Saturday, December 18, 2010

Dan Pink thinks my wife is Good-looking & Wise.

How cool is technology that connects an author with a fan on a personal level.  Perhaps this is just a simple marketing technique.  The author auto-searches the twitter stream for reference to their name or book, and then sends a personal reply to the originating person.  What does this personal attention from a respected author do for the person?  It creates a level of bonding that humans crave.

The result was more powerful than any advertising.  Now Dan Pink has recruited me to spread his message about his book.  Is this just a simple motivation trick - is he a Jedi Master with motivation mind tricks?  I'm telling all my friends that he thinks my wife is Good Looking and Wise.  Hey, that's a quote.

Buy it at Amazon.

Related Post:  It happened again. I enjoy being manipulated by Master Jedi

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dogfood David

I just tagged myself Dogfood David in a retrospective the other day.  Our Product Owner was running a few team building games.  We were playing an Agile word association name game, the ball was tossed to me, the pressure was on, I had to find an Agile word/concept that started with D.  Dogfood David just blurted out of me.

Why did this happen?

As it turns out I do believe in eating my own dogfood.  I have literally made and eaten dogfood.

Kato & Tyler

My wife and I had two dogs when we were married.  After our honeymoon we moved to Salt Lake City and bought new unknown brand of dog food.  Our golden retriever, Tyler, had epilepsy and  he started having daily convulsions.  My wife spotted the pattern. She had been reading about controlling epilepsy in humans via diet.  She put two very temporal separate things together and decide that we had to change Tyler's diet.  More research turned up a book that recommended a vegetarian diet for dogs with epilepsy.

We started making dog food.  Tyler became a vegetarian.  If you have dogs you know that they will share a dish, so this meant that Kato, (a full blooded lab - its a joke), became a vegetarian also.  We made beans & rice for these guys for years.  Tyler's seizures lessened from daily, to weekly, to monthly, to yearly.  Near the end of his life we couldn't remember the last time he had a seizure.

Once the seizures were under control (a relative term) we of course experimented with variations of the diet.  In years of experiments and reflections of what he had eaten just prior to a seizure we had plenty of empirical evidence supporting one theory of epilepsy, toxicity. 

Do you eat your own dogfood?

This phrase "eating your own dogfood" stems from a Loren Green TV commercial for Alpo ( IEEE article).  It is the concept that one uses what one produces, that your products are something that you yourself would consume.  Having eaten beens and rice and then given that to my dogs, I have done this.  It is slightly different than left-overs, when the intent of cooking beans and rice was to make dogfood.  Two active dogs can eat a lot of beans & rice, so we did get tired of beans, variety is important in life.

What does this have to do with a team building game?

I believe in the power of the Scrum Retrospective process.  I had just spent 2 weeks coaching this team in their first baby steps into the Agile world.  We did training, and workshops in Release Planning, in Sprint Planning and Scrum framework, in story creation splitting and sizing, in prioritization and had created a release plan for a minimal viable first release.  The retrospective that the Product Owner was facilitating was designed to deliver 3 things:  team building, feedback for the 2 week workshop, and an example of a retrospective.

By encouraging the PO to run the retrospective I wanted to foster that leadership role that he was taking, to build even more trust and understanding.  I saw a desire that he wanted to help the team gel.  Some portions of the team was from Bosnia and would return there in the afternoon.  I wanted our last face-to-face interactions to be positive and fun.  I also wanted feedback on the 2 week workshop, they will not have to do this again, but I will.  What will I strive to improve for next time?  They are the subject matter experts now - I needed their feedback.  Asking for feedback - shortening my feedback loop - reducing my cycle time - it is all about eating my own dogfood.

Related Post:  Dog Grooming Exercise a simulation in Agile Story Sizing using Affinity Estimation technique.

Warren Harrison, "Eating Your Own Dog Food," IEEE Software, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 5-7, May/June 2006, doi:10.1109/MS.2006.72

Friday, December 10, 2010

What replaces co-location in Agile?

What replaces co-locations and face-to-face collaboration?

