Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Zeigarnik Effect

An interesting discussion came up on one of the agile groups I subscribe to; the Zeigarnik effect. What this theory says is that people remember unfinished tasks better than they remember finished tasks.

The context of the discussion was retrospectives. During a retrospective, people will be less likely to remember the tasks that completed smoothly in the project, things that fall under the category of what did we do well. Since these are important, you want to make sure people remember them.

One of the tools I use in retrospectives come from Norman Kerth's book. The tool is building a timeline of the project and having people identify key events throughout the project. This is one way to help people remember. Another technique is to hold your retrospectives often; at the end of the iteration rather than waiting until the end of the project.

As I was thinking about the Zeigarnik effect for this post, I also realized it impacts your work in progress (WIP) limits for Kanban. The more things you have in progress, the more things that you are trying to remember. Get your WIP to high, you start forgetting what you're supposed to be working on. So how much unfinished work are you trying to deal with?

On a side note, if you teach, you can use this effect to your advantage. Give your students an assignment right at the end of the day. They will keep thinking about it until they have time to finish it. They'll learn their lesson better than if they finished the assignment in class.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Who do you hang out with?

It is often said you are a reflection of a few people you spend the most time around, so are you making good decisions about who you spend time with? As a triathlete, I know if I spend more time with fellow athletes, I will work out more. The other week I did a 30+ mile bike ride with some teammates. It was freezing weather (17 Fahrenheit/-8 Celsius) and we rode for over 2 hours (at which point my water bottles were frozen solid). I would never have done a crazy ride like this on my own, it was only because of the people I was with that pushed me to go so far.

The same thing can be said of our work-mates. If you're always spending time with the person complaining about how they don't like their job, you will start getting a negative attitude. If you spend a lot of time around a workaholic, you'll probably find yourself working more hours.

A lot of times we don't have much control about who we work with, but there is something you can do. Find someone that has those skills you want to improve on; maybe being better at public speaking or being more proactive. Now ask this person if they would be a mentor for you. If you spend even a couple half hour sessions a week, they will start influencing your behavior. It could be as simple as having coffee one day and lunch another day (you can usually decide who to spend lunch with).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


I have a client that has a practice of doing inspections, such as requirements inspections at the end of the analysis phase. Most of their projects follow a waterfall methodology. They implemented the practice because they were finding to many defects in testing and production, and they wanted to be able to identify defects earlier in order to reduce the cost to fix them. For their waterfall environment, that seemed like a logical approach to them.

However, we started talking about if/how inspections would work with agile, and particularly Kanban. We had just wrapped up project using Kanban techniques, and there were no defects found in testing. So if we did inspections, how would we do them?

On our project, our cycle time was 2-3 days per feature. We would then review/gain acceptance of that feature with the business owner. While this might seem like an inspection, it wasn't the same as what our client was doing. Their inspections didn't involve the business owners. A typical requirements inspection would involve the business analyst, someone from the quality engineering team, and someone from testing. So this would be an additional step every 2-3 days in our approach. As a lean advocate, my question is "what value does this add?"

The real answer goes back to Deming, and the 3rd of his 14 points (slightly paraphrased) - don't rely on inspections to ensure quality, build quality into the product from the start. If your quality assurance approach consists just of testing at the end of development, you aren't meeting Deming's point. However, if you have other QA activities such as paired programming, TDD, code reviews, frequent feedback from the business owner etc, you don't have to rely on testing to find all your defects, you've already worked them out, or at least most of them.

That's not to say we don't do any testing. It's still part of our overall QA approach. We also conduct our retrospectives to see how we can fold even better QA activities into our next project. I think with a couple more successful projects, I'll be able to get the client to see my perspective on this.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A new habit - daily retrospectives

So I'm trying to build a new habit. I've heard it takes 30 days for a habit to take hold, so check back in a month to see how I'm doing.

So what I'm trying to do is a mini retrospective at the end of each day. I'm taking 5 minutes before I wrap up for the day to ask myself a couple questions and jot down some brief responses in my journal;
  • What were my successes and challenges?
  • What did I learn?
  • Who should I reach out to?
The 3rd question is a good one for me. The idea is to think about the people I interacted with that day. Did I promise to send somebody something? Do I want to follow up just to say thanks? Maybe there's a compliment I didn't have time to deliver earlier that day. I'm not the best networker, so this will help me make more of an effort to keep my network alive.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Out with the Old/In with the New

So have you made your New Year Resolution? I heard a quote that 4 out of 5 people fail to achieve their resolutions. It sounds like we need a better plan to succeed.

For many years, fire has been used in ceremonies; from Buddhist monks or Native Americans burning prayers to the Burning Man ceremony; this has been a way to get rid of bad karma and move on. I've participated in a burning bowl ceremony, where people write down what they want to get rid of (bad habits etc) and put them in a bowl to burn. I like the idea of getting rid of something old in order to make room for something new. If we want to lose weight, we need to give up our bad eating habits.

This might be a symbolic first step, but we still need a plan if we want to succeed. This time of year I plan out my racing plans for the coming season; key races I plan on participating in, goals I want to achieve etc. Based on that, I plan out the type of training I need to be doing, down to a weekly level. As I get into the year, the plan may get modified, but I have a plan to follow, not just a vague resolution to exercise more. We need this for any of our resolutions; a plan to ensure we can achieve success. So set some goals for the year (resolutions) and plan out how you're going to reach them. What are you doing this week to help reach those goals?