Learning to Deliberate: A Letter to Bloomberg, Schultz and Billionaires

It pains me when billionaires who are trying to make America better face the same challenges as ordinary citizens creating high-impact results that improve outcomes, especially when Conteneo and our community of Certified Collaboration Architects have developed solutions to these challenges through Deliberative Decision Making, Participatory Budgeting and other forms of scalable civic engagement.

Which is why I’m asking for your help in sending this post to Michael Bloomberg, Howard Schultz, George Soros, Rupert Murdoch, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg and any other billionaire you know who seeks to increase civic engagement and high-impact, non-partisan collaborative problem solving. Let’s let them know that we’ve created the platforms they need to create the better world of our collective dreams.

Michael Bloomberg Wants a Better Government

On Mar 7, 2016, Michael Bloomberg published this essay outlining why he will not be running for President. In his article Mr. Bloomberg outlined several goals, including:

I’ve always been drawn to impossible challenges, and none today is greater or more important than ending the partisan war in Washington and making government work for the American people — not lobbyists and campaign donors.

“Making government work for the American people” is at the core of our philanthropic work at Every Voice Engaged Foundation, so I immediately emailed David Shipley, the editor listed at the bottom of the article. I shared  Conteneo’s partnership with The Kettering Foundation in creating the first platform for scalable deliberative decision making modeled on the process pioneered by Kettering. Given that Brendan Greeley had previously written about our efforts implementing Participatory Budgeting in San José, CA, I thought David would reply to my email. A week later I’ve not heard from David, which motivated this post, and my hopes that the global Conteneo community can help us reach David (my original email is contained at the end of this post).

Howard Schultz Wants Us to Deliberate

The momentum for better government keeps growing! The Mar 21, 2016 (print) issue of Forbes has this article about Howard Schultz Howard Schultz’s Stormy Crusades: The Starbucks Boss Opens UpThe article has this to say about Howard’s ambitions:

Now he wants Starbucks to be the place where people can get excited about voting again, where people can courteously discuss tough issues such as gun rights and race relations–and where “ we can elevate citizenship and humanity.”

 

The challenge facing Mr. Schultz is that simply asking people to “courteously discuss tough issues” is doomed to failure. The vast majority of people are not formally trained in the art and process of deliberation. It isn’t that they aren’t willing to engage. It is that they don’t know how. Putting this in terms Mr. Schultz can embrace, I might love a skinny Grande extra hot latte, but unless I have the right materials (coffee, milk), the right machine and the right process I’m not going to enjoy my steaming cup of goodness.

Engaging citizens in tough issues is exactly the same: We need the right materials (a discussion guide framing the issue being discussed), the right machine (Common Ground for Action, our software platform to support deliberative decision making) and the right process (the deliberation process captured within the software).

With these in place Mr. Schultz can turn Starbucks into a destination for deliberation!

We Need to Reform How We’re Approaching Immigration Reform

It is really sad that I’m likely to put the success of my company at risk by stating that we need to reform how we’re approaching immigration reform, but our corporate values of serving the world through advanced decision-making gives me strength.

We need to reform how we’re approaching immigration reform.

We need to adopt deliberative decision making as the foundation for exploring the complex challenges of immigration reform. We need to do this at a scale that is unprecedented. Since you can’t engage in deliberation on Facebook, we need to do this on Conteneo’s platforms (sorry, Mark).

And notice that I didn’t say that we need to be non-partisan, inclusive and all of those other platitudes that pundits like to spout. That’s because deliberative decision making and a properly framed issue guide includes, by design, a range of possible actions motivated by things that are held valuable among all of us. Kinda like saying that a good cup of coffee starts with a good coffee bean, right Mr. Schultz?

What You Can Do?

Help me reach your favorite billionaire. Tweet a link to this article. Forward the email I wrote to David Shipley from your account. Let’s make a small amount of collaborative noise so that we can enjoy, as Mr. Bloomberg suggests, the government we deserve.

Original email to David Shipley, 7-Mar-2016

David –
Like many Americans, I share Michael Bloomberg’s concerns about the terrific challenges facing our country (outlined here). At the heart of these challenges is the inability to deliberate on the wicked problems we’re facing.

Unlike most other Americans, I’ve done something about it. Working with The Kettering Foundation my company has created Common Ground for Action, the first platform for Deliberative Decision Making. This work builds upon the ground-breaking work I’ve done in Participatory Budgeting, a story covered by Brendan Greeley a few years ago (here).

