Clock Time, Event Time, and Bullet Time

When becoming agile, there are many ways that we start to look inward in order to change how flexible we can be.  We start to think about work differently.  We think about how we collaborate together.  We think about task, story and epic level things.  We also ponder time itself.    Is there a placeholder event for that?  Is this the appropriate time? Is the time-box up? I remember the high school teacher’s frustration at having students look eagerly at the clock – anticipating the moment when the bell would sound the end of class. Ultimately later in the year, the note underneath, which was posted and read “Time will pass.  Will you?”

 Clock Time

There are things that are run by clock time.  In the agile world we set limits on meetings and sprints Many organizations still account for hours. Things that are run by the clock.  It lends a sense of urgency and there is a certain puzzling in order to fit activities and interactions to fit appropriately.  Time does not stop. It marches.  What does change though – is our perception of time.  Some moments whiz by or instead as Shakespeare said slowly drags on and “Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time”.  When our days are managed by the clock, I often wonder if this alien and measured arbiter of fate sometimes robs us of an empowered position.  Some teams often measure a sprint burn down with hours remaining (Which I’ve previously talked about here) .

Event Time

When timelines are populated by events they often give us a sense of achievement and better context than Chronos‘ stamp of numbers.  I am looking for a task to complete rather than time to run out.  Choosing achievement over activity and hallmarking instead by the memorable actions which have culminated in a sense of completion.  Sometimes ending a day in a ‘good spot’.  Event time seems to allow for creativity and innovation that spark and motivate just a little more.  Doing something Better than before, not just the same way over and over.  Is event time always better? probably not as with all things there is a balance.  It will Clock time that helps us determine if something ‘unsustainable’. But, again, only because we haven’t achieved the desired events. A Team might measure tasks, not as hours remaining, but rather as events – only wanting to know if they are in progress or done. A retrospective timeline will often be measured in 3 ways – the chronological timeline (1) earmarked with events (2) and our reactions (3).

Bullet Time

The matrix first coined the term, being fluid and moving faster than we thought possible.  Unfortunately it always seems to be during crisis moments.  Whether on a six story drop on an amusement park ride or in front of a release review.  Our brain registers everything and goes into a hyper protective mode.  It’s sometimes hard to remain calm and in a problem solving in a panic driven environment.  At times the uber-urgency brings out some of the best in our teams in an almost Apollo 13 type of way.  There are no lives on the line, but the sense of responsibility doesn’t seem any lessened.  It usually takes longer term investments in teams of people to make critical and good decisions.  To support those teams we invest in infrastructure and technologies.  We let them adopt lightweight processes which enable them to move quickly.  Bullet time is not a sustainable thing. But some of the best days are briefly ventured here, when the team pulls together and works itself out of a crisis.  Even better when the team plans to avoid the same thing from ever happening again and moves back into Clock or Event time.

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?

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.

The Agile Hard Hat

When a company has made some inroads to being agile it seems as if something is always under construction.  A process, a team, the software… something. On a real construction site, it’s a hard hat that provides some degree of safety. LOOK OUT!  The same might be said for an agile environment.  But within the context of thinking caps, I think of a hard hat as a mode that seems to be stuck, frozen.  There is something to an agile environment that puts us into the edge and makes explorers and problem solvers. There are always a few that seem to hunker down and are really uncomfortable with the participation.  Sometimes it is trust, sometimes it is a slower rate of acceptance… the reasons are legion.  A good way to take some team members and start them down the road to perspective and context switching is Edward de Bono’s 6 Hats Exercise for a retrospective.  Now this isn’t a Scrum thing, but it is a way to get team members to become flexible thinkers.  To describe it quickly – each of the six ‘thinking caps’ represented by a color has it’s own way of thinking.  Take a look.  Black- critical, Yellow – optimistic, White – factual,  Blue – process, Green – creative, and Red – intuitive.   Scrum masters might want to switch up their entrenched black and yellow thinkers in order to move a team forward and get them to be agile thinkers.  Mix it up, rotate or randomize.  

Lincoln once said that if “I were given six hours to chop down a tree, I would spend the first four sharpening the axe.”  In his wisdom Lincoln was differentiating between activity and achievement.  Something John Wooden as a coach would often tell his teams were two very different and distinct things.  Activity. Achievement.  Scrum teams often have to use this disruptive innovation to focus at a level of thinking.  Are we tasking? Or maybe we are using this next (some-time box of) minutes to talk about and clarify our stories, features, epics, releases, product, or portfolio?

