Friday, August 18, 2017

Can We Process Our Hurts Without Going To Categories?

It Begins As A Reaction


People who are hurt and angry sometimes give in to two unproductive natural urges:
  1. Hurt the other back so they'll think twice next time
  2. Disconnect oneself from the other to build distance emotionally 

Maybe it's these two urges together that drive people to go to categories instead of keeping the context of an interpersonal struggle between two people.
It leads to using pejoratives related to the other's race, gender, age, sexuality, religion, etc, probably because these are known sore points, probably because they are shocking (and so speak to pain), and probably because they also leave the other categorized as 'less than'. It satisfies both urges.
We don't have to give in to those twin urges. 
Most of us have given in at some point in our past. 
When I look back far enough into my past I can dredge up an example or two. I would like to make excuses, but I know it was ignorance and willfulness and that I knew it was wrong at the time.  No "get out of jail free" card for my past. 

It All Looks The Same From The Outside

It is deucedly hard to tell an angry retort from a real, deeply-held "ism" like those we see playing out in the world this year.
Does the epithet reveal one as a bigot/chauvinist/racist or does it only show that they the person knows how badly bigotry, chauvinism, and racism hurt?
When one does go to categories, to the person receiving the epithet and to everyone else listening, it looks like act of true, chronic, systemic, heartfelt bias.
This breaks off relationships with people who don't share that bias.
Worse, it draws people who do.
To someone who truly carries the "ism," hearing it spoken is an encouragement. It builds their sense that "we're all thinking it" and that other people simply "lack the courage to say it out loud."  It tells them that they are among kindred spirits. It emboldens them.
It is likely that the one speaking neither truly intended to cause permanent damage, nor intended to incite others to violence, nor intended to reinforce systematic suppression or dehumanization of others.
And yet, the consequences and appearances are the same.

We Can Do Better


We need to find new ways to process hurts.
We truly need to relate to other humans as individuals, even and especially when we are hurt. 
This is necessary if we want to see a decline in the normalization of racism and hatred.
Maybe we can redirect others from categories to a human connection and a human context when it happens, maybe others can redirect us if (God forbid) it happens with us. 
It doesn't mean that we give in to others who are hurtful, but that we don't go to war with them in a way that damages us in the eyes of others, calls up deep hurts in others that we can't really appreciate, and encourages the worst biases and behaviors in our fellow humans.
It means that we keep our personal business and our personal upset on a level where we can either resolve it, fight about it, or leave it where it is, rather than escalating to battles of categories where it is (seemingly) unsolvable.
Going to categories is trouble. 

A small start

I have a small and simple idea. You can memorize it. I can probably fit it on a sticker. It's a promise to myself and to my friends and to strangers. It's not much, but if we start here, maybe the idea can go much further and deeper into the world. I don't pretend it will fix deep schisms, but after all peace begins inside us so the first "fix" has to be in our own hearts and minds. 

Here is my pledge:

Expect respect from me.
If you don't see it, then help me. 
We can do better.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A VERY brief note on certification..

I'm well-known for my distaste of certifications for software developers, trainers, and coaches.

What seems to be less-well-known is the reasoning behind that.

GETTING certifications is not the big problem.
  • I do not seek or accept certifications, but it's not because owning them is evil. 
  • Yes, a certification is a proxy for a reputation. 
  • Yes, I value reputation greatly and certification almost not at all.
  • No, it's not because the certifications are too easy to acquire. 
  • No, having a body I trust more doing the certification would not help.
  • No, I don't want to certify people or back a certification.
  • No, I am absolutely not against education in any way, shape, or form. 

Vendor Distraction

My problem is that once you become a certifying body then certifying more people becomes an important part of the revenue stream. You want to do so profitably so certifying more trainers to sell more certificates becomes important. I believe that within 5 years serving the certification industry tends to become more important than serving the software industry.

The distraction is dangerous.

What makes the certifier successful is not what makes the industry successful. Brand X selling 10% more certifications doesn't make the customers who are actually using Brand X processes 1% more successful in their business.

