Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Agile 2009 - Day 2 - 25th August - Top 10 tips to Agile Coaches

After Alistair's Keynote, I went to Rachel Davies & Liz Sedley's "Top ten tips to Agile Coaches".

Top ten tips to Agile Coaches - Rachel Davies & Liz Sedley

The session was mainly based on a summary from what Rachel and Liz learned through their experience and while writing their book. I will just write down the tips with my small notes and let you think about them.

10. Get Introduced
Who are you? What do you do? What is your goal?
Explain your point of view to the team you will (or are) coaching and let them understand you are not there to be their boss.

9. Agile is NOT a religion
Spend time and effort to listen and understand the team and their environment. It might very well happen that agility does not fit their situation. Be sensitive to their context.

8. Show respect
Always trust (deeply in your heart, not just for show) that people did their best since the beginning and try to understand why they got in the situation they are in.
Discover the differences between people and use NAMES ("the BA said that the DB guy couldn't do it" versus "Jenny told me that Josh was having troubles to implement it").
Ask what they think about the issues and was suggestions they have and LISTEN to their answer. Pay attention and try to understand. Work with them over those suggestions.

7. Step back to see the big picture
Don't try to fix people. Try to fix the pressures and obligations those people suffer from so that they can do their job decently.

6. Ask questions to spark ideas
Questions make people explain ideas and understand them. It also makes them create arguments and counter-arguments for their ideas. If you can make their ideas work, it will help the team adopt the movement and carry on.
But be careful: ask questions to other people's ideas, not your own. Do not try to force your ideas through those questions.

5. Take time out to reflect
Don't let pressure force your answers. Your calm attitude will relax the team and make them feel more confident. Ask help to other agile coaches/people if you can't think of a good behavior. You don't have to know it all.

4. Introduce the Elephant
Show off the problem that everyone know exists but is silent about it. But don't put it as a pressure. Give the team a chance to suggest solutions, ideas, root causes, etc.

3. Make changes as an experiment
Go slowly. Try some idea and be ready to remove it if it doesn't work. Don't stick to something that won't work just because you think the team should make it work. Try something else and try it again later, in another context. Give the team chances to suggest those changes and experiment with their ideas.

2. Go with the energy of the team
Solve the problem the team wants to solve. Eventually they will address the problems you consider important.

1. Have courage in your convictions
Don't doubt your capacities, the problem is not easy and you can't let people see you doubt yourself. It will discourage them and make them lose confidence in you. Believe you can make a difference or you really won't.

After the talk, they asked for each table of participants to add their own tips. A few of them were really good but, unfortunately, I couldn't write them down. Those are obviously good ideas and NOT religions either. Any problem can have its context in which any of those tips can fail. But in general, thinking about them can only help you. Do you have any tip you feel should enter that list? Please post it as a comment. I've attached their slides although they don't add so much.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Agile 2009 - Day 2 - 25th August - Alistair's Keynote

Tuesday at Agile 2009 started well. The conference provided a very good breakfast with chocolate croissant (I love those), coffee, tea, fruits, juices and different kinds of breads.

From there, everyone went to the Grand Ballroom to watch Alistair Cockburn's Keynote. I won't need to write a full description of Alistair's talk because InfoQ just published the full video of it. So it will be a bit closer to my impressions.

First thing I need to mention is that once Ahmed Sidky (Agile 2009 Program Chair) introduced Alistair, we had an amazing performance of Wind's Song Flutes playing the one Scottish music used in all movies and Alistair was following silently behind. Very impressive entrance. Alistair then explained why wind's song flutes players always walk when playing: "They are running away from the sound".

Past the fun, came the sadness. Alistair started his talk reciting an adapted version of the funeral oration from Shakespeare's Julius Cesar to Agile Software Development. A very impressive performance. It was the introduction to say not that Agile was dead but that it was melted. He compared Agile to an iceberg in the ocean (software development) and said that before, Agile was something that people noticed because it was outstanding from the rest. Nowadays, the iceberg has melted. It is not gone. But it is now part of the ocean. It is now something that is accepted by most people.

