Organization

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

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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

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

Control Room 2.0

I have previously written about the “Control room” we are using. That blog post became quite popular, so I thought I should do an update showing what we have in the room today (all in the name of kaizen – I hope you don’t forget to do your continuous improvements?).

””Favorite

Team Kanban boards

The yellow circles shows some of the Kanban boards for our teams (not all are visible in the picture). They are pretty standard, except for one that is mirrored! You can read the story about why right here.

Shooting Target

Next up is our “shooting target” shown in the red circle. Here you can read more about that. Currently we use the “shooting target” to focus the work at the end of a product release. We put the release date in the middle “to aim for”, and then everybody sees what has to be done.

TV

In the middle of the room and in the blue circle we have our TV. This 4K TV shows status from our automated tests and bug tracking system. Here we can always see the current situation. Basically green means ”good” and normal, and everything else is deviances that we need to act upon. A desktop is connected to the TV to be able to show demos and support other discussions.

Circle of Life

In the grey circle our products lifecycle visualization is shown. Read more about it here. The “Circle of Life” started out very challenged (what is this really needed for?) but then the understanding of it, and thereby importance, has grown!

The work you do on your products differs a lot depending on which phases they are in. Now this is visualized. There might even be more changes to come, watch out for upcoming blog posts on that!

The Volcano

The Volcano shown in the green circle is our oldest visualization (apart from the team Kanban boards). It is the successor of The Arrow.  

Initially we had one swim lane per product within the volcano. That didn’t quite work out since a story (represented by a sticky) could in our case span several products. Now we have two swim lanes showing origin/ownership. Features are driven by product management, and foundation/platform are driven by the system architects group.

Summary

In total we have eight whiteboards in the room (not all of them are shown in the picture). Also present in the room is a sofa (for coziness), chairs and and a small table. Meetings in the ”control room” tends to be more informal than in a ordinary meeting room.

If I compare the “control room” now with the previous blog post (posted in May 2015), all visualizations have changed (apart from the Kanban boards)! That feels very comforting to know that we are able to add new stuff as we learn more, but also to fine-tune the existing things. What does your ”control room” look like?

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Circle of Life – Products life cycle visualization

Recently I re-watched ”The Loin King” with my kids. It’s a truly remarkable film! Do you remember the theme song? It’s called ”Circle of Life”, written and performed by Sir Elton John. The song, and the scene where it’s played, really effected my and I have had it in the back of my head for quite some time now.

Last week I visited ”Agila Sverige 2016” (”Agile Sweden 2016”), that is an agile conference that I have attended and written about before. I promise to write more about this years conference, but first I really need to tell you about an interesting open space called ”Visualizations for the organization” hosted by Jimmy Janlén (@JimmyJanlen) that I attended. One participant tried to remember a visualization for products she had seen at a company she visited, but she didn’t quite remember. It was some kind of spiral.

The idea to visualize the whole life cycle for software products, together with the song kept ringing in my head when I went home from the conference dinner. Just before I got into bead it hit me, it should be a ”circle of life” for products!

”Circle

Circle of Life

Phases

We have a number of products in the example above. Some products are ”young” and in the early phase of their life cycle, while others are ”old” and phasing the end of their life. We have up until now, not visualized this in any way. We have seen the products equal, but the way you work with them is really different depending on which phase in the life cycle they are.

To make it simple, I have divided the circle of life into three different phases:

  1. Build-up – Your product is brand new and you have started to build it up. You add feature by feature to make it compelling to your customers out there.
  2. Serving – Your product is so ready that you can start to make money on it. You continue to add functionality to attract more customers to make even more money. You want your product to be in this phase as long as possible!
  3. Retirement / termination – For some reason it’s time to retire your product. You take it off the market, minimize the maintenance, and migrate over customers to other (new) product(s).

Maybe you want to have more phases in your circle, that is totally fine!

Movement

How does the products move in the circle of life? You have to set up some rules for moving between phases. For example:

  • 1st Customer – When the product have the first customer, it moves into the ”serving”-phase.
  • End of Sales – When you stop selling the product, it moves into the ”retirement”-phase.

