9. Getting your guilds going

Don’t feel guilty if you haven’t tried it out yet, but guilds are the thing! 🙂 Guilds to nurse craftsmanship is a common practice within Agile.

10. Things I learned about Exploration Days

You want learning and innovation to take place within your company, right? In this chapter the concept of Exploration Days are described.

11. Giving feedback without fear

Are you upset with a colleague? Don’t give them a slap, instead prepare for them a delicate feedback wrap! 🙂

12. I don’t want to implement the Spotify model!

Don’t imitate, innovate! This chapter tells you not to just copy a successful model without tailoring it to your context and unique needs.

13. To finish up

Time to wrap up! 🙂 Some last words from Ralph on where to go next.

Recommendation

If you are new to Management 3.0, ”Doing It” is the perfect starting point! Read the well-written introduction texts, and then use the references to go further. Do you want to try Management 3.0 out? Perfect, use this book to guide you. I can truly recommend ”Doing It – Management 3.0 Experiences”! Best of all? You can download the book right here. Happy reading, and see you next time!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Concentration cone

In this blog post I will introduce you to the concentration cone. It’s something that I’ve had as a mental model during the most part of my career. The text uses a project, the project manager role and a team to explain the concentration cone, but this is applicable in many other contexts as well.

Introduction

If you are a project manager and responsible for a project, you need to handle many tasks in parallel. At the same time, you need to be able to juggle around more than one ball in the air if you like. Can’t you handle more than one task at the time? Well, there are other roles that may suit your personality better.

I like the juggling metaphor. At a company conference I attended, all employees got three juggling balls and an hour of practice. Most people were able to get all the balls in the air and catch (some) of them. With a little more practice anyone can learn to juggle three balls. To juggle for a while is also a good way to take a break, it requires total focus and ”clears your brain”.

In juggling, you can’t hold on to a single ball for too long, you need to toss it up in the air to be able to catch the ball that is falling down. There is a ”rhythm” or ”flow” you need to be able to master, the same thing you need to be a good project manager. I believe this to be very important! Below you see my mental model to explain it more deeply.

Concentration cone

”Concentration

At the top of the concentration cone you are handling many tasks at the same time (colourful circles in the picture above). You need to have a constant flow of things happening, you can’t spend too much time diving into details for each task. You need to have the correct amount of information about the task, so you can make a proper decision and act. Wether it be doing the task yourself or pass it along to another person. Picture yourself swimming at the top of the concentration cone, dip your head into the water for each task to find out what to do about them, but then get your head up above the water surface again to catch the newt task. As a project manager, its at the surface you need to be, and let others ”dive deep”.

On the bottom of the concentration cone, you are in deep concentration and are working focused on only one thing (black circle in the picture above). Here you need to be, to be able to solve complex problems and do deep thinking. When you are here you shouldn’t be disturbed, then you will be forced up to the surface. Maybe if possible, its best if you can focus totally. But since you need to be available to your team to be ”in control” you can’t be deep down in the concentration cone too long. Your team members needs to be deep down in the concentration cone a lot, if your project shall be successful!

It’s very hard to find balance if you are trying to go ”up and down” in the concentration cone. My recommendation is obvious, stay at the surface to be a good project manager. I once experienced a fellow project manager that struggled to get the grip of a project. To get things going, he dove down into the details of every single task trying to do them himself. By doing this, the overall ”helicopter view” of the project was lost, and the customer was deeply unhappy about ”nothing happening”. It can surely itch in your fingers to dig into the details yourself (for example being an old programmer like me, that wants to ”hack code” again), but don’t do it. When you are deep down in the concentration cone, you can get stuck, and it’s a long way back to the surface. Your project will not benefit from you losing the overall control.

Summary

Did you like the mental model of the concentration cone? If you are more into soccer, you can say that a project manager should be like a midfielder and not like a goal keeper. The midfielder has to be involved in the game all the time, whether it being offence or defence. The goal keeper on the other hand, just have to focus on one thing only, stop the opponents from making goals. Until next time, enjoy!

