Category: Startup Culture

Blended Innovation Model

This post looks at the blended innovation model within an enterprise – it expands on the previous post on A Start-up within an Enterprise

In a market segment/space, the portion that’s captured by an enterprise is its core. Outside this core is the new growth opportunity (the white space) that the enterprise has not (yet) captured; there can be additional enterprises in the same segment/space and over time the segment/space can increase and/or decrease – for the purpose of this post, we will assume that the segment/space stays the same.

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A brief re-cap on enterprises, startups and disruption: more details here and here.

Evolutionary

For most (enterprise) organizations, the core is grown by the natural evolution of the products/services: as customers use the products/services their requests transform the roadmap. With (somewhat) uniform time and resources, focusing on everything all the customers ask for becomes a challenge and priority is given to the top tier customer base.

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Most enterprises operate this way due to the low risk, as the needs have already been validated (due to customer demand). This type of innovation falls under evolutionary innovation.

Revolutionary

For startups, the entire “new growth” opportunity becomes the initial target; as time goes on and effort is put into defining the product-market-fit a smaller “core” emerges. In many cases the (perceived) core might pivot several times (see below A -> B -> X) prior to eventually finding its eventual core (if it doesn’t completely fail by then).

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The risk is much higher as customer validation still needs to happen, and significant time is spent in validation/product-market-fit. This type of innovation falls under revolutionary innovation.

Disruption

When these two behaviors exist within their own respective entities (startup and enterprise) and are in the same space/segment they form a complementary relationship – which often results in the demise of the enterprise (unless the enterprise acquires the startup). The customers that are lower in priority for the enterprise move to the startup, either because the product is too feature rich, the needs are not met or they feel that the enterprise has become too big for them (low end disruption, See Clayton Christensen’s work on disruption). As they move out, the enterprise sees that as an opportunity to expand to the new (higher revenue) opportunity and move away from the lower end. As time goes on, the enterprise’s core continues to move outwards and the startup continues to encroach into the enterprises core until the enterprise has nothing left (eventually leading to the startup becoming its own enterprise).

 

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The above describes the outcome when the two innovation modes are two different entities – but what if they were to be combined within an enterprise as a strategic initiative?

Blended Innovation

By making it a strategic initiative to combine both of these models within an enterprise to achieve a blended innovation engine; enterprises can greatly improve their competitive advantage and also accelerate their organic growth. With executive sponsorship, an additional dedicated team would need to be created (the MVIT).

A simple matrix can be put together to understand the differences between the core and the MVIT:

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 2.17.45 PM

The interplay between the teams in a blended model is outlined below (to cover additional complexity a multi-core/multi-BU enterprise is used).

An enterprise that has multiple BU’s may cover different verticals in its “new growth” space; however, since each core operates in an evolutionary way, most do not cash in the opportunity to build organically within the shared (white) space.

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There also needs to be some sort of “idea allocation engine” so that white space ideas (shared and non-shared among various BU’s), non-core customer requests and other exploratory ideas can be funneled into the appropriate team as there may be several ideas that seem “revolutionary”; but in-fact, they are actually more evolutionary in nature. The VCG (venture champion group) can help be the funnel to ensure that the MVIT is working on the appropriate opportunities (see:A Start-up within an Enterprise).

Once the idea generation and intake funnel is in place, the MVIT can begin piloting product for customer validation by releasing small pilots in the various spaces that iterate in functionality over time with customer involvement (as the viability becomes more obvious).

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Developing the pilot in a common language/platform will help with the transition and once the pilot is ready, it would be supported by the MVIT. Should a pilot gain significant traction, the MVIT would continue to support it in a limited availability engagement and once a MVIT produced product enter limited availability, the BU should start planning for support, integration, release and productization under GA.

The integration/transition process from MVIT to Core will likely be significantly more involved than the other efforts.

Depending on the release and GA schedule, the Core will absorb the customer-validated pilot into the core – providing it a competitive advantage that was accelerated with the help of the MVIT that it would otherwise not have had.

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In summary

A blended innovation model can greatly improve the competitive advance for an enterprise and also accelerate its organic growth. To successfully implement a blended innovation model it must be taken on as a strategic initiative, backed by executive sponsorship, have an additional dedicated team (MVIT), an idea allocation engine and a process for transition so that the investments in the blended model can be realized.

