Key moments technique to build the culture of WE

Previous article defined Agile leadership. Now we ask the following questions: how to naturally and unobtrusively integrate everything described earlier into the  real life of the team and eventually build the culture level 4?

For this, we use alternate kind of Agile retrospective – we call it Key moments (alias, according to Logan, the Mountains&Valleys technique). How it works in practice:

Instead of the classic Agile retrospective where we ask endlessly 1) What went well and 2) What bothers us, the Key moments technique focuses on specific situations – key moments we have experienced and what the impact it had on us. Specifically: did the situation energize us or did it bother us and suck all the energy and excitement out of us? The team therefore learns to put a name on functional and dysfunctional stuff without asserting subjective judgement (e.g. “You never deliver anything on time!”), focusing on the actual impact (e.g. “I had to sit here all night and I disappointed my kids since I promised them we would play. If I knew you couldn’t make it, I would’ve helped you or at least planned it for later.”)

This technique is also called Situation – Behavior – Impact. As the leader, I stay in the position of coach (not judge or preacher), who only observes emotions and impact and helps the team constructively go over all the essentials. That’s how level 4 is about to be built.

These moments are plotted on a graph (on the wall, table,…), where the x-axis represents the time in which it happened and the y-axis represents the range of emotions, from frustrating lows to energizing highs. In the second step, this technique can be used to define the values and beliefs collectively adopted by the team. The moments where members of the team find themselves at the bottom (i.e. experiencing negative emotions) reflect the values and beliefs that are undermined at that specific moment, whereas positive moments are consistent with the established values. In this way, the leader can harmonize members around a common foundation of values and so build a stable level 4.

The level 4 is about relationship among all the members. This technique provides regular hygiene of the relationship between all team members. We typically run it on a quarter or an annual period.

Conclusion 

Successful Agile transformation is about new culture (not only a structure) that allows new mindset and new type of relationship to form. It is more about psychology than we may initially realize. No matter how complex structures we created around us, sooner or later we will face inevitable reality – we face our inner self.

Agile Leadership

We defined different culture levels and link to our inner beliefs we all carry with us in the previous article. Now we deal with a question: what is the role of the leader in the Agile organization? Who is actually the leader? Agile Coach? Product Owner? Tribe Leader? 

Logan defines Tribe Leaders as people who focus their efforts on upgrading the tribal culture. S/he speaks the language of each level in order to motivate them and look for ways to progress to another level until they reach stable level 4.

According to Logan’s definition, Agile leadership aims to upgrade the organisational culture to the stable level 4, Agile values ​​and principles. The rituals, ceremonies, techniques, meetings are here to support the transformation. If, for example, the team level 2 (I can’t do anything, I’m a victim) is afraid of Agile (see the example about self-management), the task of the leader is to gradually bring the team and its members to level 3 (self-confidence) and 4 (partnership). How?

The Product Owner (PO) expresses their attitude towards clients and open communication towards the team. By creating a partner relationship (rather than hierarchical) between themselves and the team and between the team and clients.

For example, the PO should not criticize the team in retrospect for doing something stupid or for not doing it differently. I once heard a PO say retrospectively, “You should be more Agile” — ha!

The PO should instead clearly articulate what they need and why. What impact does it have on the product, clients, the company. Transfer the experience of meeting with clients to the entire team. Draw the team into experiments by introducing Dual track (providing innovation and verification to deliver a stable product), furthermore explaining, not lecturing, why MVP (Minimum Valuable Product) is acceptable or not.

Acceptance and feedback during the review is not a demonstration of the Ego of level 3, alias “I” – I’m the master here and will decide what’s good and what’s not. Getting to level 4 is about moving away from assessing and expressing your own opinion towards transpersonal identification, what has what impact on clients, product, our mutual business. The PO is the “channel” for conveying the experience of clients. The PO and team are in the same “partner” boat.

The Tribe Leader (or B-1) leads the entire tribe towards these values. They reflect the opinion of all members, connect everyone in the tribe by, e.g. creating space for sharing via tribal-wide retrospectives or regular Show&Tells. The door of the tribe leader is always physically and mentally open to anyone from the tribe and outside it. They build partner relationships with other Tribe Leaders. They have themes common to all the tribes on the cross-tribe kanban board. As the head of the entire system/tribe, the Tribe Leader plays the key role of the person whose behavior and unwitting intentions set the standard for the entire tribe. What they say to the members of the tribe is not important; important is the truthfulness of the intention, attitude and core beliefs that lie in the background of what they say. “Am I doing this for the good of the whole tribe or for my own benefit?”

And how about the Agile Coaches? They name the current values and beliefs during retrospectives and the gap between them and level 4, e.g. by using coaching tools or techniques such as Mountains&Valleys. They create a safe environment for moving to higher cultural levels. They provide adjusting mirror whenever team demonstrates behavior against the values. They use e.g. Situation-Behavior-Impact way of providing feedback — “Don’t criticize the PO, don’t tell them what they should or should not do when it bothers you that they do the same thing. Say what impact it has on you and what you need from them.” It is partner level communication of the level 4.

To achieve stabilization at level 3 i.e. the self-confidence of individual members and so avoid the fears of being excluded from the whole (see the story of the hockey player), they explicitly point out the contribution of individual members even in the case of fuckups: “We all learn our form of Agile on the go. Problems exist and always will. Making a mistake is OK. We’re in this thing together. It helps the team next time when you ask for help. It’s OK. We all need it. You’re a valuable member, look at this feedback here. Thank God you’re on the team!” This encourages others to learn to express their own support in addition to constant criticism.

