Leo: Bob, there is a ground-breaking new book, that has just come out. Now, not everything in this book, of course, applies to you, but I’m sure that you can see when you see the title, exactly how it could help.
Bob: Baby Steps?
Leo: It means setting small reasonable goals for yourself one day at a time. One tiny step at a time.
My friend is having her first babies. She shared her wonderful plans for the nursery with us and I saw an opportunity to create something special and new for the occasion.
I’ve blogged before about my crafting habits but not about my design process. Given the reference point of the nursery that inspired my mom-to-be friend, I immediately reached out to a more experienced collaborator, a friend who frequently scrapbooks with me.
We riffed on ideas until we landed on one that intrigued us, and we started to develop it more through discussion. However, given our short timeline, since we intended to have the gift ready for the baby shower, I started to create initial prototypes of the components we planned to combine for our project. Using scrap paper, I cut out the shape that had inspired us the most as a reference point. I made several variations that preserved the color palette we wanted to use, so that even those early attempts would provide better information about the final product.
I sent pictures of these prototypes to my friend so that we could evaluate them together before I moved on to the next small piece of work. She had great ideas for coordinating next steps, so I continued to design and construct independent components, evaluating each as I went.
Once I had gathered several together, I called my husband over to provide a second opinion since he is very familiar with the intended recipients of the gift. He liked what he saw and offered suggestions for additional enhancements that I loved – but I hesitated. While I was in love with my design, would our friends like it?
Having invested this much time and effort into the design, initial construction, and overall style, I was loathe to give up any part of my vision. Then, I reminded myself that while I was spending joyful hours creating this work of art, our friends would spend years in the nursery with their children. No matter what I thought of my design, I had to be ready to kill my darlings. I picked up the phone and made the call.
Our friends agreed to take a look at the in-progress photos, to confer privately, and then to get back in touch with us. To my delight, they loved what they saw! Their vision for the nursery matched our vision for the gift. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Armed with this early feedback, I felt more confident about moving on to additional design and implementation. However, an unexpected illness kept my friend from being able to collaborate, and our work fell behind schedule. Not wanting to show up empty-handed to the party, despite knowing how welcome and appreciated I would be, I put together a smaller sample of our project as well as the latest work-in-progress photos of the whole.
At the party, I revealed one of the most recent developments to the excited couple. Other guests brought lovely gifts, from necessary supplies to handmade blankets. We enjoyed the serendipity of another decor gift perfectly coordinating with our project! The nursery is coming together, one baby step at a time.
While we weren’t able to deliver everything we hoped at the time we intended, we delivered something valuable as early as possible with the knowledge that the mom’s “delivery date” milestone is a bit farther down the road – the only delivery in our project that won’t be early and often.
Claire Moss shares with us a personal story on how using agile methods helped her family with managing meals and groceries. By using techniques like a Big Visible Chart, dinnertime for Moss’s family became less of a chore. Remember, nothing ever goes according to plan, but that’s true for any healthy team.
Here’s the big visible chart that turned our dinnertime struggles around:
The closing keynote at CAST 2013 was Scott Barber and Rob Sabourin describing takeaways from each of the talks of the conference, bringing together many different talks into themes or striking moments. As a speaker, I was on tenterhooks waiting to find out what Scott would say about my talk. It was not what I expected, a moment from before my talk that he described as a “kick to the head” (in a good way):
He pointed out that I was emphasizing empathizing with people with different experience and perspective, which was important enough to say explicitly before I began my talk. So with that in mind, I want to talk about a foreign perspective I encountered at my other software conference of the year.
At Agile2013, someone taped large sheets of sketch paper to the wall with a large writing prompt:
to which many people replied in various ways during the week. Some of these responses were rebellious, resisting the seeming prophecy of failed agile. Others felt trapped by unresponsive or rigid organization behavior and hierarchy, industry regulation, or even customers. Contributors felt that companies with only a shallow understanding of agile or simply name-only “implementation” had no real difference in the way of working. Culture weighed heavily on the minds of attendees: belief, passion, desire, emotion, infighting, courage, trust, support, motivation, thinking. So people problems were at the heart of most expectations of failure.
