Tuesday, 30 September 2014

What is the role of the Project Manager (PM) in Agile? - (part 1 of 3)


It all started because of a frustrating day which included numerous demonstrations of wasted tima and effort for reasons I have not been able to understand. So I posted a message on twitter (140 characters ideally suit me as an introvert) and the respondents challenged me to write more about it. Here it is but it is split in 3 posts. First of all because it is taking me a long time to finish the 3rd answer (I somehow manage to always get quite busy) and also because I just don't like long blog posts (see above).

So here it goes... I decided to answer this question because I have seen it being asked so many times and because I was beginning to feel frustrated not only with the answers I was reading about but also with what I was able to witness in several of organisations and departments. So I decided to share my answers and perhaps next time someone asks the same question I can point people to my opinion (which I hopefully would have validated by then).

My intention is to provide 3 slightly different answers. This blog post has only the first answer which I called 

The short answer

If you don’t have the time or strength to read through the rest of the blog posts I offer you my short answer now so you can go elsewhere and do something you would appreciate more than reading my blog.

The role of the Project manager in Agile is “None”; not required; doesn't exist. 

And if it exists in a context then a big part of Agile is probably not implemented , ignored, tweaked and so on. I am all about the context and local changes, etc.. however some changes or rather practices implemented without others most probably would make insignificant ot no differerence at all. That's it. if you agree or disagree - feel free to find me on twitter.


If you however think this short answer is not good enough then read on…

Part #2 is coming soon...

I am collecting scrum teams' sprint numbers for a study - can you help?

Scrum Teams' Sprint data 

I am collecting data from scrum teams for a study.
While the data could vary (I don't expect you to process it for me), I'd need the following to be available: 
  • points committed per sprint 
  • points achieved per sprint
  • iteration length
  • total points in the backlog at the end of the sprint
If you can help do get in touch with me. Either DM me on twitter (@plamenb) or send me a message: plamen [at] leavewizard.com

I shall endeavour to notify you when I publish the results of my study.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Do you do jobs or do you add value?

A few months ago I was approached by a large US consultancy with a view of helping them with very short assignments across Europe. Somebody I know had recommended me to the recruiter and I felt excited because I like the idea of doing high impact short assignments with a clear idea how I add value. The initial conversation by email sounded very promising to me so I agreed to a call with the hiring manager.

On a rather cold day I decided to take the call while walking along the canal in Reading and that certainly added to a sense of urgency – I can only appreciate this now, a few months later. The call begun with a general chat and I tried to emphasise on every step that I am only interested if the role fits with what I am after. It was soon clear that the person I talk to is:

  • very busy
  • talks to hundreds of people like me every day
  • mostly interested in filling the role
  • doesn’t understand Agile values the same way that I do

So 15-20 minutes into it, it didn’t look like our opinions converge and I had decided to interrupt the conversation and call it a day. Why was I surprised? I was approached by a large (alarm bell #1) US (alarm bell #2) consultancy (alarm bell #3). That should have been enough, right? Unless I was not listening to the bells… I believe the answer is relatively simple – the company were recommended to me and I was recommended to them by someone I knew therefore this activated my social brain who then obviously took over… But this is not the main point that I wanted to describe in this post

Over the next few weeks it so happened that I got several calls from other agencies and consultancies and as if on purpose the conversation always was around “doing this job” with a focus on fulfilling a role requirement and executing something written in a role description as opposed to making a positive difference or adding value to a business. At that point I knew that it is all broken. All I have seen and experienced in all these years of working for other companies has been mostly broken. Something like “do this activity for me” and I will pay you vs “help me do better”… Sounds to me very similar to my friend Mike Sutton’s post on working with someone vs working for someone.

So I think I developed this new understanding that I really have no interest in just doing a job. That I really am after an opportunity allowing me to add value to a team or an organisation with a clear vision that I can subscribe to – like “delighting customers” or “improving people’s lives” or “helping reduce waste” and while there may not be many of these organisations in existence then I can at least try to get as close to this as possible.

And this is how my not so conscious decision to end the call on that cold winter day now makes sense to my conscious mind. I do want to work with you to add value but I am not that  interested in the purely transactional doing a job or working for you.

That’s how it is for me. How about you?

Monday, 17 March 2014

Yes in 10 minutes

My current listen - The Willpower instinct (by Kelly McGonial) prompted me to read a little more about addiction and the role of dopamine. I did read and I found that the information on the web is quite scattered and it was difficult for me to summarize it without writing it down which is how this piece came to live.

