Monday, January 06, 2014

Trying New Things

Over the past weekend I went ice climbing with my son. He is a pretty serious climber and I've picked it up because of him, but neither of us have ever ice climbed before. We went to a place near Cedar Falls Iowa that ices down a grain silo. It's really different from the sport climbing we've done, but it was fun and by the end of the climbing day, I was able to make it to the top of the silo.

How often are we open to trying something new? In my work environment, we follow an agile process based on Scrum. We do 2-3 week iterations, with planning sessions at the start of each iteration and demonstrations and retrospectives at the end…but sometimes you have to try something new.

I had a project a few years ago where the work wasn't as predictable. My team couldn't come up with estimates because they hadn't done anything like the work that faced us, so I decided to throw out the iterations and use Kanban. In this case, trying something new paid off. The Kanban approach worked well, we were able to get the work done and everyone learned from it, especially myself. When I was faced with a troubled project a few months later, I knew Kanban would address the challenges and get the project back on track. 

So don't be afraid to try something new. It could be as simple as changing the questions you ask in your daily stand up, or as complex as trying a different methodology. If the approach you're taking doesn't seem to be getting the results you want, inspect, adapt, and move on.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

We're All in Sales

Daniel Pink was the keynote speaker at this year's PMI Global Congress. I have blogged about him in the past (here and here). His presentation this time was based on his latest book, To Sell is Human.

As the title implies, a main theme of the book is that we're all doing sales of some sort, even if it isn't in our job title. I thought about the times I've been working with a new customer and trying to "sell" them on agile and why they should start using it to run their projects. He had six pointers to help us as sales people
  1. Extroverts aren't better than introverts at selling. It's really the people that are in the middle that are the best sellers. They balance talking and listening the best.
  2. Interrogative self-talk is the best way to prepare for something like an important meeting or presentation. Don't think "I can do this" ask yourself "Can I do this" and answer in a way to convince yourself.
  3. When we're trying to sell, compare it to something else. So compare agile to waterfall and explain why agile is better.
  4. Related to that, less options are better than more options. Pink told a story of an experiment selling jam. When there were over 20 types to sample, people sampled a lot but bought less than when there were only 6 types because is was easier to decide which ones they liked best.
  5. A minor negative attribute can help sell. So if you have these great shoes with a lot of desirable features, but they only come in 2 colors, this small negative will actually help you sell. You come across more open.
  6. Have more conversations about why than about how. 
I had a chance to chat with him briefly during a book signing. When I mentioned agile project management, he said he thought agile would become the only way to run projects. I haven't finished his book yet, but I still recommend it. I even used the technique in #2 to prepare for a big client presentation yesterday and the presentation went very well. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Tailoring Agile

I came across a Software Advice article based on an interview with Ryan Singer, Product Manager at 37Signals. I used their Basecamp tool on a project not to long ago and found it to be a pretty good tool.

In the article, Singer talks about how they organize work on a project. Instead of assigning all the tasks by roles, they organize the work around what Singer refers to as projects...but I would call them features. Using their example, one of the projects (features) of a conference registration application would be a receipt page. They prioritize the work by each of the features or what they refer to as areas of concern.

To me is sounds like they are taking more of a Kanban approach, prioritizing the features and working on them one at a time rather than planning work around iterations. I also didn't see an reference to User Stories.

I took my PMI-ACP certification exam earlier this year, and in my studies came across a discussion of process tailoring in Mike Griffith's exam prep book and the concept of Shu-Ha-Ri, which I blogged about a while ago myself. It seems like the folks at 37Signals have done some tailoring that has worked for them, but is their approach right for everyone? Probably not.

In the spirit of Shu-Ha-Ri, you should start by following the rules. For most people, this probably means Scrum. From here, you need to figure out which rules to break for your organization. Researching what other organizations like 37Signals has done is good for ideas, but ultimately you need to figure out what works in your organization. As Singer points out, there are many creative ways to use Basecamp, just like there are many creative ways to tailor your agile processes to meet your organization's needs.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Getting Unstuck

I have an app on my iPad that I turned to today to help me get past a little writers block. I haven't been posting to this blog much because I haven't had any good ideas. The tool is called Unstuck, you can find out more about it here.

So I went through a set of exercises that helped me define why I was stuck, and then helped me think through why I was stuck and come up with a plan to get past it.

One of the exercises it suggested was writing about the future. The idea is to think 5 years ahead. You are on the cover of Time magazine. What would the article be about? Now think 10 and 15 years ahead. After you've envisioned some future state, think about the smaller steps that would get you there, and that is the basis for getting unstuck.

The app has a lot of different tools for different situations. Mirror Mirror helps you set goals when you're drifting. Get Your Game On helps plan and prioritize. Now or Never helps you get motivated, and there are others. So if you're having a stuck moment, I recommend looking at Unstuck.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Agile Isn't New

When I was in the US Navy, one of my assignments was working with the U-2 spy plane and the folks at Lockheed Martin, famous for their Skunk Works program. I was recently researching the program for some training I was doing, and realized how closely the principles of Kelly Johnson aligned with the principles of agile.

Skunk Works came about in 1943 as Lockheed (as they were know as then) was working on the first jet fighter. Kelly Johnson was a young engineer on this program. He outlined his 14 rules & practices to  guide the teams. Some of the key points include:

  • The manager should have practical control of the program (think product owner)
  • Use a small number of good people
  • Use very simple drawings with flexibility for making changes
  • Minimize reporting to what is important
  • Mutual trust between the military project organization and the contractor

Now some of the other rules related to the relationship between the vendor and the government, but this list sounds similar to some points in the Agile Manifesto and Guiding Principles. I don't know if the work of Kelly Johnson influenced the people that wrote the manifesto, but it's clear the ideas have been around for a while. And as far as a track record, the original fighter plane (XP-80) was designed and built in 143 days, and the U-2 has been operational for almost 60 years.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013


I mentioned in my last post that I'm on the blog team for the PMI Netherlands Summit, taking place June 13th in Zeist - The Netherlands. One of the sessions is on retrospectives; it's titled Retrospectives: your lessons learned on steroids to help your team / project in your continuous improvement. 

A key tenant of agile projects is to inspect and adapt and that is the purpose of retrospectives. We use these as opportunities to help us identify ways to improve. We should be conducting retrospectives on a regular basis, normally at the end of each iteration.

This past weekend I was at the PMI Leadership Meeting for the communities. After the official program ended, the Agile Community got together and had a retrospective of our work since our last time getting together. The idea of retrospectives can be applied to operations as well as projects. The idea is the same, pick a time, take a step back, and think about how you can work together better. We came up with some actions to help us better deliver value to our customers going forward. You should try it, and if you don't know how, maybe you should think about attending the conference.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Learning Outside the Box

I'm on the blog team for the PMI Netherlands Summit, taking place June 13th in Zeist - The Netherlands. One of the tracks is Learning from Outside the Box. I appreciate the aspect this track is taking. Sometimes you can learn valuable lessons when you get outside your normal area of focus.

I recently spoke at a conference in the US that focused on health care, the HIMSS conference in New Orleans back in March. Some of the attendees of my session were familiar with agile, but many were not and based on my audience, agile was not being used much in healthcare. For them, this was a learning outside the box experience, but also for me.

I have not done any projects in the healthcare field. I learned something about the field based on the questions my audience was asking. It has peaked my curiosity and I've started researching the types of projects that this industry deals with and started thinking about how agile can support this field.

So if you're in the EMEA region and looking for a good conference, check out the PMI Netherlands Summit. There are some strong speakers such as Dr Lynn Crawford and Dr Terry Cooke-Davies and a lot of interesting topics.