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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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.


Collaboration Framework Spotlight: Product Box to Science Fair.

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but fexibility is the progenitor of new collaboration frameworks, especially in in-person forums. Even with our long experience with live events and logistics, occasionally things go awry. Shipments are late or supplies we thought we definitely needed are sold out and unavailable. When faced with logistical snafus, Collaboration Architects excel as transforming problems into solutions.

Product Box to Science Fair

Protegra’s Terry Bunio transformed Product Box to Science Fair by using Tri-fold posters.

Protegra’s Terry Bunio writes on the Protegra company blog about just such an issue and how he was able to transform missing Product Box supplies into a new collaboration framework he calls, “Science Fair,” for an Agile Winnipeg User Group meeting.

Science Fair

The birth of Science Fair came from missing supplies (and the creative use of others.) For Product Box, we use white literature mailers, commonly found in most office supply stores in the U.S. Outside of the 50 states, however, we have to be flexible as they are often out of stock. As Terry writes, “I was hoping that the lack of white cereal-sized boxes was only temporary at Staples. Nope. They were nowhere to be found.”

Staples did have a selection of tri-fold display boards, the kind used by kids all over the world in science fairs. And Terry found a large selection of “animal stickers.” Using the supplies that were available, Terry had his teams create science fair “posters,” instead of Product Boxes, selling their bosses on the value of Agile.

product box takeout

Restaurant Takeout boxes are another common substitution when the typical white boxes can’t be found.

Terry writes that the new framework garned some unexpected benefits, including:
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  • More real estate or physical space for buiding out your argument.
  • Additional metaphor for talking about the problems, created through the use of animal stickers and the science fair concept.

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Have you had to adapt or change or create a new Innovation Game collaboration framework out of necessity? We’d love to hear about it.

 


Drinking Our Own Champagne: The Idea Engine 2.0 Design Jam

A little more than five years ago, Conteneo introduced the first scalable platform for visual collaboration, now called Idea Engine. Since then, we’ve built two other products, Strategy Engine and Alignment Engine, made drastic improvements to Decision Engine, launched a nonprofit to bring our techniques to the public sector and a whole bunch of other cool stuff! Unfortunately, along the way, Idea Engine received less love than it deserved and become a little stale. So stale, in fact, that we’ve decided to redesign and rethink the platform, reset our technology stack and create some powerful new capabilities that promote even more scalable collaboration and innovation. This is Idea Engine 2.0, and this is the first of several stories we’ll share about its creation. Our hope is that you’ll find techniques that you can leverage for your own products and services.

Getting Started!Design Jam 3

We kicked off Idea Engine 2.0 by “Drinking Our Own Champagne” and holding a Design Jam with our customers, strategic partners and advisors. A Design Jam is a special kind of Customer Advisory Board meeting in which we use collaboration frameworks like Prune the Product Tree to explore the next generation of our platform.
It’s critical to define your desired outcomes when planning an event, whether it’s in-person or online. Our desired outcomes for the Design Jam were:

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  • Develop a shared understanding of required/desired functionality for Idea Engine 2.0.
  • Review and improve design prototypes.
  •  Develop a milestone-driven release plan to make sure we have reasonable agreement on what we need to deliver first based on customer needs.
  • Develop a set of boundary situations; for example, what did we agree to do that we’re not doing?

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The milestone-driven release plan is a really important distinction between Agile planning and traditional planning. In a traditional process, we’d try to estimate the actual delivery dates, making premature and incorrect commitments to stakeholders. In a milestone-driven plan, supported through the collaboration framework Prune the Product Tree, we can confirm the sequence of value that our stakeholders need, safe in the knowledge that our development team will be working as fast as they possibly can.

Helping Stakeholders Help You

Because our customers and partners believe in our larger mission of using collaboration to solve technical and wicked social problems (see my Agile 2015 keynote for more on this), they regularly ask me how they can help. So, we asked our customers to prepare for the Design Jam by:
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  • Bringing an example of how they’ve been using Idea Engine 1.0.
  • Bring an example of a framework or interaction model that you’d like to use but can’t.

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Here are two examples:
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  1. I want to add an anchor to a Speed Boat and then drag that anchor on top of a Prune the Product Tree and have it show up as an apple.
  2. I want to build a document-centric collaborative framework. Instead of “icons” like apples, I want “sticky notes” that look and act like notes.

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Adjusting on the Fly

We also shared our agenda for the two days ahead of time (see right).

As common in these settings, we made a few adjustments. One worked poorly, four worked very well. Let’s start with my mistake.

I had intended to start the first session with the Innovation Game® Show and Tell, in which participants would show us positive uses of Idea Engine 1.0 and tell us what they wanted in Idea Engine 2.0. When we started though, we veered off track. What I should have done was facilitate the session more vigorously! Specifically, I should have pulled the room back into the game.

Unfortunately, I didn’t. I was working with an experienced team of facilitators, and I thought the “energy” of the room was such that they wanted to have a more open-ended discussion. I made a mistake, and we lost a bit of time.

Fortunately, after the session corrected itself during the initial design review, our customers provided a lot of terrific feedback on our new designs. I’m lad we did this, because we learned right away that one of our choices was incorrect. Somewhat surprisingly for me, the design review evolved into a discussion that included a review of our gaps. So, we had unexpected time in our agenda.

The first adjustment that worked well was adding a Cover Story/On the Cover activity to help us better understand how to communicate Idea Engine 2.0 to the market. We got a lot of terrific insights — some applicable right away and some applicable when we release some of the super cool ideas in Idea Engine 2.0.

The second adjustment was adding two Prune the Product Tree sessions. This activity not only helped us understand evolution, it resulted in a mutually agreed upon milestone-driven release plan.

The third adjustment was adding a super fun Magic Wand game in which stakeholders grabbed an imaginary wand and started submitting magic ideas for Idea Engine in the future. Surprisingly, some of these magic ideas turned out to be pretty feasible, and we’re adding them to our roadmap.

The most important adjustment was turning over the facilitation of a few activities to Deb Colden and Peter Green, two of our most senior and skilled facilitators.
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Agenda

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Day 1
8:30 AM     Assemble as a team and get to know each other
9:30 AM     Review existing uses of the platforms: What works.
11:30 AM    Break
11:45 AM    Review our understanding of key requirements for Idea Engine 2.0
12:30 PM    Lunch
13:30 PM    Overview of our proposed designs for Idea Engine 2.0
15:30 PM    Break
16:00 PM    Compare “desired uses of the platform” with our proposed designs to identify gaps
18:00 PM    Dinner as a team
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Day 2

8:30 AM     Assemble as a team
9:00 AM     Update/review designs and build a milestone-driven plan for implementing new functionality
12:00 PM   Design Jam ends
12:30 PM   Optional Lunch
13:30 PM   Continued work with the Conteneo team to enhance and extend our designs for those available.

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Deb helped us dig through a technique to challenge orthodoxies I learned from Scott Gilbert (presently working for the Salesforce Ignite team) and Peter guided us through a technique the Agile4All team uses to help Product Managers/Product Owners slice stories. Both proved tremendously valuable.

I also feel compelled to mention that Fallon Murray from Transamerica using the Idea Engine during our Design Jam to collaborate with her colleagues and provide real-time feedback from a lot of the Transamerica team. It was clever and something I’ll borrow in future sessions.

Key Themes And Results

Two days with customers generates a tremendous amount of data, and we’re still working on making sense of the results. However, we can report a few key themes: Job #1 is to make the current platform beautiful. Our stakeholders asked us to defer dramatic improvements in functionality and instead focus on a sleek, modern user interface.

However, there are a few key improvements in functionality that we need to address sooner, rather than later, and we’ll be implementing these in Idea Engine 2.0:
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  • Adding the “Central Question” to the game board.
  • Providing better “onboarding” for new users.
  • Keep the count of items, but pave the way for more flexibly adding items.
  • Build in-place and then extend.

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Our stakeholders asked us to be as agile as possible, ideally building in-place on the existing stack. This is like replacing the engine of the car while you’re driving, which we’re able to do because our dev team is so awesome. We’ve also integrated these results into our market-driven roadmap, and we’re looking forward to the next several months of hard work.

Next Steps

There is no settling of the dust, because we moved right from the Design Jam into a series of sprints to implement Idea Engine 2.0. We’re building and releasing in chunks of business value, and the dev team already has working software. Let me know if you’d like to join our Sprint/Design Review meeting: We’re eager to collaborate with all of our customers!