Usage and colors

Try to use the same color on the post-its to group ”product families” together. Put up intended releases, with version number and intended release date, on smaller orange post-its on your products (I cut them to that size with a scissors).

First example

”Circle

Here is our first attempt on the circle of life. Maybe we’ll improve it along the way.

Other visualizations

Ok, so you like the idea to show the life cycle for your products, but not the visualization with a circle? Here are some more ideas for you!

”Circle

I think this could be the visualization that the attender tried to remember on the open space.

”Circle

Maybe you like waves better, and want to speak like ”this is the first wave of product A”; ”this is the second wave of product B” and so on.

Summary

Maybe you now have gotten some ideas on how to visualize the whole life cycle for products. As usual, if you have any feedback just let me know!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Reinventing Organizations

I’ve heard a lot of buzz about the book ”Reinventing Organizations” in the Lean & Agile community. Now I have read it for myself. It is written by Frederic Laloux, has 278 pages and was released in 2014. The book describes the emergence of a new organizational model, that is more suitable for companies in the rapid changing world we all live in today. They are called Teal Organizations.

”Reinventing

Content

The book is divided into three parts and they are:

  • Part 1 – Historical and Developmental Perspective
  • Part 2 – The Structures, Practices, and Cultures of Teal Organizations
  • Part 3 – The Emergence of Teal Organizations.

The first chapter starts with describing how different organization models have evolved from past to present, representing them by colors:

  • RED organizations – ”Constant exercise of power by chief to keep troops inline”. Guiding metaphor: Wolf pack. Current examples: Mafia.
  • AMBER organizations – ”Highly formal roles within a hierarchical pyramid”. Guiding metaphor: Army. Current examples: Military.
  • ORANGE organizations – ”Goal is to beat competition; achieve profit and growth”. Guiding metaphor: Machine Current examples: Multinational companies.
  • GREEN organizations – ”Focus on culture and empowerment to achieve extraordinary employee motivation”. Guiding metaphor: Family. Current examples: Culture driven organizations.

An organization cannot evolve beyond its leadership’s stage of development, meaning for example that GREEN is not possible with a ”military management”.

What is the metaphor of Teal organizations? Founders of teal organizations talk about living organism or living system. Three major breakthroughs is needed to become Teal:

  • Self-management – A system based on peer relationship, without the need of hierarchy or consensus.
  • Wholeness – An inner wholeness to bring all of who we are to work (beyond the ”professional surface”)
  • Evolutionary purpose – Organizations having a sense and direction of their own.

How is self-management expressed? At AES (a global company in the energy sector) they are using voluntary task forces instead of fixed staff functions. It has multiple benefits, employees can express talents and gifts that are not shown in their primary role. This also develops a true sense of ownership and responsibility.

How do you make decisions without formal managers? In general, we think it can be done in two possible ways: By hierarchical authority (”someone call the shots”) or by consensus (”everyone gets a say”). At AES (and other Teal companies) an ”advice process” is used:

”It’s very simple: in principle, any person in the organization can make any decision. But before doing so, that person must seek advice from all affected parties and people with expertise on the matter”.

How about internal communication? Everybody expects to have access to all information at the same time (including salaries). Meetings? A Teal organization have far less meetings than other organization types, thanks to the empowerment of individuals (doing things without asking for permission first). Offices? Winston Churchill once said ”We shape our buildings, and thereafter they shape us”. This is true to office and factory spaces, they subtly shape our thinking and behavior. How about profit? ”Profit is like the air we breathe. We need air to live, but we don’t live to breathe”. Meaning that another (higher) purpose than just profit is needed.

If you want to start to become a Teal organization you can look at ”Holocracy”. It was created by Bryan Robertson at Ternary Software. He has now moved on to HolocracyOne, a consulting and training firm to spread Holocracy in organizations. Holocracy can be described as an ”operating system for an organization”. What is needed? The CEO and members of the board need to get and support the ideas of the Teal organization. Otherwise there is no idea in trying, unfortunately.

Recommendation

I can now totally understand the buzz about ”Reinventing Organizations”. It does a great job in describing the Teal organization that I fully support and also thinks is the future. Maybe the book is a bit too long, the last 1/3 feels like much of repetition of the ”message” already stated earlier. Anyhow, a solid must read!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist