Last week I attended a two-day Flow Ambassador training course in London held by SQS and the Flow Academy. The training course is in it’s infancy and I was invited both to learn, and to provide feedback. I’m interested in the concept of “Flow” as one of the three foundations of a strong DevOps culture (Flow, Feedback, Experimentation) and I had been introduced to Haydn Shaughnessy and Fin Goulding’s books on the topic earlier in the summer so I had a good idea of what to expect from the Flow framework before the training course began.
Flow is a framework for effective digital transformation. Flow is an extension of, an alternative to, and complimentary to “agile” and “devops” but Flow extends beyond software development out across the end-to-end process of identifying and delivering value to customers. Flow is about building value-seeking behaviours in all your employees. Flow is a highly visual approach that encourages face-to-face social interactions. Flow is a way to equip your business so that it is ready to respond to rapid change and able to compete in a highly competitive, highly innovative future. Flow is lots of things… and yet it isn’t really anything. The very fact that I find it quite so hard to put my finger on what exactly Flow is explains to me why I felt that the Flow Ambassador training course was a little unstructured and lacked the tangible learning outcomes that I think many people would expect from a two-day training course.
So, let me try and explain what this training course isn’t. Maybe that’ll work. After your Flow Ambassador course, you definitely won’t have learned set of processes, tools or instructions such as the Scrum or SaFe frameworks. You won’t have a set of rules to follow that will make your business magically more competitive. You won’t be guaranteed to start transforming your business into an elite organisation. You won’t be instantly recognised as the most innovative team around. But perhaps you will come out of your training course feeling inspired and ready to act as the catalyst in your team…the ambassador for a new way of working.
For me, one of the most valuable parts of the two-day Flow Ambassador course was learning new ways to view and segment markets. Using a customer innovation wall to capture people’s ideas of new customer segments and supplementing this with customer feedback, social media/visitor data and market research. Initially I found it hard to map the customer segmentation methods we were using to the B2B world in which I currently work. Haydn and Fin’s books are packed full of real-life case studies from their own experience and their own research and the training material was no different; we did find however that the case studies and worked examples were all B2C examples where the power of micro-segmentation and addressing the long-tail is very obvious. When questioned, the trainers had few B2B examples to offer and I felt those of us from a purely B2B world struggled to get moving. I also wondered how effective many of the case studies would be if Haydn himself hadn’t been one of those people delivering the training.
Next in the process was the CATE model for understanding customer success factors and your current assets to brainstorm targeted innovation ideas and explore complementary eco-systems. I found this a very effective process that I’ll definitely be introducing to my teams and peers in the future. At the end of our two-day session we had all used these new approaches to conjure up some genuinely innovative ideas of projects to undertake to deliver rapid customer value in a business domain with which most of us had no previous experience. It made me realise that we don’t have to be creative and officially part of an “innovation team” to derive value for our customers.
The two-day Flow Ambassador course did touch a little on some of the down-stream processes beyond initial project ideation – breaking work down into smaller goals and prioritising them over time; aiming for an eventual work breakdown of no more than 2 days. As with the earlier phases in the framework, visualisation of work is key here.
The social element of Flow was also on-show during the training course. The use of a Top-Gear-esque cool wall to capture feedback was a great idea and probably should form part of the introduction to any training course. And the use of a thank-you wall, while a little contrived for a training course, does help to get people sharing, talking and providing feedback and just having it there proved how valuable such a thing could be in our own offices.
For me, I haven’t come away from my Flow Ambassador training wanting to change the world (any more than I did before I started). Yes, I’ve found some moments of inspiration. Much of the Flow manifesto resonates with me and I see great truths in much of what Haydn and Fin teach, but for me, Flow tries to be too many things to too many people. I think most of the guidance Flow provides is valid and I know that Haydn and Fin and their team are passionate about what they’ve learned over their careers - they want to share their experience and learnings with others. But, at times, the training material (and for that matter, the books) comes across as a little chaotic…lots to say, lots of examples, lots of strong messages. I felt the course could have done with covering less ground and really cementing the practices in our own everyday experiences.
Knowing that the Flow Academy is big on feedback cycles, I expect the Flow Ambassador certification to evolve over time. To find out more about Flow, visit the Flow Academy website or take a look at Flow: A Handbook for Change Makers or 12 Steps to Flow.