Advice from Technology Dads on Celebrating Father's Day

Happy Father's Day!

I find fellow tech dad's to have an interesting perspective on raising their children. So with that in mind, here's my advice for Techie Dads on this Father's Day.

  1. Drop the Technology - I'll get this post out, then turn the tech off for the day to spend time with the family and kids. 

  2. Teach your Kids to Code - Not today, but make a commitment to find a tool, an app, or a course to get your kids at least familiar if not down right interested in coding. Have a look at, Kodable, Tynker or posts from ForbesMommyPoppins, or PCMag for inspiration.

  3. Start a blog - This is a recommendation I make to all young fathers. Make it private and get a weekly post up on what you've done with your kids and their latest milestones. It will pay dividends 5-10 years out.

  4. Consider becoming an Agile Family - I posted about becoming an agile family with a scrum board. I confess that we're not doing this in my family, but friends of mine who have tried swear by it.

  5. Learn something together - Instead of playing the latest games or watching the newest movie. Try watching a TED talk for kids together. If you're driving today, try one of these NPR Podcasts for Kids.

  6. Reconsider your privacy settings - On Facebook, Instagram and other social sites.

  7. Setup your Phone's Emergency Settings - Here's a good how to post for iPhone and Android.

Have a great day!

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Will Microsoft and LinkedIn Deliver on the Promise of Social CRM

If you were an early adopter on LinkedIn, you probably got an invite from a colleague that wanted you to "join their network" without any significant justification as to what services that network provided. Early adopters like myself joined and allowed LinkedIn to access our email contacts so that they could help us grow our network.

I followed these steps about 10 years ago and didn't find value until about a year later when my laptop crashed and I lost my Microsoft Outlook contacts. How old was my last backup? Embarrassingly, too old but lucky for me, I had just integrated all my contacts on LinkedIn. From that day forward, Microsoft Outlook, Exchange, and other tools became irrelevant to manage contact as they were now always available on LinkedIn's cloud. So long as I trusted LinkedIn with my data, I didn't have to worry about backups, moving contact lists when I changed jobs, or updating information when my contacts made career moves. 

The Impact of Social Platforms on CRM

At the time, I always thought that LinkedIn would evolve to disrupt Outlook and Exchange at least for my outwardly facing messaging needs. Would Exchange be disrupted? Would Social CRM mature faster with LinkedIn and other social platforms?

The answer to date has largely been somewhat no. Many organizations enrich their contact information with data from LinkedIn and other providers. Some filter social interactions aggregated from Facebook, Twitter and other platforms into social queues in their CRM. Many stage social interactions through CRM managed workflows to capture new leads and automate marketing activities. There's a lot of social capabilities, but social platforms today are largely inputs and outputs to CRM workflows and capabilities.

Has there been a fundamental disruption to CRM or customer engagement through these platforms? It depends on the digital maturity of the industry that you operate in, but for many businesses these tools and capabilities have been largely additive, not disruptive.

Can Microsoft Disrupt CRM With LinkedIn's Data and Collaboration Capabilities?

It's interesting to guess where the Microsoft and LinkedIn marriage will go - 

  • Imagine if enterprises no longer created contacts and leads from scratch or from lists. One started developing a target customer segment by querying the LinkedIn databases.
  • What if my knowledge of a Prospect was first based on the interactions that LinkedIn gathered through its capabilities (what news I read, what groups I participate in) and then supplemented by private activities performed in CRM?
  • Will CRM adoption improve if Dynamics was driven off the UX and design paradigms developed for a consumer site like LinkedIn rather than the data driven experience it and other CRM platforms have today?  
  • What if the LinkedIn profile I see is a mashup of LinkedIn's public data with my CRM data?
  • What happens when Cortana is integrated with LinkedIn and I can ask questions likes, "Are there any of my key prospects attending today's event?"
  • What will Salesforce, Oracle, and other CRM solutions do to counter Microsoft + LinkedIn?

Interesting times...

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5 Key Lessons for New Agile Product Owners

At some point, organizations that want to scale to more agile development programs or take on wider scoped digital transformation efforts need to consider how best to cultivate Product Owners.

