Two Weeks’ Notice Manifesto

This is My Manifesto

I have had a now-familiar conversation hundreds of times in my career in the software industry. A sharp, hard-working millennial – a developer, designer, consultant, or support engineer – is completely burned out. She sees no way to change her situation without starting over somewhere else and wants to personally let me know that she’s given her two weeks’ notice. The reasons are the similar to my own when I leave a job (or begin actively interviewing).

There is an over-arching struggle to find meaningful work, the ability to take pride in it, to feel that there is a purpose to what I do, and feel that there is a path toward mastery at something I can say “This is my art”.

“I’ll stand for nothing less, or never stand again.” – Chevelle

I have quit many jobs, with or without two full weeks of notice, been laid off twice, fired once (in college), and was kicked out of the Army – and I’m still early and what is a pretty successful career in technology. Since I’ve never even once written a letter of notice or resignation, I think it is about time I draft one.

More importantly, on behalf of talented Millennials everywhere, I’d like you to know – truly understand – that the two weeks’ notice we give you as a manager typically comes weeks or even months after we crafted our mental first draft, started accepting the relentless prospecting of talent scouts, and gave up on your ability to get out of way in our search for meaningful work, a purpose, and mastery of our craft.

So this is my universal – and truly honest – Two Weeks’ Notice, for every time I didn’t write one, and for the many times in my future I most likely also won’t write one. This is my Two Weeks’ Notice Manifesto, a public statement of what it takes to make me disengage despite my natural brilliance and indefatigable enthusiasm.

Money

You played hardball with my salary when I joined and have given me no path to increase it.

You are painfully arrogant – and ignorant – regarding my value in the open market.  It currently increases by 20% per year yet you think I will settle for a 5% raise (or no raise at all).

“Started from the bottom now we here.”

Proactive efforts on my part to establish clear expectations, a career path, and an informal timeline for promotion or salary increases are answered with vague notions of trust, respect, and reputation that have nothing to do with performance or the impact I have.

Most importantly, if I am giving you this notice, I have taken every opportunity available to add more economic value than you expected of me.  I have deliberately worked to increase the impact I have on value-add processes, organization-wide efficiency and effectiveness, revenue growth, and actionable metrics.  I can now see that I have exhausted my opportunities and my tangible impact on revenue and margin is now waning – removing all leverage and motivation on my part – and it is due to poor strategic decisions outside my control or that of peers.

I’m just tryna stay alive and take care of my people
And they don’t have no award for that […]
Shit don’t come with trophies, ain’t no envelopes to open
I just do it ’cause I’m ‘sposed to – Young Money, Drake

 

Growth

You treat my initial lack of understanding of the “nuance” of your backward, inefficient “processes” as some kind of failure or lack of intelligence on my part.

“A hater’s gonna hate, hate, hate, hate […] I’m just gonna shake it off.” – Taylor Swift

You provided no actual on-boarding, leaving me to my own volition to review artifacts, like some anthropologist, in an effort to mimic current practices.

You have truly valuable constructive criticism you could provide based on the decades of experience you have over me – but you prefer sarcasm, derisive rhetorical questions, and generally insult my intelligence.

You know that you – and the company – are terrible at on-boarding and that I am intelligent enough, educated enough, and experienced enough not to put up with it; so you give me preferential treatment to shut me up rather than investing in everyone.  And no, I do not take this as a sign I should stay, it is an indication that you have no plan for the future.

You have a general disbelief regarding the breadth and depth of my knowledge, skills, and experience – attempting to restrict me to the smallest possible scope of responsibilities.

Culture

You stomp out creativity and enthusiasm organization-wide but tell me not to “lose that energy”.

You are condescending and use sarcasm and deconstructionism when you do not understand my nomenclature or the vocabulary of my academic and career specialization.

 

You focus on short-term gains and their related vanity metrics (e.g. Project ROI) rather than the flow of long-term economic value

You have created a psychologically unsafe environment for the information worker, where most employees – the only employees who last – display symptoms of learned helplessness and defeat.

So I’m tearing this and everything else,
between me and what I want to do to pieces.
I’m tearing you and everything else,
between me and you to memory. – Nonpoint

Your “leadership” strips away all possible reward for prudent risk. Any feeling of accomplishment when someone takes real initiative to accomplish something meaningful in a novel way is more than negated by the likelihood of retroactive empowerment, personal insults, or deconstruction-based criticism.

Progress

You talk about “baby steps” in internal changes or excuse your inaction due to “lack of executive buy-in” to justify to yourself why you lack the discipline and initiative to change, innovate, or evolve.

“It could have been so much worse, but it should have been better”

– Five Finger Death Punch

You are stuck in old models of business and outdated practices despite the fact you would be a very late adopter of thoroughly proven best practices, no matter how many employees have attempted to convince you.

You fail to challenge me, heaping busy work on me instead.

You see my attempts to improve myself and my peers – in my pursuit of mastery in my craft and love of investment in my tribe – as a distraction that needs to be controlled rather than an opportunity to harness.

You assume my youth (and open-minded millennialism) generally decreases the value of my knowledge – despite the fact that the tech industry and its ever-evolving best demonstrated practices make my youth in advantage when

It’s not you, it’s me.

