Agile Manchester 2018 and “The Why”

Excellent write up from Agile Manchester

Leading Agile Teams

This week, I traveled across the country to share Redgate’s journey so far with team autonomy at the Agile Manchester conference. It was a great conference; friendly people, valuable sessions, inspiring speakers and a brilliant venue.

The talk I gave with m’colleague, Elizabeth, was on the first day of the conference and it seemed to go well. We spoke to about 45 people, so not the busiest room ever but not a vacuum. People seemed engaged, they laughed in most of the right places and we got some positive comments afterwards. Phew.

As our talk was on the first day, the pressure and anxiety on this nervous speaker was quickly lifted, leaving behind it relief and a glow of achievement. Allowing…

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Squad Health Check model – visualizing what to improve

(Download the cards & instructions as PDF or PPTX) (Translations of this article: Chinese, French) What is a squad health check model? A lot of companies experiment with ways of measuring and visualizing how their teams are doing. They’re usually called “maturity models”, and involve some sort of progression through different levels. The intent of these…

Source: Squad Health Check model – visualizing what to improve

Disrupting the market

Whilst I’m still in a mood about my recent cancellation of what little relationship I had with my old employer it’s probably worthwhile talking about why I have such an interest in this.

Previous readers will know I work in IT. I’m also deeply into new tech and digital (I work for a huge telecommunications company) 
And sat here last night getting over the break up of my relationship with my car insurer I wondered what would happen to the ‘big boys’ of insurance today if their market was disrupted from a new competitor who didn’t do insurance in the way we expect or see it being done now.
Disrupters are part and parcel of the technology sector. You can’t click on a link to a tech news website without seeing the latest start up who is disrupting whatever market they are about to deploy into. Kickstarter is full of start ups promising to change the way we do x or how we use y.
If you look at the recent news about Uber and the impact they are having on the travel sector you can see what real disruption looks like. If you are a customer it’s great. It’s digital, it’s app based, it’s normally far more efficient than what you currently use and the chances are it comes in at a price that undercuts the existing competition. It’s a win win for us as consumers
If you are one of the companies who have just discovered your market is being disrupted than the opposite is true. It’s as scary as hell. Your existing monopoly on consumers can literally disappear before your eyes. 
A further problem for these disrupted companies is that they are normally large, normally operating on legacy systems and processors and normally adverse to rapid and sustainable change to keep pace with disrupters in their sector.
 For the disruptors this is fantastic news as it means not only do they get to take a slice out of existing competitors customer share, but also keep them for months or even years before the competition realises the threat and starts to put together anything resembling the disruptors technology or processes. And nine times out of ten the old players in the market will simply try (and fail) to copy what the disruptors has done, finding along the way that it’s now incredibly difficult to claim back that lost slice of customers.
The response to this realisation is normally threefold
1) the disrupted companies try to introduce a different way of rapidly introducing ‘digital’ changes to their customers. Normally focusing on app style technology. These rapid deliveries tend to be on the most part extremely rushed, buggy and don’t address the key benefits the disruptor offers consumers over the existing legacy companies.

2) the disrupted companies try to compete on their existing platforms using their ‘brand’ or ‘prestige’ to try to hold onto customers. The ‘head in the sand’ approach works for some customers who may be nervous of using smaller start up style companies products but it still doesn’t address the fundamental problem of a disruptor moving the goalposts

3) the disrupted companies throw their toys out the pram and use legal avenues or regulatory bodies to try and ‘lock out’ the disruptor from their market and customers
Don’t believe me?
Take Uber
Disrupts the taxi sector. 
Sees huge demand for its service, rapidly expands across national and international markets, completely changes the way consumers can book travel.
Now taxi companies have a number of options. 
1) they could provide technology that matches the wants and needs of their customers (it still amazes me that the majority of black cabs don’t take card as payment – especially when we are becoming a cashless country) 

2) they could try and out perform and outpace the disruptor (in this case Uber). Which is unlikely where a large, well funded disruptor enters the market

