Donnerstag, 2. Januar 2014

Why I work with Jimdo now

Today was my first day with my new employer Jimdo. For the last nine years I worked with it-agile in different positions, the last three years as a coach/consultant and trainer for Kanban. I‘ve learned so much during this time and and got to know so many different companies - small startups and agencies as well as medium sized companies and some large multinational corporations. I still think it-agile is one of the coolest companies on the planet, and I am really grateful to my colleagues, especially Henning and my brother Stefan.  And if you are into Agile and like to coach and train people, I strongly recommend that you consider applying for a job there!

So why did I decide to leave it-agile then? As you can imagine, it was a very tough decision. The main reason is: I am really curious what it feels like to go to the "other side of the fence" and work with a product company long term. For me, one of the biggest upsides of working as a consultant can also be a big downside: You see a lot of different organizations and talk to so many interesting people. At the same time chances are that you leave an organization and start a new engagement when the first steps are taken (and starts becoming really interesting). And even if you are involved for a longer period of time, you will always stay an outsider - you can participate in the successes of your client, but still you are always the external consultant. So I decided that it‘s time for me to move on and start a new career as an embedded person in a product company.

Why Jimdo? I first met the Jimdo guys back in 2010. Since then we always stayed in touch and one day they asked me to do some coaching with them. So they have been my client for the last three years, and many Jimdudes became my friends quite quickly. When I first visited their office, I felt immediately that this company is special, and there were so many situations where this impression was renewed. Here are just a few examples: Having a Feelgood Manager (watch this video about Feelgood Management (German)), an architect (and I am not talking about a software architect here) and a chef working at Jimdo; a napping room and a fancy aquarium room everyone can use when he/she needs to rest; no time tracking; really self-organized and empowered teams etc.

And these are only the obvious, observable things. Even more important is the really amazing company culture! And of course a great product with a great deal of innovations to come in the future! You might have noticed, that I am quite excited about my new employer;-)

What will I do at Jimdo? Here you can see a clipping from my contract of labor.

For those of you who don‘t understand German: It says that I will be employed in my role as "Dr. Rock" from January 2014 on. What does it mean to work as "Dr. Rock?" I don‘t know exactly, and neither do the founders who hired me:-) The important thing for both parties was that we wanted to work with each other and that there was a huge amount of mutual trust. So we decided to sign the contract and figure out later what exactly my tasks would be. Now you might understand why I wrote that Jimdo is special.

And what did I do on my first day? Started my two day internship at the awesome support team. And as expected, I learned really much about our customers!

P.S. If you are interested in Jimdo, check out the blog post I wrote about the Open-Prioritization-Meeting, the support and our trip to Stockholm

Montag, 16. Dezember 2013

Reviewing Lean Kanban Central Europe 2013

Exactly six weeks ago the Conference Lean Kanban Central Europe 2013 took place. After Munich in 2011 and Vienna in 2012, it was Hamburg this time - not only my home town but also one of the best places in the world:-)
My involvement was threefold: As organizer, board member and speaker. Here are my thoughts from these three different perspectives.

The organizer‘s perspective

What we try to do with LKCE is to create a special atmosphere. Therefore the venue is critical for us. We avoid typical conference hotels etc., which makes the organization more challenging and also more expensive, but I am confident that it‘s worth it.
This year we choose the Curio Haus as the venue, and it turned out really well. An old building with great atmosphere, plenty of space for socializing, two prestigious ball rooms and great staff!

In my opinion the only real downside was that the third rooms was too small. I didn‘t see that coming as I thought the attendees would behave differently - one big learning for next year!
Experience has told me that there are two very important things when organizing a conference (besides the venue and the program): Stable Wi-Fi and good coffee supply. Both worked great this time:-)
What I like about old buildings is that they provide great opportunities for extras. This year we used the big cartridges in the hallways for exhibiting 16 great quotes. When David Anderson saw this, he tweeted them one by one with the hash tag #EssenceOfKanban. Jasna Wittmann is the artist who did the great calligraphy!

Another thing we lay emphasis on is to have a great social event on the first evening. This is, again, a costy thing to do, but we see great value in attendees chatting with each other over a beer in an exciting atmosphere. This year we booked the Miniatur Wunderland, which is the world‘s biggest model railway with its 900 trains + 12,000 wagons traveling several hundreds of kilometers is brought to live. Over 200,000 figures in different parts of the world like Scandinavia and the North-East Sea with its 30,000 liters of water, Germany or America.

All in all I am very happy how the organization went and I want to say thank you to my colleagues who organized all this!

The board member‘s perspective

For the third time in a row we had the great board with Markus Andrezak, Pawel Brodzinski, Karl Scotland, Klaus Leopold an me (Hermanni Hyytiälä couldn‘t make it this time). These guys are not only really knowledgeable, but it‘s also a lot of fun to work with them!

The board members get a bottle of the Whisky "Work in Progress", which needs to be limited:-)
We choose to have a mixture between invited sessions and sessions choosen from our open review process. The program worked well for me. What we took away from the feedback was that there is demand for more practical sessions like experience reports and that we need to create even more opportunities for the attendees to get in touch with the speakers and other attendees. We already started a discussion how to do this...
I couldn‘t attend too many sessions, but my personal highlight was Stephen Bungay‘s keynote on The Executive‘s Trinity. Stephen is an expert on military history and strategy and the most eloquent speaker I have ever witnessed. Although I consider myself to be a pacifist, I find the concept of Auftragstaktik etc. really enlightening for business (and I am happy Stephen said in his talk people should do better things than slaughter each other!) I really recommend reading his book The Art of Action. His keynote from lkce13 is not publicly available on video, but if you are interested in leadership and management, you should read this free article.

The second talk I want to point you to is Troy Magennis‘ keynote on cycle time forecasting. Especially if you are working in a big project environment, predictability is important for you and you are not satisfied with your estimates, you should definitely check out his presentation! As far as I can tell, his stuff is rock solid and it contains a lot of surprising news. And it increased my interest in statistics:-) You can watch his keynote here.

Almost all presentations, including Pecha Kuchas, Lightning Talks and experience reports from companies like Ericsson, Siemens, Spotify, SAP, Jimdo have been videotaped and are available here.

The speaker‘s perspective

I had a full blown presentation about Kanban, Leadership and Alignment with Jimdo together with my dear fellow Fridtjof Detzner which went quite well.
In addition I gave a Pecha Kucha talk (20 slides on auto pilot, each 20 seconds). The Pecha Kuchas were well-received the last two years, so we decided to do them keynote-style this time (i.e. no parallel sessions). That was quite an amazing feeling to speak in front of 300 people in a big old ballroom! My topic was "Learning from Fake Charts". I wanted to talk about some things that puzzle me regarding things like Toyota, Complexity or Lean Startup, without taking myself too serious. So I came up with 12 fake charts to make my points. The preparation was really fun, and I was quite satisfied with the outcome. But once again I had to learn the hard way how much effort it takes to create and practice a smooth Pecha Kucha! If you have 6 minutes and 40 seconds, you should have a look at the video:

Next year

As I will leave it-agile and start working with Jimdo from January on, it-agile will loose some knowledge and experience about the conference‘s organization (although I am sure that most people over-rate my personal contribution to the success of the event). Therefore decision was made to simplify next year‘s organization and do it in Hamburg again. I think it‘s a good choice! LKCE14 will take place in the Curio Haus again (with a bigger third room, we promise!). The date is already set: Nov 11-12 2014. Check out
I will stay involved in the conference as a member of the board and by sharing ideas and experiences with the it-agile guys.
I am absolutely sure that the best LKCE conference is always the next one, so stay tuned!

P.S. We‘ve invented the KanBanana at the conference:-)

Dienstag, 12. November 2013

Open Prioritization Meeting

When I first visited Jimdo back in 2010, I saw a thing called “Team Wall” - a big wall painted in black, magnetic paint. The idea behind it was simply to use all the creativity of all the great people who work at Jimdo. So everyone who had an idea on how to improve the product, took a piece of paper, wrote down his suggestion, and attached it to the wall. This seemed to work out very well, because not long after starting, the wall was dotted with paper. However, what seemed to be a huge success, turned out to also yield a couple of problems. Many of the ideas hung on the wall for weeks or months - and many of them were never followed up at all. They were good, but did not fit within the business strategy. Or - they were good, but too many other ideas were even better. Nadja, the Flow Manager at Jimdo, often said: “This is not a black wall; It‘s a black hole!” This state created a lot of frustration. They were asked to share their ideas, but most of them were not pursued. And the reasons for this never became clear to them, so the idea wall was abolished again.

The team wall story is another example of a huge problem that occurs over and over again when companies create (or even just allow) big queues. These queues are almost always seen as a “place of unloading”, but without a common understanding of what happens to all the items after they are put in the queue. Furthermore, queues have this really annoying habit of growing and growing. So when items are not being removed, it becomes less and less likely that the things in the queue will ever be completed at all. The bigger the queue, the more effort it takes to manage it. This means that things will be overseen, duplicates sneak in, etc.

Queues lead to overburdening (stress, poor quality, frustration)

Jimdo’s experience with the team wall was one major reason for introducing a concept which they call Open Prioritization Meetings. The first team to start this meeting was the Feature Team, which is called “Captain Feature”. The mission of this team is to maintain and improve the Jimdo CMS, which is pretty much the core of the whole Jimdo application. Besides the end users, the Feature Team has a couple of internal customers: The Shop Team, the Payment Team, the Support Team, the Country Teams, etc. So, the Feature Team can also be seen as a service provider for their colleagues. This again led to a huge queue, although this time, a digital one. Over time the different teams had created tickets for each of their requests, and put them into the issue-tracking system. Very often, the expectation was: “Now that I have placed my order, I just have to wait until it is finished.” But the Feature Team’s capability was less than the overall demand. So the queue (in this case, it was called “Backlog”), grew and grew. And again: dissatisfaction was the result. The Feature Team wanted both to help their colleagues, and to build new features for the end users. This turned out to be impossible, and led to stress and frustration, aware that the queue was constantly growing. The other teams realized that their requests were not being processed, but there was no transparency with the reasons behind this. The Jimdo founders, yet another group of important stakeholders, couldn’t understand why it took so long to build new, strategic features.

Since introducing the Open-Prioritization-Meeting, many of these problems have been solved. This is how it works: On a bi-weekly basis, everyone who has a request for the Feature Team is invited to come to their room and bring his ticket(s). The different stakeholders then pitch their ticket, explaining why they think that this particular ticket has a high business value for the company, and should be done next. After this, the team, together with Fridtjof (one of the founders), decides which tickets they will accept for the next two weeks, and which ones they reject. The principle behind this meeting is: “Never make promises you can’t keep!” A prerequisite for this is that the team must know its capability: How many new tickets can they manage? How big can these tickets be?

The tickets that are not accepted at this time, are returned to the stakeholders immediately. Sometimes people are told: “Please come back with this request in 8 weeks.” And sometimes it is decided that a request won‘t be done at all. Of course it is frustrating for the person whose ticket is rejected - but it‘s better having this initial frustration, than having false hope that cannot be fulfilled. In that case, the frustration would kick in later - and much harder. The Open-Prioritization-Meetings ensure that there is no Backlog of stakeholder requests. In our experience, this is the best kind of expectation management!
And, by the way, the Open-Prioritization-Meeting usually only takes 30-45 minutes.

Although this format is quite new, we’re already seeing a couple of positive effects:
  • The team’s capability is more visible. Now it’s possible to avoid overloading the team - and at the same time, measures are taken to increase the capability.
  • Queues lead to stress. (“Look at all the work we have to finish! We can never do this!”) By abolishing the queue, the stress level decreased.
  • During the meetings, the stakeholders communicate directly, as opposed to the ticket system before. This prevents misunderstandings and builds trust.
  • The different teams have valuable discussions about what their most important request is, because they know that only 1-2 items will be accepted.
  • Everyone who is present at the meeting learns the reasons why certain things are worked on, and others aren‘t. Fridtjof is forced to lay out the company strategy on a regular basis (“Your idea is good. But this year we want to focus on another target group. The reasons for this are X, Y and Z. So we won‘t do your thing this year.”) In this case, Open-Prioritization-Meeting is a means of educating the employees, with respect to understanding and improving the company strategy.
  • In the duration of the meeting, there is an incredible amount of knowledge and experience from different disciplines gathered in this one room. So it‘s possible to find simple and creative solutions immediately: “I have an idea how we could do this with very little effort. Would you be satisfied with an 80% solution?” or “Can you do this by yourself, if we give you access to this system?”