I then also learned that writing down is useful for many other reasons. I will blog about them in a future post.

Now back to dopamine. Almost certainly every human being can recall that strong feeling of unbearable expectation to eat/drink/smoke/do something they "like" (or can't live without). We have even coined a word - "crave" and the way we see it - it is almost impossible to make any other choice than to go for it. Does this sound familiar? If it seems about right then you might be interested in what follows


When we chase something attractive dopamine is released in our brain. Dopamine is a neuro chemical which is absorbed by the brain areas responsible for attention, action, desire and (as recent research shows) reward. Various scientists (including Marc Lewis, PhD) have arrived at the conclusion that we can become addicted to the dopamine release. 

If we become addicted to something (e.g. drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, etc) soon the release of dopamine is controlled by the anticipation of getting more. This is the strong feeling I mentioned at the start. And the more times we go through this process the stronger the feeling gets.

An article published in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests that increased levels of dopamine make us more likely to opt for instant gratification, rather than waiting for a longer term reward - e.g. eat a chocolate bar vs reduce your weight. The strong feeling of anticipation that releases dopamine makes us choose short term rewards.

Another important details is that the decision to choose short term rewards is processed by one part of our brain (some call it the reptile brain, others the chimp brain) and considering the long term reward by another (the human brain). This is why we can get a feeling that we're having an internal battle or at least hesitating when having to make a decision what to choose.

And here's an useful tip: Decide to go for it but in 10 minutes. What happens is in a few minutes your human brain takes over and you are much more likely to make the correct decision according to your long-term goals. 

Apart from learning a little bit more about how our brain works I've found the "Yes, In 10 minutes" suggestion to be quite useful - so why not try it yourself and let me know how it goes?

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

End of year book report


2012 looks like the year in which I managed to read more books then the past 5 previous years combined!

This is an amazing achievement for me. I learned so much from the books I read and I am grateful to all the people who inspired me and/or recommended reading -and I do apologize if I have missed someone -but here's those that spring to mind at the time of typing - Bob Marshall (@flowchainsense), Mike Sutton (@mhsutton), Rob Brown, Jurgen Appelo (), many of the chaps at work including Julian Browne, Thomas Moore, Joe Karthauser and Alistair Thomas and of course my family for letting me read whenever I can.

To add to the 12 books I read in the first half of 2012 here's the rest:
=======================
(audio books)

How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age (Unabridged) Dale Carnegie & Associates

Change Anything (Unabridged) Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler 6 hrs and 32 mins

Great by Choice (Unabridged) Jim Collins, Morten T Hansen 8 hrs and 33 mins

Spark (Unabridged) John J. Ratey

Primal Leadership (Unabridged) Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee

Crucial Conversations Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

The Lean Startup (Unabridged) Eric Ries

Just Listen (Unabridged) Mark Goulston

The Fifth Discipline Peter M. Senge

Getting Things Done When You Are Not in Charge: Second Edition By Geoffrey M. Bellman

How the Mind Works By Steven Pinker

(Kindle)

Buylogy by Martin Lindstrom

Running Lean by Ash Maurya
=====================

A total of 25 books which is what I wanted to achieve so pretty lucky. I shall now just carry on reading throughout 2013 ;)

Friday, 14 February 2014

Extracting the high level domain (or sub domain) from URL in T-SQL (SQL Server)

I've not posted anything technical for years now so when I had to solve this problem yesterday I thought it might be a good idea to publish it. And yes I did look for a solution online but all I found were approaches that did not work for me (e.g. did not work with sub domains) or involved converting to xml which I thought is pretty heavy for what I want to do.

So here's what worked for me:

 SELECT Url = SUBSTRING(SourceUrl,0,CHARINDEX('.',SourceUrl,0))  
 FROM  
 (        
 SELECT SourceUrl = REPLACE(REPLACE(REPLACE(REPLACE(SourceUrl, 'http://www.',''), 'https://www.',''),'https://',''),'http://','')  
 FROM myUrlTable   
 ) urlData  
Comments and improvements are welcome and I hope someone finds this useful!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

What have I read in 2013 (and why you should be reading some of these titles too)

This year I decided to include a short (1-2) sentences review for each of the books I have read. I also implemented a simple "star" rating: 1-3 stars where 3 is the most positive rating.
A shorter journey to work for more than half of the year and more time off on holiday meant a slight drop in my total number of books however overall I was very happy with most of the titles.

