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Organisation

Collaboration Here There and Everywhere

By | Agile, Communication, Lean, Organisation, People, remote | No Comments

There’s nothing I like better than using a physical wall to make a team’s work visible and communal, indeed one of our most popular blogs is about the physical working environment and it’s impact on team communication.  

Luna Tractor’s predilection to the realm of the physical world and our obsession with beautiful stationery often leads us into passionate debates on using physical walls versus digital tools for visualising work.

It may however interest readers to know that ‘back in the day‘, (a phrase I can now confidently associate with the dawn of Agile software development as it’s been over two decades!), as soon as digital tools were available to manage things like User Story cards, we (and by we I mean I) jumped onto them immediately. Most ‘agilistas’ around that time were fast adopters of new ‘Agile project management tools’, many of us were fighting objections that you couldn’t possibly manage a software project without some kind of digital tool. I can’t tell you how many MS Project plans I saw with a bunch of two week iterations wedged into them like a neat set of stairs. As well as being a bung tool for project management, we had found yet another task it seemed to fail at — Agile project management. 

Putting aside the tooling debate, an even hotter topic is that of co-location and Agile teams.

An increasingly common workplace trend is orgs extending flexible work conditions to their people. A lever of engagement and also a gesture of human decency, more companies are becoming ok with regular work-from-home, and also work-wherever-you-choose arrangements. Like all of you out there, we can see the world changing, and organisations becoming not only more customer-centric, but more human-centric and valuing the individuals working within ‘The System’. 

As proud Systems Thinkers we are joyed by this, but we are working for a number of clients that are too often panic stricken when they perceive that the collaboration that we advocate and teach, comes with undertones of ‘everyone back to the office’ and over eagerness to index towards the ‘co-located’ principle of the Agile Manifesto.

In fact, it is possible to interpret three principles of the manifesto; numbers 4, 5 and 6 as contradictory, and almost discriminatory in their nature. 

#4 “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.”

What if the team cannot be together daily, are they not an Agile team?

#5 “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”

Why couldn’t we trust the team to chose their own environment and be where they want to work that’s most productive for them instead of demanding co-location?

#6 “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.”

Will people who chose remote working be damned with a moniker of less efficient and effective in our Lean and Agile ways of working? Are Systems Thinkers opposed to remote team working? And can remote flexible workers never be successful at Lean and Agile ways of working?

Luna Tractor advocates high levels of collaborative and collective work, for solving complex problems. Why? 

We understand the challenge of conveying tacit knowledge and learning to a virtual world.

It’s a common belief that knowledge is something that can be represented in words, visualised in pictures and taught, however this isn’t always the case. Tacit knowledge is by it’s nature difficult to communicate. Tacit knowledge is deeply rooted in action, commitment, and involvement.

For example, I may study Turkish language by reading a book and practicing a lot, but living in Turkey for two months had me conversing with Turkish people — even though there was a lot of hand waving going on. I can study the attributes of great leaders but I won’t pass muster as a leader without the opportunity to experience leadership myself. I can cultivate my own view of what is aesthetically pleasing but I cannot easily transfer that ‘eye’ into another person. Languages, leadership, aesthetics all fall into categories of tacit knowledge, and along with the desire for innovation, emotional intelligence, body language, intuition and humour, we tend to stack these challenges up as more reasons to front up to the same office with your co-workers every day. 

Or… are we just being lazy about it?

Look around a little and you’ll find companies that are reaping the benefits of not only allowing remote and flexible working but openly promoting and embracing this workplace trend, these are companies that have also embraced the collaborative working practices of Lean and Agile.  How are they doing it and what are the factors that are making them successful? I’ve been fortunate enough to work at a couple of these companies.

In 2016 I worked at REA Group, the digital giant behind successful property website realestate.com.au. They have been presenting at conferences for years on the innovative ways they integrated distributed development into their Agile software development operation. Working with around 100 developers in Xi’an in China, their teams have virtual portals into their space via large screen ‘always-on’ video connections. They consciously invest in creating positive team culture by funding travel back and forth during the year and all manner of fun joint activities like virtual cake for birthdays and celebrations. To see these teams when they get together physically, it’s akin to witnessing a family reunion, the team members speak of each other as treasured friends. 