We are supposed to be helping people solve their problems via software. Selling certificates won't necessarily help in that direction.

Ossification

Certification can't operate without standardization.

In a period of rapid transformation and growth, how reasonable is it to standardize?

If we're changing every year, should we standardize and therefore slow the rate of change, or should we wait and standardize once a single clear way of working is truly dominant and widely accepted?

I will argue that todays best practices may well be the antiquated flotsam of the past VERY soon. Perhaps in months, but certainly in years. Values may be settled, but this is the world of the web and of changing programming languages and market segments, Lean Startup, Devops, and CD. What made sense a year ago still needs to be revisited and revised.

I say this even though I observe XP technical practices have aged very gracefully indeed. Of course, there is no certification for those.

Bad Metrics

Having too difficult a certification becomes a problem because markets love success stories. How many millions have we certified? How many more people have been certified this year than last year? Are we having a banner growth year in our certification business?

People see the growth or decline of the training business as the indication of a growing or declining topic area. When we have a banner year, doesn't that mean our brand is having a banner year?  When we have a slowdown, doesn't that indicate our brand is dying off? For instance: Doesn't fewer Brand X certifications mean Brand X is dying? 

I think this is Goodhart's Law (and maybe Campbell's Law) at its worst.

Aging Materials

If certification can't freeze the march of time and change, then the materials are aging ungracefully and quietly in the background. There are financial reasons for certification-rot.

Certification isn't the most profitable business in the world. So, how much time and money should a certifying body invest in updating our materials every single year? Every quarter? Every month?

If a certifying body updates the materials, won't it require retraining or even (gasp) recertification of trainers? Won't it damage the value of certifications issued in the past?

Imagine that "You paid $2000.00 for a certificate last month. We regret to tell you that your certification will be deprecated as of the 12th of next month when the new training materials roll out. Thanks for doing business."

Is the reasonable approach, then, to not update the materials or to not deprecate obsolete certificates?

Which is more valuable to the certifier?
Which to the certified?
Which to the people who hire certified individuals?

Uncertain Recency

Staying with the theme of ossification and rapid change along with aging materials, let's assume an agile method called SACRUFE (invented here). Let's say that the method has several of years of use on it, and that there is a document that describes it's current state. Further let's assume that the document describing SACRUFE is updated periodically to keep it up-to-date.

Now, the problem is that you don't know if your materials are current or not. Even if they are, you probably don't know and have not asked.

On your certificate, does it say which version of the SACRUFE MANUAL was used in your training?

Were you certified in 2017 to be competent in the quintuply-replaced 2011 SACRUFE style?

What if your friends were certified in 2013 SACRUFE and you were certified in 2015.4 SACRUFE method? Aren't they carrying the same certification as you are? Would you be held to the older standard because the majority know it?


Uncertain Authority

Is the trainer who taught your SACRUFE certified in 2017.b version of the SACRUFE METHOD MANUAL?

  • Do they actually know the current material? 
  • Have they ever participated as material contributors in a SACRUFE project? 
  • Did the people who trained them enter this field as a trainer/coach, or have they materially contributed on at least one SACRUFE project? 
  • Is what you were taught really SACRUFE at all, or just a few of the principles and practices thereof? 
  • Did you learn the trainer's personally-modified version of SACRUFE, or was it actually the official version with some personal notes added? 
  • Do you and your trainers really subscribe to the techniques, values, and process of SACRUFE at all, or is this "just a job" so you adopt the brand and skip the mindset, techniques, and process? 



So...

I don't mind that you have a certificate.

I'm not even mad that you've issued some.

I am worried about the business model of certification and the effects it has on the certifying bodies. Certifiers are the ones courting a deep problem.

The phenomenon of certification as a way that one body can confer a proxy reputation on someone who has not done the work (and thereby earned a real reputation) is upsetting.

The ability of a certification body to choose which practitioners' reputations and experience are valid is more upsetting yet.

I'm willing to grant that the creators of a method (and their selected body of like-minded people) have the right to define the method and decide who is using it or not. There's nothing wrong with saying "what you are doing is not SACRUFE, but is interesting and seems to have good results."

