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SPaMCAST 575 features our essay on the lightning-rod issue: hybridizing agile methods and techniques. We can all agree that fitting a model to an observed reality requires the flexibility to hybridize. Why do we it so wrong so often?

We will also have a visit from Jon M Quigley and his Alpha and Omega of Product Development column. Jon and I talked about Deming and his impact on our lives and a book club we are launching early next year.

Re-Read Saturday News (more…)

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SPaMCAST 461 features our essay – Agile — Leadership Required.  For an Agile transformation to be be effective and then stay effective there are four cornerstones of Agile leadership constancy that must be addressed with passion and constancy of purpose.

Our second column this week is from Kim Pries (The Software Sensei). Kim fills in the middle of the cast with a discussion of the conceptual skills a software developer should have. To be good in this industry you need to be more than set of coding languages or testing techniques.  

Steve Tendon, brings chapter 19 of Tame The Flow: Hyper-Productive Knowledge-Work Performance, The TameFlow Approach and Its Application to Scrum and Kanban published J Ross (buy a copy here). We tackle Chapter 19, which is titled Understanding Common Cause Variation.  Steve share insights that caused me rethink the whole idea of common cause variation.

Here is a promo for my appearance during the Denver Startup Week.  On Thursday September 28th at 8AM I will be sharing Storytelling: Developing the Big Picture for Agile Efforts.  The presentation, in Denver, Colorado, will be at held at Industry.  Register and be there!!!! (more…)

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The Software Process and Measurement Cast 389 essay on different layers and anti-patterns of Agile Acceptance Testing. Many practitioners see Agile acceptance testing as focused solely on validating the business facing functionality. This is a misunderstanding; acceptance testing is more varied.

We also have a column from Kim Pries, the Software Sensei.  Kim discusses the significance of soft skills. Kim starts his essay with the statement, “The terms we use to talk about soft skills may reek of subjective hand-waving, but they can often be critical to a career.”

Gene Hughson anchors the cast with a discussion from his blog Form Follows Function, titled OODA vs PDCA – What’s the Difference? Gene concludes that OODA loops help address the fact that “We can’t operate with a “one and done” philosophy” when it comes to software architecture.

We are also changing and curtailing some of the comments at the end of the cast based on feedback from listeners. We will begin spreading out some of the segments such as future events over the month so that if you binge listen, the last few minutes won’t be as boring and boring. (more…)

3-14 2013 flat tire

Have you ever ridden a bicycle with a flat tire? A flat seriously affects the amount of effort needed to move the bike. Broken application development and maintenance processes have a similar impact. Process problems can slow delivery by requiring extra testing, extra reviews and added hurdles for implementation to ensure work is done correctly. This added work robs the organization of the added value that could have been delivered if the extra burden could be avoided.

Fixing the problem is not always easy or convenient. Assuming that each new test or review step in the process made sense when it was added, why would it make sense not to do it now? Once, I had to walk my bike all the way to end of the block, just to discover that I did not have a quarter for air. I had to walk the bike back home to get the money and then walk all the way back – highly inconvenient. I added a step to my mental checklist, never go for air without checking that I had a quarter. The process is now one step longer. We evolve processes we use to do work in a very similar manner; one step at a time.

Why don’t we stop work and redesign all processes from scratch? The amount of work required would be daunting. The perception of the change would also be daunting. Since we got into this mess one step at a time, I would suggest that we can get out one step at a time. Incremental change driven by frequent project retrospectives combined with transparent organizational goals is a great mechanism for continuous change. Paraphrasing W. Edwards Deming, we will need constancy of purpose to make continuous process improvement payoff but with that constancy of purpose we won’t need overwhelming changes that could leave the organization feeling like they are riding on a flat tire.

Compound The Interest In Process Improvement
Thomas M. Cagley Jr.

Audion version can be found on SPaMCast 43 (www.spamcast.net)

Sometime near the beginning of process improvement time W. Edward Deming documented his 14 Points for Management. One of those points struck me as I reviewed the course of software development and process improvement. The principle in question was constancy of purpose. Controlled changes are hard for many reasons but not staying the course once you begin a change is tops on my list of mistakes. Change usually begins with great fanfare and acclaim. Over time, events intervene (the famous stuff happens) which diverts attention and resources. Deming suggested that for change to have a positive impact, management needs to have constancy of purpose. Stated another way management must stay the course. This is not stay that once started a change program can never be modified, changed or abandoned. They all must evolve to meet changing needs but generally needs change slowly (unless financial derivatives are involved).

A time comes in every process improvement program or new development methodology deployment when interest wanes and the perceived value begins wane to a degree that something new begins to be planned. The point at which planning for the next big thing starts is a tipping point that marks the half-life of the process change. Every change has a half life. Your job as a leader is to extend the time it takes to get to the tipping point in order to maximize the value derived from any individual change. Keeping your customers interested in your program is a crucial tactic to delay the investable tipping point.

So who is responsible for stoking the fire of interest? Simply put the person or persons that are managing the change program. The role of maintaining interest is a blend of cheerleading, sales and guru-dom. Many process improvement leaders believe these tasks are beneath them therefore assign a staff member or decide that the purity of their vision should be enough to ensure movement toward the bright light of the future. That bright light in reality may well be the light to be an oncoming train. Quoting Colin Powell, “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” Interest is your problem, your roles is to lead.

One of the reasons interest wanes is that other events overtake the initial burst of energy and rational. Without someone to act as a town crier, memory fades. You must refresh both managers and practitioners’ memory as to why the change is important, what the change is, what is in it for them and what pain the change seeks to solve. A coherent story requires that you have a good handle on why you are doing the project.

You must understand the pain you are trying to solve not just what you are going to deliver (one tends to be a reflection of the other). I suggest that to effectively communicate, begin by crafting a message around how you are solving your client’s pain. Then measure the results you are delivering to prove you are actually delivering on the promise of your solutions. Finally, talk to your clients (management and practitioners) about how you are solving their pain (at the same time validate that the bar has not changed). I also suggest soliciting testimonials from your clients. Testimonials coupled with your message are excellent tool support continued change.

Why is interest important? A lack of focused interest is a risk because the IT landscape can be described as needs chasing resources while the resources get squeezed putting process improvement personnel and process improvement budgets are at risk. Salespersonship and marketing are critical roles when managing a process improvement project. These talents and roles support both the initial process of making a change and also when you are sustaining a change. Recognize that like skin moisturizer, sales and marketing can extend the life of change program only if applied early and often. Further the program you are trying to focus interest on must deliver value. Your mission is not only to be a leader but a cheerleader, salesperson and a communicator.