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Entrepreneurability

As busy as I want to be, having these principles

Last summer during a social event at Agile 2019 in Washington D.C. I had an interesting conversation with a fellow entrepreneur about being busy. This conversation started with telling each other what we were working on and from both sides it sounded like a lot! The question that came up was: So, how busy are you?

As busy as I want to be!

Having two companies and being the eternal (unpaid) intern at my girlfriends’ company, may seem very busy. But on average I work about three days a week. Work that I am being paid to do. One of these companies focuses on Agile training and consulting and this service is what pays the bills at this moment.

However, I made a deliberate choice not to fill my entire week with providing service. Of course, I could do that since Agile is a big thing in the industry now. I believe, I could have earned a lot more over the last couple of years. But I didn’t do that. I decided to limit the amount of time I spend on doing work so I can free time to work on new areas like entrepreneurial ability, working with four generations and the voice of the system. To make this happen I take up new assignments following these principles.

Maximum 24 hours a week

I do not believe a consultant should be present for more than 24 hours a week. An organization needs time to get work done, practice and internalize new insights. 

Once in a while, you need to close the oven door, so it can warm up!

This means that I spent no more than 24 hours at an organization and this not the same as 3 days! If it means I need to spread the 24 hours over 5 workdays at this organization to make an impact, I will do so. That is the risk I take as an entrepreneur

You pay when I am there.

I only show up at the organization if I believe I can add value. Being there for 8 hours just because my contract say so is bad consultancy in my opinion. The organization only pays for the hours I actually spent and the hourly rate is a little higher than they are used to. But when I am there, something is happening. If not, they don’t have to pay.

Longer engagements are more expensive

This principle feels counterintuitive for most organizations. They assume a consultant is aiming for long term engagements (and most consultancy organizations do believe that). A long assignment is predictable revenue. So organizations know this and expect a lower hourly rate for longer engagements since consultancy firms value steady revenue. I believe it should be the other way around. The longer the assignment takes, the higher the (hourly) rate. As a consultant, I add value based on the knowledge I have and share and the experience from many different environments I bring. So, if you hire me for a longer period of time, I take myself off the market for a longer period of time. Only gaining experience at one organization, decreases my value for future assignments.

Would you rather hire a consultant with experience from one organization or several?

Therefore, a longer engagement has to be compensated so I am able to invest in additional knowledge gathering, training etc. 

You do the work!

There is a huge risk being a consultant that an organization starts to depend on you. Everything is fine as long as you are there. As soon as you leave, things fall apart. From the first day I enter an organization I say:

I want to leave this organization as soon as possible!

The only thing I do is to teach the organization to be able to do things themselves. You do the work! I will help you, guide you along the way but change is up to you! For example, I have set up a course at one of the organizations I worked with as a consultant. This course is designed for a couple of talented employees to teach them what I do. Over the next couple of months, I will work with these five people so they will become the experts on Agility. They will learn and put it into practice at the same time. This way the organization will build their own capabilities to change and I will guide these experts along the way. They do the work, I will guide, coach and teach them. So I can leave as soon as possible.

Scary sh*t

Applying these principles work very well in being as busy as you want to be, freeing up time to invest in learning new things. But it is scary as well. You do not have long term assignments, you might end up working 5 days a week and only get paid for 24 hours. So money might not be as good as it could have been. And since your approach to the work you do is to teach organizations to do it themselves, might make you start looking for a new assignment sooner than you expect. But so far it has worked great for me. I am as busy as I want to be.

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Entrepreneurability

3 things to make a giant leap towards Agility

I believe there are three things you need to do regardless of the framework, methodology or program you are embracing with your organization. If you don’t take decisions, focus on the outcome and get things done? Your transformation program, Agile Way of Working implementation, Lean initiative or whatever you do, will end up with all those other frameworks you have tried to apply before. You will never achieve the agility that was promised to you (by those expensive consultants).

Get ready for a free, simple and honest piece of advice. You might not like it. It might be a little painful. But it can save you a lot of money, frustration and people leaving, just by reading this post. Let’s start off with some statements that might sound familiar:

“Our organization is doing Agile”,

“We adopted the Agile way of working”

“We do some elements of Agile”

as said by many leadership teams or recruitment agents

I have no idea what these statements mean! I have no clue what ‘the Agile Way of Working’ is. What I do know is when I start a conversation about Agility with these companies. They don’t do any of three things I will describe in post. And to be honest. It doesn’t have anything to do with Agile. 

Take a decision

There is scarcity on almost everything. Resources, budget and people, there are never enough available in organizations when looking at the amount of work to be done. This forces organizations to take decisions on which things to focus. On paper this task should be done by leadership. In practice, no decisions are taken! Therefore not chance of agility! Let me describe the average response I get when I train people.

