Sense Making, Customer Success

Balance customer success at scale with high touch when new demand spikes

I’m extremely lucky to work in a space that supports remote working, where demand is booming. COVID-19 has driven demand in the opposite direction for many, effecting their very existing. For the lucky few, it can also be something of a double edged sword. Supporting your customers the right way regardless, is crucial.

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Dharma Hacker, Future of Work, Sense Making

How to respond to global challenges mindfully and the 3 stakeholders in success

The title of this post is hopefully not too oblique and its clear I’m referring in part, to the challenge of our time – COVID-19. And when I say mindfully, my principle context is the practice of meditation, where paying attention is key. By paying attention you become more aware. You become more concentrated and achieve states of natural clarity. All the better to manage responses (or non responses) to circumstances effectively. By stakeholders I mean the individual and groups, like organisations and broader societies.

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As a Service, Dharma Hacker, Sense Making

Zen and the right view of cloud technologies

On the path to the cloud, just as in life (as the Buddha would have us understand), one must submit our most cherished assumptions to rigorous questioning. We would make better decisions if we were clearer about the foundations of our own thinking. Cloud technology is a vast subject and this post tackles just a few assumptions, in the spirit of the DharmaHacker.

I am not presuming to have all the right views by any means and this post is also not going to tackle all aspects of this vast subject. Just the right few based on some recent conversations 😁

Firstly there are three clouds to speak of and I will focus mainly on the one that is normally atop a pyramid or stack: Software as a Service. The other two are Platform as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service.

Do a search for more on this because there are many good views but I like this one from Giva because of its simplicity and my sympathy with their philosophy, notwithstanding the fact they accredit Rackspace with the original definition. For the sake of easy reference I’ve pasted it below:

SaaS is on the top of the stack because users interact primarily with software hosted on the cloud, and not the platform or infrastructure on which it runs. PaaS allows users to create and deploy applications. IaaS is simply the infrastructure and hardware that powers the cloud.

It also serves to make an important point I often emphasis with colleagues at the moment.

Where I work (Microsoft) there is a huge transformation underway on our journey to the cloud. There is much emphasis on our ever expanding set of cloud services that form part of Azure at Microsoft. Microsoft 365, the productivity cloud that fits into the top SaaS tier where I focus, sometimes gets short shrift because of the drive to expand usage of the underlying tiers.

I often emphasise the point made in the Rackspace definition about users.

It’s the users, stupid

Not only that, it’s the business. I don’t mean to underplay the importance of getting the foundational tiers up and running and operational for customers. This has to be properly in place.

But it is in the top tier where users are active and driving business outcomes that matter most. Whether on a pre-existing SaaS platform or on applications developed on top of the foundational tiers, you have to be focusing on what users are using, why and to what end. Everything else is secondary. Most importantly, this use in the top tier also drives use in the others.

And even when use is by a thing, as in IoT, it is still about who is using the output of all data generated in the IoT activity and to what business end is it being put that matters.

How SaaS works

A separate view I have to address is based on another conversation I had. It was in relation to digital transformation and the role parts of the business need to take in making it successful, like HR. It was also about using SaaS platforms to support the transformation and the role they played. A quote from an article was used to kickstart the conversation with someone from HR – article here, quote below: Digital Transformation is a Workforce Transformation and HR Must Assume a Leadership Role.

For digital transformation to succeed, internal processes need to follow the customer experience, not the other way around. This often results in radical changes such as the dismantling of processes and functional roles, as well as the demand for new skills and capabilities to meet evolving customer demands.

Based on the persons recent experience, their view was that:

HR processes have to squeeze into the new software configuration that due to high configuration costs can’t be modified to fit the desired process. Through implementation it becomes the tail wagging dog”.

My response, verbatim:

Firstly, in terms of the customer experience and internal processes referred to in the article, I see it as a cyclical process – captured in a doodle below.

“Then I think with cloud software (as a service) where you don’t run the software yourself, configuration (strictly speaking, its customisation) is not possible because all customers use the same version. This is opposed to when you ran an own version of the software on premise and could customise it to your hearts content to meet desired processes. That was costly and not just due to customisation effort.

The value in the cloud SaaS model is that you benefit from the feedback of many customers in frequently released versions of the software, with new features that meet the needs of most customers. Innovation can be focused on by applying technology to meet the majority of evolving business needs, instead of focusing on highly specialised solutions that take a long time to build and are costly to maintain and upgrade.

