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    Discovering Lean Career

    Lean Career. That's the first time you might have heard that from me. Well, this is the new work that I'm pursuing - and I'd like to tell you a bit of the story on how I got here so you don't get lost!

    Looking back over the past few years - I can begin to see a series of choices and intrigues that have led me to this new path. 

    • My work as a Lean product and business consultant teaching me about facilitating and using Lean startup, UX, product, business, XP, Agile, Kanban and customer development methodologies
    • Hearing Tom Chi of GoogleX talk about rapid prototyping practices to shake out possible directions before jumping into execution - then implementing that practice again and again
    • Developing a monthly, weekly and daily practice of using the Business Model/Lean Canvas to keep an overview of all my different foci (consulting, specific workshops, coaching, growing my community, etc)
    • A lifelong fascination with the lizard brain and our human response - fight, flight, freeze and freaking out - when we encounter new situations and uncertainty
    • Teaching dozens of programs and styles of design, prototyping and dev in live and online courses - always using a project-based, prototyping approach
    • My fascination with resilience and distributed networks as a way to stabilize and keeping possible new paths open
    • An on-going family situation requiring consistent creativity in my career

    The questions changed last summer. Working as a Lean product and business coach with a few different types of businesses I was growing frustrated with my inability to introduce new process on the fly and just "try it out." Working with teams was simply too slow to both get work done and evolve the framework and process so that to fit for a variety of situations.

    So, I switched gears and began adapting the Lean process I'd developed for product and business design to individual needs. Specifically, to help people design their portfolios in conditions of high uncertainty. I began talking to people about how the designed their careers and quickly began tuning the questions and solutions I'd offer. 

    I blew through several workshop versions of "portfolio prototyping" and learned some powerful lessons. One of the biggest was that creating an overview, building something, sharing it and then learning created a huge shift for them and got them moving again. I was shocked as my first workshop group spent 15 minutes updating their canvas based on what they had learned. Complete silence except for the scratching of pens and pencils. Awesome.

    The January Portfolio hackathon included 3 developers, 3 business folks and 4 designers. It immediately became clear that the framework I was creating was becoming more about a broader career focus so that it could cover those who didn't necessarily need a portfolio to communicate their skills and create a strong work life. It's a challenge - but not the only one - and at times not the most IMPORTANT one to address.

    Realistically, being able to break down big needs into little things to do was the biggest challenge. And then deciding which of those things you could do would prevent you from getting any work.

    So, it became the Career Hackathon.

    The final switch tripped about 3 weeks ago when I returned from a trip to LA to begin understanding the market for the Career Hackathon. I was explaining how I wanted to show people how the "problem interview" from Ash Maura's Running Lean was really "info interviewing" in this context and "solution interviewing" was really just a job interview. I was surprised and happy about just how many concepts from Lean Startup, product and UX could be adapted. 

    My friend said, "Lean Career. It's Lean Career design." 

    And so I arrived. Or rather, I am slowly and iteratively arriving.

    So, what is Lean Career? For now, it's a new Lean process framework being iteratively developed to solve the problem of creating our careers under conditions of extreme uncertainty.

    Yes, I can picture the book. Yes, this is just the beginning and I have no idea where we'll end up. Well, I have some ideas - or I wouldn't be a very good creative entrepreneur :). Now I just have to validate them with all of you.

    And on we go.

    I've decided to evolve this new intrigue using a community of practice over on Google+. I've created a Lean Career Community.

    1. Sign into with your Gmail and pw
    2. Search for Lean Career and choose the community
    3. Join the community - and I'll get you subscribed. This means you'll see the posts in your G+ feed. Or you can find the community feed under Interests > Community



    WorkLife Design Series - Portfolio Hackathon

    Creating a work life that makes sense and pays well is a task that most of us spend a majority of our lives focused on. This is why I've chosen to focus my "do to learn" on finding strong ways to support each of us on that journey.

