Marcel van Hove
Visual Leadership .

The Evolution of Product Management with Nick Coster from Brainmates

Today I talk to Nick Coster. Nick founded Brainmates together with his wife Adrienne Tan more then 12 year ago. Brainmates is one of those companies who are not very big but very professional. Their special field is product management. We talk about the evolution of product management. How the role of product management evolves when the organisation scales up and the CEO can’t be the product manager anymore.

Nick describes the role of a product manager as the chief storyteller in a company. The product manager is the CEO for a product but normally doesn’t have the same authority as the CEO. He needs to take everyone on the journey and explain the challenges ahead of the product. Storytelling is the key to this way of leadership and visual storytelling is the lasting version of it as you can capture the visualisation of the story in photos and videos. Therefore I am very excited to announce that we will run the bikablo® Visual Storytelling class in Australia shortly before Christmas.

Many of my bikablo® visual facilitation students are in a role around requirements gathering or are working in a business analyst role. In this interview I put myself in the role of a business analyst and ask myself how could I become a great product manager. What does it take to become that person and what do I have to learn on the way.

Being on the product management journey alone can be quite challenging. It’s much better to go the way together and catch up with mates who are in a similar role as you. I would like to highlight the “Leading the Product Conference” run by Brainmates every year. The conference will be held this year on the 20th October in Melbourne and 25th in Sydney. Check it out and I hope to see you around in one of the next bikablo® visualisation trainings.

bikablo® Radio – The beautiful world of big group facilitation and public participation with Keith Greaves from MosaicLab

A couple of weeks ago I was running the first bikablo® visual facilitation garage. This advanced workshop has been around in Europe for a while and now we start this advanced class for people who have participated in the fundamentals class in Australia as well. When you start something new, you start something small and so Keith Greaves attended as the only attendee at the first visual facilitation garage in Melbourne in May.

Keith and I had a great time together working in the garage. We had 4 hours of intensive learning together and we both learnt from each other. So I thought we share our conversation over those four hours in an interview with you.

Let me introduce Keith Greaves in a couple of sentences. He grew up in Ireland and worked in several very interesting countries including Azerbaijan and Syria. Today Keith lives with this family in Melbourne running two companies: Chit Chat and Mosaic Lab.

Mosaic Lab is a company that facilitates big groups and creates spaces for c0-creating and collaboration. He sets up workshops for 80-300 people to bring people together from all parts of the societies and brings people together to collaborate. Keith puts a lot of this energy into preparing those venues and you will learn in this podcast how he does it.

What really hit me when listening to Keith was his passion for public participation following the core values of IAP2. He makes a difference in the world by improving our democracy. Our democracy is based on a the idea of a majority. A 50% majority is good but imagine you had a co-created law proposal for the prime minister that bases on a super majority of 80%.

Now let me pass on the microphone to Keith Greaves from MosaicLab listening to this story and I hope we see us at the next bikablo® visual facilitation garage in Melbourne!

Christiane Anderson from AGL about the use of bikablo® in a business transformation

I don’t know about you but I see many companies who put a lot of whiteboards inside their offices and I am not sure yet that they know how to make best use of them.


Todays guest is Christiane Anderson, she works as an Agile Coach for AGL. AGL is one of the major energy providers in Australia. AGL were founded in 1837 and were the company that lid the first gas lamp in Australia in 1841. Today they are listed as one of top 50 companies on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX).

This episode is about Christiane’s journey from discovering the bikablo® drawing technique. We look at how she started small by showing the value of visual facilitation to AGL before it took off and inspired other through the whole organisation. 

Additionally we talk about visual facilitation in the context of a agile business transformation and what changes are needed in the human behaviours when working in an agile environment. We explore how agile coaching and life coaching can help each individuell in the company to come along on an agile journey. 

We provide you a couple of tips how you can light a fire of change and lead it in your organisation. This episode is about how you can start small and become bold. 

I hope you enjoy this conversation with Christiane from AGL.


bikablo® Radio Insights – Help others with a pen and improve your company culture

bikablo® Radio cover

bikablo® Radio cover

Why are we hesitating to ask for help?

Helping others is natural to us but asking for help is sometimes difficult to many. The reason behind lays in the way we grew up, how we were raised and not at last in a school system that was focused on competition and performance not on collaboration and creative thinking. However, todays challenges in business lay in the ability to solve complex problems together as a team and for me one of the most important steps to become a strong team is to overcome the fear of asking for help and embrace the fact that nobody is perfect. Through that asking for help becomes a personal strength. Remember todays problems are just too complex for one brain anyway.

