Archives for the ‘Esoteric Minutiae’ Category

My Agile Pilgrimage

Beautiful Snowbird

Begin with the end in mind

I still remember the moment when I first heard that Agile 2011 was going to take place in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was during an announcement at the end of Agile 2009.

At the time I wasn’t sure how I’d get there and with whom I’d go, but two things were certain.

Firstly, I thought it would be nice to re-live history by visiting the room where the Agile Manifesto was created 10 years ago. Partly out of curiosity and partly out of respect to the 17 visionary-signatories without whom I probably wouldn’t have a job I love doing and related to IT.

Secondly, I would have to go with a group. After all, Agile is fundamentally about people working together. It would be odd and sad for me to show up and no one to relive the historic moment with.

Almost everything I’ve ever experienced with Agile has been remarkable, so it came as no surprise that our journey to Snowbird was equally serendipitous.

Mission Possible

As soon as I arrived in Salt Lake City, I started polling for interest about a visit up to Snowbird. My mission was clear: to get a bunch of people up to Snowbird to celebrate the manifesto‘s 10th birthday. I didn’t do it in a fanatical way. Rather, I offered it as an option.

Some people would smile politely and nod, agreeing that it was a good idea in principle. Others would stare bemused since they felt it unnecessary; we were already at the conference, isn’t that all that mattered? May be for them, but not for me.

Snowbird Souvenir

Two days into the conference, I only had one other person seriously interested in making the journey – Carsten Ruseng, a friendly Dane, from Systematic.

Over the course of the next couple of days, we tried to create and evaluate options for making the visit possible. We both wanted to make the most of the conference AND we wanted to visit Snowbird. I felt confident that we could achieve the mission if  only we applied Agile and Systems Thinking to the problem.

Information Gathering and Agile Planning

Meanwhile, I needed to find out the exact location of the room. Fortunately, I bumped into Alistair Cockburn during the conference and he gave me precise directions. It’s Lodge at Snowbird, exit 3. The rooms’s just above the reception. That was the most crucial piece of information I needed to complete my mission.

Then finally, last Thursday, on the evening before the last day of the conference, Carsten and I committed to executing the mission (the last responsible moment). We’d meet bright and early the next day (at 7 am to be exact) and go to Snowbird. It would mean that we’d miss Kevlin Henney’s talk but I knew Kevlin would understand.

Without a goal, it’s hard to score

Throughout our planning conversations, we always went back to our goals for the mission. In Carsten’s words, “We’ve already come all this way for the conference. Not going would be like not seeing Niagara Falls even though we were in Toronto.” Since we’d both managed to visit the falls independently during Agile 2008, I understood what Carsten meant.

But we were still only two. Given that three’s a crowd, I wished for one more person to join us on the pilgrimage. Just when I’d almost given up hope late Thursday night, Carsten texts me to say that Henrik Kniberg would like to join us and would that be OK. OK? I said. Most definitely!

Carpe diem

We arrive at 07.50 outside Lodge at Snowbird. When we get to the reception, I look the gentleman behind the desk straight in the eye and begin to explain why we are there.

We’ve come to see a very special room, I say. We’re in Salt Lake City to attend a conference and 10 years ago, a bunch of people created a manifesto related to the conference. They created the manifesto in the room just above your reception, I explain.

In search of the manifesto

At first, the gentleman stares at us blankly and then he starts to ask us a whole bunch of questions. What’s the conference about? Where do you all come from? Why is seeing the room so important?

So close, yet so far

Just when I think he is going to decline our request, Monte tells us that 10 years ago, he left the IT industry. He tells us how, at the time, he thought there must be a better way of developing software and he even wrote an essay about it. He asks us to tell him a bit more about the manifesto. Have the lives of IT professionals improved, he asks. Are they happier? To which we reply things have improved, but with improvements come greater expectations. We’re doing our best. We’re always striving to learn, we tell him.

Still in search of the manifesto

Monte ushers us into the office so that we could look up the manifesto online. Henrik had come up with the idea that we could double-check we’re looking at the right room based on the background picture of the manifesto with the signatories stood in a circle.

History is what we make it

Everything from there is history. Before taking our group picture, we scribble up the 4 values as though they were fresh from yesterday. We start joking and laughing at our adventure. At first, we ask Monte to take a picture of us. Then we set the camera on auto-shoot so that we can get a picture with Monte in it, too. This is the crowd I was hoping for.

Meeting Monte

We spend the next half hour strolling around Snowbird. It’s not difficult to imagine how such beautiful scenery would inspire people to come up with something like the manifesto, Carsten remarks. During the walk, we exchange more of our memories accumulated over the last decade. We talk about getting lost, following and leadership.

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye…

Stroll in Snowbird

The overarching theme of that day has to be closure. Henrik mentioned it several times. He explains how he was going to go on a family holiday soon for six months and has handed over the Agile Manifesto translation project to Shane Hastie, newly elected on the Agile Alliance board. Henrik describes how by initiating a translation project in a certain region or country, it has brought people together, in debate and discussion about what the manifesto really means. Translating the manifesto into a different language usually marks the start of something important.

Making work matter

For me, closure has resulted in a new beginning. One that builds on the past while clearly looking into the future. It reminds me of Tom Peter‘s frustration when he wonders out loud why it’s taken so long for us to realise excellence, and we’re not there yet, even though he wrote the book “In Search of Excellence” more than two decades ago.

And my answer is this. Everyone knows what’s right, but only the Spartans do it. That was the lesson I learnt in history class all those years ago. We can go around claiming to be “agile”, but everyone else recognises when we’re not. To make progress, we need to first be honest with ourselves. How agile are we really? Most importantly, why should it matter? What do we want to achieve, now and in the future? How will you make work matter today?

We made it!

Animal Farm

Mule for thought

What our experience tells us but we ignore

What do smart people all have in common? We’re driven, focussed and hardworking. Once we have a goal, we go for it, powering through and tugging hard until we gasp, regardless of the obstacles.

“The difference between winners and losers are that winners keep trying,” we mutter to ourselves quietly in the toughest moments. And so we keep striving and straining, cursing the rope that’s holding us back.

Look around you

Now imagine you’re in a meeting. Take a look around you. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel? When people come together, it’s usually to formulate a plan to reach a goal. And it’s usually something we’ve in common.

The problem is, we often become blindsided by our “own” goal. We fail to listen with an open mind. We fail to set aside our own viewpoint for long enough to see what’s as plain as the light of day. Not to mention the bale of hay behind us. And all the other bales of hay around us.

By failing to see the bigger picture, we all risk going hungry in spite of being surrounded by a wealth of resources.

See the bigger picture

To make hay while the sun shines, step into each other’s shoes. Then take a step step back together to see the big picture. This way, we can make hay together, come rain or shine.

Time to Ourselves

Stocks and shares

Mindful Things

Whenever I have time on my hands, I often find myself thinking about time. Take a look at your calendar over the past week. What kinds of things did you invest your time in? How do those investments relate to your goals? And what about next week?

From our answers we can deduce some some vital things:

  • What we value
  • What we don’t value
  • What we think is valuable to us but don’t actually invest time in
  • What we actually spend time on but don’t consider as necessary and/or valuable.

Through analysing and reflecting on our answers, we can verify how we’re progressing towards our goals. It closes the feedback loop we need so that we can adjust our course. More fundamentally, it helps us figure out what’s truly important to us. How we spend our time tells us a lot about ourselves.

Party of Five

Some years ago, I stumbled across a completely novel way of thinking about how we spend our time. The interesting question isn’t just What, but Who. With whom do you spend your time? More specifically, who are the five people you spend the most time with? The more specific a question, the harder it makes me think.

I first came across the idea in “The One Minute Entrepreneur” by Ken Blanchard, Don Hutson with Ethan Willis. In the business novel, he remarks how we become the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with.

Thinking of time in terms of who we spend it with opens up a whole new perspective. His remark also helped me realise why parents so often worry about the kind of crowd their child hangs out with.

Learning from others to learn about yourself

One way to get value from your party of 5 is by looking outwards and asking yourself: What are the attributes I like about an individual and what can I do to learn how to do more of what they do?

Another way to get value from your party of 5 is to look inwards by asking yourself: What do I think about someone and what does what I think about them tell me about myself? How can I use those insights to help me improve?

Time to Think

One of Ken’s “insights” is that we’ll essentially be the same, year after year, except for the people we meet and the books we read. To that list, I would also add the choices we make and the things that we do. For me, one of Ken’s most enduring insights is this: “The legacy you leave is the legacy you live”.

What do you do when you have time on your hands? Who are the people that make up your Party of Five?

OxfordJam Worth Spreading

Social Enterprise worth spreading!

Think “Fringe”

I recently went to my first social enterprise conference, a fringe festival to the Skoll World Forum called OxfordJam. Three words to describe the conference? Inspiring, creative and vital.

Inspiring” – Because of the variety and range of strangers who came together to share ideas and experiences of how they’re contributing to greater good in the world. Most of the attendees were social entrepreneurs, people who strive to do good in the world and create a sustainable business to fund that work.

Creative” – From the venue (the event was held in a building that used to be a jam factory, hence the name of the event) to the conference booklet (in the format of a funky university newspaper, jam-packed with interesting information). I especially liked the washing line for ideas contributed by participants held together with clothes pegs.

Vital” – It was refreshing to be surrounded by such a large number of people united by a common purpose “To make the world a better place”. Everyone was part of a project or some endeavour, however big or small, to help others.

With great power comes great responsibility

Many people expressed what they do and how they do it in terms of “the bigger picture”, with a clear emphasis on the need to better understand the consequences of their actions and the impact of social enterprise in a community, a globally optimised example of the Chinese proverb from “Give a man a fish AND teach him how to fish”.

As the day unfolded (I was only able to attend 1 out of 3 days), I was surprised by the number of parallels between my daily work and that of social entrepreneurs:

  • Make a positive difference: Help make things better.
  • For greater good: Think and act in terms of global optimisation.
  • Made to last: Quality is key to making a lasting impact. Enduring change is crucial to sustained improvement.
  • WIN-WIN: Maximise value and create alignment by asking “What’s in it for all of us?” For you, for me and for others.
  • Baby steps: Small steps can lead to big changes. Like Lao Tzu, the Chinese philsopher, said, “A journey of a thousant miles begins with one step.”

Spread your own jam

Following the adage of “eat your own dog food”, the most impressive thing about OxfordJam was the congruence between the beliefs on which the event is founded (what the organisers believe in) and how it worked in practice (how the event was run).

An example of this was that the conference was based entirely on a gift economy for the participants, with free entry for all. Even The Jam Factory offered the use of their venue for free in support of the event. The idea of a gift economy is that it’s up to you to give when you want, as much or as little as you want and how you want. It’s this recurring “free giving” that helps the economy go around. Following this spirit, many of us bought drinks and snacks to support the Jam Factory and some made personal donations in support of the event.

Thanks a million!

To The OxfordJam team: Ben Metz, Amanda Jones and Jonny Mallinson – am looking forward to OxfordJam 2012!

To The Jam Factory: For providing a great setting for the event!

The Gift of Giving

What was my biggest takeaway from the event? Instead of worrying about whether or not we’ve individually got enough to give or if we’re individually contributing enough, give what you can on your own terms. Every little bit helps. Together, we can turn the concept of a gift economy into a reality.

How can you introduce a gift economy at work?

Consideration and Respect

Room with a view

Near Horizon

I started a new job recently. Beyond the glass walls of the building, in the near horizon, is a curious and distinctive message: “Let’s adore and endure each other.” Writing on the wall always makes me think.

At first glance, the message seems like a useful reminder. To remind us of the value of being generous in spirit and kind to our fellow man. One thing’s for certain, the work is by an artist who lets their art speak for itself.

As I stare at the wall from afar, a new perspective starts to emerge. I begin to wonder about the words and what they mean in practice.

Adore” and “endure” are both emotionally-charged. The first makes me think of love and the second of tolerance. Both are united by passion. Both require us to pass some judgment on the object of our passion, in this case, “each other”.

Thanks to Marshall Goldsmith highlighting the top 20 flaws that prevent people from becoming more successful, I’ve learned that being over-judgmental and passing judgment too quickly is something to be aware of. As with so many things, bad habits die hard.

The Dangers of Loving and Hating

“Loving and hating” is one of the coping stances many of us adopt when we are imbalanced or feel stressed out, according to Gerald Weinberg. Both represent two sides of the same coin. Loving often materialises itself as favouritism while hating often manifests itself as prejudice. Either way, both of them impair our ability to consider a situation objectively.

Tolerance and Thinking

The idea of “enduring each other” sits uneasy with me. It conjures up a multitude of negative ideas. The first is that tolerating someone usually stems from and reinforces a lack of respect. The second is the idea of putting up with a situation instead of looking for ways to improve.

An example of this is when people say, “That’s the way Jane is. She’s got some skills, but it’s her personality”. What if continuous improvement meant that we can turn everything into a skill and a choice? This would mean we could learn, unlearn and re-learn things that define us as individuals. If we choose to change. I’ve seen people go through transformational change when they realise that a) you can only change yourself and b) only you can change yourself.

Strangers to Ourselves

In the words of Marie Curie, “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” Acknowledging this is the first step towards making sense of the many tenuous threads of the nest in our heads.

A Dip in the Ocean

A dip in the ocean and a swim in the sea

Back in February, I attended my first TedX event, TedX Granta in Cambridge, UK, a city well-known for its academia, research and creativity. Among the many live and recorded talks, the one that moved me most was Sarah Outen‘s story of being the first woman to ever row across the Indian Ocean.

How Sarah let go and went rowing

The start of Sarah’s journey began with the sudden death of her father during her time at Cambridge university. In order to come to terms with her grief, she set herself the daunting challenge of becoming an “ocean rowing racer” in order to raise money for charity in her father’s memory. At that time, not only had Sarah never done ocean rowing, she’d not even done all that much regular rowing. But she’d set her mind to it and nothing was going to change that.

While some people might have considered her sudden decision to take up ocean rowing racing as “spiteful” or “whimsical”,  Sarah needed to let go of her family and herself. Sarah described this point in her life as a need to “survive” in order to deal with her grief. What better place to be alone than in a sailing boat in the middle of a big blue ocean with nothing but radio assistance?

The route less travelled

Sarah shared many anecdotes about her first trip from Perth to Mauritius which became a circuitous “warmup lap“. Instead of rowing in a straight-line, it was much more of a squiggle fraught with tenterhook moments like when she literally found herself unclipping her lifeline but for a moment to upright her overturned boat in a storm in order to survive.

“You can do whatever you want”

Sarah attributes her success in ocean rowing racing to 3 things: having a dream, a vision and belief. She learnt to “let go of naysayers” and focused on turning “bad nerves” into “good nerves” and making them work for her.

Sarah’s 7 tips for achieving your dreams

  1. Focus on your goal. Steel your mind and spirit with the mantra of “Just keep rowing”. The tough get moving to keep going.
  2. Persevere. Try, try and try again. Keep going. The key difference between winners and losers is that winners keep trying.
  3. Teamwork is dreamwork. Big dreams require teamwork. To reach your full potential, you need great teamwork.
  4. Don’t run from fear. Things that make you afraid are often learning opportunities in disguise. Sometimes, the greater the fear, the higher the return on investment.
  5. Re-define “safe” in your head. Your comfort zone  is eroding a bit every day. Continuously challenge yourself in order to be at your best.
  6. Stop worrying. Concentrate on the things that you can change. Let go of things you can’t. In Sarah’s words, learn to “look at things with equanimity”.
  7. Take calculated risks. Be bold and smart to give yourself the best chances for success. In the words of André Gide, “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

When was the last time you unclipped your lifeline and dared to lose sight of the shore?

“A Dip in the Ocean”

You can read more about Sarah’s memoir of her ocean rowing races in her new book “A Dip in the Ocean“. If her writing is half as compelling as her storytelling, the book is sure to to help free your mind from the shore to which its currently tethered.

Love Lures Life On

Poetry in Motion

I met an old friend on the tube the other day. Thomas and I first met in my English class all those years ago when we not only dreamed our dreams but dared to believe they were possible.

By the time I met Thomas, he was already a great English novelist and poet. I went on to read many of his novels so dumstruck was I by their freshness and their fineness in spite the two of us having been born more than a century apart.

