Meet Chris Chan (AgileTODAY)

AgileTODAY-Vol7-p01In the last issue of AgileTODAY, I was interviewed by SlatteryIT to find out more about myself as one of the Agile Australia chairs.  For Agile Australia 2104 I was one of the chairs for the ‘Approaches’ stream and in 2015 I will be chairing the ‘Build Measure Learn’ stream.

Here’s the transcript of that interview on page 10:

[AT] How many Agile Australia conferences have you been to? What has been your favourite moment from a past conference?

[CC] I have attended all of them and each year it gets bigger and better. I have enjoyed many of the keynotes at the conferences including Fiona Wood’s inspirational passion to “learn something from every day so that tomorrow is better”.  Another was Jeff Smith’s keynote about providing executive sponsorship for “Living Agile” as a way of increasing business value through simplicity. However, my favourite moment was last year when a few of us gave the Aussie rite of passage for a few overseas attendees with the ‘Tim Tam Slam’.

[AT] Tell us about your Agile ‘A-ha’ moment.

[CC] I was a technical lead for a project and my life was ruled by crunching numbers and trying to work out an impossible project plan, knowing in my heart that it would be out of date the very next day. Ultimately, this planning turned out to be making lots of assumptions that didn’t take into account the realities of the world.

As the delivery got underway, we used iterative and Agile approaches. We discovered new things that we couldn’t predict in the beginning. Through the real progress of working software it was soon clear that the original plan was false. The amount of work required didn’t fit expectations.

We interacted with the customer regularly to understand what they really needed and developed in short cycles. Our customer said it was a great level of communication and collaboration, however, the new discoveries and real progress didn’t win favours with management. We were faced with a project that had a 9 month window but was 2+ years in the Gantt chart. I realised that the people doing the work will figure out the best way to get from point A to Z.  I didn’t need to predict everything upfront and it was liberating to experience empirical processes and Agile.

[AT] Attendance at Agile Australia has tripled since the first conference. What changes have you seen in the community, in Agile approaches, in your work, over the years?

[CC] Ten years ago we had to justify Agile approaches and prove that it works. When I first came across Agile it was mainly XP, Scrum or FDD. Now Agile encompasses a whole range of ways of working including Lean Startup, Design Thinking, Lean and Kanban, Complexity Theory, Systems Thinking, Servant Leadership, Beyond Budgeting and Scaled Agile Framework to name a few. I am no longer spending time justifying Agile and instead helping teams with their Agile transformation and scaling Agile.

Seven years ago there weren’t any Agile meetups in Melbourne, and now we have a vibrant Agile community. Whilst many people have been on their Agile journey for a few years, it’s also great to see many new faces at the local meetups who are learning about Agile for the first time.

Over time we sometimes forget about the Agile Manifesto and just do the practices. I think we we need to continually reinforce the values because that is what makes it work.

[AT] On your blog you mention you care about ‘humanising the workplace’ – what do you mean by that? 

[CC] Organisations and machines don’t build great products and services, people do. It is the collaboration and the human spirit that are at the heart and mind of great work. We need to stop viewing people as ‘resources’; treating them as robots or commodities who are easily interchangeable. We need to enable performance rather than manage performance. The importance of people is reflected at this year’s conference with a whole stream dedicated to building people oriented-organisations through Individuals and Interactions.

Humanising the workplace is about making a work environment that puts a greater emphasis on knowledge, passion, inspiring people to collaborate towards common goals, and fostering teamwork where creativity can flourish. We need to adapt the models, processes and restrictions of work to fit humans better. It may seem obvious when I say this, but as an Agile Coach I have spoken to many people about how alienating the workplace can get. I think we have improved a lot in this area over the years, but we need to be very careful we don’t turn Agile processes into Waterfall 2.0.

[AT] What is the strangest situation you’ve applied an Agile principle to?

[CC] I use Agile in range of situations including creating Kanbans for moving house, big visible charts for our kids’ reward system, acceptance criteria for household chores and a Santa backlog! To some this might seem strange but for me its a way life. I have even got my wife limiting her WIP and using Kanban!

You can get more information about the publication including past issues at the AgileTODAY website.

