Friday, July 31, 2009

Learning more

If you are looking for more to learn from...
May I suggest, Alice, this rabbit-hole here:

Many rooms to visit. With people of many persuasions. All of them with one voice saying:
"Go, and do. Better than we have done yet, can you.
Some pain, yes, but with a far greater joy."

Suggestion: It is best to keep the cycle of thinking and acting tight.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

One impediment at a time

Why is it important to focus attention on one thing at a time? One impediment?

Well, there are many reasons. But let's take a few. And others may add other reasons in the comments section.

First, get something completed. So often we try to do "everything" and nothing gets done.

Second, we need fast feedback. For example, sometimes our "improvement" is a stupid idea. Only by limiting the number of changes can we begin to see how stupid we are. Or how brilliant (and maybe share the idea with the next time).

Second, we need fast feedback. (sic) We want improvement now, not in 6 months. (A related reason is the impact on team motivation.)

Third, to see better. We have kind of already said this. But let's expand a bit. In the Gemba (the team room) it is difficult to see specifically what is working and specifically what isn't. And it is very difficult to see through the tangle of inter-connections to what the second impediment is.

Only by doing the top impediment and then seeing the results, can we then decide what the next top impediment is. (Cf TOC.) Often, after we make a change, the next top impediment is in an area totally unexpected.

Fourth, blindness and fear. One example: We naturally want to think that the top impediment is in an area where we are competent to fix it. So, naturally we see those impediments and we ignore the others. (We are blind, and at the same time, we fear getting into, for example, "people issues" where those dreaded "feelings" might get involved. Or, some of us may fear getting into SCM or TDD or whatever.)

So, we recommend not taking a waterfall approach to impediments. But instead take a lean-agile approach to impediments.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Thinking for Yourself

Here is a good blog post about why thinking for yourself is important in Lean.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hold the mirror

How do we get managers to change? (You know, if it were not for them, everything would be just fine.)

We got this question in a class on Friday.

My immediate answer, maybe an intuition, was to quote part of this:
"...the purpose of playing, whose
end, both at the first and now,
was and is, to hold as 'twere
the mirror up to nature:
to show virtue her feature,
scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure."

These are part of Hamlet's instructions to the players. Before they perform. "The play's the thing wherein we'll catch the conscience of the king." For the fuller instructions, see here:

So, like the little boy in the old story, it will become clear that the emperor has no clothes. And the foolishness will be clear to all.

ScrumMasters, just hold up the mirror. Make it transparent.

We will say, in passing, that Scrum is a drama in real life.

Now we come to the Man in the Mirror. And these days, many of you will immediately recognize a reference to a Michael Jackson song. I personally am not the biggest fan, but one must say "in form and moving how express and admirable!" And so many wonderful songs. Such great dancing. And such fun in his performances.

So, these lyrics:
"I'm Starting With The Man In
The Mirror
I'm Asking Him To Change
His Ways

Less poetically, "I am starting with myself."

See here: And a video here: (The song is wonderful; the video is somewhat over the top, but one can feel the yearning of the people to be free. Such yearnings also have been used by the dark forces.)

By your own actions, you can show them. And, despite some things, their better angels will often lead them to follow you. Not because you became their boss, but because you are right, and you carry the truth. The truth is not yours, but you carry it for awhile. And with that illuminating power (again, not your own), the darkness fades away.

And we thought business was all about facts, and money, and power, and share prices. No: it starts with getting people to stop being stupid (which we always are, part of the time).

For a more common-sense way of expressing the same thing, read Taiichi Ohno. For example.

If you feel, now, within your heart a sense of urgency, go and make one small change. Today, or maybe tomorrow. Love is less that drug emotion than the work of days and hands.

PS. The early phrase -- that the managers are to blame for everything -- was said with irony. They are people, just as we are.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Defining Business Value // #2 Customer Smile

Imagine that you want to make a new camera. And in the first release you will make 1,000 cameras and basically "give them away". Give them to key influencers, etc. So, all that that work does is make the customer smile.

