Go with the flow

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I’ve been working on a project lately with a small team and a similarly select group of Scottish Enterprise account managers to create a slicker way of bringing businesses into their portfolio.

It’s a bit of a pathfinder project, to figure out how we might use Microsoft Power Platform technologies to deliver new services at scale and at speed.

So we settled on this one aspect of our High Growth account managers’ service to start with: getting new clients onto their portfolio.

The solution we’ve developed involves Power Pages (client-facing) and Power Apps (backend) developments, both reading from and writing to the same database, and all of this data is ultimately available in our CRM system.

All of which is fine. But, as a Service Designer, I instinctively want to be open and transparent about the data we gather. And the Digital Service Standard kinda demands that we are.

I struggled with this for a while. I wrestled in the swamps of the Dataverse against PowerBI, and the best I could come up with was this:

Figure 1: screenshot of a Power Bi dashboard taken on 4 April 2024

(Actual people’s actual names have been scrubbed out in this screenshot because they’re actual people. But all the data is real, and right now.)

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Running an asynchronous retrospective

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The good, the bad, and the ugly

I seem to have been running a lot of retrospectives lately. And yes, I just used an Oxford comma. Get over it.

A simple, childlike image of a sailing boat on a choppy sea. The boat is held by an anchor hooked on rocks beneath the waves. There are wind puffs behind it and rocks in front of it. To the right of the images an island with a palm tree, with the sun overhead.
In the sailboat retrospective format, the boat represents the project or work we are doing; the wind is what is pushing us forward, the anchor what is holding us back. The rocks are dangers/risks we face, and the island is the goal or destination. I created this template in Miro.

In case you don’t know what that means, a retrospective (or a ‘retro’ for short) is a meeting-come-workshop where you look back on work you’ve done, as a team, and try to identify ways you could be better in future.

In agile methodologies, you can hold retros pretty regularly. With Scrum, you’d hold one at the end of every sprint – typically every 2 weeks – so you can get feedback quickly and adjust course immediately.

Think guiding a canoe through rapids; if you can’t change course quickly, you are going to hit a rock (a fairly common metaphor for retros uses a sailboat, as above) pretty soon, and pretty fatally.

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The places and people we remember

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What do we take from those we have worked for, and with? What do we take from each role we do into the next?

I’ve blogged before about my career journey. The best of times has been when I’ve worked for someone who has understood me as a whole person and believed in me. Here’s some thoughts about my journey over 35 years

An image of my tricolour border collie called Angus lying in some bluebells
My whole me now includes Angus. Here he is in the bluebells
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A new life in the unknown

Reading Time: 6 minutes

One year ago I made the move from the Scottish Businesses Marketing team and started my new life stepping into the unknown, as a Product Owner in the Export Service Design team.  Now, I have one foot in the SDI Trade Service team and the other in Service Design.

Officially, the Product Owner (PO) is “responsible for maximising the value of the product and the work of the development team”.  This is a new role for the organisation as Product Owner is essentially a role coined from the agile way to manage a project, usually software development, called Scrum.

I’d always though of myself as a bit of a geek with a passion for web and digital, so I was excited to be able to use my export marketing experience and customer insight to tackle this new challenge and really get up close and personal with our end users.

One year on, I thought I’d share and list the 10 lessons that have stuck with me.

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Love the problem and not the solution

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I have all sorts of training and qualifications that help me to design and build awesome solutions. It excites me. I love my job. Which means that I have to sit on the impulse to jump straight to solutions and remember to concentrate on the problem every single day.

The moment you start to design a solution, you are heading down a road that is harder to get off  every day that passes. It is human nature. You invest time, effort and your personal awesomeness in a solution and before long you love it. It can be emotionally painful to ditch it even if it is obviously not the right solution.  (I promise not to start talking about any of my ex’s). Even if you don’t like the solution, it is still hard to throw away the time and money invested in it. It is all too easy to roll out a solution that does not really solve the problem any more. 

The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge is a tourist icon, but that is just a benefit. The problem it was built to solve was to get across the Golden Gate strait, thus saving the hours it would take to drive round the bay.

If an earthquake knocks the bridge down, the new one might be very different. The solution is variable but the problem is the same.

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Trust the Force, Luke

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A young Luke Skywalker was told to

Trust the Force.

It was difficult for him until he eventually started to see results. This blog is about a similar leap of faith.

Think about these two statements…

  • If you are truly committed to building customer value, then you will be building what the customer wants (needs) and the customer will be delighted. Because of this they will buy the product or even buy more of the product, while increasing the likelihood of remaining loyal to you.
  • If you are truly committed to empowering your employees, then you will provide a work environment where they feel ownership of their work and can make their own decisions, and they will be more motivated to activate their brainpower, improving morale and increasing the likelihood that they will go the extra mile to create a quality product. *

These are mutually inclusive (and recursive) sentiments, and the answer to how they are done can be summarised as:

  1. Teams need to step up
  2. Managers needs to step back

Easily summarised, but not always easily done.

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It’s good to talk

It's good to talk

Reading Time: 4 minutesNo this is not a phone commercial. Yesterday was great. On the train in to work I had a chat with a friend who does similar work to myself. A couple of things he said struck a chord and I am going to implement them at work.

