Book review: “Humble Inquiry”

Edgar H. Schein, a former professor at MIT has done a lot of research in the field of organisational culture, and I particularly like the work he has done with respect to effective communication. His 2013 book “Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling” is a prime example of Schein’s endeavours to help create what he refers to as ‘positive relationships and effective organisations’.

What does the ‘humble’ part of Humble Inquiry stand for?

When Schein talks about humility in the context of humble inquiry, he refers to ‘Here-and-now Humility’. Schein describes this type of humility felt when a person is dependent on another person to help achieve certain goals or tasks that he or she has committed to. As Schein writes “My status is inferior to yours at this moment because you know something or can do something that I need in order to accomplish some task or goal that I have chosen.”

People can thus choose between denying the dependency on another person (and avoid feeling humble) or engaging with the other person (and be humble). Schein explains why Here-and now Humility’ is hard to learn; in achievement-oriented cultures where knowledge and display of it are admired, asking questions or admitting that you don’t know can be felt as a loss of status.

What does the ‘inquiry’ part of Humble Inquiry stand for?

Inquiry comes down to curiosity. Plain and simple. It means that you ask questions. But Schein is at pains to urge us not to ask any old question; in Humble Inquiry there is no place for:

  • Leading questions – a question that prompts or encourages the answer wanted.
  • Rhetorical questions – a question asked purely to create a dramatic effect or make a point, instead of getting an answer.
  • Statements in the form of questions – you are just making a point or are trying to provoke, but not asking a question.

One of the things I like about the book is that Schein isn’t trying to be prescriptive about the specific questions you should ask. Instead, he encourages the reader to reflect on the kind of relationship that she wants to build and the forces that hinder us in practising Humble Inquiry. I’m keen, however, to offer some practical examples of questions that you could ask, which I believe stimulate active listening and trusted relationships:

 

“Can you help me understand why ___?”

“Would love to understand what you did here.”  

“Just for my learning, can you please explain?”

“Can you think of any major risks related to this task”

“What is the biggest you learned from _____?” 

“What is ____ like today? “Why is that?” 

What could we do differently and why?”

“Can you please talk me through the pros and cons?”

Main learning point: The concept of curiosity sounds so simple and obvious, but in reality we often resort to ‘telling’ instead of ‘asking’. Humble Inquiry teaches us to be mindful of other people and encourages developing a genuine interest in other people and the creation of trusted relationships.

Book review: “Why Are We Yelling?”

 

Buster Benson, entrepreneur and former product leader, has written “Why Are We Yelling?”. In this book, he covers ‘the art of productive disagreement’. Most of us are weary of disagreement, so Benson’s claim that disagreement can be productive is intriguing. The book begins with some of the common misconceptions with respect to disagreement:

  • Arguments are bad – They aren’t bad, but they can’t be unproductive. We aren’t taught how to argue productively.
  • Arguments change minds – We can really change only two things: our own minds and our own behaviour.
  • Arguments end – Arguments have deep roots and will always find a way to grow back again.

Benson then flips these misconceptions to make the case for the “gift of disagreement”:

  • Truth 1: Arguments aren’t bad – They’re signposts to issues that need our attention.
  • Truth 2: Arguments aren’t about changing minds – They are about bringing minds together.
  • Truth 3: Arguments don’t end – They have deep roots and will pop back up again and again, asking us to engage with them.

I thought it was refreshing to read how Benson starts dissecting product disagreement by zooming in on anxiety. He explains how anxiety sparks “when a perspective we value bumps into another perspective that challenges it in some way” and offers ways to stop anxiety from derailing your disagreement (see Fig. 1 below).

