On The Process of Education – Jerome Bruner

the-process-of-education-jerome-bruner-1960

Light reading for this week of an oldie but goodie from 1960…

As I further my own education into the world of how people operate and behave it always astounds me of the similarity and relative closeness of systems thinking and how we as people (cognitively) learn and grow. I found myself, after reading Bruner’s work this weekend and today , spending about an hour re-visiting Gestalt Theory of learning… which is very much all about human systems as we see them in corporate America.

“It is worth the effort to provide the growing learner with problems that tempt him into next stages of development.” — We learn best when we are forced to pay attention to other aspects of the problem.

“Effective intuitive thinking is fostered by the development of self-confidence and courage in the person. A person who thinks intuitively may often achieve correct solutions, but he may also be proved wrong. Such thinking, therefore, requires a willingness to make honest mistakes in the effort to solve problems. As the importance of situations requiring decision increases, as in business, the tendency to think analytically also increases. The present system of rewards and punishments tends to inhibit the use of intuitive thinking.” – Meaning, the greater the risks as we go up the ranks in management, the less actual problem solving we do, and less ‘thinking’ is done…

How is Your Boss Behaving? – Infographic

Everyone loves infographics these days, right? It’s a quick and easy way of understanding simple and/or complex data and for many of us who struggle with maintaining focus on the many things that we are responsible for we’ve got little time to read through paragraphs and paragraphs of text.

I saw one recently that focused on the management, titled “Bad Boss Diaries”:

Click the image for a larger view:

agile-the-bad-boss-diaries

It really is too bad if someone of these figures are correct (and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are, if not very close).

One of the areas listed is the Top 5 Reasons Workers are Dissatisfied:

  1. Compensation
  2. Boss
  3. Job Responsibilities
  4. Culture
  5. Commute

Although we can’t do anything about the first and last one on that list it’s the three in the middle that are of personal interest to me as I believe that those can be discovered, analyzed, and improved with a bit of help. Ultimately they all boil down to leadership.

You see, here’s what I know: Your boss and management needs just as much help, support, and encouragement as you need to get your particular job done. They have stresses, anxiety, and worry just like the next person and a lot of it has to do with those that they lead and manage.

Your boss deals with people, relationships, and managing those roles and responsibilities. There’s tons of ambiguity and gray areas to work through and it often boils down to the ability of the manager and his team to communicate. In many circumstances that’s all that’s needed – a better or more functional way of communicating needs, expectations, and everything in between.

Team Science™ does that, as well as many other communication instruments out there! It baffles me how many organizations have terrible communication amongst themselves and yet they invest all of their additional time and resources on things that don’t help them to communicate!

In addition, it doesn’t surprise me when I hear that many workers struggle immensely with their current role and responsibilities – it’s just not “suiting” them well. There’s nothing more depressing than going to a job and doing work that you are not naturally gifted at and that drains you more than energizes you.

There is nothing that can be done to fix “you” as you can’t suddenly become someone you’re not but no one’s willing to help you find a better spot in the organization (or there might not be one available). No wonder many people hate waking up in the morning and plodding off to work!

It’s up to leaders and managers to help facilitate the conversations around roles, responsibilities, and natural aptitudes for their staff. Not all leaders and managers have the right words to say, a common language, that can help them have those necessary discussions and we love coming alongside them and giving them the right dictionary and vernacular to speak well and wisely to their teams.

Finally, culture, cultureculture! Culture is both bottom-up and top-down, but it’s always started up top (via the Founders and the first players to the field, so to speak). Leadership needs to help massage the culture in a way that’s accessible, understandable, and encourages healthy and thriving teams and individuals.

It must start here. Bad boss behavior can be mitigated, managed, and corrected but it must start with acknowledging that the issues exist in the first place! Don’t be fooled, especially if you’re in leadership – your team already is aware of the disfunction; they are just waiting for you to be the leader that they know you can be.

Most Asked Interview Questions – And How to Answer Them

[Click to make larger or download]

interview-questions-infographic

I found this over the weekend. This could be helpful for those looking for a job.

It is interesting, however, that we find in research that the person interviewing you pretty much makes a mental decision about you within the first 15 minutes or so… so those first crucial minutes are the most important. We find even more, that recruiters or interviewers have an even better chance at hiring you if they are even more deeply informed about who you are prior to them meeting you, understanding your team dynamics, your personality, and even how you process data. Recruiters and hiring managers alike love Team Science™ because that’s exactly what it allows them to do, before you even step in the door.

 

Man Alone Keeps Time

time-clock

“Man alone measures time. Man alone chimes the hour. And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out.”

― Mitch Albom, The Time Keeper

I know we have to make profits and such in business… but, on this wonderful Friday, I wonder… “At what cost?”

No More After Hours Calls from the Boss

Germany’s employment ministry has banned its managers from calling or emailing staff out of hours except in emergencies, under new guidelines intended to prevent employees from burning out.