3) they can spit their dummy out and take the disruptor to court
What one do you think happened in Uber’s case?
Number 3
Rather than try and ensure they deliver the evolving wants and needs of their customer base they decide to go after the disrupting influence and throw mud at them in the hope some sticks.
So in the UK we’ve heard how Uber drivers aren’t security checked, don’t have as many background checks as licensed cabbies, overcharge and don’t have as much knowledge as ‘genuine’ taxi drivers.
All complete rubbish. Uber drivers have to go through a number of checks, more so than me and you holding a driving license. They also have technology black cab drivers don’t that ensures the customer and the driver agree the price up front (being transparent) and map technology that ensures the quickest route is always made clear to customer and driver.
Uber have successfully disrupted the taxi business. 
And more importantly the consumers agree. Uber is undergoing rapid expansion across the UK. Customers fell on the side of Uber in recent court action which London Transport soon realised.
So why am I talking about taxi companies when I was thinking about car insurance?
Well, imagine an Uber entering the car insurance market. With cutting edge technology and data supporting it. Fail fast approaches and a genuine effort to make the customer interaction smarter and more cost effective for company and consumer. Just think how quickly the car insurance market would be disrupted?
What if it wasn’t Uber? What if it was Google?
If I was a car insurance company in the UK I’d be worried today. Because it won’t take long for disruption to come, and when it does it’s going to put Uber annoying black cab drivers completely in the shade.

Bad Business

This post kind of sucks.

And the reason for that is because it’s a moan about my old employer who I literally waved goodbye to four months ago. It also sucks because I liked my old employer as a company and I still have a lot of good friends who work there.

So any Aviva friends reading, I’m sorry, genuinely for what follows, I’d also add that it isn’t just Aviva who are terrible at this, but every single insurance provider I’ve ever taken out a policy with. It’s absolutely endemic across the sector. 

What is it?

Insurance renewals…

I had (until tonight) a multicar policy with Aviva for mine and my wife’s cars. A cheap enough policy at just over £300 for the year fully comp. I took this out with Aviva partly through loyalty to my employer and party because it was a decent price.

But the problem with car insurance policies is for the most part in the first 12 months they are a loss leader for the provider. The aim is to get the footfall through the door in order to keep you there beyond the first 12 months when they then start to make a profit from you. They do this through the renewal process where you find that £300 odd yearly premium has now grown to £600 in my case tonight.

Yep, doubled. I’d add I’ve not had any claims in that time, not moved, not done anything to increase my risk to my insurer. So I’ve been rewarded for this loyalty by being asked to cough up double what I paid last year.

I’m not alone in this. Google car insurance renewals and you’ll find thousands of similar tales. The problem is insurers hope and pray you’ll not notice your renewal automatically kicks in at 12 months. At which point if you try to cancel you encounter hefty cancellation fees for your trouble. So for the insurer it’s a win win if they can keep you beyond the first 12 months. For you it’s a lose lose.

So the very first thing I’d urge you to do is never ever accept your renewal notice from an insurer. The chances are you are being screwed.

The second thing to do is to call the insurer and tell them you’ll be cancelling the policy. And this is where my issue is.

If I was running a business I’d want my customers to be repeat customers. I’d want to make a profit but ensure my customer felt like they were getting a decent enough deal as part of the arrangement. If customers left I’d want to do everything in my power to stop them from leaving. That’s just good business sense.

You’ll never stop everyone leaving but if you can even stop 10% that’s profit you keep with you and not with a competitor. 

My issue tonight when calling Aviva to cancel was not the call centre. The chap was polite, we talked about me being an ex Aviva employee. We talked about the weather (he is in Scotland – where storm Abigail is hitting). I explained I wanted to cancel the renewal, he was efficient and polite throughout. He asked the important question of why I was cancelling. So I tell him it’s practically double what I was paying before.

The response is ‘okay Mr Mancini I’ll get that cancelled for you’

No no no no no no no

I want you to fight to keep me as a customer Aviva. I don’t want you to let me walk out the door. This isn’t Pretty Woman, I’m not expecting to be wined and dined and beaten by your short fat friend as he calls me a hooker, but I am expecting you to at least meet me halfway a little bit on this. Where is the discussion to see what you can do to keep me? Where is the chat about maybe doing a new quote as a new customer to get a discount? 

There was none, and it leaves me feeling like Aviva don’t care enough to keep me. This makes me sad, and disappointed, and it makes me feel negative about the other products I still have with Aviva.

