Book Notes: Building A Story Brand

Building A Story Brand by Donald Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The aim is to have the customer as the hero of the story. Companies don’t tend to focus on the aspect of their produces which help people survive and thrive – people need to survive and want to thrive, how can the company help. Secondly companies don’t clearly articulate their offer – clarity is key and saying a lot less is a lot more.

Critical questions that should be answerable at any point in the story:

  1. What does the hero want?
  2. Who or what is opposing the hero getting what she wants?
  3. What will the hero’s life look like if they do (or do not) get what they want?

Can a caveman immediately look at your website and answer:

  1. What do you offer?
  2. How will it make my life better?
  3. What do I need to do to buy it?
A Character who will be the hero – this is the customer (not the brand). What is needed for survival? Economic and social resources to eat, drink, reproduce and fend off foes.
Has a Problem they need solving. Problems are at three levels, customers are motivated to solve internal problems.
Villain – The source of the problem. It should be relatable. It should be singular. It should ne real.
External – A physical, tangible problem to overcome
Internal – What frustrations do our products resolve?
Philosophical – Why does this matter? Terms like ought and shouldn’t.
Villain – Gas guzzlers destroying the planet
External – I need a car
Internal – I want to be an early adopter
Philosophical – My choice of car ought to help save the environment
And Meets a Guide, which is the brand. The guide is not the hero.
Empathy – e.g. “we understand how it feels to …” or “Nobody should have to experience …” or “Like you we are frustrated by”
Authority – testimonials, statistics, awards, logos
Who Gives Them a Plan
Process – to make clarity, alleviating confusion
Agreement – list of agreements, alleviating fear
Give the plan a name
And Calls Them to Action
Direct – e.g buy now
Transitional – e.g. schedule a call or free information this can stake a claim to your territory, create reciprocity and position yourself as the guide
That Helps Them Avoid Failure
That Ends in a Success
Between the start and the end compare what the character has, feels, average day looks like and status.

Book Notes: Immunity to Change

Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock Potential in Yourself and Your Organisation by Robert Kegan, Lisa Laskow Lahey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very interesting book and basically presents a step by step guide to identifying why we are not performing the change which we need to. This is very similar to a 5-whys technique working from why are we not changing. Very simply it can be presented in this table.

Improvement goalDoing/not doing insteadHidden competing goalBig assumption
What is it that we want to change?What are we doing or not doing right now to prevent us from the change?What is our worry and why is this preventing us from changing?What is the big assumption behind our worry?

Book Notes: Radical Focus

Radical Focus: Achieving Your Most Important Goals with Objectives and Key Results by Christina Wodtke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book presents OKRs, the OKR part itself was fairly standard but the interesting twist was the presentation of a 2 by 2 grid along with two meetings.

Top priorities this week
(A list of critical tasks for the week)
Objective: ……
Key result: …… X/10 (the X is tracked weekly, at the start of the quarter the key result is 5/10 likely to be successful)
Next 4 weeks
(A rolling 4 week view of things which are upcoming)
(A RAG of health metrics to be aware of e.g. team health or customer satisfaction)

The two meetings are a start of week kick off – to run through the 2 by 2 grid. The second meeting is an end of week demo and celebration.

Couple of extra notes: have a small (ideally 1) objective, the key result should be 50% likely to be achieved at the start of the quarter – this means it is stretching but achievable.

Book Notes: A Seat at the Table

A Seat at the Table by Mark Schwartz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The relationship between IT and the rest of the business has been defined in the same terms as that of a contractor to its customer, where the business negotiates terms with IT and then frets about its ability to control IT’s delivery and customer service.

As such businesses are missing out on the value they could be receiving from agile:

