5 Ways To Improve Agility and Adapt a Product-Driven Mindset

The concepts of improving agility and adapting a product driven mindset are not new. Yet many companies struggle to make any meaningful change. Why do they struggle? In short, they invest in Agile training and focus on processes but fail to address culture, roles, and talent skills. They slap new labels onto old roles without changing organizational structure.

Below are five adjustments companies can make to have success changing to a product-driven model with measurable results:

Form stable cross functional teams. A stable cross functional team is made up of people from different areas within the company (IT, business, operations…etc.). This is a shift away from functional silos where resources are farmed out to various projects. Allocating resources to projects follows the outdated Taylorism philosophy that people are replaceable. 

Within cross functional teams, experts work together to achieve a common goal. Over time the team develops synergy and becomes high performing. The team synergy exceeds the productivity of individual efforts.

Work is brought to teams instead of “bringing people to work”. Teams that stay intact allow for expertise and relationships to build over time, improving velocity and moral.

The picture below represents the product team model made popular by Spotify. The squads are teams, and the chapters represent skillsets.

Hold business and technology organizations accountable. Agile delivery is not only an IT practice. The business needs to be committed and held accountable for the success of product outcomes. In a recent study conducted by Deloitte of companies that implemented Agile methods, they found that 31% of the business still did not understand Agile. The business must have skin in the game, and they must go through Agile training.

Hire and train for emotional intelligence. Tech skills are essential, but interpersonal skills and business knowledge are more critical than ever. Since the product driven model is team based, team members need to be able to collaborate. This is all dependent how well the team can harmonize, which requires emotional intelligence or EQ.

What is Emotional Intelligence? | OneDayU
EQ represents self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.

When a team is made up of people with high IQ and EQ, the team has a strong group IQ. Group IQ is the sum of the talents and skills on the team. In Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence”, he writes: “The single most important element in group intelligence, it turns out, is not the average IQ in the academic sense, but rather in terms of emotional intelligence. The key to a high group IQ is social harmony.”

Managers need to empower and coach, not command and control. In a product model there is a shift away from command and control towards trusting teams to make decisions. This removes the organizational bottleneck of decision making and enables work to get done faster. Management hold teams accountable for results, but teams are empowered to make decisions.

Agile training can help managers understand their role in an agile product-driven organization. They will learn how to let go of control and start coaching. Sir John Whitmore, author of coaching for performance, defines coaching as “unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance” (Whitmore, J, 2017).

Develop technical acumen for business leaders. Business leaders today must have technical acumen, this is the new normal. Business and technology work together as one. Technology leaders also need to have strong business acumen. More and more we are seeing the need for technology leaders to step up and lead beyond their role in IT. Leaders with strong technical and business acumen are best positioned to lead their organization towards increased agility.

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There has never been a greater need for agility than our current era of digital transformation. By shifting to a product-oriented approach, companies can stay competitive and deliver value early and often to their customers.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is a principal IT consultant for MacIsaac Consulting, providing IT Agile and cyber security consulting.

Cybersecurity Is Top Priority For Financial Services Companies

Financial services companies are becoming more digital. With most employees working from home due to Covid-19, digital transformation is accelerating. Cyber security must be a major priority. Security teams and chief security officers (CISO’s) need to put measures in place to protect against cyber-attacks. Since the Covid-19 outbreak there has been a surge in phishing, fraud schemes, and third-party cybercrimes. The uptick in cybercrime for financial services companies is described by the New York State Department of Financial Services.

Even before Covid hit, most financial service companies were increasing their spending on cybersecurity. End point security, identity and access management (IAM), and cyber monitoring are among top investments. To protect against cyber threats, financial service companies are implementing new technologies. The cloud has been a top technology investment for large financial institutions. Data analytics and automation are also top investment priorities for cybersecurity.

One of the biggest challenges with cyber security projects if finding supporting talent. Deloitte recently published a report that goes into detail about the talent shortage in cyber security. I have experienced this firsthand managing digital security projects. Finding top digital security talent is very challenging.