Imagine that the picture here is not of Scarlett Johansson. Just a girl. And it represents all 1,000 customers who buy your new camera. You don't make any profit, just the smile. In fact, you lose $10 on each camera.

How do we evaluate the Business Value of that smile? Or those smiles. There are many ways one could approach this problem. Without explaining all my assumptions, let me quickly say this.

Well, presumably the smile is worth something later. You provided customer satisfaction, and they will come back and buy the next camera from you. Or tell their friends to, etc, etc. If you were clever you could estimate that.

But let's imagine that the Product Owner is not that clever.

Let's imagine you have 5 stakeholders, stakeholders who understand the business intuitively and have lots of experience of Business Value in all its aspects. Let's imagine that you have them to vote on the BV.

Earlier I recommended getting the list of stories for building this new camera, and having these experts play priority poker for those story cards. Relative value compared to a small reference card of 1 (the card that you all initially think has the least BV). Using the Fibonacci series up to about 1,000.

You do this exercise, even though the real number you need for business decision-making now is the total dollar value of the effort (eg, to judge whether to invest here or elsewhere).

Why do that? So that the team of 5 creates knowledge together about what the effort really is. If you are already sure they have a common view of the effort, and a fair amount of detail about it, then maybe you don't take this step of priority poker yet (eg, until after the project is "approved").

OK, now to estimate the overall dollar value.

Again, there are other techniques, but the one I will recommend first is have each of the Delphic experts write down their personal opinion on a piece of paper. Before being influenced by anyone. And some comments about why "my" number is right.

And then all flip the cards at once. And compare. The two extremes talk most, about why each had the highest (or lowest) number. The assumptions, and the issues they see with the other extreme. They might compare to previous efforts. "Project X had $20 million and I just don't see this as better than Project X, so I don't see how you can get to $24 million." Maybe they vote again, and eventually reach some closer consensus. Maybe they discuss again, and vote a third time. Then, however close they get, average the answers they give. Use that.

There is no harm if one or more of the "experts" wants to use a mathematical formula of some sort. They should share that formula.

You might, particularly in the first few months of using this technique, have a senior manager do a "sniff test". They bring him in and say "We decided this effort is worth $17 million, plus or minus about 100%. Seem reasonable to you?" If he can accept it as probably the best guess at this time, then they did a good-enough job. Or they might take his input, do a bit of scratching of the head, and estimate again.

Finally, as they get closer to production, someone should be working on a formula for BV, and how to prove, or at least get indicators about, whether that formula is relevant. Let's say a key aspect of the formula assumes that 900 of the first 1,000 users have a broad smile. So, they might use the Net Promoter Score to confirm that assumption. Etc, etc.

BV is hard. Like any prediction of the future, it is difficult, and likely to be off. Still, we need to learn how to be less and less off in our estimates. While all estimates are "terrible" compared to the precision of what reality will later give us, still it is better to make business decisions with the best info we have today than with no info at all. Even though very imprecise, and sometimes inaccurate (leading us in the wrong direction). Making no business decisions is not an option.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What is Scrum?

I am excited to be giving a Certified ScrumMaster course with Jeff Sutherland next week. In Richmond.

So, I was thinking: what is the essence of Scrum if you would play the game well?

(Remember that Scrum is named for the Scrum formation in Rugby. We often show a video of the famous All Blacks team doing the Haka and playing Scrum. We think Takeuchi and Nonaka, who originated this metaphor, were thinking of these great teams.)

To me the essence is that team spirit that is willing to face a rough opponent and a difficult situation, and overcome any obstacle to win.

I sometimes call this the Michael Phelps attitude. He is thinking: "I broke the world record in each of the last three heats. And now, in the finals, I want to jump in the water and break it again."

There are many things from art and science that we give the teams in the course. But we must convey this essence. Without this tacit knowledge, it avails almost nothing to have all the explicit knowledge in the world.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Value of Training (CSPO)

What's Scrum training worth?

I am about to lead a Certified Scrum Product Owner course. (2 days, in NYC and a bit later in Saratoga Springs.) The question comes up...what is this course worth?

I explain this in more detail in the course, but here's the summary.

