Agile vs. Waterfall (And Other Obfuscation)

Intro Agile vs. Waterfall—it’s a discussion that never seems to progress as much as it continues to confuse. This hasn’t stopped countless organizations from spending staggering sums on “Agile transformations” which never seem to increase, well, agility. The stories of such transformations are now notorious, with Southwest Airlines being but the latest. In this postContinue reading “Agile vs. Waterfall (And Other Obfuscation)”

Industrial Revolution Org Cultures

Intro Reading Peter Scholtes’ 1998 The Leader’s Handbook should today cause some reflection. His assessment of most modern org cultures is in no way positive and, one can say with confidence, no less accurate than it was a quarter century ago. Scholtes contrasts two general org cultures, similar to McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y,Continue reading “Industrial Revolution Org Cultures”

Meetings Are Design Products

How many meetings are you in where the same few dominant personalities do most of the talking? Or that tout the importance of “inclusiveness” while still being punishingly brutal for introverts? Or where you’re not sure why you’re there, the agenda is only sporadically brought up, and the meeting unerringly runs over its scheduled time?Continue reading “Meetings Are Design Products”

From Frames to Upholstery

Miernik believes that romantic composers prepared the ground for totalitarian politicians: both deal in illusions, knowing that the illusions people have about themselves as individuals and as nations are stronger than reality. —Charles McCarry, The Miernik Dossier It’s easy to be self-congratulatory when delivering something requested. Sometimes that is as it should be. This doesContinue reading “From Frames to Upholstery”

Agile and Science (and Politics?)

Agile is, fundamentally, an evolutionary mindset. Perhaps this is what makes it so controversial. Perhaps this is what makes it so hard to do right. To see why, we need to dig into what exactly it means for something to be “evolutionary.” Here let’s not turn to any work on Agile, product work, or orgContinue reading “Agile and Science (and Politics?)”

Monty Hall, Storytelling, and Planning

In this post we are going to take two fascinating topics, the Monty Hall Problem and the Narrative Fallacy, and see what they can teach us about product planning. Enjoy! 1. Let’s Make a Deal A lot has been written about the Monty Hall Problem, a famous version of Bertrand’s Box Paradox from 1889. IfContinue reading “Monty Hall, Storytelling, and Planning”

Just How Related Is Usability to User Satisfaction?

There’s no shortage of wonky assertions in the field of UX, specious claims based on bad methodology, spuriously supported by voodoo statistics. Jakob Nielsen, one of the biggest names in the field, isn’t immune. Perhaps most famously, the “five user-assumption,” which he originally proposed with Rolf Molich, has since been rather thoroughly debunked by Molich’sContinue reading “Just How Related Is Usability to User Satisfaction?”

The Rock and the Wrapper

I was recently chatting with Vicki Amon-Higa, who runs a Customer Experience consultancy. She was telling me about “the rock and the wrapper.” The “rock,” she said, is your technical product offering or service, whatever it is. The “wrapper” is everything else that goes into offering this to customers. She said she’s noticed that evenContinue reading “The Rock and the Wrapper”

Listening Creatively: Killing Giants and Catching Shapeshifters

Today we’ll be looking at Between People, a little book that uses metaphor to generate insights concerning one-on-one communication. The author is John A. Sanford, who was an Episcopal priest, a Jungian analyst, and one hell of a writer. Throughout the post, specific active listening skills will appear bolded. Playing Catch A theme throughout theContinue reading “Listening Creatively: Killing Giants and Catching Shapeshifters”

Systems as Mental Interfaces

In today’s post we’ll be discussing Dr. Edward Martin Baker’s amazing little book, Scoring a Whole in One. Credit is due to Sean Murphy, of SKMurphy, Inc., who reached out and asked if I’d like to collaborate on something based on Baker’s book. I said yes, and we each did a post on it. BelowContinue reading “Systems as Mental Interfaces”

Strategy and Outcomes

Today we’ll cover an approach I’ve used for running strategy workshops. First, we must discuss what definition of “strategy” I have in view. Second, we’ll go through the 8 steps of the workshop itself. Intro: Strategy In his book, Good Strategy/Bad Strategy, author Richard Rumelt argues that organizations tend to confuse strategy with goals. AsContinue reading “Strategy and Outcomes”

Agile’s Ethical Dilemma, Decision Distribution, and the Trojan War

The Trojan War Consider that the story of the Trojan horse is a story about war; and, in certain respects, it offers an apt metaphor. In many organizations a battle of sorts is being fought, even if largely unstated. In this version of the story, the Greeks don’t offer the gift and pretend to sailContinue reading “Agile’s Ethical Dilemma, Decision Distribution, and the Trojan War”