There are number of internal voices that come to life in the case of a disagreement. Benson cites the three main ones and explains how these tend to be culturally engrained:

  • The voice of power – This is the internal voice which will tell you things such as “Take it or leave it” or “My way or the highway”. The voice of power isn the ultimate conflict-resolution strategy, because you can’t argue with sheer force. Benson states that this what power does – it forcibly closes down arguments and ends conflict in your favour, which is an undeniable evolutionary advantage.
  • The voice of reason – This is the internal voice which will tell you things such as “Why?” or “That doesn’t add up”. The voice of reason is all about using reasons to shut down a debate. Benson argues that the voice of reason works best in situations where you have disagreements with people who share respect for the same higher authority or are part of the same group or organisation that your reasons draw from.
  • The voice of avoidance – This is the internal voice which tells you things such as “I would prefer not to” or “Leave me out of it”. Benson describes how “conflict avoiders have identified flaws in the voices of power and reason and so have chosen to address conflicts by simply refusing to participate in them in the first place.”

Core to the book is the fourth voice that Benson introduces: the voice of possibility. The voice of possibility seeks to make conflict productive. This voice resonates in questions like:

  • What are we missing?
  • What else is possible?
  • What else can we do with what we have?
  • Who else can we bring into the conversation to give us a new perspective?

Benson makes the point that the voice of possibility encourages us very explicitly not to do what the other three voices – power, reason and avoidance – have made habitual in us, which is to find a way to uproot and kill the conflict. We need to, Benson argues, develop ‘honest bias’. He also offers a set of useful guidelines with respect to product disagreement:

  1. Watch how anxiety sparks – These sparks are signposts to our own internal map of dangerous ideas. Notice the difference between big and small sparks.
  2. Talk to your internal voices – Most of us have internal voices that map to the voices of power, reason, and avoidance. Get to know yours so you can recognise their suggestions as merely suggestions, not orders.
  3. Develop honest bias – There is no cure for bias, but we can develop an honest relationship to our own bias with self-reflection, frequent requests for thoughtful feedback, and a willingness to address feedback directly, however it comes.
  4. Speak for yourself – Don’t speculate about others, especially groups that you don’t belong to. Instead, seek out a respectable member of any group you might otherwise speculate about and invite them to your table to speak for themselves. Listen generously.
  5. Ask questions that invite surprising answers – Think of big wide-open questions that create space for divergent perspectives to be heard. Measure the quality of your questions by the honesty and eloquence that they draw out from the person answering them.
  6. Build arguments together – Structure arguments into evidence of the problems and opportunities (to support conflicts of head), diverse perspectives within the argument (to support conflicts of heart),and proposals to address the problems and opportunities ((to support conflicts of hand).
  7. Cultivate neutral spaces – A neutral space is inviting; it opens up big questions and allows arguments to strengthen and the fruit of disagreement to grow. It creates wiggle room for perspectives to shift and expand without punishment or shame. It reminds us that it’s okay to be uncertain indefinitely and it’s okay to act while uncertain.
  8. Accept reality, then participate in it – We can’t change reality from the realm of wishful thinking and wilful blindness. We can’t hide from dangerous ideas. We’re right in the mess with all of it, getting our heads, hearts, and hands dirty. The only way out is through.

Main learning point: ‘Why We Are Yelling?’ successfully demystifies the common notion that disagreement needs to be painful and unproductive. In this book, Buster Benson describes the rationale behind this notion – through three, culturally engrained voices – and introduces a powerful new voice; the voice of possibility.

 

Fig. 1 – How to stop anxiety from derailing your disagreement – Taken from: Buster Benson – Why Are We Yelling?, pp. 54 – 55:

  1. When you notice anxiety, pause and ask yourself: are you anxious about what is true, what is meaningful, or what is useful?
  2. Ask the other party the same question. Do they give the same answer or something different?
  3. Narrate out loud what each of you is anxious about (this buys more time and slows things down). Reiterate how each of you answered the question to see if that leads to new connections for yourself or the other person.
  4. Check to see if either of you is willing to switch to what the other is anxious about. Who has more cognitive dissonance happening and could use the other’s help?

Product review: Ola

Does the world need another ride hailing app!? Ola, one of the many rivals of Uber, recently got a license to operate in London and are looking to take over from Uber as London no. 1 ride sharing service.

