Archive for September, 2011

Indoctrination is the process of inculcating ideasattitudescognitive strategies or a professional methodology (see doctrine). It is often distinguished from education by the fact that the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned.


Do we teach through repeated instructions? Yes, I see this often. Inculcating check.

Do we present a vision of a practice or approach being positive or negative? Agile manifesto – yes, Waterfall negatively viewed. Attitudes check.

Metacognition is defined as “cognition about cognition”, or “knowing about knowing.” It can take many forms; it includes knowledge about when and how to use particular strategies for learning or for problem solving.

Do we use cognitive strategies? Yes. Are we cognizant of them? Yes.

Do we often treat ourselves as a professional methodology? Yes.

The term indoctrination came to have awkward connotations during the 20th century, but it is necessary to retain it, in order to distinguish it from education. In education one is asked to stand as much as possible outside the body of accumulated knowledge and analyze it oneself. In indoctrination on the other hand, one stands within the body of knowledge and absorbs its teachings without critical thought.

Are we educating or teaching and allowing critical thought? This is the big question and the key differentiator.

Firstly it depends on the trainer and the coach. I would say most professional Agile training I have seen (and yes I would include CSM in this) don’t allow critical thought. The exception to this rule is what I have heard of Alistair Cockburn’s advanced training which begins with a critical look of Agile and positive look on Waterfall.

So what about the coaches? Most coaches I know would respond positively to critical thought. But do we actively enable it? I am not so sure we do a good job of this.

Which practices have empirical proof that they are beneficial? Ten years and how much data do we have about whether pair programming is really better? Yes I know the point is always made ‘but no one will pay for the same software to be created twice’ – but have we tried to get a real answer on this? Scientists study all sorts of things – why is it that Agile practices and techniques have such little data behind them? No one is willing to pay for it (except maybe Scott Ambler). Maybe as a community we should start working together and get some real information behind us so that we can respond strongly against critical thought.

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Do you know what the difference is between an epic, a theme, a user story, a feature and a MMF is? Unsure, Confused, What The?

I am willing to stand up and say that I have no idea anymore. I have just spent over an hour looking over books, presentations and blogs to try and find the answer and the result – there is no consistent answer!

Is it any wonder that myself and my peers regularly disagree on the decomposition of these when the community itself at large seems to contradict itself so much?

Lets start with the most academic stance. Mike Cohn, writer of the book User Stories Applied and Agile Estimating and Planning. If a clear stance is to be found it would be here.

Mike writes (slide 19) that the decomposition is Epic -> Theme -> User Story. It’s a pyramid. It’s pretty damn clear.

Then you can go to any dozen blogs that argue that it is Theme -> Epic -> User Story.

The mystery deepens when you add in Features and Minimal Marketable Features. Then it grows even further with the advent of Lean using Minimum Viable Product (MVP), Minimum Viable Feature (MVF) or Minimum Marketable Release (MMR) instead of MMF.

There are tonnes of blogs, most saying that MMFs are actually an alternate to Epics; others say that it goes MMF -> Epic and then the third variant is Epic -> MMF. If you add Themes back into the equation it just becomes a big pile of… umm… confusing stuff. Then there is the ‘Are all features MMF’s?’ debate. Is one a subset or a grouping of the other.

Oh and on top of that we see the Kanban community using ‘goal’ and ‘objective’ and starting saying things like
Goal -> Objective -> Epic -> MMF -> Story -> Task.

Then we have some calling them Story and others User Story.


Just as the ideal size of a User Story has changed over the years it seems that the way in which we decompose a Story has also changed (probably as a result of the ideal story size change and consequently having to split them down).

Have you ever tried to speak to a Product Owner and try to explain these weird terms to them. They look at you as if you are from Mars; and I feel rightly so.

Instead of confusing them with terms like ‘Epic’, ‘MMF’ and ‘Story’ this is the parable I tell them:

We are going to look at your problem that you approached us with. We are then going to spend some time understanding all of the related problems and find the root cause. Then we are going to discuss your high level needs and break then down, bit by bit until they reach a size that we feel we could build to in around three days (and link them back to the root causes).