An Enterprise cannot disrupt

One of the main reasons I joined Everbridge back in October 2015 was for the opportunity to learn from building a dedicated innovation lab as a strategic effort.

Coming into it, there were bits and pieces I had done over the years at various times/jobs and there was a lot of theory on how one would build a lean innovation lab within an enterprise to help accelerate innovation without negatively impacting the core enterprise model. 
This opportunity allowed me to put it all together and convert theory into practical experience.

Let me add to the title of this post – An Enterprises cannot disrupt because of the way its’ structured; and for the same reasons, it also cannot disrupt itself.
Enterprises already have a well defined model when it comes to how they make money:
value proposition, profit formula, key resources and processes that are needed to deliver to their model.

Startups on the other hand, do not known how money will be made, what really is the value proposition, what the profit formula looks like; they must find product-market-fit before they run out of money.

Running a startup with a model that’s suited for enterprises will hinder disruption; running an enterprise with a model that’s suited for startups, will result in chaos.

Usually the revenue/growth for enterprises comes from focusing on “evolutionary” innovation: innovations that are sustaining – whereas startups get their revenue/growth from focusing on “revolutionary” innovation: innovations that are disruptive.
The chart below takes various opportunities and attempts to size the revenue size and also categorize the type of innovation – before you disagree with a “but wait, there are startups that have more revenue that large enterprises”,  its important to note that every (successful) startup, does eventually become an enterprise and with that, it’s focus will also likely change.revenuerevolution
Since enterprises tend to focus on sustaining innovations, they leave the door wide open for startups to come in after new-growth markets that enterprises are not focused on or come in with a low-end disruption taking away existing customers who are okay with a lower feature product/service that comes with a lower price tag because startups will accept the (much) lower margins.
As the low-end moves out, enterprises go up the chain, focusing even more on their higher-valued accounts (charging higher prices to their most demanding customers) because that’s traditionally where they’ve found the money. As startups continue their low-end disruption moving upwards, always taking away the new lower-end as they get more feature rich; enterprises continue up the chain as well – only to one day find out there isn’t anything left at the top and to take from and the bottom has cleared away. (Disruptive Innovation: Clayton Christensen)
By making innovation a strategic effort and building a startup within the enterprise that goes after revolutionary innovations; it can diffuse and transition revolutionary innovations to evolutionary innovations – in other words, it can disrupt by not disrupting and stopping others from disrupting itself.

Reasons innovation teams within an Enterprise fail

  1. A dedicated “innovation” team that works outside the company’s core “processes” (a.k.a. red tape) does not exist
  2. You share or borrow resources from other teams who help out in addition to their core duties or have a “20% time” policy.
  3. A budget to spend on non-core R&D and other expenses was never factored in and/or approved.
  4. People expect the output from this “innovation” team to follow the same rate of return as your core product teams.
  5. You plan on engaging other (Architects, DevOps, Eng., etc.) core teams after all the work is done to come up with some sort of transition plan.
  6. No committed initial plan on what you will go after initially.
  7. No pass/fail metrics were setup.
  8. You do not have complete buy in from the top.

While all of the reasons above carry weight, if I had to pick one, it would be the first reason – the lack of a dedicated innovation team.

For most enterprises that have a part-time innovation team; all that innovation gets pushed aside when shit hits the fan – then its all-hands-on-deck – innovation, becomes an afterthought.

From a previous post: “It’s important for an enterprise to have a team that focuses on innovation as a “full-time strategic” activity and not as a “part-time ad-hoc” effort in order to have a greater chance of success with innovation – here is why: 75 % of venture-capital-backed start-ups fail; and 50% of backed start-ups make it to their 4th year. These startups, usually consist of dedicated entrepreneurial teams trying to build something, spending 100% of their energy, every minute of every hour trying to make it successful – they are in it full time. If a startup’s “full-time” innovation effort has such a low rate of success, what will be the success rate of a part-time effort?”

A dedicated team must be created if an enterprise wants to make innovation a strategic effort. If you have no one fully focused on innovation, you’ve decided not to focus on innovation.