My quick summary of OIa before using it? I expect to see an app which looks and feels very similar to Uber.

How does Ola explain itself in the first minute? When searching for Ola’s app, in the iOS app store, if find an entry which says “Ola – Ride the change. Smart, safe rude hailing.” Wondering whether this strap-line refers to the safety issues that Uber has been plagued with in London and elsewhere, and whether Ola will use this as a main point of differentiation.

 

 

Once I’ve installed the Ola app on my phone, the opening screen doesn’t explain about what Ola is, but instead encourages me to join Ola in return for a £15 voucher.

 

Getting started with Ola? Getting started with Ola is painless and feels very similar to on-boarding many other apps. Call me a simpleton, but I do like the little animation at the end, which celebrates my completing Ola’s signup process and receiving a £5 voucher in the process. Hold on though, didn’t the opening screen of the app mention being able to receive vouchers up to £15!? What else do I need to do in order to get an additional £10 worth of vouchers?

 

 

 

Did Ola deliver on my initial expectations? Yes, from a digital experience point of view. Helped in a large part because the entire online on-boarding and ride-hailing feels so similar to that of Uber. I guess Ola isn’t necessarily trying to differentiate though its online experience but instead aiming to let the actual offline experience of using an Ola do the talking …

 

 

Product review: Ray-Ban virtual try on

I was keen to try Ray-Ban’s recently introduced virtual capability to see if it helps in figuring out the best sunglasses for me:

 

 

I have to admit, it initially wasn’t obvious to me how I could try on this pair of sunglasses, the “try them on” call to action underneath the product didn’t stand out to me. When I click on this call to action, I’m first being asked to enable my camera:

 

The process of putting your head within the exact dimensions of oval feels a bit fiddly; perhaps it’s the funny shape of my head which makes it harder to figure out where to best position my glasses? As soon as even the tiniest fraction of my head appears outside of the oval, the “Is anyone there?” message appears.

 

 

Even when it seems that my dimensions have been grasped – indicated by the “Good, stay still while fitting glasses” – as soon as I move my head, the the “Is anyone there?” message appears again.

 

 

Perhaps I should set my expectations more realistically, but it feels that the sunglasses are simply slapped onto my face, and I feel I’m not getting the best sense of how these glasses would look on me (in real life).

Adjusting the frame or changing the colour of the glasses, involves going through the process of the virtual mirror capturing my dimensions. I expected this process to be a one-off exercise, making trying on new glasses, in a variety of colours or with frame adjustments, more seamless.

 

Main learning point: While the experience of trying on sunglasses virtually feels a bit clunky and unrealistic at times, it still provides a good first indicator of which sunglasses could be a good fit for the customer.

My product management toolkit (40): managing time

“Time Management” comes up in lot in conversations that I have with other product managers. The concern is about their ability to be a good product person, managing a product end-to-end while being short on time and fighting lots of different, and often conflicting requests. We’re busy* all the time but are we busy working on the right things? Are we able to focus on the things that really matter? How much control do we have over our own calendars? If not, are there ways to regain some of that control?

 

 

Since moving to the UK over 14 years ago I must have come across at least ten different ways of saying that you’re busy, almost like a badge of honour 🙂 From being chock a block to being slammed to up to your eyeballs, it definitely took me some time getting used to these expressions 🙂

Especially given the fluid nature of the product management role and the associated risk of being pulled in lots of different directions, it’s important to consider how we spend our time and what we should say ‘no’ to. I will share a number of tools and techniques that you might find useful when prioritising and managing your time, based both on my own experience and the great work by Jake Knapp (Make Time) and Greg McKeown (Essentialism):