In the Agile Manifesto's 12 principles we see the requirement for collaboration, this one however requires co-location.  How else will we get face-to-face conversations?
The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
There are many suggestions for the substitution or replacement of co-location, but none to date have been effective.
  • Conference Phones
  • Web cams 
  • High end video conferences
  • Virtual rooms
  • Holodecks

Virtual Room at the Melbourne Museum

Web cams are a cheep (you get what you pay for) alternative.  If you are going this direction, my advice is to buy a MacBook ($1000). Buy one for both ends of your connection. I believe Apple will be a leader in the video conference/phone market place within 5 years (see timeline).  I can FaceTime with my iPhone and your MacBook, talk about portable!

PCs with USB cameras are a poor choice.  How effective will it be to pick up your laptop with all the cables running out of it and carry it to the white board to show the remote team your architectural sketch?  The MacBook has a built-in camera and 10 hour battery life.  The last web cam conference I was in the PC had a USB camera, USB mouse, power supply & cat 5 network cable.  The battery wouldn't last the whole meeting; the user preferred a track ball over the poor track pad, the hotel's wifi wouldn't support video therefore a hardwire.  There was no portability of the laptop - the primary key feature of the device.

My experience is that web cams are better than a conference call alone, but what is the nature of the collaboration.  Does this promote and foster true dialog? Is their a replacement for two people moving an object like a marker and pointing at different areas of the drawing while saying - "we inject the widget here in the process flow".  "Oh, there, no here!"

The communication channel degrades to one person talking at a time, very slow exchange of information flow (people have to pause a lot to check keep from stepping on each other's words).  The web cam displays a little bit of body language and facial expressions, but they are typically time lagged, and rarely life sized.  Web cams require someone to take on the role of camera operator.  Don't expect your meeting facilitator to do both.

Tips & Techniques

Brad Swanson of Propero Solutions in Denver has a nice article on tips and techniques to help remote teams. To summarize Brad;  invest in infrastructure, hire coaches at both ends, practice XP, have a large travel budget, shift work days to overlap, learn about cultural preferences, keep an eye peeled for new and better tools.

Is it Truly Cost Effective?

While outsourcing appears to save the accountant money, the systems-thinker must ask if we have improved our customer's lives by having remote teams.  It is after all our customer that arbitrates the choice to buy our product or their best alternative (similar to BATNA).   Did the quality of the product increase?  Did our speed to market increase?  Did we deliver the right features, within budget, and in a timely manner to meet the customer's desires?

Scott Ambler's Agile Adoption Rate survey of 2008 found a 23% drop in success rates for remote teams (co-located success rate 83%; remote success rate 60%). I wonder if the accountant has that factored into the bottom line spreadsheet.

A Ball of Whacks

I broke out some of my toys in a training class the other day.  A brought out just a few at a time.  Its nice to keep a few surprises in the bag.  Toys add to the fun quotient.

One of the standard toys is a rubber chicken.  This is a fun item to have.  Most people are shocked that I have one and would actually bring it into the work place.  But after they get to play with it, the fear of having fun at work seems to dissipate.

I like the squishy rubber chicken - they come in all types of rubber, you can buy them online - but to get the kind that feel a bit icky (like cold chicken skin) you have to touch and feel them in a toy store.

The rubber chicken can be used for so many things in a training class or workshop.  A "talking token" - only if you have the chicken may you speak.  Or to transport the team forward in time, so that they can Remember the Future.  You've heard of the magic of  waving a dead chicken - right?

The chicken is fun - but the best toy is the Ball of Whacks - it looks simple.  Many people believe it to be some new form of Rubik's Cube - it's not!  They grab it and twist.  Crash all the pieces flip and spin and the ball breaks into pieces.  "Oh, that's not what I thought it was."

The ball is made up of 30 golden ratio rhombic pyramids. With internal rare earth magnets that stick the pyramids together, these design blocks form a perfect 30-sided rhombic triacontahedron an interesting shape.  But the design allows one to make even more interesting shapes.

It is a creative tool and can be used individually or in a group game.  At one client's site I kept it on my desk and every few weeks it would disappear and show up in a new configuration, stay that way for a week or so and someone else would play with it a while to make a new shape.  Some were very creative.

This toy combines two of my favorite things, building blocks and magnets.  I'm a Lego fan from way back,  I once built a road grader from Legos.  But the genius of combining magnets with blocks is astounding.  I think magnets are fun because one can play with a fundamental force of nature that operates on a human scale.  One rarely gets the chance to play with a mysterious force of nature and not get hurt (gravity is fun but the stop at the bottom of the hill can break bones).


