Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Woodland Creature Story Sizing

I'm not a big fan of story "estimates". In my opinion, it conveys a notion of accuracy that simply isn't possible. I prefer story "sizes" instead…still not perfect, but better.

I'm also not a big fan of using numbers to size stories, again, because numbers encourage folks to do math that doesn't make sense.

So what do I recommend for sizing?

Woodland creatures!

Here is my "normal" list:
- Shrew
- Squirrel
- Badger
- Boar
- Deer
- Bear
- Elk
- Caribou
- Dragon*

The reason I like woodland creatures is:
1) you can't do math with them (though they do multiply!)
2) they imply a size or category, but not an accuracy, and
3) they keep the team from taking the activity too seriously, but differences in opinion still get discussed.

Personally, I've only ever made cards and used them for various planning activities. Others have suggested finding various animal stickers and sticking them right on the card (I like this idea but have never gotten the stickers). The list of animals obviously doesn't matter. They simply need to go from small to large if used for sizes, or any animals if you're simply assigning a category or class of work.

*Note: You may have noticed the last animal in the list above was a dragon, and might be thinking, "wait a sec! dragons aren't woodland creatures!"…and you would be right :) However, I usually reserve this special animal for stories the team think needs to be broken down further. Then we either assign a "dragon slayer" to ensure the story gets broken down, or we simply avoid it for now.

My preferred planning activity is "Creature Sizing". This is basically T-shirt sizing; assigning a category of work to a story. Select a handful of woodland creatures to use. Normally three is fine to start off with (I use Shrew, Badger, and Bear). Next, a subset of the team (about 3 members) is asked to discuss key points of the stories. If another team member with special knowledge is needed they are "tagged in" at the last moment. These team members then assign a woodland creature to the story. If the team is less mature or lacking confidence then the whole team could be used for this activity.

I should also mention, that when possible, I like the categories of work (and therefore number/types of animals) to emerge over time instead of selecting them up front. This isn't always possible if an entire initiative is needing to be relatively sized for a governance decision. Also worth mentioning is that this level of planning can be continuous, with little disruption to the team.

I've also used the woodland creatures with Planning Poker (my least favorite sizing game) and 1-N Table Walking (which I like better than Planning Poker, but still sub-optimal/less mature in my opinion).

So there is it! If you think your team or your product owners are getting too hung up on the "accuracy" of your "estimates" or start doing "crazy velocity math", consider using Woodland Creatures as an abstraction that may help :)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Agile Up 3 Here: Reflections on the past

So I'm writing this the evening before I fly out to San Francisco, heading to Pleasanton CA actually…Agilistry Studio specifically…for Elisabeth Hendrickson's second annual Agile Up X Here event, "Agile Up 3 Here" (the first one was 2, because 0 and 1 based numbering is so overdone :)

Looking forward to this week got me reflecting a bit about the first event. The people there were all amazing, talented, and interesting in many ways…and they liked PUNS!

However, meeting amazingly awesome people wasn't the only great part. For me, it was also finally getting to see what a truly high performing team could do with all the agile principles and practices I had been studying and attempting to apply in my large corporate environment. What I really enjoyed was watching the interactions of all these people unfold into working software and a happy customer.

Now we had it good! We had a small group of talented people (and me). The team space had all the wall-space, index cards, and hamsters a team might need. It was as close to perfect as you could get.

However, even with everything being stacked in our favor, we still hit a few snags, some because it was the first time running the event and everyone was learning, and others because we were a group of humans working together.

But at the end of the day, we did it! The team had delivered, through multiple iterations, working software. We focused on the needs of and value to the customer. We used good technical practices. We interacted, collaborated, reflected, learned and adapted.

At this point, you might be thinking "of course it worked, you had a small group of people working in a near-optimal environment". So why is this all so great?

For me, at that time, it was great because it demonstrated that it is actually possible. It may have been the metaphorical "top of the mountain", but still it worked; it gave me hope. It breathed fresh vigor in to the various initiatives I was attempting at work, and eventually lead me to leave that employer, to take a new job where I could help other places realize at least a little bit of what I experienced at Agilistry.

I knew from my 6 years in large corporate IT that the path to the top of the mountain is long, and difficult, but Agile Up 2 Here showed me that it was possible. Since then, in my new position, I continue to reflect about the things I learned that week, and use that as motivation with the many teams I've worked with since.

I'm really looking forward to this coming week; catching up with old friends and meeting new ones. I'm also super excited for the new experiences we will have and the new learnings and reflections they will provide me in the future.

Thank you Elisabeth for providing me that opportunity a year ago, and being kind enough to have me back!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Unmotivated or Demotivated?

I’ve worked with a few unmotivated teams in the past. Folks on unmotivated teams lack energy. They see things as just the way they are; the status quo. They come in, do their job and go home. Things are normal...good enough.

I find it a fun challenge to motivate unmotivated teams. Getting to know folks a bit, finding out their interests or passions and helping them map those back to their job or career is quite rewarding, but I recently ran across a problem.

I began working with a team that had been working together on a project for a while. They were displaying all the signs of an unmotivated team. I had heard tell of some negative stories about “management” but nothing I wouldn’t have tacked up to normal enterprise candor and so I set out down my usual path to motivation...and met with failure. Everyone listened, asked some questions and generally interacted appropriately. Nobody was overly negative, they simply lacked energy.

After trying a few more tricks with no real traction I started poking around at the negative stories I had heard before. After some digging it became apparent that some pretty heinous treatment was given and the team just took it on the chin...a few times. This completely demotivated them.

Not having been present for these acts, and only joining the team months later, what I was seeing was the exact same outward signs as unmotivated people, but really they were demotivated...which runs much deeper.

As I stated earlier, unmotivated teams simply lack energy. When something is lacking you just need to replace it. However, with demotivated teams something isn’t missing, something has been torn down, and must now be rebuilt. That is a much harder task.

Demotivation is a trust violation. Rebuilding trust is hard in any relationship but I think especially so between an organization and a team.

When one party violates another’s trust, the violating party needs to admit to some wrong doing. This is hard because an org needs to send a consistent message here. That means that those folks need to agree they did something wrong in the first place. It also means they can’t take the same or similar actions again in the future.

Orgs also can’t buy their way out of this. No third party can be brought in to do the actual rebuilding. A consultant may be able to identify the problem and advise on how to handle it, but the people in the org that enacted the trust violation need to be the same people to take action to resolve it (or be gotten rid of).

So where is all this going?

Well, if you are a consultant; beware! If you think you’re working with an unmotivated team, the problem could be worse. If you identify a trust violation, change gears to facilitate rebuilding if possible.

If you are in a leadership position and think you have an unmotivated team on your hands; beware! If motivating the team doesn’t seem to be working, they may be demotivated and perhaps some trust needs to be rebuilt instead.

If you think there is a chance you may be the person who demotivated the team; beware! Don’t go in and try to motivate people, especially in a “ra-ra go-team” sorta way. In my experience that just adds insult to injury. Maybe get some help from a coworker or externally.

One side note. A fun fact about rebuilding trust is that many of the actions are a lot like building trust. An interesting side effect of teams within orgs that are actively trying to build trust, is that sometimes those teams get motivated that their org is showing interest and taking action.

So...be aware of de vs. un motivation and work to build trust no matter what!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Lean/Agile: Why you don't need it!

So you've been hearing a lot of hype about this lean/agile stuff. Of course let's be honest…by "a lot" we really mean an article in a trade magazine don't we? In fact, we were on the pot during that particular read and there were two other, more interesting articles on cost-accounting and tools to manage resource processes; so we really only read the title of that agile article…didn't we? And what's wrong with that? I mean with a title like "Agile: All the Unicorn Giggles without all the Unicorns" what could possibly go wrong…right?

I mean what would really need to change anyway? Your painful annual budgeting process and five-year project plan has worked well forever! Your hiring and training processes have certainly maintained the skill level and interest of your cost-center-style IT department. Besides, you just sent your VP of HR all the acronyms and version numbers of all the tools and technologies listed in the past 6 monthly trade magazines…man... you're on top of it!

Either way, I'm sure your company is in a stable, non-commoditizable market space. I mean yeah, you mostly deal in information now that it's 2011, and your major competitors have likely eeked the last few iotas out of their measurable primary operations over the past few decades just like you…but they just don't get it like you do! And anyhow, your shareholders were amazed with last quarter's dividends…when have they ever been wrong? Heck! They are even considering an IPO! All signs point to yes! …jeez wont you be rich once they decide to go public?…probably shouldn't rock the boat now!

As for employee engagement and more rewarding work and lifestyles…what a bunch of hooey! Those people should just be glad to have jobs right? The ones that made it past the last round of layoffs that is. I mean, have they seen the economy? Anyhow, your company is the best in town right? After all, you work there and you're no loser! They should feel proud to be part of the same thing you are…that same vision of …well…we don't really remember the vision…I mean, we printed it out a few months ago on those plotters we got…for, you know…printing out the vision statement. Damn that was an expensive year…almost didn't make EBITDA that year…good thing we cut the training and conference budget so we could get the plotters! …but yeah…we printed that vision out…mostly because it was too long to remember. Something about increasing something and something else about shareholder value. I think they mentioned something about customers, or maybe employees…oh wait…both were there, but "employees" were termed "service personal"…that's right…yeah…so the plotters were a good investment!

Anyhow, you've likely asked around at the office about lean and agile by now and one thing is clear. No one can agree on what it is…they were going to buy some books and send some people to conferences a couple of years ago, but that budget got cut…something about vision and plotters…They do agree on one thing though! That it isn't easy! It is hard and takes a long time to really "go agile". Even so, lots of folks seem to be getting pretty excited by it. What would they know though? None of them have MBAs…or at least you bet they wouldn't if you took the time to ask…they certainly don't get business and how things work in the real world. At least not the same way you get it, you devastatingly clever bastard!

Well, like it or not, a lot of your people are clamoring about this, and a few of your competitors have been recently "going agile". You don't want to fall behind! Here is a surefire way to change nothing while still "going agile":

1. Send your three best managers (the ones who do the best job commanding and controlling their resources) and your three worst managers to "Certified Scrum Master" training. This may seem odd, but you effectively get six certified Masters of Scrum, the leading Agile Methodology, for effectively half the price! (Nobody misses those other three guys anyhow…we aren't really sure why we keep them, but we never seem to fire anyone for any reason)

2. Go back and actually read that whole article in that trade mag. If you can't find the ten minutes that takes at least skim the bold print and italicized words. This way you know the lingo! You will be able to hang with the geeks and tell if they are bullshitting you! If you want to be a true lean/agile thought leader in your organization, repeat this step for at least two more trade magazines. If you still have time, consider a book summary to round out your agile education. Do not bother reading anything else. As you will soon learn from your Lean Words that is called "waste"...nonessential reading and learning. Besides, not much has changed since Fredrick Taylor developed Management Science over three decades ago...but you knew that, because you got an executive MBA a few years back to get that promotion!

3. All change requires a manager of the change process. We all know this. Choose a manager that has been around for a while and isn't really going anywhere with his career and appoint him to "Director of Agile". His duties will be reading the full articles in the trade magazines and maybe even a whole book. He should also know at least 10 names of book authors and know approximately 35% more buzz words than you. He will make lots of checklists to give to your new agile teams and report back to you on the new agile status of your agile projects in your agile project management software…I recommend Version One…it does so much that you'll never need, but DAMN it's expensive and you will get to brag about how much you spent on "going agile" with your friends on the executive golf course next month! Besides…the reports and charts you can make with that thing…it's every PMPs wet dream! You can even track things that don't even make sense!

4. Do more of what you have always done. I mean you're successful right? So do more of that. No need to actually question the status quo or actually change things. We all know change introduces risk and there is that IPO to think of. One caveat to this is if your company is struggling. In that case it is especially true that you not change anything! I mean, are you crazy? If you know what you are doing isn't working why on earth would you try something different? Just do more of what got you there…it's obvious you weren't doing it enough, otherwise you wouldn't be having problems. Also, don't confuse not changing anything with not spending money. Buying fancy tools and expensive consultants to not listen to is often the easiest way to appear to be taking action in the face of adversity.

So the bottom line is, you and your company are already the shizznit! You know this. I know this…but you can accept that times change and sometimes we need to use different words to do the same thing…that is business my friend, of which you are well aware.

Go forth! Learn new words! Be AGILE!