If your company needs support for you cyber security projects, MacIsaac Consulting can help. We are skilled and certified digital security consultants who provide support for identity and access management (IAM) and privileged access management projects. We have done implementations for technologies including SailPoint IIQ, ForgeRock, and CyberArk.

Do not waste time putting your company at risk. In a post Covid word, cyber threats are only increasing, especially for financial services companies. For more on how we can help, contact us. We are here to be your trusted cyber security partner.

MacIsaac Consulting is proud to be minority (MBE) and woman owned (WBENC) certified!

Mike MacIsaac is a principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Follow Mike @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to the MacIsaac Consulting blog.

MacIsaac Consulting is Proud To Be Minority Owned

Tere MacIsaac – Owner, CEO & President

MacIsaac Consulting is proud to be certified as a minority owned business by the North Central Minority Supplier Development Council (NCMSDC). We are also proud to be certified as a woman owned business  by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC).

Our Capabilities

MacIsaac Consulting is an IT consulting firm that specializes in Agile consulting and Digital Security.

Agile Consulting – We teach companies how to deliver products to market faster by using Agile frameworks such as Scrum, SAFe and Kanban. Our certified Agile consultants can provide coaching at the enterprise or team level. We also provide Agile Scrum Masters, Program/Project managers, delivery leads and developers.

Digital Security – We provide digital security consulting, specializing in Identity and Access Management (IAM). Our consultants are have delivered large scale IAM projects for large financial services organizations. We have specific expertise with SailPoint IIQ implementations. In the wake of Covid-19, we recognize the importance of digital security and we help companies safely secure their user access and data.

Company History

Since 2016 we have supported many companies with their Agile IT and digital security needs. Our consultants show companies how to break down barriers that impede agility. We teach our clients how to deliver value early and often through small cross-functional teams. Our core values are trust, commitment and results.

Our Leadership Team

Tere MacIsaac – Owner, CEO & President
BS, Mathematics
University of Philippines
Mike MacIsaac – Vice President
MBA, PMP, A-CSM, Bethel University
Business Certificate of Excellence, Carlson School of Management,
Ryan Shea
Agile & DevOps Delivery Lead
BA, CPPM, PMI-ACP, University of Minnesota
Kerry Ann MacIsaac
Board Member & Adviser
​BA, Business Administration, Villanova University

Reach out and connect with us. We are more interested in building relationships founded in trust than trying to sell services.

Contact Information

MacIsaac Consulting

5201 Eden Ave Suite 300, Edina, MN 55436

info@MacIsaacConsulting.com

Phone: 612-670-9204

Office Space in Grandview Square - Serviced Offices | Regus US
Company Office Location in Edina MN

How To Destroy an Agile Transformation In 3 Easy Steps

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Agile transformation continues to be a goal for many organizations. The old sequential approach to product delivery (Waterfall) is no longer adequate. To respond to change and compete with the speed of globalization, companies must move to an Agile model. The goal to improve agility is not limited to the tech industry. Financial services, retail, healthcare, and many others are all on board with Agile.

Many companies find the shift to Agile difficult. As a consultant, I know the challenges firsthand. Some of the problems are more difficult than others. For example, companies with a culture at odds with Agile values is a major problem. No number of Agile consultants will be able to come in and change a company’s culture. Other, more avoidable problems are due to managerial decisions.

This article is about how management can destroy an Agile transformation in three easy steps. To be clear, this is what not to do.

1- Put a non-Agile person in charge of the Agile transformation

I know this sounds ridiculous, but I have seen it happen many times. A CEO, who does not understand Agile, provides a bucket of money to a senior leader, usually in IT. The CEO says, go off and do that Agile thing you keep talking about. Unfortunately, the CEO does not realize that they put the wrong person in charge. It is difficult for people who spent their whole career working in a traditional Waterfall setting to change their mindset. They might claim on the outside that they are for Agile, but often their behavior conflicts.