He then moved on to his viewing of software development you might know if you read any of his Crystal books or articles or if you attended any session with him.
He defines Developing Software as
Making Ideas Concrete
in an Economic Context

He then showed this image that I particularly like:
He explains that Software Development can be considered a finite, goal-directed and cooperative game while building IT Systems is open-ended. This means that when you are developing software you should work in a team to reach a goal and you are done when you make the software achieve that goal. On the other hand, when you think about the whole system, you want to work cooperatively in an open ended game. Meaning you are always in a dilemma between delivering the software and setting up for the next software (or game).
He says also that this game is consisted of 3 possible moves: Invent, Decide, Communicate. With those moves you have to deliver the software and be slightly prepared for the next game.

He then went on to more traditional arguments he uses for Crystal. Team size and criticality of the project are key to decide what practices you should apply. He also mentioned the quality of communication between people and the fact that most means are much more effective than paper to communicate so people should really think about different forms of documentation.

He also talked a little about the Craft focus that is being given to software development lately. He pointed that thinking of any activity as a craft helps you identify the skills required to perform it and the medium available to achieve the goal. Moved a little to the User Experience entrance in the process of software development and how things changed or should change to be more effective in overall.

It was a very good talk. A bit repetitive for those that already attended any session with Alistair but still very a great talk. I definitively recommend you see the whole video from InfoQ and feel free to post comments to start a discussion on any of those subjects.

Next post will present Rachel Davies and Liz Sedley's "Top ten tips to Agile Coaches".

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Agile 2009 - Day 1 - 24th August - Software Quality

On the second slot of monday afternoon, I attended Jim Highsmith's "Zen and the Art of Software Quality". I missed the first 10 minutes but I don't think it was a big deal.

Zen and the Art of Software Quality - Jim Highsmith

When I arrived, Jim was talking about why we should not use the Standish Group Measures to evaluate software development success. The main reason he points is that the outcomes measured are outdated. They focus on projects that are on plan, on schedule and on features.
Meaning that a project that is delayed of a year but has a satisfied customer is a failed project.
A project that achieves an unexpected goal is a failure.
A project that delivers less feature in less time and stops is a failure.
Those are wrong concepts. Canceling a project soon enough is NOT a failure. It is a great success from an agile perspective. It means the client didn't waste his money for several months (or years) until he discovered he couldn't afford (or do) what he wanted to.

One of Jim's sentence that I liked is:
"Target high and miss
might be better than
target low and hit!"
What good is it to estimate every story as an epic story and manage to do it in 6 iterations while you could break the story in smaller ones and deliver 80% of the value in 1 iteration?

His suggestion from this scenario is that we shouldn't think about the old Cost-Scope-Schedule triangle as our variables in software development. That waterfall iron triangle should be replaced by an Agile Iron Triangle constituted of Value-Quality-Constraint where Constraint would be Cost-Scope-Schedule.
His idea is that those are constraints to software development. Variables related that fit in a greater picture. Our questioning should now be something like "how much value can we deliver given a certain level of quality and our constraints".

Jim explained then that there are "two kinds of Quality". An iextrinsic quality that is related to the quality imbued from value a given software has for a customer and an intrinsic quality. The intrinsic quality is closer to what we consider quality nowadays. It is the way the software is done. It is its bugless property, its simplicity, etc.
Separating those qualities help us understand something we already know. It is useless to produce the perfect software that solves nobody's problem.

Jim then defends what I understand as "fail fast". He argued that there is some point where cost outcomes value and that, at this point, the software development should be stopped. If we can pinpoint this moment, it is the best way to be have a good performance. If a feature is not worth being paid for, it should not be implemented. If no feature is worth being paid for then the development should stop. And it is NO failure if that happens in the middle of the original schedule. Quite the opposite!

