Tag Archives: Business

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.”

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.


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.

Agile Sustainability; Culture, Management, and Metrics

What are some keys to sustaining an Agile culture and organization? As part of our coaching, Susan DiFabio and I have been exploring sustainability as we iterate on our session for Agile 2012, entitled  “Keeping the Dream Alive: Keys to Agile Sustainability

As we prepared for the Agile 2012 workshop, we had the opportunity to share at the Agile Cincinnati June meeting. We promised that group that we would share some of the references that we used when creating the workshop. Those references are:

Corporate Culture

The Reengineering Alternative” by William E. Schneider
This book describes the model of corporate cultures that was referenced in the presentation.  It goes into depth about how the research was conducted, how the model emerged, as well as examples and opportunities for how to use this knowledge to help organizations leverage their strengths.


Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations” by Robert D. Austin
Based on his doctoral thesis at Carnegie Mellon University, the author presents the reader with many insights on what actually happens when humans are measured as part of an organizational system.  Robert Austin’s book includes information from interviews with eight software measurement experts who represent a variety of opinions.  “Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations” provides important information for anyone who is trying to use measurement to guide organizational decision making.


Building Effective Teams: Miss the Start, Miss the End by Esther Derby
Esther is a thought leader in the area of organizations, team dynamics, and leadership. This blog post describes the manager’s role in creating an environment in which teams can become high performing. Susan and I have seen teams that have struggled, at least in part, because they lack the foundational elements of “real team” and “real purpose.”


To be agile, it is important to think well beyond the ceremonies and roles of a particular agile framework. We hope that this list of references helps you explore the topic of Agile Sustainability in more depth. We would also welcome you to let us know what materials you would recommend people study on this topic.

Lastly, thank you to everybody who attended the workshop in Cincinnati. We look forward to sharing with folks on Thursday afternoon at Agile 2012.

5 Ways to Keep Your Fishbone From Stinking

Do you have a tough problem you are trying to solve? Consider conducting a root cause analysis using a Fishbone Diagram. Here are five tips that can keep your analysis from stinking:

1. Have a sharp problem statement

Get this wrong and you’re wasting your time. Focus on one specific, observable problem. Think about ways you could measure the impact of correcting your problem statement. If the problem is measurable, there’s a good chance that you have a problem statement that is ready to be analyzed.

2. Find the right people

A former manager of mine use to say “availability is not a skill.” Get participants who will have the context and experience to generate quality insights. Make sure you get a diverse group of participants that will view the problem statements from a variety of perspectives.

3. Make time for it

Like so many things in life, the objective is not to rush through the activity. Schedule enough time whereby participants do not feel rushed. Do the analysis in one contiguous block of time. Make sure that participants are giving their full attention to the matter at hand, and that they are not disengaging either physically or mentally.2

4. Make it Visible

Be vigilant for conversation that is not captured in writing. A team can easily get into a dialog about the problem’s causes and forget to capture insights that are mentioned. Don’t let potential causes get missed. Make sure that all the participants have a pen and encourage them to write their observations on the diagram. If you hear a cause mentioned that isn’t captured, stop the conversation, get it written, and then go on with the analysis.

5. Get a Facilitator

Last but not least! Find a neutral party that has facilitation skills that can engage with your team. A facilitator will be focused on the mechanics of the activity, allowing participants to immerse themselves in the actual problem that they are trying to solve. A facilitator is instrumental in helping bring out the voice of all the participants, and can guard against the conversation going down paths that are not focused on the stated problem.


Using a Fishbone Diagram to visualize a root cause analysis session can yield powerful insights. Give your efforts the best chance of success by setting it up with a solid problem statement, and investing in facilitation to shepherd the team through the analysis.

Please share your thoughts on what helps or hinders the effectiveness of a root cause analysis.

Additional Information

1. A Fishbone diagram is the result of an analysis in which a team of individuals articulates possible causes of a specific problem statement, and then enumerates the possible causes of that cause. The individuals involved continue to do this activity recursively until they identify candidate root causes. The visual that results from this analysis will take on a fish-like shape.
2. Esther Derby and Diane Larson have some ideas on how to “Check In” in their book Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great. The book is definitely worth buying. Make sure people check their distractions at the door, and that you have the attention required for the activity.

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.