Encourage Exploration

Change is hard. While agile values tell us that responding to change is more important than following a plan and that embracing rather than resisting change leads to better products, working in a high-change environment can be nerve -wracking for team members. Exploration is difficult; it causes anxiety, trepidation, and sometimes even a little fear. Agile project managers need to encourage and inspire team members to work through the difficulties of a high-change environment. Remaining calm themselves , encouraging experimentation and learning through both successes and mistakes, and helping team members understand the vision are all part of this encouragement. Good leaders create a safe environment in which people can voice outlandish ideas, some of which turn out not to be so outlandish after all. External encouragement and inspiration help teams build internal motivation.

Great explorations flow from inspirational leaders. Cook, Magellan, Shackleton, and Columbus were inspirational leaders with vision. They persevered in the face of monumental obstacles, not the least of which was fear of the unknown. Magellan, after years of dealing with the entrenched Spanish bureaucracy trying to scuttle his plans, launched his five-ship fleet on October 3, 1519. On September 6, 1522, the Victoria , last of the ships, sailed into port without Magellan, who had died in the Philippines after completing the most treacherous part of the journeyestablishing a route around Cape Horn and sailing across the vast Pacific Ocean for the first time (Joyner 1992).

Great explorers articulate goals that inspire peoplegoals that get people excited such that they inspire themselves. These goals or visions serve as a unifying focal point of effort, galvanizing people and creating an esprit de corps among the team. Inspirational goals need to be energizing, compelling, clear, and feasible , but just barely . Inspirational goals tap into a team's passion.

Encouraging leaders also know the difference between good goals and bad ones. We all know of egocentric managers who point to some mountain and say, "Let's get up there, team," when everyone else is thinking, "Who is he kidding? There's not a snowball 's chance in the hot place that we can carry that off." "Bad BHAGs [Big Hairy Audacious Goals], it turns out, are set with bravado ; good BHAGs are set with understanding ," says Jim Collins (2001). Inspirational leaders know that setting a vision for the product is a team effort, one based on analysis, understanding, and realistic risk assessment, combined with a sprinkle of adventure.

Innovative product development teams are led, not managed. They allow their leaders to be inspirational. They internalize the leader's encouragement. Great new products, outstanding enhancements to existing products, and creative new business initiatives are driven by passion and inspiration. Project managers who focus on network diagrams, cost budgets , and resource histograms are dooming their teams to mediocrity . [2] , [3]

[2] This sentence should not be interpreted as saying these things are unimportant, because, properly used, each can be useful to the project manager. It is when they become the focal point that trouble ensues.

[3] Ken Delcol observes, "Most PMs are not selected for their ability to inspire people! Leadership and business influencing skills are hard to establish in an interview. Most managers have a difficult time identifying and evaluating people with these skill sets."

Leaders help articulate the goals; teams internalize them and motivate themselves. This internal motivation enables exploration. We don't arrive at something new, better, different without trial and error, launching off in multiple new directions in order to find the one that seems promising . Magellan and his ships spent 38 days covering the 334 miles of the straits that now bear his name . In the vast expanse of islands and peninsulas, they explored many dead ends before finding the correct passages (Kelley 2001).

Magellan's ship Victoria sailed nearly 1,000 miles, back and forthup estuaries that dead-ended, and back outtime and time again. Magellan (his crew, actually) was the first to circumnavigate the globe. But he would probably have driven a production-style project manager or executive a little crazy, because he surely didn't follow a plan. But then, any detailed plan would have been foolishno one even knew if ships could get around Cape Horn; none had found the way when Magellan launched. No one knew how large the Pacific Ocean was, and even the best guestimates turned out to be thousands of miles short. His vision never changed, but his "execution" changed every day based on new information.

Teams need a shared purpose and goal, but they also need encouragement to experiment, explore, make mistakes, regroup, and forge ahead again.

Shared Space

"The biggest single trend we've observed is the growing acknowledgment of innovation as a centerpiece of corporate strategies," says Tom Kelley (2001), general manager of IDEO, one of the world's leading industrial design firms. IDEO uses a combination of methodologies, work practices, culture, and infrastructure to create an environment conducive to innovation. Its methodology includes understanding the issues, observing real people, visualizing through the use of simulations and prototypes, evaluating and refining the prototypes, and implementing the concept. The use of prototypes , simulations, and models has a profound influence on IDEO's entire product design process.

"Virtually every significant marketplace innovation in this century is a direct result of extensive prototyping and simulation," says Michael Schrage (2000). His investigation into the world of prototypesstarting with his work at the Media Lab at MITled him to a startling conclusion: "You didn't have to be a sociologist to realize that the Lab's demo culture wasn't just about creating clever ideas; it was about creating clever interactions between people."

