In late 2016 one of my business partners Lee Ditiangkin contacted me excited. He was keen to introduce me to AgileCraft, a small startup based outside Austin who were avid agilists looking to change the world by creating a software management suite to support scaled software development. The team were tackling a challenge dear to my heart, and doing it by living the principles they believed the customers of their product needed to practice, and are sorely lacking in our industry. I simply had to meet them.
Lee has held many roles in all sorts of companies—from Apple to AppDynamics to Automation Anywhere. We collaborate often, compliment each other’s skills and share a common belief in the role of great leadership in creating high performance organizations. He has a knack for finding outstanding leaders and products, and the team at AgileCraft exceeded even his high expectations of potential.
I liked Steve Elliot, CEO and co-founder of AgileCraft, from the moment I met him. Humble, hungry and smart were the words he used to describe the culture he wanted to create, and every single person I’ve met there is. He would continuously say that passionate problem solving comes from necessity and realized other companies were experiencing the same challenges he faced in previous roles as a CTO and VP of Product of analytics platforms while trying to run, grow, invest in and adapt his business.
We had a shared purpose to create better technology-led businesses, systems of work and strategies to help leaders achieve the results they are looking for. He was looking for someone interested to challenge his thinking. I’m always looking for challenges that look interesting.
Advising Ambitious Organizations
Effectively advising companies, coaching leaders and challenging executive teams all comes down to what I call collaboration fit. –Tweet This
It’s not about one side serving the other, it’s about finding the right balance of the skills someone needs and the capabilities someone else can offer to find a fit for the current situation. It’s a two-way street, a collaboration and partnership to get the best out of each other. Steve knew what he needed, and I, Lee and later others knew what we could (and more importantly couldn’t) offer to help him get there.
One of my mantras is THINK BIG, start small, learn fast. It’s a principle I apply to exploring uncertainty to learn and unlearn as needed. It’s important to think big about the aspirations or outcomes you hope to achieve together, but counterintuitively, the best way to tackle big is to start small. Identify and create opportunities to learn fast if your ‘think big’ hypothesis is true by using small, fast and safe-to-fail experiments to get there.
Building relationships, rapport and simply finding out if you have collaboration fit with people is no different. We were thinking big about the vision AgileCraft wanted to achieve, how we could work together to get there and what success might be—but started small, by finding fast feedback opportunities to work together and test if our collaboration, skills and capabilities were the right fit to get there.
Steve came to a workshop I hosted in New York to learn how he could both help his customers and apply the same lessons at AgileCraft. Later we ran webinars and wrote white papers together on topics like portfolio management, product development and the concept of Value Engineering—including lessons we learned on how to define outcome-based metrics to build value statements, and improve visibility and investment accountability across organizations.
Each step allowed us to learn fast about one another, build rapport, and discover new information on how we could help each other and achieve our shared purpose of helping technology-led businesses innovate at scale—and most importantly of all—have fun along the way!
These experiments eventually led Steve to create an Advisory Board inviting myself, Lee and subsequently Eric Ries to join. The advisory board members serve as strategic partners in the development and success of AgileCraft’s short-term and long-term goals, providing expertise and guidance for continued success and growth. “We have ambitious goals to revolutionize how strategic portfolio management and value delivery are executed in the enterprise,” said Steve when he announced the board. “As we bring this capability to the market, we are excited to partner with world-renowned thought leaders who are passionate about driving agility in the modern enterprise.” We were excited too, and keen to go bigger.
Working with the team at AgileCraft—especially Kyle Byrd—to showcase (and dog food) the concept of Value Engineering for Outcome-based Bets has been one of the highlights of our collaboration.
Value Engineering is an outcome-based approach to product strategy and development that favors learning via rapid experimentation, and uses the information gathered to inform further product investment decisions. –Tweet This
It’s a system to develop hypotheses, set and commit to a disciplined set of success criteria and perform quick and cheap experiments to glean information that immediately informs the next product investment decision. Above all, it’s a mindset shift at all levels that favors outcome-based measures of success, safe-to-fail experimentation and learning fast and early from customers, instead of sticking to a plan, budget or scope that may be out of date by the time the work is completed.
Applying Value Engineering highlighted one key concept that needs to be unlearned in both the business and software industry.
When it comes to investments in new innovations, most organizations expect to get a “thing”, a functional end product that—hopefully—meets customer needs and generates revenue. With Value Engineering, the new “thing” is new information and knowledge. –Tweet This
We invest in experiments to gather data to inform our approach, effectively paying for information in order to allow us to make better decisions about where to invest—which also means having discipline to kill efforts that aren’t returning the value we expect. Those decisions might mean that entire products are shut down, or original ideas are pivoted entirely away from, and those decisions are seen as successes.
Seeing this system of work come to life at AgileCraft (and ATPCO)—from paper prototypes, to pilots and portfolio management functionality—has been extremely satisfying to witness and is a huge differentiator for their culture and platform compared with other players in the market.
Make Software Great Again
Connecting Jira Software, Trello, Jira Service Desk and AgileCraft together provides the foundation and building blocks for an organization to drive a modern digital enterprise, ultimately giving Atlassian customers choice and flexibility as they progress on their journey.
Being part of AgileCraft’s Advisory Board has been a pleasure. Nothing feels as rewarding as playing a small part to help outstanding organizations and leaders succeed. Advising a company to acquisition has been a first for me and an experience which I hope to continue. I had to unlearn contributing with output and relearn how to help others have impact—a personal breakthrough of my own.
If you’ve got a challenge that looks interesting, feel you could use some help with and are willing to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, let me know. Testing collaboration fit can be fast and fun when we think big, start small and learn fast to achieve extraordinary results, together. –Tweet This
AgileCraft Welcomes Eric Ries, Barry O’Reilly, Marc Rix, Lee Ditiangkin, and Mark Richards to its Executive Advisory Team
If you want to learn more about Value Engineering, I encourage you to watch our webinar, download our white paper, listen to the mini-podcast, and follow the AgileCraft Value Engineering showcase page on LinkedIn.
If you’re ready to jump in and get started, I’m available to speak or do a training and readiness assessment at your organization – find out more at http://barryoreilly.com/. I also encourage you to check out my books Lean Enterprise and Unlearn.
Holding Advisory Board positions in companies is exciting and fun for me. If you have an interesting challenge and feel I could help get in touch.
If you’re looking for a software solution to help you start, manage and maintain your Value Engineering experiment portfolio, AgileCraft is the only tool in the industry with this built-in, self-serve capability. Get started today at https://agilecraft.com/.