Lessons Learned from Agile Transformations: Part 10

Tenth in a Fifteen Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations.  Below is the tenth in a fifteen part series examining my lessons learned while instituting Agile concepts & practices.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to Agile nirvana.

Lesson 10: Train the Team in Agile Concepts & Practices

While you may have some team members with prior agile experience, you must regard your pilot team as being unfamiliar with agile.  You must increase the team’s agile knowledge as quickly as possible.  There is only one (1) proven method to accomplish this; you must send the entire pilot team, along with the Sponsor, to an agile “101” class, or an agile boot camp.  An introductory agile class is typically three (3) days.  Five (5) day agile “boot-camps” are also available.  Certified agile trainers will facilitate the course. I believe the most common and effective course is one that certifies attendees as scrum masters.  The scrum master course typically provides the baseline foundational agile knowledge that your team will need to be successful.

The reason this training is so important is because attendees learn about and perform the agile processes and ceremonies during the class.  Attendees learn “by-the-book” agile concepts and tenets and perform the processes and ceremonies as they were intended, and not adapted to fit any specific organization.  Your pilot team should not be taught how to adapt agile to their organization at this time.  Adaptation will come later as the team masters the techniques and makes informed decisions about which adaptations truly make sense.  Adaptation too early typically results in a team falling back into old waterfall-style habits.

Agile training attendees will learn that they must deliver software frequently, at the end of each sprint, and the processes must be carried out to realize this objective.  When training is complete, the team must assess how existing enterprise tools and processes support and / or hinder their ability to deliver software frequently.  The team must understand how they will use existing tools and processes within the new agile context.  Most tools and processes can be adapted to agile.  You will need to engage the owners of these tools and processes to educate them on the support required for your agile project to be successful.  If changes to existing tools and processes are required, be prepared to have multiple conversations with tool and process owners to get them onboard with the support required of them.           

By the time your team has completed agile training and understood how existing tools and processes will support their agile project, they will need to know where they will physically sit each day.  Conventional agile wisdom dictates that teams sit co-located and in the same room whenever possible.  Given today’s remote work IT culture, rarely have I seen this play out exactly as specified.  The COVID-19 pandemic has exerted additional pressures on agile teams by restricting their abilities to sit in an office.  I have found that collaboration tools coupled with a structured and well controlled sprint execution framework can keep all team members adequately engaged, and negates the need for team members to sit next to one another.

Lessons Learned from Agile Transformations: Part 9

Ninth in a Fifteen Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations.  Below is the ninth in a fifteen part series examining my lessons learned while instituting Agile concepts & practices.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to Agile nirvana.

Lesson 9: Socialize Generic Agile Concepts & Practices Prior to Full Rollout

The term “socialization” refers to the process of internalizing the norms and ideologies of a social group.  This internalization, or learning process, is done by every member of the group, typically over a short period of time.  Socializing a concept requires memorization, practice, and discussion of the required actions that must be taken.  In a business setting, it is not uncommon for a team to require two (2) or more weeks to adequately socialize and accept a new work practice.  Every group and team situation will be slightly different.  Therefore, the time period required for a team to socialize concepts will differ.  As team size and process complexity grows, so does the time required to socialize the concepts.

There are two (2) practices that you must introduce and socialize amongst personnel involved in the organization’s agile transformation.  These are daily planning and retrospectives.  These practices are widely regarded to be low impact, highly effective, and the starting point of a company’s iterative transformation.  At this point, you will have identified the agile sponsor or champion, executives, stakeholders, supporters, and the agile team.   All of these personnel must socialize the practices.  The agile team will carry out the practices, but everyone must be on-board with the concepts.  After the agile team is identified but before the agile pilot project is underway, agile team members should attempt to implement these practices in their day-to-day activities.  These practices immediately illustrate agile’s core tenets of transparency of work, open and honest communication, and a willingness to improve over time.  By embracing these practices, the organization can gently adapt to the organizational change required.    The successes and efficiencies gained by implementing these practices will build the momentum you will need for organizational commitment.

Agile’s daily planning practice is known as the “standup meeting”.  The standup meeting gets its name because no one should be sitting during the meeting.  A standup meeting is no longer than fifteen (15) minutes.  The standup meeting should be held at the beginning of the work day, and the team should decide on the date, time, and location.  Every team member must attend and every team member must speak.  In a roundtable format, each team member must answer three questions: (1) what did they do yesterday, (2) what do they plan to do today, and (3) what is preventing them from making progress.  The Scrum Master must ensure that everyone gets to speak and answer the three questions without interruption. If there is time left over after everyone speaks, the team is free to openly discuss any topic.  The Scrum Master must schedule the meeting and publish minutes afterwards.  A common anti-pattern of a standup meeting is not everyone getting to speak.  If you find that this is occurring, topics raised by speakers running over their allotted time must schedule separate meetings to further discuss the topics raised.  The Scrum Master can act as a facilitator to schedule meetings or activities to impediments to progress.

Agile’s retrospective practice is a thirty-to sixty minute meeting held at the end of every development cycle.  A typical agile development cycle is between two (2) and four (4) weeks.  The purpose of the retrospective is for the team to review the work they just completed and identify opportunities for improvement in processes, designs, or any other work practice deemed by the team to be inefficient.  The meeting agenda for the retrospective is as follows:

(1) What did the team do well?  It is critical to recognize and celebrate successes.  It builds the team’s confidence and validates the team’s value contribution to the organization.  It is important to spend an adequate amount of time celebrating successes.  Sometimes the team must look hard to find them, but going through the exercise validates the team’s learning and informs their improvement decisions.