The guidelines state that ministry staff should not be penalized for switching off their mobiles or failing to pick up messages out of hours.

The move follows similar restrictions on out-of-hours email imposed by German firms including Volkswagen, BMW and Puma.

VW stops forwarding emails to staff from its company servers half an hour after the end of the working day, while other firms have declared that workers are not expected to check email at weekends or in their free time.

The labour ministry’s rules only allow contact if the task cannot be postponed until the next working day. Managers should apply a principle of “minimum intervention” into workers’ free time and keep the number of people whose spare time is disrupted as low as possible.

The code is part of a broader agreement covering remote working. Ursula von der Leyen, the labour minister, told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung the rules had been drawn up to protect workers’ mental health. The minister said that it was important for remote workers to know: “When they have to be available, and when they don’t. They now have this clarity in black and white.”

“It’s in the interests of employers that workers can reliably switch off from their jobs, otherwise, in the long run, they burn out,” she said.

The minister called on companies to set clear rules over the out-of-hours availability of their workers earlier this year, warning that: “technology should not be allowed to control us and dominate our lives. We should control technology.”

The culture of routinely checking emails in spare time came under the spotlight in July, when the chief executive of Switzerland’s biggest telecoms group was found dead at his flat in a suspected suicide.

In an interview in May, Carsten Schloter, boss of Swisscom, criticized the need to be permanently engaged.

“The most dangerous thing that can happen is that you drop into a mode of permanent activity,” he said. “When you permanently check your smartphone to see if there are any new emails. It leads to you not finding any rest whatsoever.”

[VIA: Telegraph]

Weekend Reading – #Deming 14 Points for Management

edwards-demming-book-quality-productivity-competitive-position

Find yourself Deming’s 14 Points for Management. You can never remind yourself enough.

  1. ”Create constancy of purpose towards improvement” – Replace short-term reaction with long-term planning.
  2. ”Adopt the new philosophy” – The implication is that management should actually adopt his philosophy, rather than merely expect the workforce to do so.
  3. ”Cease dependence on inspection” – If variation is reduced, there is no need to inspect manufactured items for defects, because there won’t be any.
  4. ”Move towards a single supplier for any one item” –  Multiple suppliers mean variation between feedstocks.
  5. ”Improve constantly and forever” – Constantly strive to reduce variation.
  6. ”Institute training on the job”  If people are inadequately trained, they will not all work the same way, and this will introduce variation.
  7. ”Institute leadership” – Deming makes a distinction between leadership and mere supervision. The latter is quota- and target-based.
  8. ”Drive out fear” – Deming sees management by fear as counter- productive in the long term, because it prevents workers from acting in the organization’s best interests.
  9. ”Break down barriers between departments” – Another idea central to TQM is the concept of the ‘internal customer’, that each department serves not the management, but the other departments that use its outputs.
  10. ”Eliminate slogans” – Another central TQM idea is that it’s not people who make most mistakes – it’s the process they are working within. Harassing the workforce without improving the processes they use is counter-productive.
  11. ”Eliminate management by objectives” – Deming saw production targets as encouraging the delivery of poor-quality goods.
  12. ”Remove barriers to pride of workmanship” – Many of the other problems outlined reduce worker satisfaction.
  13. ”Institute education and self-improvement”
  14. ”The transformation is everyone’s job”

Team, Work.

When we spend time with teams with often repeat a number of things over and over and over again in order that they might, at some point in time, “stick” in their minds like dried cement.

One of these is the simple fact that optimizing team performance and team dynamics takes work – and not a small amount either. You see, we can bring all the strategy, tactics, tools, technology, consulting, coaching, and we could even spend our precious time simply yelling at you (but we don’t) – and none of that would do any good unless the individuals and teams have committed themselves to do the tough work necessary of improving themselves and their team.

That’s why we title some of our activities and group assignments as “Team, Work” – reminding the group that it’s going to take your Team + Work to make this happen (or = Teamwork). Not overly clever, I know, but it does cause a few to pause when they see it.

As is often the case, many people commit to the idea of change and perhaps might even fall in love with the idea of change but it can be difficult at times to commit the actual effort that is required.

But your teams, your organizations, and the products, services, and solutions that you have for your clients and customers are worth it – and you’ll serve them better when you’re a better team and more optimized organization.

Go for it! Commit to the work, effort, and time required to help your team improve their performance and enhance the culture and everyday environment.  You don’t have to use Team Science™ to do this either as there are many options for improving team performance out there – the point is that you budget in the time, realistically, so that it can be scheduled in appropriately and intentionally.

Our passion is to see teams grow and perform better. Shouldn’t that be one of your top priorities as well?

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) – A Review

safe-scaled-agile-framework-review

A SAFe Class Review for Agilists / Consultants

“When you become all things to everyone, you satisfy none.” – But maybe you’ll become a consultant.

