My day: The best app ever, meetings that work and The "Us and Them" messages in companies

Today was awesome. Here  are just a few things that I experienced.

The Best App Ever

I wrote the best app ever. Well, I tried to. My friend Violeta and I are working on something together and we prematurely decided to code something. As I started getting the decks clean for this new thing, I was really irked by the need to do it. Not only would it take time  – relatively little, to be fair – it would have led us to software things versus people problems and learning. So we had a quick tete-a-tete and decided to call it off.

Just like that, I got 4 hours of my day back and I wrote the best app ever  – the ‘No App’ App. It took  almost no time and  is entirely bug free. Yay!

Meetings that Work

I have lots of conversations, people call them ‘meetings’, I really don’t care what they are called as long as they are purposeful, engaging and everyone leaves feeling better than when they came. It helps if they are feeling happy too. Happiness goes a long way.

Today I met with some folks I am collaborating with in Norway on my remote coaching experiment. I joined the call and noticed just how chilled and happy they were. Everyone was smiling and the vibe was awesome.

We started with one agenda but a discovery early on into the conversation meant the agenda totally changed. We called it and regrouped on what we should do instead and once we agreed – the conversation continued with purpose. It was a wonderful experience to talk and explore with these 3 people and it brings it home to me that meetings are not inherently bad, they are like any conversation. We ended the conversation with what happens next and when we would meet again to see what progress we made on the things we agreed to do.

I think all conversations need happy collaborators, a clear purpose and closure. It helps focus if the conversation is time constrained and the best ones I’ve attended has participants who feel they can help move it on and are equally concerned that we get value from it. This session today had great closure – we knew what was happening next and it felt like the things we were exploring – although not resolved – were satisfactorily tied off, at least for now.

Us and Them Messages in Companies

As I was driving back up the mountain to our village, I mused on the ‘About Us’ of a company I’m working with and thought how curious it was that it was very much like a lot of many other ‘About Us’ pages in one remarkable way.

The management team is presented first. Often exclusively. The pictures of executives and their bios take pride of place and the top of the content as they do at the top of the organisation structure. I don’t know what message – if any – was designed, but I know what message I was getting.  I was definitely getting:

we are the bosses of everyone, the most important people at this party. There are others but you don’t really need to know anything about them.

As I considered this curiosity, I wondered what would have been a more effective way of presenting the structure that both showed responsibilities but without the hierarchical structure? I’ll share that in a blog post. I also wondered how else the ‘Us and Them’ mentality manifests in companies.

That was my day – a totally mixed bag, but all great. I’d love to hear about your day. Comment or tweet. I’ m all ears.

I have gay sex because it's legal and other stupid stories

What really pisses me off about humanity is how  – in the same stewing pot – we have some brilliant ideas that move us forward as a species and at the very same time we demonstrate such rank stupidity and brutality that really questions whether we have moved from the cave.

I used to feel quite philosophical about it – the world is huge, it takes different opinions blah blah – now I’m just pissed off.

Now, there are always exceptions to every rule and I am happy to be introduced to them but I have never met anyone who…

  • Smoked marijuana because it was legal – they do it because they get high and chilled and they like it.
  • Had sex with other consenting members of the same gender because it was legal – they do it because they love the person or that is the kind of sex that works for them or both. On the contrary – most of the gay people I know have had to struggle through huge opposition to their sexual orientation. Opposition that is mostly presented by people who have no business in the sexual or emotional affairs of others.
  • Wants to marry to someone of the same gender because the the law allows it – they desire this as an affirmation of their love. Pretty much for the same reasons heterosexual couples desire it.

As it happens I don’t have gay sex – but if I did , and so long as it was consensual with another adult – then the Law and the Protectors-of-Bullshit-Morality have as much business with it as they do with my having straight sex. None.

Don’t get me wrong – anything that is non-consensual and that causes emotional and/or physical injury should be illegal and prosecuted to the fullest extent. We already have semi-reasonable laws around minimum ages of responsibility. They are broad brush, but generally adequate. Let’s use that.

‘Back the hell out of my bed’

I am not agitating for a change in the law on consensual homosexual relationships and recognition by law. I am agitating for a change in how laws are crafted. I don’t believe there should be laws that go anywhere near my sexuality and gender of my beloved. If I am of age – I choose who I want to have sex with and/or marry, so long as they are of age too. Simple.

Any laws, anywhere that bring gender into the sexual or emotional choices of adults is unjust and discriminatory and should be entirely scrapped – not better worded or buffered with concessions – scrapped.

