Posts tagged ‘Agile’


Seeing Someone Live

On Oct 29th 2012, I saw Martin Fowler speak here in Toronto. This was a free event sponsored by ThoughtWorks and InfoQ, though parking in downtown Toronto at 4:30 PM isn’t cheap.

The format Martin Fowler used was to deliver three short talks using articles published on his web site. I like this approach as I have read most of the recent posts to his web site and hearing Martin’s explanation would enable me to compare my own interpretation with his.

The first was on developing for multiple mobile devices. This presentation didn’t provide any new insights to me and it is an excellent primer for anyone faced with a decision about developing for mobile devices.

The second was on NoSQL which I believe was actually an combination of his blog post on aggregate oriented databases and his introduction to NoSQL. I have been following the development of NoSQL however I hadn’t read the post on aggregate oriented databases. The aggregate oriented databases piece was an interesting backgrounder that I had missed.

And the last topic one was entitled “Agile: Essence and Fluency”. As a participant in the creation of the Agile Manifesto, Martin is of the opinion that “agile” has been subject to “semantic diffusion”. In other words, what was meant by “agile” ten years ago is not necessarily what people mean today. For Martin, the essence of agile is adaptive planning over predictive planning and people focused over process focused. This is not to say that you must abandon predictive planning and throw out all processes but rather weight in favour of the former. I very much agree with this and have found that reality of balancing the two is quite difficult.

The second part of the final talk was to highlight the paper posted on his site authored by Diana Larsen and James Shore on Agile Fluency. This is a great paper for anyone working in an agile way or for those moving to agile. The two key points I think are the cultural shifts, first the team then the organization. The team shift isn’t that difficult though not necessarily painless but the organizational shift is. Michael Sahota describes it this way, “Culture Will Eat Your Strategy for Breakfast“.

So what do you gain by seeing someone speak live? For me it is two things, audience reaction and the opportunity to interact. Watching the audience is always interesting and sometimes makes you realize that you might have not caught the significance of a particular statement. The opportunity to interact is also very important. This is the time when you can find out if your interpretation is the same or different from others and hopefully ask clarifying questions of the speaker. I have watched Martin Fowler present many times in videos available on InfoQ and seeing someone live is always better in my opinion.

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Second Anniversary

ContemplationSo I’ve been blogging for about two years, my first real post was February 2. In that time I have posted 35 times and I was wondering what my theme is. My most popular topics are around understanding, faith, passion and doing. My top three posts for the year were Faith, A Lesson Remembered, and Doing more by doing less. If I look at my two-year statistics, my most popular post was Causality followed by The Importance of Dialogue and Faith a close third. How odd. That is not what I thought this would be about.

My original intention was to use this blog to get input from others on things that would help me help those I worked with and develop my skills as a leader. I thought this would be a blog focused on technical matters and agile methodologies and practices. Within a few months it was less of that, more of what simply made me think. Sometimes it was work related and more often it was not and I am happy with this direction.

I think the following quote captures my thoughts well:

Each of us is it in the world for no very long time, and within the few years of his life has to acquire what ever he is to know of this strange planet and its place in the universe. To ignore our opportunities for knowledge, imperfect as they are, is like going to the theater and not listening to the play. The world is full of things that are tragic or comic, heroic or bizarre or surprising, and those who fail to be interested in the spectacle that it offers are foregoing that one of the privileges that life has to offer.

Bertrand RussellThe Conquest of Happiness.

Work is a great source of inspiration and happiness and the world holds so much more. I will continue to blog about what I am privileged in this life to see, whether it is work or some thing else.  Whether it is joy, tragedy or comic, I hope we all learn something about ourselves and the spectacle that is life. Cheers.


A Great Summary of Agile Development

For those using agile methodologies, Henrik Kniberg posted a great little video about agile (software) development. He tells the story from the view of a product owner and I think it is a very useful overview for anyone trying to understand how agile all fits together. So take just fifteen minutes out of your day and check it out.


Collaboration At a Distance

Getting teams to function well when they are not co-located isn’t easy. Some teams figure out what works for them and, in my experience, most don’t do it well. When discussing this with others, there is always agreement that teams can be highly productive when distributed geographically and no one has ever given an example of how to get a team there. That was until I read an article by Johanna Rothman. Johanna posted the article on InfoQ which gives a step by step process that worked for a team as described to her by one of the team members.

Not only does the team make collaboration work across geographical locations but also across four and a half time zones. This is impressive.  For the teams I work with, we only have to contend with North American east coast versus west coast time zone. We do have teams in India however they are co-located and only need to collaborate with the North American Product Owner.

Not all steps will work for all teams however what is described should provide a distributed team some ideas of things to try. There will also be organizational challenges. For example, we use Scrum as our development methodology and the teams would have to work with their managers to ensure that expectations are met if they were to start using kanban. I would hope that this wouldn’t be too big a stumbling point as ultimately we just want quality software delivered at regular intervals.

I would love to hear thoughts from others on this topic, particularly any practices that work for your teams that aren’t in Johanna’s article.