Failure: Learn to fail – successfully

For a week or so, my son has been failing, he constantly fails, every day, every hour but he is so adamant that he won’t give up; he tries and tries again – and fails for the unknown-th time (yes he has failed that much); He has spent majority of his life failing; almost all 11 months of it.

To him, it’s not failure, to him, he is learning how to walk, or eat, or talk.. just like his sister did, and my better half, myself and almost everyone I’ve known.

At any given point there are thousands of seminars going on about “Success” and how you can learn “how to succeed”; some will teach you how to be successful at flipping houses, investing, growing a business, setting up an eCommerce shop that takes a few hours per week where you can set your own hours and “like Bob, make $10,000 per month” with the disclaimer that these results are not typical….

….But what about failure? Who teaches you how to fail successfully?

While there are lessons to be learnt from others in being successful; these lessons are based on other people’s failures and what they learnt from them – they learnt to fail, successfully.

We are born with a “learn by trying” and “learn from failure” behavior but at some point many of us lose it because we are taught that failure is bad.

While “success” is the end-result or the goal that we wish to attain, we really should tell ourselves that “it’s okay to fail” (avoiding obvious failure paths and not self-inflicting intentional failure) and we should be trying to figure out how to fail successfully; “I failed, I’m now going to get up and try a different approach” – you have to be okay with failing.

Unless we try and push our limits and drive towards the point of “possible failure” we wont discover our potential.

In leadership, failing successfully is important as it tells your followers that you too are human; that its okay to be wrong, and that you learn from it; that its okay to try something different and experiment. I don’t have all the answers for my teams and I try various different things to find answers that work – I end up with a lot of failures before I end up with success.

You have failed successfully when you have failed, learnt from that failure and have gotten back up to try again.

Keep failing.

Work hard – Play hard – When fun becomes a performance issue

In my pursuit of becoming a better leader I sometimes forget to look at my the lessons life has taught me much earlier on in life (as a child), its interactions with people that ask interesting questions that help dig out those lessons – this is one of those.

I grew up in Dubai – back then it wasn’t all the glitter and glamour it is today, things have changed dramatically. One thing that has not changed though, is the summer heat.

I am not sure what you may have heard, but Dubai has two seasons, “”hot” and “very hot”. So, growing up in Dubai and school being out over the summer heat pretty much meant that we were mostly indoors.

Being stuck at home gave us just a few options: watch TV (not much to watch), play games, read books. The games were fun for a while, but they were the same games, TV kinda sucked…. the only thing that changed, or was new was “reading books”. Junior school on-wards at the end of the school year, my parents would buy the books needed for next school year and being bored, we would study them over summer. This turned out to be a great thing to do because once the school year started, I was already familiar with the material, had already done the required readings and most of the homework – I could mess around in class and do what I wanted, and since it was no longer summer, I could go out and play after school – it was a lot of fun.

I was performing, my homework was done, I already knew everything and I could do whatever I wanted; there was no harm that I could have been doing by having fun…. right? well. I was wrong.

Eventually (think it was grade 9) a teacher called my parents in and together they explained to me that while it was great that I was on top of my game, my “fun” was becoming a distraction for others because the other students were unable to concentrate and get work done. Since the others had not already gone through the material, someone like me should be helping them get their homework done and leading by example rather than distracting them with fun alternatives.

We all have different motivations for pushing hard and getting things “done”, i.e. “I just want to push through he last few minutes of this workout and complete this 1000 meter row so that I can sit down and take a break”, or “I just want to finish coding this feature so that I can get back to learning about Node.js”, or “I just want to finish my work so that I can have fun..”… (who really wants to be rewarded for finishing early with more work?) working hard and having fun is great – there should be a healthy balance. Top players work hard and take a deserved break; However, most of us do not know or even think about how our actions may negatively impact others by creating distractions, or may impact ourselves and stop us from growing or delivering to our full potential; when the fun does negatively impact others/ourselves, it is important to recognize and address it. In the event that you do end up in a situation where someones “fun” is negatively impacting others, or themselves: do what my teacher did and have a conversation explaining the impacts. In my opinion (and experience), explaining the impact (of an observed issue) can make a world of a difference and often solves the issue.

