Monday, July 21, 2014

What's holding down your team's Velocity?

Is your "Agile Project Manager" driving the team to increase their velocity?  Has the Agile Death March begun?

Fred Brooks warned us of these dangers nearly 25 years ago in The Mythical Man-Month.

One antidote to the PM schedule crunching technique of throwing warm bodies at the problem is to remove the impediments that are known (or just under the surface) within the structure and environment that holds the team back from performing at more efficient delivery rates.  So many times the line workers (developers and testers) are well aware of these issues, and feel as if they have raised them many times and gotten little attention (mostly negative attention) from managers.  A classic game (Innovation Game) to expose these impediments is Speed Boat.

I just saw this image of the anvil holding the balloon down and thought it would make a great visual metaphor for the Speed Boat game.  See the article by Alan Dayley Velocity is Like a Helium Balloon to get a hi-res poster.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Factors that support Creativity

Many companies have initiatives to become innovative.  There are some companies that don't appear to need a leadership sponsor to get competitive innovation - wonder why.  Perhaps they have some fundamental aspect to their organization that allows them to be creative.  What would be those aspects?

Here's my research on the topic of creativity.

Predicting Creativity in the Wild-- a research paper on the use of sociometric monitoring of teams by Sociometric Solutions.

Actor John Cleese talks about creativity.  It's about the open mindset of play.





Play is More than Just Fun - Stuart Brown; TED Talk


Stuart Brown has studied play in animals and humans and argues that it is a natural tool used for creative problem solving.

Play by Stuart Brown
"We've all seen the happiness on the face of a child while playing in the school yard. Or the blissful abandon of a golden retriever racing across a lawn. This is the joy of play. By definition, play is purposeless, all-consuming, and fun. But as Dr. Stuart Brown illustrates, play is anything but trivial. It is a biological drive as integral to our health as sleep or nutrition. We are designed by nature to flourish through play."

"Dr. Brown has spent his career studying animal behavior and conducting more than six- thousand "play histories" of humans from all walks of life-from serial murderers to Nobel Prize winners. Backed by the latest research, Play (20,000 copies in print) explains why play is essential to our social skills, adaptability, intelligence, creativity, ability to problem solve and more. Particularly in tough times, we need to play more than ever, as it's the very means by which we prepare for the unexpected, search out new solutions, and remain optimistic. A fascinating blend of cutting-edge neuroscience, biology, psychology, social science, and inspiring human stories of the transformative power of play, this book proves why play just might be the most important work we can ever do."


Dr. Brown's 2008 three part PBS series on Play:
     PROMISE OF PLAY, Part 1: The Mother of Invention
     PROMISE OF PLAY, Part 3: The Heart of the Matter




Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Impediment: Network down time

I'm working with a large networking (telecommunication) company on a mission critical new initiative to replace existing B2B account services functions that are siloed and separate with a new sexy UI where all the services are aggregated in one portal.  The development has been underway for over one year.  It is touted as an "agile" program.  Yet an interesting impediment has never been resolved.  That is the internal WiFi/Lan systems appear to be overloaded with the strain of development, over utilized with the number of people that are squeezed into the floor plan (I call the sardine can).  This system fails quite frequently, it is a well know impediment to sprints being completed, stories integrated into the build, builds tested, access to the QA server, etc.  Yet this impediment remains after months and continued growth of the program.

I wonder if the problem is that management feels that they can't do anything about infrastructure at one of the largest telecommunication companies in the universe.  Perhaps they believe that the cobbler's kids should have no shoes - that is is just the way of the world.

I frequently wonder if this program was a client of the company would they cancel their service for the networking products and seek an alternative supplier.  I wonder if that would be an option for this program.  I wonder if this is a case of having to eat your own dog food - imposed by some evil VP to make the teams understand just how bad the customers have it using our services and administering them using the system we have provided them - but then I realize - no that would take real organizational ability and if it could be used for evil - then surely it would be as easy to use that super power to organize for good.  And since I can feel little organization, I assume there is no super power in existence.

So perhaps one step in the direction of making this problem understood would be to calculate the cost of the frequent network down times and make this cost visible.  I've done this before with other such impediments - with varying levels of success.