In the course we talk about many things, and hope to get many improvements. Imagine, though, that we only make 2 improvements to a Product Owner. And that PO manages only one Team.

Assume the Team costs about $1 million all-in per year. Team of about 8 people.

Assume the Team currently produces about $3 million per year in NPV (net present value, a core way of measuring business value). (Microsoft seems to be averaging about a 5:1 ratio or better overall.)

OK. We teach Sam, the PO, how to create 20% better stories. So, instead of $3 million per year, the team can get $3.6 million per year.

Now, we also teach him the Pareto Rule, and how to work it all the time. (80% of the value comes from 20% of the work.) Now, we and Sam aren't perfect, so Sam comes back only able to execute the 85-33 rules, ie, 85% of the value in close to double the 20% of the time that Pareto's rule calls for.

OK, this means in 33% of a year, the Team can get 85% of $3.6 million. Let's round down and call that $3 million. We assume Sam (and the firm) can find more work of the same value. So, in the next 33% of a year, the Team produces another $3 million in BV. And in the last third of that year, the Team produces another $3 million in BV. So, now we have $9 million in BV in one year. A 3x improvement. (I will note we assume that the Team did *not* increase Story Point velocity at all. No other impediments removed...very conservative assumption.)

Even if we (the teacher and Sam) don't immediately achieve quite the same level of improvement we assumed (which itself was far from perfection), I think you can see that, a million here, a million there, pretty soon you're talking real money. And, in my opinion, those improvements alone justify the costs for the 2-day course. Even in a serious recession.

What do you think?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Defining Business Value // #1 Risk

I hear many people complain that it is hard to define business value. So they won't do it. Or they won't try any harder to do it.

That it is hard and always changing is true. That fact does not, though, give us sufficient reason not to work hard to get better.

I won't reiterate here all the reasons why understanding business value really well is very, very important. Suffice to say that one can argue that there is no more important thing to understand. (Yes, one still has to actually build the new product.)

One comment I hear is "I can't define what risk is worth." So, today, let's take risk as an example.

My main reply is "well, get an actuary...those people define the dollar value of risk all the time. It is called an insurance premium."

Then the response often is: "There is the business loss from an 'event', and there is the harder to quantity 'loss of reputation'."

This is correct, as far as it goes. "Loss of reputation" can often be harder to quantify. But nonetheless, you must take a stab at it. And prove to yourself whether your theory of what it is worth was high or low. Only by taking a stab at it, do you force yourself to learn.

Wide-band delphi. I cannot too strongly recommend this technique. As the Romans said, to predict is difficult, particularly of the future. So, we want to get the best ideas possible on the table so that we improve our odds. By improving our odds, we improve the likelihood of overall business success.

So, risk, as one example. Let's say risk (in several forms) is the main driver of the business value of a large effort. Here is one way to estimate it. Based on assumptions I will not articulate here.

Get Fibonacci cards that go to 987 (several orders of magnitude). The 5 "experts" (the best experts you have) go through the Product Backlog, and use the basic planning poker technique, but this time they are estimating the Business Value of each story. (I assume the reader understands basic planning poker.) For each story, the experts question and discuss the underlying assumptions about Business Value. They take an aggressive attitude that they are tryingto uncover Pareto's 80-20 rule within this population of story cards. The BV is relative to the smallest reference story (marked with a BV=1). Ideally, a small set of reference stories. The experts reach a reasonably close consensus (within 3 Fibonacci numbers of each other), and then average to score each card. By and by they complete all the story cards.

But to make a lot of business decisions, you need to know the dollar value of the "whole" effort. (Discussing "whole" is a rabbit hole we won't jump in just now.) So, having had a good discussion of the stories, we ask the same experts: "Ok, write down in secret what you think this whole pile of cards is worth. In dollars. If you need to do a calculation, do it. If you can't think about it any other way, what is the maximum our business should consider to pay for this stuff? How long for you to estimate this? And any questions now for the Product Owner, before you start?"