In light of these problems and a clear and consistent history of leadership anti-patterns, I can see that you will absolutely not change and will definitely make no effort to meaningfully address my concerns in any way. Unfortunately I have outgrown you. I am different and better than I was – smarter, stronger, more passionate and more creative than the day we met. I really do appreciate the rare moments of effort to invest in me as two humans at work, building something together. I have interesting stories tell. Some of my worst days and your worst behavior rank among the most beneficial insights I have gained – of who I will not be, of who I am, of what I will fight for.

It is time for me to move on.

This is ten percent luck, twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure, fifty percent pain
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name!  – Fort Minor

 

How to Lose the Innovation Game

How to Fail at Agile, Ruin Your Culture, and Lose the Innovation Game

Cover photo via Andrew E Weber

There is one major issue that – if not properly addressed – is going to kill your company.  In fact, many companies FAIL MISERABLY when trying to break down silos, increase collaboration, and begin competing as a culture of innovators.  Every company must innovate or die.  Every product will face competition from a connected variant supported by a mobile app.  Mature enterprises who have never competed on innovation before are now suddenly competing with innovative tech companies!

Tearing down functional silos so that solution-oriented, self-contained, fully-functional and ultra-innovative collaborative teams is now THE biggest overarching challenge that will make or break enterprises that are struggling to maintain their decades-old success and strategic position.  Moving to agile in maturing industries, that are now being utterly disrupted, has become unavoidable for most companies.

The most common label for repositioning to compete on innovation is “agile” and breaking down silos is labeled “agile transformation”. 

There is a major failure that is gradually breaking many companies as their agile and high-tech endeavors fail miserably.  This is issue is caused by executive leadership’s denial and insecurity to face the terrifying reality that to truly “break down silos” is NOT (exclusively) a process transformation or change management issue.

Ready?

Here it is:  Breaking silos REQUIRES organization restructuring.

This major issue is two-fold and occurs simultaneously:

1. Failing to have “tech” report to “business”

2. Failing to have “business” people report to “tech”

There is an unwillingness to break apart and completely restructure the separation of “tech” disciplines and “business” disciplines, despite the growing number of roles that are impossible to clearly classify as one or the other.  In the sad but traditional approach massive enterprises take in the face of a major strategic decision, many companies are attempting a straddle-the-fence strategic position by attempting to leave their existing antiquated structure intact while building entirely new divisions modeled on the structure of successful tech companies.  This is likewise problematic – to succeed at this, revenue growth must accelerate enough to both maintain the old organization while building the new division(s) and the corporate efficiency gains of sharing administrative and brand resources means the new groups will adopt many of the dysfunctions of the old organization.  To the extent this is a Zero Sum Game played out against other competitors and multiple competitors are attempting this simultaneously, no one is likely to “win” the game.

What is the problem?

Let’s look at the first hard lesson facing companies attempting to compete against innovation-base startups and high tech for the first time.  They bring in consultants to help them break down silos, communicate cross-functionally for the first time, and establish a shared vision.  They bring together teams across various business functions, bring in agile coaches, and try to get everyone to collaborate.  They bring in vendors who seem to be better than them and try to “copy their homework” so to speak.  With enough cash, they may even implement widespread training and certification and bring in new employees who are from flat, agile, startups.

The problem that companies introduce when they do this, at any given level of the organization:  without restructuring, there is a “business” and “tech” person set together in equal standing.  If they get it down to two, that is an accidentally triumph.  It is more likely a three to four person group representing a) marketing/sales b) technical leadership c) requirements and project management d) creative design.  There is no clear empowerment for any of them, because mentoring, performance review, and promotion or disciplinary power are all linked to other pieces of the organization.

This diffusion of responsibility was the failure of waterfall in the first place!

Attempting to preserve a forced distinction between “business” and “tech” as well as the hierarchical position of leaders, then forcing “equals” into a nightmare arranged marriage on a per-project basis is a recipe for a slow but unmitigated disaster.

Taking a step back to “Core” Scrum

In software development today, virtually every high tech, innovation-based company is delivering products with some mix of agile values, Scrum ceremonies, Lean improvement efforts, and XP best practices.  While companies may call their process Agile, Scrum, Scrumban, Kanban, etc – let’s talk generically about “core” Scrum and why it succeeded where “waterfall” failed.

Our imaginary “Core” Scrum team is a small startup with a visionary leader who is a fantastic mix of technical proficiency, business acumen, and management skills.  We’ll call this person the Product Owner but in remember, this is the CEO, product manager, and sales-plus-marketing all at once.  For simplicity, everyone else in this company of about 12 is part of the software delivery team (all other roles like accounting are outsourced).  They are The Team, and one of them is the Scrum Master who keeps the process of delivery rolling smoothly, constantly challenging everyone to collaborate more.

