The Human Dimension – 3 “Musts” to consider

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As I experience more and more situations or challenges that face corporations, teams and individuals alike, the one true common denominator is “the human dimension”.

PeaceLove-sticker-CPOMTake your pic, organizations today are struggling with many facets of their workforce and most of them are being handled by their HR departments. The elements are engagement, loyalty, compensation, happiness, diversity and many more.

Whether you are facing a new adoption of scrum or simply dealing with ever changing conditions with your current implementation, the constant “rule” is having to engage in the change cycle and our human ability to absorb it.

Too many times organizations rush into restructuring, be it from a process or people perspective. I have become particularly fond of an expression these days, that of “you must first slow down before going fast”. This speaks to our ability to be patient and assess our surroundings while being transparent about our objectives, as an organization, to what matters most i.e. the very people that make our product(s). Technology is a beautiful thing, bonus being that it has no feelings and opinions, it therefore does not require peace of mind to sleep at night :P.

That said, often the concern about organizing teams or department structure is heavily coupled to technology or how it should be built. The human dimension of that is found in the lack of motivation, purpose or engagement people feel toward that structure having not been considered or given time to absorb the conditions. In Agility we talk about planning in the following manner, “we plan little and often”. This applies to the above circumstances where when adapting, plan little and communicate often while encouraging people to give feedback to these incremental changes.

To maximize “Peace of Mind”, consider the following 3 things:

  1. Trust & Responsibility – Trust in the ability of people to own and solve challenges that they face within their Team(s) and outside of it. Trust in their capacity to organize, if first given the chance. This results in greater sense of purpose and leads to greater engagement/drive. On the Peace of Mind scale, Trust is No.1.
  2. Transparency – When in doubt, be upfront about your intentions and expose the “plan” as early as possible. Inclusion provides trust, which we mentioned above and more importantly, we want to include them in feeling part of the big picture. Nothing better for Peace of Mind then to be treated like “Front Row seating” VIP people.
  3. Purpose & Freedom – When faced with a change as an organization, too often does the work or elements of it are handled by a committee or group. There is nothing wrong with that, though please consider that the majority of the affected people need to feel part of the activities and given a chance to participate. Purpose is the best way to tie people to a change and give them a first hand opportunity to “feel” what they are getting into. Involve don’t just inform. Peace of Mind comes from the organizations ability to create space for people to take action within the frame of change.

Thank you and Cheers!!! PS 🙂

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4 Blockers to Communities of Practice: Where there is hope …

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Hi all,

Summer is back in Montreal and with the sun comes a new post.

I would like to share with you the work that colleagues and I have been doing to drive knowledge sharing, professional improvement, mastery, diversity and the list goes on. This work takes the form of the common tactic known as “Communities of Practice”. The motivation as stated below was obvious to us and most people we talked to so this got off to a rather good start.

It might of been my naive sense of belief that people in our profession have a natural desire to share and explore new ways to implement or test software, but we hit a Wall*. Here at the top factors that stopped us dead in our tracks:

  • Culture
  • Time
  • Leadership
  • Fragmentation

Culture: As much as we would of loved to have this great organizational culture where people value strong community values such as volunteering, mentoring, supporting others, etc. we realized that while we thought of ourselves that way, the truth was a very different thing. We found a beast of a culture that the individual rules and while education is important, driving that knowledge forward and challenging it with a greater community to ensure great standards is not something that made the top of the list. The approach is rather one of micro decisions made a either at the department or Team level. Be mindful of this if you are considering implementing communities.

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. 

– Bertrand Russell

Time: As Mr. Russell so pleasantly points out, this is what we believe would motivate people to get together in order to exchange on approaches or practices to develop software. Have a structured approach to discovering and establish common standards across a wide range of people within the organization. What we did not count on is the prior point “Culture” leaks in heavily into what people deem important to spend Time on. Ultimately we ended up with a pattern of everyone who showed interest into doing this fell one by one to the excuse: “I don’t have time”. I believe that not taking the time is more costly then taking any amount to have people discuss and be aware of the immense resources available to them to face their complex work.