From going grey with a problem to a collaborative team session in 8 steps

In this insight episode I walk you through a scenario how you can offer help as a visual leader. You don’t have to be the subject matter expert – just a good listener with a pen using a whiteboard. Often it is enough that the person who has the problem steps out of the problem space for a moment and explains the challenge to someone else. I explain you my 8-steps to help him/her to unblock any problem solving. By following the 8-steps you have a chance to engage even more people of your team in the solution design and through that improve your team and company culture on the long run. These steps are not always strictly followed, they shall be a guide to get started as a visual leader on a whiteboard.

I hope you enjoy this episode! Please share it in your network if it is useful for you.


bikablo® Radio – David Landry about agile transformations using the bikablo® drawing technique

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bikablo® Radio cover

What is an agile transformation?

I would like to ask you a question! Can you image you walk into a company and tell everyone to change the way they work? Maybe even question their values? Or find a new vision for what they would like to achieve? That is what an agile transformation often is about. Today I speak to David Landry. He works as a principle consultant at Elabor8 and he has facilitated an agile transition with his college Andrew Thorpe at a Melbourne University using the bikablo® drawing technique.

How they have introduced the change

The way they have facilitated this agile transformation it is quite disruptive in itself. They have banned PowerPoint from the first day they arrived and introduced the bikablo® drawing technique using it instead of PowerPoint from the first meeting to all the team and project meetings.

He shares his experience with drawing live in front of other people. I hope you enjoy this conversation with David Landry from Elabor8.

You can’t draw or think that you can’t facilitate a meeting on a whiteboard yet? I would like to invite you to come to my next bikablo® visual facilitation training and learn the simple drawing technique that so far more than 1000 people world wide have learnt.

Eventbrite - Visual Facilitation Training (Fundamentals & Practitioner Day)


Marcel: So welcome everybody. I’m here with David Landry from Elabor8. You are principal consultant at Elabor8?

David: Yes, I’m a principal consultant at Elabor8. That’s correct.

Marcel: Let’s start with – What is Elabor8?

David: Elabor8 is a company that has been in business now for five years. It’s been steadily growing. Just recently, we opened up an office in Sydney. Elabor8 is a leader in agile development practices specializing very much around business analysis. We’re now taking a leading role in Agile Transformation and leading large organizations in their Agile Journey, like the one we’re going to talk about today. Their agile journey focuses initially on how they engage with business across all technology and other areas. So Agile Transformation has become a specialized area in Elabor8. We’re looking at the whole software development and how agile is used there. We want to connect business and technology groups together.

Marcel: And if I’m right, agile transformation means you take people on a journey to transform the way they work before and more engaged. What does an agile transformation mean in this context?

David: I think that’s good question. Agile comes with a lot of baggage in many organizations today. Many organisations have a view that agile is just an adoption of a lot of ceremonies. We, Elabor8 take organisation through the underlying principles, if you like, the “science” behind the fundamentals of agile. So we look at Lean and Kanban. We look at particular methodologies, Scrum and the Scaled-agile frameworks and talk about what does that mean to the way your teams work, how does the various parts of the organization engage and most importantly, what’s the difference for leadership within those frameworks.

Marcel: And when we look at this university where you work now, I think, with a colleague together, what is his name?

David: Andrew Thorpe.

Marcel: Yeah.

David: He is acting as Scrum Master, Business Analyst and a mentor across the day-to-day working of the agile groups.

Marcel: So can you describe the scenario a bit? What are you doing there at this university?

David: So I’m going to take a step back and talk about how we got involved in the first instance: We were approached by a department within a university that has been trying to implement a new system for their operation and their engagement across the university. And it had been struggling over the last 12 to 18 months. We had a meeting with the senior directors and they decided to take an entirely different approach. So we introduced them into the “thinking” of taking an agile journey, but we didn’t really describe the Agile processes. We didn’t really get heavily into what that means, other than to say do you want to try something entirely different. Would you like a lot more transparency and openness and building a different communication? Of course, the answer is very simple, yes, yes and yes. So that’s set the context of how we started to work with the leadership and the teams. What was surprising is that while people were being taken out of their comfort zone, they were all equally ready for something different to take place. So we soften our conversation around agile practices and talked more about leadership and transparency. And this is where visualization stepped in.

Marcel: So how do you use now visual facilitation? I think Andrew came to my class maybe a half year ago. I think it was in July. Now it’s December and you were at my class in September. How does visual facilitation has now been playing in this agile transformation?