  1. We’ve got a choice (1) – Sometimes I can’t help scratching my head when we talk about empowering people. In my mind, people are empowered when they enter the workplace, but collectively we inadvertently end up taking some of that power away, e.g. by entering meetings in people’s diaries, setting recurring tasks, etc. Understandably, we don’t always feel empowered or comfortable saying no to things, instead saying things like “I have to” or “They want me to”. In the great book “Essentialism” Greg McKeown reminds us that we have the power of choice and that we can say “I choose to”.
  2. We’ve got a choice (2) – The ability to choose can be applied to tough tradeoff decisions on how to best spend your time. Instead of asking the question “How can I do both?” we should wonder “Which problem do I want?” or “What can I go big on?” We thus put ourselves in a position where we decide about the tradeoffs that we’re prepared to make. Ultimately this comes down to establishing what really matters and why.
  3. Identify what really matters – McKeown suggests that a ‘non-essentialist’ says yes to almost every request or opportunity, based on very broad criteria. In contrast, an ‘essentialist’ will say yes to only the top 10% of opportunities, using explicit criteria to (de) prioritise opportunities. I like how McKeown tries to keep things simple by suggesting that “if it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.” You can also use Suzy Welch’s 10/10/10 test to decide whether something is worth prioritising or not: How will I feel about this 10 minutes from now? How about 10 months from now? How about 10 years from now?
  4. Saying “no” – Saying “no” is a valid option when presenting with conflicting requests, and there are a number of ways to say no graciously but firmly (see Fig. 1 below).
  5. Reflect on how you currently spend your time – Particularly if you’re feeling chronically overworked or that you’re not getting anything done, it’s worth keeping track of how you’re spending your time. Over the course, you could track how much time you spend in meetings, checking and responding to email or Slack messages, reading a book, doing exercise, doing admin tasks, etc. This exercise isn’t about accounting for every minute of the day but about building up a more global picture of how you spend your time. For instance, if you find that 80% of your time is spent, it could be worth reflecting on the different meetings you attend. How helpful are they? Why (not)? What are the opportunity cost attached to attending these meetings? Reflecting on such findings will help you in making tweaks to your schedule or ways of working.
  6. Carve out time (1) – Naturally, it’s hard to cater for unexpected events or things taking longer than planned if your schedule is fully packed with meetings or other activities. Keown recommends building in some buffer time – daily or weekly – to deal with unexpected events or to start preparing early for future priorities or commitments. Generally, blocking out time is extremely important if you want to retain a sense of proactivity and doing those things that really matter to you. For example, no one is going to schedule in regular time slots for you to study competitors or to look at product performance data, and you might well have to block out dedicated time to ensure this happens on a regular basis.
  7. Carve out time (2) – Similar to how you’d carve out time to do specific things, it can help to block out time to respond to email instead of constantly being distracted by new messages coming in. I find that if you only go through email twice a day, e.g. from 9-10am and 4-5pm – you’ll capture most of the important stuff in your inbox while still being responsive. To make the most of the dedicated that you carve out, I suggest minimising distractions e.g. by temporarily turning off email, Slack or text notifications. I know it involves using technology, but apps like Forest can be a great help if you want to create focus time.
  8. Pick and plan your highlights (1) – In “Make Time” Jake Knapp distinguishes four steps to making sure we focus on the right things, repeating these steps every day: highlight, laser, reflect and energise (see Fig. 2 below). Knapp stresses the importance of thinking upfront what you’d like to be the highlight of the end of each day, making sure that you spend time on things that matter to you instead of losing the entire day reacting to other people’s priorities.
  9. Pick and plan your highlights (2) – Knapp suggests three different ways to pick your highlight: urgency, satisfaction and joy (see Fig. 3 below). I have seen other people apply a similar approach, whereby they select a few big ‘rocks’ that they really want or need to do on a given day, complemented by a small number of  ‘pebbles’. Similarly, when I plan my day, I typically have a small number of items above the line and a certain number of items below the line, trying to make sure I do the above the line items first.
  10. Apply made up constraints – Even if a deadline or another type of constraint hasn’t been set, you can apply one to make sure you achieve your goals. For instance, if you’re preparing a work presentation and are worried about spending days on the largest PowerPoint deck the world has ever seen, you can set yourself a maximum number of slides that you can’t go over. Naturally, the trick is to then stick to the deadline or restriction that you’ve made up, but I know from experience that applying these constraints goes a long way in being productive.