Scaling additional development teams is a lot easier. Once an organization has a defined agile practice, a defined set of technology platforms, and a documented development standard then scaling development requires finding additional technologists, reshuffling teams so that new ones have a mix of both new and tested team members, and identifying aspects of the practice that need to scale.

But adding product owners isn't as easy. Organizations have a choice of looking outside for people that have the skill set and experience but need to learn the business, customers, and product landscape, or, identifying existing employees that know the business but need to learn the art and skill of product ownership. The latter option is far harder to do than leaders understand especially those that equate product ownership with project management.

What New Agile Product Owners Need To Learn

Product ownership is a blend of several disciplines and skills, but what I focus on below are the key changes when product owners are groomed from within the organization.

  • Listening to customer and stakeholder feedback but owning decisions - Early product owners fall into a couple of traps.

    The first trap is when they do a good job of listening to customers and stakeholders, but then try to give everyone what they want. Product Owners in this camp fail to recognize that they are working with finite budget, time, and skill and their role is to digest the input then communicate a set of priorities, strategies and requirements. These product owners need to communicate the rationale behind these decisions and accept the fact that they aren't going to make every one of their stakeholders equally happy. Their job isn't to make people happy but to make decisions that drive customer adoption and growth.

    The second trap is when the product owners fall in love with their vision to the extent that they fail to listen to stakeholders including the technologists that they need to partner with on solutions. Product owners need to constantly reshape their vision and priorities based on feedback and those that don't listen may fail to adopt. Second, product owners need to share and communicate their vision repetitively and gain buy in over time, otherwise, stakeholders will communicate their objectives, often loudly and forcibly and probably late in the development process when changes or pivots are more costly. Lastly, product owners need to shape their vision based at least partially based on the organization's capabilities so they need to be presenting problems to their team and learning from their team feasible solutions.

  • Participating in Team Commitment is Key to Agile Success - New agile product owners often fail to fully understand the importance of getting a team's commitment and learning to manage to their velocity. Even when teams estimate and forecast a schedule, getting the team to formally commit insures that they have a shared understanding of the prioritized stories and have a plan to address them in the allotted time. Without commitment, new product owners may find their teams falling behind schedule, completing stories with quality issues, introducing unnecessary technical debt, or unhappy - all issues if the organization is going to maintain a culture and practice of excellence. 

  • Adopting the Team's Agile Tools and Practices - Because many organization equated product ownership with project management, they tend to promote individuals with management skills into this role. Many will make the mistake of trying to manage the team through tools that have worked for them in the past and try to force agile project schedules into other tools like MS Project, spreadsheets, PowerPoints, etc. It's a huge waste of effort duplicating this information, it leads to inaccuracies, and it will likely frustrate the team when their product owner isn't collaborating with them with tools and practices selected. Product owners need to start their role by learning and using the selected practices and tools. If anything, they should drive the team to adopt my recommended best practices in configuring agile tools.

  • Driving Data Driven Decisions - The best way agile product owners can get both stakeholders and agile team members on board with their priorities is to demonstrate that there is data backing their decisions. "What does the data tell you?" is the first question I ask product owners when reviewing their vision or priorities. If the answer is that we have limited data, then my follow up is, "Where in your backlog have you prioritized data collection priorities?" 

  • Leveraging Estimations To Shape Vision, Priorities, and Solutions - Understanding that estimation is not a contract. I have written several posts on agile estimation as a key tool to form a dialogue around solutions, to drive a discussion on MVP, and to help teams plan releases. Agile product owners have to use estimation as feedback to make decision, but some fall into the trap of using estimates to manage their teams to fixed timeline, fixed scope releases. Sometimes it works, but when estimates are done early in the process or performed by less mature teams they will have degrees of inaccuracies. Agile product owners that "box in" their teams to fixed schedules and deliverables will lose their ability to adjust priorities or worse, they may degrade the culture that drives both execution and innovation.

Lastly, what steps are they taking on to learn their craft? I encourage agile product owners to adopt some self reflection. Are they adopting any of the 20 bad behaviors of agile product owners? Are they listening to their team's and prioritizing some work to address technical debt?

Better yet, are they learning some of the practices of strong agile product owners?

