Design Thinking: leverage your empathy to get in touch with real customers [Empathy Map/Canvas]

Do you know that design thinking is a bit of science and lots of creativity, mixed together to conceive great new products or services?

When I first approached to Design Thinking I was asked to “just” open my mind, relax and observe.
Observe people and their interactions with the environment among them.

In that case I observed the shopping experience of customers in a big grocery store, taking notes and pictures about their “pains”, habits, necessities, difficulties, when doing the shopping.

The next step according to that observation, was to arrange my thoughts, categorize them and to start generating insights in the form of “HMW?” (How Might We help people when [difficulty in doing the shopping] to be more [result to aim to]?).
The more the insights generated (dozens) the more the possibilities to find the right solution.

Then, I started to figure out options according to those insights by sketching multiple ideas on sheets of paper or post-its, about how to support, help or solve problems of those people. That was an amazing phase because even if I am not a great designer at all, my hands and fingers were literally linked with my brain, just sketching, suspending judgement and mainly aiming to quantity (of ideas), not quality.

The next phase was to choose the most interesting ones and to create prototypes.
Prototyping is a powerful tool that helps you to transform an intangible thing like and idea, transforming it in a real object and, most important, gather the user feedback, accelerating learning.
These prototypes could be “physical” objects made with cardboard or plastic or whatever moldable material, or representing intangible products like software, creating mock-ups and acquiring them on smartphones simulating the real interaction and navigation.

The penultimate stage was to get in touch with customer, showing the prototypes and giving her the possibility to interact with prototypes in order to give real feedback.

This precious feedback was finally re-used to adjust and consolidate prototypes, ready to be proposed as the final idea for new products.


Design Thinking

Design thinking is a well-defined method for creative resolution of problems, by observing the reality, generating insights and creating solutions at a low cost.
It starts with a current state and envisage a better future situation, exploring alternated solutions.
It involves from the very beginning the final user and keeps this relationship alive, until the very end.

Despite the scientific approach which beforehand explores and defined all the available known variables to identify solutions, Design Thinking starts to explore the current situation, with its ambiguity, to discover any hidden or unknown information or pattern and formulate alternatives.
Its nature is iterative: intermediate hypothesis are formulated, prototypes help to validate them incrementally and solutions often emerges walking this fascinating exploratory cycle.

Therefore, a good designer is someone who incessantly looks for a deep understanding of the observed person and the related process, for whom she is designing.
Empathy is hence a mandatory personal and professional attitude, a designer must have and develop over time.

The Empathy Map

A tool that helps to explore user needs is the Empathy Map: a simple but great tool indeed, to help synthesize observations and generate insights.

It is centered on what the user says, does, thinks and feels and, according to this analysis, what the pains and gains are, in order to start generating ideas for possible solutions.

The canvas can be used to start to interact with the users, taking notes of the following:

  • SAY: What words or quotes the user said regarding the problem you are investigating?
  • DO: What actions or behaviors the user did or showed? What his attitude, habit or appearance?
  • THINK: What the user could have thought during the experience you are observing?
  • FEEL: What emotions might the person be feeling?

Weather the SAY and DO parts of the observation are actually objective, the THINK and FEEL ones cannot. This is where empathy comes to play: you as a designer have to pay careful attention to any emotion or clue eventually emerge from this observation.

Now it’s time to summarize any fear, frustration, impediment or obstacle in the PAIN quadrant and, finally, identify any related want, need or necessity as GAINs.

Well, now you are definitely ready for the next part of the process: to start generating HMW, insights, options and ideas.

SAFe 4.0: is it just “doing agile” or “Being Agile”?

There is a controversial discussion about SAFe in the agile communities, debating if SAFe is just doing agile or really being agile.
This is my two cents on why is not about the frameworks, is “just” about us!

SAFe is a framework for scaling Agile and Lean across organizations: a set of practices to apply, which are strongly geared within a fascinating and inspiring set of values and principles.

It is primarily and proudly based on the Agile Manifesto and profoundly rooted on Lean Principles. The SAFe house of Lean defines its foundations, pillars and ultimate goal.

Leadership is paramount to successful transformations, even more when Agile is the mean.
The teachings of professor Deming are key references everywhere in the body of knowledge of SAFe, when speaking of quality, system thinking or, moreover, about leadership and management when it’s time to behave according to a reference value system (the agile one).

The leaders SAFe is asking for are the ones able to lead the organization toward Lean and Agile habits and behaviors, creating a culture and an environment where continuous learning, is leveraged even through mistakes and errors.