That’s “Core” Scrum in a nutshell:  The Product Owner is roughly 50/50 split-focus between the Team and stakeholders, the Team only needs to converse with one voice of prioritization, and the Scrum Master keeps this one small group on-time, ever-learning, and un-impeded.  The CEO owns the company, its only product, and all stakeholder relationships (investors, customers, end users).  This is “pure” Product Ownership – the entrepreneur “lives and dies” by the sword of her decisions because the power, responsibility, and accountability for every promise and decision is firmly on her shoulders.

The purity achieved here is simple to understand:

the company role and its associated place in the superorganism’s Prestige Economy is perfectly aligned with the project role.

The Scrum Master manages no employees and builds culture, collaboration, and keeps the Product Owner’s relationship with The Team healthy and strong.  If this were a highly technically complex product, the ScrumMaster could be a very experienced architect who is can assist in code quality decisions, pair-programming to overcome tough coding challenges, and resolving any risks to the long-term sustainability of the code.  In an extremely technically complex engineering environment, it would make sense that this (dare I say) Architect is a thought-leader but not a people leader.  This Architect knows all of the code and is on speed dial for production issues.  The strength and trust it takes to successfully push the CEO to prioritize refactoring over new features, hardware investments versus new hires means the Scrum Master must be a right-hand-man to the CEO but have no agency dilemma or conflict of interest in making certain the CEO (Product Owner), the Team, and derivatively (via total process quality) the Product are at any given time healthy.

Naturally, we can assume a different but very valuable breed of Scrum Master is also possible.  If we imagine a software product where technical uncertainty is easily handled by an experienced team of engineers but the business rules are extremely complex, a business analyst may be the perfect Scrum Master insofar as Backlog Decomposition and the precise details of User Stories will require a business person with the Product Owner on speed dial who can resolve every business rule uncertainty.

Just like our anecdotal Product Owner, we see in each anecdotal Scrum Master, due to the nature of the product, the company role and the project role are perfectly aligned.

Scaling vs Scaled

This simple paradigm is compelling due to the clear accountability and laser-sharp focus  that makes it successful.  With the single, properly-sized team described above, it is easy to understand why it works and how emulate it.  Confusion tends to set in as the number of contributors and teams grow.

There is an important distinction to make between scaling this pattern and implementing the pattern at scale. 

Continuing our narrative about this successful “core” Scrum team, we can imagine the company grows organically as the product becomes increasingly successful.  Revenue is great, margins are fantastic, and more engineers join.  It becomes clear to the CEO (and Product Owner) that second product would be a perfect strategic fit.  The product, focused on different niche in a similar industry will leverage the skill set of the engineers, design patterns, and the libraries and APIs that have been built over time.  Stakeholders are excited, ready sign on the dotted line.  The engineers are thrilled.  As a group, they decide to split into two teams, each focused on their product.

This Scrum implementation has begun scaling.

The shared code and strong culture combined with the mature agility and engineering best practices allow the ScrumMaster to happily work with two teams.  Unfortunately, the CEO is now  splitting time roughly 20% stakeholders and 10% team on product #1 while 40% stakeholders and 30% team on product #2.  Days get longer and attention to the backlog is suffering.

The CEO is no longer effectively owning either product.

Her trusted colleague, the ScrumMaster talks through the risk of “Hero Scrum” and the need to delegate, and the risk of poor feedback or lack of actionable backlog when more engineers and another designer will be joining in the summer.  There is demand to have the APIs and an SDK consumed B2B.  The decision becomes clear – two experienced Product Owners are hired, one to manage the consumer apps Scrum Team and one to manage the B2B cloud platform. 

The CEO sees that leading the company’s strategy, defining new products, and the need to build a brand, while mentoring the Product Owners on great management of their categories and teams is her new “job role” and “project role” – it evolved organically, and the two still align perfectly. 

This is a happy company.  More products follow, and while not all of them are an instant success, the values, vision, and identity stay strong.  Camaraderie, disruptiveness, and culture of innovation keeps this company profitable at-scale, through a constant assurance that the job role and project role, whether a Jr. Developer or a Marketing Specialist, are always properly aligned.  People are asked to own “one big thing”, empowered to succeed, and held accountable.

Paternalism and Guild-based Hierarchies

If you work at a large company and this happy anecdote sounds ludicrously fictional, it is because implementing agile in a scaled environment – whether due to the success of an isolated team or a management decision to copy Silicon Valley – rarely looks like this.  Large enterprises in mature industries were born out of organization and management practices dating back to the British Empire and the industrial revolution, and function-based guild preservation that began in the Dark Ages. 

Blacksmith best practices evolved, certainly, but not so fast an entire practice community couldn’t keep up.  The capitalists in the industrial revolution could invest in a few big innovations, paternalistically demand new behavior from a new “guild”, and reap benefits for decades. 

Marketing, even as the internet bubbled, consumer product research and development despite the worldwide adoption of desktop computers, and a whole guild built around Information Technologies did not disrupt this proud history of dividing the troops into functional units held together by rules, history, and strong paternalistic leaders.

Transforming Project Roles While Preserving Job Roles

The United States Military is realizing, unit-based combat in an urban setting full of emerging demands and uncertain risk.  Cross-functional teams are being built tactically insert their blend of skills into situations that require empowerment and responsiveness.  The days of marching pikemen and flanking with cavalry are gone.

