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The Software Process and Measurement Cast 396 begins our run up to Episode 400 with our interview of with Mike Burrows.  Mike and I talked about his game changing idea of Agendashift.  Agendashift Identifies opportunities for positive change by exploring an organization’s alignment to the values of transparency, balance, collaboration, customer focus, flow, and leadership.  Along the way, we also revisited parts of our previous interview on the podcast covering Mike’s book, Kanban from the Inside (Kindle).

Mike’s Bio

Mike is the founder of Agendashift, author of the book Kanban from the Inside, consultant, coach, and trainer. In recent months, he has been the interim delivery manager for two UK government digital “exemplar” projects and consultant to public and private sector organisations at home and abroad. Prior to his consulting career, he was global development manager and Executive Director at a top tier investment bank, and IT Director for an energy risk management startup.

Agendashift Blog:
Twitter: @asplake and  @KanbanInside (more…)

Picture of the book cover


If you have ever had to defend a project, team or concept, the plot in Chapter 6 will resonate. This week’s installment I would title ‘explanations and office politics’, as we close in on the peak of our read of Commitment – Novel about Managing Project Risk by Olav Maassen, Chris Matts and Chris Geary (2nd edition, 2016) .  In Chapter 6 we meet the corporate inquisitor.  Management sends Duncan to find out what’s going on in the project. The briefing ends on the note, “We just need to make sure we do the right thing.”

The first major exposition in the chapter is on the game theory.  Game theory is the study of models (often mathematical) of conflict and cooperation in decision making.  Game theory is useful for both describing and anticipating activity between team members. Much of the theory behind real options is built on the prediction of how individuals interact, otherwise known as game theory. The exposition on game theory includes a discussion of the prisoner’s dilemma and the strategy of conflict. In the prisoner’s dilemma, the police arrest two prisoners for a crime they committed together. The police isolate each prisoner with no means of talking with each other. There is not sufficient evidence to convict the pair, so the prosecutor(s) hopes to convict each one on a lesser charge (typically stated as one year). In tandem, the prosecutors offer each prisoner a bargain. The prosecutors offer each prisoner the opportunity either to betray the other and avoid going to jail while the other prisoner goes to jail for several years (typically three years). The first person to “roll over” gets the deal. If neither testifies they will receive the same one-year sentence. In the prisoner’s dilemma, a purely rational player would immediately maximize their own utility by betraying the other prisoner, even though if they cooperate both there would be less overall jail time served between the two. The second aspect of the game theory discussed in the callout is the strategy of conflict.  Some of the main features of the strategy of conflict are to withhold information between participants and to not allow participants to negotiate directly with the decision maker. Under the constraints of the strategy of conflict, a system works up to a point and then fails due to a failure to collaborate and share information.  At this point, participants see the need to work together to survive and begin to collaborate.  Forcing teams to make decisions to deal with options at some point will precipitate the failure scenario. As soon as the team senses the potential for failure there will be a natural tendency to tip into a more collaborative process. Learning to resolve conflict improves the team’s ability to make decisions.  Suppressing conflict will cause the team to develop conflict avoidance skills, which will reduce the effectiveness of decision making.

Duncan, the hatchet man, begins his inquisition by telling Rose he is there to observe, but withholds the impact of a bad review.  Duncan observes and interviews the team in action before coming back to talk with Rose.

The authors use the Duncan’s observation and his discussion with Rose in Chapter 6 to tie real options to the game theory.  Rose points out that most people, when given the choice between being uncertain and being certain, will choose certainty. Therefore, if given the option of waiting for more information to make a decision people will tend to make the decision even if they risk being wrong.  Real options works when teams get to the point that they collaborate rather than just avoiding uncertainty; that point is predictable based on the strategy of conflict.  Rose walks Duncan through how the team has worked through the perception of failure and arrived at collaboration.

In a blog entry Rose points out that since learning about real options, she has begun to see options everywhere. Balancing options become a matter of the price you’re willing to pay for a choice to be an option rather than the commitment. In real life, too much choice is a bad because people would rather not make a choice.  The too many options issue is one reason many sales managers provide a single clear choice rather than options.  Advice for adjusting to the options rich world tuned by Rose is:

  • Be deliberate about what you treat as an option; not everything needs to be an option even if it appears to be.
  • Be deliberate about making commitments as commitments are nonreversible.
  • Don’t expect too much; allow yourself to get accustomed to options thinking.

Options have value, therefore, a normal question to ask would be how to value real options. In a blog entry, it is noted that real options began in the financial markets and uses the Black-Scholes equation to value options (predicted result * probability equals weighted value). While the equation is relatively simple, the use of estimated probability complicates the use of the equation. The blog suggests that while the equation works in financial markets, real world liquidity causes this type of valuation not to work for software development projects. It should be noted that Douglas W Hubbard’s How to Measure Anything, provides a mechanism to address this problem. Valuation, while a touchy subject for some, is a topic that needs to be understood.  Practice has taught me teams and organizations need to understand which options require extra levels of evaluation  and therefore valuation and which do not.  