The key moments technique

The next article will describe one of the techniques to upgrade team culture to level 4. The technique assists the team to consciously deal with various situations that might be source of hidden friction inside the team; eventually to name current values and potential gaps between them and level 4. The article will go live on Thursday, May 16th.   

 

Agile Culture & Leadership

Following up Jarek’s brilliant article (in Czech), we would take a closer look at one of the key areas of scaling Agile — the role of the leader and how to build the Agile culture. This area in fact determines how people face up to challenges associated with the transition to Agile. Despite good knowledge about the technical features of Agile frameworks (SAFE, Less, Spotify…) and their adoption, we have found very little focus on how to adopt Agile culture and leadership behind the standups and the tools. That is why many transformations end with changes in the organizational structure and new terms in the corporate lexicon but people do not change their mindset and behaviour. In this article we would love to share a structure that has given us practical support. The first step is always putting a name on it or becoming aware of it. Everything starts with us as individuals, and with our psyche.

What defines us

A small hockey player shoots at an open goal. His shot does not disappoint, but for some reason it fails to go in. Somewhere inside him a certain fear and doubt arose right before the shot – an emotion caused by the core belief that he wasn’t good enough. The coach yells at him that he’s going to get the “wooden clogs of the month” and that he should consider what mistake he made before going back out on the ice. But his next go at it results in other mistakes. “What’s your problem? They’re gonna replace you! You’re not my son!” shouts his angry father from the stands… The self-fulfilling fear that I will screw it up and the team will toss me out. I don’t want to be a loser!

Three decades later and it’s that same fear again when the company switches to a certain “agile”. What if I make a mistake? What if I don’t understand it? Will they fire me? The same fears and the same core belief. Recently a senior manager, a future Product Owner, told me straight out that he didn’t want an Agile coach on his team because: “You know, I’m afraid the coach will snap at me or I won’t understand it and do something wrong…” We all have this child full of doubts inside us.

Our psyche is a well-concealed whisperer who influences us our entire lives. Our thoughts and behavior are completely determined by our emotional framework, which is defined by our (unconscious) core beliefs. And not only that – our core beliefs automatically impose on us a (preselected) view of the world that confirms these beliefs. So-called self-confirming feedback.

If I believe that people cannot be trusted and they are out to rob the company, as a manager I will choose detailed monitoring and reporting mechanisms. And everywhere I will see evidence of this core belief.

If I believe that I’m a victim, the whole world is “out to get me” and hurt me. In this image of the world, managers are basically useless parasites who just complicate our lives with unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy. They have control over my life, my happiness. How can these two worlds meet in partnership in Agility?

What defines culture

These core beliefs unconsciously determine the approach people take to everyday challenges in the organization. Once, a colleague provided a perfect demonstration of it by crumpling up a piece of paper and throwing it on the floor, adding: “There, now let’s all point our fingers and say,  ‘What a mess here!’, but as usual no one will bend over and pick it up.” Culture is precisely this approach to “the mess on the floor”. And transformation (and not just transformation) creates a lot of it! Examples of three basic groups of people and their approaches:

  1. The passive group will bypass the “dispossessed mess” on the floor “for sure”, because it’s not “mine”. This group is effective thanks to their focus on their precision and assigned tasks. They are also “troopers” thanks to their humility and willingness to follow “orders”. But they lack the courage to deal with anything outside their familiar and safe bubble.
  2. A representative of the self-confident group will assign somebody to clean up the mess. Just to be sure, he will chew out everyone around him that they are “slobs”. Effect and efficiency only get done in his presence.
  3. This group proceeds as if it’s our responsibility – this doesn’t mean that someone else will clean up the mess, but I’m here right now, I see it, and so it is my responsibility. Accountability and efficiency are not centralized. This approach is expected of Agile teams.

These and other groups have been defined by David Logan and his team in the book Tribal Leadership. According to him, we define culture as a collection of (unconsciously) accepted beliefs that form the constellation of our emotions and thoughts which trigger automatic patterns of behavior in a group. David and his team have shown how our language and form of relationships are connected to collective beliefs. It’s enough to sit in the kitchen for a few minutes and listen to the form of language being spoken by the staff and see the patterns of relationship that form there. Another contribution of Dave Logan and Co. is showing the link between higher levels of culture and performance, or the motivation and loyalty of employees. The higher, the better. 

Level 1 refers to individuals excluded by society. People at this level believe that “Life sucks”. Life is evil and hostile, it’s only about survival. And so is their language. Relationships are built on the basis of “trust no one”. In general they see society as gangs or homeless people. In the company these employees are classified as “alienated”, with one foot already out the door. These people represent only a small percentage of the company and it makes no sense to keep them. In terms of short-term survival, neither Agility nor anything else will be of interest to them.

Level 2 by contrast refers to a very large group. It is a team convinced that we are victims. “Somebody certainly has it good (my boss). But at my expense! I can do nothing, I’m the little guy. No good deed goes unpunished.”  There is a prevalence of “they” in the language of such societies. — “What crap did they think up again… They didn’t deliver it on time … They aren’t communicating with us again…” Cynicism and irony, as well as other forms of passive aggression, are psychosomatic defensive reactions at the second level (e.g. Dilbert cartoon shared across the company.) Life is portrayed as unfair. Relationships are built on the fear of being punished for mistakes. These people are very diligent in the company in terms of individual performance, but they only take responsibility for their own work, and only after they have been in their position for a long time and have built up their self-confidence. Otherwise they feel threatened. Fears of embarrassment, inadequacy or guilt are emotions used by our core beliefs to keep us stuck at this level. The response to the principle of the self-managed team in Agile logically confronts these fears: “What if someone is goofing off? Who will fire him? Who will approve my raise and according to what criteria? Who will approve my vacation? Who will be my boss?” This level creates the immediate demand for a “boss” at level 3.

