Innovation is not a Linear Phenomenon: The Faraday FF Zero 1 Example

Innovation ‘R’ Us

Every company is trying to “innovate” these days… no matter how large or small. Some of the bigger ones are virtually pleading with their multinational workforce through challenges, awards and incentives to come up with the magic pill that will help the company sail through stormy waters (As Alf Rehn summarized it [1], “in April we innovate, in May we fire people”) .

The smaller ones… well, there are companies based entirely on nothing else but “an innovative solution” to do something you could already do before (but this time in a Javascript framework). Looking at it from the Lean Startup perspective, I find it a bit weak when a whole business is based on the USP of “innovative”. Your solution could be based on quality attributes [2] that make it faster, scalable, interoperable, customizable, streamlined, or really 100 other ways that could maximize value… the means to achieve these better be innovative, because that’s the very least your customer expects from you!

Have you ever heard a Formula 1 driver call himself fast? Or a firefighter call him/herself brave? Or a surgeon boast about how precise she is? No, because these are attributes that are inherently expected of them. If they weren’t fast or brave or precise, they wouldn’t last very long in their line of work. Similarly, today all technology companies are expected to be innovative in order to survive. You know who boosts their own ego publicly? Pop stars:

 

Innovation is… Not Where You Think it is

Now, about Faraday. Earlier this year at CES I picked up this leaflet from the Faraday FF Zero 1 booth. Since then, I have thought often of the part marked in red below:

Faraday-3

“SVP of R&D … spotted a drawing of a racecar on a designer’s desk and thought …”

BOOM. Innovation happened. Did the designer have a mandate to come up with a supercar? No. Was the SVP in an in offsite innovation workshop, brainstorming with other employees? No. Was there an innovation competition or challenge going on in the company, with an award at the end of it? Probably not. This is possibly the best example that innovation does not happen in an institutionalized manner. When successful innovation happens, it comes from the most unexpected places, more often than not driven by synergy, and it opens up a non-linear value proposition:

innovation_graph2

Original image credit: [3]

 

An Indicator of Innovation

These days some people are solving more problems with a Raspberry Pi over a weekend, than during a whole week of work in front of a corporate laptop. What can leaders do to harness this immense creative potential? I think the answer is to build an organization conducive to innovation, geared up to quickly change course when an innovation potential appears on the horizon, and… basically get out of the way. Easier said than done, you say… there are risks, budgets, stakeholders, possibly even (shudder) committees… no way this is going to work.

Which brings me to the final point: how deeply is trust rooted in the company’s culture? In Faraday’s example, the SVP trusted that something produced by one of his designers was potentially a big deal. It did not come up through a chain of committees and approvals. It happened through synergy. And while structure can stifle synergy, trust can help it thrive.

I therefore argue that the amount of trust in a company is a solid indicator of innovation potential. How much employees trust the leadership’s direction, how much coworkers trust each other (even across borders and timezones) and how much the leadership believes in the people they hired: these factors determine how likely synergistic events will be recognized, and nurtured into products or solutions that are called “innovative” by customers and competition, not just by the companies themselves.


[1] Alf Rehn, “How to Save Innovation From Itself”. Craft Conf 2016 talk.

[2] George Fairbanks, “Just Enough Software Architecture: A Risk-Driven Approach”. InfoQ interview and excerpt.

[3] MintViz.

Amuse UX Conference, Budapest

Last week, I had the privilege of being part of a group attending the first edition of AmuseConf on behalf of our company. Amuse is “an international conference for anyone interested in how to design and develop successful products that users love”. It’s organized by the same good folks that bring us the outstanding CraftConf year after year, sponsored primarily by Prezi and UStream (and SAP in case of Amuse). They did a near-perfect job, with only minor glitches with the seating and catering on the first day. Considering that the Big Data oriented CrunchConf was also literally next door, the event was practically flawless. Fast, uninterrupted WiFi and no food options for vegetarians/vegans remained a hallmark this organizing team (even though Tom Illmensee, event MC is himself vegetarian 😉 ).

(BTW, if you’re wondering why so many tech conferences are being hosted in Budapest, the event’s WiFi password should give you a hint):

20151103_083708867_iOS

510 attendees from 32 countries (as far away as Australia) made Amuse a roaring success, as did its impressive lineup of Speakers27% of the speakers were women, which is great for a tech conference — I hope next year we have even more!