Nigeria , Russia and Uganda are united by their bigotry. But even though it pains me to say – I think the lawmakers of those countries are responding to the larger public opinion. Are most Nigerians, Russian and Ugandans  – by virtue of history and religion – deeply hostile to homosexuality. I think they are. And that is the elephant in the room. Unfortunately their governments do not see their role as creating the conditions for a more tolerant society to emerge. That would take courage and courage is in short supply in politicians. But if government lack the courage to help hack more tolerance, then what?

I fear – as in the colonial struggles for independence, the US civil rights movement and the other great struggles to lift societies out of stupidity – it remains for the small pockets of progressive thinking to slowly, painstakingly help their societies to a better place.

What would you like to share/learn on International Collaboration Day? #iCollday

International Collaboration Day is January 16th

The other day as I had a long overdue hangout with Philip Dodson of @workhubs, Philip mentioned that they were doing some events as part of the International Collaboration Day on the 16th of January 2014.

This event totally piqued my interest – people getting together and making magic through sincere and passionate pursuit of what might emerge -what’s not to love?

I thought of how I might participate in this unique and inspiring event and I thought why not have a completely virtual openspace-inspired event around the topic of collaboration. Use a framework built entirely by and for collaboration for a collaboration themed event! I say it is Openspace inspired because I believe unless you follow the word and spirit of Harrison Owen’s technique , it really shouldn’t be called an Open Space – that’s my opinion.

Never heard of Open Space Technology? No worries, read up about it here.

What will you share/learn?

So here is my idea – 16 sessions of anything you want to talk about, learn or explore around what collaboration means in this connected world we live in. It might be an experience you want to share or hear about. It might even be an invitation to collaborate on something after the event.

The possibilities are endless. Whatever happens is the only thing that could.

iCollabDay

My mockup of what the MarketPlace might look like.

Whoever Comes Are The Right People

I can do this alone, but it will be hard and really no fun. I need your help for this to rock. By joining in this effort you will have so much fun it won’t even feel like hard work and you will for sure learn and have many opportunities to share.

Here are some ways you can help:

Join in organising it: to get this going ASAP, I figure we’ll need folk to code, make things useful and delightful to use and spread the word and get folk to propose great sessions etc. Email me or tweet me now and let’s get going.

Think of something to propose – The marketplace will open on January 2nd 2014. Although the details are emerging here is what I know now:

    • You’ll need to make a 60 second video pitch of your idea – what is the core of it, why will it interest anyone?
    • Sessions will be scheduled for 1 hour but in true Open Space style – they will last as long as you there are people learning and sharing.
    • This will be entirely virtual and we’ll use Google hangouts which has some collaboration tools like a whiteboard. It’s awesome – but different from the ease of being in the same space. The more you prepare to communicate your content effectively, the better your session is likely to be.
    • Get set to attend one or more sessions – get mentally prepared, if you don’t have a camera on your internet device make plans to acquire one, make the time – book something in your calendar.

      Spread the word – gatherings are about people. People bring the magic. This event will suck if no one comes – that said, whoever comes are the right people. Help spread the word on all your networks. Collaboration affects everyone and we could all be better at it. Click your favorite share channel below. It is the least you can do.

      If this event does not float your boat, go check out the International Collaboration Day website and find something that does. If there really isn’t anything – propose something and make it happen.

       

Gifts in unlikely places.

Finding the right gift is a pain – it shouldn’t be, but it is. My friend Søren has just launched a new product – Giftri.com. It is a clever and useful little app that helps you give and receive the right gifts. 

We were chatting about the challenges of launching a product and getting people to visit the site and use it and be wowed by its value. I prefer thinking of it like this (people and value vs traffic). I asked Søren what he had tried to get people to the site.

We’ve tried lots of things, Google ads, Facebook ads, joining forums and trying to promote it in conversation. We even used 3rd party ad sharing networks – which had lots of poor quality traffic. We also monitored tweets from people asking about what gifts to get and politely suggested using our service.

“The single, most effective thing we did”

Despite the investment in advertising on Google and Facebook and all the effort in mining social media –  lots of people came to the site, but  the conversion to using the site and seeing the recommendations was still very low.

What worked for them was simple. Søren says:

But you know what really worked for us? The single, most effective thing we did that brought the most people who used the site, checked out the recommendations and ultimately bought something from our partner?  I commented on a thread on reddit by a guy who was concerned about what to get his family for Christmas!

I was very surprised! This single thing whilst not generated lots of page visits, generated the most valuable visits. Maybe I’m reading more into this, but a profound lesson was reinforced for me by Søren’s experience. – understand the problem people have and how (and where) they express it.

