Friday, February 26, 2010

CSM course + Workshop in Ottawa March 1-4

Joe Little will be leading a Certified ScrumMaster course (2 days), followed by an optional workshop (2 days). In Ottawa, Mar 1-4.

Here are the details:

The workshop is good for any team that needs a boost. Either at the beginning, or in the middle.

Please don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Do Scrum and Kool-Aid go together?

Occasionally I hear the complaint: "Oh, you [scrum, agile, lean, x] guys have drunk the Kool-Aid. You don't care how reality intrudes, you're just going to propose your [X] solutions."

And what does this person mean? He might mean: "Completely on faith, without any support of reason and facts, you are a strong advocate of a certain set of views." He might also mean that we have let out minds be clouded with too much emotion and too much enthusiasm.

And of course, in the Agile community, there are indeed some people who resemble this remark. His (or her) comments do indeed have some traction. (Maybe I think not very much, but at least some.)

So, what is the right way to play Agile?

Well, first, of all the rigorous approaches to new product development, I find Scrum and Lean to be the MOST reality based. For example, the principles of Scrum require us to be transparent about the truth. Require us to keep an honest velocity. And require us to admit *every* Sprint the painful truth that we are not (yet?!?!) perfect, and we must remove one impediment now, and get better. And we try to immediately use all the good and bad aspects of the truth, as it minute-by-minute unfolds, to get better.

To be honest, I still lie. But I must say, when I did waterfall, I felt it was helping me lie, while when I do Scrum, it puts the mirror up and makes me see how much I still continue to avoid the truth. So that I almost can't avoid. (Of course, being a clever guy, I still do avoid it some.)

So, when a Scrum theory or practice hits a hard reality, Scrum allows that the hard reality wins. It also demands that the onlooker examine yet again how they are twisting the truth out there in the very process of trying to perceive it....but when we really understand the truth, the truth always wins.

Now let's move to emotion. It is right to say that any sport, if you play to win, it must be played with or intention. Some wish to call this emotion...ok. And Scrum is such a team sport. But to play any sport at a high level, one must ride one's emotions, but at the same time control them. All the winners know this, and it is indeed this that is their greatest struggle (I am thinking Roger Federer just now, but many great athletes will tell you this if you have not experienced it yourself).

Now, being emotion in this way does not mean that the energy is allowed to deceive our good perception of reality. In fact, to play a sport well, one always wants a hyper-perception of reality. They say: "It was as if the ball was moving in slow motion." As one example.

Now, junior level athletes forget these great lessons more often, and sometimes have not even become accomplished enough to start to deal with these lessons yet. But do not blame tennis that some people play it terribly. Do not blame Scrum that some people allow their emotions to cloud their judgment. Scrum is only a vehicle to enable them, in the time that God may appoint, to learn to live better in this real world.

Oh, and if you play Scrum, don't forget to drink the Gatorade. Your body needs that hydration and the electrolytes. To also help enable the creativity.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The importance of the Product Owner

It is probably true that the Product Owner is yet more important than the ScrumMaster for the success of the Team.

The ScrumMaster should, almost by herself, triple the velocity of the Team. She is the ingredient, without which it does not happen.

And the Product Owner can execute the 85-33 Rule. Where the $1 million of annual cost to $3 million of annual NPV moves to getting $9 million of NPV for the same cost. (I will discuss the 85-33 rule again soon.) Ah, yes, another tripling, independent of the tripling of velocity.

(What if both things tripled? Would anyone at your firm notice? [Ok, a bit of sarcasm there.])

Suffice to say that the Product Owner is very very important. For the Customer and for the Team. Even for the Firm and its shareholders.

We also think Business Value Engineering is very very important. (Discussed in earlier blog posts.)

So, we are very happy to have two Certified Scrum Product Owner courses coming up. To us, the CSPO courses should be at least as popular as the CSM courses. They are certainly as much (now more) needed.

We have one coming up Feb 24-25 in Montreal and one in NYC (Mar 24-25). See

Friday, February 19, 2010

Change and how we feel

Why is it that we change? And how do we feel about it? And how does change stick?

My business is to change people, including myself. As a change agent, one is always interested to know more about why people change. No, not that really, but rather, how do we get people to change. And stay changed.

One idea is that you discuss things rationally, and if the reason says 'yes' then the person will change. Now, this is obviously a very simplistic idea of what people are about. Simple is good sometimes, but I find this simple idea, much as I sometimes want it to be true, is just wrong. Almost always. Even those who say they are rational are not. For example.

So, spending all your time appealing to the reason is probably not the best idea. (This is not to suggest you propose ideas that are not reasonable.) It may be that if something else in the person wishes already to say yes, then the reason may slow him down, maybe even turn the answer to a 'no'. But the reason is not where real change comes from. Or such is my current theory for virtually everyone.

My god, I lift my eyes up unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. I am lost in this wilderness of change. How will I be found?

Yes, change will happen, despite what anyone wants or says. So, if you are a change agent, one must wait for the wave of change to arise and ride and even direct it as best one can.

So, how might we direct it?

Well, if a person can see an attractor, or a higher attractor, in the change that you are proposing (versus other options), she is more likely to move toward the change you propose.

We also know that most people resist moving from the 'comfort' that they know, so often she needs a reason to leave the current comfort. Often despite the fact that she feels that current 'comfort' as painful sometimes or even often. 'The devil one knows is better than the devil one doesn't know.' So, one thing a change agent can do is enable higher perception of the pain of the current situation.

These are simple ideas, yes. Ones you probably know. But it is the simplest ideas that are the hardest to execute on. Over and over and over and over again. As Churchill said: "Never, never, never, never give in." And he did not.

Now, making this pleasure-pain idea richer does not require a return to the hedonists of Greek philosophy. What people feel as pleasure and pain (in this context) has many dimensions or attributes. Not just the five senses. Not just ego. Not just Maslow's hierarchy of needs, etc, etc.

Deploying this pleasure-pain idea to help people change is, on one view, quite simple, and on another, quite sophisticated. In life, most of us are like 4 year olds being utterly manipulated (for own benefit) by our mothers. You must become that mother. That good mother who does not always explain all. The focus is upon the lollipop as we go to the doctor's office (not that needle).

How do we sustain the change?

Well, from economics (the dismal science) we know of a thing called buyers remorse. We know that very often people buy 'agile' not because they want it, or because of agile itself, but because they invest it with all the attributes of things they do want. They make it more than anything can be. And then later they feel disappointed.

Like the lotus-eaters in the Odyssey, we want to eat the leaf to stay in a state of pleasure, indolent and unaware of the truth. Well, at least part of us wants to do, a lot of the time.

But later we reject this, feeling a buyers remorse, since we maybe bought the wrong thing (or, agile turns out to be different than the fantasy we wanted it to be). And Scrum can certainly show lots of painful bits. But it is not Scrum that is painful; Scrum just allows us to see the painful bits more clearly, will not let us avoid seeing them.

So how to sustain the change?

First, we must expect it to be somewhat hard. We must set reasonable expectations, as they say.

And we must put again and again the focus on the real lollipop. On the many many many good things that Scrum also gives us.

There are many good things. Let me focus on one now. Improved velocity, velocity based on story points completed per Sprint.

If you were Michael Phelps, and you had no measurement, and your coach asked you to get better again today, what would you say? You would likely say "Coach, I am already better than everyone in this pool here in South Carolina the last 3 weeks. I can't get any better. I need time off to go smoke some weed!" But you as a coach know that, yes, the body needs some pleasures, but the soul in the longer term will take more satisfaction by achieving a great goal, but showing others that despite having many faults (and Michael Phelps, like the rest of us, has many faults and weaknesses), despite all that one can achieve great great things.

And fortunately, that coach has a way of clearly measuring success and clearly measuring improvement. And clearly measuring the improvement of the competitors.

And we have this in Scrum too. For the Team, it is velocity measured in story points. Without that, the Team says: "Well, I think we have improved a lot. And we always have impediments. Let's not do a retrospective, let's not take time to remove impediments, let's just chip away at the real work and try to make the deadline." (And let's make sure we are not held accountable.)

But really, while so many times velocity is the cross upon which the Team will be crucified, it is in fact the glory of the Team. It shows how much they have improved. It gives them the pride to know they are hyperproductive (if they are, and they all can be...well, virtually all, by their own standard).

We need the numbers to have the emotion. Odd, but true. Or so I think and feel.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Taylor Swift just won the Grammy for, I think, album of the year. And I think a few other Grammies.

Taylor Swift has a song out called Change. Maybe "old" now by music industry standards.

See here:

In 1988 there was a movie with Uma Thurman called Dangerous Liasons. OK, Uma Thurman was not the only good actor in the show (but I am a man, perhaps I forgot). Oh, yes, they had Glenn Close and John Malkovich also. And some kid named Keanu Reeves. And, oh yes, Michelle Pfeiffer. The show was based on the fairly famous French novel. See:

One famous line in that show was: "It's beyond my control."

I have been in a few companies recently where the fundamental feeling is hopelessness and helplessness. "It is beyond my control."

As soon as we say it that way, any six-year old will say "This is clearly not a way to live. " There is not much more to say about it than: "If you can't change your organization, then you must change your organization." ie, get out even in the midst of a recession.

Perhaps it is also useful to remember: "Everything changes, nothing remains the same." A recent idea from the Buddha, only 2,000+ years old. This is to say, we, as individuals, don't make the real waves in the world, but we can ride the waves. And in small groups even, we must remember that people will change. They only really resist being changed. They want their freedom.

So, stop feeling helpless and hopeless. (We all do sometimes.) [If it seemed a missed a few steps in the logic there, I trust you can add them.]

So, where does this stupid kid, Taylor Swift, come in?

Well, her song starts this way:
And it's a sad picture, the final blow hits you
Somebody else gets what you wanted again
You know it's all the same, another time and place
Repeating history and you're getting sick of it
Certainly I have felt kind of this way when I felt helpless.

And then she asks you to imagine that things just might change.
And she offers to help you (ok, the idea that Taylor Swift personally will actually help is a silly teenage fantasy, but the idea of us helping each other in agile is quite quite real).

And she asks you to imagine, afterward, that you accomplished something you didn't really think was possible. And how proud you will be then that you never, never, never, never gave up. (OK, I added a bit of Churchill there.)

I dare you to listen to the song.

There are no doubt a few stupid ideas being spoken of by agile people. But the body of ideas is a great set.

Agile is here not to make some minor improvement. It can be a big change in, well, even your life. It can enable you to make big changes in the lives of people you really care about. If you have started, don't stop. Strap on your armour again. And fight. With a smile.