• Quality 4.0: Reveal Hidden Insights with Data Sci & Machine Learning (Webinar)

    What’s Quality 4.0, why is it important, and how can you use it to gain competitive advantage? Did you know you can benefit from Quality 4.0 even if you’re not

    Read more »
  • Value Propositions for Quality 4.0

    In previous articles, we introduced Quality 4.0, the pursuit of performance excellence as an integral part of an organization’s digital transformation. It’s one aspect of Industry 4.0 transformation towards intelligent

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    Quality 4.0 and Digital Transformation

    The fourth industrial revolution is characterized by intelligence: smart, hyperconnected agents deployed in environments where humans and machines cooperate to achieved shared goals — and using data to generate value.

    Read more »

Knowledge is like money. It’s useless if it’s not flowing.

Before launching into this post, everyone should go read the post that inspired it: Alyzande Renard’s brilliant piece on LinkedIn, titled Alyzande’s Tips for Getting a Job in 30 Days. Blunt, sweary version.

I’m excited about her post because it’s direct, frank, honest, and in your face. She’s directing everyone who’s on the job search (and I know it’s a lot of you, this year) to GET REAL about your expectations, about the process, and about the actions you choose to take. In addition to the practical, actionable advice she gives, she recommends that job seekers use this opportunity to get in the habit of sharing knowledge – online, in person, in interviews… because it’s through knowledge sharing that people really get a sense of who you are and what you can contribute.

Knowledge is like money, she says, citing the World Domination Conference guy… it’s useless unless it’s flowing. Your knowledge isn’t going to earn anything for you unless you’ve got it working for you… and that include information that you have that would be valuable to others, not just the “book knowledge” in your head. And to work for you, the knowledge has got to be shared.

I’ve encountered so many people who hoard knowledge, control channels of communication so they can control a narrative, or rely on citing “their professional experience” so they don’t have to explain the rationale behind their own recommendations. All of these habitual behaviors are fear driven cop-outs… and I’ve fired each of these people, at least once (but don’t worry, not without a lot of direct appeals first):

  • The knowledge hoarder believes that their worth is tied up in the repository in their head. Why should they share information with you? If you have it, then the information won’t be special or unique. If you have it, the company has no reason to keep them employed. [As the employer, I’ve fired knowledge hoarders because losing the information in their heads is often less costly than the effort required for others to detect it and get it out. Think about that one if you’re a knowledge hoarder.]
  • The narrative controller is insecure and uncertain of their own skills, especially when it comes to understanding what other people want. If they control communication channels, they can control the narrative to convince you that others want what they want to deliver, and then they can tune their work to something they know they can deliver. I call this the “Moses on the Mountain” scenario because these people go directly to the client or the boss, and come back to the team as the single authoritative channel of information. But what if they got it wrong? You’ll never know, because there were no witnesses to when they got the commandments from above. Any time you’re the only person receiving communications and interpreting them on behalf of others, you are in the danger zone. Bring at least one other person with you! [As the employer, I’ve fired narrative controllers because the cost of losing them was less than the cost of the errors incurred from their desire to control the narrative. I need reality, not interpretation… and reality comes from multiple people, independently interpreting, and coming up with shared results.]
  • The expert who relies on professional experience, you’ll find, tends to make recommendations without backing them up with evidence. They want you to believe the recommendation simply because of who they are. But the true experts, I’ve found, are the ones that share the evidence… even without you asking! They’re either proud of their reasoning, or they know they might not have the recommendation totally right (or maybe both). As a result they want to let you in on the information they have… that way you can make your own judgment. You build trust together when you come to a similar judgment, or when your judgments are different and you use the difference to build a stronger case together. [As an employer, I’ve fired experts-without-evidence because I get tired of trying to pry the evidence for their recommendations out of their heads. Guess what? A lot of times they don’t actually even have any evidence, and have made their decision based on a gut feel of dubious value.]

Now, notice… I said it’s important to share knowledge, and by association, to share information. Try not to share misinformation. If you’re new to a role, or still early in your career (like first 10 years early), find some people with more experience who you trust who you can run “knowledge” by before you share it with your team or workgroup. Heck, I’m coming up on my 29th year of actual real professional work, and even I have my trusted experts (some of whom have much less experience than me, but are super smart) – I run things by them before I share with groups. (“Do I have this right? Is there something I’m missing, or something I could explain better?”)

I’m tired of seeing cycles of misinformation… people with very good intentions sharing information (especially technical) that’s not only blatantly wrong, but misleading, with the easy potential to infect newbs. It’s easy to learn, and super difficult to unlearn… ANYTHING.

