Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Stuff that doesn’t fit anywhere else.

Why I Joined Berteig Consulting

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Most business persons and businesses understand the concept of strategic alliances.  The reason to form alliances are many and varied and include such reasons like; monetary, distribution, market access, shared technology and others.  My reason for joining Berteig Consulting is a little unusual.  First reason is that I am an international consultant, trainer and coach.  My international work requires 100-150 days of travel outside North America every year.  I have been doing this for 10 years and it does not hold the same appeal it did in the beginning of the travel.   Don’t misunderstand me, I still like the travel but I pay a price physically.  So joining a reputable and successful Canadian company was appealing to me.

My second reason for the alliance is that I am very impressed with the knowledge, skills, abilities and professionalism that exists in the Berteig Consulting team. Their values were consistent with mine.  During the summer of 2008, Mishkin Berteig (the co-founder of the Berteig Consulting) and I began to investigate how we could work together.

Needless to say we hit it off.  There is mutual respect.  So I made the move to become a CSM and begin to train, coach and consult within his company.  Mishkin and I have already decided to co-write a book about Agile. I have currently written 5 books which are published in 10 languages, one of which is a best seller.  Mishkin and I hope to publish in late 2009. I will continue my international work to some degree, but my strategic relationship with Berteig Consuting will become more important in the coming months and years.

I look forward to adding value to Berteig Consulting, the team members and all of our clients.   I will do what needs to be done to insure the existing and future customers receive the best advice, coaching and training available in the Agile marketplace.   I care about the people at Berteig Consulting and will make sure they receive value from me.  There is a quote I respect … People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!   We at Berteig Consulting care about the quality of our interactions with our customers and the results of our efforts.

James M. Heidema, CSM, CLU, CIAM
Berteig Consulting team member
James Heidema’s Profile

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Why we like working at Berteig Consulting

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From Paul Heidema:

Most people despise the end of Sunday. This means that Monday, the dreaded start of the work week, is just around the corner. Most people don’ have a team that they trust at work. Most people are unable to be truthful with their boss, or even truthful with themselves about their work.

Fortunately, I am not one of those people. I work with great people. They are kind, honest, caring, and very professional. I work at Berteig Consulting. My team is made up of four people, one of which is me. Travis, who is very gifted in the arts is also very professional and down to earth. Mishkin is an ideal boss who cares deeply about his co-workers, and treats us all like brothers and sisters. Laila is pure and able to make others feel completely at home (she is also my wife).

I never know what will happen each week but I do know that I will be happy and enjoying the experience with such a wonderful team.

From Mishkin Berteig:

Every day that we start work, I’m happy to be here.  It’s a bit cliche, but I love the people I’m working with.  I also love the work we are doing.  The vision of the company is maturing and our focus on education has already changed the way some things are being done.  I like our work environment: there are three of us “crammed” into a small office room – we are constantly collaborating, discussing options and problems and reminding each other of work to do.  Hiring Laila to work with us part time has been an incredible change.  She thinks systematically about our way of working and makes suggestions in such a loving way that it is impossible to feel like we were even doing anything wrong in the first place.  For me personally, having Travis focus on the role of Process Facilitator (ScrumMaster) has also been a huge relief for me.  He keeps us in line with a lightweight agile process and I’m loving it!!!  Finally, for me, focusing my own efforts on business value has been great – with the help of Paul, Laila and Travis, I now have the mental space and the actual time to devote to this critical part of running a business.  I’m still learning like crazy, and it’s great fun!  I wish everyone could work in an environment like this… which is, of course, why we offer the services that we offer! 🙂

From Travis Birch:

At Berteig Consulting, we practice Agile.  I am currently working in the role of process facilitator for our new team of 4.  We work in 1-week iterations.  As a couple of the team members have a 4-day work week, we have our retrospective on Monday mornings at 10 AM, followed by the planning meeting for our next iteration at 11 AM.  The remaining work days begin with a daily stand-up meeting using the reporting methods of a daily Scrum (each member reports 3 things to the team – “What I did yesterday”, What I’m doing today”, and “What are my obstacles”).  We work in a collocated team room, with items, tasks, obstacles, definition of done and burn-down chart all up on the walls.  We just completed our second iteration.  As part of today’s retrospective, team members actually did some demos – Mishkin showed us some of the great changes he’s made to his course material and Paul demoed our beautiful newsletter.  Laila even demoed some travel tools that she’s been working on for the trainers.  We also decided to each write our reflections in order to share them with those who might find it useful as a way of wrapping up the retrospective for this iteration.

Visibility of work and openness of consultation feeds an overall feeling of excitement and optimism in the team!

From Laila Heidema:

Having worked at Berteig Consulting for merely two weeks, I already feel that I am part of a team. I feel that I am contributing in helping people with their business in an environment that is creative, supportive, joyful and cooperative. I know that each week will bring interesting new tasks that will not feel like a mundane set of work, or carried out in order to finish the week. Rather, each project is completed with a sense of contribution towards the company’s quest to be the best corporate educator for humanity. Were it not for Berteig’s positive atmosphere and team dynamic, this would not be possible.

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Returning to Work

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The summer has been interesting for me.  Lots of really great things including the Agile 2008 conference, some really great training experiences, and some really great business challenges.  I’ve learned a huge amount over the last few months.  In many ways, September always gives me the “back to school” feel from when I was growing up.  This year it is particularly so.  This year, I’m working with a team instead of on my own.  This year, I have a systematic approach to running my business using OpenAgile.  This year, I’m being deliberate about creating my corporate culture.

One thing I wanted to share publicly: Berteig Consulting has the start of a vision and mission.  For several years now, I’ve been focused on agile methods.  But I also have always known that in many ways those methods are not what I am committed to.  Rather, there is something deeper.

Berteig Consulting is going to be the best corporate educator of humanity.

Agile methods are a tool or set of practices that are compatible with this vision.  We teach agile methods, we mentor and coach agile methods, and agile methods themselves help individuals, teams and organizations to learn – to self-educate.  So using agile methods enables our vision.

But it doesn’t stop there… (to be continued).

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First Day of Agile 2008 Conference

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The first day of the Agile 2008 Conference was fabulous!  I’m working with five other great people including my wife, Melanie, my father, Garry, and three good friends: Paul, Travis and Laila.  We have set up a beautiful booth designed by my brother, Alexei Berteig.  Working at the booth has been a tiring yet exhilarating experience.  Before the conference we received Boothmanship Training from The Portables.  The people at The Portables have been excellent and I highly recommend them to anyone embarking on a booth display at a conference.

Today I delivered the first of my two presentations at the conference.  The thirty minute experience report: “Extremely Short Iterations as a Catalyst for Effective Prioritization of Work” was well received.  There were about 25 people in attendance and despite the short time for questions, there were some good ones.  I enjoyed delivering the presentation and it was filmed for later publication on InfoQ.  I also received highly positive feedback after the talk.  On Thursday, I am giving a much more substantial presentation titled “Meta-Agile: Using Agile Methods to Deliver Agile Training“.  This will be a three hour workshop in two parts: a 90 minute presentation, and then a 90 minute participatory patterns workshop.  If you are a trainer or coach, I highly recommend attending this one!

I also ran into many friends… too many to list, in fact.  It is surprising to me to see how many people I know in this community.  There are over 1500 people at this agile conference, and I can’t walk more than 20 steps without running into someone I know.  One other really cool thing is that everyone is commenting on how much they like the notebooks that were included in the conference bag – highly popular.  In fact, three people have commented that it was the only useful thing in the bag… which is actually a bit of an exaggeration since the conference program was also in the bag and I suspect that it might be just a wee bit more useful 🙂  Nevertheless, the feedback has been great.

Come check us out at our booth if you are at the conference – it’s unmistakable – strong red backdrop with the Berteig Consulting logo across the top.  We also have a great raffle so be sure to drop off your raffle entry which is found in your notebook pocket.

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Agile Tools vs. Agile Books

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Agile Tools vs Agile Books

I have been working with Agile for a few months. At Berteig Consulting we are using OpenAgile to run our small business. As such we try to use various tools to make our life easier. I have already mentioned that we use CardMeeting for our cycles and tasks. I have tried using PlanningPoker for online estimation. It seems useful, but maybe our team is too small to make great use of it. I am also looking for other ways to manage the reflections and learning from each cycle.

I have received an email from David Wolrich of CardMeeting that states: “Anyways, I rely on the trickle of news from legitimate organizations like yours to let users know that CardMeeting is still around, that I am still adding features, and to generate interest; thanks again.” So maybe some of you could try it and give him a shout. Much like other free applications on the net such as Drupal and Neo Office this one could become more robust and useful.

I am wondering if I am spending too much time on tools and not enough reading and researching Agile methods. I am enjoying reading about Agile success stories. Anybody know of small businesses that have documented or written about achieving success in Agile? Is there an Agile bible or maybe a book about the best ways to succeed using Agile?

So this is the question that I am wondering: Are tools better than books when it comes to Agile?