Now, as a manager or a project manager, I occasionally hear something that goes to the effect. ‘Why are my developers in a meeting?  They should be coding 100% of the time”  I try not to sigh noticeably.  This, is after all, where the some of the organizational terra-forming begins.  It can be  a mistake made by some traditional practices.  It is more surprising to continue to uncover this years into an agile adoption.  But make no mistake, I am always glad to bump into it.  We can’t get to the correction which makes it right until we are speaking openly and truthfully.  There is an echelon of QA and test professionals that echo this mantra.  However, I’m not usually the first to bump into the mentality – which means it is rather a rigidness of thought that has a tendency to persist until it meets with its paradigm shift.  Some one buried in activity has little time to change how they work, let alon how they think.  We advocate and support it should be expected instead some time is spent to focus on improving how we work.  Kaizan.

Agile does more than just re-arrange the way we do our work.  It changes how we think.  Software is problem solving and some pretty hard thought work.  If there is a difference between achievement and activity – the axe that we should spend some time sharpening – it is our own minds. Other tools and processes certainly fly into the mix, but the interaction still leverages our ‘thinker’.

A rigidness of thought.  The thinker might have stalled out.  Ever meet that contrarian person?  Just so negative all the time?  To go the opposite extreme and be perennially optimistic can sometimes lead to solutions which might not be robust.  We need everyone to be agile thinkers to get this software to done.  I think I can… I know I can set aside my hard hat as we improve the software, ourselves, our team, and the organization.

The Sprint That Blew Up

Is it appropriate to blow up a sprint?

The Setting
We were several sprints in with a new team and suddenly the team was faced something new.  Something out of their control caused havoc with the priorities in the Backlog. The work that the Scrum team had committed to for the sprint was no longer needed.  In the Sprint Review the scrum teams voiced that we did not meet our original goals.   The teams and the product owners were hard-voiced about having to “blow up the sprint” and having to “re-plan and re-baseline”.  There was a discomfort level and some confusion within the team as to whether we might have done the right thing. The strongest statement was, “The institution of scrum was disrespected.”

The Cliff Notes Answer
Leadership, stakeholders, coaches, and scrum authors say we all made the right decision and behaved correctly. Changing our sprint backlog in the middle of the sprint made sense because it honored new business objects and the desires of our Product Owners. The scrum play book says it is perfectly fine for teams to break the sprint this way as long as this is the rare exception rather than the norm.
  
The Detailed Answer
As I am talking with the team I will start this out with saying “GOOD JOB”
and end my conversation in the same way. I start asking QUESTIONS.  
 
When is it appropriate to Blow up a sprint and re-plan/recommit? 
Are we allowed to do it? Sure.
Always I want to ask questions. The first one is obviously Why? 
Is this a BIG Deal? I think it is.  Firsts often are. 
Were our assumptions on the sprint goals wrong?
What risk did we not think about critically?
What wasn’t communicated?
Does this still make sense?
Were the release themes not vetted from above and below? 
Was everyone on the same page for acceptance criteria for the stories?
What changed our assumptions?
How can we prevent this from happening again?
The Team did A LOT of work! 
We adjusted to the highest priority!  
 
Will the business expect this as common practice?
How disruptive was this? 
What was the impact? Did we lose 3 days of our sprint?
What did we learn? 
How do we improve?
 
I write this after the fact because we are empowered to make these decisions.
Don’t regret the decision – learn and adapt.  You have also worked through a fairly large and complicated problem.
You have changed, and will continue to change some of the assumptions we have together, as an organization.
Good Job!
 
————–Here are some external references from the proverbial Agile Library: 
Succeeding with Agile (Mike Cohn) pg 282 “I usually advise Scrum teams to start taking a firm stance against mid sprint changes. This is not because I am Opposed to redirecting a team or because I want to slavishly obey a Scrum Rule. It is because I want to help those outside the team learn that there is a cost to redirecting the team.  Of course, sometimes redirecting a team mid-sprint is necessary. But, all too often teams are redirected because it’s easy to do and because someone didn’t think ahead. I relax this hard-line stance against change after I see the organization no longer thinks of every new request as an emergency worthy of a mid-sprint change.   Being responsive is what has made us successful, and users expect that of us.
 