Leadership: Simply put, the lack thereof made it very difficult to make the communities “stick”. There no way for my colleagues and I to be at the heart of every single one of them and make sure they would be driven forward and purposeful. Whether it be individuals in Teams, Managers and our Executives, the “sponsorship” and expectation towards our development people was never made clear that this initiative is to be used and leveraged to better the whole of the organization. This leads us back, full circle, to Culture. This is key to a successful implementation, the drive coming from leadership positions to instigate the flame.

Fragmentation: Lastly, in a recent reorganization the words “startup” came up a lot. As you may of experienced or heard before, the approach is to get Team or departments to act like their own small companies. The unfortunate side effect to this is that while it provides great decisiveness and quick action, establishing cross sweeping standards and practices is “shunned” since Team want to run “their way”. This simply means that gathering people from different “startups” and having to exchange on practices meant that it was like wanting oil to mix with water. If you prefer, all silos no bridges. 😛 This is a blocker, though I believe that while it didn’t help us if the others were present, this would be “superficial”.

While there is hope, there is a way. Be mindful of the above before committing to putting this forward, though in a positive light we have had great success with positions that are more soft skill oriented.

Thank you and cheers PS 🙂

Giving Thanks!

Hi all,

It is that time of year again (for our neighbors to the south), Thanksgiving. A time to reflect and be thankful towards others turkey_panicwhich have helped us along the way. A recent conversation with colleague and manager has inspired me for this post.

Agility and the journey to better software has taken me to many places (both literally and figuratively). I work more at Organizational agility and transformation then ever before then simply focusing on bottom up approaches with a focus on Software Development Teams. One of the topics which we are now looking into and working to understand its roots is Performance Appraisal or Performance Review. Currently, we are conducting interviews and gathering data in order to get a clearer picture. As of now, with the sample of data that we have, we can see how inefficient and unsatisfying this practice has become within our Organization. Just like making a mad dash for the latest gadgets @ your local Walmart for this lovely Black Friday, when time for Performance Review rolls around, people feel a sense of dread and panic about having to discuss their Performance. The comment that seems to surface the most is the distance people feel towards their manager and their ability to make a fair assessment of their skill or competence. In this age which seems to focus a lot around Social Driven Platforms, people within the Software Industry still suffer from a lack of ability to  sell or explain in concrete terms their desires and aspirations within their company. A clear contradiction which can also be observed is the culture advertised versus the actual culture being exercised everyday by our people. The most apparent of these is Transparency, while we claim to have a culture where we are not afraid to show results and discuss openly about what is required to reach a certain position within the organization this is simply not the case. A clear Transformation is needed to shift the organization towards real Transparency if we are to improve the practice of Performance Appraisal.

In the next post, I shall expose more of our initiative and findings in an effort to share what can be done to improve this conventional practice of corporate america.

Happy Thanksgiving and cheers PS 🙂

How I Helped Start the Agile/Scrum Movement 20 Years Ago

Thank you for sharing this great story. 🙂

SmoothSpan Blog

ShopFloorTeamI’m a day late, it was 20 years ago yesterday that Dr Dobbs published James Coplien’s article on how my Quattro Pro team was building software at Borland.  Jim sent me a very nice note of reminder on it:

20 years ago today, the famous Dr. Dobb’s article on Borland QPW was published: foreshadowing agile and Scrum’s daily standup (Jeff got the idea from an earlier draft floating on the web). http://www.drdobbs.com/examining-the-software-development-proce/184409329
Thanks for being there 🙂

This is a good occasion for me to tell that story of how (with Jim’s article!) I helped start the whole Agile/Scrum thing going.

The article came about because Coplien was studying software development productivity while he was with Bell Labs.  He was interviewing various groups, measuring their relative productivity, and trying to figure out what the most productive teams were doing differently.  At the time, Borland was very much in the throes…

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For the Agile or not so Agile self?