To me, the most provocative perspectives I saw on that wall were not focusing on agile but on the demonstrated value delivered through whatever works, focusing on outcomes. Today, a friend pointed out a Mike Cottmeyer article from 2009 that discussed defining value in agile but at the enterprise level in terms of real business outcomes:
As an organization, we know that we need to deliver value as fast as possible… but we can’t figure out how to apply the small team concepts to our particular business problems. That’s why you get the classic “agile will never work here” comments. There is an inherent disconnect between the team level guidance agile methodologies talk about and the bigger concerns your senior executives are struggling with. There is a gap between value at the team level and value at the enterprise level.
Four years later, Agile2013 conference attendees are still wrestling articulating delivery of complex business objectives to business leaders. And while I also struggle with messaging how my work provides value to the enterprise, I’ve never experienced an agile transformation and so it hadn’t occurred to me to wonder whether agile could succeed. It’s always been business-as-usual, in my experience.
The full (transcribed) list from the Agile2013 wall:
We think we are “Agile”
The concept of “dedicated to one task at a time” is not supported!
They won’t change
Response: “They”? Maybe this is contributing to the problem
Because CEO manages with fear and intimidation
… Only focused on changes in development teams; not looking at whole value stream (product ideation & management)
No buy-in from the business
Duplicitous product owners (two masters)
because of our culture
because my customer prefers waterfall…
Because the company wears “agile” as a label and yet does nothing to remove the bureaucracy and obstacles teams face daily while trying to implement agile.
We lose trust in each other
… Adoption is done because of convenience not because of conviction.
We are different
Response: … Just like everyone else who has done it.
XP NOT DEAD!
Our egos are bigger & more important than the company goals
A re-org will set us back to the beginning, again and again. (weekly)
…Insufficient support from leadership
Response: Totally agree
Different part of the biz use different types of agile
Because agile is a state of being… NOT doing! Agile is grossly misunderstood… SADLY!
… because Agile is not the goal. Agile is simply a MEANS to and END
We only fund CAPITAL projects
Because I just think on the consequence not the cause. We should be able to teach the noble truth behind agile methods. Teach that discipline is not a fantasy. If we try hard as a team we can achieve anything. – She Liang
My manager has to assign work to the team
It does not support SECURE software (ISO27000 or code analyzers)
They don’t want to change. & no lean leadership.
Too much focus on the mechanics of the process. Not enough on the motivation/passion behind it.
We have not explained the ‘why’
Not everyone on our team understands it.
It won’t, because I work at Rackspace! 🙂
“Lack of Courage…”
We don’t want it badly enough
Because I’m writing on this wall & I think it will so it will
We can’t show the value
“What we do already works!?”
Crash at current (complex) business model
Strong and growing PMO traditional structure being instituted
We don’t think by ourselves. We need to think everyday, every time, everywhere!
Our culture won’t *change*
Q: Maybe someone can clarify that business model remark for me? I wasn’t quite sure what that said…
During the year and a half of experimentation that included the big visible charts that are included in this slide deck, I read over the following resources, only some of which would easily fit into the IEEE format. This is the full bibliography of my research, as far as I have been able to track down my sources. (At the time, I wasn’t expecting to cite them for anyone else, so I probably didn’t bookmark everything I read.) I hope the following links will prove helpful to you in developing your own big visible charts. Let me know how it goes! And please share any sources that you find helpful. I’m always looking for new inspiration.
My first dev team was an XP dev team that dogfooded our own digital signage product to display success/failure for the thousands of unit tests in the suite (i.e. single flag for whole suite red/green).
Other eXtreme Programming big visible charts
Although the above resources were all I knew at the time I began my experiments, as I prepared my IEEE paper for the Agile2013 conference proceedings, I was tracking down my sources and came across these other relevant pages & posts that have given me some great ideas of things to try next!
After some discussion in my session about suggesting solutions for distributed teams, I was looking for some digital implementations of big visible charts, but I don’t know how these would work out for you.
Our geek gals weekend was quite a memorable one! We had an email thread going around discussing all of our excitement that culminated in:
Road Trip Retrospective
Beginning new friendships and rekindling old ones
WaHo, or Waffle House for you non-Southerners, is a road trip staple
Seeing the sights: art gallery, street musician, architecture walk, shopping
Active pursuits: plantation tour, petting zoo, bodysurfing
Keeping it mellow: drip castles, collecting shells, yoga, sunbathing
Team-building through cooking indoors & grilling out
Kitsch juxtaposed with refinement: deep fried peanuts and formal high tea
Bizarre medical poster discovery
Conversation: discussions of literature, science, and life
Creative outlets: lanyards, scrapbooking, board games, magnetic nail polish
Having pricing/rental agreements in writing is essential – but at least one of us was overcharged and our deposit wasn’t fully refunded
Foodie friends should always pick the restaurant
Crafting doesn’t come as naturally to everyone – but collaborative art is more fun!