  • Learning: In Agile we learn as we go and incorporate what we learn. In a plan-driven approach, we can only learn to the extent that it doesn’t change our original plan. Which is better: To adjust as we learn, or to reject learning for the sake of the plan?
  • Nimbleness: In Agile we harness change to the company’s advantage. As a project proceeds, circumstances change. Competitors introduce new products. The government introduces new regulations. New technologies appear. Our choice is between changing the plan to accommodate new developments or ignoring new developments.
  • Course Correction: In Agile we adjust course based on feedback-from users, from a product owner, from objective measures of system performance, and from management. The alternatives are to get less feedback or to ignore feedback.
  • Delivery: In Agile we deliver quickly and frequently to users. In the plan-driven approach, delivery often comes at the end of the project. Early delivery lets the baseness get value earlier (and there is a time value of money) and checks to see whether the product actually works in an operational setting.
  • Risk: In Agile we reduce risk by testing and delivering in short increments. At any given time, we risk only the small increment being worked on. In the plan driven approach, on the other hand, risk increases until delivery-the more we do without finishing and delivering, the more is at risk from defects, operational problems, or our inability to finish.
  • Salvage Value: In Agile we can terminate a project at any time without wasting money, since all the work to date has been delivered and is in use. In a plan-driven approach with delivery at the end, terminating the project before completion generally means that nothing has been salvaged.
  • Budget Adherence: In the Agile approach, we can ensure that we work within a budget. We simply adjust scope as necessary to fit within the given resources. With the plan-driven approach, we must keep working until we complete the plan the defined scope-even if that means we run behind schedule or over budget. Or we can terminate the project without delivering anything.
  • Technical Practices: The Agile tool-set is powerful, and technical excellence is highly valued. Techniques can include zero-downtime deployments; A/B testing; and clustered, containerised micro-services for high availability. Tools such as burn-down charts give us the most accurate way to gauge the status of an initiative; task boards bring teams together with a common picture of the work in progress; cumulative flow diagrams help us pinpoint process flaws; and value stream maps help us diagnose the underlying sources of waste.

Book Notes: Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders

Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders: The Three Essential Principles You Need to Become an Extraordinary Leader by Rajeev Peshawaria
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Energising yourself – what is your purpose and values?

  1. What three to five things are most important to me?
  2. Do I want to:
    1. Lead a simple life rich with everyday small pleasures?
    2. Achieve great success in an individual endeavour?
    3. Lead others toward a better future? Or,
    4. Do something entirely different with my life?
  3. What results do I want to create?
  4. How do I want people to experience me?
  5. What values will guide my behaviour?
  6. What situations cause me to feel strong emotions?

Energise the team – for each of them:

  • What is their role?
    • What is our organisation’s vision for its future?
    • What is our effective/differentiated strategy to achieve the vision?
    • Do I have a stretch but achievable goal?
    • How does my goal fit into the vision and strategy?
    • Do I have sufficient freedom and autonomy to achieve my goal?
    • Does the role fit with my values and purpose?
  • What is their environment?
    • Does my manager regularly engage with me and has a good sense of what is important to me?
    • Are my opinions on important issues sought and valued?
    • Does the organisation have a culture of collaboration rather than competition?
    • Is everyone treated with respect and dignity?
    • Does the organisation have a friendly community?
    • Am I fairly rewarded and recognised?
    • Is the environment of high performers and mediocrity is not accepted?
  • What are the prospects for growth and development?
    • Do I have challenging assignments that provide me with opportunities to learn and develop?
    • Do I receive regular coaching feedback?
    • Does my manager help me identify my strengths and develop them further?
    • Does the culture strongly emphasise entrepreneurship and innovation?
    • Does the organisation strive to upgrade its capabilities to deliver outstanding results?
    • Am I expected to come up with ideas to increase productivity or profitability?

Energising the organisation

  • Setting direction
    • Do we have a compelling vision for future success?
    • Have we got a clear differentiated strategy to achieve the vision?
    • Are vision and strategy so clear they guide resource allocation and decision making?
    • Are we clear on what our competitive advantage is?
    • Does everyone clearly and consistently articulate the client value proposition?
  • Organisation
    • Do we have top quality talent with the right skills and experience in every job?
    • Do the support structures (e.g. promotion, performance processes) encourage performance?
    • Are roles, responsibilities and decision rights as clearly defined as possible?
    • Are our people and resources deployed in the best way to support the strategy?
    • Are we strengthening our core differentiating capabilities?
  • Culture
    • Do we have a well-defined and understood cultural philosophy (e.g. values, behaviours)?
    • Is the compensation and reward aligned with the desired behaviours?
    • Do leaders act in a way to proactively create a culture of collaboration and teamwork?
    • Do we focus both on the short term success and long term capability building?
    • Do we listen, learn and constantly learn?