    I'm picturing a world where any of us are able to experiment and learn our way into rich, resilient and deeply interconnected work lives that are rewarding on a lot of levels - including financially. Instead of having a single path, we design a WorkLife that can change and grow right along with us - a constantly renewing resource that is fueled by our life experience and the insights we've taken the time to gather and share. I picture us as a community of practice - supporting each other in designing our WorkLife with focus and creativity.

    Update 2/10: I'm iterating already - the new version is now called a Career Hackathon.

    Portfolio Hackathon

    My first experiment in the WorkLife series is the Portfolio Hackathon. The idea came to me while I was doing a Business Model Canvas to explore the types workshops that I could create for my WorkLife Design series. I knew that I wanted us to end up with a strong overview of our WorkLife, to start understanding the people we want to work with and to have a way to run small experiments to head us toward those people. I also felt it was important for people to get a chance to "do to learn" during the event rather than just "planning."

    The hackathon idea was perfect - a concentrated set of time to design and build something to solve a specific problem. It's familiar to programmers and designers but is cool enough that other folks can get excited about it as well.

    My idea of what a "portfolio" could be is pretty broad. For me, anything that you can build or do that allows you to connect and share your skills and experience with other people would go into this category. I often hear, "I'm in a non-portfolio career." Really? Do you need case studies? Do you need a resume? Do you need to be able to get through an interview? Do you need to be able to tell a coherent story about who you are and what you can do?

    Do you need a time set aside to get that moving? Yes. Then I'd say you're my person!


    Let me take you on a little tour of the most recent version of the Portfolio Hackathon. I run these on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon so I can catch people on a day they might be able to set aside about 4 hours to concentrate. The flow, timing and actual process we run will be changing as I iterate the hackathon. Luckily, the general goals will stay the same so this should give you a good feel for the adventure.

    Overview (15-minutes)
    Currently, I'm using an adapted version of the Business Model Canvas to provide a quick overview of what our guesses are as to where we are and where we need to go. This tool was developed by Alexander Osterwalder to provide a simpler way to communicate your business plan.

    When we adapt it for individuals the canvas allows you to lay out the major elements of your career building efforts, including guesses about the people you'd like to work with, how you might connect with them and what you have to offer. Most people are shocked by just how much they already know or have some ideas about.


    Awesome Company Picture (15-minutes)
    When we design a product or service, one of the most important things to do is to understand is the behaviors, needs and pain points of our customers. When we're designing a career, we need to shift our efforts slightly. It turns out that looking at one specific person in the company that we'd like to work with is not as helpful as understanding how the company itself looks and behaves when they match our values and interests.

    This exercise uses a very simple 4-up structure to let us make guesses as to what kind of company or client we might want to pursue in order to get to our goal. The reason we work this way is so we have assumptions and guesses to validate. While this might be a picture of a great company to work for - we don't really know for sure. So we guess - and then we begin to investigate whether those guesses hold up as we get out and talk to people.

    Sprint 1 (30 minute build, 15-minute share & iterate)
    Begin validating your customer picture
    Enough paper work. Let's get to doing. In this part of the hackathon we go over ways to research and run informational interviews to validate the picture we created. We do this by using the web to find a few examples and hone our picture. And then we create a short information interview script that let's us get to the stories we need to hear about how things work for other people.

    Building the interview is one thing, running it is the actual validation. So we practice our interview with another participant. It doesn't matter that they aren't the person we think we need to talk to…the reality is that we can gain insights no matter who we talk to if we're asking the right questions. We're listening for behaviors, pain points and stories that provide us insight to make sure we're aiming correctly. Then, based on what we learn, we iterate the script so we're asking the open ended, enticing questions we need to inspire others to share.

    Self Persona (20-minutes)
    After a little break we come back for one of the most fun exercises of the day. One of the major challenges for most of us is figuring how to connect and then what to do in order to get the work we want. I've turned an exercise to explore a customer persona on it's head to allow us to design our own persona. This lets us design and guide every decision we make in terms of what to create, what tone of voice to use in our writing and even what things should look like.

