Author Archives: Dan Neumann

Lesson from Chair Yoga at Global Game Jam

“You’d be surprised how strong you feel when you’re not on the edge all the time.”- Latasha Flint, Yoga instructor

This insightful comment was made during the 2016 Global Game Jam, at our South Bend site, The Branch coworking.   During the weekend-long 48 hour game-creation event, we took a break for Chair Yoga, led by Latasha, from Therapeutic Indulgence.

The development teams took a 30 minute break from creating games and participated in a yoga session that included focused breathing, stretching, and relaxation exercises. No special clothes were required, and no trip to a studio was needed. We used the chairs we had, in the space we were in. Just that short break to get moving left everybody feeling refreshed.

Afterward, Latasha and I were talking, and the question was posed:  “Why do we push ourselves to the limits, and beyond?” It was during this exploration that Latasha mentioned “You’d be surprised how strong you feel when you’re not on the edge all the time.” That struck me as a very profound comment, and one whose applicability goes way beyond yoga and athletics.

Frustrated Team Member, Pushed too much

Consider how many times software teams are pushed beyond “sustainable pace” to put features that have never been vetted by customers into production by date that is rather arbitrary. How does that make you feel?

How strong could you feel? Woo!

What would it look like of we backed away from that edge a bit, and took a different approach? How much stronger would people feel? How much better would employee engagement be? How much better would relationships between people in the company who are focused on technology be with those people who are focused on the financial, marketing, or product facets of the business?

6 Tips for Taming Distractions

The good news: we’re more connected in 2016 than ever. The bad news: we’re more connected in 2016 than ever. There’s Tame The Distractionsan enormous amount of value in that connectivity, as well as an incredible threat to doing truly deep and meaningful work.

With all the connectivity that is designed to help us communicate and collaborate, the sheer number of interruptions that I experience can be astounding. There are new message notifications from Outlook, Yammer desktop notifications, Facebook and Twitter notifications, Lync, Slack, and Skype. That  doesn’t even begin to count the distractions created by one’s own brain; thoughts of things I need to do, ideas for new projects and remembering that lingering chore at home. It’s time to tame the distraction beast! Here are some tips that I have implemented to improve focus. Hopefully they are helpful to you as well.

Have a goal

What does “done” look like? It’s easier to see something through to completion if you know what your goal is. Articulate the goal. Write it down. Focus on that goal and get it done.

But what if it’s not possible to finish the work in one sitting?

Set a Timer

Alinof TimerProWhen a task isn’t reasonable to complete in a single sitting, commit to working on it for a defined period of time.  Set a timer for thirty minutes, and focus on the task until it goes off. Then, take a break.

If you’re interested in a more in-depth of timer techniques, check out The Pomodoro Technique.

This blog post has been a “draft” for a long time. I just set a 30 minute timer with the goal of clicking “Publish” before it expires!

Do not Disturb

Do Not Disturb

Do Not Disturb

I hate to get in a state of flow and then have my thoughts completely disrupted by a tweet notification, a mention, or notification of a new e-mail arriving in my Inbox.

When you want to have some deep focus time, tame the desktop and phone notifications. On a Mac, click the little bullet-list icon on the top-right side, and drag the sidebar down until you see the “Do Not Disturb” notification. Turn it on. Don’t forget to set your mobile device to “Do Not Disturb” mode as well.

Drown out the Distractions

White Noise App

Free white noise app from TMSOFT

With open work spaces, the nearby conversations can be very distracting. Using headphones to play music is one way to drown out the discussion can be effective, I find myself getting distracted by the lyrics. Perhaps music that lacks lyrics works for you. I’ve discussed the use of listening to classical music with some colleagues, and while I find it helpful they can sometimes get caught up in the music.

Consider using a white noise app. The white noise can mask the sound of nearby conversations with fan noise, dishwasher, or airplane noises. My personal favorite is “air conditioner. The noise doesn’t have lyrics or a tune for your brain to latch onto. Some of the apps are free, so there’s nothing to lose by trying one.

