The whole Cagley family!

The whole Cagley family. Happy Thanksgiving!

My family gathers to celebrate a mixture of Thanksgiving and Christmas annually.  We started this tradition years back, when we needed to find a way for all of us to celebrate together, given our wide geographic distribution and complicated schedules.  This isn’t all that different from scheduling stand-up meetings for distributed teams.  Tradition is a friend that keeps our family or our team together. 

Traditions represent events and activities that have been ritualized or codified because they delivered value. Life gets complicated when traditions do not evolve and are held onto past the point that they continue to deliver value.

In the IT world we have many traditions  . . . we call them methodologies, processes and frameworks.  These are engineering traditions that delivered value based on a set circumstances and conditions.  When the circumstances or conditions change, traditions must also change.  When our family gatherings began we were all able to sleep under a single roof.  Age, children and tolerance to noise has now caused a change in venue and spread us across three houses.  Traditions have had to evolve in order to continue to deliver value.

Agile proponents have a history of experimentation leading to the evolution of Agile. History of evolution is its own tradition.  All traditions must evolve to keep pace with changing environments and circumstances or risk losing value.  Twenty plus people in a single house will lead to bottlenecks in the same manner as a process without work in process limits.

Dharavi slums in Mumbai, India

Laundry in Mumbai, India

I recently spent two weeks in India. India is a land of extreme contrasts.  As extreme as any of the examples is the Dharavi slum which sits within spitting distance of world-class architecture.  As a business man marveling at Incredible India while sitting in an executive lounge, riding in the back seat of a car with a driver whisking me to appointments, eating at tables  set aside for dignitaries and even overseen by random strangers while touring the slum it is hard to understand India.  Being a visitor with handlers providing orthodox interpretations of the sights and sounds reinforces the fishbowl mentality and reduces the chances of deep understanding.

Software developers and other IT specialties can trap themselves into a fishbowl by latching onto a single set of ideas and then reinforcing those ideas by allowing gatekeepers of orthodoxy to constrain how they interpret what they read and hear. There are times within the IT community that ideas take on a life of their own.  For example, the 1990’s marked the high water mark for CMMI and the concepts that revolved around the model.  Adherents of the CMMI model became almost religious in their zeal to protect their boundaries, like the adherents of Object Orientation and Case.   Each new community created its own fishbowl to supplant the last. The fishbowl ensured that the next new “thing” went unnoticed by those in the fishbowl.

Many Agile adherents have begun to build fishbowls of rules around frameworks, like Scrum or Kanban, suggesting that only a single orthodoxy exists. They are abandoning the culture of improvement and experimentation that spawned the Agile movement.  To be truly small “a” agile, we must continuously look for ways to escape our fishbowl, to learn, to grow and to change.

Rereading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Rereading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Over eight of the past 9 weeks I have chronicled my re-read of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. As I noted when I began this endeavor, this book and the advice it has provided have been helpful for me as I have addressed the turning points in my life. The habits that Stephen Covey posits are a framework that reminds me that decisions and growth come from my core values. Our values, which we own, control and refine our circle of influence.  Our circle of influence, those areas that we can effect, can be expanded by being proactive, having an end in mind, knowing what to put first, thinking win-win, listening, finding synergy in the world around us and continually sharpening the saw.   In other words, through the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

The impact I have on the world requires constant reinforcement. And in an environment that emphasizes what I should be concerned about without providing access to the tools to expand my circle of influence, I need to take control of our both my circle of concern and influence. I think it is important to take a step back on a daily or weekly basis to reflect and remind myself about what is really important. It helps me make sure that my focus is true.

Whether today or sometime in the future, everyone will face real concerns, concerns that we can and should deal with. Ignoring them is not an option.  In his lecture, Slaying The Dragon Within Us, Jordan Peterson says “if we don’t deal with our dragons they will continue to grow” The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People provide us with tools to understand how to deal with our dragons.

One final thought, if you don’t have a copy of the book, buy one (I would loan you mine, but I suspect I will read it again).  If you use the link below it will support the Software Process and Measurement blog and podcast. Dead Tree Version Kindle Version

The re-read entries:

A sharp saw cuts faster and cleaner.

A sharp saw cuts faster and cleaner.

