Agile got a seat at the C-suite table

It has been a long time in the making. The moment when Agile starts to spread beyond its mostly known IT stronghold into the broader industry.

While Lean had its roots in manufacturing based on the widely publicized Toyota Production System, the benefits of the Agile mindset applies to a much larger group of businesses. Considering that even after 30 years only a small number of organizations are using it outside of IT functions, shows how difficult it is to bring transformational change to human behaviors.

Now Agile has got a new spotlight. With the recent piece in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) magazine, more executives will start to look at Embracing Agile in their organizations. Some with the right mindset, others reacting to the newly created buzz. But still, the new seat at the C-level table could mean a new spurt of growth for traditional industries that have seen their ability to innovate, increase productivity and improve customer satisfactions dwindling and at record lows.

“Agile innovation has revolutionized the software industry, which has arguably undergone more rapid and profound change than any other area of business over the past 30 years. Now it is poised to transform nearly every other function in every industry. At this point, the greatest impediment is not the need for better methodologies, empirical evidence of significant benefits, or proof that agile can work outside IT. It is the behavior of executives. Those who learn to lead agile’s extension into a broader range of business activities will accelerate profitable growth.”

Being able to bring this engine of Agile Growth into new areas of the organization, breaking silos and transforming their businesses will be the primary challenges executives who embark on this journey will find.

Steve Denning’s piece in Forbes is a great addition to the HBR article. It brings the importance of the Agile mindset in this transformational journey. An Agile Transformation focusing on only following a methodology is akin to trying to bring Digital Transformation by building a mobile app. It’s not rooted in values, principles, and a new mindset.

Having been involved in Agile since 2001, one of the hardest mindset shifts I have seen people experience is to overcome the fear of change, which when conquered, frees them to embrace change and champion it. Traditional management styles of command-and-control focus on pushing towards a predefined objective minimizing unpredictable outcomes or changes. It’s also based on a vision that leadership will always know where they want to go and how to get there, so the most direct path to it should be the best one.

Agile embraces change. It acknowledges that the ‘where’ and the ‘how’ are fluid. And it requires the humbling exercise of leadership openly stating that the details are unknown.

The Agile mindset provides the realization that in a fast-changing world, the best leaders are not those who can predict and plan long in advance, but those who can help their teams to adapt faster than everybody else. Empowered by the Agile mindset the best leaders bring a human-centered transformation to management practices.

CI&T started using Agile in 2006 as an IT project methodology. But it didn’t stop there. As the Agile mindset took over the process approach, a transformational wave across the organization started to bring results in all areas. Human Resources. Finance. Executive planning. Quarterly reviews. The challenges and modus operandi are different, but the mindset is the same.

So during your organization’s next executive meeting when you are drafting a 1-year or 5-year plan, the Agile mindset needs to have a seat at the table. And I hope, every seat at that table.

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Artificial Humanity: building Trust in an era of Artificial Intelligence

Every major technology player is set on it. Google, Apple, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft, and many others have already invested heavily in Artificial Intelligence. Improved search results, personalized newsfeed, and personal assistants are all results of this first step toward more cognitive computing.

But as we start to rely on these intelligent systems for more and more decisions, a basic aspect of human behavior begins to interpose further adoption: trust.

Trust is a fabric of modern society. Social interactions are strongly anchored on trust. From small communities to worldwide dealings, the trust factor plays a strong role in the success or failure of such social interactions. Even the strong recent appeal and rise of so-called trustless systems are based on shifting the trust factor towards a more trustworthy party. But it’s still present.

Most commercial flights today are equipped with autoland capabilities that can safely land a plane under low visibility conditions. Yet most passengers wouldn’t want to know when it’s being used. They still trust a pilot is making decisions. The same discussion is happening with self-driving cars. The technology already yields better safety results than humans but it hasn’t jumped the trust chasm yet. That moment when we put strong trust on the decision, the human, or the technology. And no matter the numbers, this is not a rational decision, especially for humans.

As social beings, the trust factor has been closely related to the level of social interactions and a measure of knowledge about the parts. The more you interact with and know about someone, given a positive experience, the more you trust them. The same steps are required to build trust of artificial intelligence systems. Either through adding an actual human component throughout the experience to build the trust factor, or by means of an artificial humanity: a way of interacting with each one of us in order to build trust.

By sharing how decisions are being made and even expressing some doubt or allowing for decisions made by the user, artificial intelligent systems will build empathy and earn trust.

It could be as simple as explaining a movie recommendation “Because you watched these shows” or a product recommendation “People like you also loved this product” to more complex analysis and decisions shared with us: “You’ve stayed most times at this Hotel, would you like to try this different one this time because you are staying over the weekend?”.

This set of touchpoints will represent the A.I. Journey, focused on building up the trust factor on each and every interaction with a customer.

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Creating Serendipity

Some call it luck. Others, pure chance. Those moments where a combination of events, rather mundane, happen at a time or sequence that makes it special, even magic.

As our surroundings start to include more and more digital components such as screens, connected appliances, sensors and widespread connectivity, what today is mostly referred to as digital experiences become physical.

Imagine that moment you get into the dressing room and your favorite song happens to be the next one playing. Or when you receive a coupon at the mall for discounted ice cream at a place just by the store that often has shoes you love. Or even when at the airport the screen at the gate is showing great things to do in Hawaii, that you happened to be checking out some time ago. Was it chance? Was it luck? What matters is that a combination of events created a special moment – a real experience much more than a digital one, enabled by an increasing convergence of digital technologies that allows for a better understanding of each of us, as consumers and individuals.

