Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Are your Scrum teams looking forward?

Scrum teams need to spend part of their time during the current sprint looking forward to the next few sprints by grooming the backlog. Grooming the backlog includes activities such as meeting with the product owner to discuss the upcoming features to better understand them and doing research spikes, if needed, to understand the complexity of the features. 
If your teams are focused solely on the current sprint, unless you are building very simple well understood features you will start to see the teams fail to meet the commitments they make during Sprint planning. 
Also you will start to hear statements like these:
“The product owner should have told us this feature was so complex.”
“The product owner did not describe the feature properly.”
“No one told us that this feature would require a major change to our batch system.”

While there will always be some level of discovery during the sprint, spending time properly grooming the backlog and researching the features should keep your teams from having major surprises during the sprint that lead to failed commitments. While this will take time away from implementing the current features, it will be time well spent.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

What is Agile?

While you will find many different definitions for Agile on the Web, I recently came across a good article by Joel Bancroft-Connors that does a good job of answering the question. In his article Joel describes Agile as:

"a customer focused, iterative process that is executed through a collaborative effort of the team and company."

Yeah, I know, with that kind of double speak I should be in politics.
Agile is:

   * Listening to the customer throughout the entire development process, not just at the beginning.
   * Focusing on the team. A better team makes a better product. Trust in the team.
   * Building with GPS. You're constantly making sure you're on course.
   * Learning from mistakes, not just writing them down at the end of the project.
-  and -

   * Not new. The term is new, the ideas reach back decades. We owe the Agile Signatories for helping bundle the concepts into a single word.
   * Not a methodology. It's a set of principles and values. Below these are frameworks like Lean, Kanban, Scrum and XP. 

That is pretty good summary of Agile. Here is the link to Joel's article: A Gorilla Primer: What the heck is Agile?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Blog moved to Blogger

Today I moved the blog for Agile For Creatives over to Blogger. The main reason for the move was ease of use.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Scrum for Game Developers

Today I added a new section to the Agile for Creatives website for Slideshows. The first one is Scrum for Game Developers. The slideshow is an overview of Scrum with a focus on game developers. The presentation is based on one by Mike Cohn. Mike’s work was used by permission.

I hope you find the information useful. More slideshows will be added over time, so check back again.

Pivotal Tracker Review

On my iPhoneLife.com blog I reviewed the Pivotal Tracker app:
The Pivotal Tracker app is designed to allow iOS access to you Pivotal Tracker account. Pivotal Tracker is a web site that offers a simple, story-based agile project planning tool. Teams can use Pivotal Tracker to collaborate and react instantly to real-world changes. While it's based on agile software development methods it can be used on any type of agile creative project.

You can read the full review on my iPhoneLife.com blog.

Blast from the Past - An Old Book Review

The Elegant Solution
by Matthew E. May

Here is an old book review I wrote a few years ago. Even though the book is somewhat outdated it is still a good book.

I highly recommend his book to all who want to practice innovation as a way of doing business. In the foreword, Kevin Roberts writes that Toyota is "the quintessential postindustrial organization" which has "a highly structured and systematized culture that is also a hotbed of individual creativity." Matthew May was hired by Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. to design and deliver education for the University of Toyota that would translate the innovative methods of the Toyota Production System into something that could be used by knowledge workers. It took May five years to accomplish the process. According to May, at Toyota it is the quest for the elegant solution the shapes true innovation. In his book, May not only defines the elegant solution but also tells the reader how to achieve innovation in his or her own work.

In addition to Kevin Roberts' foreword The Elegant Solution contains the following chapter divisions:
Backstory: One Million Ideas
Introduction: In Search of Elegance
Part 1: Principles
1. The Art of Ingenuity
2. The Pursuit of Perfection
3. The Rhythm of Fit
Part 2: Practices
4. Let Learning Lead
5. Learn to See
6. Design for Today
7. Think in Pictures
8. Capture the Intangible
9. Leverage the Limits
10. Master the Tension
11. Run the Numbers
12. Make Kaizen Mandatory
13. Keep it Lean
Part 3. Protocol
14. The Clamshell Strategy
15. The Elegant Solution
Afterword: Word of Encouragement

In his Backstory: One Million Ideas, May writes that the world needs his book on innovation because it needs a book that is different, that looks at innovation in a new way and that helps with us with our daily work. May tells us that Toyota "implements a million ideas a year." In May's opinion the one million business ideas implemented each year is why Toyota's market value is larger than GM, Ford, Daimler-Chrysler, Honda and Volkswagen combined. May's basic proposition is that the "quest for the elegant solution shapes true innovation." He says that the "formula for the solution is an amalgam of principles, practices and protocol." But the individual parts are not new. It is "Toyota's remarkable ability to collectively and completely master all of them as a way of life" that makes Toyota unique.

Introduction: In Search of Elegance
In his introduction May tells the story of Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, the precursor of the Toyota Motor Company. Toyoda's story is "about one man's nearly spiritual quest to solve a very real problem facing the world around him." The underlying principals that Toyoda followed were Ingenuity in Craft, Pursuit of Perfection and Fit with Society. It is these principles that "fuel the engine of innovation at Toyota." May says that simple solutions are better, and elegant solutions are better still. He describes the elegant solution as "finding the aha solution to a problem with the greatest parsimony of effort and expense."

Chapter 1: The Art of Ingenuity
May tells us that even though some in the business press are saying that innovation in America is becoming extinct because of outsourcing, "there's a slowly rising tide of creativity among today's workforce. More and more, people are beginning to return to the almost forgotten Renaissance era of mastery. They're adopting a different view of their work ... people are beginning to see themselves as artists and scientists, or more accurately business artists and business scientists." According to May, the business world today demands this change. That because of recent events people have become disenchanted with business and need a new way to work, a new perspective. The new way is creative license. This new way of working at innovation is an applied creativity. May sees applied creativity as ingenuity and says that it has two sides - Engagement and Exploration.

Chapter 2 - The Pursuit of Perfection
In this chapter, May describes the pursuit of perfection as discipline of increments. He shows how we have come to expect and accept mediocrity instead of perfection. But there are companies that don't accept mediocrity, but pursue perfection. He lists Toyota, Apple, Gore and GE. May maintains that elegant solutions "demand optimizing quality, cost and speed. They're the three primary tangible drivers of customer value in all goods and services." He says that our culture is fishing for the red herring, the big idea. And that this keeps us from focusing on the real work of innovation. He claims that the big earth-shattering ideas rarely work at first that it takes innovators to "shape them into something actually workable." May uses the example of the mouse and icon system interface. Xerox conceived it, but it was Apple that made it work commercially. He maintains that the kind of discipline needed for the pursuit of perfection "requires a fundamental mindshift." How it is not big leaps but it is small steps.

Chapter 3: The Rhythm of Fit.
In this chapter May explains how our innovations must fit with the needs of society. How they must be "the right thing, at the right time in the right form, for the right people." In order to accomplish this fit, May writes that we need to employ systems thinking. We must provide solutions within the current context or we must provide a new context. He uses the example of Thomas Edison designing the entire electrical system in order to provide the context for his light bulb. Without systems thinking, May points out that we can have major failure such as the United Airline automated baggage system at Denver International Airport which delayed the opening of the airport for a year and caused the airline ten painful years of operation as it regularly damaged or lost luggage, and the disaster in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. May says that every solution has three dimensions - solid structure, strong systems and social significance. That great innovation must focus on each dimension. That we cannot think outside of the box. If our thinking will not fit in the box, we must build a new box.

Chapter 4: Let Learning Lead
In this chapter, May tells us that while learning and innovation "go hand in hand" the learning must come before there can be innovation. It is through learning that ideas are converted into action. He says that it is accomplished through a cycle of steps. And that cycle of steps is The Scientific Method: Questioning, Solving, Experimenting, And Reflecting. There are several other versions of the cycle. Walter Shewhart called it Plan, Do, Study, Act or PDSA. Dr. W. Edward Deming taught it to the Japanese after World War II and changed it to Plan, Do, Check, Act or PDCA. Capt. John Boyd, a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot called it Observe, Orient, Decide, Act or OODA. The Department of Defense uses it in its Spiral Development process. Police forces call it Scan, Analyze, Respond, Assess or SARA. But they are all just variations on the same cycle of learning. May gives us his version of the cycle as a tool. He calls his version I.D.E.A. Loops - a learning cycle for innovation. His cycle is Investigate, Design, Execute, and Adjust. As he brings the chapter to a close, May describes the Japanese practice of Hansei, which means reflection. It is a process conducted in a meeting after a project is completed to perform a rigorous review of the project to see what can be learned. He notes that the U.S. Army practices hansei in its After Action Reviews.

Chapter 5: Learn to See
In this chapter, May describes the process of genchi genbutsu or go and see. It is part of the Investigate phase of the cycle. He tells us that in order to understand the problem we have to go and see it from the customer's perspective. Only then can we define the problem and design a solution. During genchi genbutsu Toyota uses three ways to understand the problem: "Observe or watch the customer, Infiltrate or become the customer, and Collaborate or involve the customer." May says that if we don't perform this part of the process we risk the "ivory tower peril of basing strategic innovation on prevailing market assumptions and consumer research reports." This led to such great projects as the Ford Edsel.