Let Your Colleagues Know your Busy

Red - Busy LightIn shared spaces, it’s not always obvious whether you are deep inIMG_3157 (1) thought or listing in on a conference call. I found an amazing little light from Embrava. This light synchronizes its color with your availability in Lync, Skype, and more. No more will people walk up, start talking to you, and then go “Oops. Sorry. I didn’t know you were on the phone.”

You can even customize the light to fit your personality. I’ve found the a red flashing light worked best. It very much makes me think of an “on-air” light you see on TV or radio programs.

Clear the Home Screen

Distracting Home ScreenEven when the phone is in “do not disturb” mode, it can still grab my attention. Sometimes I want to look up a message, find a page in my internet history, or use the calculator app for some quick math. When I jump onto the iPhone I find the little  red badges are a sirens song of distraction.

Take control of the badges your phone shows!

  • Turn off the unnecessary badges. Do you really need to know that there are 1,406 unread e-mail messages in your Inbox?
  • Clean the home screen. Minimize the apps on your first screen. Move the apps with badge notifications to the second screen. It’s not that hard to get to the second screen, and the notifications are no longer calling to you from the home screen. There’s a huge payoff to having Facebook, Twitter, and Clash of Chans notifications just one swipe away.
  • Banish Notifications from the Lock Screen. Unless it’s truly a vital notification, limit the notifications that buzz and light your phone when it’s not being used.

I hope those tips are helpful.

On a related note, just happened across a summary of the book “Deep Work.” The book is being released tomorrow. Some of the suggestions I have above are complimentary to those in the summary of Deep Work that can be found at the blog post How to Manage Your Time: 5 Secrets Backed by Research.

As always, if you have some additional ideas for taming distractions in our connected world, I’d love to hear them.

What do you think about this model of leadership?

I came across an article called “A universal model of leadership.

They claim to have a data-driven model that is both simple to understand, yet rich in meaning. Then the authors go on to state that “The optimal leadership profile above was created by asking 50,000 managers worldwide to describe the kind of leadership that, if it existed in their organization, would allow the organization to thrive in its current marketplace and into the future.” <Needle slides off the record.> What?!

I interpret that this way:  the model is based on a bunch of managers imagining a good leader. I’ve seen plenty of managers who have some pretty odd opinions of what behavior would be beneficial to the organization. And, there’s some research to indicate that we’re pretty poor at imagining what we need. Lastly, organizations are complex, and this imaginary leader’s actions are bound to have unintended consequences. So, their methods seem very flawed.

‘d love to ask the authors, but their post doesn’t allow for public comments. I’d welcome your thoughts. I’ll probably go back and read it again when I have a fresher mind. How do you see it?

Trying to Improve your Company? Try this…

Are you frustrated with the performance of your team? Upset that they don’t follow the directions they’re given? Do you wish they’d just do what they’re supposed to?

Maybe the problem is not your team. Perhaps it’s that you expect them to follow. What if you, instead, worked with them to also be leaders? What if you changed the model from Leader-Follower to Leader-Leader?

Turn This Ship Around Book CoverI read  Turn This Ship Around: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders. In this book, L. David Marquet, a retired U.S. Navy Captain, chronicles his experience of taking the crew of a nuclear submarine under his command from a Leader-Follower structure to what he calls Leader-Leader. As a result of this transition, the crew and their boat go from performing at the bottom of their class to performing at the top of their class. The story is told in a chronological fashion, sharing anecdotes that help you relate to the changes that are made.

As an Agile Coach, a few things in this book stood out to me, and I want to share them with you.

It Worked on a Nuclear Submarine

First, I often hear “Agile won’t work here because…” People often finish that phrase with some unique reason why the status quo of the organization cannot be changed to a different, less command-and-control structure, more humane organization. If there’s one place I could see a distribution of decision making authority not working, it would be on a nuclear submarine. Yet that turns out to not be the case. To read how Captain Marquet not only changed the culture, but also had massive improvements in performance, was quote enlightening.

