Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Slightly Softer Wimper

As a follow up to my missive on Agile Failure in my organization, I must point out that a recent planning session with another team led to some useful activity in rating the stories in the team backlog. That said, the previous avatar of the Scrum Master was in the form of a PMI certified project manager from a Waterfall shop. Those skills were very much in evidence during the meeting. It seems more and more clear that the training, experience and quality of the team members deteremine the outcome of a project far more that 5x7 cards, stand up meetings or manifestos.

Sign of the Times

An actual section at the book store:

"New Teen Paranormal Romance"

Monday, November 22, 2010

Flaubert on Parenting: 2010

I also can't help but wonder if all of the effort poured into creating the perfect child, like the haute bourgeois attention to stylish food, is a way of deflecting and rechannelling adult disappointment. Are these parents, so virtuously exhausted, so child-drained at the end of one of these busy days, compensating for something they have given up? Something missing in their marriage? Some romantic disappointment? Some compromise of career or adventure? One can't help but wonder, in other words, what Tolstoy or Flaubert would make of our current parenting style.

"Modern Parenting: If we try to engineer perfect children, will they grow up to be unbearable?"
Katie Roiphe, Slate/Financial Times

With a Wimper

The other day I ate lunch with a colleague. She argued that training the entire company on The Oz Principle and having each employee participate in eight two hour evaluations each quarter was worth the expense and bother even if only she and I were inspired to demonstrate responsibility-taking behavior before our co-workers. My position was that not a single management fad I have ever witnessed emerging from the executive suite had had any impact on corporate culture or effectiveness. The Oz Principle walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and, more to the point, smells like a duck. The most disappointing part is that seasoned businessmen and women actually buy these books.

I have made no secret of my doubts about Agile Development. To be sure, my company showed all the signs of an Agile Failure environment - top heavy decision making, Agile by mandate, lack of top-level buy-in, a culture of just-get-by. You can't just flip a switch and change the corporate culture. Now, after only a few months, the course of events is unfolding exactly as I anticipated based on my two decades experience at various companies.

First, at the sprint planning session, the so-called User Stories are written based on the steps required to complete some system design that each developer holds in his or her head. Instead of "As a call center rep, I want ..." every card begins, "As a developer I need to ...". Since our product owner comes out of IT instead of the user organization (she says she KNOWS what they need) no one blinks. When I brought this up, I was told that according to some Agile books, this is allowed. I shut up after that. Next each user story is assigned a complexity based on an unstructured discussion in which the senior members of the team dominate - no input from the underlings. Finally, the programming manager, who is on the team, provides the task estimates and then assigns each task to a developer before the first sprint has even started!

Here's what has happened: the manager nixes any self-organization and the focus remains on IT delivering the functionality that they believe the user needs. To top it off, the higher-ups are demanding hard deadlines and treating every problem as a fire, yanking team members around like manic chess pieces. This process reflects the exact sequence of events that went into planning a project before we went all Agile. As I expected, the members of IT have found a way to do exactly what they were doing before but pay lip service to being Agile. It was that way at the phone company and it's that way now.

The challenge to management is to cancel their Management Book of the Month subscription, do some real research in organizational behavior, look hard at the culture they have to deal with and find creative, insightful ways to move the company out of the 1980's. Good luck.
Hate is the crucible of our values.

But for the Grace of God

I am listening to Sidney Poitier's book, The Measure of a Man. In the mod-50's, after making No Way Out, Cry Beloved Country and Blackboard Jungle, his only source of steady income to support his family was a failing rib restaurant. It finally got to the point where he asked his father-in-law to teach him how to lay bricks.

A man whom we would consider a quintescential success struggled to feed his family in the midst of that supposed success. Ain't hind-sight grand?

P.S.: He failed at bricklaying

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Solid Ground?

Two seismologists, Meredith Nettles and Göran Ekström of Columbia University, discovered a few years ago that unusual earthquakes were emanating from the Greenland glaciers as they dumped the extra ice into the sea. “It’s remarkable that an iceberg can do this, but when that loss of ice occurs, it does generate a signal that sets up a vibration that you can record all across the globe,” Dr. Nettles said in an interview in Greenland.

Analyzing past records, they discovered that these quakes had increased severalfold from the level of the early 1990s, a sign of how fast the ice is changing.

As Glaciers Melt, Science Seeks Data on Rising Seas, NY Times, Nov 13

We like to think we are standing on solid ground. The glacial pace of plate tectonics (pun intended!) makes it a bit too remote to affect our daily experience. On the other hand, when I reflect on forebulging, the lifting up of the earth's crust around continental icesheets of the ice age caused by the weight of the icesheet pushing down on the crust under it. It is like sitting on a couch and noting the "ripple" of cushion around your rear end.

Now I read here that losing just a bit of ice from a glacier is enough to trigger a shifting in the earth's surface, heard via seismograph. It kinda makes me feel humble in the face of forces and movements far beyond my ken.

QOD - Situational Piety

"On land I worship Christ, but at sea I worship Thor."
Helgi the Lean, early Icelandic settler

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Obamacare Rules! (?)

A CNN exit poll on Tuesday asked the following question:

What Should Congress Do With New Health Care Law?


31% Expand It
16% Leave It As Is
48% Repeal It

Yeah, Americans hate Obamacare so much that as many people LIKE the healthcare bill as those oppose it and a third want more of it.