SAFe has its own values:

  1. Built-In Quality
  2. Program Execution
  3. Transparency
  4. Alignment

On top of this huge layer of Agile/Lean culture, SAFe relies also on these nine principles:

  1. Take an economic view
    Make decision on a solid framework based on economics (general costs, development costs, cycle time, risks, etc.) and share this framework transparently between the four SAFe layers in order to empower the other people to behave accordingly to that framework.
    Additionally, if something must be taken into account on how to prioritize your features, take the CoD (cost of delay)
  2. Apply systems thinking
    As lean teaches us: see the whole picture. Optimize the system not single components. Local excellence within silos or departments does not bring value to the end customer. You need to optimize the entire system.
  3. Assume variability; preserve options
    Bad variability must be discovered early and avoided. Good variability (new opportunities, technologies, etc.) must be exploited as soon as possible.
    Variability is not bad per se, Use spikes to scan and assess variability (see one of mine previous post).
  4. Build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles
    Integration points are learning points. Integrate often (at least twice per week) and definitely at every sprint boundary. Put in place reliable Continuous Integration systems.
  5. Base milestones on objective evaluation of working systems
    SAFe suggest to have milestones on sprint and release (PI) boundaries. These milestones coincide withe the System Demo and PI Demo. Those are the only way you have to really evaluate the final system (working software) according to the value and principle of the Agile Manifesto.
  6. Visualize and limit WIP, reduce batch sizes, and manage queue lengths 
    Pursue real Lean Product Development firstly by limiting batch sizes and inventories, reducing queues (that are bad per se), limiting context switching, limiting Work In Progress, by remain loyal the the old lean adagio:
  7. Apply cadence, synchronize with cross-domain planning
    Normalize development life-cycle duration, transform unpredictable events in predictable ones (planning, refinement, review, retrospective events). Synchronize planning to happen the same moment reducing variance.
  8. Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers
    The tayloristic approach does not work anymore nowadays. Stick and carrots are only valid for mechanical tasks not for any activity that involve our brain. We are knowledge workers (see Drucker) and we are purpose mazimizers: we want to be creative, work according to our talents, accountable for results and make the difference in our organizations.
  9. Decentralize decision-making
    Enable self-organizing teams to make decision that are time critical, need local information, need expert advice and do not have any economy of scale. Empower these teams to be responsible to take decisions, find solutions and move on.

Well, there’s lot of material to which every time we can come back, in order to see if we are sticking to agile and remain agile thorough the journey.
Is all about us and how we intend and apply the framework.

SAFe is based on dozens of books which covers topics like product development, lean and agile development, collaborative and servant leadership, portfolio and program management, software engineering, lean/agile budgeting.

SAFe counts hundred of worldwide enterprise implementations belonging to different industries: software, electronics, manufacturing, government, medical technology, financial services, retail & distribution, customer care, telecom, media, outsourcing.

Every implementation is different.

Sticking to Agile/Lean Values and Principles make sure you are moving towards the right direction as you still account the differences. Principles give us something to check against.

Finally, doing agile or being Agile using SAFE, depends just on how we coaches, managers or team members, come back for any decision, customization or implementation, to Lean/Agile values and principles.

Be good :o)

Accelerate your Transformations with Kotter XLR8 [Change Management]

Complexity increases exponentially; the world is changing at a rate at which systems, structures and cultures built over the past century can no longer keep up. Today, more than in the past years, organizations shall realize how to change quickly, incrementally and consistently.

Organizations should be nimble enough to be able to turn on a dime for a dime: being lean, modular, agile able to change and adapt quickly and at low costs.

This is even more real and urgent considering that companies like Uber, Airbnb, Facebook, Bitcoin and the share economy, are disrupting the world and its old business models and habits.

Can companies remain competitive and at the same time change amid constant turbulence and disruption?

This is true for Startups which are nimble at birth and accustomed to rapidly change according to market requests and feedback, but it seems more a paradox than the reality for big companies.
Structured organizations are strongly falling behind the competition and are not prepared to compete in the future because they usually are too slow to execute or innovate, or too internally “siloed” to effectively respond to market demands.

The hierarchical structures and organizational processes these organizations created and used for decades, are no longer useful to remain competitive in this faster-moving world.

John Kotter, once said:

“No organization today – large or small, local or global – is immune to change.
To cope with new technological, competitive, and demographic forces,
leaders in every sector have sought to fundamentally
alter the way their organizations do business.”

John Kotter ( is a Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at the Harvard Business School, a New York Times best-selling author, the founder of Kotter International (a management consulting firm), and a well-known thought leader in the fields of business, leadership, and, more important, Change Management.
He is the inventor of famous Change Management Models called 1) The Leading Change 8 Steps and 2) The Kotter Accelerate’s 8-Step Process.

The Leading Change 8 Steps model was created in 1996.

These steps are arranged sequentially and can be divided in three main phases:

  1. Create a climate for change (steps 1,2,3)
  2. Engage and Enable the whole organization (steps 4,5,6)
  3. Implement and sustain change (steps 7,8)

This model can be considered a great milestone for Change Management, being thought to function within a traditional hierarchy.