“You strive to never compromise on your values or principles, when you do, you become nothing.” – But if you do, maybe you become a consultant.

“The difference between a methodologist and a terrorist is that you can negotiate with a terrorist.” – But methodologists can become rich consultants.

Preface

Like any method or framework one needs to be highly-contextual as to how facets of that method will work within your organization. Meaning, you have to pick and choose what works.

Being educated in a “new” idea of sorts is really (at least to me), and exercise in reflection, introspection, and self-awareness. I was, of sorts, doing reconnaissance. I was also looking for things I might be able to pull from the SAFe framework for my client and coaching work. In some deeper ways, I was looking to see whether my heart was ready for a codified framework on something I’ve been attempting to do for several years. This is an ego issue (hell, I’ve even published a book on Agile).

program-consultant
SAFe SPC Training

The first time I touched SAFe was a 2 day course held at my client 5-6 months ago (I got to participate for free because I was, after all, a coach on-site). I was aloof, un-attentive, and didn’t take it very seriously as I was also juggling other consulting duties (e.g. being pulled out of class). Now, after paying $3000+ out of my own pocket, I dug in. I got serious about learning this.

My company has rolled out Agile at scale at several places, and one of my favorite and most successful (probably why it’s my favorite) was a $22.7M program that I was the Agile Architect for, and presented a part of our results at Agile2012 in an IEEE paper. Our company has it’s own home-brewed version of scaling Agile, and we’ve been pretty successful in multiple places. We’ve also had our failures.

That being said, taking this class on the Scaled Agile Framework has allowed me to see many things. A couple here:

  1. What SAFe espouses is pretty in-line with what we’ve done, on many levels.
  2. What SAFe prescribes is thoughtful and well-intentioned. It just takes it a bit too far and defines everything… almost too much… but I can see why this is a great selling idea.

What SAFe is Far Better At Than Most Continue reading “The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) – A Review”

“Survey” – Not “Test,” Not “Assessment”

It’s a SURVEY dude.

One of the most important things that we share with our customers and those that we coach is to change their thinking (and their word choice) from “test” and “assessment” and instead use “survey” when they use our tool and instrument.

This might seem like a small thing to you but it actually makes a significant psychological difference for our users for many reasons, the largest being that the general feeling and assumption when using a word like “test” is that you can or may fail it.

The challenge was birthed out of our culture and educational system as well as the way we often approach these types of instruments. Unfortunately, there still exists a sentiment that you can actually “win” or “fail” a psychometric evaluation or assessment (and hence the word “test”) when that is completely untrue – or at least with our device.

There is no better or worse score that anyone can achieve in the results – it’s rather a statement of who you are and a statement of “what is” – 5’s are not better than 1’s and 1’s are not better than 5’s. More “flat” results are not better than big downs and ups and a rollercoaster-like score are not better than more “stable” scores (as some people may call it).

Example Team Results
Example Team Results

As a result, we kindly and politely educate our customers that this isn’t really a test at all but rather a simple survey of your responses and most natural answers to very simple questions. This enables the person to feel more free with their answers and more comfortable with their results, which is a significant win for us!

Coaching individuals and teams through our process is critical for seeing the results rightly, or with more nuance and care – it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to discover your results and then begin to practically apply them instantly but there is a significant difference between being walked through them with a trained and professional eye.

For those that love coaching metaphors a very apt one is this: It’s like a sports team playing without a coach – sure, it’s possible and they may even do well without one, for a time – but the best teams have incredible coaches, giving encouragement, insight, direction, and guidance as well as making sure everything is in fulfilling their core objectives as one, instead of a fragmented whole.

We see our jobs as careful messengers of the results helping teams and organizations understand the results of the assessment, not as a graded exercise but as an opportunity to turn potential into incredible power.

No, this is not a test because you can’t fail it!

Working More Than 40 Hours Per Week? Not Your Fault…

There’s been a lot of discussion lately around whether the 40hr per work week is still the optimal working schedule to keep, spurred on by Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg who mentioned recently that she leaves the office at *gasp* 5:30pm so she can spend more time with her kids:

I was showing everyone I worked for that, I worked just as hard. I was getting up earlier to make sure they saw my emails at 5:30, staying up later to make sure they saw my emails late. But now I’m much more confident in where I am and so I’m able to say, “Hey! I am leaving work at 5:30.” And I say it very publicly, both internally and externally.

Oh, the horror! Right?

Well, we all know intimately that most of us work way more than 40 hours in any given week. As Sandberg notes, it’s quite unfortunate that some industries and businesses still make it a big deal and make it a badge of honor to work an incredible amount of hours while industry reports and studies have shown time and time again that working more than that decreases productivity! Continue reading “Working More Than 40 Hours Per Week? Not Your Fault…”

State of Agile™ is Out – Oh Fancy Lookin’

I always look forward to reading VersionOne’s State of Agile report. It’s out this week and this year VersionOne has done something p.h.a.t. with the format.

