Are Your Teams Unmotivated or Demotivated?


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.

“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).


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 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.



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


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.



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.



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…)



“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.



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.



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:


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:


And do some fun useless things:



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:


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.


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! We’d love to hear all about it!

Is Your Office Space Hindering Your Employees?

If you work in a traditional office, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of wandering through a maze of cubicles like a lab mouse in search of cheese, trying to find the one co-worker who can answer your question. It only gets more irritating when you discover that said co-worker has abandoned their own post in search of someone else to answer their question. With a heavy sigh, you trudge back to your seat, punch out your query in an email, and watch time tick away as you wait for a reply.


The Age of the Open Workspace

Despite our progression towards an increasingly virtual world, face-to-face communication is still extremely valuable. Relying predominantly on emails for collaboration results in misunderstandings and really, REALLY slow feedback loops.

In open workspaces, teams use open seating to facilitate communication, shorten feedback time, and speed up ideation. It is often the hardest practice to implement when making internal process improvements, but the resulting transparency and increased communication make it incredibly impactful.


Okay, bad example.

Assess Your Space

If you are considering transitioning to a more open environment, you’ll want to put some thought into what isn’t working now and what you anticipate a more open office space would help your team achieve. The following are some questions to help determine how your current workspace configuration affects collaboration and to get your juices flowing around how to turn your space into a productivity tool.



To get started, ask yourself:

  • How quickly can you currently get questions answered or receive feedback on requests from your peers? How about your management? Senior leadership?
  • How many emails back and forth does it take to resolve an easy issue? How about a complex one?
  • How often do you find yourself picking up the phone or typing out an email to speak to someone down the hall or across the room?
  • Do most of the steps on your Fitbit come from wandering around the office looking for team members?
  • How many meetings are scheduled simply so you can get all the right people in a room together to work on a single issue?
  • Do you see pictures of offices like Google or QuickenLoans and think “God, I wish I could work in a place like that?”
  • Do your teams keep stashes of vitamin D in their desk drawers because the only time they are exposed to natural light is during their drive to work?

Open Space Guidelines

Depending on your answers to the above, you may be wondering what a more collaborative, optimized environment would look like. Below are some guidelines to creating a space that breaks down the barriers to communication and teamwork. Note: These are generally considered good practices, but they are not the “rules.” The team (not the boss or HR) should be allowed to work together to create an environment that best supports their needs and goals.




  • There are no assigned seats or other personal spaces (ie. cubicles)
  • Breakout rooms are available for meetings, privacy, or periods of quiet-time, but should not to be turned into personal offices.
  • White boards, cork boards or flip charts are used to provide a dynamic workspace for collaboration.
  • Team members use open seating to facilitate pairing on tasks and projects
  • Leadership sits in the open space with the team (no ivory towers)
  • Locate the team space in a highly visible area, be proud to showcase the space to visitors
  • Team members have a designated area to store personal belongings – this prevents “claiming” of a seat or area
  • Furniture is movable without permission and the team has ability to reshape the space as needed
  • Allow picture skins or stickers on laptops (family, dogs, sports, etc)
  • Allow teams to be creative and introduce fun into the workspace

Team Norms

  • Some noise indicates collaboration and communication, silence is troubling
    • The Parent’s Ear Rule: bad sounds are complete silence or kicking & screaming
  • “Hey Team” cooperation when roadblocks are discovered – Everyone swarms to help out
  • Teams sit side-by-side and/or facing each other, not with backs to one another
  • Requires that facilities, HR, and leadership understand the goals, and are engaged with the team(s)
  • All rules deserve team discussion

A Note On Introverts and Open Spaces

One of the biggest misconceptions about open workspaces is that they do not accommodate the preferences of introverted team members. The fact is everyone, even extroverts, sometimes need to work independently and in quiet so that they can focus. For many, the idea of working in an open environment with lots of “chatter” can be a rather unpleasant concept. The good news is that properly configured open workspaces, combined with the right team norms, can actually support the needs of introverts even more than traditional offices currently do.


“Go on…”

First, break-out rooms or designated quiet areas allow team members to retreat to a private place to focus on a particular task without disruption, then return to the group for collaboration when they are ready.  Second, having no assigned seating means that people are free to move away from distracting activities or noise rather than be forced to deal with it all day. Finally, the freedom to choose where one works conveys a stronger sense of empowerment and trust from company leadership. It’s as if you are saying to your employees, “I see you as adults, not schoolchildren. This is your space and I trust that you know best how to get things done.”

How It All Fits

While the goal of creating a more productive, collaborative environment is certainly worth pursuing, it should be noted that simply taking kicking down your cubicle walls while declaring “open workspace!!” will not do the trick.  It will, however, get you some frightened looks from your employees and a rather stern talking-to from HR.