In work we had a director come out and chat with us about future plans, limitations and opportunities and generally make us feel involved. We then had a large group of managers out to Paisley and had a really good chat. We talked about how we were doing things, and what lessons could be applied across the business.

At lunch I called my sister and we caught up about family stuff.

All of these positive experiences would have been destroyed by doing them as word documents. A nice word document is good for audit but it would have been time consuming, scope limiting and ultimately never read by anyone. In others words “Waste”. It would have slowed down sharing of info and ideas and also supported behaviours such as people disengaging if they were not the ones writing the document.

Future Diagnostic Workshop

In the afternoon I tried in vain to finish a document on Future Online Diagnostics Options. I have been finding excuses to not finish this document for days. That is pretty unusual for us at Paisley but it does happen. It usually means that subconsciously we are rejecting something as being waste or at least sub-optimal. I had done all the research and I am passionate about the subject but I still couldn’t get the document finished. In the end David and I grabbed a few whiteboards and drew out the various options on them…….and then we had a chat about them. In truth the chat we had fleshed out at least as many ideas as I had gathered in my research. It also highlighted new areas that up till now had been “nagging doubts” which we had not fully explored.

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Embrace uncertainty

Rhinoceros

Reading Time: 4 minutes

OK, here's a quiz

I was going to write some whizzy code for this, but then I thought: be agile. What's the quickest, cheapest thing you could do to test this idea?

So I'm going to trust you.

All I'm asking is that you read the question and answer it without thinking too hard about it … your gut instinct is what I'm after.

Take no more than 10 seconds to reach a conclusion.

Otherwise, I may have to write some whizzy code to stop you from cheating …

Question

You have £100 to invest. You decide to invest it in a bank account that pays 1% interest per day.

After 1 year, how much money will you have? Scribble it down. Right now. Doesn't have to be on a post-it.

(And it would be great if you could tell us your estimate in the comments at the end of the article.)
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Making it up

Reading Time: 2 minutesI remember childhood games where my friends and I would say:

Make it that you’re a baddie and I’m the goodie.

Then 5 minutes later someone would declare:

Make it that we’re hiding and you cannae see us.

Or:

Make it that we can fly so when you find us we just fly away.

I’ve been on holiday for a few days, and I’ve been thinking about that phrase. “Make it that …”

Children playing
Make it that …

It’s like my 6-year-old self and my playmates really believed we could bend reality to our imaginations. If we decided we should make things this way, they would just be that way.

Of course they would.

Then I grew up and discovered that, unfortunately, the world doesn’t work like that.

But what if – in our work, at least – it did?

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Love’s the needle, not the North*

Reading Time: 2 minutesIn a previous post, I said that big design up-front was a recipe for disaster.

And it is. So what’s the alternative?

The answer is not to plan less, but to plan more.

IMG_0392

Just don’t do it all at once. Plan the next week or two, do what you planned, and learn something.

We plan a lot. But we do it in small chunks. Lego-sized. Frequently. And regularly.

Because we recognise that the future is uncertain. We can’t predict it.

It’s pretty simple really. Don’t pretend that you know what will be happening in six months’ time. Accept that you won’t.

And move your planning cycle into a place where you can have some degree of certainty,

It’s like the weather forecast. We know what will happen in the next few hours with pretty-much 100% certainty.

After that, things get fuzzy. The weather next week looks cold, but that could change tomorrow.

And after that … well, the weather forecast two weeks from now is pretty much wishful thinking, even with the best brains and massive computation that the met office can throw at it.

This is what we’re about; what can we get done in the next week or two?

What can we get out there in front of actual people?

What will they do with it? And, in two weeks’ time, what will we do with that?

* If anyone got this far, the headline is a line from an Andrew Greig poem. My interpretation of it is that the thing pointing the direction we’re travelling in is not so important; where we’re heading for is.

Stop starting. Start finishing

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Can you run this report and get it to me by Thursday morning?

How do we stop starting and start finishing?
How do we stop starting and start finishing?

Eh … OK. But it’s now 4pm on Tuesday. And I’ve got to do …

… I need it by 10am on Thursday for a management meeting. Can you do that?

Yes … but …

… Is that OK?

Sure, yes. 10 o’clock on Thursday …

I’m sure I’m not the only person who has ever had a conversation like this. In fact, I’m pretty certain most of us have.

After all, the only way to escape these conversations is to be the big boss – the high heidjin, as we say in Scotland – and, necessarily, very few of us are that.

So what’s the solution?

 

Honestly, I don’t have an answer to that. But I do know this: if managers keep trying to stuff ever-fatter elephants down the pipe, it won’t end well.

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Complexity. It’s not complicated …

Reading Time: 3 minutesI’m part of the digital first project, the team that’s looking into new ways of working that will help Scottish Enterprise improve its projects’ performance.

One of the things the team is doing is a 12-week training course on Value, Flow, Quality. That probably doesn’t mean much to most people, but basically it’s a methodology we can use to organise ourselves and our work to deliver value to our customers, quickly and flexibly.

One of the things we looked at in our first session was why IT and software projects regularly fail (by some measures, only one project in three is successful).

This alarming statistic tells us something is very wrong with the way businesses approach these projects. But what? Continue reading “Complexity. It’s not complicated …”