Jumping over the kickboxing and dancing, at the end of the chapter, Duncan gives the project Rose is leading a clean bill of health. However, due to perceived risk of implementation, the client has canceled the project, which means that everyone will lose their job at the end of the month.  The chapter ends with Duncan uttering a great line, “All their options have expired.”

Previous Installments:

Part 1 (Chapters 1 and 2)

Part 2 (Chapter 3)

Part 3 (Charter 4) 

Part 4 (Chapter 5)

A story helps you see the big picture

A story helps you see the big picture

At one point in my career, I gathered requirements on an almost daily basis.  I got good at interviewing people to help them discover what they wanted a project to deliver.  In most cases I collected all sorts of “shalls,” “musts,” “wills” and an occasional “should.” The organization I worked for detailed the outcome of the process in a requirements document that included technical, non-functional and functional requirements.  All of the requirements toed the line defined in IEEE standards. Once we had requirements, my teams would leap into action writing, coding and testing to their hearts content. Looking back the problem was that the cocktail napkin or cost-benefit analysis that spawned this orgy of action often did not capture the nuances of the business outcome. The failure to anchor the nuances of the business outcome in everyone’s mind meant that despite carefully crafted charters, projects were apt to wander off track. This caused all sorts of stress when they were winding down to done.  One solution to this problem is to have the sponsors, stakeholders and team capture an outcome-based big picture.  Storytelling as a tool to anchor an idea is not new. If you need proof that storytelling is part of human nature consider that some of the oldest human artifacts, the Lascaux Cave paintings reflect the history (story) of people from approximately 15,000 B.C. Stories help us remember and they help us connect.  In the workplace, the big picture acts both as an anchor for the team and as a container to shape or guide the outcome.  Effective storytelling to guide work requires the right participation, proper timing, and a process. (more…)


Agile reminds us that the focus of any set of requirements needs to be on an outcome rather than a collection of whats and whos.  Storytelling is a powerful tool to elevate even the most diehard requirements analyst to a from a discussion individual requirements to a discussion of outcomes. The onion metaphor that is popularly used in agile planning (Cohn’s Planning Onion) can be used to describe the evolution of backlogs. Building an initial backlog is much like peeling through the layers of an onion to get to the core. There are many mechanisms for developing and maintaining the detailed backlogs, including: asking, observing, showing and all sorts of hybrids. Using the onion metaphor, the techniques we have explored in the past are the second layer of the onion. However, before getting to the center of the backlog evolution onion composed of features, epics, and user stories we need to understand the big picture.  Structured story telling is effective to tool to elicit a description of an outcome and nuances behinds that description, the outer layer in the backlog onion. The outside layer of the backlog evolution onion provides a strategic vision used for budgeting, change management and to provide context to guide the team or teams of teams as the development process progresses. (more…)

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The Software Process and Measurement Cast 395 features our essay on productivity.  While productivity might not be the coolest subject, understanding the concept is critical to every company’s and every worker’s financial well-being.

Gene Hughson brings another entry from his Form Follows Function blog to the Software Process and Measurement Cast. Gene discusses the idea of accidental innovation.  Gene suggests that innovation is not a happy accident, but is a result of a process, structure, and technology that can enhance innovation. However, it can just as easily get in the way.

In our third column this week, Kim Pries, the Software Sensei, brings us a discussion of how software developers leverage assimilation and accommodation in the acquisition of knowledge.


Picture of the book cover


Staff liquidity takes a central position in this week’s installment of our read of Commitment – Novel about Managing Project Risk by Olav Maassen, Chris Matts and Chris Geary (2nd edition, 2016) .  Chapter 5 is a relatively short chapter, but exposes one of the critical mechanisms for how Agile teams are able to self-organize and self-manage.  If you are an Agile coach or involved in an Agile transformation, once you recognize the concepts in this chapter you will be surprised how many times you use them.  If have been struggling with the concept how Agile teams can handle the need to shift roles to address changes in needs with management intervention this chapter provides you with the knowledge you will need.    (more…)


The simple cumulative flow diagram (CFD) used in Metrics: Cumulative Flow Diagrams – Basics  and in more complex versions provide a basis for interpreting the flow of work through a process. A CFD can help everyone from team members to program managers to gain insight into issues, cycle time and likely completion dates. Learning to read a CFD will provide a powerful tool to spot issues that a team, teams or program may be facing. But to get the most value a practitioner needs to decide on granularity, a unit of measure, and time frame needed to make decisions.


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