Share your knowledge… and information. Share actual knowledge. And go read Alyzande Renard’s post called Alyzande’s Tips for Getting a Job in 30 Days. Blunt, sweary version... if you’re not on the job market now, you’ll need to bookmark this for later.

Announcing the Digital Quality Institute

All of us should be starting to feel it now… we’re entering a new AI-ra. Which is why I’m expanding horizons! Today I’m launching the Digital Quality Institute at dxquality.com. That’s where I’ll be offering my old PDF eBooks that have been available for years, new PDF eBooks yet to be written, and high-impact courseware that I produce or curate.

For years, I’ve imagined what it would be like if I could connect people with the resources I wish I had, especially in the first 10 or 20 years of my career – to help us balance purpose, performance, and personal transformation. How to build critical thinking skills in technology-intense environments. How to make digital transformation actionable. How to navigate times when the technology is moving so fast we feel like we’ll be left behind. I’ve wistfully browsed through my Google Drive, packed with 14 years of content, much of which has only been shared with a relatively small group of people.

Since 2016, lots of people I’ve interacted with in work environments, or after talks and keynotes, have said “That’s SUCH useful content… you should put that on Udemy.” But the quality of courseware on Udemy and Coursera varies a LOT, and I’ve never felt comfortable adding my work to that giant haystack. And while I love TEDx, it’s become too diluted to me, it doesn’t feel as special as it did years ago when researchers were sharing their new insights with the world in a sparkly new way.

That’s why today, I’m launching the Digital Quality Institute at dxquality.com.

My vision for DQI is that it provides a marketplace of unique, compelling, and inventive ideas from leaders and emerging leaders who care about quality and excellence – people at all stages of their careers who have been inspired by the rich tradition of quality. Leaders who can carry those messages forward in relevant and engaging new ways that younger generations can be inspired by.

While the first two courses are derived from instruction and mentorship I’ve been providing students and direct reports since the late 90s, I’m in discussions with insightful leaders with great ideas who might also contribute to the offerings. (If you’ve got material grounded in quality and you’re looking for a platform to share it, let’s talk & see if it’s suitable for DQI).

Course #1 is available now:

I’m excited to be the curator of dynamic stories that help us connect with our power… so we can help each other transform our work, transform our lives, and realize our potential as individuals and innovative communities in the digital-first world.

Setting Expectations Early & Often

Agreeing on simple things (for example, where and when to meet) can be anything but simple. There can be miscommunications, incomplete communications, desires can change along the way, or people can learn things that change their availability or ability to get together. How do you make sure that you stay on the same page, even as you (and the things around you) change?

The remedy is effective expectation setting.

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

If you search YouTube for videos on expectation setting, though, you’ll get lots of results that talk about one-way communication around making sure someone (often someone with less organizational power) knows what you want from them. Lots of these videos are great, but they are limited to helping you build your skills around clear, concise, meaningful, tangible communication. And sometimes, expectation setting is indeed one-way, like for example when a company explains its return policy before you purchase something, or lets you know that there’s a real person behind its chat rather than a bot.

More often, expectation setting requires dialogue, and can’t just be unilaterally set by one party. When two parties (or a group of people) establish or update their shared understanding of a problem, situation, or scenario, then confirm that shared understanding, expectations are set. But that doesn’t mean you’re done.

Expectations erode over time. People learn, situations change, and relationships change. Especially in a work context, we might be setting expectations with a role, and people can flow in and out of roles. It’s not uncommon that we won’t have all the information or context we need going into a discussion, or that the information has become stale since the last time the parties reviewed it. Sometimes, new people are at the table, and we can’t make assumptions about how much understanding they have (or whether they’ve been introduced to the problem at hand at all).

For example, it’s common to scope a services engagement with the decision maker and project champion (who signs the contract), but be handed off to more operational contacts for the day-to-day work. Sometimes these operations people will not have had the opportunity to be briefed by the decision maker, who may or may not have prioritized getting their buy-in. You’ll have to deal with this challenge during the first opportunity you get to engage in expectation setting with this group of people.

The dialogue around expectations is ongoing, and you can tell it’s happening when you hear things like:

  • “What we think we’re going to do next is [this]. Has anything changed since the last time we reviewed this?”
  • “What I’m hearing is… [this]. Is that your understanding too?”
  • “So what I think you just said is… [thing I think you just said]. Is that accurate?”
  • “Let me reflect that back to you, and you can assess how close I am.”
  • “So if we do [this], does everyone here agree that’s the next step?”

