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.
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.
12 7 / 2012
09 6 / 2012
02 6 / 2012
28 5 / 2012
The upcoming series of my Tokyo journal would be really challenging. Not only that I would arrive armed with preconceived notion of what Japan was like after living in Tokyo for two years, but also to see how Japan stack up against China.
I thought I arrived in in the future but why do ATM look like this? To say that this is a bad User Experience was an understatement. I still don’t get where the disconnect is. What about all the minimalist Zen-like approach? Why do a lot of Japanese websites (or apps) have horrible User Interface? Why do Tokyo metro still hasn’t improve its user experience in transferring between lines?
This was my first return to Tokyo in which I am no longer a Vegan, which means I could finally sample all those sushi and sashimi. Still, being a non meat-eater is very challenging in Japan especially when the cuisine is less diverse compared to Chinese in terms of vegetables or let’s say, warm food that doesn’t wriggle its body parts nor requiring public beheading.
Getting from Narita to Akasaka was quite uneventful, the limousine bus was definitely the better choice than getting on the Shinkasen. Taking Taxi, however, was another story, especially if your driver is an elderly Japanese woman who hardly speaks any English. This was when I realized that my Japanese has become practically non-existent. Broken-Japanese aside, I managed to get to where I need to be relatively unscathed.
28 5 / 2012
Shaun Rein delivered some interesting insights on what the End of Cheap China means from brand perspective as well as spending habit of the Chinese middle and wealthy class.
The use of ‘hour glass shape’ analogy to describe Chinese spending trends is particularly refreshing. They are willing to spend a lot of money at the top of the hour glass when they see value which is why you see secretaries making $800 USD (RMB5,000) a month buying $1000 Gucci bags. But these same secretaries will shop at the bottom of the hour glass, and be very price sensitive, on product categories that they do not see as adding value, such as nail clippers. Brands that are either at the top of the value chain, or offer price sensitive options will do well. For the moment, brands that are in the middle of the hour glass, like a GAP or Marks & Spencer fail to do well. They are not cheap enough to appeal to price sensitive habits but do not offer enough value to consumers. More over, using —pardon the racist comment here— using black people in their ad campaign (GAP) or providing mostly size 12 and above for clothing lines (Mark & Spencer), are not something that Chinese aspire to see themselves in.
In this case, I’d have to agree with Shaun that more middle brand positions will do better in the coming decades, but for the next three years that middle range will not do well.
More about the End of Cheap China from manufacturing point of view is thoughtfully written in The Economist’s latest edition here.
I chose to skip the afternoon session by Dirk Lenowski and attending TED Shanghai instead. Turned out to be a good decision on my part. As luck would have it, this year TED was actually curated by TED organizer themselves, hence the reason why Chris Anderson was there. This year theme was focus on CHINA.
Although TED brought wonderfully diverse group of speakers and performers, it was also subject to some mediocre contents. Here’s some that I found particularly inspiring and relevant to innovation and creativity in China that worth spreading:
- Richard Brown, showcasing a low cost PC @TED Shanghai for the first time. Unlike various other cheap PC on the market, the APC was able to play hi-def video while performing fast booting process. Users will immediately seen the minimalist desktop with Search Bar available on the top by default. Compared to its predecessor, that pioneered the One Laptop Per Child programme at $100 a piece, this Android-powered PC will be retailed half the price at $49.
- Liu Bo Lin, a.k.a. The Invisible Man. One thing that strikes me about his works were his attention to detail that bordering to obsessive. As former OCD, this is the kind of quality I could relate to. His artworks was his protest against the Chinese government from shutting down his studio back in 2005 as attempt to silence his voice.
- He Feng, founder of Demo Hour, something akin to Kickstarter. Through crowd sourcing, Demo Hour was able to fund the development of Dalan Youth Hostel in Tibet province to cater to young travelers on shoestring budget.
- David Li, founder of Hacker Space Shanghai, the first of its kind in China, delivers challenging notion on how Shanzai culture can contribute to innovation for young tech entrepreneur who believes that iteration is the mother of all invention.
- Andrew Yu, founder of 1kg project, who believes in the power that millions of people taking small steps can change the world, or “democratization of participation”. The idea is to encourage people to take some small gifts to country kids on their trips. There are over 800 schools with registered information at the 1KG website, all uploaded and maintained by the community. More info about the project, also see TEDx1kg support.
- Stephen Chow on The Poverty Line, challenging the question of ‘what it means to be poor’ through photography and data visualization.
More videos on TED Shanghai talks will be available online for free by end of June 2012. I had to admit that this year TED Shanghai delivered much superior quality in terms of content, diversity and quality of Speakers. I recalled my disappointment upon attending the first TED in Shanghai and Beijing. Not only was the event packed by foreigners but to add in salt to injury, they were presenting works that were far from relevant to China.
