My first week of Helpful Conversations

Last week I started having Office Hours to have conversations with anyone who wanted  the benefit of my experience in startups, tech and a few other things from my 25+ years in the software space.

Using the awesome ‘Booked’ wordpress plugin – which I had acquired for another idea that I was launching last year – I set up a simple calendar/appointment booking on my blog site and wrote a blog post to make my offer and kick the whole thing off.

The first week has been tremendous. I’ve had 4 conversations that each went well beyond the 30 minute slot that was booked and all ended with some very positive feedback and heart felt gratitude from the people I spent that time with.

I haven’t asked their permission to write about the conversations – they are, of course, private and confidential – so no names will be named and no identifying details will be shared.

Two of the conversations were about starting out as an agile coach, one was about remaining relevant as a people manager and the last one was helping a startup on its growth plans – specifically raising market awareness. Here are just some of the ideas I shared:

Starting as a (independent) agile coach:

  • Don’t do it. The market for ‘agile coaches’ is saturated and filling up with project managers, scrum masters and all sorts of other folk. Rather than be bound to some title,  strive to be of value instead by understanding what problem your client is trying to solve (and not simply help us do Scrum/LeSS/whatever) and be determined to use *all* that you know to help them.
  • Know what you bring to the engagement – be clear about it, at least to yourself!
  • Get yourself financially lean to compete, take risks and endure the downturns.
  • Get comprehensive agile experiences – learn to code, ship something, try to market something – you cannot empathise effectively if you don’t know what they are going through.
  • Stay in your day job long enough to get the essential capabilities you need – once you have to make money, it becomes harder to make strategic decisions  – being financially lean can mitigate this but not remove it entirely.

Remaining relevant as a people manager:

  • Ask the people you manage what they need – practically, emotionally and financially – to be happy and fulfilled in their jobs.
  • Remember that your responsibility is to spend authority wisely – for the benefit of your reports and indirectly, the organisation.
  • Stop shielding people from the consequences of their professional actions – agree some rules beforehand, but blind support does no one any good. That said, helping to create an environment where the consequences are manageable and fairly trivial is also important.
  • Tell the person who manages you the same thing (even if they don’t ask for it).
  • Go ask your ‘customers’ what they enjoy about you as a manager and what they don’t. Commit to them to act on their feedback.

Growth for a startup – creating awareness of a product or service:

  • Focus on what the users and customers are actually trying to use your product or service to achieve. No one uses a tool for the sake of the tool. Customers will value your service better if you strive to understand their goals.
  • Be honest with what your product and service is great at and what it isn’t – users do not appreciate wasting their time on something that doesn’t work in their use case.
  • Use your paying customers more – if you are lucky to have them, then engage with them more.
  • Try and get better at being out of your comfort zone by doing more of it and learning ways to be better.
  • Rediscover your passion for what your product does – the unique way you want to change the world. This is the bigger goal than the features you are building and enables you to speak and promote your startup with passion.
  • Give what you have to get what you want – create content about useful and helpful things, share it, help companies for free using the expertise you’ve developed from your product. Earn goodwill, it pays off.

A huge thank you to the amazing people who accepted my invitation  this week and had the courage and humility to ask for help. Needless to say, I’m deeply enjoying these conversations and hope for many more.

If you or anyone you know would find a conversation with me helpful – book a time on my office hours, show up and lets do this thing!

 

I'm Delighted By: Fitness Blender

In my previous life as an agile coach, I travelled a lot and stayed in hotels, airbnbs and other accommodation. Most didn’t have gyms and, to be honest, I’m not really a gym person.

Now anyone who knows consulting, knows you eat out almost exclusively whilst on the road and anyone who knows me, knows I like both my food and wine (and cocktails and desserts!) So staying fit and healthy on the road is doubly hard!

But a few years ago, I discovered Fitness Blender and I began to do their workouts whilst on the road. They have such a wide range of really great workouts for every phase of fitness. From less than 10 minute long easy workouts to more than an hour workouts that would literally have your lungs in your mouth!

The best thing about Kelli and Daniel – the founders –  is that they do the workouts with you. They feel exhausted at the same points you feel exhausted, when they say ‘what a burn’, you feel like they spoke for you. Oh, and the workout videos are free – they make some money from advertising and selling longer programs but you can get fit and stay healthy for free!

They have lots of workouts but my favourite are the High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) videos that need nothing but bodyweight (and do I have a lot of that – less since I started with them!). The HIIT workouts are generally short – bookended with warm up and cool down, they are between 15 and 35 minutes long.

Now that I’m not on the road that much, I still do their workouts 3 times a week, I’ve never met them in person, but they are like old friends!

I seriously think that without these guys, I would be dead by now.

Please, if you are on the road a lot, don’t feel that you can’t keep fit and healthy. You always have time for one of their workouts. Look after yourselves – you aren’t any good to anyone dead.

Thank you @fitnessblender!

30 Day Challenge: 5 minutes of planks everyday!

Challenge Yourself!

I decided at the end of January that it would be a good idea to force a habit of exercise and do something every day that is both hard and beneficial.

So, the 30 day challenge was born – technically it runs for calendar months not strictly 30 days, but it still works.

First up – are 5 minutes of plank exercises every day during February.

I’m already 10 days into it and it is only just getting easier. Coupled with the HIIT and CrossFit that I also do in the week – some days the planks completely finish me off.

That said – doing them first thing in the morning is such a sense of achievement and sets me up for the day.

If you would like to do the same challenge, here are the exercises:

Kudos to Neila Rey who put the visual together!

I use the very useful IntervalTimer by Seconds Pro to help me not cheat on the timing. Here is the timer for this plank workout.

Challenge yourself!

Next for March: 3 minutes of High Knees every morning!

Why I don't cheat.

A tale of 2 exam papers

Twenty seven years ago, in a small but important town in southern Nigeria,  two teenage boys – bored with revising for their GCSEs – succumbed to the temptation of ‘guaranteeing the outcome’ of their Chemistry exam.

As with any situation with demand, supply always rises to meet it. As such, both boys independently went off to acquire the exam paper from different sources.

A few days later, they jubilantly reunited – each with their exam paper – suitably contained in large brown envelopes. As each boy opened his envelope and read the questions to see how well they were prepared, the first student commented that one of the questions didn’t make sense, thus prompting the second boy to look at the question.

Before too long, both boys looked at the papers side by side in disbelief. Both papers seemed identical on the front page but as soon as the pages were turned, the questions were completely different.

If they were different to each other, were either the correct paper or were both actually just passable fakes.

Despite their unscrupulous intentions, lady luck smiled on the boys. They still had a week before the exam and, to put it mildly, resumed revising with unquestionable focus.

One of those boys was me. I remembered I paid 70 Naira for my fake exam papers, at the time that was about £20.

That was the first and ultimately the last time I ever tried to cheat – neither in an exam or in any dealings with anyone.

Lessons to live by

That experience held some powerful lessons for a young person to learn, namely:

That some things are too good to be true – especially when the alternative is hard work. That the time you spend chasing the quick win is valuable time being ‘stolen’ from working hard on the surer win.

Something quite tremendous happened in addition to the lesson – I developed a strong principle of not cheating and not tolerating it from anyone else.

This is not to say don’t look for shortcuts – because there are some. But rather, invest in looking for the honest ones, that don’t compromise your principles. Of course, if you don’t have that principle then none of this matters.

What experiences and lessons about cheating have you had? Or what principles have you developed from your own experiences – I’d love to hear them.

 

Offer: Let's have a helpful conversation

It seems that when I’m most busy is when I also seem to want to share and help others the most – so continuing in a long established tradition, I would like to offer some office hours to help anyone who needs it.

But first – at the risk of inventing another buzzword/phrase that gets trademarked and certified, what is a ‘helpful conversation’?