Take Action

Second, this book is actionable. This book is not just a story about the adventures of the submarine Santa Fe. The book is much more than a biography. Captain Marquet shares his philosophy, and the  practices that allowed the Leader-Leader culture to take hold. There are a great number of practical “mechanisms” and “questions to consider” within each chapter. The mechanisms and questions provide a framework for taking the ideas of the author and applying them to your own situation.

Context Matters

Third, I appreciate the fact that the author makes it clear that he is not providing a recipe for others to follow. Too often I see organizations take a “Cookie Cutter” approach to agile and lose the reasoning or the philosophy behind the practice. These organizations ignore the local context of their teams and require blind adherence to a specific set of rituals, anticipating that it will bring about real change in the organization. Captain Marquet invites the reader to explore what Leader-Leader might look like for their individual context, and to make decisions that are appropriate for them.

Let me leave you with this suggestion

This would be a perfect book for a team of people at the same company to work through, sharing their reflections and insights.


Here are some quotes that really stuck with me. I hope they resonate with you, and lead you to purchase Turn This Ship Around.

The first one strikes me because it correctly points out that many people apply an industrial management approach to knowledge work. That’s a huge mistake.

“In our modern world, the most important work we do is cognitive; so, it’s not surprising that a structure developed for physical work isn’t optimal for intellectual work. People who are treated as followers have the expectations of followers and act like followers. As followers, they have limited decision-making authority and little incentive to give the utmost of their intellect, energy, and passion. Those who take orders usually run at half speed, underutilizing their imagination and initiative. While this doesn’t matter much for rowing a trireme, it’s everything for operating a nuclear-powered submarine.” Marquet, L. David (2013-05-16). Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders . Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. ”

How often do we task teams with getting “the right information” to management so that they can make a decision. This approach turns that on its head:

“Don’t move information to authority, move authority to the information.” Marquet, L. David (2013-05-16). Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders (p. 49). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.”

In this quote, replace the word “Operators” with a role in your organization (e.g., software developers, consultants, project managers), and see how true it is for you:

“….emphasis on following the procedure can have a stultifying effect. We take bright operators, train them extensively, and then tell them that the most important thing is to follow the procedure.” Marquet, L. David (2013-05-16). Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders (p. 54). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

And, the last one I want to share relates to top-down monitoring of people:

Don’t preach and hope for ownership; implement mechanisms that actually give ownership. Eliminating the tickler did that for us. Eliminating top-down monitoring systems will do it for you. I’m not talking about eliminating data collection and measuring processes that simply report conditions without judgment. Those are important as they “make the invisible visible.” What you want to avoid are the systems whereby senior personnel are determining what junior personnel should be doing.” Marquet, L. David (2013-05-16). Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders (p. 98). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

There are many more profound insights, so go get the book and read it.

Agile and Beyond – A session for agile coaches

On April 30, Agile Coach Susan DiFabio and I will be sharing our session “A Coach 4-Pack” at the Agile and Beyond conference in Dearborn, Michigan.  In this session, participants will experience at least four different simulation activities that they can take with them and use right away.LegoSeriousPlay1

More importantly than just experiencing the activity, we will share techniques for effectively debriefing participants. After all, while it can be fun to facilitate a simulation, you don’t want your participants going away thinking “What the f*** was that?” If you don’t do a debrief, you run that risk.



St. Patricks Day Retrospective Activities

St. Patrick’s day is upon us, as is a retrospective for a team I am working with. That brought me to thinking about retrospective techniques appropriate for the day. If you try them, enjoy, and let me know what you thought or how you modified them approach for your use.
There are three ideas in this post for you to consider:

1. Drive The Snakes Into the Sea

Tradition Snakes and Sea Retrospectivetells us that the reason there are no snakes in Ireland is because St. Patrick banished snakes by driving them into the sea. While biologists speculate that there may never have been snakes in Ireland at all, driving snakes into the sea sounds like a fun way to gather data about what is bothering the team.