Because this is the silly mistake that Aviva as a composite life and pensions provider makes above and beyond your bog standard car insurance provider. They fail to use big data and joined up systems to spot the critical moments of truth with their customers. Moments of truth such as mine this evening with Aviva where if they did use analytics they’d have seen I also have home insurance and a pension with Aviva. Products which I’ll also now be cancelling and moving to someone else who values my entire relationship with them more.

Silly stuff like this sounds insignificant and in the grand scheme of things it probably is. I’m just one customer in a relationship of millions Aviva have. But I can tell you that securing my business would have been far more profitable for them longer term than churning every 12 months like I’ve just done.

It’s a massive diservice to their staff who I can say work bloody hard for sometimes very little reward or thanks. It does a diservice to their shareholders who expect and demand returns on their investment that would be higher if they used technology to secure customers longer term to make larger profit and it does a Hugh diservice to their customers who they hope to sneak up on at renewal in the hope they’ll trap even 25% of them beyond 12 months with policies that provide absolutely zero difference to what they did 12 months ago except for premiums that bear no reflection of the actual risk that customer presents to them.

It’s bad business and it sucks Aviva

an open letter to David Cameron 

Dear Mr Cameron 
I’ve always supported the Conservative party, despite the many misgivings of family members, friends and work colleagues. I believe in the majority of Conservative policy. We do need to recover the economy, we need to get out of the slump our country has been in for what feels like decades. I get all of this. 
I’ve even been willing to give you a small benefit of the doubt when you and your government appeared to be hitting the poorer part of this countries spectrum of people with your cuts. 
I even forgave you the ridiculous focus on seagulls, the silliness around thinking about relaxing the ban on fox hunting (Despite a majority of the public being completely against it) and the badger cull which has so far proven that government can spend a lot of money killing things for no actual benefit or despite scientific evidence that shows TB and badger numbers cannot be intrinsically linked. 
But there is one thing which doesn’t sit well with me or the many millions who will be opening their newspapers this morning and being confronted with the heart wrenching picture of the small 3 year old baby boy laying face down on the shore of Bodrum in Turkey.
I hope you have seen the picture David, and I hope you feel as we all feel this morning. As a parent of young children myself the thought of this small child dying alone in the sea and their body washing up on a foreign beach is soul destroying. Being separated from your parents at such a small age is terrifying enough, and all of us have had those moments where we lose sight of our children in a public place and felt the absolute fear of not knowing where our child is. But for this to happen when you are trying to flee a war torn country whilst dangerously over-crowded on a boat and then watching your child slip beneath the waves is a entirely beyond the realms of feeling.
Why am I asking you to understand this David? 
Because there is something distinctly wrong about the response of our country to this crisis. Whilst other EU countries argue the toss over where these refugees should be registering for help and closing train stations off or having endless meetings about what to do we the public are watching the worst humanitarian tragedy since Rwanda unfold in front of us. How many more sunken ships and bodies washed up on beaches do we need to see before we act?
This isn’t who we as a country are about David. We have strong values. Values that have been recognised and respected by other nations for years. Our sense of fair play, of independence. Fighting for the underdog, being able to laugh at ourselves, honesty, integrity. We project strength well beyond what we should or could be expected to for the size of our nation. Other countries have looked to us to set the standard for what is right.
Look at how our country pulls together in the best and worst of times. The blitz spirit of refusing to be cowered by evilness. Our support for allies in times of national mourning, how we as a country share and celebrate success and overcome tragedy is what has made this nation great.
But right now I am ashamed. Ashamed that our country has so far accepted 5000 refugees fleeing from war torn countries and watched as many thousands of others have died. Our fellow EU countries are trying to do their bit by accepting many hundreds of thousands who are fleeing. Even non EU nations are doing their best.
But Great Britain stands alone right now. And not for the right reasons. 
Whilst others help and do what is needed I watch as you say the problem needs to be addressed at source. Which would be fine, if we could simply ask Syria to stop bombing its own people and they’d listen. But unfortunately foreign policy doesn’t work like that, as you well know from our own recent conflicts. So instead, why don’t you ignore the UKIP and anti immigration idiots in this country and do the right thing.
These people aren’t here to claim all of our jobs, or take all of our rapidly reducing benefits. They are here to escape a war torn country.
Aylan Kurdi was 3 years old. He didn’t ask for handouts, he didn’t want to claim for a house, benefits or steal some one else’s job. He wanted to escape with his family from a country imploding on itself. I ask you David, in the position of his father, what would you do?
I know I probably cannot appeal to your sense of principles as I feel they are rapidly opposing my own. But I hope as a fellow parent I can appeal to your sense of a parents duty to their children.