 

People have needs and favorite places to express them

I was really inspired by a tweet by my friend @paulKlipp:

https://twitter.com/paulklipp/status/413619440081588224

‘People have needs’ and this is fundamentally true. Not meeting those needs can be a problem, it seems to me that needs also have channels where they are most effectively expressed. For any entrepreneur trying to understand problems in order to find a product/market, finding places where people express their needs is almost as crucial as the need itself.

The work in understanding where needs are expressed pays huge dividends. You find somewhere to engage with your audience and listen to their needs and demonstrate empathy and as you strive to solve them, you find a willing community to help you test your ideas.

As I work on building my app – Hashies – focused on helping communities have powerful conversations on Twitter, I am discovering that my engagement with those channels is vital to understand their pain points. Participating in these communities is also exceptionally rewarding in terms of learning new domains. If you aren’t already participating in these – I encourage you to take a look. A great place to find a list of Twitter chats is TheChatDiary.com [update 04/June/2014: TheChatDiary.com link is no longer valid]

So, as you do market research for your startup or are engaged in customer development, it might be worth your while to seek out the channels people use to express their needs as well as the needs themselves.

What are your thoughts on needs and channels? I’d love to hear and share the most – and least – effective things you’ve done for Customer Developement. 

 

Want 30 days of free #agile #coaching for your team? Help me on my project and it's yours. Pls Share.

A little about me?

I’m Mike Sutton – a deeply experienced agile coach with a background in development. I have built products, led teams and small companies, consulted with some of the biggest enterprises and helped  dozens of  teams and hundreds of  people to work more effectively. I tend to focus more on people and outcomes than on process and output and seek to leave places more joyful than I found them. Check me out on LinkedIn to find out who I’ve worked with or book a conversation with me  and I’d be happy to answer any questions you have.

I need your help

After over seven years of coaching enterprises of all sizes – usually on site for periods ranging from a few weeks to many months – I have become convinced that this is not the most effective model to help people genuinely learn and make sustainable positive changes to how they work and think about work.

Whether you are a big 20,000+ employee organisation or a small ten person team – I don’t believe this model of concentrated transformation or ‘shock’ coaching actually helps deliver sustained positive outcomes.

Here are 5 of the biggest reasons I don’t believe this is a model for sustained change:

  1. Cost: hiring a consultant coach is expensive – sometimes very expensive. It can run into tens of thousands of dollars for just one coach. When you multiply this by a few coaches on a large ‘transformation’, it gets crazy costly.
  2. Negatively disruptive : the cost also drives an unhealthy level of disruption. The unspoken sentiment is ‘Mike is here, the meter is running, drop everything now to get his help’. This has the effect of creating a pressure cooker situation that hardly encourages the learning that we want.
  3. Learning is rushed –  most enterprises I have worked with seem to consider a transformation to be a ‘project’. They’ll hire a coach and once the agreed period has passed, they will be ‘agile’. This is an unreasonable approach. The essential elements of making small changes, reflecting on the results, adjusting the next set of experiments all take time – they cannot be rushed. But because the meter is running and the costs are high, the journey is rushed and often abandoned because the learning has not been given a chance to stick.
  4. It wastes my time and your money: there are times when a coach must do nothing. Times when the organisation must do its own heavy lifting. Most organisations I have coached have expected me to still be on site even when it is counter productive to their learning and erodes their ability to stand on their own.
  5. Poor ongoing support: I see many companies that paid money to have their employees trained and certified. Some might even have hired a coach like me on site to do some work. But once the training is over and the coaches leaves,  their Scrum Masters, Product Owners, developers and even management are left with little or no ongoing support. It soon returns to business as usual because there is no one to help them stay focused or to whom they can turn for help with the next steps – at least not without another large cost. Some might create an internal coach role to keep improvements going – but in my experience the key ingredient of objectivity and honesty often get lost over time because of internal politics and familiarity.

I need your help to make this better.

I’m working on a project to help and support people in maintaining a sustainable pace of continuous improvement and learning. To do this,  first I need to really understand the problems facing people who are trying to apply an agile approach with very little support. I want to understand what the barriers to support are and experiment with ways to remove them.

My offer to you

If any of the following apply to you:

I am in management struggling to understand how agile should be working for me and my organisation, my role in it and what should I be doing next

I am in a team that is seeking ways to improve our outcomes and how we collaborate and learn;

I am a Scrum Master or Product Owner feeling isolated, unsupported and outnumbered;

My organisation claims they are doing Scrum or are agile – but it’s all wrong and very frustrating. We could do with some help.

I am a C-Level executive with people in my organisation that fit the above and I want to help make it better.

Then I would love your help on my project.

I am offering to personally coach five lucky groups remotely  free of charge for 30 days.

