All posts by jonathanvw

Extreme Ownership in Agile Teams


I think this article hit some really relevant notes for me today. I operate in a service oriented software business (for the most part) where we are given work by our clients to complete and hand off back to them. I’m still pretty green here, but as far as I know it is the norm that they give us a feature list to complete in the best way possible rather than a problem to solve. As an organization striving to do scrum well, and one I am encouraging to be extreme owners, we are having a disconnect here somewhere. We need to change the conversation, and change the value we are delivering. We DO deliver valuable features, but how much more value could we deliver if we were given some latitude to solve the problems rather than just follow marching orders.

I think there are two major hurdles to extreme ownership, and this may be a bit patronizing to say but: 1) The company offering the services needs to have a genuine culture of empowering their teams to fully own the relationship and 2) The client needs to hand over some degree of control and offer more transparency so that the service provider can know what problems to solve and have the room to solve them. For smaller nimble companies this is a lot easier as there is less risk and you are accountable to a smaller body. For large companies, this introduces a degree of risk… leaning more heavily on an outside party and giving them more “permissions” which could disrupt your usual business. These larger businesses are typically risk averse and want stability over innovation.

Why is that though? Should that be the norm? CEO’s are accountable to boards who are accountable to share holders who want a maximum return on their investment. Short term mindedness will mean a mild setback such as a bad deployment could result in a small stock drop. This happening repeatedly could result in lost confidence and a more long term irreversible change. If this were comparing apples to apples for delivery… you’d take the more stable approach and hold onto your slow but steady gains. But the deliverables in these two scenarios are not the same. One is an apple, and the other could be a cider mill, an apple pie stand, or a butter knife — something totally non-analogous but the “best” thing to do. The first iteration of that butter knife could be a flop, but the fifth version could be a game changer setting that company apart from its competitors. This can only be achieved if the engineers you pay dearly for are given the empowerment to solve the problems, to own the space, and to even pursue new experimental endeavors in that space for that client. THAT is where a service providing company can bring some REAL value. At that point, the business model might look a little different such as a joint venture or a licensing structure rather than a simple SOW contract. It might get more complicated, but the alternative means you won’t be innovating, you will eventually be cutout of the the picture by someone who is willing to innovate, or you’ll be beaten by attrition as the ambitious problem solvers leave your mundane company to go work directly for your clients who no longer need you.

Trendspotting: Zoomy Parallax

Here is a new twist on a widely used technique: zooming parallax. The basic parallax scrolling effect can be seen widely peppering the internet. The effect is now overused and abused unnecessarily. When used in moderation it can be a more subtle touch that adds value rather than take away from the user’s experience. At the heart of the effect is a good motive: to give the user a perception of depth… an experience that is more than flat images, flat text, or flat videos. As you scroll your mind interprets the different motion rates of the layers as depth… with one layer closer than the other. This was great the first time we saw it… and second… and third… but it gets old when its applied at every turn. I’m not the only one who is looking for other new avenues to evoke similar sensations. I’ve been noticing a new trend of using “zoom” instead of a different scroll rate to add dimension to a website. Here is a simple example showcasing the idea.

In this example, the zoom happens slowly and steadily whether the user is scrolling or not. I found it humorous and worthy of a nod.

So, when in Rome, do as the Romans do… just do it with a subtle twist and make it your own.


A new collection

Whether in evernote, browser bookmarks across 3 browsers and 4 computers, notes scratched on post it notes, or logged into my phones note app, I have a wide collection of inspiration sources that I rarely reference. ?Evernote is a great capturing tool, but I don’t use it to peruse some of my old thoughts visually or in a decently organized fashion– most likely because I haven’t taken the time to read the “manual” and just use it as a cloud note taking app.

Nevertheless, I will start collecting some inspiration tidbits from here and there and posting them here to my personal blog for myself and others to reference if you so desire. ?If nothing else it will be a catalog of my influences.

The Review:

First up is the website. ?I haven’t yet used the service so I won’t be talking to that. ?Instead I am just digging the subtleties of the website’s landing page namely. ?It is using some “trendy” things that won’t last the test of time, but it is for the most part doing so in a subdued fashion that I appreciate. ?It just gives a nod to the trends, and doesn’t lean heavily on them to make up for a lack of good content.

Case in point: the parallax effect. ?They are using one and ONLY ONE instance of the parallax effect that is so prevalent today in many “modern” sites. ?It was pointed out to me recently that the parallax effect is actually quite old hat when it comes to webdesign– apparently there was an older implementation not using modern css that though much more complicated would have a similar effect (I could not find an old example so if you happen to know one let me know and I will post the link for others). ?I like that it is only used as sparingly as possible and it is simple.

The second trend I spotted of note is the right hand side bullet scroll navigation. ?I first saw this on the new apple website where they featured their new mac pro. ?I don’t think this hurts the site’s ui, other than adding visual clutter. ?It is not really useful as a click to get to x navigation as the user isn’t sure what bullet goes where until you hover over it, which is not very useful unless you already are very familiar with the site.

Lastly, they have a three tiered subscription model, and have displayed them as visual “step” with each step being a bit larger than the previous. ?Nothing extraordinary here, but just a nice touch to communicate visually that I don’t see very often.

Also of note is the vertical scroll button that scrolls you through the different section of the site. ?Fun to use, but most likely the designer is having way more fun with it than the end user. So a lesson I learn over and over can summarize the successes and stumbles of this site: Less > More