Is corporate communication in self-organized companies still needed?

When we decided to move forward into self-organization, I often heard, that corporate communication and marketing no longer will be needed. Self-organized companies would work much more transparent and open, are purpose driven and therefore, fulfill real market needs. Cool! I love being transparent and never have been one of these marketers building castles in the air. But will my daily work really be obsolete? I decided to find it out.

Different approaches of self-organization

As a parallel to working at Liip, I was doing my master’s degree, I used the question in the title to write my thesis[1] about. But where to start? I decided to go for Laloux’ Reinventing Organizations as this was the book mostly talked about at Liip.

With further investigation, I found other approaches like Heyse & Erpenbeck of Malik. Keeping things short, here’s an overview of these 4 approaches:

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Self-Organization – Nothing But Talk?

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It’s incredible how the topic of self-organization emerged over the past few years. In 2016 we reached an amount of attention we had never seen before. We were invited so many times to talk at conferences, in schools, for communities and many big corporations on all levels up to the top management. And the media covered the topic widely. Some in the industry even thought this was a marketing campaign above all. But far from it.

Time to reflect how we got here, why we gained this attention and where we are heading to.

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Mobile apps – Our 3 best advice for your success

Everyone wants a mobile app that people will own, love and use every day. Before you jump in, ask yourself, and your team, these 3 basic questions to avoid the most common mistakes. This is our guide to help you focus on your strategy and make sure that you invest in a mobile app effective for your business.

1 – What is your objective? – Strategize and test

Do you want a mobile app, because during a meeting, the CEO/CMO/Head of Marketing or whoever proposes ideas you have to follow said ‘we should have one’?
Or because a mobile app seems to be a symbol of innovative, modern or digital enterprises, you want one? Maybe because an app is the symbol of your enterprise taking on the digital turn, you need one?
It is time to rethink.
You should not ‘decide’ to have a mobile app. A mobile app should not be a ‘one shot’, it should be part of a marketing mix, which means, it belongs to a strategy.

Start by focusing on the needs of your business and identify the blockers in the customers’ journey. Ask yourself, what added-value would this app offer your customers. If it is a mere duplication of the content of your website, you should not start developing one.
An app needs a user centric design or is meant to fail. Make sure that the objectives of your mobile app are as clearly as possible defined. Skipping this step is taking the risk of developing something useless and/or having to modify it afterwards.

Keep in mind that the further you are in the project, the more expensive it is to modify. Investing time at the beginning of a project to strategize or, in the best scenario, even test with real users the first wireframes is not wasted time.

2 – Who and where are your customers?

Your app will be effective at its best if it answers your customers need. It is essential to know them and their behavior and where you find them. Then, you will maximise your targeting.

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Testing in the Cloud – Using Bamboo with Amazon AWS

Bamboo is the continous integration service by Atlassian, the company owning the code management service Bitbucket (as well as the Jira issue tracker and Confluence wiki). Bamboo can run test suites and build any kind of artefact like generated documentation or installable packages. It integrates with Amazon Web Services, allowing to spin up EC2 instances as needed. So far, I mostly worked with travis-ci, because of open source projects I maintain on github.com. What Bamboo does really better than travis-ci – besides supporting other code repository SaaS than github.com – is the dynamic allocation of your own EC2 instances. Bamboo is just the manager, and can be configured to spin up EC2 instances when the number of tests to run increases. This keeps the costs at Amazon to a minimum while offering large capabilities to run tests when needed.

Besides licensing a Bamboo CI server to run yourself, you can also use it as a cloud service. I recently helped set up tests with this. Unfortunately, the documentation is really worse than expected, and the integration hampered by really silly mistakes that we had to dig up in discussion boards and on stackoverflow. This blog post contains a few notes if you want to do the same that hopefully will help others facing the same challenges. A word of caution: we did most of this in March and April 2016 – things might get fixed or change over time…

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How do UX and Agility connect in project planning and execution?

Wednesday 16th March 2016 at Liip Lausanne, we proudly hosted the first swissICT UX meet-up held in Romandie!

SwissICT is the primary representative of the ICT Branch in Switzerland. They are based in Zürich and the largest professional association of the ICT industry, with 800 companies, 2’200 single members and 16 groups of experts (including User Experience).

As one of the objective of this non-profit organisation is the promotion of professional knowledge, the UX Expert Group organises various events throughout Switzerland (there are regular meet-ups in Bern, Zürich, Fribourg and now Lausanne). Four specialists of the UX Expert Group, Dorit Horst (Associate at Uservalue), Eva Siegenthaler (Manager UX@SBB-Team, SBB), Andreas Weder (Head of UX at Magnolia International Ldt.) and Philipp Murkowsky (Head of User Experience at Puzzle ITC GmbH) organized the event in Lausanne, with the support of the Liip Team.

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A first try at LeSS (Large Scale Scrum)

Team Lego is one of the five teams currently working at Liip Zurich. All team members work together on one, long standing project. Over the last year the team has grown and changed. In the end, we were 10 people working together as one single Scrum team. It worked really well – until it didn’t.

Very slowly over time things stopped going as smoothly as they used to. The team couldn’t finish their sprints and the velocity was going down. The sentence most often heard at the Daily Scrum was: “I don’t know what’s up with this ticket, person X is working on it” – a sign of “Gärtlidenken” as it is called in Switzerland. Information wasn’t flowing as it should, even though we used the ‘Walk the Board’ approach to keep Daily Standup meetings short and focused. Other Scrum meetings were long and inefficient and any further growth of the team was entirely out of the question.