Enterprises are realizing the same is true of innovation-based product markets.  A level of guided group-think is needed to courageously build an innovative product for a still-emerging market segment.  The capacity to “lock everyone in a room” that you need, and risk market and technical uncertainty requires executive mandate and tenacious teams.  Limiting investment to two weeks of team effort at a time, fierce concentration, no politics, and freedom to experiment are essential.  This is a creative process that requires adventurousness and tenacity.  Let adults succeed and celebrate or fail and learn.  Otherwise management is simply holding back the potential of their most brilliant engineers.

To do this, one thing must happen above all else.  The job role must perfectly align with the project role.  If job descriptions align to guilds, as a talent “pool” of human “resources” to get allocated like widgets in a managerial accountant’s spreadsheet, the project – which is intrinsically finite will always suffer.  The job is linked to performance and salary. 

Predictably, people behave like a faceless number on a spreadsheet when you manage them (and pay them) that way.

The move to “agile” is in large organizations is nothing more than an attempt to move to a company that has established a culture of innovation as its sustainable competitive advantage.  The four cultural choices are simple to understand, but they inevitably fail without a strategic mandate from executive leadership, and the “blessing” to fail when overcompensation in the effort to change occurs.  As a leader, tell your people these four virtues are the key to success and back it up in your daily actions:

Collaboration Focus  Put all the right people in seats next to each other, tell them they have one goal: unlock your full potential by learning from and investing in your team as you solve tough problems.

Product Focus – A project is finite, a product is a living platform for an ongoing conversation.  Build a dialogue, tell a story, and leave a legacy.  Do you really want to control your budget and schedule, or do you want to change the world?

User Focus – The ideal information symmetry cycle:  The user Tweets a feature they want, the team codes it, knowing exactly what the Story means to the User, and the user has it in-hand within a month.  The further you alienate the producers from the consumers, the more wasteful and less innovative your organization will be.

Innovation Focus – Taking risks and learning from mistakes is mandatory.  Encourage it and live it. There is infinite content available and your well-formed team’s natural curiosity are their default state.  If they aren’t innovating, you’ve burned them and overburdened them.  Give them some slack and encourage their interests – you’ll be amazed what the unbridled human accomplishes.

Issues At-Scale:  Agency Dilemma

At scale, reorganization – not just redecorating – is going to be critical.  There will be politics to deal with.  It will take immense courage and backbone as a leader.  Middle managers will be your biggest problem until you change the seating chart and pick the right people for those seats.  Agency dilemma from the guild-based job hierarchy will ALWAYS impede the success of cross-functional teams.  Functional managers encourage non-collaborative activity.  Over-documentation.  CYA.  A lack of focus on the team and product. 

Why is this so prevalent? 

It is not simply the change management of restructuring, changing number of direct reports, flattening the organization – that is all incredibly well-known turf for large, established enterprises in mature industries.  The new political problem is two-fold and pragmatically simple:

1. Failing to have “tech” report to “business”

2. Failing to have “business” people report to “tech”

Unfortunately, the politics of putting previously separated guilds in charge one another is  not the root cause here.  You could put an abstract painter in a direct management position over a cross-functional software team so long as they had the skills to lead them to success and prestige.  Instead, it is a symptom of leadership not understanding the team-product-user relationship.  In “core” scrum described above, this was simple.  The start-up was built around it.

How you should restructure, once you “get” it, would be fairly simple: If the user has needs that are solved by a product that will need a team that must overcome technical uncertainty first and foremost – a more technical manager for that product team makes sense.  If the user has needs that are solved by a product that will need a team that must overcome market uncertainty first and foremost – a more business-savvy manager for that product team makes sense. 

In other words, when an old business problem can be solved by new technical innovation, let an engineer lead the cross-functional team.  When an old (enough) problem can be solved by technology by changing the complex business problem (think finance) – put a subject matter expert as the team manager. 

If the multiple products fit into a “category” where the users are likely to consume multiple products, scale to a director who can set strategy, build a brand, and ensure cohesion.  This person will likely be a mix of skills so significant that designating them “business” or “tech” simply makes no sense. 

Diffusion of Responsibility

This brings us full-circle back to the reason why organization restructuring needs to occur at all – multi-bossed employees are easily distracted.  Too many leaders goes hand-in-hand with sharing resources.  No one knows what any given employee is doing while no employee is terribly confident which leader to follow.  In a guild-based system, they fall back on their functional allegiances and their job description.

When you make an engineer (with experience taking new products to market) the direct manager of a cross-functional, self-contained product team that can collaboratively handle business+tech roles needed for a highly technical product – planning, design, engineering, quality, and marketing – that manager has a pulse on what everyone is doing and everyone knows who to go to when their workload gets too light.  The same is true if this manager is from a business background.  The end user is well-known, the backlog is simple to build, and the product is the professional focus of everyone in the room. 

This independence and focus is the building block of a culture of innovation.

Shared resources and functional guilds perpetuate agency dilemma, information asymmetry, and diffusion of responsibility.  Kill it by restructuring before it kills you.

Scaling Issues: Copying Enterprise Dysfunctions

To be thorough, this is not exclusively an issue faced by enterprises shifting to innovation and high-tech at-scale.  Growing from a startup to a mid-size company and beyond means personnel growth and collective skill-set via true talent acquisition.  However successful a small company was at innovation through collaborative, cross-functional problem-solving, pulling in new people is incredibly dangerous.  The temptation is fill in the top and middle with highly experienced managers and individual contributors.  Enough new hires with more than a few years experience inevitably bring with them the “baggage” of their guild-based past and the political self-protection of the toxic culture they left behind. 

If you are currently scaling, learn from the issues facing scaled transformation and protect your culture, mission, and values from the threat of new and toxic influences.  Grow teams into categories, categories into industries.  Agency dilemma, information asymmetry, and diffusion of responsibility are the inevitable dysfunctions of a company that loses its sense of identity by growing too fast through acquisitions. 

First of all, grow from your bench.  Being a small company is no excuse for constantly showing employees they will never progress in their career by hiring knowledge and leadership from the outside.  Second, when a subject matter expert can only be acquired, it makes no sense to put them in a leadership position as well – they need to spend their time educating the organization. 

To succeed in scaling a small culture of innovation, keeping every person at every level fully focused on their end user, their team, and their product is the only path. 

Disrupt & Win: Next-Level Lean Process Improvement

Disrupt & Win: How to Achieve Next-Level Lean Process Improvements with Custom Apps

Is your business having trouble keeping up?

It is time to get lean.

Kaizen – Continuous Improvement

Kaizen is a core principle from Lean that lays the foundation of how we choose the right custom enterprise mobile and web apps for process improvement efforts.  Loosely translated from Japanese, kaizen means “change for the better”; but kaizen is bigger and bolder than tacking on an improvement to an existing structure – it is the process of continuously breaking down a process, removing unnecessary effort or waste, and rebuilding it as a more efficient and effective process.

In custom enterprise app consulting, kaizen is the ultimate goal of the discovery and analysis we follow in finding the key enterprise workflow that is both proprietary to an organization’s competitive advantage while (sometimes surprisingly) it is also a source of pain and waste.  Because this seems contradictory, companies rarely ask for the application that will make the biggest difference to their organization.  To plan a truly disruptive roadmap that will position your key processes for sustainable competitive advantage takes a level of honesty and vision that is not easy to tackle alone.   Here are some key concepts from Lean that we use to help you plan your enterprise app portfolio and take your kaizen to a whole new level.


The Three Actuals – Genba, Genbutsu, Genjitsu

Lean consulting begins with finding the 3 Gen or “actuals” of your enterprise.  Kaizen is impossible without direct insight into the organization, so these three “actuals” are critical to finding the right apps that can succeed big and drive the adoption of innovation and mobility as a competitive strategy:

  1. The Genba – By visiting the Genba or “Actual Place” where business is done, products are built, and revenue is generated, an enterprise solutions consultant can view and understand the operations that create value, whether in a factory, a medical facility, or a sales showroom.  Through first-hand observation, rather than conversation, far more can be learned about what an organization does, how it is done, and why it is done.  Whiteboards and conference calls can never convey the real heart of an enterprise, the “What’s the point?” or the “What’s it worth?” as it is experienced by the people who keep each process moving, so coming to the actual place is critical to building out a solution that speaks to the pain felt by the people performing the work.  These pains tend to originate from inefficiencies and information asymmetries that workers will protect out of a fear of change.  Changing a process through training or a set of new rules often fails for this reason.  The disruptive influence of a mobile solution shortcuts this fear – mobile adoption rates are accelerating and new generations of employees demand the simplicity and focus of apps in the workplace.  These employees must capture real value in order to drive higher revenue and operational cost savings – getting to know their daily workplace experience is crucial.
  2. The Genbutsu – If possible, a great consultant doesn’t just watch, it is even better to directly interact with the genbutsu or “Actual Thing” – the real equipment being moved throughout a hospital or the customer “hand-off” artifacts.  In Lean Manufacturing, this often focused on the actual parts being assembled, the path those parts travel in a factory, and finding ways to simplify repetitive motions, reduce unnecessary travel distances through better placement of the work stations, or reducing the complexity of a step in the process by changing the order in which pieces were added to the final product.  In enterprise mobile solutions the “actual thing” is often information and the path it takes before and after that information becomes data and drives actions that produce revenue.  Information is easily decontextualized, so minimizing context-switching in the information-data-action flow is critical.  Mobile solutions drive context-awareness that turns social information into actionable data immediately and cuts out waste.
  3. The Genjitsu – Jitsu is an art, skill, or practice; a word that evolved etymologically from the characters meaning “a step along the middle of a road”.   In Lean consulting, this means we must grasp and communicate the “actual situation” as it pertains to one process as a step in an overall flow.  More importantly, we must quantify the reality of the process as objectively as possible, separate from emotional responses due to ego, social status in the organization, or feelings of blame.  We do this by obtaining data, making hypotheses, documenting workflows, and validating assumptions.  The goal is to not only make a well-informed decision about the most valuable apps that can be created, but to validate the features that will be part of it.