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Myth of the Construction meme in Software

I'm reading Scott L. Bain's book Emergent Design - The Evolutionary nature of Professional Software Development.  I'm reading it because of the discussion in a work session on the nature of software just this week.  One person was describing why we software developers needed to think long and hard on our problems and design the best possible solution to deliver value to our customer.  He was advocating the BDUF philosophy.  I asked if he thought software could be grown, as a tree is grown from a seed into a seedling and then many years later a mighty oak tree.  He said software was more like the Sears Tower (a local to Chicago never refers to the building by it's current name - Willis Tower).

I'm constantly amazed by the power of a meme.  The ability of this construction based mental model to remain within our industry is astounding.  Discussing this with a colleague, we thought this one model to be one of the hardest for people in their transition to Agile to re-wire in their brains.

So this is why I'm re-reading Emergent Design.  Is there something here that will help me in the dialogue with these Architects?  I've place my mental model of software as a creative process, a work of art, an activity of design where the building or construction phase takes about 20 milliseconds (incremental compilation of modern IDEs).  The test phase of software may require much longer up to 10 minutes (run a suite of automated user acceptance & behavioral test).  Then we destroy the completed product (delete the compiled executable) and go back to design with the knowledge gained from the tests.  This quick feedback loop is why software is not like the Sears Tower.

We could not build the Sears Tower and then check to see if the lights were in the preferred location on a sunny spring day to light the artwork on the executive suite wall; find that the lights needed to be relocated and then destroy the building.  Blow it up and start again.  Place the lights in a better location and now look at the electrical outlets, how do they work?  A little to the left - blow it up again.

So I have great hope that Scott Bain's book will turn-on a new connection in my brain pathways.

In the section on "What sort of activity is software development?" Scott notes that licensing and oversight by the state are aspects of a profession, such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers.  He argues that "software should be conducted as a professional activity, but that it isn't yet."  I find it funny that even my barber is licensed and has oversight.  Yet many in the software industry believe they are professionals.

I wonder how many "professionals" that have say 5 - 10 years experience developing software do not know how to unit test their software adequately?  I heard of a test manager (UAT) reporting that he didn't want to waste his tester's time testing the application that was being delivered from the development group because it had only 7% code coverage by unit test.  In my opinion this is malpractice (accept that malpractice applies to a professional).  I assume that a hiring manager could go to the local university and hire a CS graduate that not only knew how to unit test - but also practiced TDD.  The company would be well served by hiring 2 - 3 college grads and putting them on the team, allowing them to train the old guys.  Learn the accepted practices of your profession or get out of the job.

I suppose if software was a construction site job, then the architect could design a wonderful application on paper then give it to a programmer to code.   The skills used would remain rather constant.  There would be little need to refresh knowledge or to keep current with the best practices.  Then the programmer would be much like a steel worker, highly skilled in a narrow focused specialized trade.  No need for a profession for the programmer.

But architects are licensed professionals aren't they?  Did you notice that we borrowed the construction industries labels for abstract roles.  That's too bad.  Anyone know the meaning of the word architect?  The word comes to English, from French, Italian, Latin, and originating in Greek as arkhitekton, arkhi - 'chief' + tekton - 'builder'.  It is not surprising that a word borrowed so many times has lost its original meaning.  One who knows how to build.  How many of your companies architects write code - build software?

-- 2010-12-19 reading Drive by Dan Pink

Behavioral scientist divide what we do into two categories: algorithimic and heuristic.  Building the Sears Tower is algorithmic (construction); designing the tower is heuristic.  We use the term build the widget application when we mean design the application.  Changing the terms changes the assumed behaviors that are required.  Changing the behaviors that are required changes the management system we wish to use to view progress and assess success.  The twentieth century was the age of algorithmic work.  We don't live in Frederick Taylor's world today.  It is a new world where the work is heuristic.  Look at Ford's assembly line; we have hired robots to work the line.  Thanks to Taylor's methods the robots are very good at their jobs.

Long Distance Communication Timeline

Wondering about improving the collaboration of a distributed Scrum team, I started thinking of the history of long distance communication.  I'm no expert but here's what I see in history, the trend, the current state, and the future.

History shows us that we humans have struggled with the problem of transmitting message over space.  Getting a signal to cross space is easy, attaching meaning to the signal has been much harder and insuring the veracity of the meaning is really tough.  None of that insures that meaning has been understood.  However we have studied this phenomenon and found that increasing the modes of message transmitted improves the understanding of the  received message.  That is; as we move along the modal continuum of written, verbal, visual, video messages we increase the chance for higher fidelity message understanding.

Lessons to be learned - use the highest bandwidth medium possible.
1983 Map of the early internet (ARPAnet)

But in the year 2010, I still find our technology lacking.  Dick Tracy had a great system in the 1960s, his wrist watch TV always worked never had glitches or dropped calls.  I believe FaceTime to be in keeping with that vision.  It is simple to use, but requires I stand in selected areas (wi-fi enabled zones of my environment).  It also is a proprietary system that like the first telephone system require pairing the two end points with the same device.  This was a problem with early systems in Greece (clepsydra - water clock).  Solving this requires standardization upon open protocols - it is a known solution and responsible for the success of the internet/web that you are now using.

The telephone networks in the USA were largely successful because of the monopoly that was granted to Ma Bell.  That had it's down-side also - stagnation of the industry.  If we were to pick a company today to be that monopoly holder with the hopes of unifying the industry and making all system work together (like the POTS - Plain Old Telephone System), who would it be?  I select Apple.  One of the largest 10 companies in the world (market capital) and one of the most innovative.  After we get our ubiquitous video phone on our wrist watches (ala Dick Tracy) and we are happy with the service we can break up Apple (like we did AT&T & Microsoft, etc).


Signal Fire - think prearranged and agreed message indicated by the lighting of a fire at the top of a mountain.  The fall of Troy was signaled by King Agamemnon to Queen Clytemnestra in Greece using this method.

490 BC the Expendable Runner-Messenger - think Pheidippides from a battlefield at Marathon, runs 26.2 miles to Athens to deliver the news "Niki!" ("victory"), then collapsed and died.  Before this innovation people just walked, but news traveled much slower.

Signal Flags - think ships at see with the Jolly Roger set in the mast.  Early use of this was shown to include mis-communication of the highest order.  On the Argonautic Expedition Theseus used colored sails to send messages to the fleet.  Forgetting to lower the black sail (signal of battle and of death) after the battle, his father Zgeus saw the black sail and interrupted the signal as the death of Theseus.  Grieving he jumped overboard to drown.  Opps - Theseus should have raised the red sail - a signal of victory.

So way back then we were challenged with low bandwidth and poor signal quality.

335 BC Bull Horn or stentorophonic tube.  Alexander the Great used one and could communicate 12 miles.

A clepsydra is a water clock which if paired with a similar device could be used to sends prearranged signals via light signals.  Yes this is the beginning of optic communication systems. Image that the device, a container was inscribed with messages at varying heights of water, the container had a hole & plug in the bottom.  Upon signaling the two water clocks would be unplugged at the same time (synchronized by the light signal) when the light was extinguished the hole would be plugged.  Given the same flow rates the water level would be identical and the height would indicate the message at that level.  Pure genius, but quite a lot of preparation work to send a signal of prearranged messages. And the cycle time was quite high - one had to refill the two containers with water.

This is not much different than current signaling technology.  The prearranged messages are now 1 or 0, on or off.  However the signaling rate is much higher (mega hertz) not to mention multiple channels of concurrent signals.

Compressing the timeline a bit - because the state of messages transmitted over distance didn't change much for thousands of years.

1790s Optical Telegraph - Napoleon used one innovated by the use of semaphore networks, he was able to communicate over much greater distances than his foes, and gained great advantage.

1830s Electromagnetic Telegraph - it took quite some time for innovation to make these devices useful.  Invented in 1804, and put into commercial use on Britain's Great Western Railway in 1839.  Morse developed his telegraph and the famous code in 1837 and drove the Pony Express out of business with a trans-continental telegraph line by 1861.

1843 Alexander Bain invented a device that could be considered the first facsimile machine - a recording telegraph.

1855 Giovanni Caselli created a telegraph that could transmit images. The "Pantelegraph" was successfully tested on a telegraph line between Paris and Lyon.  Note how long it will take to make this commercially available - why? See 1934 below for a hint.

