MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA — February 1, 2016. Today, SolutionsIQ, a leading provider of Agile Consulting services, and Conteneo Inc., the leading provider of team-based collaboration solutions, announced a partnership in which SolutionsIQ consultants will gain access to the Conteneo Collaboration Cloud’s Idea Engine and Decision Engine to support distributed collaboration.
“We’re delighted to be working with SolutionsIQ to bring the power of multidimensional collaboration to its employees and customers,” said Luke Hohmann, CEO of Conteneo.
Conteneo’s Idea Engine and Decision Engine enable distributed working groups to quickly and easily
transform their ideas into action through structured collaboration. The platform includes collaboration frameworks (solution templates) that support scenarios for collaborative planning, ideation, priority-setting and decision-making and can be extended to include custom collaboration frameworks / templates to meet specific client needs. The platform supports both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration between participants that can number from a few to several thousands.
“By including features that structure and facilitate group interactions to meet specific business
outcomes, Conteneo Collaboration Cloud demonstrates that it is not just another communication tool
but a true collaboration platform,” said SolutionsIQ CEO Charlie Rudd. “As we enable our knowledge workers to meaningfully engage throughout the enterprise, we will realize our collective wisdom and start to achieve true business agility.”
Conteneo is the leading provider of team-based collaboration solutions for the public and private sector. The Conteneo Collaboration Cloud enables organizations to improve performance across the enterprise, including culture and change management, market research, strategy, complex sales, and innovation and product development. Current and past clients include Adobe Systems, Cisco, RELX Group, Transamerica, Qualcomm, Yahoo! and others. For more information, go to http://conteneo.co.
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 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.
“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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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:
Video and audio recordings of the sessions, and
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
I’m pleased to announce that based on our past succes producing Participatory Budgeting events for San José, CA, in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, Conteneo and the Every Voice Engaged Foundation have been selected to lead two Participatory Budgeting programs for the city of San José in 2016. Both programs will leverage Conteneo’s online and in-person collaboration frameworks to provide a combination of intimacy and scale, along with other tools to help make these programs a success.
In this inaugural post, I’ll share an overview of the programs, along with details about how we’re partnering with Nearsoft to implement them using Agile methods! I’ll be sharing more details each week and letting you know our progress on the technical, social, content, marketing and other fronts. Keep reading, as we want you to get involved!
We have two participatory budgeting programs planned for the City of San José in 2016 [Note: These dates have been updated since the original post as the city changed the date]:
District 3 Participatory Budgeting (#d3decides): Nov. 2015 to Apr. 2016
This project will emphasize citizen input, soliciting ideas from residents using an open-source mapping application for crowdsourced info-gathering, “Shareabouts“, shaping these ideas into projects, and then using Decision Engine to allow residents to directly prioritize how the city will spend $100K.
Citywide Budget Engagement: Feb. 20, 2016 and the week of Feb 22, 2016
This project will emphasize scale and building for the future by using Decision Engine to engage residents in prioritizing how the city should invest the revenue from a ¼ cent sales tax that is projected to raise approximately $36M. We’re targeting a whopping 1,000 people for three in-person sessions on Feb. 20, 2016 and an incredible 50,000 people to participate online the week of Feb 22nd, 2016.
It’s heartening to see how San José is committed to building and expanding on the prior successes of our joint work on participatory budgeting. For example, the District 3 program extends San José’s previous work through the inclusion of Shareabouts (very nice!) and the second program gives Conteneo a chance to flex our scalable systems’ muscles by targeting the largest online Participatory Budgeting program ever tackled!
Collaboration at Scale Means Many Small Groups
All of Conteneo’s technologies are based on the fact that humans collaborate in small groups of 2 – 8 people. So, when we say that we’re targeting 1,000 people in-person and another 50,000 people online, what we’re really saying is that we’re targeting 125 – 140 groups of people collaborating in-person and 6,250 – 10,000 groups of people collaborating online.
Direct and Indirect Participatory Budgeting
An especially nice feature of these programs is that collectively they meet the narrow and broad definitions of Participatory Budgeting.
The District 3 project meets the narrow definition of Participatory Budgeting, which requires residents to directly control how resources (mostly financial budgets) are allocated to projects.
The Citywide Budget Engagement project meets the broader version of the United Nations definition of Participatory Budgeting: “a mechanism (or process) through which the population decides on, or contributes to, decisions made on the destination of all or part of the available public resources.”
I’m rather conflicted about the need to make these distinctions. My colleagues at the Participatory Budgeting Project appear to be quite adamant that the only valid definition of Participatory Budgeting is the first. Unfortunately, my experience is that most “direct control” programs are dealing with relatively small amounts of money, typically a few hundred thousand to a few million dollars, given the total size of budget in question. This is not a methodological flaw, but instead reflective of the novelty of Participatory Budgeting. Still, it has me concerned that this could restrict the impact of Participatory Budgeting through an illusory form of engagement: direct control of inconsequential sums of money, instead of substantial influence on highly impactful sums of money.