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Quality is not an attribute, it’s a mindset

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This was actually cribbed from a Bruce Schneier blog post about security…

Security engineers see the world differently than other engineers. Instead of focusing on how systems work, they focus on how systems fail, how they can be made to fail, and how to prevent–or protect against–those failures. Most software vulnerabilities don’t ever appear in normal operations, only when an attacker deliberately exploits them. So security engineers need to think like attackers.People without the mindset sometimes think they can design security products, but they can’t. And you see the results all over society–in snake-oil cryptography, software, Internet protocols, voting machines, and fare card and other payment systems. Many of these systems had someone in charge of “security” on their teams, but it wasn’t someone who thought like an attacker.  

There’s an interesting parallel between this statement and how most software quality is handled. Quality and Security are similar. In fact, I see security as a very specific subset of quality-mindedness. Certainly both require the same mindset to ensure – rather than thinking merely “how will this work”, a quality-focused person will also, or perhaps alternately think: “how might this be breakable”. From this simple change in thinking flows several important approaches

  • Constraint-based thinking (as opposed to solution based thinking): allows an architect/developer to conceive of the set of possible solutions, rather than an enumeration of solutions. By looking at constraints, a developer implements the lean principle of deciding as late as possible, with as full information as possible.
  • Test-First: As one thinks of how it might break, scenarios emerge that can form the basis of test cases. These cases form a sort of executable acceptance criteria
  • Lateral Thinking: The constraint+test approach starts to get people into a very different mode, where vastly different kinds of solutions show up. The creative exercise of trying to break something provides insights that can change the whole approach of the system.

 Schneier goes on to ponder 

This mindset is difficult to teach, and may be something you’re born with or not. But in order to train people possessing the mindset, they need to search for and find security vulnerabilities–again and again and again. And this is true regardless of the domain. Good cryptographers discover vulnerabilities in others’ algorithms and protocols. Good software security experts find vulnerabilities in others’ code. Good airport security designers figure out new ways to subvert airport security. And so on.  

 Here again – I think it’s possible to help people get a mind-set about quality, but some do seem to have a knack. It’s important to have some of these people on your teams, as they’ll disturb the waters and identify potential failure modes. These are going to be the ones who want to “mistake proof” (to borrow Toyota’s phrase) the system by writing more unit tests and other executable proofs of the system. But most importantly (and I can personally testify to this) it is critical that people just write more tests. It is a learned skill to start to think of “how might this fail” until it becomes a background mental thread, always popping up risk models.A related concept is Demmings’ “systems-thinking”, which, applied to software quality, causes one to start looking at whole ecosystems of error states. This is when fearless re-factoring starts to pay off, because the elimination of duplication allows one to catch classes of error in fewer and fewer locations, where they’re easier to fix. There are many and multifarious spin-off effects of this inverted questioning and the mindset it generates. Try it yourself. When you’re writing code, ask yourself how you might break it? What inputs, external state, etc. might cause it to fail, crash, or behave in odd ways. This starts to show you where you might have state leaking into the wild, or side-effects from excessively complex interactions in your code. So quality focus can start to improve not only the external perception of your product, but also its fitness to new requirements by making it more resilient and less brittle. Cleaner interactions and less duplication allow for much faster implementation of new features.I could go on, but I just wanted to convey this sense of “attitude” or “mindset,” over mere technique. Technique can help you get to a certain level, but you have to let it “click”, and the powerful questions can sometimes help.

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Stonecutters, Paycheck Earners, or Cathedral Builders?

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All credit for this is due to Mary Poppendieck as this is entirely cribbed from her Agile2007 talk on agile leadership.

A man walks into a quarry and sees three people with pickaxes. He walks up to the first one and asks, “What are you doing?” The first quarry worker irritably replies, “I’m cutting stone, what does it look like? I cut stone today, I cut stone yesterday, and I will cut stone tomorrow!” The man asks the same of the second person who replies, “I’m making a living for my family.” The man turns to the third person and asks him, “so what are you doing here?” The third worker looks up for a moment, looks back at the man with a proud expression and says, “I’m building a Cathedral!”

The moral of the parable is likely clear, but it bears applying to organizational dynamics. Basically, consider that everyone gets annoyed with aspects of their jobs. The question is one of response. Basically, if a person is annoyed with his job, does he:

  • Complain? He is probably a stonecutter.
  • Ignore it? He is probably a paycheque earner.
  • Fix it? He is a cathedral builder.

