Agile from the Techno-Weenie Perspective

I am a geek through and through. My skillset is wrapped in system commands, database architecture, and servers big and small. I can quote Dr. Who and I know the question to Life, the Universe, and Everything.  My geek credentials are impressive. I am happiest in front of my laptop and things like gantt charts and project plans cause my eyes to roll back in my head.

So why did I find myself sitting in an Agilescout Certified Scrumaster class in a sea of Project Managers?

Well, I accidently discovered the simplicity and elegance of Scrum. Curious, I implemented it imperfectly in a very small scale on my own team and tripled our productivity in one month.  I had a taste of Scrum and I wanted to know more.  So off to class I went and I have been an advocate ever since.

As I talk to my fellow techno-weenies in various parts of the enterprise I hit a lot of “I just don’t understand how it works”,  “It sounds like more process and we are slow as it is”, “it’s a fad”,  or “that is strange and new – kill it with fire, you heretic”.

So even if you are not one of the techno-weenies reading this article but you just want to know more, start with an entertaining read called “The Phoenix Project” by Kim, Behr, and Spafford. Trust me, you will relate to the fictional story line. You have worked there so you know how this goes. The story of a large company mired in process where deliverables are late and don’t resemble what the client needs, where there is that one rock star expert that is the only one that can do things and managers run around with their hair on fire.

“The Phoenix Project” is an entertaining fictional story that describes an Agile approach to turn the ship around. As a matter of fact, I related to the book so much that I pounded it out in three days and was cheering by the end.

This was the catalyst for me. There just has to be a better way.

After some discussion with an agile team and reading Saddington’s Book “The Agile Pocket Guide” – I convinced my boss to give it a try.

“Let’s take an Agile approach to Agile”, I said “and add one Agile feature or practice on a week”. We started with one thing – an Agile board. It was nothing fancier than a whiteboard and post-its.

It doesn’t get much more complicated than this kids. A whiteboard and post it’s. There is elegance, power, and flexibility in simplicity.

We were now able to predict what we could do and how we could do it.A few things happened immediately. First, I realized my team mate was busier than I expected because I could see his work effort visually. Second, we stopped stepping on each other’s toes with system resources and duplicate tasks. Third, we could link our work to corporate projects and produce metrics to upper management on what we did in an immediate fashion. Finally, we got an idea of work effort we could handle and started to throttle when appropriate.

Just from a white board and post its.

Maybe there is something to this.

So each week, we added something new. We worked for progress over perfection and looked like a monkey fumbling a football the first week or two. Even imperfectly, there was positive change. Once we committed, we added a small change each week – story points, sprint planning sessions, stand-ups, retrospectives, etc.

Since then our Tier II and III managers and a few executives have taken notice. The experiment the techno-weenies tried seemed to work. Now there is a culture change, an openness to hear about Agile and try it, and multiple teams swapping information on how to make this successful here. Heck, I have passed out at least 15 copies of Saddington’s “The Agile Pocket Guide”.

All because of a crazy one week experiment. All hail the power of Agile.

michael-krafick-agileMichael Krafick is a certified techno-weenie, certified Scrum Master, and IBM Champion for Information Management. He is a database administrator with experience in highly transactional databases and large data warehouses. You can read more from Michael at where he is an occasional author. 

Be a Big Brained Company!

recent study out of the Trinity College of Dublin has discovered that there appears to be a correlation between larger brain pans and human cooperation and teamwork:

Scientists have discovered proof that the evolution of intelligence and larger brain sizes can be driven by cooperation and teamwork, shedding new light on the origins of what it means to be human.

Although I’d like to throw up my hands and say something extremely scientific as “Duh!” but these guys are fellow experts in their own field and I love learning more of the backend research around such things as these!

But what’s fascinating is how often I meet business owners of large companies as well as entrepreneurs in much smaller organizations reject the importance of the team, especially in comparison to specific and individual people.