And the phenomenon of a body bestowing a reputation proxy for pay, in effect limiting the field to those who can afford to pay for the proxy, upsets me most deeply.

It's probably not you. It's a bigger issue. But let's talk about that.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

There is no such thing as a scrum development team....

Yeah, I know that's a heck of a clickbait title, but it's also the thesis of this blog post.

According to the Scrum Guide (2016):

The Development Team consists of professionals who do the work of delivering a potentially releasable Increment of “Done” product at the end of each Sprint. Only members of the Development Team create the Increment.
Development Teams are structured and empowered by the organization to organize and manage their own work. The resulting synergy optimizes the Development Team’s overall efficiency and effectiveness.
Development Teams have the following characteristics:
  • They are self-organizing. No one (not even the Scrum Master) tells the Development Team how to turn Product Backlog into Increments of potentially releasable functionality;
  • Development Teams are cross-functional, with all of the skills as a team necessary to create a product Increment;
  • Scrum recognizes no titles for Development Team members other than Developer, regardless of the work being performed by the person; there are no exceptions to this rule;
  • Scrum recognizes no sub-teams in the Development Team, regardless of particular domains that need to be addressed like testing or business analysis; there are no exceptions to this rule; and,
  • Individual Development Team members may have specialized skills and areas of focus, but accountability belongs to the Development Team as a whole.

Five rules. Absolutes stated clearly. For two of them "there are no exceptions to this rule."

Just for fun, look through all five statements. Tell me how many scrum teams you know of personally for which all five of these are absolutely true.

Self-organizing: 

No one is allowed to tell the team to refactor or not to refactor, to test or not to test, whether they can mob or pair, whether they have individual assignments or not. Nobody can force them to pair or mob or TDD if they don't choose to. They control their own means and methods. Scrum doesn't tell them how (which has been a historic criticism of scrum, compared to XP which requires strong practices).

Most common failure modes:

  • Management, or the management tool, requires that work is assigned to individuals
  • PO or SM or "development lead" or "tech lead" (see 'no titles') often tell the team that they can't refactor, test, mob, pair
  • The HR system requires that work is tracked to individuals (else how can annual reviews be conducted? How do you separate overperformers from underperformers?)

Cross-functional:

Every skill needed to produce the code is on the team, and no work is done by people not on the team ("Only members of the Development Team create the Increment.")

Failure modes:
  • Separate test teams
  • Separate ops teams
  • Separate PO organization
  • Separate component teams
  • Separate UX team or specialist
  • Architects review work by all teams before it can be released
  • DBAs are not on the team, but have to be involved with all data changes

No Titles: NO EXCEPTIONS.

Other than scrum master and product owner, there are no titles other than developer.

Failure modes:
  • Sr/Junior separation (career path involves title and compensation)
  • Lead developers
  • Delivery Lead
  • Test Lead
  • Tester/Developer/UX/DB subteams have titles (see "no subteams").

No Sub Teams: NO EXCEPTIONS

There is one team, "regardless of particular domains that need to be addressed."

Failure modes:
  • See the teams called out in "cross-functional" above, especially component teams.
  • There is often a separate devops group for deploying and managing the application.
  • The requirements come from a separate subteam which is not incorporated into the team, but is an external entity (a separate team) who decides what should be built.

Teams Are Atomic:

"Individual Development Team members may have specialized skills and areas of focus, but accountability belongs to the Development Team as a whole."

In other words, work and accountability are pooled and the team is one atomic unit. The world outside the team does not deal with the team as individuals or ask the team to operate as a team of associated individuals. Instead "the team" is assigned work, and "the team" completes it, or "the team" is held responsible for it. The team does not throw members under the bus to avoid blame.

Failure Modes:
  • Assignment of work to individuals by manager, PO, or SM.
  • Disallowing pairing/mobbing (see first rule)
  • Requiring specific technical practices
  • Comparing individuals within the same team
  • Tracking work to individuals
  • Individuals reporting status at standup
  • Individuals "waiting on each other" reported to managers
  • Managers asking individuals how "their work" is going
  • External agents (managers usually) citing and rewarding individual contribution
  • Force-ranking team members

Does It Matter? 