Most organizations are collecting large amounts of data accelerated by connected sensors and smart devices. Personal, social, behavioral and whatever else can be stored on scalable and accessible cloud infrastructure. It’s often driven by a desire to capture everything in case there is something useful. Like extracting and storing oil before refineries existed, companies are collecting user data anticipating future value without a specific business case.

Others are already using that data looking to make more personal connections between their brands and customers. Applying machine learning to it and predicting behavior, they are making targeted approaches mostly in terms of deals, coupons or advertisement. There is an added value but it’s a road that if not carefully tread can lead to over personalization and targeting, also triggering the creepy factor.

Bridging the digital and physical world allows for balancing that concern, while providing great experiences. Like fireworks, we are amazed by the show of lights and forms, in a synchronous dance that involve us. Except when fireworks are aimed at us. That special moment happens around us, not at us. Memorable but not intrusive.

Today the constraint is not a matter of technology availability anymore. Finding in real-time the commonality in a crowd, and changing the environment around them, seamlessly and subtly, opens the door for creating special experiences. Some call it serendipity. Created and real.

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The Social Employee

Employee promotion messages are standard practice in many organizations.
But earlier this year, a company saw one in particular spread as a wildfire collecting hundreds of congratulating comments including the CEO.
There was nothing different about this message from thousands of others before. Nor was it used to drive a particular impact or organization change. But it could.

The social tools of everyday are shaping concepts of public broadcast, peer-supported causes and mass mobilization as the default communication. Do you have a problem with a product or service? Tweet about it. Want to find a home for an abandoned puppy somewhere in another continent? Post it in your wall.

The multiplying effect of those networks strengthens the message more than the message itself. It’s not just a chain-reaction – it’s a snowball effect.

So every company does what they should do when finding out that more and more customers are using social tools. Adapt. Monitor. Join the conversation.
Yet there is always one last resource if the conversation coming from the outside doesn’t go so well. Play dead and plan a nice PR comeback.

But what if that conversation is coming from within?
With so many tools and services focused on external social engagement, internal corporate social interactions can exist for a while before a company is even aware of its benefits and risks.

It’s not a surprise then to see that last year’s Gartner survey of CIOs about the top priorities for 2012 – 2015 doesn’t have a single mention of internal social strategy and tools.
It may be because there are other more pressing needs. Or it’s flying under the radar.

The truth is that companies will not be able to ignore this trend much further. Ask a few countries.

Few years ago, a large Fortune 500 company identified that employees were using Yammer as a communication tool. The standard approach was to communicate everyone that such service was not allowed. Corporate policy. The number of users jumped past the thousands.
It was then called an “Unofficial channel”.

The now standard approach of public broadcast, peer-supported causes and mass mobilization for youngest generations will also be found inside companies. Officially or not.

How companies respond to this – or even better, use the strength behind it to engage employees to help shape the organization – should be one of CxOs priorities. After all, it’s a priority for the new social employee.

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There is a New Hammer, and Her Name is Siri

[Also posted on Protelp]

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” – Abraham Maslow, American Professor of Psychology who created Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

iPhone Siri HammerIt’s no secret that technology is advancing at a rate seemingly faster than we can adjust. Even so, often times we do dive in headfirst to the next big thing, whether it is a device, an app or the technology behind the app and we focus on that as Maslow’s hammer. And everything else becomes a shiny nail.

This concept is exemplified with the Apple integration of Siri in the iOS5. Virtually overnight there was a demand for voice-recognition across products and applications. From phones to TVs, to cars, to homes. We experienced a similar phenomenon and demand for gesture-based controls after the late 2010 launch of Kinect.

There certainly is a real place and benefit for each technology and it is no different with input methods. Be it typing, touch, voice, gesture, visual recognition, and all the way up to – someday – brainwaves, the best application of each will always need to consider the target user, the location and the social context.

User behavior in general has been changing with technology. Take mobile phones for example. Nielsen reports a peak of Average Monthly Voice Calls [1][2] per subscriber up until the first half of 2007, decreasing after that. On the other hand, Average Text Messages have increased continually.

And even though we know that within certain age groups texting has always had the lead, the decline in voice calls has been consistent across all user groups. And we used to believe that phones were made for calls.

But it wasn’t user behavior with phones alone that drove that change. “Mobile” implies that our location changes constantly. Sometimes we are in a private place, but very often we are in public, and our behavior is affected by it, based on our own perception of the need for privacy.

This perception of how private an interaction with a device is has a direct correlation to how close physically, we interact with that device.

People feel more comfortable letting someone use their tablet/iPad than their phone. Even more so if it’s a desktop, or TV. Because the closer it is held, the more we think its part of us.

You may have noticed that Siri’s advertisement portrays very personal interactions with it. And it truly feels that way, even though in public places we won’t use it for private matters. But that is not a problem for the iPhone. There is ‘touch’ for that.

The comfort level that we have in using different input methods is a direct result of the comfort level we have in sharing – or not sharing – those interactions with others. Touch and typing are private interactions, while voice and gesture are more of a public nature. It’s text vs. voice call. Both have their optimal – and not so optimal – application.

This takes us to the last consideration: social context, as looking only to the target user and location may not be enough.

I recently heard about a project involving voice-activated faucets in public restrooms. It was an exciting use of this technology that allowed you to turn the faucet on, off and change the water temperature via voice recognition.

It looked like the perfect hammer and a welcome advancement in an environment where avoiding contact as much as possible is a plus.

What wasn’t welcomed however was having another patron enter the restroom just in time to hear you say: “Hot! Hot! Hot!”

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