8:57 am - Mon, Oct 20, 2014

Blog Post: How Has Passivity Crept Into Your Teams?

bury-your-head-in-the-sand

It’s happened more than I’m willing to admit.

Standing before the team, I’m faced with an issue that I have to address. A company policy we have was not being followed by one of my team members, and I needed to call this person out and make sure it doesn’t continue. Instead, I sat back waiting for someone else on the team to speak up. “If they are a mature, self-organizing team as they claim to…

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7:30 am - Mon, Oct 13, 2014

Blog Post: ‘Satisficing’ Is The Best Word Your Team Didn’t Know Existed

satisfice (ˈsadəsˌfīs) – verbTo accept an available option as satisfactory.

Anyone who has cleaned their house recently knows the definition of this word. You didn’t pull out toothbrushes and spend all weekend on your hands and knees. You cleaned until you were satisfied with the state of whatever room you were in, and moved on. I would argue that the younger your children, or the larger in number they are, the more you understand.

Satisficing is what advertisers count on in a sea of choices today. When you have dozens of toothpaste to choose from, why try something new when you don’t have time to stare at that aisle all day. You choose the brand that you are either most familiar with — or whatever is top of mind thanks to a recent commercial — and move on to toilet paper.

In 1976, the average supermarket stocked 9,000 unique products; today that number has ballooned to 40,000 of them, yet the average person gets 80%– 85% of their needs in only 150 different supermarket items. That means that we need to ignore 39,850 items in the store.

One would think that kind of cost savings on our brain gives us extra horsepower to use for the important stuff in the day. Rather, it is evidence that we have a finite number of decisions to make during any day. Even worse, the brain doesn’t have the foggiest on how to prioritize decisions. From The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, a book by Daniel Levitin:

“Neuroscientists have discovered that un-productivity and loss of drive can result from decision overload. Although most of us have no trouble ranking the importance of decisions if asked to do so, our brains don’t automatically do this.” He goes on to say, “we can have trouble separating the trivial from the important, and all this information processing makes us tired.”

Many an Agile leader would argue this is why we need a regularly prioritized list of work items to draw from to help focus our brain cells on what’s really important: making the stuff, not deciding on what stuff to make next. Levitin supports this in an illustration he calls the “attention filter”:

“The attentional filter is one of evolution’s greatest achievements. In nonhumans, it ensures that they don’t get distracted by irrelevancies. If you’ve ever tried to call your dog while he is smelling something interesting, you know that it is very difficult to grab his attention with sound— smell trumps sound in the dog brain.”

Same goes for my kids. Try getting my son Owen’s attention when Thomas and Friends is on the TV. That boy loves him some trains.

Even people like me, who get paid to be interrupted for the sake of helping others, can run out of processing power at the end of the day. That’s why after a day of work, dinner at home with the family, bath time with the kids, and reading Prince Caspian before bed to them, I often dont have anything left over for challenging conversations with my wife on things like the budget. Even though it’s not her fault she has to wait till night often, it doesn’t change the fact that my mind is out of RAM.

After contemplating the challenge, I thought of a few things that could come in handy to give your teams extra processing power during the day and help them save something for their families.

Don’t forget the Checklist Manifesto. In his brilliant book, Atul Gawande makes the case for saving yourself from having to make routine decisions daily by making them in advance. Whether its a list of items you do every morning before work, your routine for re-entry from a bathroom or coffee break, or things you cover during regular meetings, there are dozens of decisions you can save every day that would help out.

And before you worry about how a checklist will make you look, put some success metrics on it and test it’s efficacy. If you go an entire two-weeks sprint without forgetting something during stand ups, I would argue that’s a worthwhile effort.

Remember, you grow where you measure.

Schedules are your friends. Some of our clients at Bottle Rocket love routine weeks and steady team they can count on. Others have hectic timelines with lots of spinning plates and want some flexibility from delivery. In those times, I think books like The Organized Mind would help enforce keeping sprints on track. If my team can look at the week ahead and count on it remaining the same, they can effectively take in work and deliver.

Teams with uncertainty have to keep that in the back of their mind constantly. Are you willing to take up the space in their brains with unnecessary information? How do you think that makes them feel?

