26 3 / 2013
Agile project management framework is not a new thing. It has been around for more than a decade yet the adoption rate outside the software development circle is few and far in between. I called this resistance: ‘Can’t Change, Won’t Change.’ It is about what I found in recent exposure amongst those who works in the advertising service industry, particularly inside the big players. Call it a temporary lost of sanity, but back in the day when I also worked in the same industry, I knew firsthand that the company that I worked for didn’t adopt Agile. I doubt they even know the existence of the methodology at that time.
It is one thing to talk the game of being Agile with capital ‘A’, but in truth the efforts that many organizations put into was in a very small ‘a’. At best, it is a lip service. At worst, most of those advertising airheads never even heard of Agile. Daily stand-up meetings were in fact, a sit-downs. And instead of the recommended 10-15 minutes time cap, it was regularly overtaken by production issues, project management tasks, and run for almost an hour. In their opinion, Agile adoption is a complete waste of time, because they don’t make product, and their work cycle certainly doesn’t involve any prototype development that lead to any tangible output. They did not have time for user story boards, nor did their employees really want to stick paper and/or post-it onto any type of board. Ideation is not a transparent activity that is openly invite feedback, or god forbid, critiques.
The heart was not in to begin with. There was a lack of space for the team to stick papers anywhere, especially if the organization host themselves in one of those modern building architecture with working space divided by cubicles. Their game was just to rely heavily on selected key people and basically bark command at the juniors staff to do the menial work. There was a distant lack of motivation, opportunity or innovation to extend the electronic task board beyond the machine.
That was many moons ago. I was hoping things change. Sad to say, it did not. Most people I know who works in a traditional design/marketing/advertising agency are accustomed to ‘waterfall’ process, in which the whole project is planned out beforehand with detailed scope and budget guidelines. Then, it is broken into stages/phases requiring deliverables, reviews, sign-offs, and so on. They have used to that method for ages, and it sucks. The only reason for all the scope documents are so the agency and client can argue with each other later who did something wrong when the problem could have been solved early on by simply talking instead of worrying about an exhausting paper trail.
Why would they stick with a methodology based on the antiquated notion that we can accurately predict and plan for the future? How do you even know the full scope and possible risk of a project when you haven’t even start it? A lot could happen between the project kick-off and while it is in full swing. Predicting a sure bet that thing will go as planned is an exercise in futility. That may have worked 20-30 years ago, but the world has change. The industry simply moves far too fast for the Jurassic method to be effective now. Design/marketing projects evolve too fast ~ competition, wide array of new technology, changing trends, etc. ~ to accurately plan it all out from the get go. They need a methodology that is lean, nimble, flexible, and able to respond quickly; a framework that facilitate the team to pivot and iterating as necessary during the course of the project. In a word: Agile.
Now where am I going with this ramble?
I guess this is merely my expression of disappointment in my latest business class programme where Agile methodology was taught. My first reaction to it was, fuck it. I’m going to skip the class. Not only that I am familiar with Agile but also have using the methodology for years. If you work in video game industry like I do in the past 7 years, then you know that in this industry we can’t afford not to go Agile. Iteration and flexibility to pivot midway are essential in our work stream. A typical video game project usually never outlined in minutiae details or scenarios from the beginning, instead we got the big picture and the end game. The rest, we figure things out as we go and if we fail, we fail fast and iterate accordingly. So back to my class… my curiosity gets the better of me and I decided to stay and allowed myself to be sucked into what I know would be a no fun zone working with people who knows nothing about Agile. Now, I am not saying that it’s bad to work with newbie. In some cases, it could be a rewarding experience; especially if they’re open minded and willing to embrace or try something new. But when it is the opposite, then having a root canal sans anesthesia is more preferable than this.
You would think that putting a room of ‘creative people’ would make a difference. But boy, if I could bottle all the negativity, skepticism and resistance around me, I would be rich. In short, a group assignment with those who lacks motivation was pure hell.
But if there’s any learning I could take it was how to deal with mediocrity. How to tolerate it yet not being sucked into it, and simply bite your tongue all in the name of ‘not rocking the boat’. That the team was more important, that surviving the assignment while still keeping the friendship should be in the top list. Agile after all is about human interaction, if nothing else. It wasn’t easy though. And the only excuse I made myself that day was because it was just for school. But dammit, it was hard.
