There is a fantastic article about software productivity: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/HighNotes.html. I love Joel’s writing style, and this article in particular has important lessons for us all, regardless of our profession: find what you can be the best at, and do that. Interestingly enough this is part of the message of the book Good to Great but applied to a whole corporation. It also applies in the context of self-organizing teams: each individual should be able to find/learn in what way they can best contribute and do that more than they do other stuff.
The book “The Mythical Man-Month“* discusses some of the reasons that larger teams are inefficient. The main concern is with the number of possible connections between team members. If you have two team members, there’s only one channel of communication. However, if you have n team members, then you have n(n-1)/2 channels… which grows quickly (order n^2) as n becomes larger. If one is required to work with a large team, say more than 10 to 12 people, it becomes imperative to find ways to improve communication efficiency.
One of the best ways to do this is to use broadcast mode communications. Information radiators are a simple broadcast mode tool. In a subtler way, having the team co-located** also takes advantage of broadcast mode communication: if everyone can overhear all the conversations that are going on in a room, then people can tune in when they hear something of relevance.
It is important to note that there are several other forms of broadcast communication that are useful in certain circumstances: e-mail, blogs with RSS or Atom feeds, analog radio, television (if you can think of others, please let me know in the comments). These tend to be more useful for very large communities. Radio and television have severe limits: they are not easily used in a communal fashion.
Some forms of communication may seem to be broadcast, but in fact are not. A simple web site is not because it requires that people poll it to see if it has been updated. Conference calls are marginally broadcast in that while they are occuring, everyone participating hears everyone else. However, a conference call requires active synchronized attention on the part of all the participants.
**A search on dictionary.com for collocation indicates that three spellings are all correct: collocate, colocate, and co-locate, this latter spelling being the most common on the web.
Good stuff, in particular about lean, at Reforming Project Management. Applicable to agile work in many circumstances.
1. Iterative Delivery is a specific way of managing queues of work. As such, rote work is generally better served by other applications of queuing theory.
2. There is one universal condition under which iterative delivery is awkward, if not inadvisable. If one’s horizon of predictability is longer than the size of a work package by some substantial amount (e.g. 2:1 ratio), it can be more natural to use queuing theory and a pull system to flow work through the team. The actual ratio between the horizon of predictability and work package size that is used to switch over to a queue system must be determined empirically in your own circumstances. This empirical analysis can be done using a regular process reflection meeting.
From the Link: Calculating the True Price of Software by Robert Lefkowitz — Businesses have long viewed support and maintenance as essential components of software. Open source business models often focus on charging for support and customization. Is there an economic model that can demonstrate the true worth of a piece of software and the option for support, maintenance, and upgrades? Robert Lefkowitz argues that open source exposes the true value of software itself as, essentially, worth less in comparison to support and maintenance.
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference is a book that is about the way ideas, things and behaviors go from obscurity to ubiquity in a very short period. The basic model is that of an epidemic in which three types of factors contribute to quick dissemination: 1) the network of people involved including “connectors”, “mavens” or respected experts, and “salesmen”, 2) the ability of that which is spreading to stick around, the “stickiness factor”, and 3) the importance of small physical, mental and social factors, in creating a conducive environment. The Author, Malcolm Gladwell, includes some excerpts on his web site.
- One: The Three Rules of Epidemics
- Two: The Law of the Few: Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen
- Three: The Stickiness Factor: Sesame Street, Blue’s Clues, and the Educational Virus
- Four: The Power of Context (Part One): Bernie Goetz and the Rise and Fall of New York City Crime
- Five: The Power of Context (Part Two): The Magic Number One Hundred and Fifty
- Six: Case Study: Rumors, Sneakers, and the Power of Translation
- Seven: Case Study: Suicide, Smoking, and the Search for the Unsticky Cigarette
- Eight: Conclusion: Focus, Test, and Believe
- Afterword: Tipping Point Lessons from the Real World
This is a fascinating book, well written. Some of the anecdotes and “case studies” are mind-blowing. However, there is a bit of weakness in parts. In particular, the Afterword and the sections on The Power of Context are weakly put together – ideas do not flow well, or are too stream-of-consciousness. As well, the weight of evidence, while strong, is not totally convincing. That said, there are a couple of really fabulous stories.
One story that stands out is the study related to the “Good Samaritan”. In brief, researchers set up an experiment to test what factors influenced a person’s behavior when presented with someone obviously in need of help. At a seminary, the researchers had students prepare and deliver a brief talk on some topic. One of the topics given randomly to some of the students was the story of the Good Samaritan. The students were to take a short amount of time to prepare their talk and then immediately go to another building to deliver it. Planted by the researchers along the path to the second building was an actor made up to appear in a great deal of physical distress. As each student was sent out the door, the researchers would breifly comment either that the student was running a little early, or that they were late and needed to hurry to deliver their talk. The results were astounding: of those students who were told that they were late 90% ignored the person in distress regardless of the topic of their presentation, while 63% those with a few minutes to spare stopped to help (pages 163-165).
There are several ways in which this book is relevent to those of us practicing Agile Work and related methods. Most obviously, the ideas in The Tipping Point suggest some lines of action we can take to promote Agile: finding the connectors, mavens and salespeople, working to make Agile sticky, and making the environment hospitible to the spread of Agile. This applies both inside organizations and in the world at large.
