People Everywhere Want Help

mcdonalds bag

I see it all the time. People don’t audibly ask for help. Usually, the ask looks like frustration. Or figuring out short-cuts on doing something that shouldn’t be that hard. They want help. They just can’t get it.

Perfect example is leaving the super-market. Out she comes with a full paper grocery bag. She is frustrated, wrapping both arms around the bottom because the bag is ripping. It no longer has handles, the paper is too thin, and the wetness of the fruit has further weakened the paper. The bad experience doesn’t have anything to do with the look of the bag (it looks great) or wanting to be delighted when she leaves the supermarket (please, she just wants to get home).

Her bad experience has everything to do with the bag not doing the job it was supposed to do when she needed it. There are a whole mess of reasons for that bad job. Some of it has to do with corporate money. Others have to do with laws. Some has to do with her own forgetfulness. Doesn’t mean we need punish her for those various reasons. She wanted help before needing to ask for it. If the supermarket really wanted to help, they could have looked across the street at the business who had the same journey and gave a better experience just by focusing on the job that needed to be done: get the ordered food safely to the car.

I’ve been in plenty of industries. Did time in the city working at an agency. Went through advertising, publishing, media, entertainment, b2b, and now did a short stint in banking and onto insurance. Brown paper-bags everywhere. They don’t look like brown paper bags, but they’re there. People wanting to do a simple task and blocked by the solution decisions we have decided to make.

Be human. Be helpful.

Agile At Scale Needs Work

dirty hands

Agile at scale is tough. I’m a certified practitioner. I’ve seen it tried here or there. I’ve rarely seen it go according to paper. Some have done a bad job. Some have done worse. Some have tried. Grass-roots agile at scale is an uphill battle without enterprise-wide value.

The best is when the culture pivots around people.

Helping (not delighting) human customers is the goal, a good experience is a driver, upper management’s conviction looks like funding, and there are practicing evangelists throughout the organization. That means empowered people are actually getting their hands dirty while driving strategy and agility. That is not perfect, but there is hope even if there are battles to make it happen.

In that culture, don’t give up yet. Keep iterating and delivering value to humans.

What Agile is All About

agile ballerina

Agility is fast. But it’s not only about being fast. It is about being flexible within a time-box.

The ability to iterate, produce value, and pivot when circumstances changes. Companies, management, and non-practitioners think it’s about being perfect at a quicker pace. Nope. It’s about pace over perfection. Time-boxed shipment of actionable value.

Agile isn’t for everything.

If you’re building another bridge from New York to New Jersey, you don’t use agile. You plan the resources, get the budget, plan the location, do the math, take your time, and get it done. Insert waterfall here—see, not a bad word when it matters.

But, if you’re building an app for New York or New Jersey, meeting some possible needs within the next 6 to 8 months, then you use agile.

Nebel des Krieges

green grass field with white clouds

In German, there is a military concept that highlights situational uncertainty. It is called Nebel des Krieges. Basically it means that we don’t know what They can, or will, do; nor how We will respond.

In English, we call this the “fog of war”. It is the honest perspective that no matter the strategy, once the battle hits, the details of the plan are thrown into disarray. Because our plans are often made in the two-fold vacuum: (1) limited information about what the enemy can (or will) do and (2) how will we respond once that information becomes situational reality.

Enter agility.

Agility is not about being fast. It’s about your ability to pivot within the situational reality. How quickly you change direction in the fog when the immaterial starts to take horrifying shape.

Are things currently foggy? Don’t try to plan out every detail. Pick a goal and prepare to pivot on your way.

Got a minute?

vintage golden clock in aged railway station terminal with arched windows

Wanted to take a minute to think about something.

There are 525,600 minutes in one (1) year

175,200 of those minutes are literally spent sleeping.
School (55,000 minutes) or work (124,600) takes up another chunk of minutes
164,250 is the average media consumption (more hours than work or school!)
~800 = mowing a lawn that grows on its own and dies on its own, every year.

Here is the kicker: I will still have over 50K minutes leftover.

I can read a Bible 12x. Or I can binge more of X. I can read other books. I can draw. Take a holiday. As a parent, do I really think I make an impact if my kids are consuming more time with media than anything permanent? Minutes are used and gone and I’m not even valuing the leftovers.

Seems like I got more than a minute. Just need to figure out the right way to spend them.

Maybe you’ve got a minute as well.

Accessibility is Customer Centric

close up photo of person using braille

Do you think you are customer focused? If you are not doing better than legislation in dire need of updating, then you really do not care about the customer. You need to ensure anyone can seamlessly use your digital properties, no matter their situation in life. It’s not only good for your brand, it’s good for people.

Look at this law. It is ancient. When it was created Star Trek had our closest idea to the iPhone. When it was created, you still need to carry around a “case quarter” so you could make a call while on the go. When it was created, the only way to enter into a virtual space was by making sure your telephone squawked at another phone (or something) somewhere else.

