Archive for March, 2011

SXSW

March 13, 2011

At SXSW there was a panel called Do Agencies Need to Think Like Software Companies? Folks at the conference have been tweeting using #agileagency making it easier to at least read through reactions. Here is my curated list, best collection of tweets revealing how important this particular SXSW has been.  Some of these tweets have links that go more in-depth.

rnadworny Rich Nadworny
#agileagency panel said you need to visualize new ideas for client innovation. What ways could you do that. #sellideas
kasimzorlu kasim zorlu
Main product of #agileagency is use-vertising is in, agency ppl must think more like a product developer than an entertainer
ckburgess Cheryl Burgess
“Do Agencies Need to Think Like Software Co’s?” http://wp.me/p1kB6X-1g & Mktg Technologist? http://bit.ly/ecR27a #agileagency #SXSWi #sxsw
>> The first link is *awesome* – check that out.  Reason is that it contains notes from the session, sort of what I myself might have jotted down if I was there.

OliverMeschke Oliver Meschke
Thanks for sharing this @Rick_Now: #SXSW Day 1 – On game mechanics and being agile http://bit.ly/eAc3xp #sxswi #agileagency

>>> Liked this because one of the methods I’m exploring is bringing in gameplay to methodology:
All this puts the focus on creating a more cooperative environment and here’s why this can be so important: If it’s purely a competitive environment and one player takes a massive lead, participation from other players will drop off.
>>> And this, because it gets encapsulates why I’ve gone this direction:
The conversation focused on the need for agencies to move quickly, to produce something right now rather than to continue to shape and refine ideas

Inside the Gated Community of Creative (Part I)

March 11, 2011
Michael Gough and George Clooney

Michael Gough and George Clooney (courtesy Yahoo)

Lately I’ve been working with a creative director whose background is predominantly “traditional” or “offline” (means: TV/Print/Radio/Out-of-Home and not digital).  It is through him that I found myself suddenly inside the gated community of offline creative and, turning back, found maybe there was no gate after all.  As Nedup would say, “Mind Bugs,” referencing a paranoia I once went through about bedbugs (we didn’t have any, thank goodness).

This creative director’s view is the will to collaborate must be present for gates not to exist.  In his case, he has that will and gamely went along with my rolling out an Agile-esque framework at least on the production of a campaign that had video, print, and digital executions (I was not involved in the ideation stage).

Although we didn’t use burn-down charts and velocity, we didn’t explicitly name a Product Owner, and otherwise did all sorts of horrific “Scrumbut” things, we all felt what we did was very successful.  When I say “we all” what I mean is “the team” because this was precisely the result of using Agile.  We all felt like a team and had that closeness.

Where this creative director and I have both been trying to sort is at the point in which we’re coming up with ideas – or a Big Idea – for a campaign.  On another client, we’d thought to see if we could use our new framework, but in traditional it is customary for the creative director to lead the troops and he instinctively went to that process, habituated to it and likely feeling comfortable and safe with it.

Then, I’m not sure at such a nascent stage of a campaign about the point at which Agile can really help and where it just breaks flow. I think of an example Dr. Jeff Sutherland used in a class of his that I took in which he talked about team issues – and one of those being the classical coder who does not want to attend scrum but just go off into his cube and get into flow “and just code.”

Lt. Gen. Russel Honore (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

Lt. Gen. Russel Honore (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

Then could it be that “flow” can lead to “distraction” and we really need a general?  I think of Hurricane Katrina and Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré.  In this situation, it seemed we did indeed need a general.  This is possibly an example of a really huge team in “spin-and-flounder” mode.  From Wikipedia:

In one widely played clip, Honore was seen on the streets of the city, barking orders to subordinates and, in one case, berating a soldier who displayed a weapon, telling him “We’re on a rescue mission damn it!” New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was quoted on a radio interview September 1, 2005, saying: “Now, I will tell you this — and I give the president some credit on this — he sent one John Wayne dude down here that can get some stuff done, and his name is Gen. Honoré. And he came off the doggone chopper, and he started cussing and people started moving. And he’s getting some stuff done.”