The purpose of this email is to share this amazing platform with you in the hopes that we can use it to engage America in the kinds of discussions we must have in order to found common ground for action.

Start by watching this video produced by our development partner, The Kettering Foundation: https://vimeo.com/m/99290801. Really. Just 5 minutes. It provides you with an amazing overview of the platform.

Here is the rest of the story :-).

The Kettering Foundation frames wicked social problems for public debate and problem solving. They’ve got an in-person process for deliberation that they deliver through www.nifi.org. To frame an issue they create an issue guide which identifies three or 4 unique options or strategies for solving the problem (not just “yes” or “no” – but truly different perspectives). The scope of Kettering’s focus is quite impressive: They’ve built more than hundreds of issue guides on immigration reform, healthcare reform, education reform, resolving the national debt to name just a few of the categories that exist.

I’ve attached a few issue guides for your review [note: these are available at www.nifi.org]. I believe the format of these issue guides could provide a good model for some of the problems Mr. Bloomberg wants us to tackle.

But of course reading an issue guide isn’t building common ground. For this, you need a deliberative forum, a carefully controlled process in which a group of people consider an issue by reviewing different options (or strategies) as to how it could be solved.

Each strategy, in turn, is framed in terms of a set of actions that could be taken that are congruent or supportive of the strategy. Each action, in turn, has a set of drawbacks that must be considered if enacted. By thoughtfully – through deliberation – considering options, actions and drawbacks – participants develop an understanding of where common ground exists within a group for concerted action.

We’ve put the process into a scalable web based collaboration platform that embodies and leverages this process in the context of our proven techniques for collaboration at scale. As participants progress through the platform we give them visualizations of where common ground exists within the group. As opinions change through deliberation we update these visualizations in real-time.

When finished, the group has a clear understanding of where common ground exists for taking action on a complex issue – an excellent approach to managing wicked problems.

As you can imagine, identifying where common ground exists within a group of people, and at scale, helps create far better decisions and faster, more thorough execution.

I hope you found this email useful enough to share with Mr. Bloomberg in an effort to help us scale deliberation and identify the common ground for action so sorely needed in our country.


Multidimensional Collaboration and Multiple Waves of Agility

SolutionsIQ

Three Waves of Agile – From SolutionsIQ

Charlie Rudd, CEO of SolutionsIQ, a Conteneo customer and partner, just published The Third Wave of Agile, a very insightful post that compactly describes how Agile has progressed from single teams, to multiple teams (Agile at Scale), to the entire enterprise (Business Agility). As a leader in the Agile movement since 2003, I find myself agreeing with his insights. More importantly, I also believe that his graph on industry maturity applies to the changes a single organization realizes as they pursue business agility: they start with teams, move to scale and then focus on the enterprise.

In this post I’ll build on his insights and show the multidimensional collaboration and increasingly advanced decision making processes support organizations through their transitions to increasingly greater agility.

Team-Centric Collaboration

Individuals are no longer the “unit” of work. Teams are now rightfully considered the core unit of work, something I first explored in 1996 in my book Journey of the Software Professional. And in the past year, we’ve had a number of books support this thesis, from Team Genius to Team of Teams. Wherever you look, it is clear that organizations now accept that the team is the heart of effective Agility.

SolutionsIQ

A Product Vision Box for a Coffee Maker

Individual teams enhance performance through collaborative frameworks. Consider, for example, a single team will align on their goals faster if they create a Product Box to capture their vision of their product or service; they can improve their performance through a Speed Boat retrospective; or they can engage in strategic prioritization and roadmapping through Prune the Product Tree and tactical/near-term prioritization through Buy a Feature.

I find it curious that although I originally created Innovation Games® as collaborative frameworks to help teams “get outside the walls” to collaborate with customers organizations adopting Agile typically start by using the frameworks with a team-focused mindset. I attribute this to the fact at in the early stages of Agile adoption, which parallel the adoption of Agile in our industry outlined in Charlie’s post, teams are just learning how to be more effective as teams. There are some progressive Product Managers and Product Owners leverage the frameworks to collaborate externally in this stage, but at this stage of Agility many teams are primarily inwardly focused.

We also see many teams starting their journey to more effective collaboration focusing more on in-person techniques. This is quite natural: we naturally seek co-located teams. Fortunately, our industry is growing up, and we’re now recognizing that even small teams can be high-performance when some team members are distributed. Indeed, Conteneo’s own development teams are distributed over three locations. These teams need the ability to collaborate with the same frameworks, which is why cloud-enabled, multidimensional collaboration is critical for both teams and the next stage of business agility.

Agility at Scale: Team of Teams Collaboration

Agility at scale is the natural and straightforward extension of team-based agility: Instead of one team using a framework to improve their performance, multiple teams are engaged to improve the performance of the enterprise. Here are three examples – which are still inwardly focused (e.g., focused within the organization).

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[table_cell_head] Enterprise Retrospectives [/table_cell_head]

[table_cell_head] Enterprise Prioritization [/table_cell_head]

[table_cell_head] Enterprise Alignment [/table_cell_head]

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Instead of a single team conducting an in-person Speed Boat retrospective, every team conducts an online Speed Boat retrospective, generating the organizational data needed to improve the performance of the enterprise (this process is explored extensively in this post).

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Instead of a single team prioritizing their backlog using Buy a Feature, the strategic planning or portfolio management organization engages the entire organization through Buy a Feature online. This use of the Conteneo Collaboration Cloud Decision Engine is so common that we’ve designed special features scheduling and data analytic features for large scale prioritization (which is also common in our philanthropic work at Every Voice Engaged Foundation).

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High-performing organizations are aligned on common values and objectives while allowing individual variation in pursuing these objectives. Alignment Engine, also known as Knowsy®, is specifically designed to help organizations build alignment within and across teams.

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Inwardly facing organizations can’t sustain themselves, and it is in this second wave of Agility where we see organizations moving to leverage the frameworks as originally conceived: tools to help Agile teams collaborate with customers, stakeholders, partners and other entities outside the company walls. This matches the increasingly common use of our frameworks in Lean Startups and helps explain why noted strategy guru Alexander Osterwalder included them in his ground-breaking book Value Proposition Design.

Third Wave Agile Decision Making

In his post, Charlie characterized the third wave of Agility by emphasizing management and leadership practices. In addition to the leadership practices that Charlie outlined, I’ll add that the Third Wave of Agile includes expanding the decision-making focus of the organization from the more technical problems of the first two waves (e.g., how to we create roadmaps, improve planning, prioritize budgets) to include a new class of wicked problems.

Three Waves of Agile Decision Making – Adapted from SolutionsIQ

As I outlined in my Agile 2015 keynote, Technical problems tend to be clearly defined, have shorter, often repeating time horizons. “Failure” is not catastrophic (because we can often take the decision over) and the decision making process is dominated by knowledge and economics. Prioritizing a backlog, creating a roadmap, and even Remembering the Future are all examples of frameworks that are leveraged for technical problems.

Wicked problems, on the other hand, tend to have long time horizons and involve multiple actors with different value systems. Unlike technical problems, this leads to inertia and catastrophic outcomes, because many times the only thing we know will happen is that things will get worse through inaction (even when we’re not sure of a better action). Urban planning, childhood obesity, and key aspects of corporate strategy, such as how to deal with massive technical debt, are all examples of wicked problems.

A key distinction in the third wave of Agility is how the organization tackles wicked problems. Historically, organizations have failed as often 50% of the time in strategic decision-making because they lacked the decision-making processes and collaborative platforms that enable deliberation at Scale. This is precisely why we created Strategy Engine: it is the first scalable platform for team-based deliberative decision making.

The Next Agile Wave

Although Charlie didn’t posit the next wave of Agility, I propose that the fourth wave is societal agility: the ability for communities, at multiple levels, to create more vibrant and dynamic ecosystems. Like the first three waves, this wave will be powered by small teams leveraging multidimensional collaborative frameworks. Instead of prioritizing features, cities will expand Participatory Budgeting so that every citizen has a greater voice in their budget. Instead of building alignment on corporate goals like cutting costs or increasing market share in growing economies, we’ll use Alignment Engine with our neighbors and discover that we share priorities for our communities. And instead of avoiding wicked problems, we’ll find Common Ground for Action.


Case Study: How to Take the Pain out Portfolio Prioritization

Ed. Note: This is the story of how Decision Engine and the Collaboration Framework known as “Buy a Feature/Budget Games” transformed the fourth largest telecommunications company in the world. 

MasaMaeda

Masa K. Maeda, CEO of Valueinnova.

In June 2014, Masa K. Maeda, CEO of Valueinnova, Playcamp organizer and Conteneo Certified Collaboration Instructor, began work on an Agile Transformation project at the Ecuadorean office of the fourth largest telecommunication company in the world. As you’d expect, this company has a corporate presence in each country where it offers services and among all of its offices, the Ecuadorian headquarters was considered the most innovative by the senior leadership team.

“The agile transformation began with a very positive impact,” Masa relates, “spreading from 34 people in one department to more than 200 people in eight departments in only six weeks. This happened despite the fact that original contract was for the transformation of just one department.”

“The key to such an accelerated rate of adoption,” Masa continues, “was the ubiquitous introduction and widespread use of high collaboration frameworks (a.k.a. “serious games”) in the teams and at most levels of decision making.”

This initial success gave Valueinnova the opportunity to propose to the general manager that the company use Decision Engine and the collaboration framework “Buy a Feature/Budget Games” to prioritize the company’s 2015 project portfolio, and Valueinnova’s proposal was accepted.

The Backstory

The company’s typical project portfolio prioritization process would begin in October and be complete in December. Each of the company’s twelve departments first prioritized its own project portfolio, which was comprised of 10 to 15 project proposals. The set of twelve prioritized project lists were then handed to a board led by the general manager.

“The board would then go through the painstaking and time-consuming task of merging all those projects to generate one project portfolio of around 140 projects!” Masa relate. “They also preserved the order of projects from each department. No project proposed by any department was rejected, save rare exceptions.”

The issues with the original process were:
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  • Resource and time consumption: Many employees and decision makers were involved for too long—they had to give up a good portion of their daily activities during the three month period.
  • Quantity and quality repercussions: Because the company didn’t make hard prioritization choices, they ended up with too many projects, causing some projects to be delivered late due to insufficient resources and other projects to be delivered with poor quality due to cutting corners.
  • Local optimization: Since each department did its own project filtering, the board rarely rejected any projects, resulting in green-lit projects that had little relevance to the company’s bottom line. This localized optimization problem meant that some departments which should have been given more resources to grow faster were starved of their potential.
  • Silo mentality: Each department focused on its own projects without knowledge or interest in the projects from other departments. This is also why the board only merged the departments’ portfolios and did no filtering.
  • Failing economy: All the issues above ultimately had a negative impact on the overall profitability and economic viability of the company.

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“By using the collaboration framework “Buy a Feature/Budget Games” and the online prioritization platform Decision Engine, we sought to minimize—and possibly eliminate—those issues,” reported Masa.

In the Beginning

The first step was to ask all 12 departments to create a Business Model Canvas (BMC) for each project that was to become part of its proposed portfolio.the-business-model-canvas-shadow-hero

“There was some hesitation,” Masa said, “because the teams were afraid that this would increase the time needed to create each project portfolio.”

However, creating the Business Model Canvases ended up saving time overall; the act of creating the BMCs collaboratively meant that the teams actually better understood each project and were able to eliminate irrelevant projects early on. The total number of projects in the portfolio of each department was reduced by 30% to 45%, Masa reports, so the total number of projects to be sent to the board was considerably smaller than in past years.

To make sure the person was focused on the most important needs of the business, each project was classified as either strategic or progressive during the second and third week of November. The progressive projects remained under the decision-making control of the departments while the strategic projects were elevated to be used in Decision Engine under the belief that collaborative prioritization among the department heads would produce the best overall choices for the company.

Preparation

In the second week of December, each department generated a spreadsheet that included each project name, a one-paragraph description, and one paragraph indicating its benefits and compromises.

What Happened When: The overall project timeline and deliverables.

What Happened When: The overall project timeline and deliverables.

“I used these spreadsheets to prepare the three-round Decision Engine tournament,” said Masa. “I gave a copy of the list to all the managers and the board who were to participate, three days prior to the tournament for them to read and start getting acquainted with all the projects. In hindsight, I should have given them more time, but the schedule didn’t allow it.”

The day prior to the tournament, Masa organized two activities. First, the department managers and the board gathered together for a set of presentations by each department on its proposed projects. Each project was allotted 5-minutes (3 minutes for presentation and 2 minutes for Q&A). Second, everyone participated in a practice session using the online platform, Decision Engine, using dummy data to ensure everyone was comfortable with the platform and the game mechanics. “I wanted them to be able to focus entirely the prioritization activity,” reports Masa.

