Category: Agile

August 10th, 2019 by Sylvia Lohr

Just recently, I met a marketing manager friend who told me that a large international company was just now beginning to set up new structures and processes to break up silos. Their goal is to better coordinate communication and project work and avoid redundancies and resource shortages.

I was a bit surprised that the company was only just now getting started, since the agile way of working was developed more than 25 years ago for software development. But, OK, better late than never.

I began to wonder what the changes would mean for all those who stayed inside their comfort zones. They built up a network there, and they accumulated knowledge and experience in the belief that they would still be able to apply it in the years to come.

Business skills preferred than longtime experience

Today, in many areas, business skills are seen to be more important than long-tended sets of knowledge. Many companies train their employees on new technologies and processes but fail to enable them with social and soft skills – the very things that are needed to work in agile and lean ways and to break up silos.

For years, I’ve been concerned with this point of friction, and some time ago I started to share some reflections on it in some of my articles. If you want to keep up in today’s business world, boost innovation, and support the development of the business, individuals need to begin by analyzing themselves

  • Irrespective of age, professional experience and external constraints – how open are you to the new?
  • How confident are you in dealing with the opinions and ideas of others?
  • How well do you present your own projects and solutions?

Professionals can gain the skills needed to become more comfortable in an environment that constantly changes with coaching and training. But, of course, there’s the risk that new approaches aren’t adopted, which leads to frustration. How nice it would be if you had someone on site to show you and others the way to work across the boundaries of silos in new agile teams.

For me, that person would have many skills of a scrum master, who is guiding a cross-functional team to stay focused and follow the pre-identified sprint goals, but that’s not enough. Scrum masters mostly deal with current projects and necessities while being less concerned with the long-lasting processes and methods needed in an agile and lean environment. Anti-Silo Officers should be part of management, live lean management philosophies, encouraging and enabling others to share knowledge, open siloed teams and structures to work collaboratively in cross-functional teams, help others to understand stakeholders’ and business needs and set up and enable agile processes.

Therefore, my question: Why haven’t there already Chief Anti-Silo Officers been established in every company?

Posted in Agile, Cross-Channel, Marketing

November 15th, 2018 by Sylvia Lohr

I published my first blog article about agile marketing already in 2016 – interestingly, I can see that it’s still relevant today. So, just thought to share this baseline again. This shows that companies are still on the transformation journey, and must learn to fully integrate marketing.

In today’s marketing world, customers are running the market. By their assessments which are pro-actively shared through social media, they dictate the value-chain-rules quite often through their likes/shares/comments for e.g. the point-of-sale or salesmen.

More than ever it’s important to generate new customers, retain them and even more to collaborate with them. Viral marketing has become a powerful communication tool, dictated by your customers, business partners as well as prospects.

Quite often it’s still usual practice to create one static marketing plan to be implemented throughout the year. Those plans carved in stone were essential in the analog world to produce materials and execute programs. However in today’s digital world the modern marketing plan must be flexible and adaptable – in other words agile.

Quite often those static marketing plans lead into ad-hoc silo activities, e.g. eBook PDFs must be shared online, un-planned events must be organized to support spontaneous sales activities or short-term produced image videos are needed for a long-term scheduled exhibition. And at the very end everyone expects clear results and sales or recruiting leads out of those separately conducted actions. For sure – those activities will never be successful due to missing integration into the corporate strategy and synchronized execution.

Marketing 4.0. needs new role models

As consequence of Marketing 4.0. an agile marketing strategy with new marketing role models are required to achieve company and sales goals. Instead of pre-defined tactics, clear channels must be predetermined.

In essence an agile marketing team needs heterogeneous experts. The strategic all-rounder to translate the corporate goals into communication channels and specialists who lives and execute the new channels.

In reality many marketing all-rounders have been asked to also take responsibility for digital marketing communications. Some other companies have hired young digital specialists with less corporate experience. While generalists know the new communication channels by name but less their chances, strengths and threats, the digital specialists live the social media channels with less understanding for integrated marketing and sales strategy. And on top sales representatives show up with their own goals and perspectives. No wonder that communication and planning is much more hindered than necessary.

What happens when all-rounders take over special tasks, specialists are only partly involved in projects and sales is requiring innovation? Do all these 3 teams speak the same language? Is marketing talking the same language than the customers or the market? Is every employee aware of the corporate goals?

What does it mean: eBook? How to read a digital RFP and how to reply? Should we also offer XYZ just because competition is doing so? How to measure success?

What’s relevant: touch-points or conversion? What is SEO and when is it to integrate?

These sample questions only highlight the complexity of the marketing plan in the 21th century. Translation from analog understanding to digital language is essential for Marketing 4.0. This must cover sales goals, marketing messages, combined online with offline activities, new analytics models, etc. And in essence must be aligned to the overall company business goals and model.