AgileTODAY-Vol7-p10

 

 

 

 

Agile Coach Camp Melbourne 2015 on InfoQ

accau2014

infoqTowards the end of last year I was interviewed by Shane Hastie from InfoQ about Agile Coach Camp.   The interview was published in the article An Update on Agile Coach Camps Internationally.

Coach camps are volunteer organised events which typically happen over a weekend and are designed to be cost neutral, sharing the venue and catering costs across the attendees without a profit motive.  Coach Camps run using an Open Space format.

Bernd Schiffer and I are bringing Agile Coach Camp to Melbourne in March 2015.  We have been busy finding a suitable venue and we are very close to finalising one soon.

For more information and how to get tickets (once they go on sale) for the Agile Coach Camp in Melbourne, please visit www.agilecoachcampaustralia.org

Here’s the transcript of my interview on InfoQ:

I was one of the few people from Melbourne who traveled up to Sydney for Australia’s first Agile Coach camp in 2013. I didn’t know what to expect from the event other than wanting to network and meet other people who were passionate about helping others deliver customer and business outcomes through agile ways of working. In the end I caught up with a great bunch of like-minded people and walked away with some new ideas and hopefully provided some inspiration for others.

I want to increase my competency as an Agile Coach and help others by forming a community of practicing Agile Coaches. Through this desire I formed the Agile Coaching Circles Meetup (www.meetup.com/agile-coaching-melbourne) in Melbourne to provide support for the role of the Agile Coach. Naturally Agile Coach Camp is another outlet to learn and become more effective in the role of an Agile Coach and anyone else involved in coaching, training, mentoring and leading Agile organisations, teams and individuals through a community of practicing coaches. It is a practitioner-run event and the sessions are planned collaboratively on the day with the participants. I find the peer-to-peer Open Space discussions to be diverse, cooperative, stimulating and interactive.

I am looking forward to the coach camp in Sydney and I am excited about collaborating with Bernd Schiffer in hosting Melbourne’s inaugural coach camp in early 2015 and making this a regular event in every coach’s calendar. We want to run the Melbourne coach camp as a grassroots event that is cost neutral with little or no sponsorship other than a sponsor who can denote a venue for us to use. We want to encourage everyone to bring their best ideas or problem they want help with, unleash their enthusiasm and together we can discover how we can be even better coaches.

I hope to see you in March at the Melbourne Agile Coach Camp.

Agile Revolution Podcast at Agile Australia 2014

agileaus2014It was great co-chairing a stream at the Agile Australia 2014 Conference with Renee Troughton and Kim Ballestrin.   At the conference the friendly folks from The Agile Revolution, Craig Smith and Renee Troughton, grabbed me for a quick chat for their podcast, Episode 77: Agile Australia 2014 Vox Pop #2.

You can hear my interview starting at the 9 min 20 second mark.

Digital disruption starts with disrupting your business model

ButterflyLifeCycle

Recently I was posed the question “how can we shape organisations to be successful in an environment of digital disruption?”

The convergence of technologies, such as cloud, social, mobile and information (the Nexus of Forces) …. are driving the Digital Industrial Revolution (Gartner).    The convergence of these technologies has formed what Fred Wilson has described as the Golden Triangle:

“The three current big megatrends in the web/tech sector are mobile, social, and real-time.”

However, technology is just one part of the digital disruption equation.  You can forget about digital disruption if you don’t disrupt your existing (traditional) business models.

Over the years oragnisations have updated their technology roadmaps and invested in new technologies to support their business strategies.  Yet organisations have retained their legacy processes and policies and have not adapted new ways of working to compete effectively.   Most organisations are built to sustain their existing business models which are not geared towards creating digital experiences for customers. Existing governance structures are often too slow, too siloed, stifles innovation, adds bureaucracy and all too inconsistent.