    I'll write a longer post about this tool soon, but the basic prompt is simple. What if this persona was you, but just a little more _______. Be sure to choose something just a little bit uncomfortable and intriguing. We draw a picture, we list out behaviors and things that we would communicate that would keep in character with this new shift. The goal of this persona is to have it be one that allows you to head toward your goal and communicate more powerfully with the people that you want to connect with while you create your career.

    Sprint 2 (30 minute build, 15-minute share & iterate)
    Applying the Self Persona
    Back to doing. We begin by looking at our goal and the company or client we want to connect with - and then we choose a profile or bio from Twitter, LinkedIn or some other important location that we can alter or write from scratch using our new persona. Then we share with another participant and see if they can reflect back what we were going after. Finally you tune it together so it reflects what you're after more clearly.

    Opportunity Mapping
    This is a pretty powerful method for mapping out all of the ways you could interact with your customer. In our case, we'll focus on the people that we want to hire or employ us and only the first 3 parts of the full lifecycle. We'll use this to call out content and items that we already have in place and those that we feel would be helpful to get to our goal and connect with our awesome companies and/or clients.

    Experiment Design
    We'll use the opportunity map we made to decide which items or activities might provide us with the most bang for our buck. Once we decide we can then design the experiment that we want to build or run in our final sprint of the day. You'll find this worksheet will be very useful once you begin working on your own.

    Sprint 3 (30 minute build, 15-minute share & iterate)
    One final experiment

    Choose one of the most scary or daunting items that you called out or designed. What is that thing you've been avoiding getting started on. Today's the day. I'll help you choose and execute. We wrap this sprint with one final share and iterate.

    Insight gathering and updates
    Time permitting we spend a little bit of time updating our different worksheets from what we learned during the hackathon. As a group we share our biggest insights and things we might do to continue our progress when we leave. I ask each person to commit to accomplishing one experiment and sprint in the next week. 

    Community of Practice

    If you made it all the way through the post you may be wondering why I'm sharing all of this. Well, I've been working to be more transparent about what it is that I do and how I do it. I find that transparent design - the act of sharing as you develop products and services is a powerful way to start conversations.

    If you're familiar with Lean Startup principles, you'll also notice that the hackathon allows individuals to run 3 full learn - build - measure - learn cycles. The idea of experiments and validation is a powerful one to help keep us up and running. I use it myself to iterate these frameworks. For instance, the build sprints came all at the end originally...but that really didn't allow us to get to doing fast enough. The concern now will be that this is wide enough to cover quite a few circumstances.

    Would you like me run a Portfolio Hackathon in your city or community? Please let me know (md @ site url). If you'd like to keep up with me around these workshops you can add your email to the right and I'll contact you as I get new events moving.


    New intrigues: Evolving Process

    Over the past few years a new theme has emerged for me. Out of years of prototyping and teaching for product and service design has come a love for running design and development process that supports us in getting where we need to go - together. 

    What kind of process do we need in order to create companies, interact with people and develop products and services? Research, design, development, business, cultural, brand, innovation, creativity, improvisation, personal growth...the possibilities are endless. And therein lies the challenge. How do we decide what process is right for us and/or our team?

    Over the next year, I've decided to step in on a new research and development theme for myself. I'll be evolving and sharing my own explorations via transparent design posts, talks and videos. I'll interview others who are working to evolve process. Eventually I may collect this into a book format. And I'll use my lean frameworks to grow a connected community of practice as I move into interacting with new humans and experiences.

    Here are a few of my open questions:

    • How do we decide what process is right for our team?
    • How do others evolve their process?
    • Do we evolve process differently depending on what we're trying to accomplish? For instance, is design process always different from development process?
    • How can we evolve our process more quickly?
    • How can we keep creativity and innovation alive as thing evolve by keeping things "squishy" enough?
    • What are the best ways to involve others in the process of evolving the way we work?
    • How do we re-human our efficient processes?
    • How do we create a sense of stability and normalize change using process?
    • How can we create a culture of repeatable process across all job descriptions?
    • How can we best honor and meld both linear/efficient and creative/innovation flows?