We don’t have to build the whole high level need at once. We can do it bit by bit ensuring that the stuff (technical term) that we build is worth the most value. When you think you have enough stuff to push out to the end user then we will release it even if the complete high level need has not yet been fully realised.

If this all doesn’t make sense then think of it in terms of a library.

I then tailor the library description to the depth of the project they are working on – ie it might be a program or a project with many phases, it really doesn’t matter, what matters is that the size is ever decreasing:

Library -> [Categories] -> [Series] -> Book -> [Part] -> Chapter -> Paragraph -> Sentence -> Word

A release is a book because more commonly than not  you cannot sell a chapter or a paragraph, but you can sell a book or a series.

An organisation’s portfolio would normally be the library.

The story for me is the sentence. You can test a sentence, test that grammatically it fits together, but additionally you can test the components within it (words) for errors (spelling mistakes).

I realise that I am probably going to make the confusion even worse by putting this out there, but until there is a bit more clarification from the heresiarchs then I am sticking with this.

UPDATE: Subsequent to when this post was written Mike Cohn and Kent Back came out and clarified their personal stance of Feature -> Epic -> Story from a decompositional perspective. I would say as a community we should try to follow this lead and see if it over time solves some of the confusion.

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It was with some trepidation that I took at look at Seth Godin’s Tribes book. This was primarily due to mixed reports from friends whom had read it. It was so mixed that it  was pretty evenly split down the middle 50% loved it, 50% hated it. Those that didn’t rate it felt that it was overly repetitive.

My immediate thoughts – I LOVED IT! This is probably saying something seeming how cynical or pessimistic I can be about books, blogs, presentations, etc. Without a doubt I would recommend this to others for a read; it is nice and short, about 150 pages and half the size of a normal book. I wouldn’t say it’s insights are anything new for me, but there was a lot of strong re-affirmations to how I feel on a number of subjects. The biggest thing for me about this book was that I felt motivated as a result of it, although my passions are already quite strong, after this book they felt on fire.

Here is my key summary of the book:

  1. Heretics, innovators, revolutionists. Whatever you want to call them it is about not settling for mediocrity and instead striving forward towards an area that you are passionate about.
  2. Those that inspire others with their passion become leaders.
  3. Do something! Take control of your life and join or lead a tribe now.
  4. Sheepwalking is a beautiful term for those who are just following the pack and not asking questions. It’s almost as bad as sleepwalking through our working lives.
  5. Seth Godin’s movement is to make movements. Eat more prunes.
After reading this book and talking to colleagues about it I remarked how I had always felt comfortable with the revolutionist tag but was now on my way being comfortable with the heretic tag. My colleague’s response – ‘You aren’t a heretic, you are a heresiarch.’ I would probably rank the likes of Alistair Cockburn, Jeff Sutherland, Martin Fowler, etc with that tag rather than myself as they started the revolution. For me, it is about evolving the revolution to the next phase.
Some key quotes and thoughts on them:
Some tribes are stuck. They embrace the status quo and drown out any tribe member who dares to question authority and the accepted order.

Is Agile stuck? Are the heresiarch’s beyond reproach and questioning?

Everyone’s a leader.

Hmm we aren’t there yet – but everyone should be a leader of themselves. Do something you are passionate about!

Leadership is about creating change that you believe in. Leaders have followers, managers have employees.


Organisations don’t have to be factories, not anymore. Factories are easy to outsource.

This is where our real value add is. As work gets continually outsourced we need to be innovative as thought leaders to continue to preserve our way of life.

When a CEO takes the spoils of royalty and starts acting like a selfish monarch, he’s no longer leading. He’s taking.

Don’t get me started on this one. I just want to re-affirm that I believe this strongly.

It’s easy to underestimate how difficult it is for someone to become curious. For seven, ten, or even fifteen years of school, you are required to not be curious. Over and over and over again, the curious are punished.

Wow. I say this regularly and it always felt like no one understood this. Maybe Seth is a secret twin? It’s not just the curious, we are molded to do exactly as we are told by parents and teachers, to comply. Why is it so hard to say ‘no’ to your boss for that new piece of work when you are already 150% overloaded – it is because of many years of conditioning as a child to not say no to a perceived position of power?

