Sunday, December 15, 2013

Lean Start Up versus Entrepreneurial Spirit

Something has been bothering me for a while about the Lean Start-up revolution that seems to be happening. It's not so much about Lean Start-up but of some of the interpretations I have been hearing from peers.

My inquisitive nature and desire to constantly learn keeps me asking more.

The intent of this post is not to disparage a movement that clearly has business value and at a minimum asks people to be responsible for their decisions and not to over-create before receiving feedback.  

Actually, my goal is to support that movement as a good approach to initial product development by asking some experts in the field to openly consider the effects on Entrepreneur Spirit. This open dialogue to me can only add credibility.

One part of Lean Start-up that I have been hearing regularly is that you are "trying" something out before investing too much money into it.  This is a natural evolution of some of the concepts we work toward on a regular basis. For instance, the idea of "not following a plan" from the Agile Manifesto, or the experience of a constant feedback loop.

Some people have been telling me that a sort of "market trial" is done to see how people will react, and if the response isn't good, the start-up is stopped as being unmarketable and then terminated.

This has been a new "change" I've heard as an evolution from something that used to be about receiving early feedback and making appropriate adjustments. I used to hear about "delivering what people want".  That has recently changed in tone to "killing something before it starts".

Please consider that it might not always be the right thing to do to simply kill an idea because of initial feedback. I am "nervous" about the notion of allowing initial "market" feedback to negatively effect Entrepreneurial Spirit.

From what I have read and from peers I have spoken with, it is more about creating as little as possible to get initial feedback to decide what to do next. Awesome! 

I know that Lean Start-up is so much more, but just as in the Agile movement, there are "versions", I am concerned about an ongoing interpretation of using it to "determine start-up viability".

I think if this was the only approach in our history, we would not have many things that exist today;

Penicillin, the telephone, and the airplane are ideas that immediately come to mind. The way some people are approaching Lean Start-up as a "kill a product after feedback", these inventions would have never continued into reality.

I wonder, with this interpretation, would we have stopped making progress as a society? Imagine if this approach was used for Galileo or DaVinci's ideas?

As much as I appreciate the concept of non-waste, I am concerned that people will "blindly" follow a framework that (from some recent explanations I have received) appears to discourage risk-taking at the onset.

I believe that entrepreneurial vision should not be ignored.  Many entrepreneurs are willing to lose it all for their dreams and to give them a go.  
Please, do not try to take the entrepreneurial mindset from our society! 

If an entrepreneur did not have the willingness to risk it all "on a hunch or belief", that same entrepreneur would have a hard time helping other people to share their passion. This blind ambition and drive are an important part of life.  Without that drive and only "facts", it would be hard for an Entrepreneur to be willing to risk as much as they do.

Perhaps, instead of trying to avoid the risk of failure, we should focus on making it safer for this type of person to take risks. This is after all part of the philosophy of embracing agility. We value failure and learn from it. Actually, we encourage it to some extent.

I learned a long time ago that "fear of loss" is one of the greatest anti-motivators to innovation. 

Needing to test all your hypothesis first and ignoring your vision to what seems to be sort of a "group think" exercise.  People who blindly follow this idea will be left short of true innovation. I do not believe this is the intent of Lean Start-up.

I would be sad to find that no one ever risks anything anymore as we move forward. Instead of removing all risk, let's focus on helping people to work together to share in the risk or make it less painful for those that have risked and lost. I admire the person who is willing to lose everything for their dream.

Shared failures are important to life and evolution.  

I have done things that I know a Lean Start-up only approach to my ideas would have told me would never work. I know this for sure! Against all odds (and advice), I have been fortunate to have lived in a massive house in the country contrary to what I was told by initial market suggested would happen. I have also lived in my car for the same reason.

Ask yourself...

"Do I know anything in the market today 
that others would have said will never sell?".

Although I find the concept of Minimal Viable Product to be paramount to removal of waste and absolutely value the prospect of early and constant feedback, I have a personal problem with using the initial feedback to totally kill an idea. 

Please, let's not turn this truly awesome idea (and the intent of Lean-Start-up ) into something that kills creativity and innovation by accident.

I personally couldn't live with myself if I never failed at anything. It keeps me alive and improving. 

