Tag: leadership

Escape the Build Trap? Yes. Silver bullet? No.

mt-successfulIMAGE: Modern Toss

In “Escaping the Build Trap”, Melissa Perry presents a lively and cogent argument for a structured approach to building (digital) products, in order to deliver sustainable value for businesses and their customers.

That sentence only describes some of what Ms Perry explains in her relatively short and eminently easy-to-read book.

Continue reading “Escape the Build Trap? Yes. Silver bullet? No.”

Mirror, signal, manoeuvre: what I’ve learned from working in a remote team

I’ve spent the last 9 months working in a team with people from as near and as far as Darlington, Portishead, Nottingham, Sheffield, Bordeaux and Bangalore.

In the last few months, we’ve added 4 new people from Porto, adding some more non-native English speakers to the party.

Standup meetings and Slack have become good fun as we’ve got to know each other, but some of the pitfalls I expected from remote working have surprised me.

The remote working ideal swaps a long commute for improved productivity and more time to see your family (and do household chores). That has certainly been the case for me. But much like starting in any new team I’ve found myself putting in extra effort to fill in the gap that an ‘in real life’ presence – with all of its nuance and non-verbal cues – leaves behind.

Where I’m working, the approach to making software is vaguely agile, so there’s no shortage of team communication. Nevertheless when a remote team is learning to work with each other, there’s no opportunity to just get everyone in a room and “whiteboard it out”.

Regular voice and video calls provide a useful yet limited simulacrum of a team workshop environment. But there’s nothing like putting your own post-it note just in the right place on the wall yourself, then stepping back to see it in context.

RealTimeBoard (now mysteriously rebranded as Miro) has worked as a decent replacement for visualising ideas and doing team reviews, but I’d rather have a research wall in the office everyone could see on their way to and from their desks. I think the real life version embeds deeper in the sub-conscious where all the best ideas come from.

Tackling larger challenges together is more or less impossible. I’ve found I’ve had to hand off work more frequently than when working in one office, rather than working through it together. Handoffs are also more brutal because the shared space to share, and discuss, and bounce off ideas is not as rich, and the feedback less flowing than when I’ve worked in the same room as the rest of the team.

I’ve put a lot more effort into typing things up after conversations have been had, explaining the rationale behind the work and making things readable and easy to understand. In short, I’ve produced quite a bit more ‘short term’ documentation, just to communicate direction, rationale and status, and ensure people are informed and consulted as we move through design and development.

I’ve also been doing my best to stop myself from starting on new pieces of work or tackling things in new ways until I’ve made sure at least some of the team knows what I’m doing. I’m a self-motivated sort so this has been the hardest – to make sure you’re bringing the team with you (and with their blessing) when you feel the need to act immediately.

None of that is in itself bad. It’s a trade off for what for me is a 2 x 2-hour commute every day. And I think the extra work is helping the ‘lay people’ the team is dealing with – people who have limited previous experience building software  – understand the effort and thinking that goes into making a quality product.

An old client had a modus operandi for working in a bigger company. He said: “Always remember: mirror, signal,  then manoeuvre”. That way people understand your intentions rather than striking out (in vain) on your own.

I think that’s also a good motto for trying to build a remote team.

Turning management upside down

“Industrial age” management – that which has been in place since the Industrial Revolution – models all kinds of work endeavours as factories. Managers must set direction, define processes and achieve consistency of outcome. Staff must demonstrate competency and deliver what they are told to deliver, otherwise they will be “performance managed”.

In contrast, leading proponents of new styles of management are arguing for ‘autonomy over automatons’. This is particularly prescient in a time when many are predicting that robots and artificial intelligence technologies will take jobs away from humans.

In his recent post, Simon Terry argues that the new role of the manager is not to reduce variation in the work and increase consistency, it is quite the opposite.

“Too many managers can be replaced with robots because of the predictable nature of the algorithm at the heart of their work.  Worse, those who suppress variation in their teams will be left behind in the disruptive economies ahead.”

Read on for more…

Why so many modern IT programmes feel like fighting World War 1

On this historic day – one hundred years since the Battle of the Somme – this article by Richard Moir at Vanguard Consulting eloquently describes why modern management practices have so many similarities with World War 1.

“The common response to projects showing signs of failing has been to increase oversight by committees, boards and sponsors through increased emphasis on reporting in order to regain control.


Efforts to reduce bureaucracy and simplify project delivery are laudable and on the face of it very plausible, however in themselves they are unlikely to provide a sustainable change in project delivery performance.

