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October 2022 Menlo Bits


Quit Trying To Be a Superchicken!
Forget the pecking order at work to maximize team potential

Rich recently had the opportunity to present at a conference in Iceland and while he was there he met fellow speaker Margaret Heffernan, the presenter of a TED talk with over four million views. In it, Margaret talks about an experiment where two groups of chickens were bred for six generations. One group was left alone and at the end of the experiment all the chickens were fat, had feathers, and had increased egg production compared to the start. For the second flock, chickens with the highest productivity (egg laying) were selectively bred to create the "superchicken" group. At the end of six generations only three chickens were left in that group; they'd pecked the rest to death. The individually productive chickens only achieved their success by suppressing the productivity of the rest.

Similar to the superchicken flock, we as a society tend to give all the resources and power to the brightest superstars to try to achieve success. Unfortunately, this often leads to aggression, dysfunction, and waste. Instead of focusing on the individuals, Margaret suggests that there's a need for social cohesion and diversity in order to achieve maximum productivity and success. As a bonus, just like the chickens in that first group, teams that focus on the group dynamic tend to have healthier, happier team members! Here at Menlo, we are known for focusing on processes, values, and a team-centric mindset over traditional KPIs for things like hiring and promotions, so we couldn't agree more with Margaret.
Watch the whole TED Talk for more tips on optimizing a group from multiple dimensions and discerning what it means to be a leader!

What Is It This Time?
Why workplace interruptions aren't actually a nuisance

"Hey, do you have a minute?"
It's the calling card of workplace interruptions. It might mean something terrible happened with your project. It might mean (gasp!) that the office is out of coffee. Or, it might just mean your coworker took a cute photo of their pet turtle last night. Regardless, workplace interruptions often get a bad rap as being a bother that slows down productivity. Here at Menlo, however, we not only accept but encourage little interruptions during our workday. We feel it helps us to get tasks done faster, encourages giving and receiving help, and promotes a team approach to work rather than an individual one. Consequently, we were excited to discover an article by Angela Koenig which suggests another benefit to often-dreaded workplace interruptions.

Koenig talks about a University of Cincinnati study that discovered that while interruptions at work can lead to stress, lower energy levels, and short periods of distraction, these negatives can be counterbalanced by a key benefit: workplace interruptions lead to employees feeling like they "belong" and subsequently higher job satisfaction. No matter the topic, these interruptions breed social interaction between colleagues and boost the human element of a job. So while traditional workplace logic vilifies interruptions, perhaps they're really just a long term investment in a company's team.

Have a moment for an interruption? Click to read the full article!


Where's Menlo?
The move is officially under way!

Last month we announced that Menlo would only be staying at our current address at 505 E Liberty for a limited time, and this month we're happy to announce that renovations at our new space are officially under way! We've ripped out the carpeting, have paint schemes picked out, and have all sorts of electrical work in progress. We're so excited to share our new space at 339 E Liberty with all of Menlo's friends by the new year.

A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words
Why visual learning may be the best way to learn

Diagram from the University of Illinois
Imagine that you're trying to teach yourself a complicated concept. How do you tackle it? Many of us would go straight to the University of Google to find articles or videos from experts to educate ourselves. But, if you're totally unfamiliar with the topic you're trying to learn, how do you figure out the best resources to learn it?

Well, let's try a thought experiment. First, imagine someone verbally tells you how a 3D printer works and what the major pieces are. If you've never seen a 3D printer before, you're likely to have a ton of questions. How big are the pieces and what shapes? How do they fit together? What does each do? Meanwhile, a diagram or video could convey all of that information and more in just a few seconds.

This article by Dana Jandhyala shares some research-backed thoughts on the topic: she asserts that emphasizing visual learning allows anyone to become an expert at something! Why? Well, among other benefits, Jandhyala describes how visuals help you to contextualize things, break things down, and communicate more information faster. Here at Menlo we certainly agree that visual learning is helpful, with physical prototypes and diagrams used across a wide range of our projects. In fact, just last month our developers spent time mapping out an entire cross-referencing series of database tables for a client with notecards and string!
Learn more about visual learning by diving into this eLearning Industry article!