Supplies and Setup

  • Post It Notes (large and small)
  • Sharpie Markers
  • A room with enough wall space to post use for collecting the results
  • Draw a body of land and some water on a  large flip chart or whiteboard

Step 1 – Set Context

Share just a little of the legend of St. Patrick banishing snakes from Ireland. Then, tell participants that for the retrospective, the team will identify the snakes that are in their environment, and then they will decide which they are going to drive into the sea.

Step 2 – Identify Issues

Begin with silent writing. Ask participants to think about what has “bitten the team” in the recent past, or what is about to bite them in the future. As they think of something, have them write it onto a larger PostIt note, one topic or concern per note.  Have them hold onto the notes until each person is done generating their own ideas. Be sure to allow enough time for people to reflect and write their thoughts Watch the activity level of the room as your cue for moving forward or not.

Step 3 – Collect and Group Them

The sharing will be done in a rotational basis. Put the PostIts on the “land” side of the drawing you created in the “setup” step. Begin the sharing by having the first person share one idea, then another person shares one, and continue until everybody on the team has shared one idea. Then, the first person can share a second idea, and we rotate through the team again. Continue until all the ideas are on the board. If an idea is a duplicate, or quite similar to another idea, put them next to each other. This will begin to form the head of the snake. The more common a problem, the larger the snake head.
TIP: Set the expectation that the sharing should be brief and we’re not asking for a fully detailed explanation of the issue and its background. I like to ask that people keep their comments “tweet sized,” or no more than a sentence or two. This will help get some context and at the same time avoid going into lengthy analysis of each item.
After everybody has posted their ideas, it’s time to gather some data about the items that have been posted.

Step 4 – Get Consensus

This step is essentially a “dot vote,” except that we are going to build a body for the snakes based on the consensus of the team.
Begin by giving each team member the same number of the smaller PostIt notes. You can choose the question that the team is “voting” on. You can choose any single criteria by which people will vote using PostIts. Try to keep the questions in the frame of the “snakes into the sea” metaphor.  Candidate question include: “Which of these do you think we have the energy banish into the sea this sprint?” Or, “Which of these, If we were able to have banish it to the sea, which of these would allow us to feel safer?”
Team members will then build a “body” onto each of the topics by stringing their votes out. Topics with more PostIts will be larger snakes. Of course, people can divide their votes amongst several topics.

Next Steps

At this point, your team will have identified topics and expressed an opinion about which topic they would like to work on. Take that snake, the one that has the longest body to it, and move it into the sea.  Then, facilitate an activity to figure out how the team is going to try to make that happen.

2. Shamrocks


In many works of art depicting St. Patrick, he is shown holding a shamrock. St. Patrick used the shamrock to talk about the trinity of the Christian faith.

This technique is designed to be a relatively short opening or closing activity for the team, allowing them to identify three items that they are happy about.

Supplies and Setup

  • Create shamrocks for the team, enough for each team member to have one. Or, display a shamrock image and provide paper so that each member can draw their own.
  • Green markers for drawing (optional)
  • Sharpie Markers

Step 1 – Identify Three Things

There are times when we get distracted by things that are not going well, and stop to think about what is positive and uplifting for the team. Using a pre-printed shamrock, or drawing one on their own, write three things that are uplifting, one item on each lobe of the shamrock.

(optional) Step 1b. – Identify What Unifies Those Things

As the stem connects the three lobes of the shamrock, ask team each person to identify what connection they see between the three items they identified. Ask them to write it on, or near, the stem.

Step 2 – Sharing

Ask people to volunteer and briefly share with the group what they put on the shamrock.
I chose to make this optional since some people may feel a lack of emotional safety, thus choosing to not share.
End the sharing when everybody who wants to participate has done so.

Step 3 – Thank everybody

Be sure to thank everybody for participating.

3. Green Beer

Green Beer

It’s important that team members have relationships that extend beyond just “doing the work.” This technique is simple:

Take the team out of the building before the normal end of the work day and get some liquid refreshment. Relax. Get to know each other better.
If you choose to drink, drink responsibly. Provide cabs as necessary (hopefully it’s not). Drinking soft drinks is permitted. Be aware that things you say might still need to stay within HR guidelines. Try not to dance on the bar.
Agile Meme

Agile. You Keep Using That Word.