In addition to the long PDF they always publish, this year the State of Agile has its own Web site! For all you old-timers who hate change, you can still download the full report, where there are lots of juicy stats to help you make wiser decisions around your agile initiatives. The new site simply makes it easier for us lazy slackers who just want the highlights spoon-fed to us. VersionOne has broken down the most interesting data into 5 main sections:

  • ·         Why Agile?
  • ·         Scale Agile
  • ·         Practices & Tools
  • ·         Agile Momentum
  • ·         About the Survey/Survey Demographics

What’s the most interesting thing I found from picking through it? Hmmm, tough call. But I think I’ll go with the new chart that cross-tabulates the top reasons people go agile vs. the top areas where agile delivers ACTUAL improvements. Pretty interesting to see proof that agile actually delivers on what’s most important when you compare people’s general pre-implementation “wish-list” to reported benefits afterward.

Oh, and the site finally solves the problem of Googling past years’ reports when you want to see how data has been trending over the years. All historical data back to 2006 is on the site. Nice work, VersionOne!

You should definitely check it out at StateofAgile.com. Share the whole site or just individual stats; they’ve made it super easy! Got a comment? Speak up here; I’d love to know what you think.

The Best Audio Visual Tool is the Presenter

To be honest, I’m not a super-fan of using audio and visual tools in presentations, coaching sessions, and training – this is more about the overuse of these tools and technology and how they are oftentimes digital crutches for the presenter to gloss over the fact that the trainer is boring, the content is unappealing, or worse yet, both.

I have found that the most effective trainers and coaches are also incredible communicators – that is to say, they are exceptionally good at using their own voice, their strongest and most vital asset and too, to communicate life-giving truth to their listeners.

Audio and visual communication tools, like the all mighty Microsoft Powerpoint (we like to use Apple’s Keynote, a far more rich and attractive technology), exist to supplement, augment perhaps, but not replace the main communication device: The presenter.

That’s why we spend a lot of time working on our training decks and minimizing their use while increasing the time spent building relationships during our time with the individuals, teams and organizations. We also heavily invest in developing our coaching techniques to provide maximum use of our staff and our trainers instead of bulking up on training decks, slides, and technology.

We’re not interested in hiring or working with parrot presenters – and neither do the businesses and team’s that partner with us want those types of people training their most valuable asset. We find dynamic presenters, trainers, and coaches who’s core craft and toolkit are their communication techniques… and by the way, Action & Influence were voted the Best Training Company in Atlanta for 2013!

But... I do like taking breaks during training :) - Not sure why people take pictures of me doing this though...
But… I do like taking breaks during training 🙂 – Not sure why people take pictures of me doing this though…

Sure, slides and presentations, music and video files are valuable and very useful – but you and I both know (and have experienced) training classes, seminars, keynotes, and lectures that are more about us watching a video for the majority of the session while the trainer and teacher checks their mobile device and email.

Let’s be the best trainers and coaches that we can possibly be and leverage our best resource for our students and those that we train: Ourselves.

The Challenge of Changing Culture

people-culture-teams-agileA hot topic right now among businesses and organizations is the idea around culture development and the value of culture in the work place, environment, and employee morale.

There’s been a swing of the pendulum, perhaps, where we’re headed back to what made great companies great – incredible cultural dynamics and a rich history of employee satisfaction. Unfortunately we engage with far too many companies that say they have great culture but the employees, if you ask them honestly, will say that it’s really not true – or at least it’s not felt that way.

Most people, both individual contributors and management alike, agree that changing the culture is a “priority” for their organization because they fundamentally believe that a better culture will reveal increased productivity, increased morale, and higher value for the business and their customers.

The challenge is not that you have to sell someone on the value of a changing culture, that is, being closer to a more optimal and functional culture, but how they are actually going to get there. Improving processes, building systems, using newer (and newer) software can help a bit but it’s not a matter of tools or technology or even time: It’s about people.

The challenge of changing culture ultimately is tied to the people that run the business culture – and it’s not just those in the C-Suite, it’s everyone on staff. Continue reading “The Challenge of Changing Culture”

The Challenge of Going First

taking-riskLeadership isn’t about being the smartest person in the room and it’s definitely not about being the most talented either – it’s oftentimes being the person who has decided, for whatever reason, to go first.

And leadership doesn’t have be based on role or position within the pecking order either – you know of someone who doesn’t have the “manager’s” cap but for sure leads the team every single day. Leadership is about taking the initiative, willing to be the first one off the starting block, in the line of fire perhaps, and is an incredible gift since every person after that have been freed of the the incredible burden and responsibility.

This is how most new ideas are introduced to teams and organizations, especially in changing work environment where the boundaries between authority, leadership, and the management layers are slowly being stripped away and being replaced by “linchpins” (a’la Seth Godin). Continue reading “The Challenge of Going First”

2013 Retrospective – Travel Less Next Year

Each color is a different location.
The EPIC travel schedule. Each color is a different location.

This year has been a busy one for sure… and yes, I do manage my schedule using a customized excel sheet. Being able to see the whole, a lean-idea, enables me to see how it all fits together. This year has not only been a busy one, but it’s been great one as well.

Looking back it is quite clear some of the learnings: Travel less. Spend more time at home with the family. 

With my 2014 schedule being booked and some date commitments moving even into QTR4 2014 already, it’s hard, but checking my Delta.com stats, and seeing that I’ve put in 148,854 in-the-seat miles this year… it’s a no brainer.

I hope all of y’all have had a great 2013. Here’s to an even better 2014!

-ps

 

Keeping the Startup Mentality and Energy Alive

Startup-quote Agile Scout

One of the most satisfying opportunities that I have is the ability to work with startups and their limited resources. But what they might lack in finances, manpower, human capital, and even, at times, a plan they completely make up with energy, passion, and a belief that they can really make a difference and change the world.

They’re hungry and it’s entirely infectious – it’s the reason that I love to work with them constantly as well as working in my own environment of startups. The challenge is that most organizations quickly move out of their startup mentality and into their more “mature” phase and periods of growth. The large enterprises struggle with this even more and it’s a constant internal discussion that always revolves around this question:

Why aren’t we (can’t we) have that startup mentality that keeps us motivated and passionate?

The issue isn’t with the core philosophy of the business – it’s not even about the products, the services, or the core offerings and oftentimes it’s not even about the leadership. Sure, it can be all of those things and at times a combination of them are contributing to the sluggish mobility of the organization but the answer lies in the context of the team(s). Continue reading “Keeping the Startup Mentality and Energy Alive”

You are a Software Gardener

Agile Developer?
Agile Developer?

You are a Software Gardener.

Do you try to plan your gardens in such detail that you know where each leaf will be positioned before you plant a single seed? Do people expect estimates (or are they promises in your organisation?) on exactly how many flowers will have bloomed in one years time? Do you have a bonus tied to that? Things that would be perfectly reasonable to plan for a skyscraper seem a little ridiculous when you are talking about a garden.

You probably have a good idea of what your garden should look like a week into the future. You might even have a rough idea of the shape you expect it to be in a year from now. But you have no idea of where each branch, leaf, stem and flower will be a year from now, and if you say you do then you’re really only guessing.

If you were building a bridge or a skyscraper and you told me, before you began, that you knew exactly how it would look when it was finished – I would believe you. If you told me that you knew to some insane degree of accuracy how long it would take to get to ‘finished’ – I would believe you again. That’s how Engineers roll. Tell me the same thing about your garden and I’m gonna call bullshit. Tell me you are going to make it grow faster by hiring more gardeners and I’m gonna laugh at you.

Excerpt from Chris Aitchison.

The full read is in the link. I know this is an old post, but it’s worth reviewing.

[HT: Chris Aitchison]

Or... Agile Developer...
Or… Agile Developer…

Action & Influence, Inc. Receives 2013 Best of Atlanta Award

Atlanta Award Program Honors the Achievement

ATLANTA December 3, 2013 — Action & Influence, Inc. has been selected for the 2013 Best of Atlanta Award in the Computer Training School category by the Atlanta Award Program.

Each year, the Atlanta Award Program identifies companies that we believe have achieved exceptional marketing success in their local community and business category. These are local companies that enhance the positive image of small business through service to their customers and our community. These exceptional companies help make the Atlanta area a great place to live, work and play.

Various sources of information were gathered and analyzed to choose the winners in each category. The 2013 Atlanta Award Program focuses on quality, not quantity. Winners are determined based on the information gathered both internally by the Atlanta Award Program and data provided by third parties.

About Atlanta Award Program

The Atlanta Award Program is an annual awards program honoring the achievements and accomplishments of local businesses throughout the Atlanta area. Recognition is given to those companies that have shown the ability to use their best practices and implemented programs to generate competitive advantages and long-term value.

The Atlanta Award Program was established to recognize the best of local businesses in our community. Our organization works exclusively with local business owners, trade groups, professional associations and other business advertising and marketing groups. Our mission is to recognize the small business community’s contributions to the U.S. economy.

SOURCE: Atlanta Award Program
FIND CLASSES IN ATLANTA: Certified ScrumMaster and Certified Scrum Product Owner Courses

CONTACT:
Atlanta Award Program
Email: PublicRelations@awardredemption.org

Why Knowing Yourself Matters to You, and Your (Future) Employer

agile-coach-mentor-characteristics
Valuable Career Coaching, Mentoring, and Knowing Thyself

One of the things that I’m immensely passionate about is career coaching – I’ve been doing this for years and have been using tools like Team Science™ to help others navigate the murky waters of one’s personality and the “right” job fit. It’s an incredibly satisfying role that I play and the results can be incredible.

What’s discouraging and unfortunate is that most people never take the time to invest in their own “knowing” of themselves – they spend more time working on their skill sets or with their tools so as to boost their own marketability in the demanding and competitive landscape of the job market. There’s nothing wrong with becoming the best at Photoshop, Microsoft Excel, or MySQL database management unless those things really aren’t what you’re better and more naturally equipped to do. Continue reading “Why Knowing Yourself Matters to You, and Your (Future) Employer”

Leadership is Stewardship

northpoint-be-rich-campaignOne of my personal living heros is Andy Stanley, the pastor of North Point Community Church who I’ve heard speak about leadership and stewardship many times.

One of my most favorite quotes of his in regard to this idea is the following:

Leadership is stewardship, it’s temporary and you’re accountable.

I love this dynamic because it brings to light two valuable points that we all must take notice of, especially if you are in fact in positions of leadership.

The first point is that it’s very temporary – no one lasts forever as a leader within their organization and role. Things change, times change, and very quickly organizations need to drop the old and bring in the new. Oftentimes this means bringing in younger talent to replace and continue to build the momentum of the business.

Sometimes this truth can be very difficult for some to fully grasp and admit – that there will be a time when they will have to give up their role as a leader, their title, and their position for fresher and more able hands. Many of us, unfortunately, have experienced this in the context of bad leadership and a leader who refused to give up their seat at the top because of their ego, pride, and selfishness. The fallout, naturally, was just as negative.

The second point is closely tied to the first and is just as overlooked as the first as well. The idea is that you’re simply responsible for the time you have as a leader and that your actions and leadership will direct the course of the business and many people’s lives – that’s a big responsibility and burden!

It’s a good burden to bear but it’s not one that all leaders are aware of and/or cognizant of enough – that their actions, words, and thought-patterns really do matter and that it is in their best interest to consider their time in leadership of the utmost importance. Combine this with the fact that it’s temporary and it means that you really don’t have much time to lose – you must create significant impact while you are there or your time will appear, historically, as just another blip on the radar and you’ll be forgotten as just another guy who sat at the end of the table for a time.

No one wants to be remembered that way – we all must make the necessary and right decisions to lead our teams and organizations well, create the value that they need to be highly productive, and give them the tools to make that happen.

Leadership is less about telling others what to do (in fact it’s rarely that at all) and more about giving them the right and privilege to speak into their own roles and responsibilities with freedom and joy. Out of this enjoyment comes extreme productivity and value.

Healthcare.gov – A Great Example of Failing… without Agile

mckinsey-review-healthcare.gov

This is a story of contrast between two popular methods of software development. One is called “waterfall,” the other, “agile.”

Waterfall development favors listing a huge set of requirements for a system up front, letting developers go away for months (if not longer) and expecting a huge software product in the end.

The agile method does the opposite, favoring work done in phases, delivering “minimum shippable” parts of a software system in weekly or biweekly cycles. This allows for iterating — or adjusting to hiccups discovered in the previous cycle, changing features or quashing bugs quickly and avoiding getting an end product that doesn’t look a thing like what your users need.

Like many government projects, HealthCare.gov was developed under the waterfall approach — and to its near doom.

The key findings in the presentation found here come on Page 5. Even though it was written in March, the slide sums up most of the key problems we eventually saw with the rollout of HealthCare.gov last month: limited testing time, evolving requirements, over-reliance on contractors and “stacking” of all the phases of development. The really damaging decision, according to the consultants: launching “at scale.”

Find the full story here, and the slides here.

[HT: NPR]

Dysfunctional Retrospective via Chat

All names changed to protect the… … innocent… [WARNING – LANGUAGE]

(10/11/2013 16:15:58) xxx: that was pretty much going to be my argument
(10/11/2013 16:16:24) xxx: let go of the old sh*t. Join the group doing scrum over here you cranky tw*t
(10/11/2013 16:16:31) bbb: I don’t have nice things to say about DDD.
(10/11/2013 16:16:43) aaa: really??
(10/11/2013 16:16:44) xxx: this is my first run in with him
(10/11/2013 16:16:47) bbb: he’s the 4-letter word GGG banned me from saying.
(10/11/2013 16:16:52) aaa: hadn’t noticed haha
(10/11/2013 16:17:06) aaa: hahaha he brings out the best in everyone it seems!
(10/11/2013 16:18:09) xxx: and maybe if he would just do the cases he needed to work on he wouldn’t feel quite as rushed
(10/11/2013 16:18:27) xxx: instead of grabbing sh*t from our queue
(10/11/2013 16:19:09) bbb: HHH is as useful as EEE.
(10/11/2013 16:19:29) aaa: who are both as useful as GGG
(10/11/2013 16:20:16) bbb: haha yeah
(10/15/2013 09:07:12) ccc: Well this is a clusterf*ck.

===

Yes, while I understand that sometimes teams need to be dispersed and all over the world… when (as a consultant), I’m privy to the dysfunctions of a current system… well… things need to be changed.