In my team at REA Group we had a developer who had to relocate to Sydney for family reasons. We didn’t want to lose her and asked her to trial remote working. Pleasingly she did and still does a year later, visiting Melbourne every month or so. Since then the same team has had a member working remotely from Russia, and one that has been working from all over the world as he tours with his fiancé — a member of Cirque du Soleil. I was really impressed with the whole team’s attitude to problem solving and making it work in order to retain their valued team members. I remember a time when they were all in the office together, practicing remote communication by working in different parts of the office holding their retrospective over video conferencing. 

I also spent some time working at Envato, they have a unique culture and are very publicly ‘not fussed’ about where people work, this gives Envato an amazing hiring edge. As well as a ‘Work from Anywhere’ in the world policy they enjoy employees dotted throughout regional areas of Australia. 

There’s nothing like immersing yourself in a problem to solve that problem; that means try, try and try again. Experimentation with tools, techniques and remote etiquette is rife at Envato.  When you enter their Melbourne hub for a meeting, you naturally assume someone will be attending remotely in a Google Hangout. The entire building is kitted out for frictionless communication over video conference, the most you might loose is a minute if someone has to drop out and rejoin a conversation.  Forcing yourself to partake in being remote provides empathy for other remote teammates and  makes you become very good at solving problems (even remote problems), remotely.

Another way Envato becomes super skilled at remote working is something so simple it’s sophisticated. Regular disciplined practice and behavioural role modelling. Leaders throughout the organisation ensure they are remote some of the time, it’s written into team working agreements. It’s clear to all that it is supported culturally and people are trusted, remote workers are not relegated to feeling like a poor underclass and Envato enjoys high retention and engagement as a result.  

I also attended a wonderful talk at LAST Conference in June 2017 ‘Synchronous communication is overrated’ where Thoughtworker Kelsey Van Haaster shared the issues and joys associated with working with her team of five globally distributed support team members, who between them service a workforce of 5,000 globally distributed users. Kelsey’s research and approach is thorough and results inspiring. Her experiences echo the importance of investing in culture building for teams. It was interesting to hear the team are friends on social media platforms outside of work, a solution for incidental office chatter, that increases the human bonds of connection.  

Perhaps we should be advocating to other technology giants about increasing the pace of technology change to support remote working?  I’m on record as being impatient to attend daily stand-ups as a hologram. Some of these companies would do better to place their efforts into solving those challenges of communication instead of calling everyone back to the office, as IBM has recently done.

There are a heap of technical tools available in the world now that can help you accelerate and improve remote collaboration — they exist and are being well and truly used all over the world, they are evolving and they will increase in number as more organisations experiment with remote working. Get in touch with us to understand more about how to utilise these tools and apply collaborative techniques to remote teams who want Agile and Lean ways of working. A big hint would be to start with company Culture and Working Agreements before you try and solve Stand-ups and User Story Cards.

Even if an organisation has the motivation and drive to invest in evolving technology solutions to support frictionless remote working for your teams, the more critical question is: Can organisations make the cultural leap to trust employees to work remotely? Fabiano Morais Delivery Coach, also from Envato, gave a terrific presentation ‘Global Nomads’ at Agile Australia 2017 and LAST conference, on how mobility is shaping the futures of people around the world, and how more organisations are pushing autonomy down to teams.  To quote Fabiano “It turns out when you trust people, they start to trust themselves”. 

Whether or not you have the technology investment or cultural foundation to support flexible and remote working, I can confidently assert that you definitely have the problem solving DNA inside your organisation to make it work, for what are human beings if not natural at solving problems of communication?

(This blog was written in two cafés, in the lobby of a large building, on the train, on my sofa at home and at a beach holiday house; everywhere except an office.)

Just like Bruce Lee

By | Agile, Food for thought, Organisation | No Comments

Just finished reading Dan Olsen’s book “The Lean Product Playbook”, after hearing him speak at the Leading the Product conference in Melbourne last week (his book is now firmly on our Luna Tractor MBA and available to borrow if you’re that way inclined). Other than being a damn fine guide on how to do “good product”, he made a good point early on in the book about learning a process and then customising it to make it your own.