Increasingly organisations are embracing new paradigms and principles in the way they work in the era of digital.  Many of these incidentally come from Agile and its related areas such Lean, Kanban, Design Thinking, Systems Thinking, and Lean Startup. Take for example the U.S. Digital Services Playbook:

  1. Understand what people need
  2. Address the whole experience, from start to finish
  3. Make it simple and intuitive
  4. Build the service using agile and iterative practices
  5. Structure budgets and contracts to support delivery
  6. Assign one leader and hold that person accountable
  7. Bring in experienced teams
  8. Choose a modern technology stack
  9. Deploy in a flexible hosting environment
  10. Automate testing and deployments
  11. Manage security and privacy through reusable processes
  12. Use data to drive decisions
  13. Default to open

and the UK Government Digital Services Design Principles:

  1. Start with (user) needs
  2. Do less
  3. Design with data
  4. Do the hard work to make it simple
  5. Iterate. Then iterate again.
  6. Build for inclusion
  7. Understand context
  8. Build digital services, not websites
  9. Be consistent, not uniform
  10. Make things open: it makes things better

Adoption of an Agile models, Lean Principles, a lean way to create a business model and a way to continuously innovate is vital if you want to compete effectively.  These (modern) delivery models and principles no longer play a supporting role, but are center stage – it is becoming essential to the success of businesses in the age of digital disruption.

None of the principles and policies by the U.S. Digital Services and UK Government Digital Services is about technology.  They are more about how work and business is to be done.  The companies that will be successful in the disruptive digital era will be those who look beyond technology solutions but also disrupt their traditional organisation and governance structures and invest in new business models.

The digital disruption is forcing businesses to change how business is done. This requires a business transformation that uses technology to create digital experiences for customers AND equally adapt or introduces new processes and systems[1] to successfully compete.  Through evolution of work design, organisations need to adapt and change processes and policies (and we are not just talking changes in IT only).  This will be BIG – it means changing one way of being to another.  A butterfly is nothing like a caterpillar.

 

 

Footnotes:

[1] W. Edward Deming defines a system as a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system.  In this case the system is not an IT system, but the organisation as a system.

Spotify breaks the rules when Scaling their Agile Engineering Culture

“One of the big success factors at Spotify is the Agile Engineering Culture.” – Henrik Kniberg

Spotify started as a Scrum company in 2008 but the standard Scrum practices were getting in the way as they grew, so they made them optional.  Here’s an awesome video how Spotify scaled their Agile Engineering Culture.  They decided that:

  • Agile matters more than Scrum
  • Agile Principles matters more than any specific Practices
  • Agile Coach is needed rather than ScrumMaster (Servant Leaders more than Process Masters)

Chris Chan

Innovation: 4 Part Recipe for Sustaining an Innovation Pipeline

In today’s era, organisations especially large enterprises are often challenged with shrinking revenues from existing products and services.  Furthermore technological breakthroughs and incremental product development no longer necessarily provide the competitive differentiators to grow their business.  Management need to investigate how to reinvent ways to sustain innovation and to stay in front of their competitors.

The process of innovation is often seen as being very linear, with business models created from market research results, leading to large development efforts creating products that fail to meet customer’s need.

The goal of a new product development is to figure out the right thing to build—the thing customers want and will pay for—as quickly as possible.  But why do new products fail so badly everywhere we look?  The first problem is the allure of a good plan, a solid strategy, and thorough market research.  In earlier eras, these things were indicators of likely success. So what has changed?  In today’s era this approach does not work as organisations operate under extreme uncertainty.

We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want.  We need to go beyond asking hypothetical questions, and observe real customer behaviour.

The following model combines ingredients from 4 different disciplines to help with this innovation dilemma:

  1. Design Thinking
  2. Lean Startup
  3. Business Model Canvas
  4. Agile

Each part is fit for purpose in the cycle of innovation.

Sustained-Innovation-Pipeline-v1.1

Download PDF version.

1. Design Thinking – develop customer empathy to generate insights and create ideas

Design plays a significant part of innovative business models and it is important in creating value for users.

Through working with a product development team in a large enterprise I have observed how well Design Thinking complements Lean Startup.  Lean Startup is taking the world by storm, however, the build-measure-learn cycle does not address the design and ideation cycle – how do organisations and teams identify ideas, customer insights and leap-of-faith assumptions that need to be validated?

Thinking like a designer certainly will help transform the way you develop products, services, processes and even strategy [Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO] through contextual inquiry and observing customer behaviours.   Immersing yourself in the context and observing customer behaviours helps you unearth details and intricacies of the problem space.  Accurate observations will help you generate insights, create ideas and develop initial product designs for a customer segment.  These ideas, designs and leap-of-faith assumptions can then be further validated using Lean Startup.

