Seven Things I Learnt from Product G&T Retreat 2018

Over the course of 3 days, close to forty product practitioners, founders and coaches met at Ubud, Bali to meet, learn and feast together, all for the purpose of deepening our understanding of how to build great product experiences.

These are seven things I learnt from Product G&T 2018.

1. Being outside, leads to out-there ideas!

Most of us are are trapped 5-days a week, 52 weeks a year in a building with four, usually white, walls with the same people.

Being in a familiar environments breeds familiar ideas.

So what happens when we remove the walls?

That’s what happened at Product G&T, where we literally got of the building for the sun and green that Ubud, Bali had to offer.

Being outside, in a strange environment with a mix of different people leads to new, creative and sometimes crazy ideas that can and does lead to real world value.

2. Diversity leads to interesting and engaging discussions.

Diversity is not just a buzzword or something to do to be politically correct. Being surrounded by people of vastly different backgrounds, provided perspectives I would have never considered, leading to avenues of conversation and talk that I could not arrive at myself, or with the people I know.

Diversity is beyond skin colour and gender, rather it’s our life experiences, knowledge, beliefs and thinking.

Diversity of thoughts and beliefs leads to significantly engaging interactions.

3. Open space leads to magical moments.

I’ve been a long-term fan of open-space technology (OST), a very lightweight facilitation method heavily informed by the science of how people behave. OST believes that if we give people space, they will create inspired meetings and events.

This was certainly true at Product G&T.

Not only did we have fascinating discussions, an exchange of ideas and experiences, but strengthen old relationship and formed new ones.

Humans are inherently social creators, and OST gave us the space to be so.

4. Ubud has surprisingly great food!

Who doesn’t love food? Ubud was surprising that a simple rice dish to ribs at a warung (stall) to a fancy restaurant had great food. There’s definitely something for everyone.

The groups that formed based on dietary and foodie preferences demonstrated the diversity amongst us.

5. The best conversations happen over food and drink.

Great food and drink leads to great conversation. Nuff said. 🙂

6. Michael Ong makes facilitation look easy.

A great facilitator makes facilitation look easy. Michael Ong certainly made it look easy.

Making it look easy is definitely not easy as there was a lot of work that went in to the event, from logistics, accommodation, venue, and lastly managing the participants!

Special thanks to Michael and the Product G&T team!

7. There is so much potential in South East Asia!

I left the event filled with hope and excitement that South East Asia is definitely the best place to be in the world to build great products, solve world-changing problems and better the life of our fellow men and women. .

Looking forward to Product G&T 2019!


How to stop negative feelings from affecting your conversations

How to stop spreading negative feelings in the workplace.

You are a manager leading a team. You had a great morning, cleared your inbox, completed a slide deck and you are heading to a one-to-one with John. You see him, greet and proceed to start the conversation.

John looks frazzled, anxious, angry even. The conversation starts off with small talk, but you can’t help by feel nervous, on edge. The conversation proceeds nervously, tense. You no longer feel at ease, the glow from a great morning dissipates and you feel anxious.

What just happened?

Daniel Goleman says the following:

“The emotional brain responds to an event more quickly than the thinking brain.”

Before our thinking brain understands the situation that we are in, you have already begun to react emotionally. John’s anxiety has infected you.

“Part of the unintended oftentimes unrecognised responsibility of a leader is to actually be aware of their own emotional state.” – Jerry Colonna

What can we do about it?

Introducing, Emotional Wi-Fi. Daniel Goleman’s coined that term through his work in psychology in the workplace. Manager’s are constantly pulled in many different directions and we much be aware of our own emotions as it can affect how others behave.

“…an interesting replication of family dynamic known as a company in which your emotional state starts to have an
emotional impact on the other people in the company.” – Jerry Colonna

A quick technique shared by startup and executive coach Jerry Colonna is called red-yellow-green. Before start a meeting, identify what state of mind we are in by asking the following: Are you feeling red, yellow or green?

Here’s what the colours mean:

Red: “I am off the charts!”

I am physically present, however I am not mentally present. My mind and emotions are elsewhere.
* I could be feeling angry, anxious, sad. I don’t have to share more if I don’t want to .

Yellow: “I’m here but sort of not here.”

I am physically present, however I can’t fully concentrate on this conversation. I feel distracted.

Green: “I am fully present!”

I am here, body, mind and soul and ready to fully engage in conversing about the work at hand. You have my full, undistracted attention!

“The worst cases of emotional Wi-Fi are when we’re both in red or yellow and, and it’s not acknowledged then it just sort of spreads.” – Ben Rubin

Red feelings can be contagious. By asking this question are essentially practicing micro-mindfulness to be self-aware of our own emotional state and not be as affected by others around us.

By sharing our emotional states, it breaks the negative aspects of those feelings and creates space for compassion and empathy, and ultimately a more human workplace.

Jerry Colonna introduces red-yellow-green at the one hour mark in episode #67 of his podcast, Reboot.


The two sides of measuring performance

Measuring Performance with Indicators and Metrics

Management guru Peter Drucker who pioneered modern management is often quoted saying:

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure”

To manage performance we must first define performance.

What is performance?

My simplified definition of performance has three components: what we want, how long to get it, and what we’re going to do.

In any business or organisation, there are targets, goals and desires; which we are the things we want.

The first step is to define the things we want. Let’s list out some examples:

Organisation Things we want
Online store Increase revenue
Software development team Increase code quality
Me Get fit

It’s critical to be explicit here and use quantifiable measures to express what we’re going to do, as numbers allow us to measure and manage performance. Let’s put some numbers to the things we want.

Organisation Things we want
Online store Increase revenue by 15%
Software development team Increase code quality by 20%
Me Get a 32″ waist

We don’t operate in a vacuum as competitors abound, funds are finite and age creeps up on me. Let’s further extend the table with the how long to get it.

Organisation Things we want How long to get it
Online Store Increase revenue by 15% One quarter (12 weeks)
Software Development Team Increase code quality by 100% 6 Sprints
Me Get a 32″ waist 1 year

This sets us up to create a set of lagging indicators.

Use lagging indicators to reflect reality

We’ll need a way of tracking how we’re doing in relation to what we want. These are measures of how we’re doing vs what we want. Unless we track these outcomes we won’t really know. From the examples above, we could track the results of our outcomes like so:

Increase revenue by 15%:

Increase code quality by 100%:

Get a 32″ waist:

These metrics and charts will reflect how close we’re getting to our outcomes.

You get what you give

Now we’re not going to get what we want unless we do something about it.

To get what we want, we’re going to have do things, to cause an effect, which is the thing we want.

Let’s extend the table to include what we’re going to do to get it.

Organisation Things we want How long to get it What we’re going to do
Online Store Increase revenue by 15% One quarter (12 weeks) Increase the number of unique visitors by 30%
Software Development Team Increase code quality by 100% 6 Sprints Reduce cyclomatic complexity to 30
Me Get a 32″ waist 1 year Lose 15 kg

In reality we would have to commit to multiple activities to get the outcomes, this would be creating a plan of activity.

If I wanted to get a 32″ waist, which I do, I would have to lose weight, diet and exercise. I can and should track these activities separately. The same goes to other types of outcomes.

Leading Indicators

Let’s use leading indicators to track how we’ll we’re doing on the things we do to get the things we want. Leading indicators reflect the progress of the our actions and activity. If the outcome is to increase the number of unique visitors by 30%, one way of achieving may be to increase the number of products on offer.

Similarly, to lose 15kg, I’ll have to exercise regularly, say 3 times a week for a whole year.

Leading indicators set up a way for us to project what we need to do and how we do according to that plan.

However, plans are based on assumptions and hypotheses and may be wrong. Perhaps added the number of products is not the right thing or the only thing to attract visitors. Perhaps 3 times a week is not sufficient for me to lose 15 kg in a year.

By combining the use of leading and lagging indicators, we unlock the true power of indicators.

Putting both sides together

Using leading and lagging indicators in tandem reflects the past, present and potential future performance. Sometimes plans don’t go along perfectly, sometimes our assumptions on what we need to do is wrong and things just change.

The lagging indicators provide validation that actions reflected by the leading indicators either work or does not. The leading indicators tell us how far along are we in the plan and provides opportunities to adjust the plan based on its performance.

A word of caution here as outcomes does take time and there will be a period of time for the lagging indicators to reflect change, hence why they’re called lagging indicators.

Taking it further

Metrics and indicators can be used in many ways. Here are two of them:

The Balance Score Card
Leading and lagging indicators.

I look forward to hearing from you in how this helps you to manage performance of your projects and teams.


How to handle code reviews

How to handle code reviews.

One of my Scrum Masters asked me this question:

Can we skip code reviews? It’s too expensive.

The concern was that it was taking too long for a reviewer to get back to the review requester. The Scrum Master then wanted to scrap code reviews so that code could be more quickly tested by the testers, without having to wait for the review.

This was my response:

Hi <name withheld> and all, 

We should ask ourselves what’s the purpose of having code reviews and to work to that purpose. Yes, there is a cost to code reviews, however the value can far exceed the cost! 

Please read and let me know your thoughts:

There are a few options here for making our code reviews more effective based on what I understand thus far:

1. Just grab someone from the other team to do a code review. 
2. Set up a peer (1 to 1) meeting to do a code review.
3. Batch up code reviews and make it a whole team affair at the end of each day (or some other appropriate timing).

