Jurgen Appelo's Blog
January 24, 2018
Now and then, stand still, look around, and wonder if you didn’t forget something. What you missed could be half of your business model!
After Inspect comes Adapt.
After Sense comes Respond.
And after an Experiment, you sometimes need to Patch or Pivot.
For more than half a year, our team at Agility Scales has been building a platform that offers agile coaches step-by-step guides for many agile practices. We have added support for videos and articles, and we will add more types of content later. These guides, videos, and articles will help agile teams to respond to changes and adapt their behaviors with concrete guidance.
But we missed something important.
How can we help people adapt without first inspecting what they do? How can we help teams respond without first sensing the situation they are in now? Suggestions for improvements are more sensible with awareness of the context.
All we’ve done so far was not in vain. On the contrary! Feedback from early users tells us that we made good progress, and in the right direction. However, it’s as if we’ve been working on just one half of the agile feedback cycle. The right side of the circle seems to work.
Where is the left side?
Well, we started working on it just recently! With the financial support we are getting from the crowd and large investors, we will be able to work on the “sensing and inspecting” part, for another six months at least. I expect we will be much closer to a product/market fit when our platform covers both sides of the famous agile feedback cycle.
I am calling it a patch. It’s not a “pivot” because we’re not changing our direction. And it’s not “perseverance” because we convinced ourselves to stand still, look around us, and wonder, “Hm, aren’t we forgetting something?” And yes, it occurred to us that we have to do a bit of backtracking to retrieve something important. Half of the required solution got lost in our day-to-day busyness of trying to make progress.
Half of the required solution got lost!
But no worries. We believe we found what we missed, and we have new financial fuel (more than we ever had before). Now we can update our roadmap and increase our pace on the journey ahead.
If you sign up for Mind Settlers, you will not only get excellent guides, videos, and articles about agile practices. You will also get a new way of creating awareness of what you and your team are doing. Very soon.
We are ready for 2018!
The post Patching the Business: Complete the Agile Feedback Cycle! appeared first on NOOP.NL.
January 18, 2018
The Lean Startup model was incomplete. But now I patched it.
Your life as an entrepreneur is perfect!
Investors are begging for the privilege of funding your venture; team members are never sick and never fighting, and ecstatic customers fling money at you while making love to your product all day long.
December 25, 2017
Lists are awesome.
Popularity lists have the amazing ability to condense a complex system into a simple overview that is guaranteed to be fascinating and controversial. Pop lists are always insightful and always wrong. That’s why people never get tired of making them and discussing them.
As the founder of Agility Scales, I need to learn as much as possible about what it takes to start, run, and scale a company. Combined with my love for books and my passion for lists, it is easy to see why I spent a rainy weekend researching all the books I could find (in English) about and for entrepreneurs and founders.
I began by googling for “best books for startups and entrepreneurs” and by asking founders in various groups about their favorite entrepreneurial publications. For several hours, I then used the recommendation engine of GoodReads to find all related books until I exhausted both myself and the AI and we both needed a coffee.
Finally, I ranked the many books I found by their average rating on GoodReads (an indication of quality), their number of reviews (popularity), and their age (antiquity). I calculated the average of these findings to get a list that is biased towards recent, favorite, quality books. I also removed any publications that were not explicitly written about or for startups/scaleups. Books such as The 7 Habits and Predictably Irrational had to go. Sorry.
The result is what you find here. Feel free to praise it, vilify it, or both. I’m sure this Top 150 list is both inspiring and incomplete, fascinating and controversial. Either way, it is worth checking out for your reading backlog in 2018.
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE — Phil Knight (2016)
Elon Musk: Inventing the Future — Ashlee Vance (2015)
Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future — Peter Thiel, Blake Masters (2014)
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration — Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace (2014)
Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley — Antonio Garcia Martinez (2016)
The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers — Ben Horowitz (2014)
Steve Jobs — Walter Isaacson (2011)
Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days — Jake Knapp (2016)
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon — Brad Stone (2013)
The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution — Walter Isaacson (2014)
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December 17, 2017
As a scaleup, you can offer free access to your products and services as a marketing technique. But as a startup, you need to know a.s.a.p. what people are willing to pay for.
Coffee and Cookies
Someone once tried to charge me €9 for an undrinkable caffe latte. It was in a fancy hotel in Cannes at the Côte d’Azur. They had an impressive-looking Italian espresso machine at the bar. But to make my 9-euro latte, they merely pressed a button on one of those horrendous German automatic coffee machines. After one sip of what looked like bile-covered sewage water, I made such a scene in the hotel bar that it was worthy of a Golden Palm award.
