Organizational challenges in the 21st century require more than pure fact in order to get to successful strategies. We no longer live in a world where analysis alone provides the best solutions.
But the bias still exists to solve problems with analysis. Why?
What I’ve seen over the years, is that leaders who make decisions in this very analytical way often believe they are doing so from a position of higher intelligence.
After all, we must be logical, process and analyze the data sequentially, and then make decisions based on facts.
Don’t get me wrong, some problems should be solved using analysis. Mathematical problems such as multiplying 877 x 45 (answer 39,465, by the way), or calculating what your percentage increases in customer satisfaction measures are in order to keep offering the product or service tied to that performance indicator.
However, most of the challenges leaders face in organizations today are not simply solved using analysis. And leaders who use step-by-step processes to get to a solution for problems, risk making bad decisions.
Insight is a solution that recombines knowledge that you have stored in your brain in an entirely new way.
For many, it is that feeling you have when you ”suddenly” have a brilliant idea. When you absolutely know you have the right answer. What the research on the brain shows, is that making decisions using insight leads us to better solutions.
Though insight is often thought of as a ”gut feeling,” it is actually a process that can be tracked and studied – and not random intuition about what is the right thing to do and what is not.
Insight involves processing and understanding the data and drawing on previous experience, future expectations, conversations stored in memory about similar problems, etc. All this rich information, that if you are given the chance to get at, come together in the brain – leading to the proverbial ”aha moment.”
Research shows that the brain needs rest in order to come to insightful answers to problems. In this resting stage, the brain filters out visual input in order to eliminate distractions to a solution.
This is why many people close their eyes when trying to remember something or when trying to solve a problem. We are reducing visual distractions so the brain can focus on finding the answer.
What the research also shows is that people in a positive mood are better able to solve problems using insight because a positive mood alters the preparatory activity in the brain.
This enhances our detection of competing alternatives to a problem, enhances our ability to switch between various strategies, and helps us to select the answer that will best solve the challenge at hand.
In today’s world, we have to make smarter decisions that rely on a depth of information – not just on pure analysis.
For the many leaders out there who are in analysis paralysis, I say: ”Go home and rest. The answers are in you. Give them a chance to come out!” And even, better yet, ”Go home and have some fun (then rest).”
Positivity is proven to broaden attention and expand the scope of possibilities, leading to finding more creative and better solutions.
There is a common misperception in many organizations transforming to Agile ways of working that Agile is yet one more way to do project management.
And to make it worse, there are many funny sounding names for the frameworks: Scrum, Kanban and SAFe, with corresponding development tools like TDD, DevOps; and then, backlogs with epics, features and user stories.
The terminology reinforces the misperceptions about Agile as people scramble to understand the new way of working, and to perhaps change roles from “team lead” to “Scrum Master” or “project manager” to “Product Owner.” Don’t even get me started on “RTEs,” “Product Managers” and “Epic Owners.” No wonder it is often difficult to move to Agile.
The thing is, Agile ways of working focus on four key Involve & Engage principles:
All to follow the value so that we can deliver that value to customers faster!
When you do those four things, you ARE working in an Agile way. The frameworks are simply techniques to support us as we understand and plan together, demo results and get feedback, and reflect together to learn and improve.
The reality is that transforming to Agile is more about changing our culture and mindsets than about changing to a new methodology.
Together does not mean the managers together. Together does not mean the IT teams together. Together does not mean the business together. Together means the key people who have influence, an interest, or a role in the development and delivery of a product TOGETHER.
Getting to the “together” requires working across the organization, breaking down silos, bringing business and IT functions together, setting up persistent, cross-functional teams, and having managers whose primary role is to support teams by removing impediments, providing clear strategic direction, and helping increase the competencies of people.
When we work together, really together, we also create ownership of the work, ownership of the value we deliver, and ownership of the entire transformation process.
Over time, it is this “together-ness” that creates a “WE” culture – and that is one of the biggest benefits of working in an Agile way.
Thinking your way to new acting doesn’t work. The neuroscience proves the only way to shift mindsets is to act your way to new thinking.
And while I know the various Agile frameworks can be confusing at first, they all share methods to get us to act in new ways – nudging us to understand together, plan together, demonstrate results frequently and get feedback, and reflect together to learn and improve.
Over time (sometimes a long time), we get into the habit of doing master planning, PI planning, sprint planning, refining, having demos, stand-up meetings, and retrospectives. We understand the benefits these techniques bring for our customers and for ourselves. And suddenly, we can never go back to our old ways of working.
This is the mindset shift – and it’s the result of making changes to how we act in our work each day.
So don’t worry too much about the methodologies in Agile. Remember the “together” part – and not only will we deliver value to our customers faster, we’ll affect culture and mindsets in a truly remarkable way.
For more on TOGETHER, check out: www.togetherthebook.com
The job of Product Owner is incredibly complex – it involves understanding the value that needs to be delivered (from your users’ or customers’ perspective) and figuring out how to work with all the product’s stakeholders to get that value delivered as quickly as possible.
The following are some tips, questions to ask, as well as links to articles and videos as inspiration.
When it comes to working with stakeholders, you must:
So how do you do that? Let’s take them one at a time.
