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Software Process and Measurement Cast 343 includes two features.  The first is our essay, Commitment, Revisited: Is Commitment Anti-Agile?  We think not!  Commitment is a core behavior for delivering business value effectively.

Our second feature is a visit from the Software Sensei, Kim Pries.  Kim reflects on hiring practices for software development.  Among the nuggets from Kim is the reminder to keep in mind that the perfect employee does not exist, and you are unlikely to ever find someone who fulfills every item on your job description.  How does that simple fact impact hiring?

A Call to action!

Reviews of the Podcast help to attract new listeners.  Can you write a review of the Software Process and Measurement Cast and post it on the podcatcher of your choice?  Whether you listen on ITunes or any other podcatcher, a review will help to grow the podcast!  Thank you in advance!

Re-Read Saturday News

The Re-Read Saturday focus on Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox’s The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement began on February 21nd. The Goal has been hugely influential because it introduced the Theory of Constraints, which is central to lean thinking. The book is written as a business novel. Visit the Software Process and Measurement Blog and catch up on the re-read.

Note: If you don’t have a copy of the book, buy one.  If you use the link below it will support the Software Process and Measurement blog and podcast.

Dead Tree Version or Kindle Version 

Our next re-read is The Mythical Man-Month Get a copy now and start reading!We will start in 4 weeks!

Upcoming Events

June 9 – 12
San Diego, California
I will be speaking on June 10.  My presentation is titled “Agile Estimation Using Functional Metrics.”

Let me know if you are attending!

Also upcoming conferences I will be involved in include and SQTM in September. More on these great conferences next week.

Next SPaMCast

The next Software Process and Measurement Cast will feature our conversation with Susan Parente.  We talked about Agile risk management.  If you do not have a plan to address risk, you are asking for risk to transform into pain for you and everyone around you.

Shameless Ad for my book!

Mastering Software Project Management: Best Practices, Tools and Techniques co-authored by Murali Chematuri and myself and published by J. Ross Publishing. We have received unsolicited reviews like the following: “This book will prove that software projects should not be a tedious process, neither for you or your team.” Support SPaMCAST by buying the book here.

Available in English and Chinese.

The dwarfs of self-management are Committed-y, Hardworking-y, Assertive-y and Doc.

The dwarfs of self-management are Committed-y, Hardworking-y, Assertive-y and Doc.

Effective teams are self-managing. Self-managing teams plan and manage their day-to-day activities with little overt supervision. In order for teams to be self-managing individual team members have team have to be committed to the team, have a clear understanding of roles and capabilities, understand the concept of deadlines and be effectively assertive.

  1. Commitment: Team members must be committed to the team. All teams will go through periods of stress and conflict, committed team members will stay with the team and seek to work through issues. Commitment can only occur if team members believe that the team can succeed and that membership will have value to the individual.
  2. Clear Understanding: The ability to self-manage requires an understanding of the roles that individuals can and do play and their capabilities. For example a business analyst that does not understand how to read C++ can’t be asked (or volunteer) to review C++ code. An understanding of roles and capabilities allows the team to plan effectively, to evaluate performance and provide feedback to fellow team members.
  3. Deadlines: One of more important features of Scrum is the public affirmation to complete the stories accepted into a sprint. The affirmation is a commitment that the team must strive to meet. When teams commit to a specific delivery deadline they need to strive and strive hard to meet those goals.
  4. Being Assertive: Team members need to be assertive enough to initiate action, provide feedback, communicate and coordinate activities between team members. Every team member has the authority and responsibility to get the job done.  The ability to be effectively assertive means that team members have to interact so that communication occurs and does not actively to cause conflict.

In order for a team to self-manage, the team will need to exhibit all four attributes, failing any of the four self-management becomes difficult. All four attributes are a reflection of team self-knowledge. Teams that stay together and successfully deliver value to the organization tend to form bonds based respect and mutual support.


In Software Project Estimation: Fantasies I said that a budget, estimate or even a plan was not a price.  After the publication of that essay I had a follow up conversation with a close friend. He said that in his organization the word estimate is considered a commitment, or at the very least a target that all his project managers had to pursue. YEOW! He is playing fast and loose with the language and therefore is sending a mixed message.

A commitment is a promise to deliver.  An example of a commitment I heard recently as I was walking through the airport listening to the cell phone conversation of a gentlemen walking next to me was “I promise not leave the sales review until the end of the month.”  A commitment indicates a dedication to an activity or cause.  The person on the cell phone promised to meet the goal he had agreed upon.