My only critique to the professor was the way he introduced Agile. If I were him, I would make it my business to know my audience. Rather than going full throttle in day one with vague description of Agile, I would start by outlining the pros and cons between the dinosaurs that is ‘Waterfall process’ and Agile. The use case in the class doesn’t help winning the naysayer either. I mean, seriously, how are you going to shed a light to people to adopt Agile if the example on how to use the framework is ‘How Agile Helped Me Dissolving My Marriage in Amicable Way’*. What…? No. Seriously! Really? That’s the best that you can come up with, Professor? Little wonder many of my classmates were skeptical to the point of disregarding the methodology all together. Mastering your game is one thing, but knowing the audience wins you miles. This is empathy in action. So professor, next time choose a better example.
13 3 / 2013
How twelve angry men taught me the power of persuasion
I watched Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men for the first time when I was in my 2nd year into my undergraduate programme. I need a cross discipline subject that will earned me some extra credits but without the boredom of doing it. I opted for Film Production; a two-semester course taught by an aging professor whose name escaped me. Word has it that the professor was part of Alfred Hitchcock’s film crew, so the course can’t be too shabby. And it wasn’t. I mean, what can be better (read: easier) than spending your days at the school theatre and watching movie after movie and calling it ‘studying’. Right? Wrong. It wasn’t a walk in the park.
I had to admit that I was skeptical about the film selections we had to watch, digest, review and discuss. None of them from any director I knew, and nearly all of it was in black & white. Some just had a lot of singing in it. In other word, I was an ignorant brat when it comes to classical films. But all that changed when the professor screened 12 Angry Men, a movie adaption from a play of the same title. I was hooked, lined and sinker.
12 Angry Men is probably one of the finest suspense films I have ever seen. Tightly wound, unforeseeable and densely atmospheric (if not downright claustrophobic), it was a milestone in the history of minimalist filmmaking. Despite the almost non-existent budget of mere $343,000, the film was a flop in its initial release (probably why I never heard of it at that time); it was then nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Writing for adapted screenplay.
At the time, we watched the film from purely cinematographic point of view. No specific message or instructions were particularly given to us on ‘how to watch’ it. Still I was at awe on how the director managed to captivate the audience throughout the entire settings simply through dialogues and intense plot cleverly interwoven with conflict of interests amongst its characters. Only a stone-hearted sonofabitch could fail to be moved watching Henry Fonda slowly, methodically sway 11 other jurors, one by one, employing only reason, compassion, and common sense as weapons. Brilliant as this movie might be though had someone told me then that it would become a classic pedagogic reference in prominent business schools for negotiation course, I’d have skeptically raised an eyebrow.
Imagine my surprise when the Berlin School guest lecturer, Professor Seth Freeman, screened the same film during the ‘Negotiation and Decision Making’ course…. many moons later. How could this film be relevant to what we need to learn, you ask? Well, in what probably one of the most interesting classes I ever attend at the school, Professor Freeman discussed the critical moments in the movie and what they can teach us about negotiation strategies. The classic film is about 12 jurors deliberating a seemingly open and shut murder case involving an 18-year old kid accused of killing his father. The only juror (Henry Fonda) to vote not guilty makes the question of guilt or innocence not about what he believes but reframes the question to ask “are we sure there’s no more to talk about here?” As they continue to talk, doubts about the defendant’s guilt are raised and the jurors slowly start to change their votes. In the chaos of deliberations, he doesn’t attempt to sway those vehemently opposed to his vote, but rather uses their prejudices and misconceptions to change the votes of the other jurors. His actions are processed focused, showing that he has the capacity to navigate waters and build alliances.
Now I shan’t recount every single moment and spoiled the twist and plot for those who has yet to see the film, but allow me to at least say if there ever was such a technically flawless film, then this is it. One of the main messages of 12 Angry Men is that the judicial system (at least American judicial system that was used then) is a flawed one. It criticizes it with elegant subtlety, while at the same time cleverly exploring the dialogue and motives. Top this with Boris Kaufman’s remarkable cinematography, with its prolonged takes and constant close-ups, makes a particularly astute way of using the black & white medium to strengthen the growth of the plot.