There are many benefits to code reviews:

Short term:

1. Catch bugs early. It’s much cheaper to fix them before release (or when testing) then it is once its out in the field. 
2. Ensure consistency of code. Part of a good code review includes stylistic review for code consistency.
3. Is reflective for the author of the code as they explain it to a reviewer (are we doing that or just tossing code over the wall?). Many times through the process of ‘talking’ about something, we deepen our learning and understanding.

Long term:

1. Disseminates information across persons and teams.
2. Increases individual and team competencies in coding and domain areas. 
3. Provides repeating opportunities to be reflective (see #3) above. 

Think of the code review as a coding retro. Every time we do it, it’s an opportunity to improve. 


Code reviews when done well is social a social experience, not merely throwing code over the wall and ticking a checkbox.

To manage scope creep, Product Owners must be nightclub bouncers

To manage scope creep, Product Owners must behave like night club bouncers.

Every project suffers from scope creep as it is impossible to identify all the requirements of a project before it ends. The how of managing creep is not to eliminate it, but to manage what’s in an what out. To illustrate managing scope creep in an Agile project, I will use the analogy of a bouncer in a night club.

Be like Mick, nightclub bouncer.

Every nightclub worth going to manages who gets to go in, who gets to sit at the sofas, who gets a table and everyone else fleeting about like butterflies trying to look like that have a place when they don’t. The crowd makes the night club, not the bar, not the drinks or music, but the crowd. The bouncer controls who gets to come in, guys, girls, hipsters, monied and just normal people. Too much of one or the other and the mix is wrong, the club feels wrong and people leave.

Projects are night clubs and scope are clubbers.

Projects are finite. I repeat, projects are finite.

Agile or not, all projects must end. Agile projects end on time, but not all scope will be implemented. Much like a club, the lights must come on eventually (about 2AM in Malaysia). So the goal then is create the best experience and sell the most drinks in that period.

This translates as creating the most value in a fixed amount of time. Scope comes in various forms:

  • Functional: This is what the end user can do with the application (or services or platforms). This is also where most product owners focus their attention.
  • Performance: Any app that worth using will scale and performance matters. Users today are sophisticated and expects apps to be fast, responsive and not waste their time.
  • Security: We put locks on our doors to keep bad people out. Same goes for apps.
  • Other -ilities: These are all the other things which are important from a longetivity point of view, how easy it will be in the future to maintain or extend the code. The amount invested in this area depends the overall company goals. If you’re an early start up, hacking code together to get to MVP while sacrificing future maintainability may make sense. If you’re established and have millions of users, doing this may be detrimental.

Guy drives up in a Ferrari, walks right in to the club.

Stuff happens, that’s just a reality of life. As much as projects are planned out, things will happen. Opportunities surface, features no longer make sense, whatever. Features or scope enters a project because it has value, so we must not discourage but embrace it! But something’s got to give.

(Caveat: Embracing change is not an excuse for poor planning.)

Sorry Billy, you’re just not cool enough to enter.

For every piece of scope that enters, one must leave. While Agile embraces adapting the plan, removing scope is as important as accepting scope. Accepting a piece of scope that has high value results in removing scope that has less value.

This is the key to delivering Agile projects on time.

So the next time you’re faced with the dilemma of scope creep, be the bouncer to your Agile project.

How to Pair Program

How to pair program

Pair programming was introduced in the book eXtreme Programming by Kent Beck . I’ve come across many teams which said it did not work or that it was inefficient. Pair programming is definitely not for everyone and every piece of work, however most teams that I’ve talked to that tried it, didn’t even do it currently.

Pair programming is one of the trickier practices to get right, but if you do, you’ll suffer the following symptoms:

  • Talking and discussing problems as you solve them with someone else. And they’ll be doing the same to you.
  • Accomplishing more in a shorter amount of time.
  • You’ll lose the urge to check email, your phone or going to the pantry.
  • You’ll feel drained at the end of a pairing session.

Contrary to popular myths, pair programming when done right does not reduce productivity. In fact, it could and will increase team productivity and improve code quality.

Programming or software development at it’s core is solving problems with code. Look at pair programming as a way of solving problems with someone else. Much like how we would use a whiteboard to discuss and solve design issues, pair programming is the same, just in front of a computer.

The benefits of pair programming are, but not limited to:

  • Constantly having someone that you can brainstorm with and validate ideas as you have them.
  • The other person serves as an accountability partner to help keep you focused.
  • Two heads are better than one. He or she may know something that you didn’t know and comes in handy.
  • Two pairs of eyes are better than one, this results in better code quality.
  • Create healthier and closer working relationships.
  • You’ll get to learn more about the code, domain and level up your coding skills.

The above is true for both partners in a pair.

How to start pair programming.

