Archive | November 2011

working smart not hard

Work smarter. Learn faster.

Working in an agile agency, one of the phrases I hear is “we need to work smart not hard”.

Working hard means putting in tons of hours to achieve your goals. Working smart is achieving your goals in the most efficient and profitable way. I want to highlight a path to help us work smarter so we can achieve our goals in less time, with more efficiency, exceed expectations and allows us to find more time to take on other and hopefully more exciting projects.

Why to do this

It is possible to work hard without recognition or achieving success. Sure, we may be up to date with all our emails, but are we any closer to actually achieving our goals? When we’re working hard it is also likely that other area’s of our lives gets neglected. Long hours could mean that we compromise on time with friends or family, keeps us away from exercising or focusing on healthy eating habits. We may feel we are doing ok now, but down the line it may affect our health and well being, and we may regret not finding a balance sooner. Never mind the risk of increased stress, burn-out, depression and general dissatisfaction with work.

How to do it

Top of the list.

Take care of the most important things first. With agile it is essential to have a prioritized list of tasks so you know what items hold the most business value. If you tackle the more important work first you will be able to provide completed work that holds high value to your team and organization. We have found huge value in spending 15 minutes at the start of each day to write up a task list for the day ahead so you know exactly what work needs to get done.

Interruption free.

Close down email, turn off your phone and put up your “Do Not Disturb” sign. Give yourself the opportunity to focus on delivering a single task with minimum disruptions. Set up 1 hour sessions (preferably early in the day) when you are fresh and motivated to get through the task.

Use your team.

People like to be able to say they did something themselves, but actually we need to recognise that we can have better results if we work as a team. Allow people to contribute to a project and the outcomes are destined to be better. If we can mix the best of all our strengths and expertise we will produce a better quality product. Our teams are structured so if you need support you can lean on others or assign other work so you can focus on specific items.

Bring your A game.

Look after yourself by making sure you are getting enough rest and your nutrition is good. This is important to help you perform at your best. Being creative, concentration and ability to deliver on work is all dependent on having a healthy balance between work and play.

Retrospective.

Take time out to make sure you are working towards the right goals and doing it the right way. Inspect your process and evaluate it’s success. Find out what is working, what you can do better and strive to improve your methods. Learn from each other and then share your experience with the team so others can benefit from your insights.

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Why do we shudder to watch ourselves on TV?

We recently had a photographer filming in and around our office. The last few weeks have felt like being inside the ‘Big Brother House”! It went from personal interviews with scripted questions almost simulating a diary room session, to the camera man randomly filming you going about your daily duties. This must be what I feels like to be on an episode of “Reality TV”. Kind of.

But what I noticed from this excitement, and really what this post is about, is how confident and social people dislike seeing themselves on screen. I am generally quite shy, therefore I was surprised that even these types of characters, who come across as self-assured, even shy away from recorded viewings of themselves. It made us all highly uncomfortable to see or hear ourselves on TV.

Discomfort comes for 2 reasons:

My inside voice is different to my outside voice

When we speak we receive the sound from the air around us, as well as vibrations conducted via the bones and tissues in our head. Recordings only capture the air-conducted sounds and that is why our perception of how we sound is skewed. It is quite jarring to hear my voice and realise that every time I speak people hear something different to what I do.

Physical perception 

The way I see myself is different to how others see me, and I am reminded of this when I watch myself on TV. We all have expectations of how we carry ourselves, our body language, our facial expressions etc, and when we are watching ourselves back on screen we are (often unwillingly) forced to accept that our impressions of ourselves is not always aligned with the image we have in our heads.

As social beings, we act as if we don’t really care what others think, and generally in most cases we aren’t too concerned with other peoples opinions, but essentially we are creatures that want and need to fit into our social universe. Humans are naturally drawn to making connections and sensing how others perceive us, allowing us to authentically connect and reap the satisfaction of these connections. Psychologically, if the idea I have of “me” is not how I come across, this is bound to place stress on my mental state. A fun experiment would be, to be a fly on the wall so I can get out of my head and truly see how people see me without my own voice (and insecurities) influencing my reality.

managing your social media profile

Whether you’re conscious of it or not, everything you do online impacts your reputation and either builds or detracts from your ‘social influence’. You see it every time you log onto Facebook, Twitter, or any one of the other social networks – people sharing their thoughts, ideas, pictures or videos – your impression of each person you connect with is based on their activity. Similarly, your reputation is inextricably tied to what you do, say and share which is why it’s incredibly important to understand how it all works.

Whether you’re online casually or building a professional profile, you need to be considering the following points:

1. Expose yourself

First identify your target audiences, the people you want to connect with, and then find out which online networks they use. Facebook, Twitter, MXit, LinkedIn, etc all have slightly different demographics and audiences and, because you can’t do it all, you have to choose wisely.

Once you’ve made the choice expose yourself. Build your profile, fan pages, YouTube channels – whatever connects best with your audience. You’ll be able to tell what types of content work best by simply testing what gets the most attention. Remember, you’re directly connected so they’ll tell you what they like and what they want more of. The rule though is to be constantly creating and sharing great content.

2. Become more connected than a bowl of spaghetti

Because of the networking structure of these sites, the essence of it is to share information across networks of people who share similar interests. As people comment and interact on your profile, people in their network are able to also see what is being said, thus expanding your own network of fans. The most beneficial element of this is that these networks are friends of friends of friends, and recommendations from friends are always more credible. The more networked you become, the more the network will work for you.

3. Follow the basic guidelines

Achieving success online is not a science. Many different people, from different industries have achieved different forms of success using different methods. While there are no steadfast rules, the following guidelines are the most common threads:

“Share, share and share some more”

The most valuable online currency is content. Use every opportunity available to share your knowledge and insights via engaging content: written, video, audio, pictures. Content is king and your pieces of content are the focal points around which your communities will gather so create often and share freely.

 “As you would be in person”

Conduct yourself as you would if you were face-to-face, which hopefully means you’ll be polite and avoid alienating people. You may come across many different types of people who may be starting out with little or no knowledge of your industry or someone who has been involved for years who just wants some advise / insight.

“Honesty is the best policy”

If you are asked about a topic about which you do not have adequate knowledge, it is probably better to tell the user that you can’t help them. If they act on your recommendation and have a bad experience this impacts negatively on you, damaging your online brand.

“Relevance and reality”

As most of what you have to share is based on your own experiences, (unless of course you are qualified) people have to understand that what works for one may not work for all. Be clear in your communications that ‘in your experience’ a certain technique or method was a success or not. Anyone could be reading your posts so be aware of this when writing so nothing can be misunderstood. It might be worth your while to investigate adding a disclaimer to your blog or Facebook Fanpage.

“Be present”

Your fans and followers are going to interact and it will need to be two-way. This is a good thing because interaction is like oxygen to fire. The more you interact, answer questions, or simply respond and acknowledge the more committed and loyal your followers will be and the quicker your community will grow. Interaction is at it’s highest when new content is first shared so if you post a new blog or load a new video you must make sure you have the time to interact straight after loading the new content.

“Integrate and cross pollinate”

If you have more than one social presence (and you probably already do), try to integrate the audiences and cross pollinate. Post your videos on your YouTube channel but also share the link of your Facebook page and Tweet about it. Just keep in mind that they are different audiences so not everything should be cross-posted, but on the whole, integrated networks greatly improve your audience reach and influence.

“Content is King”

I’ve already said that but I’m saying it again so you know how important it is. You can’t just show up and expect people to flock to your awesomeness. Create great content, share your knowledge and get yourself out there.

Those are my top tips for building a strong social media presence. If you have any questions feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @kellrodney or comment below.


tackling large projects

My team and I were recently made aware of the importance of aligning goals at the start of any project. Meeting our client’s expectations was essential to our success, unfortunately the vested parties were not always on the same page, which made steering the proverbial boat that much harder.

Communication and collaboration are such important elements. It contributes toward the team meeting all the relevant needs and achieving the desired end product.

While we managed to complete the project successfully, allow me to share a few core learnings in order for you to avoid ending up in a similar situation.

1. “On your marks, get set…”

It is essential that all teams are involved from the scoping phase of the project, else you run the risk of failing. If your client or the key stakeholders don’t provide input from the beginning, it will cause avoidable delays and most likely inflate the budget. Two things that are dear to any client; time and money.

It’s extremely valuable to have the entire team in the room when a new project is being briefed. Every person who has a vested interest in the outcome has to have a chance to provide input from the start.

This is a huge challenge because you will often hear, “I can’t make this meeting, so get things started and you can brief me in later”. Don’t let anyone do this to you! Find a time that suits everyone and ensure that they participate.

If a key piece of information is not relayed in the early stages it can cost the project ten times more work, cash or pain if picked up later.

2. Spend as much time as necessary making changes early.

Rather spend some extra hours early in a project to ensure that all your bases are covered. Consider the <a href =”http://www.agilemodeling.com/essays/costOfChange.htm&#8221; tilte=”cost of change curve”>cost of change curve</a> that is relevant when it comes to Agile development. It highlights that you need to make changes to a project early, while it’s still cheap to do so. The further you get into the project, the higher the cost to change your path.

3. Lot’s of talking

Frequent feedback loops are very important. Constant communication about progress, project tracking and obstacles, new developments etc. needs to be handled on a daily or weekly basis. This also relates back to ensuring that everything that has been finalised align with the overall objectives of the project.

4. Be honest

Recognise shortcomings or limitations. If you can identify any elements that will interfere or limit the ability to get the project done, then you need to address these immediately. Whatever the cause of concern may be, you will need to have the strength to confront these impediments and resolve them before they cost you productivity or delivery.

In summary, take time early on to align everyone’s goals, keep these as your compass throughout and always ask yourself if what you are doing meets the goals, make sure the team is being honest and, communicate often. If you can get this mix right, then your project is on the right track!

it is not the destination that matters, but the journey you take.

On our path to get the most return from our efforts at becoming Agile, I am becoming more and more aware of how daily improvements to our process are contributing to the overall success of Agile in our company.

Each organisation is unique, and importantly each team has it’s own objectives. Finding the right way for you is going to be key to making Agile work for you. Below are some of the concepts I have been trying to wrap my head around with our development team… (and if you have ideas, solutions or opinions, share them!)

Agile and Scrum aren’t friends

The essence of Agile is to be flexible and adapt to changing environments. Scrum methodology teaches us to protect the team within time-boxed iterations (Sprints) What I’ve learnt in trying to tackle unplanned work without interrupting the Sprint, is that Scrum can’t help.

We have moved towards using elements of  Kanban with our Scrum, whereby instead of blocking new work from being scheduled we now limit work in progress. There is provision on our planning board for unexpected projects and the team is able to accommodate these requests without stopping other projects. If no new requests come in, there is no idle time as each team member pulls tasks from other areas of the board to keep a continuous flow of work.

Roll over of tasks and points

Our team has started estimating effort points and this is awesome for me to get an idea of the scope of work required on a task. Trouble is, our projects tend to stay active for time periods longer than our Sprint. Therefore, I am struggling to measure the team’s velocity with Burn Down Charts (even trying Burn Up Charts) because a minimal amount of tasks move to “Done” within the Sprint.

We need to assess if we are pulling in too much work, are our projects too large, inadequately specified, or are our Sprints too short? There is visible completion of work (and a Shippable Product) at the end of each Sprint and actual effort points are recorded, only we have a roll over of ‘un-done’ which enters the next Sprint.

As Scrum Master, if I can work through these questions with the team and really clear the Sprint backlog for each Sprint, then we can even look at moving towards Release Planning!

Product Owners telling Stories

The most successful technique we implemented to get our Product Owners (PO) to increase their involvement with our Agile process was to encourage a ticket writing system. We showed PO’s a preferred format for writing a User Story and we now set up briefing meetings for new projects to work out the ins and outs together. This has helped team members better understand a project from a development perspective (got them wearing different hats) and it has helped the team with testing as we have a defined set of outcomes and expectations.

The continuous learning and real-life experience is benefiting the team and every day there is something that works and something that doesn’t. We get better as we progress and failing means that we know how to do something better the next time.

Look! It's paired programming!

Image via Wikipedia

scrum at a social media agency

When I joined Cerebra I was introduced to an agile process project management framework called Scrum. What I learnt trying to integrate Scrum is that, while the concept is simple, it isn’t as easily adopted and implemented. With ongoing attempts to integrate this into our teams, I have found that it takes perseverance, constant focus on the end goal and a lot of learning.

Scrum, as defined by the ScrumAlliance is an innovative approach to getting work done. It was originally formalised for software development projects and the evidence of how well this works is seen on a daily basis within our development team. Scrum provides a platform for people to work together effectively and relentlessly makes visible any problem that gets in their way. This way of working is based upon values of self-respect, respect for others, trust and courage.

One of my key challenges has been to apply the process to “non-development” teams – our content and community managers. Scrum’s foundation is built on the ability to be agile and adapt to any situation, so I have worked towards finding a way to ‘inspect’ and ‘adapt’ the process to find the value and appeal for the content team. Even though Scrum is designed to break down complex tasks, we have found huge value in collaborative daily stand up’s to promote overall quality and performance for all types of work. The team is able to support each other and find solutions to obstacles before they get in the way.

The things I have learnt on this path is that it definitely takes an invested team for the process to be effective. The roles people play are integral to success and everyone has to respect the process and understand why and how it can help. Only then are you able to start to see the benefits. What I have discovered, with much learning, tweaking and searching for quick alternatives, is that Scrum will work. It is not an overnight solution but a journey that you grow with every step of the way.

Watch this video to gain brief insight into some of the principles of Scrum.

online socializing instead of being social…

There are many merits of being linked to numerous amounts of social networks. We all have these social platforms to help us connect, build networks and express or publish our opinions.

When I hear about people who aren’t connected to Facebook or social channels I am shocked. Is this because I am around this all day and it has become a communication preference. Why would a person of my generation not be interacting online? So many of us are digitally connected that I find it difficult to engage people when I can’t do it in a space, like Facebook or Twitter, where I have become so accustomed to sending an event invite or DM. It is so much easier to stay in touch on these channels and I find myself naturally losing connections with people who aren’t playing in the same place. It may also be a normal part of life that as people grow and, in my case, have influences around me from my work environment, I am adopting these cultures faster than friends who aren’t exposed.

At social occasions, we spend our time online via our mobile, engaging in Twitter-speak, in real time of course, uploading pictures, commenting on surroundings, and checking in when we should be enjoying the company of others. Are we online at the expense of those around us? Do we need to become more sociable and less Social Media?

Inspiration for this post was found here

hello world!

So “Hello World” is the title of the first post WordPress has given me, I in no way expect anything close to ‘the world’ reading this blog.

I also will not write an introductory post outlining my goals and ambitions for this blog. I don’t know yet, and you will probably find out when I do.

Enjoy, or don’t.  Either way please share your sentiment with me.

Adios.