Previous month:
October 2006
Next month:
December 2006

Starfish Organizations

Starfish I recently finished reading the “The Starfish and The Spider”, a business book bestseller which explains the benefits of distributed organizations and I was surprised by the many parallels to leadership and agile methods. The unusual title illustrates a key difference between networked organizations and traditional organizations. While they may look similar, a spider has centralized systems and if you cut it in half it will die; cut a starfish in half and it will not die, but instead re-grow into two separate starfish (apparently). Without a single head, distributed (starfish) organizations are very resilient and hard to compete against.

Examples of networked entities include Alcoholics Anonymous where each chapter is independent and new chapters can be started anywhere, and peer-to-peer file sharing programs such as eMule that are open source, freely distributed and employ no central registry.

The Agile Angle
A key advantage to networked structures is that they are extremely resilient to breaks in communication channels. A local AA Chapter does not have to rely on instructions from a central body in order to operate. It is empowered to help alcoholics as it sees fit following the vision of the original AA 12 Step Program.  Having this freedom to help others as best you can, AA circle members are effective at solving problems where “experts” often fail.

Continue reading "Starfish Organizations" »

Deciding when to intervene on projects

Stop I had to stop myself today, I was about to step in and help the team work out an issue, but I recognized they were sorting it out just fine and it would be better to stay out of it.

Project managers working on agile projects know that they need to step back and let the team organize their work, resolve issues, and make decisions for themselves. This can be hard to do as the temptation is to “help” by organizing and directing people to achieve the project goals. However, this is not help at all as when the team has authority to make local decisions a step improvement in ownership and productivity occurs. The jury-is-in on this idea; teams should be empowered to make decisions; people volunteer for work and take responsibility for delivery. We tap into individual’s capability to manage complexity and create a more rewarding environment for working.

However, project managers need to do more than the proverbial buy-pizza-and-keep-out-the-way. They should be removing impediments, providing resources, growing the team, communicating the project vision to stakeholders, and a host of other valuable tasks. One of which is stepping in to work more directly with the team if a major problem is encountered or impending. For example if the velocity of feature delivery is tracking too slowly over a number of iterations to meet the minimum required feature set by the project end date then something has to happen. Or, a business change or competitor product launch threatens the ROI of the project, clearly intervention is required.

Continue reading "Deciding when to intervene on projects" »

Agile Methods as a Replacement for Fossil Fuels

(Well, a replacement to non-sustainable work practices at least)Alternative_fuels_2

Command-and-control management is not appropriate for workers who need to collaborate and solve problems. These knowledge workers need work environments where experimentation is rewarded, people are encouraged to pursue their interests, and shared leadership is the preferred model.

Command-and-control organizations are in fact toxic to knowledge workers. They stifle creativity and problem solving by eliminating effective ways for people to communicate improvements back up the chain of command. They demotivate workers with the frustrations of bureaucracy and compliance to standards that divert effort from the true goals. These conditions are harmful to creative teams and people will either leave or have the passion and creativity squashed out of them until they become unproductive drones who rarely create exceptional value.


Continue reading "Agile Methods as a Replacement for Fossil Fuels" »

Update from the Agile Business Conference

Agile_business_conference_london This week I’m at the Agile Business Conference in London. Today was the Agile Project Leadership Network (APLN)’s “Leadership Summit” day and the two day Agile Business Conference starts tomorrow. The Leadership summit featured some great talks on Agile Leadership by Todd Little, Pollyanna Pixton and Neil Nickolaisen.

The day started with a Leadership Think Tank session. In pairs we discussed the “issues that keep us up at night as Leaders”. I was fortunate to be sat next to Diana Larsen who is a bit of an expert on team leadership and we spent some time chatting about the problems associated with the term “Leadership”. Leadership has this connection with lofty, remote, strategic thinkers (see my 5 Myths of Leadership post) yet it is really the role of each team member. On an empowered team anyone can (indeed everyone should) step forward and lead in someway as the circumstances dictate. If a developer sees a problem with the build process and steps forward to fix it, rallying support and consensus, (s)he is employing situational leadership; and it should be encouraged.

Continue reading "Update from the Agile Business Conference" »

Agile Earned Value Analysis Podcast

I recorded another podcast with Dina Scott of ControllingChaos recently. This one is about the problems of applying traditional Earned Value Analysis to Agile projects and then the promotion of some alternative, Agile metrics that answer the same questions.

The central theme comes down to questioning the logic of using conformance to a plan that is likely to be flawed as a yardstick for project assessment. Instead I suggest we can employ an extension to Cumulative Flow Diagrams that provide better project indicators.

The podcast can be found here and a link to my previous post on Agile Earned Value here.

Smart Planning: Balancing Functional and Non-Functional Requirements

Smart_planningAgile projects prioritize requirements based on business value. There may seem like no business value in the non-functional requirements of Compatibility, Usability, or Reliability, but if the systems fails to deliver one or more of these “~ilities” then the system is a dead-duck delivering no business value whatsoever. (We may design and build the highest specification car on the planet, but if it only runs on unicorn sweat, needs three hands to drive it, or manages only 5 seconds between break-downs it is not useful.)

So, given that we do need to prioritize non-functional development alongside functional requirements, what mechanism do we use? One approach that business folks understand uses money as the prime driver. A fancy descriptor for the technique might be “Feature prioritization based on balancing predicted ROI against expected monetary value of risk mitigation” but let’s just call it “Smart Planning” for simplicity.

Continue reading "Smart Planning: Balancing Functional and Non-Functional Requirements" »