Lean UX: Designing Great Products with Agile Teams | 2nd Edition

Author: Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden

Recommended by: Stephanie Nagy, Software Developer & High-Tech Anthropologist®

Menlo has a deep understanding of agile workflows and UX principles, so I thought that Lean UX might be a great read to find out more about how other companies bring these two concepts together. This book did not disappoint. Author Jeff Gothelf calls the reader to “get out of the deliverables business” and “return our focus where it belongs, enlisting the whole corporation in its most urgent task: delighting customers.”

Lean UX involves the entire team in design, not just UX specialists. Developers, designers, product managers, QA, and marketers come together in a cross-functional collaboration. This team is then tasked with being problem focused, instead of implementing a set of features. They meet together to brainstorm, consider design, and eventually may follow an agile process of estimating and planning together as well. Emphasis is placed on giving permission to fail and fostering a spirit of experimentation and creativity.

Testing is also a team effort. Lean UX recommends testing often, allowing all members of the team to observe and participate, and to let testing drive the product. Some companies have a practice of testing every week and continually refining their product after meeting with users. They are focused on questions such as “Is there a need for the solution I’m designing? Is there value in the solution and features I’m offering? Is my solution usable?” Using low fidelity paper prototyping and testing often allows for a fast turnaround with testing results.

To avoid big design up front, tasks are broken down into smaller pieces to fit in agile iterations and allow for the evolution of the product instead of tying it to an immutable design document thrown over the fence from the design team to the developers. Lean UX recommended a living design system that can act as a reference for the entire project team. This system can include code snippets for the development team and be updated continually as designs change so that the team has a working repository for design on a project.

Lean UX recognizes the challenges inherent in integrating UX with agile development. It is common for agile teams to fall into a pattern of mini-waterfall design. The design team works in shorter iterations, but still hands off their designs to the development team without bringing the entire team together to design features in the same iteration that they are being developed. One suggestion to mitigate waterfalls is to have a mini-design sprint before regular sprints start.

I enjoyed reading about ways that other companies are solving the same problems we solve at Menlo. My favorite piece of advice from the book is to “fall in love with the problem, not the solution.” I believe that the trend to move toward solving problems is a winning strategy for agile businesses today.

Get a copy for yourself here!

Image from David Barrios and his team at HPC... is that a Viking helmet we see? :D
This month, we are featuring a submission from a team that took advantage of a few of Menlo's different workshop offerings. After coming to visit us, CEO David Barrios and his team from HPC decided to dive right in with running Menlo-inspired experiments inspired by our High-Tech Anthropology® (HTA) practice. It's been amazing for us to see our principles applied so whole-heartedly at another company!

Here's what David had to say about their experiments:
“After our team got a taste of HTA, PM, and Story Mapping in the workshops we did with Menlo, they couldn´t wait to start running some experiments in a couple of very important projects that we have going on. The first one in which the team applied what they had learned was in a project that relates to the redefinition of our commercial policy with our customers (that involves our discount policy, credit policy, and other commercial benefits structure). The observations that the team made on site with our sales representatives interacting with our customers and the debrief exercise that followed the observations gave us a lot of critical insights and information that will serve as the base of the discussion and that will allow us to create a commercial policy that is truly customer centric and aligned with both the customer and the business needs.

Due to the success of that first experiment, we are now running two other HTA experiments related to our “warranty policy” as well as to our “internal communication channels”. It has been amazing to see how the team is using what they learned in the Story Mapping training to plan and track their quarterly priorities, and the discussions, conversations, and collaboration that have surfaced because of it has been incredible! I can say with confidence that we are just getting started and that the workshops we took with Menlo will have a very positive impact in our culture and the way we do things in HPC.”

Thank you again for sharing your story with us, David!

Start your team's High-Tech Anthropology® journey by taking your own workshop!


Menlo Bits

The Menlo Bits is Menlo's monthly newsletter, filled with all the latest in science and technology trends as well as what's been happening at Menlo.