Monday, April 20, 2015

Tools

When I was young, I had a riding lawn mower. We had a big yard out in the suburbs and the riding mower made the job quicker. Today I live closer to downtown in a house with a smaller yard. I’m currently using an old fashion reel mower…no motor, just foot power to make it work. For the yard I have, it’s all I need.

With all the technology around us, it’s easy to get caught up in the latest thing. Tools can make us more effective, but sometimes they can be distractions. 

Take project management tools. There are a plethora of them around and I have used them effectively on projects. But I have also run projects with just a white board and stack of post-it notes, not letting the technology get in the way of interacting with my team.

The Manifesto for Agile Software Development says it should be “Individuals and Interactions over Process and Tools” so ask yourself if the tool you are considering is going to help you or could it just be another distraction? Put another way, A fool with a tool is still a fool."

Friday, April 10, 2015

Minimal Viable Product

I have a customer with a challenge. We've been working on an application and finished our first release. The business folks looked at it and came up with a list of "must-have's" they want before going live. The IT folks are pushing back, trying to keep additional work to a minimum before going to production. They even threw out the phrase "minimal viable product" or MVP as a way say what's the least that can be done.

However, MVP isn't about doing the least amount of work and calling it done. When taken in context of Lean Startup, it's part of a process. First you build the MVP and hypothesize what you think will happen when you go live, you measure against your hypothesis, and ideally learn something that takes you to the next step.

When I work with customers used to a more traditional approach to projects, I often see resistance to the MVP approach. They think they have one chance to get what they want, so they ask for everything. If they truly thought in terms of MVP, they would be able to think about it as what do they want first, knowing they get a chance to ask for more.

In some cases, the next step may not be in the same direction. In Lean Startup, there's the idea of the pivot, making a more fundamental change in direction. Groupon started as an online activism platform and PayPal started out building security software for handheld devices (think Palm Pilots, not smart phones). There are plenty of other examples out there of companies that didn't get the results they expected and made a pivot. Lean Startup is about getting to that point as fast as you can.

For my customer, we're going to time box another round of development, make them prioritize the must-haves, and then hopefully go to production, so they can see it they are moving in the right direction. Are you ready for your next step?

Friday, January 30, 2015

10/10/10

There's an interesting decision making technique that I came across in the book Decisive. It's called 10/10/10. The technique was developed by Suzy Welch. She has a book by the same name.

The idea is to think about how you will feel about a decision in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years. The idea being discussed in Decisive is how to avoid short-term emotion when making a decision. Bad decisions, they say, are made while having strong emotions such as anger or greed.

For example, I recently bought a new car, what a lot of people would agree can be an emotional event. Ten minutes after I walked out the door, I'd be excited about the new car and happy with my decision.

In ten months, I may still be thinking about the car I didn't buy and if I would have been happier in that one.

Ten years from now I'll be happy I choose the car that was more reliable over the one that would have been fun, but probably had more problems. If I didn't keep the car ten years, I would have been happy that the car I choose was the one with the higher resale value.

So next time you have a decision to make, think about 10/10/10.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Better Decision Making

I started reading the book Decisive by Chip & Dan Heath. They have a couple other books I've read, including Switch and Made to Stick, so I thought I'd give this a try.

I'm only about a quarter through the book, but so far, I am enjoying it. It's easy to read and has some good examples to support the ideas. The book is about how to make better decisions. It starts off outlining what they say are the four "villains" to good decision making;

  1. Defining the decision to narrow, not considering enough options
  2. Confirmation bias, we filter out information that doesn't support our position
  3. Focus on short-term emotions and not longer term outcomes
  4. Overconfidence in our ability to predict the future
From here, the book digs deeper into each of these villains and develops strategies to deal with them, starting with the issue of narrow framing. For example, they talk about the "whether or not" type decision. One example was Quaker Oats buying Snapple in 1994. Quaker Oats did buy Snapple and it turned out to be a mistake. The acquisition failed. One study they cited stated that 52% of whether or not decisions that organizations make fail. 

The key is to widen the frame of the decision. Should be buy Snapple or invest the money into internal research or another acquisition instead. Have more to decide on than just "whether or not." 

