Archive - September 2012

11.09 20120

21st Century Learning

By: michelemuse Categories:Agile

What does it take to be successful in the 21st century? Daniel Pink predicted that it takes “a whole new mind.”  Our society has moved through several revolutions of thought related to business.  We began as an agricultural society, where farmers dominated the economic scene.  We then moved into the Industrial Age, where factory workers were the critical component of production.  With the invention and progression of computer technology, the third age became known as the Information Age, where knowledge workers became dominant producers.  Many people believe that we still live in the Information Age, but Pink asserted in his book A Whole New Mind, that we are at the dawn of a new age… the Conceptual Age, where creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers are at the heart of business production. Pink noted three trends that have moved our society towards conceptualization.  The first being that we live in a society of abundance, where choices are plentiful, and scarcity is limited.  We also live in a society where outsourcing is widespread, as is computer automation.  When we look to define a new business, we have to ask…can a computer do it faster, or can someone overseas make it cheaper?  Also, we ask, will this product be in demand in an age where consumers already have so much?  Pink asserted that with these factors in mind, our competitive edge must come from our creativity.  We must rely on creativity to differentiate our commodities. Pink asserted that our product designs must move beyond function to engage the senses.  Our products must tell a story, not just provide an argument.  We must create a product symphony, focusing on the big picture of the product, rather than emphasizing the details.  Also, in the Conceptualization Age, we must use empathy to engage consumers with emotion and intuition, rather than just hard logic, and bring humor and light-heartedness to business and products.  Finally, we need to make products that allow for meaning in the lives of the consumers. Selling to consumers in the age of an abundance of inexpensive and fast-to-market products requires a change of business practices to promote creativity.  The change in business practices that enables creativity has been underway since 2001, with the development of the Agile Manifesto.  Movement towards organizational agility involves developing a business practice of frequent delivery, with repeated evaluation of objectives and customer satisfaction.  The more creative and unknown the product, the more an organization needs to rely on agile practices.  Agile practices move away from a focus on processes, tools, documentation, contract negotiation and adhering to strict plans.  The agile focus is on individuals and their interactions, working products, customer collaboration and responding to change. At the Agile 2012 conference in August, I met leaders of CollabNet, a company founded in 1999, that helps organizations transition their cultures to compete in the 21st century by leading companies through agile transformations.  CollabNet Resources offers an abundance of material in regards to Agile and its implementation in organizations.  The website includes blogs, videos, webinars, case studies and white papers, all providing a wealth of wisdom to help an organization become more agile.  The site also hosts a free “Scrum Training Series.”  The company has a tremendous amount of experience providing in-person training, transformation consulting and Agile software implementation, along with providing hybrid cloud and devops integration services. “Futurist,” Alivn Toffler, stated, “The illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”  If you are feeling that you need to update your current business practices with a 21st century model that will help you become more innovative and stay closer in touch with your customers and ever-changing compliance rules, then you should learn more about agile practices. CollabNet is a great place to start your transformation.

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04.09 20120

One Small Step

We live in a world where we continually balance exploration and risk.  From the very first steps of a toddler to the very first steps of man on the moon, we risk failure to achieve the absolute joy of accomplishing what has never been done before.  In the book Risk and Exploration, published by the NASA History Division, the assertion is made that exploration is necessary for a creative society and that risk is the inevitable companion of exploration. French historian and novelist, Andre Malraux, stated “Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not one has better abilities or ideas, but one has to bet on one’s ideas, to take a calculated risk and to act.”  Progress can only be made if we continue to move forward and take the risks that lead to advancements of our society.  The question is not should we take risks but how should we manage the risks that we will take. A great way to understand best practices related to risk management is to look at the lessons learned that history provides us. At the August PMI dinner meeting for the Dallas chapter, Rick Brenner, of Chaco Canyon Consulting, presented an interesting topic in regards to risk management.  He contrasted two of the first expeditions to the South Pole to offer examples of how to manage risks in our modern-day projects. Brenner pointed out that comparing similar historical events provides insights that are difficult to gain elsewhere and allows us to take away points to apply to current situations.  Looking at a historical case allows us to take more time and be more objective in our assessments of the situation. The two expeditions, one English and the other Norwegian, both set out to reach the South Pole in early 1900s with similar technology and information available to each team.  The use of this information and technology and each team’s approach to risk management was greatly different, leading to vastly different outcomes.  The expedition from England used conventional methods and the one from Norway used risk management techniques.  The study shows that the value of conventional wisdom rapidly declines as you move into the unknown.  The larger and riskier the project, the more important is risk management and the less important is conventional wisdom. The English expedition heavily relied on traditions and conventional practices. The English ship was overloaded and overcrowded; the large number of men required a large amount of supplies.  The ship was an old vessel, not intended for locked ice, creating issues in the icy seas near the Pole.  Once on land as was the English tradition, the group used manpower instead of dogs to haul the overburdened sledges, thus needlessly tiring the men. The English used only one navigator and ignored the need to overhaul the distance measurement tool that was ineffective in snowdrifts, creating issues with navigational reliance.   The English traveled by day both directions, facing snow blindness on the return trip.  The English failed to properly delegate tasks, instead leading through authority, and failed to balance the workloads.  These errors led the English to depot their supplies too soon on the trip to the Pole, and they could not make it back to their supply depot in time on their return trip.  All men on the expedition perished.  Death is a high price to pay for clinging to conventions and ignoring local situations. In contrast, the Norwegian group consisted of a much leaner group of men and sledges.  Rather than fatiguing the men, dogs hauled the sledges.  The Norwegians chose appropriate tools for the job.  The Norwegian ship was purpose-built for the expedition in icy waters.  The Norwegians used 4 navigators, offering redundancy for computational reliability.  Realizing that the measurement tool was impacted by drift snow, the Norwegians overhauled the design before the trip.  On the return trip, the Norwegians traveled by night to avoid snow blindness and to make the trip easier on the group.  The Norwegians mastered the art of delegation, making everyone feel that their work was essential and led through loyalty.  The leader let everyone be independent within his own sphere and balanced workloads.  The Norwegians successfully returned to Norway from the South Pole. Brenner’s case study illustrates how important it is to consider local situations when engaged in a risky undertaking.  The riskier the undertaking, the less we should rely on conservative conventions to see us through to success.  The case also underlies the importance of selecting appropriate tools for the situation, working smarter, not harder.  Utilizing a load balanced team, led through loyalty verses authority also leads to better outcomes.  These South Pole expeditions underscore how assessing local situations can benefit projects and how blindly following traditional practices can lead to peril.  In modern day terms, we would call this “leading with agility.”  One step at a time we can engage risk and follow a path to unprecedented success.

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