Exploring Scrum: The Fundamentals (Doug Shimp and Dan Rawsthorne) 1rst ed. pg 268 “Cancelling a Sprint. The product owner may cancel a Sprint at any time, usually because the Sprint Goal isn’t going to be met or because the Sprint Goal is no longer what is needed. In either case, the Sprint’s work is evaluated to see what can be kept, and whether or not a replanning is called for.  This is not considered abnormal, but it is simply an agile reaction to something that has happened. It should not be considered a ‘bad thing’ – it is merely a ‘thing’.”
 
Scrum Product Ownership (Bob Galen) pg 110 “Adjusting the Sprint. … In fact the leader here should be the Scrum Master. He or she is your partner and should guide you in making any necessary adjustments, etc.  However you do play a significant part in the Sprint recovery process, too!
 CONTENT DISCONNECT. The team is struggling to deliver the Sprint contents. Within a few days of the Sprint, you and the Scrum Master realize that an adjustment is necessary. I’ve seen several approaches to this. Classically, Scrum allows for cancelling and re-planning your Sprint.  That works well if you’re a stand-alone team. However, if your team is synchronized with others, then this approach can be awkward in that you’ll need to plan a reduced length Sprint in order to maintain your Synchronization. …  I’ve seen teams significantly recover their progress and often meet the original Sprint Goal. …
 PRIORITY DISCONNECT. … In these cases he (product owner) was more likely to cancel the sprint and then re-plan a new one based on a major shift on the backlog.  However when re-planning we tried to stay open minded about integrating the new work and maintaining some of the original Sprint focus.  Another aspect of this is insufficient look-ahead. I was never convinced that we couldn’t anticipate these changes in some way. Remember, we were on a 2 week sprint model which is fairly nimble.”
 ————————————————————————————
Changing direction doesn’t come for free. We are trying to be agile and make adapting lightweight – but a team’s capacity to do so is not infinite.  The time and impact required to pack up what we were focused on, and then re-plan should not be ignored. When we commit to a backlog at the beginning of a sprint, the team is serious about delivering the work and trusts that they have everyone’s support and are allowed to maintain this focus in order to deliver.  Unanticipated work in the middle of a sprint distracts. If a team starts to believe their commitments will be ignored, the erosion of urgency, commitment and trust start to occur. Loss of trust erodes team morale and we’ll eventually find ourselves back to where we started. In quiet silos with being defensive about collaborating.  Our ability to fail early is not a joke.  It is instead a measurement for how quickly can we get to right.   
 
A message like this should be visible enough to encourage the team we did the right thing.  Some VPs, a few Directors, coaches and half a dozen managers as well as the teams themselves needed to know and think in a manner where there was no ‘us’ vs ‘them’.  There is only “WE”, together.  As in WE will make this better and work together so that it shouldn’t happen again.  As well as, we will be thought-full about the “But if it does…”.   This is what transforms the organization, delivers great software, and as a side-effect, makes some high performing teams.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading through the details.

That Dang Project Manager Hat

I haven’t been a Project Manager in title for, well, ages.  As a coach or Scrum Master, I should have shed that hat long ago.  And, I did(ish).  The problem is it’s still around and, when things need to GET DONE,  somehow that hat just turns back up….on my head.  Now, the good news is, I realize it and can quickly yank it off and stuff it under my chair but, seriously, I wish it would go away.  It won’t ever go completely away though and I’m still learning how to keep it firmly on the shelf.

So, why did it find its way on my head?  The group I am coaching wants to GET STARTED!  It’s awesome the excitement they all have.  They are eager, after months and months of talking, to get to work.  And, they want to run it Agile and they are leveraging SAFe.  So, before the December productivity vortex hit, we all looked at the calendar and they identified dates for their Quickstart (3 day event for everyone on the release train).  This means, there is a LOT to do.  And, the month of December is pretty much shot so, there’s about 3.5 weeks to get everything accomplished so the train is ready to leave the station.  But, there’s also a Holiday in there AND, most awesome of all, snow storms.  WOOT!

The team of people I am lucky enough to work with right now are amazing.  A massive can-do attitude.  They have overcome illness, broken down cars, two snow storms, children’s illnesses, broken pipes (for 4 people!) and a host of other things way out of their control.  They have all come together, rolled their sleeves up, opened their minds and have focused on getting ready.  They have trained, collaborated, learned, been challenged, formed as a team and had fun.  Honestly, it has been amazing to see and be a part of.  There is absolutely NOTHING this group of people can’t accomplish.  As a coach, this is heaven.  As a PM, I cannot stop thinking about all of the logistics and coordination and organization that needs to happen.  It’s not that there aren’t people working on those things.  They are.  Will it all get done?  Probably.  If something doesn’t get done, will it matter (really matter)?  Probably not.