There is no surer way to destroy an Agile transformation than to put a Waterfall person in charge. My recommendation to companies is to create a new position for the role of the Agile leader. Look within the company to find the right person, someone with an Agile mindset, to fill the role. If the right person does not exist within the company, then hire one from outside.

2 – Keep using a balanced matrix organizational structure

The balanced matrix organizational structure is suitable for Waterfall, not Agile.  Agile is about using stable cross functional product delivery teams. Work gets flowed through the teams, as opposed to forming teams around work. Agile organizations use a Product delivery model, not a Project model. For more on how the balanced matrix organization conflicts with Agile, see my post “Why Middle Management Is The Ultimate Agility Killer“. For more on the importance of changing from a Project to Product model, see my post “Why Product Focus Is So Important“.

3 – Force teams to use specific tools and processes

In Agile, individuals and interactions are valued more than processes and tools. The traditional PMO mindset loves processes and tools. Some of the clients I have worked with would have meetings upon meetings discussing processes. You need processes but PMOs bogged down with processes and bureaucracy kill agility. The same is true with tools. Forcing all teams to use the same tool, like Jira or VersionOne, is not good. Often management will want teams to use the same tool for reporting purposes. This is wrong because Agile teams need to be empowered and have autonomy.

Summary

If you want to improve your chances of having a successful Agile transformation, do the following. 1) Put someone in charge of the transformation who has an Agile mindset. Do not use someone who has worked their whole career using Waterfall. 2) Do away with the balanced matrix organizational structure. Put in place stable product delivery teams with single line management structures. Start delivering using a product model instead of a project model. 3) Let teams be autonomous, do not impose rigid compliance to processes and tools.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

3 Ways To Improve Cyber Security In Wake of Covid-19

From an increase in online shopping to entire workforce’s working from home, cyber security if more important than ever. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced corporate technology executives to focus on protection.

Shankar Arumugavela, CIO of Verizon’s Communications Inc states “The three things that keep me up at night are credential thefts using phishing attacks and malware, the threat of social-engineering attacks to manipulate customers and employees into divulging confidential or personal information, and third-party risk management to prevent malicious actors from infiltrating our network via our partners’ systems.”

Shankar’s concerns are well founded. In response to Covid-19 there have been major spikes in fraud and online scams. Consumers are being targeted using phishing. IT systems have been under increased hacking attacks. The FBI has reported a 300% increase in cybercrimes since the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic (The Hill).

To deal with these increased threats, here are three ways to improve cyber security:

  1. Review and communicate data security policies and practices. Employees are your companies first line of defense. Review and update data security policies to ensure they are compatible with a remote work setup. Communicate data security policies to your employees and send frequent reminders to employees about data security best practices while working from home. Remind employees to be diligent in their review of emails before opening links or attachments, and to report phishing attempts as soon as possible once discovered.
  1. Tighten up IAM (Identity and Access Management). Limit access to protected and confidential information. Consider restricting employee access to confidential and protected information on a role-specific basis. This will ensure employees have access to only the information needed to complete their specific duties. It is important not only to protect the perimeter of systems, but also the underlying data. You must be asking the who, what, where, why and how for every attempt to gain access to your critical data. This requires relentless authentication. For more on the importance of identity and access management, see my post “IAM is more important than ever
  1. Use strengthened VPN access. To the extent possible, encourage employees to work using a virtual private network (VPN). This will provide an extra layer of protection to your company’s information. Put in place multifactor authentication for VPN access, IP address whitelisting, limits on remote desktop protocol (RDP) access and added scrutiny of remote network connections.

In the wake of Covid-19, improved cyber security needs to be top priority. CIO’s and technology executives must lead the effort to protect their systems, users, and data. All it takes is one breach to compromise an entire system and cause a crisis.

About the Author:Mike MacIsaac is a principal IT consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. MacIsaac Consulting, based out of Minneapolis MN, provides IT Agile delivery consulting and staffing.