Below is a summary of the talks I found the most relevant to my work. But by no means does that mean you should skip the other talks… depending on where you are and what you’re doing, you might be interested in some of the eclectic topics covered such as:

  • Designing web interfaces for children by Trine Falbe
  • Conducting research outside “sample of convenience” by Bill Selman from Mozilla Foundation
  • Design Thinking by Tobias Haug of SAP (my favorite quote: “Innovation = Execution x Creativity”)
  • How to get your dream UX job by Andrew Doherty of Google (worth checking out just for his mad presentation skills)
  • The Ethical Designer by Cennydd Bowles
  • Storytelling in a multidevice landscape by Anna Dahlstrom

Design Equilibrium

By Jonathan Lupo

Jonathan opened the conference with a very engaging talk drawing parallels between businesses and ecosystems: a “balanced exchange of value between Actors, Enterprise and Brand”. He gave practical examples citing the application of Lynn Shostack’s work on Service Blueprinting to a transformation in the healthcare industry. I strongly encourage viewing his inspiring talk on YouTube.

His core suggestion is a separation of Product Design from Service Design. The latter “fills in whitespaces between points of [rich] engagement provided by products”, helping to restore balance to the overall experience, and hence the business ecosystem. This is the real intangible value of services, as opposed to products.

He also proposed the concept of an “Engagement Model”: a framework to contextualize all the data a business collects.

UX: Design as a Science

By Joel Marsh, author of the UX Crash Course

Joel’s key message was that “Scientific UX Design is reproducible”: essentially drawing on the principles of the Lean Startup and applying them to the UX domain. His presentation was one of the most popular and engaging ones, and his quotes and examples garnered a lot tons of positive feedback. One thing that struck me was his exposition on the two types of creativity: Creative expression and creative problem solving. He noted that an over-applicability of creative expression can make you feel good as a designer, but result in an over-designed and bloated product:

ArtVsDesign

Another talk I would highly recommend watching when it comes out on UStream.tv.

Making Dog Food a Part of Your Balanced Diet

By Toby Sterrett

Toby used his work at Simple Bank to highlight the pros and cons of “eating your own dogfood”. The initial employees used the app themselves, and one of the downsides was that the missed revelation that users of such a smooth app had to deal with a paper form-based process to close their account, which took up to 20 days.

Another inspiring talk that you should definitely check out, full of quotes of wisdom like:

  • “Delight is design’s superpower”
  • A past discussion on Leadership strategy: “Build a shared vision, get the **** out of the way”
  • “UX is not about throwing technology at a problem, but throwing people at a problem”

On the other hand, Simple A/B tested as many as 16 variations of their login page (for more examples, check out UserOnboard.com).

Live posters being created by @remarker_eu

Live posters being created by @remarker_eu

How We Built Hotjar and Onboarded 50k Users in a Year

By Dr. David Darmanin

David used practical examples from Hotjar to support his model of “Drivers, Barriers and Hooks” when dealing with site visitors. He also put a quirky twist on some timeless wisdom:

The two most amazing insights for me were:

  • Hotjar captures every single customer interaction on a Trello board, and uses that feedback to prioritize their features.
    • They also make their roadmap public, which demonstrates their commitment and at the same time reduces enquiries about feature requests
  • They use the income from their paid customers to fund the creative freedom to build features for their free customers

The Invisible Interface: Designing the Screenless Experience

By Avi Itzkovich

Avi, founder of UXSalon, opened with a discourse on recent editions of Microsoft Productivity Future Vision. From there he led the discussion on towards a future without bigger and wider screens (which wouldn’t require “superhuman arm strength”):

  • “The most profound technologies are the ones that become invisible” 
    • Like automatically opening sliding doors
  • “Voice UI is the future”
  • “Gesture control is here to stay, but not on screens”

The Best Interface is No Interface

By Golden Krishna

Golden surmised that we are all “chipping away at digital chores”, and we don’t have to be “slaves to screens”. He has laid the foundations of the #NoUI movement with his book“The Best Interface is No Interface”. His excellent talk (slides here) was supported by book reading and real examples. Also, don’t forget to check out his accompanying toolkit on “how to create elegant solutions with no screens”.

For further inspiration to join the movement,  take a look at his Producthunt collection of “interfaces that require little or no time with screens”.