Motivational Sunday

The final habit in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is Sharpening the Saw.  This is a reminder that who and where we are today can’t be who or where we are tomorrow. This habit is a prescription for balanced self-renewal.  The balance is based on a four-category model that is integrated into the previous six habits. The four categories are:

  1. Physical: This category reflects the need to care for the machine; the body, with exercise and diet. Our bodies provide endurance, flexibility, and strength, which enable us to grow.  It is easy to see that struggles with health will make it difficult to concentrate on intellectual growth.
  2. Spiritual: Covey states that, “If your motives are wrong nothing can be right.” The spiritual category reflects our commitment to our own value system.  Our values provide leadership to our lives.  Grounding our values in the habits of proactivity, beginning with the end in mind, and putting first things first helps us to focus on providing service to our community.
  3. Mental: Continuous education and renewal of skills is critical for personal growth. This category includes exploring new topics, debating, and writing critically. Development needs to include a broad approach with hands-on training rather than the more common corporate training. This broad approach should challenge those involved to examine and question underlying assumptions.  An example of how this approach can be implemented is reflected in the Kanban, which requires making policies explicit so they can be challenged.  Mental renewal provides the tools so that we can rise to a challenge when the challenge comes.  This category is also a reminder that when a challenge comes, it is usually too late to re-tool.
  4. Social / emotional: The final category of a balanced renewal is social / emotional.  We are deeply influenced by our relationships, which help write the scripts for how we interact and relate to the world around us.  In the end, integrity to our values is an important attribute of how others view us and is the most important attribute of how we view our selves (assuming some level of introversion).  This category also speaks to providing service to others, which we see as a central tenant of agile leadership (servant leader).

Renewal requires us to pay attention to all four categories.  Ignoring any one category will negatively impact progress on others.  For example, without our health it is difficult to provide service to others or continually re-tool.  In the final habit Stephen Covey advises his readers to continually improve.  Covey caps this habit with a model of growth as an upward spiral of learning, committing, and doing.  This model is reminiscent of the Shewart Cycle (also known as the Deming Wheel) of plan, do, check, and act.  Regardless of the model, continuous improvement requires a cycle that is repeated forever and ever.

Synergy makes the garden grow.

Synergy makes the garden grow.

Habit Six:  Synergize

The sixth habit is synergy.  Synergy is present when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  For example, data from University of Texas suggests that in some cases pair programming yields a higher productivity than two coders working separately. The probable reason for this outcome is identification of new ideas, close communication and continuous review.  Covey suggests that the habit of synergy, which builds on the knowledge derived from implementing the previous habits combined with creativity, is the highest activity of life. Put another way, combining empathy, win-win thinking, being proactive while thinking outside the box generates alternatives!

The power of synergy is derived from the creation of new, win-win alternatives.  Covey provides examples of synergy across many categories of life such as communication, business, nature and the classroom. An example of creative cooperation from nature can be seen in the relationship between basil and tomatoes.  Organic gardeners know that basil suppresses insects that affect tomatoes. The tomatoes, in return, change the soil composition so the basil grows better.  The downside to synergistic creativity is that it is unpredictable and messy. Finding this combination plants required experimentation and failures before the perfect companion plants were discovered.

Experimentation with the attendant potential for failure does not suit all teams or organizations. Organizations that fear the potential for failure will seen seek certainty. Organizations and teams that have a need for structure, certainty and predictability will generally resist the unpredictability and messiness of creativity. The resistance is reflective of a lack of trust, which suppresses the win-win communication needed for creativity and synergy. Interactions reflecting low trust and low cooperation generate communication focused on win-lose outcomes.  Many, if not most, outsourcing contracts are low trust/low cooperation interactions, and therefore require lawyers and negotiators to communicate.  On the other hand, high trust/high cooperation environments provide the basis where structure, certainty and predictability can be offset by empathy and a belief that the outcome will be positive and might exceed expectations. Mature Agile teams that exhibit high customer satisfaction generally are a reflection of high trust and high cooperation environments.

Understanding and practicing the first five habits provide an environment that can overcome the forces that restrain creativity.  Creativity is a requirement for creating alternatives to the tried and true, which is where we can find synergy from being interdependent.

Links to the First Five Habits:

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.

Listening is hard work but  when understand it pays off.

Listening is hard work but when understand it pays off.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey Reread

Habit Five:  Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood

Communication is the act of giving or receiving understanding, and it is a critical skill in every part of our lives. In order to fully communicate, the person receiving must not only understand what is being communicated, but also let the communicator know that they have truly been understood. Listening is at the heart of understanding and communicating.  Even so, we tend to spend very little time learning about or being trained in listening.  Training in listening teaches the trainee how to pay attention and interpret the story being told, and the how language and body language impact the story. These are skills that can be learned. Because of lack of training most of what we hear is filtered through our own frame of reference because we don’t have the skills to listen from the speaker’s frame of reference.