Cathedral builders are absolutely critical to a healthy organization. They push the organization towards a vision, often propagating the high-level vision throughout all levels of the organization. Unfortunately, these are also people who annoy the stonecutters and paycheque earners, because they won’t participate in the complaints, and they agitate for changes which make it hard to ignore things and just “do the job.” But your success will rely on them… find them, shelter them, and grow them. And whatever you do, don’t “promote” them into positions where they aren’t effective. Empower them, and if you need to add salary and title that’s fine, but let them find their own area of maximal contribution. Guaranteed you, Mr. business owner, aren’t smart enough to see what that is.

Organizations that fail to see this remain mediocre or failing organizations. Organizations that find ways of harnessing their workforce and coaxing people into the next level of engagement, succeed.

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Bell Canada and Net Neutrality

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Bell Canada is traffic shaping to restrict the speed of data on P2P networks.  Mark Kuznicki has written a good reference piece on his blog.  The piece is titled Bell Canada Hands Net Neutrality Advocates a Gift.  It’s sad but funny too.  I don’t usually post non-agile items, but I thought this one deserved some attention.  Please, if this is important to you, take the time to blog about it even if just to link to Mark’s article.  We’re using the tags: bellthrottling, netneutrality, canada.

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The Agile Zealot’s Handbook

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This is great! I often call myself an Agile Zealot to my clients. (Usually, they smile… and if they don’t I tend to have a short relationship with them!) So here it is, the Agile Zealot’s Handbook.

And, since I’ve got a dead horse lying around waiting to be beaten up some more, I’ve re-written it (the Agile Zealot’s Handbook, not the dead horse) to be non-software oriented. Presenting… the new and improved… non-software oriented… readable by anyone… Agile Zealot’s Creed:

Continue reading The Agile Zealot’s Handbook

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Top Ten Most Popular Entries from 2006

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If you are new to Agile Advice, these are not just some of the most popular articles, they are also some of the best! Take a look around; you will find ideas to inspire you, challenge your thinking and maybe that one little thing that will make the difference in applying agile methods in your situation.

1. How Two Hours Can Waste Two Weeks – 25,617 unique views
This little hypothetical story by Dmitri Zimine was very popular on Reddit, and Joel on Software ranted a bit about it.

2. The Case for Context Switching – 2,936 unique views
My rebuttal to Joel’s rant. Goes well with Dmitri’s article. Emphasizes the idea of building trust in an organization.

3. The Qualities of an Ideal Test – 1,579 unique views
Six qualities that will help make your tests as valuable as can be. Similar to the ACID properties of databases or the INVEST properties of user stories.

4. The Pros and Cons of Short Iterations – 1,555 unique views
A few words that will help you decide how long to make your iteration length. This is an important decision, and most teams and organizations don’t know the factors involved.

5. Five Signs of Trouble in an Iteration – 1,489 unique views
A good howto on using burndown charts to discover problems in an iteration.

6. Seventeen Tips for Iteration Planning – 1,427 unique views
A good list of hints and tips that can make the difference between struggling with iteration planning and having it go smoothly and effectively. This is a key part of the Agile Work process, so getting good at it is a high priority for any team new to Agile Work.

7. Change is Natural – “Embrace Change” – 1,397 unique views
A short riff on the universality of change. Also introduces the idea of the “horizon of predictability”.

8. The Art of Obstacle Removal – 1,287 unique views
This is a good reference article on types of obstacles and methods for removing them… a critical practice for Process Facilitators.

9. The Seven Core Practices of Agile Work – 1,285 unique views
Agile Work is really quite simple. This is a concise list of the practices that make up this effective methodology.

10. Interview with Alistair Cockburn – Agile and House Renovations – 902 unique views
Applying agile methods to home and garden renovations! Learn a bit about how this luminary of the agile world has taken agile practices out of the software world and into the hardware world.

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Something a little different on Work-Life Balance

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The Juggler, collage with appropriated images, Deborah Hartmann, 1995 This is one of my favourite works – at the time, I was both working and studying the fine arts, a true juggling act. My boss was a believer in Balance – he sponsored my second show, and he bought this picture. Happily, he let me buy it back when they moved to a new space, after I’d moved to another city. Now, more than ever, I need its gentle reminder.

The juggler keeps a balance between work, play, obligation and passion.

If you’d like to use this image, to remind yourself or others to strive for a good balance, feel free to use it under the terms of this Creative Commons License. Enjoy 🙂

See the full image of The Juggler (collage with appropriated images, Deborah Hartmann, 1995).
Free for commercial use with attribution. Ask me about other uses.
Please note: Creative Commons License

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