Agile MemeHow many times do you hear somebody blurt out that something is “agile?” And how many times, after they describe a behavior, you feel like our good friend Inigo Montoya listening to Vizzini?

As an Agile Coach, it is important to explore the “agile” behavior that people are referring to.

Here are a couple ideas for how to explore the use of the word “agile” and what it might mean:

The Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto

Go back to “the source” of what is defined as Agile and explore how the behavior described aligns with, or contradicts not only the Agile Manifesto, but the 12 principles behind the agile manifesto. Sometimes you can simply have a conversation about the principles. More often, it is helpful to have some type of lightweight activity, such as the one that follows.

Reflective Active On The Principles

I created a worksheet for exploring the agile principles. The worksheet gives a framework for exploring the presence, or absence, of individual Agile Manifesto Principles in your team or organization. For each principle, there is a space for indicating that the principle is present (write a “+”), absent (write an “-“) or ambiguous (write a “?”) and then jot a few words about why you thought it was the case.


First, I want to thank my colleague Frank Rios for pairing on generating the meme. Hopefully you find it as funny and memorable as we are. Second, be curious about the use of “agile” and get more specific about what people are thinking when they say it.


Principle-Centered Agility: Your Path to Better Options

Principle-Centered Agility - Your Path to Better OptionsAgile methods typically don’t have a lot of built-in rules. That’s a good thing! So, what can you use as your guideposts as your team or your company encounter novel situations? That’s what my conference proposal for Agile DC is all about; Principle-Centered Agility.

If you like what you see below, please jump over to the conference proposal and give it a “like” and perhaps ask for clarification on anything you find confusing or unclear.

In the conference session, we will create a common understanding of the 12 principles behind the Agile Manifesto. Depending on your individual background, some of the principles can be a little tricky. You will have a chance to reflect on which principles are present in your organization, and which ones are not present.

Next, we will introduce the concept of Force Field Analysis. Force Field Analysis is an approach for exploring the forces that are promoting or inhibiting a change from happening. Using the presence or absence of a particular principle from the first activity, you will have some time to create a Force Field Analysis of the situation.

Lastly, we will generate additional options to change the situation. We will introduce you to three elements of change, and you will be able to use those to come up with a plan for making your desired change a reality.

You will leave this workshop with a toolkit for applying to any number of situations when you return to work!

Four Tips For Granting Teams Budget Autonomy

Money TrapEvery company I have been in has had a fairly rigorous process for approving budgets and purchases. More than once I have seen an organization spend hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars worth of time to clarify, justify, vet, and double-check a purchase of less than $200. Instead of micro-managing purchases, what would it look like to empower people with budget and the duty to use it wisely; whatever they decide wise might be?

What Got Me Thinking

Today I placed a purchase for my South Bend Coworking Space, The Branch. It’s a 1-year old business that my wife and I are bootstrapping. We did not go raise a bunch of capital from friends, family, and fools. We decided how much we were comfortable risking, gathered market data to make sure we weren’t doing “stupid”, and launched the business.

We love the technology that supports the startups and telecommuters. Bootstrapping led us to getting good equipment that was good enough for the job, but not “high-end”. Our network switching equipment is leased, and our wireless router was effectively a “hand me down.” The router was very performant for the 14 months, but for some reason it restarted itself couple times over the last two or three weeks. My philosophy is that the technology should just perform. No hiccups, no problems. Technology should function so well that you forget about it. A network that drops during the day, even for 30 seconds a couple times over two weeks is not acceptable. It was time to upgrade immediately!

