Yesterday, I had a short and interesting discussion with Viktor Grgic. He was explaining how he loved OmniGraffle. During our chat, I remembered using OmniGraffle v4 back in 2006. Back then, its intended purpose was still to be a diagramming and illustrating Mac alternative to Microsoft Visio. I hadn’t used it much since. Viktor, on the other hand, used it solely as a graphic design tool for nice infographics and other visuals. I found that very interesting.
I did some very superficial googling on the web and found that Viktor represents a typical OmniGraffle user. Most people seem to be using it for graphic design. In fact, one of the first examples on the current OmniGraffle website was a pie-chart diagram and a big promise that OmniGraffle allowed you to design things “how you like[d]”. Interesting, indeed.
I find this interesting because it’s a good example of exaptation. Exaptation is a term used in evolutionary biology that describes a situation where something with a specifically designed function ends up being used for a completely different purpose, often in a completely different environment. In other words: you find new uses for existing ideas.
One widely shared example is how feathers originally evolved for the purpose of regulating heat, but were later co-opted to be used for flight. A more recent example, described by Dave Snowden, was how someone in Bangkok had the brilliant idea of driving a car inside a large plastic bag, originally designed to protect new furniture during its transport, to protect his car from the effects of flooding.
My discussion with Viktor made me think of something that happened at JP Morgan, where I used the same principle of exaptation to repurpose the Daily Scrum (also called Daily Standup) Meeting to what I called Flow Meeting. As many of you know, it’s a daily meeting where everyone in the team gets together to answer three questions: What have I done yesterday? What will I do today? And are there any impediments? This meeting is mandated should you use Scrum and should not last longer than 15 minutes.
Putting on my complexity thinker’s hat, I turned things around and focussed on the system instead of on the individual team members. We still met every morning around the Scrum Board. But instead of having everyone answer the three pre-defined Scrum questions, I pointed at each work item that had been started but hadn’t yet finished and had everyone focus on how that work item was progressing and what could be done to move it further along the workflow in a smoother way. To put it simpler: I turned it into a Flow Meeting.
Me: Ticket A350 hadn’t progressed since yesterday? Why?
TM: Because we are waiting for input from a the team working on an upstream system.
Me: What could we do to make it move immediately?
TM: Force them to reply, of course!
Me: And how could we do this?
TM: By escalating.
Me: Would that actually make it move today?
TM: No, because escalations take time to travel up the chain of command. Could make it move in three days.
Me: Let’s keep that as Plan B then. So, what else could we try?
TM: Gather a couple of devs and pay the upstream system team a visit.
Me: Would that actually make the ticket move today?
TM: Possibly. – Let’s give it a try then!
This little change in focus ended up having a tremendously positive impact on the whole team. The probably biggest impact it had was by very subtly reframing discussions from “why did you…” angles to “how can we…” possibilities! So subtly was the change, that at first we didn’t even realise it had happened. It took us almost three months and a couple of retrospectives to become aware of this change. It helped us move from what was in essence still a blame culture (albeit not a bad one) to a culture that actively valued experimentation. Whenever something needed improving, we looked at how the whole system, not individuals. Changing the way actors behaved became secondary and much easier to do, once you knew what the goal was.
Since that one time, I always repurpose my Daily Scrum meeting to a Daily Flow Meeting and it has so far never failed me. Not once.
The Main blog picture with the dinosaur was taken from livescience.com