I just saw this article:

How Much Does Network Downtime REALLY Cost Your Business? [Shocking]

It contains a link to a calculator - makes it easy... try it - you might like it.

What would you do?  Please leave me a comment with suggestions.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Examples of 21st C. Companies

"The 21st Century is when it all changes.  You've got to be ready."  -- Capt'n Jack Harkness

What does a 21st Century company look like?  Here's some principles, some templates, some examples.  I believe the 21st century will see a movement toward companies being good social citizens (not money focused) these movements are already starting and we are only 14 years into this century.  Movements such as Conscious Capitalism, Sustainability, Triple Bottom Line, Lean/Agile, etc.

I intend to work for one of these new breed of companies before the decade is done.

Conscious Capitalism 

-- Principles:  Higher Purpose, Conscious Leadership, Stakeholder Orientation, Conscious Culture
Examples:  Whole Foods,  The Container Store, Zappos, Southwest Airlines,

Sustainability
"In 1994, Interface® Founder Ray Anderson challenged us to pursue a bold new vision "Be the first company that, by its deeds, shows the entire world what sustainability is in all its dimensions: people, process, product, place and profits - and in doing so, become restorative through the power of influence" The Interface journey toward sustainability has been a momentous shift in the way we operate our business and see the world.

Examples:  Interface Global, Apple (Environmental Responsibility Report)

 

Want to participate in a study - want to assess your business on it's values?  Try the B Impact Assessment.
Conscious Capitalism is teaming up with B Lab to provide our members the B Impact Assessment, a free tool to measure your company’s consciousness and compare it against thousands of other businesses!


Statistical Quality Control (SQC) techniques
Isn't it time to finish the transformation Deming started?  An article on the move toward a new mindset of management by Tripp Babbit.  Deming is responsible for the post war revival of the Japanese manufacturing industry. A move away from the Tayloristic view of management.  Yet most MBA programs still have this 19th century mindset embedded in their teachings.  One of the best books written that moves the world forward is Management 3.0 by Jurgen Appelo.  Also see his new tool chest of knowledge about managing a 21st Century company:  Management 3.0 Workout by Jurgen Appelo.


Triple Bottom Line

The Triple Bottom Line incorporates the notion of sustainability into business decisions. The TBL is an accounting framework with three dimensions: social, environmental (or ecological) and financial.  Commonly referred to as People, Planet, Profit.

Menlo Innovation is a company that has invested in it's culture and people.  Read their story in Joy Inc.



Sharing Intellectual Property for the benefit of the Industry

Boston Beer shares key knowledge with competitors.
Why Samuel Adams Supports Its Competitors by Leigh Buchanan
Founder Jim Koch explains why he gives money, materials, and advice to other craft brewers.

Tesla shares their patents with anyone in the industry.

Zappo's move to Holacracy will it blend?  Is it a good move?  Can one mandate a cultural change such as this?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Case Studies: Software Systems Failure

Software nightmare stories are very common - but one thing I've learned by listening to these stories over the years is the technologist must be optimist at heart.  Why - because they deal constantly with tons of failure.  And out of those failures they create innovative disruptive new sectors of the world economy (sometimes, case in point the Apple Newton and then the iPod and iPhone).

Let's look at a few case studies:

Time has just published a look at the Obama Healthcare rescue team.  Code Red by Steven Brill

"What were the tech problems?  Where they beyond repair? Nothing I saw was beyond repair.  Yes, it was messed up.  Software wasn't built to talk to other software, stuff like that.  A lot of that,"  Abbott continues, "was because they had made the most basic mistake you can ever make.  The government is not used to shipping products to consumers.  You never open a service like this to everyone at once.  You open it in small concentric circles and expand" -- such as one state first, then a few more -- "so you can watch it, fix it and scale it."
What Abbott could not find, however, was leadership.  He says that to this day he cannot figure out who was supposed to have been in charge of the HealthCare.gov launch."
Or take a look at an Agile/Scrum successful rescue -- the FBI Sentinel case management system.
FBI's Sentinel Project: 5 Lessons Learned by InformationWeek's John Foley
Case Study of a Difficult Federal Government Scrum Project: FBI Sentinel by Michael James
DoD Goes Agile by Jeff Sutherland 
DOJ's Report on Sentinel Project by Inspector General - Dec. 2011
How the FBI Proves Agile Works for Gov. Agencies by CIO's Jason Bloomberg
"Wait, agile rescued a huge money-pit fiasco of a government project? You mean, iterative, skunkworks, put-the-customer-on-the-team, forget-the-plan agile? You betcha. Agile turned out to be the hero in the tights and cape, coming to save the day."

