What is Your Minimum Agile Reading List?

In preparation for my talk, Agile Projects, Programs, and Portfolio Management: No Air Quotes Required, I have created a Minimum Reading List for an Agile Transition. Note the emphasis on minimum.

I could have added many more books to this list. But the problem I see is that people don’t read anything. They think they do agile if they say they do agile.

But saying you do agile doesn’t mean anything if you don’t get to done on small stories and have the ability to change. I hope that if I suggest some small list of potential books, people will read the books, and realize, “I can do this!”

I am probably crazy-optimistic. But that hasn’t stopped me before.

I would like your help. Would you please review my list? Do you have better books? Do you have better suggestions? It’s my list. I might not change my mind. However, if you comment on that page, I would know what you think.

Thank you very much.

 

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Why Testing in Women Testers Magazine

I have an article in a new online magazine, Women Testers, the July 2014 edition. My article is called “Why Testing?”

When I was a tester or a developer, I asked many questions. As a project manager, program manager or consultant, I still ask many questions. One of those is the Why question. This article examines that question from a number of perspectives.

Go read that article and many others from people such as Alexandra Moreira, Bolette Stubbe Teglbjærg, Smita Mishra, Sara Tabor, Karen N. Johnson, and Mike Lyles.

I bet you’ll enjoy it!

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Do Teams Gel or Jell?

In my role as technical editor for agileconnection.com, I have the opportunity to read many terrific articles. I also have the opportunity to review and comment on those articles.

One such comment is what do teams do? Do they “gel” or do they “jell”?

Gel is what you put in hair. When you “gel” things, you create a thick goo, like concrete. Teams are not a thick goo. Teams are flexible and responsive.

Jell is what you want teams to do. You want them firm, but not set in concrete. When teams jell, they might even jiggle a little. They wave. They adapt. They might even do a little dance, zigging here, zapping there.

You want to keep the people in the teams as much as possible, so you flow work through the teams. But you want the people in the teams to reconsider what they do on a regular basis. That’s called retrospecting. People who have their feet in concrete don’t retrospect. They are stuck. People who are flexible and responsive do.

So, think about whether you have a gelled or a jelled team. Maybe I’m being a nitpicker. I probably am. Our words mean something.

If you have an article you’d like to publish, send it to me. You and I will craft it into something great. Whether or not your team jells.

 

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Pragmatic Manager Posted: Standup or Handoff

I published a Pragmatic Manager yesterday to my subscribers. Normally, I let them enjoy the pleasure of being “in-the-know” about what I have to say this month for a while before I post the emails to my site.

Read the Pragmatic Manager here: Standup or Handoff.

However, I made a Big Mistake in where I will be speaking this week. I fat-fingered July 10 into July 19. What made it into the newsletter was July 19. Oops. I’m actually a panelist this Thursday, July 10, at Agile New England. The topic: Agile: Massive Success or Empty Buzzword?

My fellow panelists are Ken Schwaber and Linda Cook. We will have no shortage of opinions!

For example, I suspect that Ken and I might disagree on this very issue, of whether you can do agile with a geographically distributed team, and if you can have handoffs or you must do standups.

If you are near the Boston area, this Thursday, July 10, and want to see some sparks fly—or at least engage in lively debate—come to the Agile New England meeting July 10.

If you’re wondering how did this get past my reviewers, my copyeditor, and me? Well, we all make mistakes, don’t we?

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Do You Encourage People to Bring You Problems?

One of the familiar tensions in management is how you encourage or discourage people from bringing you problems. One of my clients had a favorite saying, “Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions.”

I could see the problems that saying caused in the organization. He prevented people from bringing him problems until the problems were enormous. He didn’t realize that his belief that he was helping people solve their own problems was the cause of these huge problems.

How could I help?

I’d only been a consultant for a couple of years. I’d been a manager for several years, and a program manager and project manager for several years before that. I could see the system. This senior manager wasn’t really my client. I was consulting to a project manager, who reported to him, but not him. His belief system was the root cause of many of the problems.

What could I do?

I tried coaching my project manager, about what to say to his boss. That had some effect, but didn’t work well. My client, the project manager, was so dejected going into the conversation that the conversation was dead before it started. I needed to talk to the manager myself.

I thought about this first. I figured I would only get one shot before I was out on my ear. I wasn’t worried about finding more consulting—but I really wanted to help this client. Everyone was suffering.

I asked for a one-on-one with the senior manager. I explained that I wanted to discuss the project, and that the project manager was fine with this meeting. I had 30 minutes.

I knew that Charlie, this senior manager cared about these things: how fast we could release so we could move to the next project and what the customers would see (customer perception). He thought those two things would affect sales and customer retention.

Charlie had put tremendous pressure on the project to cut corners to release faster. But that would change the customer perception of what people saw and how they would use the product. I wanted to change his mind and provide him other options.

“Hey Charlie, this time still good?”

“Yup, come on in. You’re our whiz-bang consultant, right?”

“Yes, you could call me that. My job is to help people think things through and see alternatives. That way they can solve problems on the next project without me.”

“Well, I like that. You’re kind of expensive.”

