Category Archives: Business

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?

To Inspire Teams, Forget Goals. Define Purpose.

Howard Schultz on PurposeWhat’s your team’s purpose? Is it a real purpose? Whose life is better because of what you do? What pain do you relieve? What new reality do you make possible? Who would notice if your team stopped delivering? If you easily answered those questions, congratulations. If not, you are like a lot of teams. Many don’t have a connection to a real purpose.

A lot of teams simply have goals. Maybe you are working to improve code coverage with automated tests. Maybe you want to increase code quality, reduce defects, or pair program. Those are worthwhile goals, but they are not purpose. Here is how I see the difference between goals and purpose:

Goals provide a target.

Purpose provides inspiration!

Failing to meet a goal leaves people feeling deflated.

Working for a real purpose gives a rallying point when times get tough!

Goals are used for evaluating individuals.

Purpose is about changing lives!

I hope you see the value in having purpose. For those teams that don’t know their purpose, how do you uncover it? Try these suggestions to help you identify your purpose:

Imagine –This is perhaps most appropriate when you are starting a new venture. How do you see the purpose of the organization? If you can be clear about the purpose early in your team or organization’s life, it can be used as a filter against which to test all the ideas and opportunities that come at you. It will help you say the most important word in the world: “No!” Having a well-defined purpose helps you stay focused and not get distracted by opportunities that don’t fit.

Interview customers – Talking to a customer can have a profound impact on how you see your team’s purpose. What did they struggle with that led them to your product or service? Ask them how you make their life better. Why do they use your product? If the product were no longer in existence, how would their life be less well off?

Visit your customers where they use your product – Interviews can be helpful, but sometimes people are too close to the situation to really see what is happening. When you see your customers “in the wild” you may end up with insights you didn’t have before, and notice behaviors they exhibit that they weren’t even aware of.

Business model canvas – The Business Model Canvas is a convenient way to collect information about how your business operates. There are two aspects of the canvas that apply to the topic of purpose; the Value Proposition and the Customer Segment portions. These will help you articulate what makes you unique from other groups, as well as identifying for whom you are providing that value.

Don’t be efficient about it – All too often, in the name of efficiency, I have seen too few people involved in activities like customer interviews, site visits, and wrestling with the business model canvas. I challenge you to engage the whole team in these activities. You  will get deeper insights when you compare what people saw and heard. You will definitely create a deeper connection between the team and the purpose they saw. Be inefficient, and prepare to be surprised at the positive results.

You might know, but your team might not. How can you help the team to really make the purpose part of their conscious?

Talk about it – Whether you are a team member or a leader, it is important to have a dialog about the purpose of your work. You might have said it before, but there is so much communication noise that it is likely people forgot, especially if it was lost in management mumbo jumbo. Just saying it once is not enough. Invite conversation with your team about the purpose. How might they see it differently? Talk about it, and then talk about it again. There is value in keeping it in the forefront.

Make it relatable by telling a story –Humans have, for millennia, told stories. We are wired to remember stories. PowerPoint slides with bullet points are no substitute for a true story of connection. Ditch the slide deck, and practice telling and rebelling the story. And remember, the good stories need to be told repeatedly. If you don’t have a good story to tell, go see your customers and find the story.

Make it visible – When somebody walks into your business or team area, what do they see? Is it obvious what your purpose is? If not, it is time to do some redecorating. Create visual reminders about the team’s purpose. Make them personal. Do not have eagles soaring over still lakes with motivational phrases on the bottom. Have something that is specific to your team and it’s purpose. Keep the visuals fresh. Don’t let them become wallpaper.

So, ask yourself: Does your team have a goal or a purpose? Goals are, perhaps necessary. Purpose is inspiring. If you find your team has only goals, dig deeper. Identify the purpose for your team’s existence, and unlock the possibilities!

Why should you care about Lean Startup?

Sometimes this is the path that big, risky development efforts take. Don't let it be yours.

Sometimes this is the path that big, risky development efforts take. Don’t let it be yours.