This interesting blog entry about the numbers behind Jeff Bezos’ two pizza rule for team sizes suggests that the problems the team were facing were possibly due to its size. Communication between all the people involved was complicated and it’s impossible to know what’s going on everywhere all the time. People focussing solely on the one task they picked is a logical move to push this problem out of sight. Yet, it is counterproductive for self-organising Scrum teams. It decomposes a team back to a group of people which happen to work next to each other on similar tasks rather than working together at achieving a shared goal.

Even though team Lego cannot be considered a very large team, problems were just around the corner. At 10 people, we were probably only beginning to see the problems that a larger team could bring. However, it’s always better to act before the horizon’s problems arrive at your door.

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Apple TV app – or how to continuously innovate

Continuous Innovation at Liip

Doing Agile at Liip does not always mean we live in a continuous flow of sprints, endlessly. Sometimes the comfortable stream of sprints breaks for a while, usually between two projects. This is often a good opportunity to hack on new technologies or try something new. We recently had one of these break and it was the perfect time to try once again our innovation process.

In fact, this process starts before we have one of those breaks. First of all, the whole team lists any innovation idea – could be anything – and anyone is invited to contribute (at the moment we have a dozen projects listed). We try to groom this list as often as possible to keep it relevant. Then, when time comes we can just go to this list and grab a project we want to work on.

Doing innovation keeps us close to new technologies.

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Big hopes about Holacracy

In the next days i’ll be attending a Holacracy course and i wished to take some time to think about my feelings and hopes with this new system of company organization.

Holacracy?

Holacracy is part of the more generic “Teal”/”Self-management” movement. The goal of this post is not to detail precisely what Holacracy is, but to keep it short let’s say that it aims at defining an alternative to the hierarchical structures we are all used to, taking as basis the motto “organize the work, not the people”. The first time i heard about it was at our annual “conference” where someone from management gave a talk titled “Let’s get rid of management” (yes, someone from management!! That’s also why i love working at Liip!). I was quite sceptical at first and had concerns about the potential chaos this could lead to, but after reading the “official” book i must admit i’m quite excited about this new paradigm! Since then i realized that Holacracy is very far from chaos: it just replaces a hierarchical structure with a more organic -very structured- one. So it’s not “about getting rid of management” but rather “let’s find a new way to organize ourselves”. Liip is very interested in moving to “self-management” in general, but the exact implementation (through Holacracy for ex.) is still uncertain.

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Glad, Sad and…

Most Scrum Masters know the ‘Glad Sad Mad’ retrospective exercise. In the non native english speaking world, people trying out this exercise usually struggle to distinguish between ‘Sad’ and ‘Mad’. In every retrospective where we did this exercise I ended up with several stickies on the line between ‘Sad’ and ‘Mad’.
I tried to make it clearer by rephrasing the words to something more suitable that all of the team members would understand (like ‘I can’t take it anymore’ instead of Mad and ‘Get stuff off my chest’ for Sad for example, see this blog post by Mike Pearce). Although it helped, I still felt that the distinction was not 100% clear to everyone. Frankly, I got tired of having to explain it over and over again.

In a retrospective a few weeks ago when lots of those ‘in between’ stickies were placed on the wall we joked about making a new column for them. During that retrospective I noticed that a lot of the time my team was talking about things that came as a surprise to them that had an impact on the sprint or their feeling towards the project and things that they were scared of that could threaten the project or fears they had about the project’s current status. So I decided to add more columns reflecting that and came up with ‘Glad, Sad, Surprised, Scared’.

Retrospective vs. Futurespective

Adding a ‘Scared’ column opens up the possibility to also talk about fears for the future, which is usually not part of a retrospective but rather a futurespective. However, these fears typically uncover risks and uncertainties relevant to future planning. It also helps me as a Scrum Master to better understand the team’s feelings. Few people will talk about what actually scares them on their own. During the exercise I observed that once someone put a sticky in the ‘Scared’ column, others followed. Of course most of the stickies covered the same topic. But simply realising that they all share the same fear helped them to see that it’s not just their own private problem but that everyone feels that same way and that they actually needed to do something about it.

Surprise!

One can argue that stickies placed in a ‘Surprised’ column would also fit in the ‘Glad’ or ‘Sad’ columns and that’s true. And of course, stickies in that column cover a very broad spectrum of topics. But the value of this column is twofold.
Firstly, it helps to uncover things that arise unexpectedly – both in a positive and in a negative way. This way potential impediments can be spotted and dealt with or it can help to find out why a sprint failed (similar to the ‘Expected and Surprised’ retrospective).
Secondly, ‘I am surprised that…’ often uncovers a richer seam of information than simply ‘Glad’ or ‘Sad’. It allows discussion about why it was surprising and how the person feels about it. Software developers tend to primarily add stickies like ‘Sad about the slow server.’ or other very technical problems on the board. I felt that the ‘Surprised’ column opens up a way to illuminate the other, more personal side of problems which helps the team members to better understand each other and their connection as a team.

Try it out and tell me what you think!

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Halve-halve-halve : a group prioritization method

Priorities matter at every step of an agile design and development process, yet setting priorities is a daunting task and prioritization in group within a workshop even more.

Reaching general consensus on priorities is always hard

I remember many workshops I facilitated where the mood was open and friendly until I invited the participants to set priorities in the ‘big cloud’ of needs and wishes postit-ed on the wall. At this crucial moment, two distinct group behaviours would occur:

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