One or Two Day Tasks

Recently while coaching Agile to a large client in the Salt Lake City area one of the developers on one of the teams asked me why an Agile team should decompose features into one or two day units of work.  It seems, he said, the particular unit of work he was considering could not be broken down into anything smaller than 4 days.

This is a common question for groups first exposed to Agile.   Decomposing features into one or two day tasks can be challenging at first.  Here are several reasons why it is a good practice:

1. Breaking down features and large tasks into one or two day units of work forces the Agile team member to really understand the nature of the tasks.  Ambiguity is the enemy of success and large units of work really are ambiguous.

2. Smaller units of work limit the amount of risk that a particular task can adversely impact a schedule that was estimated incorrectly.

3. Decomposing work into many one or two day tasks gives the team member a win every one or two days.   They and their teammates will enjoy a sense of accomplishment more frequently, helping team morale.

4. Decomposing work in to one or two day tasks creates more transparency and precision so the team can account for completed work more accurately.  This many not be noticeable for one single work item but imagine the effect if the entire team kept work items at a non-decomposed level...too much ambiguity.

5.  Some teams I encounter hold stand-up meeting less frequently than daily.  This is a mistake.  Stand-up meetings should be held daily.  When I drill down and ask why, I typically hear that the team is reporting on the same work item the whole week.  Further questioning reveals they are not decomposing work into one or two day tasks.  When they start decomposing work into one or two day tasks then they have something new to report each day, and the stand-up meetings become more helpful.

Mike J. Berry Red Rock Research

Book Reviews: Leadership and Self Deception

I can't remember where I first heard of the book Leadership and Self Deception, an international bestseller written by the Arbinger Institute.  It's a short book, only 175 or so pages cut in a 5 x 8.5 inch format.

The cover is strikingly attractive, a collission of two black and white surfaces with some red spilling out.

The book talks about being "in the box" versus "out of the box" with respect to how we interact with people around us.  As we create false impressions of reality around us, through our own rationalization, self-deception, lack of empathy, or fear, and communicate with others under these pretenses, we put ourselves "inside a box."

Being inside a box adversely affects our ability to maintain the trust, respect, and finally peace with those around us.  Being able to recognize when we are leading ourselves "into the box" and taking proactive measures to stay outside of the box raises our emotional intelligence and helps maintain trust, respect, and peace with those around us.

Now let me say that the concept is groudbreaking, but the book is not.  I could only get about half way through this book before I had enough of the watered-down leechy "you've turned one sentence into a whole chapter, again!" prose.

The book is written from a "corporate fairytale" perspective and I have to say I feel like I am being patronized like a seven year old at story time when I read this book.  Instead of being to-the-point, the authors create a long burdensome drawn-out fabrication of actors and problems in a fictitious business culture.  You are supposed to read the fairytale and apply it to your own reality.

I suppose nursery rhymes caught on well enough, so maybe that's why this book is an international bestseller.  I would recommend you have someone explain the concept in the book to you, rather than spend the time reading it.  If you do read this book, just read the first few chapters, then read the captions under t ick-figure drawings throughout the rest of the book to get the point.

Van Gogh Museum

This summer I had the pleasure of spending a week with Ken Schwaber in Amsterdam.  I attended Scrum Training from Ken, the co-founder of Scrum, and the single person responsible for it's world-wide proliferation in a mostly-pure format.

Amsterdam was amazing. Vondel park, canal rides, cuisine, street performers and especially the wonderful friendly people.

Was is the Rijksmuseum, or the Van Gogh Museum my family told me to be sure to visit?  Between seeing many of the other sites there was only time left to visit one or the other.  I found myself at the Van Gogh Museum.  Vincent Van Gogh was, of course, a famous painter who lived sometime ago and left many paintings all over northern Europe before his passing.   I remember my brother once said "If you can figure out why Van Gogh is so highly acclaimed let me know because I just can't see it."  I've seen high-school work better than his.