Main learning point: I know full well that there are plenty of great books, blog posts, etc. on the topic of time management, and the approach that works for one person might not work for someone else. Writing this post, however, made me reflect on the key thing about managing your time: proactivity. Time management is all about being more on the front foot with respect to adding value to your life, your job, relationships, etc. and therefore a topic worthy revisiting on a regular basis.

 

Fig. 1 – Ways of saying “no” graciously but firmly – Adapted from: Greg McKeown, Essentialism

  • Pause – Pause for a moment when a request comes to you. You can take a moment to count to three when you’re being asked in person or not responding immediately via email. Doing this gives you the time necessary to decide whether you can or want to honour the request.
  • The soft “no” (or the “no but” or “not now”) – Instead of a blunt no, you could say something something along the lines of “I can’t do it now, but can I do it by the end of this week instead, as I need to finish a few other things first. Would that work?” or “No, but let me check with my team whether someone else can do it.”
  • Let me check my calendar and get back to you – To avoid committing to something and only afterwards realising that there’s a diary or priority conflict, I will often give myself time to check my calendar and priorities before confirming.
  • Say, “Yes. What should I deprioritise?” – No one has said that prioritisation is a pure solo effort. By indicating that something will have to give if you say yes, you can have a constructive conversation about your priorities and an opportunity to further explain why you prioritised these things in the first place.
  • Say it with humour –  Having lots on or saying no doesn’t mean that the world is falling apart 🙂 Sometimes, I will joke about needing to get creative to make things happen or doing some time-travelling to indicate that I can’t satisfy the request (now).
  • Use the words “You are welcome to X. I am willing to X” – Not only does the phrase “You are welcome to X. I am willing to do Y” provide clarity about what the other person can expect, you’re also being explicit about what you can’t or aren’t willing to do.

 

Fig. 2 – Make time consists of four steps – Taken from: Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, Make Time

  • Highlight – Choose a single activity to prioritise and protect in your calendar.
  • Laser – Beat distraction to make time for your Highlight.
  • Energise – Use the body to recharge the brain.
  • Reflect – Take a few notes before you go to bed, adjust and improve your system based on your reflections.

 

Fig. 3 – Make time consists of four steps – Taken from: Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, Make Time

  • Urgency – What’s the most pressing thing I have to do today?
  • Satisfaction – At the end of the day, which Highlight will bring me the most satisfaction?
  • Joy – When I reflect on today, what will bring me the most joy?

 

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://jakeknapp.com/make-time
  2. https://svpg.com/coaching-managing-time/
  3. https://gregmckeown.com/book/
  4. https://medium.com/@christopherjones_12942/aligning-a-product-managers-effort-with-their-priorities-3af576f2dfa1
  5. https://www.oprah.com/spirit/suzy-welchs-rule-of-10-10-10-decision-making-guide/all
  6. https://www.businessinsider.com/time-management-productivity-rocks-pebbles-sand-2019-2

Product review: Whisk

Recipe apps seem to be rife, enabling people to share and learn new recipes. I’m wondering whether there’s still room for recipe apps to stand out and differentiate, both from a value proposition and a product perspective. It’s with this in mind that I’m keen to look at Whisk and learn more about it’s (iOS) app:

My quick summary of Whisk before using it? – I expect a standard recipe sharing app, include both recipes curated by Whisk and recipes shared between peers.

How does Whisk explain itself in the first minute? – Whisk’s welcome screen tells me that I can save all my recipes to a recipe inbox and ‘build, smart collaborative shopping list’. The inclusion of the word ‘smart’ there suggests to me that there’s a strong machine learning component to Whisk. When I swipe across, I learn that I can have the items in my app-generated shopping delivered through Whisk.

