Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Change is NOT hard

Change is not hard. I really mean it. Smart people have already invented strategies for making change happen. These strategies are out there in books and articles and videos and you only have to find one and learn how to use it.

Change is not hard. Not as hard as figuring out what to change. Now this is hard. Sometimes you would think it is obvious what needs changing yet once you make the change the results may not be what you expected.

Figuring out what to change is what you need to spend enough time doing. It is tricky to ensure you spend enough but not too much and not too little. Most people around you will have many solutions before even hearing out what the problem is and they'll insist you hear them out.

Your change effort whatever strategy you choose begins at this point. To get it right you're very likely to need help in finding out the one or more root causes of the problem. So make friends, choose a strategy and figure out how to identify the root cause for your problems. This I believe is your best chance of making change happen.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Agile and the “Semantic stretch”

I have recently come across the term “semantic stretch” while reading a book called “Made to stick” by the Heath brothers. In short the idea is that at some point a term becomes so over used that it no longer has the strong meaning it used to have before. I have noticed this with phrases like “very cool” which has become too common and was then replaced by “super cool”. The example in the book is a little more credible – the authors have researched the use of the words “unusual” and “unique” in American newspapers over 20 years and the established that “unique” has gained a huge popularity while “unusual” was in decline. The Heath brothers also point out that since unique things are also unusual things (subset) the trend is unlikely to be because of increased number of unique things because that will also increase the number of unusual things.

I have recently been thinking and communicating with friends about how the use of words like Agile and Scrum has become less credible, in one instance I even suggested that these terms have been vandalised and therefore we may need new ones. Thanks to “Made to stick” I think I found a better suited explanation. The term Agile and some more in that area have been semantically stretched. They have been overused, used in inappropriate ways and to describe things and contexts that are so very remote from what the original  meaning meant. Therefore I suggest that we need new term( s ). Could this be the ones suggested by the Rightshifting movement?

Friday, 8 June 2012

How to destroy a (successful) company - a step by step guide

The ultimate guide to destroying (successful) companies - suitable for both your own unwanted company or acquired companies.

Before you continue take the following test. 

Question 1: Do you care about your company? (the one you might be looking to destroy)
Question 2: Do you care what happens to the people who work for the company?
Question 3: Do you care for the product/service you offer?

If you have answered Yes to any of the questions above then I recommend that you do not read this article OR if you still wish to proceed then find somebody capable of answering No to all 3 questions to undertake this task for you (luckily such people can be found easily).

After the unprecedented success of my previous article on destroying successful products I have received multiple requests to expand the guide to destroying successful or not so successful companies as well. Of course with me being busy with creating success at places where success is valued it took me several months to find time to write the new guide. But it is all done now so I can publish it and all of the candidate company destroyers can start benefiting from my wisdom immediately.
(the same) Famous IT magazine (requested to remain anonymous): "Another must read manual for your senior executive team that shows you in ten very easy steps how to get rid of unwanted companies. The author has once again excelled and his proven recommendations are spot on."

You can use this guide at your own risk. While the practices described below have been proven to work you should consider your own context carefully before proceeding. The author assumes no responsibility if your company is still functioning after you have followed the suggested procedure. Some successful companies where talented people create great products will take longer to destroy.

When destroying a company you have two major concerns - the product/service and the people. The rest is a lot easier so I will not expand too much on it.

Let's begin..

Step 1 Ensure that all the senior managers, directors, etc in the company are capable of answering No to all 3 questions above. You don't want somebody who suddenly decides to start caring about people to damage your plans. If you sense that some senior managers or directors do not fit the bill then fire them immediately and get new ones who meet the conditions. You can in fact use the 3 questions above in your interview process.

Step 2 If you don't have an HR department then hire one. If you have another department with more sensible name - e.g. Talent or People managers then rename them to HR - it sounds a little more scarier and works best for our purpose. Also you need your HR people to understand that your intentions are to fire lots of people so they need to be prepared with relevant laws and regulations - it is better to be on the safe side. You may also test them on the three questions above - it definitely helps.

Step 3 Now that you have your key actors in place you are ready to start acting. Firstly I would suggest establishing strong command and control culture. Make sure all managers are instructed to avoid trusting employees. Your HR should start writing procedures and restrictions - the more the better. Your IT department should start cutting off employees access to sources of information including methods of communication except some 10+ years old technology that nobody will use anyway.

Step 4 Restrict the ability of the network to communicate. The people in your company create a social network whether you want it or not. This network is capable of self organising and being creative. You don't want that. so expand on step 3 and implement all sorts of restrictions to open communication - stop access to services like FaceBook or Twitter, internally in teams use the command and control tools to inflict fear. There's several ways to do that - e.g. create policies and publish them on your intranet (hopefully nobody reads that) Then publicly punish employees who do not comply with the policies. Job done. Other ways are to pick up on small issues with employees - e.g. always 5 minutes late, taking too long lunch breaks, taking too many breaks.. the possibilities are limitless but don't forget Step 2 - you need skilled HR professionals who know how to handle all these cases.

Step 5 - If you have a product company for help with destroying the products follow the steps in my other guide on destroying successful products. If you are a service based company you can learn from the same guide and also take necessary steps to decrease the quality of the services you are offering. You can achieve that by actively encouraging an inefficient quality assurance process, measuring things that make no sense, providing no training at all, etc.

Step 6 - Decrease quality of customer service - to help your customers transition gradually to other suppliers you should consider decreasing the quality of your customer service. You can do that by ensuring the people in your customer service department are paid very little so they don't care about their jobs. You can also hire a manager for that department - someone skilled at creating a destructive culture where people blame each other and work in silos without sharing any information. Finally you can also find ways to get rid of some key people in the customer service team which is a great way of reducing quality.

Step 7 - Do the things that feel like the wrong things. Whether you develop a product or offer a service you can always choose to do the wrong things. For example if you offer a cleaning service you can decide to use cheaper materials which will produce worse results and that means unhappy customers. Or if you have a taxi driving service you can buy old cars and do not provide sat navs so drivers take longer to get to places.The idea is to focus on doing things that have either negative value or at least no value. This will help reduce product/service quality and customer satisfaction.

Step 8 - Ensure your directors and senior people are actively working to reduce staff morale. To do that they can show off with things only they can afford or they can ensure any successes are attributed to them rather than the people who really did the work. Another option is for managers to increase pressure on people across all teams without any apparent reason. What also works really well is to create a complicated bonus scheme. One that allows directors to justify whatever bonuses they want to pay or not pay. Bonuses are really good de-motivator when not paid. This is because people get used to them and are disappointed when they don't get them.

Step 9 - Eliminate lines of business. When you frustrate people and decrease quality of service then lines of business will inevitably get into trouble. At this point you have to close them which involves making people redundant and closing off offices. This shall send the right message to those still working for your company to start looking elsewhere. Again to make this work you'd need experienced HRs skilled in this sort of thing and "3 Nos" line managers (see the 3 questions above). Equipped with the right people a task like this will get you closer to your goal.

Step 10 - As you close more and more lines of business and the company gets in trouble you may start getting offers to sell the business. Now that may not be your goal but it may be a good idea to escape the mess with some cash in your pocket. Depending on how much you have messed things up another business might come to the rescue. If you're happy with selling then get the cash and run (And don't start another business ever again!) If you don't need the cash then reject all offers and see the process of closing all lines of business through.


You have managed to fully destroy your company. Your hard work has paid off and your goal is achieved. Now you can move elsewhere and see if you can be as successful.  

Of course there's always a chance that something might not happen as the guide predicts so if you have tried this step by step procedure get in touch and we can exchange ideas to make it better so it serves more people like you.

I hope it works for you ( or rather it doesn't)

Friday, 4 May 2012

6 months - update on my books reading target

At the end of last year I set my self a target to read as many book as possible and hopefully at least 25 in 2012.

What I really want to achieve is 40 but I think realistically 25 is a more achievable target.

Here’s what I managed so far:

Audio Books (7)
Your Brain at Work  by David Rock   
Getting Things Done When You Are Not in Charge: Second Edition  by  Geoffrey M. Bellman   
Speak to Win by Brian Tracy   
Drive by   Daniel H. Pink   
Influencer by   Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield   
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Effective NLP Skills by Christina Youell, Richard Youell

Kindle Books (4)
Management 3.0 by Jurgen Appelo
Training from the back of the room by Sharon L. Bowman
Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management by Johanna Rothman & Esther DerbyMade to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath & Dan Heath
Paper books (1 in progress)

The Exceptional Presenter: A Proven Formula to Open Up and Own the Room by Timothy J. Koegel

So almost 12 done and if I want to get to 25 I might have to speed up a little which I hopefully will be able to do now that I might travel by train for a few weeks.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Benefits of Agile and Scrum? (a guest post by Faisal Mahmood)

    I am publishing a guest post for the first time and I am happy that this post is by Faisal Mahmood – fellow Agile trainer and coach. I hope you enjoy reading it.

    Curious about benefits of Agile and Scrum?

    Agile and Scrum enable you to

    1. Respond to market changes while controlling risk

    2. Increase ROI (return on investment)

    3. Continuously improve your process

    4. Increase quality of your products

    5. Work at a sustainable pace

      1. Respond to market changes while controlling risk

        Ignoring Agility is not an option any more in the fast moving markets of today.

        Change is one of the biggest project killers. With Scrum and Agile Scrum, you do not need to be afraid of the change. Agile equips you to respond to rapid changes in the marketplace while controlling risk. It is of no use to respond to changes and become bankrupt. Scrum and Agile focus on emergent planning which empowers rapid response to changes while helping you control risks.

        Increase ROI (return on investment)

        60% of the features in the products never or rarely get used, but still, we keep building and maintaining products and features. This, of course, lowers our ROI. Scrum and Agile help you focus on the highest value features in your products and features. With focus on value, increase in productivity and quality, Scrum and Agile set you on a journey to higher returns.

        Continuously improve your process

        Scrum and Agile emphasize continuous improvement. Scrum has built in mechanism to help you see the issues that are holding you and your organization back and enable you to leverage collective intelligence of your team to devise solutions to these issues.

