Customer Collaboration Win!

Dear Kalle and Matte

I think we already have a post along these lines, but I thought I would make one anyway.

Yesterday my team went to trafikverket to watch our system that we build be used live by the customer service department. I know! Watch the people who use the system actually use it…. Crazy right?

Anyway, this was a super positive experience for all that were involved and I just wanted to share a bit about it.

1) You can never know how the user actually uses the system:
Within 10 seconds of having sat down, I (and other team members working with other people) observed an issue with the system that I had never observed before. This revolved around a search function that we never really use on this end. Simply because of the way our test system is configured, it is not really needed for functional testing. (I should note, we are completely unable to test in the production environment at the moment for reasons I won’t get in to). So, this function always seems unneeded to me when trying the system. But a quick observation of live use revealed they use is on every single call they take, and it is SUPER slow. The fix for this will be a very small amount of work (don’t know how much at the moment) and will save the service rep a few seconds per call, over several hundred calls a day, across 20-30 reps. You do the math!
This is only one example of a few 20+ actions we took away from the day. Most of which are easy changes that will make the system much smoother to work in.

2) Showing our faces:
I think the biggest benefits from this is showing our faces to the customers, letting them understand that we care about their feedback and how things work for them. I think this alone has a big impact of the customers perceptions of the system and their willingness to work with us to make it better. I would however note, I think there is an inherent risk with this. It now becomes absolutely essential that we implement some of the things they requested, or that they see some impact from these sessions, otherwise, the attitude of “we complained but nothing happened” will develop.

3) Getting the team charged up:
I think my team deserves major props for taking the initiative to do this kind of thing. As simple as it is, so few teams actually do it. So, they go and get the gratification of seeing that the system is actually being used by people, they get to feel good about themselves for making the effort to do so, and finally they get to feel charged up about making changes to make the system even better going forward!

So, in closing, what I am trying to say is that everyone wins in this scenario! This is just an overview I think I could write on this subject for hours, but I won’t 😉


Definition of success

Dear Mattias and Jeff.

I am writing to you as I can not sleep and I fell to thinking, or perhaps it was the other way around. Anyway, I remembered Jeff asking me to elaborate on my definition of success idea. And I can imagine you would like that too Mattias.

Questioning, distilling and trying to see a bigger picture have intrigued me for some time. At Lavasoft this drove me to discover and learn many things. This is one of those things.

At one point, trying to do things as smart and effective as possible no longer seemed good enough; there was simply no way to keep everybody happy, there were fewer of us and seemingly more work to do. A new approach was due. Taking a step backwards I asked myself with sincerity: Why are we doing these things? What is the intention? What are we trying to accomplish?

At the time I wrote the following:

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we almost never evaluate the end result of our work. We complete stories then we demo to evaluate the end product, then we have a retrospective to evaluate how we worked to realize the product. We almost never evaluate the effect or the success of our projects. In the end this is what really matters. I also find it very likely that doing this will be how we learn what kind of projects to accept, question, investigate, initiate and so forth.

Self-quoting, isn’t it sweet? 😉

At the time I called myself a Product Owner, however I found no guidance from agile in how to deal with these matters. Instead I found inspiration in the idea of Retrospectives and a concept: Definition of Done. The later is essentially an aid in the question “What are we making?” Asking in the same way: “Why are we making?” and I got Definition of Success.

The quick and simplified answer to these questions were usually: We are trying to make money (for the company). The particular answers turned out to be of no interest, asking the question however was paramount.

This is how to use it
in order to better understand Why to build What When.

[ TODO Big bad advice here, something like: “Or don’t. Don’t follow other people’s advice – it is too often harmful…” It’s turtles all the way down! ]

Whenever someone would ask us to put something in our backlog we would talk to them to make sure that we and everybody involved understood why this should be done. In some extreme cases the person with the request was “stuck in the middle” and there because a third party wanted something that none of us really understood. Walking over to this third party generally made things clear for everybody, futile efforts was avoided and everybody had cake. There is nothing new to learn here.
Often however, the people involved came straight to us, and usually we all quite quickly understood why something seemed like a good idea. A “good idea“ isn’t good enough if you have too many. So this is where we would try to understand the intention or the desired effect more clearly…
Wow! Hi Mattias! I forgot that I’m writing to you and Jeff. I think I’ll keep this style though, the sparse usage of Software Development and Agile lingo forces me to think.