Leadership

Tech Companies are Pioneering How to Work Remotely

In the wake of the coronavirus, Facebook and Twitter have announced plans to enable their entire work force to work remote. These tech companies are pioneers for a new model of work in a post coronavirus world. Companies in all industries should take note. The pandemic is forcing an accelerated adoption of remote work. Paul Daugherty, chief technology for Accenture said that “This will be an electric shock to the system. Companies are on the hook to rethink the work experience, and the work tools, for their cocooning employees”.

Most companies treat their current remote work as a temporary solution to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. This mindset needs to change. Companies need an intentional work from home model, not temporary mitigation. IT executives must reassess priorities to ensure the right IT tools are in place for their organization.

Darren Murph, head of remote at GitLab inc says “IT leaders should be setting up tools and processes as if everyone at their company is remote, with clear explanations of how tools should be used”. The focus needs to be on the employee digital experience. Network monitoring is also crucial to ensure that IT systems and applications are performing well.

This new model of sustained remote work is not all about technology. We also need to focus on employee well-being. Since the start of the pandemic, more employees are suffering from meeting fatigue. Christie Struckman of research firm Gartner Inc, states “Many employees say they are having at least double the number of meetings compared with before the pandemic”. Leaders must trust and empower employees to get work done, without micromanaging or having constant meetings.

In the coming months, we should see companies begin allowing some percentage of their work force return to the office. Hopefully, it will not be long before a vaccine is in place. Yet, it is important that company leaders not treat remote work as temporary. What is to say that a second wave of the virus will not occur? Or what if some other pandemic or external crisis hits us down the road? The future of work is here and leaders from all industries should take note from Twitter and Facebook. An intentional remote work model may be required for survival.

About the Author:Mike MacIsaac is a principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. MacIsaac Consulting, based out of Minneapolis MN, provides IT Agile delivery consulting and staffing.

5 Tips For Managing Projects During the Pandemic

The Coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we live. People are doing everything they can to adjust to the challenges of working from home. Distracted by kids and dealing with video connection issues is part of everyday life. Across the country, people working from home are dealing with stress and anxiety overload.

For project managers, this way of working is particularly challenging. Project management is all about fostering collaboration and communication. Not having the ability to meet in person is a killer. To add to this dilemma, most project managers are expected to hit their original project goals.

To help navigate these challenges, here are 5 tips for project managers:

  1. Trust your team members – The natural tendency for project managers during this crisis is to grip down on team members. It may feel counter intuitive but give your team members space and trust that they will complete their tasks. If you foster a sense of trust within the team people will deliver results.
  1. Use team working agreements – If your project team doesn’t have a working agreement, now is the time to create one. As a team you should agree and commit to how you will work together during this difficult time. You may agree that everyone should be available and working online by 9AM. You may agree that between 2-4PM, there will be no meetings to allow heads down working time. These are examples. It’s important that everyone on the team commits to a working agreement. For more on team agreements, check out this video.
  1. Use a tool like Hipchat or Slack – Chat tools like Hipchat or Slack are great for times like this. A chat tool gives you a virtual way to collaborate with your team. These tools go beyond instant messaging. Having a dedicated chat room for your team is like being in an agile pod with your team. The chat room is open all day for anyone to pop a question out to the team.
  1. Call and text people, but only when necessary – For project managers, having the ability to call or text people is critical, but use caution. Unless it’s critical, try not to call or text your team members. Instead, schedule times for calls or use email. People are under a lot of stress and having a project manager hound them with text messages and calls is only making matters worse.
  1. Only deliver high value scope – Put a hyper focus on backlog prioritization. Work with your product owner to ensure you are only working on the highest priority items. Now is not the time to be working on low value bells and whistles. Only commit to the high value items only during this difficult time.

Summary – We are going through an unprecedented time and everyone is under stress. Do what you can to empathize with your team and allow them to work at their own pace. Put a team working agreement in place and use chat tools to collaborate online. Do not micromanage. If you promote a healthy culture on your team and lead with empathy, you and your project will get through this.