Level 3. Ego state. At this level of the organisation, people believe that they themselves are the instrument of the company’s good fortune. Typically they are part of management, the business organization, or company owners. Groups at this level have reached a stable self-confidence that gives them the courage to go much further and achieve better results than the group at level 2. A nice, symbiotic relationship often exists between these two levels: a manager (3) is surrounded by subordinates (2), who slowly begin to see him as the ruler over their lives and this manager gladly accepts this projection of authority. Level 3 insinuates itself into the center of all relationships. If they form a relationship with someone else at level 3, it is “an alliance of the powerful”, in other words, a bilateral pact of the unchallenged. “I” dominates the language. Core belief at this level: no one does it as well as I do. Lots of managers (3) are unable to delegate or entrust responsibility or autonomy to the team because of the core beliefs at this level.

Level 4 is the level of partnership, where “WE” dominates. This is the level of Agile culture. At this level, we believe that the whole is greater than the sum of individuals; that together we can create much more wonderful things than when it is everyone for themselves. “Alone we are smart. Together we are brilliant.” — Steven Anderson. But that is why I have to first find stability within myself (level 3). With its productivity and stability, the ability of Level 4 to create relationships towards a common goal outperforms all previous levels. Agility achieves its results because (and only if) the company and team have reached stability at this level. Careful! For this level to be stable, it is necessary to first achieve a stable level 2 and 3. Without self-confidence, I am (unconsciously) a self-doubting member of the team (see the story of the hockey player), or I am at risk, when under pressure, of falling to level 2.

Level 5 is the level without borders. Neither the team nor company has boundaries. Here we can have a chat over a beer.  

To be continued…

The next part of the article unveils our definition of Agile Leadership and how it plays crucial role in building Agile culture in the organization. 

My First-Hand Experience with the Start-up Nation

Frequent migraines in my childhood made me use other sources than reading books. And the eye-to-eye meetings have always been the first in the line. I need to see and hear things with my own eyes. Ideally beyond the borders of our country. You are free from stereotypes and beliefs of your own culture: what is possible, and what is not, how should it be done, and that it can never be done differently.

“We are going to see what the core magic of the Start-Up Nation is about,” Pavel Csank (MSIC) noted one nice morning. I haven’t read the book so let’s skip this part and begin with my own experience. As usual.

Sunday – Flight to Tel Aviv

Leaving Ostrava at 3.30 a.m. when the temperature is 5 °C below zero. Vienna airport, tea, trying to find my way, a little confused. The Tel Aviv Gate, plane, microsleep No. 155. And a crucial moment comes – the plane is about to land and, seeing a completely different landscape and town tells you that you are coming into a truly different world.

Still, all airports look more or less the same. However, a palm and 20 °C above zero. Really? The last thing I remember from the Czech Republic is a frosty February morning. All of us are kind of surprised and a little out of our minds after all that travelling. Looking out of the taxi window, I can’t hide how different everything is compared to my expectations. What did I expect. It is the Middle East after all. The first brush clearing the stereotypes from your head.

In the first place, we – particularly Jan Meca who is the headmaster at the Bruntál vocational school was in disbelief for two whole days – wondered how underdeveloped the public infrastructure was. Almost non-existent sewerage system on road, electric wires leading in all possible directions… No safety regulations or standards. Damaged roads, pavements, and the general state of cleanliness far from what we know from home. How can the people from that place inspire us?

Monday – the Smart City acceleration and the “Start-Up Nation” brand

Our first steps led to the HAC (not “hack”), i.e Herzliya Accelerator Centre. It is a city-operated accelerator for start-up in the area of Smart Cities / Smart Mobility, aimed at the needs of city inhabitants. Such accelerators are supported not only financially, but they also have access to the city’s data and infrastructure. The first thing that came to my mind after entering the building was that it was quite a few office buildings and schools in the Czech Republic would be far more representative than this. A loose handle, shabby, battered walls, visibly used tables, and a cheap-looking tablecloth with holes in it. Where have we got after all? I can feel the German drill inside and long for cleanliness.

Indeed, as soon as the presentations started, the differential factor appeared. The almost invisible guy who “crept” into the room in the middle of the opening, was the first presenter: Ori Mendelevich. As soon became obvious, he is far from the usual “invisible” Joe. He was behind a successful start-up that is known even beyond Israeli borders: The Right Cup – it motivates people to drink water, which is a huge problem everywhere in the world. He introduced his brand new project called Connectoo. It is an app for preschool teachers that solves a lot of bureaucratic and administrative tasks for the teacher, e.g. Attendance. It also interconnects teachers and parents instantly and securely so that parents can play a more important part in their children’s lives. As a result, teacher get 20 % more time to dedicate to children. Ori came up with such a sales pitch that is rare to be seen anywhere. And more guys followed suit – invariably a great pitch, none of them too young, rather about 40 on average, and if they didn’t have some start-ups under their belts, they could boast 10–15 years’ career in the corporate sector. This is a huge difference compared to the Czech Republic where a start-up owner means something like a hipster – start-ups are somewhat trendy, for the young generation that is too naive to start real business. Why is that?

We are going to another place. It’s 27 degrees outside, the sea is blue, and the beach is empty. Still, we are more interested in another meeting that would help us uncover the secret behind all these surprises.