I'll have more to share on the book as I get through it, but if you're looking for something to read, I'd recommend it so far.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Tom Peters and Soft Skills

I recently had the opportunity to hear Tom Peters speak and I have to say that even at the age of 71, he still has a lot of energy and passion.

He began the talk with his experience coming out of college with an engineering degree. He found the math and science classes did little to prepare him for the real world, the people part of the equation, or the “all important last 99%” of being successful. It’s the soft skills that are hard, the people and relationship skills but that’s not what is the focus of education.

He then went on to talk about the Agile Manifesto and how that is the key to successful project management. From here, he shared some other pieces of wisdom
  • Politics is life, relish it. If you don’t like politics, you probably shouldn’t be managing projects
  • While intelligence (IQ) is important, having good emotional intelligence (EQ) is more important
  • Whoever tries the most stuff wins. Again, sounds like the idea popular in agile circles about failing fast.
  • To be effective, you need to “suck down” and help the people on your team. He didn’t use the phrase “servant leadership” but that’s what it sounded like to me. 
  • There’s no excuse for a poorly run meeting. Take the time to prepare so that it is effective. We can’t get rid of meetings. 
I found it interesting that so many of his ideas aligned with the principles of agile, even though his background is not in software. I’m often asked if agile can be applied outside project management and I think his presentation shows that “being agile” is important regardless of what field you are in.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Agile 2014 - Final Thoughts

A number of themes surfaced during Agile2014. One of the big themes was scaling agile. There were a number of presentations on the SAFe model, Discipled Agile (DAD) and the new framework by Jeff Sutherland. There was also a lot of discussion on how Spotify scaled agile (be sure to download the paper).  

I appreciated the opportunity to hear about DAD from the creators, Scott Ambler and Mark Lines. Mark gave a presentation on how this framework was implemented at Panera Bread. The next day, Scott provided more details on their framework. 

One common opinion professed by many of the presenters was that there is no one size fits all with agile. There are no best practices. Everything has to be taken in the context of the organization where agile is being implemented. Experiment. Fail fast. Try again. Don’t copy what Spotify did just because it was so effective for them. You can start with a framework, but don't just follow a framework.

The topic of delivering value came up as well. Pat Reed/Walt Wyckoff from iHoriz did a good presentation on a value based framework for portfolio management. Pat stated that even now, 60-90% of features don’t deliver the value that was desired. Another presenter said we shouldn’t focus on shippable code but consumable code. It doesn't matter if it ships, it matters if it gets used. Only then is it bringing value.

There were other topics getting attention, including DevOps and #NoEstimates. The Coaches Clinic and Open Jam added to the value of the conference as well. I'm also sure there were topics I missed. With well over 200 presentations, it's hard to catch everything.

I think a conference like this is a great way to spark some new ideas and maybe help you get out of a rut with your day-to-day routine. Keep in mind that agile is all about inspect and adapt. If you successfully implement agile but then don't try to improve from their, you're doing agile but not being agile. 

If you missed the conference and want to get a flavor for it, here are some resources:



Friday, August 01, 2014

Agile2014 - Soft Skill Presentations

Three of my favorite presentations at Agile2014 were on soft skills; Diana Larsen’s Best Job Ever, Lyssa Adkin’s Facilitating Intense Conversations, and Jean Tabaka/Em Campbell-Pretty’s Creating Agile Tribes

Diana Larsen was the keynote presenter on Wednesday. After a bit of dancing, she got to the presentation. She had three main points

  • Do Work you Love to Do
  • Work With Purpose
  • Take Care of you Tribe

The message was that we don’t have to do a job we hate. Hard work can be rewarding, but there has to be a purpose behind it. 

Lyssa Adkins presentation was about facilitation when there is conflict. Her talk started out more like a discussion on Buddhist practices; things like meditation and mindfulness. Her discussion was based on the facilitation techniques of Diane Musho Hamilton. As part of the presentation, she brought 6 people up on stage and facilitated a discussion among them and demonstrated a number of facilitation techniques such as creating safety, reframing, and listening fully. 

The third presentation was based on the book Tribal Leadership by David Logan and both presenters talked about work environment built around some of the ideas in the book and the positive impact that had on the workers. The presentation wrapped up with the attendees making t-shirts of our tribe.