Monday, April 27, 2009

The Wisdom of Deming

I came across a list of Deming's 14 points and couldn't help but notice the similarity with some of the principles of agile project management. Here are some examples;
  • Don't depending on inspection to find defects, build quality in. A good agile project will include testing in each iteration and not let any defects escape the iteration. Using test driven development is a good way to build the quality in.
  • Work continually to improve the system. As an example of how this works, I conduct a retrospective at the end of each iteration to see how we can improve for the next iteration. There has to be more than just collecting "lessons learned" at the end of the project to be put on a shelf and forgotten.
  • Break down barriers between departments. There should be daily interactions between the users and the developers. The development team should include all aspects of the development process including design, build & test.
Of course not everything has a direct correlation because Deming was more focused on the manufacturing arena. One of his key themes was the problems were the fault of the system, not people. Management was responsible for the system. It was up to them to fix the problems so people could be successful.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


I've started reading Mike Cohn's book User Stories Applied and even though I'm not very far into it, I've already found one main concept about user stories that I hadn't fully appreciated, the idea of the conversation.

Mike references Ron Jefferies idea of user stories being the "card, conversation, and confirmation" meaning the information you write down, the conversation that surrounds it, and the test cases you use to confirm the story has been delivered.

The idea here is that what is written down is supposed to be kept simple and it's the conversation with the user that's important. Unlike more traditional requirements approaches, the idea is not to capture everything in writing.

I've followed the approach of keeping away from details when I do user stories, but I didn't fully appreciate why this was important. It's easy to mis-interpret something that is written down. It's easier to have a conversation with a user and understand what they want.

This makes sense in the big picture of agile being about user interactions more than tools or documentation. User stories makes sure we're having those conversations with the users and not trying to create some massive requirements document.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Can you share best practices?

I heard a comment today saying basically that best practices can't be shared, even within a company. They have to be discovered. It got me thinking, can you share best practices?

Templates are good examples. Ideally, these are developed based on best practices. I have heard very strong arguments on both sides of the discussion on whether or not you should use templates.

On one side, by definition, every project is unique and so a template forces you into doing something based on how another project or set up projects were run. Of course with agile, the idea is to not force to much process on the project, which a template can do. It's also putting documentation in front of delivering value.

On the flip side, certain tasks are going to be the same for a lot of projects. For example, justifying the project by means of a business case. Having a standard approach to this step creates a more efficient way of carrying this step out.

The real key is being smart enough to know when a template can help and when it won't. In addition, you should be able to effectively modify a template to meet your project's needs. If your organization forces you to follow steps and use templates, then you have a challenge ahead of you.

So getting back to the first question, can best practices be shared? I think the answer is yes, but...Knowing how someone else does something may give you ideas. Someone else may have solved a problem that you are faced with. The key is to know if their approach is going to work in your environment or just make your problem worse.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Evernote for Personal Organization

I don't normally talk about tools on my blog, but I found one that really works for me. It's called Evernote. It allows me to keep notes, clip web sites, my Twitter feed, or even pictures. Everything can be organized in folders and searched. As I'm adopting the techniques of Getting Things Done, I find Evernote helps with the organization.

What I really like is the sync capability. I can take notes on my work computer and access them through my home computer or my iPod touch. So if I'm at work and think of something to put on my personal to-do list, I can add it and know when I get to my home computer, it will be there. I can also access all my notes from a website if I'm not at any of my computers.

The desktop works on OS-X & Windows. There's iPhone/iPod Touch and Windows Mobile versions. The basic subscription is free, you just have to put up with a tiny ad in the corner. The paid subscription is only $5/month and includes higher encryption, more storage etc.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I haven't talked about Morning Coach in a while, but today's podcast was pretty interesting. The topic was clarity, looking at how clear are your future goals & objectives.

This is a pretty common theme for self-improvement. It's like the quote from Alice in Wonderland, if you don't know where you're trying to go, any road will do.

It's easy to lose this long term vision in the day to day chaos of life. Even if we have some idea of where we want to go, we don't always know how to get there.

For me, using a journal is a good exercise. It can get me away from the current chaos for a few minutes and spend a little time thinking about that long range vision of mine. I've also established my goals & objectives for the year, both for work and in my personal life. However, the goals can't be put on a shelf in hope of achieving them. I look them over on a regular basis and figure out what to do each week to help move towards those goals.

In Getting Things Done, David Allen talks about "what's the next action?" What do I have to do today to move towards the goal. Success comes when a clear vision is combined with actionable steps to reach that vision. So what are you doing today to move towards your vision?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Control and Perspective

I'm reading the latest book by David Allen, Making It All Work. This book is a follow-up to his successful Getting Things Done.

One of the themes in the book in control and perspective. Control has to do with how you are executing your tasks and projects. Perspective is focusing on your purpose, vision, goals etc.

I was in a meeting this week with a client and these same themes came up, but in different context. We were discussing program management and how the projects in your program should align with the organization's vision and goals - the perspective component.

During an earlier part of this engagement, I was providing project management mentoring - the control component. Obviously both components are important to success, whether for an individual or an organization.

I think Stephen Covey expressed it well; you could be working hard to climb the ladder (control) only to find it was leaning against the wrong wall (a lack of perspective). Is your ladder on the right wall?

So where do you start? David Allen says "you begin with where you are." If you have a crisis going on with work, you're not going to thing about your vision for the next 5 years, you have to get control of the crisis. You have to "clear the deck" first before you will be able to effectively address the perspective component and think about your vision and long term goals.

Look for more on the book as I make my way through it.