I’d rather be disappointed now than disappointed and overwhelmed later by having to pivot. It’s good to be agile and be able to pivot, but it’s bad to have to pivot over and over again. (You have to regain your balance after every pivot. Sometimes this rebalancing is quick, and other times it never quite happens. Pivoting always comes with a risk, just like not pivoting can be risky.)

Expectation setting is one of the most valuable skills you can develop, especially if you are working as part of an agile team. Not only can expectation setting help you become a badass at work, but it will also help you build better relationships with friends and family.

Don’t assume that the world is the same as it was last time. Set expectations early and often.

Dean Meyer’s “How Organizations Should Work” – an A+ Reference on Intentional Organizational Design

The organization that you design designs you back.

Similarly, the organization that you fail to intentionally design will also design you back. And you probably won’t like the pain it inflicts… whether that pain manifests as political battles, conflicts of interests, or just plain stonewalling or slow-walking. People tend to perform based on how well their goals and objectives are defined, how effectively their roles (and the relationships between their roles and other roles) are defined, and how rigorously the organization monitors and reinforces desired behaviors and outcomes.

Unfortunately, it’s rare to get all those pieces in place and functioning at the same time. But thanks to Dean Meyer’s new 2022 book, How Organizations Should Work, you’ll have a head start on lessons learned. Based on his multi-decade career in organizational design, he provides simple, tangible, and meaningful explanations that will help you learn how to intentionally design your organization.

I brought this book to Burning Man because I wanted to read it in a place where I could take my time, where I could allow my mind to expand and take in Dean’s lessons, where I could feel the inspiration all around me while figuring out how to bake more inspired organizational design into my own workplace. And I did start reading it there.

But this book is so packed with wisdom and insights that you’ll want to read it slowly. Plan adequate time for it. After getting through the first 80 pages or so at the event, I read one or two sections every weekend. It took me a full three months to get through cover to cover… and I’m someone who can read a whole book in one sitting. This one, though, will make you think, and you’ll need time to pause and reflect on each of the stories and narratives that Dean uses to make his points.

Here’s a small sample of the highlights (and there are more; you can find this book on Amazon for $37-40).

Book Summary (p. 465-494). The best way to develop a reading plan for this book is to start at the end. Dean provides a helpful synopsis of each chapter that you can use to figure out which sections are most relevant for your organization now. The book is structured so that you don’t have to read it from start to finish, but can pick the sections that are the highest priority for continuous improvement in your organization. Some sections (like Chapter 19, on managing workers in the field) may be less relevant to your needs than other sections (like Chapter 15, on aligning sales and marketing). I recommend starting with Chapters 1 through 6 (and if your time is limited, start with Chapters 5 & 6).

Chapter 5 – Market Organization & Chapter 6 – Empowerment (p. 33-57). These two chapters provide the best (and most concentrated) view of the main thesis of the book, which is that every organization should be structured as a market. Each functional area should have customers, and services they provide to those customers. Each functional area should be empowered to make decisions about how the business of that unit is conducted, and should also have the skills to do it (and to build trust within their business unit and between their business unit and others). Organizing according to a market allows people to specialize, makes it possible to monitor performance in a more modular way, and simplifies the cognitive complexity of an organization.

Appendix 4 – Culture: Examples of Behavioral Principles (p. 376-380). Dean notes that companies are great at defining their culture, but often not so great at explaining how people can embody that culture and monitor their behaviors to ensure that they are living it and reinforcing it. In this section, he provides specific examples of behaviors that can make goals like “maintain a high ethical standard” actionable. For example, you can say “we do not permit personal conflicts of interest”. You’ll have to test your processes against these behavioral expressions of culture, too: if you don’t permit personal conflicts of interest, you should identify areas where conflicts of interest might arise and anticipate ways to identify them, prevent them, or resolve them quickly.

There are so many things I like about this book, and it embodies so many principles of good organizational design in a light, conversational way. Although there are a lot of books I really like, I don’t typically gush over them… but this one meets my high standards. Coupled with Dean’s 2017 book, Principle-Based Organizational Structure (which has a less conversational and more academic style), these are the only two references I really need to remind me of the essentials for intentionally building healthy organizations that are aligned internally and externally.

Alignment is the best way to reduce friction between people, and accelerate real progress towards tangible goals.

Elon’s Modern Day Tower of Babel Event

So Elon bought Twitter this week, fired most of the staff (except the people who have been writing the most lines of code, and if you work in software engineering you know what a genius idea that is), alienated a bunch of potential 2023 advertisers, and then alienated them more by threatening to publicly shame them.