Although you won’t hear it officially stated or on anyone’s forward facing marketing or collateral you will hear it amongst the staff and in and out of the halls of the office environment; an overly-dependent culture on the founder or specific team members thus relegating the others to simply supportive roles.

Continue reading “Be a Big Brained Company!”

Thoughts on Behaviorism

behaviorismAs a organizational counselor and social scientist of sorts, I enjoy great conversation and email threads from students, colleagues, and clients alike. A recent email prompted me to share my thoughts on companies that look at behaviorism as a mechanism for productivity…. much to my sadness.

Why I can speak (somewhat) intelligently about this topic:

  • 3 Masters degrees focused on organizational design, cognitive learning theory, and social psychology
  • Social scientist who does this stuff for a living

Ok. So let’s jump in. Behaviorism was founded by John Watson back in the early 1900s. He essentially believed people can be trained (behavior) regardless of any other variables. Behaviorists basically look only at the observable actions of humans, and discount internal mental considerations. B.F. Skinner was a huge supporter of this.

Over time, this theory has been debunked as we have learned more and more about deep cognitive science and the affects of more than just environment on how people behave, act, and respond.

So, I recently received an email from a student who works for a company looking to hire behaviorists to help them improve productivity… here are two threads, his email to me (removing some sensitive info) and my response:


This might be too difficult/long a question to respond to but I’m wondering if I can tap your knowledge.  As I mentioned previously, our company is partnering with XXX whose chief consultant/owner/leader is XXX.  From his website bio, he was deeply moved by Skinner’s behaviorism which is the foundation for all of his work… What importance, if any, do you see in behaviorism shaping the workplace?  Obviously reinforcement can produce results however upon my educational background and brief research calls into question an adoption of behaviorism in the workplace.  Noam Chomsky was a large critic of Skinner who believed more in transformational rules and wrote a very strongly worded response against Skinner’s application of behaviorism on humans.
There are two analogies that come to mind:
  1. The caterpillar into the butterfly – once changed, it will never go back.  We want negative behaviors to disappear for good, never to return.
  2. A vase of white carnations will turn color if dye is used in the water – there’s no effort on our part other than to ensure the proper environment for natural productive change.  This environment is constant and self-sustaining, least conflicting, and garners the desired response at the same rate across all participants.
I haven’t done this yet but am thinking of raising this as a concern before we dive deeper into this relationship with XXX.
I realize I may have left something out.  Feel free to fire back any questions or point me toward a good resource (book or article) that would help me understand this more.
OOOOOoooooOOooohhhh yeh! I love emails like this. Here’s my response:
Ok, here we go:
– NO NO AND NO. Behaviorism has been debunked time and time again as cognitive science rose into deeper scientific understanding. Behaviorism focuses primarily on the OBSERVABLE things people do. Ok… as a counselor, we never do this. Because if we focus merely on the outside then we can never help the inside issues at stake.
A simple example would be this:
A substance abuser who smokes crack and drinks a lot.
A behavioralist would say, “That’s bad. Stop doing that, Let’s make sure we change your environment (move you out of your house with negative triggers), and have you stop associating with people who do that.”
A cognitive scientist (or counselor for that matter) would say, “That’s bad. Stop doing that. Let’s look at the inner workings of how not only environment affects your behavior, but whether there may be imbalances to your brain and other stimuli. We need to better understand the whole in order to help you change….(like if you were abused at a child, you were molested, or if you have substance abuse genetic traits in your families gene pool, or have PTSD, or I mean. shit, I could go on and on)…”
A behavioralist looks at issues from a one-view vantage point (maybe unfair, but this is the basis of their tenants). This, in my opinion is very dangerous. You could end up giving people improper advice or even hurtful advise based on YOUR (the observer) cognitive and behavioral bias AND limited understanding of the WHOLE system!
Your analogies:
1 – Negative behavioral patterns go away, never return? Ugh, really? This is rediculous. So myopic! Culture trancends behavior. For example. I’ve lived in India, Korea, and Japan. I have to CHANGE my behavior patterns based on cultural nuances so I can get stuff done! If I put on my hard-ass american communication style, I will NOT be affective. To consider a behavioral pattern negative is near-sighted and ignorant. Behavior MUST change based on context. We do this, btw, all the time (i.e. you act differently around your mother in law than you do your mom).
2 – Really? We just change the environment? If that works, then shit, I just need to change all my clients walls from gray to greens and blues because those colors make me feel better about my work, therefore I’ll do better work. Crap. The great assumption in this statement is that all people react the same to environmental changes…. assuming we’re all programmable the same way as each other… . Right. Until we move to the clone wars in Star Wars, we’ll never be the same. Culture/people groups/individuals will always be divergent, different, and variable. We must endeavor to understand the whole (as much as we can) if we want to improve things.
I once heard (from colleagues years ago) a funny quote about behavioralists… something like the following: “A behavioralist is merely a politician, who looks at general patterns in people and applies those patterns to the whole, unknowingly fucking everyone up when things invariably change.”
The lesson for today? In my opinion, don’t spend money on this phoney baloney. It’s voodoo magic that is potentially harmful. 