     I hope you'll stay tuned because the quest is already providing some amazing new work. Can't wait to share!


    Why Lean?


    Do to Learn
    While some research, planning and design is necessary to developing our products and services - it's easy to hide behind these tasks in order to avoid having to start. In order to overcome our natural inertia - it's important to keep ourselves in the habit of stepping into courageousness and beginning - again and again - our focused interaction and building as quickly as we're able. 

    So often, being able to DO process at all IS what needs to be validated. Only one way to figure that one out.

    Build to Connect and Listen
    A common misconception is that building is only about creating a UI. One of my favorite parts of creating Minimum Viable/Saleable/Delightful Experiments is that I can work across any part of my business and try any sort of doing or building as long as it allows me to connect with customers and to learn from that interaction. This also gets at the idea that we're never done with our customer development - we're never done being able to learn and gain insight and datapoints from customers and our fellow collaborators.

    Getting out of the building, our head, and our assumptions is a full-time job.

    From "Genius Designer" to  Genuine Facilitator & Collaborator
    This little gem is one of the most difficult shifts for designers and developers coming from more traditional environments. While it's deeply valuable to be able to "deliver the design solution" and to create and build wireframes, mockups and prototypes, it's also become invaluable to be able to facilitate collaborative process with the entire team. Particularly with small teams that need to cover a lot of ground, it's critical (and a key tenet to Lean) to collapse the hierarchy and incorporate all of the talents and smarts of your team to accomplish your development.

    As I like to say, "Together we have a full neuron."

    Adapt and Adopt
    In the past, my penchant for improvisation and customization for context in the process that I run has been a struggle for some of my clients. Now, my collection of process from across many different sectors and methodologies has become a truly unique value for my business. While I do adopt a light framework to help us stay on track - I rarely run or suggest the same process for different clients. 

    The key to this game is that you collect as many types of process from as many different sources to share as a collaborator in your Lean team and also to make sure you only keep the process that actually works. If your Lean Canvas is letting you explore almost all of your open questions - great. If not, try crossing things out and shifting them. I'll show you this in another post as I iterate for my workshops.

    Repeatable process is what you're after as you improvise and adapt your workflows and culture.

    Reduce Waste
    This tenet covers a lot of ground in Lean. As we attempt to speed up our cycles of Build - Measure - Learn one of the keys to success is to discover repeatable process. This means we need to be willing to throw out process that really doesn't work and is weighing us down. It also means we do much less planning and documentation. We might switch to whiteboard sessions rather than wireframes. We choose self-documenting process (the deliverable is the result of the process). We plan, research and design out in front of a couple of 2-week sprints rather than a few months. We develop in designer-programmer pairs.

    This concept also extends into the highly misunderstood and abused word "Minimum" in the way we create our experiments and builds. Yes, they have to be viable, but we all struggle with finding the smallest way to test our assumptions. Sometimes, because of your resources or lack of knowledge, minimum may mean doing deeply unscalable things like "concierge" 1-on-1 process with our customers.

    Everyone has both "Big Picture" and "Here and Now"
    As a traditional designer, there are often times when you're handed the "business rules" that you're designing against. Stakeholder interviews are all about collecting that information. In Lean, it's becoming much more prevalent to empower the ENTIRE team by allowing them to collaboratively develop the business plan (perhaps using Business Model Canvas or Lean Canvas) for the project or company. In my work with individuals and small businesses this is a powerful way to quickly clarify the confusion points and allow the unaligned unspoken assumptions to become visible.

    To communicate and make sure everyone is on the same page for the here and now you'll often see walls of Lean organizations filled with radiators showing current metrics, values, personas (customer prototypes) and experiment or process tracking boards. Make sure you're reducing waste across all of this process and only keep those elements present that you use and reuse in your day-to-day.