Jim finished his talk mentioning the Parking Lot Diagram I reproduced below. The diagram very well known in FDD communities focuses on feature releasables. Meaning that, in opposition to the Gantt shart that focuses on tasks, the Parking Lot shows the features that can be released.

That was it. I've uploaded Jim's hand outs for more details.
What I learned:
Revisiting some ideas that were pretty obvious can help refocus on what really matters. It is good to listen to the same ideas without having a brand (XP, Scrum, FDD, etc.).

Please leave your comments and ideas regarding this talk.
Next post will be about Alistair Cockburn's keynote.

Agile 2009 - Day 1 - 24th August - Agile Coaches

During Monday morning, I was working as a volunteer at Registration. This wasn't as fun as bag stuffing for sure. No big innovations there. Just talking to people, handing bags and shirts. The only ironical part was to received about 6 new items we had to stuff into the bags DURING the morning.

For the afternoon, I attended two talks. The one I will be writing about in this post and Jim Highsmith's one about software quality that will be the focus of my next post.

"What Do Agile Coaches Do?" by Liz Sedley and Rachel Davies

Liz and Rachel started explaining that the session was based on the work they had done to their new book "Agile Coaching". They also pointed out the session was a workshop and that it was aimed to Carlos - internal coach (see the conference personas webpage to a better understanding).

Their first point was that coaching a software development team was not exactly like coaching a soccer team although the name is the same. It led them towards J. Richard Hackman's work. According to Liz and Rachel, Hackman's book named "Leading Teams - Setting the stage for great performances" out stands from other leadership books because it focuses in teams rather than individuals.
From this, they pointed out a couple things that are NOT coaching namely doing someone else's job and directing the team. In opposite, they explained that a coach should provide feedback, explain dynamics, provide suggestions and become useless (they called it: being transitional).
They explained Hackman divides possible coaching interventions in three groups:
  • Motivational intervention: one that tries to increase the effort of the team
  • Consultative intervention: one that attempts to improve the quality of the process
  • Educational intervention: one that aims to improve learning
This means that on a Motivational intervention, a coach would take an attitude that would try to have the team (or a member of the team) commit more with the work. That can be achieve by giving her more responsibility regarding that activities or making turning her into the reference or any other thing that would result in an increase of commitment.
On an Educational intervention, the coach would run an activity that could allow the team to a better understanding of what is happening and why. Retrospectives usually fit very well in Educational interventions because they make the team think about their situation and look for improvements therefore increasing their learning.
A Consultative intervention is one that the coach will apply to adjust the situation to a better one. This is the easiest intervention to make since it only requires that the coach have a suggestion of improvement and use its experience to solve the issue. The problem with it is that it does not helps the team become independent since the knowledge about why applying that solution stays with the coach. On the other hand, this is a very good solution when dealing with a team of novice people (or Shu people - see the Dreyfus learning model or the Shu-Ha-Ri model - I will post about both since there were talks about both) because it will show them one technique.

This introduction led us to the workshop itself. The room was split into groups of 3 or 4 people and Rachel and Liz handed over several Scenarios of problems in a team for each group so that the group would suggestion some coaching interventions to each scenario. The activity itself was quite interesting but, as most attendees in the session, I felt just having the division of interventions in 3 kinds was worth the session.
Most of the groups reached a fourth division that could be called "Introspection" that consists in any activity that might help understand the problem. Introspection interventions usually lead to Educational interventions from the own team opposed to Educational interventions from the coach (which might have run the Introspection intervention unknowing what the appropriate intervention was). One can argue that Introspection interventions are always performed before any other and therefore can be considered part of each intervention but the point here is that an introspection intervention may result in different sorts of intervention even if the problem is the same.

More information can be found in Liz and Rachel's slides.

