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How have you surprised yourself recently?

Doing just as much as you think you can is good;
Going a step further is excellent;
Surprising yourself is AWESOME!

How have you surprised yourself recently?

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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What is the problem you are trying to solve?

I had an interesting initial conversation with a couple of IT Directors this morning. One of their questions stood out for me: “Our teams aren’t meeting their commitments. What should we do to fix the teams?”

My first internal reaction was, “You don’t need to do a thing to ‘fix’ the teams.” My issue with questions of this ilk are:

  1. Why do managers assume the problem is with the team or teams? Remember, half-a-century ago, Deming pointed out that 95% of the problems are systemic problems. And guess who is responsible for the system?
  2. It’s easier to blame others than to take the time to reflect and introspect about how we ourselves are creating the conditions for these problems to come into being — problems we then keep complaining about.
  3. Why do managers (and team members as well) not spend a few minutes thinking about what the problem really is — the root cause and not just the manifestation — before leaping to conclusions?

In this case, there are numerous things that could be keeping the teams from meeting their commitments — lack of skills, lack of appropriate training, over specialization, silos, handoffs, interference from without within the sprint, pressure to commit to more than appropriate, changing priorities, lack of alignment with other groups these teams may be dependent on, technical debt, dearth of testers, large batches with little flow — stories being delivered towards the end of the sprint, large stories, unclear stories, unnecessary steps, non-value add activities imposed on the teams, delays and waiting, and so on and so forth. Without understanding what is actually causing the problem, it’s very likely that you’ll end up solving the wrong thing; thereby, creating even bigger problems.

I use a simple diagram to clarify the issue and teach techniques like 5 Whys, Diagram of Effects, ToC Thinking Tools (especially the CRT), etc. to help teams and managers understand problems and fix root causes so the problem goes away once and for all.

Analyzing a Problem

Analyzing a Problem

How do you handle such situations? Do you have favorite techniques and tools you use? And how much time do you spend teaching problem definition and problem solving techniques?

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2014 in Agile, Improvements

 

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Practice “X” doesn’t work for us so let’s throw it out.

A few months ago I had an opportunity to informally assess a team that had been doing agile (using the term very loosely here) for 4 months. During my 1-on-1 conversations with the team members, I kept hearing the same refrains along the lines of, “The <choose an agile practice or ceremony> doesn’t work for us so let’s stop doing it.”

If a practice isn’t working for a team and they want to change the practice that’s fine as long as they recognize why it isn’t working. But this group had a knee jerk reaction to throw practices out instead of inspecting, reflecting, and adapting. The questions that they should have asked themselves before reaching a decision:

  • Other teams sitting nearby seem to find this practice very valuable. What are we doing differently?
  • Are we doing this the right way?
  • Did we inadvertently modify the practice to fit our context without realizing the benefits we would lose?
  • Did we try and learn from the instances where the practices didn’t seem to bear fruit? And did we then change the way we worked?
  • Were we disciplined in following the practice or using the technique? Or did we cut corners or drop-off bits because it seemed too hard?
  • Do we have a tendency to blame the technique/practice/method first and not even think about how we are contributing to the problem? Do we see failures as problems with the practice instead of looking at failures as feedback mechanisms on our approach?
  • Is the practice not working because we have serious organizational dysfunctions that are getting in the way?

Have you encountered similar behavior before? How did you handle such situations?

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2014 in Agile

 

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