Alright, you’re sold and you’d like to give this a go. So how do you start? Follow these steps:

1. Create a pair.

Find someone that you’d like to work with to pair. That person does not have a be a junior / senior person, but rather just somebody else in the team (or even out of it!) that you’d like to solve a problem with.

2. Find a piece of work to pair on.

This could be a user story, a problem, task or spike. This piece of work should have clear outcomes attached to it. For example, to implement behavior in code that satisfies the acceptance criteria of a user story, or to try out a nice piece of technology if it will solve a specific problem. Simple pieces of work may not be appropriate to pair on, though this could be indicative of a code smell.

To quote Martin Fowler:

It's only worth pairing on complex code, rote code yields no advantage.

I think there is a point to this - pairing is about improving design and minimizing mistakes. Rote code that's simple to write yields little opportunities for pairing to make a difference.

Except this: writing boring rote code is a smell. If I'm writing boring repetitive code it's usually a sign that I've missed an important abstraction, one that will drastically reduce the amount of rote code to write. Pairing will help you find that abstraction.

3. Agree to a time box for this pairing session.

Set a time to end the pairing session. This could be anywhere from 1.5 hours to half a day (or more). The human mind can only take so much mentally intense work that it’s good to have breaks in between.

4. Set the goals of this pairing session.

What are the goals for this session? Would it be to implement a feature, work on some refactoring or find options to a problem. Be as clear as you can. Discussion this as a pair will yield insights in to the solutions for the selected problem.

5. At the end of the session, review what was accomplished.

Ideally, there will be outputs from the pairing session, like code that can be checked in.

6. Rinse and repeat.

Take a break, and start over!

Using Value Stream Mapping as a Gap Analysis Tool

Using Value Stream Mapping as a Gap Analysis Tool

Value stream mapping is an extremely powerful tool. As a way of finding gaps in practice or understanding of a process or methodology, I frequently use value stream mapping as a way to tease out information from the team on how they actually work.

Frequently we assume that if we define a process, e.g. in JIRA, Rally or a physical kanban board, that the team will automatically adhere to the process and all will be fine. I find this to be false more than half the time. Some of the reasons why gaps between process and how teams and people actually work could be:

  • The team or team member interprets the process differently.
  • Process drift, where a process may have made sense once upon a time, but no longer makes sense. The team could either follow it blindly or not follow it at all due to practical reasons.
  • There could be an impediment to following the process.
  • Mixed messages, whereby a process is define but someone, like a manager, may tell an engineer to skip a step to save time. An example would be “let’s skip writing unit tests until we deploy and come back later to do it.” If the exception happens often enough, that becomes the real process, regardless of what’s on a board.

To find the truth in how a team actually works, I use value stream maps to provide a way for the teams to express how they actually work. I will frequently observe much of the following as part of doing this exercise:

  • One or more team members may not even understand the current process.
  • Developers and testers don’t actually know what Product Owners do
  • Developers and Product Owners are unaware of the challenges facing testers.
  • Team members don’t even know why they are following parts of the process.
  • Team members who have little or zero visibility in to what happens after code is deployed or packaged and ready to ship.

Using the value stream in this way will uncover the truth in how the team actually works and as a benefit, promotes sharing across team members in to how each person contributes.

How to use the value stream to gaps and impediments.

First, I’ll need to define a couple of concepts.

  • Value: An article or object that can be created that provides benefit to an end-user.
  • Value adding: The amount of value that is increased in the article or object as it is created.
  • Start: This represents the begin state of the creation of the object or article.
  • End: This represents the end state of the article or object and is ready to be delivered or used by a user.
  • Activity: A value adding action.
  • Steps: The process or stage as part of creating the article or object.
  • Impediment: Any barrier or obstacle that prevents or slows down the creation of an article or object.

For this exercise, use post-it notes as they are easy to move around.

1. Define the beginning and end states.

The beginning usually starts with an idea. It could be yours, from an executive, wherever and that idea is to be turned in to something that is usable or sellable. In software, and idea turns in to code and code in to features which are used by users. The end state could be features or outcomes.

2. List out all activities performed by the team to go from start to end.

Have the team list down all the things they do to go from beginning to end. Use one post it per activity.

3. Arrange activities into a sequence.

Activities happen in a sequence. Sort them from beginning to end.

4. Group activities which go together.

Group activities which can happen in parallel together.

5. Name the steps.

Find a name that represents the group of activities. For example, it could be design for design related activities.

6. Identify what happens to go between steps.

Discuss what happens between steps. Identify impediments, hidden or missing work. Identified actions can contribute to a kaizen backlog.

Next Steps

Value stream maps are amazing simple yet powerful. They are able to visualise processes, an exercise to define a team’s definition of done and is a tool to control work-in-progress via WIP limits. In this case, value stream maps are used to find gaps in processes, identify real work from perceived work and as a kaizen tool to identify hidden work and impediments.