The Fat Lady Sings

Over a month in to our new house purchase from Persimmon and I feel relatively safe in now bringing to an end my running commentary on the process of buying (and waiting) for a home from Persimmon. I’d say its been enjoyable but I’d be lying (badly). The house is still standing and the majority of snagging issues we’ve discovered so far have all been resolved. We have working broadband, a turfed back garden and working solar panels. The majority of this has only been made possible by the people on the site who through the dogged determination of their head office to cock everything up still managed to build our home and fix problems we had.

So in summary what have I learnt over the last 12 months?

  • Never, ever, ever (Cannot emphasise this enough) purchase a new build property
  • If you are silly enough to ignore the above point then please make sure you never, ever, ever (Don’t think I’m joking here) purchase a new build property from Persimmon Homes
  • If you ignore both of the above points then prepare yourself for the worst levels of customer service you are ever likely to experience
  • Take anger management classes. These classes will give you some level of preparation with how to deal with idiots when you undoubtedly have to start speaking to Persimmons head office department
  • Take a creative writing course. This will aid you when constructing the many complaint letters you will end up writing to Persimmons head office once polite phone call discussions have gotten you nowhere. Always remember to send two copies as they are guaranteed to ‘mislay’ the first copy
  • If you are concerned at having to do all these extra things then don’t worry. Its not like you’ll be moving into your new home anytime soon…
  • Purchase a good phone package with extra free minutes. This way when you have to start doing Persimmons job for them when it comes to returning promised phone calls you won’t end up with a large phone bill at the end of each month
  • Consider growing a beard. I managed to produce an impressive set of face fuzz over a two week period whilst I waited by the phone for a call back from persimmons head office. This was of great comfort to me when I woke up in the local hospital from malnourishment as I hadn’t ventured to the kitchen for a fortnight whilst I waited for the phone call that never came
  • See the funny side of things. I took pleasure in the simple things in life, like watching a multi million pound company ably manage to cock up basic common sense situations, like placing solar panels on the wrong side of our house, or constructing a loft hatch halfway over a wall and expecting this to be acceptable. You’ll laugh through some of your own experiences with Persimmon, after you’ve gone though the other emotions. Like pain, suffering, stress, depression and grief
  • Ensure you are on good terms with your current landlord or mortgage lender. So when you tell them repeatedly that you are moving out and then ask to extend your contract or mortgage they are understanding of your plight. Better yet tell them you are buying a property from Persimmon. At which point they will give you at least a 12 month extension to your contract just in case.

Serious stuff I’ve learnt…

  • Stuff gets delayed, deal with it, but when stuff gets delayed repeatedly and you end up having to do a company’s job for them, document it, keep a diary and a record of every single call and letter or email you’ve had to send and where you feel it should have been the responsibility of said company
  • Get them to agree in writing. No excuses that way
  • If you feel you’ve suffered a financial loss then the chances are you have, so claim compensation for your lost time and earnings from the company who have made the mistake. A company suddenly becomes very willing to do stuff once you start suggesting invoicing them for your lost time and effort
  • Don’t accept the first offer and don’t take no for an answer
  • Big companies like this behave and act in the way they do because they believe (Rightly in many cases) that customers are too scared to take them on. Don’t be. You have a ridiculous amount of legal rights available to you that companies like Persimmon hope you don’t know about. Visit your local CAB or find a friendly solicitor who offers the first hour free for advice.
  • Use social media. Large companies hate looking a shower of the brown stuff in front of other customers who haven’t made up their minds on whether to spend their money with a company. By making your issues public and ensuring potential customers of said company can see it you are more likely to get the resolution you want and quicker
  • Read the small print in everything you sign from a company
  • Try and see the funny side of the situation, if you can’t, write a blog about it. It’s a cathartic experience doing this

So there you have it. Practically 12 months after reserving and paying a deposit and six months after the completion date we are in our home and settled. I may occasionally revisit this situation if and when the after sales support from Persimmon requires it.

