Boot camp, lean learnings and Agile methodologies… Sound like I’ve taken on a new exercise regime!

Over the past two weeks, working as a Design Lab Tech at the R9 Accelerator in Wellington, this point (Fail Fast and Learn) has been reiterated quite a lot. And that’s the process that all 10 teams have been taught to adopt from Day 1.

(A little bit of background…)

New Zealand has a budding start up scene, and the accelerators are intended to help startup businesses gain more traction – by giving the founding members the opportunity to work on their startup consistently and give it their undivided attention for 12 weeks.

There are a couple of different accelerators that run throughout the course of a year, dependent on the sort of business they are trying to support – back in November, Lightning Lab Manufacturing came to a close in Wellington, and currently running across NZ are:

Lightning Lab Digital (in Auckland), which is open to teams working on ideas based around applications and technology.
Lightning Lab XX (in Wellington), which focuses on women-led companies (at least one founder of each company needs to be a woman to qualify)
• and the Result 9 Accelerator (in Wellington), which works with both the public and private sector to try to create solutions that will help businesses and the New Zealand Government (and the interactions between the two).

As a general, I think these schemes are awesome, giving people the opportunity to properly dedicate time to something they are passionate about, and give them the support to (hopefully) succeed and continue working on it.


After doing the StartUp Weekend in November, I’ve been really interested in working a bit more in that sort of environment – fast paced, massively experiment, experience and learning focused, and working along side like-minded people to build something from the ground up.

So after a bit of thought, I decided to apply to become a “Lab Tech” at one of the accelerator programmes in Wellington.
Being a Lab Tech means that I’m on-hand for teams as a resource in case they need to use my skill set, another pair of eyes, be a sounding board or just help out in whatever way I can… And for me, it means that I get to watch and be involved with 10 teams as they take on an opportunity, and learn more about the way modern and future businesses will most likely be run.

The programme I’m involved in is a little bit different, and (although I can’t be certain) seems to be pretty unique within the startup scene worldwide.

The R9 Accelerator is dubbed the ‘gov tech’ startup scheme, and is a combination of public and private sector people working together to work on “opportunities” (that’s a great re-branding of problems by the way) that have been suggested by various government agencies.

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Boot Camp Week

R9 2.0 kicked off (unofficially) the first week of March for boot camp.

This was a week filled with talks, activities and tips from previous participants to get all of the teams on a bit more of a level playing field.
For some teams it was a chance to get to know each other a bit better – or even meet each other for the first time… And for many (myself included) it was a steep learning curve…

If you already know (or aren’t interested in) what “Lean” means when applied to business, what a KANBAN board is… and what Scrum (outside of rugby) is… Then you may want to skip ahead a paragraph or two…

Lean VS Agile

“Everyone has a plan until they get a punch in the face”

– Mike Tyson

In the simplest terms, using the subject of cooking as an example, the difference between the two is this:
Lean – you know a recipe, so you use it, then test it (tasting) and refine it (adding some herbs/spices, i.e. changing the recipe).
Agile – you don’t know a recipe, so you go away and develop one. Then you test it, and refine it.

This is where the startup mantra “Fail Fast & Learn” comes into play. Over the boot camp week, most speakers spoke about the Lean methodology in some way.

I’m not going to lie, one of the major draws for me to work as a lab tech within an accelerator was that I would get to see and experience what a startup business would go through but on the periphery, and that I’d also be able to attend these talks and workshops to learn more, so boot camp has already taught me so much!


Colart Miles – Velox Innovation

First up was Colart Miles, from Velox Innovation, who introduced the teams to Kanban.

Kanban is a process method used for agile workflow – which sounds complex, but the concept is really simple and logical.
It was a process developed by Toyota back in the 1940’s, and the basic principle is that:

The amount of work in progress matches the team’s capacity – so the team develops efficiency because they are working and focused on one thing at a time.

The teams learned about agile methodologies through iterative games and challenges. The highlight being the widget challenge.

The Widget challenge:

100 balls (aka widgets);
2 boxes (one empty)

Aim:
Figure out a way to get as many widgets from one box to the other, having been handled by every person

Rules:
• cannot be handed to someone directly beside you
• must have airtime
• cannot pick up any dropped widgets

Scoring:
1 point for completed widgets
-1 point for dropped widgets
-2 points for widgets in progress at end time

5 rounds:
1 minute plan/preparation
2 minutes action
1 minute review and learnings for next round

Generally speaking the aim is to improve the speed and successful completion rate from round to round – while using the Agile workflow:
– Sprint Planning (the plan/preparation, and prediction for success)
– Execution (actually doing it)– Retrospective (review what worked, what didn’t, what to take into the next round)

This gave all of the teams a collaborative exercise to practice working flexibly, and get used to changing processes quickly when needed, i.e. Agile working.


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Pictures – from the Velox Innovation blog where you can read more about the workshop Colart ran with the R9 Teams.

Jesse Stegmann & Brett Garner – Boost

Jesse and Brett, from Boost, spoke to the R9 teams about a lot of the other concepts behind lean and agile working theory.

One of the key aspects I found interesting though was the Scrum working theory.

This is something that can be integrated really easily with the Agile and KANBAN working methods Colart had covered.

Scrum…

The general practice works with three roles:
1. Scrum Master, is a mediator and planner.
They protect the team from (micro management from) the product owner.

2. Product Owner, is the boss (or person who initiated the concept).
They dictate what tasks are prioritised, and therefore what will be added to the Sprint planning sessions.

3. Team, produce the work.
They also dictate the schedule (to a point) as they discuss and commit to what they believe they can achieve within a set Sprint time.

The Boost team will be continuing to work with the teams throughout the programme, which is great, and means that they will be guided through changing existing work processes to suit the fast-pace of Accelerator life.


My Part

So as I said earlier, if you made it this far – I’m going to be working as a “Lab Tech” for the Accelerator.

The Lab Tech team is Rob, Rosie, Kelly and myself, all of us from different backgrounds and with various skill-sets. And alongside the four of us are Hannah and Edd, experienced with and on hand to help with communications (especially dealing with government agencies).

We will all be on hand, working individually and as a team, to support all ten R9 teams  – as well as to support the Accelerator team – Shawn, the Programme Manager, and Lingy, the Programme Coordinator.

Keep an eye out future posts on how R9 is progressing!