As a coach or leader, there’s an application for you as well. You can combat this uncertainty by either flagging emails with questions or putting them in a folder to address in a designated time of the day. A 30-60 minute session where you answer all the needs of your teams and clients every day can help you on multiple fronts. It shows you can be counted on and creates a rhythm for all parties. Think about what that will do for team morale.

Spend time with each team member. This could be over coffee, or a one-on-one session during the sprint to help clear things up. Ask them individually if there’s something they are needing that hasn’t been mentioned yet. We’re all different, and as much as we want our team members to act in unison, there’s no way that reality will happen. Find out more about them.

Some team members may like chatty collaborative sessions. Others may want quiet heads-down time. Some may have no problem speaking up in retros. Others may need just you alone to speak up. Trust me, though, they all like brownies and You Tube.

Regardless, if there’s something you can take off your team’s plate and give them extra decision-making power, encourage them to tell you. It might not seem like much at first, but trust me when I say it puts the focus back on delivery. Can’t wait to hear your results.


Tagged: agile, checklist, collaboration, decision, leadership, organization, satisfice, schedule, scrum, team

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9:07 pm - Sun, Oct 12, 2014

Blog Post: ‘Satisficing’ Is The Best Word Your Team Didn’t Know Existed

decision making man
satisfice (ˈsadəsˌfīs) – verbTo accept an available option as satisfactory.

Anyone who has cleaned their house recently knows the definition of this word. You didn’t pull out toothbrushes and spend all weekend on your hands and knees. You cleaned until you were satisfied with the state of whatever room you were in, and moved on. I would argue that the younger your children, or the larger in…

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7:30 am - Mon, Sep 22, 2014

Blog Post: Regardless Of The Sport, We Are All Coaches

It is not an exaggeration to say that I have spent my entire life around coaches. I used to think it was because we just went to the church all coaches in my town attended as a child. Small town politics aside, it was more than that. My dad was just one of those dudes that didn’t judge or pull punches, so our house was always filled with coaches and their families growing up.

To say I was raised to be a sports fan would be an understatement.

We would spend weekends talking about one-back offenses, the beauty of a match-up zone, and laugh while trying to come up with the perfect running stride. My mom’s dinners kept our bellies full, and the TV would always have a game on. I had no idea this how good I had it.

As I transitioned to college, I wanted to use my encyclopedic knowledge and creativity to become the next great sports writer. Sports Illustrated was still the gold standard in journalism in those days, and I wanted to have my name on the cover. To accompany my journalism degree, I would get a leg up on the competition by getting a minor in kinesiology — otherwise known as the coaching degree. Yes, I got a degree in sports so that I could be a better sports writer.

I was dedicated.

Years later, I still use my degree. Whatever you want to call Agile leadership in the software world today, it goes by the same name. Whether you coach offensive lineman or app developers, the principles are the same.

The other day, I was talking about this with my boss wondering if there were similarities between the sport and agile version of this profession. In the circles I run in, we talk about the practical application of the various Agile disciplines all the time. What I wonder, though, is if we spend enough time talking about the art of coaching. Regardless of the sport we dedicate our lives to, we all coaches in the end.

What follows are ten characteristics of highly successful coaches from the US Olympic Committee Coaching Development Office:

Committed to individual integrity, values, and personal growth. Can’t worry about anyone else if you can’t take care of yourself, right? For many (including me), this can be a long road of figuring yourself out and constantly having to challenge yourself to achieve this point.

Most of us have some sort of organized set of values and integrity, but have you ever spent time writing down what exactly you stand for and what it means to “stand for integrity”? Not only is it worthwhile to develop your own transformation backlog, I would argue any coach worth anything must do this to help others. Also comes in handy to have a personal mission statement.

Well-educated (formally and informally). Do you have a passion for learning and passing it on? You might be on to something there. Scientists and doctors don’t get their degree and then spend the rest of their career working off that amount of knowledge. They continue to learn.

The enticing route is to just accumulate certification after cert, trying to come up with the longest set of letters after your name. Trust me, I have a few, so I know how attractive it may seem. My encouragement is that while you can get a lot of love from recruiters if you get them, most of the great coaches I know have very few certs. It’s not that they innately know things that come from cert classes, far from it. Just ask yourself the reason why you need your PMP, CSM or any other accreditation.