All the best,
Tomas from TheAgileist

Planning with multiple timelines

You should all know by now that I’m very fond of visualisations, to say the least. 🙂 Recently I’ve told you about how we did a ”retrospective with timeline”. That thought stayed in my mind when we needed to do some more detailed planning for multiple projects spanning multiple products. This blog post describes what we came up with. Here we go!

”Planning

The idea is simple, the timelines highest up on the whiteboard are projects (or larger initiatives, whatever you like to call them). The other bottom half (or whatever suits your needs) are products or components within a product (depending on the level of details you want to plan for). Usage:

  1. The project timelines shows major activities and milestones. I.e. ”hard facts” that we need to consider. For example a promised customer delivery.
  2. The product (or component) timelines shall show activities (work that needs to be done) and is used to find, and sort out, dependencies (”To deliver project X on time, we need to do activity 1 in product A, before we can do activity 2 in product B” and so on).
  3. Color coding. The activities needed in products (components) have the same color as the project that need them to create traceability.

Preparations

Before the actual planning meeting, you need to find a suitable whiteboard. The larger, the better. Preferably the largest one in the office! But think carefully, you may want to spend some time doing your plan, and therefore keep it up on the whiteboard for some time after the meeting to be able to make adjustments. At least I did, so I found one in a meeting room that is seldom used and started drawing.

Planning with multiple timelines

This is how the “planning with multiple timelines”-meeting was performed.

  1. Some 15-30 minutes before the meeting started, I went to the meeting room and draw the timelines for the projects that we needed to plan (with major activities and milestones). In our case two projects (larger initiatives) and two other activities that were more like dependent on the outcome of the planning. This acts as the starting point for the planning, i.e. things that we intend to deliver.
  2. The meeting started with me explaining the procedure (described above). Then the actual planning started. An example: ”We have promised to do this in that project, for that to work we need to add this in product A and that in B. Wait isn’t this needed in product C as well? Hmm, it is, maybe we should do that first then.” and so on. In this step you can spend as much time as you like, depending on the level of details you want to discuss, and the complexity in what needs to be done. The more dependencies you have the longer time to solve them out. Actually we had one first meeting to get an overview of everything, saving the details for later sessions.
  3. After the planning meeting I always take a picture of the whiteboard using my mobile phone for documentation and the possibility to communicate the plan outside of the room.
  4. As mentioned in a previous point you may want to revise your plan. Preferably you may want do it regularly as long as the projects are running, or you do it in the beginning in a couple of sessions to ”set out the course”.

Example

This is an example of a whiteboard with multiple timelines for planning.

”Planning

Summary

Ok, that was some thoughts and examples on how you can use multiple timelines for planning. If you don’t have several projects (or initiatives) running simultaneously, or you don’t have a complex flora of products you don’t need this. One possible enhancement I can think of is to use a digital whiteboard tool, to be able to keep the plan stored and also to distribute it easier. But for our needs a good old whiteboard suited us just fine. Don’t make things more complex than what they have to be, remember that!

If you don’t like this at all, it feels to much like “MS Project all over again” (however I don’t agree, the key is in the interaction between people to find out dependencies in front of the whiteboard) you can use my other idea for ”visual planning”.

All the best,
Tomas from TheAgileist

Switch

In an old episode of Seinfeld it’s discussed and concluded that ”the switch” can’t be made (in this case meaning to switch a girlfriend for her roommate). The book ”Switch” tells another story, about making changes that last. This book is written by two brothers named Chip and Dan Heath. The subtitle is ”How to Change Things When Change Is Hard” and was released 2010.

”Switch

”What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem” – Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Content

The book consists of 11 chapters, divided into three sections, and they are:

1. The Surprises About Change

DIRECT THE RIDER
2. Find the Bright Spots
3. Script the Critical Moves
4. Point to the Destination

MOTIVATE THE ELEPHANT
5. Find the Feeling
6. Shrink the Change
7. Grow Your People

SHAPE THE PATH
8. Tweak the Environment
9. Build Habits
10. Rally the Herd

11. Keep the Switch Going

The first chapter is describing change, and mentions that to change someone’s behaviour, you’ve got to change that person’s situation. Wisdom from psychology says that the brain has two independent systems at work all the time. First, it’s the emotional side (instinctive, makes you feel pain or pleasure). Second, it’s the rational side, also known as the reflective or conscious system. If you want to change things you have to appeal to both sides! To use the vocabulary of this book: You have to speak both to the Rider and the Elephant. One other advice about change is that you have to provide crystal-clear direction.