        Increase quality of your products

        Did you know that more than 50% of IT budgets are spent on maintenance? This is caused by low quality products which become painful to maintain. Scrum and Agile help you build quality right in your development process. Quality becomes part of the whole process.

        Work at a sustainable pace

        Agile and Scrum Teams are empowered yet accountable for delivery. They self-organize to deliver valuable increments of products at a sustainable pace.

        Faisal Mahmood is the author of the book Agile Adoption Mistakes You Must Avoid. Faisal is a Certified Professional Scrum Trainer based in London, UK.

      Monday, 26 March 2012

      Agile note taking – Introducing “The Note Card”

      You know index cards? I started using them for Agile note taking.

      There’s several reasons why I dislike notepads:

      • they’re too big to carry
      • they have many pages
      • I always forget them
      • I spend ages trying to find out my notes
      • they have brands and some are shinier than other

      I have been experimenting using index cards for taking notes for a while and I have recently “formalised” my method by combining short notes with priority highlighting and action indication.

      There’s several reasons why I like Agile note taking

      • index cards are light & small
      • the size forces me to be concise with my notes
      • the size forces me to select what to record
      • I can carry the card with me and throw it away once all actions are done
      • usually nobody else is using the method

      It really is very simple – have a look at the picture (notes are blurred to hide client related information) :


      You can build whatever shapes you like (I prefer square like shapes) and write your notes the way you prefer. I enjoy building a uneven brick-like wall by avoiding straight lines and using curves here and there. I then indicate actions by using the (A) sign, highlight the urgent & important things using orange and non urgent but important using green, whatever blocks are left uncoloured are just for information and that’s it.  The colours could be different of course as long as you know what is what which is why I sometimes add a little legend at the end.

      As you can see Agile note taking is cool – and you can try it anytime you feel like it, after all you only need an index card and a pen.

      Thursday, 15 March 2012

      Kiva - an awesome way to help people

      Thanks to Jurgen Appelo's tweet and blog post today I discovered Kiva 

      I signed up and already made a couple of loans.

      What an awesome way to help people who want to make a difference. And loans can be as small as $25 - this is about £16 today.

      I agree with Jurgen - this is much better than donations.
      Donations are probably still the only way to raise money for certain causes but Kiva feels like the right way.

      The concept seems to me very similar to Dr Yunus's Grameen bank who clearly has found a great solution for boosting people who want to work and just need a little bit of help.

      And this is the key for me.. So if you would like to start by lending a free $25 then use this link  and start helping people who have found the drive to try and make a difference.

      Monday, 5 March 2012

      The ‘Non-Plamen’ Book

      Last week I travelled to Vienna to participate in Jürgen Appello’s Management 3.0 training. I liked it so much that I decided to enrol as licensed trainer for this course (which is not the topic of this post but I felt it is relevant)

      I also thought that the Roving Coffee idea was brilliant so I joined the evening meet up at Coffee Day in Vienna. Now Coffee Day is an Indian company and I have actually visited the first CoffeeDay shop in Bangalore so I felt it is a nice coincidence. Couldn’t taste the coffee there obviously as it was past 8pm when I arrived so I had beer instead (and it was good Smile).

      My taxi driver completely messed up the destination address and the poor fellow didn’t speak a word of English so it was difficult to guide him with my superior orientation skills (those who know me well will recognise the irony). So I missed the beginning of the meeting and on my entry I was clearly expected to bring some ideas which I did although perhaps they were of the wrong kind. Anyway it was a lovely chat in which we decided that it is not a very good idea to start changing the world from Vienna mainly for historical reasons – something to do with WW1 I think although later on reading through wikipedia I realised that it was not a valid reason.  Having in mind that most of us were drinking beer I guess it was sort of OK.

      Now about the title.. just before finishing the meeting Jurgen asked who wants to have a copy of his Management 3.0 book (he only had one copy). Everyone declared that they already have the book including myself so the first round wasn’t very successful. And then I had this great idea that if nobody wants the book then perhaps I can take it and give it to someone who is unlikely to buy it therefore doing my bit to change the world. Everyone thought it is a great idea so there it was - I had the book. Next thing though – Jurgen asks me – do you want me to sign it? Now here’s a game changer. That brings a bit of hesitation so I am saying – well if you sign it then it is more likely that I will keep it (which I do not want to do)… Jürgen repeats the question to which I suggest – fine, then write something that ensures the book cannot remain with me.. and here’s how the ‘Non-Plamen’ book is born!  See the picture below:


      The text reads:

      “This is a non-Plamen book. Only people not named Plamen may own it. If your name is Plamen you must get rid of this book in 3 days, or it will self destruct.”

      Of course I had no intention of waiting for more than 3 days to see if the prophecy will be fulfilled. I got rid of the book before the 4th full day and I hope it will serve well its new owner!

      And finally just to prove that this was all real and not made up – here’s all the participants in Roving Coffee in Vienna. Note that while we’re all smiling Jürgen is demonstrating that the camera of his phone isn’t very good!