We need to do better. Read on.

Agile is More Than a Buzz Word

person writing on the notebook

I remember sitting in an agile workshop hearing a non-practitioner say that agile just doesn’t work and that you have to do traditional project management. Sure. If you’re building a bridge. But if not, you’re just slowing things down. Or doing agile wrong.

Listen, a truly agile company looks different. Teams are doing the work. They are pivoting around the customer. They are driven by the overarching business strategy. They are funded by the value they offer to the company.

Here I am not only using standard SAFE terminology around value streams.

There is not a company today that doesn’t pay for phones. It is assumed that companies will have phones. They also assume they need people to support those phones. To manage the phone life cycle. Same thing with computers. Keyboards. Monitors. These things are assumed values because they are the cost of doing business. Sure those things are often capitalized and depreciated but that’s just because those are physical assets.

With agility and the modern marketplace, strategy is the driver and agility is a mindset that allows the flexibility to realize the strategy. Just like with computers and phones, certain things needs to be in place to bring the strategy into reality and in the modern world that means virtual assets should be funded—even if we haven’t figured out how to capitalize and depreciate them. No modern strategy should exclude a website, for example. Or customer-centricity. Or the customer’s job to be done.

Of course, if the business strategy no longer sees websites or apps (or phones or computers) as important to the business, then they stop funding those areas. It is why companies no longer fund a horse and buggy.

Now, by funding a virtual asset, I don’t only mean money.

I mean resource staffing so that small teams have the right people. I mean empowerment so that small teams can make the decisions. I mean investment in the equipment and tools to allow the team to work. I mean unblocking upstream or downstream damming that get in the way from happening—even if that damming looks like middle-management. I mean building up the team confidence cache by reflecting good (versus bad) behavior. All of that is the funding that makes agile work beyond a buzz word.

If you want agile to work throughout the organization you must do more than use the term in a PowerPoint. You need to fund the virtual assets that drive the business strategy with the tangible means to bring that strategy into reality in any hundred different ways.

Where A Persona Fails

people looking at people personas

Personas are fine right up until they’re not. By then it’s too late. Usually, it’s right around the point that demographic data gets put in.

Designing for the function of paying without physical cash or credit card allows some mental flexibility. Differentiate the function between a millennial and a grandfather, suddenly your biases are making assumptions. Worse if you start throwing race in there.

Want to create better solutions for everyone? Listen to people, regardless of their background, and address the jobs they’re trying to get done. Derive empathy from their experience.  Iterate around that.

Mind the Gap: The Danger of Baked-In Bias

antelope canyon

When gathering data, we need to also look at wildcards. They may not really be wild cards but they might be enough to shake our biases before they get baked into any digital solution.

I am not here writing about racism—though that can be included. Think about historic redlining affecting your ability to get a loan in an automated system. Don’t know what I mean?

Here is IBM realizing that a common bias can become part of a virtual reality and artifical intelligence just because the designers have unstated assumptions. For example, anchoring bias: the first thing we hear is most likely right. Or CS Lewis’ chronological snobbery: the assumption because we are more modern, we know more than the previous generation. Or gender bias: like when looking for an image of a “cop” or “pilot” you (wrongly) expect and (wrongly) get men or when you google “nurse” you (wrongly) expect and (wrongly) get women.

These things can go really bad if there are medical conditions that we stay quiet about or integrate symptoms around the male body as a norm. A big one like the symptoms of a heart attack. A friend of mine had a heart attack while going on a hike and they did not go to the doctor for several hours because her symptoms presented as tiredness and indigestion: which are common presenting symptoms of the female body. Or when our data gap outright ignores people groups where those differences might matter.

This is happening everywhere and you can read about it in regards to women in Caroline Criado Perez’s excellent book Invisible Women. You can get around this by purposefully including groups (like women) as part of your research and not only around roles. Here I would argue that you need a randomized wildcard that excludes the common bits you are looking for.

I am not saying this is the only answer but we need to do better lest we forget large swaths of humans in our supposedly human-centered solutions.

I’ve updated this post with newer articles.

Design is About a Job Well Done

designed staircase

Marketing wants to communicate a message. Graphic design gets it done. Manufacturing is setting up a payment and fulfillment workflow. System design gets it done. I’m not referring to roles. I’m saying that with design, you answer the question: “How will someone [get this]?” Swap out the bracket for whatever. Do this. Read this. Consume this. Use this.

Seth Godin puts it this way. “Design is about function. Everything we do has a job, and if it’s designed properly, the job will get done well.” He’s right. Want proof? Check your palm, purse, or pocket. You carry around a thing that has been iteratively designed to complete more and more functions. Now, you see it as important as your keys.