Tag Archives: Discipline

Design Debt & UX Debt is Technical Debt

Hey! Let’s all work together, please.

Technical Debt is a term which captures sloppy code, unmaintainable architecture, clumsy user experience, cluttered visual layout, bloated feature-sets, etc.  My stance is that the term, Technical Debt, includes all the problems which occur when people defer professional discipline — regarding any/every technical practice such as product management, visual and UX design, or code.

I assert that the change we need to catalyze in the business community is larger than any one discipline and I am worried that I have seen an increase in blog articles in recent years about concepts like “Design Debt”, “UX Debt”, “Experience Debt” — these articles unfortunately are not helping and have served only to divide the community. They are divisive, not because we shouldn’t be discussing the discreet facets in which Technical Debt can manifest, but because authors often take a decidedly combative approach in their writing.  Take these phrases for example:

  • “Product Design Debt Versus Technical Debt” written by Andrew Chen
  • “User Experience Debt: Technical debt is only half the battle” written by Clinton Christian
  • “Design debt is more dangerous because…” written by James Engwall.

I agree with Andrew Chen that Product Design Debt is a problem — I just don’t like that he chose to impose a dichotomy where there is none.  Why must he argue one “versus” another?  Clinton Christian has implied that we’re in a “battle”.  James Engwall has compared the “danger” of Design Debt relative to Technical Debt.  These words are damaging, I argue, because they divert attention to symptoms and away from root causes.

The root cause of Technical Debt is that people forget this simple principle of the Agile Manifesto: “Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.”

The root solution to Technical Debt — all of its forms — is to help business leaders realize there is a difference between “incremental” development and “iterative” development so they may understand the ROI of refactoring.  No technical expert should ever have to justify the business case for feature-pruning, refreshing a user interface, refactoring code, prioritizing defects.  Every business leader should trust that their technical staff are disciplined and excellent.

Yes, please blog about UX Debt and Product Development Debt, etc.  But please do so in a way that encourages cohesion and unity within the Product Development community.

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Professionalism and Agility

Recently, I have been reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Fascinating reading. In this book, Mr. Gladwell chronicles some of the backgrounds of top professionals in artistic, sport and business endeavors. He tried to determine why these individuals/groups have accomplished so much in their lives and why they are in the top of their profession. Tiger Woods, Bill Gates and the Beatles are a few of the many professionals he examines. There should be no doubt in your mind that Tiger Woods is the top golfer, Bill Gates is a very successful entrepreneur, and the Beatles are a prolific band.

Please forgive me Mr. Galdwell if I summarize and distill your findings into a few short sentences. The answer is 10,000 hours. Each of these individuals or groups put 10,000 hours into their chosen profession before they arrived at the top. They viewed their professions differently, were passionate about what they did and behaved differently when learning their profession. I am not suggesting you need to work for 10,000 hours before you are successful. I am suggesting if you adopt the same methods they do, you will increase your chance of success.

As I observed these top professionals, I began to see similarities in a number of areas. They seem to share a comfort in their ability to grow and develop. I am not sure they set out to be the top but they certainly thought they would overcome what life threw at them and they trusted their own capacity to excel. I have found that giving yourself a steady message of what is possible helps you deal better with life and to overcome all the negatives around us. As an example, I seldom read the newspaper or watch the news, for this barrage of negative messages affects my outlook of what is possible. It seems to me that these top professionals insulate themselves from negative messages as well.

Next, they have incredible self discipline skills. They practice their profession with passion. They don’t believe in luck as much as they believe in hard work. This is where the 10,000 hours come into their development. They are constantly practicing to improve and master their profession. The top professionals did not achieve their position through luck, they attained the position through hard work.

To summarize, their methods are to be positive about your ability to cope with the future, give yourself positive messages, be disciplined about mastering your profession and be prepared to work hard to achieve the position of the professional.

There is a quote I like that was told to me by a businessperson from Jamaica. When asked his view of life, he said “I refuse to be held hostage by circumstances!” The top professionals choose their future and are agile as they cope with what life offers.

It seems to me another reason why these individuals are so successful is that they were very agile in their approach to life. They created their future rather than follow others. Through their own personal agility they made the right decisions to gain a top position in their chosen profession.

So the question I have been wrestling with is this: If they can be the top, then why not me? What is holding me back? Well, if you have ever spent time with me, or read any of my books, you would know the answer. The only thing holding me back is me. Can I get better? Yes, I can. Can I work harder? Yes, I can. Can I be more successful? Yes, I can. Can I be more agile in my approach to life and its challenges? Absolutely yes!

So how about you? In these troubled economic times, we have an opportunity to re-invent ourselves. The best way to survive and thrive from our current situation is to build the future we desire. Rather than expending a lot of energy worrying about your current situation, you should be taking that energy and using it to take charge of your future and build a new reality. Approach whatever life throws at you with agility. I believe success is a choice. Make good choices and everything is possible.