2014 State of Agile™ Survey is Open!

It’s that time of year again. You made it through the Agile show with a stack of new business cards from interesting people and minimal hangover pain. [Yeah, RIGHT! Who are we kidding? I saw you running through the Gaylord Orlando at 2 a.m. wearing Mickey Mouse ears and a grass skirt! You just don’t remember; it’s better that way].

Seems like something big in the agile software community always happens right around this time…

You got it. The State of Agile. It’s open and VersionOne is giving away something that I’ve wanted in my home for a very long time. A SONOS® system! And not just one, but NINE – because this is their ninth year running the survey.

Now these things are sweet. If you don’t believe me, go to your nearest electronics store and check them out. “But Peter, isn’t SONOS just a fancy stereo?” If that’s what you think, go back to your iPod Nano, Grandpa!!!The SONOS PLAY:5 + SONOS BRIDGE combo (which is what nine lucky State of Agile participants will get) lets you play all of your music – Spotify, Pandora, iTunes®, Rhapsody, whatever – wirelessly to different rooms in your house.

The PLAY:5 combo VersionOne is giving away includes five speakers, but is modular up to 32 speakers. So depending on how far you want to trick your system out, you can play up to 32 different songs in 32 different rooms of your home at 32 different volumes. All controlled from your smartphone or tablet… kinda like sitting in the cockpit of some bad-ass fighter jet!

Whoa! Sorry, I got a little excited for a moment. Back to the survey… If you’re a returning State of Agile taker, you’ll be happy to know that VersionOne has shortened the State of Agile this year. So it’s faster to take, and easier to get into the drawing.

Now in its ninth year, the State of Agile survey is the largest and most widely cited source for data on agile software methodologies and practices. It gives software organizations a barometer for what works and what does not when adopting and scaling agile development processes to improve software delivery.

Take it now at and leave your email address at the end to be eligible for the SONOS drawings. And as always, taking it gets you onto the VIP list to receive the report before it’s publicly available.

While you’re there, you can also check out interesting data highlights from 2013 and get previous years’ survey archives. So go ahead. Take it while you wait for your next test to run. Take it instead of another coffee break or game of pool. Take it in a boring status meeting. It only takes 10 minutes.

Encouragement – Why I Do What I Do

Dear Peter,

Not sure if you remember me – I attended your CSM Training back in April. Just wanted to take a few seconds to tell you I learned a lot from your class:
* What do I desire in my life and career
* If an organization won’t come around, then move on
and the added bonus of…
* Add “CSM” to my title in LinkedIN.

As you said in your class, adding that to my title would attract recruiters and sure enough last week I accepted a new position to startup and Manage a new Mobile Applications Development Team. During the interview the employer (xxxx) pointed out that the one thing on my resume that caught their attention and “sold them” that I was the right candidate was CSM.

Thank you for what you do and your amazing view on life in general.

