Always learning at Reason. The best skills and training to deliver digital products in 2020

December 01, 2020

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to make it up I can let you dunk over me

Jim.

Operations Director


Reason is a digital product agency based based in Hoxton, London. We’ve been working remotely since March. A big focus this year has been on how we are scaling our team in the Reason way.

We're always learning. We don't just talk about it: we do it. One of our internal values is “Always Learning”

Always Learning: We never rest. We learn from our shit (good and bad) . We take time to reflect and regularly ask how did I/we do so that we can improve.

A key pillar of learning (and Agile) is the empirical method: we do it, we inspect it, we increment.

But another pillar is training. I will explore what we’ve learnt about effective training and pull out the most impactful training Reason has recently done and why we rated it.

5 tips for embedding great training:

Not all training courses are equal. We’ve learned best from training courses that force us to sit up and take notice. Not lean back and hope to absorb. I’ve summarised what we look for in the courses and how we’ve looked to embed that training to help change and improve how we work at Reason.

  1. Bring real work not just models. Training that brings real & recent work into the conversations rather than talking in ‘models’ is much more powerful. For this reason “public” training courses have been less effective, but where we’ve been able to run private company training and can dig into our own project examples: that has been more impactful.

  2. No air-drops. Avoid air-dropping into single day training events, especially when the learning is not-self directed. When we’re looking to build up behaviours across a team, a single day of training has little long term impact. At a minimum, we look to pre-distribute materials before the training, and also check-in after the training to see how learnings have been applied. To take this further, a program that runs one-hour a fortnight for 3 months might be the ultimate way to reinforce the ideas. Tell people 3 times? If it’s critical to your business tell them 20 times.

  3. Active learning & collaboration. No one wants a training session where the trainer says “Okay I’m going to talk at you for the next 40 minutes” (or longer!). It is much more engaging to move between small activities of “here is some insight” and “talk about that insight with your colleagues in small groups”. Training that has used this model (utilising zoom break-out zooms) has been MUCH more effective and engaging for participants.

  4. Accountability groups. One of the easiest and best hacks for behaviour change or learning is to have an accountability group or buddy. Once you have a partner, things just happen. Talk about the training in small groups, connect and chat on your progress, where it’s applicable, where it’s not working. Help each other.

  5. Beware of non-self directed training: A big learning for me this year has been the huge difference in self directed learning (which has intrinsic self motivation) and company training, where participants might be willing but don’t necessarily have the fervent hunger the business desires. So we have learnt to be extremely deliberate in how we structure & re-enforce the training that matters to Reason.

Great training Reason has been through recently:

Agency Agile: Roadmapping

This training answered the questions of: How can we be most effective in:

  • Up front planning and estimation
  • Help clients buy into and understand all the work required for success (and want to pay for it)
  • Ensure great specification, understanding & alignment across teams of the work to be done

We work best when we challenge teams to work on a “pull model’ to tease out requirements when needed.

If the engineering team is frustrated by a lack of detail in specifications from the UX & Design team, then have the engineers ‘pull’ the requirements from them.

Variety Pack: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

This training answered the questions of: Are we nailing belonging, allyship, and creating safe spaces? Are we aware of our unconscious bias and how we can start to mitigate them? What are we doing about microaggressions? We say we’re nice people but really what’s our commitment here to better? Are we empathising with the lived experiences of all our employees and colleagues? Diversity & Inclusion is a journey that we’re clear we want to go on. We couldn’t recommend Frank & the Variety Pack crew enough for their deft hands in helping us move forward in an area that is so important.

Jose Casal @ Actineo: Kanban System Design

This training took us through the basics of Kanban System Design. Most people have a very simple understanding of Kanban but it’s extremely powerful not just for software engineering but for business management in general. Key highlights include:

  • From a change management perspective Kanban starts with where you are today and acknowledges you are already successful. This is very different from other Agile systems where you are “right or wrong” which doesn’t help adoption.
  • Visualise your work and your workflow. Great things come from this.
  • It brings focus on “stop starting and start finishing”
  • It brings focus on sustainability of working practices in general
  • Ultimately it helps you make good decisions earlier

There is too much to say on Kanban but I’d highly recommend getting it into your toolkit. Jose was a fantastic instructor and we're looking to spend more time with him soon.