The ”magic formula for change” boils down to the following:

  • Direct the Rider – What can look like resistance is often lack of clarity (give crystal-clear direction).
  • Motivate the Elephant – What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. You have to engage the emotional side.
  • Shape the path – The situation (including the surrounding environment) is called ”the path”.

How to find the bright-spots? Use the following question: ”What’s working and how can we do more of it”. One other tip is to use destination postcards, they do double duty: The show the Rider where you are heading, and they show the Elephant why the journey is worthwhile. They can be incredibly inspiring!

When it comes to shaping the path two strategies are described:

  1. Tweaking the environment
  2. Building habits.

Recommendation

I can recommend this book, it presents a simple formula for making change. The challenge is of course to tailor and implement it for your specific needs. I have not tried out this yet.

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Famban

What is Famban? That is my own abbreviation of Family + Kanban! In other words, our attempt to visualise and keep track of all activities within our family. Can’t an ordinary kanban board solve that need? Of course, but we have made some additions that we find useful. It’s also quite fun to come up with a new name for something, I admit  🙂 .

”Famban

Famban in Favro

Setup

We use a collection in Favro with three boards:

  • Ongoing week (with one column for each day in the week – Monday to Sunday)
  • Next week (same setup as above)
  • Further ahead (with two columns; Coming – To keep track of things that are 2-4 weeks ahead & Later – to store stuff even further away).

Why have a bi-weekly schedule? It seems to fit our needs best. You could have a one week rolling schedule or four weeks instead, depending on your needs.  

We use color coding (called Tags in Favro) to visualise different types:

  • Recurring activities (Green) – Used for all recurring family activities, for example ice hockey school on Sundays for my son.
  • Activities (Blue) – To cover all “one off”-activities.
  • Travel (Red, not shown in picture above) – To keep track of an “activity” that spans more than one day.
  • Food (Purple, not shown in picture above) – We had an idea to keep recipes in here to also plan our dinners. To have 10-15 of our favourites to be able to spread them out during the two weeks and have some variation. We had not really succeeded in this though.

Operations

The operations of Famban is easy! Since Favro has a very good web interface for computers, together with apps for iOS and Android we can reach it everywhere all the time. This is the number one benefit of having a digital board like this!

It’s mainly me that maintains the Famban board. Every time an activity comes up, it’s added to one of the boards (ongoing week, next or further ahead).

Once a week, usually on Sunday, the next week is discussed and planned in more detail. Basically I then make “next week” the “current week” by switching places on the two boards (a simple drag and drop operation in Favro). I also change the week numbering (week 47, week 48 etc.). A trick here is to have double of all recurring activities, so you don’t need to copy them between the weeks.

Famban on fridge

”Famban

Our first attempt of Famban, was to put it up on the fridge. That is the most “central spot” in our home, here it’s seen multiple times per day by all family members. I made a physical version of the Famban board using several papers that I taped together. One problem was that it couldn’t be wider than the door of the fridge, and at the same time have the needed seven columns (one for each day in the week) and to be able to fit standard size stickies.  Therefore the “To-do” and “Done” sections were placed “below” the board.

This incarnation of Famban worked well at home, and we had daily morning meetings in front of it. The problem came when not at home, not being able to see it. Often the question came up during the day while at work, my wife called me and asked “Do we have something on Tuesday evening, or can I make arrangements with my friend X?”. That question was not possible to answer, it had to be handled later when at home again, that was inflexible so after a while this Famban board was not used.

Improvements

Here are some improvements that I have thought of, but not yet implemented:

  • When the kids get older and probably get even more recurring activities an improvement would be to add swim-lanes, one for each family member. That is supported in Favro.
  • To get the food planning up and running, adding nice pictures to the recipes would probably help!
  • We have lost the visibility by having the Famban put up on the fridge. That could be fixed by mounting a tablet device on the fridge, showing the Famban board 🙂

Summary

Famban is visualisation and family planning combined! I hope you liked this blog post, and that it inspires you to try something similar! As always, reach out to me if you have something to share!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist