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.


Facilitator Recruiting and Training for 2016 San José Participatory Budgeting Project

We’ve completed our third Sprint for the San José Budget Project! We’ve got the core functionality of the San José District 3 Participatory Budgeting web site up and running and are now turning our attention to building out our facilitator team (have you signed up? Well, get to it! Sign up here.).

In this post I’m going to share some of the lessons we’ve learned in managing the facilitation team for large in-person collaboration events, which I define as more than 100 people, and extremely large events, which I define as more than 500. We’re targeting 1,000 people for the in-person 20-Feb-2016 San José Citywide Budget, and 50,000 people for the online forums during the week of Feb 22nd, 2016, which is among the largest events we’ve ever produced, and (we think) the largest Participatory Budgeting program ever in the United States.

In case you missed it: 1st post.

Establishing Targets

Let’s focus on the in-person event, because it is typically more challenging from a logistics perspective. Each 9-person round table is organized with 7 participants, 1 Facilitator, and 1 Observer.

players at the 2014 Budget Games
San José, CA residents play Budget Games for the 4th year in a row to provide the City of San José with valuable information on their budget priorities.

We’re estimating 150 tables will be enough for the projected 1,000 participants for the in-person session on 20-Feb-2016. That’s a facilitation team of 300 people (2 for each table).

And that’s not enough. Murphy, of Murphy’s Law fame, will show up. Facilitators will get sick. Observers will have car trouble or forget the event. Which means you need extras. We’ve found having about 5 extra people for every 100 facilitators / observers is the right amount – in this case 15 people.

Because this event often deals with emotionally challenging content, we like to staff a special team of truly extraordinary facilitators who roam around the room helping other facilitators fulfill their duties. For this event we’re plan on having 20 roaming facilitators.

This gives us a target of about 360 people. Yeah, my math is wrong. I rounded up and then added a few more, because stuff “happens” and we want to be extremely prepared. Will we need 360 people? Probably not. Will we be glad we have more than we need? Absolutely.

Recruitment

The first step is recruiting facilitators. Casting a big net is good, but you’re going to catch the best fish in the right pond. We like fishing here.

Conteneo Certified Collaboration Architects. Our community of Certified Collaboration Architects is the best place to start looking for facilitators. They’re trained in our methods and many of them use this event to introduce their colleagues and friends into the power of collaborative, participatory budgeting.

Newsletter. Tami publishes a terrific newsletter each month. I know this because she tells me that our open rate is more than twice the average of corporate newsletters! Our latest newsletter focuses on the San José Budget Project and helps us recruit facilitators.

Social Media. Obvious. Of course. Just listing for consistency. We find LinkedIn and Twitter especially compelling.

Professional Organizations. We’re associated with a number of amazing professional organizations, including the Agile Alliance, the Scrum Alliance, the Qualitative Research Consultants Association, the National Coalition for Dialog and Deliberation, the Product Development and Management Association, and other organizations affiliated with these organizations. Phew! It is quite a list, and what makes us happy is that the people within these organizations have really big hearts. Members of these organizations have ALL participated in prior Budget Games and will contribute again in 2016.

City of San José. The City has always supplied Subject Matter Experts and additional staff adequate to run the event. However, the magnitude of the February event means that we’ll be leaning on City staff to help. To minimize potentially damaging facilitation bias, we’ll be using City employees primarily as Observers.

Training

Making sure our facilitation team is properly trained is essential to the engagement. To accomplish this goal, we’ve collaborated with The Kettering Foundation to develop a ½ day training program that covers our collaborative Budget Investment process, Budget Games and Common Ground for Action.

Our training is organized around our “Know-Do-Have” model of training.

Know: We start with what we want facilitators to know, ranging from technical skills associated with managing our in-person and online technologies to software skills associated with facilitating / moderating group discussions.

Do: We’ve been practicing experiential learning / “learning-by-doing” for years. Indeed, we’re renowned for teaching multi-day workshops without ever using PowerPoint! The trick is to organize the “Knowing” around the “Doing” – a set of carefully designed activities that give facilitators confidence that they can do their job.

Have: We augment our training with a set of job aids / handouts that facilitators can use throughout the program and beyond!

You can find a full description of our training program and register here.

Practice

Facilitation is a (soft) skill that typically gets better with practice. So, we’re going to be organizing a lot of practice sessions over the next few months to give facilitators training. Time permitting, we’ll organize the practice to cover increasingly challenging situations, ranging from basic facilitation of a “normal” group of participants to more challenging facilitation experiences dealing with Wallflowers and Dominators.

Even if you’re not interested in facilitating at the San José event, sign up and we’ll include you in the practice sessions. You’ll be helping a great cause and you might like the process so much that you change your mind and join the facilitator team.

Recognition and Rewards

Facilitators give their time freely for this event, so we recognize them by including them in our formal report to the City of San José and by granting them extra Facilitation Credits that they can apply towards their Conteneo Certified Collaboration Architect status. It is a small gesture of thanks for an event that simply cannot be accomplished without their active involvement.

Oh – and they get a super cool T-Shirt. This year will be bright Orange!