Magical UX and the Internet of Things

By Josh Clark

Josh opened with an announcement of his book release: “Designing for Touch”. His presentation was literally magical, complete with a wand, to the point that he managed to tie in together excerpts from preceding talks and put the whole conference in perspective. I found a similar slidedeck from one of his previous talks here, and I highly recommend taking a look at it while we wait for the official conference videos to come up on Ustream.tv. It was a treasure trove of out-of-the box examples like:

  •  Augmented REality Sandtable (ARES), which literally turns dirt into a high-tech, military-grade user interface… using not much more than a Kinect and projector
  • Grab Magic, which brings superpowers to data transfer
  • Propeller Health, which connects Asthma inhalers to phones for health monitoring

Josh’s key message was “interaction at the point of inspiration”: that we should think of “the whole world is an interface, just like it has always been”. He proposed “thereables” instead of wearables: bits of smart technology in the physical space where we would expect to interact with them, not something we burden ourselves by carrying or wearing all day long. To this end, he suggested that “the smartphone is Magic Wand 1.0 for everyone” and we should start thinking of it as just more than a screen.

IMG_4185

Regarding user interfaces, he had 3 bits of advice that I found remarkable:

  • “Technology should amplify our humanity”
  • “We shouldn’t educate users on how technology works, unless we really *have* to”
  • “Honor intention, don’t assume it”

Josh ended with a call to action:

Like this one.

 

 

 

 

 

Evangelizing Lean Product Development

I’ve written and tweeted before about how influential I think Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup has been for me. While we wait for Eric’s next book, The Startup Waywhich is more focused on bringing lean thinking to big companies (and by the way is being researched in a very interesting way — read about it on KickStarter), the timing was right for me to assimilate my thoughts and share them with a group of colleagues.

Lean Prezi pub

While I’m still waiting for the feedback to pour in for my 3-part course, I’m very happy to have had the opportunity to share with others that “Lean” is not just some black art practiced in car manufacturing plants, and “Entrepreneurship” can take root even in large, established organizations. Now, more than ever, we are all living (and trying to thrive) in “conditions of extreme uncertainty”.

I hope I have been able to get across some of the thinking behind the concepts covered in Eric’s book: the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop, the Minimum Viable Product, Innovation Accounting, Vanity Metrics, practical techniques like Cohort Analysis & Five Whys and finally the most relevant: The Innovation Sandbox.

I also threw in a bit of George Fairbanks’ Just Enough Software Architecturewhich addresses “engineering risk”, as opposed to “project management risk”. And of course, lessons learned from my enlightening weekend at Lean Startup Machine a couple of years ago.

The coming days will tell if the course was useful and comprehensible enough for others to practically apply some of the principles to their projects. I hope that over time we can build a community of like-minded lean practitioners within the organization, acting as enablers of sustainable innovation. #WasteNot.

Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban or Just Ban Scrum? (Part 2 of 2)

Part II: Some Solutions

Continued from Part 1, with the same disclaimer applied.

frAgile

 

Collaboration and Distributed Scrum

If you’ve been in a successful Scrum Team with geographically distributed members, I would really like to hear from you, O Venerable Master. After all, team effectiveness has been known to diminish with as much as 2 meters of physical separation. If you must do Distributed Scrum (hopefully as a transitory step), then here are a few tips that will (I hope) save you the trouble of learning the hard way:

  1. Obviously, ensure everyone on the team is fully aware of language and cultural differences, especially the Power Distance Index (if that sounds familiar, it’s from Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers)
  2. Email is only 14-17% effective as a medium of communication (Videoconferencing helps)
  3. Further, information is lost exponentially as a function of distance and overhead of tools used (simply put, people are inherently lazy…)
  4. …Which may prevent you from achieving fully cross-functional teams without specialists
  5. Agile at scale requires trust at scale
  6. Everyone needs to have access to the same infrastructure (at the same latency) and an identical development environment
  7. Get Agile Evangelists (SM, Coaches, stakeholders) at every location and get them to agree on your organization’s Scrum process
  8. Eliminate mixed signals, possibly by having a Proxy Product Owner
  9. Empowerment and Autonomy are useless without Feedback
  10. Establish an Exchange Program where [at least some] developers from different locations get to experience the reality of their counterparts (This will probably be your best investment)

The most important consideration, given all the specific limitations of your situation, must be that whatever arrangement you come up with, is sustainable. Create success stories and replicate the model. And note that Distributed Team can very well exist without Distributed Scrum.

Why Are You Doing Scrum, Anyway?