2. Lean Startup – scientific experimentation and validated learning

Lean Startup supports the launching of businesses and products. It relies on validated learning, scientific experimentation, and iterative product releases to shorten product development cycles, measure progress, and gain valuable customer feedback.  In this way, organisations can design their products or services to meet the demands of their customer base without requiring large amounts of initial funding or expensive product launches.

Lean Startup is a learning framework for “disruptive innovation” defined as unknown problem, customer & market, solution & the search for “the right thing to build”.  The primary output being a validated business model through, rapid iteration, empiricism & non-vanity metrics to measure progress.

The design thinking process provides a vehicle to generate tested ideas quickly.  The Lean Startup approach can then be used to validate the ideas, customer insights and leap-of-faith assumptions using experiments.

Both Design Thinking and Lean Startup take a very similar iterative and customer driven development design approach.  The combined approach of Design Thinking and Lean Startup provides a systematic approach for organisations to create disruptive innovation.

3. Business Model Canvas – Rapidly create a business model

The Business Model Canvas is one of the most used business model frameworks.  The Business Model Canvas allows you to rapidly create and capture the rationale of how an organisation creates, delivers, and captures value.  Design Thinking informs the Business Model of opportunities (eg who our customers are and what they value).  The Business Model can be systematically validated/invalidated through Lean Startup experiments. Lean Startup is the framework to rapidly iterate over the business model.

Ultimately, this allows us to test the business viability, and to change and adapt our business model to take advantage of the opportunities.  Any part of the business model that is validated can be quickly delivered to customers through small releases (minimal viable products) using iterative and incremental approach of agile development.

4. Agile – Implement and continuously deliver product features to the customer

Lean and Agile values, principles and practices provides the means for organisations to  amplify the leap-of-faith assumptions by continuously delivering value to users through iterative and incremental development.

Mixing it all together

In the race to create new innovative product and services, organisations will need to move away from the linear approach to innovation using assumptions based on market research.  The combination design thinking, lean startup, business model canvas and agile is a holistic approach that has a push towards customer centricity that really helps provide a framework to create and sustain an innovation pipeline.  Ultimately these 4 parts provides a model to build an innovative culture and delight customers with the right product that has the right solution and market fit.

To create a sustaining innovation pipeline organisations may circle back through design thinking, Lean Startup, and Agile for implementation more than once as the product team refines its ideas and explores new directions.

Chris

Further Reading:

  • You may also like to read a very nice article by David Bland describing the need to combine Lean Startup + Business Model Innovation + Continuous Delivery and why each by itself is not enough.  I have adapted David’s venn diagram to explicitly include where I think Design Thinking fits.

venn-all-4-parts

Kaizen Camp Australia 2013 event reflection

kc_logoKaizen Camp was held in Melbourne this week, 20-21 May 2013.  Kaizen Camp is an unconference held in the style of Lean Coffee with 8 sessions, 60 attendees and over 50 topics discussed.  It was the first Kaizen Camp in Australia.

The great part of Kaizen Camp is the networking, learning and knowledge sharing using real world, practical experiences.  The discussions were stimulating, interactive and there was a high level of collaboration among all participants.  It was great to see many of the usual suspects in the local agile community as well as many new faces.

Topics being discussed at various tables

Topics being discussed at various tables

kaizencamp2013-4

The discussion wall

The topic discussion wall

kaizencamp2013-5

Lots of topics discussed!

Jim Benson talking about Personal Kanban

Jim Benson talking about Personal Kanban

I didn’t take many notes as I was too busy engaged in many of the conversations.  Lynne Cazaly created a few fantastic visual notes which I have included below.

kc_visualisation

‘Visualisation’ visual notes by Lynne Cazaly

kc_nobarriers

‘What could we do if there were no barriers?’ visual notes by Lynne Cazaly

kc_kaikaku

‘Kaikaku’ visual notes by Lynne Cazaly

kc_gamification

‘Gamification’ visual notes by Lynne Cazaly

kc_cognitivebias

‘Cognitive Biases’ visual notes by Lynne Cazaly

The twitter feed was #kaizencamp

Thanks for Jim Benson (@ourfounder), Simon Bennett (@cgosimon) and Safron Bennett (@saffy1) for facilitating and hosting the event.

And a special thanks to everyone for sharing your ideas, insights and experiences!

