Learning Scrum is like learning to play Stairway to Heaven with tablature
|It will get you here:|
But most of us are trying to get here:
The difference involves tacit knowledge. It can’t be learned from a book but it can clearly be learned. You learn it by doing it and consciously paying attention with intent to improve. In the agile world we have lots of names for this: retrospective, kaizen, PDCA, feedback loop, etc. In reality it is called “learning”. It is the single hardest thing for “agile” teams to incorporate. If learning was easy we would all play Stairway To Heaven like Jimmy.
Scrum is not a multi-purpose tool to solve all problems at all times.
Scrum is a highly effective tool that is very useful for specific purposes in specific contexts.
Agile is a fully stocked kitchen. Choose the appropriate tools for your context.
Kanban helps ensure your kitchen is run efficiently regardless of what tools and processes you use.
I recently toured the Empire State Building and was struck by the project plan for its construction:
To put this in perspective here are a few facts about the project:
- Tallest building in the world at the time
- 410 days to complete
- 7,000,000 person-hours
- 3,400 concurrent workers at peak
- 5 deaths (considering the working conditions it’s amazing there weren’t more)
- $25M construction cost (in 1931 dollars)
- 47 tasks on the plan (66 if you include sub-tasks)
- Completed on time and under budget
- 83 years later it is still fully operational
Now think about the last project you worked on and ask yourself:
- Is this the first time something like this has ever been attempted?
- Does my project involve as many people?
- Does my project risk lives?
- Is my project budget (in today’s dollars) as large?
- Will the thing you are building be around in 83 years?
and finally, how does my project plan compare? I have personally seen a lot of project plans and every single one of them was substantially longer and more complicated, while the answer to all of the above questions was “no”. How about you?
Last week I attended my fifth Kaizen Camp at The Foundry in Seattle. As usual it was a magical experience with awesome people, exceptional food and unmatched conversations. Kaizen Camp started as a traditional Open Space conference and through a series of…ahem…Kaizen’s it morphed to what one might call “Scaled Lean Coffee” format this time.
Our meeting space is an open banquet facility. You would think it would be too noisy with close to 100 people all talking at once, but it is surprisingly quiet. I believe there are two things that contribute to this: 1) everyone is at a round table so there is no clear leader or lecturer trying to talk over everyone, and 2) because we are all in the same room everyone is more mindful and respectful of their volume
The day started with an intro in front of the main Kanban board. We heard from a sponsor, Dashcube, who makes an impressive Lean/Agile planning tool. This is followed by Jim Benson explaining the Lean Coffee procedure.
Next, people share their ideas while we populate the backlog.
Notice the strict limit of eight cards. Masking tape physically limits the Work In Progress to correspond to the eight tables where the Lean Coffee sessions are held.
We collectively “pull” stories into the In Progress boxes. This is an open forum where everyone bum-rushes the wall to pull their favorite story into one of the eight slots. Surprisingly this goes very smoothly. The very first session is always the busiest — however there are typically only two or three really enthusiastic folks that run up to the board. Everyone else waits to see what gets pulled.
Here we are at the first session discussing Scaling Agile. We decided that Agile concepts and principles scale beautifully but that prescriptive methods do not necessarily scale without tailoring. Organizations are complex and require some iteration to find a process that works.
After each session we share any epiphanies the group had before we do another “pull” to choose the next round of sessions. By the end of the day there are a LOT of epiphanies.
I recently read an excellent book I discovered at Powell’s Bookstore in Portland and hosted a session to discuss it. It was very popular and resulted in many epiphanies. Apparently lots of us have had experiences that made this book compelling.
And finally, there was dancing.
All-in-all Kaizen Camp 2014 in Seattle was another fantastic adventure filled with intense learning, great food and even better discussion. Keep an eye out next year and sign up if you get a chance!
If you are coaching a soccer team, here is a proven plan to score a goal:
- Have the Center kick the ball back to Left Defender. This must be done quickly as the opposing Center will be rushing the ball
- At the same time have the Mid-fielders and Forwards all rush to the opposing goal, being careful not to go off-sides. This will give you seven men on the opposing teams’ side.
- When the Left Defender receives the ball have him tee it up for the Right Defender.
- Have the Right Defender punt the ball to the Left Midfielder who will be about half way between center field and the goal box.
- Have the Midfielder head the ball to the Left Forward who will be just outside the Goal box. This will draw the Goalie out.
- Have the Left Forward fake a goal shot while setting up a header for the Right Forward.
- With the Goalie out of position, the Right forward should head the ball in for a goal.
This should all be accomplished in about 9 seconds. Continue this pattern until you have won the match!
Seems simple right? Just follow the plan as prescribed above and you will score a goal. There is even a video which “proves” this method works.
If you have ever played, coached or watched soccer you probably recognize that trying to script a play to this level of detail would be ridiculous. Why? Variations in player speed, ball control, and the actions of an opposing team interfere with the prescribed plan and the team will need to adapt quickly to changing conditions. In reality this team likely practiced something conceptually similar, but ultimately relied on the skills and judgment of the team to execute to the “goal” (pun intended). In fact, the team was hired based on their capabilities and past performance. The owner(s) and manager(s) expect three things from them:
- Understand the goal
- Maintain Good skills and judgment
- Put forth their best effort
So, why is it so hard for businesses to apply the same type of management to their knowledge workers? We expect good skills and judgment. We demand best efforts. However, instead of focusing everyone on a common goal, we focus them on producing and executing to a detailed plan that attempts to minimize risk at the cost of both schedule and skills performance. So we have this team of people with great skills and good judgment and we prevent them from using either – what does this do for motivation? Next we notice a lack of motivation from our team and apply some “incentives” to get the team to work harder to follow the prescribed plan.
We hear a lot about the notion of “Agile” in the business and technology world today. However, if we look at the management model for Soccer we see a pattern that is much more aligned with the spirit and intent of “Agile”. How can we learn to apply these type of Soccer management techniques to our teams of knowledge workers in the Business world?
I was out for a ride this morning with four other riders from the First Strike Velo bike racing team on the north end of Seattle. We were riding on a quiet rural road in a tight paceline when the last rider called out “CAR BACK!”. This is a group of very experienced bike racers so we quickly moved as far to the right as possible and maintained our tight paceline. Moments later a full size FedEx delivery truck buzzed us, no more than 12″ away, and probably traveling close to 45mph. This was along a straight stretch of road with clear visibility and no other vehicles in sight. Luckily since we are all experienced riders no one panicked and we stayed our course instead of bailing into the ditch, or worse into the the FedEx truck.
About a half mile up the road the driver pulled into a driveway of a house, so I snapped a few photos:
I guess driving a FedEx truck isn’t that fun of a job this time of year. I’m sure the number of deliveries goes through the roof with the Christmas shopping season now in full swing. It’s no wonder some of these drivers get so angry!
So Merry Christmas FedEx, and especially to you, the driver of truck #99419.
Typical dinner at the bachelor pad:
Pan seared pork chop over sauteed chard with wine-poached pink lady apples