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The Three Competencies of Mastering Complex Product Development

It’s mastery, so don’t expect it to be easy. As both a serial entrepreneur and agile coach to teams of all sizes, I have come to understand that mastering complex product development converges into three competencies. (1) Content competency: the … Read More

The Two Simple Traits of Performing Teams

What do you do? The dreaded elevator pitch question. I fumble on it every time. Some days I will say that I activate people. One conversation at a time, I activate leaders, teams, organizations. Other days I say I specialize … Read More

The Power of Tribes in Agile Organizations

Social and digital is accelerating the service economy transformation in our world. In the service economy, the competitive advantage is knowledge (including skills and expertise) and connectivity (access to resources – technology is the enabler). At the individual worker level, … Read More

In Praise of Risk and the late Anne Duformantelle

3 years ago today, French philosopher and psychoanalyst Anne Dufourmantelle, best known for her work on risk-taking (“In Praise of Risk”), drowned while saving two children off a beach in France. She died in circumstances true to her word: “When … Read More

8 Mind & Heart Hacks for Emotionally Charged Situations

Here are eight mind and heart hacks for immediate deployment in emotionally charged situations. I use Rhythm Section and Observe, Orient regularly. And more than once, Lean-in has saved me (us) from situations with dramatic effect. I don’t think there’s … Read More

Agile 101

What is agile? Why agile? How do we do agile? What’s the difference between Agile, Scrum, Lean, Design Thinking? Tell me about Scrum. Is agile a fad? What’s the difference between Agile and agility? All answered, in a 33 minute … Read More

What do we do when we have missing expertise in the Scrum Team?

On the recurring, practical question of what to do when there are missing skills and expertise in the cross-functional Scrum Team: Yes, it’s true that the Scrum Guide says “Cross-functional teams have all competencies needed to accomplish the work without … Read More

Why learning from failure is so hard: Because we can’t stand looking stupid

There’s one HBR article that I share but never hear back about. It’s Chris Argyris’ “Teaching Smart People How to Learn” (https://hbr.org/1991/05/teaching-smart-people-how-to-learn). Maybe it’s the intimidating title that ticks off the interest to read. Or maybe because it’s a painful … Read More

Go with the FLOW to capture your thoughts from Design Thinking customer interviews

So you had some great customer interviews as part of your Design Thinking exercise. You felt that you empathized well with the customers and generated awesome insight. Wonderful. Before your memory evaporates you’d want to write down your thoughts quickly … Read More

KISS – Keep It Stupid Simple

KISS, an acronym for “keep it simple, stupid” or “keep it stupid simple”, is a design principle noted by the U.S. Navy in 1960. The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than … Read More

What To Do When Feeling Overwhelmed

1. Breathe Know to stop. Stop. Take a deep breath. Slowly regulate your breathing. Our mind and body is an amazing system. Breathing is the most simple, immediate, no-need-for-tool intervention available to us in times of panic. By the time … Read More

Mental Model Dōjō TV: Agile Success Stories – UOB Finlab Felix Tan

What makes UOB’s Finlab not just yet another bank accelerator unit, is its unique focus in helping SMEs with its SME accelerator program. I asked Felix Tan, MD of Finlab to share us the story behind the focus and their … Read More

Kill the Zombies in the Eisenhower Matrix

My executive coaching client was being completely overwhelmed. After a download of a long list of things on his plate, I asked him how he would like to do things differently. He continued to list more things he wanted to … Read More

Disagreement vs Misalignment

“Shared understanding” is an everyday word in my team coaching. It’s so easy to get into positional talk and convincing mode, because when discussions heat up, it quickly becomes personal. Well, if it’s going to be personal, make it personal … Read More

Maslow’s Final Theory Z

Self-Transcendence – Beyond Self-Actualization and Theory X & Y Maslow’s Original Hierarchy of Needs Model In 1943, Abraham H. Maslow published his ground breaking paper “A Theory of Human Motivation,” outlining what we commonly know today as Maslow’s hierarchy of … Read More

Mental Model Dōjō TV: Agile Success Stories – Solaria Labs, Liberty Mutual

Does Agile work? To answer that question, I am starting a new video series of curating Agile success stories. The first story I’d like to share is with Justin Yiu, from Liberty Mutual’s innovation arm Solaria Labs, and their innovative … Read More

Mental Model Dōjō TV: Ambidextrous Organizations Explained

Link to case study video: https://youtu.be/EW_PX50NAps Transcript What is an ambidextrous organization? In a nutshell, an ambidextrous organization takes care of current core businesses with the right hand, while taking care of innovation with the left hand, as physically separate … Read More

Stop #failureporn

There’s this thing called failure porn. As Agile professionals, as educators, as parents, we say it’s okay to fail. Go for it, try your best, and if you fail as a result, it’s okay, because we learn. Nothing wrong with … Read More

Mental Model Dōjō TV: Knowing to Stop – a Confucius Teaching

We practice the art of stopping – meditation, mindfulness, reflection, introspection, zen. Confucius says to stop, we first need to know to stop. Let’s see what he means by that. This is the very first of my video series, and … Read More

Innovator’s Dilemma and Organizational Ambidexterity

A tribute post to Professor Clayton Christensen, author of “The Innovator’s Dilemma” (1997), who passed away after a long illness. I am a big fan of Organizational Ambidexterity, made famous by Charles O’Reilly (Stanford) and Michael Tushman’s (Harvard) 2004 HBR … Read More

Waterfall Agile: Addressing the Irony of Delivering Agile Transformation with Waterfall

The Irony of Delivering Agile Transformation with Waterfall Agile and digital transformation projects are abundant today. The irony is that too frequently, they are planned and delivered in essentially waterfall project management style. Waterfall is a linear, plan-all-the-way, phased execution … Read More

Knowledge is for Consumption

Knowledge is for consumption. This is my street philosophy, but I really abide to this. I really, really like to practice what I learn. Practice – both in the application sense, and in the repeat exercise, trial and error sense. … Read More

Premature Scaling is Startup Death

#1 Cause of Startup Death? Premature Scaling This is what INSEAD professor Nathan Furr said in a 2011 Forbes article. I can attest it still holds so true: premature scaling is startup death. Steve Blank says the same; in his … Read More

Don’t Mix What I Want FROM You with What I Want FOR You

Frustrations about others, are (not surprisingly) frequent topics of my coaching conversations. The clarifying question “So, what are you frustrated about him/her?” is often answered with a mix of (1) unmet needs and what I call (2) “righting.” It’s a … Read More

Karpman’s Drama Triangle

In coaching enabling conversation skills, I find Karpman’s Drama Triangle (1968) very useful. (1) Blaming, shaming and guilt tripping, (2) victim mentality and (3) “chief problem solving officer” are three recurring patterns of impediments to enabling conversations. The Drama Triangle … Read More

Relentless Pursuit of Product Market Fit is Customer Obsession

Relentless pursuit of product market fit is customer obsession. Reality is, so many distractions in the office… It would be Nirvana for product developers and customer professionals if we can only think about the customer. Why do we have so … Read More

Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress

Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress. – Mahatma Gandhi Nodding one’s head in agreement when reading an inspiring quote like this is one thing. Furthering the thought with questions, is another thing. For me, two questions come … Read More

Deductive and Inductive Reasoning and the Divergent, Convergent Double Diamond in Design Thinking

There’s science and philosophy behind Design Thinking’s divergent and convergent double diamond. It’s the logic of deductive and inductive reasoning. Also: “Experience by itself teaches nothing… Without theory, experience has no meaning. Without theory, one has no questions to ask. … Read More

If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced

“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” – Vincent van Gogh There’s neuroscientific truth in this. This is the same brain hacking we use in … Read More

The Cadence of Scrum

I chose this equestrian quote because today I wanted to talk about the time-boxed nature of Scrum, also known as the cadence of Scrum. Sprints that are not consistent, i.e. stretches and shrinks, interrupts, happens just a few rounds and … Read More

Zen koan: What is the sound of one hand clapping?

