Saturday, March 17, 2012

Stop B*tching About Local Optimizations

I'm kinda tired of hearing folks whine about everything under the sun being a local optimization. I don't care how much you quote Ackoff, Argyris, Senge or anyone else coz here's the deal:

Unless you can take a single action and reinvent the whole effing universe instantly then EVERYTHING you do is a local optimization!

Does this seem extreme? I don't think so, because one of the main problems with improving systems is to know exactly where the system boundaries are. For example: Is a team a system? Yes! But it operates in a department, which is also a system, which is inside an organization which is inside a community which is inside a city, inside a state, country, world, etc… So how does one begin to take action which is not some local optimization?

Here's another thing to chew on…even if we draw the boundaries of the system to just the department level, that is still (in most enterprises) a whole lot of people, interactions and influences. In order to improve a system you should first understand it. Problem is, by the time you understand the system well enough to change it, the system itself has likely changed rendering all your changes useless or non-optimal and much of your time wasted. Of course this issue explodes exponentially for each step towards a bigger system you take.

So, what are we to do? I suggest this fun little metaphor:

Act like a good Proctologist; consider the (w)hole, but treat the individuals ;)

As a change agent, whether an internal employee or an external consultant, you often have to play the cards you're dealt (or fold). You should definitely spend some initial time trying to consider as much as the system as you can. In fact, this should be something you are always doing at some level. More importantly though is to not let this paralyze you. You'll often get more data from attempting a safe-to-fail change than you will from simply sitting back trying to sense the system. Also, don't think too linearly. You can likely be influencing multiple things simultaneously.

In fact, one approach is to intentionally over optimize a local optimization. This will often make apparent to management (or even to you) where the true bottle neck in the system is. We shouldn't worry so much about doing the wrong things righter, but we should be aware that that may be the case and always work to be doing the right things.

In the end, showing improvement and building momentum can lead to exciting changes. In fairness, it can also come crashing to the ground if the right kinds of changes aren't made at some point, but this should not deter anyone who thinks something can be made better from trying to do so and it certainly should not be a reason to do nothing!

I've been a bit busy

Just wanted to let folks know that I've not given up on my blog, I've simply over extended myself for 2012 and the blog has fallen to the back burner for now :)

During 2010 and 2011 I'd been focused on trying to write more, mostly for my own good, to practice trying to outwardly articulate the thoughts I have.

This year though I decided to make a foray into public speaking and wow is it harder than I thought! I decided to try to do international, national and regional conference talks & tutorials as well as do all paired speaking. This has proven to be a LOT more work that I imagined.

So if you are interested, you can find me speaking at the following venues:

Mar. 10: Agile and Beyond (Dearborn, MI)
- "You Can't Spell Agile Testing Without ET" w/ Lanette Creamer (45min presentation)

Apr. 16-20: STAR East (Orlando, FL)
- "You Can't Spell Agile Testing Without ET" w/ Lanette Creamer (60min presentation)

Apr. 25-27: Roots (Bergen, Norway)
- "Enabling Emergen Betterness Through Lean Procrastination" w/ Olaf Lewitz and Ivana Gancheva (hald-day tutorial)
- "Whole Team Quality: Pairing Programmers with Non-Programmers" w/ Lanette Creamer (half-day tutorial)
- "Quality Beyond the Story Limits: Evolving Exploratory Testing on an Agile Team" w/ Lanette Creamer (half-day tutorial)

Jun. 4-6: SFAgile2012 (San Francisco, CA)
- "Growing the Concept of a Whole Team"* w/ Lisa Crispin
- "Enabling Emergen Betterness Through Lean Procrastination"* w/ Olaf Lewitz
- "You Can't Spell Agile Testing Without ET"* w/ Lanette Creamer
* still waiting acceptance

Jun. 11-15: Agile Development Practices West (Las Vegas, NV)
- "Brewing Up Exploratory Testing in an Agile World" w/ Lanette Creamer (half-day tutorial)

Jul. 13-15: CAST Test Coach Camp (San Jose, CA)
- Facilitator

Aug. 13-17: Agile2012 (Dallas, TX)
- "Growing the Concept of a Whole Team"* w/ Esther Derby
- "How to Make Your Execs P*ssed You're not Agile Already"* w/ Jon Stahl
- "Enabling Emergen Betterness Through Lean Procrastination"* w/ Dave Sharrock
* still waiting acceptance

…and as if that weren't enough, in additional to actually coaching teams full-time during the week I've taken on a few additional things with LeanDog to help promote Organizational Development, started a Lean/Agile user group for western New York as well as have a few other irons in the fire promoting education, community building, and decertification!

I plan to get back on the blog horse soon…things should be way easier after April…so if anyone is still reading this, thanks for your patience :)