Feeding Sam in the Big Apple

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I’m heading to Manhattan next week on business and I am super excited about it. It’s been four years since I last spent time in New York, not counting the quick visit to the Cloisters last year. I’ve never been to Manhattan in winter, so when my client engagement wraps up, I’m planning to visit the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, and maybe strap on a pair of skates.

I’ve also got to eat! I know a few places from past visits (dinner one night at Red Bamboo is a strong possibility) but I’d love to hear recommendations for great vegetarian cuisine around the World Trade Center or Lower Manhattan areas. What do you say? Help me get my feed on!

Photograph by Omer Meral.

Growing Pains

“We’re just going through some growing pains.”

I have heard this phrase at several companies I’ve worked for, to describe problems with a range of seriousness:

* Inability to hire staff quickly enough.

* Inability to retain staff.

* Teams refusing to share information or coordinate their efforts.

* Abusive behavior emmanating from the C-suite.

I also heard it at a company that went through two big layoffs in a very short period of time. Revenue was lower than a snake’s ass, so they had to cut staff. The layoffs were blamed on “growing pains.”

There was no growth going on there, just pain.

Regardless of the seriousness of the problem, the phrase is used not as a diagnosis, but as a dismissal. We don’t have to do anything. It’s just growing pains. They’re inevitable and unpreventable, and they’ll work themselves out.

Horsefeathers.

Like the TV show of the same name, these growing pains weren’t inevitable and could have been prevented. Unlike the TV show, they aren’t going to go away on their own.

OK, maybe I’ll grant you the first one. Sometimes demand for your product can explode, and you find yourself needing to scale up more rapidly than you expected. You still need to fix the problem in a thoughtful way, rather than letting it work itself out. That company with the massive layoffs? Just six months earlier they’d had that first problem, and added staff without thinking about the consequences.

Regardless of the problems facing your company, you can’t just call them “growing pains” and hope they’ll solve themselves. Apply root cause analysis and plan an appropriate, calculated response that attacks the heart of the problem. Anything else is just a waste of time and energy.

Gulf Coast Product Camp

I spent the day at the inaugural Gulf Coast Product Camp put together by Julee Bellomo. Bringing Product Camp to Tampa has been a goal of Julee’s for a long time. The work she has done to build the Product Owner meetup group for Tampa Bay Agile has been phenomenal, and I wanted to be involved in this event as soon as I heard about it. I knew it would be something special, and it certainly was. A hundred attendees, two very powerful keynote speeches, and an engaging design thinking workshop made for an exciting and mind-expanding day. And the whole thing ran so smoothly that it didn’t feel like a first-time conference. I’d call it an unqualified success.

The experience was especially valuable for me because my Agile career up until now has revolved around Scrum teams and delivery of product features. Ideation and visioning  weren’t part of my world. By the time a delivery team has gotten its hands on a product, the question is no longer, “What will we build?” but, “How will we build it?” Now I’m coaching with a broader scope, and I need to understand better how to grow a product vision, how to position it in the market, and so on.

Beyond my day job, I’m starting to realize how powerful some of these practices could be for my writing. I spend a considerable amount of time on each novel I write, with only a hunch as to whether or not I’m writing something that people will want to read? What if I could use design thinking and lean startup principles to refine my vision before I spend months & years writing?

The Agilist’s Bookshelf

books-book-pages-read-literature-159866Highsmith, James A. Agile Software Development Ecosystems. Addison-Wesley, 2006.

Agile Software Development Ecosystems is divided into four sections: “Problems and Solutions,” “Principles and People,” “Agile Software Development Ecosystems,” and “Developing an ASDE.” Sections I and II discuss the problems facing the software development world, and delve into how the basic principles of Agile can solve them. Case studies illustrate the concepts, and Section II also presents interviews with the creators of each of the six Agile systems described elsewhere in the book. These interviews shed light on why and how each system was developed.

Section III presents thorough descriptions of the major systems at the time the book was written: Scrum, Dynamic Systems Development Method, Crystal Methods, Feature-Driven Development, Lean Development, Extreme Programming, and Adaptive Software Development. Though Scrum (leavened by XP) has come to dominate the Agile landscape in the intervening decade, it’s important to remember that there are other options and what environments they serve best. Plus, it is interesting to know the history of ASDE development.