What is a target? In an IT department a target is a statement of business objective. An example of a target might be “credit card file maintenance must be updated by January 1st to meet the new federal regulation.” A target defines the objective and defines success.  A target is generally a bar set at a performance level and then pursued.  Another example is “I have a target to review six books for the Software Process and Measurement podcast in 2014.”  Note six is two more than we did in 2013 and represents a stretch goal that hopefully will motivate me to read and review more books.

Simply put, a commitment represents a promise that will be honored and a target is a goal that will be pursued.  An estimate is a prediction based on imperfect information in an uncertain environment.  An estimate, as we have noted before, is best when given as a range. Stating an estimate as a single number and adding the words “we will deliver the project for X (where X is a budget or estimate) converts the estimate into a commitment that must be honored.  Consider for a second . . . if a project is estimated to be $10M – $11M USD and a team finds a way to deliver it for $7M USD, would you expect them to find a way to spend the extra money rather than giving it back so the organization can do something else with the money? Bringing the project in for $3 or $4M less than the estimate would mean they had not met their target or commitment. Turning an estimate into a commitment or target can lead teams toward poor behaviors.  Targets are goals, commitments are a promise to perform and an estimate is a prediction.  Targets, commitments and estimates are three different words with three different definitions that generate three different behaviors.


It is that time of year!  Time to celebrate what worked and what didn’t (and yes I said celebrate what didn’t work – without experimentation there is no growth!) I have compiled the top five essays and top ten interviews from the 2013 ‘ish.  Today we celebrate the essays.  The top five most downloaded essays were:

SPaMCAST 219 – Agile and Risk Management
SPaMCAST 217 – Metrics Minute, Automated Test Cases Passed
SPaMCAST 231 – Metrics Minute, Burden Rate
SPaMCAST 247 – Sprint Reviews and Demonstrations
SPaMCAST 255 – Project Management Is Dead, Pries – Checklists


Click on the link to listen to any that may have missed.

The trend I see in these five essays is an interest in advice that can be immediately applied by teams and change agents.

Three of the essays that I got the most out writing that did not make the top five were:

SPaMCAST 263 – Transactional Analysis
SPaMCAST 239 – Commitment
SPaMCAST 251 – Commitment, Revisited


These essays were about building base knowledge about how work is done.  These essays were less tactical and more strategic in nature.  Both the tactical and the strategic are needed for a complete picture that benefits teams and change agents.

We are currently counting down the top ten interviews and will provide SPaMCAST listeners and readers with a complete list on 1 January 2013.  I hope your holiday season is meeting your expectations.

Notes:  I complied download statistics for podcast released between 1 December 2012 and 30 November 2013.  SPaMCAST specials, for example the downloadable copy of the SNAP Counting Manual, were not included.

Marine Corps Marathon 10k

Marine Corps Marathon 10k

Motivational Sunday

Here’s an interlude from our re-read of the The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People for the festivities around the Marine Corp Marathon 10K and a reflection on the difference between commitment and habit.

Commitment and habits can be positively interrelated. Commitment is being dedicated to a cause or activity.  Habits reflect a more or less fixed routine. The combination of commitment and habit is beneficial if the commitment is to a positive goal and habit does not become obsession. Once it is established, the combination can go into autopilot. In my world, running reflects a positive combination of commitment and habit.

Once upon a time I started running to cope with life as a road warrior.  It began as form of exercise. When you begin to confuse a french fry with a vegetable, an eye exam and exercise are necessities. That was approximately fifteen years, sixty pairs of running shoes ago and many blisters ago.  Over time the initial commitment developed into a habit and I had become a runner.  My formula:

  1. Start small and build – I began running the distance between two telephone poles then walking. Overtime time that became run two, walk one then walk three, walk one then suddenly it became 13.1 miles.
  2. Repeat again and again – Simply put, I run nearly every morning.
  3. Don’t let the day get in the way – I run first thing every day at approximately 4 AM.
  4. Rewards and feedback – The races have become my reward and feedback mechanism.  Starting a race with a few thousand of your newest and closest friends is stirring.
  5. Commit to yourself – The only person that will be able to hold you accountable is you.  Give yourself permission to hold you accountable by committing to yourself to achieve your goal.