Book Notes: No Rules Rules

No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention by Reed Hastings, Erin Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A culture of “Freedom and Responsibility” (F&R)

  • First
    • Build up talent density by creating a workforce of high performers
      • Your number one goal as a leader is to develop a work environment consisting exclusively of stunning colleagues
      • Stunning colleagues accomplish significant amounts of important work and are exceptionally creative and passionate
      • Jerks sackers, sweet people with non-stellar performance or pessimists left on the team will bring down the performance of everyone
    • Introduce candour by encouraging loads of feedback
      • With candour, high performers become outstanding performers. Frequent candid feedback exponentially magnifies the speed and effectiveness of your team or workforce.
      • Set the stage for candour by building feedback moments into your regular meetings
      • Coach your employees to give and receive feedback effectively, following the 4A guideline
        • Give
          • Aim to assist
          • Actionable
        • Receive
          • Appreciate
          • Accept or discard
      • As the leader, solicit feedback frequently and respond with belonging cues when you receive it.
      • Get rid of jerks as you instil a culture of candour
    • Remove controls such as vacation, travel and expenses policies
      • Vacation
        • Explain there is no need to ask for prior approval and that neither the employees themselves nor their managers are expected to keep track of their days away from the office
        • It is left to the employee alone to decide if and when he or she feels like taking a few hours, a day, a week or a month off work
        • Leaders need to fill the hole of the policy with context on how employees should approach it
        • Leaders modelling the behaviour they expect is key – a leader never taking a holiday will result in an organisation that never does either.
      • Travel and expenses
        • When removing the policy set context and then check some receipts at the end – if people overspend set more context.
        • With no policy the finance department will need to audit a portion of receipts annually
        • When you find people abusing the system fire them and speak about it openly. This is needed so others understand the ramifications.
        • Some expenses may increase with freedom, but the costs from overspending are not nearly as high as the gains that freedom provides
        • With expenses freedom, employees will be able to make quick decisions to spend money in ways that help the business
        • Without the time and administrative costs associated with purchase orders and procurement processes, you will waste fewer resources
        • Many employees will respond to their new freedom by spending less than they would in a system with rules. when you tell people you trust them, they will show you how trustworthy they are.
  • Second
    • Strengthen talent density by paying top of market
      • The method used by most companies to compensate employees are not idea for a creative, high-talent-density workforce.
      • Divide your workforce into creative and operational employees. Pay the creative workers top of the market. This may mean hiring one exceptional individual instead of ten or more adequate people.
      • Don’t pay performance-based bonuses. Put these resources into salary instead.
      • Teach employees to develop their network and to invest in getting to know their own (and their teams) market value on an ongoing basis. This might mean taking calls from recruiters or even going to interviews at other companies. Adjust salaries accordingly.
    • Increase candour by emphasising organisational transparency
      • To instigate a culture of transparency, consider what symbolic messages you send. Get rid of closed offices, assistants who act as guards, and locked spaces.
      • Open up the books to your employees. Teach them how to read the P&L. Share sensitive financial and strategic information with everyone in the company.
      • When making decisions that will impact your employees’ well-being, like reorganisations or layoffs, open up to the workforce early, before things are solidified. This will cause some anxiety and distraction, but the trust you build will outweigh the disadvantages.
      • When transparency is in tension with an individual’s privacy, follow this guideline: If the information is about something that happened at work, choose transparency and speak candidly about the incident. If the information is about an employee’s personal life, tell people it’s not your place to share and they can ask the person concerned directly if they choose.
      • As long as you’ve already shown yourself to be competent, talking openly and extensively about your own mistakes-and encouraging all your leaders to do the same-will increase trust, goodwill, and innovation throughout the organisation.
    • Release more controls such as decision-making approvals
      • In a fast and innovative company, ownership of critical, big-ticket decisions should be dispersed across the workforce at all different levels, not allocated according to hierarchical status.
      • In order for this to work the leader must teach her staff the Netflix principle, “Don’t seek to please your boss.”
      • When new employees join the company, tell them they have a handful of metaphorical chips that they can make bets with. Some gambles will succeed, and some will fail. A worker’s performance will be judged on the collective outcome of his bets, not on the results from one single instance.
      • To help your workforce make good bets, encourage them to farm for dissent, socialise the idea, and for big bets, test it out.
      • Teach your employees that when a bet fails, they should sunshine it openly.
  • Third
    • Max-up talent density by implementing the Keeper Test
      • In order to encourage your managers to be tough on performance, teach them to use the Keeper Test: “Which of my people, if they told me they were leaving for a similar job at another company, would fight hard to keep?”
      • Avoid stack-ranking systems, as they create internal competition and discourage collaboration.
      • For a high-performance culture, a professional sports team is a better metaphor than a family. Coach your managers to create strong feelings of commitment, cohesion, and camaraderie on the team, while continually making tough decisions to ensure the best player is manning each post.
      • When you realise you need to let someone go, instead of putting him on some type of PIP, which is humiliating and organisationally costly, take all that money and give it to the employee in the form of a generous severance payment.
      • The downside to a high-performance culture is the fear employees may feel that their jobs are on the line. To reduce fear, encourage employees to use the Keeper Test Prompt with their managers: “How hard would you work to change my mind if were thinking of leaving?”
      • When an employee is let go, speak openly about what happened with your staff and answer their questions candidly. This will diminish their fear of being next and increase their trust in the company and its managers.
    • Max-up candour by creating circles of feedback
      • Candour is like going to the dentist. Even if you encourage everyone to brush daily, some won’t do it. Those who do may still miss the uncomfortable spots. A thorough session every six to twelve months ensures clean teeth and clear feedback.
      • Performance reviews are not the best mechanism for a candid work environment, primarily because the feedback usually goes only one way (down) and comes from only one person (the boss).
      • A 360 written report is a good mechanism for annual feedback. But avoid anonymity and numeric ratings, don’t link results to raises or promotions, and open up comments to anyone who is ready to give them.
      • Live 360 dinners are another effective process. Set aside several hours away from the office. Give clear instructions, follow the 4A feedback guidelines, and use the Start, Stop, Continue method with roughly 25 percent positive, 75 percent developmental-all actionable and no fluff.
  • Eliminate most controls by leading with context not control
    • In order to lead with context, you need to have high talent density, your goal needs to be innovation (not error prevention), and you need to be operating in a loosely coupled system.
    • Once these elements are in place, instead of telling people what to do, get in lockstep alignment by providing and debating all the context that will allow them to make good decisions.
    • When one of your people does something dumb, don’t blame that person. Instead, ask yourself what context you failed to set. Are you articulate and inspiring enough in expressing your goals and strategy? Have you clearly explained all the assumptions and risks that will help your team to make good decisions? Are you and your employees highly aligned on vision and objectives?
    • A loosely coupled organisation should resemble a tree rather than a pyramid. The boss is at the roots, holding up the trunk of senior managers who support the outer branches where decisions are made.
    • You know you’re successfully leading with context when your people are moving the team in the desired direction by using the information they’ve received from you and those around you to make great decisions themselves.