Each group will enjoy great benefits including having:

30 days of remote access coaching available to anyone in your organisation. This could be ongoing coaching of Scrum masters as they perform an incredibly difficult role or mentoring Product Owners in keeping a vision shared and relevant and maintaining a healthy backlog. It could be starting from scratch with setting a strategic direction with the inclusion of your entire organisation or helping established teams get even better.

A skilled facilitator  – to help you and your organisation rediscover how to collaborate transparently and effectively so that you can finally start to address all those issues that affect you all.

An untainted observer – to help you with my objective observations untainted by any political influence.

An improvement partner – to help work through those tough problems and help you find your own way through them. From vision to delivery and everything in between.

Access to lots of games, practices and experience –  to help your teams improve their capability to reflect, experiment and collaborate and to deliver product and learning more sustainably.

Help to start and grow your communities of practice  – to help sustain an almost permanent and continuous state of learning.

Support when you need it – it is not in the interest of self-sustainability that a coach is there for everything you do – this is a journey where  you will ultimately outgrow a coach. But at every step where you falter, you will have my experience, expertise and network  to overcome it.

What’s the catch?

I am usually paid thousands of pounds/dollars to offer my expertise and experience to help teams and organisations improve. I’m making this offer absolutely free of charge – gratis!

While I will not charge you for my remote services, this offer is not free – I am offering this in exchange for learning!

I want to learn how the remote coaching experience works for you, specifically:

  1. To what extent does having unrestricted remote access to independent and experienced expert improve the outcomes for agile teams and their management?
  2. How much expert access is “just right” to keep continuous improvement at its highest sustainable pace?
  3. What is the most effective kind of access and for what kind of situations?
  4. Can the business value of remote strategic coaching be measured?
  5. If, given affordable access and no-pressure, will the individuals in an organisation use the help that is offered? What will it take for the organisation to support it?

That’s it. I coach you remotely for free , you and your organisation improve and have a great basis for continued improvement and I get to learn to what extent this can be done remotely. Want free agile coaching for 30 days? Sign up now.

How it works

  1. If I haven’t worked with your group for 6 months or more, we are best to start with 2 days on site where I meet your group –  the teams and individuals – and we work together on what we want out of this. We’ll come up with goals and a near term starting plan to reach them. We’ll setup a review cadence and start working on the items on the plan.
    This on-site time will be expenses only – so you cover the flight, accommodation and meals. I won’t charge you for my time.
  2. After the 2 days on-site, I leave and we continue the work on the plan remotely  – adjusting it as we learn more. We will collaborate using every remote channel available to us – video, screen-sharing, email and phone calls – perhaps even an interactive whiteboard!
  3. After 30 days, we end the partnership happy, we would both have learnt a lot and have actionable data to fuel improvement.

Does this sound doable for your organisation? Let’s try it together..

My ideal group

  • Are based within 7 hours of GMT+1  –  so  Europe, east coast USA, middle East and Africa are all in!
  • Are not larger than 400 employees. For huge companies, this refers only to the size of the group that will be using my offer.
  • Are building any product – software or otherwise.
  • Are in whatever stage of adopting an agile approach.
  • Are committed to improvement and are open-minded enough to try this.

Does this sound like you? I need just 5 – be one of them, sign up now.

What you need to do now

Places are limited. Once I find 5 groups willing to help with this, the offer will close and you will have missed the opportunity. 

If you feel this opportunity would suit you and your organisation and you are willing to help me learn – get in touch now – there is not a minute to lose.

Finally , as a personal favour to me and your contacts – please share this.

Why @whatsapp just became one of my favourite companies and I don't even use their software.

whatapp-logo-bw-horizontal

Image courtesy of Whatsapp

I’m getting old.

I don’t hanker after gadgets as much as I used to and I’m not connected to the latest app fads. Plus I wear crocs.

But I read this blog post from the founders of WhatsApp –  a mobile app that lets you doing instant message to anyone in the world for free. As apps go – it is not very exciting for me. I’ve written a few myself and to be fair that space is very crowded. Yet they are loved by their users (my daughters and my sister at least) because they have a great product that they love and it shows.

What made me so totally love this company though is not its product or it huge user base but a glimpse into the fabric of the character of the company.

They don’t sell ads because for the same reasons that I will never sell ads on any application that I build. I especially love them because they were gifted with the ability to articulate their reasons so eloquently.

I’ve never completely understood advertising because fundamentally I think people search for what they need. So really what we could do with is better searching – easier ways to pull and not more places to have things pushed at one. Perhaps the most insidious aspect of advertising is that users become the product – eyeballs to be bought, sold and ad-sensed. That really grates me.