Ode to Love

A curious and lesser known fact was Thomas’s own love story. Thomas met the love of his life, a certain Emma Lavinia Gifford, when he was thirty years old. He married her four years later. They eventually become “estranged”. Emma ended up living the rest of her life in the attic while Thomas went on to lead the life of a successful and great writer.

It wasn’t until his wife passed away that, at the age of 72, Thomas went on to write more than 80 poems (1912 – 1913) to reflect on their life together and apart. Many critics consider the poems to be some of his greatest work filled with fairness, fullness and freeness, the stuff that great poetry is made of.

As I recall this love story, I feel certain there’s a crucial lesson to be (re-)learned and remembered on this special day.

Matters of Love, Life and Death

The Way We Go

Love, Life and Death are just some of the things I think about during my long commute as a consultant. My mind cycles between these serious themes on a constant quest for ideas to increase the value I deliver – at work, at home and in my spare time.

Begin with the end in mind

Although our lives are enveloped by Uncertainty, one thing’s certain: we’re all going to become grass one day. (Preferably one fine day with clear blue skies and the sun shining.)

Make the most of your timebox

Let’s consider life as one finite timebox. Given we have a fixed amount of time (and we can’t be certain of how much there is), it’s all the more important to:

1. Prioritise our projects by ROI (calculated simply by dividing value by cost while taking into consideration constraints, risks and cost of delay – aka Agile Planning).

2. Create a plan to achieve whatever we need to turn our dreams into a reality.

3. Execute the plan, track progress then re-plan based on real-time information.

A lifetime worth of achievements

Somewhere along the way, most of us will “job” our jobs, do some work and discover our vocation. And amidst all this hullabaloo, many of us will continue to dreams our dreams. I like to think of those dreams as my “gold medals“.

Name that Gold Medal

The key to achieving our gold medals is to name them. Next, break them down into small enough steps that we can achieve in the shortest timebox possible in order to build then maintain momentum.

One way is to think of each of these small steps as gold stars leading towards the gold medal. I like to think of the gold stars like the mini achievements I collect when playing computer games. Get enough gold stars and you cash them in exchange for something you really want (like a new super-skill).

So where’s the love?

Love is what fuels what I do and how I do it. Over the last 3 years, I’ve managed to achieve a large gold star: to love what I do (and, yes, that means I love the work I do). Of course it hasn’t been easy, but it is possible and all the hardwork continues to be worth it.

So what’s my next gold star? To love what I do AND do what I love. Of course it won’t be easy, but some things are for certain: it’s not going to be as hard as I fear it would be and it’s going to be a lot of fun! As for the gold medal I’m working towards? Watch this space.

What is it you love doing? How will you achieve your gold medals?

Ghosties and Ghoulies

How will you light up your life?

Halloween, also known as Hallows’ Eve or All Saints Eve, originates from the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronouned ‘sow-an’ or ‘sow-in’) meaning ‘summer’s end’. The ancient Celts believed that the border between this world and that of the other became ‘thin’ on Samhain, thus allowing spirits (both good and evil) to cross over. It was believed that harmful spirits could be warded off by disguising ourselves as one of those spirits by dressing up in costumes and wearing masks.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

A Gift from Me to You

 Where are you?

As I turn a year older, I feel compelled to question if I’m really a year wiser. What better way to do this than a personal retrospective?

What have I (re-)learnt?

Perfection doesn’t exist. Perfect doesn’t exist. Perfect is something we aspire to, it’s elusive by design.

Immer besser. It’s OK to make mistakes so long as you learn from them and don’t make the same mistakes. Being better matters more than merely being right.

Courage! Fear is what our lizard brain tells us to be. Courage is what sets us free.

What do I need to (re-)learn?

Drink my own champagne. I was disrespectful to a colleague yesterday. And last Wednesday. Twice in one day. It’s all well and good espousing the Agile Values and Principles. What really matters is that I apply them myself.

Work a Sustainable Pace. The problem with loving the work I do is that it can consume not only me but all those around me. Pretty soon I lose not only my perspective, but compromise my effectiveness.

Admit when you don’t know. This lesson consists of all the lessons I’ve (re-)learnt and need to (re-)learn. It’s not so much about what I know as recognising and then admitting I don’t know. The faster I acknowledge my not-knowing (or forgetting), the faster everyone can move towards creating value together.