Imagine working on a project for years, investing huge sums of money, and not knowing for sure that you will have customers when you finish your product. What if you finish it later than stakeholders expected? Even if you do finish it, Imagine that you build it and your customers hate it!  If you have ever participated on an effort like that, or been close enough to watch the havoc it wreaks on the individuals that pour themselves into it, it is not a pretty sight. Efforts like this become cautionary tales that you tell your coworkers at your next employer.

Lean Startup is an approach to discovering what your customers want in a highly uncertain world. Lean Startup is a mindset that looks for ways to validate hypotheses about what your customer wants. They’re not big, dangerous experiments. It’s relentlessly testing small theories.

There are many different ways of testing your hypothesis. Some of the common ones include:

  • Conduct problem interviews
  • Conduct solution interviews
  • Use a survey
  • Provide the solution manually before automating it
  • Make a paper prototype
  • Run a Google ad to test for interest
  • Ask somebody for a token amount of money to hold their spot when the solutions is available

Notice that none of these approaches involve building a scalable, redundant, transactional, anything.

If you want to learn more about Lean Startup, consider reading books about Lean Startup and Customer Development. But, in the spirit of limiting your initial investment, the best way I have found to learn about Lean Startup is to be around practitioners. If you are interested in learning from those who have “been there, done that,” find a Lean Startup Circle in your area , and attend their meetup.

If you are in South Bend, join us at The Branch for a live streaming of the Chicago Lean Startup Circle on Thursday, July 18th, where GrubHub co-founder Mike Evans will share his experience as a Lean Startup practitioner.

The Endurance Race of Business

Wayne Christopherson IndianaTrail100 For the first time in my life, I had the pleasure of getting to “pace” my uncle as he ran an endurance race. And when I say “endurance”, I mean 50-miles, on foot, in under 12 hours. My role was to pace him for the last third of the event. It was a powerful experience, and led to many reflections. I want to share the business reflections with you. For those continuing from the web magazine, you can continue reading below.

This spring, Indiana got a phenomenal amount of rain in the weak leading up to the Indiana Trail 100. The rain led to flooding on many parts of the course. Despite detours to try to avoid some of the unexpected water, there was plenty of mud, standing water and running streams that the athletes had to go through. At one river crossing, there was a rope that the racers had to use lower themselves down the steep embankment, into the icy water, and then pull themselves up the embankment on the opposite site. The trail conditions, combined with temperatures barely above freezing, and you have an extreme, potentially deadly, set of race conditions. Below are some of the lessons from my 16 mile run.

Choose a Sustainable Pace

In racing, as in business, you need to maintain a sustainable pace. It doesn’t do us any good to go so fast that you can’t complete what you started out to do. Prioritization and deciding what not to do will help you find this pace.

Take Little Breaks

There were several aid stations set up along the trail. Aid stations allow the athletes to pause, get something to eat and drink, adjust their shoes, and then start out again. These stations are important breaks in an otherwise daunting journey. From a utilization standpoint, they’re “inefficient,” wasting time that could be spent running. Consider what it would be like without aid stations. Without the break, runners wouldn’t be able to complete the course. Make sure your business team has opportunities to rest and refuel, even if it appears inefficient.

Walk Up the Hills

When faced with a challenge, how tempting is it to charge through? Charging uphill wastes a lot of energy and does not improve your results. In fact, the wasted energy may prevent you from finishing. Are you facing an uphill climb at your business? Consider slowing the pace to get through it.

Iterating Makes it Safe

The morning of the race, I wasn’t confident that I was in shape to run a full 16 miles. However, looking at the course, there were multiple opportunities where the trail crossed a road, providing an opportunity for me to easily get back to the race start/finish line. These opportunities were about every four miles of trail. Knowing that I had a way out, I was able to incrementally decide if I was able to continue on the race. I was not making a 16 mile commitment, I was making a series of 4-mile commitments.

Embracing practices that allow you to deliver incrementally and iterate as you learn create competitive business advantages. Look for those opportunities to make a series of small steps, and do not make the false premise that you have to make one big bet that will either succeed or fail.

Let Them See The Path

I’m about four inches taller and a little wider than my uncle. I spent much of the pace lap either running beside or behind him. At one point, probably 13 miles into my lap, and 47 miles along his total run, he was tired. The path narrowed, and I took the lead position, running in front of him. Shortly after that, I began to offer insights about the trail. One of my comments went something like “There’s a hill. Want to walk up?” His reply was “I just need to see the trail.” That was my queue to get back behind him.