Revisiting “Intelligent Failure”

It’s important to go back and read the old stuff sometimes. When ideas get popularized, often parts get left behind that are just as interesting and important as the parts that catch on. Today we’ll take a look at Sim Sitkin’s “Learning Through Failure,” from Organizational Learning (1996), which introduced the concept of “intelligent failure.”Continue reading “Revisiting “Intelligent Failure””

Bureaucratic Blunderland

How about an irreverent respite? In today’s post we’ll look at the 1973 book, Malice in Blunderland, by Thomas L. Martin, Jr., once the Dean of Engineering at the University of Arizona and later the President of the Illinois Institute of Technology. We’re all familiar with “Parkinson’s Law” or the “Peter Principle,” but, Martin argues,Continue reading “Bureaucratic Blunderland”

What Is Incentivized Is Policy—All Else Is Lip Service

Morton C. Blackwell was a delegate for Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election. Following Goldwater’s dramatic defeat by Lyndon B. Johnson, Blackwell and other conservative strategists started to think hard about why they had lost so badly. He later wrote about these learnings as President of the Leadership Institute. One of the things toContinue reading “What Is Incentivized Is Policy—All Else Is Lip Service”

The Men in Grey and Addictive Designs

Sebastian Deterding thinks the field of User Experience (UX) has a lot to learn from a children’s book called Momo. In the book, and the movie based on it, Momo is a girl with an amazing gift. She can make people feel better just by listening to them. (But, you might ask, don’t we allContinue reading “The Men in Grey and Addictive Designs”

Donkeys and Elephants

Sorry political junkies, this is not a post about Democrats and Republicans. This is a post about egos and drama. It’s a post about meeting effectiveness. Consider, how do you tend to relate to others in meetings, while working, or even just in day-to-day life? Are there certain interactions that leave you feeling disappointed, notContinue reading “Donkeys and Elephants”

Why Agile and UX Still Don’t Get Along

Agile is sort of an odd beast. It’s not a field, like UX. It’s not a framework, like SAFe. It’s more an umbrella term centered around a manifesto. The Agile Manifesto, though, is just that—a manifesto. It’s a set of values and principles. As such, it’s brief. What it doesn’t say is voluminous. What itContinue reading “Why Agile and UX Still Don’t Get Along”

Increasing Options with Teeter Totters

An old saying proclaims that “cooler heads will prevail”. Zen Buddhist Takuan Sōhō wrote that when you feel insulted, you had already lost rightmindedness prior to the offense. Colloquially, we speak of someone “getting your goat”. In each case, the message is the same. In-the-moment emotion often sabotages decisions. When things get heated, when emotionsContinue reading “Increasing Options with Teeter Totters”

A Word on Coaching

Certain popular business terms cause an awful lot of confusion. We use them like they have a single clear meaning when they really don’t. “MVP” is a great example. Others are “value,” “Agile,” and “leadership,” each of which are confusing for different reasons. Unpacking Suitcases If I say “customer,” do I mean external purchasers? Users?Continue reading “A Word on Coaching”

How Are Soft Skills Soft?

It’s now common to hear org leaders stressing the importance of “soft skills.” This is good, of course, but also a little odd. How did this end up becoming something that ever needs stressing? Part of the problem might be the term itself, which comes from the U.S. Army; and, more to the point, probablyContinue reading “How Are Soft Skills Soft?”

Some Thoughts on Design Research, Agile, and Traps

Design is not about creating things. It’s about making decisions to solve problems. Design research is about fitting the right learning tools to the right kinds of questions, doing the smart thing to “derisk” the decisions made. As designer Erika Hall puts it, the decisions we make and the constraints we set up front areContinue reading “Some Thoughts on Design Research, Agile, and Traps”

The Potential Cost of … Zugzwang?

Comparisons have long been made between chess and business. Kasparov (2007) wrote a whole book about it. Here I’d like to apply an old chess concept specifically to product work. In doing so, this is not to suggest that product work is a “game,” no more than discussing product strategy should imply it’s “war.” I’llContinue reading “The Potential Cost of … Zugzwang?”