There are similar coffee automats at the airport of Munich. I tried them once. Never again. But after that experience, it didn’t occur to me to complain to the airport managers about their machines. They offer that coffee for free. When I criticize an undrinkable 9-euro coffee in Cannes, I do so as a customer. When I would complain about the same liquid muck at Munich airport, I would do so as an asshole.
Likewise, I would never think of complaining about the free cookies and chocolates that the airlines sometimes offer me. Sometimes, I accept their gifts; sometimes I don’t. Thankfully, the carriers don’t ask me for feedback about their free treats. I get my favorite delicacies at specialty stores in Rotterdam and Brussels. I couldn’t care less about the cookies and chocolates from the airlines. I might grab some from a tray because they’re free, but I would never pay them for that service.
All startups should understand the consequences of free.
Two Reasons for Paying
My young company Agility Scales offers a service that is still experimental. We have validated the MVP (people have started paying), but we still need time to tweak and tune the product until we have achieved real product-market fit. To do so, we need high-quality feedback from users to steer us in the right direction.
That’s why we ask everyone to pay.
First of all, product innovation is all about validating hypotheses and testing assumptions. The idea that someone will pay for your innovation could be the riskiest of all assumptions! The last responsible moment to test that assumption is now.
As a startup, we don’t want people to grab our stuff for free. We need to validate that our product is something worth paying for. Offering people access for free would be stupid. If we gave free access, we would not know if they would also pay for it.
Another issue is that people are less willing to give valuable feedback on a product or service that’s free. Pricing is framing. When something is given away for free, it can’t be that valuable, right? But as a startup, we need people to care about our offering. We want them to make a scene when it sucks! Such feedback might be painful, but it’s better than begging for input from people who don’t care because they don’t pay.
If you start out by finding paying customers for your product or service, you make sure to solve the hardest problem first: what are people willing to pay for? If instead you begin by giving free access to everyone, you might end up with another Medium or Trello: plenty of users, but nobody wants to pay because the makers priced all the good stuff at zero.
Scaleups Versus Startups
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that things should never be free!
When you know what people are willing to pay for, and you have validated your product-market fit, your startup is ready to morph into a scaleup. At this point, you can introduce a free version. You already know what people want! In your growth phase, a free version is a great marketing technique to find paying customers at a much faster rate. For scaleups, not for startups.
There is one exception to everything I just said.
When I just started out as a public speaker, I offered all my talks for free, because I needed practice and connections. When you already know what people are willing to pay for (in my case: professional keynotes), but you’re still building up your brand, you can temporarily offer your work for free. Free is OK when the outcome for you is a reputation and a network. It’s just another form of scaling.
But as long as you’re still figuring out what your product or service should be doing, it makes little sense to offer your work for free. You need to learn a.s.a.p. if anyone will want to pay! The only way to find out is to ask for feedback and payment. Postponing your riskiest assumption would be stupid.
(photo credit: © 2013 Anna Fox, Creative Commons 2.0)
December 13, 2017
I am an agile coach. My work-life is quite a challenge. Please give me something that will help with these problems:
As an agile coach…
I want easy-to-find improvement ideas for agile teams that will match their context, regarding culture, industry, language, maturity, team roles, and ways of working, so that I don’t have to wade through hundreds of context-free search results.
I want a simple way to discuss my agile-related experiences with other coaches, without having to write long blog posts or join noisy LinkedIn and Slack groups, which all costs me far too much time.
I want to be able to coach teams remotely and understand what they are doing from a distance, so that I can work with multiple teams concurrently without destroying the quality of my work.
I want to scale up my value so that my contributions are not dependent on just my face-to-face availability and so that I can offer additional services as an author, speaker, and consultant.
I want ideas on how to manage the organizational transformation to upper management levels, so that the agile movement doesn’t get blocked or sabotaged by those who care more about other things.
I want to show my stakeholders that I’m a valuable team member and a valued contributor to the organization, who can provide evidence of the progress of organizational transformation.
I want the behavioral changes that I have suggested to stick, so that the agile teams that I have coached keep moving forward, even when I’m not around anymore to help them.
I want a simpler way to develop my skills and experience and to get better and better every week, for personal satisfaction, career development, and having an impact on organizations.
Dear Santa, please help me with these simple requests before Christmas so that I will be a happier person in 2018.
An agile coach.
p.s. No need to solve it all at the same time.
Dear agile coach,
I have read your list of requests with great interest.
For now, the best I can do is to give you access to the Mind Settlers app, created by the Agility Scales team. Sorry, it will not solve all your problems before 2018, but it’s a small step in the right direction.
p.s. You think your work-life as an agile coach is hard? Be glad you’re not a middle manager. At least, you have a great future ahead of you!