The various artefacts and control mechanisms that may be the target of simplification efforts will not have appeared in organisations by chance or as a result of any physical laws of nature.  They will have been introduced by somebody at some point in time to satisfy an assumed, but often unstated and misunderstood, need such as maintaining control of activity through compliance.”

I couldn’t agree more. The real battle, however, is persuading those who instigate these processes and controls that they are ineffective. Because doing that questions the  value they believe they bring to the organisation. Tread carefully and carry a big stick.

They’re not employees, they’re people

“Executives will have to learn what the effective department head of a university or the successful conductor of the symphony orchestra have long known: The key to greatness is to look for people’s potential and spend time developing it.

To build an outstanding university department requires spending time with the promising young postdocs and assistant professors until they excel in their work.

To build a world-class orchestra requires rehearsing the same passage in the symphony again and again until the first clarinet plays it the way the conductor hears it. […]

Similarly, leaders in knowledge-based businesses must spend time with promising professionals. Get to know them and be known by them; mentor them and listen to them; challenge them and encourage them.”

– Peter F. Drucker in the Harvard Business Review 2002


Customer Experience and the organisational value chain – what every UX Designer needs to know

When you design a website for a company, you are just a cog in the overall machinery of a business. This machinery is what I’ve been trying to get my head around of late, as the opportunities for ‘digital’ driving customer experience improvements start to impact on all customer-facing areas of the organisation. I’ve rationalised my thinking into my understanding of the Customer Experience Value Chain.


Being part of the team who designs a company’s website, you are likely to be working for the marketing group within the business. This puts you right in the middle of two competing areas of value for the organisation – moving down the chain to drive short term revenues from Sales, and moving up the chain to the long term strategy focus of brand and business model. As a web designer, it’s likely you can’t have any influence on what product or service the organisation is selling. But you can ‘position’ that product or service in a way that makes it more attractive to people – by leveraging the brand (which is usually already defined for you).

You can make the sales process slicker and remove the obstacles to conversion. You can help customers self-serve their support requirements and give them more transparent access to the Customer Service team.

But still, you’re still just a pawn in the organisation’s game. This is no excuse though. Being unmotivated and doing a bad job won’t give you greater influence.

To have more influence you need to move up the value chain. By reaching beyond the traditional Marketing sphere and focussing on the Experience, you can take a holistic view of all of the interactions and touchpoints your customers have with your company. You can look to optimise those interactions and have a positive impact on customer perceptions of the Brand.

This, in my view, should be what Marketing is tasked with delivering, but in my experience too often Marketing is too closely linked with more commercial functions like Product or Sales, which diminishes its impact and value.

Being involved in defining a brand is possibly the holy grail of marketing. In an ideal world Brand drives internal culture which in turn drives the ways in which the company’s staff behave when dealing with customers and how the company listens and communicates. No self-respecting UXer would deny that Brand is a key input to defining Experience.

But possibly an even more influential role in defining and supporting the experience is Organisation Design. Management consultants and UX people the world over are often heard bemoaning how the siloed nature of our traditional ‘factory-minded’ company structures effectively prevent the collaboration and innovation required to deliver great customer experiences.

It’s a CEO’s role to shape the organisation’s reason to exist, how staff are organised and how departments work with each other to produce the outputs required to deliver profitable growth. Business Model and Organisation Design go hand in hand.

What to take from all of this? Building great customer experiences starts with the Business Model. Asking the CEO “what business do you think we’re in?” may lead to some interesting conversations. So I think UX people need to think bigger – don’t moan about the organisational design or the business your company is in. Go and find out from the CEO how you can start having an influence higher up the Customer Experience Value Chain.

14 Points for Management – by W. Edwards Deming

The 14 points

  1. Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.
  2. Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.
  3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.
  4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.
  5. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.
  6. Institute training on the job.
  7. Institute leadership (see Point 12). The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers.
  8. Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.
  9. Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service.
  10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.
    • Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership.
    • Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.
  11. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.
  12. Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective.
  13. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.
  14. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.

A blast from the 1980s from W. Edwards Deming. The next step on from UX thinking, system thinking is blowing my mind!

Marketing as a change agent (pt 3)

In the previous two posts in this series, I proposed that:

  • While it should rest with them, Marketing people are rarely effective at driving customer-driven change within their organisations.


  • Marketing people are often too busy arguing with Finance people justifying budgets and whatnot to get on with it.

The time has come for me not just to have a good old-fashioned rant, but to propose a solution. Or a way forward, at least.

Continue reading “Marketing as a change agent (pt 3)”