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Throughput, Value, and Inverting the Tasking Question

Two people on a plane.  One looks over to the other, points, and laughs!  “Ha! Ha!  Your wing is on fire!”

The plane goes down and they both die.  Bummer.  This has always been how I introduce the importance of team results instead of individual results as a management technique.  And, when this works well, teams excel instead of just trudging along.

An individual should not “Succeed” if their team fails.

Last week I was introduced to yet another perspective on this problem by Tim Ottinger.  Instead of asking how many tasks can a person do, we invert the question and ask “how many minds can work together to solve this problem?”  The idea behind this wasn’t obvious to me, so let me explain briefly.

How many minds does this task need?

In general we think of a task as either done or not done.  And, in the lean world, we think of throughput as volume delivered to the customer.  There is a more effective way of thinking of throughput – as value delivered to the customer.  And two items delivered to the customer may have more value.  In fact, especially in knowledge work, the value delivered by the same feature in two different applications may be completely different.

Throughput should not be defined as volume delivered to the customer.

Many tasks can be done much better – that is deliver much more value to the customer – by having many minds work to solve the problem.  That’s why pair programming works.  That’s also why self organizing teams, when they get it right, can create much more value than the same number of individuals working in a different fashion.

Tasks can deliver different value to the customer depending on how well we solved the task.

In summary, the value delivered by a task completed is not static.  That can be affected by the number of people who work on solving the task together.  So, before you do your next task, consider asking “how many minds does this task need?”

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Our Most Effective and Least Adopted Practice

Test Driven Development is one of the most effective practices from the agile community of practices, and also one of the least practiced regularly.  Why is that?  Why, 15 years after it’s introduction to the world via Kent Beck’s eXtreme Programming Explained, is one of the least adopted practices in the community?

Test Driven Development is One of the Most Effective, Yet Least Adopted Practices in the Agile Community

After years of practicing it and teaching it to others I have a few ideas on the subject.

First of all, Test Driven Development takes time to master.  It is conceptually simple, however, practicing test driven development on existing code, not written for tests tends to be very difficult.  And for some reason, even though there are some really great, and simple, techniques out there for working with legacy code (most prominently Michael Feathers’ book by the same title), people tend to be unaware or unpracticed with the well-known and well-documented techniques.  This means there is a skill-gap in using test driven development for existing, untested, code bases.

Most Developers are Unaware or Unpracticed at TDD Techniques for Code Not Written With Testing In Mind (Legacy Code)

Then there is the problem of the current way TDD is taught in the community.  We, the coaching community usually teach TDD on toy applications built for a classroom situation.  And students leave the classroom having learned the basic skills of TDD on greenfield applications and unable to apply them in their daily lives with aging code and tight deadlines.  The techniques of working with existing code are usually considered advanced and not broached until teams become practiced with the basics of TDD.  Unfortunately most teams don’t become practiced in TDD because they cannot apply what they’ve learned in class to most of their regular work.  Finally, although there are a few workshops out there where coaches teach TDD on their clients’ live code, they are by far and large the minority.

Most Students Leave TDD Training With The Ability to Practice TDD on Greenfield Applications Yet Their Day-To-Day Work Is On Legacy Code

For those lucky few, that learn TDD in a class, have follow-up coaching afterwards as they begin to master TDD in the few cases where it is possible, and advance enough to learn how to work with legacy code effectively there is one last hurdle. You need to make TDD a daily habit.  And making TDD a daily habit is easier said than done.  Even well practiced developers, who have been doing this for years, spend roughly 40% of their time writing tests and 60% of their time writing production code.  For those new to TDD, if they want to create such a habit, they will need to spend the majority of their time writing tests, not production code, to make things stick.  Add to that the existing deadlines.  Add to that managers that might become worried as velocity drops.  And, add to that, our own critics in our head that start to get worried that we are spending much of our time writing tests. To make TDD a habit, given such a large step size, we need an immense amount of personal and team motivation to make it part of our day to day lives.