Heretics don’t settle. Managers who are stuck, who compromise to keep things quiet, who battle the bureaucracy every day – they’re the ones who settle.

Around about this time in the book I began to wonder – Do you have time to be a heretic? It felt like the book was pushing everyone in the direction of getting their word out. That could be internally within the organisation or wider on the internet. The internet approach would take time out of your busy personal life. If it is something you can spare and have the passion for it will be an easy choice. For those focussed on many things, juggling many activities including a family this will be harder. You might have to drop a hobby, but then again, your hobby should be an area of your key passion.

The new leverage available to everyone means that the status quo is more threatened than ever, and each employee now has the responsibility to change the rules before someone else does.

Innovate quickly, fail quickly, adapt quickly.

Faith is the unstated component in the work of a leader and is underrated.

The book makes a point that religion = rules and  faith = culture. Your tribe is your religion. Your faith is in your tribe’s values. I have heard Agile evangelists often called ‘The Agile Jihad”. It made me think about the training we provide and how from an outsider’s perspective it does look like an attempt to ‘convert’ others to our religion. For my two cents my religion isn’t necessarily Agile, it is a religion of embracing new ideas and change, of keeping people first.

It’s okay to abandon the big, established, stuck tribe. It’s okay to say to them, “You’re not going where I need to go, and there’s no way I’m going to persuade all of you to follow me.”

And lastly,

If you hear my idea but don’t believe it, that’s not your fault; its mine.

If you see my new product but don’t buy it, that’s my failure, not yours.

If you attend my presentation and you’re bored, that’s my fault too.

If no one cares, then you have no tribe. If you don’t care – really and deeply care – then you can’t possibly lead.

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You’ve got mail!

Is e-mail ruining our agility? Should more effort be taken to restrict it or dare to even ban it within the workplace?

Lets take a look at e-mail and how agile or lean it is vs not.

  1. ANTI – For team members who are located in the same building, using e-mails is not encouraging face to face communication and we all know that face to face communication is king.
  2. ANTI – For team members that are distributed using e-mails is not encouraging video or even telephone communication which is certainly better than the written form.
  3. ANTI – Safety concerns. I recently got told by someone not to send them an email (or that they wouldn’t want to send one to me) that had the slightest declaration of a cultural issue in their department for fear that it would be found and used against them. Similarly I have heard of people keeping mountains of emails to create of documented trail of promises/conversations in case their boss points the blame finger towards them.
  4. ANTI – E-mails create invisible wait zones. Reply’s are rarely immediate, they get forgotten scrolled past the visible area of the screen; there is limited visibility of where your request is response is in the recipients backlog.
  5. ANTI – Context switching. ‘You have mail’ pop up boxes creates immediate context switching in our brains. We see that box pop up and think ‘Hmm that could be interesting!’ tab out of what you were doing to seek the new. We have just re-focused our brains and consequently incurred productivity loss.
  6. MID – Transparency. This one could go either way. In some cases being left out of the right email group or not being thought of in the first place means potentially important information doesn’t cross your path. Alternatively mass group e-mail are way more efficient than old school pamphlet newsletters or internal mail for information. There are better ways to mass communicate – do a webcast or a blog that allows for a feedback loop or better yet get around and talk to your people.
  7. MID – Factual data. Need to send actual detailed data? An email is okay, but again there are better mechanisms such as sharing it for the whole team on a collaborative intranet site. On a collaborative intranet site it is accessible by all and version controllable.
  8. MID – PRO – Meeting invites. It is an effective way to organise a meeting with someone. Of course you could just walk up to that person, but for groups it is good. Then again, is that group your project team and are not your project team meeting every morning for a standup and at the start and end of the iterations – so what are these superfluous meetings for exactly?
It all comes back to the manifesto – individuals and interactions and customer collaboration. Email doesn’t help us, it is stopping us from effectively communicating with each other. Don’t try ‘no emails for a day’, it doesn’t work – people will just store their emails for the following day. Try ‘no emails for a month’ and see how you go. I think you would be amazed by the change in communication as a result of this.

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