Thursday, August 19, 2010


I just led a course in Charleston. To mostly people working in/on government or military projects.

I was asked many good questions, and I was not able, in the time allotted (2 days) to answer them all as well as they deserved.

I have other clients who have also very difficult situations to deal with, but I was and remain very sympathetic with the difficulties they (this government-military group) face. In implementing Agile, for example. Still very possible. And still I believe it will yield very clear benefits. But also difficult. Perhaps especially given the surrounding 'culture'.

So, first, if my answers ever appeared to be disrespectful of the difficulties and challenges you face, my apologies. This was never my intent.

I, like you, have struggled and sweated or worried about how to implement lean-agile-scrum in specific situations. It is indeed hard. In fact, always it feels hard, in part because one wants to do it perfectly. So, again, if my comments seemed to be flip, they were not said with that intent.

So, what was I mainly trying to say?

1. Sometimes, we worry too much. Yes, sometimes we get all in a sweat about a certain issue and in fact that issue will resolve itself easily in good time (sometimes that means quickly, even). (This one is not #1, so much as easy and quick to say.)

2. Mindset, ie, the first and often hardest thing to change is our own mindset about the problem.

a. In part, this means we must start by seeing we are 'right', and they are wrong. Not in an arrogant way, but more in the core of our being. We hold the truth and therefore the real power, and we are patiently waiting for them (maybe a manager) to get a clue and get out of their fantasy world.

This attitude, if not done arrogantly, they can still feel. And it makes them realize, sub-consciously, that they are in the wrong place, and must change. Now, we sympathize with them as persons, but not with their wrong ideas.

b. We must understand that we approach certain ideas and issues with very different premises than they do. And so, understanding the mindset shift, we look for statements from them that reveal the old mindset so that we can attack it. For example, we know we want to optimize delivery to the customer. When they say they want to keep the workers busy, that opens up a good conversation about the goals of management.

Sp, often I did or will answer your question with something, maybe a sports metaphor, from left field (as we say). The reason often is to focus on the mindset shift. Not to diminish your issue or question.

3. Time.
Often attendees ask very good and very difficult questions. A good answer would really require 2 hours of Q&A to be sure I really understood the specifics of their situation. And probably then another hour to formulate and explain 10 approaches to dealing with a hard issue. In the CSM course, understandably, I do not have time for 3 hours devoted to one good question.

So, I say something brief. And I often worry later that it can be taken the wrong way by the questioner. I do usually ask "did I address your question at all or well enough?", but maybe in specific situations I need to say more to be better understood.

4. Self-sufficiency.
One of the properties of complex adaptive systems is that they 'solve' their own problems. Not always in isolation or fully or completely. But they can learn and can adapt. So, in part I am relying on you to use the values and principles we discuss (and maybe even some of the practices) to devise your own answers to the problems you pose.

I have confidence that you can and you will.

5. We always have impediments.
Meaning: We can still be successful even with lots and lots of impediments. Success with waterfall is one example of that. But, more generally, even though none of us ever reaches perfection, still we may say we are having many successes (eg, with lean-agile-scrum).

So, I know from experience, that even though your question may be about a very big impediment for you, still, even if we do not even address it, almost surely (I have seen this so many many times) you and your team can still have better success with Scrum than with what you used before. Even if that impediment is not addressed at all.

Now, yes, a few people might have had an impediment that does stop them in their tracks. I think this is possible. But, honestly, I have been doing and talking about this for a good while with many people, and I never seen such a case, I think. With the exception of 'people', which is indeed very difficulty to deal with. ("Our manager won't let us use Agile.")

Anyway, if I have seemed less than sufficiently concerned about your issue, it was not that I did not have sympathy, but maybe that I did think you could work through it or be successful despite it.

I did respect your question.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

King of Anything!?

Sara Bareilles, whose music I have enjoyed a lot, has a new song: King of Anything.

I think you will like it.

You might well ask: Why is he talking about this song here?

And the answer: In work, we must recognize the importance of freedom, of self-organization. For their own sakes (these are human rights, after all). And because work actually gets done better if we recognize and operate on those principles.

Some of you will recognize that these are, in one way or another, key principles of Lean-Agile-Scrum also.

So, as we all make mistakes, watch out for when (not if) you treat others as though someone died, and left you king of something. The people that we do this to (we must forgive first, ourselves; we are only human)...they are usually too kind to sing us this song, or their version of this song.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Little's Second Law

Little's Law is a nice idea that tells us: we want small batches of work. Smaller, always smaller.
See here for a start:
This is from a John Little at Case Western Reserve. And it is fairly old.

One day this phrase came to me: People are remarkably good at doing what they want to do.

I call it, in fun, Little's Second Law. And I have mentioned it before.

A friend said: You must talk about this more. But is it not obvious?

This law has two sides. On the one we have: Where there is a will, there's a way. If they really want to do it, they will overcome any obstacle. These human values of persistence and wiliness are both Odyssean and Protean.

The other side is what I call the Ebet principle. My now wonderful sister was once 12 when I was 15. Her older brother, in his wisdom, would remind her that she (a) should clean up the den, (b) do the kitchen dishes, (c) finish her homework, and (d) clean up her room. And by the age of 12, she already knew 1500 ways to assure that anything her older brother asked her to do would (1) not get done, and (2) mostly likely the lack of action would be blamed on her brother.

When they don't want to do it, they can often make sure it fails.

As a practical matter, this has one specific meaning (among many others): The ScrumMaster must get the team to want to do Scrum.

We do well to remember these basic laws of human nature.