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Life as we Know It

Life as we knew it has ended.

What happens next is up to all of us and each of us.

Here in Portugal, we are just over one month into our quarantine measures. Each of us is adapting in our own private ways. In my case, just before the virus was ‘the big thing’, I had re-focused my life coaching from leadership to ‘deep joy’, a term that indicates, for me, intrinsic, lasting, resilient, deep-in-your-soul, and purpose-driven joy. A joy that gives you the energy and motivation to deliver your own best self to the world, and live out your own purpose. I modified my focus primarily based on my own alignment. I wasn’t against good leadership. On the contrary, the world needs a LOT of BETTER leadership these days. But I was no longer confident that this was the market that I was best able to serve. And then… little did I know how necessary Deep Joy would be needed in 2020.

Working from home is not a problem for me. I worked remotely for four years (2012-2016), another year (mid-2018-2019), and a bit more already in 2020. But now, the balance of time on agile coaching contracts for companies versus time working on my life coaching is shifting, and managing my own work on my own life coaching line of work requires even more personal leadership than ever before. No external boss is asking me for meetings. No external team is needing me to schedule their ceremonies or facilitate conversations. No stakeholder is asking for status. No product owner needs assistance in crafting or adjusting their product roadmap. Now… lately…. the ‘boss’ is myself.

Ironically, the thought process for leading my life coaching line of business is the same as with my corporate clients and agile teams.

  • What did I do yesterday that brought value?
  • What do I (or can I) do today to deliver value, or make one more step toward value?
  • What features should I add to my products/services that clients would find most valuable? Which ones would deliver the most value as compared to my effort? How do I prioritize?
  • What new things do I need to learn, or practice to improve?
  • Are there any roadblocks, speed bumps, or impediments to progress, and if so, what can I do to move through them?
  • Am I working at a sustainable pace?
  • Am I providing enough self-care that I’ll be strong, balanced, wise, and prepared to support and coach my clients?
  • Am I building relationships with business partners and those who can challenge me and hold me accountable?
  • Am I being mindful to enjoy the journey, especially this time of increased focus and introspection while the world slows down?

Oddly, I play ALL of the roles now. I am the Product Owner (decider of features and prioritization, and approver of ‘done’ and ready to release). I am the Scrum Master (facilitator and monitor of health, communication, collaboration, and creativity). I am the Dev Team (content creator, course creator, coach creator, and tester). I’m also a key Stakeholder, alongside my husband.

The new decision is to determine where I need to go next as Leader of my own life coaching business. I’m not leaving Agile Coaching behind. I know that I enjoy it too much and there are so many more businesses that can benefit from the spark that the true heart and soul of agile brings: ongoing small deliveries of valuable stuff – deliver and learn – adapt and improve – sustainable teamwork – high collaboration – transparency and honesty – self-organizing teams – purpose – autonomy – mastery.  

But in my Life Coaching (Deep Joy Coaching, primarily), the question is where to go next. The ultimate Big Vision Goal is to create a physical place where people can go daily or weekly, or annually, to refresh and re-energize their joy. Why? To help people find and maintain their own Deep Joy so that they can bring their own best self to the world and live their purpose. But the timeline is a ways out and evermore uncertain since there is no way to yet know how soon people will feel safe gathering or traveling. The intermediate solution is an online discussion group that meets via video once a week, and for whom I provide Deep Joy encouragement daily via Facebook. And, of course, private client coaching.

But I feel like there should be something more.

In the world of Design Thinking, I’m in the Research and Ideation phases – broadly searching for what is needed by the world, what creative options do I have, and what ideas could be developed. These quiet days offer a LOT of time for healthy research and introspection. I’m also enjoying another 3-week challenge in a small entrepreneurial group that encourages introspection and safe sharing of ideas.

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The ‘challenge question’ for each of us is what we will do next? How do we make this time matter? How do we ensure that the most GOOD will come out of it? What is your own Why? Your own Purpose? What Contribution will you have the Courage to make for your Community? How quickly will you (or did you) pull yourself out of the Valley of Despair (because of the impacts of the virus) and begin moving upwards. Finding your own Deep Joy and defining your Purpose can provide you the impetus to leave the valley behind, and the world needs all of moving Change forward.

So… back to the questions:

  • What will be your own unique Contribution?
  • What is your NEXT step toward that Goal?

The 3 Best Things to Take to the Holiday Parties

As many of us prepare to join family and friends at the upcoming holiday parties and family gatherings, I’d like to offer what I think are the three best items to take with you.  

Gratitude for our diverse Superpowers: We all have a unique way in which we participate in the world. We come with ‘superpowers’ – those soft skills that we bring to any team, whether at work or at home. The great thing is we are all different. Diverse. We can solve problems in different ways. We can be creative in different ways. We can be human in different ways. Don’t leave your leadership and teamwork training at work! Take it home to your family and to the family parties with all of your crazy relatives. Search for each person’s superpower and share that with them. It’s a gift. Not everyone can notice their own superpower. (Check out https://superpowers.sypartners.com/cards for the digital version of the Superpower cards.) 

Curiosity: Even if you hate the white elephant gift-giving, or the fudge made by grandma, or the piano recital by your niece, you can find heart-warming joy by making it your mission to be curious. What’s your passion-project this year? What is the greatest goal you met this past year? What’s the next book on your reading list? Who’s the most interesting person you met this year, and what did you learn from them? What’s been your biggest challenge, and is there any way I can help? (Here’s 15 more questions…) Be curious. Avoid judgments. Remember that you are there to learn, not to score or judge. Give no advice. Listen deeply. Listen for motivations, frustrations, fears. Practice empathy. Practice increasing your EQ. Listen with your soul and your heart. Your attention and understanding is the greatest gift you can give anyone.