(photo credit: © 2016 PokemonaDeChroma, Creative Commons 2.0)
December 6, 2017
Being more agile as a startup founder means funding iteratively and trying alternatives without making irreversible commitments.
Our startup team received some interesting questions during a recent product roadmap preview for early users:
How far will the current round of crowdfunding take you?
Will you start a new round of funding right after this one?
Doesn’t the team pay a mental price for their continuous work on funding?
Great questions! It’s nice to see people caring about us.
November 28, 2017
Adventures are best when people want to experience them with you. When you change too much, you may loose everyone who matters.
I started Happy Melly, with several of my friends, because I wanted to break completely with traditional organizational structures. I hoped to create a business as an experimental playground that could inspire many people. We tried many things and I learned more than ever:
Persuading independent companies to work under one name doesn’t work.
Paying all team members the same can work but it doesn’t scale.
Allowing all workers to reward each other with bonuses works quite well.
Voluntary financial contributions for a central service doesn’t work.
Getting a group of freelancers to work as a team works like a charm.
Note: your mileage may vary but these were my experiences in my context.
What I also learned is that, without constraints, it’s easy to change too much. When everything you do is an experiment, there is nothing that looks familiar to others. During my keynotes, I can easily inspire people with the “crazy” processes and structures that have become “normal” for our Happy Melly team members. But no organization will adopt our ideas because our business is just too weird.
Happy Melly is like a circus act at a lawyer’s convention. Fascinating, but not to be copied (for most)!
I’ve decided to be a little less “weird” with my new company Agility Scales. I don’t want to be so experimental and unconventional that investors and customers will hesitate to work with us. Too much of anything is no good for you.
We will have a familiar organizational structure, with a Board of Directors and an executive team, although the selection process could still be innovative. We will sign common employment contracts with our people, but the agreements will be as modern as we dare to make them. And the company will be financed in a traditional way, but we use the newest approaches and technologies for the funding campaigns.
Agility Scales will look normal and familiar while still innovating on the details.
If Happy Melly is the experimental nothing-is-too-weird adventurer, Agility Scales is her more conventional, more down-to-earth, but still forward-thinking younger sibling.
Adventures are best when people want to experience them with you. This requires businesses in different contexts to operate at different rates of change. When you change too much, you may loose everyone who matters.
(photo credit: 2009 super awesome, Creative Commons 2.0)
November 24, 2017
Let’s agree on something first.
It’s bad when companies expect people to fill out forms that add only bureaucracy and no value. It’s bad when developers use development tools that create more problems than they solve. It’s bad when project managers expect teams to march by the drum of a rigid project plan.
For these and many other reasons, the 17 visionaries who wrote the Agile Manifesto wanted to emphasize that, ultimately, value is delivered by people, not by tools.
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
— Agile Manifesto
However, some members of the agile community seem to take this well-written reminder to an absurd extreme by looking down upon almost any kind of tool. “You use software for that? Oh my Gawd!” (accompanied by rolling eyes) “We don’t work with tools here; we work with people.” (written on a sticky note)
Well, forgive me. But I like tools. (Oh, and sticky notes are tools as well.)
I like Waze because it makes me feel less stressed about traffic. And less stress means more happiness.
I like Spotify because it allows me to (re)discover tons of music. And playing that music helps me enjoy my work days.
I like Dinner Spinner because it allows me to cook better evening meals. And I enjoy the compliments I get from friends.
Humans are toolmakers. Tools are, among some other things, what sets us apart from other animals.
We assume that a large brain, the use of tools, superior learning abilities and complex social structures are huge advantages. It seems self-evident that these have made humankind the most powerful animal on earth.
— Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari
Tools can help us be happier people and enjoy better work-lives. Creating and using tools can make us feel more human. Sure, we should not forget that bad usage of tools can make us feel less human. But I believe this is the exception, not the rule. Let’s not pretend that all usage of tools is intrinsically suspicious.
My team, Agility Scales, is building a tool called Mind Settlers. We want it to be the Waze of work, the Spotify of practices, or the Dinner Spinner of agile guides. In any case, we want this tool to help people enjoy better work-lives, and help companies to achieve business agility. That’s a big but worthy goal. (Check it out here.)
Let’s celebrate tools and our talent to use them well. Because individuals can have better interactions thanks to processes and tools.
(photo credit: bark, Creative Commons 2.0)
This blog post was created and delivered with the following tools: Evernote, Samsung Galaxy Tab, WordPress, GoDaddy, Mind Settlers, Windows Surface Book, …
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November 17, 2017
Few people are incentivized to speed up change, continuous learning is rarely validated, and the feedback cycles between authors and users are long and slow, or absent.
