Items filtered by date: March 2014 - Q:PIT Ltd

Getting Started 101 - Process, Agile or Lean?

  • Published in Blog

Over the years, different terminologies have come into existence, which are considered as the new way of doing things. In theory, it means that people have identified the weaknesses of the way they are working and are therefore trying to find a new, more successful approach. In reality, it appears that the weaknesses due to misunderstanding and misapplication of basic principles have led to results which are very different from what was originally expected. We then get a group of people who believe that the new approach is the solution to all their previous problems and start following it with religious fervour, throwing out anything which does not correspond to the new vocabulary and focusing only on applying what they have understood from what they have read in a book - soon they are producing the same mistakes as previous generations and it becomes time for someone to re-create the basic ideas...

Within the software engineering world, we appear to have two clear groups who believe that they are in conflict with each other: the process people and the agile people. And, yet...

  • The process people push the concept of measurement and analysis, combined with root cause analysis. The main focus is to identify where time is being wasted, where the cost is greater than the value. This is one of the basic principles of lean management.
  • The agile requirement to plan a whole release, including multiple sprints or iterations is what the process people call project planning.
  • The process people want requirements definition, prioritization, management and control. This corresponds to the practices of the product and spirint backlogs. The assignation of the backlogs to subsequent sprints is what the process people call assigning the requirements to components.
  • The creation of user-stories in agile methodologies correspond nicely to what process models would call utilization scenarios and scripts.
  • Continuous integration can only be performed with the background of solid configuration management.
  • Retrospectives, post-mortems, lessons-learned sessions are aimed at identifying what went wrong in the activities that were performed and how the standard process can be improved in future projects.
  • All the methodologies require the planned and managed interaction of stakeholders, including the customer, the management team, the engineers, the marketing and legal people, the suppliers, the maintenance people, etc.
  • At the beginning of a new project or release, there is a meeting of the team to define what is the best approach to take, to decided on how the standard process will be tailored to the specific needs of the project based on their documented past experiences.
  • A key discovery of the agile folk was the creation of the "scrum", an integrated, cross-functional, self-organizing team which sought to define the way they were going to work, resolve any issues or impediments they encounter and work together, as a team, with continuous communication and mutual support. This sounds very much like what the US Department of Defense called "IPPD" in 1996 and was integrated into the CMMI.

I am not saying that all these practices are identical and that nothing has been created, however, I do feel, as I listen, read or see these new methodologies and principles, I find more and more that I am going back to the future. What would be nice would be if engineers and management started actually trying to understand the meaning of the techniques being proposed, the origin of the words being used and stop throwing everything away because a new word has appeared in conferences and litterature.


Getting Started 101 - The Policy

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Communicating what you want.

Frequently, I refer to these as policies, probably because of my background in process improvement, but what I want to talk about here is how you – as management – express your expectations in useful terms and formats for your team members.

This is the first in a series of short items on initiating a change management process in a useful and long-standing manner. This is also the first step in any successful attempt to manage the performance of any organization, group, team, department…

Many organizations show me detailed instructions on what people are supposed to (not) do, the tasks and reports they need to complete. These are procedures, not management expectations and, as such, are not necessarily helpful as they encourage blind obedience rather than successful results. Management needs to ensure that the right message is communicated so that people can focus on improving quality, efficiency, productivity, customer satisfaction, etc. When telling team members that they need to follow without questioning encourages a negative attitude in which people will complain about the inefficiency and bureaucracy without making any effort to improve the practices they dislike. This creates a negative atmosphere, bureaucracy and a serious negative impact on productivity and quality.

When deciding to move an organization forward, at any level, the first step should always be to educate the staff in understanding why this is an important activity and what are the objectives. A few steps to consider...

1. What’s special about your company?
Who are you, why would your customers want to work with you rather than with your competition? What is the added value you bring to your services and products? What should your reputation be in 5, 10, 15 years’ time?

When you talk about “quality”, what do you mean? We all understand “delivering on time” and “respecting the budget”, but what exactly is “quality”? If you were in competition with another company and you both delivered the same thing on time and in budget, why would yours be considered as better quality? What are the differentiating characteristics?

2. What results do you expect from your teams?
Surely you don’t expect them to always follow the same steps, do the same thing when they are working (unless you are designing a factory-style chain-work system). You expect your team members to make an effort, try to develop better products and services, you want them to identify where money and time are being wasted, how to improve the efficiency of the organization.

Express your expectations in terms of results, of outcomes. Don’t give as expectation that people use a specific technique for estimating, but that their estimates can be reviewed and validated by an independent colleague. The expectation should not be that they always meet their estimates and schedules, because that would just encourage them to over-estimate in order to make sure that they will have enough time at the end.


3. Put in place measurements which support your objectives
It is well known that people act according to the measurements by which they are monitored. When management talks about quality, but then only measures budgets and schedules, they are enforcing the message that quality is not as important as early and cheap.