The first floor of the Van Gogh museum is inspiring.  I walked in and was greeted with paintings of seashores, forests, people laboring, and other personally relateable depictions of my own world and the scenery around us.  As I read the captions on the pictures one by one I discovered they were not painted by Van Gogh, but instead they were his contemporary artist buddies who inspired his work.  I have to admit they were pretty cool and I enjoyed the ground floor.

The sign at the bottom of the steps read "Van Gogh Upstairs."  My girlfriend and I proceed upstairs.

At the top of the stairs I saw the walls decorated with Van Gogh painting.  There was this blurry stick thing with a bean or something on it.  I couldn't really tell for sure.  Another picture looked like a bush with flowers except maybe Vincent fell asleep before he completed the painting.

They said Van Gogh painted all through Europe...thousands of paintings and that it was his primary activity until his death.  He lived several different places and painted the whole time.

I kept waiting for the paintings to improve.  We wandered around the second and third floors like lost mice in a labyrinth trying to find the good stuff.  I figured the first painting we saw would have been his first and they weren't that great.  Well, I was right.  The only problem was the rest of his paintings weren't any more appealing.

The most renown painting on display was The Potato Eaters.  Van Gogh, seemingly inspired by Whistler's Mother must have had  a premonition of her long lost African foster parents when he painted that piece.

After and hour and a half I stared into a nervous breakdown and had to get myself and my girl out of the place--fast.  I can't explain it.  I just felt like I was standing there with hundreds of other foreigners who had paid a premium to see some dead guys rotten work--and all of us were pretending to like the stuff.

If ravel to Amsterdam--and I highly recommend it--go to the Rijksmuseum.

What is the PMI-ACP (Agile Certified Practitioner)

The Project Management Institute created the PMI-ACP (Agile Certified Practitioner) in 2011 to establish credentials for someone who has been adequately trained with how to implement the Scrum Framework.  Scrum was one of the original Agile methodologies and remains by far the most popular today.

The PMI-ACP is a combination of everything you'd learn in a Certified Scrum Master class, and everything you'd lear in a Certified Product Owner class, along with advanced Risk Management techniques, some Lean concepts applicable to software development, and a few extra accessories that help Scrum scale up for larger projects, and larger group sizes.

In addition, PMI requires at least nine months of actual experience working with a Scrum team before they will aware the credential.

If you are an HR Professional, rest assured your candidate presenting with a PMI-ACP certification is slightly better equipped than one with a Scrum Master, or Product Owner, or both.

Project Management Institute Announces the PMI-ACP Certification

Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) will be the designation of the new PMI Agile credential.  PMI has decided to recognize the prevalence and effectiveness of Agile practices within the project management community and has constructed a tangible foundation of requirements and guidelines for establishing what constitutes an Agile framework.  Perhaps we'll soon finally see an Aglie BOK?

Key dates for the PMI-ACP are as follows:

• May 2011- PMI is now accepting and reviewing applications for the PMI-ACP.

• Sep 2011 -The PMI-ACP examination will be available.

• Oct-Dec 2011 - The first PMI-ACP certifications will be awarded to successful pilot candidates


CBAP and Agile Development

I attended an excellent presentation hosted by the Northern Utah PMI Chapter, featuring Mike Sandberg, Novell's Chief Business Analysts.  Mike spoke to a room of well over 200 folks about the CBAP certification.  This is the Certified Business Analysis Professional credential that us now coming of age.Mike talked about his own experience discovering the CBAP community and about the successes and issues involved with adopting the framework.

Specifically, Mike spoke about how the PMP and CBAP roles work together.  He talked about some challenges regarding turf and terminology that sometimes befall newer groups.

Someone in the audience asked Mike about how CBAP fits in with Agile.  Mike explained that this is a common question and that the business analyst would be most suited for the Agile Product Owner role. This se to make the most sense to me, and to the others present.

Mike J. Berry

Agile Development Requires Documentation

I keep hearing horror stories from managers about how their teams that have adopted Agile Development insist there are no documented requirements necessary when using the Scrum framework.This is wrong.  

Scrum is intentionally quiet about software requirements so that groups can use what works best for them.