“Yes, I am. But I’m very good. That’s why you pay me. So, let’s talk about how I’m helping people solve problems.”

“I help people solve problems. I always tell them, ‘Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions.’ It works every time.” He actually laughed when he said this.

I waited until he was done laughing. I didn’t smile.

“You’re not smiling.” He started to look puzzled.

“Well, in my experience, when you say things like that, people don’t bring you small problems. They wait until they have no hope of solving the problem at all. Then, they have such a big problem, no one can solve the problem. Have you seen that?”

He narrowed his eyes.

“Let’s talk about what you want for this project. You want a great release in the next eight weeks, right? You want customers who will be reference accounts, right? I can help you with that.”

Now he looked really suspicious.

“Okay, how are you going to pull off this miracle? John, the project manager was in here the other day, crying about how this project was a disaster.”

“Well, the project is in trouble. John and I have been talking about this. We have some plans. We do need more people. We need you to make some decisions. We have some specific actions only you can take. John has specific actions only he can take.

“Charlie, John needs your support. You need to say things like, “I agree that cross-functional teams work. I agree that people need to work on just one thing at a time until they are complete. I agree that support work is separate from project work, and that we won’t ask the teams to do support work until they are done with this project.” Can you do that? Those are specific things that John needs from you. But even those won’t get the project done in time.

“Well, what will get the project done in time?” He practically growled at me.

“We need consider alternatives to the way the project has been working. I’ve suggested alternatives to the teams. They’re afraid of you right now, because they don’t know which solution you will accept.”

“AFRAID? THEY’RE AFRAID OF ME?” He was screaming by this time.

“Charlie, do you realize you’re yelling at me?” I did not tell him to calm down. I knew better than that. I gave him the data.

“Oh, sorry. No. Maybe that’s why people are afraid of me.”

I grinned at him.

“You’re not afraid of me.”

“Not a chance. You and I are too much alike.” I kept smiling. “Would you like to hear some options? I like to use the Rule of Three to generate alternatives. Is it time to bring John in?”

We discussed the options with John. Remember, this is before agile. We discussed timeboxing, short milestones with criteria, inch-pebbles, yellow-sticky scheduling, and decided to go with what is now a design-to-schedule lifecycle for the rest of the project. We also decided to move some people over from support to help with testing for a few weeks.

We didn’t release in eight weeks. It took closer to twelve weeks. But the project was a lot better after that conversation. And, after I helped the project, I gained Charlie as a coaching client, which was tons of fun.

Many managers have rules about their problem solving and how to help or not help their staff. “Don’t bring me a problem. Bring me a solution” is not helpful.

That is the topic of this month’s management myth: Myth 31: I Don’t Have to Make the Difficult Choices.

When you say, “Don’t bring me a problem. Bring me a solution” you say, “I’m not going to make the hard choices. You are.” But you’re the manager. You get paid to make the difficult choices.

Telling people the answer isn’t always right. You might have to coach people. But not making decisions isn’t right either. Exploring options might be the right thing. You have to do what is right for your situation.

Go read Myth 31: I Don’t Have to Make the Difficult Choices.

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Abuse of Management Power: Women’s Access to Contraceptives

You might think this is a political post. It is not. This is about management power and women’s health at first. Then, it’s about employee health.

Yesterday, the US Supreme Court decided that a company could withhold contraceptive care from women, based on the company’s owner’s religious beliefs. Hobby Lobby is a privately held corporation.

Women take contraception pills for many reasons. If you have endometriosis, you take them so you can have children in the future. You save your fertility by not bleeding out every month. (There’s more to it than that. That’s the short version.)

If you are subject to ovarian cysts, birth control pills control them, too. If you are subject to the monthly “crazies” and you want to have a little control over your hormones, the pill can do wonders for you.

It’s not about sex. It’s not about pregnancy. It’s about health. It’s about power over your own body.

And, don’t get me started on the myriad reasons for having a D&C. As someone who had a blighted ovum, and had to have a D&C at 13 weeks (yes, 13 weeks), I can tell you that I don’t know anyone who goes in for an abortion who is happy about it.

It was the saddest day of my life.

I had great health care and a supportive spouse. I had grief counseling. I eventually had another child. Because, you see, a blighted ovum is not really a miscarriage. It felt like one to me. But it wasn’t really. Just ask your healthcare provider.

Maybe some women use abortion or the morning-after pill as primary contraception. It’s possible. You don’t have to like other people’s choices. That should be their choice. If you make good contraception free, women don’t have to use abortion or the morning-after pill as a primary contraception choice.

When other people remove a woman’s right to choose how she gets health care for her body, it’s the first step down an evil road. This is not about religious freedom. Yes, it’s couched in those terms now. But this is about management power.

It’s the first step towards management deciding that they can make women a subservient class and what they can do to that subservient class. Right now, that class is women and contraception. What will the next class be?

Will management decide everyone must get genetic counseling before you have a baby? Will they force you to abort a not-perfect baby because they don’t want to pay for the cost of a preemie? Or the cost of a Down Syndrome baby? What about if you have an autistic child?

