Leadership in Agile Transformations: A Haiku

In keeping with my thoughts on transformation; I wrote a haiku on good leadership that is needed in Agile transformations.

Farmers cultivate

Burros make furrows in minds

More emerge to join

Can you see what leadership is happening in the above? How has leadership been happening in your organization?

 

A bit of Agile Transformation Haiku

One of the Agile Retroflections of the Day I submitted is this one, “What haiku can you write that reflects on your transformation efforts thus far?”

I’m a huge fan of haiku; it uses powerful imagery to convey messages. This was the one I came up with for my customer’s transformation thus far:

Strong burro works hard

Bureaucratic harnesses

But it’s pull, not push

I was inspired to use a burro as they are real workhorses ummm… really burros and because I know a fellow Agilista, Lisa Crispin, raises them.

But upon additional thought, I’d rewrite the haiku slightly to become:

Burro of strong heart

Bureaucratic harnesses

But it’s pull, not push

What would your haiku be?

 

 

Agile Dialogs Recap

This will be a short recap of the Agile Dialogs unconference held yesterday.  We discussed ways of predicting value production with and without estimates.  Over the next few days I’ll blog more of what we uncovered, but this will be a simple post on how the unconference was approached.

We had a good mix of people that were passionate, though no one was at I’d say fully at each end of the spectrum. The big takeaway was that both sides are right in many ways and wrong in many ways.  The idea of not using estimates of time, money, and/or story points can be done and is highly context dependent. As with any approach it may nor may not work in your context; it depends, or YMMV.  The best you can do is try it as an experiment and see whether it works for you.

What we did at Agile Dialogs was –

  • register with one side or another along a continuum (how strong we felt on the issue),
  • post the types of things we estimate,
  • tell our stories of both our successes and failures on both sides – with and without estimates
  • explore our objectives for either using or not using objectives and the techniques we use for each side
  • Explore the assumptions used when using estimates
  • Explore the assumptions used when not using estimates
  • Explore what each side could learn from the other
  • Posted and voted on what could possibly be the next thorny topic we tackle
  • and retrospect on how the Agile Dialogs unconference could be better

Here’s a few teasers of some of the discoveries… I’ll go more in depth on what was discussed in future posts as well as post some proceedings on the Agile Dialogs site.

  • When management or customers are asking for estimates, it is more important to understand their need for it; then more valuable alternatives to fulfill that need may be explored. Estimates may prove best for fulfilling that need though, so don’t force fit an alternative technique.
  • Estimation has become a scapegoat for other dysfunctions within the works system. Removing estimation won’t fix these dysfunctions, but it may help uncover them.  Whether at the end of the day, you remain with or without estimation, if these more fundamental dysfunctions can be fixed, then the work climate will improve.
  • Estimation always exists, but when pursuing a noestimates approach, the nature of the estimation actually changes from cost, time, and/or complexity to value (which is not based on those in most environments).
  • Focusing on understanding time and money estimates tends to introduce longer feedback loops for actual learning. If it is possible (and that is an IF), then removing them can eliminate waste in the work system to that learning.
  • Measurement is important in both approaches; when doing estimates we sometimes get lulled into a false sense of security that good measurement exists, when often it doesn’t.
  • Humans suck at estimation except on conceptually obvious items (obvious equating to the obvious domain in the Cynefin framework); mathematical models (particularly when the underlying assumptions on those models are validated by the team doing the work) can really help produce accurate results in the complicated domain.  The complex domain can be assisted greatly by these mathematical models, but the loop through is validating a hypothesis.
  • Another way to test a hypothesis is to set time or cost box and see if the solution at the end of the box is on track decide whether to spend more, accept as-is, or abandon; think Lean Start-up approach.

I have set-up The #AgileDialogs Daily that curates information from both sides of this thorny topic; other thorny topics will get added as a discussion on them emerges.

What’s This Agile Dialogs Thing Anyway?

If you haven’t caught it, I’m running an unconference called Agile Dialogs; you can find out more about it at http://agiledialogs.org.

So why would I want to take on thorny topics, ones that seem to bring out flamewars? Because the lack of listening to each side as we argue from each other’s sidelines seems an inane way of advancing our craft.  If we want organizations to advance their thinking, we in the community need to advance ours and listen to those with differing opinions. It doesn’t mean we need to agree, but we do need to listen, truly listen to what the other side is saying.  When we decide to challenge the other side, we need to do it in a manner that isn’t trying to cole them into accepting we are right, but to have them think through why they are taking the position they have chosen. We may reaffirm it, but in the process, we will have had them rethink underlying assumptions.

Dialog is about understanding and elevating assumptions so we can find answers to our questions and perhaps a new better way forward.  I know I am a believer in good estimates when they make sense and when they don’t not even bothering with them. But perhaps when I thought they weren’t useful, there was a better way to have made them useful.  I certainly welcome learning that in a manner that doesn’t start out with – hey bud you are wrong. That closes down dialog as that is about winning an argument. Save the arguments for a debate, let’s find out what makes each side tick and see what we can learn.

