Yes. Size DOES Matter.

Contrary to popular belief Bigger is NOT better.  Big organizations want BIG stuff.  Whether it be projects, programs, releases, teams, scope, architecture…you name it, they want it BIG!  Even Org charts.  The more levels and boxes, the better.  But, when it comes time to getting things done the people you need to execute now have to jump through BIG hoops to make it happen.  And, after all of that BIG effort, the end result ends up being not so big.  Despite this notion of bigger not being better being proven time and time again, it’s still a challenge for people believe it.  I’ve blogged about this before and I offer my apologies for being repetitive.  Events have put this top of mind – again – and I just couldn’t control the urge.  Big <insert item here> leads to BIG problems.

Team Size – More people means more potential communication gaps, lack of alignment – to the commitment, the work and the vision, inability to unify into a single entity and difficulty collaborating.

Scope Size – Everything and the kitchen sink means greater risk.  Risk to what you ask?  Risk that what finally gets put into production is no longer relevant.  You put too much out there, something doesn’t work and you have no idea what that something is.  The problem you initially set out to address is diluted and gets lost in the shinier things people have managed to shove in.  There’s so much you have to move quickly and quality and deliberate decision making goes out the window.

Story Size – Well, the hood’s open so we may as well….. Wait.  What was this story delivering again?  There’s no way we can complete that in a sprint.  Now, what you thought was a quick fix ends up taking a quarter.

Process Size – Rather than addressing the root cause, we have a process to make sure that – what was it we were trying to prevent again?  Big Process is indicative of an inefficient organization/system.

Decision Size – You can’t empower anyone to decide to decide anything b/c the potential impact is (also) TOO BIG.  This means everything takes way too long.  The date you’re shooting for?  Add 6 or so months to it.

WIP Size – There’s so much in progress that focus is lost.  Congratulations, you now have 20 things in progress and completion of any one of them is no where on the horizon.  Makes for some BIG reporting though.  WOOT!

Want to scale?  All of the above applies times a gazillion.  Size matters.  If you’re seeing problems with being able to deliver quality software frequently and efficiently, dig into the size of everything.  Be warned.  You could find yourself standing in a very BIG hole.

 

The Burn Down – Using it for GOOD vs. EVIL

As  a Scrum Master, some of my teams resented the burn down and me for pestering them to update their time.  Sometimes, teams feel the updating of hours and the burn down are ways to make make micro-managing easier.  And, sometimes, that’s EXACTLY what it is used for.  It’s sad but true.  So, what happens when this “evil” scenario is true?

1.  Managers have a false sense of security that all is right with the delivery team.  They really like that.  As managers, it’s a bragging point.

2.  Teams don’t get a sense of what might be off easily.  This means a delay in realizing there’s a problem.  This is good when teams don’t want their managers to know there is a problem.

3.  The environment teams work within doesn’t improve enough to foster honesty and transparency.  This means no one really wants to learn about problems much less prevent or fix them.

4.  The evil cycle continues because without transparency, you can’t build trust.  A good burn down isn’t, by itself, a reason to trust.  Also, teams who have managers who manage to the burn down may have a hard time trusting their manager.  Does the manager REALLY want to know about, care about or help fix a problem?

5.  The Principle “Working Software is the Primary Measure of Progress” isn’t ever true.  I mean, as long as the burn down is pretty, who cares about working software? No ONE b/c the burn down is perfect!

 

When managers show value for the burn down rather than meeting the Sprint Goals and the team commitment, the team will ensure what the manager values looks AWESOME thereby completely missing the point.  The burn down is a great tool when used for good and a Scrum Master can help educate teams and managers on the goodness.  Frankly, when a burn down looks too good, I’m a little skeptical.

A daily burn down is an easy, quick, daily graphical representation of how the team is doing against their plan.  The key word there is THEIR plan.  If something looks off, it’s a signal for all of them to take a look.  There’s something taking longer than they thought.  Time is being added at a rate equal to or greater than time is being burned.  The team isn’t updating their work rendering the burn down inaccurate. There are other possibilities as well but, the point here is the team needs to take action.

