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Eigentlich wollte ich diesmal wieder auf englisch schreiben, aber nachdem wir auf den letzten deutschen Post die weitaus besseren Zugriffszahlen hatten, versuchen wir es nochmals so. Ich hab in letzter Zeit viel in anderen PM-Blogs gelesen und dabei wirklich viele interessante Ideen und Ansätze aufgeschnappt. Besonders die Themen Selbstorganisation, Organisationsformen der Zukunft und die Kombinationsmöglichkeiten von agilen und klassischen Projektmanagement-Methoden werden immer wieder kontrovers diskutiert. Hervorheben möchte ich hier u.a. die Blogs von Stefan Hagen und Jurgen Appelo, sowie die gesamten YouTube-Videos von Prof. Peter Krause. Aber jetzt kommt mein großes ABER bzw. meine Frage:

Wie setze ich das Alles in die Realität um?

Wer beschäftigt sich mit diesen Themen? Firmenchefs und Manager? Ich denke, dass dies nur in wenigen, seltenen Glücksfällen die Realität widerspiegelt. Gehen wir doch einmal davon aus, uns weder in einem super-dynamischen web 2.0 IT-Unternehmen zu befinden, noch mit einem Management konfrontiert zu sein, welches nicht an den guten, altbewährten Methoden festhalten will. Wie argumentieren wir? Wie überzeugen wir einen Patriarchen eines mittelständischen Unternehmens davon, nicht mehr der Alleinherrscher zu sein? Wie überzeugen wir Ihn davon die Transparenz in seinem Unternehmen zu erhöhen und hierarchische Strukturen abzubauen? Wie bringen wir ein Management dazu diese “radikalen” Methoden umzusetzen und sich – in Ihren Augen – damit gleichzeitig selbst zu schwächen?

Als ich auf meinem damaligen PMI-Vorbereitungskurs war, fragte mich der Trainer, ob meine Chefs auch schon diese Zertifizierung haben. Auf meine Frage des warum’s, antwortete er, dass ganzheitliches PM nur funktionieren kann, wenn das gesamte Unternehmen dahinter steht – mit allen Konsequenzen. Wie wahr. Aber dieses Bewusstsein auch an den richtigen Stellen zu schaffen halte ich für äußerst schwierig, weil dies oft Verzicht bzw. radikales Umdenken erfodert. Über zahlreiche Meinungen zu diesem – meiner Meinung nach – sehr diffizilen Thema wäre ich sehr dankbar.

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Don’t know what your experience is like, but for me it is the following. Meetings are much more productive when someone is standing at a white board and writes down ideas, risks, problems and what have you. I am sure every single human being who has attended enough meetings has observed the default pattern — or anti pattern — in meetings. Everyone has their point of view and does all necessary arguing to protect their idea. They fight each other instead of pulling together towards a common goal. Often after a long and useless meeting it is commonly decided (the only agreement) that another meeting is needed.

One way to counter this behavioral pattern is to mail out an agenda with all the topics and asking the participants to prepare. This might help but most often it does not. I even doubt that every recipient of the mail does read it entirely. It usually drowns in the sea of more important emails.

Now, imagine you are in a pissing contest meeting and someone gets up and starts to write the different points clearly visible down. In a heart beat the whole meeting has structure, everyone turns their head towards the board. Not the loudest voice is heard but all ideas. Often, after some time the whole group is working together towards a — just identified — common goal. If you don’t believe it, then give it a try at the next deadlocked meeting. You will be amazed how much power a white board and a marker in hand can create.

Why am I writing this? Well, Scrum has this at the core of all of it’s meetings. In Scrum we have four different meeting types. Sprint Planning meeting, Daily Scrum, Review and Retrospective. Usually each of those meetings is moderated by the Scrum Master. It might be moderated by someone else but it is always moderated! The medium to write on are either index cards or PostIts which are aranged on a white- or corkboard. Those cards are then updated and rearranged during the course of the sprint. A very visual way of management. Alistair Cockburn named it accordingly: Information Radiators.

Next time your are stuck in a non productive meeting just get up and start to use a marker and whiteboard. Everyone in the rooom will be grateful.

The future is Lean Agile.

PS If you are interested in a simple way to moderate a meeting then try out Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats

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I come to believe that most product development environments and processes are just to damn confusing. Not by nature, but manmade. Let’s look at bug tracking. I’ve spent too many hours of my live with QA and product managers to prioritize a list of bugs.

P1, P2, P3 and P4.

P1 and P2 need to be fixed ASAP because you cannot ship the product with them. Tough luck for P3 and P4 as they probably will rot in the system as there are too many P1/2.

Now let’s look at a classical scenario. Programmer A writes code for two weeks to implement feature F for product P. Once he is done — it works on my machine — he reports to his manager and moves on to the next task. Meanwhile the testers are busy testing another product S for two more weeks. Then, after two weeks, tester T looks at feature F and discovers some issues. Let’s say four of them. Two are bugs, one is a requirement misunderstanding from tester T and the last one just a minor cosmetic thing, a spelling mistake ‘Tset’ instead of ‘Test’. After three days T is done logging all issues in the issue/bug tracking system.

P receives per mail the list of bugs but ignores them as he has to finish another feature. The following week he is done and addresses those issues. The spelling mistake is fixed easily, it takes him only 20 minutes in total. The two bugs are more tricky especially since 3 weeks have past since the implementation and the code is not fresh in mind any more. It takes some time to isolate the problem and fix. 4 hours for either. Now, the requirement misunderstanding. He reads the description again and again and is sure that the current implementation is right. So he amends the entry for further clarification and emails — ping-pongs — T.

The next day T looks at the request for more details and, after some mental swearing, adds more details and ping-pongs the bug back to the developer.

P is busy for another two days finishing up another feature and then looks at the bug again. After two hours he is sure that T is mistaken and puts his conclusion in the system. Ping-Pong once more. T reads the reply the next day and actually agrees with P. He sends an email to M the product manager asking for clarification. Luckily, M works long hours and forwards the email at midnight to S the subject matter expert. After two days S replies to M who forwards the clarification to T who puts it into the system and pushes it back to P. Ping-Pong. As it turnes out P was right but not completely so he needs to make one minor change and send it for a final review to T. T looks at it the following week as she is busy working on another product. Six days later T runs a final test and checks it off as complete.

Wow, what an amazing game of Ping-Pong. Corporate Ping-Pong.

Let’s analyze it quickly. The whole implementation and testing circle lasted for over 8 weeks. It is driven by the wrong believe that working in batches and specialized silos makes us more efficient. 100% workload equals to 100% productivity. This is plainly wrong.

How would Agile have handled it. I will give a short description using Scrum as the method. First you work in time boxes which are fix, you don’t ever make a sprint longer or shorter. (You can adapt sprint length but usually you plan it ahead; also this is often a sign of ScrumBut). In each of those sprints you deliver value to the customer in the form of running and usable software. Being 80% done does not cut it. It is either all or nothing. The Product Owner specifies what she wants ahead and the development Team estimates how much can be done in one sprint. Once the feature set is decided the acceptance criteria are defined with the product owner. Until those are met there is no chance the product owner will accept the feature. Actually the acceptance criteria are only one point in the Definition of Done. The Definition of Done — DoD in short — can include all kinds of requirements to be met. Popular are, automated Unit Tests (Verification) and Story Tests (Validation) for all code. If working in a regulated environment, often the DoD also includes the required Documentation.

Next, in Scrum there would not have been two different departments. The team is co-located and cross functional. In our case P, T and M would have been in the same room. M might not be there all the time but a couple of hours each day. So, the corporate ping-pong would not have taken place at all. The typo bug would have taken 2 min without the entire bug tracking system overhead. The fixing of the bugs less then the 8 hours. Let’s say 6 hours as the code was still fresh in mind. Finally, the requirement misunderstanding would have lasted not more then 3 days at most. P and T would have discussed it side by side for about 1 hour and then spoken directly to M. Assuming that S still takes 2 days, the 3 days are rather generous.