The new stop: The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. The building hosts Taglit. It present the “Start-Up Nation” as such, i.e. The greatest innovations that have been created here and what is the reason of Israeli companies’ success, at one place. They have the presentation/exhibition here both for visitors from abroad who are building their nation brands, and for the younger generation of Jews born abroad that can build on their roots , or even get inspiration for the return to Israel here. We could build something of that kind in the Lower Area of Ostrava – in cooperation with MSIC, MSK, SMo and other relevant partners as this is the place where the science is presented at the moment. Still, we need to build our identity.

The word Connectedness was the one of the whole presentation that I underlined three times. The small nation’s life is about the feeling of community and connection to a great extent. Our host demonstrated it: “While there are usually ‘Six degrees of separation’ elsewhere in the world, there are just three, or even two of them in Israel…” If you have an idea, or need some help, you can get to the resources and the right people very fast and easily.

It is a beautiful example – they gained an advantage from the same what we use as an excuse (a small country, a tiny market, a little nation). It is the attitude that matters.

Tuesday – the fastest-growing city of Yokneam, and a billion-dollars-worth Mellanox

Tuesday kicked off… well, quite strangely. Being honest, disciplined Czech, we were waiting for a bus a good 15 minutes in advance. Alas, no bus in sight after 15 minutes, even after 30 minutes – it arrived about an hour late. Thanks to several funny bus driver’s shenanigans on the way from the city, the delay only got longer. In other words: send an inexperienced driver on the way, give him Waze without optimization for buses and… Voilà – the result is 90-minute delay.

We arrived at a little town of Yokneam that is situated about 80 km from Tel Aviv. Our international delegation of about 50 people sat right in front of the town’s representatives. Mayor Simon Alfassi took the floor: “When I was growing up in the town, it had a few more than 4,000 inhabitants. It was fully dependent on two factories. When I was elected mayor in 1989, the town was in the middle of a crisis after the bigger of the two factories had gone bankrupt. The unemployment rate reached almost 50 % then. My vision was to turn the town into a hi-tech area. With 30 years gone, the town has got over 22,000 inhabitants, and 90 % of the locals are working right here. The unemployment rate is under 5 %. Two hi-tech parks host 160 companies, and their export is worth 6 billion USD a year.”

A strong story based on a strong personality. Each sentence that he uttered was about him, in fact. It reminded me about a situation in a small or middle-sized Czech company founded by a strong owner who is, unfortunately, just about to retire, and therefore needs to solve the succession. “Have you got any questions?” the interpreter asked. I had to: “And what will happen after you leave or retire?” Everyone froze, and the mayor smiled. “I have prepared a plan for the upcoming 30 years. Anyone who will come after me can follow in my footsteps.” Still, we all know what it is like with such plans.

It was my honour to meet the mayor in person and have lunch at the same table as himself. So I need to ask how he can know what will happen in 15–30 years, how he can plan anything when anything can change direction even tomorrow. His answer was: “One needs to have a vision and adjust the journey to reaching goals, When I was elected in 1989 and came up with the idea of building hi-tech parks here, there were rallies in the streets, people protested, carried banners like ‘We want work, not visions’. My vision was that this town would grow on the presence of tech companies. This vision has materialized, and you saw it yourself.”

What followed was a visit of two companies: Dexcel Pharma Technologies, a pharmaceutical company, and Mellanox, and IT company. After coming to the Czech Republic, we learned that Mellanox was acquired by Nvidia for 6.9 billion USD, but we had not idea about it at that moment. The CEO and founder came up in front of the delegation of 50 people from all corner of the world – a guy in a jersey and Nike trainers, emanating aura of the just contracted 7 billion as well as a huge natural personal charisma. To be honest, I can’t remember the contents of the presentation or the numbers. Simply put, I felt that the whole universe materialized there.

“Has anyone got any questions?” Of course, I had to ask if they used Agile methodologies. The answer was: “Yes, we use Scrum.” It was just a preface. In the first place, I wondered how they tuned up the SW and HW development. Answer: “We use Agile in our HW division, too. Before starting a new version, I create a task force consisting of the SW and HW architect, PO and a few more people. They agree on a common interlayer so that both layers are as independent as possible.” This means dependency elimination.

Wednesday – Israeli Innovation Authority and positive deviation

A visit at the Israeli Innovation Authority (Israeli Innovation Authority). All ends have finally met. The state provides grants for starting enterprises through incubators at (seen through Czech eyes) incredible conditions: if a start-up fails, the state takes it as an OK situation – it was worth trying, go on and come up with something else. If a start-up succeeds, it pays the interest of 2–5 % from its profit. The aim of the agency is to secure a higher percentage of R&D activities in the economy as these have a much higher export potential. As Israel is a small country, i.e. a small market, the business thinking there is automatically oriented outside the country.

They have measure that each shekel invested that way returns to the economy 5–10 times.

The afternoon visit posed another contrast, and it was and extreme experience from the beginning. The taxi driver took us to the “ghetto” – we found ourselves in the middle of the Tel Aviv’s most troubled quarter. Desolate house, scared black people on benches, masked-up drug-addicts. The ambassador needs to clear it up with the driver if the address is correct. Our colleague Adele is convinced that there must have been a sort of mistake. I take a photo quickly before we set off for the right place. A “lady in red” begins to shout at me in Hebrew from the other pavement – she apparently lost her appeal some 25 years ago, before she had her first dose of heroin. Alas, she’s approaching and still yelling. I’m trying to look as if I wasn’t there. The driver comes in aptly and makes a barrier between her and me. He tries to show her the way back. She shouts at him, makes an attempt to kick him, but her body is like made from the jelly. She leaves unwillingly, showing him a finger-gesture. The taxi drive just smiles and utters: “Don’t shoot photos here. All ‘personalities’, you see?”