In business, how many times have you seen a manager try to provide some direction to the team. The manager is well meaning, attempting to help the team along the path. I fell into that trap. I got in front, instead of simply providing support and allowing him to see the path that was coming and make adjustments to his style from there. For your teams, strive to provide support. When they know the goal and can see the path, the team will benefit most when you lead from behind.

Check Your Vitals

Is your project healthy? How do you know? One of the athletes I was around stopped into an aid station where his vital signs were checked. The result? His body temperature was down two degrees. The race had taken its toll and it was no longer safe to continue. He withdrew, but will be able to make another attempt at the full distance in the future.

As projects progress from their inception to completion, there can come a time when warning signs emerge. Too often companies try to just proceed as planned, resulting in an experience that may have long-term negative impact on the employees, company financials, and company reputation. Some the proper course of action is to withdraw the project and move on. Don’t turn your projects into a “death march.”

Conclusion
With endurance events, whether business or sport, there are important lessons to be learned. The three that stand out most to me are: find a sustainable pace, iterate, and make sure you stay healthy. I hope you take a moment to share your comments on the ideas above.

Coworking is a Smart Move

I recently had the pleasure of writing an article for the publication Small Biz Forward, an electronic newsletter produced by Nancy Becher. In the article, I talk about why coworking is a smart move for freelancers and small businesses. I encourage you to check out the publication. There are nice articles from a number of small businesses in the Michiana area in the e-pub.

Coworking in South Bend

The Branch

While the phrase “coworking” is a new phrase for some folks, the concept resonates with them. There are coworking options in the Michiana area, and each coworking location has its own personality. There will be a new coworking space in South Bend, called The Branch. The space will be opening in spring. The Branch is designed for entrepreneurs, freelancers, startups, not-for-profits, and folks who moonlight. The downtown South Bend location provides access to the restaurants, coffee shops, and other professionals that work in downtown. If you are interested in joining The Branch, let us know through the web site.

There is a brochure available, if you are interested in more information, as well.

Other spaces in South Bend include LangLab, and Maha Luna is planning a coworking space in the future.

Other Coworking in Michiana

If you are in Sturgis, be sure to check out Business Success Unlimited, who is having an open house on March 23.

If you are near Plymouth, check out The Midas Center.

If there are other locations that you are aware of, please feel free to comment and share them.

5 Global Game Jam Lessons For Your Team

This weekend, I had the experience of participating in Global Game Jam at IUSB. How does an event like “Global Game Jam” relate to your work? Keep reading….

What is Global Game Jam

In short, GGJ is a weekend-long event that starts at 5:00 PM Friday and ends at 3:00 PM on Sunday. Within that 46 hours, participants form teams and each team creates a game that is based on an announced theme. The IUSB Global Game Jam event, in my opinion, an unqualified success. How did we go from largely a group of strangers to two teams that produced  I Dream of Oleg the Unicorn and Heart Maze? This post has some of those observations and some suggestions for your “real” work.

Observations

A Purpose – The goal of the weekend was to create a game in 46 hours. The goal was unambiguous. People who were not interested in supporting that purpose were not present. And we weren’t just a group of folks individuals that were “working.” The purpose allowed us to really get excited about what we were doing.

Embracing Diversity – The event, and fellow participants, welcomed participants who were interested in making a game. Period. Game creation requires a wide range of skills; music, art, software, testing, imagination, organization, and many more. We collectively found ways to contribute, and to encourage others to contribute.

Visible Work Plan at the IUSB Global Game Jam

Loose Organization – The work we had to do was made visible and tracked. A light-weight backlog was on a whiteboard, the name of the person who took on the task was next to the activity. Notice I didn’t say the person who was given the task.We made the work that had to be completed visible, and people took it on. We even had a local reporter for the newspaper hear that we needed the sound of a fish, and she offered up her heretofore under-appreciated “fish” sound to the cause. Loose organization creates room for people to contribute.