Bruce Lee, philosopher and butt kicker

Bruce Lee, philosopher and butt kicker (from: goodwp.com)

He used the words of Bruce Lee to make his point:

“Obey the principles without being bound by them.” and “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”

Firstly, quoting Bruce Lee is super cool. But beyond that, who’d have thought that us 21st century worker-bees could gain wisdom from a man most of us only know as a butt-kicking, strong and silent, hero type?

Olsen likened the learning of the process he had created to be similar to karate drills that students learn and practice on their path to a black belt. Once learned, it’s possible to move things around, “mix, match, and modify” to create something more your own.

The idea of learning something and then building on and improving it to make it your own resonates for me when introducing methodologies like Agile or Lean into an organisation.

Read More

A nuclear submarine without orders

By | Communication, Organisation, People | No Comments
img_8959

A visit to Baum Cycles – Darren Baum, fellow bicycle fan David Marquet and JP.

We know innovation often happens in unlikely places and creativity thrives on constraints. Last year one of the great people we spent some time with was retired nuclear submarine captain David Marquet. I don’t want to spoil the whole story, for that you need to read the book. But … within the confines of a long metal tube full of people and a nuclear reactor which stays underwater for 3 months at a time he ended up learning a bunch of really important stuff about people, models of leadership and how we move on from command and control.

“Leadership has changed from command and control to engage and enrol” — Steve Denning

Convincing leaders that we need to move on from command and control is the first step. Sometimes that’s easy, sometimes it’s hard. The next part, the changing part is always hard. If our people and organisations are conditioned to work in a strict heirachy then it’s not as simple as just giving that structure up and ’empowering’ everyone to make their own decisions. Like any new skill we need to learn how to work in a new way a little bit at a time.

David describes this challenge for leaders as slowly giving up control as you build capability and context in your teams. One of the practical approaches they developed was a model of communication called the ladder of leadership. We don’t start by trying to take the other person we’re communicating with (boss or subordinate) the whole way, but just to step one run up the ladder.

the-ladder-of-leadership-capt-marquetI ask my boss – “Tell me what to do about the problem with marketing ?” – instead of telling me what to do my boss says “Tell me what you think about the problem with marketing ?” … And so-on up the ladder over time and interactions until I’ve built up the capability and context to make a good decision independently. Engaged and enrolled.

The Luna MBA 2014 Update

By | Agile, Development, Disruption, Education, Lean, Organisation | No Comments

Two topics remain consistently popular on our little LT site… Agile Workplaces and the Luna MBA.  Just as we encourage all our clients and friends to keep reading and learning so we do ourselves and so we present some new reccomended additions to the MBA… If you’ve finished the current list then consider this extra credit for your degree.

Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure – Tim Hardford

A remarkable, if slightly repetitive set of stories showing us the unpredictable path to true innovation. He starts with the story of Palchinsky at the turn of the 20th century who may have just invented Agile approaches analysing the Russian ecconomy even before the ship building yards of the first world war; Of course he was exiled to Siberia for his efforts. He also explores our aversion to variation and experimentation – the tendency for governments and corporate bosses to love large and grandiose projects instead. As Hardford points out the proliferation of iPhone and Android apps has hidden the uncomfortable truth which is innovation is harder, slower and costlier than ever before. All the easy problems have already been solved. I’ll leave you with a quote from the book to inspire you to buy and read it.

‘Return on investment is simply not a useful way of thinking about new ideas and new technologies. It is impossible to estimate a percentage return on blue-sky research, and it is delusional even to try. Most new technologies fail completely. Most original ideas turnout either to be not original after all, or original for the very good reason that they are useless. And when a original idea does work, the returns can be too high to be sensibly measured.’ Read More

Self-Selecting teams – tales from WW2 Lancaster bomber crews

By | Agile, Organisation, People | No Comments
ePredix Office, Minneapolis, MN in 2001

ePredix Office, Minneapolis, MN in 2001

Back in the day, when I worked in the USA in a fascinating startup (then called ePredix, who were rolled into Previsor and are now part of SHL), I was regularly set on my chuff by one of our amazing technical advisory board members for thinking that anything at all under our digital sun was NEW, or that any of our 21st century science of Industrial-Organisational Psychology (in simple terms, big data about people, for hiring and development) could be viewed as a sure thing.

