Archive for June, 2012

I had a great meal last week. It was more like a feast really. It started lunchtime on Wednesday the 20th and went all the way through to just past lunchtime on Saturday the 23rd. I am referring to the mystically labelled #klrat or Kanban Leadership Retreat held in Mayrhofen, Austria.

Going into the event I am not quite sure exactly what I was going to expect and get out of attending. I knew that I would greatly appreciate the networking and socialisation with similar practisioners, trainers and transformationalists (and I was in no way disappointed, all expectations here were well and truly exceeded), but aside from that I went into the event thinking that there was little that I wouldn’t be aware of or know.

Boy was I wrong. The amount of talk specifically on Kanban was probably only about 30% (subjective). Agile took up about the other 30% and the other 40% were models and concepts – some of which I knew but many that I had heard of and were re-inforced (eg Cynefin, Right-Shifting, Situational Leadership, etc) but a lot I had only briefly ever touched on or never heard of.

So what I primarily wanted to do with this post – is tell you about everything that I either heard about and want to investigate/read further or resonated significantly with me. These were my takeaways:

“Kanban is like Buddhism. You are quite welcome to keep your other religions when you become a Buddhist.” David J Anderson.

Facilitated by Liz Keogh @lunivore

In addition to having a lot to look over I also wanted to go into the experience with an open mind that some of my beliefs are wrong and should be fundamentally challenged. These are the quotes from people that made me ponder for many hours after where I could have it wrong:

  • “If you start with a presumption of innocence you will get further” (with regards to change). Liz Keogh eg. “I observed you doing x, does that match your recollection of events?”
  • “How can we get <this> outcome for you?” Liz Keogh
  • “We assume as change agents that everyone wants quick results” Torbjörn (@drunkcod)
  • “One of the worst things we can do (as coaches) is make walls for teams” (either @drunkcod or @jaspersonnevelt, both of these gentlemen were letting the quotes fly freely)
  • Companies are shifting more and more away from jobs for life. Loyalty doesn’t exist anymore (sound familiar?). We can expect a dramatic shift to more community based loyalty and involvement within. “A lot of people I would call colleagues aren’t in the same organisation, they are in this community”. This will lead to a framework of 70:20:10 shifting even further into the social area of learning (eg to 65:30:5), twitter (and even the unconference itself) is a classic example of this growing.
  • People have to want to change.
  • Instead of ‘Minimum Viable Product’ think of it as a ‘Minimum Viable Experiment’
  • and the many amazing conversations with Lowell Lindstrom @lowelllindstrom who enlightened me to why Scrum is a rulebook again and why Agile should never be all encompassing or swallow up general professional capability.

I want to take this opportunity to thank David Anderson, Katrin Dietze (@thisismui) and Sigi for all of your hard work in making this such a successful event.

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I have an hour to kill in the Vienna hotel I am staying at so I thought I would take the opportunity to do a brain dump of what I have seen and done Agile (or technologically related) as a bit of a midrospective:

  • Telstra are evil. I tried to get my phone working with an Austrian SIM card and the phone is hard coded to not allow any other SIM card to work in it. Several internet searches have found that this is due to the way Telstra and Apple setup the phones.
  • Apple is evil. For some reason unbeknown to me apple products don’t work on 95% of WiFi connections here (including my hotel, which was one of the reasons why I choose it). There is nothing worse than watching my hubby surf at ease on his android and me being devoid of any interwebs.
  • Austrian keyboards are weird. The z and y are around the other way. Count how many ‘Y’s there are in this blog. Each one of them I typed a ‘z’ in originally. Many of the special keys are in different spots or work using the right Shift or Alt.
  • I am finding some intriguing parallels between the history of Vienna and Agile. When I get back home I will write a more detailed blog but in essence there is definately a theme of people who were considered revolutionaries, who were incredibly passionate and entreprenurial but were ostricized for most of their lives. How they dealt with it and the ethics that they had I found very inspirational.
  • I have just finished reading Buyology whilst here. Again I will probably blog about it but again found huge parallels to Agile and Lean Startups. If you haven’t read this book then get a copy – it is eye opening and highly educational.

Non Agile related:

  • Surprisingly there is very little sunshine in Summer (it has rained every day)
  • Nothing opens until generally 10am. This would not be an issue if I didn’t wake up at 6am every morning. On the upside most things are open till late at night.
  • I’m sleeping really well. Walking about 7 hours every day will do that for you.
  • I need to buy another memory card. I have been taking about 400 photos per day (and processing them back to 100 at night). Vienna is truly an incredibly beautiful city. If you love jaw dropping architecture every time you walk around a corner then this is a must see destination for you.

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This is more of a general FYI post then my usual subjective opinions. Firstly I want to mention the fun stuff – hopefully in the next few weeks you will see the number of contributors on this site grow. It was always my intent for this site to not be just my thoughts but also those that I respect but whom do not have an engine to contribute to. If you are also keen to contribute then please contact me directly.

Secondly I will be AFK from the end of the week for two weeks as I go on my first overseas holiday in six years I will also be attending #klrat in Austria.

Lastly I want to say with some sadness that whilst Craig and myself were very “The Agile Revolution” podcast happy when at Agile Australia unfortunately a number of casts have been relegated to the nether. We did a full podcast before Agile Australia that is lost and the first two podcasts we did – one with Ilan Goldstein and the other introducing our day has also not worked correctly (despite one of them being tested and playing back). The last cast done (with a new chip in it), has turned out and so that will be posted up tomorrow night.

So with the news all done, here are my thoughts on Agile Australia:

  • Amazing atmosphere. With 850 participants it wasn’t just buzzing it was flying with conversations. Walkways were packed (which made it a little frustrating to actually try and find someone), but breaking out downstairs for some quiet conversation was also great.
  • Fiona Wood was very surprisingly a brilliant Keynote speaker. I was incredibly dubious of how much worth I would get out of a non Agilist being first to talk to a jam-packed room but it occurred to me as she talked that she made the perfect keynote. This is because a keynote should be all about passion and a call to action and Fiona did just that. She re-inforced our Agile mindset through her discussion on collaboration, teamwork, passion, customer outcomes, striving for greatness rather than just good enough, knowing your weaknesses and staying in a positive mindset.
  • The next session opened up with Craig doing a funny sequence of slides on the history of Agile (including my take on the manifesto being written in a spa tub).
  • Michael Bromley’s presentation on hiring for agility was spot on and whilst I didn’t learn anything new I could see lightbulbs going off in people’s minds around me.
  • My panel itself went well but as per my last post we really didn’t get a lot of time for questions due to some overruns.
  • Ilan Goldstein was very good laying down the basics of Scrum Master. I had an Iteration Manager that I am working with sitting next to me in the session and he felt that it re-enforced a lot of concepts for him.
  • The most raved about presentors from the grapevine included: David Joyce, Dipesh Pala, James Ross and the Agile Board Hacks guys.

I haven’t covered all the sessions, predominantely because I spent quite a bit of time outside of sessions speaking with people one on one in the open space and breakout areas.

Themes that were very strong throughout the conference included:

  • Agile Governance (felt like it was covered through four presentations)
  • Agile Leadership (see above)
  • UX (see above)
  • Offshoring (covered through three presentations)

I am not saying the cross coverage is a bad thing, in fact in each instance there were different perspectives and I felt that helped to re-enforce messages. In some ways the program itself is probably the key reason why it reached 850 people – the topics were targetted this year less towards developers and more towards managers and executives.

I also want to take the opportunity to thank all the people that I talked to. Your words have made me wiser and I loved every minute of listening to them.

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Following up from my attendance at Agile Australia 2012 I wanted to provide a link to the slides and also a bit more depth of information. Unfortunately a few parts of the panel discussion overran and consequently a few things that I desperately wanted to say were unable to get out.