I look forward to seeing you at the next Kaizen Camp!

Melbourne Lean Coffee

I host Lean Coffee Meetups with Jason Yip (@jchyip) and Kim Ballestrin (@kb2bkb).  If you want more discussions beyond the Kaizen Camp event, join us for Melbourne Lean Coffee which are held regularly.  More information can be found on the meetup site.

Chris

Passed the PMI-ACP Exam

Yesterday I passed the PMI – Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) exam with Proficient results. Woo Hoo!!

I took a very very light weight approach to my preparation.  I am currently very time poor which has led me to do minimal and just enough study.

I did not read any of the prescribed reference books for the exam (I have no time) – there’s 11 of them (ouch)!!!  But I have read parts of some of the books at some stage in the past.  The only book I read once 4 months ago was “The PMI-ACP Exam: How To Pass On Your First Try” by Andy Crowe.  In hind sight after completing the exam, I didn’t find this book very useful in that I didn’t learn anything that would prepare me for the exam.

A few days prior to the exam, I used http://www.agileexams.com as a guide to what to study. Whenever I got an answer wrong I would do a short study spike by researching the topic. Most of the time the questions I got wrong on the practice exam were ‘off-the-road’ agile concepts or ensuring I got the ‘text-book’ agile theory right.  As most would know, there are various approaches and adaptations in agile that would work, but for the exam you are tested for the theoretical correct approach.  I would recommend using agileexams (I found it useful) as a study/prep tool as a way to hone in on study gaps.

I am an agile practitioner and have been coaching agile for a number of years now so the above light weight, minimal marketable reading approach worked for me.  I suspect if you have agile experience, then passing the exam would not be too difficult without having to read all the books too.

For the actual exam I took 3 iterations, 2 hours in total (you have 3 hours to complete the exam):

  • Iteration 1 – Went through all the questions and selected the best answer. Marked about 20 questions to review (60mins).
  • Iteration 2 – Reviewed all the marked questions (15mins).
  • Iteration 3 – Went through all the questions again to double check my answers (45 mins).

In most cases, 2 answers can be easily ruled out (i.e. obviously incorrect).  There were a few instances where in practice several answers would be plausible, but there was only one theoretical and ‘correct’ answer for the exam.

Good luck if you are planning to take the exam!

Now that I am PMI-ACP certified, what now?

LAST Conference 2012 Notes

Last week I attended the LAST Conference (Lean, Agile, Systems Thinking) held at Swinburne University.  The LAST Conference is a big departure from the Agile Australia 2012 conference I attended earlier this year.  There was no fanfare, no big build up, little corporate advertising and significantly less people.  It was also only $50 for the whole day but still contained lots of learning opportunities.  It lived up to the advertised “low cost, grassroots mini-conference” message.

The conference schedule contained 5 parallel tracks so it was hard to attend all of it.  I found myself at times wandering between sessions to get sound bites of what people where talking about.  Being held at a uni one thing I definitely liked was the university lecture theatre style of some of the sessions – it felt right compared to sitting in a large conference center.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the last sessions as I needed to head back into work.

I didn’t take any detailed notes, but here are my takeaways (in no particular order):

  • Systems Thinking is the opposite of scientific thinking.  Systems Thinking is not:
    • Specialised
    • Rocket Science
    • Complex
  • Sea of Systems a handy guide to Systems Thinking

Systems Thinking – James Van Wood (visual recording @lynnecazaly)

  • Invention is the process of discovering something new or come up with an idea. Innovation is the act of of introducing that idea into the market and commercializing it

Organise for Innovation – Shoaib Shaukat(visual recording @lynnecazaly)

High Performance Scrum – Brett Maytom (visual recording @lynnecazaly)

Subject to Change – Frank Trindade (visual recording @lynnecazaly)

Design Thinking – Mark Richards (visual recording @lynnecazaly)

  • Played some neat games that help with agile learning.
  • Stages of learning:
    • Unconscious incompetence
    • Conscious incompetence
    • Conscious competence
    • Unconscious incompetence
  • I had lots of fun in the Visual Collaboration session fine tuning my sketching skills.  Use Wong-Baker Faces to visually represent levels of pain.

