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Monthly Archives: December 2014

What Is Agile Software Development?

The term “agile” now signifies whatever folks want it to. It’s a term that has achieved widespread recognition within the software development field, and with that recognition, dilution to the point of near meaninglessness.

Agile was (circa 2001) a reaction by a bunch of experienced, senior developers to both the conventional “heavyweight” and widespread “cowboy coding” approaches to writing software prevailing at the time.

Forget about talk of incremental, iterative approaches. Forget about “inspect and adapt”. Forget about “embracing change”. Forget about “quicker development of higher quality software”. Forget about “earlier realisation of investment”. Forget about methods or frameworks like Scrum, Kanban, DSDM, XP, etc.. And forget about practices like sprints, wall-boards, and the whole practices nine yards.

These are all post-hoc rationalisations of one basic truth: The Snowbird folks and their fans – then and now – were fed up with wasting their lives on failed and “challenged” software projects, on make-do-and-mend development, and wanted to do something about the quality of their lives at work. Theirs, and their peers. They felt a need to make more of a difference to the world than then-current software development approaches allowed.

Meeting Their Own Needs

Put another way, their championing of the agile cause was a means for developers everywhere to – rather unilaterally – attend to their own needs, including more closely living their (Theory-Y) values.

Sadly, lacking a whole-system, all-stakeholder, organisational-dynamics perspective, the result was a somewhat parochial thing. A thing that failed to recognise that software and its development rarely exists in isolation, and much more often happens in a context largely outside the control of those folks directly engaged in writing the software.

Now, some fifteen years on, we can see that the insanity – and tragedy – of agile – lies in the Sisyphean task of trying to build effective teams – and ways of working- inside ineffective organisations.

– Bob

Drunk On Power

DrinkDrive1

On this day in 1964, the UK’s first ever drink driving television advertisement aired. Although nobody seemed to know it back then, it would one day be recognised as a major turning point, the moment when drink-driving began to lose its gloss of public acceptability.

Fifty years ago, millions were still routinely downing “one for the road” before swerving home in the car. So despite hundreds dying each year at the hands of drink-drivers, the advertisement’s central message and title still seemed alien.

It was actually aired three years before a legal drink-drive limit was even set, in 1967, with roadside breath tests following a year later.

“Don’t ask a man to drink and drive.”

~ Headline of the first ever UK drink drive campaign advertisement

Since 1967, the message about driving under the influence of alcohol has spread and is now widely accepted. For most people the idea of one for the road has become a social taboo. Over the past 35 years alone there has been a sixfold drop in drink-drive deaths in Britain. People are now aware not only of the death and injuries consequential on drink-driving, but also the social and economic costs too.

The question of deaths and injuries through stress at work has, to date, received much less public attention. Even though there is much research to show that people suffer illness and premature death through such stress. Not to mention the economic costs of lost working days, disengagement whilst at work, and lost productivity through the impact of (dis)stress on knowledge workers’ ability to think clearly.

And one of the key causes of stress, especially in the knowledge-work environment? The power relationship we call “management”. Along with all its trappings.

Causal Link

The power-over relationship we call “management” causes distress. Stress is toxic. It injures and kills people, and silently debilitates them even whilst working. And then there are the social costs – such as depression, violence and alienation – arising from the influence of power-over management on relationships, social norms, self-expression and mental health in the workplace, and from there to society more widely.

How many years will it take before society comes to regard “management” – power-over relationships, hierarchies, tacit violence, and so on – as being a social taboo on a par with the status of drink driving, today? Will that take more or less than another fifty years?

“Don’t ask your loved ones to manage others – everyone has too much to lose.”

– Bob

A Bit About Organisational Effectiveness

In Rightshifting, we define organisational effectiveness as “the relative ability of a whole organisation to achieve it’s goals”. “Relative” meaning relative to some baseline, over time, or relative to other organisations, such as competitors. And “goals” intending to evoke the ideas of Eliyahu M Goldratt in his book “The Goal”.