God Bless,

Agile-Waterfall Hybrid Model


Hmmm… the intrinsic problem with approaching this from the very beginning are these psychological nuances:

  • We (as humans) will invariably move towards that which is most familiar (safe, even though painful or sub-optimal)
  • We will inherit the natural dysfunctions that have plagued us previously (e.g. using mostly waterfall methods)
  • We try our best within our own localized space, however, the overarching system at play still uses methods and frameworks that do not jive well with the newer idea (e.g. agile)
  • We will fail at a larger scale than failing incrementally with lower cost associated with the learning curve
  • We will politically play to the old-guard while trying to inject the new, only to have the new be merged into half-assed processes that really don’t improve anything.
  • More… but my brain hurts.

I have seen this time and time again. This email is fresh… about 3 hours ago. Rational consideration must be had, hearts must be changed. Never have I seen a substance abuser change their ways by going from “Only drinking 10 times a day to 5 times a day.”

When the chips are down… and really down… the environment and behaviors haven’t changed… he will go back to his vomit once again.

The Solution?

We have to dynamically change NOT just the behaviors of our system (people), but the system (environment) itself. Beyond that we must look at the capabilities for change… and the mission/vision of the system…

In summary. The VISION of a corporate enterprise must change, thereby affecting the capabilities, environment, and behaviors.

Value of a Product? Simple…

One of the hardest things to find out, when prioritizing features for a product is: What is the real Business Value of these features. Not every company in fact, has structured and marketing driven sales processes that can very well determine what is the value, or better potential value of a feature to ship on the market. The value of a feature is linked to the timeframe in which it will be delivered to the market, therefore to determine its value is also a matter of being able to determine the right moment in time when to ship it. It is not uncommon that the Stakeholders in a company have to decide what is more important or “valuable” to be shipped next. What often happens is that these Stakeholders do not agree on priorities together, but they just drop their individual wishes to the development teams, or better to the Product Owners (Scrum), which find themselves in charge of discriminating between different stakeholder wishes and priorities.

How to achieve a common agreement between the Stakeholders so that:

  • The priorities are understood and defined for the company and not for individuals or specific departments only.
  • All Stakeholders are aware and participate in defining what is more valuable to the company, without delegating the whole responsibility to Product Owners.

This has to be achieved in respect to the fact, that the Product Owner should be the “ultimate” role that is in charge of defining product priorities and owns the product even if he/she may need to be supported from Market Experts, Customers, Key Account Managers, etc.

While we have several mechanism to help aid with the “discovery” of “value” through our Scrum Product Owner course… there is always more to delve into and learn…

What would you add?

How Agile Do You Have to be to be Considered Agile?

[Guest Post]

QA managers may struggle with landing on a clear definition of a truly agile team.

Given how quickly word has spread about the benefits of agile testing methodologies, it’s no wonder that quality assurance managers everywhere are considering making a change to their test management strategy. Agile can seem like a nebulous concept to some individuals, however. Despite the existence of the agile manifesto, some confusion remains regarding what it means to be truly agile. In addition, QA teams may leverage their own approach to implementing these processes, with some taking too many liberties with agile principles

Kaizen - Continuous Improvement
Kaizen – Continuous Improvement

while others adhere too closely to the letter of the law. With so much uncertainty, team leaders may find themselves asking, “How agile do you have to be to be considered agile?”

When determining a team’s level of agility, it’s important that managers don’t get bogged down in the details of the methodology and instead focus on its overarching principles. Agile Zone contributor Nitin Bharti explained that there are several key characteristics that define an agile team, most notably the ability and willingness to alter an application as needs arise. It may become necessary for QA members to make changes to in-development or recently released software because the current product does not adequately satisfy end users. That is why user feedback is so critical to agile teams and should be collected and reflected upon with regularity. Truly agile teams continually strive to improve not only their programs, but their internal processes as well. Agile QA managers should never feel complacent with the current makeup of their team or strategy and look to enhance both whenever possible.