My sketches from Visual Collaboration session with @lynnecazaly

A picture of friend and colleague Kim Ballestrin (@kb2bkb) presenting Cynefin and Agile

PMO Success – Traditional to Agile

  • Lots of interesting tidbits some of which I already knew but others just heard of in Edgy Agile things.

Here’s a selection of twitter posts on the conference (#LASTconf):

  • @RonicaRoth: #LASTconf motto: you are not an attendee. Excited to participate!
  • @lynnecazaly: Story structure: people + place + trouble …people want to know why, why this, why different #lastconf @unorder
  • @hwiputra: A good storyteller uses concrete words not abstract words #LASTconf
  • @hwiputra: Be comfortable with silence when getting stories out #LASTconf
  • @AgileRenee: #LASTconf how to measure value? IRACIS – improved revenue, avoid costs, improved service
  • @AgileRenee: #LASTconf my answer: the biggest waste in software dev today is doing the wrong work (benefits to cost don’t stack up)
  • @libodyssey: culture is the product of behaviour #lastconf
  • @ScrumMasterNZ: Work towards “Decision Meetings” and not “Status Meetings” #LASTConf #agile #lean
  • @jodiem: Eg this guy has 3 levels of backlog – team-product , release-quarterly and sprint… #confused #lastconf
  • @CEPitchford: The motivation for #offshore at REA was not cost it was talent! #win @hwiputra @frankmt #LASTconf
  • @CEPitchford: Standup with #offshore team via Skype was hard. We couldn’t understand each other @hwiputra @frankmt #LASTconf
  • @CEPitchford: Was hard for Chinese #offshore team to get visas to come to OZ @frankmt @hwiputra #LASTconf
  • @CEPitchford: The whole local OZ dev team went to china for 3 weeks to handover to the #offshore team #LASTconf
  • @AgileRenee: Find I’m mentally disagreeing with a lot said in the offshoring session in #LASTconf we have talent and should invest in building it locally
  • @jodiem: Self service test environments… Where QA env is exactly the same as production env. Cool #devops #lastconf
  • @antomarsh: Team rotation from Aus to China critical #LASTconf
  • @gusbalbontin: Words such as “framework” and “governance” should never be in the same sentence as the word innovation. #LASTconf
  • IrithWilliams: #Lastconf the real job at a standup is to ‘listen, inspect, adapt’
  • @magia3e: Too many context changes slows down the #scrum team. Focus on getting to-do done #LASTconf
  • @rooosterboy: How is #LASTconf different to #agileaus ? Seriously.
  • @magia3e: If u don’t have some sort of continuous integration toolset/capability it will limit your velocity #LASTconf
  • @c2reflexions: @AgileRenee doing a song and dance at #LASTconf
  • @magia3e: Document the right stuff, but don’t waffle it out. Cut to the essence of it. communicate it with the right collaborative tools #LASTconf
  • @CEPitchford: More control from management = less innovation from empowered teams #LASTconf @frankmt
  • @CEPitchford: It’s not about execution anymore. It is about learning. #organizationalchange #LASTconf @frankmt
  • @CEPitchford: Change programs: do we actually want to change? Or adapt, innovate and LEARN? #purpose #LASTconf @frankmt
  • @CEPitchford: The way we still run companies was invented by people who lived in the last century @frankmt #LASTconf
  • @CEPitchford: Project schedules and budgets are a work of fiction anyway @brown_note #LASTconf #fishbowl
  • @hwiputra: All good leaders believe in their teams. #LASTconf
  • @Drew_1609: Best value and most fun conference attended in a long time #lastconf
  • @njhoughton: MVP … what’s the minimum thing to go-live … hold this as a meta-frame as you sprint … my examples are #foresight and #Innovation #lastconf

The visual recordings by @lynnecazaly were done using the iPad Brushes app.  I have downloaded the app and now I just need to brush up (no pun intended) my skills.  Thanks Lynne for the inspiration to try visually recording my notes.

Thanks to the organisers, Craig and Ed for putting together this great event. Snaps!

References:

Agile, Walt Disney Creativity Strategy and Ritual Dissent

Recently a colleague and I were facilitating an agile project initiation workshop.  To help the team to come up with ideas and formulate solutions for the problem they were trying to solve we used a method that combined the Walt Disney Creativity Strategy and Ritual Dissent.

The Walt Disney Creativity Strategy

The Walt Disney Creativity Strategy is a practical creativity process used by Disney to turn fantasies into concrete and tangible expressions and was used to create many of his classic animated films we have grown up to love such as Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi and Fantasia.

One of the major elements of Disney’s unique genius was his ability to explore something from a number of different perceptual positions.  An important insight into this key part of Disney’s strategy comes from the comment made by one of his animators that,

“…there were actually three different Walts: the dreamer, the realist, and the spoiler (critic).  You never knew which one was coming into your meeting.”

This was not only an insight into Disney but also into the process of creativity.  Creativity as a total process involves the coordination of these three sub-processes: dreamer, realist and critic.  A dreamer without a realist cannot turn ideas into tangible expressions.  A critic and a dreamer without a realist just become stuck in a perpetual conflict.  A dreamer and a realist might create things, but they might not achieve a high degree of quality without a critic.  The critic helps to evaluate and refine the products of creativity.

Everybody has the Dreamer, Realist, Critic inside them.  Unfortunately, what usually happens is that the Dreamer and the Critic get into a fight.  If you take a typical business meeting, you can have a Dreamer, a Critic and Realist in this meeting.  Rather than functioning in some organised strategy, the Dreamer says something, the Critic argues against it, then the Dreamer has a polarity reaction to the Critic.  The Dreamer and Critic go in conflicting directions until, finally, the realist says, “We’re out of time.”

In addition, one of the biggest problems is that the Critic doesn’t just criticise the dream.  The Critic criticises the Dreamer.  Part of why Disney could function so effectively is that he didn’t criticise his team or himself, he criticised the plan to accomplish the dream.  The purpose of the critic is to insure that something meets certain criteria.  What keeps the Critic and the Dreamer from being stuck in a polarity response is the Realist.

The three distinct stages of the creative cycle addresses different questions:

Dreamer

  • What you want to do? (As opposed to what you want to stop doing, avoid or quit).
  • Why do you want to do it?
  • What is the purpose?
  • What are the payoffs?
  • How will you know that you have them?
  • Where do you want the idea to get you in the future?

Realist

  • How specifically will the idea be implemented?
  • How will you know if the goal is achieved?
  • How will the performance criteria be tested?
  • Who will do it?
  • When will each phase be implemented?
  • When will the overall goal be completed?
  • Where will each phase be carried out?
  • Why is each step necessary?

Critic

  • Does this plan match the criteria and purpose for which it was intended?
  • Why might someone object to this new idea?
  • Does the idea all fit together and is cohesive?
  • Who will this new idea effect and who will make or break the effectiveness of the idea and what are their needs and payoffs?
  • When and where would you not want to implement this new idea?

To facilitate the creative strategy, Disney had different rooms for the Dreamer, Realist and Critic.  The ideas moved between the three rooms:

  • Dreamer Room:  This room had inspirational drawings and sayings all over the walls.  This was the place were wild ideas and thoughts were born, no restrictions, no limits.  Criticisms were not allowed – only dreams!
  • Realist Room:  This room contained all the tools and instruments that were needed to manifest the dreams.  The room was arranged so everyone could see and talk to each other in a collaborative space.  Here the dreams that were created in the Dreamer Room were put onto ‘story boards’. (The concept of story boards are also used in agile analysis, although they are more often referred to as user journeys or scenarios).
  • Critic Room: Also known as the ‘sweatbox’ as it was located underneath the stairs and was cramped and hot.  This is where people would critically review and evaluate the ideas (not the individuals).

The below table summaries the pattern associated with Disney’s creative strategy:

Dreamer Realist Critic
Focus What How Why
Representational Preference Vision Action Logic
Approach Toward Toward Away
Time Frame Long Term Short Term Long & Short Term
Time Orientation Future Present Past & Future
Reference Internal – Self External – Environment External – Others
Mode of Comparison Match Match Mismatch

Ritual Dissent

Ritual Dissent is a workshop method designed to test and enhance proposals, stories, ideas or whatever by subjecting them to ritualised dissent (challenge) or assent (positive alternatives).  In all cases it is a forced listening technique, not a dialogue or discourse.