What is it all about?

Marketing, sales, recruiting, technology, people belong together. All happen every day in every area of life. At the end of the day it’s all about selling products and increase loyalty between supplier and customer, or for recruiting purposes between employer and potential talent.

This can only be achieved by a holistic, agile marketing strategy, appropriate execution as well as close communication with customers. In Marketing 4.0. most success can be immediately measured at least for digital channels and events while branding and thought leadership will pay into the short-term benchmarks.

To distinguish from others, every company – independent if small, medium or large business – should translate marketing strategy into it’s individual goals and benefits.

Posted in Agile, Cross-Channel, Marketing

November 15th, 2018 by Sylvia Lohr

In old business-models, it might be still confusing when marketing talks about transformation. For a successful business 4.0. model it’s essential to involve marketing in every transformation step and further ahead enable the organization to support marketing transformation.

Always starting with the question: what comes first: the hen or the egg? Customer or product? Marketing or sales? Revenue or employees? Most discussions are mainly focusing the changed customer scope, customer journey and revenue sources.

Interaction of the 6 most critical divisions determine success or failure of your transformation:

 

Following sample questions might help to determine expected transformation results.

 

Conclusions

Organizations that are open for change and willing to integrate transformed marketing can provide innovations and hence differences to the market. Marketing 4.0. is more than traditional functions, it’s rather driving new processes, perspectives and directions.

Posted in Agile, Cross-Channel, Marketing

November 15th, 2018 by Sylvia Lohr

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Working agile, overcoming traditional project and organizational hierarchies seem to be cool, especially for youngsters. Assumed freedom for independently picked tasks and self-organized implementation. No one is allowed to delegate or to set boundaries, everyone is responsible to help each other to improve and self-development. The last is mainly requested from senior professionals.

Quite often older team members are being perceived as unable to work in agile environments since it’s been considered that they are usually coming from waterfall organizations. Hence, they should/sometimes would like to sense intuitively how teams are working today, in addition they should set good examples.

So far, so good. But, is it really true? I don’t think so. Agile does neither mean absolute freedom, nor missing hierarchies, nor must be learned by only senior people while younger are living already agile. Every generation must build agile skills, preferably in teams. Failure acceptance on the path of self-development is part of the game. Each individual is responsible for development, there is no way to wait for others.

Let’s have a look into the agile values, what they are telling us.

Openness

Be open and curious for the New, the Unexpected. This also requires to handle unplanned topics that never came up before. This can be more easy for younger people as they might bring less experiences from similar situations than the more senior. However, being open is mainly based on individual characters which is part of every generation.

Openness leads to courage, the next agile value.

Courage

Either you are courageous or not, predisposition can be helpful at least. You can learn to be courageous: the more positive experiences made in uncomfortable situations where you needed to stretch your personal limits, the easier it will become to be open for any new situation and fear to lose control will be reduced. This is verifiable independent of age and generation.

Once this is confirmed, the next value follows consequently.

Respect

Every interaction in a society, a team or 1-to-1 requires respect. Respect for new ideas, different thoughts and mainly that the other is there to make a difference. Also this attitude is totally independent of age but mainly formed by education and society or community. This makes this value that complex, because we can’t change where we are coming from but only our individual behavior and view on others.

Changing yourself refers to the next value.

Focus

The primary goal of an agile environment is to add value. Focus is one tactic to succeed, focus on what is needed in a particular situation. Adding value to a team, requires that you predominantly need to know yourself. Hence the need to focus on you, your attitudes, your knowledge and goals. Usually, it’s said that older people are more patient which might be helpful for self-reflection. However, I met many people of different ages with high self-confidence in agile environments who also rate others, unfortunately very often as worse and less „perfect “.

All of you experienced in agile management will now raise your brow since this behavior is not at all following agile. Nothing is final/perfect in an agile environment – all is in change to stay flexible for the new, unexpected.

And here is where the 5th value joins the game.

Commitment

Agility assumes that everyone is committed to provide the best solution. Does this only relate to agile businesses? Every individual is usually committed to the best result, even for creating an adorable birthday cake. In complex environments it’s just more visible when someone in a team is bringing less commitment. Everyone is required to fully take responsibility for the task chosen so that the final product can be ready and usable. If there is only one in the team less committed, the entire team will suffer. Taking responsibility, so being committed, leads also in detecting individual failures and the actions needed for improvement. Missing success is not always the others‘ fault but often a bit by each individual in the team – sometimes more, sometimes less. See also respect and focus.

Recommendation

In a time where globalization is still under process and new, digital work is being created, it’s essential to at least consider new working models. Agile management will cause disruption. Hence, it’s recommended to take small and gently steps toward it. At first hand, you need to understand the current situation of a company but even more about each individual in the organization. There are many helping tools, such as the Agile Affinity Model which uncovers unconscious assessments and concerns to be discussed amongst the team.