Not all clouds are viewed equally it seems. Let’s hope all generally end up with a silver lining though, whatever your view.

Future of Work, Sense Making

Half life of information and necessary rate of learning

I’ve just recently completed a series of certifications and learning modules for work. This is in addition to the training we have to do every year. It’s a lot of learning and pretty challenging alongside your day job.

That’s the point. It’s part of Microsoft’s (where I work) emphasis on a growth mindset since it focuses on the way you relate your sense of self to a challenge. My sense of self has risen immeasurably since taking on the challenge I can tell you and I am relishing it even more as I move forward.

The growth mindset theory popularised by Carol Dweck encompasses many aspects in addition to how you tackle challenges. One of them is the belief that your abilities can be developed, through learning for example (as long as you have a growth mindset).

Continuous learning is especially critical in an age of tech intensity which Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also believes we are in, as I wrote about here: Tech Intensity and the Adaptive Organisation.

Learning refresh cycles

So coming full circle to my doodle. If continuous learning is the order of the day, how long before your past learning becomes redundant?

I caught myself in self congratulatory mode after finishing my recent certification thinking I couldn’t get too comfortable in the knowledge my learning was done for that subject.

A great piece on the theory of the half life of information ponders what the current rate of decay of knowledge is.

With my recent certification which was on Azure Fundamentals, I was pretty sure that things were changing so fast, I’d have to relearn things in less than a year.

My doodle posits that a year is the average time it takes for knowledge to be made redundant and then new learning needs to kick in. Of course this will vary by subject and industry.

What do you think?

Future of Work, Sense Making, Startup Innovation

Workplace collaboration on fire but distribution uneven

Some interesting articles and research have just been published about this exploding market. This is where it started for me: Mapping Workplace Collaboration Startups.

That article as the title suggests, focuses on startups. I haven’t even heard of many of the companies/tools. It got me thinking they are either very early stage or niche products. I tried to make some sense and created this doodle.

I’m not saying this is the way to define the market, for the moment it was just a way to make sense of where the batch of startups in that first article fell. As you can see, I’m suggesting they are for early adopters and small companies, startups themselves probably.

The post rightfully points out the dominance of the big players like Microsoft and Google with their suites. Which led me to think about another big factor on which one could slice the market: best of breed versus suites or bundled solutions like Office 365.

These are clearly dominant players but here too its debateable where these would fit. I would say O365 predominantly with large customers and with over 200 million active users is probably in the upper right quadrant. Google’s G Suite perhaps lower down in that quadrant.

Playing a positioning game in this fast moving market is pretty ambiguous. Having said that I have played it before: Thought rocket: state of enterprise collaboration.

The first article linked to has done a pretty good job of slicing the market up into categories. Admittedly the focus is “private companies that rely on network-driven growth rather than enterprise sales.”

Positioning games aside, that article also mentioned a “report from Zapier on remote work which found that 74% of American knowledge workers would quit their jobs to work remotely. Since only 3% of American workers in 2017 worked from home, there’s a huge, aspirational gap between today and the future of work.” That, if it is to be believed as a driver of workplace collaboration and extrapolated to the rest of the world, says there is still huge amounts of growth to go.

Another interesting report just out is from Okta: Businesses @ Work 2020: New Decade, New Apps, and New Ways to Work.

This article touches on the best of breed versus suite debate and also gives a nod to startups and incumbents. But the real point of this article is it’s focus on Apps and not just the ready made ones provided by startups and incumbents alike.

This year, the number of apps per customer is up 6% from last year — 10% of our customers now use 200 apps or more to power productive, secure collaboration.

I’m pretty sure a lot of those Apps are custom built. What this points to is the increasing number of companies that are providing App development platforms. Like Microsoft’s Power Apps but more broadly Azure, AWS, Google Cloud Platform, etc. Another interesting point from the Okta report:

App FOMO is real: More so than ever before, customers are “double-dipping” by purchasing best-of-breed apps in addition to bundles. 78% of Okta’s Office 365 customers have adopted one or more best-of-breed apps with the same functionality as the Office 365 suite, up from 76% last year. When it comes to the trade-off between a centralized provider and individual solutions, functionality, ease of use, and employee needs come first.