The basic approach involves a spokesperson presenting a series of ideas to a group who receives them in silence.  The spokesperson then turns their chair, so that their back is to the audience and listens in silence while the group either attack (dissent) or provide alternative proposals (assent).  The ritualisation of not facing the audience de-personalises the process and the group setting (others will be subject to the same process) means that the attack or alternative are not personal, but supportive.  Listening in silence without eye contact, increases listening.

The Workshop – Combing the two approaches

One of the goals of the agile workshop was to come up with ideas and formulate solutions to solve a business problem.  When coming up with ideas we want to quickly know if it will work or if the plan is achievable.  We want the ideas to fail fast so we can succeed sooner.

We created a process to get fast feedback on ideas by drawing on elements from The Walt Disney Creativity Strategy and Ritual Dissent.  The following steps describes the technique we used in the agile workshop:

  1. Split the group into 2 teams (or more).  We ensured we had a good balance of skills and knowledge in each of the groups (eg business SMEs, developers, architects, business analysts etc).
  2. Each group went to separate rooms.  Taking a Dreamer strategy, the group members worked together for 2 hours to dream up ideas, and develop solutions to the problem space without any limits.  The groups also represented their ideas by drawing up a story board  or visual map of the problem space.

    Dreamer - the group sits around the idea to come up with a story board or visual map of the problem space

  3. A spokesperson from one group (Dreamer) would present their ideas, explain them and the criteria and assumptions behind them in 6 minutes to the other group (Critic) who receives them in silence.
  4. We then allowed 3 minutes of Q&A time to allow the Critics to clarify the ideas with the Dreamers.
  5. We asked the Critics to turn and face the story board or visual map containing the idea so their backs were towards the Dreamers.  The Critics then proceeded to criticise and dissent the ideas through verbalisation and placing post-it notes on the story board/visual map.  The Dreamers received the dissent in silence.

    Critic - the group dissent whilst facing the idea to keep the focus on the idea rather the individual Dreamers involved who are observing in silence in the back

    At this stage we could have also asked the Dreamers to turn their backs to the Critics, but thought as long as the Critics were facing and dissenting the story board or visual map and therefore criticising the ideas, it was enough to de-personalise the process.

  6. Steps 3 to 5 were repeated with the groups switching Dreamer and Critic perspectives, so the group that was presenting their Dream become the Critics.  And the Critics become the Dreamers.
  7. Each team then returned to their room clarify specific steps and actions by exploring the Realist questions and identifying ways to make the dream real based on the Critic’s input and feedback.  The Realist then transcended to Dreamers once again to refine and come up with the next approximation (improvement) of the idea.

    Realist - How can we achieve the dream by answering Realist questions using the Critics feedback.
    Dreamer - Come up with the next approximation of the idea.

  8. We time-boxed the activity which only meant we had time to repeat the above cycle once more (two in total).  We then combined the best ideas from the two different groups to form a single idea.
    By following agile principles we only needed to do ‘just enough’ to get us to the next stage of the project where we can then iteratively refine the idea.  But in practice, you can repeat the above steps as appropriate until you get a more grounded and improved idea.
    If you had more than two groups, the Dreamers should present their ideas to a different group of Critics from previous ones to get new criticisms and viewpoints.

Throughout this process, the Dreamer focused on the ‘big picture’ with the attitude that everything is possible.  The Realist acted as if  the dream is possible and focuses on the formulation of a series of successive approximations of actions required to actually reach the dream.  The Realist phase is more action with respect to the future, operating within a shorter time frame than the Dreamer.  The Realist is often more focused on procedures or operations.  Its primary level of focus is on ‘how’ to implement the plan or idea.  The Critic seeks to avoid problems and ensure quality by logically applying different levels of criteria and checking how the idea or plan holds up under various “what if” scenarios.  The Critic phase involves the analysis of the plan in order to find out what could go wrong and what should be avoided.

Using the Ritual Dissent approach with the Critics facing the idea (story board or visual map) rather than the individuals de-personalised the feedback subjected by the Dreamers.  And finally, using the forced listening technique, not a dialogue or discourse of Ritual Dissent also enabled fast feedback without getting into personal conflicts and arguments.

We found the above steps and approach provided a harmonious process between the three stages of creativity.  It incorporated the different points of view of the group members in the three creative cycle (Dreamer, Realist, Critic) to get supportive outcomes.

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References:

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