There are 5 absolutely-worded qualities here, and "development teams have the following characteristics" so clearly if those five are missing, then by definition it's not a scrum team. 

Of course, the scrum guide (2016 and prior) says: 


Scrum is free and offered in this Guide. Scrum’s roles, artifacts, events, and rules are immutable and although implementing only parts of Scrum is possible, the result is not Scrum. Scrum exists only in its entirety and functions well as a container for other techniques, methodologies, and practices.

Either these are things that together cannot be done (in which case scrum is a sham) or else these things are not being done (in which case the organization responsible for teaching and transitioning is failing miserably).  

Is there a another option? 


  • Possibly scrum doesn't really mean it in which scrum really is a sham. 
  • Perhaps people don't know how,  in which case the scrum organization is a failure (despite the monies collected, the number of organizations "adopting,"  and the number of persons certified). In this case, I suggest the certification money is being wasted.
  • Perhaps some people can do these, but most corporations cannot. Okay, then, say that scrum can't work in corporations. Then why are we seeing corporate "adoptions" listed as successes, and so many organizations accepting the money to "install" (ew) or "transition" companies in which scrum cannot work? 

So, scrum is an evil money-making scheme with no goal other than lining the pockets of trainers and coaches? 


No. At least one more possibility exists that isn't mentioned in the Does It Matter section. 

Perhaps we are looking at transition, and seeing state. 

This sound reasonable to me. I don't think all scrum coaches and trainers are scam artists. I know a lot of them and they're pretty decent people trying to make a difference in a complicated and chaotic world.

There aren't many corporate scrum teams yet.  

The five qualities of a scrum team listed above are completely out of bounds for traditional organizations where the management teams work in a very industrial-age way, and the HR systems are more appropriate to mechanical workers than to knowledge workers. The system as described requires more permission, trust, and safety than they know how to give (so far). Their world has not yet climbed the Satir Change Curve, and so we're seeing them all in "chaos" and not in "new status quo."


It is hard -- potentially impossible --  to reach the described state of grace using scrum alone. 

I think that the thing missing, and necessary for corporate teams is that set of values known as Modern AgileThe organization must reorient to focus on safety, alignment with the success of others, continuous learning, and continuous delivery.

These are similar to the values we find in XP, and maybe one of the reasons that "hyper-productive scrum teams" are teams that actually use XP practices.

I think that this goes past practices, though. It goes to a mindset of permission, trust, and safety that most large organizations find extremely uncomfortable.

Some even suggest that those values cannot work in a large company, or that the people who propose the values don't really mean it.  With regard to scrum, they assume the parts that involve human relationship are entirely optional and replaceable with "known good" command and control techniques. This is false. The values are crucial and irreplaceable. 

Without going to the Modern Agile values, I don't know that organizations will be able to ever have real scrum teams. 

By focusing on Modern Agile values, though, I think any organization can easily surpass the level to which expertly-led scrum can take them. We'll see. 


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Agile Training Roller Coaster

A long time ago, I was in a company that (like my current company) was known for training and coaching agile teams.

Some of our customers were continually asking us if we could double the class size so more people could sit in. Others were asking us to deliver the same content in half the time. Some were asking for both. Some didn't stop at "double" or "half."

As we discussed more and more people getting less and less exposure to the deep ideas behind Agile methods (and XP technical practices in particular) my imagination got the best of me and I giggled.

I was imaging a line of people on some kind of a conveyance, being carried past inspirational posters with agile slogans and images on them. Maybe something colorful like this (one of my favorites) Modern Agile wheel:


Maybe something particularly clever and memorable from our Industrial Logic collection:




Maybe like this one from acm-software:



I initially thought of it as a moving sidewalk or an escalator.

But then I realized that it wouldn't be that much fun to be slowly carried past display posters, and we could get a lot more takers if it was a thrill ride.

So in my mind formed the idea of an agile training roller coaster.