The only way to figure this out, is to really understand what it is that can help you make your customers’ lives better.
Learn and use facilitation to go from presenting your ideas to presenting your stakeholders’ ideas. Involve and engage them, and help them find out what they want.
If you can see that they are unsure about requirements or any part of the ”why” or ”what” of the product or service they are looking for, you will need to schedule and plan a workshop to help your stakeholders become more clear about their wishes (or ”desirements”).
If or when your stakeholders don’t know or have a hard time agreeing on what they want – perhaps specific decisions and priorities, then be strong and make the final call yourself, when needed. (Make sure you do so at the last responsible moment.)
Sometimes you might not be 100% sure, and that is okay. Go ahead and make the decision anyway, so that your team can move on. Oftentimes the quickest way to find out if you are on the right track is to try something, and then inspect and adapt, (rather than keep thinking and analyzing your way to certainty).
The only way you really know is to try and see.
One of the best ways to get input and feedback on a regular basis is through the DEMO. If your team is not holding regular DEMOs, talk with your Scrum Master/team and get the DEMOs on the calendars!
DEMOs are a vital part of the feedback loop – without them it is guess work or requires many, many meetings between PO and various stakeholders to get input about what features/functionality the team is working on.
Not only is this inefficient, you miss the opportunity for stakeholders to understand and plan together – making your life as Product Owner a little easier in the long run. The DEMO provides a structured way to gain the feedback you need to make decisions about what to do next.
Again, the DEMO provides a regular opportunity to show the progress of the work.
Key stakeholders should also be part of your REFINING THE PRODUCT BACKLOG meetings. These refinement meetings should happen each week – where you look ahead at what is planned and make adjustments to the plan with your stakeholders.
It is also where you can ask more specific questions of your stakeholders to clarify what it is they want – adding ACCEPTANCE CRITERIA, for example, on the features the team will work on.
The Product Owner, of course, must also spend time in casual communications with stakeholders – stopping by where they work and “checking in” with them. Creating relationships that lead to getting richer exchanges of information that will help you in your role.
In addition to providing the opportunity to see the work done and give feedback, the DEMO is a fantastic way to give a sense of predictability. Stakeholders can see for themselves what has been done, and to understand when they will get their release.
Holding a DEMO at the end of each sprint, is a tool for you to help manage expectations as stakeholders see for themselves what they will get and when.
Remember, you as a Product Owner are often between a “rock and a hard place.” You will not be able to please everyone all the time. Communicating the progress and the challenges your team faces in doing the work will build trust between you and your stakeholders.
Perhaps helping make your stakeholders more patient and understanding of the overall prioritization, even if it does not match their individual prioritization needs.
Working Agile – understanding together, planning together, demonstrating results frequently and getting feedback, and reflecting together to learn and improve – requires new ways of acting.
The ceremonies built into the Scrum framework provide the mechanisms to work Agile. However, unless people participating feel that the DEMO, for instance, is valuable for them, they won’t feel positive about this change.
The neuroscience shows that acting your way to new thinking is the path of least resistance for the brain. This is how we learn new habits. This means that you as Product Owner must work closely with your Scrum Master and Team to make sure that new items of work go through you.
Team members must tell stakeholders who come to them with work items: “I’m happy to do this, but you have to talk with my Product Owner. She is the one prioritizing what we do!” This way of working breaks if stakeholders try to get around you!
You, in the meantime, need to constantly remind your stakeholders about WHY we are prioritizing in this way (it’s the overall value delivered for the customer – in the larger context).
This does not always match the individual needs of stakeholders, but most stakeholders understand the idea of the “greater good.” Be consistent and patient. Changing habits takes time!
“Product Ownership in a Nutshell” video
(the basics of product ownership from a Scrum perspective)
Jenni’s article from InfoQ on “Communicating Business Value to Stakeholders”
Tips for running a DEMO
(substitute the word “product” for “working software” to make it more relevant)
More on running successful team DEMOs from Scaled Agile Framework perspective
Article on Real Options (in the Agile context)
(about decision making and the “last responsible moment”)
In our latest “Conversations with Leaders,” we interview Michael Poulsen, Vice President, Head of Business Technology at Tryg. Tryg is one of the largest insurance companies in Scandinavia with nearly 7,000 employees.
“Conversations with Leaders” is special series from goAgile and was created when we published our first book TOGETHER — how leaders involve and engage people to get great things done.
Michael Poulsen is a talented agile leader. In this video, he shares his insights and experiences as he answers the following questions:
You can see more in our Conversations with Leaders series here.
Anders Vognsen, Head of the Lean Agile Center of Excellence in Novo Nordisk, works together with his team and colleagues to focus on delivering value for the global healthcare company headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Novo Nordisk’s purpose is to drive change to defeat diabetes, obesity and other rare blood and endocrine disorders. The company has more than 50,000 employees worldwide.
Our interview with Anders is part of our series: “Conversations with Leaders,” that we started in conjunction with the publishing of our book TOGETHER. You can read more about how leaders involve and engage people to get great things done.
Watch the video and hear Anders’ answers to these questions:
See all the videos in our series Conversations with Leaders here.
Download a free chapter of TOGETHER here.