The Feature Team was the first team to experiment with Open-Prioritization-Meetings. The positive outcomes have encouraged others to do a similar thing. Right now, more and more other teams are starting to figure out how this meeting should look in their environment.

This story is part of a free ebook about Jimdo which is called "Doing things differently. Leadership, Management and Alignment with Jimdo." You can download it here.

P.S. Eleven (!) years ago, Ron Jeffries wrote a blog post about what he calls "Petition the king" We did not know about this when we started the Open Prioritization Meeting, but both formats are very similar (unless there is no King at Jimdo:-)  Thanks, Yason Yip for pointing us to this! And as an answer to Ron‘s question in the last paragraph: "No, it‘s not madness!"
Read Ron Jeffries Post

Donnerstag, 24. Oktober 2013

Supporters to the teams!

Yesterday I wrote about customer support and how it is separated from the rest of the organization in many cases. (Read Blog Post).

At Jimdo, one of my clients, we discussed this topic quite often, and Jimdo (once again) is doing things differently when it comes to support work. Here are some details which might be worth sharing.

Quite some time ago, there was a whole lot of support tickets that were directly related to the work of the payment team (or „painment team“ how they used to call it at that time). Everyone who has ever tried to provide credit card payment for his services knows that everything related to payment is a big pain in the a...
So at this point it felt natural to have a support person directly in the team. This was a huge lever! The developers could understand better what problems the customers were facing, and the supporter got a better impression of what was going on in the payment team and shared this knowledge with the other supporters. They were so satisfied that they never thought about releasing the supporter from the team again. The opposite was true - they conducted an experiment: What would happen if we pair-program with the supporter? Sounds silly? Again, it was a big success! They gained an even better understanding of the „other world“ (development and support). And something else happened: Not only were they pair-programming, but also pair-supporting. So the developers were „forced“ to deal with real support tickets and use the same tools the supporters use day by day. Here again the very simple trick paid off: Bring together the people who are facing a problem with those who can solve the problem! It turned out that sometimes a developer could simplify support work with rather little effort (e.g. writing a script to automate things), while the support person did not even know that this was possible! So it was no question that the experiment was successful, and know paring with the supporter has become a kind of standard in this team.
The payment team might be the perfect fit for pulling a support person in. But why shouldn’t the same principle work for other teams as well? So kind of the next logical step was to do this for all other development teams as well.

P.S. When it comes to support, there is another interesting thing going on at Jimdo, which is called Support Alarm Party. But that is worth a future blog post...

P.P.S. Jimdo is one of the the most fascinating company I have ever seen. Fridtjof (one of the founders) and I will present the Jimdo Story at Lean Kanban Central Europe 2013 in Hamburg, Nov 4-5. Also we have written a small online booklet called „Management, Alignment and Leadership at Jimdo“. You can find the German version here. And this is the English version

Mittwoch, 23. Oktober 2013

Support – shield and sword of the company!