In my own opinion, the drafters of the Agile Software Manifesto, either by design or otherwise, came up with an incredibly sticky term: Agile.
Finally, when coaching a team to adopt agile practices, it may be most important to focus on the Power of Context. Small suggestions, small physical changes, body language, all can have a large influence on the success or failure of an agile adoption. If a coach (Scrummaster/Team Lead/etc.) can find the connectors, mavens and salespeople in the sphere of influence of the team, and convince those people of the efficacy of Agile, then convincing the team will become that much easier.
AYE is a conference that’s designed to increase your effectiveness — in leadership, coaching, managing, influencing, and working in teams.
The AYE Conference is for people who work in arenas where problem solving is a key skill — environments such as systems development, product development, quality assurance, information technology infrastructure, customer service and consulting.
Agile is NOT about a logic tree, or a series of causal situations that can be expressed in a state table. Agile is about the management of the anomalous and the leveraging of failure into mind bending, industry shifting, success.
In the book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell, the author describes the idea of stickiness this way:
…the content of the message matters too. And the specific quality that a message needs to be successful is the quality of “stickiness.” Is the message – or the food, or the movie, or the product – memorable? Is it so memorable, in fact, that it can create change, that it can spur someone to action?
What is it about agile that is its essential stickiness? What aspect or aspects of agile are both memorable and easy to act upon?
In the agile software domain, two examples of stickiness stand out. The first is the Extreme Programming (XP) methodology. The name, as well as some of the more controversial practices of XP such as pair programming and evolving design combine to be memorable and relatively easy to try out. The second example of stickiness is the Agile Software Manifesto. In this manifesto, the four values seem to resonate strongly with IT professionals and software developers… so strongly that many encounter them and then become hooked on trying to implement agile software development in their own sphere of influence.
For agile work in general, the term “agile” itself has some stickiness. The implications of speed, flexibility, responding to change, lack of bureaucracy, and skill rather than chaos are all very integral parts of the word when it is applied to a method of working.
Sanjiv Augustine, with whom I have had the pleasure of working, has created a neat little web site about Agile Project Management, a very close relation to Agile Work. From the site:
Agile principles are also being applied very successfully to non-software development projects. In particular, the underlying values of Agile Project Management (APM) as laid out in the Declaration of Interdependence are being applied in many organizations large and small to deliver value – reductions in time to market, reduced waste; and increased efficiency, collaboration and customer satisfaction.
The main difference is the explicit role of a manager. Agile Work fits with Agile Project Management, but is more generic: any person or team can adopt and adapt Agile Work practices and principles regardless of the existence of management.
From the article:
The study found that agility — the ability of the workplace to adapt to change — has emerged as the single highest priority in the workplace industry. The agile workplace needs to be flexible enough to support many ways of working — no one size fits all — and its boundaries need to expand to support work at any time, in any place, with anyone.
The study also examined the effects of the agile workplace. It discovered, for example, that organizational structures tend to be more team-oriented and less hierarchical when it’s easier for workers to collaborate across the boundaries of time, space and geography.
Cause or effect? I suspect that there is a positive feedback cycle at work here. As teams and organizations adopt agile practices, they adapt their workspaces to be more suitable. As the workspaces change, the organization is able to more effectively adopt agile practices.
At a team level this is certainly true in my experience. At first, many organizations adopt agile practices without, for example, having the team sit all in the same room. As the team becomes more proficient at the agile practices, it becomes more and more of a burden that the team is not co-located. At some point, it becomes critical for the team to be co-located if they are to become any more efficient. The organization/team then bends itself to enabling co-location. Once the team has found itself a space and moved in, it reaches a new level of effectiveness… until the next environmental constraint is encountered.
I have not yet read many of the papers on the site, but Paradigm Shift International hosts a substantial collection of essays and links to other work on the topic of Enterprise Agility. The author of the essays, Rick Dove, has been writing on the topic since November 1994. As I read these essays, I will write up very brief reviews with comments about how his thinking relates to Agile Work.
I love Hal Macomber’s blog “Reforming Project Management”. And while he writes from a background of Lean Construction, his posts apply across other domains as well – I find they often resonate with the work I do in Agile software development. His site also includes articles and web conferences, and has an RSS feed so you don’t miss his short, salient posts. Have a look!
Reforming Project Management
Hal Macomber, Project Reformer, explores the evolving theory and practices of lean project delivery
Agile manufacturing: is the ability to accomplish rapid changeover between the manufacture of different assemblies. Rapid changeover is further defined as the ability to move from the assembly of one product to the assembly of a similar product with a minimum of change in tooling and software. Rapid changeover enables the production of small lot sizes, allowing for `just-in-time’ production.
The link is to a page with a list of links to other pages about agile manufacturing. Lots of good stuff to be found there.
Why smart people defend bad ideas by Scott Berkun looks at a fascinating, and fairly common, problem. Interestingly, this problem of smart people doing dumb things / defending bad ideas, is often related to perception. Agile principles and practices are about aligning perception among all the stakeholders, and in particular, between an execution team and the rest of the stakeholders. By aligning perception, the best environment is created for doing the right thing. In the case of a business, your project teams are the experts in “how” to do stuff, and your business teams are the experts in “why” to do stuff. This combination of “how” and “why” is done as efficiently as possible using agile work methods.