They might ask the Product Owner about some assumptions. "How many people will this affect? What is the average size of an account? How many accounts do we project we will have in 3 yeras? What's the largest fine the Federal Reserve has ever given?" Whatever they think is relevant.

Regarding the timebox, anything more than 1 hour is too long, almost always. (If the calculation is really important, and will take longer, then maybe.)

Each of the 5 experts writes down his dollar number on a piece of paper, in secret.

Now the fun. You bring all five experts back together, and have them turn over the pieces of paper. They won't be the same. As with planning poker, you have the 2 extremes talk. Then they all discuss what the best assumptions should be. Like a Scrum. But in some sort of timebox. Typically there is a good "fight". This is good. Also, typically, they each need to go back and re-estimate. You might do a couple of rounds of this.

You want a reasonable consensus, but not perfect. I will recommend that the least degree of consensus is within one order of magnitude (eg, $11-99 million). Ideally a good deal more than that. Normally, once within some reasonable consensus, then average the numbers they give you.

Example: 3, 4, 7, 8, 9. The average is $6 million or $6.2 million. (I would not pretend we have more precision by extending the number of decimal places.)

Sometimes it is good to go to the next higher level of management and discuss how the $6 million BV estimate was arrived at. And ask them: do you think this is a reasonable estimate? If not, how would it be improved?

Is the number derived perfectly accurate? Of course not. There is no end to improving our BV estimates.

Is the number better than we currently have? Almost always.
Is the number useful enough to make business decisions with? Yes.
Is the number good enough for us to start learning from? Yes.
Should we revise the number later? Certainly. The key question is how many times.
Should we try to do an experiment in the real world that tries to prove that the estimate was (or was not) reasonably accurate? Yes.

Note: The diagram about risk management is borrowed from The point, for me, of the picture, is only that it is about risk management. I am making no point now about whether the ideas embedded in the picture are good or bad. Still, the fear of risk often leads people to take no action ("deer in the headlights"). This is often the worst of several options.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Man is born free, and everywhere is in chain.

Rousseau, certainly a man of some well-known weaknesses, was brilliant to say this, just a few years ago now.

Of course it was then far from literally correct. And he said this as a citizen of Geneva, arguably one of the places on this planet with the most freedom in that day (~1762). Still, it was more true than literal physicality, both then and to this day.

Today, July 4th, it is most appropriate for any Virginian, and indeed any citizen of the world, to honor the Declaration of Independence and a certain birth of freedom in this nation. This is arguably the one document that has given people more freedom than any other single act of mankind. And, of course, not just people in the USA.

We know several phrases well.

When in the course of human events...
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
...appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions,
with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

We too must continue to fight for freedom. We may fight for it using Scrum or Agile or Lean, and certainly this is an important fight. But we cannot say that the courage these daily fights require of us can measure against the courage of a red-haired man in Philadephia in 1776. He and John Hancock and their fellows knew, for a certainty, that if they did not win the war, they would be killed, probably hung in public.

Let us learn again from this. Let us rededicate ourselves to the fight, that freedom, which can so easily in the search for security in a difficult world roll backward, will with our arms, and backs, and voices, continue to roll forward.

Friday, July 3, 2009

New, special Classes - I'm excited

I am particularly excited about the following courses or workshops.

One: Jeff Sutherland in Richmond, VA. Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) course. Dr. Sutherland (he has a PhD) is a great guy and of course the co-creator of Scrum. I always learn more when I do these courses with him. This a great advanced course for many people. Great for managers, too.

If you do not follow Dr. Sutherland's blog, you should.

Two: Poppendiecks in Chicago. New Leading Lean Software Development workshop. Mary & Tom Poppendieck are of course the thought-leaders in Lean Software Development. Again, I always learn when I help with their courses. This course is new, and will be based on their new book (coming out soon).

For an outline of their new book, see here.

Three: CSM for ScrumU at Notre Dame. ScrumU is a group of people who do SW dev (etc) for the universities...using Scrum (and other Lean-Agile stuff). This is a special course only for those kinds of people, at a "university" rate. And it is for professors who teach IT subjects. Kristine Gianelli, leader of ScrumU, is the mastermind behind this course.