(2) What did the team do not so well?  Before team members will share failures, they must be assured that they are in a safe environment.  It is imperative that every team member believes that they are all in it together.  Over time, the team will get better at identifying opportunities for improvement.  Don’t expect miracles overnight.  Iterative evolution is the goal.  Any team, especially at the beginning, will go through stages of development, and it is important to consider the developmental stage when asking team members to admit possible mistakes.

(3) What does the team want to improve?  The team makes a commitment to improve items in the next development cycle.  The chosen improvement items must be realistically achievable.  This is not the time for lofty or overly ambitious goals.  Incremental improvement over time is the goal.  Have the team brainstorm and create a list of potential improvements, and then have them select an item, or items, from the list that they can realistically accomplish within the time constraint of the next development cycle.  Open communication and team commitment is the goal.  The Scrum Master should maintain the master list and track progress made on the improvement opportunities.  The list should be revisited at each retrospective meeting. 

Lessons Learned from Agile Transformations: Part 8

Eighth in a Fifteen Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations.  Below is the eighth in a fifteen part series examining my lessons learned while instituting Agile concepts & practices.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to Agile nirvana.

Lesson 8: Logistical Ground Rules & Assembling a Diverse Team

Ideally and if possible, you’ll want to find a physical meeting space where team members can be co-located all the time.  The team requires a space where they can all sit in close proximity to one another, and have room for collaboration.  This is typically a large conference room, capable of supporting eight to twelve people, depending on the size of the team.

In today’s ever increasing virtual workforce environment, and the IT industry’s inherent predisposition for work to be completed remotely, many IT organizations have embraced the work-from-home model.  There are now many effective collaboration tools on the market that eliminate the need for team members to physically sit in the same geographic location.  While it can be highly effective for an initial agile team to be physically co-located while they are executing agile fundamentals for the first time, physical co-location of team members has proven to be not a “hard and fast” requirement.  Many agile teams in industry today function as virtual teams only.  Agile’s inherent frequent inspect and adapt cadence coupled with the evolution of online collaboration tools ensures the proper amount of management oversight is applied.

Probably the most difficult concept for any non-agile organization to embrace is the idea that agile team members are dedicated to the agile project 100% of their work day.  In non-agile organizations, internal IT employees are typically spread very thin across many projects.  Additionally, team members may have both development and production support responsibilities.  This can lead to a culture in which projects are completed in a resource’s “spare time”, and project delivery work can suffer seemingly endless delays as resource labor is consumed by production support activities.  There are countless studies illustrating knowledge worker productivity losses due to context switching.  Furthermore, the reliability and predictability of agile performance metrics is compromised if resources are not dedicated full-time.  You’ll need concrete metrics if you’re going to prove the success of your upcoming pilot project and effectively navigate the cultural and political headwinds you could face in the future.  The bottom line is that if you want success both in your upcoming agile pilot project and the larger agile transformation initiative, the organization must make the human resource capital investment required for success.  For an agile project and transformation program, this means that resources on the team perform only the team’s work.  Outside influences and external demands on team member output drastically impact your team’s ability to make and deliver on commitments.

The agile team makes the magic happen.  They deliver value to the organization.  Strength is found in the diversity of your team.  Just as you engaged stakeholders and supporters, you must engage team members in the same way.  You’ll need input from many different perspectives and you’ll need to win-over certain key influencers in the organization.  It is important to realize that your selected team members may be currently delivering value using a different methodology.  Inclusion of these team members, for example, will provide valuable insight into current operations and help you successfully navigate internal cultural resistance.

Your selected team members should be a representative sample of your organization.  If you only select team members who are already 100% on-board with the agile transformation, you’ll deny yourself the opportunity to win-over the nay-sayers.  When you win-over someone who was skeptical and / or opposed to the agile transformation, they can become powerful allies who evangelize the concepts to their colleagues.

Your selected team members should also be a representative sample of the general attitudes found in any workplace setting.  Including a representative sample of these attitudes will gain you advocates and accelerate the transformation.  In an agile transformation initiative, you’ll typically encounter the following attitudes, listed in order of most difficult, to least difficult, to win-over:

  • People who hate change and avoid it at all costs
  • People that challenge any type of organizational change or initiative
  • People who are extremely knowledgeable in their field but are difficult to work with
  • People who are extremely knowledgeable in their field and open to collaboration

Last but not least, and most importantly, you must select team members who have the technical skills to deliver business value.  In a typical software development delivery process, you’ll typically find the high-level disciplines of software developers, database administrators, testers, and infrastructure personnel.  Within specific disciplines, you’ll find specializations.  For example, software developers may be skilled in some languages, but not others.  Similarly, database administrators may be familiar with some relational database management systems, but not others.  At this point, you’ll need to put in some forethought on your “pilot” project, which will be further discussed in Lesson 11.

You’ll benefit by creating a matrix of the above mentioned skills, attitudes, and backgrounds needed for your team.  As you select team members, ensure you’re including adequate representation from every area in the matrix.  Effectively mixing these variables ensures you win the influence you’ll need to realize your transformation goal.

Beliefs Challenged

An Atheist’s Acceptance that God is Love

By Chad Greenslade

 

A few days ago, I watched a video that made me think for a second about being atheist.  The premise was simple.  They likened DNA to a book.  They placed an actual book in the hands of an atheist and asked the atheist, “Do you think this book could have materialized out of thin air?”

 

Of course the atheists replied, “Absolutely not!  A book cannot magically appear out of thin air.  Someone must have made it.  Someone must have made the paper, made the ink, created the language, pictures, etc., required to physically produce the book.  A book clearly has a creator.”

 

Then, the narrator goes on to explain how DNA is the instruction book for every living thing on this planet, and how every living thing, when it comes time to make a cell for a certain function, refers back to it’s DNA book in order to produce the cell to the correct specification.  The narrator got the atheist to agree that DNA is a book, and then re-presented the atheist’s previous conclusion that a book must have a creator.  All of the atheists interviewed were speechless.

 

So, I thought about this.  I thought about this in the context of religion, science, evolution, the age of the universe, and my limited but interested, understanding of chemistry, physics, space and time.

 

My initial rebuttal is that comparing a physical book to DNA is false equivalence.  A physical book simply cannot be the same thing as DNA.  After all, DNA is a chemical; it’s an acid.  But apparently, in that acid sits a code, and that code can be compared with a book that has three billion pages.  For humans, 99% of those three billion pages are the same.  The remaining one percent makes up the differences between you and me.  The other three billion pages are reserved for every other form of life that exists on this planet.  So, when you think about it like that, simply denying that DNA is a book is not enough to justify mine, or anyone else’s, atheism.

 

After my initial rebuttal, I thought some more, and here’s where the “DNA is a book” analogy breaks down, at least for me.

 

I’ve observed every living thing on this planet have defense mechanisms.  These mostly biological responses serve to protect an organism, and in certain situations, other organisms like them.  We see protective responses all the time.  In animals, we see them when mothers care for their young, and when species live in packs.  We see plants chemically warn other plants of impending destruction.  None of these living organisms has a god, none of these organisms stand to benefit by recognizing that there is a god, and none of these organisms will ever think about being punished by a god.

 

From the Miller-Urey experiment in 1952 that proved amino acids can be built from inorganic precursors while simulating the conditions of early Earth, to the Abiogenesis theory that that the transition from non-living to living entities was not a single event, but an evolutionary process of increasing complexity involving molecular self-replication, self-assembly, autocatalysis, and ultimately the emergence of cell membranes, it’s clear that electricity, a natural phenomenon, jump-started, and was later harnessed by, molecular self-replication (a.k.a. “life”).  At a sub-atomic level, molecular self-replication used electricity to assemble a chemically-encoded instruction set for how it came to be, and how it could continue to be.

 

This chemically encoded instruction set was “the book”.  So what created the book?  It’s simple.  It’s obvious.  It’s the only answer that’s ever stood the test of time, and probably ever will stand the test of time.  We did.  Life did.  It’s always been us.  It’s always been life.  The book was required for life’s self-preservation.

 

When I set this theory against the backdrop of time and imagine the elements forming organic compounds in a primordial soup, chemically instructed at a sub-atomic level to preserve themselves, to look after each other, aging, evolving, using new materials and chemically recording their experiences, given the vast expanse of time and space (Earth is 4.53 billion years old), I can see how the book accumulates three billion pages.

 

I think it was slow at first and probably suffered some setbacks, but with electricity (lightning) as the catalyst for the specialized chemistry of carbon and water, building largely upon four key families of chemicals (lipids, carbohydrates, amino acids, and nucleic acids), after one billion years, these organic compounds began manifesting their destiny.  With enough time, they’ve recorded enough intelligence in their chemistry to animate themselves and evolve in many different directions, resulting in an explosion of life in the oceans.  Within the first billion years of Earth’s history, life appeared in the oceans and began to affect Earth’s atmosphere and surface, leading to the proliferation of anaerobic and, later, aerobic organisms.

 

Some geological evidence indicates that life may have arisen as early as 4.1 billion years ago. Since then, the combination of Earth’s distance from the Sun, physical properties and geological history have allowed life to evolve and thrive. In the history of life on Earth, biodiversity has gone through long periods of expansion, occasionally punctuated by mass extinctions. Estimates of the number of species on Earth today vary widely; most species have not been described.  More than 99% of all species of life forms, amounting to over five billion species that ever lived on Earth, are estimated to be extinct.

 

But I digress.  This post is not necessarily about theories on the origins of life, but more about disproving the existence of god.

 

Look, I get it.  People need spirituality to feel connected.  A feeling of connectedness is how we reproduce.  Often, people need to feel that someone somewhere is looking out for them, preserving them.  This, innate, biologically-encoded ideal is the origin of the god construct that has plagued humankind’s psyche since the beginning of their existence on this planet.  We only have it because our brains are evolved enough to operate above an instinctual level.  This has freed our mind to wonder, and for early humans to derive supernatural explanations for the unexplainable.  These leftover supernatural explanations gave rise to modern day religion.

 

So what is god?  God is a defense mechanism.  It’s a defense mechanism we construct for ourselves, in order to feel connected, to feel preserved.  But, if defense mechanisms come from a chemically-encoded instruction set for how a being came to be, and how it continues to be, it can be argued that the innate feeling of preservation for ourselves and others, is the real defense mechanism, and that “God” is merely a figment constructed by the conscious mind.  What else do we call it when we take action to preserve ourselves and others?  Love.  We call it love.

 

That same feeling, that same energy, that drives us to hug our family and friends, to pamper our pets, and to water our garden is the same energy that pushed the building blocks of life, all those eons ago, to band together and simply look after one another, to take care of each other, so that it, whatever “it” was, could continue.  Over time, life came to realize “it” as reality.

 

You don’t need a deity to mask your love.  You don’t need a deity to justify your love.  You don’t need a deity to augment your love.  You are able to generate the same amount of love with or without your idea of a god.  Love is not simply a feeling; so much as it is the actions you take from those feelings.  If there’s a universal force, it’s undoubtedly electricity, a predictable and sometimes controllable physical phenomenon.  Once that force jumpstarts the reaction, self-preservation, or love, is what sustains it.  The explanation of god begins and ends with love.  At least the bible got that part right.

Cutting the Cord on Cable Television Service

Using an Over-the-Air & Internet Streaming Solution

By Chad Greenslade

If you are looking to cut-the-cord on your cable television provider, I can’t recommend enough a solution consisting of an over-the-air antenna combined with a smart TV streaming box.

I have been using the following solution for over two (2) years.  Prior to implementing this solution, I was paying AT&T U-Verse approximately $250 per month for television and (terrible) DSL-based Internet service.  Now I pay SuddenLink $90 (+ tax) each month for their 1Gbps Fiber-Optic Internet service only.  I do not pay for television service.

For my over-the-air television service, I installed the “EXTREMEtenna 80” ($109) external television antenna (https://www.channelmaster.com/Digital_HDTV_Outdoor_TV_Antenna_p/cm-4228hd.htm) on my chimney.  If you live in an HOA, you’ll want to get pre-approval to install the antenna.  I also installed the “Titan 2 High Gain Preamplifier” ($69) (https://www.channelmaster.com/TV_Antenna_Preamplifier_p/cm-7777.htm).  The amplifier is mounted onto the antenna.  I hired Eddie Banegas of “Digital TV & Media Services” (http://digitaltvandmediaservice.com/ (469) 855-0707) to install the antenna and amplifier and run coax cable to my “OnQ” wiring distribution box located in the laundry room.  It cost me $420 to have the antenna & amplifier installed.  I now have over-the-air HDTV service to every room with a coax outlet.  I get over 100 HDTV channels, including the major ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX affiliates.

For my Internet streaming service, first it’s imperative that you have high-speed Internet.  For me, AT&T U-verse’s DSL-based service didn’t measure up.  While I could use AT&T U-verse’s DSL-based Internet service for Netflix and Hulu (because both of these services dynamically optimize for lower bandwidths), using a Smart TV streaming box was out of the question.  Once I was able to get 1Gbps (gigabit) service to my home, the Smart TV streaming box performed much better.

Another item to keep in mind with Internet streaming is that a wired connection is better than a wireless connection.  You’ll want to force the devices (Televisions, Smart TV boxes, etc.) that are involved in video streaming to use the wired connection.  In my home, I have COAX (television) and Category-5 (CAT-5) (data) outlets in every room.  The data outlets are the ones to use for streaming.  The wires for the outlets terminate in a distribution box located in my laundry room.  The Internet service also comes into the house at this distribution box.  In order to distribute the Internet service to every room in the house, you’ll need a “switch”.  There are many makes & models to choose from, but I recommend a 1Gbps (gigabit) switch containing as many ports on it as you have rooms in your home with a data outlet.  For me, I have a 16-port, 1Gbps switch ($80) installed in the distribution box in my laundry room.  This provides wired Internet service to every room in the house.

Once you have wired Internet service to your room, you’re ready for Internet streaming.  Many of today’s “Smart TVs” can be connected to the Internet directly using either a wired or wireless connection.  Again, use a wired connection for the best, most-reliable results.  Smart TVs generally come pre-loaded with one or more streaming “Apps” such as Netflix, Hulu, etc.  Use these apps as you normally would.

Now, what about premium channels and content such as HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, ESPN, CNN, etc.?  This is where the Smart TV box comes into play.  If you’ve plugged your TV directly into the Internet using the data outlet in your room, you’ll first need to “split” this connection so that the TV can access the Internet alongside the Smart TV box.  To do this, again you’ll need a “switch”.  The switch you use in the room does not need to be as big as the one used in the distribution closet.  Whereas the switch in my distribution closet contains 16 ports, switches in my bedroom or media room only contain 4 ports ($40), or 8 ports ($65), depending on the number of devices in the room that need to access the Internet.  Again, you’ll want these switches to be 1Gbps (gigabit).

For the Smart TV box itself, I highly recommend the Kodi box.  They can be purchased at www.xbmcmart.com.  They generally only have a few models available and any one of them will work.  They range in price from $100 to $165 each.  There is no monthly subscription charge.  You’ll get access to virtually everything on television.  Now, one thing to keep in mind is that you are watching “streams” of video and each “stream” is only as good as (1) the person (connection) uploading the stream, and (2) the person (connection) downloading / watching the stream.  Not all streams are created equal.  Some uploaders have limited bandwidth and your bandwidth will directly impact the quality of your experience.  This is why you must have extremely good Internet service.  I own two Kodi boxes; one is installed in my media room and the other is installed in my bedroom.  Both perform great.  There will be a little bit of trial-and-error involved as you learn how to operate the Kodi box, but rest assured, you’ll figure it out.  The menus are intuitive and no prior experience is necessary.  Each Kodi box comes with a remote.  I do not recommend purchasing the mini-USB keyboard remote from xbmcmart; it’s a piece of crap and there are better options available on Amazon.

Lastly, I don’t have DVR (digital video recording) capability.  With the setup above, I have found it to be obsolete since virtually everything is on-demand.  Now, if you want to purchase a DVR box for over-the-air recording, be my guest.  Channel Master has some great options available.

Good luck!

Leadership in Times of Crises

Keep Calm & We’ll All Get Through This

By Chad Greenslade

 

I went to get my car inspected on Fri Mar-20, as part of renewing its yearly state registration.  The lady at the car shop said to me, “You might want to wait, because with all this craziness and everything shut down, if they can’t process your registration renewal in time, you’re just going to have to get it inspected again!

 

I thought about it for a quick second, taken aback, the only response I could think of was, “Yeah, but it’s a mail-in application.”  I knew it wasn’t a very strong retort.  She again says, “Everything is shut down; the driver’s license office is shut down!”, as if she was actively trying to get me engaged in her hysteria.

 

Having a very skeptical view of her impassioned argument, along with my quick determination that she appeared to be hysterical and ignorant, and given the fact that I had already taken the time to drive there, considering the mere $25.50 inspection fee, I decided to risk it.

 

My renewal application hit the mail on Sat Mar-21.  Yesterday, Fri Mar-27, I received my sticker.  When you subtract mailing time, that’s a three (3) day turnaround for the county tax assessor’s office to deliver my registration sticker, which apparently, is still functioning.

 

My point with this anecdote is that everyone needs to remain calm.  Here’s a lady, right in the middle of Prosper, TX, actively spewing uninformed garbage like it’s gospel, stating the government is shutdown and I should forego my legally required automobile inspection and registration.  How many other people did she convince of her narrative?

 

The world is not ending.  Do you know what I’ve done since this quarantine began?  Work.  Work every day.  Long hours.  It has upended the Clients that my company serves and we’ve had to pivot sharply.  We all have a role to play.  Go to work, if you can.  Pay your bills, buy your groceries.  I think we can all manage to keep ourselves indoors if we’re sick and only venture out for essentials for a while.  Take a socially distant walk.  Exercise.  Listen to the leaders that you trust; you know that you have a few whom you consider to be moderate or reasonable.  Pay attention to what’s happening at the federal level so that you can take advantage of the $2 trillion in cash that’s about to hit the market.  If we all don’t freak out, we can adapt to this crisis with grace and class.

 

I’m fortunate to have a job I can do from home.  My Clients, however, are in all industries, and are all struggling to make sense of the new world.  As a leader in my company, I have to act level-headed at all times.  The biggest call to action for me was to keep everyone focused and on-task.  Find ways to push forward.  Listen to Clients and Employees and quickly adjust.  Succinctly communicate facts and limit opinion.  Be open and honest, diligent and principled.  New opportunities will present themselves that can benefit everyone.  My largest account is shrinking by 50%, but I have other Clients that are increasing demand.  I know that my company can’t effectively respond to these changing conditions without leadership at all levels, acting like leaders.

 

We are all leaders of something or someone in life.  Maybe it’s your children.  If you have the word “manager” in your work title, someone in an actual business, that participates in the actual economy, is looking to you for direction.  Step-up.  Engage.  Don’t indulge in fear and paranoia.  There will be no nationwide martial law, no FEMA concentration camps.  There will be no nationwide suspension of habeas corpus.  If the military does get deployed, it won’t be nationwide and it won’t be for long periods of time.  When it does happen, remember, THEY ARE AMERICANS AND THEY ARE THERE TO HELP.  Trust me, they’d much rather be in the US helping people than in a war zone. Look at what the National Guard is doing in NY State; building hospitals, distributing aid.  No one’s coming for your guns.  Governor Abbot just clarified his order that gun stores can remain open; god bless him.

 

There’s no place I’d rather be for this crisis.   Texas is a proud, strong state.  We pull together in times of crisis, not push apart.  We’ve seen it time and time again.  Every time a disaster happens, neighbors help neighbors.  We don’t pillage and loot.  We don’t take advantage of others.  Our Republican government is clearly focused on getting our economy restarted, above all else.  Economies don’t work when society is in a state of civil unrest.  No one wants that.  Everyone is pulling in the same direction; care for the sick and get the economy restarted.  In third-world countries ran by actual dictators, they’d simply round up all the sick and burn them to death.  Think about that and why it will never happen in the US.  We’re armed to the teeth.  There are more civilians than soldiers.  Eventually, it’s just a numbers game.  No pilot is going to fly a bombing campaign over their own people; it’s an illegal order, and pilots know that.  Finally, I highly doubt any service member would ever take up arms against fellow American citizens.  The government, the military, FEMA, everyone – it’s all us.  It’s you and me.  We all know (or were) someone in the military, someone that works for the city, county, or state, someone who is a police officer, etc.  In this particular crisis, we’re seeing state and local leaders step-up, at least as much as the federal government.  Democrats and Republicans may be bickering, but I believe that most are trying to do their best and protect the citizens under their jurisdiction or representation.  Both Democrats and Republicans are being forced to work together.  Our government may be slow, but we will eventually rise to the challenge.

 

Fellow Gen-Xers, I’m looking at you.  We are uniquely qualified to navigate this crisis.  We’ve lived through countless other crises.  Not much fazes us.  We have a duty to help those who are struggling to cope with this crisis.  This is our opportunity to step-up.  At best, this is just momentary blip at the midpoint in your life; at worst, decisions we make now will impact the remainder of our lives, and most likely the lives of others.  Consider this weight when acting.

Lessons Learned from Agile Transformations: Part 7

Seventh in a Fifteen Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

 

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations.  Below is the seventh in a fifteen part series examining my lessons learned while instituting Agile concepts & practices.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to Agile nirvana.

Lesson 7: Engage Stakeholders & Supporters

Once you have executive buy-in, you’re now ready to engage your supporters.  It’s imperative to get the right people on-board early on.  The Agile Champion requires a group of people around them that are dissatisfied with how work is currently performed and are willing to make a change.  Stakeholders and supporters fall into three (3) broad categories:

Executives: Executives will approve and / or sponsor the agile project.  You’ll want support from an executive that has a vested interest in the success of new projects.  If possible, try to find an influential executive, one that is seen as a leader amongst their peers, someone they trust to bring great vision and planning to the organization, and try to get him or her to sponsor your agile project.

Individual Contributors: Your Individual Contributors are the folks that will actually be carrying out the agile project.  These are the guys who will need the agile training to execute the agile work processes.  You’ll want good representation with this group of people.  If your organization has certain disciplines (application development, database, project management, etc.) or product lines, you’ll want though leaders representing these groups.

Middle Management: Every Individual Contributor on your team reports to someone.  You’ll want to figure out who those people are and talk to them.  After all, these people write the performance reviews of your Individual Contributors.  Even the strongest Individual Contributor still must do what their manager asks; that’s how they retain their position.  It’s extremely important to gain middle management buy-in because very often, middle management is directly responsible for executing the operation of the IT department and are unlikely to pose future, unforeseen process barriers if they are engaged early.

Once you’ve identified your stakeholders and supporters, schedule meetings to discuss the agile transformation initiative.  Educate them on what you’ve learned about agile and how it can meet their objectives.  Discuss your plan and key milestones in the agile transformation initiative.  These meetings are not the “one-and-done” type.  Expect to have multiple conversations as people learn more.  You must give people time to learn, to think through agile concepts and how they will impact their day-to-day.  Everyone learns at different speeds, so be prepared to be patient.  You will be doing ongoing research in order to answer everyone’s questions.  If you’re able to answer everyone’s questions and sell them on the benefits, they will follow your lead during the changes ahead.

Lessons Learned from Agile Transformations: Part 6

Sixth in a Fifteen Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations. Below is the sixth in a fifteen part series examining my lessons learned while instituting Agile concepts & practices. I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to Agile nirvana.

Lesson 6: Gain Executive Buy-In

Executives have motivations and you must work to understand their nuanced agendas and how they are measured while getting them to agree on a specific course of action. You’re going to need a coalition of aligned executives if you wish to get your agile transformation effort off the ground. Discuss the problems that you are attempting to solve, help them understand why a change is required, and educate them on how you came to explore agile as a solution.

The first step of executive alignment is gaining consensus on the problem statement. If executives have differing opinions on what the problem is, they will naturally have differing opinions on the solution. Conversely, executive consensus on a problem statement makes it much easier to gain concurrence on the problem’s solution. You should be able to articulate the problem using actual results from previously completed projects. Empirical evidence such as budget, schedule, and quality data can be examined and used to justify the problem statement. If existing project intake and / or request management processes cannot keep up with demand, this can be further used as justification for change. Many of today’s software products are subscription based with regular updates included as part of the service. A traditional waterfall approach may not support the quick release cadence demanded by your customers. Whatever your justification may be, it’s important to not only cite the problem statement, but to also provide concrete, salient examples of the problem; incidents that everyone can point to and agree that they are actual examples of the problem statement.

Once you have executive alignment on the problem statement, next you must help executives understand how agile solves the problem. Reiterate the benefits of agile from lesson #3 as you map them to the problem statement. Solving the problem statement also involves addressing the, “what’s in it for me?” question. When having this discussion with executives, frame it in terms of cost, risk, and rewards.

The agile transformation can expect hard costs for training of the pilot team, and an agile coach, if you choose to use one. You can expect to encounter soft costs for staff transitioning to a new methodology and tools as their productivity temporarily slows until the new processes are institutionalized. You must do your homework to ensure these costs are accurate, complete, understood, and accepted.

In my opinion, there is more perceived risk than actual risk in an agile transformation. Fundamentally, we’re not changing the way software is written, we’re simply changing the way we organize the work of software development. Sure, if you don’t have a plan for how to get from point A to point B, you’re going to get lost, but if a plan (like the one outlined in these lessons) is followed, risks only materialize in a few areas. Risks should be logged and managed with a mitigation plan for each that is regularly reviewed with the executive team. Doing this builds trust that risks are being managed and confidence that the effort will succeed. The most common risk is insufficient buy-in from executives or team members. This can clearly be managed before an agile transformation initiative is undertaken by additional training and education. Healthy skepticism of a new process is welcome, but active sabotage will be detrimental to the effort so it’s important that the right people are on-board and all pulling in the same direction. Risk of business impact can be mitigated by executing a pilot agile project first, and then using the results of the pilot to further refine the rollout.

Everyone likes to look good to their boss and executives are no different. You’ll want to figure out each executive’s performance drivers, but like everyone else, executives want to be valuable and promotable. Like all leaders, they want to demonstrate their leadership skills, achieve faster product delivery, lower operating costs, and in increase profits. You’ll want to again re-emphasize the speed of product delivery reward expected from an agile transformation and highlight how their sponsorship and / or support of a major organizational shift, such as this one, will demonstrate their leadership abilities and increase the bottom line.

Advantages and Risks of Hit-and-Run Plays

Chad Greenslade is an established Dallas, TX-based IT project management executive who offers solutions-driven consulting services. Passionate about baseball, Chad Greenslade excelled in the sport in high school and continues to play in adult recreational baseball leagues.

One of the foundational offensive strategies with a man on first base is the hit-and-run, which involves the runner on first base breaking toward second as the pitch is delivered. At the same time, the batter swings at the ball and attempts to connect.

With one of the infielders needing to cover second base, an opening is created on the left or right side of the field which can allow a ground ball to pass through to the outfield for a hit. In addition, the chances of a ground out double play is reduced, as the runner has a jump on the action.

There are risks associated with the hit-and-run, including a high likelihood that the runner will be thrown out in cases where the batter fails to connect with the ball. This has to do with the runner not taking as large of a lead off from the base as when stealing.

In addition, the hitter is obligated to try to connect with the ball, even if it is well outside of the strike zone, to protect the runner. This can result in balls that are weakly hit, leading to easy outs.

Lessons Learned from Agile Transformations: Part 5

Fifth in a Fifteen Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations. Below is the fifth in a fifteen part series examining my lessons learned while instituting Agile concepts & practices. I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to Agile nirvana.

Lesson 5: Be Prepared to Address Difficult Questions & Refute Key Concerns

Moving to a completely new way of doing things can be scary, especially when the folks that will be carrying out the work have no advanced knowledge of how they will be carrying out the work.  To the uninformed, Agile can be synonymous with little or no process, tools, documentation, commitments, or planning.  The truth, however, is quite the contrary.  These concerns and misconceptions must be met head-on if they are to be overcome.  Below I discuss a few common questions & concerns that you’ll most likely encounter on your journey.

Question #1: Will we be trained in Agile?  Anyone who is unfamiliar with agile concepts but is asked to carry them out will immediately ask when they will receive the training required to execute the concepts. There’s nothing more intimidating than being asked to complete a project with a methodology that you don’t understand, and on which you’ve received no training.  Further, an organization’s commitment to change can be measured in its willingness to invest in the education necessary for their employees to successfully carry out the change.  As a leader in an organization’s agile transformation, you’ll need to immediately understand funding constraints relative to the agile training required for the team.  You’ll need to be able to explain to each and every team member, as quickly as possible, when and how they’ll be trained.  Open communication in this area will go a long way in allaying fears that arise from an uncertain path forward.

Question #2: Is the company hiring an agile coach to help us?  It’s important to understand advantages and disadvantages of using an agile coach before you decide to use one.  A coach will undoubtedly provide value to the initial teams tasked with carrying out an agile project.  Keep in mind that an agile coach is a temporary role, typically hired from outside the company, and is generally no longer required once a few agile teams are up and running and the organization has built some internal agile expertise.  Despite the temporary nature, you’ll still want someone who can establish rapport, build relationships, and motivate both agile team members and executive-level stakeholders to follow their lead.  Experience matters.  Be aware that due to the temporary nature of the role, some internal stakeholders may resist the coach’s direction based on their conclusion that the coach lacks standing to implement lasting change.  Conversely, a coach can be unencumbered by internal organization politics allowing them to deliver an honest assessment of the actions required to launch the agile initiative.  Whatever your reasons for or against a coach, be ready to explain them to the team.

Question #3: How is this different from our past attempts at change?  Most organizations have tried to implement a quality improvement program.  In many cases, there are employees in an organization who have been involved in a failed process improvement attempt.  It’s important to understand your organization’s past successes and failures and be able to compare and contrast them to the agile transformation at hand.  Be prepared to discuss the roadmap you’re following and the champions that you have on-board.  Ask for feedback to the plan.  Keep a list of the questions received and answers delivered.  This list will continue to grow as the transformation unfolds and keeping a readily distributable log of questions and answers will be a valuable time-saving resource as more persons become involved.

Concern #1: Agile teams don’t use any process or tools. While the first tenet of the Agile Manifesto is to value individuals and interactions over processes and tools, anyone with a cursory understanding of the methodology knows that Agile, in and of itself, is a process, and there are many tools on the market today to assist with facilitating and automating the agile processes. The bottom line is that Agile does contain processes and does promote the use of tools, however, the interactions amongst team members and the customer is more important than the use of any specific tool or process.

Concern #2: Agile teams do not produce documentation as the project progresses. The reality here is that a documentation-heavy, waterfall approach to writing software has been proven time and time again to be fraught with waste and rework. In today’s software development environment, it is much more valuable to begin with a high-level design approach and then refine this design as development unfolds. Agile teams will not spend hours attempting to document and control every single variable that they will encounter with on their development journey. Lightweight design tools will be employed including whiteboards and diagrams to produce just the right amount of design at just the right time such that development can begin and the design can be iterated. Agile teams will spend more time documenting the design of what’s been built versus attempting to fit development into a pre-engineered design. The effect is that design, development, and documentation happen at the same time.

Concern #3: Agile teams do not make customer commitments. In the old paradigm, the customer would deliver their requirements to the development team, the development team would provide an estimate, the customer would approve the estimate, and then the development team would commit to a release or implementation date. The customer would largely be absent throughout the design and development process, only to be re-engaged for user acceptance testing and release. In this process, the commitment is clearly visible and is part of the development methodology. The issue, however, is that a vast number of the commitments made by the development team were missed. Agile attempts to solve for this issue in a couple of different ways. First, Agile teams ask the customer to remain engaged throughout the design, development, and testing processes to ensure that constant feedback and collaboration occurs. This collaboration has the effect of ensuring that what is built actually solves the business problem and delivers the value requested. Second, Agile discards the big commitment made up-front in the old paradigm for a series of smaller commitments made incrementally towards the larger goal. The same rules still apply in that the overall project end-date cannot be determined until all customer requirements are defined and delivered upon. However, Agile realizes that in today’s software development environment, requirements evolve over time and are more conducive to a product development lifecycle versus a project lifecycle. Requirements don’t stop coming in once a software development project completes. Agile recognizes this and accounts for it via continuously updating roadmaps and release plans, which drive the lower, sprint-level commitments that are hallmark of the methodology.

Concern #4: Agile teams do not plan. As mentioned in Concern #3 above, you can clearly start to discern the tenets of Agile planning. The key difference between traditional Waterfall planning and Agile planning is that Agile embraces what is known as “horizon planning”. Horizon planning means that you can only plan, with any degree of accuracy, as far you can see. In other words, if you look at the horizon, you can make a plan for how to get to where you can see on that horizon, but you can’t plan with any degree of certainty for how to travel beyond that horizon. With each passing day, the horizon changes, and as such, your plans for how to get to the horizon should also change. Agile embraces the planning horizon and anticipates changing requirements by placing a top-down structure around the uncertainty. At the top level, a more high-level approach to planning is employed whereas at the bottom level a more realistic and time-bound commitment is made. The five levels are as follows:

  • Level 1: Product Vision. The product vision is a high-level narrative produced by the product owner. It can be high-level or very detailed depending on what is known, by the product owner, about the proposed product. In many cases it will contain a high level description of the product, the markets it will serve, the value to the organization, and a description of how the product will serve the market. The key outcome of the product vision is a general direction for the development team to embark upon when creating the product.

 

  • Level 2: Product Roadmap. The product vision is decomposed into a roadmap consisting of large work elements, known as “Features”, and high-level estimates for each, laid over time. The key concept here is that the estimates are high-level and the schedules are aspirational. The product roadmap is not meant to establish a product development end-date, but rather it is used to chart a path for product development, and attempt to start setting high-level expectations around when a minimally viable product can be delivered. The product roadmap, like most other Agile planning artifacts, is intended to be iterative and refined over time as the product vision evolves.

 

  • Level 3: Release Plan. Once the product’s features are defined in the product roadmap, a vertical slice of the features are taken for each quarter. This vertical slice becomes the release plan. For example, if your company’s product is a new website for ordering college textbooks, features could be “shopping cart”, “search”, “payment”, etc. In each release, you’ll want to include certain aspects of each feature in the release.

 

  • Level 4: Sprints. A sprint is probably one of the most widely known Agile concepts. A sprint is simply a time-box for completion of work. The most common sprint duration is two weeks; however, sprints can be as short as one week or as long as four weeks. It is not recommended to have a sprint duration longer than four weeks. Once the release plan is defined by quarter, the Agile team determines the number of sprints than can be accomplished in each quarter. User stories supporting each feature slice are written and selected by the team for completion in each sprint. The selection of a story to be completed in a sprint is a hard and fast commitment by the team to deliver a working piece of software within a certain timeframe. There is much that goes into the drafting, estimation, and selection of user stories for a given sprint. This guidance is outside the scope of this lesson.

 

  • Level 5: Daily Stand-Up. The daily stand-up is also a widely known Agile concept and fulfills the requirement of the team’s daily planning. It is probably the simplest Agile process. Its goal is to align the team, each day, around the current sprint’s objectives. It is a fifteen-minute meeting in which each person answers three questions relative to the deliverables in the current sprint; what did you do yesterday, what will you do today, and do you have any impediments (a.k.a. “roadblocks”). Typically the team’s Kanban board will be displayed to facilitate discussion. Problem solving is reserved for subsequent meetings to be scheduled by the Scrum Master.

 

In this lesson I’ve discussed some common concerns and how each of these is refuted. While it can take some time to persuade everyone to get on board, it’s clear that planning & process is not absent in Agile, simply better tailored to today’s software development environment.