We contacted KineticIT, who’s been a reliable technology partner for us. We got a quote on a Cisco Meraki router, and decided to make the purchase. Upon realizing that The Branch did not have a Power Over Ethernet (PoE) switch to connect the router to, we got a call from our vendor. The question: Did we want to buy a PoE injector (about $100) or an AC Adapter (about $50)? Considering that we are in the process of expanding our operations, and that we have VOIP phones that also would benefit from PoE, I inquired about the price of a switch that would provide PoE. We got the quote, decided it was fair, and authorized the purchase of materials and labor. Without going into too much detail, it is easily an investment that goes above $1,000. And, the incremental expense for the switch was decided in under 10 minutes.

After reflecting on the purchase, I went back to the realization that I’ve had to try much harder to get approval for much smaller purchases. It led me to wonder: What would it be like if every company trusted its employees to make wise purchases similar to the investment I made. What if you could walk into your managers office to report, or you posted to the company’s intranet site that you just spent $1,000 on _________ because it allowed the company to do ________? As a manager, would you be OK with that? What scares you about it? Are you willing to try it?

After hanging up the call with my IT partner, my fellow agile coach, Susan DiFabio and I were brainstorming a bit. What about buying books? No problem. New furniture? No problem. What if they spent it on a team dinner. A nice one, to celebrate. Are you OK with that? My initial reaction to a scenario where they pocketed the money was “oh, heck no.” But then we explored it more. What if they pocketed the money? Think about it. If the team’s been busting their hump, feeling down, and wanted to give their team of 10 a $100 bonus each? Seems like money well invested. Compare that to the cost of turnover, and the $100 per person seems like one hell of a deal.

How To Structure The Autonomy

Are you willing to extend autonomy to your team around some amount of budget? Here are some tips for how to set up such an arrangement:

1.Don’t Be Cheap!

Make sure it’s enough. If you are only willing to give autonomy over $50, don’t run the risk of insulting your employees. Our brains have strange wiring when it comes to money. Offering too little indicates that either a) the company is in trouble and cannot afford more, or b) you don’t actually trust them to spend it wisely. You might feel that it signals something else, but I’m quite confident it won’t. It’s bad to signal either corporate insolvency or district, so make it a good amount of money.

To keep things in perspective, imagine a technology team where the total compensation is around $100,000 per person . if you have a team of 7, and they get autonomy over $1,000 total, that’s only 15 one-hundredths of one percent of the cost of the team! That doesn’t even begin to include the cost of furnishings, space, etc. So, don’t be cheap!

2. Don’t Be Stupid!

Decide how much you can afford to risk. Don’t risk more than you can afford. And, don’t offer an amount that if it all gets spent causes discomfort for the organization. If you can afford $5,000 across your 50 scrum teams, go for it. If you can’t, don’t.

3. Make it Public

Make the teams or individuals publicize the purchase and the benefit they see. Get the teams to share what they decided. There are a couple reasons for this. First, the sharing will perhaps give good ideas to other teams. Second, the social pressure of sharing what was purchased will help ensure wisdom.

4. Experiment

Run it as an experiment, but be careful if you end the experiment. Timebox the experiment. You don’t have to commit to it forever. Try it for a year or two. But, if you do decide to cancel it, just roll the amount into their base pay. As humans, we hate to lose things. If I use to get autonomy over $1,000 of the team’s money and you take it away, that will hurt. The pain will be lessened if you take the $1,000, divide it across the team of 7, and just give it to them as base pay.

It’s time to try it!

The idea is interesting to me, and I would love your feedback. Do you know anybody doing something related? How is it working out?

Just to drive the experiment home for me, I will be conducting it in the fall. Our coworking space business hasn’t grown to the point of supporting the addition of employees, yet. But, we are having an intern from Indiana University South Bend for the fall semester. I’ve decided we will give her a pre-paid visa card, and ask her to just use it wisely for whatever she sees fit, and let us know what she decided to do with it. Google ads for marketing? Fine. Banner to hang out front? Sure thing. Pocket money? Hmmm. If that’s going to get her out of a bind and able to get to work, or help with something else that allows her to focus. Sure. I’m a big fan of trusting folks to do the right thing. Of course, sometimes you get burned, and nobody’s perfect. Far from it. I hope to let you know how the experiment goes.