Pictured: Not the answer.

The implementation of an open workspace is not a solution in itself. Rather, it is a critical step in a larger movement towards a more optimized operation. Some would even argue that the switch to an open workspace is really just a byproduct of adopting more collaborative, transparent practices – that it naturally emerges as processes become more streamlined. It is therefore critical to define what your goals are for your open workspace and to consider what operational changes will need to take place in order to ensure the transition is successful.

If you are considering optimizing your office space and processes, a good place to start is by taking a quick assessment of your current situation with this one-minute quiz. The results will give you a good idea of how adaptable your organization is today and provide steps you can take to make incremental improvements.


IoT Course Week 14 – Final Projects

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 3.07.21 PM

It’s been an intense 13 weeks for both us and the students. Now it’s finally time to dig into final projects. Students were invited to come up with an idea that added some sort of value to the LAMPI product, and we provided some possible ideas. Here are some of the highlights from those projects.

Build An Alarm Clock

For this project, the students created an alarm clock system using LAMPI. Through the web interface they already built, the user can create one or several alarms.

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 4.14.13 PM

Because LAMPI doesn’t have a speaker, the students had to improvise and blinked the light on and off several times instead.

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 4.14.24 PM

From LAMPI, the user can see the current time as well as snooze the alarm.

Challenges – multiple time zones, transmitting time, conflicting alarms, conflict between light settings and alarm

Natural Light Mode

This was an original idea from the students and not one of our suggested projects. This project used LAMPI to reflect the state of the light outdoors for a handful of benefits, as outlined in their presentation:

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 4.16.51 PM

Using the API from OpenWeatherMap, they were able to get sunset, sunrise, and daylight conditions and map them to a color spectrum based on LAMPI’s current time. Because we didn’t have all day to watch the light color slowly change, they also built a demo mode that progressed through a 24 hour cycle in the span of couple minutes.

User / Device Association

By the end of the course students had a functional system that connected a single LAMPI to the cloud. This project focused on expanding the system to accept multiple users, each with a unique LAMPI device. The LAMPI doesn’t have a keyboard and noting that an on-screen keyboard would probably result in a poor experience, these students built a key-generation system similar to Netflix and other services that run on set-top boxes and smart TVs.

When the user presses a button to connect to the cloud, the LAMPI would display a randomly-generated code like this:

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 4.15.01 PM

The user can then log into their LAMPI web portal, enter the code, and the device is connected to their logged in account. The codes are only good for one minute, afterwards they would need to generate a new code.

Distributed Load Testing

While we had covered some basic load testing scenarios in a previous week, there was still work to be done. This team of students took charge and starting investigating how to load test a protocol such as MQTT using something like Locust, a LeanDog favorite for load testing web sites. Locust supports HTTP out of the box, but has a plugin system for testing other protocols. These students actually created their own MQTT plugin for Locust and open-sourced it on GitHub. From there, they ran a “locust swarm” of distributed clients from Digital Ocean to attack their Mosquitto broker in Amazon EC2.

Their results were very promising. They were able to flood CPU and network traffic but unable to cause catastrophic failure in the Mosquitto broker. Messages with QOS 1 and 2 eventually got where they were intended to go after congestion resolved, demonstrating why Mosquitto continues to be our go-to MQTT broker:

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 4.19.20 PM

Wrapping Up

With final projects completed, we also ran a brief retrospective. We asked the students to post what worked, what didn’t work, and what surprised them. Lots of good feedback came out of this. We were able to hone in on content that was too technical and not technical enough. We learned that homework submissions being due on Monday caused issues as students would often wait until the weekend, a time at which we could only provide limited assistance over Slack. It was also a validation that we had done something right — we received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback, with several students saying how much they had gotten out of the class due to the breadth of the covered topics.

Looking Forward

With our first class finally wrapped up, it’s time to look ahead. Preparations are already being made for a second run. We’re taking the feedback given, making some needed tweaks, and we’ll be ready for a new round of students in the fall. See you then!

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! We’d love to hear all about it!

6 Tips To Designing Effective Information Radiators


Your team space should deliver a message

Recently I’ve been helping a new team setup their team space. Now, I’m a big fan of hanging stuff on walls. Big visible stuff. But there’s more to it than that. When deciding what you should put where you are actually crafting a message to anyone that walks into the space.

My personal metric for knowing when you’ve done this effectively is to answer the following question: Does it change someone’s mood?

In my opinion, when anyone walks into your team space, from the newest dev to the most senior executive, what’s hanging on the walls should make them feel differently within a matter of minutes. If that doesn’t happen, something’s off.

Now I’m not advocating that teams throw a bunch of crap up to simply appease people, especially those not usually in the space. In fact, the big visible stuff should be minimalistic; the least amount of information required to paint a deep, rich picture of what is going on, what value is being added, when things are happening, and anything else that is useful.