It is the right place in the end, he says. We need to find the entrance. I feel as if I was about to enter an enclosure of wild animals in the zoo with all these predators walking around me freely – both them and me trying to look that we don’t know about each other, and looking for the way out. Pressure. A redhead comes out of the iron door, apparently from a different world. Yes, this is the right place. The Platform – Smart City Innovation Accelerator.  

“We are an island of positive deviation”,” director Shana Krakowski explains while showing us the interior of the building. We didn’t get out of the cage, we entered a completely different world. “It is our intention. We built the accelerator deliberately in the worst area of Tel Aviv that has absorbed the homeless, immigrants, prostitutes, pimps, drug addicts. We want to show them that the life is basically not as bad as they can see everywhere around. We want to show them an example so that they understand that it is just their current life that is poor. But that it doesn’t have to be like that.” Wow. This is exactly what David Logan said (Tribal leadership) – you can’t short people from Level 1 (the homeless, gangs) shift right onto Level 4 (collaboration); you need to show them Level 2 “My life is full of shit”, etc. This practical example made me understand it.

Another crucial factor was uttered: “Only Tel Aviv hosts some 20 meet-ups every evening.” Really? Well, we have been focused on networking for the past five years (BusinessConRed ButtonTechMeetup Ostrava), and we are happy to see a good number of participants at several events a year. Twenty every evening? I can’t believe my ears. “Did you really say twenty?” Shana thinks a little, and answers: “Maybe a few more.” I immediately check the meetup.com app, and…. It is true! I can see over 20 events in Tel Aviv for that evening.  

Connectedness.

Thursday – autonomous vehicles and the Boston accelerator

Jerusalem. Thursday morning. Raining. Raining a lot. We walk on the street that has turned into a fast-flowing river. “You we laughing, and you can see it here.” Jan Meca was right. We can see only now that the working infrastructure that we know from out home is about and why they need to invest into it here… “How many days are rainy days here?” we ask the taxi driver. “One, maximum two a year. You are lucky!” Well, it depends on the angle of view. This “once-a-year rain” makes us cancel the tour of the old town.

Anyway, it way well worth to get safely to another meeting at Mobileye. The company was bought by Intel for 15 billion USD in 2017, and its technology is used by 25 million cars. About 1.3 million people die on roads every year, which means 3.287 deaths a day on average. 20–50 more million people are injured or end up on a wheelchair. Most of these deaths are due to human errors. And the killer No. 1 of these days – using a cell phone during driving.

Mobileye allows the driver to see the danger where he actually cannot (dead angle) or where he is not aware of it. These are the so-called advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). I know of such a tragic situation from my family when Milan, who is a professional driver with zero accidents in the whole life, knock down an old lady who appeared in front of his car in such a way that he had no chance to see her. A year of investigations, stress and uncertainty followed as the car factory claimed that there was no dead angle there. It became clear that he had had no chance to see her indeed. It will never bring her back to life, and it will not return the year of stress and uncertainty to Milan either. And these cases can be prevented.

Even though Mobileye’s vision is a fully autonomous vehicle by 2021, their method is incremental, or evolutional: first of all, they use and fine-tune the technology as a person’s assistant. Even in the presence of the human driver equipped with this technology, the shift is huge. The technology will be able to drive independently in a few years. Compare that to great visionaries like Elon Musk who invest huge amounts of money; the company is facing bankrupt, or the investors investigate if it hasn’t already gone bankrupt. We are talking about great lots of saved lived and achieving the same result, cashing up 15 billion along the way.

The potential is great – real-time data about the state of traffic and risk get to the local server so that such data can be subsequently used for improving the traffic and increasing safety in the smart city. “Who owns these data?” I asked. Answer: “It’s a good question – obviously, we own them. And we are prepared to provide them to the city or to anyone who will use them for a fee.” These data present a goldmine for the future. The business talent here is really something!

Looking at it through IT eyes, I wondered how important was a collaborating team of HW and SW engineers under one root for Mobileye’s success.

If you want to see the technology yourselves, I recommend: Founder Amnon Shashua presents at CES 2018.

Another visit and we are almost lost again – the taxi stopped at a busy road, and the driver just said: “It’s probably the house over there.” Really? This desolated one? Almost lost. We need to search. Heavy rain falls onto the pavement. Desperate and soaked through, we enter the first available door.

Believe it or not, we are in one of the most successful accelerators in Israel. The Masschallenge accelerator was founded in Boston in 2010. When the crisis struck, its founders went against the flow, and they created a place where running business would be easy. Nine years have gone, and we are sitting in its Jerusalem branch that has produced 500 (!!!) successful start-ups. They started with four.

A guy in the desolate building, wearing a jersey, is Shai-Shalom Hadad, director. He tells us the Masschallenge history engagingly. He needs just a few facts and arguments to have us on a hook, and we seriously think about sending a few Czech start-ups here: the start-up nation brand, connection to the international network of investors, the biggest world companies as partners, two steps from anyone in Israel, a chance to spend a week in Boston and network over there.

The trend of intentions distribution is also interesting: while about 100 start-up were involved in the energy topic in 2017, the number decreased to five in 2018 and to zero this year. What is most trendy at the moment? Innovations in education and health care.

Friday – bonus: Old town and the laughter diploma in a Lebanese restaurant

Friday is the day of our departure. It was also the first day of the weekend in Israel. Therefore, there were no meeting on schedule, just the postponed tour of the old town. And we can see the pro-customer approach in practice again: even though it was not planned, we ask the taxi driver if he could recommend us another driver who would take us back to Jerusalem and then to the airport: “You see… I’m leaving on holiday for three weeks tomorrow… Well, wait a second… You need to be at the airport at three. So I have three hours to pack my stuff and leave as well. We can make it.” He even found a guide of the old town for us. I can’t imagine that anyone else would change his plans on Saturday, and on the first day of his holiday at that. A differential factor.

We had lunch at a famous Lebanese restaurant on our way to the airport. It rather looked like a huge marketplace full of shouting people, with meals piling up on the table all the time. Suddenly, I began to laugh in the middle of the hubbub. My laugher was heard in the kitchen, too. The chef looked out and showed me his thumb up.

The lessons learned, the experiences, and getting to know things – the week brought about lots of them. In fact, it was so packed with all of these that it is well beyond my abilities to write them down and your abilities to read them. If you want to get more information, or if you have any queries, do not hesitate to contact me at roman.smirak@rainfellows.cz.

How consultants became owners

We at RainFellows have strong IT background. We started as excited Java Developers, later became Software Architects, Scrum Masters, Project Managers. We applied Agile and Lean thinking since our first days in IT. And the results showed immediately – our projects (that normally fail in IT) were considered successful by our colleagues, management, customers. And they started asking questions: “What did you do differently?”

Read more in this article: How consultants became owners.

Stop boring and inefficient status report meetings!

You know how it goes. There is a group of coworkers round the table and they report one after another project status to their manager. Everyone should be interested in work of others but the truth is they just wait for their turn to say their part. The only person who is somehow satisfied in the end is the manager who just got information about project status. Everyone else hates this meeting or at least takes it as necessary evil. Is it possible to do it a better way?

Imagine people really looking forward to that meeting. Imagine people perceiving the meeting as a key part of their work; as a meeting that helps them very quickly, efficiently and collaboratively solve their operational issues. And imagine a meeting that convinces everyone the project continues as fast and right as possible.

How? Instead of reporting status let’s share what we do and miss and then solve issues in pairs based on actual needs – the same way businessmen do their business in 21st century.

How does it work?

First, the focus is moved from “where we were last week/month” to “what we need to move forward as quickly as possible”. Second, the project team works autonomously and the manager, instead of being a micro-controller, becomes a guardian of team values and boundaries of team autonomy, and an active supporter of project activities.

Meeting agenda

  1. meeting procedureEach and every participant gives 1-2 minute elevator speech:
    1. Who I am and what I do (can be reduced or skipped if people know each other well already)
    2. What we succeeded in since the last meeting and what I can help others with.
    3. What I struggle and need help with
  2. Other participants listen to the speech and do their best to help the speaker. They typically offer either their help or contacts in their network who can help. In both cases they do not say anything aloud, they just fill in a referral sheet immediately at the moment they see the opportunity to help. They do it immediately because we usually do not remember much after all the participants give their speech 🙂 The participants fill in a referral sheet also at the moment they want to accept offered help or they just simply want to know more about the shared topic.
  3. After the round ends, the participants pass their referral sheets to each other. This exchange visualizes all the connections and makes them conscious. There is also kind of psychological effect of accepting offered referral sheet as a gift, as a certain form of commitment. This increases likeliness of subsequent meeting and cooperation.
  4. After the referral sheets are exchanged the participants open their calendars and immediately plan meetings to share or help each other. A planned meeting in a calendar once again raises the chance the follow-up really happens afterwards.
  5. The leader of the meeting encourages the participants to connect and pair during the meeting. And s/he actively offers his/her help and network.

The leader and all the participants get synchronized about what is going on in the project and what are the current obstacles. Moreover they actively help each other to go further with the project.

What do we need?

1, Focus on future
Project has to have clearly defined goal (overall goal and the closest milestone) including acceptance criteria. Each and every project member knows answer to questions “What is a good result of the project?” (goals) and “How do we know we are there already?” (acceptance criteria, KPIs). Just go and ask randomly selected team member whether s/he can instantly answer these questions. If not – you know what to do 🙂

2, Autonomous team
Team members (or a team of teams) usually work independently. But hidden potential lays between the units, in collaboration: 1+1=11. When everyone understands the goals and the definition of done then the best way to create really collaborating team is to pair individual members to solve (non-trivial) problems in order to reach the goals. This way we build so called Triades (see Tribal leadership). By working in pairs they shorten work lead time, less likely introduce an error, learn from each other and become substitutable and they also build and strengthen their relations. Eventually, in the course of time we transform individualities to a collaborating autonomous team. You might then see teams, which did not talk to each other earlier, discussing and proactively solving project issues by a coffee machine.

3, Manager = Leader
The leader is the key part of the system. From the original control element s/he becomes a connector and supporting element. His/her most important role is to support team members pairing and to make sure everyone knows answers to the questions above. The leader then proactively removes obstacles that team cannot remove by itself and regularly “changes oil” by organizing regular team retrospectives – meetings where team members discuss what works well and should become a standard way of working and also what to improve. One and only one improvement is then taken into action and implemented as quickly as possible. We take just one and only improvement because we know from experience the more parallel work we start the less chance is to finish anything at all.

network meeting

Positive side effects

Established relationships and the habit of working in pairs pays off heavily later on when something unexpected happens (which actually happens every day 🙂 When people are used to work together and they know and trust each other they would most likely proactively solve issues together rather than set borders and blame each other.