Advertising and the satellite industries around it seem to run the world. I wonder how it might change.

So – thank you Whatsapp – from one maker to another – keeping fighting the good fight and doing good work.

Just so you know – #agile training is *not* coaching.

I’m noticing a rather bizarre thing happening in the agile services space. Trainers – certified or otherwise – are increasingly adopting the ‘Agile Trainer/Coach’ title.
In my experience, trainers are not naturally coaches. I understand one reason why – it makes them more marketable, especially in a market that is full of ‘professionals’ seeking quick fixes and silver bullets to deeply flawed organizational problems.

Now, I’m not saying a person cannot be both – I just question the effectiveness of either – particularly the coaching – if said person has been peddling the same content repeatedly over a few months/years. Where is the learning for them, where is the problem solving that leads to knowledge that leads to something they can use to help others through a muddle?

I’ve coached over 100 teams over the last 7 years and the more coaching I do, the more I appreciate what a coach does. It is to bring a different perspective to the problem. A perspective informed not simply by the dogma of one framework or methodology – which trainers are great at -but the collective screw ups and successes of the their past experiences made sense by deep and constant reflection. Advice, support and counsel is imparted with honesty and deep empathy. A coach is in your problem with you, but not off your problem. Think about that!

I write this because I value coaching above training and I do not want to see the practice fall into the abyss of uselessness and corrupted definition.

Coaches are there to walk your journey with you – not every step but certainly every step where you falter. Coaches are there to help you become stronger in your practice. They are there long after the nonsensical idealism of training has worn off.

What has your experience of training been?
Have you experienced having a good coach work to help you and your team/organisation deliberately improve? What challenges did you observe, how did you address them?

I’d love to hear your experiences – good/bad/indifferent.

What happens on #Twitter when someone like #Mandela dies

I was going to title this post – ‘What billions of silent voices screaming at the same time look like’ – but it seemed too dramatic.

As I was about to release the pre-beta of my new app Hashies, the news came on the wire that Nelson Mandela had died. I wasn’t particularly shocked – more relieved actually. I do feel like I have lost a beloved grandfather – I think most of the world feels the same. But in the last few months, the situation around him and the media frenzy was grotesque to say the least. I wished nothing more than a peaceful passing on for Mr Mandela and when it came I felt only relief and gratitude for a beautiful brave life.

Hashies tracks what people are saying on a hashtag in near real time. Given the news, ‘#Mandela’ seemed the way to go. Before I heard the news – it was going to be ‘#JustinBeiber’ – glad it wasn’t!

Enough said, here is what it looked like.

And just to be sure – there is no one quite like Mr Mandela. And there is unlikely to ever be. RIP Madiba.

Awesome parking service at Malaga airport. Love this crew! /cc #shoutout @1_parking

Parking_Malaga___Malaga_Airport_Parking__Malaga_Train_Station__Malaga_Seaport

I had to park my car for a week whilst I was away in the UK recently. It would have cost me €75 one way for a taxi and I thought it would be cheaper to park my car for a week. I wasn’t prepared how great a deal I was about to get!

After a quick google search, I discovered 1parking.com and frankly I was a little skeptical of how good their service would be. Meet me at the airport, park it for a week, return it clean and for only €38 – fuggedaboutit! I booked them online and got the email with details of the service and the meeting time etc.

Well, I was blown away. The driver met me at the terminal building at the agreed time, she spoke English and was really friendly. After a quick check round and signing the contract -at which point the car is covered by their insurance! The lovely lady drove off with my car and that was that. Fast forward a week and I called them after we landed as instructed – from the baggage belt – and my car was waiting at the same meeting point. Safe, clean and ready to rock!

What I love about these guys is that they deliver what they promise and they  do so whilst being flexible and friendly. Of course their prices are keen  – but most of all I love the convenience and the service.

How is this for clever? Turns out they can do a range of mechanical bits to your car whilst it’s parked up – oil changes, servicing and even put it through its annual inspection (the Spanish equivalent of the UK MOT test). How wonderfully simple and sweet is that?!

Frankly it’s a service I would steal and try and do myself – imitation is the highest form of flattery!

Perfection Game:

With 10 being perfect, I would rate them 9/10.

To get to a 10, I would suggest a native translation of their site into English (now it doesn’t read very well at all) and support for French, Danish, German and other European languages (natively translated of course). That would make them the awesomest car parking service ever!

Why share this?

Because I want to see more of these kind of businesses – that are dedicated to great service and offer awesome convenience. Celebrate what you love so you can get more of it. Simple. I get no financial gain out of doing this. Sharing is its own reward.

What businesses have delighted you? I would really love to hear about them – wherever they are in the world.