I hope you will join me!

Using Dollars as a Constraint on a Project

I’ve been planning to write this for awhile, and this seemed to me more important to post after seeing an update from a Kickstarter campaign I am backing.

So I backed a board game, I was particularly interested in that it i intended to be small so I can take it with me almost anywhere I go.  What was amazing to me was how they calculated what they needed for funding.

Before I dive into that, I’ve backed quite a few boardgames on Kickstarter (along with music albums, music gear, and camping gear…) Most Kickstarter projects go in with varying degrees of estimations; one nice thing Kickstarter does is if you don’t reach your funding goal you don’t owe to make anything and the backers keep their money.  If you get funded, your estimates hopefully allow you to produce the game and have at least a small measure of profit. Most projects offer stretch goals that when they are reached, component upgrades and such kick in – these usually have a change in your estimate.

The gentleman that developed Carrier Commander, decided on a price point he wanted to be able to sell the game ($3 as it is a nanogame; I love small games to take with me when I travel). From there he reversed everything into size and weight by calculation based on what would be possible should he hit his stretch goals.

On the campaign page, he reveals the cost breakdown including the “Uh-Oh” zone which is the profit area…

To read up on how he calculated his way into the $3 price point without estimating, see this update:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1078944858/star-patrol-carrier-commander-3-sci-fi-strategy-na/posts/1348731?ref=dash

Should all Kickstarters work this way?  Probably not…  The larger the game, the more the calculations would become overly cumbersome, particular as stretch goals needed to be calculated, so using estimation and factoring in reserve to cover the uncertainty would probably suffice.  In his instance, his upgrades were in cardboard only, so this made it much easier.

So how would this relate to software development? As I wrote in my post “When I Have Skipped Estimates”, one could use a team size as a constraint and then measure throughout.  Once the constraining bottleneck is understood and all worthwhile options for increasing throughput there have been exhausted, you could increase capacity.  This really works well for software maintenance.

One could also use something akin to what this gentleman did for his Kickstarter game; establish a fair market value for the cost of what you are building (i.e. how much is someone willing to pay to have something by a particular point in time).  Once you have this you have both time and budget constraint and now you can see how much that would pay for in terms of people and other infrastructural resource one may need; i.e. what is the capacity it can purchase?  Let’s say we got enough money that it would pay for 7 people for 6 months (+ servers, desktops, software licenses, etc). We can then execute and develop based on that.

One may ask at this point, how do you know if you will make what is needed? You actually don’t. What you do know is that this is what the person or people that set the constraint said would be what they are willing to pay. Like a venture capitalist, they have in their mind, I am willing to risk this amount of money to see if I can get what I want.  Yep, no guarantee. But then, an estimate doesn’t produce one either.

Should you do this under all cases? Absolutely not. In fact, I would say estimation is needed more often than not when deciding to fund a project (or program). And for those cases, we as an industry need to improve in estimation. However, there are cases,where estimation doesn’t necessarily help us. The more novel the project (and thus its approach), the greater the uncertainty and at some point it may be best to establish a cost (and perhaps schedule) constraint and see what you get at the end of that.  Got something valuable? Perhaps continue forward (and perhaps now introduce estimation); what you got isn’t valuable? Then you can use the knowledge you gained to decide to continue or not (and perhaps add in estimation or not).  You can use the knowledge you have to make a decision.

At least those are the cases I have for when I would go a #noestimates route… What are yours?

I’m interested in exploring each side; if this interests you, I hope you will consider joining me at the first Agile Dialogs unconference I am putting together.

Agile Coach Camp US – Neat Learnings

I attended several sessions at Agile Coach Camp; I was really impressed by the topics proposed this year. I went to some on Business/Organizational Agility, improving feedback/listening skills, one on creating Joy at work, and several related to using games to teach various Agile concepts. I’ll have to admit, I got lighter on the subject matter as the Camp wore on… Anyone that knows me usually knows I have no fear in proposing 2-3 topics.  This year I proposed none.  I was a bit too dain bread to host one given all the distractions and effort that went into running the Camp itself.

Before I jump into my key learnings/highlights, I was very glad to see one of the emerging themes be one of invitation over imposition. So many organizations are now jumping onto the Agile bandwagon and imposing Agile from above as opposed to helping it emerge; and then we wonder why there is resistance! I also really liked that there was good discussion on various technical topics as well; I often feel these get forgotten.  It’s important for us as a coaching community to understood how we can help organizations adopt things that matter and for software development they ummm… seem… to be technical in nature.

So my highlights; I would be remiss if I did not say one highlight was our extremely energetic facilitator Trica Chirumbole.  I think she brought a great energy to the Camp form opening to closing circles.

I was glad that my first session was one that Ryan Ripley ran to clear up some of the misperceptions people have about why an organization should adopt Agile. We seemed to come up with some great clarifying points to help our organizations or clients understand what to expect as an end result as well as various interim improvements to expect along their journey. Here were some of the key take aways:

  • a focus on improving organizational adaptability/responsiveness
  • use of data to make decisions, but not without regard of what the organization’s people will be undertaking
  • more transparency into organizational performance; risks more visible so better decisions can be made
  • better trust within the organization
  • containing failure and learning from it
  • improved employee engagement and retention

The title of the session was it’s NOT about being Better, Faster, Cheaper; though we rearranged it to mean this by stating: Better = more predictability and customer-focus, Faster = is time to market, not just meeting a schedule, and Cheaper = a focus on producing more value, but not reducing costs.  The hard part we found for measuring organizational performance on these is few organizations have a baseline measurement for any of them; in fact we came up with the hashtag #nobaseline to tweet about these instances. Reminding me I could use that with my current client 🙂

Ryan later ran a follow-in discussion from a session we had in the Open Jam session of Path to Agility in Columbus on creating Joy at work.  It was a complementary session to the earlier session as it focused on the human aspects of making those aspects happen. Since we had a new crowd, we really spent a third of the session kind of bringing them up to speed on our thoughts (at least it felt that way). I have an earlier post to help you. Once there though, we explored why Joy was more important than happiness though several people still thought they were synynomous.  Quite a bit of the conversation focused on how NOT imposing choices on people (what Daniel Pink would refer to as Autonomy) is key to this.  Some other also had it relating towards accomplishment (there’s Mastery) towards a purpose. I mentioned that I like Jurgen Appelo’s CHAMPFROGS; it feels more complete.  Since then, after reading Frédéric Laloux’s book, Reinventing Organizations, I might also say Joy is the integral of Wholeness from time = 0 to the present.  I still also stand by our earlier equation as well from Path to Agility.

I’m going to go quick over some of the rest as I feel I have been rambling a bit; I went to a games session hosted by Declan Whelan and George Dinwiddie on games they had come across or developed.  Declan presented Tom Grant’s tech debt game; everyone played it different and got results that demonstrated WHY we should make investments into things like automated testing and continuous integration. George showcased a game that he has been slowly evolving to show how refactoring works – it more demonstrated how software is malleable and we should treat it as such.  This is of course on its own very valuable.

I attended two other sessions I want to highlight, also both ‘games’-oriented: Mark Sheffield held sort of a games round-up.  I learned several new games to research and variants of games that would prove useful for helping teams and managers understand things better.  Andrew Annett ran a session on the Empathy Toy, which is all about common cognitive empathy (aka developing shared mental models).  This toy is fantastic, every coach should have to play this – you are always trying to find ways to bridge the gap in understanding.  My cohort Ken Furlong and i are already developing new ways to use it.

We had 2 happy hours before and during Camp as well as some food shared in various locations – it was awesome catching up with Diana Larsen, Daniel Mezick, Aaron and Brian Kopel, Jeremy Willets, Kevin Goff, faye Thompson, Declan Whelan, Tim Ottinger, and Ellen Grove at length (during Agile2015, I also had the chance to spend some time with my friends Woody Zuill, Pawel Brodzinski, and Chuck Suscheck at length too).

Using a Business Canvas in a Government Environment

At least some of you know I worked at the Environmental Protection Agency in the Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP).  At one point I and a colleague created a Business Canvas for our office; this concept comes from Alex Osterwalder’s book, Business Model Generation.  Below is what I can remember of our canvas (we did this about 5 years ago and I did not take it with me, so this was reproduced from memory; it’s mostly correct).

OPP_Biz_Canvas

These high level items allowed us to identify quite a few useful things. I’m not going to go through every box at the moment, but what we found we could do with this was identify weak spots (our IT contractor at the time was a weakness for us) and the primary activities to leverage to create our value propositions.  We did some postulating on new possible customer segments and thought specifically targeting farmers (one of the largest users of pesticides) may be a good thing to call out.

We then did an analysis on various trends. One trend stuck out; while we were a monopoly, we still were subject to market forces. The economy at the time had been in recession for a couple of years, a pretty severe one at that.  PRIA registrant fees funded much of our work. If the economy is tanking, less pesticides will be purchased (farmers in particular will try and get with less to lower costs). This in turn normally lowers the amount companies will invest in R&D. Without R&D, less new pesticides will be rolling out for registration, meaning less funds and work for OPP. There isn’t anything magic here, but the canvas had us postulating on it.  We went to talk with our IT Director as we wanted to find a way of testing this hypothesis as it would have a severe impact on the work we do; he showed little interest.

Later that year, the Office Director for OPP announced we were going to have the least number of registrations on record since the Office was founded. I can only envision had we tested our hypothesis we would have had a leading indicator as opposed to the lagging indicator of watching the number of registrations trend significantly lower than expected.

Most Government organizations have only appropriation.  Even so, thinking in terms of the value propositions being delivered to customer segments and the activities and partners needed to do this can be really advantageous.