Twilight is hilarious when read aloud with expression and voice acting
About 1 in 10 photographs come out the way I’d expect
Vintage gold lamé will cover you in glitter
I can disassemble a grill to light it when the starter is broken – but I didn’t expect a fireball when I opened the lid!
Strange food venues
Pest control (huge roaches landing in my hair? unacceptable!)
Respect from the rental agent who told me I was a b*tch on the phone (keepin’ it classy!)
Support from the rental agent to operate the hot tub that we were forbidden to adjust when it was tepid
Working internet connection (seriously, who cuts a bunch of geek girls off?)
Privacy: long term renter walked his dog through our space each day
Functional bathrooms: inconsistent water pressure, toilets constantly running or clogged and leaking, shower door jammed, scalding hot water hurt a couple of us, and what’s with the toilet installed in the linen closet?!?
Stable floors: I fell through the deck once and nearly fell through another part of the deck a second time, squishy kitchen floor
Sturdy roofs: bedroom ceiling collapsed
Nighttime lighting out on the uneven decks
Ovens/grills that heated evenly and to the designated temperature
Cleaning crew: moldy air conditioning unit, dust, dirt, bug parts, expired cleaning supplies
Maintenance crew to shore up the framing and carpentry
So how did our product turn out? Our execution wasn’t flawless, but we have very fond memories of creativity, conversation, and survival. Nothing like a few disasters to remind us how fortunate we are.
With the First Day of School quickly approaching, it’s time for:
What I Did For My Summer Vacation – Part 1
I get really excited about hanging out with people, especially friends, especially a combination of new and old friends. So it was with great happiness that I set about organizing a geek gal weekend.
Our first conversations centered around budget (fixed), deadline (fixed), and features (flex). We started talking over the various activities that different destinations could provide to entertain us. Then, I paused the conversation to bring the focus back to value: when we looked back on this weekend, how did we want to remember it? how would we feel about the way we spent that time together? would features even feature in these stories we would tell? Instead of features, we realized that functions (what the product was going to accomplish) and attributes (characteristics desired by the clients) mattered more. (Why yes I was reading Weinberg this morning. How could you tell?)
Vintage gold lamé (see that gaw-jus totally 80s animal-print metallic finish? oh yeah.)
We wanted to relish the simplicity of being together, whether wearing goofy vintage clothes (gold lamé for the win!), cooking our own meals together, telling silly stories, or engaging in feminine activities with a geek spin (magnetic nail polish was not as simple as expected) that would be low-key and more about togetherness than busyness. We wanted to craft something lasting (collaborative artwork – packing the craft supplies was a must not a want!) and reinforce durable friendships that appreciated our differences.
With this clear focus in mind, suddenly the locale was much less important than inclusivity to maximize togetherness.
Planned For Sand
So we made an informal backlog of tasks to tackle researching options (beach vs mountains), reviewing results, and prioritizing options (beach!) before presenting our findings to the group for dot voting. (Typical agilists, I’m tellin’ ya.) Fortunately, we found a viable approach and went forward with making arrangements to execute this solution (road trip!), adjusting as we went to accommodate discovered needs.
How did it all turn out? Stay tuned for scintillating tales of laughter and danger in What I Did On My Summer Vacation – Part 2!
This morning, stuck in the dentist’s chair again, I was contemplating with dread the work to be done. You see, I’ve had many dentists over the years and have only recently found one I like. It’s not the movie in the background to distract me, though that is nice. And it’s not the friendly manner of the staff, though that’s very important to me as well. It’s the deliberate communication.
Yesterday, at lunch, a friend and I were laughing at ourselves for having worked together in the past on a small team of 5 people and the communication problems that we had. While a larger team would certainly require more coordination, it is astonishing how easy it is for even a small, close-knit, co-located team to be deliberate about sharing information.
So back to sitting in this chair with the sound of the drill coming from the next exam room… When it is my turn, our 3 person team (dentist, hygenist, and patient) carefully coordinates the execution of today’s project with blow-by-blow commentary, making adjustments to each other as we go. And while the experience isn’t one I hope to repeat – you can bet my flossing will improve! – for the first time, I have complete trust in my dental team because they keep me constantly in the loop as a disciplined practice. And a little pain control doesn’t hurt either!