Embrace customization, improvement

Although the agile manifesto clearly spelled out the overarching ideas at the heart of the methodology, that doesn’t mean test team leaders need to be slaves to the details. Customization is an inevitable and entirely necessary result of going agile. Team leaders will quickly learn that not all processes are ideal for their specific organizations and will need to make changes while still being true to the spirit of agile. Fellow Agile Zone contributor Matthias Marschall suggested that agile adopters drop any features that either aren’t working for them or are just not gelling with team members. These may even include processes that are closely tied to agile such as daily scrum meetings.

“While there are certain basic principles you should keep in mind, you need to experiment with the processes you use to organize your work,” Marschall wrote. “By observing how your experiments influence your work, you can learn and adapt. … Customize your process according to what you learned from your experiments. You don’t need to care about whether you’re still allowed to call it scrum or whatever. The only thing that counts is whether you can create more value, faster.”

At the end of the day, there’s no one true measure for a team’s level of maturity when it comes to agile. Customization will always come into play, making every implementation unique. It’s important that QA managers stay focused on adhering the core concepts of the methodology and continue working to improve their test management strategy whenever possible.

Sanjay_Zalavadia[About Sanjay Zalavadia – Sanjay brings over 15 years of leadership experience in IT and Technical Support Services. Throughout his career, Sanjay has successfully established and grown premier IT and Support Services teams across multiple geographies for both large and small companies. Most recently, he was Associate Vice President at Patni Computers (NYSE: PTI) responsible for the Telecoms IT Managed Services Practice where he established IT Operations teams supporting Virgin Mobile, ESPN Mobile, Disney Mobile and Carphone Warehouse. Prior to this Sanjay was responsible for Global Technical Support at Bay Networks, a leading routing and switching vendor, which was acquired by Nortel.]

HT: Zephyr

The Value of a PMP Certification


The value and importance of the PMP certification is a hotly debated topic within the project management community. One end of the spectrum vigorously defends the credential as the defining standard for competence, whereas the other end views it as a meaningless exercise signifying nothing more than rote memorization. Many fall somewhere in the middle, seeing it as a necessary evil that hopefully yields some advantage to their marketability.

Adding fuel to the debate are the results of a research study published in the Project Management Journal, February 2011. **A little dated, but still provides some insight**

“PMP Certification as a Core Competency: Necessary But Not Sufficient” reports the results of a study conducted by Jo Ann Starkweather and Deborah H. Stevenson of Northwestern University’s Department of Information Systems & Technology.

The study reports the valuation of the PMP certification by IT Recruiters and corporate IT Executives, as well as a statistical evaluation of the PMP as an indicator of project success.

Survey Says…

Valuation of the PMP: Of the 15 core competencies surveyed, the PMP certification was ranked #11 by IT recruiters, and #15 by IT Executives (that’s right-dead last!) Shown below are percentages of IT Executives rating of “Important” or “Extremely Important” for each competency.

1. Leadership 95%

2. Ability to Communicate at Multiple Levels 94%

3. Verbal Skills 87%

4. Written Skills 87%

5. Attitude 85%

6. Ability to Deal With Ambiguity and Change 83%

7. Work History 69%

8. Experience 67%

9. Ability to Escalate 66%

10. Cultural Fit 57%

11. Technical Expertise 46%

12. Education 38%

13. Length of Prior Engagements 23%

14. Past Team Size 18%

15. PMP Certification 15%

PMP as Indicator of Project Success: There was no statistically significant difference in the reported success rates for projects led by certified vs. non-certified project managers when considered across 5 Success Criteria:

  • Cost/Within Budget
  • On Schedule
  • Quality/Met Technical Specifications
  • Quality/Met Client Business Requirements
  • Client/User Satisfaction

 So What Does It Mean?

In the words of the study leaders, “Clearly, mastery of the project management body of knowledge is an important asset in the preparation of professional project managers. An understanding of the methodology is essential to the appropriate conduct of project management. However, based on the narrative explanations offered by both IT Recruiters and Executives, their emphasis on soft skills such as the ability to communicate at multiple levels, and the tacit knowledge of knowing when to exercise leadership and how to do this effectively are critical to eventual project success.”