They own their commitment right?  They also own the plan.  If something is taking longer, what is it and what can be done – now – to correct it?  There’s no need to wait for retro.  They can jump on it and get back on track.  It could be scope creep introduced somewhere.  It could be an impediment they’re spending too much time trying to resolve and need to escalate outside to get help.  It could be something they’re making more complex than it needs to be (perfect is the enemy of good).

Time being added faster than the burn down means they’ve learned more as they dove into the story further and there’s more to it than they thought.  They can work with the PO to see what modifications to scope can be made.  They didn’t really take planning all that seriously and need to re-visit their plan quickly to correct and let the PO know what has changed and what it means.

The team isn’t burning their time down.  This could be because they don’t see the value as a result of never having used it for its intended purpose.  If teams aren’t using it and aren’t taking action to refine and adjust as they go, surprises await the PO and stakeholders at the end of a sprint which is no good.

Helping the team see the value and teaching managers to value the accuracy of it rather than the ideal and actual lining up nicely is a good first step.  The team demonstrating their value for it through the actions they take – when necessary – to address it builds trust with the PO and the managers.  Reminding managers of the true goal – WORKING SOFTWARE and the importance of hitting the established sprint goals – and focusing on those rather than the burn down is preferred.

I like to leverage the demos to do this.  Review the sprint goals with the audience.  Speak to the target and actual velocity.  Show the burn down and walk through the learning points of the sprint with everyone.  If the burn down looks good  but the goals and target velocity were missed THAT is what managers need to spend time on.  I also like all of the above to use in Retro too.  Let the team consider the data to inform their growth opportunities and actions coming out of retro.

Burn downs are good…unless they’re obsolete and not used correctly.  Then, they’re evil and can impediments to Agility themselves.  Manage to the burn down and you will get a pretty burn down.  Manage towards a team’s ability to reliably and frequently deliver working software and meet their sprint goals and you will get a team who cares about that, takes their commitment seriously and ensures you are never surprised and are always aware of what’s going on.

An Armchair Agile QB

It’s been an interesting time in the Agile world lately.  I have read posts, tweets and the related threads with a little bit of amusement but, really, it has all just made me a little sad.  Dave Thomas, a signor of the manifesto, offers a perspective here regarding Agility and says:

“The word “agile” has been subverted to the point where it is effectively meaningless, and what passes for an agile community seems to be largely an arena for consultants and vendors to hawk services and products.”

I read the discussions on twitter.  I read the blog posts and all the comments.  Here’s YET ANOTHER flaming rail against SAFe (because there haven’t been enough).  Be sure to read the comments.  That’s where the magic happens.  And I sit at home, after a long day working and coaching, wondering how people have the energy to throw verbal hissy fits when, in theory, we’re all working and passionate about the same thing.  Unless, we’re not…

The Agile manifesto was a call to action.  A cry to work differently.  A rallying point.  People were passionate about it and the ensuing alignment was natural and a testament to its simplicity and purpose.  Dave was proud of the work but, not THAT proud:

“However, since the Snowbird meeting, I haven’t participated in any Agile events,1 I haven’t affiliated with the Agile Alliance, and I haven’t done any “agile” consultancy. I didn’t attend the 10th anniversary celebrations.

Why? Because I didn’t think that any of these things were in the spirit of the manifesto we produced.”

So, after the Snowbird meeting the Manifesto immediately became  an arena for consultants and product hawkers.  That’s the Fastest.Impact.Ever.  He was part of something larger than himself and proud of it – until, seemingly, the very next day.  You’re proud your name is on it as a signor but not proud enough to advocate for it or help people learn?  You write a blog post to slam what others have done, but won’t have a face to face conversation with those same people because it’s not in the spirit of the manifesto?

I LOVE that the post was written.  It starts a good discussion and it’s honest.   I would really love to see him attend the conferences he eschews and work to address the problems he has identified.  Engage on the field rather than being an arm-chair QB.

It’s ludicrous to see coaches beating each other up over the brands, methods and certifications.  Seriously?  It’s all rooted in the same four core values that haven’t changed.  Not once. Though I have even seen suggestions to change them too.  If you don’t like the method/framework/brand, don’t teach it.  No one is forcing it down your throat.  These rants (mine included)  kill me because the simplicity and the power that lies in the Manifesto get lost. As Agile professionals we’re collectively responsible for our profession and what started it.   Regardless of HOW it’s adopted or approached, what’s important – to me anyway – is the values and principles are front and center.  If there’s a framework that doesn’t put them front and center for you, there’s nothing stopping you from doing it yourself.

Disagreement and dialogue are good when we’re all trying to achieve a common goal.  Are we?

I’m going to go ahead and blame Dave for all this craziness because he took his ball and went home but continued to watch through the window and holler at everyone.  ;)

 

 

 

Take It To The Team

It is inevitable and tempting that many decisions that affect the team are made without ever consulting the ones that are primarily targeted.  Even if  enacted with good intent.  We still see this on a different scale when the software user was never consulted but significant choices were made in their best interests as well.  Certainly there is a balance somewhere in something that might be too small or trivial and as opposed to another extreme where the user is relegated to insignificance.  Taking choices to the teams and discussing solutions which impact them, is every bit as important as involving a software user.

  • Find out what they think and how they think.  This is a chance to connect and understand; an opportunity for innovation and creativity.
  • Get impact that you might not have considered.  Omniscience is not a human ability.
  • Consider some alternatives and adjustments to the plan from the team. Consider even that sometimes you may not be thinking ‘heads-up’ enough for vision and strategy if this is something the team could/should already be capable of deciding.
  • The team may not get the Last word or Decision – but include them in every step of the way.  They are learning about the organization and processes.  What they elect to change might surprise you and start to shift the organization or process in a better direction.

I wrote up a small Empowerment Quiz considering the posture of the teams I encountered.  Were they defensive? Perhaps timid? Spending time having the right conversations, actions and decisions to become better teams is important for me.  Ever made easier because the team is always important to me.  To be able to represent the team as working on the most valuable work to the organization, that the team’s work was high quality, and that we were adjusting to meet the needs of the user is a great job to have.  That a team is also improving the product, as well as it’s own skills, processes, and tools… even more so.

Shared leadership is a chance to grow and learn in an environment conducive to improvement.  We help each other to be accountable.  We are teaching and learning to see from different levels of perspective.  Being an active part of the solution is far more valuable than swept along in the tide.  The answers we search for and find ourselves tend to be more valued than the ones we are readily given. If there is a decision likely to involve them, before one is made, take it to the team.

 

To Whom It Should Concern

To Whom It Should Concern,

I am writing to you on behalf of a team I have will have the distinct pleasure to work with.  I don’t know when – as I have yet to meet them,  but they are out there.  Some when in time. This team will adopt an entirely new way of working and will change many of the processes around them. They will also change the tools they are used to.   This team is a natural collaborator.  They may not have all the answers, but I will see them get stronger and more  resourceful with every challenge that they come across.   They will develop a calm and deliberate manner with which they approach the work.  They will help the organization to understand the product they inherited and their own capacity for work.  This team will often strive for opportunities to better themselves. They are earnest in delivering a product that is slowly becoming what the user really wants.  It may require a bit if patience as this team matures.  There will be sparks of innovation and creativity that pay small dividends and will continue to accumulate for the benefit and influence with the other teams.  This team will need your support and at times your patience.  They may even struggle at times or misstep as they find answers on their own.  They may even challenge you.  I will tell you, there is greatness in this team. They will grow and tackle some tough problems for the organization.  They will try, learn, teach, and influence others to improve just as they expect it from themselves.  Congratulations on having such a team.  They are the ones doing some heavy lifting.  I hope you trust their professionalism and that they honestly want to create something valuable.    Help them with obstacles and to celebrate the small wins along the way.  Stay engaged.  Your interest and guidance will eventually find that they will be able to run faster than you could imagine.  Congratulations.