Coach me:  ALL the right ingredients are there.  The people and the experience are what matters.

PM me:  I need to make certain there are enough post-its, flip charts, sharpies and who is getting red yarn?

Coach me:  These people will adjust.  What matters is their mentality and how they come together through this first event.

PM me:  How can they possibly come together if there aren’t enough sharpies and flip chart markers?!  And, who is printing the hand-outs?  Wait – do we even HAVE a final head count yet?

Coach me:  These guys have it.

PM me:  They have everything except the awesome colored, smelly markers.  They NEED those.

Coach me:  Shut up, PM.

PM me:  Will do – as soon as I have every minute of the day plotted out and accounted for….and confirmation on the sharpies.

So, for all of you former PMs out there who are transitioning to Scrum Master, your PM hat is never really gone.  You just have to recognize when it’s there, on your head, and take it off.  I bet, over the next 8 days, I’ll be taking that sucker off multiple times daily and apologizing to people for continuously asking them if they are certain we will have enough sharpies.

How Close Was The Customer Collaboration?

So I was near a conversation that kind of went like this;

A developer was asking the actual user of his team’s software for some feedback about the product.
I was heartened to see the invitation and he had a lean in to listen better.  He was taking mental notes (I could see the gears moving) on how to make this better. The developer also explained how rare an actual customer interaction had been over the past several years. The user didn’t have much in the way positive to say about the software and was matter-of-fact in conveying that it really wasn’t all that usable and we needed some extra fields and the training needed to be a lot better – to reflect how they were using it. I watched his wonderful continued calm as the developer wasn’t at all defensive, continuing to listen. Then a third person, who thought they knew the next step, interrupted to say that the customer needed to get project funding.

This is where my head leaps in and explores.

The customer really doesn’t care about someone else’s internal processes for funding.  And at time this is going to be some organizational telekinesis that is way too big for them to tackle. The customer may feel alone – like they were left to swim in the middle of the ocean. No Hope.

There are at least three things that need to be said here ….

1)      Good job for the developer – not just to invite, ask and listen. I have the distinct impression that this will continue.  I heavily encourage it.

2)      The ‘Future funding’ is simply a stall tactic to put off our being responsible today.   There is a current project that didn’t even include the customer. Why not open that up and start inviting them to the reviews, as a first step.  Get their feedback. Developing a trust and a responsiveness with the end-user will help in all sorts of ways.  Elicit their help in building and testing it.  Now I am not saying that funding isn’t needed.  Typically however funding never really gets at all the hidden costs within an organization to get the software out the door and into the customers hands. The definition of being done means that it is fit for use.  The requirements aren’t sitting down at some desk using the software to get a job done – a person is.  We should ever cherish and understand that.  Maybe over time – the software, the job, both change. Who knows.

3)      Why would anyone want to continue funding a ‘redo’ when it wasn’t done right the first time.

Now pullback a year or more, and there is a conversation that I had with a director about his organization.  We talked about involving the customer and he wanted to hold-off on doing exactly that.  The argument went something like… my customer is internal since we develop our own software.  My customers are not going to innovate, adopt change, and discover ways to do things better.  Just put it out in the field and they will use it as we leverage external sources for creativity and innovation.

My counter was that we required a balance.  No matter how creative we are, if software isn’t usable – then we have a great big point of failure once we’ve deployed.  The mix of this balance might be slim in the beginning as we learn to work together.  20/80 or even say 10/90 but if we just absolutely brick a Berlin wall and shut out or silo the left hand from the right – we are going to miss the inevitable handshake that is coming.  Over the course of the next year, took a while to grow that relationship.  As the new teams learned from the experienced field about the app, they also grew to trust the deliverable more.  Slowly the field also started not only accepting changes but also leveraged opportunities with more suggestions.  The field started getting used to the idea of being innovative just as they were able to share their experience.

Both sides were far richer for the interaction.  Expectant convergence about the end-results were also happening more often.

What also started to happen was that the teams were increasingly aware of Everything it took to move software through the organization and into the customers hands.  Processes started improving. Requests for infrastructure were aligned to support business objectives.

It is my experience it takes a while to move some big things like an entire organization.  You do it by being part of the culture and then changing it.  A little at a time.  Some things catch on and sometimes you even have a motivational brush fire within an organization that started from a just a few sparks.  The fire within us, helps us along whatever journey we have.