One day I’m going to be an Anti-Agile Coach. Because I’m convinced they’re so many people getting it wrong, that there’s a lot of money to be made from it. But first, some free advice: You should really consider if Agile or Scrum is really applicable to your Organization, Industry and Business Context. A good starting point is the following thought process:

You would like to adopt Scrum (or Agile) because…

  1. …Your scope/specifications/customer commitments change often (If not, you might be indulging in WaterScrumFall)
  2. …Your market changes often, requiring quick adaptability (e.g. Competition pops up out of nowhere overnight)
  3. …You need to deliver (or release) continuously (As opposed to a one-time deployment, followed by maintenance)
  4. …Your technology stack can/will change often (i.e. you haven’t invested tons of $ in license fees, and/or you will evaluate multiple options)
  5. …You have the flexibility to experiment/take risks, and your organization rewards failure (or at the very least, doesn’t penalize it)
  6. …Your dev team is nascent, so you expect dev processes to evolve
  7. …Your industry is neither mission-critical nor heavily regulated (although there are exceptions as Nancy Van Schooenderwoert explains)
  8. …You have metrics to show that Scrum would be more effective
  9. …Your Admin/HR/IT teams have Daily Standups (yes, I have seen them happen)
  10. …Everyone else is doing it

If you scored low on the above checklist, please consider that Iterative Software Development is still a thing, especially if you’re dealing with hardware or manufacturing. It’s not Waterfall, but it’s Scrum with a bit more commitment.

On the other hand, you might be in a field of work where you’re ready to treat software development more like Surgery than Civil Engineering (as Dan North explains in his talk).

Whatever you do, don’t indulge in Reverse Waterfall: Convincing yourselves that what you delivered is in fact what you intended to deliver.

(Please share your thoughts and experiences as a comment or connect with me on Twitter: @survivalcrziest)

 

Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban or Just Ban Scrum? (Part 1 of 2)

Part I: Some Problems

I have been playing the Scrum Master role off and on since 2008, almost all of it for geographically distributed teams. During this period, I have been lucky enough to work for 3 different companies in 4 countries. Over the years, a sinking feeling has been growing within me that we have started using “Agility” to mask unwillingness (or I dare say, often, inability) to commit. Allow me to crystallize some of the thoughts that are forming in my head.

(My usual disclaimer applies: none of the below is intended to reflect on my employer(s) or specific colleagues, whether past or present. These are my personal, generalized opinions intended for retrospection.)

ScrumTF

Ceremonies and Metrics

First and foremost, if you don’t have Sprint Retrospectives, or in your organizational/business context, are unable to enforce accountability for, or effectively followup on, action items identified in the Retrospective, then read no further. Your Scrum is Doomed.

Sprint iteration size matters, too: “A 2-week sprint is just enough time for a mini-waterfall, and thus we are all basically whitewater rafting all the time” ( — Dan North).

If:

  • you’re not collecting metrics (at the very least: Capacity, Velocity, Committed vs Completed Story Points, Release Burn Up, possibly correlation between Story Points and Hours, if you’re organization is into that sort of thing, and various forms of Lead Time)
  • or not really paying attention to what they’re telling you
  • and they are not visible to and understood by the whole team

then you have already failed, you just can’t see it yet.

Demo vs Release

On the other end of the spectrum, when the mandate for Scrum or Agile comes top-down, often there is excessive emphasis on ceremonies. Specifically, the end-goal of the Sprint becomes the Demo, rather than the Release. Scrum clearly dictates that no additional or specific effort must be spent on the Demo, it should be more like a natural outcome.

You can have as many Demos as you want, but what really matters for a product is Customer Feedback. Which, just to be clear, is not the same as Internal Management Feedback. Management is inherently biased in favor of your team, after all they very likely played a big part in hiring and building it. 10 internal demos are worth a single demo in front of a potentially paying customer.

The focus, then, should be on the Release of the Potentially Shippable Product Increment (complete with changelog, user documentation, installers, troubleshooting guides and quality reports) rather than an orchestrated demo in a controlled environment. This is where Continuous Integration, Continuous Deployment and more recently, DevOps comes in to the picture. If your Release Process is time consuming, unpredictable, not automated and/or has too many dependencies that are not in your control, your team is not yet Agile.

Dependencies

If your software dev team is Agile, but the rest of the organization is not, Agile is going to fail. By rest of the organization, I mean other dev teams that they have dependencies on, manufacturing, HR, Admin, IT — every single department in the organization needs to understand, live and breathe Agile. Because if they can’t respond to change effectively, then they will hold your software dev team back.

The most effective way of crippling a self-organizing Agile team is to give them full accountability, with limited or no influence over those responsible for potential impediments.

Another assured path to mayhem is when multiple teams work on a shared codebase in concurrent sprints, or when a dependency is being iterated on in the same sprint as a feature that needs to be delivered.