Map out your corporate culture and compare it to the cultures of the countries you are expanding into. For a culture of F&R, candour will need extra attention.

In less direct countries, implement more formal feedback mechanisms and put feedback on the agenda more frequently, because informal exchanges will happen less often.

With more direct cultures, talk about the cultural differences openly so the feedback is understood as intended.

Make ADAPTABILITY the fifth A of your candour model. Discuss openly what candour means in different parts of the world. Work together to discover how both sides can adapt to bring this value to life.

Book Notes: Project to Product

Project to Product: How to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Digital Disruption with the Flow Framework by Mik Kersten
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Project-Oriented ManagementProduct-Oriented Management
BudgetingFunding of milestones, predefined at project scoping. New budget requires creation of a new project.Funding of product value streams based on business results. New budget allocation based on demand. Incentive to deliver incremental results
Time FramesTerm of the project (e.g., one year). Defined end date. Not focused on the maintenance/health after the project ends.Life cycle of the product (multiple years), includes ongoing health/maintenance activities through end of life.
SuccessCost centre approach. Measured to be on time and on budget. Capitalisation of development results in large projects. Business incentive to ask for everything they might need up front.Profit centre approach. Measured in business objectives and outcomes met (e.g., revenue). Focus on incremental value delivery and regular checkpoint.
RiskDelivery risks, such as product/market fit, is maximised by forcing all learning, specification, and strategic decision making to occur up front.Risk is spread across the time frame and iterations of the project. This creates option value, such as terminating the project if delivery assumptions were incorrect or pivoting if strategic opportunities arise.
TeamsBring people to the work: allocated up front, people often span multiple projects, frequent churn and re-assignment.Bring work to the people: stable, incrementally adjusted, cross-functional teams assigned to one value stream.
PrioritisationPPM and project plan driven. Focus on requirements delivery. Projects drive waterfall orientation.Road-map and hypothesis testing driven. Focus on feature and business value delivery. Products drive Agile orientation.
VisibilityIT is a black box. PMOs create complex mapping and obscurity.Direct mapping to business outcomes, enabling transparency
Flow MetricsBusiness Results
Velocity (items completed per time)
Efficiency (touch time vs total time)
Time (total time)
Load (WIP)