So firstly, for those that were unable to attend here are the slides:

A write-up of the panel can also be found in the mobile edition of the IT News.

I just want to take the opportunity to get across a few points that I didn’t get a chance to (or were slightly misunderstood):

  • Stop thinking of work as Project vs BAU. When you get to the root of who does the work often it involves the same people due to the shared service nature of organisational structures. You cannot possibly plan by looking at only part of your workload.
  • Everyone will game the system because everyone (rightly or wrongly) perceive governance to be a bad thing. You have to make sure that you consider paths of where people will game the system and either actively encourage it, gather data from it or find a way to shut gaming down in that area. For example, if your governance process categorizes projects that are < $100k as not requiring a certain level of delegation people will split the work down so that it is below $100k. Some organisations would consider this a bad form of gaming the system. I believe that if people can split the work down AND demonstrate benefits also split down then that is an excellent win for the organisation – because splitting it down has just reduced the risk of failure and enabled earlier delivery.
  • Understand prior to transforming your governance model what is broken vs what is working in the model. Understand the wait times, the sink holes, who the deliverables are for and why. For every answer you get apply some critical and root cause thinking to it.
  • Often processes and models get bloated because they are handling odd exceptions – especially exceptions of failed projects. Build a process that works for 80% of circumstances. Let the other 20% be handled by smart people.
  • RUN YOUR AGILE GOVERNANCE TRANSFORMATION AS AN AGILE PROJECT. You don’t have to do everything at once – incrementally deliver it. Once it is “in production” regularly retrospect it.
  • Who owns your governance process/model? Who is allowed to make changes to it? If your answer involves people that never do the activities involved inside of the process then you have just enacted an ivory tower PMO.

Additionally I wanted to talk about where I saw governance going in the future and what were its threats. Thankfully Martin Kearns must have read my mind and tackled part of that topic. But for my record here is my two cents – the biggest problem I see for governance groups going forward are Lean Startups.

People incorrectly think (like I did for a while) that Lean Startups are all about R & D or entreprenural internet corporations. Certainly it is what it was designed for but I have been having visibility that the concept goes wider. For me Lean Startups go back to what Agile really was meant to be about in the early days – delivering very rapidly, ideally each day, having the real customer involved and adapting to change when we find out that we got it wrong. All too often though we are delivering only once every two weeks or worst, several iterations because of perceived lack of “value” until it is 80% there. All too often we still have a Business Analyst as a proxy or a Product Owner that has never talked to a real customer in their life. When people realise that Lean Startups gives us an alternative model to give these back, people will be flocking to it.

Which brings us to the problem of how do you govern a Lean Startup? Think of it in terms of a normal project – usually you have a release date pegged, set budget, a backlog of scope and a clear definition of quality. In a Lean Startup you have a budget set only based upon a date. This date is the date under which your learning stops. If you don’t prove that you are learning then you are unlikely to get another drop of money. Incremental funding is core to Lean Startups – how does that usually work with our fixed capital financial year funds? It means you consider your capital spend a pot of money. Each time you approve another incremental drop of money to a Lean Startup you get your ladel and scoop out a bit of soup. You need to make sure you spend that pot wisely.

So what do Governance groups govern in Lean Startups? They govern learning:

  • Has the team learnt anything about Customer Value since we last saw them?
  • Has the team learnt anything about their planned growth model since we last saw them?
  • Has the team learnt anything about the way in which we can expect a return of investment (revenue)?
  • Are they learning fast enough? How fast are hypotheses being tested?
  • Do the hypotheses make sense given the data?

When I mean learning it doesn’t have to be good news – it just needs to be either validated or invalidated hypotheses.

Most governance models govern scope, time, cost and quality. How many ask the question “Are customers getting value from this product?”. How many organisations are any good at benefits realisation? We spend so much time in governance at getting better at delivering. We need to spend more time getting better at delivering the right thing.

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