Grace: We all have flaws. None of us is perfect. And most of us screw up throughout life. As you chat at the holiday parties, business and personal, remember to listen with grace to the stories of others. Listen for motivation. Listen for understanding. Listen for learning – what did they learn from their mistakes. And what can you learn from it. We love telling stories to the bartender because he doesn’t judge. He accepts us as the flawed person we are, just there to share a story. And be brave enough to share a story or two of your own. Laugh together at the similarities. If you feel the group will need props to tell stories, consider getting some story cubes! Legos are another great storytelling prop. We learn best within stories. Storytelling is the ‘heart’ of the facts. We live and learn as humans through conversation. Be graceful in listening and humble in telling.

Mistakes are a part of the dues one pays for a full life.

Sophia Loren

Enjoy the parties. Enjoy your crazy relatives. Learn something new about your co-workers.

What other items will YOU take to your holiday parties?

Too many backlogs?

Queuing Theory

As I stood in the line at the grocery store last week, I was reminded of a really difficult math class I took back in the dark ages: Queuing Theory.

First requirement on day 1 was to learn to properly spell ‘queue’.

Much of the rest of the semester was a foggy blur slogging through some complex mathematical calculations. These were the days when mathematicians were working on the handling incoming calls on the newfangled telephone systems, the speed of long-distance telecom transmissions and speeding up operating systems. What was the best way to handle call volume, increase throughput and increase the speed of the packets or calls?

Turns out, the one thing I remember best from the class is the MOST useful tidbit for organizing the waiting line at the bank and the grocery store. Throughput is maximized with one queue (one waiting line) and multiple servers, assuming that all the servers can handle all of the requests, and most of the requests are the same size and generally ‘small’. Bigger requests (people with 2 grocery carts of stuff) really bog down even the one server that they visit. And specialized servers (checkout lines) create complexities in handling special requests. Consistency is the key, with one queue and multiple servers.

So why was I thinking about this? First, as much as I hate to stand in any line of 20+ people, I’m amazed by how fast the line flows at the grocery store when we all stand together and just wait for the next available checkout line. And I can never land in the ‘wrong’ line as I’m always handled by the next available person. And, the lines flow really fast when all of the items (mine and the person in front of me) have their bar codes ready for scanning.

And… I was thinking about a related conversation with a colleague who recently told me about her software team which had 13 ‘products’, 13 jira projects (boards), lots of small teams, and only about 40 team members in total. And, she had already told me what some of those ‘products’ were and they seemed like features of one main product to me. Her jira boards were all independent, and she had no over-arching view of progress or impediments. No dashboard. And the teams weren’t getting much done. I got to wondering if the learnings from Queuing Theory might be part of the answer.

I went digging to see if I was crazy and found a few old, and some very mathematical articles. Berteig, in 2006, and the LeSS team (year unknown) are just two that I read, but there are more.

The reason the one queue, multiple servers works is because we are optimizing the whole system for total throughput, and not treating any of the servers as ‘specialists’. When any one of the servers is available, they handle the next person in line. If any one of the servers has to go ‘offline’ for a short break, the system just adjusts to one less server with no change in the queue itself. If the queue becomes exceptionally long (Black Friday sale day), management can easily add a few more servers to handle the extra load.

The servers (the checkers handling the checkout process) can handle nearly all of the people that come through the line. And, to further speed up the checkout process, the items in the basket meet the ‘definition of ready’, i.e., all items are pre-tagged with their price. They can be quickly scanned and pushed through the line. Any few items which don’t scan can be quickly handled with a lookup directly by the checker.

So how do we apply all of this to my colleague’s business problem? We met to discuss some options, some experiments, and some metrics to check.

Experiment 1 – Criticality: Put the backlogs back together and require that the items be stack-ranked, in one prioritized list. Consider the prior list of ‘products’ to be epics/features of one product – the one thing that customers pay for. This ensures that the business agrees on the criticality of the items, and all of the teams pull off the same prioritized list. We ensure everyone is working on the true business-critical items. Specialists go where they are needed and when needed. We focus on whole-system output, not resource optimization.

Experiment 2 – Readiness: Get the backlog items better prepared before being eligible for the teams to take into the sprint. Scrum 101. Definition of Ready. If the Product Owners won’t do it, move someone into that front-end role to assist the PO(s) to prepare the items. Get the ‘barcodes’ ready to ensure the teams (the servers) can clearly process the item when they get it.

Experiment 3 – Focus & Stability: Once the items are taken by the team into the next sprint, the team is allowed to focus and finish. Management only gets to reprioritized the items on the backlog. No stealing and swapping the items in the grocery carts once the checker has begun checking. Can you imagine the chaos at the grocery store? Why do we do this to our software teams when we know better?

Experiment 4 – Measuring: Rather than measuring resource utilization and trying to maximize how many things the team is working on at once, start measuring the done stories (and production bugs) each week, and each sprint. If you do story pointing, measure the points completed. If not, just measure the number of stories. And slice and dice the data. If you can categorize your stories into types (by epic, by size, by requester, by feature, etc.) Find out which ones go quickly, and figure out why. Which ones go slowly and why? Deeply analyze the ‘factory flow’ and figure out where the slow spots are, and which types of items are slowest. Then you can target the most troublesome items.

I’ll be checking back in with my colleague to see which experiments she runs, and what her analysis shows.

Do any of these conditions sound familiar? I’d love to compare stories and see if you found other root causes and other solutions.

Need some help analyzing your own team’s throughput (or lack thereof) and increasing the total value delivered? Contact me for assistance. I actually did pretty good in this class.