1860 Pony Express - a fast mail courier service from St. Joseph, MO to Sacramento, CA it is well known for a failed business - it lasted just over one year (April 1860 - October 1861).  Messages required just 10 days from Atlantic to Pacific coast.

1876 Bell patents the Telephone - an innovation to the telegraph that allowed clear speech to be heard on the receiving end.  “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.”  Bell didn't invent the phone.

1885 - Edison patents wireless radio.  Ten years later in 1895, Marconi builds a wireless system capable 1.5 mile distance.

1891 Alexander Graham Bell envisions the videophone  "...the day would come when the man at the telephone would be able to see the distant person to whom he was speaking."

1893 - Nikola Tesla demonstrates the fundamentals of radio.

1906 - AM radio - Oh Holy Night is broadcast in Massachusetts by Reginald Fessenden.

1920 - Radio News Broadcast -  Detroit, Michigan.  First sports broadcast

1920s First Video Phones -  technological precursor to the videophone was the teleostereograph machine developed by AT&T's Bell Labs. By 1927 AT&T had created its earliest electromechanical videophone, called an ikonophone.

1934 - Answering Machine - How Ma Bell Shelved the Future for 60 Years "In early 1934, Clarence Hickman, a Bell Labs engineer, had a secret machine, about six feet tall, standing in his office. It was a device without equal in the world, decades ahead of its time. If you called and there was no answer on the phone line to which Hickman's invention was connected, the machine would beep and a recording device would come on allowing the caller to leave a message."

1930s Dialing Phone network - the consumer could now self select the party to call (dial a number) and the network was powered by a central office rather than individuals local battery.

1943 - US Supreme Court awards Tesla patents on radio invalidating the fundamental Marconi patents. Tesla intended to use wireless to transmit electrical power - which has just now 2010, become commercialized.

1960s AT&T introduce Touch-Tone dialing.

1960s Cordless Phone - "The Carterphone, a crude device for interconnecting a two-way radio with the telephone, led to the reversal of the Federal Communications Commission ban on direct coupling of consumer equipment to phone lines (known as the 1968 landmark Carterphone decision) on June 26, 1968. The original cordless phones, like the Carterphone, were acoustically (not electrically) connected to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN)." Not until the 1980s will this become a successful commercial product.

1964 Picturephone AT&T's product and service in the 1964 New York World's Fair

1964 Dick Tracy's wrist TV.  

1979 Cellular Telephone - first cell network in Tokyo. Five years later the NTT network covered the whole population of Japan.

1980s Cordless Phone commercial success.

1983 First Cell Phones in Chicago, US

1990s Satellite Phone - using low earth orbit (LEO) satellites it is possible to have global coverage - however both companies (Globalstar & Iridium) have gone bankrupt with this business plan's high cost of a constellation of many satellites (44 & 66).

1991 2G Cell Networks - "modern" digital 2G (second generation GSM standard) cellular technology was launched in Finland.

1996 US telecommunication companies petition the US Congress to ban Internet phone technology.

2000s VoIP - Internet Protocol for voice transmission becomes widespread.

2004 Commercial VoIP service providers.

2010 FaceTime - Apple's video phone technology for iPhone 4.

2010s Telephone companies switch from time to data as the unit of commerce.  AT&T plans for my iPhone start charging me for data (2 GB for about $40) rather than 10 cents per minute for calling someone in the USA.  In essence AT&T gives me calls for "free" if I pay for the data that the calls require (via the merging telecommunication networks; POTS & Internet).

2014 Eugene passes the Turning Test.
"An historic milestone in artificial intelligence set by Alan Turing – the father of modern computer science – has been achieved at an event organised by the University of Reading.  The 65 year-old iconic Turing Test was passed for the very first time by supercomputer Eugene Goostman during Turing Test 2014 held at the renowned Royal Society in London on Saturday 7th June.  ‘Eugene’, a computer programme that simulates  a 13 year old boy,  was developed in Saint Petersburg, Russia." RobotEnomics - Tracking the march of the robot economy, by Colin Lewis. 

See Also:

The Hummingbird Effect: How Galileo Invented Timekeeping and Forever Changed Modern Life
by Maria Popova.  How the invisible hand of the clock powered the Industrial Revolution and sparked the Information Age.

A Perspective on Time  by

All of Earth's history mapped to a 100 yard football field timeline.