I’m pretty sure that many folks see little or no connection between the effectiveness of the organisations within which they work, and their day-to-day experiences, hopes, and fears.

Human Potential

As I’m happy to regularly repeat, I’m driven – to write, to speak, to help – by the egregious waste of human potential I see in knowledge-work organisations almost everywhere. It just bugs me to see so many smart people lacking the opportunities and climates in which to express themselves. It seems that the folks in question are generally much less bothered by this than am I.

“If you want people to do a good job, give them a good job to do.”

~ Frederick Hertzberg

Maybe it would be better, for me and for my peace of mind, to let it all go, emotionally, and just help those (few) folks that actually want some help.

Stuck

But until I’m evolved enough to have that happen, I’m kind of stuck. Stuck with a focus on organisational effectiveness as the means to improve the lot of knowledge-work folks everywhere. It’s my hypothesis, you see, that a hallmark of a more effective organisation is it’s one in which more people get to use more of their skills and talents, more often. And, incidentally, get to have more of their needs – for job satisfaction, a sense of achievement, feeling good about themselves and their contribution to the common purpose – met more often, too.

Nicer

Put another way, the more effective the organisation, the nicer it is as a place to work. For me, that’s all part and parcel of “effectiveness”.

Visible

So, for all those folks struggling to see any connection between Rightshifting and their daily lives, I wonder if this post has succeeded at all in helping make that connection a little more visible, more tangible, more relevant?

– Bob

 

 

The Antimatter Why

Some folks seem to have joined the conversation about the Antimatter Principle in the middle, as it were. So, for those who may have missed the start, I thought it might help to recap.

Start With Why

Simon Sinek advises us to “start with why”. I can get down with that.

Why the Antimatter Principle?

The Antimatter Principle serves to nurture an environment where folks love to do good things together.

This could be a workplace – or some other setting where folks come together to get things done. I note with sadness that almost every workplace I see, this kind of environment does not exist. Workplaces are almost universally depressing, frustrating and ineffective places for people to work well with their brains, and in which to do good things together.

Note that I’m not arguing that the Antimatter Principle will necessarily make people happier in their work, or improve their lives. It may well have this side-effect, which would make me delighted, but its origins and immediate top- and bottom-line purpose is to nurture an environment where folks love to do good work together – an environment where people get more done, faster, and at less cost than in typical workplaces today. Its strangeness may be down to the fact that it’s not your typical zero-sum strategy. Everybody wins.

If you know of other means to achieve the purpose, the why, stated here, I’d love to hear.

– Bob

 

The Antimatter Manifesto

I’m not a great fan of manifestos, including the Agile Manifesto. But, knowing what I now know about software development, if I’d been at Snowbird I might have argued for the following:

Antimatter Manifesto for Software Development

We are uncovering better ways of meeting people’s needs (through software)
by attending to folks’ needs and helping others do the same.
Through this work we have come to value:

Humane relationships over coercion and control
Self-directed play over work directed by others
Attending to folks’ needs over working software
Making and responding to requests over following obligations and rules

That is, while there is next to no value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left much, much more.

Would this make for more sustainably successful – and joyful – software development than e.g. following the Agile Manifesto? And is success and joy what we’re looking for? Are they what we – and our organisations – need?

– Bob

Afterword

Some folks seem to have some discomfort with the third line, above: “Attending to folks’ needs over working software”. I expressly chose this wording to highlight that the “folks” we’re talking about include the people “in charge” of the business. Surely they would like to see their own needs (and the needs of i.e. their customers) met with as little software as possible? After all, software (code) is a liability, not an asset. Indeed, if we can meet everyone’s needs with zero software, wouldn’t that be the best-case scenario?

Any Questions?

At the end of almost every job interview, the interviewer asks the candidate something like “Do you have any questions for me?”