Making TDD a Habit Requires Sustained High Levels of Motivation

Finally, if you learn TDD, get coaching to apply it to your existing code, are excited enough to sustain the levels of motivation needed to make it a habit, you have one final hurdle.  You are dependent on the rest of the team.  TDD is a brittle practice.  That is, we all need to be practicing TDD on the team to succeed.  If I write a test, and someone else breaks that test and does not fix it, then the TDD habit isn’t going to last.  Also, if I am the only one writing tests on the codebase, and my colleagues aren’t, we won’t ever reap one of the great benefits of TDD – a safety-net of tests that enables us to refactor regularly and changes the cost of change curve for our project so that is affordable to make changes late in the game.

TDD Is Fragile – Success Relies On the Whole Team Practicing

With all this stacked against us: a big learning curve, ineffective training techniques, a need for sustained levels of high motivation, and fragility, it is no wonder most of us in the Agile community do not practice TDD. We need a new approach to learning and practicing this most valuable of skills.

We Need a New Approach to Learning TDD

I’m not writing this blog as a lament; I’ve been working on parts of the puzzle for a few years and the last piece is now sliding in place:

Training: TDD is a difficult skill.  Teaching it effectively even more so.  We need to reconsider how we train TDD.  The current method has proven ineffective. We need to either go back to the old XP immersion classes which jam-packed a team into a shared workspace for 2-weeks of intense work, or we need to start teaching legacy code techniques at first encounter – preferably on live code – so students can transition to daily work after class.

Teach Legacy Code Techniques In Introductory TDD Classes

Building habits: the latest research on making practices into habits gives us new ways to be more effective in transforming the way we work.  One very effective technique is to take ridiculously small steps to reduce the levels of motivation needed and build the habit first.  Once the habit is there, then we can layer-on sophistication and complexity.  Specifically to TDD, we need to find the smallest possible step – an MVP of TDD training – that we use to build our habit first.

Design and Use an MVP of TDD Training

TDD fragility: Because TDD needs the whole team to work together effectively, we need to create a culture that encourages individuals on a team to write tests regularly.  The work I’ve been doing with Steve Peha on agreements-based culture is an effective way to make that a reality.

Leverage Agreement Based Culture Techniques To Get Full Team Participation

By putting those four techniques together we can, as a community, start benefitting from our most effective technical practice.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2014 in Culture, TDD, Teams

 

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Is Culture Simple?

I’ve moved this blog to the Culture Engine’s website.  I take a look at why values are not the right starting place to either see or change a culture.  I then change direction, and instead of abstracting out, I focus on the building blocks of culture to get a handle on culture change.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Safety – Easier Said Than Done

Safety.  Number two on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – right after eating and breathing.

Safety.  The primary focus of Alcoa’s famous rise from the ashes.

Safety.  The gateway to excellence in software development.

(Lack of) Safety.  The first of the four invisible impediments to high performance teams.

Safety.  Something that is completely internal.  Some people feel safe in a burning building.  Others are afraid to walk across a busy street.  In the last year, our focus at Industrial Logic has been safety as a gateway to excellence.  And the more we explore, the more it resonates.  The more it is surprisingly true.

For me, I’ve had a really long weekend.  I made a mistake at work that upset one of my colleagues and may have negatively affected our standing with a client.  Bummer.  It happens.  But it was the weekend.  And I’m 10 timezones away so it has taken three days for us to get together and talk about the problem.

However, since Friday morning I’ve been stressed.  I haven’t been able to focus.  And I have used a huge amount of energy to continue doing work that needs to be done for an upcoming deadline.  If I weren’t feeling so unsafe, I’d have been able to focus and would have been done by now.

And the interesting thing is, I know rationally there is nothing to worry about and even if there was there is very little I can do at this moment.  But my rational mind doesn’t mean very much to my emotional fear.

So, the question is, how do you feel safe?  How do you readily get from feeling emotionally unsafe to relative safety?  For me, it has always been (relatively) straight-forward: I man-up and face my fear.  If I’ve upset someone I pick up the phone and have a conversation.  If I’ve broken something, I do my best to fix it.  And so on and so forth.