 

 

 

Getting started with Whisk – Once I’ve signed into the Whisk app via Google, I can start creating a shopping list in the app. Curious to see what happens when I press the plus call to action on the screen below and what my shopping list will look like. How can I best use the sorting function at the top right hand side of the screen?

 

Once I’ve pressed the plus icon, I land on a screen which shows me ‘favorites’, enabling me to save my favourite items to quickly build (future) lists. As a starting point, I can choose from five ‘popular’ items, which I can keep expanding in groups of five at a time.

 

 

 

I then select a number of popular items and expect the app to now generate a shopping list for me, with relevant products:

I now realise that all I’ve done up till this point is editing my favourite items, which I shop for on a regular basis, instead of creating a ready-to-go shopping list:

When I click on the individual items, the items get checked and I think that means I’ve got these items and therefore don’t need to be added to my shopping list. Sorting by ‘Aisle’ or ‘Recipe’ doesn’t seem to make a difference here.

Clicking on the shopping cart icon, triggers Whisk’s shopping cart integration. First, I need to select from the shops available in my region:

 

 

Having figured out how to create a shopping list in Whisk and buying these items directly through Whisk, I’m keen to learn more about the recipe saving feature of the app. Saving online recipes top the app is very easy and intuitive, mainly because it’s exactly the same as adding things to the likes of Pinterest and Instagram.

 

 

I guess that this is where Whisk’s ‘smartness’ comes into play, both in terms of ingesting a recipe and its individual ingredients and converting this understanding into an automatically generated shopping list. I press the “Add to list” call to action on the recipe in Whisk:

 

 

 

Did deliver Whisk deliver on my initial expectations? – Yes. Exceeded them in fact. Didn’t feel the most intuitive at times, but Whisk does feel like much more than just a standard recipe app!

 

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://whisk.com/
  2. https://www.grocerydive.com/news/walmart-instacart-partner-whisk-launches-multi-platform-app/569192/
  3. https://thespoon.tech/whisk-launches-consumer-facing-app-that-makes-any-recipe-shoppable/

 

Book Review: “Shape Up” by Ryan Singer

Basecamp is a project management and communication platform, widely known for its innovative software development practices and novel ways of working. Ryan Singer, Basecamp’s Head of Strategy, recently captured Basecamp’s approach in Shape Up, which is freely available online and as a PDF. The product development process at Basecamp consists of three distinct stages: shaping, betting and building.

Taken from: https://basecamp.com/shapeup/4.1-appendix-02

Basecamp typically work in six-week cycles, building and releasing new features within that timeframe. The work is shaped first before it’s given to a team to work on. A small senior group works in parallel to the cycle teams. They define the key elements of a solution before considering a project ready to bet on. Interestingly, shaping is less about traditional estimation of development work, and much more about appetite. Instead of asking how much time it will take to do some work, people at Basecamp will consider how much time they want to spend on a specific piece of work; how much is this idea worth?

Taken from: https://basecamp.com/shapeup/4.1-appendix-02

 

Shaping

When shaping a solution, the aim is to strike the right balance between ‘too vague’ and ‘too detailed’. Wireframes are deemed too concrete, whilst words are often too abstract. The reason why this balance is important is that the scope of a project needs to be flexible enough for the team to come up with appropriate design solutions whilst not running the risk of growing out of control due to a lack of boundaries.

Taken from: https://basecamp.com/shapeup/1.1-chapter-02

These are the main steps to shaping:

  1. Set boundaries – First figure out how much time the raw idea is worth and how to define the problem. This provides the basic boundaries to shape into.
  2. Rough out the elements – Then comes the creative work of sketching a solution. At Basecamp, they do this at a higher level of abstraction compared to wireframes in order to move fast and explore a wide enough range of possibilities. The output of this step is an idea that solves the problem within the appetite but without all the fine details worked out.
  3. Address risks and rabbit holes – Once there is the feeling that a solution has been found, the goal is to find holes or unanswered questions that could trip up a team. The solution gets amended accordingly, tricky things removed from it, or specified details at tricky spots to ensure that a team doesn’t waste time or gets stuck.
  4. Write the pitch –  When the solution is shaped enough to bet on, things are packaged up formally in a pitch. The pitch summarises the problem, constraints, solution, rabbit holes, and limitations. The pitch then goes to Basecamp’s betting table for consideration.

