Command and control with pair programming

I found a revealing discussion at a popular suomi24.fi-site titled Ketterä IT-helvetti (agile IT hell ). It is amazing how often daily Scrum is practiced just opposite of Scrum’s basic idea of a self-organizing team.

This 15 minutes is just for the developers to say hello to each other and coordinate days activities. They need to know the situation after yesterday’s work because software development is not predictable. Sometimes tasks estimated to take 2 days take 5 days and sometimes they are ready after one day. So everyone needs to know where the team is and agree on what to do next.

The metaphor of chickens and pigs is meant to make sure that managers do not use that for micromanaging the people. Command and control is bad because it destroys peoples’ natural work motivation. People including developers want to achieve something and autonomy to do it – not that they are given orders and controlled tightly. Command and control reduces productivity and creativity which is really harmful in an art like software development. Psychological studies have shown that time after another.

Pair programming can be done in a way that does not decrease the motivation. As the code is owned by team and every team member is responsible of changing any peace of it the team needs a way to teach the secrets of the code modules to everyone in the team. That is pair programming. It prevents harmful specialization and at the same time decreases the number of errors in the code. Your pair is not watching and controlling what you are programming but you two work together to create great software. Two creative minds coding and discussing together is a way to learn from each other and do a great work. Pairs are changed normally on daily basis so that different angles on the problem can be thought. Pair programming should not be a stressful situation like the one described in suomi24. The team should discuss about the situation in its retrospective and decide how to continue to find the the joy of work that agility gives when it is practiced at its best.

Innovation requires skill, motivation and courage

Innovation is not just brainstorming with fancy techniques. Truly new business ideas need well grown skill, deep motivation to struggle through all the forthcoming difficulties and courage to put enough effort to make it successful.

A stereotype of an inventor is a mad man who works to create a perpetual motion machine. He has limited education to base his inventions but decades of hard work is a kind of substitute of that. Chances of success are limited because it is easier to be creative at the spearhead of science. Motivation is a required because innovation is not just heureka moments in brainstorming sessions but persistent work to try different things, ideas and variations.

Many of the ideas we get are indeed doable, but not commercially feasible or the manufacturing process is not feasible.I believe in intrinsic motivators, but money is not totally out of the table, because we need money to fund the materials and inventor’s time for a long journey of trials and errors – inventors use empirical process control. Many useful inventions are out of reach of individuals, because of expensive equipment that is needed. On the other point view, governments typically overspend because too much money is chasing too few ideas. Just think of ITER.

Courage is important because new innovations break our barriers of thoughts. Something that we believed, was found to be not true. Saying that is not easy. It is easier to let it be. So, employees have no reason to innovate. They get their salaries without and hunger overcomes the desire to create something great. People have ideas but they do not go ahead with them, because that will do harm. Remember that the majority of the ideas are not that great when studied more. And if it happens to be a success story, it is not just fair that your employer gets it for free. You might get a 100 € bonus 🙂

Universities are thought to be sources of innovation. Ph.D’s have the theoretical knowledge to synthesize new ideas but current world is very eager to make sure that the big companies get the results. Tight research funding narrows the focus of the researchers. You must complete your Ph.D in four years. To do so, you take part of a large team that is sure of about the results when they start.

BTW. I found an academic study of this topic. Creativity and innovation in the Systems Engineering process [PDF].

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

I wish you merry Christmas and happy new year 🙂 It has been surprisingly strong upturn after the economic downturn in 2009. I have  been running CSM trainings one after another – the public ones are just a peak of the iceberg.

Based on the statistics this blog is not dead though I have not written anything for a while. The backlog of topics that I would like to write grows larger and while I read a lot – web, books and discussion forums I get still more issues to comment. I don’t make a promise for the new year to be more active even though I feel that way now in my Christmas leave.

Less extreme Scrum

Agile software development has often seen as an foreign element leading to chaos in Virginia Satir’s model. Current situation of Scrum is indeed somehow chaotic. Key persons are arguing against each other and it has been very demanding to define what Scrum actually is? Ken Schwaber’s ScrumGuide is our current definition but it is not ready for a Scrum Alliance’s multi-choice exam.

There are many different versions or variations of Scrum which may or may not be under a common framework. Common thing in these is that they are more realistic and less extreme. It has been visible for a while that radical extreme Scrum has given space to real life. Some of these modifications clearly belong under the title “Scrum but” but some others are coming from Schwaber and Sutherland, who are the authorities who define Scrum.

In the London Gathering Schwaber introduced product backlog refactoring meetings where team collaborates with the product owner to create actionable product backlog items. In Munich Gathering Sutherland emphasized that the user story must be ready for the Sprint, which means that a good enough specification exists to continue.

The main difference here between Rational Unified Process and Scrum is in the collaboration between the developers and the product owner. In RUP there are strong roles and artifacts that are just handed to next group of people. Product owners’ role has got more content by the discussion of release planning – still obscurely defined time-box of Scrum.We are now also openly talking about undone features and telling that team might not be able to complete a user story to the point that it can released. So we add a stabilization Sprint where undone features are completed before the release.

Situational leadership model was my favorite in the 80’s. In addition to Tucman’s model it was also well visible in the Munich Gathering. Actually that means that we have to admit that leaders can’t just assume that teams self-organize when they are just empowered to do so. Sometimes directive forms of leadership are needed though we understand the drawbacks of command and control.