All of which leads to an even greater explosion. I don’t believe any of this is actually helping productivity, possibly even hindering, if improved productivity is even something you should target. I doubt that as I’ve written about here: Why selling productivity is hard and what to focus on instead.

Customer Success, Sense Making, Startup Innovation

Why selling productivity is hard and what to focus on instead

David Sacks who founded Yammer (the original enterprise social network) alongside Adam Pisoni, knows what it takes to build a business or two. He nailed it in this tweet from the other day:

Having worked at Yammer and been in the productivity game for a while now, I absolutely concur. I have always maintained that focusing on something as generic as improved productivity is not going to cut it🔪 Not in sales, nor customer success. Neither will focus on technology and feature or functions do. I’ve written about this before:

The two alternatives to focusing on productivity and their relative merits and challenges are discussed below:

Bottom-up freemium groundswell

Sacks is the master of this tactic. Yammer was predicated on making it easy for users to try Yammer for free, invite other users to try it and then start the groundswell needed to convince IT they couldn’t shut it down.

This is hard to do well. It depends a lot on the usability and virality of the product. The first is about getting users excited to use the product to such an extent that they want to share it with others.

Especially with products that rely on social collaboration, virality is probably built in because you cannot collaborate alone.

Building massively attractive products is also not easy but is made easier depending on how new the proposition is. These days with so much competition in enterprise software, that is really difficult.

From a people change effort, building a groundswell from the bottom up is also really heard in certain cases. Like when there isn’t an initial spark from product attractiveness or demand or it goes against the grain of the current company culture.

Solving a business pain

For me this is the more worthwhile alternative, at least in enterprise software. Its also not easy to do but if you nail it, you convince the people with the purse strings 💰 This is an eventual hurdle you need to overcome, may as well do it upfront.

Solving a business pain often means working outside of IT and that is often the first challenge. Ideally, you have business users that have come to the product through the viral groundswell 😁

If the business is engaged, whether through some initial use or not, on understanding how a product can solve problems or address opportunities, the battle is two thirds done 💥

Deep understanding of the environment the business operates in and mapping that to the use of technology is needed.

The more you focus on leaders in each business domain, the better. Although you can can also focus on regular business users and how they use technology currently and could do to meet their needs. Showing this to business decision makers will nail it 🔨

As a Service, Customer Success, Sense Making

The product customer success cycle

This DanelDoodle pretty much speaks for itself but just a few added notes. The feedback loop is the critical element for success (aside from the obvious one – the customer/user being at the centre of everything).

A good feedback loop is not an easy thing to build so the simplicity of the diagram belies the effort. Feedback loops should incorporate many things, the most impart being, in summary:

  1. A good reporting interface into how customers and users are using the product that both product development and customer success teams have access to and share insights from in terms of how outcomes can be improved. This should include both quantitative data as well as qualitative, e.g. survey responses.
  2. A feedback loop between customer success teams and product development teams where the former bring field insights to the latter and these influence new feature development. Conversely, new feature ideas can be shared by product development teams and discussed with customer success teams before they are developed further. A good collaboration system will help with this.
  3. A similar reporting interface as above for the customer (those responsible for end users) so they gain insights into how the product/s are being used. This should include an element that allows the customer to build their own reports and feedback loops which I have hacked solutions around (covered here and here).
Sense Making

Thought rocket: arc of change and bending reality

As the year closes on a challenging 2019 this brief retrospective on my InnerVentures is preparation for 2020. If it shines a light for anyone else then I am grateful 🙏

I’ve been at the game of workplace change a long time now and sometimes I get despondent. I weary at the lack of change I see or the setbacks I observe.

Other times I’m geed up by the possibilities from the positive outcomes I experience.

Then I remember a quote from His Holiness the Dalai Lama that puts it all into perspective for me.

“It’s too early to tell”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama on being asked about the impact of the French Revolution

Perspective is such a valuable tool.

It allows you to neither be lulled into a false sense of satisfaction or security by the overly positive changes you see (like the frog in boiling water). Nor feel too discouraged by the negative ones.

Detachment from results is key. It’s all about the journey and sometimes the steps are more backward than forward, or they veer off course.

All of which is fine and doesn’t mean to say we should not strive.