In our training seminars, we show groups practicing Agile how they can benefit from a high-level "strategic" use case model.  This strategic model, or High Level Analysis, is used to flush out the users, the needs of the users, and to expose any data flow components. This technique has proved quick and effective.

Mike J. Berry

Whiteboards for Everyone

Do you like designing on whiteboards?  I do.   Colorful markers against a clean, white surface inspire all kinds of creativity and fun.

Recently I came across a great tip.  Instead of going to your local OfficeBOX superstore and paying $200 for a 4x8 whiteboard, just hit HomeDepot instead and get a $12 piece of showerboard.  It works just as good and if you need a smaller size they will cut it for you on site for no additional charge!  At that price, you can line your walls with thinking space.  

Mike J. Berry

Book Review: Crossing the Chasm

I've heard people make references to Geoffrey A. Moore's Crossing the CHASM book for several years now but had't read it until this past week.

Moore's book is a must-read for any IT company trying to launch a new product.  Although the concepts in the book are not novel (so admit's Moore) the book brings a vocabulary and metaphoric dictionary to the readers allowing marketing groups, investors, and techies alike to communicate about the playing field in a proactive manner.

Moore discusses the importance of delivering continuous innovation, instead if discontinuous innovation.  Our new innovations need to help people do what they are already doing better, and not force them to abruptly change something that kinda works for something that they are not sure about that may possibly work better.

Moore introduces the Technology Adoption LifeCycle, complete with five categories of market segments.  He discusses how to market in succession to each group:

  1. Innovators

  2. Early Adopters

  3. Early Majority

  4. Late Majority

  5. Laggards

Finally, Moore introduces some business concepts you may have heard of by now, like the bowling alley, the tornado, and the fault line.

If you haven't heard of these, then you need to get reading!

Mi Berry

Book Review: The Book of Five Rings

Recently, while attending the '09 Agile Roots conference in Salt Lake City, UT, Alistair Cockburn--the keynote speaker--referenced Miyamoto Musashi's 16th-century book called The Book of Five Rings.

I like Asian philosophy (and swords and such) so I picked up the book and read it.  The book was written in 1643 by an undefeated Japanese samurai master who was so effective he was rumoured to have spent the latter part of his career entering sword-fights purposely without a weapon.  Although meant as a battlefield manual, the book has gained popularity as a handbook for conducting business in the 21st century.

The book was translated into English by Thomas Cleary at some point and the edition I read was published in 2005.   Improperly named "The Book of Five Rings," the book is actually a compilation of five scrolls.

The Earth Scroll: Musashi talks about how a straight path levels the contours of the Earth and how various occupations provide life-improving principles.  He talks about observing patterns and learning from them.  Certainly a great primer for any business trying to get across the chasm.

The Water Scroll: Here Musashi talks about how water conforms to the shape of its container.  He suggests a separation of one's inward mind against it's outward posture, maintaining that one's control over one's mind must not be relinquished to outward circumstances.  He translates these philosophies into about 80 pages of sword fighting techniques.  An interesting modern parallel is found in Jim Collins book, Good to Great, where he talks about how the most successful companies are able to say 'No' and not be influenced by immediate but non-strategic opportunities.

The Fire Scroll: As with any book written by a 16th century samurai master, you'd expect a core discussion on combat strategy.   The fire scroll is full of combat strategies, positioning, and pre-emptive theory.  Very interesting.  Did anyone notice how Apple's announcement of the latest iPhone came about 1 day after the Palm Pre phone was officially launched--killing it's market blitz?  No coincidence there.

The Wind Scroll: The wind scroll contains a directive to study and be aware of your opponents techniques.  Translated into business speak, this means one should always study ones competitors.  Be aware of new offerings, partnerships, markets, etc. that they persue.  Emphasis is placed on observing rhythms and strategically harmonizing, or dis-harmonizing with them as appropriate.

Finally, The Emptiness Scroll:  This scroll discusses the value of escaping personal biases.  Emphasis is placed on not lingering on past situations and being able to adjust quickly to new scenarios.

Overall I found this book 'enlightening' to read.  If you like metaphors and inferences, or sword-fighting, then you will enjoy this book.

Mike J. Ber />