I’ve seen Chief Creative Officers and CEOs behave like this with teams, coming off the chopper, starting to “cuss,” and getting people moving. Breaking through team inertia.  I myself have been expected to do this, and even had a CEO at a previous company say to me “You need to yell at people more, Mary.”

On the other hand, maybe these generals need a butler.  So back to breaking out of feudalism, at what point does that coder need someone to keep track of where the socks are?  Someone to wash them and put them away so he can focus on the task at hand?  Does the coder have to wash his own socks?

The creative director, during an ideation stage that he ended up leading, originally asked me to “keep things moving” for a weekend of crunched creativity. I declined because it felt to me artificial, as if I’d be inserting myself into a process that maybe does not require (?) what could be horse beating.  Getting off the chopper and cussing and getting people moving.  Or could it have turned into facilitation?  Not sure.

I bring this up because there was someone, a digital executive creative director, who said to me once that he viewed Project Managers as very good butlers.  He clarified that he meant this in the way that Alfred is a great butler to Batman/Bruce Wayne, enabling the superhero to go out and fight crime because he doesn’t have to worry about where the socks are.  This person is much more towards hopping off the doggone chopper cussing, but his style is less cuss, more inspire.  He hops off the doggone chopper and the creatives want to follow him into battle because he makes it seem as if where we’re going is incredibly interesting.

Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day

Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day

But he feels he needs a butler. I know from visiting countries that still have the feudal habit of one human being serving another that it can be all too easy to fall into liking that service and of beginning to feel that oneself is somehow deserving of such service.  In the situation I was also tempted to think I was generating employment by letting people have the opportunity to serve me.  Very easy to enter into all sorts of rationalizations, when in fact could it not be that we are only steps away from enslavement of another person to serve our own great ego?  Or, as a master, do we deserve that? Does it help for us to demand that?

The question, then, finally threads it way back to Mastery.  Should one “serve the master” if one is not training to become a master?  Is there any case in which a butler is okay to have because it leaves one free to enter into flow and create?

I think of a company like Big Spaceship, that proclaims they have done away with the title “Creative” and question how they get stuff done.  Don’t they need someone to wash the socks?  And don’t they need a general to jump off the doggone chopper and start cussing so people move?

From reading Dr. Alistair Cockburn’s book, Agile Software Development: the Cooperative Game, more and more I conclude we really need a framework to analyze the situation on a case-by-case basis.  He talks about projects needing analysis to determine how heavy or light a process can work given the circumstances. To extend the thinking to this case, it may be that in some cases you need a general, in others plenty of butlers, and yet others, the team can take over.

Where we may be very evolutionary is if we can thread our way down the fractal to spot in which we actually do not need generals or butlers because the team just works that well together and just works that well with other teams.  My question remains, though.  Where’s the socks?

Evolving Out of Feudalism, Becoming Self-directed

March 10, 2011
HH the Dalai Lama in the New York Times

HH the Dalai Lama in the New York Times

Back to how evolutionary Agile is, today His Holiness the Dalai Lama announced he is retiring from any political duties within the Tibetan Government-in-Exile.  Interestingly, some Tibetans have reacted by saying they want His Holiness to continue to make major decisions, and not to abandon his political role.  Quoted in the New York Times, Tim Johnson, author of the recent book, “Tragedy in Crimson: How the Dalai Lama Conquered the World but Lost the Battle with China,” says:

“Tibetan exiles have only reluctantly embraced democracy despite the Dalai Lama’s many urgings. Many would prefer that the Dalai Lama continue to make all major decisions. And he has had to push hard for them to accept someone other than himself as a political leader.”

When the Bhutanese King, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, moved that country to Democracy, I noticed on many Bhutanese forums that Nidup reads that Bhutanese did not want this.  In ExpressIndia, a Bhutanese minister is quoted as saying:

“But His Majesty said you can’t leave such a small, vulnerable country in the hands of only one man, who was chosen by birth and not by merit.”

I had a chance to have a brief conversation with Tobias Mayer yesterday, and we discussed the fact that some folks who join an Agile team similarly have difficulty adapting to an Inspect and Adapt approach and in being self-directed.  It can seem to be, in fact, easier just to be told what to do, to have someone else make our to-do list, and just to do it.  No debate needed.  It makes me think that it could be possible that at a certain point, Agile, like Democracy, could get messy.  There could be the very real possibility of inertia.