Hello all,

In an attempt to cover some of my more interesting sessions and take-away, this next post will be about the Personal Agility Canvas. This presentation by Dave Prior introduced an introspection tool that helps build your awareness about your personal journey into Agility. His premise is about how he came from a very “conventional” background of project management and when came time to move towards more lean/Agile practices, he sometimes felt inadequate, second guessing himself, wondering if he was “good enough”. This Personal Agility Canvas is very much a learning tool as much as it is a way to reflect on the actions taken by you into growing your knowledge and expertise in this vast field.

As an exploratory measure, you must first identify certain areas using what Dave suggests are the five (5) measures Tao, Climate, Ground, Leadership and Discipline from Sun Tzu*.

“Those who understand them will triumph. Those who do not understand them will be defeated”

R.L. Wing “The Art of Strategy”

The canvas below is to be used for your organization where you work (green canvas). Taking note of every section to understand how your environment may affect your ability to be “Agile”. Each section gets you to reflect on how you behave in the environment and what you put into your surroundings. Once you have explored your environmental “settings”, you can observe the five measures on a personal level (red canvas).

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The following picture represents the Canvas:

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Note*: This is inspired from the very useful tool, the Lean Canvas available here and combined with the wisdom of “Art of War”.

The Personal Agility Canvas below takes you through a series of steps to self-reflect on the aspects that make you or holds you back from being your most “Agile”.  The exercise gets you to set concrete Agility goals for yourself. During Dave’s presentation, he explains that he has had more success in filling the canvas in a certain order, yet I would encourage you to find your own way and experiment to find what works best for you.  This tool is very useful and may be a great way to bring transparency or clarity to some of your objectives that you have set for yourself. Exchanging this canvas with others is also a very smart idea, as Dave puts it, you will have to “Embrace the guilt” when the person you have shared it with will ask for an update. Lastly, this tool is not reserved for newbies, experienced individuals will find great use to pursue their knowledge goals and push themselves outside their comfort zones.

Let us explore each section.

  • The Mark Inside: What can you identify that prevents you from moving forward towards your Goal of Agility that resides within yourself. Procrastination, Discipline, Excuses are all good examples.
  • Value Proposition: I like to call this area, in reference to “The Compound Effect” your “Why Power”. Why are you taking these steps to become Agile? What will you gain?
  • Strengths: What can you rely on to achieve your goals? Your foundation on which you will grow your new Agility.
  • Interactions with Others: What behaviour prevails when interacting with others? How is this Agile? How do those behaviours map to Agility principles and values?
  • Environment: What artifacts or changes to your environment could benefit to be introduced for you to reach your goals? Information radiators, working areas and tooling are good examples.
  • Desired Changes: List of known changes that will lead you towards the goal.
  • Fears/Concerns: Items you have identified that will “get in the way” for you to move forward. These items can be internal or external to you.
  • Goals: Short list of items that you what to achieve (before doing this whole process again). Setting a cadence definitely helps and having a “sponsor” helps also.
  • Actions Needed: Steps required to get you going to achieve your “list of goals” on your canvas. These might be immediate or elements that will have to be scheduled at a later date.

 I have to admit that this tool got my thinking, especially the “five measures” and dig deep to find my motivations to keep growing in this great work discipline.

Thank you for reading and hope this will be a useful tool for all of you. Feel free to get in contact with Dave and give feedback to make this even better.

Cheers PS

Reference: Dave Prior, Big Visible dprior@bigvisible.com

Agile2014 – Sensible and structured approach to Meetings

Hello all,

My first post of a series that features the experiences we shared from Agile2014.

I attended a session on improving the way to have “meetings”. We define meeting in the following way; noun: meeting; “an assembly of people, especially the members of a society or committee, for discussion or entertainment.”

Let us extend that view and include our activities such as Planning, Retrospectives and any other type of activities that we engage in as a Team. The premise to the session is that a good portion of us attend very poor and useless meetings, Why is that? The answer would lie in little attention to the moments “before” and “after” our meetings. We tend to focus on the phase “during” and lose many opportunities to capitalize on what we are trying to achieve way before we set foot in the meeting room.

The following picture represents what Dana Wright coins the START Model;The-Start-Meeting-Model_11x17in_2014-07-21

 

 

 

 

 

This model is to be used by the very people that plan meetings (activities) and by using the “canvas” you can create a structure to make the most out of it. We will explore each zone and talk about its purpose.