I’m not going to go into what specifically any of the stuff should be. There is tons of information out there on that such as information radiators, styles of team boards, card maps and lots more. Instead, I encourage you to think about the message you want your space to convey.

Here are a few things to consider in addition to the actuall stuff you choose to hang up:

1) If it’s hanging up, make sure it’s actually big and visible 

Sometime I wish plotters were never invented. Release burn-down charts and code coverage trends are examples of useful things to hang up. Too often though, I see people (usually PMs with whiz-bang tools) print them out. I assume they do this because they think it’s easier, but walk across to the opposite side of the team space and tell me if you can read it…all of it. It’s not enough to see the trend lines if you don’t know what the chart is trending or what the axes are. Instead, draw it out on some paper or a white board with a big fat marker. Now go walk across the room…yeah, betcha can read that!

2) If it’s hanging up, make sure it’s useful

like to think of this as pruning. Something that was once useful may have run its course. If so, tear it down. If you need it later, recreate it. However, before just tearing stuff down, make sure the whole team agrees that what ever it is is no longer useful. When in doubt leave it up, there are usually ways to make more room if you need it. It’s also important for the team to consider organizational usefulness. Not everything will be the most useful to the team itself, but sometimes to managers or other stake holders. PMs like release burn downs and cost burn-ups, CFOs like value stories etc… These should not dominate the space, but they are still useful, and it’s important for the team to understand their organizational usefulness as well :)

3) If you need something useful, make sure you hang it up 

The space is not a fixed thing. Obviously if we can tear stuff down we can put new stuff up. The process of software development is journey or learning and discovery. Visualizing different things along the way can help a team communicate, both with each other as well as those outside the team. If you think something might be useful, hang it up for a while, try it out. If it doesn’t add the value you thought, ask how it can be improved. If after a while it is still not providing value, see #2.

4) If it’s hanging up, make sure it’s in a good position 

Not all wall space is created equal. This could be due to many things such as lighting, vantage point, furniture arrangement etc… The best thing to do is plan a little bit before you hang something up. How often will it be updated? Is it a conversation centerpiece? Should it be visible to a passer-by? Once decided, go hang it up. If things change and it needs moved, move it…it’s only paper and tape right?

5) If it’s hanging up, take pride in making it

Remember, you are crafting a message. You want things to be visible, digestible and useful. Those traits can be hard to achieve if your big visible stuff looks messy, half-assed or cluttered. It doesn’t take that long to use a straight edge instead of free-hand drawing. Create a color scheme of post-its or stickers. Use different size index cards to mean different things. Create a legend. It doesn’t have to be a work of art, but it should be tidy (within reason) and professional looking to communicate your message effectively. If you think something has gotten too messy over time, clean it up or redo it…it usually doesn’t take very long.

6) If it’s hanging up, it’s a living document

Don’t be afraid to enhance anything that’s hanging up. Feel free to draw, stick stickers, add post-its or whatever else adds value. You can usually tell which documents (big visible charts) a team find the most useful by the amount of enhancements made to it!

Finally, don’t forget to test this stuff out when you think you are done. Stand back from your space and look at it. What does it say to you? Stand in the doorway or hallway and look in. What does it look like from there? Have people from other teams walk through. Is there anything that is unclear to them? Ask a manager, director or executive to walk by. What were they able to tell by just looking? Maybe do a few of these every now and then as your space evolves with different stuff.

Ultimately, don’t forget that original question from way up there: Does it change someone’s mood? Folks should feel better about what the team is doing, where the project is headed, and what they are getting for all the team’s effort. If this is the case, then you’ve successfully crafted both an effective team space as well as an effective message.

This post was originally published by the Matt Barcomb on and was reposted with permission. 

Preaching To The Choir


Recently, I was giving a class and during a portion of the class I discuss some of the cultural changes usually required for organizational progressive elaboration of work. During the break that followed this particular discussion, one of the attendees came up to me and said:

“Seems you’re preaching to the choir here. We all agree with what you’re sayin’…but it wont do any good unless we get the managers in here.”

While I certainly understand this reaction, and unfortunately find that it’s not that uncommon, I still find it a bit disheartening…and a little frustrating.

This attitude of “I can’t change the things that influence me”, and “what I can control isn’t big enough to really change anything” is entirely the wrong attitude.

Changing the things that you can control, no matter how seemingly insignificant, should never be down-played. One can always take complete control of their own actions, behaviors, and reactions. Combined with a little learning and a bit of creativity this can become very powerful indeed. So, try changing the things you can; the things over which you have direct control. Share what you’ve tried, what you’ve learned, what worked well and what didn’t. Share up, share down, make it visible, let people ask about it and then share with them too. Eventually this can influence up, down, and across the network of an organization.