We know each project is unique, would you share your story with us? – contact.us@rainfellows.com.

Fixed price contract for R&D project? Highway to failure

Sometimes, no matter how exceptionally you do, a development project fails. And even if you apply the best practices in this area. Whether you are customer or supplier, a fixed-price contract most likely sends you on the highway to failure.

česká verze zde

Tension source

Customers need effective and user-friendly product or servie. Suppliers want to build it. But in most cases they both fail. And it does not matter what domain we are talking about.

Do you create marketing strategy for your client? Do you develop new weather sensors? Or do you build software? Watch out – your project will most likely fail – at least statistically. 

There are many factors causing this failure, but one of the main root causes is the contract – an interface between the customer and the supplier. Everything starts there, and at the end of the day it is the contract that is evaluated. Let’s take a closer look at what is the evil of fixed-all contracts that we sign nowadays and what is the way out.

Most development projects fail

Let’s take look at software development area since all the risks and problems are visible here. The alarming fact is that the success-probability of Software Development (SWD) projects is pretty lousy. It is about 37% according to the Standish Group [Chaos report 2010, 2012, 2014, 2017]. Does it mean that IT guys are silly or not competent? No, the problem is that we use inappropriate tools and methods for such a task. Most customers and suppliers approach software development the same way as making products (houses, cars, phones). But the fact of the matter is that it is not the same. Let’s take a look why.

SWD

As you can see in the picture above, chances of repeatability and reuse of knowledge while designing custom software is much lower as compared to building a car.

Approaching them similarly would be like making the Apollo program (man on the Moon), comprising of research and brand new technologies, in the Waterfall way – describe, design, build just one rocket for the first time and on the release date launch its crew to the Moon. I am convinced this has all possibilities of being a disaster. It was the 11th Apollo mission which finally landed on the Moon with the people onboard. Imagine how many millions try-fail-learn loops needed to be done with the module prototypes and subsystems before they eventually succeeded.

Success in these creative/innovative industries, where SWD belongs, requires quick learn-adapt loops in order to build something as complex as a software based on customer needs. The problem is that we approach it like it was predictable. We try to fix everything inside the contract in the moment when we actually miss critical knowledge.

House of your dreams

house of dreamsNeedless to say, it is very difficult to define these customer requirements. And often these really critical requirements are even missing.

If we ask people “Imagine your dream house… everything is possible… what would you like to have in it?” We usually get answers like a swimming pool, a big television, self-cleaning, big living room, etc. But no one says roof, walls or windows! Have you ever wondered why? Because it is obvious that every house has those. Each architect should know it right? And now imagine a customer refusing to accept software because it is obvious that each banking system must also take care of invoicing which was not mentioned in the requirements. Business analyst should have known that…

 

Mary had a little lamb

mary had a little lambAnd that is not all. Let’s pretend for a while that we are able to define all the requirements for the product/service. Next obstacle is we simply cannot understand them without ambiguities. Do you know the “Mary had a little lamb” rhyme? If we take it out of context – which requirements usually are – what does this sentence actually mean?

  • Did Mary take care of her pet lamb?
  • Did she eat a whole little lamb?
  • Did she eat a small portion of lamb?
  • Did she give birth to a lamb?
  • Did she have a sex with a lamb?
  • Did she trick a naive individual of no consequence? (stock broker’s slang)

As you can see, the requirement sentence can be interpreted in many different ways. Even the ones you would never believe. Imagine thousands of sentences written inside a requirement specification document. Does a reader see the same resulting product/service as the requirements writer?

Why fixed-all contracts then?

So if we…

  • need to apply learn/adapt loops that change functionality during product creation
  • cannot define clear requirements upfront
  • cannot understand them properly
  • and thus cannot estimate them

…why do we still use contracts that are trying to estimate and fix everything upfront? Scope, time and price at the same time? I suppose that’s because people who make these contracts do not realize these specifics of R&D projects, or simply they do not know any better alternative. But this restrictive contract has very negative consequences.

cage bars lock closed fixed contract birdImagine yourself as a supplier who is bound with a restrictive contract that penalizes deviations from delivery. Imagine things getting more complicated (and they usually do). What will you choose – deliver what is needed and risk penalization or deliver what is exactly prescribed? Most people choose the second option, and there we go – lose-lose situation. The customer does not get what he needs and the supplier is blamed for not delivering it. Rework and error corrections can actually multiply the price of the final solution.

It is no surprise that we cannot predict the future and there are always nasty surprises waiting on the way – such as changing needs, technical difficulties and wrong assumptions. This happens especially when contract and estimates are forced very early, in project phase where we do not have much information. Also this restrictiveness introduces barriers into the customer-supplier relationship which precludes them from applying the most important universal practice – continuous improvement. Barriers make learning loops longer and inefficient.

Agile/Lean contract

air freedom options mountains sky free people man personSo what shall we do? Simply put, do not contract detailed result requirements. Rather, focus on how both parties, customer and supplier, shall cooperate in order to achieve the best possible result together. This might be a heretical idea to some of the people living in these stories, since common sense says: “If it does not work, we must be even more strict and restrictive”. But being stricter of course does not solve the root cause and just makes the problem worse.