At the end of the day, its the culture you build as a leader that dictates how people “have fun” and what work means to them.

Do not focus on making a team perform better

At a meet-up earlier today I was asked “how can one make a team perform better”; I believe this question can be answered in many different ways and I would like to share my opinion(s):

Would you rather have a team that reluctantly does as you ask or would you rather have a team that does what you need it to do before you ask?

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Culture has a large role in Leadership; in order to lead, you need to push a culture that people want to be a part of (follow).

There are several areas you can focus on and below are four (of many) things that I like to keep in mind when I am building “Culture”:

  • Build and foster an environment that drives ideas bottom up as this increases engagement and hunger for solving challenges. The people on the front line(s) have valuable feedback that they want to communicate but do not know how – build communication and engagement.
  • Actively recognize and reward, be humble, chose to publicly provide positive feedback and privately mentor with constructive criticism – build appreciation and mentorship
  • Be as transparent as possible, over communicate, share road maps, expectations, perceptions, feedback, motivation – build trust
  • Build and implement a collaborative environment, have people tie in with each other, be open, honest, humble, we spend majority our of day together and should want to be together – build a family

The focus should not be on “making a team perform better”, it should be on improving “culture” – Improve culture and your team will automatically perform, better.

Taking just these four points into account: when you focus and improve culture, your people will be more engaged, have trust in you, want to grow and have the desire to help others be successful around them (imagine the care bears); these type of teams happily give it all they got and even go above and beyond to ensure success.

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Maturing from a StartUp to a StartedUp culture – Series Part 5

People growth – Old blood vs New blood

I wrote my first post here on Jan 23 2011 and that post was titled “Startups – importance of your team“; Its been a little over 2 years since I wrote that post.

Most of us work 5 days a week, putting in about 8 or so hours a day (we will stick to the average/norm here). We come back home in the evening to spend anywhere from 1 to 4 hours with our family/friends.

When friends and/or acquaintances form a startup, the long hours and the close working relationship build on existing relationships and everyone at the startup works as a “family”; but what happens when there are no existing relationships? or what happens when you already have a family and someone new tries to come in? Wouldn’t it be awkward if you were out with your family/friends and a stranger joined your group and just hung out? would you be your self? most wouldn’t.

So how do you take an existing family (a started up culture) and add newer members to it? How do you mix the two so that you do not end up with friend circles?

I have 4 simple attitudes/behaviors that I build my base on:

“We are not that different”.
The new member see’s a whole new planet, different people, cultures, processes, jargon, etc. The first step should be to look for similarities between what they know and what they should know. For my teams I use a buddy system and its usually the previous newest member who buddies up with the new member. They go over materials, documenting anything new that might come up, go for lunch, talk about process, go through the who’s-who, engage the new person in conversations with the other team(s); they try to get to know this person as if they were dating each other.

“We got this, lets work on it together”.
How do you start work? where do you start? who do you ask? Scary questions for someone looking under the hood of something they do not understand. Here is where the buddy comes in again; during stand ups and sprint planning the buddy might offer “we can work on this together”, or someone else on the team might say “hey this is a good problem for me to show you how xyz works, and we can solve it”… they get the knowledge, they figure out how to start, they experience the process and they know how to close it. Build trust and accountability.

“Your team mentioned that you are catching on so quick, what can we improve?”
Over communicate reinforcement of team acceptance, ask for ideas on what can be improved, engage the new member; engaged employees have ideas and feedback that they want to share, things they have questions about.

“You are doing great, let me share my vision on how you play an important role to the team”
Setup a growth plan that’s challenging and communicate that it may be challenging and track to it. I like to plan for the 1, 3, 9, 12 and beyond and use data obtained directly or through peer feedback to gauge fit; if there is going to be tissue rejection, you need to act fast and figure out what you need to do to make it work successfully.

These 4 steps get you on track but you will still need to build additional on-boarding processes (around material and core knowledge ) that will grow the employees product knowledge. Its also important to keep your existing members in mind when you optimize culture as you want to grow the existing employees as well and not just the new ones.

At the end of the day it helps if we recognize that the teams we work with are more than just “Random people”; they are people we spend several hours with, they are friends, people we trust, can openly collaborate with and people we want to continue to work with.