Also, there is the inevitable reality that an entrepreneur will likely just ignore us all anyways and do what they think it best in light of the information that's out there.  The reality is that this might all be moot anyway :->

Let entrepreneurs be entrepreneurs! We need them....

Especially the ones that are willing to fail no matter what others tell them!

Mike Caspar
Passionate About Agile

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Project Manager as a Team member in a matrixed Enterprise Organization

The following idea is based on experience in several non-perfect matrix environments where the concept of complete organizational change could take many years (or never happen).

Does this mean we should simply give into the environment or should work with the existing culture and environment?

I am not recommending any changes to the way Scrum (or your Framework of choice) works, but am opening up an "idea" for people to consider.

I was recently chatting with someone about the role of a Project Manager in an enterprise Scrum roll-out.

Firstly, let me say that having a Project Manager "run" a Scrum Project is something I do not feel comfortable with if the organization is trying to work towards Agility. Let's get that clear right now. That being said, I've helped some organizations (large matrix ones) to introduce Scrum into their environments (including values and principles, not just process) and Scrum has worked out well for them.

I still hear from team members that have yearly votes about continuing with Scrum as part of their internally created process.  They work their own way and continue with Scrum, don't have PMs running their projects, and decide for themselves how they will organize and work. The organization has made sufficient adjustments to allow this to continue.

In Scrum we build a Cross-Functional team of people who can deliver a potentially deliverable working increment.  What if the organizational structure does not support this?

Do we bang our heads against the wall, or worse (in my opinion); just capitulate and change the framework immediately because our jobs as coaches are on the line?

Yes, we are trying to change the way things get done.  However, in an enterprise, this takes time.  What is not often discussed is that the original organization changes slower than the agile teams will.  This will clearly create conflict. 

Remember, this slow organizational change is likely part of the "Why" you are there in the first place. See my post about "Why" here.

The Agile manifesto says "People and interactions over processes and tools".

Well, let me remind everybody....  Project Managers are people too!

They have some very unique personality traits and skills that can benefit their teams (especially in Matrix organizations).

So, let's keep this post simple;

What would happen if a Project Manager was on a team as a Team Member using their unique skills and abilities to maneuver, build relationships in the matrix organization?   The team will have tasks that involve things like "Get marketing to review the content".  It's not really an obstacle for the SM to deal with.

Remember, the Project Manager (in a traditional organization) has the "keys" to be able to visit marketing in the first place.

I have worked with a team having a PO, SM, and simply "Team members".  One of those team members was a "person who was a Traditional Project Manager in their past life" who has the rights and privileges in the organization of a Project Manager.

For some of you, you may say "No, everything has to change".  I say, Yes, ideally, things will change over time. To just say "All project managers must go", is removing a very important skill-set and personality type (I'm not talking about filling out charts) that will be missed in an organization in transition.

To expect the organization to just "click the switch" and have other parts of an enterprise org respect the role of the SM immediately is not likely to work effectively.

In the scenario I describe, the SM, PO and Team all work together (as expected).  In a matrix org though, the PM could be a team member and add REAL VALUE during a transformation.  In the process, the PM would also learn some new skills and ways of thinking which could benefit them, the team and the company in the future.

You could still be following the Scrum framework (it is not specifically defined as to who can be on a Scrum Team, just that they need to be able to deliver an increment and be a self-directed team).

This of course would be transitional, but I may be realistic to expect it to be YEARS in the making as the organization changes to not need the traditional PM role as much and as walls and silos are broken down.

Not realizing there needs to be a half way to me at least seems like you are setting up your transformation to fail right from the start.  Enterprises don't just turn on a dime. This is why they need a way to "transition" to a new way of thinking.

So, consider an experiment; What if you just did Scrum the way it was designed and allowed the Project Manager to take on tasks on behalf of the team as a full-fledged member of the team.  They would not have the ability to assign tasks. They would however be extremely helpful and not feel like an outcast.

As long as you are considering the Agile Manifesto and guide yourselves by Scrum's values, you can't go wrong.  Scrum's values are...
  • Commitment
  • Courage
  • Focus 
  • Openness
  • Respect
As you consider this idea...

Remember, Project Managers are People too!

Mike Caspar


WHY are you trying to work towards Agility post - Link here
Agile Manifesto -
Scrum Values -