Onto the side rails of the tracks, arms would be fitted carrying slogans like:

  • "The team has all the skills"
  • "Teams self-organize!"
  • "Code should always be runnable!"
  • "Red, Green, Refactor, Integrate!"
The idea is so ludicrous!
When I shared it my colleagues laughed with me (I think it was with me).

Now it's a decade or two later and still people want shallower contact with ideas for larger and larger groups of people.

So here we could put 40 people on a train. We run 3 trains so one is loading while two are running.  If it's a 2 minute track, probably a train a minute or so.

When they get off the train, they go to the photo booth to get the photo of them looking all freaked out on the big hill, along with a certificate of training, a discount coupon for a repeat ride, and a notice that they have to come back for recertification next year when we change out a couple of the posters.

I'm considering that this might be an improvement over the two-day scrum class. You wouldn't learn much less and it might be a lot more fun. Heck, you might ride it two or three times. 

It might be a simplification of Agile In A Flash, even.

Judging from what I hear from trainers, it would be a big hit.

Of course, if it is that hard to get people away from work for training, the alternative is to train while working, something along the lines of a coaching engagement or a real-work workshop.

But if someone wants to fund the coaster, we should talk.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Surprising Demotivator

I almost took the elevator up to my room today.

A year or two ago, my wife bought me one of those step-counting devices, you know the ones which tell you how many steps you've taken by counting your arm-swings (I think)?

If I remember correctly, I was pushing about 250 lbs body weight at the time. I might have been pushing over it a bit. Call me an over-achiever.

When I got my step counter, I started being more aware of my habits. I knew how sedentary I was. I knew my heart rate. I could see how badly I was sleeping. It is a great tool because it makes me aware of myself.

Along with that, I have had a few doctors, and so I have gotten some advice. I take as much as I know how and can stay mindful of, short of running or joining a gym. I'm just not a runner, and why should I join a gym when I'm never home to go there (or when I am, I have other things I need to do). Being a traveling consultant has its perks and struggles.

I walk more, I sometimes exercise, I try to be smarter with my food, all that.  I don't get my 10,000 steps in every day, but I get more of them than I used to. Some days I go well over, but most days I don't.

I've lost about 30 pounds of body weight. I need to lose about 10 more in the next couple of months. That's the background.

Today I glanced at the step-counter because it's also a watch. I was greeted by a message saying that my battery was dying. Since I use the fitness tool to measure my sleep cycles, I don't charge it overnight as I do with all my other electronics. I have to make an effort to charge it every 5 days or so. I forgot.

Then the step counter is dead.

I'm without a watch and have to use my cell phone or computer to tell time, but it's no big deal.

And here is the interesting bit: I get back from the office to the hotel, open the door and I have a choice of elevator or stairs. Normally, the non-answer is stairs. However, this time I automatically start toward the elevator instead.

Am I tired? No.

Am I carrying extra baggage so that I need to use the lift? No.

Are the stairs out of order? No.

Then why, oh why, would I move toward the elevator?


Because my fitbit is stopped.  The steps won't "count." 


Here we see the coercive nature of metrics. This isn't about bad management or numeric goals tied to pay or advancement.

This is a fact of the nature of having measurements.

When you are measured, you have an awareness that can be good for you. I lost weight and increased my activity and improved my sleep cycles.

But when you are measured, you do the things that score you points. I know that my goal is health and weight loss, but the measurements are surrogates for health, not health itself.

The measurement controls the behavior.  Do I need to stop losing weight just because the battery is drained? No, but since the steps and floors would not be counted to my benefit, I subliminally believed that the steps were not important.

We act for the benefit of the measurement alone.

This is the same risk we run with any kind of process metrics. When the metric becomes a target, it becomes a surrogate imperative.

There are few excuses more vacuous than "I can't take the stairs because my fitbit is dead."  It's dumb to me now. It was dumb when I first heard myself think it. It's ridiculous. No thinking person would fall into that trap!

And yet here we are.

Think about it. For good or ill, metrics will drive us to point-scoring and will discourage us from doing even beneficial things that "don't count."

It doesn't have to be a bad measurement to have that effect.