It reminds me of the Tower of Babel story, where ancient leader Nimrod (according to Jewish-Roman history) decided to build a tower so big that it would reach all the way to God. (How big? About 3x the height of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, which is pretty big at 2722 ft, just over half a mile tall.) Apparently God didn’t like that, so he decided to bust up the party by making people unintelligible to each other.

A literal Tower of Twitter. Image Source: https://sf.curbed.com/2020/5/13/21256351/twitter-building-headquarters-work-home-employees-sf

According to the mythology (which actually appears in many traditions), the reason God made the decision to magically and instantaneously create several languages was that the people were getting too powerful. Because they could communicate and coordinate, they were relying on each other to accomplish great feats (namely: building a giant tower) rather than putting their faith in their deity to help them overcome differences and achieve unity.

It’s pretty easy to see what role Twitter (powered by its Translate Tweet button) and Mastodon are playing.

The only thing I’d love to know is… in this modern drama of social media evolution, who’s playing God?

A Magical 1997-era Web Form & the Illusion of Progress

This morning, while I was checking my email, the power went out.

There was no storm, the neighbors still had power… did I forget to pay the bill? Surely not… I get an email every month & immediately click through to process the payment. But I decided to check anyway.

I went to our local electric company’s web site to check on the status of my account. It’s not a big town, and their development budget has got to be tiny… it looks like they haven’t updated their web site in more than a decade. And the “Pay Your Bill” form is even more extreme… that form is straight outta 1997, complete with a little moving text, like ants marching across the bottom of your screen. It looks like Peoplesoft used to look like, at the dawn of the millennium.

Not my power company’s web form. But close. You get the idea.

Turns out, I did make a mistake last month. I was traveling when bill time came around, and instead of clicking the button to pay all accounts, I accidentally only paid one and not the one that corresponds to the house where I live, where I work, where I absolutely positively need internet all the time.

There was a text box at the top of my screen with a phone number, and a message saying that power could usually be restored by 8pm. I started mentally arranging my work day… how much connectivity I’d be able to get by tethering to my phone… how much battery life I had left in my laptop… how much crow I’d have to eat, as the impacts impacted other people and other meetings.

I quickly filled out all the little boxes to let the electric company know that I really wanted them to take my money and turn my power back on as soon as they could. Like usual, their clunky looking web form was smooth to actually fill in.

But then magic happened.

I clicked the “Pay Now” button with the stylus on my phone. TAP! Before my fingers returned to the position they were in when they started the downward trip to click the button (literally milliseconds later) I heard whirring all around me. The printer was going through its startup sequence. The TV started to flicker on.

That 1997-era web form was like a lightswitch. When I flipped it, my power went back on. For whatever the power company didn’t invest in making their web site look slick and exciting, they sure did invest in what means the most to me: automatically, instantaneously, magically getting my power back in the blink of an eye.

Why don’t all companies invest, like this, in delivering meaningful value over delivering the appearance of value?

I’m thinking of a company I know, right now, that’s invested several million dollars over the past year trying to get a web app in place to perform a basic revenue-driving function of their business. They even “built an MVP”! But they’re still falling short of their goal. I wonder if they, like so many others, are falling into the most nefarious trap that exists:

The Illusion of Progress… showing that you’re moving forward without showing that you know what really matters, and then surgically focusing on that.

Are you making progress on what really matters? Or what looks like it matters?

There’s your challenge for this week (and life).

Agile Should Not Make You Feel Bad

Agility can be great (even though for many neurodivergent people, it’s the opposite of great). But when teams go through the motions to be “Agile” they often end up overcomplicating the work, adding stress to interactions, and achieving less agility.

If your agile processes are “working”, then over the next iteration (typically 1-4 weeks):

⬜ You have a clear understanding, as a team, of the value you’re working to demonstrate. (Note that this is not a promise or a commitment, but a shared purpose, direction and intention.)

⬜ You have a clear understanding, as individuals, of the actions that will generate that value. You know what to work on (and think about) when you’re not in meetings or with clients.

⬜ You don’t feel alone – you have teammates to communicate with and collaborate with, and resources you can use, as you move forward to advance project objectives.

⬜ You are working at a comfortable, sustainable pace.

⬜ Your team is improving every week – you continually do things a little differently to help improve quality, productivity, collaboration, or other outcomes.