With the exception of some of the earlier scenes and the ending, the whole film is set in a claustrophobic New York jury room during the hottest day of the year. You could argue that the scenographic limitations might potentially harm the film, or make it tedious. Yet, 12 Angry Men is clearly a film that turns its restraints into its superlative assists. There was not a moment in its entire running time where I was not compelled to what was going on, where the constant debates between the men did not interest me; rather, the film gets you hooked from the get go. In such a small room, it’s amazing at how so many things can occur, so many things can be said (or left unsaid) — and how the life of someone depends on them. Fury, jealously, pride, prejudice and frustration all emerge in this film, and it seems as if they’re inevitable. However, the film underlines all this by saying that sometimes oversimplification of the methods is a bad thing; just because there’s some apparent evidence doesn’t mean someone is really guilty. Or as Sherlock Holmes would put it, “things aren’t always what it seems to be.”
As the plot and twist in the film unfold, I can see how 12 Angry Men greatly resonate with how we navigate the winding alley of negotiation in real life; and why there’s an art to it. Just like Juror #8, superbly played by Fonda, who carefully listen the flurry of arguments and observe every emotional play from other jurors, the key ingredients to a successful negotiation is about focusing on interest, not positions or demands, then reconcile or satisfy them with creative options.
Interest is all about the reason why people wanted what they say, or think they want. Interest-based negotiation approach (always) reveals hidden opportunities; and at times gives you a glimpse to the motives of the other party that will lend you some insights and be more emphatic to their cause. It is easier for you to convince others to let you serve them with an interest-based approach. Listen and listen carefully, is another key thing. Pay attention to every objections, omissions (what left unsaid); and carefully weight the implication of every choices made. On top of that, doing factual research is always useful, although I’d say that this is important in almost any situation. Level the playing field by learning what makes the other party thick, and this will enable you to make an educated, tentative guess at what your opponent want. At certain point, try to reveal something to certain extent. Don’t play all your cards in one go but always willing to share something, usually about your own needs, to show that you’re willing to meet them halfway. And always invite discussion of options after you’ve discussed interests.
Although in the case of 12 Angry Men, juror #8 is the only person who stands firm to his ground and does not change his opinion. We can always argue whether his point of view is the righteous one, or the probability that the kid might actually be guilty; but if you set that aside for a moment and ask yourself… if the odds are 11 to 1, what would your decision be? Would you go along with the majority’s decision or take the risk and influence the rest?
It is awe-inspiring (and a wee bit odd) that 12 Angry Men remains thoroughly captivating, even though all but three minutes of it was filmed in the same room. This is what cinema is all about — acting. It’s not about the illusion of grandeur propelled by more special F/X or mere pixel pushing. It is the full male, twelve men cast whom, with their fleshed out characters, different psychologies and varying ideas, keep the film afloat.
05 3 / 2013
Seriously… ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’
We’ll recruit a representative chicken panel and probe their attitudes toward crossing the road.
Not my problem. I just have to convince the chicken to come to our side of the road, it’s up to customer service to keep her there.
If we had a CRM system that truly met our needs, I would have known the chicken was dissatisfied, and presented her with a save offer.
CREDIT AND COLLECTIONS
The chicken didn’t give us 30 days written notice that she was going to cross the road, so she will still have to pay for the month of October.
Too many chickens are migrating to the other side of the road. We need to create a new side of the road.
MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS
Our recommendation is to buy the other side of the road.
We can buy the other side of the road as long as we can close it and merge it with our existing side of the road operations.
Let’s get a consultant in here who’s knowledgeable about migratory chickens.
We can’t afford the liability. Effective immediately, all chickens are prohibited from crossing the road for any reason.
05 3 / 2013
Agile scenario explained in a joke of ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’
THE BUSINESS ANALYST
I have twelve meetings today, I don’t have time to get into the whole user story. But I can tell you it involves a rooster on a distributed team.
SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGER
So the chicken can check in and oust the Mayor of the Other Side of the Road.
THE AGILE PROJECT MANAGER
The chicken is just not going to be able to cross the road this month. Crossing requirements were due last Friday. She will have to take her place on the backlog. Maybe the chicken can cross the road in Sprint 9.
We’ll need to get some tags on that chicken to be able to tell you that.
THE BUSINESS OWNER
Because I have three other business initiatives riding on the chicken being on the other side of the road that were supposed to start six weeks ago. You’re killing me.
The question isn’t why the chicken crossed the road. The question is why the chicken felt she had to cross the road. If a coop’s usability issues won’t allow chickens to complete their egg-laying tasks, they’ll bail that coop and find another one that will.
Because the requirements said so. The trebuchet was the most efficient method. Oh, she had to get to the other side alive? Where was that in the requirements?
Let’s iterate, people. Let’s get the chicken to the center line today, and we’ll talk about the rest of the way tomorrow.
03 2 / 2013
31 1 / 2013
"Only he who can see the invisible can do the impossible."
31 1 / 2013
29 1 / 2013
28 1 / 2013
If time could be rewind and the past is accessible for a visit, then Harlem 1958 would definitely be on my ‘to go’ list.
It was summer. And a group portrait of 57 notable jazz musicians were photographed by Art Kane, a freelance photographer for the Esquire. Titled as ‘A Great Day in Harlem’, this photograph is still considered as the greatest picture of that era of musicians ever taken.
I was fortunate enough to stumble upon the location where the photographed was taken.
27 1 / 2013
It has been a while since I allow myself the luxury of self-reflection. No grand excuses I could offer other than series of daily endeavor all adults must undertake, work.
I’m counting on days full of adventures ahead of me.
And to show how optimistic I am, I will let Paul Auster have the last word:
“In the end, each life is no more than the sum of contingent facts, a chronicle of chance intersections, of ﬂukes, of random events that divulge nothing but their own lack of purpose.”
12 7 / 2012
09 6 / 2012
09 6 / 2012
Today’s session was the last one before wrapping up the Asia Module the next day, and we had Dentsu to thank for hosting us. Stepping into the headquarter of Japan’s largest ad agency was pretty staggering sight. Looking at how Dentsu Tower dwarf the surrounding buildings from the outside was one thing (see photo on the left above), but it wasn’t until I stepped inside it that I finally grasped the enormity of the company size. Hosting 5000+ employee into a single dwelling was definitely not a small feat.
Now then, I live in China, a country of superlatives, and this means I should no longer be awed by any tower anymore… after all we have hundreds of those in Shanghai alone; still this was pretty impressive. We were then whisked upward through its fast capsule elevator, and for a brief second I honestly wish to see something like a mothership of some sort. Anything that would closely resemblance the illustration above once we stepped out of the lift…
To pick up where I left off on previous note about Necomimi… after series of cool demo by Dentsu Kaoru Sugano, I was pretty psyched about the cute gadget and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. And through serendipity and sheer luck, I managed to get one as a present from my new friends from Dentsu. These series of photos below demonstrate the fun we had when trying out Necomimi. The sensor were pretty responsive even though I wasn’t sure what kind of metric the gadget use to track brain activity. I would love to see some more information on this, especially since the device didn’t always work on everyone — despite numerous reset. I couldn’t help but wonder on why the gadget failed in this case. Was it due to lack of brain activity? Because if so, then maybe just maybe we could use Necomimi to identify Zombie amongst us, which of course key to survival in post-apocalptic zombie world :-)
Biometric tracking, in fact isn’t new. Video game companies have use similar method for play-testing their games in the past three to five years. The sensor were usually attached using similar method like Necomimi (sans ears), which then tracked player’s heartbeat and brainwave during gameplay. With biometric sensor, we can track several things at once and gather some valuable feedback on players’ attention and engagement in every level of gameplay. On top of that, the sensor would also able to pick up data on which particular scene that player attention started to waver, which game mechanic they enjoyed the most, what kind of challenge were most enjoyable and so on.