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Agile, Citizen Development, Innovation, IoT are Keys to Digital Transformation - MIT CIO

A couple of weeks ago I attended MIT's CIO symposium that focused on Digital. Let me share with you some of my key learnings

  • Agile is foundational to transformational efforts. Where CIO have had success is bringing customer experiences to the developer to help shape priorities, designs, and solutions. Agile was mentioned by most of the CIO on various panels throughout the day.My view - You need to work on getting the C-Suite truly on board with agile transformation.

  • The workplace of the future was by far my favorite panel of the day bringing several different perspectives on empowering and extending the workforce with digital capabilities. "The workplace of the future is driven by self-selection - someone having the skills stepping to solution," was Allison Mnookin's, CEO of citizen development platform Quickbase, explained. Mike Morris of crowd sourcing platform TopCoder view is that "A workplace is a perk" and that "Organizations need to find the best person in the world that can help solution." So either bring new digital tools to your workforce and let them step up to solution, or bring the best skills from the outside to solution for you. This panel asked and answered a difficult question, "Are you paying for effort or rewarding for results?" More on Citizen Development

  • Corner off innovation budgets is a key step CIO are taking and acknowledging as a best practice to ensure that innovation driven experimentation can occur outside of slower financial and governance practices.They agree that portfolio and ideation tools are useful to promote the best ideas, assign to the most capable teams, and provide them sponsorship to enable experimentation and learning from accepted failures. My view on calculating ROI too early in Digital Transformation.

  • Is IoT a platform? Not yet, said a panel of experts including George Collins (CTO, Deloitte Digital), and MIT Professor Sanjay Sarma. "IoT is a series of capabilities, for it to become a platform it needs focused standards that develop an ecosystem. Tipping point for IoT becoming a platform given is when there is semantics and syntax for coordinating between things." Basically, that means that the protocols that have been developed are proprietary and primitive - my analogy the TCP/IP of IoT - and that the industry will need easier to use, interoperable, and semantic protocols - for it to scale to wider use, My view - AI will be key to scaling IoT.

Other posts about MIT CIO 2016

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Challenging Sacred Cows that Inhibit Successful Transformation

When newspapers saw their classified revenue erode when new competitors like EBay, Craigslist, and challenged them.

When the music industry was first confronted by Napster music downloads and tried to hold on to their CD revenue streams.

 When Garmin realized that revenue from their auto GPS devices would never return as mapping apps on smartphones became mainstream.

These are huge disruptions that not only affected individual businesses that relied on these revenues, it transformed entire industries.

What are Your Organization's Sacred Cows?

Disruptions like the ones I just described happen fast, but they are not overnight transformations. Having been a part of several transformations, I can tell you the battle is not fought yearly or quarterly. It's a daily battle on the organization's values, product's fundamentals, and the "way we do things." Here are some examples

  • How much editorial control should magazine editors have of their home page versus allowing an algorithm to decide what content to prioritize?
  • Should you spend two months of redeveloping an advanced search capability that less than 5% of your customers utilize, or should you try  discontinuing or simplifying the capability?
  • Should you keep that legacy system running three more months because several VIPs have refused to migrate according to schedule?
  • Does every article require a custom design and layout, or can you target 30% of the articles to fit into one of 2-3 standard templates?
  • In your BI dashboard, should you try to make every dimension searchable and sortable to support different user needs even if the added complexity adds development time, testing complexity, or performance degradation?

I've seen these examples and many others. Often the time spent debating or arguing the importance of preserving something from the past outweighs any of potential benefits?

Why the Sacred Cows Inhibit Transformation

A sacred cow is "an individual, organization, institution, etc., considered to be exempt from criticism or questioning." By definition, when we are trying to transform we have to be able to question everything, challenge assumptions, bring in new data and facts, and develop new innovative thinking. If individuals hold on to the past or inhibit the discussion on what really is important for the future versus what worked in the past, then transformation may not be possible. You may transition and improve, but a transformation requires determining whether something implemented in the past is still required, in what form and with what priority.

This discussion, if and when it happens, is likely to get heated. Doug Moran states it well in his post Don't Mistake Cooperation for Collaboration

In reality, cooperation can be one of the greatest obstacles to collaboration. For collaboration to occur, there needs to be conflict. Great collaboration can get heated. To an outsider, it sometimes resembles hostility or anger, but when we look more closely it is neither. Without collaboration, our ability to create transformative change is limited. 

