Archives for the Month of October, 2007

The Emperor’s New Clothes

Question: What do Tom Peters and Steven Levitt have in common?
Answer: They make a living out of having and using a rare and precious thing that has made them kings. Their magic is no secret: it’s common sense.


Tom Peters Says

Tom Peters is a classic great speaker. He’s charming, inspirational and a brilliant performer. It was interesting to hear him speak about excellence in the enterprise 25 years on from when ‘In Search of Excellence’ was first published. According to the title of his talk, he’s ‘Still in Search of Excellence’ – an observation that’s at once disconcerting as well as hopeful. Disconcerting because, from experience, we haven’t solved the problem yet (in spite of the number of man years spent in this pursuit); hopeful because it gives us something to do. Problems are good. It’s often the solutions that make things go from bad to worse. I’m constantly reminded that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions.’

Tom began by assuring the audience that we were all leaders – weren’t we? He then went on to say: ‘We all know we’re phonies and because we’re afraid to expose our weaknesses we don’t ask the interesting questions. It’s our job as leaders to ask interesting questions.’

Tom described the essence of enterprise as:

  • Cause – worthy of commitment
  • Space – for encouragement and initiative
  • Decency – respect and humane
  • Service
  • Excellence
  • Servant Leadership

He then hollered a typical management mantra to the crowd like some punk rock star: ‘Park your brain at the door dude and row the slave ship!’ then lowering his voice, he continued: ‘But we have computers to row the slave ship.’

According to Tom, our only chance to succeed in globalisation is to leverage the creative and intellectual skills of our teams. Starbucks is a good example of a human function being replaced by a machine. Since coffee making is done by a machine, what Starbucks buys is individuality in their staff. When asked why Starbucks staff are constantly smiling, one manager said as a matter-of-fact: ‘We hire people who smile.’

Tom, like Levitt, fully acknowledges that he has nothing profound to say. Instead, what he does has been described as ‘blinding flashes of the obvious’. So here’s the latest newsflash: ‘Put your people before your customers,’ says Tom Peters. What will you do?

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

Here’s a chance to swap your bit part for a major role in the Agile re-telling of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ for your organisation.

Starring:

  • You as Dorothy
  • Agile as the Emerald City
  • Agile adoption path as the Yellow Brick Road
  • Session presenters (Duncan Pierce and me) as the Wizard of Oz

See you at XPDay London 2008

I’ll be co-presenting ‘The Yellow Brick Road’ at XPDay London in November. The session will be a self-contained workshop as well as a potential kick-off session for a year-long programme where you will learn about and practice peer-coaching to transform your way of working from suboptimal to agile. You will get the chance to work with peers in similar organisations and draw on a wealth of experiences, from learning how to deal with real problems to brainstorming and selecting effective solutions. We hope to create a setting where you will be able to give and receive support as you apply solutions through an iterative and collaborative process of plan-do-inspect-adapt.

To find out more about XPDay London, go to: http://www.xpday.org/

Agile – A New Beginning

I met a number of people who expressed an interest in learning more about Agile this evening at an event organised by the British Computer Society’s Business Information Systems Specialist Group (BISSG). Here’s what I found useful when I first came across Agile.

Online Resources

  • Agile Software Development
  • The Agile Manifesto
  • Kaizen (Continuous Improvement)
  • Scrum – Go to http://www.agilealliance.org/ and search for ‘scrum’. Scrum is an implementation of Agile that I’m most interested in currently, mainly because it’s most suited for teams who are used to Waterfall development (the old-fashioned, most prevalent way of developing software). XP is probably too difficult to adopt as a first stab at Agile for most Waterfall-oriented teams, hence Scrum is possibly a better (easier) place to start because it focuses more on how people do things rather than what they should do.