Xtreme Feedback

I once posted that in an agile sense it seems like We Can Never Go Fast Enough.  Going fast means we need to have quick reflexes; the ability to adjust. This in turn relies upon feedback.  Some information that quickly lets us know how we are doing and allows us to steer back on course. If someone is YELLING, then it’s our ears. Very often, however, it is our eyes that tell us.  It is why we lean so heavily on information radiators and large visual displays.
There has been a growing trend for a while now in pursuing ever faster feedback mechanisms; often named Extreme Feedback.   

The Extreme isn’t so  bad. Not as in some reality show which uses shock collars when something gets broken, but rather in the ability to very quickly ascertain information.

1) Where the code is
2) What State the code is in
3) If Something undesired actually happens – Signal for help!  600px-Nabaztag-IMG_1666

Whether it’s a bunny from Nabaztag or an Arduino (Uno or Mega) with some LED’s like this starter kit – these indicators can be tied into a build process and let the entire team know what is happening.  Collocated or distributed, these devices are fun ways to immediately inform the team about what is going on.

A Team Foundation Server Build Bunny

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/303614/whats-your-favorite-extreme-feedback-device
https://blog.codecentric.de/en/2013/07/using-a-raspberry-pi-to-control-an-extreme-feedback-devices/
https://jenkins-ci.org/content/extreme-feedback-lamp-switch-gear-style
https://wiki.jenkins-ci.org/display/JENKINS/eXtreme+Feedback+Panel+Plugin

I might choose the bunny because Easter is almost here! I might choose an Arduino because I am tired of Hidden Easter Eggs!
From the Quality side of things, I always disliked very long processes that went on and didn’t have any verification until a dozen or more changes were involved. Let alone another dozen processes had already been gone through.  It was even worse, if like in waterfall, the next stage was the verification of several months of work.  Extreme feedback pushes into the small changes that the build is compiling and does a great job of simply making everyone aware. Quality in the moment. Devices like this can be tied into deployments, and even into Test results. What about some aggregated sprint or release results? Granted the feedback on a release is going in the BIGGER direction – but the automated indicator of a :(  *sad* bunny is impetus enough to rouse ourselves to action and address the problem.  In a fun way of course.  

If the team has a budget (and I often think it should), this might be a great, fun, and motivating project to help the team to get ‘to good’ as soon as something goes wrong.  In TDD (Test Driven Development) terms “getting back into the green”.  A passing state, and out from the red, broken state, as soon as possible.  The term leverages from the eXtreme Programming or XP Practices that Kent Beck championed.

Have fun if your team decides to use one.  Let us know how creative you were.

Without A Net

As a traveler I know there is always something new just lurking around the corner.  Whether it is taking a metro train and navigating a city, navigating a building, or even meeting people for the very first time.  Sometimes even when I am doing something practiced, a new situation has the tendency to spill itself all over the comfortable events I had planned on neatly unfolding.

There was a book written a while ago Working Without a Net.  I liked the premise that – eventually we should get used to doing some great things without worrying if we had a safety net below us.  Now I do NOT condone physically working without safety equipment.  Yet the mental equivalent of something comfortable which might hold us back from trying something amazing now and again, resonates with me.   The chapter about channeling one’s anger, seemed outdated, since it suffices only as a very short term motivator. – But, back to my story…

I have had a slide deck around for a little while.  I spent an hour updating it.  Improving it a little each time I bring it out.  It might be getting a little long with all the cumulative material through the ages.  Yet it allows me to cover the breadth and depth of the material.  I am comfortable with the content.

I had arrived early to the room.  I usually like to get a feel for the space which I am going to be throwing ideas around in.  Often I will change the contents around in some formation that benefits the audience as they participate.  Sometimes just to introduce a a change that keeps a creative ember burning somewhere that spacial permanence has seemed to desensitize the returning audience.  Tables and chairs arranged. CHECK.

Then the projector, screen, computer, slide deck, and any typical markers or post-its that a ‘meeting-in-a-bag’ might offer.  CHECK.

I know my voice can dial up to carry across the room – no mic. needed.  Wireless presenter to allow for some mobility.  CHECK.

Audience is starting to trickle in now. CHECK.

and with a quorum – off we go.  First Slide… Starting into the topic… and the projector goes out.   *sigh*

Is there a quick 10 second fix… nope.. and then the priorities start to become clear.