Our tech advisory board had every right to proffer those kind of opinions to a young economist whippersnapper, as between them they had invented several of the things the science was founded on!

The tools we were building at ePredix were online selection tests, delivered in short form on the web. We had patented ways (don’t get me started on patents by the way…) of serving up a couple of dozen multi-choice questions and then stack-ranking the applicants in their suitability in the role. Bloody clever, big data, but a PhD required to do the maths.

Lancaster crew WW2

One of my most memorable moments was at dinner one night when one advisory board member quietly advised me “you know, it’s all baloney really, you might as well just let teams self-select – they’ll be just as successful”. He went on to tell me of the Lancaster bomber crews of the RAF in the early 1940s, where after short training periods, Bomber Command were stuck with terrible problem of selecting the crews.

Their creative solution? Jam them all (several different flying disciplines, from multiple countries around the world) in a hangar or mess hall, and tell them they had 10 minutes to join a crew.

The result was some of the bravest, effective, well put-together teams in the history of the war. That said, the odds were against them surviving as a team – at the final tally, half the 125,000 young men had been killed or wounded in action, and nearly 10,000 became POWs. The crews had a fair idea of what they were in for – in some cases, 25% of intakes were killed in training.

With a lot of discussion at present about team self-selection in the agile world, it occurred to me the Lancaster bomber story was worth looking into again. Here’s Sandy Mamoli’s recent blog post on squadification at Trademe in New Zealand for example.

Lancaster by Leo McKinstry 2009I found this book by Leo McKinstry from 2009. Here’s the key quote that validates what I heard way back in 2001:

“Once all the initial course had been finally completed, the recruits were sent to an Operational Training Unit, where they began their real preparation for bomber combat. It was at the OTUs that the individual trainees formed themselves into crews for the first time. After all the formality of the previous selection procedures and examinations, the nature of ‘crewing up’ seemed strangely haphazard, even anarchic.

“There was no involvement from the senior commanders, no direction, no regimentation. Instead, the trainees were all taken to a large hangar or mess room, and just told to choose their colleagues to make up the 5 man crew: pilot, bomb-aimer, gunner, wireless operator and navigator. The engineer, who had to undergo specialised training, and the second gunner, would join at a later stage. Without any guidance or rules, the trainees had to rely entirely on their own gut instincts in selecting which group to join.”

Location 4295 of 12152 in Leo McKinstry, Lancaster, 2009 (Kindle Edition).

The book goes on to discuss the kind of people who made up the trainee group of Bomber Command – aged between 17 and 27, self-selected into the jobs (not conscripted), intelligent, inwardly motivated, with broad-based educations.

“They did not need leaders or formal structures” concluded Frank Musgrove in 2005 (Dresden and the Heavy Bombers).

This story sounds a lot like the thinking at Zappos at the moment around Holacracy, and other innovative organisations like Valve and Spotify.

As someone deeply involved in my own day job experimenting with REA-Group’s organisation with new ideas that change traditional leadership roles and formal reporting structures, I’m excited to find these kind of references. I see similar patterns in the world of rock bands and music – but that’s another blog post!

Let me be the first to concede that RAF Bomber Command is a horrific story, for both the crews and the millions of civilians who bore the brunt of this brutal military strategy on both sides of the war. But the extreme nature of the situation called for unusual methods to be applied – we should not ignore them today as we find old ways of running things coming up short and wasting time and money.

And as a grandson of a UK war veteran, I offer a moment of thanks for their sacrifice.

Shaping IT Organisations: CIO Strategy Forum presentation by Nigel Dalton

By | Agile, Lean, Organisation, People | One Comment

In which the 3rd Reich*, the Catholic Church, and Monty Python are resoundly thumped by William Edwards Deming in the race to design a healthy, productive IT organisation for the 21st century.