Effective Practices and Federal Challenges in Applying Agile Methods  GAO-12-681: Published: Jul 27, 2012
What can one make from failure? Well, author John Kotter of the airport best seller's shelf (Leading Change) created his 8 step model from investigating why companies consistently fail to institute the desired organizational changes that they assumed were mission critical. His conclusion, if they had just done eight things well then the organizational change would have succeeded.
So what can we learn from two of the US governments most recent software project failures?  I think it can be summarized in one phrase - the Big Bang model only works for universes (or God).  The rest of us better learn how to iterate, grow, and evolve systems.

See Also:
Before Scaling up, Consider...
Agile Succeeds 3X more than Waterfall - CHAOS Report 2011 - MountainGoat Software
ObjectMentor success stories:
    Primavera
    Sabre takes extreme measures - ComputerWorld

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Elements of a Effective Backlog


Your Wish List is not a Scrum Backlog.

I've seen lots of list that are referred to as a backlog.  List on paper, in spreadsheets, in powerpoint, on whiteboards, wrapped in a rubber band on index cards - they can take many forms - yet the form is not what makes a wish list into a backlog.  So what are the necessary and sufficient attributes of a backlog?

A list becomes a backlog when:

  • the items are sized (estimated) by the Development Team that will implement the item
  • the items are ordered (prioritized) by the Product Owner by delivery order
  • the items are visible (instantly) to the team and the stakeholders in this ordered list
  • the stories in the list are understood to the team (well enough for sizing)
  • items that reference additional information or requirements are easily obtained (wireframes/mock ups/technical specification/etc. via a well known location)
This list of elements of an effective backlog follows from the principle of transparency -- the team should be able to easily see the future work, interact with the work, and mutate the work as additional knowledge is generated.

Very few of the teams and organizations I work with would pass this acceptance test of a backlog.  And everyone of them have benefited from making the backlog visible and interactive.  The shared understanding of the product, how it will be implemented, and when that will be completed is achieved by this very basic exercise in sharing.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Safety - the perquisite for Leadership

Many coaches suggest that teamwork starts with trust.  Simon Sinek would have us believe that there is a perquisite for trust: followers feel safe.


That feeling of safety builds trust, and that trust sets the environment for teamwork.

Do your team members feel safe?  If the project succeeds or fails do they still have a job on your team?  Answer no to that one simple question and you have your answer to why collaboration and teamwork is a challenge in your organization.

Work toward changing that and you are demonstrating leadership.

Did your software development organization follow the lead of many Agile companies and create a large open space floor plan with rows of cheep tables and expensive chairs?  Did this environment create the collaboration that it was intended to?  I've been in several companies recently that believe they have an Agile environment - this is far from the truth.  Let's look at what they really have and what they desired (or assume would arrive magically).

The desired behavior was the high collaboration that a team room space fosters.  Those team rooms are a success because the team is protected from outside influences, have autonomy of action (such as displaying team artifacts on walls/boards), have alignment of purpose from the environment to the culture to the project's goals.

When organizations try to scale this localized behavior to a large group - what is the first thing to be destroyed?  Safety!  Humans will not feel safe in a group of 100 - 150 strangers.  I've experienced this in a recent company.  We had small team rooms that were too crowded for the 6-9 people, yet they were functioning well and gelling as teams, collaboration was increasing, alignment and focus was driving good team work behaviors.  Then it all changed.  We moved to a new building/campus across the street.  The new space for engineering was one large floor open space with managers and directors in glass offices surrounding the table and chairs of the developers.  All safety was lost, trust dropped, teamwork came to a screeching halt.