However, I have yet to see when TED becomes less elitist and show more guts in showcasing contents that are not only provocative but also against populist mainstream.
28 5 / 2012
One thing I dislike is doing anything obscure without knowing the objectives. Writing a daily journal for Asia Module fall on this category. I simply failed to see the reason behind the assignment. And allow me to stress the word ‘obscure’ here, because I know that certain assignment carries some merits, whether we like it or not.
Are we going to get grade on this journal? If so, based on what metrics? Diary writing is a very subjective thing. But let’s say we entertain the idea that there will be no grading for this assignment, but instead there will be post where all journals will be shared. Now, that I can live with. At the very least, I’d be curious to read what others wrote on their daily journal. However, if I’m going to spend my time writing this journal only to be filed and forgotten in some dusty hard disk, then tell me now so I won’t waste my time doing so.
I’ve decided that from this moment on, for the sake of minimizing my criticism on mediocrity, I will limit my alphanumeric input on this school journal strictly to session(s) that actually manage to gain my attention. Those that are free of jargons, outdated viewpoints and shallow analysis.
Having said that, I will start by skipping the session held at JWT Shanghai. I disagree with a lot of points that Tom Doctoroff said in his presentation, which was probably done by some interns judging by the mediocre content it delivers. One thing that I’d like to single out was again the fact that him and Kitty Lun repeatedly said about lack of creative talent in China that can lead/direct in high profile position. That’s nonsense, but of course it took some frogs to prove my points.
As Mario van der Meulen, Creative Director at frog Shanghai, stressed out that we need to be involved when it comes to finding, mentoring and nurturing creative talents in China. There’s no lack of creative talent out there if we know where and how to search for them. And to their credits, frog was the first (and only) firm during the Berlin School Shanghai module that actually involved a Chinese Art Director in their session. Proving the notion that Chinese-led creative position is not a myth. And if I may second this, at Trigger Shanghai, the top three leading position in Design, Technology and Project Management are all led by Chinese. Through years of mentoring and nurturing, this is not an impossibility.
Wednesday is always my geeky day, and since sharing is caring, I decided to invite some classmates to the Hacker Space Shanghai and introduce them to the young makers and thinkers on the ground. As luck would have it, Wednesday is where hackers, makers and thinkers share and showcasing what they’ve been working on. We had one of our classmate, Axel Quack, showcasing what FabLab Germany has worked on. It’s incredibly awesome that creativity and passion for open source technology can be shared across boundary.
One word to connect them. Geek.
(top) Yes, people apparently knows how to queue in China. Session at JWT.
(bottom) Session at frog Shanghai. Axel (left) presenting at HackerSpace, followed by Chinese dinner 在保罗 in which the night is not complete without sampling some Chinese liquor.
22 5 / 2012
For some inexplicable reasons I always drawn toward stories of failures, misunderstood heroes, and the underdogs. Call it whatever you like but winning stories are dull. They are less inspiring as it only tells you victorious moments. And frankly, there’s only so much you can learn from success stories. Tragic heroes always sounds better.
Steve Jobs’ saga would’ve been just an ordinary success story had he never been fired and ousted from the company he started. Robert Downey Jr. would’ve been just another failed Hollywood actor had it not for his climb back to fame. His was probably the biggest come-back story Hollywood ever had. And frankly, they made much better story than simply records of triumphs.
And who can tells stories better than advertisers? They’re selling bullshit for a living. And was it a little wonder that they edit their narrative in telling their most important moments to focus on chronological victories after victories? I want to hear struggle. I want to hear what wasn’t said. I want to hear what their silent means.
Prof. Slocum always had a way to challenge our thinking approach with his somewhat rather quirky assignment that usually seems easy at first pass. I was off. And I found this challenging as I was rarely wrong (haha!). I must admit that I’m not good at reading people. However living in country like China made me learnt how to listen. And boy, was that hard or what.
This was why the Research Work session was particularly insightful, and definitely relevant for our thesis. Interviewing people is not easy. Not just because coming up with ‘intelligent’ question is hard, but getting past the superficial layer and connect with your subject… now that’s a challenge.
Several key takeaways that I found useful when doing research work (interview) were:
- Be aware of a narrative that exclusively focus on triumphs only. Find out what past obstacles, failures, struggles they committed and how they came back from it.
- Disrupt their narrative. What were their shortcomings, their fall from grace, get past the barrier of ‘nicely’ construct narrative.
- Look for body language cue and use moment(s) of pause to ask about past failures. Seek for an opening. And let the silence do the heavy lifting.