The Bottomless Backlog

Often in geographically distributed teams, and/or on large scale projects, the physical Scrum Task Board is replaced by a more practical virtual one. Such task boards, like those provided by JIRA Agile, Rally, Trello and several others, replace Post-Its by virtual cards, enhanced by features such as attachments, comments, time tracking and reporting. Just like any other application of technology, there is a flip side: It just a matter of a few clicks and keystrokes to add something to your Product Backlog, or to alter project plans in a significant way by moving tasks around. It’s very easy to get carried away, and often we start injecting scope creep into the Backlog, disguised as finer details of existing features (for example see User Stories vs The User’s Story).

If your organization uses different tools for Requirements Management and Project Tracking, and if there’s no strict mapping from requirements to user stories (yes, it happens 🙂 ), then it becomes very easy to lose control of the project without realizing it. A more typical scenario is working with a limited budget (usually allocated upfront),  but adding tasks endlessly — kind of like a fractal with fixed surface area, but infinite perimeter. Even with regular Backlog Grooming and prioritization, your team will still feel dissatisfied because a major chunk of the Product Backlog will end up remaining undelivered.

Finally, if you’re not in a position where you can compromise features over quality, then your Agility is severely limited.

Upfront Architecture and Specification

Probably the biggest excuse we use Agile for is to do away with high-level architecture altogether. Different Sprint teams work on different areas of the project, each optimizing locally and focused on the immediate Sprint (or two). Eventually it becomes apparent that several teams have been solving the same problem, maybe (surprise) even in different ways. The Scrum of Scrums can help, but on the rare occasions when it does happen, it is more focused on execution than design. Towards the end, more incompatibilities surface and there is a rush to “adapt the Architecture to the Business Reality”, which is basically an update of the Architectural artifacts based on the code being delivered, rather than the other way round.

So let’s recap:

  1. Being Agile does not mean no design, it means less upfront design.
  2. There needs to be traceability from Requirements to Specification to Architecture to Design to Execution to Validation to Deployment. It doesn’t matter what you call these things in the context of your Industry, but just because you aren’t doing Waterfall doesn’t mean you can decouple execution from specification.
  3. Technical Delegation is not the same as Management Delegation. If you ask 5 teams to report progress using a specific tool, they will all report it the same way. But if you ask 5 self-organizing Scrum Teams to architect a technical solution, you will get at least 3 different results, if not 5 (or 7 with secondary recommendations).

Read on for some recommended solutions. I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences, please leave a comment or connect with me on Twitter: @survivalcrziest

Types of Managers

We’ve all seen them. We’ve worked with them. Some of us are one of them. Leave a comment if you think I missed any.

Disclaimer: Any resemblance to a single real person is purely your imagination. This is an article about Management Personas.

The Soccer Coach Manager

Angry. Disbelieving. Distrustful. Ageing. Frustrated. Abusive. Resting on decades-old laurels. Often wears a suit.

The Stayin’ Alive Manager

Dances from one meeting to another. Struggles to make it through the day. Seems to be constantly falling behind. Emails you on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons. Is always forgetting something important.

The Stealth Manager

Never available for important meetings because he’s attending other important meetings. Never responds to emails because he has too many emails to read. Known to be sending out important emails while being away from his laptop and phone. Only seen at office parties and team buliding events, or anywhere else where either alcohol is served or upper management is present. Delegates everything, tracks nothing.

The Null Manager

A stealth manager who made him/herself redundant.

The Mismanager

Destroys every project s/he touches. Announces deadlines when they are looming so close you can physically feel the heat. Generally clueless and relies on others to complete his/her sentences with facts. Then rephrases what other said as his own ideas. Following the Dilbert Principle, usually found in high places.

The Smooth Operator Manager

Wildly successful. Impeccably dressed (often in blue or pink). Never seen without sunglasses, even indoors. Highly educated, with at least one degree being an MBA. Knows his/her scotch and wine. Hasn’t travelled in anything below Business Class in a decade. Has expensive hobbies. Fitness freak. Possibly good at his/her job. Either deeply envied or deeply hated.

The Commando Manager

Ex-military, with a pair of Ray Ban Aviators. Bossy, dominating. Often mixes brown shoes with black suits (and vice versa). Well meaning but possibly anachronic. Always has a war story or joke to share. Often repeats them.

The Forced Manager

Just wants to sit in a corner with his headphones on and get some real work done. Instead spends his day juggling colorful Excel sheets, whining employees and dissatisfied customers. Despondent, maybe even dejected or depressed. Has a picture of a tropical island and/or his family in a discrete corner (or as his/her wallpaper) to remind him/herself about why they still need this job. Falls sick often because of the stress.

The Leader

The only type of manager we really need. Rose up from the ranks. Knows what s/he’s talking about. Is willing to take risks and stand up for his/her people. Good humored. Well organized. Compassionate. Possibly eccentric.