Section IV covers “Developing an ASDE.” These chapters are aimed more at enterprise organizations for which scaling issues complicate the adoption of team-level Agile systems. In “Articulating Your Ecosystem,” Highsmith discusses how to determine the key elements of an organization’s culture, and match that culture to the right Agile system. The final chapter, “Designing Your Agile Methodology,” provides in-depth guidance for adapting an existing methodology, or designing one from the ground up.

Every Agile practitioner should read Agile Software Development Ecosystems, from team-level coaches and developers, to managers and executives in organizations trying to adopt—and adapt—Agile.

 

The Agilist’s Bookshelf

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Appelo, Jurgen. Managing for Happiness: Games, Tools, and Practices to Motivate Any Team. New York, NY, John Wiley & Sons, 2016.

Management, Jurgen Appelo writes, is too important to be left to managers. In Managing for Happiness, Appelo provides a dozen principles and practices that (almost) anyone can implement at work to create a happier workplace.

Some practices are harder than others for non-managers to implement. For example, the chapter, “Merit Money” discusses compensation strategies that non-executives would find nearly impossible to put into effect. Non-managerial leaders might implement delegation boards and delegation poker with some difficulty. But other most of the techniques, like value stories, culture books, feedback wraps, and personal maps, could be introduced by anyone in an organization.

Each chapter does double duty, introducing not only a practice, but the principle behind that practice. Readers will come away from the book not only knowing what they want to do, but why they want to do it. The end of each chapter provides suggested variations on each practice to spur the reader’s imagination.

The book’s form factor is its only drawback. The physical book is printed in landscape format, with each page being 9.5” wide. That makes it a little unwieldy to hold at times. Even hardcore fans of hard copy might prefer to get it in an electronic format.

Agile leaders, regardless of their job title and role, will find most of the games and tools in this book to be useful in their Agile practices. The “Moving Motivators” game, for example, will illuminate team dynamics so that the coach can better identify not only what motivates individuals, but the team itself. The “Learning Grid” is a great retrospective technique (Appelo even includes commentary from a Scrum Master to that effect). And the “Happiness Door” combines two common Agile practices to gather feedback and identify team happiness in one exercise. Managing for Happiness adds practical tools to the Agile leader’s toolkit.

 

 

 

On Being Laid Off

A year ago today, I lost my job due to a corporate restructuring. I received a generous severance package, and I had at least six months expenses in savings. It would be good for me to take some time off, I said. I told everyone I would be all right. But “all right” financially wasn’t the same as “all right” emotionally, and the experience threw me off balance for a long time.

In the weeks immediately following the layoff, I kept up a good front. I looked for work. I went to the gym. I wrote. But depression crept in around the edges. I found work quickly, but my physical fitness lagged. My writing suffered. I saw the world through a layer of gauze.

I wish I had been able to talk about what I was going through. I wasn’t that I lacked options. Immediately after the layoff, my family and friends all offered support. I assured them I was fine. By the time I admitted to myself that I wasn’t fine, I felt trapped into maintaining the positive front. After I’d made so many blithe predictions about how easy it would be for me, I couldn’t bring myself to go back to people and say, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just going through the motions, and I feel bad about feeling bad.”

I’m doing better now. After spending seven months at a bad job, I had the good fortune to find much better, fulfilling one three months ago. That helped me re-orient myself. I hope I’ve learned from the experience not to pretend I’m invincible. I’d have been a lot better off for talking honestly about what I was going through than masking it.

Cubicle Worker’s Creed

This is my cubicle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

My cubicle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.

My cubicle, without me, is useless. Without my cubicle, I am useless. I must sit in my cubicle true. I must file TPS reports faster than my coworker who is trying to appear more productive than me. I must turn in my TPS reports before he turns in his. I will…

My cubicle and I know that what counts in annual reviews is not the projects we work on, the phone calls we make, nor the meetings we attend. We know that it is the appearance of productivity that counts. We will appear productive…

My cubicle is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its drawers, its cubbies, its chair, its phone, its tape dispenser and its stapler. I will keep my cubicle clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other. We will…

Before God, I swear this creed. My cubicle and I are the defenders of my company. We are the masters of our annual salary adjustment. We are the saviors of my 401(k).

So be it, until every job is automated and there is no work left, only forced early retirement!