Once the three “actuals” are known, sources of waste can be objectively identified, solutions crafted and prioritized, and an initial Minimum Viable Product can be determined.  First, let’s review how we can create custom apps using proven Lean process improvement tactics.


Just In Time – Why mobile?

Mobile apps are fundamentally on-the-go and on-demand.  The instantaneous nature of communication using mobile allows the Just-in-Time management philosophy  to apply to operations processes, delaying resource commitment and investment until it is absolutely necessary.  This allows the shortest possible feedback cycle between demand and supply and removes waste due to information asymmetry.  If you have ever been left alone as a sales rep checks inventory or watched someone wait on hold to obtain manager approval, you know you know how painful – for the employee and the consumer – a lack of instantaneous information-data-action can be.

Just-in-Time is well defined by its original proponent, the Toyota Production System:

Supplying “what is needed, when it is needed, and in the amount needed” according to this production plan can eliminate waste, inconsistencies, and unreasonable requirements, resulting in improved productivity.

via Toyota

Since our app strategy is founded on upgrading key resources by removing wasted time and effort, mitigating inconsistent process throughput and output, and unreasonable rules and requirements to “protect” against costly mistakes, Just-in-Time is central to every great enterprise app portfolio.  Social information becomes actionable data, from answering time-sensitive questions to triggering purchases.  Real-time communication can replace unnecessary meetings, a highly focused and intuitive user experience can replace training memorization of rules.  The ability to ignite a chain reaction from 3 taps of an iPad is an incredible time and cost saving that can also create enormous additional value that can be captured more quickly.

Implementing Just-in-Time through custom apps allows real-time analytics about the process and its evolution, a “version history” for process improvements, gamification of as-you-work training, and a real-time feedback system for future kaizen.  This means creating continuous flow, level-loading process steps, creating “smart” tools, standardizing quality of work, and balancing minimal investment against highest value productivity is not only simplified, it is easy to validate process impact quickly.


The Yamazumi Board – Creating Continuous Flow

The first step in improving a process with one or more apps is documenting the existing workflows as the focal point of discussion and as the baseline for hypotheses about potential improvements.  There are software tools for this, but post-it notes on a whiteboard can work as well.  Yamazumi literally means “to pile in heaps” and this is exactly what how the analysis is completed, by stacking each step in a process in columns representing each person or role in the workflow.  This could be fairly high-level, tracking the flow of a paper form across the organization, or extremely granular, such as every step in the manufacturing and assembly of a complex product.

via Michel Baudin

By documenting the steps of a process in this way we can easily visualize the imbalances in a workflow, identify the “pace maker” process, discover bottlenecks, and clearly see the cost of unproductive downtimes.  Combining roles that cause diffusion of responsibility, separating roles that cause unnecessary task switching, and removing unnecessary “fail-safe” measures will remove waste and reduce cycle time, making the process more efficient overall.

Once each process in the workflow is organized into an ideal future state on the yamazumi board, we can easily see the specific tool each role will need to be as effective as possible at creating value.  If each tool has a unique user base, we will consider each tool a separate app that we can evaluate and prioritize based on expected returns.  Next we evaluate how strategic disruption using a mobile-first mentality will create impact above and beyond simply reorganizing existing resources.  Whether we are targeting information, inventory management, or customer interaction, our app portfolio needs to work as a seamless ecosystem that facilitates continuous flow across the entire value stream.  Through notifications, context awareness, and on-the-go data connectivity, we are able to brainstorm solutions to each identified pain that can achieve heijunka.

Heijunka – Level Loading

The Lean Lexicon, 4th Edition defines heijunka as:

Heijunka is leveling the type and quantity of production over a fixed period of time. This enables production to efficiently meet customer demands while avoiding batching and results in minimum inventories, capital costs, manpower, and production lead time through the whole value stream.

Once we have seen how our piles of work are should be distributed to achieve continuous flow we then need to identify the pains and inefficiencies that exist even when the process is running smoothly.  Before we can prioritize a roadmap of custom mobile apps, it is important to know the elements of a process that are consuming unnecessary time and resources, find and remove batch-and-queue systems that create process bottle necks, and smooth out supply and demand.  Because we have distributed process steps across focused roles using the yamazumi board, we can now look at the specific pain points that each tool can address for each role.

In Lean Manufacturing, the concept of heijunka is taught using forecasting in supply chain management.  The more unpredictable the demand, the more advanced the forecasting algorithm may be but delaying differentiation, stabilizing production, and reducing inventory holding costs is always possible.  When creating disruptive-grade process improvement with custom mobile apps we can apply the same principles to “memes” and look for the inefficiencies, loss of fidelity, and bottle necks in processes that transform context-specific social information into data that is actionable across multiple roles.  To win at disruption and to resolve internal information asymmetries and bottlenecks, we need to think through solutions that remove the noise from the signals we rely on to forecast processes.  To this, we use custom apps to control selection, throughput, and output.


