About People, Tools and Processes

Experienced, smart individuals who work together effectively will always perform better than junior untalented people thrown together at random. The experienced effective group will build its own tools and create its own processes. The random junior group will be unable to effectively utilize tools given to them, nor will they be able to effectively follow a process.

When a team needs improvement, don’t impose a process or throw tools at them. Instead, concentrate on improving the team and the individuals within it. Technical, personal and team training and coaching will always be time and money well-spent. Spending money on processes and tools before an excellent team is in place can be very risky and wasteful.

Individualism and competition have no place in an agile work environment. Instead, the agile environment supports and fosters teamwork, collaboration and consultation. In turn, teamwork, collaboration and consultation depend on trust and truthfulness.  “Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues.”

Nevertheless, processes and tools still have some importance. Great people with a great flexible process and great flexible tools will be hyper-productive. A junior group may need training on tools that will help them be more productive. Just be sure to never let processes and tools get in the way of the team.

In many ways, improving people is a sufficient practice for agile work. All the other principles, disciplines and practices would eventually arise out of this one practice. However, the depth of individual and group improvement needed for this practice to stand on its own is very great. Therefore we make the other principles, disciplines and practices explicit.


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Agile Corporate Culture Change

Corporate Culture Survival Guide BookIn “The Corporate Culture Survival Guide”, Edgar H. Schein describes a method for implementing culture change in corporations. He says:

As the change team works on the ideal state and the present state [of the corporate culture], it probably has to periodically redefine the change problem in terms of the gap or gaps identified. In other words, though the process is a set of steps undertaken in sequence, there are many feedback loops that force going back to earlier steps to guarantee clear thinking. . . .

As various gaps are identified in concrete form, it becomes apparent where cultural assumptions aid or hinder the change agenda. For example, having sales teams work together on big accounts may sound simple until it is discovered that the organization’s individualistic culture prevents changing the incentive system to a group-based compensation program. The change program then has to shift to examining how to change some of the individualistic assumptions; this might entail an entirely new change program not previously thought about at all.

In other words, expect and embrace changes in understanding brought about by learning from work performed. Deliver corporate culture change work iteratively. Plan corporate change adaptively.


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People are Creators

People are creators: we willfully change our environment, we imagine new things and through our actions, manifest those things in the world. All people do this. Human beings enjoy having an effect on their environment and seeing the results of that effect. We all have this ability. We all derive satisfaction from the exercise of this ability. And we can all learn to improve this ability.

In any endeavor we take on, we are attempting to create something new. A new system, a new object, a new pattern of behavior, or a new way of thinking. We are attempting to create change. This is one of three fundamental axioms of Agile Work.


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Management and Business as Sources of Waste

Waste can be of several different types. Independent of what the types of wastes are, they can also come from different sources. When attempting agile work, it is essential to identify the underlying causes or sources of waste. Once these sources are identified, efforts can be made to change them so that they cause less waste.

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Test-Driven Work

In an agile environment, all work done needs to be directly related to the needs of stakeholders. Stakeholders request or “pull” work from the team, and they do this by defining prioritized work packages. The team needs some way to know when they have completed a work package, so both work packages and iteration tasks need to have testable acceptance or success criteria. The team collaborates with the stakeholders to determine what needs to be done to successfully complete a work package.

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Making Friends Sure Beats Making Enemies

I heard a story about a situation where someone was refused career advancement because she had made an enemy a long time ago.

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The Qualities of an Ideal Test

These six qualities of tests describe how to make a test as effective and as useful as possible. The qualities are similar in style to the INVEST qualities of user stories – but they don’t form a nice acronym.

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Entry for Agile Work on Wikipedia

Can be found here. It is very bare-bones and will eventually be fleshed out. Presents the outline of the basic axioms, disciplines and practices of working agile. Please feel free to contribute.


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Iterative Delivery

Work can often be divided up so that the smaller pieces are valuable on their own. By dividing work this way, a team can deliver value incrementally. The team can choose a short period of time called an iteration and select a small amount of work to complete in that time. This work should be valuable on its own. For example, if a team is building something, then at the end of each iteration whatever is built is usable as it is. This means that each iteration includes all the planning and design as well as construction or creation necessary to deliver a final product or result.

For example, a volunteer group may desire to attract new members. A non-agile approach would have the group plan their membership campaign completely before actually executing on it. An agile approach using iterative delivery would have the group plan a small piece of work that will attract some small number of new members, execute it, and then start a new iteration. One iteration may cover the creation of and delivery of a door-to-door flyer in a neighborhood. Another iteration may cover the design, creation and publishing of a small advertisement in a local newspaper. Each iteration includes all the steps necessary to produce a furthering of the group’s goal of attracting new members.

In a business environment, iterative delivery allows for a much faster return on investment. The following diagram compares delivering value iteratively with a non-agile project delivery where results are delivered only at the end of the project:

Iteration Value Delivery

One can see clearly from the diagrams that the non-agile delivery of value at the end of a project is also extremely risk prone and suseptible to change. If the project is cancelled just before it delivers, then a fairly substantial amount of effort is wasted. In the agile iterative delivery situation, an endeavor can be cancelled at almost any time and it is likely that substantial value has already been delivered.

Even if the work cannot actually be delivered incrementally, it almost always can be divided in a way so that it can be inspected in stages. Either method of dividing work allows us to do the work in iterations.

Iterations are fixed and consistent units of time during which work is performed and between which planning, inspection and adjustment is done. The empowered team will decide on the length of iterations for their work. As a rule of thumb iterations should be shorter than the horizon of predictability. Generally, iterations should never be longer than one month, no matter what the endeavor.

At the end of each iteration, a demonstration of the work completed is given to the stakeholders in order to amplify learning and feedback. Between iterations, the stakeholders collaborate with the team to prioritize the remaining work and choose what will be worked on during the next iteration. During the iteration, the stakeholders need to be accessible for questions and clarifications.

Iterative and incremental delivery is used to allow for the early discovery and correction of mistakes and the incorporation of learning and feedback while at the same time delivering value early.


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Truck Factor

Truck Factor (definition): “The number of people on your team who have to be hit with a truck before the project is in serious trouble”

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What To Do With the Horizon of Predictability

In a previous entry about constant change, the idea of a horizon of predictability was introduced. This concept, along with the agile discipline of amplifying learning, suggest a strategy for addressing problems in a project.

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Self Organizing Systems FAQ

Just a link to the Self Organizing System FAQ – glanced through it, it looks amazing.


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Amplify Learning

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

 

Knowledge Volition 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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