During the past couple of years I happened to see a lot of different teams and organizations. Although every organization is unique, there seem to exist some common patterns. The one I find most disturbing is the complete separation of the support department from other parts of the organization! What do I mean by this? There are a couple of development teams (no matter what kind of product or service they are providing). And then there is a support team department which deals with customer requests. And there is almost no connection between those two. Often they are located in different buildings, cities or even countries. And in big enterprises it is quite common to even outsource the customer support to a separate company. This is a disaster! The support people are usually the ones with the most customer contact. They know very well who uses the product we are developing (whereas sometimes the developers, project managers etc. seem to not know this); they know very well how our customers use our product, what they like and what they don’t like about it, where they’re facing problems when using our product etc. So they are very, very valuable when it comes to feeding the things we are developing back into the development teams. But usually organizations don’t do that. Or they do a survey once a year to ask the support department what features were requested most often by the customers. Even organizations which are quite mature when it comes to agile software development rarely do so. This strikes me to be absurd, because customer feedback plays such an important role in the agile world. But instead of bringing together the people who have the problems (as represented by the supporters) and those who can solve the problems (the developers, admins etc.), we separate them carefully. This leads to dissatisfied customers and therefore more requests for support. And what do we do? We hire more and more support people and train them to deal very efficient with customer requests. And sometimes we hire other people who should bring the customer perspective back into the teams.

And there is another perspective to this pattern, which makes it even worse. Not only don’t the developers know what the customers want. But the supporters don’t really know what the developers are developing. But the support is the first (and mostly the only) direct contact our customer has with our company. How can the supporters deliver an excellent customer service if they have no clue which features will be developed (and when), which ones are already in progress, which ones won’t be developed at all etc.?

I hope now it has become clear why I see supporters as the „shield and sword of the company“. But instead of respecting this and using this huge potential, very often organizations treat them as cheap resources. I suggest we start thinking about the role and the value of support and how we can use this potential to deliver better products/services to our customers.

Stay tuned: Tomorrow I will publish a second post on this topic with an example of how companies can do it differently.

-> Read the follow-up: Supporters to the teams!

Sonntag, 8. September 2013

Let‘s stop talking about waste

Recently I‘ve been re-reading a Blog Post on Scrum and Kanban. Two things struck me: 1) The author seems to believe that one piece flow should be the goal in knowledge work, and 2) He talked a lot about waste and how to avoid/eliminate it.
I think bothe points are at least debatable. Here are my thoughts on waste (I will write about one piece flow in another blog post).

The distinction between value-adding activities and non value-adding activities is known from the Toyota Production System, where it is known to be quite valuable and led to many improvements. During the past decades there have been plenty of approaches to transfer the concept of value/waste into knowledge work. The thinking behind this is quite simple: Gather activities, put them in one of the two buckets and then keep eliminating the wasteful activities. When I first heard this, it felt totally reasonable to me. But today I think the concept of waste isn’t useful at all in our domain. Here are the reasons why (most of them are taken from other people who are smarter than me. I will reference them).

1) It can be insulting
If you collect „wasteful“ activities in software development, you might end up with things like planning, writing documents, sitting in meetings etc. And as David Anderson points out, you might end up with a perfect job description of a project manager. It might or might not be true that these activities are always useful, but by calling them waste, we damage the self esteem of the people who are performing these activities day by day. And this doesn’t go together very well with „Respect for people“.
Actually, we have experiences exactly this ourselves! At one of our major clients, we were quite successful with implementing Scrum, and we were convinced that Lean should be the next step. So we gave a presentation in front of a group of middle managers. And guess what? They did not like it at all! From their perspective it sounded as if we wanted to eliminate their jobs and fire them on the spot. No real discussion about process improvement was possible, because they were resisting everything we suggesting.

2) It misses the point
The original concept of waste talks about wasteful activities. But as Don Reinertsen points out in the keynote from last year‘s Lean Kanban Central Europe conference, most often the biggest problems are not the activities, but the non-activities! (Watch the video of Don‘s talk below) We should focus on queues, where tasks sit and wait. Now you might say: „But waiting is considered waste in Lean!“ That’s correct. But this makes it even worse! When we consider waiting as waste and eliminate this kind of waste, we might end up utilizing people with 100% and make them perform (value-adding) activities all the time. But this is is a desaster in our industry! We don’t want people to be fully utilized, we want tasks to be utilized! It’s better that peopel wait for work than the other way around! So instead of looking for non value-adding activities we should focus on finding and working on the non-activities – and very often that means we need to utilize people less than before..

