Data-Driven Decisions in Culture Change

Today I want to share some thoughts around data-driven decisions. Rather than present some evangelical-sounding argument, I think it might help if I speak from my personal experience:

  • I care about data because it is the only way I know if I’m getting better.
  • It also helps me to think about what truly matters.

Seriously, I apply this to everything: from my work, to my workouts, to my gardening, to my…

Enough of that. Let’s take a real example: let’s say our goal is

“Make the company culture better”

The first obvious question is what does “better” mean? This is always worth a proper discussion. For our purposes now, let’s say we’ve agreed for our purposes it means that people enjoy being at work, and are productive.

So how would we know if we were changing that? That’s when it gets difficult, and very important, to measure: since then we can see what things (experiments) we do that impact this.

On the “people enjoying being at work” topic, we might look at some quantitative measures from People data such as “rate at which people leave the company” or “hiring ability”, together with some softer, qualitative, conversation-based data. We might even want to construct things, like a culture survey or exit interviews, to understand some specific aspects of what matters to us.

Then in terms of “productivity” (or some measure of value delivered), we might want to look at the customer benefit delivered each week, in £. This might be too hard (indeed I’m not sure anyone has cracked it [1]), so we’re looking at throughput (a count of stories done in a time interval) instead as a proxy-measure. If you have any ideas of how we could do that better I’d be really keen to hear them!

Following scientific method:

  1. First, we want a baseline: to capture what the current status of these things is.
  2. Then, we want to conduct smart, hypothesis-driven experiments, so we can see if these genuinely do impact things: being sure to take repeatable measures.

Unfortunately for our example, this interactive human behaviour is almost the definition of a Complex Adaptive System [2], so it won’t be easy to show causation – we’d need to do some Principle Component Analysis [3] (or similar) and that would require “long” and ideally also “wide” data, together with experiments and consciously-held-out subsets. In a business environment, this is hardly pragmatic.

We can though at least show that something important has changed, even if we can’t easily prove why it changed.

By gathering data that matters, you too can be data-driven! Experiment with this on something simple to start with, and see whether it works for you. It might be what time of day to commute to work, your own wellbeing, or the quality of your code. Let us know in the comments below what you try and how it goes!

[1] http://agileresearchnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Measuring_value_in_agile_projects_WP.pdf

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_adaptive_system

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principal_component_analysis

My first… business proposal

Several months ago I had my first ever formal pitch to a company where I didn’t know the people at beforehand, and I found my notes on it which I thought I’d share! It was actually not that intimidating, as they were really nice and I’ve had more practice now.
The bit that kinda stressed me out was writing a formal Business Proposal, which they asked for afterwards. Whilst I have been on the receiving end of these sorts of things, I’d never written one. To make matters slightly more pressured, they wanted it within a week.

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I didn’t actually use this

Things that helped:

  • I secured an “in” to be able to talk more to their techie, who was awesome and really helped me get to grips better with their problem
  • I gave several thought-through options, given that it would be a new relationship I wanted to make sure I explained my preferences to them, and gave them a better understanding of my expertise
  • I asked for feedback several days before the deadline from their Project Manager, to make sure I was providing what they wanted
  • I used LaTeX to write it, which meant I didn’t need to muck around too much with making a custom stylesheet, since it looks great without effort

Things that were hard:

  • I had no idea really of timescales (#noestimates), and from initial conversations this was very important to the client. I made sure to give an option to be more lean about it: by which I mean take the most important small chunk and do that as fast as possible
  • Deciding on pricing, for a customer used to having free work done for them :/

If you’re doing a Business Proposal, don’t panic, it’ll be fine: just get as much feedback as you can so that you have an engaged, happy customer.

More Happiness!

One of the things I’m trying to optimise for is my happiness. Hopefully it doesn’t come as a huge surprise that this is a pretty complex thing to do. In my time as an Agile Coach, I’ve read a lot of literature of varying quality on this, and indeed hopefully have helped others to use this to find increased happiness for themselves.

From the studies supporting “Thinking fast and slow” it is clear that present happiness and “remembering happiness” are two very different things, both of which would need to be considered. [1]

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A happy (in the present) panda

Through my reading of several studies, there is one key thing that I want to call out in this post: social connectedness. It turns out that social connectedness is a better predictor of happiness than any other variable (such as money or education).[2]

As someone going from full-time employment (with a built-in 5-day-a-week social) to self-employment, I was worried that I’d lose a lot of the social connection I had in my life.

To combat this, I agreed to spend 2 days a week in an office coaching teams. I also joined a few local clubs, and committed to myself that I’d go to some interesting meetups.

I’ve also been measuring my happiness day by day, and reflecting on it, in order to cover both “types” of happiness. I draw smileys on my calendar each morning, and do a monthly check on how I feel the last month was.

2016-05-15
With thanks to Tung Chun Food Manufacturing Ltd.

I know this isn’t very advanced, or even scientific. By using this basic data, I’m trying to understand just a bit more about how I feel, and see whether changes I make (such as joining a club, or doing more running) make a measurable difference to my happiness. Also, through the mere fact that the data exists, I ensure I focus on it more, which is what I want anyway! [3]


[1] Kahneman’s TED talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgRlrBl-7Yg

[2] http://www.hks.harvard.edu/saguaro/communitysurvey/results4.html

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawthorne_effect

The journey to a company culture

I like to think of culture as what happens when no-one is looking.

As a new company, you’re in a unique position to genuinely define your culture, rather than adapt to someone else’s [1]. Who do you want to be? What matters to you beyond your Product or service?

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Some books

I’ve found a number of challenges to the cultural philosophy I want to live, the strongest of which (for me at least) are from customers. To be specific, I found many customers wanted a fixed price arrangement. This would mean:

  • defining work up front
  • attempting to estimate duration
  • committing myself to a potentially large chunk of time

As I discussed with them, I don’t want to do any of those things, in the interest of the customer getting great value[2]. I want us to be able to pivot as we learned more, so we can work on what matters rather than what happened to be in the contract. This is the spirit of the value of genuine “Collaboration” that Fuza has[3], which I believe means I need to share the same goals as my customer. Luckily most of the people who are interested in working with Fuza are keen to make smart decisions, and have understood and embraced the attitude.

The key reason: Without shared vision for the work, we cannot work to get the same benefit and it can become a purely capitalist transaction. When I work, I want to feel and genuinely be a set of people working together for the same thing, as this sense of shared purpose is motivating [4] and as such I am confident it will lead to not just better delivery but also more engaged and happier customers. I’m sure this holds for people working in larger and longer-established companies too: we all like to have purpose. Hopefully one day soon we can get some solid scientific studies to help us understand how to share that purpose effectively.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_philosophy

[2] http://www.agilemanifesto.org/

[3] See www.fuza.co.uk for more info on our values.

[4] Incase you haven’t watched it, http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation?language=en

The key to being awesome: feedback

Last week I was talking with one of my friends. “I’m going to get fired, I know for sure I am delivering below what they had hoped” he said.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard these kinds of fears voiced. I encouraged him, as I am now encouraging you, to SEEK FEEDBACK. There is no need to live with insecurity. Everyone should do this, as it is valuable information about ourselves that we can use to self-improve. Doing this regularly is even better! There is no need to wait a year for your annual appraisal: by getting quicker, regular feedback we learn faster. With this in mind, please do take a minute to give me feedback on this blog, either in the public comments, or privately here:

How can I get feedback?

Often, feedback comes in an annual appraisal with your boss. You will likely also be getting some kind of feedback from your close friends (e.g. “it is really annoying when you turn up late Harry.”) In this post I’ll outline some well-established methods for getting professional feedback.

Pick some people whom you value the opinion of. This probably will be people from work, but may include some friends or family. A broad variety of perspectives and relationships will help you get a fuller picture.

Now there are many different ways I’ve seen for gathering this kind of feedback.

Start, Stop, Continue

This is arguably the simplest for a beginner: simply email some people asking them:

  • What should I start doing?
  • What should I stop doing?
  • What should I continue doing?

They’ll reply with some things, and maybe you’ll want to follow up with a one-on-one discussion to check your understanding on some of the points.

360 feedback

You can do this as “Start, Stop, Continue” or as a custom SurveyMonkey form with some traits you’d like particular feedback on. The “360” element of this is that you should ensure you ask not just your manager, but also your direct reports and other peers. The top link on google when I looked was this example. It is very quantitative and trackable if you do it regularly. I would only recommend this particular site if you have a direction you want to develop in though, as it restricts ability to comment on some things, like say whether they’d really appreciate it if you used some more effective deodorant.

Johari Window

This is a personality mapping test, where you can see how different people see you compared to your self-perception. I found this quite interesting and surprising. This is much more of a long-term improvement and measurement exercise, and again you won’t get specific feedback on performance, etc. in this. Try it out here.

A conversation

This is my favourite. It is best to give the other person time to prepare and get their thoughts in order about the feedback they’d like to give you. Keep it safe by using a start-stop-continue method or other framework if you prefer. If you have particular questions, you can ask them: again preparing this beforehand is great, but don’t hide behind a piece of paper. Ideally you’d both give one another feedback, since this is a great trust-building mechanism and you can both benefit!

Other methods

There are many other ways to get feedback. Let me know if you have another favourite in the comments below.

How should I take it?

Receiving feedback can be hard, especially if it feels critical. Remember this is an opportunity for you to grow, and these people are being nice enough to help you. If you take this with a developmentally-focused, rather than self-critical, mindset, then you’re on to a winner.