Third Reich example of extreme flat organisation structure

By the time this is published I will have presented the results of many hours research, debate and reflection on the design of modern IT organisations. Sadly, without actions and interpretive dance, the Powerpoint slides on their own don’t add up to much more than pictures. Invite me (or James!) for lunch sometime, and we’ll happily proffer an opinion on the subject.

The pivotal moment in the thinking process came when reading the new book from JoyceThe essential deming by joyce orsini Orsini, a deftly edited collection of Deming’s lectures, missives and thoughts from 1950 to 1992. A brilliant book, it is the closest you’ll get to Deming sitting with you and giving his opinion on a wide range of important matters. Including, organisation structures!

Deming’s simple idea (quoted in a 1992 presentation to General Motors) was to avoid traditional organisation charts in the form of hierarchical pyramids, and replace them with flow diagrams (aka value stream maps), and just put the people on the flow diagram as value was pulled by a customer. So simple!

“A flow diagram is actually an organisation chart. It shows people what their jobs are. How they should interact with one another as part of a system. Anybody can see from a flow chart what their job is. Take the chart, put the names on it. You belong here. Somebody else belongs here. Then anybody can see from the chart what their job is. And their work fits in with the work of others in the system.”

Compare that to the Hitlerian view of a flat organisation (so inexplicably popular since the 1990s, with ever-expanding numbers of direct reports), with this lightly edited paragraph from Wikipedia on the organisation of the 3rd Reich. The grey bits are the changed words. If this sounds like your IT department, run!

‘The CIO often deferred making decisions, avoided clear delegation and allowed subordinates to compete with one another, especially in the recent years. Therefore, a system of governance was formed whereby leading company officials were forced to interpret the CIO’s speeches, remarks and writings on company policies and turn them into programs and strategy.

Any manager could take one of the CIO’s comments, and turn it into a new strategy, of which the CIO would casually either approve or disapprove when he finally heard about it. This became known as “working towards the the CIO“, as the executive was not a coordinated, co-operating body, but a collection of individuals each trying to gain more power and influence over the CIO. This often made IT executive meetings very convoluted and divided, especially with the CIO’s vague policy of creating a multitude of often very similar posts.’

This is also an opportunity to put the many references given in the 30 minute talk, and used in the research, in one handy place. Enjoy.

Reading List

  1. The Management Century by Walter Kiechel III, published in Harvard Business Review, November 2012.
  2. The Essential Deming: Leadership Principles from the Father of Quality (2012) by Dr Joyce Nilsson Orsini. Available as a Kindle book, this is the only place I have read Deming’s theories on organisation structures and the negative impact of org charts.
  3. Value Stream Mapping – understand the theory of this special variant of process map
  4. Management 3.0 (2011) by Jurgen Appelo.
  5. Godwin’s Law by Mike Godwin, 1990. ‘As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.’
  6. Scaling Agile at Spotify (2012) by Kniberg and Ivarsson.
  7. Power to the Edge (2003) by Alberts and Hayes.
  8. Here Comes Everybody (2009) by Clay Shirky.
  9. The Principles of Scientific Management (1911) by Frederick Winslow Taylor.
  10. The Theory of Business Enterprise (1904) by the Thorsten Veblen (the witty economist who invented the concept of ‘conspicuous consumption’ among other things). Best read in Wikipedia.
  11. General and Industrial Administration (1916 in French, 1946 in English) by Henri Fayol. Had Henri not been French, and writing at a tricky time in world politics, his ideas might have spread sooner. Similar to Frederick Taylor in many ways.
  12. Conway’s Law by Melvin Conway.
  13. Servant Leadership – best read about in this chaotic Wikipedia entry which features American Robert Greenleaf’s work.
  14. Peter Drucker’s contribution to management and organisational literature in the second half of the 20th century was biblical. The HBR article above does a great job at summarising his influence, or you can buy this book on Amazon.
  15. The reference to the 3rd Reich organisation structure and model can be found here in its original form (not adapted for CIOs).

Quote of the week

The new competitive advantage is the ability to anticipate, respond and adapt to change.

Become Remarkable.