None of these things require meetings (or “ceremonies”) – just communication and inclusion. We should always be asking ourselves and our team members: what’s the easiest, smoothest, least intrusive way of building this shared understanding and maintaining it every day?

When teams work with agility:

⬜ Everyone understands the overall goal and the next increment of value to demonstrate.

⬜ Everyone has clear things to do to contribute to that value.

⬜ Each person (and the team as a whole) works at a sustainable pace.

⬜ Nobody feels alone. There’s a group of collaborators to share the work with.

⬜ The client or project champion has visibility into the work and is happy with progress.

⬜ There’s an opportunity to rest, reflect, and adjust every week or two.

It’s not ridiculously hard to adjust to changes in scope, tools, or personnel. 

But I regularly see “agile” teams flailing… unhappy… in constant panic mode, with stress that just won’t end. They are very busy and always seem to be scrambling to show their client or project champion some kind of value… with the feeling that they have to defend their existence. They have a nagging sense of confusion and impostor syndrome may be creeping in. They can tell you exactly what tasks are on their JIRA boards, but they can’t tell you why those tickets exist or how their task is contributing to overall project value. They have lost sight of the forest (value) because they have planted so many trees (tickets).

For these teams, the Scrum process and Agile ceremonies may be adding layers of stress and bureaucracy rather than helping the team work sustainably to consistently drive value. They are “doing Agile ” but have actually made themselves less agile… less able to flow and adapt and respond to changes in scope, tools, or participants.

Agile methods first emerged in response to the slow, painful, unsatisfying, unhappy practice of software development. It was really depressing to spend months building software, only to have customers and users complain how bad it was when they got it (especially when you developed exactly what they specified). It felt isolating to have to figure out how to deliver a piece of the software without any input from other engineers, and it was distressing when others were blocking your work and you had to convince them to listen to you. The whole endeavor was inefficient, and people were often tense and stressed. 

The realizations in red (in the 90s) led to the Agile Manifesto items (2001) in blue

We’re applying processes and tools without really examining why we need them

So let’s prioritize…

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

  • Why this is part of the Agile Manifesto: Since the beginning of time, development teams tend to get hung up on the details of using tools (e.g. MS Project, JIRA, kanban boards) rather than why the tools are there in the first place: to make sure people are getting the information and context they need – on a regular, routine basis – to make continuous progress on the team’s overall deliverables.
  • What we should do in 2022: Focus on information sharing, context building, and working arrangements that help people get work done. This applies to interactions within the team as well as interactions with the client.

We’re doing a lot of work that doesn’t actually contribute to our goal

So let’s prioritize…

Working software [ie. tangible stuff that’s valuable] over comprehensive documentation

  • Why this is part of the Agile Manifesto: Software development in the 1990s was documentation-heavy. I even remember, in 2018, throwing away a few hundred pounds of paper (in about 20 4” binders) containing requirements and design documents for a really big software project that we did between 2002 and 2004. Often, development teams wouldn’t even produce software that matched the documentation because we’d learn about what was feasible and what was not as we were doing it. Everyone tended to deliver software that the business needed a year or two ago. We didn’t learn together and co-create the software. 
  • What we should do in 2022: We provide value in the form of information, shared understanding, and working software (which may be in the form of quality controls) – that’s it. Anything we produce that doesn’t directly contribute to making these things happen shouldn’t be done. 

We’re unable to deliver something we don’t know how to define or describe yet

So let’s prioritize…

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

  • Why this is part of the Agile Manifesto: Because deciding what you’re on the hook to deliver at the beginning of a project – and exactly what the deliverables are going to look like – is dangerous. You and the customer rarely have enough understanding of the problem (or of each other) to get it right. 
  • What we should do in 2022: Establish shared accountability. (Note: this is rare. How many times has a customer been on your team and just as accountable to the project champion for the end result as you are?) A workaround is to set expectations with the client that we are discovering the shared understanding together, and we will get as close to the desired deliverables as we can, given the fact that we are embarking on a process of learning together.

We’re unable to commit to a plan when we might learn that our plan isn’t feasible

So let’s prioritize…

Responding to change over following a plan

  • Why this is part of the Agile Manifesto: As you learn about what’s possible, what’s not possible, and what the client actually values… plans will change. Instead of establishing a timeline that won’t end up working out (and that will cause you a lot of stress when you start deviating from), just start with the understanding that your Gantt Chart and your intermediary milestones will probably not be achieved when you think they will – or maybe even at all.
  • What we should do in 2022: Always keep the final goal in mind, but revisit and adjust the plan as you learn more every week. Iterate! 
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