Why are we here -FOR THE AUDIENCE.  These people are important to me and I absolutely do not want to wast their time.  They have asked me to explain and explore a topic they have all previously expressed an interest in learning more about….  Alright – I made the slides – and those were from my experiences and insights… I’m still functioning….   What do I have around me… I have just switched from assessing situation, and a quick personal (psychological) inventory to looking at my surroundings.  What in the environment can I use to aid my survival.  :)

Abandoning the projector and screen

I see a whiteboard… I’ve got a marker or two… and the slides now become the old ‘Chalk Talk’ using some dry erase markers.

What were the really REALLY important things I want them to come away with… my mind starts leaping forward and re-arranging the material instantly.  Let’s draw it out.

Along the way I reach out and offer some choices as an audience… there might be two different exercises we can do to practice this… ‘which one would you like?’  The decision from the crowd takes a few seconds… It is one way to characterize the group – how long do they take to make a decision and how many were vocal.

The time and breadth of topic passes quickly as we get questions along the way which perfectly explore some common areas that can be misunderstood.  GREAT Questions that actually lead me to cover areas I might have missed AND take the audience along the route they wish to explore.  I feel more like a guide than a presenter.  Our safari into the topic still leaves me with how fun it can be though I’ve been here many times before- just not in the same vehicle driving through it.

Joking, laughter, and even a few AHA moments.

And before we go, a few minutes for being retrospective and feedback about the time we spent together… Some pretty high marks…no mention of the projector.  The ability to switch manner of delivery and increase participation is perhaps left unstated; simply appreciated. No thing is perfect but our ability to make adjustments along the way is perhaps one of the basic tenants for agile – have a plan but get used to adapting.

A few linger afterward and want to explore other areas of knowledge.  I wonder if the teachers choose the students as often as students prefer to choose their teachers?

The NET that I was careful to prepare, the slide deck… seemed as if it held me back from really connecting and getting the best curiosity and participation from those who attended.  What else is there that might be so comfortable, it may actually hold back and keep from moving into some spectacular things?

Never Going Fast Enough

There is something about organizations today that is prevalent.  The feeling that we just can’t go fast enough.  Many don’t really know the organization’s capability, or aptly characterize what is going on.  To know precisely where and how to improve may be lacking, let alone be aware of the impact of it all.  Teams themselves get impatient and  start to lose some of their calm about the problems that beset and beleaguer them.  So what if we were to make a few basic premises about the organizational landscape.

1) We are all here to do the right thing.

Not everything will help, but wouldn’t it make a difference knowing that we ALL want the software that we deliver to not only rock… but paper and scissors as well. MakerBot’s 3-D printer MakerWare will install and tell you that you are installing a bundle of AWESOME.  I wish we were all as excited about developing and using our software! Trusting that we want to do better lets me have some patience as we try a few things to improve.  Being open and honest also means we are saying directly what concerns us. It also means that if we see a problem then we also know enough to get in there and be a part of the solution. We need EVERYONE’S creativity and innovation. Not locked in up in a solitary head, but communicated and collaborating with the team.  It also means that when teams get moving, they will be fairly quick to act in solving and addressing problems.

2) Organizations are fighting for growth – or sit back, stagnate and eventually become obsolete.

The universe allows very few things to continue without some form of upkeep, maintenance, and eventual improvement.  Mathematical equations might be one exception, but algorithms which are great at data mining are not.  Software is the same way.  Technology improves our platforms of usage with smart phones and tablets.  Education and expectation grow the demand of an increasingly integrated and aware customer base. Innovation changes paradigms and allows some great advancement or advantage.  Moving forward and improving is a continuous adaptation.  The time to react, from perception to deliverable is now the measure for organizations.  How nimble, how agile are we?

3) There are no limits, only plateaus- get beyond them.

Bruce Lee said something to this effect.  We have a tendency to complain about limited memory, limited attention, limited time.  Another way to put it is cognitive load.  The ability to think is relies on internal processes such as motivations, reasoning, planning, learning, and solving.  External processes would include perceptions, stimulus, and actions.  Most of my own limitations start with where I think I can’t.  I have always been most rewarded in pushing beyond what I’ve done before and doing it from the perspective that I CAN… GO.