What should be written in the contract then? Definitely a description of the process, how supplier with customer’s support is going to produce best possible result. We put there all the patterns we know that empirically work. What does it mean in practice? Long story short it should contain the following parts:

  • Process of production based on learn-adapt loops (iterations) including all project phases.
    • Release preparation (vision, business objectives, major acceptance criteria, high level tests)
    • Release execution (iterations and partial acceptance)
    • Release delivery (deadlines, acceptance)
  • Supplier responsibilities
    • Cooperate to formulate requirements from user perspective
    • Commit to iteration input and have it ready for Demo
  • Customer responsibilities, where customer has to be present and for how long.
    • Help to prepare iteration input
    • Support development within iteration
    • Attend Demo and accept/refuse produced solution increment
  • Learn adapt parts
    • Have common regular retrospectives to prevent issues
    • In case iteration fails, or there is significant negative feedback from customer – trigger special retrospective with customer
  • Consequences of not following the agreed process:
    • Customer does not attend the demo? All demo functionality is accepted by default.
    • Any errors discovered? They have to be fixed in very next iteration by supplier.
  • Business model
    • What to pay for (capacity? per iterations? per requirement? per StoryPoint? …)
    • Bonuses and penalties

As you can see this kind of contract is then always unique since it reflects concrete capabilities and constraints of concrete partners, so it does not fit all. But the parts and ideas there can be easily reused.
We managed to develop and sign a couple of these contracts with different customers of our clients. And according to the results and feedback it really works! One of the examples was presented on couple of conferences already (e.g. Leanest 2012, 2013 conferences in Stockholm and Prague).

Let us know if you are interested in hearing more, we will gladly share what we have learnt.

3 good reasons to get a Mentor for your team

For every team, in order to fulfill their mission – to satisfy their customers and stakeholders – it is important to stay focused on the value and continually improve the way of working. Having a Mentor can help in both and what’s more, it significantly boosts team’s productivity and efficiency. Let us have a look at three ways how the Mentor can help.

Mentor gives you external perspective so you don’t get stuck in a rut

Things look different when you are inside or outside. When you do a job it is difficult to stop, step back, forget everything you have learnt and take a fresh new look at what you do. A mentor gives you another perspective – especially by asking questions you wouldn’t ask yourself otherwise. Answering them honestly helps you to not get stuck in a rut and move forward.

Mentor brings experience and helps you apply it in your specific environment

Why to reinvent the wheel when you can accommodate someone else’s experience? The mentor shares stories about how other teams did your job, what problems they encountered and how they coped with them. He helps you to apply this experience in your job via training and hands-on coaching – all in specific context of your team.

One good example is daily Scrum meetings. Every team needs to be synchronized and identify and resolve problems as soon as they appear – no doubts about that. But implementing daily Scrum meetings by the book in a team of 15 people working on five different areas in a distributed environment might be a nightmare without previous experience. It can take a long time and can result in frustration of the team when they are forced to do something they don’t see value in.

An experienced mentor helps the team to understand the principle behind and take a shortcut when implementing it in their specific environment (e.g. how often should they meet, how to prepare, what questions to ask and what tools to use). This makes the implementation faster and smoother.

Mentor helps to align differing views of managers and workers to make them pull the same rope

Although both workers and managers are members of the same team and should have the same goal, their views often differ. Workers see the details of their job and concrete obstacles, while managers have more high level view – goals, strategy and dependences. Both perspectives are equally important and need to be merged. However, in practice they rarely meet. So despite both workers and managers are doing their best, they are not pulling the same rope.

Managers are often too busy or too far from the workers’ job

Managers often do not have enough time or comprehension of workers’ job to explain to every worker how does the chosen strategy affect her job and what exactly is expected from her. Or why her problem cannot be fixed now because we have more burning issues on the table. Or why a certain improvement idea cannot be implemented, although it would bring huge return on investment, because we are simply not making enough profit for such an investment right now.

Workers are often left with a simple “DO” or “NO” without “WHY”, which is very frustrating.

Workers are busy as well or think it is not their job to think

Workers, on the other hand, are often too busy with details or think it is beyond their responsibility to ask and try to understand the bigger picture. They prefer to “stay in their box.”

They often do not understand how they get affected by the strategy, what exactly is expected from them and how the whole chain they are part of works.

Therefore they cannot understand the impact of what they do and what they demand on the whole team and its customers. They do not see that by getting rid of “their pain” they can cause pain to someone else in the chain. For instance that demanding “doing things right” here and now (e.g. “the right testing”) could result in delivering everything so late, that customer will refuse to pay and there might be no business at all in future. Or that by not documenting their work they cause troubles to the future maintenance team.

Such a lack of context awareness makes it difficult for managers who need everyone to actively contribute and cooperate towards the common goal.

The Mentor helps both sides to better understand each other and work together

The mentor talks to both sides, thus understanding their perspectives – plus having an external one. Therefore he acts as a natural bridge between them.

He brings up-to-date information and “WHY” to the workers, helping them to better understand the big picture, their role in it and consequences of what they do.

He helps them to better formulate their ideas with respect to the needs and constraints of the managers (shifting their mindset from “my problem” to “our common goal”). The ideas are then more likely to get supported by managers and implemented.

By explaining the big picture again and again and focusing workers on the common goal, the Mentor helps managers to increase workers’ willingness to contribute to the effort necessary to implement the strategy and achieve the common goal.

Last but not least, the Mentor helps managers to understand what are the workers’ biggest concerns and pains, how they perceive the overall situation and how they feel about it, so the managers know how well their strategy is understood and followed and in which areas they need to communicate more.

All in all, the Mentor is your team’s best friend

The Mentor works as an information carrier, being the glue connecting the details and the big picture and making the whole team pull the same rope. He is your team’s thinking partner providing external perspective and experience. And he is always on duty to help you to not lose sight of your purpose and goal and to improve continually.

Do you have one? Would you like to? We are here to help.