At Microsoft where I work, our CEO Satya Nadella speaks of (and I paraphrase), the distance between what the espoused culture is and what the lived experience is. The distance is what you want to keep working at, reducing it, removing impediments. We’re not perfect. We may never be perfect. But every day we work at it. That’s the journey we are on.

I love this perspective because that is also how we should live our lives and a key principle of InnerVentures (i.e. the interplay between our working and personal lives and how they are inseparable).

Step by step, day by day, striving to be a little better. Shining a little more light. Handling setbacks with equanimity.

The right perspective leads to the right awareness and this needs to be maintained constantly. Without constant awareness of our actions and the reality they create every day, we lose sight of the goal and the journey we are on.

Perspective also helps with the perseverance needed to overcome challenges. Perseverance requires equal parts commitment to purpose and detachment from results. Commitment to purpose keeps us moving forward into the attitudes and activities that serve to fulfil it. Detachment from results keeps us from becoming frustrated and discouraged when things don’t immediately work out as we had hoped.

Helpful tools on your InnerVentures

Stepping back and viewing events with an aspect of eternity makes a difficult present easier to understand and bear. It also creates an awareness of real impact that can encourage and drive us to change our future.

May your InnerVentures be filled with perspective, awareness and perseverance in 2020 👓 🔦 👊

Future of Work, Sense Making

Effective Meetings and Collaboration at work and Microsoft Teams

I’m often frustrated with how meetings are misused and ineffective at work. I know I’m not alone 😬

I think a whole lot more thought needs to go into things before a meeting is held and included in that is whether virtual collaboration could do the job in place of a meeting.

At some point a meeting may very well be necessary and even a face to face one at that, which is best for driving certain outcomes at times.

By virtual collaboration by the way, I am also thinking of effective working out loud.

I read a really good article on Harvard Business Review: Do You Really Need to Hold That Meeting? It had a great decision flowchart which you will see in the article.

I decided to take that a little further and extend that into how Microsoft Teams which I am currently using heavily at work (in my work and in supporting customers to use it successfully) can be used. Here is the result below:

Click to view larger image

Not sure I’ve quite nailed it yet. So in the working out loud spirit, if you have any feedback that you think would make this better, please let me have it 🙏 😆

PS: the definition of Hell in the featured image is mine and I’ve created an entry on Urban Dictionary for a laugh – vote for it if you agree (but mostly for some irreverent fun😜 ). Find the entry from here.

Dharma Hacker, Sense Making

Homo Deus and the cosmic dance between humans, mind and machine

I’ve just come back from holiday where I read Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari.

It focuses on many things and chiefly the direction is forward looking, as opposed to his first book, Homo Sapiens, which looked backward from whence we have come.

One aspect I was fascinated by was his account of the recognised decoupling of consciousness and intelligence and how this might play out in the future given the rise of “machines” and their impact on humans.

With machines and technology getting bad press of late, I thought it would be useful to highlight the positives that I see.

It’s very much in line with my take on Dharma Hacking – more below.

I created a #daneldoodle of course, to summarise my thinking. Here it is:

And some added notes to elaborate:

Why the Dharma Hacking in the title? There is more here on what it is but essentially it is based on the the interplay between humans finding our way, developing our mental capacity (especially consciousness) and using technology to help.

We have only just scratched the surface in terms of expanding our known mental states and utilising our super consciousness.

Technology, far from being the bogey man that it currently is, can greatly help us get there.

It plays its role (intelligence), we play ours (consciousness), in a unique cosmic dance of creativity.

In this past post (The post robotic AI age and the role of creativity and innovation) I think I was somewhat deluded in my belief of what will distinguish humans based on their unique skills in the future. Intelligent technology will be able to master these skills and are already (see next point) but it will be advanced levels of consciousness (super consciousness) that will be our unique differentiators.

AI and Super AI is already doing credibly well with being creative and innovative. Check out the comments in this video I uploaded a while ago of famed theoretical physicist and futurist, Michio Kaku (you’ll need to view the video on YouTube for that). He also it appears, was deluded.

How technology will help us develop our consciousness and to what ends is outlined in some of the elements I position in the doodle. Essentially it is between the island on which we currently find ourselves with our known mental states and the antipodes of the mind as I call them. I’m not sure what these supporting roles and end states all are yet but I will be exploring further – watch this space 😊