So here goes:

Audiobooks


** All Marketers Are Liars - Seth Godin  
** Purple Cow - Seth Godin  
I started the year under the influence of Seth Godin, also thanks to Joe Karthauser's recommendation. I found these books to have some great advice and good examples but overall I thought the core message was the same. So for some time I do not intend to get another book from the same author.

*** Living Without Stress or Fear - Thich Nhat Hanh  
I thought this is an amazing lecture. I recommend this wholeheartedly to anyone looking for insights into mindfulness and relaxation. Thanks to Rob Brown for recommending it!

** Mindful Leadership - Maria Gonzalez  
This book has confirmed my thinking around mindfulness and application in business environment. I am afraid not much more than that in it although if this is your first book on the subject it could be useful.

*** Positioning - Al Ries and Jack Trout  
This has been a real eye opener for me and has dramatically changed the way I sell stuff. Highly recommended.

** Pitch Anything -Oren Klaff  
I have mixed feelings about this book. Oren's stories are interesting, his approach is quite aggressive. I believe some things could be useful but be mindful of the environment and the culture as these techniques can easily upset people.

* Good Business - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  
Having previously heard only good things about the author I was a little disappointed with this book. In principal I am in agreement with a lot of it however the "flow" he describes can easily be mindless and I see no good things coming out of it!

* David and Goliath -Malcolm Gladwell  
This is the first ever book I pre-ordered. However while there's a lot of value in the advice and the examples after listening to the book I felt disappointed and I would not recommend it.

*** The Lean Entrepreneur: How Visionaries Create Products, Innovate with New Ventures, and Disrupt Markets - Brant Cooper, Patrick Vlaskovits  
I think this is a good book. It can be really valuable for entrepreneurs looking for more effective ways to build a business. I personally have found some useful insights that I have used myself.

** Real Influence -Mark Goulston, M.D., Dr. John Ullmen  

*** The Leader's Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative, Revised and Updated - Steve Denning
I very much enjoyed listening to Steve Denning read his excellent book. Highly recommended

*** The Ultimate Introduction to NLP: How to Build a Successful Life (Unabridged) Richard Bandler, Alessio Roberti, Owen Fitzpatrick  
This must be the 3rd or 4th NLP book that I read and for the first time I found the concepts presented here easy to remember and apply. If you're looking for single book on NLP I recommend this one

** Rewire Your Brain - John Arden
I think this is a good book although for me it confirmed my thinking which I have already formed by reading other similar books (like David Rock's "Your brain at work"). Nonetheless I think this book is a good read.

Kindle

12 Brain Rules - John Medina

*** Non Violent Communication - Marshal Rosenberg
To me this is not just a must read but such a powerful idea which has the potential to change the world. Having read the book twice I am definitely re-reading it again this year.

** The Start-up owner's manual - Steve Blank
Good manual overall, much easier for me to read compared with his first book. I do however prefer the practicality and style of Ash Maurya

*** Running Lean - Ash Maurya
I am a big fan of this book. Very practical, actionable advice with good examples and backed by lots more content online. If you are interested in building a web product I recommend reading this book.

Paper

** The 4 steps to E.piphany - Steve Blank
I am sure the content is valuable because I have read Steve's other book (See above). However I found this one to be extremely difficult to read after the first chapter.I'd suggest going for the startup owner's manual. Oh yes and there's some ideas I do not agree with (will blog about these soon).

** Personal Kanban - Jim Benson
Personal kanban is great, I use it every day. Does it need a book? I don't think so. It can be explained in a blog post. The book repeats over and over the same ideas. For beginners it might be great. If you already know a bit about this stuff find some info on the web.

The Winner

For 2013 I can't decide between Living Without Stress or Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh  and Running Lean - Ash Maurya so I'll go with two winners ;)

Thursday, 21 November 2013

What’s common about my tennis skills, developing software and building organisations

A friend of mine sent me a message last week. It was a polite message asking if we can play tennis some time, but what I found interesting was that he added an explanation of his skill level which he probably found to be a reasonable thing to do since we’ve never played before. That short description of his skills got me thinking about how would I describe my skill level in tennis. How about how I achieved it? Or how would I go about improving it?