When we listen from our own frame of reference we practice selective listening.  Selective listening generates one of four classes of response.  Based on our baggage, we evaluate communication by agreeing or disagreeing. We probe, asking questions based on our own point of view. We advise, providing counsel based on our experience. Finally we interpret, ascribing motivation based on our motives and behaviors. Our scripting makes it difficult to both hear what is really being said and understanding the emotions and feelings behind what is being said.  Both are required for true communication. The alternative is to put ourselves behind the eyes of speaker, seeking to hear from their frame of reference leads to deeper understanding.

When we fail to listen and understand, we tend to act first then have to take the time to pick up the pieces afterwards. For example, would you trust a doctor that prescribed before taking time to diagnose the problem? No, the expectation would be that the doctor listen and communication with the patient (assuming that is possible) first.

In this habit Covey identifies four stages of listening:

  1. Mimicking – This the classic pattern of feeding back.  In my estimation, this form of listening confuses hearing with understanding.
  2. Rephrase the content – In this stage of listening the listener paraphrases what is heard.  This is typically what is referred to as active listening.  It helps develop a bridge between the listener and the speaker.
  3. Reflect feeling – The stage of listening focuses on reflecting the feelings behind the communication.  The focus on feeling makes the listener put himself in speaker’s shoes.  This stage reflects a change in the listener’s frame of reference.
  4. Empathic listening – This stage is the most powerful form of listening in which the listener plays back both the content though rephrasing, but also the feelings.  The focus is understanding the whole communication package (content and feeling) which allows the listener to build powerful rapport.

Empathic listening requires listening as if you were behind the eyes of the speaker. In many cases when we are not practicing empathic listening, it is because we are listening to be understood. In other words, we are listening just enough that we can craft a response. How many meetings or teleconferences have you participated in and been guilty of listening with the intent to reply rather than with to really hear the other participants’ points of view?

Anyone that works in a corporate environment spends a huge amount of time in meetings, presentations and teleconferences. Huge quantities of words and slides are shared with the assumption that communication is occurring. Even if you are not spending the majority of your time in meetings, you still rely on communication.  Developing the ability to listen empathically forces you to listen from the speaker’s frame of reference, resulting in a deeper understanding.

Win - Win

Win – Win

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey Reread

Habit Four:  Think Win/Win

The fourth habit, Think Win/Win, shifts the focus from an internal point of view to habits that effect how we interact with the world around us. This shift is critical as we attempt to exert influence. Leadership reflects a move from independence (an internal point of view) to interdependence (an external point of view).  Effective interpersonal leadership requires communication, interaction and cooperation, i.e. thinking win/win. As organizations embrace and become Agile communication, interaction and cooperation become critical success criteria for projects and programs to effectively deliver value.  Competition, on the other hand, both within and between teams elicits behaviors that are designed to accentuate one person or group over another.

Covey suggests that interactions can be classified into basic 6 paradigms:

  • Win/Win – This paradigm seeks mutual benefit.  I think of this as the basic paradigm required for all Agile teams. All parties need to invest and work together to deliver value.
  • Win/Lose – One party or team wins and the other loses.  This is the classic sports paradigm, for one team to win another must lose.
  • Lose/Win – This paradigm is the alter ego of Win/Lose. The Lose/Win might be employed to keep the peace, however if it continues it can lead to passive-aggressive behaviors based on suppressed needs.
  • Lose/Lose – Simply put, if no one wins everyone loses.  The classic example of this behavior is when a child playing football gets mad and walks out of the game and takes their ball with them.
  • Win – Individuals leveraging this paradigms of interaction focus exclusively on winning, and everything else is irrelevant.
  • Win/Win or no Deal – If all parties can’t find a beneficial solution they walk away.

IT Projects are perfectly suited for the Win/Win paradigm of interaction.  Unfortunately many organizational structures make win/win difficult.  For example, organizations that embrace decimation (cutting those who are perceived to be the lowest 10%) will elicit competitive rather than cooperative behaviors. This management style generates a mentality of scarcity focused on jobs, making a win/win mentality for team members economically irrational. This is the antithesis of the behavior we would expect in an Agile team.  I recently observed the interaction between a development team incented on time-to-market and a testing group incented on the number of defects found and reported during testing.  The conflicting goals set up a win/lose confrontation between the two groups.  If the focus of both teams had been on customer satisfaction, both teams could have developed a win/win relationship.