Schwaber’s integration teams that he introduced in his book Enterprise and Scrum have not been heard much in talks of the Scrum people. The case studies of real life projects tell clearly that defined organizations are used, not just self-organizing flocks of business and technical people. The question of scaling agility is interesting and clearly not solved in a way that theoreticians and practitioners can both accept. Actually, I would like to asses (or rather measure) different agile solutions instead of arguing about right or wrong Scrum.

Scrum gathering Munich

I am taking part to Scrum gathering this week. This is fully booked though the economy is down. The talks that I have heard so far are encouraging and enjoyable. I am here to see friends and to hear their stories and experiences. There are many issues that I should rise (in this blog and otherwise) but I the thing near my heart is collaborative design. Developers are still struggling with functional organizations. Product owners don’t talk with the developers and we have subgroups of developers who communicate only with specifications. This might be because of the early phase of the agile adoption but understanding the cross-functional teams might be difficult too.

Losing weight with Scrum

Scrum is simple and hard. So is losing weigth for the majority of people.

The secret of losing weight is that you eat less. That is that simple, but doing it is hard.We can apply empirical process control to control one’s weight. Let’s have a daily weighting every morning to create a burn down chart of your body mass. Then you tell your group of peers what did you actually eat yesterday and what are you planning to eat today. This is basically how weightwatchers do it.

Eating less is hard and so is software development. Deciding what do (that is called prioritizing), limiting work to capacity under pressure and keeping the commitment are tough things to do in real life.

Disclosure: My own weight is normal and has always been.

September 2009

Work is continuing behind the scenes. August 2009 was surprisingly busy to me and to my customers. Nordea bank announced today that the economic downturn is over. This is something that the stock prices have predicted about a half a year. To those of you who are not familiar with its behavior, I like to remind that highest peek of unemployment normally occurs about half a year after the lowest economic output and that stock prices change direction before it.We have still bumpy road ahead if the bottom is in the Winter. Businesses lack money, cash to invest. Reorganizing takes time when a lot of people is involved. Inventing new ideas might be happening when we have time for that but realizing them is difficult. We need to ask permissions.

Antti Tarvanen opened a new blog about agile acquisition that is julkiset ohjelmistohankinnat in Finnish. I try to be active there, too. ScrumAlliance starts exams 1.10.2009. Find more at ScrumAlliance.org.I have few courses before that. So getting a CSM status without the exam is still possible, but everyone assures that passing the exam will be easy. I have now new versions of my favorite tools Enterprise Architect and Netbeans. EA is now capable of generating code from statechart diagrams. Netbeans 6.7.1 has interesting things in JavaFX, SOA and Webservices. I have been working with Debian flavors of Linux at home and I think that the progress in the open source area is also changing the world.

That is it now, folks. At 1:20 AM.

Lean opportunity

Organizational issues come into discussion every time we talk about agile adoption. Creating a really lean and agile organization has been found very difficult. It has been asked whether that is even possible, not to talk about being sustainable.

In current economic situation savings are the appealing part of lean thinking. The more important part, empowering the ordinary people, is hard to justify. On the contrary, power is restricted to the (upper) management especially when we talk about costs. Layouts are also used to save.

Fortunately, the availability of software development jobs is still quite good, which means that volunteered change of ones job is the way to do that. To many organizations becoming lean means layouts. Some of the them even get rid of unnecessary management layers. But, the big but. Really working together as teams and collaborating parties is far away if we are not talking about Japan where jobs are for life (maybe still). Layouts do bad to morale and motivation and organizations look like frozen. No innovations, no new ideas, just unspoken fear and risk avoidance.

Obviously, becoming lean means losing fat, but it also means that you will become more energetic, capable. I am speaking now both the people in individual level and the organizations.We have learned that economic downturns will end some day. So, the tactic of waiting has become popular. We assume that we can just sleep the bad time away and continue as usual. Unfortunately that is not how the market economy works. Downturns are the time for restructuring the businesses. Some old ways of doing business will be gone forever and new businesses have to be started. You lose your opportunity if you dig to your pothole. So, instead of just keeping your old cows and killing the calves, you should consider doing just the opposite. Getting money from your cows is of course important especially when you are running out of cash, but old cows do not milk forever. You must have courage to take your changes.

Here I am talking about the opportunities of lean and agile software development. Being effective and capable of utilizing the opportunities is always fashionable. Now we have the theories of lean thinking available.  The question is,  do you take the opportunity or does your competitor.

8 years of lean software development in Tieturi

Kalle Huhtala’s talk about practical experiences of lean software development is now down-loadable from the site of the Projektipäivät. It is in Finnish, sorry. Unfortunately I could not take part of this day but knowing Kalle, I am sure that it was a good talk.

Tieturi is a training and coaching house but we do some in-house software development to create solutions for eLearning. These projects are quite small and Kalle’s team serves multiple customers at a time. RePa is an excel sheet that is used to manage the tasks and resources. It can be classified as a kanban, because there is only one list of things to do.

A dedicated one hour weekly meeting is used to have the coordination discussions in addition what happens ad hoc in the team room.

Experiences of RePa are quite good as you can assume when you hear that we have used that for eight years. Our process has helped us to balance the work in progress and resources that we have. Limiting work to capacity is important because failures or false promises are not an option in small projects that we do.

ELearning is the answer that queue theory gives to trainer’s value stream. You can start learn as soon as you have bought the solution and you can proceed on your own when you have time. There is no need to gather large numbers of students to classes. The solutions are smaller than several days that you typically spend to a class. You can spend just minutes to learn something that is very specific to your actual need. For example, if you want to know how to use links in WordPress, you could just start a video that teaches to you to do it.