I started playing tennis when I was in high school because I liked it. I never took any lessons from an experienced player or coach. I read a little bit about how it’s played in a book and then  I just played and learned by my mistakes. This got me to a skill level that I think is good enough to play with my friends of a similar skill level and enjoy the game. At the same time however when I look at the 10 or 11 year olds play at the tennis training ground where I take my daughter every Saturday I am convinced that most of them will get bored playing with me within just a few minutes.

If I want to improve my tennis skills I am faced with a significant constraint - I only have 1-2 hours per week available to play and I fear that if I continue learning by mistakes it will eventually take me many years and I might just lose interest.  There’s an easy and affordable solution to my tennis problem – coaching is available and is proven to get results. But the point of this post of course is not so much about my tennis skills.

I think that some organisations I’ve worked with have taken my approach to learning tennis and applied it to building software and the entire organisation. From my day to day experience with these companies they appeared to have read a book and then they learned by their mistakes. This is not to say that we should not be learning by mistakes but rather to recognise when a major shift in our approach might be required. So it does not surprise me that as a result such organisations managed to develop fairly average (and in some cases awful) software that in most cases costs a lot to develop and run. I judge by the number of defects I’ve seen reported by customers and the time these companies required to take a product to market. When you build software of similar quality then the costs of supporting and enhancing it grow exponentially and it is soon being declared too expensive to maintain or make money. And while as a tennis player I get more than one chance to fail and learn, it also appeared to me that these organisations had been set-up to limit the learning opportunities, punish failure severely and therefore not surprisingly to me many of these companies no longer exist . Using my tennis learning approach is not something I would recommend in all cases however it seems to me that it is widely and explicitly used coupled with complete disapproval of failure and limited ability to learn.

Ok, How do I know all this?

Check the the saddest statistic in the world (in an article by Steve Denning).

What’s the percentage of people who truly love what they are currently doing at work? It's a  6% meaning that 94% of the people are miserable at work.

This is how I know.

Organisations can and should be built better.

And when they are stuck they need to get appropriate coaching (which is what I am doing to improve my tennis skills Winking smile )

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Intention to change: "I will make something happen"

I have not spent much time designing this, at least not on purpose. It sort of emerged during a busy week when I was asked to facilitate a team's retrospective and I had little or no time to prepare.

What I wanted to get through to people was that it might be more beneficial if they rephrased their findings and statements to show intention to change and ownership of that intention. To begin with I asked the team to generate ideas and thoughts while always beginning their sentences with one of the following:
1. I will make some change because ...
2. something makes me frustrated
3. something makes me confused

And I suggested that everyone takes 5-10 minutes to make some notes in those lines. Once people looked like they've almost finished I asked them to tell everyone about the ideas falling under number 3 and I asked for explanation and suggested that we all attempt to turn these sentences into 'intention to change' statements. If the team felt that an idea must be auctioned we kept the card on the board.

Once we exhausted the number 3 type of items we moved to number 2 and tried the same approach: talking about each idea and trying to turn it into an intention to change statement. They looked like this:
"I will make the CI build take less time".

If the team agreed that an item must be resolved then we kept the item on the board and whoever suggested the idea (or another volunteer ) signed up to action it.

And finally we reviewed the type 1 items most of which already followed the 'intention to change' format. Those that weren't we also rephrased accordingly.
Finally some items which most people didn't agree with or nobody cared enough to action were removed from the board.

The result of about an hour long meet up was over 10 actionable ideas with their owners and all I the intentional change format. It is only 2 days after the retrospective and almost half of the items have already been auctioned. And yes the feedback from the team was positive.

I hope someone makes use if this :)

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The skill of using our brain

There are two groups of skills that we learn. There's the skills that we pick up from our environment - eg to use knife and fork or to speak a language and then there's the skills that we may have to additionally train to do - eg speaking a second language or sailing a boat.

And the skills in these groups change over time and can be different between cultures. For example most of us nowadays train to drive a car but before there were cars no one even knew the skill existed or most of us use computers nowadays but there are societies in the world that have no access to computers and for them this is not a required or interesting skill to have .

Nothing you don't know so far. What our world does not seem to have grasped yet is that one of the most important skills we need to learn and everyone must learn is how to use out brain. As we grow up we kind of figure it out but 9 out of 10 cases or even less what we figure out is wrong. Science knows a lot more about the brain than the common knowledge is. Information and skills that can help each one of us to make better decisions, avoid catastrophic consequences and generally be a better person and help make this world a better place.

Are we not ready yet ? Will we ever be ready?

Share it