The results should be prioritized and broken into snippets for immediate implementation by small teams. Scrum, Kanban or other agile methods can provide helpful frameworks. However, the organizations’ characteristics will define which of those methods might fit the best. Some questions can help to identify: Are your processes already transparent? Are there already some agile methods in place? How deep is the agile knowledge? How fast can value be produced? You can either get first insights either online or by such a service provider.

Conclusion

I tried to use open ratios, since every society consists of agile people but also those who prefer living in pre-given environments. I don’t believe in right or wrong, every individual should have the freedom to choose how to live. Only than sustainable, healthy and successful societies will remain. Every individual can learn from each other, independent of age, race, gender, etc.

Following these thoughts, I believe that also so called agile companies should randomly review their agile health related to the agile values. Agility also means to learn from each other, accept news/new people and to consistently work on improvements. And this relates to youngster as well as to oldies.

Posted in Agile, Blog, Cross-Channel

November 15th, 2018 by Sylvia Lohr

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It’s often been said, especially in a digital and agile working environment, that leaders of today need specific skills.

However, I wonder if soft skills should only be expected from leaders? Or if these soft skills have even been required in past projects?

An article by Computerwoche listed 11 Soft Skills considered as most relevant for HR professionals. This list is a result of a research that had been conducted by the writers Gabriele Peters-Kühlinger and John Friedel while working on their new book "Soft Skills".

It is my opinion that the following soft skills build upon each other – independent of any working environment. Individuals who know their strengths and weaknesses have many attributes. They can empathize with others, are interested in new things, share very openly, enjoy engagement with teams, support others development, deliver constructive criticism for self-development, analyze conflicts for pragmatic solutions, facilitate control of emotions and finally convince others.

Self-confidence

Knowing yourself, your strengths and weaknesses. This enables you to notice strengths and weaknesses of others, leave them as they are without assessing or trying to change them.

Empathy

Empathize with and understand emotions of others, their thoughts and their circumstances only enables sustainable personal interactions. This requires that you know your own emotions and handle them consciously. Empathy can help to find consensus with others.

Reliability

Someone on who you can really rely on in critical and/or confidential situations. A reliable person is taking responsibility, pushes others and is true to his/her words. This is an essential must-have to build a team and develop others.

Interest

Courage to leave old ways and review new methods, being open to all perspectives and interested for others contributions. Interest promotes creativity.

Communication competency

This competence drives clear and targeted communications that should always be respectful and open-minded for the exchange of knowledge and self-development.

Capacity for teamwork

Working in a team always requires constructive engagement, respect, tolerance, motivation and appreciation. The team and the common goal are always the first priorities, however everything can be questioned and explored.

Criticism competence

Criticism – give fair, factual and respectful at all times, ability to accept criticism as well. Often such teams which share feedback and criticism, are really successful and self-developing.

Analytical competence

Fast grasping of situations to react accordingly. This competence helps to quickly react to challenges, identify solutions and together, with the team, adopt the project strategy and goal, if appropriate. The analytical competence can also help to solve emotional situations.

Self-discipline/self control

Control your emotions and keep focus on facts rather than get controlled by feelings. Only those who are self-controlled can negotiate and convince pragmatically.

Conflict competence

Accepting others’ rationales and helping them find compromises to solve conflicts. Team, project and eventually every involved individual will benefit from this competence.

Assertiveness

To be convincing rather than forcing. Reliability, empathy and self-confidence drive innovations, especially for those new ideas that can’t be based on any experiences yet.

 

Let’s now see if the 5 Agile Values (Courage, Respect, Commitment, Openness, Focus), can be derived from these 11 Soft Skills:

  • Self-confidence => Courage
  • Empathy => Respect
  • Reliability => Commitment
  • Interest => Openness
  • Communication competency => Focus
  • Capacity for teamwork => Commitment
  • Criticism competence => Respect
  • Analytical competence => Focus
  • Self-discipline/self control => Respect
  • Conflict competence => Respect
  • Assertiveness => Commitment

Conclusion

Soft Skills consist of all competencies, skills and qualifications that can’t be gathered by any professional education. They rather relate to personal competencies, social competencies and methodical competencies. Plainly, a summation of talents, character, personal education, circumstances and experiences.

Independent of any working environment and/or size of projects or teams – Soft Skills are required everywhere. Teams can only be successful and sustainable when everyone is bringing those Soft Skills – whether in either agile and waterfall projects.

Going back to the initially listed requirements for leaders, it’s pretty clear that only those living such Soft Skills naturally will become the best leaders. What do you think?

Posted in Agile, Blog, Cross-Channel, General