You don’t have to build software to be Agile

In the last few years many web-based technology firms have ‘gone Agile’ (including reed.co.uk where I work). In simple terms, product teams have started using Agile approaches for organising how they improve their website.

Agile isn’t actually a thing in itself – it’s an umbrella term for a number of methodologies like Scrum, Kanban, Extreme Programming, or Feature Driven Development. At reed.co.uk we use Scrum for product development and Kanban for anything that needs faster response times.

What all Agile methods have in common is their adherence to the values and principles in the ‘Agile Manifesto’ (yes, it’s a real manifesto - here it is) which, in simple terms, is different to traditional project management because it focusses on things like;

  • Collaboration
  • Early and regular delivery
  • Highest business value first
  • Continuous improvement
  • Responding to change

I’ve been making a series of presentations to teams across the business to give an idea of the simplicity of the Scrum framework. I think it’s helpful to understand why it’s a framework and not a process – it’s different describe how it provides some ‘rules’ for behaviour (like planning and reviewing) while leaving freedom in other areas for teams to decide things for themselves (like how to actually deliver the work).

I think it’s also important to understand that you don’t have to develop software to use Scrum, or any other form of Agile. It can be useful for any teams – in fact anyone who simply wants to do more of something, and get better at it. In a business context that could mean acquiring more leads, setting up more sales appointments, managing more customer service requests, producing more content, delivering more campaigns, reducing debtors, or even managing the strategic direction of the company.

With this in mind I have curated a few Agile case studies for non-technical teams that I hope will give you ideas as to how Scrum or Agile can help you. If you have any questions or want to take some of these ideas forward, feel free to get in touch.

Sales

Marketing

Management

Finance

There aren’t straight forward ‘Scrum for Finance teams’ case studies, but there is a lot of information about Financial Planning techniques based on Agile. These links are a good intro.

Human Resources / HR

And finally, you!

Personal Kanban is becoming popular where I work and a few people (including me) run their own personal kanban boards to organise their work, improve focus and get more done. I use Trello as it’s very lightweight but you can use JIRA and a whole array of others too. If you want to know more try the Persoanl Kanban site or this blog post.

And finally, if you want to know how far some people incorporate Agile into their lives, the Scrum Alliance had some interesting responses to the following tweet:

Responses include everything from DIY to organising holidays to planning a wedding! You can read the responses here.

Hopefully this gives you some food for thought and a bit of encouragement to look into how Scrum or other Agile practices could help you and the teams you work with.

Facts

If you’re one of those people who tends to let the facts get in the way of your opinion, you’ll find this interesting.

This is how much we actually spend on Housing Benefit, Incapacity Benefit and Jobseekers Allowance – as a percentage of the UK government’s total spend.

Mouse over the pie chart for data…

(Source: Guardian Data)

Four ways to scale your social enterprise

Something for all my social entrepreneurial friends out there. It’s Bill Shore of Share Our Strength, giving his ideas for how to scale up your organisation (or just keep going) and break out of reliance on the usual funding model. The talk was at TEDxMidAtlantic Be Fearless.

There are some brilliant ideas here – may not resonate instantly for everyone’s business – but for me this kind of thinking is essential if we’re to find the level of scalability that social sector so desperately needs. I have summarised Bill’s points below – mainly for my own purpose of recollection, but also as a starter for a longer post containing more business model ideas – but watch first and see for yourself…

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What can digital do for politics? Just ask the user

Summarising our group's thoughts on digital

A few thoughts from the Parliament Week event put on by the RSA entitled ‘Do We Get The Politics We Deserve?’. The main event was a panel discussion with author Matthew Flinders, Gloria De Piero (MP for Ashfield) and Nadhim Zahawi (MP for Stratford-on-Avon, and founder of YouGov). There then followed some mini-workshops, one of which I facilitated.

You can get the low-down of the whole event on Storify, but there were some interesting outcomes from my workshop. The question asked to my group was ‘Can digital help improve our politics for the better?’, and it was really encouraging to see the attendees flock overwhelmingly towards this subject (I accept this was possibly aided by my corner being nearest the wine).

Now, we should bare in mind that this group was not scientifically picked and included people whose attendance suggested a certain engagement with politics. That said, there was a fantastic range of ages, political preferences, and digital experience, and it was really heartening to hear so much opinion so willingly offered. And personally, as a creator of digital services, I was also reminded just how important (and how easy) it is to get feedback from users when trying to solve problems.

The outcome? In short, the response was an overwhelming Yes – digital can help improve our politics for the better. But many in the group were not without their concerns. Specifically;

  • Digital services must be easy to use – designed for all levels (this was a bug-bear for almost everyone in the group and regardless of age!)
  • Digital services needs the same credibility to compete with established channels (especially surveys, for example).

And if we address those concerns, what can digital offer our politics?

  • It allows us to change the narrative (away from politicians’ to to one of our own)
  • Digital is brilliant for reaching / engaging young people and first time voters.

OK, so nothing ground breaking you could argue, but in a 15-minute session I was impressed with the enthusiasm and thought that came back – especially as the workshop was only an add-on to the main panel discussion. All in all it was yet another welcome reminder about the value of participation: from focus groups to feedback forms – don’t forget to ask the user.

Patchwork – technology working for change

Every now and then you see something so inspiring that you just need to share it. Patchwork is one of those things.  Designed by the team at Futuregov, it helps practitioners across multiple agencies access the contact details of other front line staff working with the same clients – improving communication and strengthening collaboration.

The idea started developing after the Baby P case, and was designed in close collaboration with the practitioners it aims to help. It’s a brilliant example of how useful technology can be – helping practitioners do what they’re best at by giving them access to better information – not by replacing human connections, but by supporting them.

And it’s a great example of how you need to get under the skin of a problem to really understand it, learning from those who experience the problems every day. This is something Futuregov seem to have done brilliantly, and I hope the results will come in the widespread adoption of Patchwork across may other local authorities.

Watch the video below or have a look at the Patchwork website. Inspiring stuff, so do spread the word.

Using digital to solve migrant youth issues

Refugee Youth setting the tempo for Undoc Camp

Last weekend I had the pleasure of taking part in Undoc Camp, looking at ways in which digital can help solve problems faced by undocumented migrant youths.

The event was organised by On Road Media, who expertly brought together people from the legal, digital and migrant sectors and, crucially, young migrants who have experienced first hand the issues we were addressing. We were divided into teams, with each team given an issue to work on.

The camp has been written about in more detail here, so for this post I just want to offer a few of the observations and learnings I took away with me.

  1. Recognise the limitations of digital as well as its potential. What became clear from listening to those experiencing the issues as well as the legal professionals, was that it would be dangerous to try to recreate the relationship between solicitors and migrants. Digital can’t replace the complexities of human communication, but we can use digital to facilitate it.
  2. Use what’s there – don’t reinvent the wheel. This was one of many great pieces of advice from Carrie Bishop, who spoke to the attendees on Friday evening. Some great ideas emerged the following day, showcasing a considered balance of services already out there and adding any functionality that customised the experience for this particular audience (e.g. the Migrant Map idea). And not a ‘portal’ in sight!
  3. The importance of lightness. Something that Adil Abrar mentioned during his inspiring talk – heavy subjects don’t have to have all the fun removed. His words must have resonated as the groups that showed designs as part of their pitch all reflected this message – focussing the tone on the audience rather than the difficulties they were facing. Within my group, we had a lot of  fun and good humour which really helped bring out great contributions from everyone. And being lucky enough to win the main £5k prize from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, I’m sure we will be bringing Adil’s advice to our design approach now that we can actually take our idea to the next stage.
  4. Change happens when we are all motivated by a common cause. No matter what people’s backgrounds and skills, when we are all bound by the same driving force we can work together and create something new. In this case, it was to help young people who face appalling problems through no fault of their own, and who need a better system to help them live better, safer lives.
  5. We can do this. We have the will power, we have the skills, and with events like Undoc Camp we have evidence we can really do it.

Tax avoidance or tax aversion? Why we need a vision

The investigation into the K2 tax avoidance scheme prompted understandable outrage. But rather than questionning the morality of the individuals involved, it would be more useful to ask why people try to pay less tax in the first place. Less about individual tax avoidance, more about our society-wide tax aversion.

It’s a serious issue – apparently costing the UK £69.9 billion per year – and it’s worth remembering it isn’t confined to the super wealthy (and let’s also remember not all rich people avoid tax). While Jimmy Carr may have admitted his terrible error of judgment, the dilemma he faced (in his case “I met with a financial advisor and he said to me ‘Do you want to pay less tax? It’s totally legal’. I said ‘Yes’.”) is the same one that leads many others to take cash payments, or to pay dividends instead of larger PAYE salaries, or to invest money off-shore. Let’s face it – rich or poor, we don’t seem to like paying tax.

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Stop talking about income equality – start explaining it

Budcus. He's a long suffering dog.

(Click for the full cartoon)


As debates continue to rage over public service cuts, bankers’ bonuses, and tax avoidance, the call for greater income equality is coming from some unlikely sources, especially politicians attempting to reassure a sceptical public that we’re all on the same side. While it sounds like a good thing (anything to do with equality is good, right?) do we really understand what income equality means, and the impact it can have?

Firstly, my contention is that income equality is a good thing (not least because it is has a close relationship with trust and community values, something that in turn promotes well-being and positive mental health). However, supporters of income equality will be keen to tell you that the benefits extend into almost every aspect of society – the economy, education, social mobility, life expectancy, infant mortality, imprisonment, addiction. Quite a claim. If true, why then are we not in relentless pursuit of greater income equality?

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Is how we talk the key to a better future?

When I started this blog I knew my knowledge of social and behavioural sciences was (at best) rudimentary but I assumed I was at least aware of the main subject areas to look into. Or so I thought, until I read Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most by three authors who work for the Harvard Negotiation Project, and then On Dialogue by physicist David Bohm. Suddenly, the subject of Dialogue has burst onto my social change radar, and I’d like to share it with you.

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Mindset for change – Muhammad Yunus and the social business

In 2010 Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, gave a talk at the RSA entitled ‘Building Social Business’. It’s an inspiring talk, and among his many insightful comments he describes the social business as simply an alternative – rather than an opponent – to the organisations whose policies or services (in this case, lending money) are the source of the problem.

It’s an important mindset. A customer-focused mindset that any business needs – social or otherwise. A mindset that says instead of competing with or challenging organisations, a social business is there to offer another option for people to try – “if people are interested they will use it, if they don’t think it’s interesting it will disappear”. The role of the social business – or anyone serious about positive change – is not to challenge other organisations. It is to stand alongside them and let the customer decide.

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