Jidoka – Autonomation

From the Toyota Production System, the concept of jidoka – “automation with a human touch” means that machines are “smart” enough to identify their own failure, empowering human operators to rectify the problem before faulty parts enter the production line.  Before autonomation these parts were only tested at the end of the production line, so a single machine creating bolts for engines could make an entire day’s work unsuitable to ship!  To mitigate the immense risk of an entire factory-day’s production being scrapped, an operator could be placed at each machine, checking quality of output at regular intervals.  Jidoka is the next evolution of this process improvement, so that machines judge their own quality and a single operator is able to validate the accuracy and quality of several machines, reducing the number of resources required per machine.

In an enterprise app portfolio, the ability to focus a user on completing a single workflow quickly with context-based help and input validation accomplishes similar autonomation.  The more focused an app is on a single user completing a specific task, the less we will need restricted access and complex logic.  Instead, the technological investment can be focused on context awareness and assistance.  This creates a powerful ability to the guide subjective observation of an employee into objective judgment.  Rather than increasing training, creating new policies and punishments, and increasing managerial oversight – an a attempt at a “fail-safe” environment – we want to create intuitive “smart” solutions that create a “safe-to-fail” environment in which some mistakes are no longer possible and consequences are minimized.  This empowers employees to consistently succeed and removes the stress of failure, all while reducing the need for direct managerial oversight and human approval processes.  Anywhere your employee is asked to supply critical information or responsible for continuous flow to the next process step, we want to facilitate responsiveness and guided interaction, then capture and aggregate data as Business Intelligence that can inform both the worker and organization leadership about decisions being made.  Anywhere an employee must manage machines or technology, the inner working of which only a specialist would understand, we want to create an interface into the health of the process rather than set the false expectation that every employee can be skilled at

Once the solutions to process pain and waste are imagined – with an eye on “smart”, intuitive mobile workflow tools – we want to look for ways to ensure that throughput and output are consistent in time, effort, and quality.


Standard Work

Through effective information architecture and user experience design, the mobile app user is able to follow an established and intuitive workflow of interactions that are ideally context-aware.  So in addition to the focus, empowerment, and autonomation improvements, going mobile is a time to analyze current best demonstrated practices internally and externally, and standardize them.  Standardizing what is done, how it is done, and creating consistency of output not only reduces the necessity of identifying and addressing under-performers, it creates a context for the employee in which output quality is held constant for them, enabling focus on critical thinking and social engagement rather than policies and spreadsheet-like information tables.  Even more importantly, once work is standardized with a mobile application (e.g. instead of a document template) the consistency of output and capture of Business Intelligence will allow an objective review of “best” practices, assist with hypothesis and experimentation removing some of the emotion and politics from the kaizen process.

Once changes are identified, effective MDM enables your organization to control the shift to a more effective practice by simply releasing a new version of the software.  Build any training (using interstitial screens) and feedback (with modal per-feature ratings) directly into the application.


Minimum Viable Product

The end goal of removing interruptions to continuous flow, level-loading processes against fluctuations in supply and demand, and removing information asymmetries and process waste is to attain Minimum Viable Production – a process state in which we find a “sweet spot” in the tension between minimizing invested value while maximizing return on that investment.

This goal will need to be reached on three levels:  the process being improved upon, investment in improving the process, and prioritization of the custom app investment portfolio.  Because we are disruptively and potentially drastically rebuilding a process we need to understand the point of diminishing marginal utility for inputs to the process itself as a precursor to determining the investment we should make in it.  If we are attempting to increase revenue through an improved sales representative process, we need to recognize that increased capacity does not increase demand – we will need to identify stabilizing and increasing supply can result in an unfair advantage in the market.  If demand for a process output is unlikely to grow, investing in increased capacity is ill-advised.

If we focused purely on minimalist production, we would drastically rebuild our core operations processes – stripping out anything unnecessary to gaining the “easiest” productivity possible.  A true focus on minimalism might even cut revenue in favor of margins by creating less value.  Opposing this approach would be a total focus on viability, in which we invest to upgrade processes and resources regardless of ROI to achieve the most robust value stream possible.  Ideally, this would give us sustainable competitive advantage, assuming we raise so many barriers to entry that we create near-monopoly conditions.  However, most gaining economic rents in this way can take years to capture, making the investment risky.  By maintaining a tension between minimal investment and maximal viability, we can minimize necessary inputs while holding output constant, increasing process ROI.  If desired we can then establish a path for increasing input while holding ROI constant.

With mobile apps, we facilitate minimum viable product by transforming the nature of the steps taken in a workflow, the number of steps, the number of operators required, and minimizing time to complete each step.  By removing all delays in information transfer and introducing autonomation we are able to bring downtime to an absolute minimum.  Maximizing ease of completion and minimizing time to completion is therefore the overarching goal of mobilizing any process.

Once we have a full understanding of the next-level lean processes, we take the mobile apps we have dreamed up and create a prioritized roadmap for investment in our app portfolio.  While the “big dreams” white-boarding session is an important first conversation, defining Minimum Viable Product for both the processes we will disrupt and the process improvement investment we will make is critical to ensuring the app roadmap is continuously focused on the improvement with the highest incremental impact.

Enterprise Mobility – You and your team need more green time!