More Data

Masa also added two new elements to the process to gather even more data. The data analysis done after a Decision Engine forum typically compares the exhaustive data gathered by the online system (chats, bids, purchases etc.). Sometimes, the producers will also assign observers to work with the facilitator to record notes on participant behavior, which is very valuable information that influences the study for better results. In this case, Masa decided to add:

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  1. Video and audio recordings of the sessions, and
  2. Heuristics based on fundamentals of Bayesian Statistics, to weigh variables taken from game observation such that applying the corresponding algorithm together with the game results would provide a better prioritization.

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Show Time

Room preparation began one hour in advance. In addition to Masa, the facilitation team included two volunteers with experience in high collaboration dynamics. One volunteer handled logistics, the other audio/video recording.

PrunetheTree

The team also used the collaboration framework “Prune the Product Tree” to collaboratively prioritize projects in the overall portfolio.

“We placed three session tables so that I could monitor all of them at the same time from a central table where I had 3 computers set up to facilitate the sessions,” detailed Masa. The team also had high-quality video and audio equipment set up to record each table. And they posted Prune the Product Tree posters on one wall, with large sticky notes printed with all the projects titles.

Everyone was on time and when the tournament began, all tables prioritized the first 50% of the projects in around 50 minutes.

“This first session started a bit slow,” Masa relates, “mostly due to discussion about the projects, and fortunately not due to the platform or game mechanics, demonstrating the benefit of the practice session done the previous day.”

The participants had a 15-minute coffee break at the end of the first session, so that Masa could set up the second forum. The participants then prioritized the remaining 50% of the projects in only 40 minutes.

“At that point I had to take the results of both games from all three tables and extract the top 10 projects to run the third session,” Masa reports. “We didn’t waste the time, however. While I set up the next set of forums, the two volunteers facilitated a Prune the Product Tree forum with all the participants to prune the entire project portfolio. I was ready to run the final prioritization session by the time they were done with the trees.”

The last Decision Engine forum took less than 30 minutes to complete, and all participants were able to leave earlier than scheduled. According to Masa, their familiarity with the projects was a huge contributor to more effective and proactive discussions. The discussions were also shorter because they focused on the value of the projects, rather than on understanding them.

The day-of agenda for the in-person prioritization.

The day-of agenda for the in-person prioritization.

Analysis

Masa collected the video and audio recordings, and the Prune the Product Trees (thus pruned!) and returned to his hotel room to begin analysis.

“This was a very involved activity,” said Masa. “I had to listed to every recording very carefully and map the information onto relevant variables to apply my algorithm. This was rather dynamic, since the variables emerged from the observation itself rather than being pre-determined, but this made it more effective.”

“I also added the results of Prune the Product Tree as a variable. Criteria included aspects such as the order in which projects were being discussed and purchased, the level of interest, amount of participation and other for a total of 15 variables.”

Masa reports that the analysis consumed the better part of two days. Once the data mapping was done, he ran the algorithm over the data. “I was very pleased with the results, because with the exception of one project, all were in agreement with what I had learned and observed during the past weeks. There was no bias since I didn’t participate on the games, and the data feeds were based on the observation captured by the cameras, microphones and the Prune the Product Trees.”

Masa used the one project that was in a higher priority than expected as a point of verification by reviewing all the data related to it. He found that the data effectively gave the project higher ranking. He then proceeded then to write the full report.

The results

Masa met with the team who helped him organize the Decision Engine tournament first, and they were amazed by the results and pleased with his explanation. Masa reports, “They were also surprised by the same project that I had surprised me. But they too agreed based on the data that its higher priority was correct.”

“The low esteem, so to speak, towards that project was because it wasn’t a sexy project. So while most people didn’t care for it, it absolutely needed to be done because it had to do with external governance.”

The next step was to present the results to the board. They were very impressed by the quality of the results, the process itself, the fact that the entire process took less than three weeks, the reduced number of projects and the already obvious economic benefit that was taking place.

The department heads and those who participated in the prioritization were also very pleased. The teams that generated the business model canvases and their department’s portfolio, also related to Masa that the experience was fun and helped them truly understand the projects.

“The decision makers said that it was the first time in the history of the company that they truly understood all the projects, and truly collaborated,” said Masa. They even gave higher priority to projects that weren’t their own; whereas in previous years, it was a battle to defend their own projects.

Moral of the story? Using Decision Engine and collaborative prioritization to prioritize their annual project portfolio brought the best out in all of them.