Developing a culture of win/win is not as easy as waving a magic wand.  Embracing win/win requires integrity, maturity and a belief in abundance.  Developing a win/win paradigm often means reviewing how we manage and incent.  Like embracing Agile, embracing win/win means organization change. However if you are interested in becoming Agile, you are interested in win/win.

Is family one of the things you put first?

Is family one of the things you put first?

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey Reread

Habit Three:  Putting First Things First

In Habit Two of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People we defined what was important (Begin With The End In Mind). In the third habit we take those conceptual goals and begin to make them real by bringing time and effort bare.  Focusing your energy on tasks and activities that are not important steals time from what is really important. This makes it less likely we will be able to translate our goals into reality.

Urgency and Importance Matrix

Urgency and Importance Matrix

In Putting First Things First, Covey lays out the necessity of exercising our independent will (our decisions, our own motivation) to focus on the goals that are really important.  In this habit, Covey uses a 2x 2 matrix with importance on one axis and urgency on the other.  Quadrant one contains those items that are urgent and important and quadrant four contains items that are neither important nor urgent. Covey suggests that the activities that are important and not urgent are generally more aligned with our long term goals, while the activities that are urgent and important represent crises that are short term focused.  The quadrants that include activities that are not important do not connect with our goals, and even thought they might be comforting, completing actives in these quadrants does not comport with put first things first. To move consistently towards putting first things first, we need to focus on making as much time as possible for the important and not urgent.

Finding the time to focus on what is important becomes a self-management activity.  Covey’s mechanism for managing for higher order and weekly goals is very reminiscent of Kanban.  In order to manage our backlog of activity and tasks we need to understand and link our roles, goals and activities.  Activities can then be prioritized and scheduled.  On a daily basis we need to assess and adapt our plans.

Attacking what is really important begins by saying no to those activities that are not important to our goals.  Saying no means that we free up time to devote to what is important.  For example, on cold, rainy mornings it is very easy for me to decide to answer non-urgent emails rather than running.  Answering typical emails rather than running isn’t prioritizing my time.

Once you have tackled the important/not important dichotomy the next step is to reduce the tyranny of the urgent.  While we rarely have the option to say no to tasks that are urgent, we do have the option to plan, execute and delegate better so there are less important and urgent tasks on our to-do list.  Avoiding the short term crises where possible and saying no to activities that do not move us closer to our goals will give us back time to Put First Things First.

Begin with the end in mind!

Begin with the end in mind!

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey Reread

Habit Two:  Begin With The End In Mind

The second habit in Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is ‘Begin With The End In Mind’.  This translates to understanding what is really important to you and work to achieve that, rather than a single destination.  Reflecting on who I am, some of the scripts I use to direct my day-to-day behavior I adopted from my parents. To an extent, I absorbed those scripts as I formed my Parent Ego State, therefore I have become what I am by default rather than by explicit design. To a greater or lesser extent our long term mission is shaped either by accepting scripts by default or by trying to shape how we behave and act.

You can control the direction of your life if you can step back and take the time to reflect on what really matters to you.  Reject being controlled by default and instead follow your own mission.  Covey points out that it is possible to take control because we have an imagination and a conscience.

Imagination gives us the ability to conceive of things that haven’t happened yet. Visualizing the future means that we are not governed by what we know and can remember, but rather but what we can conceive of happening.  This is the first step towards achieving our goals and developing a mission statement that allows us to predict and then create a future.  At the beginning of 2013, I decided that blogging on a daily basis would allow me to develop the materials needed to self-publish a book on Agile and process improvement in 2014.  This was not something I had ever done, therefore had to be able to imagine completing before I was able to commit to delivering.

Having a conscience ensures that the future we envision and seek to create is governed by our values.  Values sit at the center of our circle of influence.  Covey suggests that everyone has a center that is comprised of our most basic paradigm. It is the filter through which we interpret the world around us.  This center is the anchor for our circle of influence, as we act on our values, our influence expands.

Developing a personal mission statement provides a map so that we can imagine not only where we’re going, but also who we really are. It is a reflection of our ability to imagine the future and to have goals.  Combining our imagination with conscience allows us to proactively change our trajectory based on the plan.  Beginning with the end in mind means you can be more intentional with your path to do and be more.