Category Archives: Book Reviews

Amplify Learning

Learning is the result of both encountering new experiences and deliberate experimentation. Learning creates new knowledge, increased volition and improved action.

Some of people’s best learning comes from “failure”. An essential component of learning is feedback.

Learning and feedback can be amplified in several ways. Provide opportunities for learning through books, training courses, coaching, deliberate exposure to diverse work, and deliberate experimentation. Frequently ask the questions “why?” and “how?” and answer them honestly and deeply. Increase the level and quality of communication among the stakeholders and team members. Inspect work in progress frequently or even continuously. Learning accelerates greatly if a culture of learning is created where individuals feel free to experiment and take initiative even on critical aspects of the work.

Learning and feedback support all three agile principles. People become more effective creators as they learn. People are better able to adapt to and embrace change as they learn. And a person’s span of perception increases as they learn. Any increase in learning or feedback leads to an increase in the manifestation of the principles.

Learning and feedback can be amplified rapidly, but an empowered team is necessary to effectively take advantage of this amplification. If a team is not empowered, then rapid learning can lead to frustration. Amplified learning and feedback result in excitement, enthusiasm and playfulness, rapid problem solving, high quality work results and satisfied stakeholders.

An excellent analysis of learning at a social or group level is presented in Progress and Its Problems by Larry Laudan. In this very well written book, Laudan takes a look at the history and philosophy of science and develops a model for learning that is applicable to the development of agile methods.


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Appropriate Metrics – Continued

Lean Metrics… are Lean


In the book Lean Software Development by Mary and Tom Poppendieck, there are a small number of references to metrics: process cycle time, process cycle efficiency, business models. Lean practices focus very much on diagnostic metrics that are used to help people find and eliminate waste and improve value and quality. The other aspect of metrics is to measure up for purposes of motivation and performance measurement.

Conclusions for Scrum and Agile in General

Don’t prescribe specific metrics!

Agile work is about an empirical process where a team responds to change, learns, and self-regulates. An agile team has the power to choose their own metrics for their own self-inspection. For upper management, the single economic driver that is part of the “Good to Great” process should be sufficient.

See also: Appropriate Metrics and A Metric Leading to Success.


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Scrum Gathering May 2005 in Boston – Rough Notes

Here are my rough notes from the May 2005 Scrum Gathering in Boston. Regrettably I was not in the room for most of Mike Cohn’s presentation on User Stories… but his book (User Stories Applied : For Agile Software Development) is excellent 🙂

The notes in this entry include predictions from Ken Schwaber, a presentation from Bob Schatz formerly of Primavera on their enterprise-wide implementation of Scrum, a panel discussion with Tim Bacon, Jeff McKenna, and Diana Larsen, moderated by Esther Derby. In the afternoon we heard from Pete Deemer about Yahoo!’s enterprise adoption of Scrum, Mike Cohn about User Stories, and to close the day we had an energetic presentation from Tim Dorsey of WildCard Systems about their enterprise implementation of Scrum.

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Appropriate Metrics

At the Advanced ScrumMaster Training, Ken Schwaber presented a substantial amount of thinking about metrics used with Scrum. The main driver for thinking about metrics has come from implementing Scrum in enterprise situations. Management expects metrics to be used in order to provide visibility into the progress of the Scrum implementation.

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Steps in Making a Decision

In her workshop “Advanced Scrum: Collaboration Skills for Scrum Teams”, Esther Derby includes a brief discussion on the five parts of a decision.

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Information Radiators

An information radiator is a large display of critical team information that is continuously updated and located in a spot where the team can see it constantly. The term “information radiator” was introduced extensively with a solid theoretical framework in Agile Software Development by Alistair Cockburn.

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Change is Natural – “Embrace Change”

Kent Beck’s book “Extreme Programming Explained : Embrace Change” provides a good introduction to how software development can embrace the constant change that affects our world. Some of the practices he introduces are very software-specific. However, the overall basic message is sound and provides a foundational principle for all agile work. (By the way, the book is excellent.)

Change really does occur everywhere. Change is constant. A google search for “embrace change” or “change is constant” will both turn up an incredible variety of articles, papers, discussions, books and viewpoints that all affirm the constant nature of change and the need to embrace it.