Will your improvements sustain beyond your focus on measuring them?

Will they really?


Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Genie Story

A clever man was crossing the ocean when his ship was capsized in a storm. He was the only survivor. Hungry, thirsty, and battered, he struggled to shore on a small island.

While searching for some form of sustenance, he instead comes across a bottle holding a genie. Thrilled by his fortune, he released the genie on the condition that the genie would grant him three wishes. The genie happily agreed.

"First," the clever man said, "I wish to have an infinite number of wishes!"

"Of course," replied the djinn, "you may wish anything you like from this day forth, at any time you like. That said, what other two wishes do you want me to grant you?"

The clever man frowned. Clearly the genie was as clever as himself. He would have to be careful indeed with his second wish.

"Well, then, I wish that you will grant me an infinite number of wishes!"

The genie frowned. "Sir, you have already asked for that and I have granted that you may have all the wishes you can wish. Now you have wasted this wish and have only one wish left."

The clever man realized that his phrasing was such that this was a reasonable interpretation and so he had in fact nearly outsmarted himself.

He exclaimed triumphantly "Then for my final wish, I wish that every time I make a wish, you will grant it for me."

The genie knew that he was cornered, and considered his next words carefully.

"It is done, as you ask. But sir, considering that you are a limited human and not a Djinn, consider this: all humans are prone to rash decisions, errors, and unintended consequences. Do you really want every whim granted as soon as it is spoken?"

The clever man paled, considering the many stories he's read about men who accomplished their dreams only to lose their families, their hearts, and their souls. Indeed, had he followed his own youthful dreams he would not have the career and reputation he was able to build opportunistically by relying on his cleverness and wisdom.

"No, friend genie, I would not wish that at all!"

The genie laughed "VERY WELL! With that fourth wish, I am no longer obligated. You have wished yourself out of wishes."

The clever man lowered his head.

The genie looked at the clever man and felt pity.

"You know, sir, you could have wished for rescue, or that your ship had not sunk and killed your fellow passengers. You could have wished for sustenance and health and company on this island. You could have wished yourself home. All these I would gladly have given you in exchange for my freedom.

"Sadly, as a clever man who loves his own cleverness, your heart's only desire was to outsmart a djinn."

And with that, the genie vanished. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Making people do what we want...

Amitai Schlier and Ryan Ripley conducted a session at Big Apple Scrum Day entitled "the care and feeding of T-shaped people" which was essentially a panel discussion taking questions from the audience.

I have trouble shutting up. If you know me, you know what a struggle it is. Sometimes I have to sit on my hands to keep from over-participating in a conversation (metaphorically).

Here are the questions:

  1. How do we get a developer to try something new?
  2. How do you know if you've stopped growing?
  3. How do you convince management to agree with you?
  4. Is there a stigma against T-shaped people when it comes to hiring?
  5. How do you choose a subject to go in-depth on?
  6. How do you optimize your paint-brushed-ness?
  7. How do you get team members to share knowledge?
  8. How deep do you go before it's just self-serving?
  9. How do you get a whole team to work on something that's new to all of them?
  10. How do you convince people wide is as important as deep?
  11. How do you persuade someone to be on a team when they're not bought in?
  12. Who decides what people will go deep on?
  13. Is there still a role for job titles?
  14. How do we incorporate learning into a project?
  15. What to do when people don't appreciate T-ness?
  16. How to market oneself with T-shaped skills?

Notice the volume of "how do you make people do X" questions here.  Review 1, 3, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15. Exactly half of the questions involve mechanisms for getting one's own way.

As I left this session, I was impressed with how well Ryan and Amitai handled the questions and the sincerity and authenticity involved across the board. 

But I was also a tad dismayed by the questions which were phrased in ways that implied argument, manipulation, or coercion. Think about that for a while. How many times have you heard accusations that coaches and Scrum Masters are manipulators and scammers?  I wonder if our concern with getting our way (for "their own good", of course) has created a group of people with more psychological tricks and traps than they should be trusted with?

I want to address the questions and give some answers in coming weeks. 

Stay tuned.