Mike Cohn on Team Structure

I read a blog post by Mike Cohn on the Nine Questions to Assess Team Structure.

Some of the takeaways and questions I found relevant are:

  • Organizations often build short-lived project teams that disband at the end of a project. Is there a way to minimize team churn in this environment? Is it is possible to build cross-functional feature teams that can persist over multiple feature deliveries?
  • Sometimes the need for a specific skill is not required for the life of a project. Some expertise is required to deliver IPSec for example, but the individual with this knowledge could work with multiple teams. How do you enable the skills transfer to multiple people so that no one individual has to be involved with more than 1 or 2 teams?
  • Will your team structure minimize communication paths and enable communication between technical experts who would otherwise not communicate together?
  • Does the team structure make accountability clear?

Creating these teams implies the building of redundant skills and overlap. This helps to create teams with no single point of failure–a necessity for business continuity. Doing so may feel inefficient. The value is reduced project risk, smoother flow, better throughput, and happier teams. If you are forced later to move team members between projects, the redundancy you build in gives you added flexibility and agility.

Creating teams is not just about maximizing short-term value for the project. It is about balancing the short-term needs of the business while building in long-term flexibility and resiliency of the teams and their capabilities to support the goals of your business. Don’t think of this as a trade-off. Think of this as an integrative process that gives you the best of both worlds over time.


Collaborative Innovation with Customers

About a year ago I watched a TED talk on collaborative innovation by Charles Leadbeater. I just watched it again. It’s good to be reminded of the roots of great ideas that turn into markets for millions of consumers. Does it pay to collaborate with your customers?

Users define the experience they want. The experience emerges from what appears to be a disorganized band of consumers who work with each other, and with collaborative suppliers to cobble together the experience they want from a product. It starts with dissatisfaction with what is currently on the market, and the desire to scratch that itch. The biggest payoffs in innovation come from ideas with the biggest uncertainty. In large companies, the incentives for these high risk-high return ventures are limited. Companies that want to profit from innovation need to understand that collaboration with Customers is the key to generating the next killer product. This goes to the heart of Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation from the Agile Manifesto. The first iterations of these new product ideas become full-fledged commercial products over time. Leadbeater cites a few examples in his talk including SMS and mountain bikes.

If you work in a large corporation, start asking yourself how you can engage dissatisfied end-users and start a dialogue that leads to collaborative co-design. Traditional large organizations are not set up to work this way. Leadbeater explains why. If your R&D is far-removed from your customers, you’ll struggle to have this experience.

One of the reasons I champion Agile methods in my company is the highly collaborative and interactive experience I have had over the past five years in the Korean market. My Korean customers demand face time, interaction, collaboration, and co-development. What we learned in Korea has helped us build better, more robust wireless telephony networks for our other customers around the world.

Watch the talk, and then ask yourself, where’s my itchy Customer?

Orly Airport Gong Show

I normally fly home out of Roissy (CDG), but on this trip to Paris I flew out of Orly. I arrive with my car at AVIS at Orly Ouest and there is not a soul there to to take it away from me. The “Rapid Retour” is anything but rapid. I end up walking over to the office to find someone to come and take the car. That done, I take the train to Orly Sud and as I am about to board the train to the South terminal, a boy runs off the train with his bag while his mother yells for him to get back on, “Vito! Vito!”, and a bunch more in Italian I couldn’t make out. Vito is eight years old. The boy realizes what he is doing and runs back on the train, rolling his bag over my feet in the process. I get to the South terminal and look for the check-in desk for Corsair. I find it, but then I am told that the flight to Montreal checks in downstairs. Down I go. I wait in line for 30 minutes and with only two groups ahead of me, the kiosk is shut down because the computer is toast. I change lines and wait another 30 minutes. They make me check my luggage. I hate that. I am a died-in-the-wool carry-on only guy having lost and had damaged luggage way too many times.

Having checked in, I go upstairs and look for a place to get a sandwich before going through security, and hear an announcement for someone who forgot their bag and to go to door B to retrieve it. The area is roped off. I go the restaurant to get a sandwich and the guy in front of me is being served. The girls behind the counter handles money and open sandwiches without washing or even using a napkin. A piece of chicken fall out of the baguette and she picks it up with her fingers and pops it in her mouth, serves the rest of the sandwich to the man who is not paying attention, and turns to me. I opt for the chicken wrap that is sealed in a kriptonite-proof vacuum pack and a bottle of sparkling water. 8.50 euros. I go outside and sit to eat at the little cafe-style seating outside the terminal. Nice and sunny, and comparatively quiet after the cacophonous clucking in the terminal. I can finally relax for 10 minutes. Then the police comes by and tells us all to clear out and a cop tapes off this area too. I guess nobody came back for their bag. The tape perimeter is widening… So I head into the terminal and it is now jammed. Jeez, it wasn’t this bad a few minutes ago. I push my way through the crowd and discover that the only access route to secutity and border control is also roped off.

The departures board starts to flash delay after delay. I think I am doomed. Okay, Raj, remember, patience…breathe…

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Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution!

Innovation is about challenging our assumptions. It is about challenging what we take for granted. This talk is about education, but wow! It drives home so many salient points about how to bring out the best in people! Watch this talk and ask yourself how these ideas could be applied to your organization.

Tread softly, you are walking on my dreams!