We can contrast this with our experience in San José, in which residents have routinely grappled with choices of much larger magnitude. For example, in 2014 residents considered initiatives such as 120 Sworn Police Officers for $25M or Expanding Branch Library Hours for $4.6M with budgets of as much as $64M. Not only are these amounts are often 10 times larger than those in direct control programs, our results have shown that San José has indeed made final budget choices in accordance with residents feedback. I attribute this to superior data: Like the senior executives of our corporate customers, when elected officials are provided with actionable data, they take action.
These distinctions, which seem so important now, might not matter at all over time. As residents and elected officials become more comfortable with Participatory Budgeting, the amounts of money put under direct control appears to be increasing. This is a good thing, provided that we continue to put equal emphasis on involving a broad cross-section of the population (more on this later).
For now, we prefer the United Nation’s more inclusive definition of Participatory Budgeting as this is more congruent with our values and the values of the Agile community.
Kicking off a project is a misleading team: It implies that there is a single meeting that represents the magical kickoff. In reality, most project kickoff meetings are the result of several smaller threads being woven together into a rope: a few emails here and there and some phone calls exploring options and building on prior results that come together for the kickoff.
Our project was no different: We started exploring options with City staff in October 2015. After several emails, a few meetings, and some phone calls, we reached an understanding of the City’s goals and confirmation that our team would be the right team to deliver them. We formalized key parameters of the project in a letter of agreement. I was especially impressed with the Agile contracting on the part of the City and how readily they’ve embraced the notion that Agile contracts are for establishing goals and agreeing on processes and how a backlog is the better place to manage work.
In parallel, Conteneo engaged with Nearsoft, a partner we’ve used in the past for development. We developed a series of one-week Sprint themes and deliverables based on clearly defined “chunks of value”. We didn’t waste our time with points-based estimating, because we had zero experience with some of the tools we knew we wanted to use. (See my presentation on the Shapes of Projects to understand chunks).
For example, none of us had any experience using Shareabouts, and given that the tool is no longer being actively supported by OpenPlans, we had no other plan other than asking the development team to just jump in and see what they could do. As it turned out, Shareabouts was in really good shape, and the team had it up and running in a few days on Heroku. This has allowed us to move forward items in our project plan, deliver working software right from the very first Sprint, without fretting about estimates that would not provide any value or materially change our intentions. It also helped that the team was not pressured to do something unnatural, like make an estimate on technology they’ve never used!
We’ve also enjoyed sharing Agile practices with the City. For example, last Friday I sat down with two city leaders on adjusting and improving the content and flow of the website. When I explained that we were going to work together and make the changes live, on the website in tiny steps, in a process that agilists like to call “pairing”, they were genuinely excited about getting to work. And yes, except for a few of the more complex changes, we just made the changes that we needed to make in real time.
At Conteneo, we believe in multidimensional collaboration. Whether you’re producing online forums using our cloud-based collaboration engines, or in-person forums using pictures of trees, boats and Stattys, we provide the best collection of frameworks for tackling technical and wicked problems. For both projects, San José will be leveraging Conteneo’s online and in-person frameworks, and in future posts I’ll outline our plans and results.
However, multidimensional engagement means more than just providing structures and processes. It means developing an understanding of the participants and making sure your team is meeting their needs, including the languages used in forums.
A significant percentage of San José’s population speaks Spanish or Vietnamese as a primary language. To support these people, we’re going to be developing multilingual materials and leveraging and expanding our global network of Certified Collaboration Architects. As it turns out, we have a fairly sizable number of Spanish-speaking facilitators. We’re going to need to recruit more actively for Vietnamese-speaking facilitators. Click here to join the facilitation team.
Lessons Learned and Next Steps
Here are some of the lessons that we’ve learned in our first two Sprints.
You need developers. At present, there are no really solid, off-the-shelf solutions for implementing Participatory Budgeting programs. If you’re going to tackle a sophisticated project, you’re going to need developers.
You need project / program managers. I don’t really care what you call them, but you’re going to need a person who is driving the project. I think of these people as providing positive energy to a system that needs it.
Use Agile. We’ve known for decades of the positive emotional power that working software, delivered in chunks, has on all stakeholders, the development team included. We proved it again: In collaboration with San José’s IT Staff, Nearsoft and our team, we had working software and our first resident-submitted idea in just 9 days!
Collaborate. That word is everywhere for a reason: You will not be able to get a project of this magnitude done this quickly on your own. In addition to San José, Nearsoft, Every Voice Engaged and Conteneo, we’ll be leveraging our global network of Certified Collaboration Architects and The Kettering Foundation. We are are in discussions with people like Jason Putorti. I’ll explore the collective that is creating this awesome initiative and how you can join us in my next post.
Big Goals Inspire! I don’t know of any program that has established the goal of engaging 50,000 residents in one week in collaborative forums. It is inspiring because we know it will be hard!
As some of you may recall, that at Agile 2015 I talked about engaging 20 million facilitators to engage 200 million people. Our 2016 project with San José will help us jump that curve! Stay Tuned!
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