That model was thought as a discrete and linear process. The steps are often applied sequentially in effecting or responding to episodic change. The related change is usually driven by a small, powerful core group (the Guiding Coalition) who centralizes decisions.

Nowadays complexity cannot be faced through a predictive, sequential, centralized approach and process, limiting the applicability of such model.

In 2014 Kotter introduced the new XLR8 model, which re-uses the many useful things coming from the former, but innovates it by introducing concepts like concurrency in execution, Dual Operating System, volunteer army.

In this post I would detail the concept of Dual Operating System

Dual Operating System

XLR8 introduce a the concept of “Second Operating System” which operates within the company.

Whereas the first operating system is the well structured hierarchy with its managerial processes which can produce incredibly reliable and efficient results following a constant pace, the second operating system is organized like a network next to the existing hierarchy that lead and execute the change.

Functional Hierarchy (1st Op. System) vs Strategy Network (2nd Op. System)

This new (somehow virtual) network based operating system, complements rather than overburdens the hierarchy, freeing the latter to do what it is optimized to do.

It is devoted to the design and implement the change strategy, that uses an agile, network-like structure and a very different set of processes.
Furthermore, it continually assesses the business, the industry, and the organization, and reacts with greater agility, speed, and creativity than the existing one.

It actually makes enterprises easier to run and accelerates strategic change.

Informal networks of change agents operate under the hierarchical radar to make something new happen faster. The processes in this network look less like management and more like self-organization and light touch leadership.

This second operating system contains no bureaucratic layers, command-and-control prohibitions; the network allows a level of individualism, creativity, and innovation that the first operating system, the hierarchical one, is not able to provide.

in order to keep this Dual Operating System going and being successful, these 5 Principles must be followed:

  1. The change must be lead by many change agents, not just the usual few appointees
  2. A want-to and a get-to, not just a have-to, mind-set.
  3. Head and heart, not just head.
  4. Much more leadership, not just more management.
  5. Two systems, one organization.

Actually, the network is like a solar system, with a guiding coalition as the sun, strategic initiatives as planets, and sub-initiatives as moons (or even satellites).

To move faster and further, it is needed to pull more people than ever before into the strategic change game by forming volunteer armies. These oeople are volunteers that form cross-functional teams (armies); they are stable part of the organization (no consultants, new hires or task forces) that have knowledge, credibility and relationships, to understand what is needed to change and are willing to act.

The 8 Accelerators

The model entails eight accelerators:

1. Create a sense of urgency
2. Build a guiding coalition
3. Formulate a strategic vision and develop change initiatives
4. Enlist a Volunteer Army
5. Accelerate movement removes barriers
6. Celebrate visible, significant short-term wins
7. Sustain Acceleration. Keep learning from experience
8. Institutionalize strategic changes in the culture

The general architecture is similar to the previous one, but important adjustments have been done.
In one of my next posts I will give more details.

Enjoy :o)

SAFe 4.0, time to see what has changed

Six months passed since SAFe 4.0 has been released (

I had time to apply and teach it and would like to summarize the most important news from the previous 3.0 version.

The new version SAFe® 4.0 for Lean Software and Systems Engineering, brings together the SAFe® LSE version (Lean Systems Engineering) with the 3.0 version.
The following are the most important improvements.

3 vs 4 Layers Adaptability

This new version provides the users to collapse or expand the brand new value stream level (see below), in consideration of the system under development.

If it can be developed by a single Agile Release Train it can be collapsed coming back to the previous 3.0 version, vice-versa expanding it, the framework can be used to develop large systems.

Foundation Layer

A new foundation layer has been created that maps together:

  • Core Values, Lean-Agile Mindset, and SAFe Principles
  • Implementing 1,2,3
  • Lean-Agile Leaders
  • Communities of Practice (CoP)

It’s very welcome the focus given to the CoPs, as a founding element to sustain the transformation and change management effort.

Also for Lean-Agile Leaders some concepts have been stressed:

  • Lead the change
  • Know the way; emphasize lifelong learning
  • Develop people
  • Inspire and align with mission; minimize constraints
  • Decentralize decision-making
  • Unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge worker

Enterprise Kanban Value Flow
Kanban Systems have been reviewed.

That in order to give a unified structure and approach for all levels, in order to standardize the process of breaking down epics from upper levels and collecting them on the lower levels as capabilities, features, stories.

SAFe requirement model review
Due to the new Value Stream level (see below) a new item (Capability) has been added to the SAFe requirement model.

New Value Stream Level
This level is for companies who build large and critical systems. This level has its own roles and entities (similar to the ones of the program level), enforced by these new items/concepts:

  • Establish governance with an Economic Framework and Value Stream roles
  • Build integrated Solutions for Customers
  • Manage fixed and variable Solution Intent
  • Apply cadence and synchronization also for multi-ARTs
  • Suppliers (both Lean-Agile and waterfall ones) are treated as another Agile Release Train, participating in all value stream ceremonies.