4) Teams require work

Investing time in the communication, collaboration, and the cultivation of the team is important.  Remember the team is the only thing in the organization that will do the work and get the software to done. Investments in great performing teams will allow the organization to really move.  Just as individuals collaborate, so do teams. It starts to scale. I know some individuals out to change the organization.  How much more influential might teams themselves become?  How about programs of teams?  We might not be able to go fast enough. I will say, however, that if we see the improvement – our rate of change will increase as we push against our own limitations as an organization.

 

 

The Eye of a Transformation Storm

A little known fact about myself.  I used to have a great fear of speaking up in front of a room, in front of others.  No Joke.  It went to such an extreme that I buried myself in books (especially English literature) and memorized vast amounts of quotes from others.  My own words never seemed worthy enough to be expressive and meaningful. So I relied on these quotes and spent a lot of time trying to be prepared when I HAD to speak or give some speech. Then immersion was next.  Speaking again and again and learning something new from every single experience.  A powerful one is when the speaker actually listens to the rest of the room and adjusts to where the group asks to explore. It would be unfair if this circumstance is more like performing a rescue. Getting all gear prepared, getting into the helicopter, starting it up and then just sitting there yelling at a stranded victim to come to you.  We actually need to be at the very perspective they are, help them triage, prioritize and assess, and move.  Ever a balance with leading the group to where it needs to go.

I look back across the years from whence I deliberately wandered and can only smile.  I now find it wonderfully rewarding to speak to rooms of people.  This is where it starts. The spark to transform an organization starts in small teams and grows.  In the beginning of this transformation the inevitable J-Curve panic sets in.  Sometimes the initial chaotic dismay is like listening to a storm. There seem to be SO many problems that I often hear ‘I thought that Agile was supposed to solve all our problems’, and ‘Agile isn’t working’.  The reply is usually – that Agile will not SOLVE your problems, but it will certainly help expose them!  We rely on people to solve problems.  Agile just provides some framework in which we structure the interaction.  We all know that although people are quite comfortable with old processes, that they certainly didn’t work out well either.

Supporting each team in adopting, and watching them grow faster and faster, overcoming the next obstacle, is rewarding.  Watching as they begin to mentor other teams, even more so.  Jot down a few things about what you would like to change.  Then be patient about growing to get there.  As you improve, having a taste of what went well, teams usually move forward from there.  We aren’t only problem solving the right software in the right way, we are building some great teams as well.  The next step is to terra-form the organization to support and allow those teams to thrive.

There will be storms along the way.  I can tell you however that they usually pass.  Come and go.  With every one the landscape changes just a little.  Maybe because Spring is here; but with each deliverable, as we endeavor to make ourselves a little more agile – I see organizations being transformed as well.

Agile Conversations

There are plenty of conversations that are happening in teams.  No matter where along an experience spectrum you are.  I have one of the most rewarding jobs in the world in being able to participate in many of them along the way.  Listening to understand where the team finds itself, what it clearly recognizes, and the destination they have in mind.  Sharing my own experiences when the wisdom is appropriate is expected.  Having a genuine interest in who people are, helping them grow and change the organization they are a part of, has ever been rewarding.  Writing is one way to help practice the communication we come to rely on.  Communicating is typically very high on the scrum master list of things to improve around the team.  Rightly so. Information radiators, stand-ups, conversations, are a few of the things that guide our work and help us learn or focus. Edward Tufte knew how important it was to visually convey information.   With conversations I find myself mindful of a few guiding principles.

Be gentle and respect someone else’s time.  Keep them involved, not as a tactic, but because of genuine appreciation.

Help them from where they are, not from lecturing where they ought to be. Share the experience and learn along the way.  The inner fixed points from which we tether in order to perceive the world are familiar.  They can also limit us, because that person on the other side of the conversation is rarely at the same vantage.

Come away with the next small action that can help.  Working in the moment helps.  Decisions on what next to try and what might be too big to go after just yet, are important.  Collaboration, convergent expectation, and earning trust that we are all invested in growing in the same direction.