Flows for:

Book Notes: Give and Take

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam M. Grant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book presents three types of people:

  • Givers – people who give and help others no matter what. For givers they get pleasure from giving or helping others.
  • Takers – people who take with no thought of giving. For takers it is all for and about them.
  • Marchers – people who give when they have taken or in the hope that by giving they get something in return

At the start givers perform worse than takers or matches – this is because they invest more time into others. However over time givers start to accelerate their success and exceed those of takers and marchers.

Givers need to be careful not to ignore themselves – else they can become burnt out.

Book Notes: Rule Makers, Rule Breakers

Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: Tight and Loose Cultures and the Secret Signals That Direct Our Lives by Michele Gelfand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book presents the view that there is a spectrum between tight and loose cultures – the level of tightness is driven by the history – places which have been at war or regularly experience natural disaster tend to be tighter. Those which are more stable tend to be looser. Neither tight nor loose is “right” but this can explain some of the challenges different groups have working together. It is also possible to move a culture tighter or looser e.g. by increasing rhetoric about threats to tighten a culture with fear, or to have messier/chaotic environments which result in looser cultures.

Social Order
Cultural Inertia
Social Disorder
Tight Organisational CulturesLoose Organisational Cultures
Strong socialisation
Weak socialisation

Book Notes: Staff Engineer

Staff Engineer: Leadership Beyond the Management Track by Will Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Staff-plus roles split into these common archetypes:

  • Tech lead – guiding the approach of a particular team (or two) with complex tasks, coordinating and unblocking.
  • Architect – responsible for the success of specific technical domains by setting direction, defining quality and approach within an area.  Combining in-depth knowledge of technical constraints and user needs.  This is not the toxic preconception that architects design and pass on to others to implement, in staff-plus roles this is more about influence.
  • Solver – finding solutions to challenging problems.  Either assigned for a short period (hot spot fixer) or longer.  Problems already prioritised.  Common in companies that think of individuals rather than teams in terms of planning and ownership.
  • Right hand – provide additional bandwidth for a leader borrowing some of a leader’s scope and authority to operate.  Tend to dive into a fire, edit the approach and delegate the execution to jump to another fire.  You always work on essential problems but move on before they have actually been solved.

It is quite common for people without the staff-plus title acting in many of the staff-plus archetypes – being a staff-plus role is a mix of the acting in the archetype, the behaviours, the impact and the organisation recognising these things.

What do staff-plus engineers do?

  • Setting the technical direction – effectively a part-time product manager for technology by understanding and solving real needs of the organisation, less about prioritising technology and approaches you are personally passionate about.
  • Mentorship and sponsorship – growing leaders around you to help the organisation improve its problem solving abilities.
  • Providing engineering perspective in decision making – decision making needs to balance efficiency and effectiveness, here a staff-plus engineer can help provide valuable inputs representing all the engineering interests.
  • Exploration – this can be an ambiguous important problem that the company is ill-shaped to address.
  • Being glue – doing the needed but often invisible tasks to keep the team moving forward and shipping its work.

The environment staff-plus engineers work

  • Complex and ambiguous – the sort of work tends to be poorly scoped, complex and important. From broad, unclear (and potentially wrong) statements the identification of a concrete approach that works will be needed
  • Numerous and divided stakeholders – problems might have neither alignment around the problem nor the solution.  Management might see this as critically important but engineers feel it is fine as is.  It could be agreed that it is a problem but with disagreements about the approach that should be taken.

Named bet where failures matter – it is going to be sponsored by a senior leader, the work staff-plus engineers do will likely be widely communicated.  This means that success or failure will be highly visible – as such failing well (early, with learning, appropriate level of risk) is a critical skill.