Ryan Singer writes about how Basecamp uses the technique of breadboarding, a concept borrowed from electrical engineering. When breadboarding, three things are drawn:

  1. Places – These are things you can navigate to, like screens, dialogs, or menus that pop up.
  2. Affordances – These are things the user can act on, like buttons and fields. Interface copy is considered to be an affordance too, as reading it is an act that gives the user information for subsequent actions.
  3. Connection lines – These show how the affordances take the user from place to place.

I like how words are used instead of pictures, focusing on the solution’s components and the connections between them and allowing you to figure out an idea. Importantly, this technique allows you to judge if the sequence of actions serves the use case you’re trying to solve.

Taken from: https://basecamp.com/shapeup/1.3-chapter-04

 

If the idea being considered is a visual one. In this case, breadboarding would be insufficient because the visual representation is the fundamental problem. At Basecamp, wireframes wouldn’t be created in this circumstance, but fat marker sketches would be created instead. A fat marker sketch is a sketch made with such broad strokes that adding detail is difficult or impossible.

 

Taken from: https://basecamp.com/shapeup/1.3-chapter-04

 

Bets, Not Backlogs

Singer explains how at Basecamp backlogs are viewed as time wasters; the time spent constantly reviewing, grooming and organising ‘tickets’, working on a list of items that might or might not get done. By contrast, Singer talks about holding a betting table before each six-week cycle. At the betting table, stakeholders evaluate pitches from the last six weeks, or any pitches that somebody purposefully revived and lobbied for again.

 

Taken from: https://basecamp.com/shapeup/2.2-chapter-08

 

The betting table at Basecamp consists of the CEO, the CTO, a senior developer and product strategist (Ryan Singer himself). The main reason why Basecamp use bets instead of plans, is the difference in expectations set when talking about bets:

  • Bets have a payout – Solutions are deliberately shaped into six-week projects so that there’s meaningful finished at the end. The pitch defines a specific payout that makes the bet worth making.
  • Bets are commitments – If a bet is made for six weeks, then the relevant people will get six weeks to work exclusively on that thing for six weeks, without distractions.
  • Bets have a cap on the downside – When a bet is made to work on something specific for six weeks, the most that you can lose is six weeks and thus avoiding a situation where you’re spending multiples of the original six-week commitment on a solution.

Build your way uphill

                     Taken from: https://basecamp.com/shapeup/3.4-chapter-12#build-your-way-uphill

 

This section of “Shape Up” starts with a great and very true point about the unpredictability of development work: “This goes back to the notion of imagined versus discovered tasks. In our naive notion of a list that’s planned up-front, somebody populates it with items that are gradually checked off. In real life, issues are discovered by getting involved in the problem. That means to-do lists actually grow as the team makes progress.” Also, numeric estimates of pieces of work often don’t take into account the level of uncertainty involved in different tasks. Basecamp have recognised this and instead use the metaphor of the hill, which concentrates on what’s unknown and what’s solved:

 

                      Taken from: https://basecamp.com/shapeup/3.4-chapter-12#build-your-way-uphill

 

The idea behind this hill is that anyone in the company can see at a glance where things are at. If a task been ‘uphill’ for while, why is that? What unknown is holding it up? Or perhaps the item on ten hill consists of a number of smaller items. The hill helps to see what is stuck and what has been done, or getting close to being completed.

Conclusion: I found “Shape Up” a very helpful and insightful book. Not only does it provide a great insight into Basecamp’s approach to developing products, it also made me reflect on my own ways of working – and the teams that I’m part of. Highly recommend reading “Shape Up” if you’re interested in learning about alternative ways of developing software products or collaborating during the product development lifecycle.