Educate yourself for the right reasons, first. Letters and love will follow.

Profound thinkers who see themselves as educators, not just coaches. It’s also not enough to be a sponge, you also have to want others around you to learn this stuff too. One of the reasons I started writing and tweeting links a few years ago was because I thought there was so much to pass on to others that shouldn’t require taking time off work and a thousand bucks. We all have so much to learn and pass on.

Why not participate in it?

Long-run commitment to their teams. The buzzword that gained steam recently is the term “servant leadership”, which seems like a redundant set of words. There is no leadership without a servant-like attitude. Keep this in mind when preparing yourself for coaching.

Many think that commitment is long hours, and out-of-balanced life, and that dedication to the craft means nothing else can be let in. I would argue that the opposite is true. I have learned more about coaching from being a devoted husband, father, son, brother, and friend than any coaching clinic I can participate in.

Sure, there are some late nights I spend researching and preparing. I wouldn’t be where I was without putting in a few extra hours. Just don’t confuse that for an unhealthy approach to success. Speaking with my wife about what I want to accomplish helps me keep boundaries with work and still have enough in the tank for tomorrow morning’s standup.

Be dedicated without sacrificing your sanity.

Willing to experiment with new ideas. While many of the sports coaching trends sometimes come back into fashion like bellbottoms, for the most part the innovative techniques being used today are the result of coaches taking something current and iterating. For that same reason, you must be willing to try new things.

The push to innovate also brings with it some failed attempts. I’m the first to admit some of my “ingenious” ideas are easy to sell and tough to actually produce results. If my job security depended on every idea being a home run, I’d never work again.

That’s why some coaches can always be rehired by new teams in the pros. While they may have gone 0-16 the previous season, there’s no reason why they can’t be a successful coach this season. There’s many reasons for the wins and losses a team has. While ultimately a coach is the accountable one, it’s not necessarily their fault.

They at least tried.

Value the coach-player relationship, winning aside. When was the last time you ran into one of your teammates at the coffee machine and took some time to get to know them personally. My beloved boss asks us all the time if we have a new piece of personal trivia about a team member we can share. The moral is that while we have a job to do, we’re still people with lives.

The more we can connect with teams outside of sprint demos and standups, the more they will see us as an actual person too. Nothing like having a PM show up for just meetings and then disappear for the rest of the sprint to make you think they are a robot.

Care about people.

Understand and appreciate human nature. To care about them, empathize with them. Understand what asking them to stay late means. Teach yourself to read body language during meetings. Keep an eye out for flaring nostrils before they realize they are doing it.

The old saying is that software is not human, but the people making it are. As such, things will happen along the way that can only be explained as an “I-D-10-T” error. We have all been the idiot making the error, but it’s up to us to understand human nature and see paths to a solution in order to help right the ship.

Love their work. This is what I would call the “cheerleader principle”. It’s not enough to care about understand people and care for them personally. We have to be willing to stand up with our pom-poms and yell, “F-I-R-E UP, that’s the way to spell fired up! Fire up!”

While I won’t necessarily encourage you to start your daily scrum with that mantra, you have to love what you are doing so much that it can’t help but come out. Lead the charge, let them know they can do it. Thank them for their hard work. Make sure you mean it.

All that, and more. Clap your hands and cheer.

Honest and strong in character. Nobody likes being thrown underneath the bus. Teams certainly don’t respond when you dodge the truth and try to sugarcoat things just so they don’t look bad. Those things are what boys and girls do. Your teams need men and women to lead them.

One of my favorite things to tell my son Owen is how he’s supposed to take care of his sister and mother. Of course, he’s three so there’s no way he can go out and earn our daily bread. The underlying message I’m trying to teach him, though is that if he’s going to be half the leader I can already see in him, he has to start strengthening his character.

That ties back to leadership. When I feel myself getting defensive, dodging a direct question, or willing to cut corners, I have to trust that my backbone stiffen and say “no”. I also can’t be shy about asking for some accountability. Leaders aren’t afraid of the light, we shun the shadows and let everyone see what we’re made of.

Human and therefore imperfect. That said, when you do make a mistake, own up to it. Hopefully, you stand up and ask for forgiveness the first time something happens — not the tenth. I heard it said the best way to stay humble is to confess and ask for forgiveness. If you are constantly in a state of transparency, things won’t go unnoticed. You can tell your teams how you messed up, what you plan on doing to correct the issue, and look them in the eye while doing it.

I find that teams respond more to human coaches than the robotic embodiment of success. People may respond to those kinds of coaches out of fear, but you will lose them when the day comes where you mess up.

Couldn’t think of a better way to sum things up. Don’t seek perfection. Pursue learning, the change that accompanies it, and the transparency to all walk together through the change as humans. You might not end the effort as arm-in-arm best friends, but you will respect each other and celebrate the wins and losses along the way.


Tagged: agile, coaching, leadership, scrum, servant, team, transparency

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8:51 pm - Sun, Sep 21, 2014

Blog Post: Regardless Of The Sport, We Are All Coaches

sports-coach-first-aid-training

It is not an exaggeration to say that I have spent my entire life around coaches. I used to think it was because we just went to the church all coaches in my town attended as a child. Small town politics aside, it was more than that. My dad was just one of those dudes that didn’t judge or pull punches, so our house was always filled with coaches and their families growing up.

To say I was raised…

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7:30 am - Mon, Sep 15, 2014
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Blog Post: Can Positivity Help Your Agility?

It’s 10:42 in the evening here in Dallas and I am a little frazzled, so to speak. One of the apps I help shepherd just shipped a release but has another one coming right behind it. Another product has — by far — it’s biggest releases shipping in a couple of weeks. I just got a promotion to take on some new internal duties that already has deliverables. To boot, I just got back home from a last minute trip to LA that my sleep schedule still hasn’t recovered from.

All these things on my mind makes me grumpy at home, and certainly makes enjoying the little time I have off difficult. For the record, thank you Karyn for your understanding. It will get better soon.

In this midst of all this turmoil, it can be tough to get your mind right. Often, when you are tired, frustrated, and questioning a lot of decisions, the right mindset can really be the salve needed. That’s why I’m glad I found this post from business consultant Christina Lattimer who posed an apt question:

What if everything were ok?

Sounds trite and cliche, right? That’s what I first thought. It rings of false positivity, and I would just rather be transparent with how I feel. The person who shared this article with me doesn’t usually subscribe to that fluff, so I leaned in.

Lattimer was having a problem relaxing during a swim, largely for the same reasons I have relaxing sometimes. What the question she asked herself provided was the opportunity to block out the outside world. If everything was lined up properly, she didn’t need to think about anything other than her freestyle technique.

After pondering the question further, I saw a ton of application for this question in the Agile world. How would you plan your next sprint if you weren’t behind? How would you run your next ceremony if the team hadn’t just finished yelling at each other? What would your backlog look like if you could wipe all that debt off the table?

The possibilities are endless.

There is a time to be real and transparent about the struggles we have before us. Teams respect that honesty and respond when you are willing to let them behind the curtain. Sometimes, though, the weight of our challenges can block us from finding the right solution. The key to solution-based thinking lies in the notion that things can be ok if you can focus.

See past the problem, seek the solution, and don’t be afraid of a little positivity. I know it fired me up for tomorrow.


Tagged: agile, positivity, problems, solution

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11:44 pm - Sun, Sep 14, 2014

Blog Post: Can Positivity Help Your Agility?

how-a-positive-attitude-leads-to-a-positive-outcome

It’s 10:42 in the evening here in Dallas and I am a little frazzled, so to speak. One of the apps I help shepherd just shipped a release but has another one coming right behind it. Another product has — by far — it’s biggest releases shipping in a couple of weeks. I just got a promotion to take on some new internal duties that already has deliverables. To boot, I just got back home from a last…

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7:30 am - Mon, Sep 8, 2014

Blog Post: Solving The Paradox Of Unknown Risk

Suppose I offered you a chance to win $100. In a box, you have 90 balls to draw from. Of that number, 30 are red in color and the remaining 60 are either black or yellow. Kicker is I won’t tell you what that mix is. If I were to offer you two different wagers, which one would you most likely select:

One that pays if you select a red ball, or one that pays the same if you select a black ball.

Either gamble poses risk, and in fact may hold the same amount. There could be an equal mix of black and yellow balls, meaning that there are 30 of all three colors. Of course, there may be only 2 black balls and would be significantly less optimal to attempt that bet. 

The proposition was posed by Harvard economics student Daniel Ellsberg in the early 60s for his dissertation on decision theory. The accompanying study revealed that of the two choices, most people are more willing to take the gamble with determined amount of risk rather than the unknown — even if the odds were better. 

The study also had a similar gamble where you could choose either a bet that paid if you selected either a red or yellow ball, and a bet that paid if you selected a black or yellow ball. With there being a determined amount of black and yellow balls, it is less of a risk to take the second wager. Again you could have the same amount of red and yellow balls as black and yellow, but the number is not known.

Ellsburg’s dissertation was published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics in 1961, and the principle became known as the Ellsberg Paradox.

Moral is, risk is all around us. If we are going to decide the best route forward, we feel better making choices where we know the amount of risk involved.

When making things the Agile way, the Ellsberg Paradox is often presented. Stakeholders, team members and clients all want to be able to make decisions with a determined amount of risk. In a perfect world, we would have all backlog items properly assessed so the best decision about “what’s next” can be made. We all know that never happens, of course. Some items are fully defined, while others might have some technical questions or unfinished art.

How are we to make the right decision? Is it as simple as choosing the most defined first? Here a few ways that you can solve the paradox of unknown risk and keep everyone informed:

Understand that there’s no such thing as “unknown risk”. If strong communication exists between you and everyone else, there should be no risk that’s not known. Of course, I can’t solve for poor communication in this post, so let’s assume everyone’s talking. 

Once you communicate the risk, you should have everything you need. I would argue that most of the time, risk can be weighed but in a vacuum all risk is equal from the standpoint of just-in-time requirements. You might wish you could know more about a particular item, but knowing everything possible is all you can ask for. If what you know at that moment seems too high to pull the trigger, simply defer it until you can learn more.

Keep priority in perspective. The tough part is priority is often independent of risk. Clients may want a feature done right away because of external deadlines, yet it may have the most risk assigned. Kano analysis or weighted values might narrow down this some, but it still doesn’t solve the problem of what to do with risk.

Some teams will rate the risk just like the priority of a defect. Others may pad estimates because of the risk associated. To be fair, none of them are completely full-proof or faulty in design. The more you can build risk into your priority, the more outside stakeholders will feel a part of the decision making process.

Comfort level is associated with risk. Epics are going to have a fair amount of risk just because of the sheer size of the work. As you break them down into smaller pieces of work, the assumption is you will solve for some of it as it moves closer to the top of the backlog.

My experience of risk doesn’t have to do with challenging pieces of integration. Rather, it has to do with new APIs or third-party vendors. If the team has never worked with it before, there’s going to need to be some padding. Once a research spike or working session is complete, the work item could be moved up as more is known. Assess the team’s comfort level when a new item is first introduced and help groom the risk like all other requirements.

In the end, solving for risk is an exercise in transparency. If you understand, communicate and groom risk as a part of your regular activities, it is nearly impossible to make a poor decision when the time comes.

How are you solving for risk on your teams?




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4:35 pm - Sun, Sep 7, 2014
Blog Post: Solving The Paradox Of Unknown Risk

Suppose I offered you a chance to win $100. In a box, you have 90 balls to draw from.

Blog Post: Solving The Paradox Of Unknown Risk

Suppose I offered you a chance to win $100. In a box, you have 90 balls to draw from.

7:30 am - Mon, Sep 1, 2014

Blog Post: 3 Ways To Improve Your Daily Checklists

Before a pilot can throttle up and take off from a runway, there are 30 items that Boeing recommends checking off for a standard 737. The World Health Organization has a 19-point checklist for all surgeries to keep infections at a minimum. OSHA has 33 items on a computer station safety checklist alone. It’s safe to say we are starting to lick the ability to identify and perform tasks on a day-in-day-out basis.

Our jobs as app makers aren’t immune to this concept. Each release we send to clients for app store submission has a development and quality assurance checklist. Both sign offs are performed to ensure adherence to platform and user-needed guidelines. That way we give everyone our best on each launch.

Yet, it’s imperative that we remind ourselves every day we can’t live on checklists alone. We have to remember the heart behind them.

The heart behind our technical checklists is obvious. When clients and users see the Bottle Rocket logo appear on a splash screen, they know they aren’t going to see a glitch that takes them away from an amazing experience. For our UX strategists and art directors, the lists haven’t been as rigidly defined before. Even creatives, though, have a tuning fork that goes off in their stomach when they see something that doesn’t feel right. Management use them to make sure the plates keep spinning and we keep getting paid.

Even so, it doesn’t seem enough. Isn’t there a level deeper than we could go? There has to be a level of authenticity to our daily lives if we are truly going to see past the pragmatic. What’s truly at the heart of it all?

That’s where the checklist comes back into play. Here’s a few things you can start now to see the real meaning of your to-do lists:

Work with transparency and authenticity. We must work more openly if we are going to step it up. That means broadcasting app mission statements, sprint goals, and user testing headlines. My mother- and father-in-law each have their own personal mission statement as well as a family mission statement. They didn’t write these statements once and then walk away. At least four times a week, all three items are restated to each other and they ask how they are doing at carrying them out. Inspiring, and at the same time an exhortation.

When was the last time you asked yourself what your goals were besides what had to be done that particular day? Better yet, when was time you asked a co-worker about their goals? Progress towards or away from the goal can spark many creative conversations.

Corporately discuss your screw ups. Once we address how we are progressing along the road of our mission statements, undoubtedly some missteps will be identified. There’s no shame in these statements, there’s a good chance they weren’t even your fault. Regardless, they happened, and you need to talk about them.

People around me need to know when I make a mistake. I’m tired of hearing old-school managers talk about only focusing on the positive, or “just moving on” when things happen. We don’t trust each other when we know just good news. Just ask anyone who spends time on Facebook.

Personally, I like to use daily stand ups for this purpose. If I could have served the team better, I admit it and let them know how I’m going to try and avoid the same thing happening again. Hopefully, people trust what I say more as a result. Trust each other with your faults, you’ll be surprised when you see the results.

Examine your mission constantly. Once you have the answers from all the questions the first two points brings up, adjust the original mission statement and re-broadcast it. There’s no harm in telling clients that the original mission statement you wrote was fine, but less informed than your current iteration. That kind of authentic transparency endears us to the mission of pushing the envelope and embracing the impossible. 

The peek behind the curtain gives everyone a chance to learn and grow together. If the experience changes as a result, then we can all discuss the cost of the change and decide if it’s worth the effort. Many a team has looked at the cost and said, “sign me up.”

Depending on your personality type, the checklist is either embraced or shunned. Either way, it’s merely a tool to help accomplish goals. Being prepared is tactical, but the purpose is bigger than that. It allows us to live openly with our colleagues and fuel work we never thought imaginable.

For the past year, I have focused on the mission of helping those around me make things better through a improved process. What I have learned is I can’t spend my time on just that spectrum. There are times when the process of making things is super-ceded by what needs to be made in that moment. Projects evolve and teams change, and I can’t just keep my head in the clouds.

I would like to amend it and ask for your help in accountability. For the next year, I am going to focus on finding the right balance between “building things right” vs. “building the right thing.”

I’m going to learn a lot, can’t wait to see what checklists this produces.




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4:30 pm - Sun, Aug 31, 2014
Blog Post: 3 Ways To Improve Your Daily Checklists

Before a pilot can throttle up and take off from a runway, there are 30 items that…

Blog Post: 3 Ways To Improve Your Daily Checklists

Before a pilot can throttle up and take off from a runway, there are 30 items that…

4:30 pm
Blog Post: 3 Ways To Improve Your Daily Checklists

Before a pilot can throttle up and take off from a runway, there are 30 items that…

Blog Post: 3 Ways To Improve Your Daily Checklists

Before a pilot can throttle up and take off from a runway, there are 30 items that…

7:30 am - Mon, Aug 25, 2014

Blog Post: Why Should I Memorize The 12 Agile Principles?

At our monthly meet up last week, the fine folks at DFW Scrum concocted a little rope-a-dope for yours truly. The title online simply read “Agile Jeopardy“, leading me to believe we were going to play a little game to test our knowledge of the framework. In the Trebek-led gameshow, answers are the questions and questions are the answers. I’m a quick study, and read everything in front of me regarding the industry, so I walked into the room confident of my victory. This was going to be easy.

Or so I thought. My team ended up winning, but not because of me. I sat there on my hands for most of the evening.

As many people familiar with Agile practice, there were four main tenets of the framework written 13 years ago. They are not wordy, and simple in format. The questions regarding those items were fairly straightforward for us, and teams jumped all over them.

Tricky part of the Agile Manifesto is the four pillars are very broad and don’t really lead you down the whole path to implementation. In the writers’ wisdom, I’m sure this was by design. For further instruction, they penned 12 principles that gave leaders across the globe everything they would need.

Thing is, they are verbose and difficult to memorize. To be honest, I couldn’t even remember the last time I read them through. Some Agile leader I am.

I mentioned earlier that my team ended up winning. Reason for that is one of my carefully selected teammates took the time to memorize the principles (or at least enough to lead us to victory). Afterward, when everyone was sitting around conversing, I asked him why it was so important for him to know them off the top of his head. I know what they all refer to, and I have the Internet in my pocket, so in my mind I didn’t think it was an absolute necessity.

“At least one is quoted every day at work,” he said. “If I want someone to see me as an expert, and follow my advice, I need to state where I got my ideas from.”

That concept rings true, regardless of your industry. Agile has so little core documentation — for a reason. You can choose to implement the ideas in whatever way make sense to your organization, but you can’t ignore the manifesto and principles. So often I hear people use the phrase, “that’s not Agile,” when condemning an idea. It’s annoying to me, but now that I see the principles in a new light I can see why someone would say that.

That same week, I stood before my fellow PMs at Bottle Rocket and admitted to them I had let them down. If I was going to continue to help lead the Agile transformation here, I needed to do a better job of reminding everyone why we do what we do. Because I don’t use the principles very often, neither do they.

That will change, and soon.

When you have a chance, read through them again. Ask yourself if you know what they refer to, and if you feel this principle is adhered to where you work. We’re kidding ourselves if we think we do them well every day, but identifying and admitting shortcomings is the first step to improvement. Make a list of principles that need to be implemented better, and how this would happen.

Just like being able to quote the manifesto in a meeting, you have to do the work to transform your organization. Imagine being told, “give me the three things we need to do right now to be a more Agile organization.”  As terrifying as that proposition is, more and more of us are being asked to lead the way. If you don’t have those items ready, and the reasons why, you won’t be taken seriously the next time.

This is where I need the most work. I love improving with co-workers and thinking on my feet. If I only prepared a little more and documented my ideas for the company, I could at least propose how we can take it to the next level here. So, I’m going to start prioritizing my list of ideas. You should have yours too.

Call it your “transformation backlog”. I have your first user story:

As an Agile leader, I must identify the principles that are poorly adhered to so that I can suggest new practices.




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7:30 am - Mon, Aug 18, 2014

Blog Post: What I’ve Learned Along The Road To Agile Acuity

a·cu·i·ty (noun) acuity sharpness or keenness of thought, vision, or hearing.
 
There are three different versions of the word acuity that link back to it’s original etymology. The Middle English, Middle Latin and Old French versions all link back to the latin word acus (or acuo) that means “a needle”. The most common conjugation of the word today is acute, which is mostly used in medicine. If you were to ask me before today what the word means to me, I would describe acuity as something so refined and fine-tuned it resembled a pinpoint.
 
Then I saw this tweet from one of my Ogilvy brethren:
 
khai
 
It got me thinking about my craft, helping people make things better. Was I fine-tuning myself to the point where I could notice things that most would overlook?
 
This is where participating in a community of practice will help, because it’s impossible for one person to catch everything. We share, cry, laugh, exhort, and implore. In the end, we have a group that truly doesn’t let things fall through the cracks. Hit me up if you want help setting one up.
 
The definition of acuity gives the impression that it’s just something you can fall out of bed with. After thinking upon this phrase, that’s why I’m thankful Agile discipline is a craft instead of a skill. We fail, and pass them on to each other. Some of the lessons I have learned might not be as difficult for you. Vice versa, I’m sure. 
 
Here are a few I have come across in my search of Agile acuity:
 
Every team member deserves your best effort. I did not learn this lesson because I desired to play favorites. Like most leaders, I was confident I could keep a level playing field for everyone around me. The mistake on my part was looking at each team and saying to myself, “I need to nail this relationship if my team is going to make it.” 
 
You pour yourself into certain people, thinking if you can get this right the rest will be easy. Problem is, there’s no guarantee that relationship is the keystone to productivity and completed stories. In fact, it’s the last relationship you expected to in fact be necessary. That’s because they are all important.
 
You can’t be afraid to make an example. Nobody likes being the bad guy, I know I don’t. I want to say yes to every OOO petition, working lunch request, and work-from-home desires. Not so with my fellow PMs. One at my office told a team member that he would have to cancel his flight, even after he bough the ticket, because he didn’t first check with others around him on a vacation request. Cruel, but his team needed it.
 
Making an example doesn’t mean you select someone to pick on just because. We don’t lead teams that way. Instead of squashing insurrection, you just announce the team is more important than the individual. As a pastor once put it, “I’m willing to let you hate me in order to tell you the truth.”
 
Winging it, regardless of the team interaction, is not allowed. I’m a bit quick on my feet. It’s what happens when you grow up speaking faster than you can think; eventually you can just come up with answers on the spot and store an incredible amount of information in the front of your brain. Problem is, it’s always apparent that you are winging it, and your team usually doesn’t respond well to this.
 
I always encourage new Scrum Masters to have a notepad ready for every standup. You aren’t taking notes to keep tabs and micro manage. You just want to keep track with how things progress and keep handy the things you need to focus on. Anyone who has read the Checklist Manifesto knows the true value of checking things off of lists. This goes with announcements, reminders, vacation days, roadblocks, and key milestones. 
 
Some have said they don’t like the idea of secretive writing. Easy, just use a nearby whiteboard. The bonus of this application is added transparency to team gatherings. They see what you are writing, and there’s no hiding. Just make sure you show up early to jot down the notes you need to remember.
 
Deliverables are for all to hear. If design knows development was listening when they promised a comp to you by the end of the day, they are more apt to deliver if they have to look them in the face the next morning. If they aren’t afraid of that, don’t be afraid to ask them why they feel that way (see the first lesson). For the record, I have the best art directors in the business. They know they are loved.
 
I have sometimes neglected to make sure everyone is nodding their head at the same time when I ask for a deliverable. For some team members, you believe them when you see a nod. Others may need to verbalize what is due on what day. Even others might need to respond to a group email in the affirmative. Either way, it needs to be corporate.
 
Ask others if you can get them help. We’re all big kids, and true self-managing teams will know when to raise their hands when issues occur. Even the best, though, can get a case of “the hero complex.” They don’t want to burden others, or ask me to go back to the client with problems. This is when your awesome one-on-one skills come in handy. Take time to check in with everyone during the week once or twice to see if they are getting what they need. 
 
Many will respond with, “I got this.” Which could be honest. Getting to know them in between ceremonies, however, will reveal those that are just covering up. Find a way to let them know you can lighten their load, or simply treat them to lunch, if they are feeling the weight of the world. 
 
The lessons I am learning along the way to Agile acuity number far more than this, but hopefully they paint a picture of what that path looks like for me. I take my craft very personally, and won’t stop until I reach it. Though not in this list, one of the biggest lessons I have to remember is that my search for Nirvana can’t be more important than meeting my teams’ needs in the moment. As much fun as it is to keep my head at 30,000 feet, my team needs to get dirty with them.
 
I’m curious as to what lessons you have learned along the road. The only way to grow is to do this together, so now I need your stories. How have you honed your craft lately?



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11:07 pm - Sun, Aug 17, 2014

Blog Post: What I’ve Learned Along The Road To Agile Acuity

Blog Post: What I’ve Learned Along The Road To Agile Acuity

DPN 800 x 544-LARGE
a·cu·i·ty (noun) acuity sharpness or keenness of thought, vision, or hearing.  
There are three different versions of the word acuity that link back to it’s original etymology. The Middle English, Middle Latin and Old French versions all link back to the latin word acus (or acuo) that means “a needle”. The most common conjugation of the word today is acute, which is mostly used in medicine. If…

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