When one finds a team they can work with for the rest of their life and can call family, its no longer “work”…it’s just a large friends & family gathering where they just happen to be working on something together and having fun.
We should all build and be part of such teams.

Maturing from a StartUp to a StartedUp culture – Series Intermission

People?
Yes!

Product?
Hell Yes!!!

Process?
Boooooooo!

Is that what comes to your mind when someone mentions “process”? For many that’s a “Yes!”… “We don’t need no stinkin process; we just want to work”

“Process is just a book definition of something”, “its boring stuff”, or “Theory that doesn’t apply to the real world” are some of the phrases I have heard people use in disgust to define what process is; and in a past life someone used a “process is something that doesn’t apply to a startup or startup culture” on me….

“We care about people”

“We care about product”

“We only care about people and product”

..but what about process? why does process not get any love? What is it about process that makes people cringe? If process is evil, why is it that many methodologies (based on research and metrics) focus on the importance of all three (“People”, “Product” and “Process“)?

Process is everything that people and product are not.

Process:

  • is culture and a shared understanding,
  • it’s how your teams work and collaborate.
  • it’s how you measure performance,
  • its how you innovate, grow, plan and deliver product,
  • it’s how you engage and grow people,
  • Its more than ISO certification…
  • its a lot more than this

Life is a process that’s filled with people and products
(among other things)

Dilbert – Scott Adams Inc.

Maturing from a StartUp to a StartedUp culture – Series Part 4

The takeaway from the previous post on KPI and metrics was that we should proactively monitor process and optimize as needed; just because it worked when you were a startup does not mean it will work when you are “startedup”, you will need it to scale and by capturing metrics and KPI’s you will be able to perform analysis when/if  things go wrong. This however does not mean that you need process for the sake of having process or that you should focus on process over people; agility is important and being lean goes a long way.

The chicken and egg problem: What came first, the chicken, or the egg?
You have great team(s) and you have great product(s). Your team(s) is/are at capacity enhancing and maintaining the current product(s), but you need to create more product(s). In order to grow product(s) you need to add more people but these people need to be grown as well. Hiring people and not growing them will make product growth challenging as there will be a longer ramp up time or will disengage and leave (or you end up with an us vs them culture); and redirecting your current team to grow people rather than the current products will grow the new hires at a rapid pace but your current products will stop growing, what do you do? going back to the chicken and egg problem, I think in the long scheme of things it is irrelevant what came first; what is more important is the realization and existence of the chicken and egg, or the “idea” of a chicken and/or an egg, and that you need to ensure that the cycle continues, chickens give eggs and eggs (eventually) give chickens.

Single points of failure (Single Threads)
As engineers and architects we focus on identifying single points of failure within architecture; as managers we need to identify single points of failure within team members, processes and tools. Ask yourself, if I was to randomly start pulling people out (pto, resignations, etc) what would be the impact? Would we still meet delivery? Do we lose key subject matter experts? Most of the time people end up becoming single threads because there are many hats to wear and things need to get done; documentation and knowledge transfer becomes a “will get to it” task that many never get to.

Single points of failure and knowledge silos end up becoming a real impact to growth when you bring on new hires who need to be brought up to speed and grown because the same resources that need to help grow others are already busy with their existing work. Not only does it impact growth, it also negatively impacts collaboration and team culture, when people do not grow they disengage and this causes further issues. As you grow from a startup company with a smaller team to a “startedup” company with a larger and growing team, your single points of failure can grow and teams/members can get frustrated as they get pulled from different directions.

A few simple approaches to reducing and/or eliminating single points of failure are:

  • Focus on collaboration and knowledge sharing among teams (culture), the more people share what they learn the more people know.
  • Work-load for single threads can be split between product development and people development.
  • On-boarding programs and training documentation can be built as part of a product backlog.
  • New hires can be paired with senior resources to create mentor-ship and knowledge transfer programs.

Each organization is different and each has its unique attributes that require a solution or several approaches that solve the problem for that specific organization; a silver bullet approach doesn’t really work.