    Discriminate. Decide what the biggest risk is and go after it.
    So much of our work in creating in conditions of high uncertainty is being courageous in trying things, guessing and eventually learning enough so that we can discriminate and guess better. One of the toughest lessons that I see for myself and my clients is honing in on what the biggest risk really is and then bravely stepping in on it. 

    The reason this is such a big challenge is that these kind of blocks and risks are the types of things our brain is trained to keep us away from. A huge part of the do to learn process is allowing us to begin retraining our brain to move beyond leaping from unconscious assumption to unspoken assumption in our work. Instead, we work to create a kind, curious observer that learns more about the reality of the situation we're creating in.

    So, those are the biggest inspirations for me from my work in Lean right now. What are yours?

    Click to read more ...


    Talk to the Nice People - Insight Interviews

    In my previous post "What Customers Are You Creating?" we talked about creating customer persona - a picture of one representitive group of our customers - so we would start noticing these people out in the world. Isn't that good enough? Haven't we "gotten down" the people we're designing for? It's time to get to work - right?

    Nope. If we're using the concepts of lean startup and UX, the next thing we want to do is "get out of the building" to test those hypothesis. In this case, we're going to have to get out and "talk to the nice people."

    Click to read more ...


    What customers are you creating?

    One tool that we use in customer development is to create a "persona" that provides us a snapshot or archetype for the people we think are our customers. I like to think of them as my "people prototypes." What is deeply counter-intuitive about this process is that it requires us to create a very specific fictitious person - 1 individual who is "representative" of a group of people out in the world with similar needs, behaviors and sometimes attributes.

    It's also important to create an appealing person - one who stays with us and who we begin to care about in our product development.

    Click to read more ...


    Daily Prototyping

    A few months back I had the opportunity to hear Tom Chi of Google X design speak. I was deeply inspired by his idea of doing to learn rather than talking and brainstorming. Feeling uninspired and rather lost in my own process and career I decided to perform an experiment of my own - by implementing a practice of daily prototyping. Could I prototype my way into relearning to prototype - or more to the point - back to creating and physically building to learn?

    Click to read more ...


    New Directions - Live, hands-on LUXr Lean UX Workshops

    What are these workshops about? Workshop 1 - Finding Your Customer with Personas - shows you how to create a customer persona or as I like to call them a "people prototype." None of us really know who our customers are until they start buying. In lean startups we want to test our hypothesis of who these people are - but first we have to get it out of our heads and onto the page. But this is just a guess - we learn how to test this hypothesis in Workshop 2.

    Read more about the "why" behind creating customer personas

    Workshop 2, Talk to the Nice People - Insight Interviews, starts off with a bang with a process Kate Rutter from LUXr calls "The Molecule." You'll be able to start each week with a focus snapshot of customer, problem you're solving and solution those customers will use. Then we'll move right into forming topics, creating open questions and an intro that gets us into the conversation with our customer. Most important of all - we'll practice all the skills - repeatedly. Then we'll evaluate what we learned from even this small amount of practice. You'll be a little shocked at how ready you are to get out there and start talking to the nice people.

    Read more about the process behind running an Insight Interview

    Click to read more ...


    Inspired: D3 Talk - Tom Chi


    "How long do you think it would take to create a physical prototype for Google Goggles?" The crowd guessed a few days, weeks, months. Throwing an image up on the screen - he comments, "1 hour." Then he showed how his prototype, created from a Netbook, Pico projector, coat hanger, and screen from a sheet projector actually does provide the EXPERIENCE of seeing additions to reality through a layover lens. This is not about the final form and version. This is about creating an experience that can then be tested and tweaked - as quickly as possible. The rest of the day was used for multiple experiments in software and input to the system. Could they create a finger mouse? Could they use any surface to control the interface?

    Click to read more ...


    Touch UI: Gestural and mobile prototyping

    A lot of mobile development these days is about being able to iterate on your "here-and-now" product features but it's just as critical to be able to provide blue sky visioning of potential new directions for your product. I've been finding more and more reasons to activate my little tradition of doing animated gestural prototypes - particularly when we're going after money in some of the startups I've been involved in.

    Click to read more ...