Altogether we are looking at two weeks, the length of the sprint. Compare this to the 8 weeks in the high productivity setup. Slack, for some people this words is associated with very bad things. In agile, you need some slack to be able to react fast without too much task switching. A good book about this topic is Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency.

Actually, I’ve started to throw out the bug tracking system altogether. It is just too much waste. Don’t allow bugs by building quality in. Whenever a bug pops up, it is being addressed immediately. This might look counter productive but in the long rung it speeds you up. I like to use this metaphor; a bug is like a whole in the road. So getting from A to B gets slower the more bugs you have. In order to go fast you need to improve the road condition by fixing the bugs. Once you have a state of the art road condition, you can move at high speed continuously as upcoming wholes – bugs – get fixed immediately.

I like Sports but not Corporate Ping-Pong!

The future is lean agile!

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Today I want to tell you about a bet with a good friend. This friend is part of a software-project team, which was assembled by the upper management. The project is of prime importance and top management was in involved in the whole project acquisition process. The project did not really start till today, but all available resources, primarily top guns, where allocated to this project. They already got their roles and titles assigned, were seated on the same floor and got already their company-branded scrum planning poker cards.

So far so good…but let’s have a closer look… why do they need

  • a project leader
  • a project manager
  • a chef architect
  • a chef developer
  • a scrum master
  • a product owner
  • a test manager
  • a quality manager
  • a technology manager
  • senior developers and
  • management consultants?

This has nothing to do with project management neither agile nor classic. I think it is a common practice, to assign the best available people to an important project. Furthermore all project members get an appropriate title to signal their personal relevance. But who has the real project-responsibilty, who takes decisions inside this construct, what about personal vanities by collecting just alpha animals, what about the costs and who does the work finally?

For some IT Managers it could be very helpful to remember pieces of wisdom like “less is more” or “too many cooks spoil the broth” 😉

Btw, my bet was, that they will not meet their project targets regarding costs and schedule…and I will win the two crates of beer.

Image via Flickr: © by Greg Ryan http://www.Greggsgaff.com

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Does Agile have lessons learned?

They are part of the process especially in Scrum. Scrum is about transparancy, inspection and adaption. At the end of each sprint there is a sprint review in which the product increment is demoed to all stakeholders and the product owner. The results of this inspection are reflected with the adaption of the product backlog. After the review the development team meets for a retrospective. This meeting is used to analyze: what went well, what went bad and how to improve it. This results in positive reinforcement for the good stuff and a list of action items for the next sprint for the bad stuff. Since a sprint is at max 30 days long you learn from your lessons at least once a month. Actually, the most common sprint length is 2 weeks these days.
Still 2 weeks is rather long to learn and improve. Therefore. Scrum has the daily standup meeting. The Scrum Master and dev team meet for a maximum of 15 min every day. In order to keep it short eveyone has to stand up, hence the name. Everyone has to answer 3 questions. What was I doing yesterday, what am I going to do today and are there any impediments blocking me. This is learning and knowledge sharing on a daily basis.

Scrum wasn’t designed with the PDCA (plan do check act) Deming circle in mind, but it is at the very core of it. As you can see, Scrum is about constant learning and improving. It fosters constructive communication. So, how about sharing lessons learned from one project to another. Scrum follows the agile manifesto and one of the rules is:

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Working software includes not only the end product but everything to build it. Agile automates about everything, so that the final end product can be build and deployed with the push of a button. Some call this executable documentation. In the case of the former post ‘Über den Sinn und Unsinn von Leasons Learned‘, you could take the executable documentation from a past project and have a real head start. You could hit the ground running and have real value from the get go. Sure, these are not fancy looking word documents but they are helpful. Not some kind of document which lost 80% of its original value by tipping it down and another 50% loss by reading it.
So in agile, within an project you have lessons learned on an ongoing basis. As for inter projects, you are welcome to take as much executable documentation as you see fit. Go and get this whole build pipeline and adapt as you learn.

The future is lean agile!

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