I learned that classifying your actions according to Hackman's suggestion is very useful to self-analysis and to moderate the kind of actions you take. It can also help sharing experience between coaches and can probably be used in some behavioral studies related to cultural differences.

The next post will regard Jim Highsmith's "Zen and the Art of Software Quality" presentation. Please leave your comments here and there.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Agile 2009 - Day 0 - 23th August - Bag Stuffing

As a volunteer at Agile 2009, you get to attend the conference without having to pay the conference fee (which is NOT cheap) in exchange for some (~20h) of your working time. Most of this time is spend by helping out during sessions or just in crowd control during the big events.
However, there is also some back stage work to be done BEFORE the conference really starts. That is Bag Stuffing.

Bag Stuffing is an activity that consists in generating enough conference bags with all sponsor materials within each bag. This year the volunteers received a lot of help from various people and we had the honor of having some Kanban people to help us improve our process as we went on.

Our first job was to gather boxes together and discover what should go into each bag. It wasn't the easiest job on Earth since nobody knew the content of the boxes nor if we were missing something or not. It ended up that we had 3 teams. One building up a sample bag with every item they got and counting and checking that every sponsor had their items listed. One building up a redundant bag that would verify that the first team got everything and that we could point each items' boxes. A last team that placed the boxes in a line with a sample item on the top of them so that we could easily identify the piles.

This job got done pretty quickly and very soon we had a list of available items and discovered some items were missing and got the news of a few new items arriving. Having included those new items and accounted for the missing ones, the group got split into two groups that would assemble the bags.

The process started with 7 people on each group following different ideas:
  1. A production line where the bags would flow from one side to the other being moved by the people assigned to stuff in certain items.
  2. A pick-up line where the people would flow from one side of table to the other filling a complete bag each item at a time.
The two groups would then be measured (number of complete bags in 15 minutes) and compared after 4 measures. At each two measures, the teams would have 5 minutes to discuss their process and try to improve it. Just before that, the whole group would get together and talk about the situation.

As expected, the team 1 was faster on the first iterations but soon team 2 managed to be more productive. Both team identified a problem with the table's height. However, for security reasons, none was allowed to make the tables higher which resulted in some fatigue to everyone. After the first hour, we had discovered the bottleneck for both teams and, surprise, it wasn't within the teams bounds. The greatest issue was to get the cars full of bags to the upper level and unload them into the registration area. So some people got assigned to that task and some adjustments were made.

Team 1 could easily fit the reduction of people by just assigning more items to each person down the line (we already had extra persons in the line). It even managed to have a person (me) dedicated to refilling supplies (lots of times for both teams).
Team 2 suffered the loss a bit more since each person less in the team meant a reasonable amount of bags that could flow. But they came out with an improvement to reduce their path. Instead of laying out the tables in a line, they moved them to be a U shape. This way, their path got considerably shorter.

It turned out that this was became a problem because the bottleneck would still be getting the bags upstairs but, this time, because the elevators were not as responsive as possible. So Team 1 adapted to this. People would take a small break every time a car got filled up and so they could rest from fatigue.
Team 2 also enjoyed it because they were moving around so much (having to go back all the table to restart filling a bag) that they were getting pretty tired.

By the end of the morning, both teams had completed around 800 bags and most people left for lunch. I wasn't at the afternoon's work but heard some good improvements from them. The team that picked up line 1 mainly followed what was already being done since it was reasonably simple and effective.
On the other hand, team 2 identified some very nice improvements. They laid out the tables in the shape of a star (like to image on the right). This way, they managed to dramatically reduce the length of their path to fill a bag, have a quick an big stock of materials and improve their speed. It is also fair to say that it was only possible because they had only 4 people working (they were missing some volunteers).

In any way, the results were amazing. About 1400 bags were filled and unloaded from 8am to 3pm by some 20 people in the morning shift and about 12 in the noon shift. Great work from everyone and good lessons from applying Kanban techniques.