Summary

  • To grow new product(s) outside your current capacity you need to grow team(s).
  • To grow new team(s) who will grow new (products) your current team(s) can be impacted.
  • Your current team(s) can end up becoming single threads and/or single points of failure.
  • Recognize that this can become a problem.
  • Focus on culture, collaboration,  knowledge transfer, documentation, etc. so that the impact to the current team(s) and product(s) will be minimal and your new team(s) will rapidly grow and be engaged.

Maturing from a StartUp to a StartedUp culture – Series Part 3

Several years ago I had a Volvo (88 760 GLE) and one day I noticed little streams of smoke from under the hood every time I would get back home; I had little experience with cars back then so I took it to a friend’s dads shop. I should have probably left when I got there because there was a customer yelling at him for messing up his beetle and charging him extra to fix it; apparently he put some hoses on wrong and then had to redo the work, I wasn’t there for the whole story, just the last 20 minutes of it and then the customer drove off.

My friend’s dad asked me to start my car and pull up next to him and leave the car running. He popped the hood and started to look around, he checked the hoses, looked at the pump, lines, drove it around, several hours passed by… he went from suggesting that there was coolant leak, to transmission leak to radiator oil leak… several more hours passed by as he came up with theories and looking at things… after being there for about 6 hours I decided to stick my head in and look at the engine block near the side where I told him to look and thought the smoke was coming from. Sure enough, just as I looked, I saw bubbles near the engine block’s cover, pointed it out to him and he said “ah, it’s loose! oil is getting out”; brought over his tools, tightened it and the problem solved.

I had been there for 7 hours, he wasn’t the type of guy who would say “this is my son’s friend, I am going to help him out”; he was a business man and to him I was a customer. I was upset with him for wasting 7 hours of my time; but what was really on my mind at that time was “how much will these 7 hours cost me?”, especially since he had a sign posted that had “Service hour rate: $45/hr” in big letters….  I will get back to this later in the post.

KPI and metrics
Man hours, hours, T-shirt size, story points, etc are measurements. I will try my best to not go down a rabbit hole with scrum, story point’s vs hour estimates… I will not! and hopefully I won’t lose my original messaging in all of this. Let’s start with this; at some point or the other, the focus and bottom line for a company will be “shipping product” against a “delivery schedule”. People, process, culture, story points, hour estimates, etc. will eventually stop existing if the “startedup” company cannot ship product and closes down (the focus here is shipping product according to other peoples expectations, i.e investors, C-suite, etc). With this at the back of our minds let’s continue on.

Story points are a measure of risk and/or effort and/or complexity (the and/or is there for the ones who disagree that story points do not measure complexity and/or risk).

Work/Task estimates are hours (usually) it takes to complete a task (with risk, complexity and effort already factored in).

Some argue that story points are just a block of time that provide the developers with padding; some argue that story points and hour estimates are not the same; some argue that time estimates need to be detailed and you should only use blocks of time (i.e. story points). I am not here to argue about any of these.

If you look at what part story points and sprints play: Story points (representing stories) go into sprints and sprints are boxed in time; at the end of the day, we are basically fighting for time. Others (Non-developers) usually want to know “how long will it take”, “when will it be done” because they need to set schedules, communicate to others, but (most) developers just want to work 🙂

How can I tell you how long it will take to fix when I have not even looked at the code; code that someone else wrote years ago!

When you have your team of 10 who have been working on a project (or two); the story points, velocity charts and estimations work out great. The team of 10 will negotiate points and the best suited person will do the work; everyone starts getting a good idea of what others and they themselves can do with improved accuracy (and velocity).

What risk can come up when you throw in 65 new hires and 2 new projects?
One thing that can happen is that the wrong person can get the wrong story; it is also possible that the new team may incorrectly estimate story points.

This happens or can happen because it takes experience and familiarity to get both (story point estimates and story assignment) of these right. Let’s say everyone is working on their tasks for a sprint, there is 1 story (something to do with SSL)  remaining and it MUST make the sprint (which closes sooner than the story can be worked); the one developer available knows NOTHING about SSL, and a simple change measured as 2 story point remains, there is a developer on the team who knows about SSL but she is already working on a different feature that requires her knowledge on encryption.