Sometimes it only take one person to make a significant change. Other times it spreads slowly before snowballing into a major organization shift. And many times making a “major” or “significant” change isn’t even needed. Sometimes it’s the little things that count.

So, the moral of the story is that even the choir can use the message, and even the choir is able to go out into the world and try to make it a better place through their own actions…and employees who think their organization could be better are just as much on the hook for trying to improve it as the managers and executives are.

This post was originally published by the Matt Barcomb on and was reposted with permission. 

IoT Course Week 13 – IoT Platforms

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 3.07.21 PM

Last week, we explored remote firmware updates for IoT Devices, using the Debian Package system. This week, we’ll be discussing various IoT platforms.

When we started the course, we had an explicit goal to avoid “black box” solutions, platforms, and vendor lock-in, as much as possible.  We wanted students to understand how these systems are built, as well as architectural and security considerations. The course in some ways is “Learn IoT the Hard Way”, by learning through building various components of an IoT system, stiching those components into a holistic system, and touching on a number of important non-functional requirements, like security, load testing, analytics, and firmware update.  Through that experience (and occasional struggle), we hoped to arm students with enough knowledge and experience to understand both the individual components as well as the overall system.

You can, of course, purchase a complete IoT system – they’re generally referred to as IoT Platforms.  There are many, many choices

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 9.30.23 AM

Platform Tradeoffs

When building a product or a business around any technical platform, one must consider the long term implications of that platform. There are the basic questions of functionality and offloading work and operations, but the added complexities of hardware. What does this platform scale to, how quickly can I go from prototype to market, where can I source large quantities of an item, etc. Software as a service also has a few horror stories of products or companies discontinuing a line, which other companies heavily rely on. Controlling your own destiny is very important, and can sometimes be difficult when building your business on a platform that is someone else’s responsibility to keep running. One platform which we feel is here to stay for some time however, is Amazon Web Services.


From the beginning of this course, the intention was to never take the easy path in building the LAMPi system. Amazon offers a service encompassing much of the functionality we have spent the past several weeks piecing together, AWS IoT, which provides secure, bidirectional communication between internet-connected things and the AWS cloud. This includes a robust security model, device registry, MQTT message broker, as well as integration ease with the remainder of AWS’ cloud offering. Let’s dive in.

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 10.15.23 AM

The Message Broker offered through AWS IoT mirrors sections of the MQTT broker, Mosquitto, that we used for LAMPi. AWS takes it to the next level by providing an HTTP RESTful interface to get and change the current state of your devices. The broker does not retain any messages, but simply provides a central point for the pub-sub model.

Aptly named, the Thing Registry, acts as the central location for managing and identifying the things, or devices hooked into the AWS IoT system. The Thing Registry keeps track of any resources or attributes associated with a particular thing. It also provides a location to keep track of MQTT client ID’s and associated certificated, which improve one’s ability to manage and troubleshoot individual things.   

Coupled with the Thing Registry is AWS’ concept of Thing Shadows. This is a persistent digital representation of the state of a device. As well as providing the current reported state of a device, it also will report the state desired, clientToken which it uses to send MQTT environments, and metadata.

AWS IoT comes with the robust Security and Identity Service that our team has come to know and love throughout this course. Things retain their own credentials, and access is granted to the system through the assignment of rules and permissions. Three identity principals are supported in this system, X.509 certificates, IAM, and Amazon Cognito.   

All of these services have the added benefit of being fairly cheap. The current rate is at $5 per million messages.

Next week, join us for the final installment of the IoT Course Blog Series: Week 14 Final Projects and Wrap Up.

Can’t get enough insights? Discover why A Locust Swarm is a Good Thing or how Selecting the Right User Research Method can make all the difference to your product’s success.

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! We’d love to hear all about it!

Does Your Team Have a Blame Well?

Here is an important role for every budding team…It’s called the “Blame Well”.images-1
Now, the way it works is, each week the team rotates the role of Blame Well to a new team member. During that week, if anything goes wrong that team member immediately assumes all blame for anything that goes amiss.

The role of Blame Well enables the team and stakeholders to immediately get past trying to figure out whose fault anything is. Instead, the team can directly move into useful discussion about resolving whatever issue came up.

So…this post is definitely tongue-in-cheek. I think if a team really needed a Blame Well there are deeper problems to address.

What I hope folks can take away from this is that focusing energy on assigning fault and blame is pretty pointless. A better approach is to simply figure out what the next best thing can be done in the current context.

This doesn’t mean teams shouldn’t inspect and adapt…but true reflection and growth happens without fault and blame.

I’d enjoy hearing stories about how people helped their own teams or organizations get out of the blame game.

This post was originally published by the same author on It was reposted with permission because we threatened to throw him in the blame well for a month if he said no. 😀