Paying Attention to Group Formation Dynamics

In this post let’s look at some of the brilliant work of nonverbal communication expert Michael Grinder. As Grinder teaches, when doing facilitation work, whether running a workshop, delivering a training, or giving a talk, an important variable to pay attention to is how FORMED the group is. Let’s start with a couple vignettes. Imagine,Continue reading “Paying Attention to Group Formation Dynamics”

Inferring Causality: Why You Can’t Just Ask Why

A very prominent UX Researcher, who shall remain unnamed, presented at a conference recently. It started off a little rocky and then got worse…and then I stopped listening. When UX Researchers lecture others on research while spreading misinformation, it doesn’t help the rest of us in the profession. Here we’ll only discuss two issues withContinue reading “Inferring Causality: Why You Can’t Just Ask Why”

Lipton’s Twin Scientist Problem

Here is an interesting conundrum from Lipton (2005). Let’s call it the “Twin Scientist Problem.” The Twin Scientists Once upon a time there were identical twin scientists. They looked so similar it was hard to tell them apart. One day you run into them at a conference, where they are standing next to their respectiveContinue reading “Lipton’s Twin Scientist Problem”

Some Tricks to Deal with Stress and Anxiety

Anxiety disorders now affect around 1 in 5 adults in America. Anxiety seems to be on the rise in the West, with millennials now being called the most “anxious” generation (Newman, 2018). The American Institute of Stress website reports that the leading cause of stress, far and away, is occupational, with stress induced by job security skyrocketingContinue reading “Some Tricks to Deal with Stress and Anxiety”

Red and Blue Work: Agile as Skeuomorphism

In his new book, Leadership Is Language, David Marquet (2020) contrasts what he calls “red” and “blue” work. The distinction does a beautiful job illustrating what’s wrong with many Agile transformations. The Red and the Blue…. Red work is DOING work. It’s about execution and reducing variability. Blue is THINKING work. It’s about discovery andContinue reading “Red and Blue Work: Agile as Skeuomorphism”

Agile Light and Dark, and Becoming Value-Driven

A lot of what people call “Agile” is anything but. It’s faux, like fake stitching on fake leather. It’s skeuomorphic empowerment. Orgs bring in some consultants, check some boxes, and hope to see the old top-down Waterfall sped up. As a result, Agile experts spend a lot of time talking about “Dark Agile.” Take SAFe,Continue reading “Agile Light and Dark, and Becoming Value-Driven”

When Your Data and Research Are BS

As part of our jobs we make decisions that impact the lives of coworkers, users and customers, not to mention the bottom line. Decisions are made in various states of uncertainty, which is why we seek data. Often, however, we want data even when it will not produce better decisions. We want it for psychologicalContinue reading “When Your Data and Research Are BS”

Cleaning up Your Questions: A Handy Tool

Last week I attended a class taught by the amazing April Mills. In one exercise, we were divided into groups of three and took turns playing roles. The Talker was given a topic to speak on for three minutes. The Listener was to ask questions to keep the Talker talking. The Referee was to callContinue reading “Cleaning up Your Questions: A Handy Tool”

Agile as a Zombie…Noun

In their book, Mind Lines (2005), Hall and Bodenhamer observe that the more language veers from the sensory-based data from which it’s derived, the more “meta” and confusing it tends to become. To abstract you must generalize, often deleting and distorting the underlying specifics that were ultimately the basis of your claims. (Image adapted fromContinue reading “Agile as a Zombie…Noun”

Design Thinking as Decision Framing

Design Thinking is an increasingly hot topic in the corporate world. Organizations should find this as exciting as designers likely find it humorous. It’s exciting because it brings with it skills and techniques people at all levels of an organization can greatly benefit from. It’s humorous because Design Thinking is nothing new. It’s like theyContinue reading “Design Thinking as Decision Framing”

Facilitation as Wizardry: Outcomes Elicitation

The goal in product work is not to build products. It’s to create value—value for users and, ultimately, for the business. This is done by changing the environment in ways that allow for new, value-adding behavior. These changes could be coded product, or redesigned workflows, or improved policies, or…whatever you can think of. (Why limitContinue reading “Facilitation as Wizardry: Outcomes Elicitation”

Dealing With Conflict Without Drama

There is a house where all conflict takes place, and if you are in conflict, you are in this house. The front door is labeled “Right/Wrong,” and beyond its wide foyer there are only three rooms in Conflict House. Room 1 is the “What happened” room. Here you compare stories and see where your viewsContinue reading “Dealing With Conflict Without Drama”

The Agile Trap

“Agile is dead.” People keep saying that. But then they say, “We’re just kidding.” They meant the way YOU do Agile is dead. And stupid. But “real” Agile isn’t. It’s just that everyone does Agile “wrong.” So I guess real Agile is, you know, Agile in “theory.” Even I have done this. And you know what? I’m sick of doingContinue reading “The Agile Trap”

Making Better Comparisons to Create More Value

Say a team’s customer wants it to software-enable a process. Doing so will save around $20k a month. Maybe the team does it and the customer is happy. Very happy. The team is even featured in the IT newsletter and gets lots of praise. All is well and good…. Exactly. What if it turns outContinue reading “Making Better Comparisons to Create More Value”