David: There were two things that we stipulated right from the beginning. The first was to get all the teams together into a combined planning session. Secondly traditionally conversations with the team were based on PowerPoint presentations. So we decided that there would be no PowerPoints and that we would use Visual Facilitation. Our approach was that we prepared sheets with just simple words and diagrams drawn upon them and then during the facilitation, planning session we developed and captured further information during the facilitation. The key point that we were making is that the sheets were going to be long lived and visible. That they are to be taken back to the work spaces and put up on the walls as a constant visual reminder.

Marcel: Yes, I have the same experience. I worked as an agile trainer and it felt for me wrong to talk about transparency and quick and easy way to work when not having such an easy simple way actually to create transparency. By creating flip charts on the wall where you have something explained, teams can actually own that and take it back to their team area. I think it makes absolute sense what you just said.

David: I had seen a traditional approach of implementing agile and a lot of it was training and talking about things and concepts and those typical the things that you do in Scrum. And what we really wanted to focus was more to take a journey of transparency and collaboration and building a vision.

We weren’t as confident in the drawing and to do it dynamically, so we focused on drawing simple banners and headings, borders, using just two colors. We establish sheets for the vision and the why. Previously there wasn’t a common understanding of the vision. There wasn’t something binding people (team) together as to why this project was important and how it was going to help the university.

Marcel: If I get you right had like a “half prepared flipchart sheets” with you and then you take the people on a journey with drawing live. Was this the way you did it?

David: Correct. Also, for instance, when the program director presented the vision we had spare sheets to capture group discussion points. These were added to the vision.

Marcel: Yes.

David: Interestingly, for the Vision sheets used later sessions with the extended business owners and actually drilling into benefits for the university. The revised sheets were taken by an Graphic Artist who created a series of more formal version of these drawings.

Marcel: I didn’t catch what they did. Did they take pictures?

David: So basically, they created graphics from all these drawings and stylize the graphics. I’m sure, Marcel, if you could have been there you would have been able to draw a better piece.

Marcel: No, I wouldn’t have done a better one.

David: But they were then able to focused very much on just some program icons.

Marcel: If I get it right, they took snapshots of parts of your drawings and then use them as a key visual in their PowerPoint presentation?

David: Not in PowerPoint.

Marcel: All right. Okay.

David: They produced A1 sheets.

Marcel: Nice!

David: These Graphic Sheet are used in community showcases. A lot of it is that you are able to visualize and be able to have a conversation with a group of people about vision, outcome and what this will do for the university that will enable further development of that vision and actually fine tune the messaging, not only for the teams, but for many other stakeholders and the wider community.

Marcel: For me what I experienced in the past when I had prepared slide decks and used them, they become like a power tool because you basically put people in front of a very solid plan even if it’s maybe your best guess. But it looks like this is what we do. Instead when you draw on paper just by the different technology, just by having this very soft approach people have the feeling that you take them more on a journey, even if the same background maybe you spend weeks preparing it both, right? But it becomes often for me something that makes it easier to take people on the journey. So you have any experience around this?

David: Absolutely. Last Friday we ran another planning session for another sub-part of the overall program. We had about 30 people in the room. The agenda sheet, which was prepared, was placed around the room along with other sheets with the headings of Risks, Plan Objectives, goals, etc

Marcel: Yeah.

David: So the engagement was a lot stronger. Again all the sheets were taken back to their work. They’re reminders of the collaboration, the planning, the votes of confidence and the agreement that the team did together. The information on these sheets covered a number of areas of technology, configuration, environments, etc. Some of the discussion got quite technical, but this gave the business stakeholders an appreciation of what’s required to deliver a working software. So the respect and understanding of what everybody has to do is now recorded in all the various sheets. All brought together, at the end of the day, with a common set of objectives and goals for the team, for the next period of time. We are only planning on a short time horizon of about six weeks. It is just way too much to try and do any more than that.

Marcel: I try something that is maybe too farfetched but for what had happened for me was when you do an agile transformation a lot of marketing is involved by sharing the ideas about the new mindset, new processes, new tools that you use. It’s a bit like advertisement. You basically the poster and take it back to your place, right? So it reminds you of this change.

David: Well, it becomes very powerful because then when you start to break out into the small sessions to do feature story planning for the next couple of sprints, there is an understanding of the deliverables.

Marcel: Yeah.

David: The problem is most people had a good understanding of Agile and a lot of the leadership thought they had a good understanding of agile. But as I said right at the outset, they saw it more as a bunch of ceremonies that their teams would use to deliver something useful. The second area I think we brought to overall facilitation was that we’re able to get a lot more concurrency of doing business process design, data transformation, configuration of systems, and development of systems and the integration of systems in common cadence and common sprints. Having business processes change alongside system development and configuration being implemented is a way to bring users and all stakeholders into the program. For me, another powerful aspect of the visualisation is when we had other managers from other departments visit the project they were lead along the journey. They would start with the vision, then the objectives before moving to the Kanban walls.

Marcel: Yeah.

David: And they were able to explain to those people the whole context and where the program is at. So they we able to use the visualization of the objectives, ideas and concepts.

Marcel: Nice.

All right you used visual facilitation at the university. But what hasn’t worked? Where does this live drawing reach the limit?

David: It’s very hard you answer that question because for me I see nothing but up at the moment because this is the first time that I’ve used it. So I actually don’t see many negatives. Traditionally to engage large groups with different stakeholders that normally do not worked together, we would run a well prepared session with a number of PowerPoints. Capture information from the discussion and send that back as a report. In effect the intent of the meeting is some-what lost or at least diminished.

I would have liked to add more drawings. We found that when we are rushed we revert back to writing words or one or two words and we’re not quite segmenting it and creating boxes and those sort of things. I think that we’ve got to get discipline and practice around using some icons and drawings. So we have made some commitment to do this, we’ve got the (bikablo icon) cards and we’ll start looking at using them as aids to a lot more stronger visualization.

Marcel: Bigger metaphors?

David: Yeah. I think we’re falling back to the habits of just writing sentences and words and dot points but all being just sticking up around the wall.

Marcel: But on there, don’t take it too hard. You put words on a picture and map this out, it’s already a drawing for our eyes. So even if there are no key visuals in it I think it’s already a change. By spacing out the page and, yeah, makes sense.

David: Yeah. I think we can get a lot better. So you just don’t have the same banner headings especially when you are developing the program principles, objectives and goals.

Marcel: So you’re referring to something we do in the training which is like the level of certainty and we have like guess bubbles, speech bubble, where you have a goal post and —

David: Yeah, that’s exactly right.

Marcel: — when you are certain of your answers or you have an agreement.

David: Yeah. So we are hanging the project off these principles and —

Marcel: Yeah. That makes sense.

David: — and we found that that was a lot better. The other thing too I’ll have to say from our perspective and Andrew is not here, it’s a lot more enjoyable to you as a presenter and a facilitator. It gives you a different dimension of how to engage the audience. One of the things I think that worked really well last Friday was to keep people time boxed. So you’ve written some stuff up there and then you start to close out the session by putting borders around the drawings and moving on because you’re not adding much more value to the conversation.

Marcel: Yeah.

David: Another thing I would add, it would have been hard to do the facilitation if you were the only one in the room and doing the writing.

Marcel: Highly recommend to do that together.

David: With the two of us we were taking turns to who was writing. The other one would have to slow the group down and make certain you got the key points. And so you need a fair amount of discipline and to make certain that the group own the words that have been written on the various sheets.

Marcel: So last question. Where from here? If you look for this university what do you think would be their next step or what do you think your next step is with visual facilitation?

David: It’s a good question. I think there is sort of two parts to that question. One. what does it mean to Elabor8?

Marcel: Yeah.

David: I think it’s a major ingredient used for all executive-type engagements as we’ll actually do far less preparing of PowerPoints and packs. We may have only one pack where we’re going to talk about some repetitive stuff or references. So we use the visualization to draw the engagement out. The second thing is if we’re being true to the agile principles is that we want the teams to own this visualization themselves and we’ve been encouraging this as we hand the control back to the various scrum masters and other people who are wanting to take on mentor roles. We’re advising them that they should be doing this sort of visual facilitation course as well. So it isn’t just left with a consultant firm who came in and did some nice drawing around the wall, did some different type of the facilitation. We leave the skill set with them.

Marcel: You actually empower them to do it themselves.

David: So we’ve been discussing that and we have been talking about using visual facilitation in some of the showcases where there’s a larger audience and that there should be some sort of “chalk and talk” element that’s quite dynamic in the presentations. So I think we’re going to make certain that they adopt the skill and they own the outcome.

Marcel: All right. David, thank you very much for your time and thanks for sharing this story with this university and yeah, let’s see where we go, 2016.

David: Yes.

Marcel: Thanks.