  • Fixing a problem in an internal tool might have the desired effect “Reduce hours wasted by support personnel circumventing this problem”.
  • An alteration to the web store might have the intention “Increase number of upsells” or “increase conversion rate after user adds products to cart”.
  • A mailer might have the desired effect “convert free users to paid”.
  • Updating outdated information on the front page might have the intention “make people trust us.”

(I know, this is scary; we ask our colleagues and ourselves to summarize complex things in simple words and recognize these as the truth. Though very helpful to catch the most crazy of things and the least questioned assumptions …if done too far or too systematic I’m sure you will arrive at a soulless place with no business.)

Wait… There is still nothing new to learn here.

This is usually where we make estimations from the gut. I would estimate the time required from us and the other party would put a measurable outcome, like: I expect to…
“Eliminate 2 hours wasted by support every day.”
“Increase number of upsells by 20/week, can be checked after one month.”
“Convert 2 000 free users to paid (can be checked 8 days after the campaign has gone out).”
“Make people trust us more(!?).”. This one obviously doesn’t fit the framework. I think this is where you should see that measuring things needs to live side by side with sense, emotion and instinct. (Don’t be a scientist).

Sometimes this is enough information to agree if the thing is a “Go” or a “Gone”. For example: The time required is small and the effect is really good. Or the time required is substantial and the effect is unknown and unmeasurable.
Often though, the discussion has to be delayed until more accurate estimations can be gathered.

After everybody agrees that something should be done the task/story/project may be updated to include the most relevant information, like this for example:

Fix problem with cake getting stuck in cakemaker tool
in order to reduce hours wasted by support.
Definition of Success: Support no longer waste ~2 hours per day on this.

Restructure the web store
in order to increase upsells.
Definition of Success: Increase number of upsells by 20/week, to be evaluated after one month.

Perhaps you can see the bigger idea here:
Build a habit that encourages everybody involved to talk about and understand what they are going to do/make and why. Encourage people to think and talk about what kind of outcome can be expected.
Furthermore, build a habit that encourages reflection and discussion on the effect of projects after they have made a dent in the business and the world. “Has it been a month since the web store updates?” – “Yes, it has and we have seen a trend in the number of upsells. We now have around more 100 per week!” – “OMG that is amazing!” …Or: “The campaign to convert free users to paying, converted 400. That is great … we expected five times that but it was still a success.” And everybody has cake.

If you use a board, such as Scrum, Kartoffel or Kanban, you can make sure that cards/stories have a “Definition of Success” before they move into “Ready” (unless too small to bother investigate or somebody used a “veto card”). Furthermore you can add a column: “To be evaluated” after “Done” on your board. Cards and their effect may then be evaluated together with stakeholders before being archived (the cards, not the stakeholders).
Understand that your Definitions of Success will be off. Like crazy. This doesn’t matter, the point is to talk about and recognize why we do things before and after.

I didn’t feel like I saw this through. Good things came of it for sure and I had a strong feeling that more good things would come had I not submitted to …fear?

Most of this information is probably only potentially useful in less than ideal situations. In a better scenario I think there is room for less science and more Power of the Flower.

This post grew into a crooked. And I can no longer see clearly. Posting now before this gets further out of hand.


Stakeholder Expectations

Thanks for inviting me to post guys!

Also, as a side note, I will upload that podcast very soon! I blame Civ 5 Gods and Kings…

So, I had an idea for a first post that I thought was good, but need has trumped that one. I would like to have some feedback from you guys on a project I have started.

As you both know, I have begun with a large scale legacy project at a company of considerable size. This project is like most legacy ones, a lot of history between the people involved, communication and cooperation breakdowns, and somewhat poor stakeholder involvement.

I have been hired to do a “performance pre-study” for a project aimed at “improving performance”, so, quite vague as to what I am actually being asked to do. Of course each stakeholder has their own ideas and expectation of what this project will or won’t bring… So, my problem is, finding out what those expectations are. Basically, my mandate is extremely unclear…

I have started having one on one meetings with the more involved stakeholders, and many of them are quite clear what their goals for the project are. But soon I will come to the discussion where I expect more vague answers to this question. How you would guys proceed with driving these discussions?

I thought of using success sliders, but the mandate is so unclear, I am not sure what to even use as sliders… I guess what I am after is a list of starting questions to ask to drive the conversation whenever it stalls. Having a lot of respect for your skills in dealing with stakeholders I thought I would pose the question here.