  1. Before
    1. Anticipating: Like any event or activity, we want our meeting to create a sense of excitement or at the very least, that the participants will be looking forward to attending. This box should then contain any item that would help to create a sense of anticipation.
    2. Entering: This area of the canvas should contain all that contribute to making our meeting great when entering the room. For example, having water, printed workbooks and projector ready when people enter our meeting space.
    3. Know, Feel, Think: The bottom three boxes are meant to hold any information we might know or assume about our attendees. Knowing for example that the nature of the meeting is “sensitive” and that the participants will feel “stressed”. They might think about “impact on their job”, “value of meeting”, etc.
  2. During
    1. Engaging Around: In this section, we want to focus on the artifacts or objects that people attending our meeting should engage around. This could be a whiteboard, projected presentation, etc.
    2. Engaging In: Thinking about how, as a group, we come together around the topic of our meeting is important. Many times we lose track of the topic and go down a different path. Nailing down the scope of our subject is essential to prevent waste.
    3. Connecting With: This box is the “people” aspect of the meeting and making sure that we connect with the attendees. Some of our participants might have specific circumstances or situation and we might want to take special note of these.
    4. Say: Here, we want to write down what we would like people to “say” about their time spent in our meeting. What they will exchange with other people.
  3. After
    1. Leaving: This area should contain any information that we must ensure people take with them upon leaving our activity. This could be handouts or information.
    2. Extending: This particular zone concerns “homework” or actions that we need to take to further our activity after it has ended. We often forget that the lives of our meetings are not necessarily for the schedule duration and some degree to thought should be put in creating space or elements to keep the activity relevant (“fresh”).
    3. Know, Feel, Think: These three boxes serve the same purpose as the ones in the “Before” section, except that now we are focusing on what people know upon leaving our activity, how they felt about their time together and the thoughts they might have once they set foot outside the meeting room.

Conclusion, I believe this model can bring great structure and focus to any potential meeting or activity. To be effective, this model must be used iteratively to introduce new measures and elements into your meetings. Forcing yourself to plan thoughtfully and thinking about specific areas or moments are good ways to “spice up” meetings, which have lost their appeal. Give it a try and please give us some feedback. Ultimately, the purpose of putting the effort of taking a closer look at our meeting is too avoid the following:BoringOR

Cheers all. Have fun with it. 🙂

Reference: Dana Wright http://startmeetinglikethis.com/

Fox and The Crow

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Hello all,

This week we had an interesting activity where we met with various colleagues from other parts of the company and discussed the many organizational aspects of Team work and software development. This gave us an opportunity to learn how others went about their day and delivered their product.

the_fox_and_the_crow_by_evanira-d5kid52

evanira.deviantart.com

As per the title of this post, what I would like to highlight from this discussion is the fact that after so many years of advancements in management and processes regardless of whether it be considered Agile/Lean we face the constant threat of human nature when we accomplish work. Like in the story of “The Fox and the Crow”, in order to get his prize, Fox make good use of Deception to the sadness of the Crow who lost her meal and a bit hurt from the whole ordeal. In my many talks with Teams or people surrounding project delivery (mostly Software products) it seems that there are no reservations when it comes to the use of Deception in order to manipulate a situation in their favour. A great example of Deceptive behaviour was Team members fabricating Sprint Burndowns because people surrounding the Team were quick to panic when the graphic would not “burn” and in turn pressuring them to have a continuous progression. This behaviour only aggravates the root behaviour we are trying to fix, which is lack of Trust. This is mainly an example to provide context into the type of Deception that I am referring to. In the context of our discussion, the topic of Estimation came up and have to say that this subject has to be the biggest piece of “Cheese” plaguing our industry today. The question was asked: “… Do you use Story Points or Man days to estimate your User Stories?” A volley of answers came quite quickly, such as “No, we use Story Points”, “We use Story Points, though they are mapped to Man days”, etc. Listening to this I had to ask “What are you using? and Why?”. Explanation came to conclude that since they had to report in Man days, therefore they just got tired of trying to figure it out and developers would simply map Points to Days. I am pretty positive that I have spoken about this before and will likely do so again, we have a simple reason why we moved away from using Man Days because it was Deceptive!!!! People took comfort and let go of the cheese simply because they heard what they wanted. Courage is required to stick to a measure which is both “good enough” and “predictable” for all to succeed in delivering a quality product. Points/Sticks/Beans are a measure that does away with the conventions of time simply because Software is more often than not too complex to simply attribute a value which stands for absolute predictability which is Man days! false expectations arise from the use of such “metrics” and Trust erodes as Teams are unable to stick to those estimates. What results is an even worse Deception as Teams start to adopt a behaviour of “Buffering” in response to lack of Trust and this leads us to our over running costs ,etc. I dare say again, learn to stay away from such “metrics” and disrupt the standard management conventions if you hope to regain a “real” sense of trust. This might actually lead to an increase in employee engagement which seems to plague our Corporate world!!

Cheers PS 🙂

Constant Flux

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mind-full-iconHello all,

After a long absence, here is a post which expresses some of our latest adventures. I recently read a post by @AlliPolin about how our stories (e.g. past experiences) change as our life changes. I found Alli’s post charming as I was grinning when she talked about “people watching”, it seems that is exactly what I find myself doing most of the time these days, professionally that is. The conclusion drawn by Miss Polin is interesting since I have come to view a lot of my past “trials” quite differently as I engage in new experiences, challenges and functions as of late.

Looking back, I sometimes wished the world was how I pictured it when I was a teenager. A world with endless possibilities which knows no bounds, all you had to do is reach out and grab it. This view quickly changed growing up and accompanied with an increasing rise in responsibilities, this usually occurs when you get your first job (e.g. McDonald’s was mine). Just then my point of view became one where the world took on the shape of a pie, where everyone is scurrying, fighting and vying for a piece. As people close to you come and go, giving you a new perspective, a bit dramatic at times, these “events” change your outlook on life. I imagine this a little like hovering in a constant battle between believing that you finally have a clear picture on things and being served a blurry mess the next moment. As I grew up and learned how the world worked my view of our complex society and interactivity with others changed, which led me to shift my attention to “people”. I suddenly acquired a very high desire to know more about myself and how to better navigate this world of ours with immensely diverse people. This drunken like path of an adventure drove me towards learning more about Agility, scrum and organizational transformation (a.k.a change!). Taking great interest in coaching, the goal, to this day, is to get a better understanding of how to put to good use the observations and experiences life gives you. Taking on this challenge transformed my grayscaled world into a rainbow (minus the unicorns!), opening up possibilities which seemed nonexistent not too long ago. I am amazed at the journey so far and how people can surprise you (very colorfully). This post is about my renewed faith in our ability to change, adapt and be better. Awaken our minds to how others see and experience the world we share. My hopes are to bring awareness to my surroundings and let people imagine a time where the only limit is their imagination.

What are you going to do to change your story?

Cheers PS

 

The case for Quality

Hello all,

Nowadays, Agility and Quality are at the forefront of our industry’s thoughts. The growing popularity of Agile Testing Days where leading people from all areas of Software development meet to understand this growing concern and converse on the practices that have grown to be effective. Recently I have been reading “The Tipping Point” and this book reveals a lot about how subtle situations can change. The very interesting point that is made in the book is how, we as human beings perceive and believe these situations happened in the first place. The human brain is quite protective and one thing it does is eliminate a lot of the noise that is around us, since otherwise we would go completely bonkers will all the things which are happening. We then make very simple observations and quickly come to an understanding to make sense of our world in front of us. My favorite part of the book is when the author talks about a very simple theory that explains a psychological switch in social behaviour when urban areas become filthy, vandalized and simply ignored. This phenomenon is referred to as “The Broken Window” theory. I will try to make a parallel from this theory to the mediocrity that takes root in so many teams developing software out there.

brokenWindowNow “The Broken Window” theory is simple enough. It states that if an area of urban development is riddled with broken windows, in other words vandalized, that area is more likely to invite other activities which fall on the wrong side of the law. This phenomenon then takes a life of it’s own and before you know it violence sets in and more dramatic crimes are happening on a regular basis. This happens because we are made to understand that from this situation, rules do not apply and that nobody is made to care or will act upon these “injustices”. Now to reverse the effect, as you probably already have figured out yourselves is by cleaning up the area by repairing windows, painting over graffiti and simply making sure people respect the area as a whole the rest will somehow “Tip” into a more positive outlook.

As you now understand the premise, I am making the case that this simple yet psychological phenomenon can also be attributed to poor software Quality. The mediocrity in a team concerning their delivery sets in because no one is made to care about minor details. How minor are they really? This is where my parallel comes in to this theory. If attention to your Definition of Done is loose and activities executed by the Team is ignored, this is like breaking a window and just moving on. A strong stance needs to be taken to not accept “slippage” or simple excuses that these are minor. We have to know that a simple minor issue can balloon to an exponential degree if ignored for any amount of time. Making excuses and leaving out work that was agreed upon by the whole team will only lead to increasingly bigger and bigger left out “minor” items. What difference does it make? Nobody said anything about the last one! To avoid this a “Zero Tolerance” attitude must be the norm when the Team comes to normalize. Strong influencers are necessary to make a point and also drive these principles. Remember that once you are made to understand and master the principles you can do whatever you want.

Let me know your thoughts and Scrum on!

Cheers, PS

A day in the life… Adopting SAFe

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Hello all,

My last blog post was about Scaling and tools available to make sense of your strategies within your organizational process adoptions.

I recently joined an organization that not too long ago was struggling with how to scale software implementation because of their increasing demand for the product and therefore were growing rapidly. After some looking around and attending conferences they got in touch with SAFe. SAFe provided a clear outline for them and felt it met they goal of reorganizing themselves to better handle the demands they were faced with. With the help of SAFe, they went ahead and adopt the Framework in the product organization. Trainings were conducted, coaches were put in place and new hires for some of SAFe’s prescribed roles (i.e RTE). The organization was helped with their very first PSI Planning where all Teams were to gather and live the experience for the first time.

Coincidentally, I joined when the time came for them to plan for their second PSI. This was quite an interesting time for me to join since a brand new CTO had just come onboard. Without selling the whole story, let’s just say that he had his own ideas and felt that the company’s recent SAFe rollout was not helping to release product to customers. Now I must say that I neither like or dislike SAFe since it is just like scrum a Framework.

Wrong Tool!

It’s how you use it!

In other words it is so easy to blame a tool when first using it especially when you believe that the tool will work with little effort or simply fix some of the deep down issues. During PSI, I was asked to remind all the parties present that without proper Strategies and Practices in place you cannot hope to gain efficiency or reduce waste, no matter the Tool you use. Like many things, learning rarely comes from things you say and when skepticism settles in, it is very difficult to root it out with just a few words. As an Agile Coach it is my role to move the Teams and Organization in the direction that They feel is working for them, therefore if your successful @ hammering screws, I may ask “How are the results?”. For all intent and purposes if the results are positive who am I to say they should do it differently. Keep in mind that context is very important when it comes to process adoption.

Nowadays, It feels like we are in a zone where we constantly “almost deliver”. A general sense of frustration sets in and this frustration leads to be reactive more than applying the recipe we have come to understand works “Apply-Inspect-Adapt”. A misconception, from both experience and observation, is that structure and taking a measurable amount of time to Inspect before Adapting is not Agile. The general feeling is that we should be made to act on the spot, we know in this moment it doesn’t work so why wait? Let’s be Agile, right? Let us remind ourselves that it takes a minimal amount of structure and time for us to observe what we achieve as a Team/Organization. I read something interesting which reflects this, “… We need to investigate almost failed as well – it is not sustainable to deliver with magic.” By introducing to many changes too often, we fall prey to “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. Very often little effort is put into understanding the effects of the change, they much rather satisfy an immediate need for the organization.

Finally, whatever you choose to adopt, be careful with blaming it on the Tool. We often say in IT that the problem is 18 inches in front of the computer, same applies in this case. 😉

Cheers, PS