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Agile Benefits: Responding to Change

The fact that agile methods increase return on investment, accelerate learning, increase stakeholder satisfaction, and enable better control of work are all an interesting result of this final benefit: responding to change.

Continue reading Agile Benefits: Responding to Change

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Agile Benefits: Early Return on Investment

We wouldn’t do agile if we didn’t think it was better in some way. More and more, I am seeing the adoption of agile methods being driven by business management (rather then engineering). There is a clear reason for this: agile methods offer the possibility of early return on investment compared to other methods of working. This benefit is only one of five essential benefits of agile, but it is one of the most practical and easiest to measure. Therefore it is important to clearly understand how agile methods can deliver this benefit… and how they can fail to do so!

Continue reading Agile Benefits: Early Return on Investment

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Strategic Plan

Okay, this is only marginally related to agile, but I thought it was interesting nevertheless: How to Write a Detailed Strategic Plan. The main connection to Agile Work, is that you need to have a clear performance goal in mind towards which you are working. This may be a great way to clarify your thoughts about such a goal.

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First Interation Ending

My first iteration using Agile Work for my business development has come to a close. Here is what I did for a “demo” and retrospective.

Continue reading First Interation Ending

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My First Challenge

Wednesday is nearly done and I’m looking at my list of tasks and cringing! I’ve only done a few out of the forty for this week. What’s going on?!

Continue reading My First Challenge

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Technical Debt

Last night I was thinking more about the analogy of technical debt. In this analogy, design and quality flaws in a team’s work become a “debt” that must eventually be paid back. This analogy is fantastic because it can be taken just a little bit further to understand just how bad defects are…

Continue reading Technical Debt

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How to Avoid Context Switching

Given the huge interest in the article by Dmitri Zimine about context switching, and despite a couple of good articles about how to determine iteration length, there has been no empirical method described, only reasoning processes. This article describes a simple method to quickly determine iteration length by experimental means.

Continue reading How to Avoid Context Switching

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The Case for Context Switching

Recently, Dimitri Zimine wrote an excellent little story about context switching. Joel Spolsky writes in “From the ‘You Call this Agile’ Department“:

Dmitri is only looking at one side of the cost/benefit equation. He’s laid out a very convincing argument why Sarah should not interrupt her carefully planned two week iteration, but he hasn’t even mentioned arguments for the other side: the important sale that will be lost.

Okay… I’ll bite.

Continue reading The Case for Context Switching

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Agile Team Launch – a Howto Guide for Managers

Starting off on the right foot is just as important as it ever was. However, with Agile Work, this takes on a significantly different meaning than it does in other methods as the emphasis of what is “right” is also significantly different. This is a short guide on how to successfully launch a team using Agile Work.

Continue reading Agile Team Launch – a Howto Guide for Managers

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The Seven Core Practices of Agile Work

Agile Work consists of seven core practices. These practices form a solid starting point for any person, team or community that wishes to follow the Middle Way to Excellence.

Self-Organizing Team

Any group of people that wish to be an Agile Team need to take the initiative to determine for themselves how they are going to work (process) and how they are going to do the work (product). The term “team” really applies quite broadly to any size group of people that are working together towards a common goal.

Teams go through stages of development as they perform their work. The most important result of team development is the team itself, and not the specific skills and abilities that the individuals learn.

If the team is part of a broader organization, that organization must give the team the authority, space and safety to learn to be self-organizing. The organization’s leadership is responsible for determining the “why?”, some constraints on “how?”, and then letting the team respond to the need as best as it can.

Also Known As: Whole Team (Extreme Programming), Cross-Functional Team (business management).

Deliver Frequently

Agile Work uses short fixed periods of time to frame the process of delivering something of value. Each of these iterations or timeboxes is structured so that the team or group actually finishes a piece of work and delivers it to stakeholders. Then, the team builds on what has previously been delivered to do it again in the same short amount of time.

The sooner that valuable results can be delivered, the more value can be obtained from those results. This extra value is derived from opportunities such as earlier sales, competitive advantage, early feedback, and risk reduction.

There is an explicit tradeoff: the shorter the time to delivery, the smaller the piece of value will be. But, like investing in one’s retirement account, the earlier you start, even with small amounts of money, the better off you are in the long run.

Also Known As: Sprint (Scrum), Iteration (Extreme Programming), Timeboxing (generic), Time Value of Money (accounting).

Plan to Learn

Every type of work is governed by a Horizon of Predictability. Any plan that extends beyond this horizon of predictability is bound to fail. Agile work uses an explicit learning cycle tied in with the planning of work to accomodate this inevitable change.

First, a goal is required. This goal can be long-term. Teams using Agile Work then create a queue of work items to be done in order to reach this goal. Each iteration, some of these items are selected, finished and then the queue is adjusted. The changes in the work queue are based on external factors, and learning that the team does as it goes.

One of the most effective methods for the team to learn about how it is doing its work is the retrospective. After each delivery of results, the team holds a retrospective to examine how it can improve.

Also Known As: Inspect and Adapt (Scrum), Kaizen (Lean), Adaptive Planning (generic).

Communicate Powerfully

A team needs to have effective means of communicating, both amongst team members and also to stakeholders. To Communicate Powerfully, a team needs to prefer in-person communication over distributed communication. Synchronous over asynchronous communication. High-bandwidth over low-bandwidth communication. Multi-mode communication over single-mode communication.

The results of failing to communicate powerfully include wasted time for waiting, misunderstandings leading to defects or re-work, slower development of trust, slower team-building, and ultimately a failure to align perceptions of reality.

The single most effective means to communicate powerfully, is to put all the team in a room together where they can do their work, every day for the majority of the work time.

Some types of work do not lend themselves to this approach (e.g. creating a documentary video), but every effort should be made to improve communication.

Also Known As: Visibility (Scrum), Whole Team and Team Room (Extreme Programming), War Room (business management).

Test Everything

Defects are one of the most critical types of waste to eliminate from a work process. By testing everything, by driving all the work of a team by creating test cases to check the work, a team can reach extremely high quality levels. This ability to prevent defects is so important that only an executive level decision should be considered sufficient to allow defects into a work process. Quality is not negotiable.

In Agile Work, removing a defect is the only type of work that takes priority over any new features/functionality/production. If the end result desired is to maximize value, then removing defects is an important means to that end.

A team has an ethical duty to discover new ways to effectively test their work. This can be through the use of tools, various feedback mechanisms, automation, and good old problem-solving abilities.

Also Known As: Canary in the Coal Mine (Scrum), Test-Driven Development (Extreme Programming), Defects per Opportunities (Six-Sigma).

Measure Value

Since Reality is Perceived, it is important for an agile team and organization to have a clear method of describing and perceiving what is important for the organization. Measuring value is a critical method for describing and perceiving what is important.

A single metric can be used to drive all the measurement and goal-setting and rewards in an organization. All other measurements are secondary and must be treated as such: limited in use and temporary.

There are many things which are easier to measure than value. It is often easy to measure cost, or hours worked, or defects found, or estimate vs. actual… etc. However, all of these other measurements either implicitly or explicitly drive sub-optimal behavior.

Also Known As: Measuring Results (Scrum), ROI (business management), Economic Driver (Good to Great), Running Tested Features (Extreme Programming).

Clear the Path

Everyone in an organization using Agile Work takes responsibility for clearing the path, removing the obstacles that prevent work from being done effectively. Clearing the Path doesn’t just mean expedient, quick fixes to problems, but rather taking the time to look at an obstacle and do the best possible to remove it permanently so that it never blocks the path again.

In the Agile Work method, the Process Facilitator is the person who is responsible for tracking obstacles and ensuring that the path is cleared. To do this, the Process Facilitator maintains a Record of Obstacles.

Clearing the Path is sometimes painful work that exposes things we would rather not deal with. As a result, it is critical that people build their capacity for truthfulness and work to develop trust amongst each other. Building a capacity for truthfulness is not something that can be done by using an explicit process.

Also Known As: Removing Obstacles (Scrum), Stopping the Line (Lean).


Remember also, that these practices must always be viewed and implemented in the context of the Agile Axioms. These axioms provide a check to ensure that the practices are not being applied blindly, but rather applied appropriately to the given situation.

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How the Process Facilitator can Help the Team Handle Out-of-Scope Work Requests

Sometimes an agile team is innundated (or maybe just slightly distracted) by requests for individuals on the team to do work for people or groups outside the team’s official stakeholders. This can happen, for example, in a corporate culture that promotes the exchange of favors. This past weekend at our Agile Coach’s gathering, Deborah Hartmann shared her method of detecting, exposing and discouraging this unofficial work.

Continue reading How the Process Facilitator can Help the Team Handle Out-of-Scope Work Requests

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Agile or Not Agile?

Every once in a while the del.icio.us tag for Agile turns up something really interesting. This evening, I found this article about the ongoing use of the term “Agile”. The article is brief and a little weak, but it brings up a concern that is always niggling in the back of my mind. Interestingly enough, a good friend of mine, Christian Gruber, emailed me another web page of similar import…

Continue reading Agile or Not Agile?

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Work Item Backlogs as Queues – Agile vs. Lean

A recent discussion on the Scrum Development list (Start of Discussion) provides a good follow up to my parting words in The Art of Obstacle Removal about agile practices themselves becoming obstacles. I have excerpted a small amount of the discussion and added my own comments here.

Continue reading Work Item Backlogs as Queues – Agile vs. Lean

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