But what works for one person, doesn’t always work for another.  And what about when you find yourself in my position this weekend when something isn’t immediately fixable or that person isn’t available for a conversation?

That’s what I’ll be focusing on over the next two weeks.  I’ll be reading up.  Having conversations with people who know this much better than I do.  And learning to more effectively create safety for myself and share what I learn with others.

Because Safety really is important to our work together.  And without it things break down and we become so much less effective than we can be.

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Four Invisible Impediments

There are 4 common blockers to achieving high performance:

  • Lack of Safety,
  • Lack of Respect,
  • Lack of Ownership,
  • Lack of Intention

Each of these key ideas can be stated simply:

SAFETY

The extent to which I feel I can be myself in my work; say what I need to say; do what I need to do; and be accepted for who I am.

RESPECT

The extent to which I regard others as human beings and not as “types” or “things” that are keeping me from getting what I want.

OWNERSHIP

The extent to which I acknowledge that I am responsible for my results and my experience; I do not find fault, nor lay blame; nor do I act solely out of obligation.

INTENTION

The extent to which I am clear—with myself and others—about the results I want to create and how I want to create them.

Notice that each of these ideas is 100% internal.  The extent to which I am clear.  The extent to which I regard others.  And so on.  One of our biggest mistakes is externalizing our safety, respect, ownership, and intention.  Once we internalize them and consciously choose them, we are in the a much more effective position as an individual, and as a member of a team.

You can read more at http://cultureengine.net.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Follow the Energy

At Industrial Logic we have a diverse team that is distributed globally. We are all very experienced software and agile practitioners that have been around the block several times with helping teams and organizations vastly improve the way they work together to build software.

Last week we were away for our annual in-person meetup/retreat and it was phenomenal. I’m writing this on the last leg of a 30 hour trip back home to Cairo and I’ve never been so energized. The next few blog posts will contain many things I’ve learned and relearned.

What I’d like to discuss today is something truly marvelous. It is the idea of “following the energy” instead of following a strict agenda and timeline. If it sounds a little un-professional and un-businesslike to you, it did to many of us. But boy did it make a difference in our results.

Stated simply “follow the energy” means follow your own energy and that of the group. When you are tired, rest. When you’re not feeling it on one topic or task, go do another. When you need to nap, by all means, go ahead and nap.

What this enabled us to do was to bring our WHOLE SELVES to everything we worked on. That means we were fresher, more engaged, and much better able to work as a team. The results were amazing – we completed tasks as a team and took them to completion regularly. And the quality of those tasks were much higher than we would have gotten if we were working on it because we had assigned something to be done.

Now don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a free-for-all. We had well-defined tasks and we had them prioritized. We didn’t go work on task #10 before we were done with task #1. But what we DID do is agree as a group what we would be working on. And we had a few things that we were doing in parallel. So that if your energy ebbed on one task, you were able to move to another. And if you needed some time to decompress and do something else, it was absolutely safe and ENCOURAGED to do so until you had your energy back and were ready and eager to dive back in.

So, “follow the energy” is one of our new team agreements and we will continue to work that way as a team. I expect we’ll have better results and enjoy doing so much more than we have in the past.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Use the Product to Build the Team

Most people use the software development team to build the software product.  And that makes a lot of sense.  Begin with the end in mind – focus on the product and make sure that is clear to the team – and they will build it well.  Unfortunately, and unexpectedly, this is painful and ineffective.  I have never seen a team reach high performance by doing that.

Instead, all of the teams that I have witnessed achieve high performance have done something differently.  They focused on the individuals and their interactions; the focused on the team and how they work.  The fact that they had a shared goal – the product – was the mechanism used to Build the Team.  When the team was built – the software was built as a by-product of the focus on the team.

So focus on building the team.  Use the product as a way to build a high performance team.  Do THAT and you will get a great product.  Every.  Single.  Time.

- Thanks Tim and Ashley!

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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