Measure the quality of the work being done, measure the time wasted, the bottle-necks. Measure the cost of unidentified risks which became problems, measure the satisfaction of your team members as well as that of your customers. Measure the time spent correcting defects.


4. Enforce the right attitude
Make sure that the measurements being collected are being used for the improvement of the organization’s added-value and identify the things which need to be improved. Should anyone in the organization use these data to punish or reward team members, the value of the data being reported will immediately drop as people learn to fix the numbers to please management.


The usage of the data needs to be carefully communicated and understood by everyone and clearly explained within the policy. The data being collected needs to be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that the data being collected is providing added value.


5. Encourage dissent
Establish a clear path through which everyone can report issues, risks, problems, deviations from management expectations and misuse of information. “Whistle-blowers” should be encouraged: they are bringing to management’s attention issues which need action. They will allow the organization to move forward.

Your “policy” should identify as little as possible what people are supposed to do, but establish very clearly why particular attitudes, reports or results are expected. This should be strengthened through controls (measurements), checks (reporting structure) and balances (risk management) which reinforce a positive and constructive attitude.


On Fear

  • Published in Blog

I have been thinking a lot about fear recently... What is it, why does it block us so often? What can be done about it? Is it important?

There are many different types of fear. The ones I encountered most frequently professionally fall into three main categories:

  • Fear of Change,
  • Fear of Technology and
  • Fear of Being Discovered.

There are many other types of common fears, of course: fear of flying, fear of spiders, fear of falling, fear of closed spaces, fear of open spaces. There are some less common fears: did you know that Steve Jobs suffered of Koumpounophobia: fear of buttons - apparently his fear of buttons went beyond clothing which may be why he started off Apple with a mouse that had only one button instead of two, then went on to revolutionize telephones by removing all buttons and replacing them with a touch screen! It shows that fears can be constructive as well as debilitating. However, within the general world, fear is more frequently a destructive force: it is arguably one of the two forces (with envy) which gives rise to manifestations of hatred. There are even fears which are considered to be hatred: xenophobia (fear of foreigners and foreign things) and homophobia (fear of homosexuals) are frequently confused with active hate.

Reactions to fear vary depending on the individual, some people run away, some people fight or bully the people of whom they are afraid, some people manage their fear and do something constructive, some lose their means and don’t do anything – there are as many different reactions to fear, few of them are positive.

Within the business world, fear can be a very destructive force as it stops people from moving forward. These are often demonstrated through fear of change and fear of technology, but I believe that the underlying cause of these is the basic "fear of being discovered". This is related to the fact that we are all acutely aware of our own limitations and shortcomings. We know the things we cannot do. Many people, internally, feel that they are actually just children who have grown up and to whom responsibilities have been given, but one day, someone will discover that they are improvising and they will lose their job and be publicly humiliated – this is reflected in the classic dream of showing up to a meeting and realizing you are completely naked.

New technologies, new processes, new business structures are obvious threats to continuity and safety. Frequently people doing a job, particularly those who have been doing it for many years, have their habits and their routines. They do the same thing every time and it works. Now, suddenly, they are being asked to change the way they work, to think about what they were doing routinely, to consider new approaches to the same task, possibly even to explain to someone else how they do it. This is the point when they suddenly realise that someone is going to discover that they don’t really know or understand what they are doing, all they know is that, whatever it is, it works.

So, we need to understand that the implementation of new technology, new tools, new processes, new methodologies, organizational change, etc. are not actually the cause of anxiety or fear. The fear is in most cases a fear of “being discovered”, which is combined with a fear of ridicule, or loss of income (redundancy). When confronted with employees who are refusing or appear afraid of a new work practice, management’s key role is one of education – as in so many cases.

This does not mean teaching them how to use the new tool, but helping them understand the impact, the consequences, the reasons related to the change.

If I understand the life of a spider, I understand that it is not interested in laying eggs in my ear or crawling into any orifices, I understand that it is not dirty or ferocious, my fear will be reduced. Once I understand that the immigrants coming to this country are mainly those people who are so desperate for work that they are willing to leave behind their loved ones, their lives, their homes: they are not just coming to take my job or live off tax-funded benefits – in fact, once I understand that the economic balance of immigration is positive, I will welcome them and not be afraid. If I can understand that the new technology is there to support me, to make my life easier and not just replace me with a machine, then I will understand that I do not need to be frightened.

The solution appears to be easy, but it is not. The solution is focused on education – which is a practice that has been largely forgotten. We have been, for many years, focusing on training rather than educating. We will train people to use the new tool, but will not educate them in understanding its benefits and value. We will train people to jump through hoops, do as they are told, we forget to teach them how to think.

However, more than educating people to help them overcome their fears, there is an additional option which would be to understand how to use fear productively. We do this on a regular basis: it is fear of death and accidents which encourage us to be careful when crossing the road, it is fear of failure which makes us work harder. Some organizations, such as political parties and organized religion use fear to increase support from those who can least afford it...

Fear is a powerful force, it can bring you down if you let it control you; it can give you strength if you decide to control it.

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