Let’s set aside my dislike of the interview format for a moment – a simple social chat works much better, I find.  And let’s also set aside the question of why we most often leave the most telling part of the conversation – the candidate’s questions – to the end.

If you find yourself in this kind of situation, expected to wow the interviewer with your brilliance and erudition through sharp and insightful questions, what could you ask? Accepting for a moment that things have been going well enough that you still feel capable of – or interested in – asking some non-trivial questions, here’s some ideas, by role:

Scrum Masters

  • What is the organisation trying to achieve?
  • What are you personally trying to achieve?
  • What convinced you to accept your current position?
  • What’s your favourite part about working here?
  • What are you / the organisation looking to achieve through this appointment?
  • How does the team feel about having a Scrum Master?
  • When my team and I find and flag impediments outside our scope to deal with, in general how will you and the organisation go about resolving them them?
  • What is the purpose of the team’s work, from the paying customers’ perspective?
  • How does the team go about understanding their success in that that regard?
  • How does the team assess its capabilities, and what progress has it made over the past six months?
  • Who are the strong individuals in the team?
  • How do you measure people’s performance?
  • What do folks here look for in a top Scrum Master?
  • Do you see any reason I might not be a good fit for this position?
  • What question haven’t I asked that you might have?

Agile Coaches

  • What is the organisation trying to achieve?
  • What are you personally trying to achieve?
  • What convinced you to accept your current position?
  • What’s your favourite part about working here?
  • What are you / the organisation looking to achieve through this appointment?
  • How does the team feel about having a coach?
  • When my team and I find and flag impediments outside our scope to deal with, in general how will you and the organisation go about resolving them them?
  • What is the purpose of the team’s work, from the paying customers’ perspective?
  • How does the team go about understanding their success in that that regard?
  • How does the team assess its capabilities, and what progress has it made over the past six months?
  • What do folks here look for in a top coach?
  • Do you see any reason I might not be a good fit for this position?
  • What question haven’t I asked that you might have?

Software Development Managers

  • What is the organisation trying to achieve?
  • What are you personally trying to achieve?
  • What convinced you to accept your current position?
  • What’s your favourite part about working here?
  • What are the one or two things that really drive results for this organisation?
  • What are you / the organisation looking to achieve through this appointment?
  • What behaviours mark a great manager?
  • What kind of support will my group get in dealing with cross-functional issues outside our immediate control?
  • Who are my major customers and what is the purpose of my group’s work, from their perspective?
  • How do we gauge my group’s success?
  • How do we assess my group’s progress, and what progress has been made in the past six months?
  • What are the common attributes of your top managers here?
  • Do you see any reason I might not be a good fit for this position?
  • What question haven’t I asked that you might have?

CTOs

  • What is the organisation trying to achieve?
  • What are you personally trying to achieve?
  • What convinced you to accept your current position?
  • What, for you, marks this organisation out as a great organisation?
  • What are the one or two things that really drive results for this organisation?
  • What are you and the organisation looking to achieve through this appointment?
  • What beliefs govern the way this organisation operates?
  • How sacrosanct are those beliefs?
  • Where does technology fit into the organisation’s strategy?
  • What kind of capabilities does the organisation need to execute its strategy?
  • Where are the priority shortfalls in those capabilities?
  • What resources does the organisation plan to commit to addressing those shortfalls?
  • What do you expect me to accomplish in the first sixty to ninety days?
  • How does the organisation assess its performance, and what progress has been made in the past six months?
  • What are the common attributes of your top performers here?
  • Do you see any reason I might not be a good fit for this position?
  • What question haven’t I asked that you might have?

I find it’s also useful to illustrate that you have studied the organisation, through one or two questions about the organisation and its immediate situation or plans. For example: “I recently read that the company is looking to break into Asia. What do you foresee as the main impact from my point of view?” or “How do you plan to deal with <some pressing industry- or company-specific issue?>”

Do you have any favourite interview questions that you’d like to share?

– Bob

 

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