We know the sound of two hands clapping. But what is the sound of one hand clapping? – Zen Master Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769) A Zen Koan (riddle) made famous by appearing in J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories. Enjoy thinking about it. … Read More

The Map Is Not The Territory

The map is not the territory. – Alfred Korzybski, 1931 Semantic scientist and philosopher Korzybski coined this term to distinguish our beliefs from reality. The concept is helpful in understanding how misunderstandings happen. > What we perceive as the territory, … Read More

Design Instead of Planning

I actually think planning and designing are pretty similar. It’s just that designing is much more colorful, multi-faceted, free form. Probably more fun too. Planning for your trip? How about, “designing your next trip”? Sounds more adventurous and intriguing, doesn’t … Read More

The Two Cadence of User Feedback

This image is from Roland Smart’s “Agile Markerter” (https://amzn.to/2O7W2EA). It’s the cadence difference between feedabck (spot the typo? :-)) that come (1) directly from the consumer (Practitioner User Feedback) and (2) the people who manage the consumers of the product/service … Read More

Robert Fritz’s Concept of Structural Tension

Sharing to fellow coaches this useful visual from Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline book. Bringing awareness to limiting beliefs, while shifting the attention to action, is a recurring yet intricate theme in coaching. We have a tendency to dwell too long … Read More

Kaizen (改善) and Kaku-shin (革新)

My stance is that, change and transformation is a result. We don’t change for the sake of changing. Rather, I place importance in improvement. So, with me, you’ll be seeing frequent reference to Kaizen (改善), which is continuous improvement. See, … Read More

The many flavors of Experimental and Iterative approaches

The importance is to experiment and iterate. What approach you take is of secondary importance. Chose whatever approach that best fits the situation, and eventually you’ll get there. Time after time, trial and error has been proven most effective.

From Know-Do to Know-[Stop/Think/Design]-Do

We are highly functioning professionals. When we see a pattern, we know what to do. So, Know-Do. The challenge of Know-Do, is predictable results. What if we want out-of-the-norm break-throughs? So, Stop. Think. Design. Sharing my favorite visual from the … Read More

The non-linear, non-sequential nature of Design Thinking

Design Thinking is process driven. It is a process to help us activate our creativity. Meanwhile, our brains don’t necessarily work in linear fashion, particularly when we’re being creative. So, by nature, Design Thinking can be non-linear, and non-sequential. Go … Read More

Prototyping a Walking Skeleton

Either it’s the artist in us or the perfectionist taking control, but many of us have a tendency to start creating quality body parts ahead of putting together a skeleton. Remember, it would be a tragedy if we spend an … Read More

VUCA”O” – Why I add Overwhelming to Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous

Because when we’re overwhelmed, we make simple and complicated situations, complex and chaotic. Complexity & uncertainty handling is starting to get recognition as a skill set, ability and aptitude associated to agility. A lot of my executive coaching conversations are … Read More

Strategy Session Facilitation with Design Thinking & Liberating Structures

Why brainstorming doesn’t work That was fun, but… Why do we get that slight, lingering feeling of doubt and dissatisfaction after brainstorming sessions? Here’s why: Group dynamics: 80/20 rule applies. Domination: The vocal minority dominate the space, crowding out the … Read More

How to Get Scrum Right on First Attempt

Pilot objective Within the Scrum community, there is abundant writing suggesting that the two main factors of Scrum implementation failure are: (1) sub-optimal team structure at the onset, and (2) the Scrum Team failing to reach critical formation maturity early … Read More

The Art of Kanban + User Story Mapping

Kanban is deep… Combine that with Jeff Patton’s User Story Mapping (USM), it becomes a powerful visualization tool in Scrum.

Liberating Structures

Liberating Structures is a collection of powerful team exercises curated by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless (www.liberatingstructures.com). The following slides are abbreviated instructions and some modified contents to their original work. For original instructions, please visit their website. Here’s the … Read More

Two Templates for Design Thinking POV (Point of View) Statements

Two versions of Design Thinking POV (Point of View) Statement templates. Download PDF version with editable text boxes here: DT POV Templates

Try Design Thinking + Scrum: A Powerful Hybrid Agile Approach

Classic Scrum’s Achilles’ heel One of the weak areas of classic Scrum, in my opinion, is the relative simplicity of the ideation phase. “What to build” is sometimes an arbitrary discussion during the Scrum Backlog building and Sprint Planning exercises, … Read More

Systems Thinking

We tend to confront complex, dynamic realities with a language designed for simple, static problems: normal verbal language extracts simple, linear cause-effort chains. And because we see the world in simple obvious terms, we come to also believe in simple, … Read More

Radical Candor: My Go To Feedback Routine

In search of better feedbacking As a coach and mentor, challenging people is a natural part of my work, and sometimes they are in the form of tough messages. Not always though, the messages go down well with the recipient. … Read More

Knowing to Stop – A Confucius Teaching

Confucius’ 7 spaces of learning Knowing to stop – is a simple notion but difficult to practice skill. In “Great Learning (大学)”, written around 2,500 years ago by one of his first disciples Zengzi (曾子), Confucius (孔子) teaches the following: … Read More

Lean, Lean Manufacturing, Lean Startup: Clarified

Lean: not just a hype word for efficiency Yah sure, we do “lean” here and we operate a tight ship with just a few of us doing everything – you know, everyone is multi-taskin’. “Lean” is such a convenient term, … Read More

A Pretty Good Summary of Lean, Agile Scrum

Glossary: Lean, Agile, Scrum, Sprint, Kanban Consider Lean & Agile as pretty much the same thing, they are basically really good approaches to handling projects with a lot of uncertainties, which is why successful startups take this approach. (For a … Read More

Dialogue vs Directional Talk and the Tell Sell Yell Escalation

Our need to be right is pervasive. Suspend your assumptions, create a conversational space and have a dialogue, less a directional talk.

Sprint Till You Drop, and three other tales of Scrum gone wrong

(This post is an excerpt from our earlier article A Pretty Good Summary of Lean, Agile, Scrum.) ‣ The Spiritless Scrum: Sprints as Mini-Waterfalls Often, User Stories become mini specification documents. With that, coding or whatever activity gets executed, and … Read More

Vision Hierarchy: Making Your Vision Connected with Your Team – An Agile Exercise

Sharing your Vision Leaders, why is it all so often that when you “share” your vision to your people, you don’t really feel it’s shared? They listen to you and agree, but you can almost tell they are taking it … Read More

Lattice Work of Mental Models

Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s 95 years old “right hand man,” on “lattice work of mental models”: “You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience ‑ both vicarious and direct ‑ on this latticework … Read More

Great Product, Not Selling

Sound familiar? Let’s talk about product market fit. Your angel investor invested in your idea. Your VC and series A investors gave you money to make the product and bring it to market. You bootstrapped yourself and made a lot … Read More

How to Fix Startup Marketing

Four Areas of Focus We focus on the following four areas to help startups build strong foundations for marketing and enterprise success: Make marketing more approachable and easier to grasp Embrace third party specialist marketing resources and platforms Nurture marketing … Read More

The 3 Challenges Of Startup Marketing

My name is Takeshi. I am the founder of Lifecycle. We help startups succeed with better product development, and marketing. After a long banking career, I started my startup entrepreneurship life in 2011, first involved in a portfolio of Maker … Read More

Start From Here: 5 Recommended Reads For Learning Lean & Agile

The Lean Startup, Eric Ries, 2011 Scrum, Jeff Sutherland, 2014 The Startup Owner’s Manual, Steve Blank and Bob Dorf, 2012 Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey A. Moore, 2014 (3rd edition) All of these books are wisdom from our great forerunners. They … Read More