In fact, I observed this with one team.  The team was accustomed to a Great Creative Mind directing it.  That Great Creative Mind realized the risk of having a Great Creative Mind as the sole Creator on the team by becoming suddenly unavailable to direct the team, to be their… King.  We’d tried to roll out Scrum on this team and on doing so the team suddenly went into a spin-and-flounder mode.  I was not personally part of the team and am not sure exactly why this was.  Perhaps because the role of Product Owner was missing as the truth is, the team was not trained in Agile and really was just practicing the Scrum meeting.  Even though, I’d expect through talking together that synchronicity would naturally evolve. That the team would find their own King from within, or find they don’t need a King – or product owner.

I’ve been watching TV shows on Netflix about feudal times and magic, specifically The Tudors and Merlin.  In The Tudors it seems to me so far that the writers have made Cardinal Wolsey King Henry VIII’s project manager, in a sense.  Once the cardinal is deposed, according to this loosely-based-on-history version, the king has to reform parliament and his own council so he can “get things done” and manage the country well.  In Merlin, a young feudal King Arthur is protected by the hidden magical abilities of Merlin.  This story shows Arthur as more part of a team.

What’s interesting about both is how authority and leadership are presented for entertainment.  In the case of The Tudors, it gets ugly and at a certain point, there’s no one to like in the entire show.  In the case of Merlin, there’s a charm to King Arthur and his team.  But in both shows, the leaders are needed, a requirement for things to function.

When I took training with Ken Schwaber, in exercises I noticed my own tendency to want to take over and tell the other team members what to do.  Later in Jeff Sutherland’s class, I suppressed this tendency and found I perceived (note that this may just be perception) my team not to move forward.  Later, Dr. Sutherland re-formed the class teams, and I was part of a team that had an experienced ScrumMaster. She quickly became our team leader because she had that mastery.

And this is where I think there is a thread. The reason we don’t want to give up our Kings may not only be about wanting to be told what to do and avoiding conflict. It might also be that we want someone with mastery to lead so we can learn. In the case of the feudal model, that leader has been trained to lead.  Unfortunately, the person who receives this opportunity by their birth may not ever really find themselves able to to be true masters. As usual, more to explore on this point.

Agile and the Enlightenment – Reframing Human Capital in a Column by NYT’s David Brooks

March 9, 2011

My previous post talks about “the survival of the fittest” and what motivates us.  I included videos from Dan Pink and Dr. Dan Ariely that question our very assumptions about what makes us work well.  The videos show that we’re not all about reason and the carrot and the stick, but sometimes we just want to do things because we emotionally connect to the actual doing.

Today, by coincidence, New York Times Columnist, David Brooks, has an article called The New Humanism.  He says:

This growing, dispersed body of research reminds us of a few key insights. First, the unconscious parts of the mind are most of the mind, where many of the most impressive feats of thinking take place. Second, emotion is not opposed to reason; our emotions assign value to things and are the basis of reason. Finally, we are not individuals who form relationships. We are social animals, deeply interpenetrated with one another, who emerge out of relationships.

He also talks about how this has implications for how we view human capital.  He relates our thinking back to seeds sown by the French (versus the English) Enlightenment.

Sir Ken Ken Robinson gave this talk, below, which also holds that our particular Enlightenment legacy is adversely affecting the way we educate our children:

He talks about the fact that our current system of public education was motivated by an economic need (the Industrial Revolution), but that it was haunted by assumptions about human nature that posited capacity for deductive reasoning and knowledge of the classics as a foundation for the very ability to become educated.  What we now call “Academic Ability.”  Sir Ken concludes the video by saying that in fact the system ends up directing students to find one answer (individualism) versus many answers (Divergent Thinking).

In any case, it seems we are on the verge of a new Enlightenment.  What Brooks has discussed (in the Times and in a recent book) you might see as really being about the team. It is my belief that Agile in its emphasis on team is an expression of this revolution.  And this is at the root of a completely new way to function in business and society.  Let’s see.