Team Sterka: Digital Product Soft Skills

“Supercharge digital product teams with soft skills” is the tagline and Team Sterka is about doing that. Our people are our greatest asset — how might we supercharge their emotional intelligence and soft skills capability on conflict navigation, negotiation and mindset? Expertly coached by Trenton, this course is run in hour slots once a fortnight. Re-enforced by accountability groups, and other material, nothing is left to chance in giving the trainees the best chance to absorb all the knowledge on offer.

Giles Abbott: Storytelling

Reason does not always fully articulate how amazing we are at our work, and the capability we offer to our clients. Our presentations are acceptable but we don’t always tell the most compelling story when we’re talking to clients & we can have an over-reliance on decks.

Storytelling is the oldest of the art-forms — fifty centuries or more! So this foundational work is not only applicable in our work at Reason but in all parts of life.

While giving us structures & skills to improve presentation and writing skills, it also helped with confidence and adaptability.

Meaningful training I’ve personally enjoyed this year:

There is a fallacy that afflicts some “smart people” where they think: “if I can just get 2 hours timeboxed and sit by the window, I can solve this problem”. No. No. No! Whatever problem you think is unique to you, 10,000 other people have already solved it. Many of them with a better solution than you will ever come up with by yourself. If you know where to seek it, the collective wisdom will rocket-fuel your own learning journey if you tap into it in the right way.

My own key points for my learning this year:

  • Stop thinking you have to work it out yourself. Go and explore problems with other smart people.
  • Don’t always seek “the answer”. Simply explore problems with curiosity with other people. You’ll end up in new paths you could never have imagined from your starting point.
  • Enjoy the process.

With that, this is the training I’ve taken up recently.

Blair Enns: Win Without Pitching

Once again very powerful training with some key takeaways:

  • 'Value Based Pricing' is a unicorn but think of it as a forcing function to get to a pure and relentless focus on the value & outcomes your clients are looking for. Value & outcome over features & requirements will always be more powerful.
  • Don’t start with your solution in mind. Understand the vision & what success looks like for your client. Ask how you might measure that, and then the value to them. The cost & solution should be at the very end of the conversation, not where you start.
  • Reason are expert practitioners in digital product. While we have values of being good company and a good company we need to be fully confident in communicating number one: we are the experts in digital product — fullstop.

Tobias Mayer: Certified Scrum Master

Tobias might be a missing disciple if not the unloved and unwanted son of Agile. A heretic prophet always questioning not for the sake of being contrarian. But for a combination of valuing humanity, curiosity and exploration. Tobias took the cohort through a journey of the why of scrum. He is adamant there is no purpose for certification and that being a scrum master is not a title but a vocation. Heavy stuff. But I got there. It’s also been a pleasure to attend Facilitation Labs which Tobias has co-hosted. More on that below.

Noel Warnell: Facilitation Labs

This has been a revelation & is an endless source of inspiration for the improvement of my facilitation skills. There is no pre-set agenda to the sessions and the participants join the evening bringing their own activities and exercises to trial with the group. Feedback is then given separately on the exercise or activity, and then the facilitation itself. Noel has been a partner in exploring out Lightning Networking series of events too, exploring running meetups that are pure-plays on the liberating structure Impromptu Networking. It’s a bunch of thoughtful like-minded people all curious for better. A super powerful asset to have helping me.

Steve Chapman: Creative Coaching

Steve has been endlessly insightful in a coaching capacity. Through a program of playfulness, curiosity, and Gestalt psychology I’m refilled with energy and tenacity. The paradoxical theory of change states that the more you try to be something you’re not, the more you’ll stay right where you are. Change is an organic process that takes place as a side-effect of growth. Growth is what happens when we make full contact with our experience. I don’t need to become anything else: how do I become more like me? Oh dear I got heavy again.

What’s next? More exploration, more curiosity, more helping people grow.

While Reason can be endlessly introspective and we are in some ways never satisfied, we are absolutely the experts in digital product discovery & build.

We’ve accomplished a lot this year: watch out for our Levi’s story where we rapidly scaled a global roll out of a digital showroom in 12 weeks, enabling wholesale selling to continue globally through Covid.

We look forward to “levelling up” again in 2021 with more learning. We are ready.