As for the rest of this blog I plan on continuing to write about the good, bad and ugly of customer service and the companies that get it right or badly wrong. Keep reading and commenting

Updates & Grumpy Youngsters

I read an interesting piece on the BBC News website earlier today about how younger people tend to complain more about poor customer service. I agree with much of what the piece says although I no longer classify myself as a ‘youngster’ at the grand old age of 30 a lot of it resonates with me. Personally I’m not willing to put up with poor service when I’m paying for a product or service, I won’t go quietly either and will use social media to make a song and dance of my problem until its resolved. This blog is one example of that.

The piece also talked about the view that overall customer satisfaction levels seem to be dropping. I’m not sure if this is the case or not. What I do know is that I and many of my friends are no longer willing to put up with sub standard service when we hand over our hard earned cash for something. The increase in the use of digital technologies also has a part to play in the ability of customers to make a company look stupid very very quickly if its done something wrong. Just look at Twitter if you want to see examples of this.

The good thing is that companies (At least the majority of them) seem to be sitting up and taking notice of this and responding quickly and fairly to customer issues. There is still more work to do and I’m sure they’ll continue to be examples of where it goes badly wrong for companies delving into social media in order to deal with customer complaints, but it’s a start.

I’ve attached the link below if you fancy a quick ten minute read of the full piece

On the home front we are now a month into the new place and things are starting to settle down.

We’ve had a number of decent results from Persimmon over the last week or two which I continue to put down to the fact that the guys on the site are far and away superior to the staff they employ in their head office. The site manager has continued to provide support and maintenance people to repair the snagging items we’ve picked up on in the first few months.

We also had a bit of a result on the broadband which was finally installed last week (A month after moving in and two months after being told we had to do it urgently in order to have it before Christmas). It hasn’t all been plain sailing on this side however…

We have fibre direct to our property which means we have a great big box in the cupboard under the stairs that the router has to be plugged into. Meaning at the moment if we want a wired connection we’d have to drag Ethernet cables out of the cupboard through the house. Whilst this doesn’t particularly bother me it probably would start to annoy the better half who is a bit more house proud then I am when it comes to looks. It would also probably present a bit of a trip hazard having 4 or 5 wires dragged around the house from the cupboard. So alas I’ve been relying on wireless which everyone knows isn’t as strong as wired. For a 100mb connection we are currently getting around 36mb (On a good day) with ping speeds in the low hundreds (Ping is important and is the time it takes for your connection to send and receive data from the exchange – its measured in milliseconds and anything above 100ms is poor). After calling our supplier we’ve found that Persimmon need to ‘cap’ the phone line in our main room so we can plug the router in that room and then wire up all of our equipment that way meaning the speed should improve. Hopefully this should be done this week.

Its not a massive issue but it shows it does pay to check everything in the property.

On the other hand at least we’ve not been as bad off as some of our neighbours on the estate who were expecting broadband to be installed on the same day as we did. It transpires that Persimmon managed to break through some of the ducting that protects the fibre optic cables for our neighbours. Damaging it and meaning they wouldn’t be able to have their connections set up. Not great

Other bits in the house are slowly being ticked off as completed and the house is starting to feel like a proper home. The walls continue to be my nemesis though and after having spent £50 in B&Q on a frankly ridiculous amount of different rawl plugs I’ve now found that the best approach is to go and buy 100mm toggle plugs in order to hand anything on the walls. Don’t make the same mistake I have! If on the other hand you are short of some rawl plugs then let me know and I’ll post you a few hundred out.

We still have a hybrid outdoor swimming pool/swamp type garden out the back of the house due to the continued wet weather which means Persimmon haven’t been able to rotavate it so far, but again this hasn’t been through lack of effort in trying and I have to say I admired the contractors who came and tried anyway even when their equipment started to sink into the ground. So I’m sure they’ll be more to report on that in the next week or two.

Keep reading and commenting!