Multiple Portfolios
Possibility to have for Largest Enterprises multiple SAFe portfolios, which could be a mix of larger or smaller (even multiple instances of 3 and 4 Level SAFe).

Lean-Agile Budgeting Review
More emphasis was added to Lean-Agile budgeting.
The overarching, even here simplified, concept is that starting from the total Enterprise solution budget, budgets are allocated for each SAFe portfolio instance.
Then, the budget slice reserved to a single instance of the portfolio is divided into sub-budgets that are allocated for each Value Stream (no more ART direct funding).
The budget reserved for each value stream, is finally divided between the belonging ARTs.
Budget allocations are reviewed at each PI (release) boundary (more or less 2/3 months).

Spanning Palette
Some concepts or entities, roles, services or teams are common between the Value Stream and Program layers (some can apply to the Portfolio or Team Levels, too).

These items have been grouped in the spanning palette: DEVOps, System Team, Release Management, Shared Services, User Experience, Vision, Roadmap, Metrics, Milestones, Releases.

This is an essential part of the configurability and modularity of the framework, because it allows to make customization based on the situation and the organization that is implementing it.

Obviously, it is strongly recommended any customization should be done only when SAFe/Agile values, principles and foundations are completely understood and “absorbed”.

Team Layer
Agile at this level is applied to any feature or component team which works on Software, Firmware or Hardware development.

Hardware teams work synchronized to the others, enforcing it by having frequent design cycles and integration, performing collaborative design practices, applying MBSE (Multi Based System Engineering) and using kanban for flow management.


Technology, strongly permeates our lives, it affects the way and the times in which we communicate, buy products, inform, socialize, control our diet or check our health.

Today entrepreneurs, although not working in the digital domain, are finally realizing that to remain competitive, they must fully understand the technological revolution under way and equip themselves with tools capable of exploiting those opportunities; this is especially true in the presence of resource scarcity scenarios, economic crisis or high competition, as today.

effectuation image

A concrete help comes from studies conducted by Saras D. Sarasvathy, professor at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.
At the turn of the new millennium he has worked with twenty-seven experienced entrepreneurs, founders of companies with turnovers far exceeding the hundreds of millions of dollars. Dr, Sarasvathy has subjected them with a series of tests, questionnaires and cases to solve, which aimed to understand how these people approached to problems and how they tried to solve them.

What emerged is they all possess a particular inclination, called “effectuation“.


Actually their decision making process relies on a very specific framework, based of the following cycle:

Effectuation Cycle

Effectuation Cycle

Every decision is the based on these five principles:

  1. Start from who your are and your own means. Carefully evaluate themselves, what they have, their education, experience and knowledge; develop ideas and solutions using the means at their disposal.
  2. Loss bearable. In deciding the objectives and in addressing the next steps towards the realization of the idea, they think of what the maximum sustainable economic loss for them is, at that precise moment.
  3. Factor surprise. They are people fully dedicated to action; exploit any emerging information from the field, positive or negative, as a confirmation of the direction or inspiration for improvement, or even as an element that can bring out new needs of the market.
  4. Create new Partnership. They talk about their ideas with the people they meet, seeking for feedback, shaping their thoughts according to the feedback received. They create effective partnerships with those who demonstrate interested, which, in turn, provide new means and resources of the project.
  5. Build your own future. Focusing their attention on activities and resources that are under their direct control, these entrepreneurs build their future day after day, empirically, instead to grope or predict it or, even worse, accept it passively as immutable.

“The harder you push, the harder the system pushes you back” – Talk Slides

Tuesday June 14th, me and my colleague Stefano, presented a talk at Better Software conference in Florence, about the role of coaching, change management and facilitation in guiding Agile Transition program.

Here you can find the slides.

BetterSW Talk

Enjoy! 🙂

Entrepreneurship in a Digital World Article (italian)

TECNA Editrice published one of my article about Entrepreneurship in the Digital World, through Effectuation and Lean Start-up. Enjoy!

Click here to see the article.

Entrepreneurship and Digital World

Speaking at BetterSW Conference

June 14th I am speaking with my colleague Stefano Lucantoni, at BetterSW Conference in Florence, presenting the speech “The harder you push, The harder the system pushes back”.





It’s time to change

Agile is Fascinating, but not Trivial .

Consider changes in habits, behaviors, skills, competences, etc. It means we need to know what approach, methodology or framework could better fit any transformation, but what about the people side?
What about individual and interactions? How to cope with people resitance and hesitation?

This was the topic of my speech in Rome at ISIPM event.


Here you can find the presentation on slideshare.

Enjoy 🙂

WordPress Themes