Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hate Something, Change Something, Make Something Better

Dear Reader,

This blog's moving home. I look forward to seeing you chez new and shiny Selfish Programming.

- Farewell and Hello

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Happily Ever After?

Saturday, August 09, 2008

SimBlogging: Agile 2008 Toronto Visit

'SimBlogging' offers a his and hers viewpoint where Pascal and Portia timebox-blog as a pair on the same topics simultaneously

Rough Guide to Toronto
  • Darwin at the Royal Ontario Museum - the story of Darwin as a curious young man seeking to better understand the world around him which has helped us to better understand ourselves
  • Casa Loma - a dream come true for one man whose wife was the Head of the Girl Scouts
  • Niagara on the Lake - where shops like Just Christmas are frequented by locals and tourists every day of the year
  • Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls - THE best wet ride I've been on in one of Nature's most beautiful amusement parks
Agile 2008
  • 'Bimbo Slides' - for describing presentations that look good but have a conflicting message when the volume's turned up
  • 'Lego Moment' - describes a moment in time when you realise a missing piece in your experience you never knew you lacked or needed to complete a task at hand
Chilling Out and Staying Cool
  • Chez Gino's - an impromptu home-cooked lunch in the red light district served by a charming Belgian Agile coach in Toronto
  • Potted Canadian history in 30 minutes - a compelling account of 400 years of Canadian history in 30 minutes on indigenous people from Allison over a tasty sushi lunch
  • Pairing on Mission Dress Smart - where two Agile coaches practice giving feedback to one another on the most subjective and volatile of topics
  • Dinner with Ben - meeting Christophe Thibault's other half (binôme) at a restaurant called the Queen Mother's
Looking into the Mirror
  • Strangers to ourselves - where we ask: Mirror, Mirror on the wall - if I can only change myself and everyone has value, how can I become better?
  • Playing with strangers - Playing Snow White and the Seven Dwarves kanban as a fun networking exercise where everyone gets to take a good look at themselves in the mirror
Les Neuf Cases aka The Nine Boxes
  • Running a session in French and English - Les Neuf Cases (The Nine Boxes) helped bring together participants with a common interest in learning how to get the questions right in order to ask the right questions
  • Bilingual session preparation - in which Pascal and Portia have fun preparing for a dramatisation of what happens when folks discover the customer's need by asking the right questions
Value-Driven Presenters
  • Ice cream and tasty cupcakes - meeting people who are passionate about learning new things and know that the best way to learn is through fun and games
  • Show me the money - helping out at the sneak preview of the Business Value game created by Pascal and Vera, the pair who brought you the ubiquitous XP Game
  • Doing not just talking - the best sessions at the conference were those offering practical techniques such as Mike Cohn's 'Prioritising the Product Backlog' and Christian and Christoph's 'Conflict Resolution Diagram' from the Theory of Constraints Thinking Tools
  • Mini celebrations - whenever participants found our sessions useful and relevant so that everyone can become a little more agile every day

Friday, August 08, 2008

Fairytale and Fantasy

Agile 2008 - Day 1
Pascal and I pair-present a session on improving personal effectiveness called Mirror, Mirror on the Wall... Why Me?
The session begins with an Agile re-telling of the fairytale favourite Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Think storytime à la Tarantino for adults. We got a round of applause for the storytelling and many participants left the session with new insights about themselves.

Dramatis Personae
  • Snow White - team player, works hard, naive
  • Evil Queen - gets things done, power-hungry, manipulative
  • Hunter - disciplined, practical, mercenary
  • Doc - knowledgeable, solution-focussed, arrogant
  • Bashful - sensitive to others’ needs, quiet, dislikes conflict
  • Sleepy - entertaining, easily distracted, difficult to motivate
  • Sneezy - friendly, creatively efficient, allergic to work
  • Happy - positive, motivated, can ignore problems
  • Dopey - enthusiastic, lacks discipline, lacks attention to detail
  • Grumpy - analytical, critical, poor communicator
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves Kanban Game - Part 1
Now we begin our journey of self-discovery through a cycle of personal judgment, reflection, introspection and action. Let's take Snow White as an example.
  1. Personal judgment: Does Snow White remind you on anyone? Give examples of why you think they remind you of Snow White.
  2. Reflection and introspection - 'Looking into the Mirror': Why do you think what you think about that person? What does what you think about them say about you?
  3. Action: What are some actions you can take to improve your understanding of that person? What's the smallest thing you can do to improve your relationship with them? Pick one action and do it.
Agile Coach's #1 Secret to Great Teamwork
We cannot change others. We can only change ourselves.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves Kanban Game - Part 2
We assemble a fairytale project team. Everyone dreads drawing the Evil Queen card because although the Evil Queen gets things done, she's also power hungry and manipulative. As in real life, we have to find ways to best leverage the skills, experience and interests of every member of our team. Agile is about facing challenges head on and fostering human potential.

Agile Coach's #2 Secret to Great Teamwork
Everyone has value.

Go, Go, Gameplay
You can play the game for free. All Agile Fairytale materials will be available online soon under the Creative Commons licence. Why not define your own happy ending today?

Good Morning Toronto

The most striking thing about Toronto is its people. It's a place where diversity is reflected in every face in the crowd, from groups of friends to couples and families. Walking along Queen St on a Saturday afternoon gives me hope. Here is a community that realises the sociological, cultural and cognitive evolution that Gene Rodenberry envisioned.

The Bizarre and the Marketplace
With over 1500 attendees, Agile 2008 is the largest collective of Agilistas I've ever seen under one roof. In typical Torontonian fashion, its diversity is represented by more than 400 sessions across 19 tracks in just 4 days. The variety of sessions makes for interesting reading, but I find myself constantly wondering what I'm missing out on. Sometimes too many options is a bad thing when their cost outweigh their value.

Group Smarts
The key attraction for me was James Surowiecki author of The Wisdom of Crowds. James asserts that 'groups of people can be remarkably intelligent'. He believes that crowd intelligence improves the closer they are to the ground.

According to James, hierarchies are a problem because they create incentives for people to conceal information, to do what their bosses want, to game the system. The result: a flawed information system.

Dream Team
James reiterates that the secret to teamwork is collaboration. First we assemble a team of appropriate people, then we create the right conditions.

Quality collective work requires three ingredients:
  • Aggregation - so that deliverables reflect group judgment to smooth the fluctuations in information quality
  • Diversity - cognitive diversity is what makes a group smarter - sociological diversity isn't enough
  • Individuality - because people facing the same direction don't realise when they make the same mistakes
I dare you defy mediocrity. Trust in the group smarts of your team.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Best of British

I'm in Toronto for Agile 2008 with Pascal Van Cauwenberghe to present two sessions: Mirror, Mirror on the Wall... Why Me? and Les Neuf Cases (known as 'The Nine Boxes'). Being away from home is great because it gives me time and distance to reflect on my Agile Enablement gigs both past and present.

Nothing is Impossible
Imagine. You're a new recruit for the first Agile team in your global organisation. It's Day 6 of your first ever iteration. The team has been working late for the past couple of evenings. The team believes things can change. The team's doing their best to deliver.

(The open plan office is empty but for the one team still busy at work.)
Coach: A core Agile principle is sustainable pace.
Team: (Silence)
Coach: Deathmarching isn't agile.
Developer: (Silence. Then) Everyone outside the team is watching. (Long pause) They want us to fail.
Team: (Stoic silence)

One Ring to Rule Them All
The next day, I speak to the project manager on the team and raise the issue of the pressure the team feels they're under. 'There are others in the organisation who want us to fail,' I say. He remains silent but for a moment then replies with a bold smile, 'That's because they're afraid of what will happen when we succeed.' We both knew then that success was by no means certain. What we were certain of, however, was that the team would try their hardest to make it a success.

That was a defining moment for everyone on the team. Their stoicism was something so much stronger than an individual's desire to prove others wrong. This was camaraderie in action, each member united with one another by the weightiest of burdens they were helping to carry. Hope. The hope that things can change for the better.

Hate Something, Change Something,
Make Something Better

Over the next few days after my conversation with the team on that fateful summer evening, the team started leaving work on time. They understood that working late was merely hiding problems due to the way teams have always worked in their organisation. They knew that becoming agile meant maintaining a sustainable pace and addressing difficult problems head on instead of working longer hours.

Never Say Never
Fast foward to the end of the three-iteration-long release. The technical lead who reviewed the code delivered described the quality as 'some of the highest quality code' he'd ever seen. After four weeks in end-to-end testing, only one defect was found.

It's a humbling experience to work alongside folks determined to learn and change in spite of being surrounded by a sea of cynicism and resistance. That's what makes my heart sing as an Agile coach. Do something that makes your heart sing. Today.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Much Ado About Something

Eliyahu Goldratt is an angry old man. He's not that old per se, but he is surprisingly angry for someone who's been making his fortune from IT since the early 80s.

Goldratt is best known as the originator of the Theory of Constraints. He was one of the impressive trio of guest star speakers at Université du SI in Paris last week (the other two being French philosopher Michel Serre and the first man on the moon Neil Armstrong). To my surprise, Goldratt was the wildcard of the bunch.

What got us here won't get us there
'Technology should give us unbelievable results,' began Goldratt as a matter-of-fact. 'Why is it then that we have such amazing processing power and no astonishing results?' he demanded of the developers, Agilists and academics before him.

According to Goldratt, each organisation is haemorrhaging to death because of a clot in its processes. Organisations existed before computers, therefore the limitations we're experiencing existed before computers.

The problem is that the old rules for getting things done were based on localised islands of information because that used to be all the information available at the time. Now that the game has changed, the rules aren't just out-of-date, they're wrong.

An even bigger problem is that the antiquated rules become set in stone when they are reincarnated as a software system. The result: we make more mistakes faster which result in spiralling costs and inevitable failure if we don't revise the rules first.

Unlike Michel Serre, who employed pure rhetoric to make a similar point about making the most of one's ability, Goldratt chose to lambast IT professionals for being irresponsible and ineffective.

According to Goldratt, as IT professionals, we're creating our own boundary and limiting the success of our organisation. He urged us to go beyond our comfort zone and stretch ourselves beyond our immediate expertise. Goldratt demands we take responsibility for our organisation.

Lost in Translation
After Pascal and I ran our session to demonstrate the Theory of Constraints, a young man came up to me and asked about the relevance of our session at such a technical conference. I remember asking myself the same question after attending the same session at XPDay London run by Pascal several years ago.

'Because a developer can't deliver business value through coding alone,' I replied in French. 'By understanding how to improve the way your team works at both local and global perspectives, you can help improve your organisation's throughput by applying the Theory of Constraints.'

The School of Tough Love
Goldratt concluded that, in his experience, people are much better than we think. It only takes one person to change before others follow suit or risk losing out altogether.

According to Goldratt, the way to achieve an easy life is to take a hammer to your head whereupon you'll be spoonfed for the rest of your life. Goldratt says: Demand more of yourself. What will you choose to do?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Une comédie française

There's a lot to be said about French charm. The crowd of witty, friendly and plain speaking Parisian Agilistas with whom I had the pleasure of dining twice this week has to be the highlight of my Paris visit.

Le lieu du crime
(Un clan d'agilistes dans un restaurant à côté des Champs-Elysées)
L.: Remarques, avant que je t'ai rencontré, j'ai eu l'impression que tu étais plus agée.
P.: (Petit sourire)
L.: En fait, tu es beaucoup plus jeune que je m'imaginais.
P.: (Encore un petit sourire)
L.: En lisant ton blog, je m'imaginais une petite vieille dame genre Miss Marple.
P.: (Silence. Et puis) Merci pour le feedback.
Tous: (Éclat du rire)

Crime Scene Investigation
(A group of Agilists in a restaurant just off the Champs-Elysées)
L.: Before I met you, I had the impression that you would be much older.
P.: (Smiles)
L.: The fact is, you're much younger than I ever imagined.
P.: (Continues smiling)
L.: In fact, I thought you would be a bit of a Miss Marple.
P.: (Stunned silence. Then) Thank you for your feedback.
All: (Loud burst of laughter)

Feedback continu et mon puzzle
Truth be told, 'Miss Marple' isn't exactly the look I was going for, but it's always nice to get feedback if only to know that my blog is being read. Call me an optimist. Paris je t'aime.