The saddest part about seeing this conversation happen is the fact that:

  1. These engineers are top notch
  2. They are great at what they do
  3. They have been put in positions where they can’t affect change
  4. They have been disenfranchised for a long time… some are near apathy

Dear Management,

Don’t do this.

-kthxbye

Top ScrumMaster + Scrum Product Owner Questions from Training – FAQ

scrum-alliance-challenges-donna-farmerScrum is easy to understand.

It can be the hardest thing to actually do.

Below are some of the most common questions we see in ScrumMaster and Scrum Product Owner courses.

Before you go through this, it may be very helpful to first understand the following:

Eventbrite - Certified ScrumMaster Course (CSM) in Atlanta, GA - Bring a Friend = iPad!
Eventbrite - Certified Scrum Product Owner Course (CSPO) - Get Certified in Atlanta, GA

FAQ on Most Common and Top Questions from ScrumMaster or Scrum Product Owner Training

How can Agile/Scrum be applied to Hardware or Solution projects?

Scrum Development doesn’t really work well in hardware development except in the aspects of hardware development that are done using software. Agile as a philosophy, though, works EVERYWHERE.

For example, the modeling and planning of the hardware can be done iteratively. The creation of simulation software (if applicable) can be done iteratively. Beyond this, however, much of hardware development is a task flow that must be followed and can be easily mapped out.

Scrum, however, can be used by people creating hardware. There’s still a Product Backlog. People can still commit to a certain amount of work in the Sprint. Daily Scrums can still be done to improve synchronization and communication.

Does Scrum conform to PMI standards? If so, how?

By definition, Scrum can’t confirm to PMI. PMI is a project management method. Scrum is a framework for managing people and workflow. It’s kinda like asking about the difference between apples and oranges. They’re just two different things. Not much else can be said.

What is a typical implementation of change from waterfall to Scrum?

  1. Start with understanding your culture. Period.
  2. Create a transition team to set vision, milestones, goals.
  3. Pick a pilot project —OR — a piece of a larger project
  4. Provide the proper training for the proper personnel
  5. Run several Sprints — adjust as needed
  6. Evaluate your results, adjust as needed
  7. Move on to a larger group (e.g., another product development group) and repeat steps 3-6.

In Agile/Scrum, how do we deal with people working across multiple projects in parallel?

Well, pretty much the same as you do now. The detrimental impact to your projects before Agile/Scrum will still be there after. Working on projects in parallel is not an issue of development method. This is not a question of looking for the development method that WILL allow you to work on multiple projects at the same time. The answer we’re looking for is to find a way to work on one project at a time in such a way that all projects get done faster and with higher quality.

How many Scrum teams can a Scrum Master realistically run?

That has everything to do with the ScrumMaster, the teams, and the product. Experienced teams don’t need ScrumMasters as much. Experienced ScrumMasters can work with more teams efficiently. Difficult products can make both teams and ScrumMasters work harder to accomplish the same thing. In my experience, I’ve never seen a ScrumMaster work with more than three teams at one time (and not very successfully).

Driving efficient and simple solutions in Sprints – can Scrum design and work complex solutions effectively?

I frequently hear concern that Agile Development can handle complex problems because it doesn’t try to solve the entire thing up front before building it. The reality that I’ve experienced shows that complex problems cannot be solved in detail up front because there are too many variables and too many assumptions made about the complex problem when working out a solution. Thus, we end up spending a bunch of time up front to build a solution that ends up changing in large ways during the development effort. Agile Development, on the other hand, encourages looking at a complex problem at a high level and then solving the parts one at a time. Does this mean that Agile Development might make some mistakes in solution during the development effort? No. However, because you will spend so much less time up-front trying to create a solution, you will have some time during development to build a solution and even some time to make mistakes.

So, Agile Development solves complex problems “efficiently,” if not “effectively.”

Role of wikis or collaboration tools in Scrum?

Can be useful in allowing Scrum teams that are non-co-located to communicate. They don’t replace face-to-face communication, however, and should not be used as a complete replacement.

Where does Scrum track risks and major impediments?

Impediments are generally tracked, per Scrum, in the organizational or team impediment list. Beyond Scrum, project risks are generally handled in some form of project risk tracker or document. Backlog related risks are handled within each backlog item in the form of notes and other documentation and in larger story point estimates to account for the impact of the risk.

Does Scrum state that teams must use User Stories or are Use Cases acceptable as well?

Scrum does not make any assumption about the construction of a Product Backlog item (PBI). It can be anything from a task, to a feature, to a scenario, to a defect ID.

How to handle high priority fires/opportunities in the middle of a Sprint?

Per Scrum, high priority fires (defects) may pass directly into the Sprint. The team should address the defect and then determine the impact to their commitment to the Product Owner and adjust accordingly. Per Scrum, high priority opportunities either wait until the next Sprint or cause an injection of change so that a new Sprint can be planned around the high priority. In reality, teams and Product Owners will often remove a lower priority PBI in favor of a new, high priority PBI (the catch is to remember to solve and plan the new PBI — that’s why Scrum measures the change, to force the replan and conversation that must take place when (not if) change happens).

Are key decisions in Scrum tracked in non-functional requirements & stories?

That depends on the nature of the decision. Decisions that affect NFRs are frequently captured in PBIs or as a separate part of the DONEness definition.

When do you do functional testing, performance testing, volume testing, ADA testings, and deployments to test environments?

As often as possible. Daily if you can (which means that the testing needs to be automated). Deployments to test environments are completely dependent on your frequency of testing. Deferring testing creates technical debt.

At what point do you plan for the next Sprint since planning will take away team time from the current Sprint?

Yes, its true that planning takes time away from building, but we have to do it anyway, so NOT doing it isn’t the solution (nor is only having certain individuals do the planning — that just takes your developers out of the loop at a critical juncture). I use backlog grooming workshops scheduled for 60-90 minutes once or twice a week to allow the team to discuss what’s coming up in the next Sprint (and get it ready for solving). This allows the team to think about what’s next without being interrupted too often to do it. Teams that do this can accomplish more and more preparation in less and less time. Then, when Sprint Planning comes along, we spend the proper amount of time (1 day for a 4 week Sprint, 1/2 day for a 2 week Sprint) doing an effective job of planning because the PBIs are now nice and small and everyone understands much of the functional requirement of the PBI.

Any pointers to good books or websites about QA within Scrum?

Lisa Crispin, Brian Marick, Janet Gregory. Lisa and Janet have a good book out there called, Agile Testing: A Practical Guide for Testers and Agile Teams.

In your experience, what techniques have you used to recognize top performers? Is it recommended?

This is a loaded question at best. Scrum is all about teams and teamwork. Going out of your way to identify individuals could hurt those who are really trying, but aren’t the ones recognized. I think the question you have to ask yourself is, “why are you looking for top performers?” What is it you want to do? Do you want to recognize them for high performance? Yes? But why would you want to do that in an organization that is looking for high performing teams, not high performing individuals. See, the trap you can easily fall into is the setting of individual performance over that of your team. This is counter-productive. Individuals that have their eyes set on that particular trophy start setting their own agenda and worry less about their teammates.

If you want to recognize high performers, make it a peer-recognition. Let the team members identify that one person who really made it happen, but don’t get carried away with the award. Make it a lunch, honoring the individual. Something relatively small in cost.

The real awards should be based around high performing teams.

Should team members provide estimates on tasks they have no or limited expertise with?

They should be involved in the discussion, even if they can’t provide a realistic estimate.

What metrics are generally used to assess a ScrumMaster’s performance?

I can’t speak to “generally used,” but I can tell you how I would do it as a 23-year manager. When you are trying to evaluate an employee’s performance (not something I recommend getting carried away with — performance evaluation should be part of the normal coaching, not part of the compensation package), I look at it in terms of the roles that the individual plays. For example, a ScrumMaster can be described as:

  1. ScrumMaster
  2. Scrum Team Member
  3. Software Engineer (or perhaps, Software Analyst, Systems Analyst, etc.)
  4. Individual – career aspirations, goals
  5. Employee

Now, what are this individual’s responsibilities with regard to each role?

  1. ScrumMaster – e.g., Keep the team fully functional and productive. Did she do that? How does the team see it?
  2. Scrum Team Member — e.g., Stay focused, get PBIs to DONE. Did she help with that? How? How does the team see it?
  3. Software Engineer – e.g., learn new techniques, stay technically current, etc. Did she do that? How? How does the team see it?
  4. Individual — e.g., is she trying to achieve a new role? Was there something specific she wanted to do this year? Did she do it? Was she effective?
  5. Employee – e.g., did she follow company policies? Is she a contributing member of the organization? How? How does the organization see it?

If you do what most organizations do and claim this is linked to compensation, you will likely garner excessive disappointment when compensation and salary grades do not truly line up with the level of the performance offered by the employee. Instead, we need to keep our focus simply on being the best that we can be and profiting from the organization’s success in whatever way the organization can realistically afford to do so. The organization that skimps on sharing their success will end up with people who aren’t interested in success, just employment. The organization that shares their success with their employees ends up with people banging on their doors trying to get in. These are two separate issues and should be kept that way.

How to project a final product picture to customer if the project requirements keep changing?

The question answers itself. If the requirements keep changing, the final product picture will change as well. The best you can do is base your picture on what you know and change it as the product requirements change. If your customer is the one suggesting the changes, that should be enough.

If a team is running well with no obstacles, does the ScrumMaster run out of things to do?

Unlikely. Even with everything is beautiful for the team, there’s still the organizational impediment list that needs to be addressed. Beyond that, there’s the question, “Can my team’s performance be raised? How?”