So it would seem that we as a community must address the gap that currently exists in our curriculum and training when it comes to leadership and soft skills. Furthermore, recruiters must use more screening techniques to evaluate soft skills and leadership abilities when considering candidates for project management roles. As the value of project management has evolved from tactical to strategic in organizations, so must our perspective on the core competencies for success.

What’s the PMP?

The PMP certification is the most popular among the five different certifications now offered by the PMI (Project Management Institute) which are:

  1. PgMP: Program Management Professional
  2. PMP: Project Management Professional
  3. CAPM: Certified Associate Project Manager
  4. PMI-SP: PMI Scheduling Professional
  5. PMI-RMP: PMI Risk Management Professional

According the PMI website, to apply for the PMP, you need to have either:

  • A four-year degree (bachelor’s or the global equivalent) and at least three years of project management experience, with 4,500 hours leading and directing projects and 35 hours of project management education, OR,
  • A secondary diploma (high school or the global equivalent) with at least five years of project management experience, with 7,500 hours leading and directing projects and 35 hours of project management education.

The Costs

The PMP is an expensive exam, costing $405 for PMI members and $555 for non-members. Many people feel intimidated by what they have heard about the 200-question test and thus take exam prep courses that average between $1,500 and $2,000.

In order to maintain a PMP certification, one must accrue 60 “PDUs” (Professional Development Units) every three years. There are a few different ways to gain these PDUs, either by taking classes, attending PMI conferences, or self-directed study. Generally, one hour of instruction or participation = 1 PDU. There are many commercial providers who offer training, podcasts, webinars, etc., where it can cost from $25 to $100’s per PDU. I estimate that the 60 PDUs over three years costs about $3,000.

So, let’s add it up:

  • PMP exam prep: $2,000
  • PMP exam cost: $500
  • Maintaining PDUs over a 40 year career: $40,000

Total Career Cost of PMP Certification: $42,500.

Being able to List PMP on Your Resume: Priceless?

What are your thoughts?

[Tool Review] — Pie — Work chat that’s all signal, no noise


If you’re running Agile in your team, you’re likely logged in to several group chat rooms right now. At the very least, you’re plugged into rooms for engineering and product discussions. There’s also rooms for design and marketing that you pop into every now and then. And you’re definitely in some kind of ‘random’ chatroom for watercooler stuff.

With so many chat rooms, and so many discussions, it can sometimes be hard to keep up. There are times where you load your chat app and find something like 500 unread items. If you work in a distributed team, or even if you’ve just stepped away for a few hours, you’ve definitely seen this before. How can you separate the important discussions from the off-topic fluff?

[Enter]: Piework chat that’s all signal, no noise.

Pie lets you quickly create a new chat room for everything you want to share, so discussions stay focused and on-topic.

Let’s have a look:


A chatroom for every topic. This is the first thing you’ll notice when you first use Pie. Instead of the traditional group chatroom model, Pie is more like a hybrid between message boards and chat.

You can quickly know what your team is talking about, and you can drop in and comment only on the topics you find interesting:


You can post notes, upload files and share links to Pie, so you can start a conversation about anything you want.

Frictionless sharing. With so many articles and resources on Agile coming out all the time, one of the most common things we do in group chat rooms is to drop in, paste a link, and nudge everyone to read.

We do this several times a day, so that minute or two that you’re knocked out of your workflow to share something adds up.

Pie makes this a lot easier with their Chrome extension — it’s the only chat app out there that lets you share something without leaving the webpage you’re reading.


And with the way Pie is set up, your link shows up as a new topic, so you won’t interrupt any ongoing conversations when sharing something new.

Tagged chat topics. You can use hashtags on Pie to create collections of chatrooms, or to help you find old conversations:



Pie gives you a central place to have all your team’s conversations, instead of having to pay attention to email threads, comments in Google docs and all the group chats you have going on.

It’s free for companies of all sizes. Try it out with your team: