Proactive experimentation, not procrastination

Simple question: Who is guilty of putting off a task related to the business or communicating with your team at work because it might create too much noise? What is the worst thing that could happen? Someone might resign? Or you might actually get some feedback? Our mind can put up all kinds of justifications on why we should do something tomorrow instead of today. But I think you can move forward and stop workplace procrastination – it just takes an approach that embraces experimentation, driving outcomes and change. When you overthink all the tasks at hand it’s too easy to step into a procrastination pothole and get stuck.

I think all of us are guilty of procrastination at some level. Here are a few of the (usually illogical) reasons we might put something off:

  • We feel if we leave it long enough, it will go away.
  • We think if we leave it long enough, someone else will do it
  • We do not want to associate our personal brand with the change.
  • We feel that we are overloaded, and moving forward with the change could result in more workload.
  • We don’t totally believe in the task that we need to do. We may agree that it should happen, but we are not 100% onboard.
  • We have not prioritized the change correctly.

So how can experimentation work in the real world? Get into the habit of doing a risk and sizing assessment. Let’s work through this quick example:

You want to bring in an external vendor to help your team deliver faster. If the team was to look at this the wrong way. they might feel this is a threat because they are losing control of deliverables.
The first task is a risk and sizing assessment. Is this a big change or a small change? If you have a team of 10 people working on the project and you are bringing in 2-3 external folks for two months, I would say this is a small change both as a percent of team size, duration, and also cost. That’s crucial information that should be folded into the risk assessment.

I’m a simple guy and like to break things down, so I often run with “what, why and when,” then repeat.

  • Whats in it for the affected folk?
    • For the internal team, the benefit is shared workload, an opportunity to learn new approaches, manage a larger team and delegate tasks that maybe are not as enjoyable.
  • Why are we doing this?
    • Speed-to-market is important for us, but as a business, we do not want to grow our FTE team right now so we want to experiment with additional capacity. The benefit of this approach is we can timebox it and turn it off and on as needed.
    • Today we do not want to distract the team from the task at hand by adding additional workaround interviewing, hiring, onboarding etc the team is super busy  as it is
  • When is this to happen?
    • Now, let’s run the experiment and regularly connect to evaluate and learn from the experiment.
  • Repeat
    • As you run the experiment, rerun the sizing and risk assessment based on feedback and adjust. As you make changes, explain the what, why and when. but speed up the process and the changes so you can turbocharge your business. 

Not acting is far more damaging than acting while experimenting with change. Don’t forget to be vulnerable with your team and explain how you feel about change. It’s important that your team knows you experience heartburn, too, because you are also human! Change can be hard, but more often than not, it drives growth!

Crawl, walk, run. Modernization is a journey

I’d like to share a quick Q&A with Julia White that I spotted on Linkedin talking about the current landscape as it relates to how Microsoft technology can help. For me, COVID has forced businesses to move faster and without as much planning as we would have seen in the past which has pro’s and cons’, in this post I am going to share how I have been thinking about and acting in the current climate.

I feel to take advantage of the current climate we need the “power of now” and by that, I mean we need to make decisions faster balanced with our confidence level. This for many folk is a hard thing to do (including myself), I feel the past has a big impact on this.  If past decisions did not play out well the decision scar tissue that builds up can have a huge impact on making future decisions and this can lead to being overly conservative. In fact, sometimes decisions are not made and or they are made too late based on the time taken to over think it.

For me I try to factor in the following concepts to help me with decision making

  • Be collaborative, drive empowerment and have effective delegation
  • Be data-driven
  • Understand the risks and manage to them
  • Break it up and deliver quickly, if possible, perform tasks in parallel rather than sequentially
  • Measure twice cut once
  • Leverage the tools you have (technology, people and partners)

What tools are we using at Provoke to make faster decisions and to deliver? Microsoft Teams is the go-to tool to allow us to collaborate and brainstorm and to record the discussions and actions which allow us to loop back formally and informatively. We leverage channels and tabs in teams to discuss and surface the required information needed to make and assess our decision making.

To help with making faster decisions we are leveraging more and more data and allowing folk to self-serve a lot more. We were pulling a lot of data into excel but we ended up with version issues, concerns about security, the possibility that folk could be getting access to sensitive data and limited visibility into usage information.  As a result we been moving a lot of our reporting to PowerBi. One issue we have run into is that PowerBi is not delivering the real-time data refresh we need for one or two specific reports.  We knew this limitation going in but felt we could deal with it, the reality is we can’t and needed to look at other options.

We continue to look at Power Bi premium but at this stage monthly running costs are a blocker, we are currently also digging into direct query for PowerBi, but one of the back end sources may not be well suited to this approach.  Our current quick fix is to leverage power apps to build a real-time data request app. This app is leveraging data sitting in a couple of places. Most of the data is stored in a product we use to manage our business called ProjectWorks, they have a great API which allows us to pull data for our custom report needs but we also want to blend it with some additional data which we will store in the common data services (we are going to build a power app to manage data in CDS ). Part of the reason to use the Power Apps approach is we can leverage a broader range of folk, due to ease of building the apps, also we can surface the experience on desktop and mobile simply and quickly.

To allow a broader range of folk to be successful in building out power app solutions we have encapsulated complex or commonly used data requests into azure functions (build once use many times!) to reduce errors and to allow for centralized control of complex logic where a mistake could result in a poor decision due to incorrect data.

In summary I feel core to what we are doing is that we are breaking bigger decisions into smaller blocks and making decisions faster, we are leveraging tools to support what we are doing if we don’t have the right tool we are trying to quickly address that issue. Once we have made a decision, we quickly move onto getting things done!  We are executing the decision in parallel so multiple problems are getting solved at once.  This has been working well as we have been flighting folk in an out of small projects, this has not always been productive but to manage workstreams we have focused on leveraging the tools that people use every day. For example, for a productivity worker, they live in MS Teams, for an engineer they live in Azure Devops .  As a lot of our people are still working remotely and face to face discussions are not as easy as they used to be people are doubling down on leveraging Teams and Develops this is allowing us to reduce the amount of hand over between folk as the project background and knowledge is getting documented every day.  To close out, the world is different, work is different, but the world goes on, work continues, and decision must be made!