Too much to do

Let’s say you have the capacity to work on 5 items. But, there are 8 items to be done. You need clarity on what needs to be done first. However, if you don’t have clarity on the order of the work that needs to be done, how can you ever be successful?

Ever wondered why so many people are burned out? This is why! People feel very responsible for the work they do. Are committed to deliver the best results possible and will go through great lengths to achieve that. A workaround many people use is to just work harder, put in more hours to try and finish all 8 items. This puts pressure on quality delivered but especially on the people. What people need from their leaders? Clarity on what needs to be done first and what later!

You have other things to do?

And I know, as a leader you a very busy too. Your agenda is overbooked, you run from meeting to meeting! So there you have it, there is your problem! If you are unable to decide on your own agenda, what does that say about your ability to take decisions for you organization? 

Outcome over output

I want an app! We need to create a platform for that! They want a decision tree!

said no one ever

That’s not what your customers want! These all define an output. Your customers need an outcome, something they really want to be able to do. 

Below three examples:

Log in

A classic, the ability to ‘Log in”. Not a single user to any system ever wants to log in! Log in is an output. What a user actually wants is they enter a secure environment, where they only see information that is relevant to them and not anyone else’s information. That is what they want! An output to achieve this outcome is creating the ability to log in.

Brakes on my car

I do not want to have breaks on my car, that’s an output. I want to be able to reduce the speed of my car. So maybe deploying a parachute or throwing a big rock out of the back of my car will give me the same outcome…it will slow down my car. 

Agenda for a training

When organizations ask to provide a training course or workshop, they ask for an agenda. I never provide an agenda! I always reply with this question: What would you like to get out of this training. What result would you like this training to have? That is what is really important! A student or customer should not care on how I would deliver the training. But they want something else! With their response I can determine if, with the time available, I can achieve the desired outcome or how much time it might take to achieve the outcome. 

Practice

This is a very difficult concept to grasp and requires a lot of practice. But, if you are able to define the desired outcome, it will create a lot of freedom for the specialists in your organization to deliver this outcome with the least amount of output. 

Get stuff Done!

The amount of unfinished work in organizations is overwhelming. Since we work on as many things at the same time as inhumanly possible (burning out people!), we hardly get the opportunity to finish stuff. We care more about maximizing the output we deliver than we care about the outcome delivered. 

Ask yourself, does your organization care more about getting 4 things almost done (maximize output) or finishing 1 thing (maximize outcome)? 

Meanwhile, many metrics, KPI’s or triggers we have within our organization focus on maximizing the output. How many hours did you make this week? How many projects do we deliver within scope, time and budget? What is the number of issues solved last week? All output metrics. Not that they are not important to look at, they are but if you are able to save your organization 5 million with 5 minutes of work. Who cares what you do the rest of the week?

Raw chicken

Finishing stuff that are of good quality. Not delivering a predefined output, but the outcome desired and that includes quality! For some reason, we are not ok when we get raw chicken served in a restaurant. But as an organization, we are fine with delivering bad quality, as long as we meet the deadline or stay within budget. Let’s stop doing that!

In short, having clarity on what needs to be done first creates focus for your organization. Knowing the desired outcome and only asking for this, creates the freedom for your organization to deliver the outcome with the least amount of output. However, this comes with an obligation to the people in your organization to get stuff done (that also includes quality). Then it doesn’t matter anymore if you use Scrum, Kanban or Prince2. They will all work!

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Business Decision Making Vlog

Magic Estimation Matrix – estimating effort and value in 15 minutes!

The best way to negotiate is with torsos angled, often at 90 degrees to one another. This avoids the face-to-face confrontational element whilst also allow looking at the other person’s face. This position enables having an open conversation. What we thought, would this approach also work with large group estimations on effort and value? But without the time-consuming conversations, and here is the magic estimation matrix.

There usually is a (un)healthy tension between those who are passionate about the value of features on a product backlog and those who have a slight idea on the effort involved in creating this feature. One of the techniques frequently used to create an initial estimation on the effort for an entire product backlog is Magic Estimation.

Using this technique you get a quick feel on the perceived effort of the items on the product backlog. In a nutshell this works as follows: Get a Scrum team together and have the Product Owner print each product backlog item on a separate sheet. The development Team does the estimation and without talking or non-verbal communication they have 15 minutes to estimate the entire product backlog.

We have often used this technique also for stakeholder to collaboratively create an initial insight in the priority of product backlog items. Since stakeholders tend to like talking even more (most of the time it’s what they are paid for), this has proven to be a great technique for filtering those items they all agree upon, this saves tremendous amounts of time.