Effective Leadership – We had a leader emerge on the team. The leader kept the goal of the weekend in front of us. Ideas were welcomed. Some of those ideas made it into the game, and others were struck from the plan as the weekend went on. The presence of the goal and a leader who could help the team decide, allowed for prioritization of the various ideas.

Nothing says “light mood” like high-fiving unicorns with an explosion and rainbows! Thank you, Tim Bell, for the awesome art work on this!

Light Mood – I have participated in similar weekend-long events. One reflection on this event relative to the others is that I left Global Game Jam feeling fairly relaxed. While I enjoyed participating in the 2011 Grand Rapids Give Camp and local Startup Weekends, they seemed much more exhausting.  Don’t get me wrong; both Give Camp and Startup Weekend were excellent events. But, the mood was much lighter during Game Jam, despite having a similar weekend-long event with a hard deadline.

Make Your Work Jam

Take the lessons from Global Game Jam, and look for ways to apply them to your work, and improve the effectiveness of your teams:

  • Make sure that the team has a purpose, and that it is kept in front of the team. If you don’t know what the purpose is, go find it.
  • Embrace the diversity of skills and perspectives on your team, and celebrate them. People likely have hidden talents that will make your team stronger. Create space for those talents to emerge.
  • Keep the organization of the work as light as possible. Remove what is unnecessary. Overweight organization is both productivity-killing and soul crushing.
  • Build leadership skills on your teams. Build people who can help share a vision, and rally others around the common goal.
  • Keep the mood light, and the energy high. Whether you are a team member, a stakeholder, or a manager, help foster a lighter mood on your team.

In conclusion, I want to take a moment to appreciate the team: Adam Valdez, Andrew Kroepel, Blake Robertson, Charlie Guse, Jen Purdy, Matt Forsythe, Matt Neumann, Sarah Gradeless, and Tim Bell. Your spirit and talent made a busy weekend very enjoyable.

Innovation Park at Notre Dame First Monday

Innovation Park at Notre Dame has announced a new First Monday event with the topic of “Social Media for Small and Medium Size Businesses.” Don Schindler will be presenting from 6:30 to 8:30 at this learning and networking event.

It is free and open to entrepreneurial folks who register. So, register for First Monday at Innovation Park. See you there.

Agile Community in Small Cities

I attended Agile Coach Camp United States (Twitter #ACCUS) this weekend. ACCUS is an open space, self organizing conference. I created a video to share the results of the open space topic I proposed, building Agile community in small cities:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZcjCyY9I6M]

Please feel free to comment on other ideas for building community, especially if you have tested those ideas and have learned from it.

Is Entrepreneurship Genetic?

Genetics Portal Logo

Image via Wikipedia

I just finished attending the last session in a great series about entrepreneurship that was offered by Indiana University South Bend. While I was filling out an evaluation form for the series, a student happened to sit down next to me to fill out his survey. I was surprised when the young man offered his feelings, those of disappointment, that the series was filled with people whose families had owned businesses. In addition to that, he continued, Michael Kubacki,  President and CEO of Lake City Bank and former member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago,  upset this person so much that he had to leave the room. To say I was dumbfounded is an understatement. I was so impressed with the speakers and their accomplishments that it was beyond comprehension that somebody would have such a diametrically opposed view. I responded with mere grunts. It was one of those moments that I wish I could back. It seems like a missed opportunity to perhaps share a different perspective.

Indeed, the Entrepreneur Lecture Series 2010 did contain a number of speakers that had family businesses or were children of business owners:

  • Mark Tarner, President of the South Bend Chocolate Company – his father was a chocolate maker
  • Amish Shah, President of Kem Krest – his father owns a successful business
  • Rob Bartels, Jr., President & CEO of Martin’s Super Markets, Inc – Martin’s was founded by a family member
  • Larry Davis , President of Daman Products – Daman Products was started by his father and he

I believe that there is most likely an advantage to being in a family that owns a business. As the son of a minister and a secretary, I can only imagine that being around people who own businesses exposes you to an abundance of knowledge about how businesses actually work (marketing, planning, product management, finance, etc..) that are not quite as accessible to other people. It is important to remember that just because some people may have an apparent advantage does not mean that the goal is out of reach for you.

