Archive for the ‘Sensemaking’ Category

Predictable & resilient programs

15 November, 2013

Too many efforts get lost in complexity or frustration.

“I wish we had known before, what we know now; we never would have started this project”

“Why don’t they listen to us?” asked the project manager himself about management

Many programs keep their focus regardless changes in the system around them

We live in a world that is dynamic and always in motion. That’s a fact. So, how can we know today, what will be the challenge of tomorrow? The answer is simple: we do not know, unless…

Starting a program is to achieve some goal that was defined yesterday. How do you manage a program that aims to achieve something that may or may not be changed while you do your utmost best to get there? How can you early recognize a changing goal that you targeted?

Organizations need to be able to apply a kind of rocket that is guided to it’s moving target by means of laser. Listen2Change offers this management guidance. We provide the laser beam that the decision maker transfers into an adjusted focus, based on new knowledge of the target and the system.

A program in a system influences the system and is impacted by unpredictable agents in that system and events outside that system.

We visualize the influences and resulting changes on regular basis (daily, weekly, ..). It enables weak signal detection to identify risks or opportunities.

For this we use short anecdotes from all stakeholders in the system. Each anacdote-teller adds predefined ‘tags’ or signifying data to their anecdote. The signification provides navigation through the hundreds of anecdotes. it unleashes understanding detailed changes and impact from the perspective of each participant.

The underlying assumption is that people exchange information via stories. The stories are triggered by open questions and gathered independent from each other.  The complete set of stories provide a true reflection of the  reality. As it is continuous it truly provides your laser beam towards a moving target.

The method provides any program or mission the means to start without a clear understanding of the final result. This result will emerge from the running program and its impact in the system.

 

Giving customers their legitimate place in software development.

26 August, 2013

Being really lean means that only that functionality customers use (and are willing to pay for) is developed and released. That means being so agile, that trends and patterns in customer needs/wishes and problems are continuously understood and drive service/product development and delivery.

For this the ‘voice of the customer’ needs to be continuously monitored. The result of the listening is to be analyzed and integrated in the development life cycle (e.g. product backlogs).

As not all new functionality or innovations originate from customers, also the ‘voice of the internal-experts needs to be continuously monitored. This knowledge, experiences and ideas is integrated in the development life cycle as well.

In earlier blogs I wrote in Customer Sensor Networks. Being the same subject, it lacks the natural place in the present developments in agile software development methods. By lack of a better word I use in this blog the term CusDevCus which stands for Customer-Development-Customer. With Development I mean the complete development lifecycle including Marketing, Sales, Product Management, Development, Release and Operations, ect. I am open for any better term.

Core elements of CusDevCus are:

  1. Integrated customer feedback (or external expert feedback) into the development life cycle loop to create integrated feedback,. Integrated feedback
    1. is unlimited in size, the larger the amount of participants, the more effective the next release,
    2. gains insight in trends and weak signals for present and future functionality,
    3. is generated in the form of testing developed functionality as well as new (unrelated) ideas.
  2. Integrated employee (as internal experts) feedback with the same aspects explained under the integrated customer feedback and
    1. open to all employees, continuously…
  3. The feedback combines both quantitative and qualitative information.
  4. Each feedback is signified by the feedback provider. This provides navigation through large amount of feedback.
  5. The Product Owner analyses the feedback-patterns. The combined quantitative and qualitative information enables both a deep understanding of the explicit functionality-feedback and the high level patterns.
  6. Because the feedback is integrated in agile development methods (like Scrum, Kanban, OpenUP, ..) experimentation of new functionality is possible in a semi-real environment using real customers.  This seriously reduces R&D and Sales and Marketing effort and optimizes organizational learning.
  7. CusDevCus fully builds on devOps, BusDevOps lean startup and other agile evolutions.
  8. CusDevCus is based on open feedback in the form of narratives. That means there are no preformatted testforms or questionnaires for feedback.
  9. Of course the open format feedback does not eliminate the need for professional testing!

10. CusDevCus focuses on different user groups. Different user groups have different needs. They reveal different uses (or no use) of functionality.

In my view the above described next step in agile (software) development is a natural one. The main question is whether companies are able to make the mental shift to integrate the customer as described in the software development lifecycle.

Human Sensor Networks

13 March, 2013

Michael Cheveldave from Cognitive Edge wrote a blog on human sensor networks. It is excellent reading material. This blog contains the highlights of Michael’s explanation, with references to Agile IT development and DevOps.

By changing human sensor networks into customer sensor networks, I merely focus on the application of CSN in IT Agile development life cycles. You may easily argue to keep human sensor networks, as also own employees or other relevant stakeholders provide feedback using the CSN system.

Michael explains the role SenseMaker® plays in delivering organizations the value of human sensor networks.

… by engaging a large number of people in the process of making sense of their everyday experiences and observations, and allowing meaning to be effectively layered on such experiences we stimulate a network of agents in the systems to make sense of the system themselves.

By integrating different customer groups in functionality definition we will

  • easier and sooner understand real customer needs
  • build a fruitful relationship with the customer-base
  • create pro-active sponsors at the customers of the product
  • enable the customer-base to better understand their needs, and innovative possibilities that the organization can provide
  • better understand which private betas to be tested by which user group type
  • better understand collected quantitative data by means of this qualitative data

… think about how traditional approaches often emphasise the value of external experts or selectively privilege a small team within the company on such strategic decisions.

The decision making process which functionality to build and release

  • focusses more quickly to that functionality actually needed by customers
  • enables, together with feature flags, different features to be released to different customers types (based on their needs)

Sales and marketing collect valuable information on their targeted customer groups. Information is achieved cheaper, faster and more reliable then based on traditional marketing research.

The approach (a human sensor network AK) allows for the executive team to tap into the distributed cognition, intelligence, scanning, and knowledge of a broader network in a way that effectively informs key strategic decisions.

Reading experiences, ideas and frustrations from actual users, exposes product management, marketing managers and developers to the impact of their initial ideas on what functionality is needed. When well guided, the team will quickly and easily understand existing patterns and needs. Future releases are more effective and efficient.

The ultimate result is a learning organization. People from different organizational silo’s co-interpret and co-decide based on both trends and contextual information. This leads to an organizational wide understanding of and believe in the business goals and opportunities.

Applying SenseMaker® in scrum projects

2 July, 2012

In earlier blogs I showed how SenseMaking software ecology and the Cynefin model support Agile development. In this blog I’ll explain how to SenseMaker® supports gathering large amounts of user stories or feedback. These stories are input for the product back log and the product vision.

SenseMaker® enables software developing organizations to involve large groups of users or customers in both the requirements gathering phase and the maintenance phase. This gives them an advantage over their competitors. The input and feedback ensure that the new functions are adequate and fulfill a concrete demand.

Story tellers enter their stories on website. After entering their stories they are asked to provide additional meaning to their stories. This provides for valuable additional information. This is called signification and forms the core of the requirements gathering process. The signification framework is tailor-made. It structures the hundreds or thousands of stories in such a way that the development team is able to analyze them effectively.

In a next step the development team(s) analyze the entered stories. During the analysis the team transfers the raw user stories into a product back log. The backlog reflects the concrete demand of the users and customers. As the categorization incorporates a prioritization the development teams knows which functionality is to transferred to the sprint team first.

Emerging functionality
Once the sprint teams deliver their first functionality to the users, SenseMaker enable real-time feedback. This mechanism allows end-users to evaluate and try out new functionality and provide instant feedback. Because of the automated and real-time feedback mechanism the development is able to deliver only functionality for which is a real demand. It is also possible to try out new stuff end-users have not seen before.

The above described mechanisms provides a great advantage for the organization. First it doesn’t waste valuable development capacity on irrelevant functionality. Second, both first–end-users and developers feel appreciated as their ideas and thoughts are directly used. Thirdly because the organization is able to produce new functionality in a lean and flexible manner, the organization gains the recognition being innovative and customer-centric.

How SenseMaking creates learning organizations by effective change programs.

8 June, 2012

The natural approach for effective change programs is full involvement of and guidance by all involved key-players. Combined with a natural learning approach this leads to effective continuous change programs and a learning organization.

What is different related to old-fashioned centrally and top-down managed change or improvement programs is the emerge of the outcome during execution of the change program. Based on the learning path, new nearby objectives are defined.

Sensemaking creates learning organizations in just 6 steps.

1    Entry criteria
Use the 6 steps only if your problem belongs to the complex domain. Obvious and complicated problems are bests solved by using standard solving techniques. See the Cynefin model for background information on the different problem domains.

2    SenseMaker design
SenseMaker® facilitates continuous, small and large scale, fine-tuned listening to all stakeholders (clients, employees, external (non-)experts). The design of SenseMaker is essential for a successful change or improvement program. A correct design ensures that the right information is distilled. An incorrect design provides not the information that the next steps need in order to be effective. It leads to frustrated stakeholders as their voice, thoughts and ideas are not heard or implemented.

3    Initial workshop
The initial workshop both validates the SenseMaker design and generates a vision of possible solutions. These possible solutions provide the first steps towards learning. Typically a Cognitive Edge method like Future Backwards is used to facilitate the workshop.

4    Experiment definition
The outcome of the initial workshop is used to define a first set of low-key-low -profile experiments. The costs and duration of each experiment is kept to a minimum. None of the experiments is expected to provide an ultimate solution to the problem.

Each experiment is described in the form of actions and indicators for feedback-signals that indicate positive or negative change. By generating additional context information, management is able to understand early (weak) signals. In this way initial actions that show promise are extended while negative indicators trigger recovery actions and choose of alternatives approaches.

5    Learning by experimentation
The initial experiments provide learning opportunities. Learning is generated both from the experiments participants and by the feedback loop continuous and real-time generated by all stakeholders using SenseMaker.

6    Emerging change
Outcome of each experiment is evaluated both by means of it’s direct outcome or delivery and by means of the feedback mechanism. Those experiments that both deliver on outcome and receives good feedback are re-evaluated for strengthening and to be continued. Those experiments that fail to deliver are stopped. Notice that learning may trigger new experiments.

Step 5 and 6 is a continuous loop. New problems or emerging insights will most likely trigger new experiments. A learning organization is created.

The above figure below shows a graphical view on experimentation in a learning organization. In the emerging process of learning, more and more practical knowledge is generated. This enables more stable experiments. By reducing the risks of failing experiments, the size (€) and duration (T).

Sensemaking based employee satisfaction surveys for happy employees

7 June, 2012

Sensemaking based surveys supports organizations that wants to engage all their employees in strategic and tactical decision making, innovation and knowledge generator.
We at TOP innosense make this promise a guarantee.

Everybody knows those standard surveys which state for example that the satisfaction rose from 6.7 last year to 6.8 this year. Everybody a bonus! But what these types of old fashioned surveys lack, is the actual engagement of all staff in the overall and daily strategic and tactical decision making, innovation and knowledge generator if the company. What a waste!

How to accomplish this? Simple by using the Cynefin framework and the supporting Sensemaking® software.

Managing an organization or any sized group of people is a complex task. There are too many stakeholders, events or other types of modulators that interact continuously and unpredictable. Any change can only be explained on hindsight. So starting with a predefined plan on any level (strategic or tactical) is doomed to fail.

Sensemaking lets the organization continuous listening to the (coffee machine) anecdotes or micro-stories. It enables all employees to enter their thoughts and ideas. The gathering is either written or spoken text, a picture or a photo. The anecdotes are provided additional meaning by the original authors. When also external stakeholders are invited to enter their thoughts, ideas and opinions in the Sensemaking database, the organization has an in depth knowledge on what is at stake below the surface,

Cynefin shows how to addressed and manage complex problems. Experiments supports learning and identifying in which direction the company and it’s strategy flows. Because of the agile approach, the company is continuously and fluently able to manoeuvre effectively.

Anyone in the organization is able to see the stories entered (continuous monitoring). Because the process is real time, your story is read and used tomorrow. This enables quick adaption of decisions directly after decisions have been made. This in turn enables adjusting decisions early in the process, when the cost or repair is still low, or the impact still limited.

What of all the above is the result on the morale of the employees? I guess you know 😉

Out-focussed (domain-novice) facilitation in Sensemaking projects for better results

31 May, 2012

Last week I participated in a very interactive and useful workshop on Sensemaker®. Sensemaker provides a platform to gather, process, and visualize knowledge. Part of the discussions in smaller groups went on the application of Sensemaker. One of the discussed aspects was the possible result of Sensemaking projects in the context of the customer. In this blog I’ll defend a bold statement: “the ‘novice-domain’ or ‘out-focused’ facilitator is more likely to provide surprising or unexpected results then the field-expert of in-focused.”

Underlying to this statement is the pure uniqueness of Sensemaking projects. It enables large-scale fine-tuned listening to an unlimited number of people. It provides decision makers, innovation seekers and researchers in general, a method to distill hidden or weak information/knowledge. This is based on the Cynefin framework and the Sensemaker Ecology, Also check Dave Snowden’s blogs.

Before going into details some explanation. In 2006 I learned out-focussed coaching in personal and team potential exploration programs. Out-focussed means that as coach (or facilitator) you do not need to understand the underlying problem being discussed. As coach you focus on the convictions of the coachee.

An example: Let’s say I coach Peter. Peter’s question is his effectiveness in his team. In the coaching session he recalls a difficult situation in his team. In stead of asking him to explain the situation (to understand what happened) I ask him what he wanted to get out of the situation, what prevented him to achieve this and what he can do different next time. As Peter doesn’t need to explain the situation (which he already knows), we save time and address the problem at hand directly. 
At the end of the session Peter leaves with a better understanding on his own actions and convictions. The result would have been much less if I coached in-focussed. Asking questions on the situation; what his history was with the team; explaining similar situations I had been; etc.

My statement is that out-focussed (of novice-domain experts) facilitators, are able to generate more surprising knowledge and results on the subject then domain experts who integrate their expertise during the whole project. Of course the out-focused facilitator needs to be an experienced and knowledgeable (big) group facilitator. He also is an Cynefin and Sensemaking expert.

During Sensemaking workshops and in the configuration of the Sensemaker tool, an out-focused facilitator is able to extract and use more and more unexpected information from the participants. By being out-focused the facilitator is also not tempted to steer the outcome of the evaluate the (intermediate) results himself. The latter is described as being in-focused.   
Out-focused Sensemaking expert enables knowledge, insights, answers and innovation ideas to emerge. Any intervention (a word, a proposal, a gesture) from the facilitator, is a risk that this unexpected emergence of knowledge is subdued.

For the same reason, using internal Sensemaking experts is not advisable as the risk is even bigger. Unless of course the facilitator is not an domain-expert and is free from internal (political) strings.