Men, don’t think you’re immune from this either. What if you indulge in high-risk behavior, such as helicopter skiing? Or, if you gain too much weight? What if you need knee replacements or hip replacements?

What if you have chronic diseases? What happens if you get cancer?

What about when people get old? Will we have euthanasia?

We have health care, including contraception, as the law of the United States. I cannot believe that a non-religious company, i.e, not a church, is being allowed to flaunt that law. This is about management power. This is not about religion.

If they can say, “I don’t wanna” to this, what can they say, “I don’t wanna” to next?

This is the abuse of management power.

This is the first step down a very slippery slope.

Posted in management | Tagged , , , , , | 23 Comments

Do You Need to Create Virtual Teams with Freelancers?

Have you seen Esther Schindler’s great article yet? Creating High-Performance Virtual Teams of Freelancers and Contractors.

Here’s the blurb:

Plenty has been written about telecommuting for employees: how to encourage productivity, build a sense of “we’re all in this together,” and the logistics (such as tools and business processes) that streamline a telework lifestyle. But what about when your team is neither employees nor on-site? That gives any project manager extra challenges.

Lots of good tips.

 

Posted in project management | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Tips for Improving Your Geographically Distributed Agile Team

At the Better Software/Agile Development conference a couple of weeks ago, I gave a talk entitled At Least Five Tips for Improving Your Geographically Distributed Agile Team. (That link goes to the slideshare.)

If you look at Scott Ambler’s 2011 survey, you can see that his data matches my consulting experience. About half of all agile teams have at least one person not co-located. This is by management design.

We can say, “don’t do this,” but that’s not helpful to the distributed and dispersed teams. I would rather be helpful.

For example, in my talk, not the slideshare, I actually said, “Don’t do standups. Do handoffs.” If you are more than about 4 or 5 hours apart in timezones, standups make little sense. You are better off limiting WIP (with a kanban board) than using straight Scrum. Yes, use iterations if you like. You might like the focus of the timebox. But, consider using handoffs, not standups. Change your questions to statements—if that works for you. Change your deliverables to fit your needs.

One tip that created a ton of discussion was the one about keeping people together over time. Some managers are trying to be “efficient” about using team members, optimizing at the lowest possible level. They move people off and on teams, willy-nilly. (Groan.) I explained that agile is about finishing features, so their best bet was to optimize at the project level, or the project portfolio level. It didn’t matter if people weren’t fully utilized. People were best utilized when they asked, “How can I help move this feature across the board?” In a geographically distributed team, that is sometimes a difficult question to answer, especially if the testers are east of the developers.

I had stories, and we had audience participation, which is why the slides are sparse. I hope you enjoy the slideshare. If you have questions, please ask away in the comments. I will answer.

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Posted: What Is A Professional?

I write a twice-yearly column for Better Software magazine. The title of the column is called “Technically Speaking.” For this column, I decide to tackle the question of “What’s a Professional?

If you don’t already subscribe to the magazine, you do have to join the site. It’s a free registration to join.

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How Serving Is Your Leadership?

I once worked for a manager who thought everyone should bow down and kiss his feet. Okay, I’m not sure if he actually thought that, but that’s how it felt to me. He regularly canceled his one-on-ones with me. He interrupted me when I spoke at meetings. He tried to tell the people in my group what to do. (I put a stop to that, pretty darn quick.)

He undermined my self-confidence and everything I tried to accomplish in my organization.

When I realized what was going on, I gathered my managers. At the time, I was a Director of Many Things. I said, “Our VP is very busy. I think he has too many things on his plate. Here is what I would like to do. If he interrupts your work with a request, politely acknowledge him, and say, “Johanna will put that in our queue. She is managing our project portfolio.” If he interrupts you in a meeting, feel free to manage him the same way you manage me.” That got a laugh. “I am working with him on some customer issues, and I hope to resolve them soon.”

My managers and project managers kept on track with their work. We finished our deliverables, which was key to our success as an organization.

My relationship with my manager however, deteriorated even further. In three months, he canceled every single one-on-one. He was rude to me in every public meeting. I started looking for a new job.

I found a new job, and left my two week notice on his desk. He ran down the hall, swept into my office and slammed the door. He slammed my notice on my desk and yelled at me, “I don’t accept this! You can’t do this to me. You can’t leave. You’re the only director here accomplishing anything.”

I said, “Are you ready to have a one-on-one now?”

He said, “No. I’m busy. I’m too busy for a one-on-one.”

I said, “I’m leaving. We have nothing to discuss. You can put your head in the sand and try to not accept my resignation. Or, we can make my last two weeks here useful. What would you like?”

“You’re not done with me, Rothman!”

He stalked out of my office, and slammed the door on his way out. I got up and opened the door. I was never so happy to leave a job in my entire life.

Some managers don’t realize that they are not their title. Some managers don’t realize that the value they bring is the plus: the management, plus their relationship with their peers, the people they manage, the systems and environment they enable/create. This guy had created an environment of distrust.

That’s what this month’s management myth is all about: believing that I am More Valuable Than Other People.

If you are a manager, you do provide a valuable service: servant leadership. Make sure you do so.

Posted in management | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments