Need to accelerate teams without a budget? Here’s some practical tips

People always try to accelerate teams with very complex org structure changes, but rarely use simple methods to do so. I use the following  two tools with agile tech teams, students in class and with startups in rhubarb studios. I even use it with my management team.

Delta plus to accelerate teamsDelta-Plus

When leading a group, team or class you can use delta-plus (sometimes called ‘plus/change’).
Here’s how to do it:
  • draw a triangle and a plus sign on the whiteboard, side by side with a line between them
  • explain to people that we’re going to list anything we’d like to see done differently on the delta (triangle) side, and anything we want to do more of on the plus side
  • Invite people to contribute and write up a summary of what each person says on the board
  • note any actions that specifically arise from these points on the side and write the initials of the person who owns them next to it
  • take a picture of the outcome and post it to everyone
  • make appropriate changes
I do this at the end of every meeting, every class, every workshop and every session (I even do it with my family) – try it, it will improve your group.

MeetingsHow to stop the meeting vortex

Meetings count as one of the greatest time sucks in business. People spend all day in meetings and then have to either stay late or work on their laptop in bed to do  ‘real work’. “But we need them!” I have heard countless clients tell me. You don’t. I have a couple of simple ways to turn your meeting nightmares into a smooth productive, collaborative environment:
  • Huddle, don’t meet. If you have to talk to one or two other people, go to their office/desk/lunch table and chat with them. Do not set up a meeting.
  • Deliverables not agendas – do not set agendas for meetings. Set a list of deliverables instead. These could include decisions you know you have to be made, or lists that you have to write, or any other practical outcome. List these on the board at the beginning of the meeting, let anyone add something to the list that might have been missed. Prioritise the list (forced ranking is a great way to do this). Now tick off each deliverable as the meeting progresses. Keep people on target. When the last deliverable is met, CLOSE THE MEETING. Just because you have booked the room for 20 more minutes does not mean you have to use it all that time. Or end with a delta-plus.

All the time saved will will accelerate teams for you.

Accelerating teams with simple changes

There you go: delta plus and the end of endless meetings. It takes small improvements to accelerate teams. Try it out and tell me how it works on twitter: @cauri
-cauri

What can we learn from the Sony hack?

Sony Pictures Studios water tower in the clouds above Culver City, CA.

A lot of Sony Pictures Entertainment critics have emerged in the last few days since the Sony hack, perhaps looking for a day in the sunlight of the current newscycle. While this may be a fun pastime or career move, I think we can learn more important lessons form the attack. As someone who has worked with SPE on their technology track a number of people have asked me my opinion on the subject, so let’s blog!

About 8 years ago I was tech lead of Wysiwyg Films, one of the first film and TV aggregation companies, gathering rights to distribute content to online platforms. Most of those platforms do not exist anymore: they have merged, been bought, shut down rebranded and IPO’d. Who has heard of Joost or Babelgum? But you probably know Netflix and CinemaNow. We were early in the game.

So, sitting on a panel in Cannes with execs from a number of studios including Universal and Sony Pictures. The Q&A session turned to the most frequently debated topic of the time: was the internet going to replace all the traditional distribution channels. Looking back it seems inevitable to everyone, however, incredibly in 2006 almost everyone on the panel insisted that BluRay was the way of the future. We actually had an exec call internet video “a fad”. I remember being the lone voice on the panel in support of the internet video future. I advocated that whichever Hollywood studio recognised that they were not a movie company or even a movie distribution company anymore, but that they were a tech company that makes content, they would win out. To be fair there were a lot of supporters of this point of view in the crowd, but not on the panel itself.

Cross cut to today, YouTube exists, Disney bought Maker Studios, everyone has invested in Fullscreen, Time Warner has reorganised their digital organisations about 3 times in as many years. All studios know that they have to embrace tech as much as possible and as quickly as possible to survive the imminent threat from content distributors who have started producing, such as YouTube, Netflix and Amazon.

So back to Sony. SPE  recognised the need for tech to take centre stage pretty early on with the creation of their Sony Pictures Technologies division. They have invested in many platforms, worked to bridge their Interactive with Technology and Entertainment; and launched a plethora of initiatives. They began this very difficult transition really early. They have had many programmes and many millions put into making the transformation into a tech-based media company. And I’m proud to have contributed in some way to those initiatives. And, you know what? A company in transition has vulnerabilities. Someone took advantage of that vulnerability and is exploiting it to its fullest. Instead of condemning the company, I’ll just applaud them on getting in the game early.

Only one simple lesson to learn from all this: IT departments needs to use the knowledge gathered from this attack to make all networks more secure. The more Sony can reveal what happened is the more all companies can make sure it does not happen in the same way again, to anyone. Not the most glamorous lesson, but a good one.

 

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cauri runs rhubarb studios, a technology incubator in downtown Los Angeles. He is instructor fellow for product management and user experience at General Assembly; he also designed the curriculum and teaches at General Assembly product management. cauri loves technology and all the good things it mens for the future.