Why did this get set as 2 story point when it was obvious to the team that there was risk? Rather than negotiate for 5 points the team settled for 2 because they expected the more senior programmer to have a better idea of how many story points it would take; the senior programmer saw no problem with 2, because in the past, her team was comfortable with it being 2. Repeat this several times, and you have a pattern; how do you break this pattern? or how would you even recognize this pattern? How would someone have suggested 5? How do you further refine estimating story points so that its not just based on gut, experience or familiarity? You start building and tracking additional KPI’s/metrics. Velocity and Burn Up/Down charts are common KPI’s that most use, you need more to help fish out patterns and gaps.

I think it’s important to acknowledge that in a true scrum setup (a perfect world, which is possible) these things may not happen (or happen rarely); if something doesn’t make a sprint, it moves to the next, but in most (all) of the places I have worked at, true scrums do not exist, shit happens and you cannot NOT make the dates; unless the team pulls together, works OT and possibly burns out (if it keeps happening).

As many others do, I like to base my estimation on experience and collectively agree with a team; but wouldn’t it be easier if there was another set of metrics that provided extra assurance or a reality check? i.e. historical data. Either metrics against tasks or metrics against similar stories. i.e. a story around “user login” averages to be a 4 point story based on previous similar stories; a task to “check credentials against db” takes 2 hours? The metrics can be captured after sprints/projects are done in adhoc meetings or release review meetings the data would be used for new hires, for times when things are under/over estimated. New hires and others could use this data to help estimate and understand gaps between what it takes on average and how the teams perform; the KPI’s would further detail teams health…

Going back to the Vovlo; I was waiting at his desk while he put his tools away, then he walked back to his desk, opened up a book, flipped pages to a section that read “Diagnostics”, found a line item for “Oil Leak” and sub-item “Gasket”, and said “2 hours, so you owe me $90 for fixing the problem”. Even though he spent 7 hours on it, he charged me for 2 because that’s what the book that had metrics for that type of service said it should take. 

The Volvo example is important to me because it identifies performance issues; i.e. he should have done it in less than 2 hours if he was a good mechanic because that’s how long it takes on average; he should be asking himself “why did it take me more than 3 times as long and how can I do this better” because that’s what we would use similar development metrics for. “I seem to always under estimate UX changes, I need to pay better attention”.

The example I used has so far revolved around a startup company of 10 growing to a startedup company of 65; let me use a different example: A software development boutique is agile and they have client projects captured in back to back sprints. There are account executives that double as product owners who talk to the customers and based on experience and some dialogue with a few dev leads, they estimate effort and agree to a schedule and  budget. Once they are ready to start the sprint (for a new project) the dev leads will update the team and as soon as sprint planning (stories placed) is done they start rolling.

A few issues:

  1. The dev lead and account executive time-boxed the maximum amount of time it can take based on their meetings with the customer; there was no team review
  2. Account executives double as product owners;  their stories aren’t reviewed by developers until the work actually starts since developers are already busy on other projects
  3. There is no room for scope creep; things cannot get thrown out since this is a client project, and it must meet a date
  4. When there is scope creep and because its boxed; resources will work over time and burn out since the cycle just repeats it self – regardless of what your story points are, they have to fit in the sprints.

You could point out that the issue here is that there isn’t team involvement with the original estimation (for the time box) but this is because of how the company chooses to operate, so you cannot change this. You could state that the issue here is that there will always be some sort of scope creep so you cannot expect a hard stop but this is also because of how the company caters to customers expectations and needs to operate.

I would argue that the issue here is that the account executives do not have a “rate book” or “performance history” for similar tasks/stories that can help them come up with better estimates and factor in complexity when needed. In addition to that, since this company is in a pattern of running over (and solving by having people work over time, every time) there should be some sort of analysis done after each project to come up with “mistakes made” or “lessons learnt” so that people can learn from the patterns and put out better estimates; there will be times where you cannot change the entire companies culture, so instead you need to look for what can be improved.

With focus on additional KPI and metrics; one can identify issues with process or gaps before they become a bigger problem; Don’t just  stick with how things worked when you were a startup and expect things to continue to always be perfect once you start growing, when you are “startedup” you need to start looking at adding new KPI’s and measurements that will help the bigger team work better and scale.