(left) taken @Boxing Cat Brewery, Sinan Mansion, Shanghai
(top right) water calligraphy @Fuxing Park, Shanghai
(bottom right) view from SWFC a.k.a. the bottle opener tower
21 5 / 2012
I tried to be less skeptical and giving the benefit of the doubt when it comes to anything related to advertising, specifically the big ad agencies. I failed.
My biggest disappointment, and this is going to sound horrible and I probably (most definitely) offend a lot of people, was the fact that the school session was heavily focus on advertising industry. And at the risk of sounding arrogant, I have very little respect on anyone coming from the big ad agencies. They’re all idiots until proven otherwise.
Now, I’m not saying they aren’t smart judging by the buzz they were able to generate (sales results of their ad work is another issues, by the way). But let’s imagine for a second… all those smart minds if directed and focused properly to do more meaningful work other than selling yet another soda or burgers? Mind blowing.
One thing that I kept hearing was about lack of talent in China. This, I must respectfully disagree with all speakers from the ad agencies. There are plenty of them, great ones, if they only look at the right place. And the arrogance thinking that no Chinese locals are good enough to lead in director level for creative position is simply nonsense. I found this condescending.
The day would’ve been a total lost had it not been for the frogs. I might be a little biased but I genuinely thought that they know their craft and use it well to learn and understand China. frog framework in dissecting what it means to be ‘on the ground’ that is China was refreshingly inspiring. Free from jargons and big words the frogs went for the real. And theirs was the first session in which you actually get to talk to Chinese Creative Lead.
Are you listening here, ad agencies? If you need talents, you go for it. You train and mentor them. Get involve in the local education scenes. Not just play the dumb game and take the easy way out (by hiring foreigners and believing that they will do better job than locals).
But then again maybe those guys (ad agencies) were right about one thing. Maybe lack of talent in advertising industry is an issue. But could it be because the smart and the crazy ones won’t even bother to work for them? Just ask those brilliant young Chinese who presented their innovative creation @TED Shanghai. Need I say more?
(left) 上海汪汪大厦 @Jing’an district Shanghai)
(right) Shanghai Marriage Market (weekends only)
14 5 / 2012
Day one @BerlinSchool was started by (surprisingly) interesting lecture by Dick van Motman, President & CEO of Greater China DDB.
Having very low opinion on advertising industry in general (yea, there I said it!), especially from foreign MNCs ad agencies in China, I was highly skeptical that this would be an exception. China has witnessed many fail stories (one more spectacular than others) of ad agencies trying to find their luck in the middle kingdom. They (ad agencies) may not admit it, but deep down they know that they’re not performing as good as they wanted to be.
However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there’s an exception to every rules.
To his credits, Dick van Motman is a brilliant and interesting speaker (many smart people are in fact terrible at public speaking), however, I was middy disappointed by his rather shallow presentation that merely skimming the surface. I felt like, after living nearly 7+ years in China, I wanted to be surprised. Show me something I don’t know.
I lost count on how many times I was amazed at the level of ignorance that I encountered in many top management executives of renowned foreign firms in Shanghai. Never mind the fact that most of them don’t even speak Mandarin (I become more forgiving these days about this particular subject), but their sheer ignorance of what makes China ‘China’ was simply…. amazing.
I did, however, appreciate when Van Motman fluently describe his challenges of running a business and team in China. This, I could relate to. Yes, the scale of his responsibilities were ten times larger (if not more) than mine, but the underlying sentiments were profoundly similar. That managing mix-culture team in country like China definitely ain’t for the faint of heart.
I found myself groping my way around trying to navigate the complexity of Chinese culture, the multi-layered meanings of every words and gestures, and the total chaos of its day to day social dynamic. And to hear that others experience similar challenges (again, not in the same magnitude) was a relief to me. Some kind of endorsement that I’ve been doing not too shabby. Oh, I’ve made mistakes, alright. But I’d be damned if I ain’t learn from them. Living in China has been both humbling and exhilarating experience at the same time.
to be continued…
13 5 / 2012
1. There’s no other city in Europe that parties harder than Berlin. — Clubs are not required to close at a fixed time on the weekends, and many parties last well into the morning, or all weekend
2. One of the greenest city in Europe. 60% of its area is either a park or a river.—It has even more bridges than Venice.
3. SonntagFrühtück, or Sunday Brunch, is an all day event!
4. Berlin is home to more than 153+ museums (not to mention independent galleries), 50+ theatres,3 major opera houses! And 7 symphonies! That means you can go to one museum, enjoy a play, a musical or a performing arts almost every week in a year and still has plenty more to do!
5. Twelve restaurants in Berlin have been included into the Michelin guide, which ranks the city at the top for the number of its restaurants having this distinction in Germany.
Berlin ist arm, aber sexy… ^_^