It is simply a time that you bring something a person needs help on, we talk about it and you leave feeling better, clearer, energised or otherwise ‘helped’. If you don’t leave the conversation feeling like it was s good spend of your time, then we haven’t had a ‘helpful conversation’.

It isn’t free, it’s priceless.

My time is the most precious thing I have and I offer it, in the hope that we both have a brilliant conversation and learn and share from each other. My reward is knowing that I helped you.

So, what could be helpful to you?

Here are some things I know I can help with:

Startups

because I’ve spent the last 15 years learning by doing

Bootstrapping a startup
Designing your test-the-market strategy – MVPs, guerrilla testing
Essential tools I use everyday to planning, testing, prototyping etc super easy
Designing marketing experiments
Dealing with failure – how to take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’
Hiring and equity sharing
Advising your startup on a regular basis

Agile Things

because I’ve been coaching for over 10 years and been a dev, product guy, maker in this space for the last 16 years 

Most things about Scrum, Kanban, Lean and variations therein.
Should you get agile certification? I have an alternative view and can help talk you through your options.
Building and growing self-organisation, empowered teams
Being an effective manager or executive in an agile organisation or during a transition

Helping People be Successful & Joyful

because that is basically what my entire career has been about – and I love it.

Using improv to get better at being present, collaborative and generally ‘good to work with’
Software and tech industry career advice – what you might want to invest in (and not) as you start out in tech –  attitudes and essential skills
Valuing learning and relationships.
Getting mentors

Business meeting culture

because I built a startup to fix this and it has 6000 users.

Simple techniques to transform your personal meeting behaviour
Make any meeting better (or at the very least, suck less)
Helping your organisation have fewer and better meetings

I want a helpful conversation,  how do we do this?

I thought you’d never ask! This is simple as pie.

If you don’t know anything about me – I encourage you to check out my about page, my LinkedIn and some of my tweets.

Then, if you think I could be helpful,  checkout my office hours availability, book an available time slot and show up.

There, all done. I look forward helping however I can.

 

Be a Person of Substance

I love to take my dog – Maya – for walks and she loves it when I throw for her and she fetches. A long throw really helps her open up the speed!

As I took her for a walk this morning, I brought with us one of her ‘throw and chew’ balls. Much like a tennis ball but squidgier.

Usually I throw rocks for her and I have a pretty long throw – but despite my usual effort, this ball didn’t travel as far.

Now, it was substantially larger than a stone and almost perfectly spherical – looking picture perfect to throw, but it lacked density and this is why it didn’t make the most of the strength with which it was hurled. In fact, sometimes it only travelled a few meters! Needless to say, Maya was none too pleased.

It got me thinking

I believe that Life, the Universe and the force that is greater than us all, seems to want to propel us to great heights towards what we wish for ourselves, but what do we bring to this ambition to help it along?

If life presents an opportunity to propel a person forward – perhaps to greater learning and prosperity, how does that person get themselves in a position to maximise how far they travel?

As I pondered this, I wondered if the density or substance of the rock was more suitable to be propelled than the ball – which ‘looked’ like the best thing to be propelled.

What is the substance of a person that helps them make the most of the propulsion that life offers? Seems to me that by the time the opportunity arrives,  there is likely very little a person can do to acquire the skills to make the most of that particular gift. So it seems substance is a set of general characteristics and capabilities.

Here’s a list of attributes that I think count as ‘substance’ by which a person ‘goes far’.

  1. Integrity – being true to your word and being guided by your principles.
  2. Being good to work with – being respectful of others, open to collaboration.
  3. Being adaptable – anticipating and responding elegantly to change,
  4. Learning what they need to – and quickly.
  5. Being generous – with their time, knowledge and resources.
  6. Being open – in mind and of heart.
  7. Persistence –  knowing when to push on (and pushing on) and when to pull out.

I’m sure this is not exhaustive but what do you think?
Do you agree with my list, can you think of any more?
How does one develop these capacities to be a person of substance?