The downside? I woke at 2:30 AM this morning in anticipation of running the 2013 Marine Corp Marathon 10K. I was keyed up. My commitment and habit has combined and become something more – passion. Even on the days when it is wet and chilly, even when the morning comes way too early. Over the years I have found that the most powerful commitments are those you make to yourself and then find a way to engage the human version of autopilot, habit.

Commitment, Motivation, Results and Trust, An Equation.

Commitment, Motivation, Results and Trust, An Equation.


Teams and the behavior of teams are critical to delivery of any project. Successful methodologies or frameworks direct activities in order to reinforce behaviors that generate trust in the team’s ability to deliver value. Having teams plan and commit to the work they can deliver generates motivation that will yield results, which will build trust. This is the chain reaction that will deliver value and customer satisfaction.

When a team is able to commit to work in small increments, as in Agile,  it is more apt to understand how to actually deliver. When teams commit and deliver using short cadences (for example, delivering every two weeks) the team can use its own performance to fine tune their future promises. The ability to use performance information in order to do that fine tuning helps the team to deliver on its commitment and make more accurate commitments in the future. So the virtuous cycle continues.

The ability to commit to specific pieces of work with a good chance of being able to deliver it generates motivation. Agile techniques and frameworks provide teams with the mechanism to say what they will deliver. When they then deliver against that commitment, it creates a feedback loop that helps the team build motivation.

A motivated team, with a good understanding of the functionality they have committed to, will have a much higher probability of delivering the results that the organization needs. Organizations fund projects for one reason and one reason alone – results. Process, techniques, methods and frameworks need facilitate the team’s ability to deliver results.

The whole process of a team committing to work, delivering results against that commitment and learning from feedback generated by performance, builds an environment where the organization can trust the team do what they say. Any technique, framework or methodology should be engineered to build motivation, results and trust.  All of these attributes begin with the team being able to understand and commit to the work and then to be able to refine that commitment based performance and results.  In the end, we do projects to deliver results. Therefore our processes need to facilitate the delivery of results.

Getting to graduation reflects commitment and learning.

Getting to graduation reflects commitment and learning.

Every project is a learning activity, whether the project is a simple maintenance activity or the most complex development project. In every case we are looking for a means of solving a business problem. Alistair Cockburn in his keynote at the Scrum Gathering in Las Vegas, 2013 rephrased the oft repeated Agile and lean start-up catch phrase, “fail early, fail fast” as “learn early, learn fast.” Agile attacks the concept of learning early by breaking work into small components and having the team commit to tackling those components a piece at a time. The benefit is derived by getting to functionality early rather than waiting until late in a project to know whether the right functionality has been developed, or even, if it can be developed. The earlier we answer the questions we have about how and what we are doing the better. The Agile techniques of breaking work into small components, then tackling them in a manner that returns the greatest amount of early learning is a risk reduction mechanism.

In Learn Early, Learn Often” Takes Us Beyond Risk Reduction[1], Alistair Cockburn suggests that all projects seek to answer four questions.

  • How can we learn to build what is desired?
  • How can we learn how much it will cost (time, money, people)?
  • How can we accelerate the team learning how to work together?
  • How soon can we correct the mistaken assumptions in the design?

Agile provides us with a set of mechanisms to develop answers to these four questions early in the project. Story writing and backlog grooming takes larger components and breaks them into pieces of work that can be taken into a sprint and completed. This supports getting to done and then to feedback as a tool for learning.  The act of committing to the work, saying what you are going to do and then doing what you said, provides both transparency and a feedback mechanism. Transparency lets stakeholders understand how the team is attacking the work to solve the business problem and at the same time how the team is progressing. The act of delivering and demonstrating/reviewing work at the end of every sprint generates feedback which can be translated into knowledge and learning.

Agile supports a culture where commitment and learning not only can co-exist but actually work best if they do co-exist. If we view every project as a potential risk that can only be mitigated when the right business value is delivered, then each project represents a set of decision points where feedback is required to guide the work towards value. The impact to overall project risk reduction based on learning early in the project what will work and what won’t work or what the real business needs are, will increase the potential for the project to succeed. Committing to deliver complete units of work at the end of every sprint puts the team and the stakeholders in position to understand unknowns that cannot be exposed without hands-on exploration. The combination of commitment and learning early lowers the risk of delivering and then being surprised.

[1] How “Learn Early, Learn Often” Takes Us Beyond Risk Reduction , July 3, 2013,