 

Making your business hyper-productive – Part I: Flow

flowing river

The 3 Fundamentals

I have found three fundamental elements to creating a productive team within a business environment, or, for that matter, any environment, as these same principles can be applied to a start-up, a fully-fledged enterprise, a household, a family camping trip, or just about any endeavour. These three elements are: Flow, Emergence and Empathy. Instilling a team with these ways of thinking will greatly increase the chances of success. Let’s begin with flow.

What is Flow?

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water, my friend.”

Bruce Lee

Flow is movement through a system. It can apply to a group of individuals or a product.

Fluidity

Traditionally businesses created a goal and a plan to reach that goal, then they stuck to both the goal and the plan whatever happened and however long it took. Some businesses, especially larger less-flexible corporations still employ this method. Flow is the opposite method: a goal is defined but with an undetermined path. The team is always fluid and conscious of its environment and the impacting forces, constantly asking how to make the goal possible or how to work better. The question is never “Can we?”, only “How will we?”

The movement from predetermined to responsive is exemplified in business by the move from waterfall to agile. Even fast food is going in this direction. Gone are the days of brightly lit, single menus with fixed selection, now are the days of Lemonade and 800 degrees where fast food is designed iteratively, fixing the end goal with the path to get there.

Psychological flow – for individuals

Brought into the zeitgeist through “gamification”, it describes a way of designing systems and experiences to get users into the zone: into flow. In neuroscience it is known as transient hypofrontality. In this state, the perception of the passage of time changes. When flow is achieved, many hours can pass by unnoticed, or a single moment can extend in slow motion. While complex and multi-faceted, at the most simple level, to achieve flow the system needs to deliver a balance between frustration and boredom; it is just hard enough to keep the player engaged, but not so hard that he/she grows frustrated. As the player’s skills improve, the game must increase in difficulty to allow “flow” to happen.

Facilitating flow

In the work environment, enabling individual team members to enter “flow” is the result of striking a balance between enjoyment and challenge. Good managers facilitate flow. They give the employees control over their workload and schedule, while simultaneously creating boundaries that are solid and clear but within which creativity is allowed and encouraged. A great example of this is Virgin’s recent decision to allow employees to choose the frequency and length of their own vacations by negotiation with their colleagues.

Many brainstorming and management techniques, as well as tools and services exist to help create flow in a team. The core of it comes down to have clear company-wide goals and creating a culture that encourages adaptation to achieve those goals.

While seeking to climb a mountain, one can look at neither the ground directly ahead nor the horizon, lest she bumps her head into a tree or falls into a chasm; be aware of one’s surroundings and the ultimate goal, then adapt.

What you can do now to achieve flow

  • start tracking team happiness: a daily email asking employees to rate their satisfaction, a weekly retrospective meet-up to improve team practices or just checking regularly with individuals
  • set clear, achievable goals at every level: for the company, the department, the team and the individuals
  • give your team/staff control: actively look for ways to give more freedom, a self-managed team produces better and sticks around longer

You are now on your way to flow and a more productive business.

 

Recommended reading:

Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers” by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, James Macanufo

“How to get into the zone” by James Aldworth

 

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cauri runs rhubarb studios, a technology incubator in downtown Los Angeles. He is instructor fellow for product management and user experience at General Assembly; he also designed the curriculum and teaches at General Assembly product management. cauri loves technology and thinks longevity is a inevitable outcome of technological advance.

Rise of the intrapreneur

intrapreneur innovation

I really disliked the term when I first heard it “Intrapreneur”. Sounds like a term thought up by a second-rate marketing department. However after a few recent engagements in multi-national enterprises I think the concept may hold the future of these companies.

The rise of consumer-led product design used by startups & small companies and championed by processes such as Eric Ries’ lean startup and design thinking has changed consumer expectations. People want products made specifically for them that give them value. They care less about how the marketing sells it to them because they can read a hundred reviews and ask their friends. If they find little use for it… forget it.

This forces us to make better products. New processes mean products can now be made more economically in small batches which gives the startups a fighting chance. Now add to that the ability to adjust the features of the product quickly based on continuous customer feedback and you have a winner: small companies disrupting large ones and threatening enterprise growth and bottom line.

So how does an enterprise fight this trend? If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Throw out a lot of the old “best practice” jargon and get lean and agile.

Create consumer-led design teams in house that are empowered, agile and not constricted by project budgets: enter the intreapreneur. The intrapreneur functions just as an entrepreneur but within an enterprise and benefitting its interests. 3 principles to a successful intrepreneurial endeavour:

  • Your team must operate autonomously – you cannot have layers of management overseeing everything you do and measuring it against the usual company metrics
  • You have to have an ongoing budget, not one linked to a specific project by project budget
  • You need a cross-fuctional team that can do everything necessary to explore, test and create the product

Setting up an intrapreneurial department in a larger company can happen quickly and provide rapid returns. It can reinvent a product line or a whole company; change brand perception; accelerate CSR initiatives; open new revenue streams and more. So get to it. Now, if we could just find a better word for it.

Originally posted on Linkedin

 

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cauri runs rhubarb studios, a technology incubator in downtown Los Angeles. He is instructor fellow for product management and user experience at General Assembly; he also designed the curriculum and teaches at General Assembly product management. cauri loves technology and thinks of it as the application of science to real problems.