Nevertheless, it is sometimes difficult to accomodate change when we also have a legitimate and deep desire to know what is coming next.

For many teams, the environment in which they work is constantly changing. This change can be caused by competition between organizations, scientific or technological advances, fads and cultural shifts, major events in people’s personal lives or even just a change of opinion with a stakeholder. Any change, even small change, can invalidate a planned course of action. However, goals (as distinct from plans) are more stable and often survive even major environmental changes. Therefore, rather than trying to plan the future, an agile team can focus on being able to respond to change while still reaching a goal.

Nevertheless, a team needs some sense of what it will do in the near future. A team can work with a “horizon of predictability”. This is the distance into the future which a team can be reasonably certain that plans will be stable. Depending on the environment, this may be as little as a few minutes, or as long as a month. It is rarely longer. The horizon of predictability is not a precise demarcation, rather, expect change with a probability based on the horizon of predictability. Then, plan to respond to change. Be detached from the concrete details of a plan, particularly if they occur outside the horizon of predictability.

Agile Work - Horizon of Predictability

Responding to change requires a major mental shift for many people that is difficult and takes time and environmental support. People are often penalized socially or formally for being flexible or adaptable. This quality can appear to be “wishy-washy”, uncertain, indecisive, uncommitted or even rebellious.

The terms “agility” or “agile work” refer to this principle of embracing constant change since it is the most visible of the principles. However, the ability to respond to change relies on the establishment of agile work disciplines and practices.


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Asymmetry of Knowledge and Abuse of Agile Practice

I read an article in Wired yesterday that was modified from a book “Freakonomics“. The article talks about real-estate agents and motivation to push the price of houses they are selling $10,000 higher. The observation was that the $150 incremental gain for the agents (1.5% of $10,000) doesn’t make it worth their holding out an extra three weeks to get the higher number. Their interest is in closing quickly and moving on. They can often convince (through fear) the poor seller of a price that suits their interest. He wasn’t even sure if it was conscious, but it naturally flowed out of the asymetrical knowledge levels between the agent and the client. (I’m reminded here of the saying “A System’s Purpose Is What It Does”.) This asymmetry of knowledge is highly important in the Agile community’s current situation, in that it gives early practitioners the “expert” status, and lots of power to help or hurt the client.

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Pair Programming in Software Development

Pair programming appears to be the most controversial of all the Extreme Programming (XP) practices. It invokes such a violent emotional response in some people that they quickly dismiss all of XP just because of this one practice.

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Book Review: “Good to Great” by Jim Collins

GoodToGreat

Summary: In this well-written, engaging book, author Jim Collins describes six critical factors that he and his research team found common in companies that transformed themselves from a long period of mediocre or bad results to a long period of great financial results. Although focused on publicly-traded companies in the United States, the results of this research can easily be extended to apply to other types of organizations.

Good to Great describes the following six concepts:

  1. Level 5 Leadership: personal humilty and professional discipline in an organization’s leader are the starting point for the transformation.
  2. First Who… Then What: don’t worry about what to do until the right people are in the right positions in an organization.
  3. Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith): careful and honest examination of an organization’s current situation is the foundation for finding a path forward.
  4. The Hedgehog Concept (Simplicity within the Three Circles): discover a simple business concept that people can be passionate about, that works with a single key economic driver and that the organization can be the best in the world.
  5. A Culture of Discipline: disciplined people removes the need for heirarchy, disciplined thought removes the need for bureaucracy and disciplined action removes the need for excessive controls.
  6. Technology Accelerators: pioneer the application of carefully selected technologies without relying on technology for transformation.

Some of these concepts are very close to the underlying principles of agile work. For example, in the Scrum methodology, the first five principles are all represented. The Scrum Master embodies some of the attributes of level 5 leadership. A self-organizing team gets the right people in the right position. The daily scrum and the sprint planning meetings are designed to help the team confront the brutal facts. The sprint goal embodies at a local level the simplicity of the hedgehog concept. And the practices in general are a manifestation of a culture of discipline.

Who Should Read this Book? Anyone interested in creating a lasting positive transformation in an organization should read this book. In particular, individuals who are coaching teams or organizations should read this book since the concepts also appear to apply at a sub-organizational level.


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