Must-Read Books

  • Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change by Kent Beck and Cynthia Andres
    An excellent introduction to the Agile values and principles along with the practices of XP. This is the second version of Kent’s book (this one’s published in 2004 and the first was in 1998). If you’ve got time, it’s worth reading both versions to see how XP has evolved.
  • The Pragmatic Programmer by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas
    Not specifically related to Agile, but a must-read for any self-respecting developer. However, this book isn’t only for techies. It lays out the best practices that I think every IT professional should know if they’re involved in the software development lifecycle in any way, shape or form. To non-coding readers: don’t feel compelled to read it all, skip over the code samples, but the majority of the content makes for an easy and interesting read about how quality software should be developed.
  • Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit by Mary Poppendieck and Tom Poppendieck
    For me, this was an brilliant introduction to Agile software development and the concepts of Lean.
  • Agile Project Management with SCRUM by Ken Schwaber
    This book provides a great high-level overview of what Scrum looks and feels like.
  • Scrum and XP from the Trenches by Henrik Kniberg
    An excellent handbook on how to start using Scrum. It’s worth knowing at least the fundamentals of Agile and Scrum before introducing Scrum into your team (and/or organisation). I would suggest reading Henrik’s book after looking through Ken’s and Mary’s books.

JAOO 2007: A Retrospective

Why JAOO?

I left Aarhus last Friday tooled up with numerous good ideas, a dozen or so new Agile friends (you can never have enough of those) and a reading list the length of my arm thanks to acting on Eberhard Wolff‘s conference recommendation. Thanks Eberhard!

What worked well: Conference sessions – The Highlights

Jim Coplien on Scrum Architecture: Jim started by highlighting that use cases describe what a system does and architecture represents what that system is. A common problem on Agile projects is that a lot of teams become unstuck during the third sprint because there is no architecture. After all, architecture is what enables developers to work together. Jim therefore recommended we assert what we know on an architecture in order to provide a high level design, taking no more than three days, made up of abstract base classes and domain dictionaries (two sides of A4 per domain). Jim went on to say that TDD (Test-Driven Development) does not produce (good) architectures. That architectures cannot be derived from unit tests. That we should adopt architecture-driven design instead of unit-test-case-driven design. The session hit the sweet spot as a technical Agile session: suitably thought-provoking or controversial depending on how you interpreted his presentation.

Kevlin Henney on developer professionalism in terms of economy and elegance: Kevlin was eloquent, erudite and entertaining. He said that ‘in searching for identity, we need to look beyond caricatures and preconceptions’ and urged developers to consider the differences between engineering and craft. Kevlin described software engineering as a specialisation of information engineering. Because software engineering is an emerging discipline, it therefore follows that what we are experiencing is ‘emerging professionalism’. That is all the more reason we should be cautious of the motivations behind our designs.

Eric Gamma on developers playing Jazz: Eric demo’ed Jazz, the new development management productivity tool integrated with Eclipse. It looks ideal for projects that can be developed using Eclipse and Agile. Eric described the Eclipse way as ‘team first’ and emphasised that there shouldn’t be a need on teams for people to act solely as architects. After all, everyone on a technical team should be involved in architecture because they care about it.

Justin Gehtland on Ruby: Justin’s enthusiastic delivery reminded me to take a second look at Ruby.

What worked well: Tutorials – Top Picks

Pollyanna Pixton on collaborative leadership: An unusual tutorial at JAOO focussed entirely on leadership with practical advice on how to hire the right people and deal with troublesome ones. Pollyanna’s hearty humour and stories reminded me that Good Leaders exist out there.

Henrik Kniberg on Scrum and XP from the trenches: Henrik began by entertaining us with his piano-playing and went on to demonstrate by example how he implemented Scrum in thorny environments. He struck a chord when he said, ‘Death marches are not allowed in Scrum’ because I had said something along those lines just the week before the conference. Henrik was very creative in his delivery of the session and is the epitome of Scrum pragmatically and successfully applied.

Rebecca Wirfs-Brock on the art of telling design stories: Rebecca was a sympathetic and knowledgeable presenter who used technical examples and analogies to show us how to convey technical designs and present difficult technical situations to challenging audiences.

What could have been better: In Summary

  • More Agile tech sessions like Jim’s
  • More stylish and literary speakers like Kevlin
  • Make conference sessions more useful like tutorials
  • More networking opportunities like Diana Larsen’s Open Space sessions which were excellent at bringing likeminded and contradictory individuals together with many leaving happy and invigorated