Should You Burn the Ships?

In most scenarios, this may not be advisable and forcing changes on people may not yield the desired results. But sometimes it is a necessary tool. Change agents have to learn when to use it and how to apply to truly get team members motivated.

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Getting the C-Suite on Board with Agile Transformation

HBR is proving they understand Digital Innovation with two recent posts, one on Embracing Agile co-written by Jeff Sutherland one of the Agile Manifesto's signers and the other, You Don't Have to Be a Software Company to Think Like One.

Anyone who has led an agile transformation in their organization knows that getting people, teams, departments, and organizations on board takes time and energy. It often starts with the agile leader's own group, often the technology department if the transformation is led by the CTO or CIO, but sometimes by the product management team that has been chartered to innovate new products. Agile leaders start with practice issues to get their team executing but then often face larger cultural issues ones when they extend the practice beyond their own teams.

Bringing Agile Principles to the C-Suite

The C-Suite is often the last on board with agile. Some may be hands off with underlying business processes and elect to observe from the stadium seats while others compartmentalize agile leaving their own organization walled off from its changes or impacts. Confronted with these challenges, here's one reason agile leaders can use to explain why agile is key to transformation and growth

Recognize [there is] a fundamental shift in the sources of value creation and competitive advantage toward software. Companies face major risks if they fail to recognize this new platform-driven context and the different economic rules that govern it.

Your business may not drive revenue from creating or selling software, but all businesses can develop strategic advantages by how it leverages software to reach customers, data to drive decision making, and algorithms to deliver new value or efficiencies. Your leaders need to understand the digital transformation urgency and also what happens to businesses that lag behind digital competitors.
But here is one underlying problem

When we ask executives what they know about agile, the response is usually an uneasy smile and a quip such as “Just enough to be dangerous.”

How can this be? Is this good enough? Executives read P/Ls, sales plans and operational reports, but they can get away with only rudimentary knowledge of underlying processes that drive digital transformation, product innovation, process improvement? What's worse is when they do get involved, they fall back to command and control tactics

These executives launch countless initiatives with urgent deadlines rather than assign the highest priority to two or three. They talk more than listen. They promote marginal ideas that a team has previously considered and back-burnered. They routinely overturn team decisions and add review layers and controls to ensure that mistakes aren’t repeated. With the best of intentions, they erode the benefits that agile innovation can deliver.

Develop a C-Suite Agile Program

The two articles go on to give sound advice about why businesses need technology innovation to be more competitive and how leaders can be supporters of agile practices. My top three -

  • Codify proprietary know how and use digital platforms to scale and monetize your offerings.
  • Learn How Agile Really Works
  • Destroy the Barriers to Agile Behaviors

And then remind your executives -

Innovation is what agile is all about.  Companies that create an environment in which agile flourishes find that teams can churn out innovations faster

Further Reading on Agile and Digital Transformation

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Is Leadership Ready to Handle a Shark Attack?

CIO and IT leaders should be able to relate to this video. Watch the first few minutes to see Mick Fanning waiting to catch a wave when suddenly he is attacked by a shark. You can see him scramble a bit then fend him off before a boat comes to his rescue.

Now for those of us in IT, there are some great lessons to share with your business leaders on handling a real life crisis from this video.

  • The announcer shows no real sign of panic. Yes, he utters a cuss word when he realizes what's going on but he regains his composure and shows no panic or stress in his reporting despite the fact this has rarely (if ever) happened before.

  • There are clear operational procedures for this type of crisis and within minutes, you can see two boats zooming in to help with the rescue.

  • There are also safety and communication procedures outlined on what to do and the commissioner of the event is bound to follow them. 

  • The shark gets away which unfortunately is more often to happen in the corporate setting when a business leader goes on the attack.

Unfortunately, I think many CIO can reflect on this situation. Does your leadership team panic at the first sign of a major issue or crisis? Are you well prepared to handle the crisis with clearly defined operational procedures? Are you ready to handle communications during and after the crisis? If the issue is internal, do you have a culture that deals with individuals that are the source of the crisis?

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