More on Trust

I wanted to share this presentation by Rachel Davies (@rachelcdavies) on trust. Rachel did a presentation in November 2010 on building trust that is worth watching. You can find the presentation here. I also wrote about trust here, here, and here.

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Knowledge Management

Knowledge management has always interested me. It might be due to the fact that I have a pretty good memory instead of a perfect memory. I can usually recall the main facts of something but am often at a loss to remember where I learned it and what the supporting items were. I have always envied Odin his ravens, as it would be very nice to have my own fact collectors.

Within the company I work for, we have multiple systems to capturing information, and some of them actually help radiate that information out to others. We have a global site which is a combination content management system, wiki, and blog site. It is very difficult to find information on that site. We then have a global intranet which is used for mostly communicating with employees. It has photos of different offices, photo contests, and feel good stories about employees. Then, in North America, we have a SharePoint site. I don’t even try to find stuff on it, I carefully bookmark every URL I am given so I can get back to the information. And finally, many development groups are now maintaining their own wiki’s. All the development wikis that I know of are MediaWiki sites hosted in a virtual image.

Of all those options, I like the wiki best. There are several reasons I like the wiki:

  1. Atom / RSS feeds. I don’t have to search the wiki to see what content is new, I merely took 30 seconds to add the feed to my Outlook client.
  2. The content can be manipulated with the programming language of choice prior to entry. This is a big deal when you are translating large quantities of text from various sources.
  3. Simple text doesn’t intimidate anyone so everyone participates in adding and maintaining the information on the site.

Momentum is definitely building behind wide adoption of the wiki and perhaps one day SharePoint will be a distant memory.

That still doesn’t solve my personal interest in recording the items that I want to remember. I currently have two methods of tracking items, the old fashioned paper journal and an on-line site. I actually have two different journals, one for work which fades in and out of use, and a personal notes one that I started to record stuff that could be useful, or since January, become a blog post.

The on-line tool is free and is called SpringPad. SpringPad is great because it allows me to save off web sites with notes without having to write out long URL’s in my journal. I was hoping for a software tool that would allow me to consolidate the functions of journal and SpringPad into one. There is a tool that looks really interesting, DevonThink. Steven Johnson talks about how he uses DevonThink in his book “Where Good Ideas Come From” and I thought this sounded perfect, except it only runs on Apple computers. I don’t own an Apple computer, nor am I likely to purchase one for the sole purpose of running DevonThink. That is why I settled on SpringPad.

I recently bought an Android tablet, the Motorola Xoom, and I am hoping that in the next couple of years an app like DevonThink will become available for Android. In the mean time, I have to keep my handwriting neat (so I can read my notes), and keep storing web sites in SpringPad. I hate waiting.


Walking the Talk Follow up

This is a follow up to my post “Walking the Talk” as there was interest in what the team thought about making managers ScrumMasters. A quick Google will reveal opinions on both sides of the fence. Our company also recently had Lee Henson of Agile Dad give some training and he was strongly against managers as ScrumMasters. And the big question is “What did the teams think?”.

The team members had responses from “I don’t think it will work”, to “You must do everything in your power to make sure this doesn’t happen!”. So I think it is safe to say that the teams are pretty much convinced that managers as ScrumMasters is a bad idea. Personally, I think that with a team that is highly cohesive, that engages in good dialogue, and feels empowered, coupled with a manager not interested in command and control, it would work. Do I think we have the right teams and the right managers at this time, probably not.

I would love to hear from anybody who has experienced managers as ScrumMasters. Hopefully there have been good experiences out there.

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Practice versus Theory

The title of this post is the thought that lead me to creating this blog. In my notebook I wrote “Practice versus Theory” because I was thinking how we spend a lot of time where I work on practice and implementation. That is a good thing. If we don’t execute on plans the company would be in a bad place, and we are not. But what about the theory behind what we do? Who is working on that? Do we need someone to be working on theory?

I started thinking about this while doing some research on high performing Scrum teams. I was following random branches from Google, from blogs I found, from citations by various papers. One interesting article I came across was a Forester report on the adoption of agile practices world wide (Google “mainstream adoption agile” to find an accessible copy). About the same time, I read a post by Jurgen Appelo mentioned how he was spear heading the creation of a network agile thinkers in Europe. After reading Jurgen’s post, I thought that perhaps our European business units would be very interested in this. It then occurred to me that I didn’t have a clue if any of the European business units were using agile development. Oh, wouldn’t it be cool to survey my global colleagues on the penetration of agile in the business. Would it mirror the Forester research? Then I asked myself what the business value of such research would be. Hmmm. I don’t know.

So we have thousands of employees in North America alone and I don’t know of any technical employee’s engaged in pure research. We recently started an innovation labs and the suggestions so far are targeting features or technologies that we can sell. If there was no business value to understanding the adoption of agile within the organization then how does Forester charge hundreds of dollars for a study on just that? Here is another thought, do any PhD’s work for the company? If so what do they do?

In my eleven years with the company I have met just one person who holds a PhD. He is a PhD in English and wrote the most extensive and beautiful process documents. We have MBA’s, accountants who became programmers, and even a few with a Masters but no PhD’s that I know of. Perhaps they are of no value? That doesn’t feel right to me but that may be due to the fact that my father has a PhD (A sample of his work). So what is an example of something that blends practice and theory? How about the monthly magazine published by the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM)?

In the past year, ACM has revised its monthly magazine Communications of the ACM (CACM), to include articles for both practitioners and researchers (scientists). Perhaps this is in part to complaints from the researchers about copyright issues, here is one opinion, or perhaps it is to keep practitioners such as my self engaged. Do I understand the value, or even care, about three quarters of the research papers the CACM publishes? No, I don’t and sometimes I read something amazing that wants me to know more. Does it necessarily help me accomplish my business goals, usually not today, and probably not in the near future but it might.

I think a company needs people who just love digging into things regardless of immediate business value, and how big does a company need to be to fund people like this? Do you have to be a GE or IBM, or can you be something smaller? I do it because I love it. I read morning, noon, and night and learn all sorts of ‘useless’ things that might be useful one day, or not. Wouldn’t it be cool if part of your day job including pure research?

So where do you think the value of pure research lies for businesses?


Measuring Trust

How do you measure trust? This was not a question I expected myself to ask. Isn’t trust one of those things you have, or you don’t? I know there are degrees, or levels, to trust and I didn’t think I would ever need to measure it. Working with my colleague Keith Cerny and others on how to build high performing Scrum teams, we came to the realization it would be useful to measure trust. Without trust, the teams are not likely going to become high performing, so how can we help them with building trust?

So we need a starting point, a measurement of how much trust there is in our organization. That is trust between team members, and trust between teams and management. With a starting point we can measure the effect of changes on trust. I think the bigger question is, how deep do we want to go in measuring trust? We could keep it simple, like Net Promoter Score, and ask on a scale of zero to ten, “how much do you trust X?”. Or we could create a complex questionnaire that really digs into trust.

A quick search with Google reveals that measuring trust is a new model for some businesses. The big name in the business is Steven Covey Jr., and his new book “At the Speed of Trust“. According to the Speed of Trust web site this is a complex issue because they are”…measuring not simply a trust level but the specific trust components that make up the trust score.“. Wow, that is a lot more complex than “how much do you trust X?”. Then there is a Canadian company, Trust Learning Solutions, which also offers to measure your “organizational trust index”, and/or the individual levels of trust. Again, it sounds like measuring trust is a complex art that requires a PhD to understand. That is perhaps not far from the truth when you look at the Harvard study found here, or at the white paper published by the Institute of Public Relations.

Personally, I am a fan of simple solutions. We might not be able to come up with an eleven point scale of trust similar to the Net Promoter Score, however perhaps a six point scale will work. Starting at zero, which would correspond to “I don’t trust X to tell me the time of day”, to a five which is “I trust X to to always say what they are thinking (without being either defensive or offensive) and do what they say”. And I hope we never see a zero on a survey.

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Walking the talk

I have a weekly meeting with the staff in my office, open to all in our business unit as well as my direct reports. In this meeting I update the staff on what is going on at other campuses and within the company. In the meeting following my attendance of Agile Open 2011 session hosted by the Toronto Agile Community, I shared some of my thoughts and referred the staff to my blog on the conference. And much to my surprise, not only did some of them read it but they went through the site and read the rest of what I had posted. I then received an email challenging me to ‘walk the talk’.

I posted that one reason for starting this blog was because there was a lack of dialogue about agile and other topics in our office. The email I received challenged me to bring one topic to every staff meeting for discussion. The sender offered to support the dialogue and would bring their own topics for discussion by the group. Ok, now I had to come up with a topic for our first session. The very next day, following posting of notes from the Scrum of Scrums (SoS), I received an email about one of the points in the meeting notes. At the SoS, the group discussed making managers Scrummasters. The email I received indicated that the employee thought this was a very bad idea. Excellent, a topic for my first session.

Actually, ‘walk the talk’, or the say-do gap, comes up on a fairly regular basis. Trust is a big factor in agile. Without trust between team members, and teams and management, agile doesn’t really work. Closing the say-do gap is an easy way to build trust. It isn’t always easy thing to see though. For example, our group has a policy of no meetings on Wednesday’s for the staff. However, the managers trying to book meetings with staff across at least two different time zones and sometimes 3 or more locations, found the empty space on Wednesdays very convenient. We started to book meetings on Wednesdays until the topic came up at a SoS. We, the managers, were breaking down trust because we were not following the agreement to not book meetings on Wednesdays. This didn’t actually occur to us until a colleague in another group pointed it out. We needed to close our say-do gap by leaving Wednesdays meeting free.

And our first ever open discussion about agile in a staff meeting was a success. It was a success because almost everyone contributed to the discussion. The overall sentiment was that managers as Scrummasters is a bad idea. There were a few suggestions on how to improve the role of Scrummasters which I shared with the other managers. I look forward to our next meeting and discussion.

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