Together with Ron Eringa, we thought if it would be possible to do this exercise simultaneously? Why not? This is how you would do this:

Preparation

  • Product backlog items, each on a separate post-it or page in hard copy
  • Plenty of space to move around and place items on the floor
  • A sheet with the sequence of numbers inspired by the Fibonacci sequence for effort. For value add an extra zero, just to make it look important(see the image below what this could look like)

_0_magicestimation

Workshop

  • Briefly explain the rules of the game
    • Stakeholders and development team plays, PO watches
    • Spaced out estimation cards one axis for effort other for value
    • The Development team members each get a set of PBI’s
    • Rule 1: No talking
    • Rule 2: No non-verbal communication
    • Each participant’s estimates by placing item @ points. The Development team starts and as soon as there are about three items estimated the stakeholders will plan on value
    • Each participant checks estimate and if necessary re-estimates
    • Product Owner marks fall-outs
    • Discuss fall-outs until agreement is reached

This way you have a great initial estimation of your product backlog on both value and effort. And as a by-product stakeholders and development team get to know and understand each other a little better.

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Bearing risk Business Decision Making

Are you an entrepreneur or just minding the shop?

Recently, I was listening to an item on the Dutch radio on research about employment and management. It stated that companies fear a lot of people will leave their company and look for a new challenge. With the economy back on track this is nothing new. However, politicians and unions are screaming for raises! Research states that this is not the primary reason why people leave a company. According to the research done by Berenschot and ADP; It is management. Here are some contemplations based on my personal experience.

Mind the Shop

After years of little or no raise, a better outlook of the economy, raising salaries seems like a no-brainer. Politicians and unions are screaming for this to happen to prevent people from leaving companies/industries. It seems that management is ruining the engagement of employees. Is it on purpose? Probably not, it’s never the intent of management to scare people off. If it is, then something is seriously wrong with that company. So let’s assume this is not the case.

It is my personal experience that most company cultures and management behaviour have nothing to do with being an entrepreneur, with running a business. All the mechanisms like multi year strategic plans, proper micromanagement, annuals departmental budgets etc, are all  in place to mind the shop. Look after the place until the next person comes to mind the shop. As long as at the end of the year we didn’t exceed our budget, we’ll be just fine. It has nothing to do with entrepreneurship, by employing innovation, taking risk and most of all taking initiative.

It is the responsibility of leadership and management to give opportunities and put demands on people which enable them to grow as human beings in their work environment.

 Sir John Harvey-Jones

Training already sold

One of the reasons for me to become an independent professional was lack of entrepreneurship from management. I wasn’t allowed to do a training course that exceeded my personal development budget. I just received a plain and simple ‘no’ as a reply to my request. The rules stated it was not allowed. And there’s no use arguing with the rules that help ‘minding the shop’, right? Well no, wrong! Because there was a very plausible reason to break the rules: paying customers. The course would certify me to provide courses myself and before I attended the training I had three potential clients willing to pay for such a course. It still was a ‘no’.

To me, that is a simple sign of minding the shop and lack of entrepreneurability. This internal rule was created to prevent employees from attending courses that do not bring any value to the company. However, this course would almost immediately earn a profit to the company. So, deviating from the internal rules were valued over servicing clients, investing in employees’ knowledge and earn a profit. Explaining this to the management team a couple of times from various angles couldn’t make them to change their mind. They said: “We understand the situation, however, these are the rules of our company.”

The Monitor

Another example, a few years back, I ran a proof of concept with an international team. One of the team members was a designer and requested an IPS monitor (or something like that) to be able to deliver quality in her work. After a request and even an escalation to upper management, I received a ‘no’. The designer would have to settle for a regular monitor just like everyone else. Budget wasn’t the problem, some IT hardware configuration restraining jacket was. Again, I was held back by management that did not want to deviate from internal policies and see the benefits of the request. This is not where the story ends.

The Entrepreneurial Manager

Ultimately, I found one entrepreneurial manager who said, you just get the monitor, I have some part of my budget which covers special expenses which still has some room left. Just hand me the receipt and I will take care of it! So, I went to the local electronics store to buy this monitor and have the designer deliver quality! That is the kind of behaviour I am looking for in management. Them using the internal rules and procedures as guidelines but keeping in mind the reason the organisation is in business. And when people, proactively, offer solutions to increase the impact of the organisation. Not only for their own gain but for a greater good and then supporting them.

That’s what we need. Servant leaders! The last manager is one I want to work for, a person who sees past current boundaries and restrictions and sees the potential value in new or different ideas. They have the guts to get it done and get it done!

The only companies that innovate are those who believe that innovation is vital for their future.

 Sir John Harvey-Jones

So ask yourself, are you an entrepreneur or are you just minding the shop? If you are an entrepreneur I bet you employees love to work for you! If you mind the shop, then you need help! Your employees might already be looking for a different job, it’s not the money you offer them. It’s how you facilitate them to be a professional, to let them contribute to your success. Leave a comment with your thoughts!