As a consultant and delivery owner for custom mobile application development, discussing with people outside the industry regarding the various ways in which people think about “enterprise mobility” is always a great conversation. There are three basic ways the terminology is used:

  1. Mobile Device Management:  Devices and data security management in enterprises environment that COPE (corporate-owned, personally enabled) versus BYOD (bring your own device)
  2. Consumer Marketplace Apps: Consumer facing solutions created custom by an independent contractor (I would typically point out this is not what I consider enterprise mobility)
  3. Internal Enterprise Apps:  Proprietary solutions used exclusively by a single enterprise, in which the operational effectiveness gained with on-the-go, on-demand employee activity that is supported by one or more mobile applications

Let’s talk about #3.  I love enterprise mobility and being a member of the mobile workforce.  I love to build and manage employee solutions for enterprises.  Every day is a good day when I am consulting, planning, and delivering on-the-go, on-demand, notification-driven enterprise user experiences – that is my specialty.  Part of how I stay “in touch” with the users these solutions serve is by finding and using the marketplace and proprietary apps they use, getting out of the office and off wifi, making every effort to be an ultra-mobile worker – and I love doing it!

Worker Mobility

Talking Stick Resort – Scottsdale, AZ

Why do I love being an on-the-go, on-demand employee?  Less screen time, more green time.  As valuable as note-taking can be when it truly captures the full context of what is discussed, I find conference calls and meetings where I have a computer in front of me are consistently sub-par.  So when I have several calls in a row (with no screen sharing), I plan to spend that time at a park or forest preserve.  I love walking meetings – not the indoor kind on treadmills (though I support that option too) – so when I need a one-on-one “meeting of the minds” with a mentor or mentee, we take it outside and walk around.  I go to the gym at lunch most days to give my eyes a break and get my body awake.  After all, I can chat, text, and email as easily by mobile between sets as I can between bites at a desk.  When there is a tough problem to solve, a couple beers and a whiteboard can help a small group hash out a solution better than a chat group.

We are part of an increasingly mobile workforce.  Take advantage of that freedom, encourage it with your peers, empower your employees.  You will see immediate benefits!

Walking Meeting

Illinois Forest Preserve – Chicago, IL


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Surpassing the Startup Plateau: The Law of Explosive Growth

Growth by Addition:

For a new technology startup, increasing revenue is a deceptively simple equation at first:  add talented people to meet the needs of increasing demand; send invoices.  As John C. Maxwell’s classic text, 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership explains, this resource growth strategy, especially in establishing a management tier as the organization matures, inevitably hamstrings the momentum that can be attained as demand for services increases.

The Law of Explosive Growth: To add growth, lead followers. To multiply, lead leaders.

– John C. Maxwell, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

Organizations that hire, train, and reward leaders-of-followers stay flat in structure, maturity, and profitability no matter how talented those followers may be.  Tech startups are especially at risk of getting lost in an acquisition-only strategy for human resources due to the high liquidity of top talent.  While grabbing a top talent for skill-specific value creation may feel like a win for HR and management, addition-based growth of skills will always result in addition-only growth of delivery capacity.

Explosive Growth:

To break past this plateau, the leadership of an organization must drive a top-down paradigmatic shift from an addition-based growth model to an explosion-based growth model; from obtaining high-skilled followers to finding and keeping leaders-of-leaders that create and retain high-skilled followers.

The change in the equation is simple:

  • Hiring one follower that is talented adds one talented follower
  • Hiring one leader increases the talent of the organization by a factor of followers impacted, and often a few followers will follow that leader from one organization to another
  • Hiring one leader-of-leaders will increase the talent of the organization exponentially as (s)he creates other leader-of-leaders who create talented leaders and high-skill followers

Organizations that find, empower, and enable leaders-of-leaders grow explosively. This change is the tech startup’s most critical step in becoming an organization that can rely on growing “from the bench”, hiring new talent early in their career, grooming the leaders, supplying resources and opportunities for growth so that they are retained and become leaders-of-leaders.

Don’t reorganize around a weak follower. Retrain, move, or fire them. You’re doing that person a favor in the long term. And, you are doing your team a favor immediately.

– Gen. Colin Powell

Who to Find:

How do you know the right leader to find and empower?  When recruiting high-skill talent, take those high expectations for skill-specific talent as the baseline and make that expectation clear when screening.  Then look for high-impact leadership attributes above and beyond that baseline skill set.  The leader-of-leaders will:

  • Prioritize continuous self-improvement and self-investment
  • Invest time in top talent, pushing them to become leaders as well, rather than spend time on followers equally
  • Shares knowledge and best practices to strengthen those with a desire to learn, rather than hiding knowledge to protect their position through information asymmetry
  • Entrusts the right people with leadership responsibilities so that more time can be focused on investing in the strategic vision of the organization and building up new leaders
  • Wants a legacy and successors more than responsibility and security

Conclusion:

If your organization has reached a plateau in growth, look at your leadership habits, and the habits of the leaders you lead.  If you are not actively improving yourself as a leader-of-leaders, investing time in your top talent, so they are high-impact leaders-of-leaders, and driving a culture that rewards leadership, you will never achieve explosive growth.


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