Chapter 6: Design for Today
May warns that our designs must "focus on clear and present needs." We can "mistake invention for innovation, with the missing link being the principle of fit with society." He describes how to design for today while acting for tomorrow. It is discovering a need that has not been met. He tells us that innovation comes by design and when companies outsource design they outsource innovation. He then shows us how Toyota keeps all of its design in-house. For Toyota, it is a matter of principle, ingenuity of craft. May describes how Toyota used this method to gain market dominance in hybrid technology. Toyota also used this method to exploit a demographic shift to create the Scion brand. The Scion brand is designed to reach out to "the 60 million Generation Y crowd." Toyota innovated today in order to survive tomorrow. To design for today you must have "a firm grasp of the market, society and the customer."

Chapter 7: Think in Pictures
In this chapter, May describes how to add a visual element to our designs. He says, "the value of mental imagery and visualization in driving performance is undisputed." He gives us examples of from great visionaries like Walt Disney, Winston Churchill, Henry Ford and Martin Luther King Jr. Pictures and images can be used to "connect people to the intention in a very forceful way, touching hearts and minds." Toyota makes use of these tools in everything it does.

Chapter 8: Capture the Intangible
May writes that the "most compelling solutions are often perceptual and emotional." It is the "intangibles that differentiate and transform." May describes capturing those intangibles as business art. It is these intangible drives that motivate people to buy a product or service. He says, "it's not business, it's personal." May describes several stories about products or companies that people love. He includes the Prius, Apple Computer, JetBlue, Lexus, Studio D, Pottery Barn and Anthropologie.

Chapter 9: Leverage the Limits
In this chapter, May tells us how to use resource constraints to spur ingenuity. His opening paragraph frames the issue. "The entrepreneurial spirit is M.I.A. We're stuck. Stuck in the old school, stuck in the status quo, stuck in stall. We want things done differently, but we can't seem to get there from here. We've lost our edge. The days of rapid innovation are disappearing. There's widespread lethargy." He says that we need to recapture the "start-up spirit." We need to thrive on the challenge of limits. To achieve innovation we need to exploit limits.

Chapter 10: Master the Tension
In this chapter, May calls for us to work through the tension between an obvious solution and the elegant solution that is a true innovation. This requires finding a solution that solves conflicting goals. It requires us not to stop when the solution is good enough, but to keep working to get the best solution. He writes, "great innovation is often born of an ability to harmonize opposing tensions."

Chapter 11: Run the Numbers
In Chapter 11, May encourages us to back up our ideas with facts, to "do the math." He explains the dangers involved in using instinct instead of facts to make decisions. The ability of our intuition to associate information based on existing patters is a downside for innovative problem solving. May provides several examples of using facts and information to counteract conventional wisdom including Google, the Oakland A's and PayPal. May shows how all of the examples make use of a tool he calls the "slack point." "The slack point is an undetected and counterintuitive inefficiency found through analysis of data."

Chapter 12: Make Kaizen Mandatory
Kaizen is the Japanese word for continuous improvement. He says that continuous improvement "is all about idea submission, not acceptance." It is "the de facto incubator for consistent business innovation." May describes three steps to kaizen, creating a standard, following the standard then finding a better way and finally repeating the steps endlessly. May describes how the idea of kaizen actually is American made and it came from Deming's work during World War II in the Training Within Industries Service. The American government sent Deming to Japan after the war to help General MacArthur rebuild the Japanese economy. At the same time, the strategy of continuous improvement disappeared from American industry after the war.

Chapter 13: Keep It Lean
May says that complexity can kill innovation. That we should make it simple. He tells us to "start thinking lean." That we should build our solution "from the customer back and drive out anything connected with complexity." May goes on to explain that lean means "doing more of what matters by eliminating what doesn't." He describes the roots of lean thinking and goes into the details of how to be lean. May uses several stories to describe the lean way of thinking including Quadrant Homes, MinuteClinic, Leapfrog and Dell.

Chapter 14: The Clamshell Strategy
May describes the clamshell strategy as the leader providing the "necessary air cover and support from the top" while "the team does the heavy lifting from the bottom. And a pearl of innovation results." May then describes the do's and don't of implementing this strategy. He says that micromanaging innovation is self-defeating and pointless. That innovation has to have a "chief design engineer" role that models innovation, is a mentor to those who are doing the innovation and who monitors the progress of innovation.

Chapter 15: The Elegant Solution
Chapter 15 is the story of how a team from the Los Angeles Police Department used May's methods to create an innovative solution to a problem at the city's jails. He documents how a cross-functional team met for one day and came up with a solution to a very real and costly problem. May then concludes the book with some final words of encouragement for those who want to put his ideas into action.

This book is a great book if you are a leader of an organization seeking to create innovative solutions. However, it includes many practices that even a team leader within a larger organization can use to help his team be innovative. I strongly recommend May's book.