Innovation cannot be guaranteed by some deterministic processinnovation is the result of an emergent process, one in which the interaction of individuals with creative ideas results in something new and different. Demos, prototypes, simulations, and models are the catalysts for these clever interactions. They constitute the "shared space" (Schrage's term ) in which developers, marketers, customers, and managers can have meaningful interactions.

Shared space has two requirementsvisualization and commonality . One of the common problems in the product development field has been that requirements documents had neither quality. When engineers moved to conversations with customers around prototypes and working features rather than documents, the quality of the interactions increased dramatically. Visualization drives industrial design today. For example, Alias Systems, whose software builds special effects for today's movies Lord of the Rings, Spiderman, Harry Potter also provides sophisticated software to industrial designers who need to visualize their products early in the development process.

Commonality means that the prototype needs to be understood by all parties that have a stake in the development effort. So, for example, while electrical circuit diagrams might help electrical and manufacturing engineers communicate, they wouldn't create a shared space for marketing or customer representatives. Project leaders need to be aware, at each stage of the project, of who needs to interact at that stage and what the shared space needs to be in order for that to happen.

Project teams need encouraging leadership that may come at various times from the project manager, a technical architect, or a team member. Delivering tangible features at frequent intervalscreating this shared space that drives the team to creative interactionsis a key tool of encouraging innovation.

Encouragement Isn't Enough

Encouragement extends beyond rousing speeches to providing the mechanisms for innovation. As Tom DeMarco (2003) advises, if you want to invent something new, don't also try to wrest every minute of time from your team. They need time to think, to experiment, to brainstorm. "People under time pressure don't think faster," comments Tim Lister. [4] Management needs to set some time to do this outside of a project's time constraint, particularly for key technology feasibility studies.

[4] Quoted in (DeMarco 2003).

Inspiration needs to be primed with policies and practices. For continually delivering new, innovative productsdecade after decadeno company bests 3M. The company backs up its core ideology of constant innovation with specific mechanisms, such as a long-standing policy that gives researchers a percentage of their time to investigate ideas of their own. 3M also has a series of prestigious award programs that recognize entrepreneurship, dissemination of technology, stimulation of new technology, and cross-fertilization of ideas across the company (Collins and Porras 1994).

Year after year IDEO wins more design competitions than any other firm. General manager Tom Kelley outlines the team environment he thinks builds "Hot Teams":

  • First, they were totally dedicated to achieving the end result.
  • Second, they faced down a slightly ridiculous deadline.
  • Third, the group was irreverent and nonhierarchical.
  • Fourth, the team was well rounded and respectful of its diversity.
  • Fifth, they worked in an open , eclectic space optimal for flexibility, group work, and brainstorming.
  • Finally, the group felt empowered to go get whatever else it needed (Kelley 2001).

While there seems to be a contradiction between DeMarco's and 3M's "give them time" and Kelley's "slightly ridiculous deadline" advice, I think they are actually compatible. Astute project managers know that meeting a tight deadline may be achieved by reducing the day-to-day pressure rather than constant harping on the team. In a pressure-cooker environment, people have, or at least perceive that they have, no time to think; they just have time to do. With less pressure and more encouragement to interact with each other, teams can actually go faster in the long run by slowing down today.

Looking at Kelley's list, we see that innovation comes from breaking down rigiditiesinterpersonal, space, organizationalwhile concentrating on the end result and its key time constraint. Managers who want to build innovative products, who want to inspire their teams to greatness, need to constantly strive for a well-defined goal and create a fluid team environment.

Developing great productsparticularly new, version 1.0 productsrequires exploration, not tracking against a plan. Magellan had a vision, a goal, and some general ideas about sailing from Spain down the coast of South America, avoiding Portuguese ships if at all possible, finding a way around Cape Horn, then tracking across the Pacific to once-again known territory in the Southeast Asia archipelagoes. Great new products come from similarly audacious goals and rough plans that often have large gaps in which " miracles happen," much like the miracle of finding the Straits of Magellan.

The Agile Revolution

Guiding Principles: Customers and Products

Guiding Principles: Leadership-Collaboration Management

An Agile Project Management Model

The Envision Phase

The Speculate Phase

The Explore Phase

The Adapt and Close Phases

Building Large Adaptive Teams

Reliable Innovation

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Agile Project Management. Creating Innovative Products
Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products (2nd Edition)
ISBN: 0321658396
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 96
Authors: Jim Highsmith
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