SolutionsIQ and Conteneo Inc. Announce Partnership Agreement.

SolutionsIQ Agile Consultants to leverage the Conteneo Collaboration Cloud to increase Business Agility.

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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.

Idea Engine 2.0
Idea Engine 2.0: Visual Collaboration for teams.
DecisionEngineLight
Decision Engine: Collaborative prioritization made easy.

“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.”

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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.


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.


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!