About the Author:Mike MacIsaac is a principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. MacIsaac Consulting, based out of Minneapolis MN, provides IT Agile delivery consulting and staffing.

MacIsaac Consulting Is Proud To Be a Women’s Certified Business!

Tere MacIsaac – CEO & President of MacIsaac Consulting

MacIsaac Consulting is now proud to be certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC).

Our consultants show companies how to break down barriers that impede agility. We teach our clients how to deliver value early and often through small cross-functional teams.  We also staff the very best IT talent including Scrum Masters/PMs, BAs, Developers, QA and more.

For more about MacIsaac Consulting and our services, click here.

Now Is The Time To Lead With Empathy and Compassion

We are living through unprecedented times. The Coronavirus pandemic is something we thought we would witness only in movies. Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe how it feels. Markets are crashing, businesses are closing, and supermarket shelves are emptying. The term social distancing is now a regular part of our vocabulary.

In the blink of an eye, corporations have been forced to manage entire workforce’s remotely. This presents management with a tidal wave of new issues to deal with. Networks can’t handle traffic; work prioritization is chaotic, and communications are disrupted.

While we deal with this crisis, here is a message for managers (particularly of large corporations):

Now is the time to lead with empathy and compassion.

The number one priority for people is to take care of themselves and their families, period. Yes, businesses need to continue to operate, but if we don’t take care of our employees, companies will pay the price. This is not the time to grip down and pressure employees. Many people are dealing with the added burden of childcare.

Corporate contingency plans should focus on continuing mission critical operations, while considering what employees are dealing with at home.

Treating the health and safety of employees as the number one priority will benefit businesses the most.

About the Author:Mike MacIsaac is a principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. MacIsaac Consulting, based out of Minneapolis MN, provides IT Agile delivery consulting and staffing.

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Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to the MacIsaac Consulting blog.

Agile Mindset – Why ‘Product’ Focus is so important

One of the most challenging aspects of Agile adoption is changing from a project mindset to a ‘product’ mindset. What’s the difference between the two? The below pictures outline the contrast between a project and product focus.

A product focus is about stable cross-functional agile teams. Project work can flow through the teams, but the teams stay intact. These teams deliver value early and often through short iterations. There are great benefits in the product focus model. “Organizations can focus on building IT products that delight and engage users and deliver desired business outcomes rather than bog themselves down in traditional project-oriented success metrics.” (Lebeaux, 2019, WSJ)

For more on the product model, check out Martin Fowler’s article Products over Projects.

Companies with large PMOs struggle to adopt the product model the most. They want to be Agile but won’t let go of Waterfall. They are riddled with layers of bureaucracy, hierarchy, reporting and management. This combined with divided functional areas prevent them from changing.

For these organizations, we advise their leadership to take three basic steps. First, they need to take Agile training. Leadership must understand the difference between a project and a product focus. Many companies make the mistake of sending only team members to Agile training. Leaders need to learn that they can measure success based on the value their products deliver to customers, rather than on project milestones.

Second, leaders needs to decide on whether their organization is ready to move away from a project focus. If the organization is not ready, that’s okay. The problem is when companies try adopting Agile while still using a PMO/project model. Remember, the key to agility is changing the mindset and embracing an adaptive approach. Don’t mistake using tools like VersionOne or putting stickies on a board (although those things are fine) as becoming agile. The real change happens at a mindset and culture level.

If the decision is to move to a product focus, the third step is to take action. This is when it’s time to make organization structure changes. Leadership, along with outside guidance, must decide on what changes to make. It’s also their responsibility to put the right people in the right seats.

Summary

If your leadership needs education or guidance, contact us because we can help. It won’t be easy, but many companies are finding that it’s worth it to make the change. By changing from a project management mindset to a product-oriented approach, companies can define success according to the areas that matter to users and design software that delights their customers.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is a c0-founder and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. MacIsaac Consulting, based out of Minneapolis MN, provides IT Agile delivery consulting and staffing.

Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

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