Principally it has similar mechanic to Necomimi except that this DIY prototype tracks not only your brainwave but also heartbeat at the same time then animate the result via some heart-shape LED sensors. The more focus you are, the more solid heart you get. And the dotted LED lights will blink according to your heartbeat rate, faster as you become more engaged and slower as you slowly lose focus. Pretty geeky, huh?
Following the Otaku session soon afterward was the introduction to Japanese pop culture creation from the ground up, literally.
The buzz around AKB48, a 92-member girl band, was just insane. At the risk of committing social suicide, I had to admit that I went to their concert back in 2010 at Tokyo Dome. And no, I was not a fan. In fact I had no idea who they were at the time. I simply went as a standup for a friend who couldn’t make it to the show (no really!). And there I was smacked in the middle of thousands teenage girls and boys as well as — this part is rather disturbing — loads of middle age men… all joyously screaming the lyric of Sakura no Hanabiratachi.
The universe might be laughing at this point as I tried to forget about this particular act of temporary insanity to the far back corner of my mind. Alas, here I am reliving the experience by watching some videos of AKB48 concerts during my MBA class.
What I found interesting was the kind of rag-to-riches story that started AKB48. Okay, perhaps that was not quite the right analogy since clearly the pop group was formed with heavy commercialism in mind. Nevertheless the idea of giving ordinary girls a shot at fame is pretty appealing. The voting system itself is pretty egalitarian, meaning that every fans will have a say to pick the group member. While other pop groups were carefully picked, auditioned and trained before launching their debut, AKB48 is a pop-stars process in the making.
This, in my humble opinion, is iteration at its best. Many would disagree with my viewpoint, but if you think for a moment… As a fan, would you not want to have a say in the progress and dynamic of your favorite bands? Fan access and participation are definitely key to AKB48 success in engaging the masses and use it to their advantage. Forget about shallow social media connection, this is the real thing. Fans could vote only if they buy CD (does anyone still buy CD these days?), meet and greet, plus… get this, having the chance to perform or appear in their music videos. Okay, which fans will not be sold on this?
Remember that we’re talking to young audiences here, more specifically teenagers. They wanted different things. In their mind, this is the epitome of self-identification. Yes, it might be shallow. Yes, it is disturbing to see slightly older men cheering on them. Yes, this is exploitation at its crudest. Yes, the line between sexy and cute are blurred here. The list go on. But these objections would, I’m sure, fell on deaf ears to millions of their fans. And to top the scale, due to sheer popularity of AKB48, similar sister groups started to mushrooms in Nagoya, Jakarta (JKT48), SDN48 (spin off of AKB formed by its former member), and widely received in their respective home base.
On top of that, because of AKB voting system, any ordinary girls from any part of Japan could potentially have a chance to be ‘someone’. Never mind if that someone is nothing as inspiring as being a rocket scientist, but still it’s something. I may not agree on this view on personal level, but for most teenagers who aspires to be a pop star the opportunity is few and far between. And to most, such aspiration usually end up merely as pipe dream. That is until AKB48 came along and completely change the game.
It is interesting to see the reaction on AKB48 phenomenon from western perspective. Almost unanimously some of us perceived AKB48 simply as exploitation of teenage girls as sex symbol that disturbingly caters to the masses of older men. Although one has to be very daft not to notice the school girl uniform, I had to nod in agreement in this case. For one thing, I could never understand where Japanese draw the line between cute and sexy. But if this cute/sexy approach seems to yield enormous success not only in Japan but also worldwide, then allow me to tease by throwing this question,”which one should be judged more, the one who created AKB48 or those who actually endorse them?” Food for thought!
However, set aside the socio-morality topic… if we could focus on the fact that this is merely a shallow pop culture creation and money making machine, then I’d say AKB48 business model and its value proposition clearly worked wonder. Granted their hits won’t win any western award anytime soon but if one really listen to their song, their lyrics were anything but shallow. Some were actually carried pretty dark theme which actually went against their cute girlie looks of AKB singers. If that’s not enough contradiction at its most extreme, I don’t know what is. I’m sure, one way or another, they’d wise up and outgrow their AKB-ism, but until then let them have their ticket to fame. Even for a little while…
09 6 / 2012
08 6 / 2012