3) It is often simplistic or almost useless
Sorting activities into the two buckets „waste“ and „value-add“ has almost no sense in knowledge work, because you often end up with truisms. Building features that nobody uses is waste, and we should stop doing this, right? Yes it is. But this is so obvious, why do we need the category „waste“ for this? If you just tell people that nobody uses their featurs, they will immediately understand that they have a problem. And if they won’t, calling it „waste“ won’t help anyways.
So the dichotomy between „value“ and „waste“ is not sufficient. Let’s introduce a third category, which is quite common. Now we have „value-add“, „waste“ and „necessary waste“. Again: If you can categorize something as waste you should just stop doing it. If it is value-adding, then do more of it. This is trivial. The only interesting category is „necessary waste“. There have been lots of discussions about things like estimating, meetings or testing. Are they waste? Not really. Are the value-adding? This would mean that our customers would pay us more if we did more of this. Would they pay for more tests? Maybe. Would they pay for more estimates? Probably not. Would they pay us for doing more standup meetings? Definitely not! But still we feel that it is a good idea to keep our standup meetings. And I think we are right (in most contexts)! But the concept of „waste“ and „necessary waste“ does not help us understand why.

4) It is binary thinking
This thought is, again, taken from Don Reinertsen. Don keeps saying that we as technically-trained people tend to think in a binary way: It’s either yes or no, either black or white. This binary thinking is dangerous, because it prevents us from making good decisions. In most cases it is not either/or, but a little bit more or a little bit less. Value/waste is a good example of binary thinking: Something is either value-adding or wasteful (and if it’s wasteful we might sub-categorize it as necessary or not necessary). If it’s wasteful, we must eliminate it. I have rarely witnessed a situation where this thinking was useful and led to new insights and better decisions.

5) Innovation needs waste
This week my friend Henning Wolf pointed me to another interesting point: Innovation needs waste! Why is that? Let’s have a look at things like rework, wait times and building things that nobody uses. From a traditional Lean perspective they must be considered as pure waste and therefore be eliminated. This might be true in a manufacturing context, but it is desastrous in an environment where innovation is key. If you have a look at innovation techniques like Design Thinking, you will find, that they are celebrating waste! You are building things over and over again, you are re-building them, you are building completely useless things etc. This is another example of how important the context of our work is.

Thinking about Costs
So there are many reasons for not using the concept of. But what should we do instead? I think, it is much more useful to think about costs that are associated with certain activities. And again it is Don Reinertsen who advocates this idea the most! So if you haven’t done so, buy this book and read it now! The basic idea is very simple: There is a cost associated with every activity (and also non-acitivity) we perform. At the same time we are hoping to get a benefit out of this activity. If the costs exceed the benefits, it’s not a good investment. The problem is of course how to determine the costs. The good news is that in many cases we do not need exact calculations. It’s sufficient to find the sweet spot with the lowest overall costs. To get an impression what I am talking about, you can watch this presentation by Markus Andrezak and me where we examine the costs for continuous deployment. Thinking about real costs (we are not talking about simplistic approaches like cutting costs by all means here) is the opposite of binary thinking – because it’s almost never either/or. In my experience it leads to very fruitful discussions, and it is very accessible to managers.

Dienstag, 13. August 2013

cross-funktionale Teams

-> Want to read the English article? Click here

Wenn wir agil sein wollen, benötigen wir cross-funktionale Teams. Punkt. Oder ist es doch nicht ganz so einfach? Ich habe mich imme rgefragt, was genau ein cross-funktionales Team ist. Vor einer Weile habe ich mich darüber mit meinem Bruder Stefan unterhalten. Dabei ist ein Artikel herausgekommen, den wir in der Zeitschrift agile review veröffentlicht haben. Jetzt haben wir uns entscheiden, den Artikel auch online zur Verfügung zu stellen.
Diese Themen werden im Artikel behandelt:
  • Wann kann man von einem cross-funktionalen Team sprechen?
  • Wie verhält sich Cross-Funktionalität zu Innovation, Geschwindigkeit und Effizienz?
  • Die Kosten-Seite
  • Wie können Teams cross-funktionaler werden?
  • Was haben das A-team und Ocean‘s Eleven mit dem Ganzen zu tun?
Hier gibt es den Artikel als PDF