This year’s lecture series kicked off with an inspirational lecture titled “Seize the Opportunity” from the South Bend Chocolate Company’s President Mark Tarner. Mark reminded the attendees that the United States is still “the land of opportunity.” Mark is an extremely hard worker, constantly investing time in the company. Mark emphasized planning as one aspect of seizing the opportunity, but ultimately you need to take action on your plan. Apparently, the gentleman next to me this evening missed that part.

Amish shared the impact of the economic downturn on his company and how Kem Krest has had to adjust.

Rob shared that Martin and his wife, the supermarket’s founders, subsisted on the ‘shrink’ of the store. The ‘shrink’ is the food that is not good enough to sell any more, but is still good. Think brown banana…

Larry Davis shared his experience about the hard times starting his business. It was about a decade before their business was really thriving.

Each of these people, and most of the other presenters, had to overcome adversity before they became successful. There was a common theme, as well, that just because you were once successful does not mean that you now sit back and rest.

In 2009, I went to Chicago to hear Molly Fletcher, agent to Tom Izzo, top female sports agent, and author of the book “Your Dream Job Game Plan, 5 tools for becoming your own career agent”, speak to a group of Michigan State University, Northwestern University, and Ohio State University alumni. Molly shared some keys to what she called “your dream job game plan.” I believe the advise is equally applicable to entrepreneurs:

Have passion and style
Be fearless
Have a game plan
Execute flawlessly
Manage your choices

Lastly, and probably most importantly, Molly suggests surrounding yourself with other “five tool players”, those who are going to help you become better. I believe that this  last point would be particularly valuable for this man that spoke to me this evening. Being  jealous of the presenters is not going to move you forward. If you want to be like those people, reach out to them. Build a relationship, and try to learn from them. The speakers are entrepreneurial, and not only have been successful in business themselves, but are excited by the prospect of others pursuing their business dreams as well.

Would I have changed this man’s mind? I don’t know. I do hope that he realizes that what the future holds for him is largely within his control. Jealousy or disappointment over another person’s perceived advantage will only distract him from doing great things himself, as it will with any of us.

Entrepreneurism isn’t a matter of genetics, it’s about being fearless, having a plan, and executing.

Lastly, thank you IUSB for hosting the series and opening it up to the public free of charge. I look forward to next year’s series.

Technology Networking Opportunities in Michiana

I realized that, for me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of being in the technology field is having the opportunity to exchange ideas with other technology professionals. A rich dialog with other professionals helps me become introduced to new ideas, new techniques, and possibilities that I may not have encountered had I simply relied on my own personal experiences. Networking is also a great recruiting tool to identify talented folks that you might want to join your company as openings are created.

I wanted to share just a few groups that I am personally aware of because I have attended.

Michiana Agile Practitioners

This group was started as, and continues to be, an informal gathering to discuss Agile. Beyond that, there is no single focus or formal agenda. The meetings are typically on the first Monday of each month at 5:30 PM. For September, the meeting will be on the 13th of September due to the Labor Day holiday, but still at 5:30.  We meet at Hacienda on Miami Street. The Michiana Agile Practitioners group resides on LinkedIn.

Michiana Area .NET User Group

This user group, obviously focused on .NET, is currently in the process of planning a “Tech Fest” to be held on September 18th. The day will be broken into two tracks, one focused on development, and the other with a focus IT. You can view the agenda for Tech Fest on the MADNUG site. Press Ganey was generous and is going to host the tech fest in their training center.

Chicago Agile Project Manager MeetUp

If you’re up for a road trip, this MeetUp is worth it. Meeting in downtown Chicago at 5:30 Central, you can get most of the regular work day in and still make it to the meeting on time. The attendees typically have a broad range of experience with Agile, from “exploring” to people that many would consider “expert.” The meetings are held on a monthly basis, and the topics are advertised at least weeks ahead of time. The number of attendees is limited to 30, so an early RSVP is required. Most months, I attend with at least one other coworker or guest. Carpooling makes the drive go by quickly, and most times we are back to South Bend and off the toll road by 10:30. If you’re interested, feel free to contact me and join the carpool.

What others are you familiar with?

I used Google to look for additional groups, and pretty much came up empty. Are there other technology user groups that you are familiar with and would recommend?