Companies are scared and confused. They need to adapt faster. Evolve faster. Innovate faster! But how?
In the global agile community, we see three main categories of helpful services.
Coaches and Consultants
Thousands of experts make a good living offering advice to companies. The problem is that they usually get paid by the hour. The longer they can stretch a profitable business relationship, the better. And long client engagements are often necessary because the consultants don’t make the decisions. Actual organizational changes must be made by managers and employees. And they are usually reluctant to do what is needed for fear of uncertainty. In other words, nobody is incentivized to speed up the pace of change.
Training and Certificates
With the best intentions, many training organizations offer one-day or two-day workshops to organizations, teaching their employees how to drive organizational change. Legions of employees have been sent to all kinds of classes to learn how to be lean and agile. The problem is that most training is focused on knowledge transfer. This is exemplified by the fact that many certificate schemes mostly just verify that people have the correct knowledge in their heads. In other words, continuous learning and improvement are not validated.
Books and Conferences
I do my best as a writer of books and as a speaker at events. And it makes me happy whenever people tell me that they’ve experimented with an idea or two at their companies. But I get paid for the number of books that I sell and the number of events where I’m hired to be inspirational (and controversial). Whether my suggestions actually work, for the companies that are paying me to hear them, remains untested. In other words, there is no feedback cycle between the creators and users of ideas.
Let’s Divide the Work
I’m not saying that there is no value in coaching, training, or books and events. On the contrary! With Management 3.0, I believe I made a fine contribution to the agile community worldwide. But I can just look around me to see that progress is slow. The results are certainly not earth shattering!
Maybe organizations don’t change because our approaches don’t evolve?
Services such as consultancy, certification, and conferences are based on business models that have been around for decades. In 50 years of business improvements, few people were incentivized to speed up change, continuous learning was rarely validated, and the feedback cycles between authors and users are long and slow, or absent.
When methods are not as effective as we had hoped, should we improve them? Or should we try something else? I say we do both: Improve what is working and also try something else.
You know what? Let’s divide the work and join the outcomes!
You focus on improving what you’re doing now, and I will focus on something else.
Photo credits: © 2015 Dragan (CC BY 2.0)
The post Consultants, Certificates and Conferences: Let’s Try Something Else appeared first on NOOP.NL.
November 14, 2017
Many attempts at achieving business agility are misguided and fake. But I consider the glass half full, not half empty. Fake Agile is a signal to do better.
I recently spoke at an internal event of an international bank. The bank managers want to be more agile, and so they gathered hundreds of leaders from several countries and many departments to discuss business agility. I was invited to offer the outsider’s perspective, and the bank’s CEO preceded me by offering a few words of encouragement and support.
Let me first tell you that I’m glad I don’t lead a traditional bank. Imagine the tremendous pressure that bank managers are under: Clients demanding faster services on their smartphones; hackers trying to get into secured banking systems; tech giants such as Google, Apple, and PayPal offering alternative payment systems; FinTech startups building easy solutions without the need to maintain old legacy systems; and now we have the blockchain and cryptocurrencies undermining the whole concept of trusted banking institutions! It’s no wonder that the call for action by the CEO sounded just a little bit desperate to me. Organizations must achieve business agility. It is either agile or death!
There was just one problem.
The speech of the CEO’s was a recorded video. They showed it to the audience on a giant video screen. And it was easy to see, from the movement of his eyes, that the CEO read his “empowering” message from a teleprompter. The call for agile was scripted.
At the end of the 10-minute recording, everyone applauded politely. I have no idea why, because the CEO wasn’t there to hear it. It seemed to me that he had something better to do than discussing the bank’s survival with the employees. I don’t think it was a good example of business agility.
It was fake agile.
I see similar behaviors in many places. Executives ask me how to innovate faster, while seated in private offices on carpeted floors, filled with modern art. Top managers tell employees to do more in less time while adorning themselves with suits, ties, and generous bonuses. And business leaders chat about the self-organization of Scrum teams, during carefully planned five-course dinners, with seat arrangements.
When employees are not led by example and don’t see agility in the behaviors of managers, is it any wonder that the organization is not changing faster?
We need a different approach.
There is a strong desire among top managers for more business agility. That’s great! It’s a start. The problem is that they don’t know how to lead by example. That’s bad. But it’s solvable. I know and understand those managers. They’re not bad people. On the contrary, I find most of them quite enjoyable to work with. They just apply non-agile thinking and practices in their attempts to be more agile. That doesn’t work, of course, but it’s a problem we can address. Fake agile is a treatable disorder.