Frederick Course

We are taking a one week break from our re-read of Holacracy (If you don’t have a copy, use the link to help support and defray the costs of the Software Process and Measurement Cast blog and podcast). We are taking the break because I am participating in the Frederick Running Festival.  I will be slowly running my 4th ½ marathon and between the drive and festivities, the editing on this week’s entry is incomplete.    (more…)

I had a choice of just treating the symptom (taking a pill, but still living on Buffalo chicken wings) or embracing a larger change of better eating habit and exercise (I ran my first ½ marathon in May 2014).

I had a choice of just treating the symptom (taking a pill, but still living on Buffalo chicken wings) or embracing a larger change of better eating habit and exercise (I ran my first ½ marathon in May 2014).

All projects begin as just a gleam in their sponsor’s eye. During the gleam stage anything is possible. However as soon as the project begin to move forward decisions are made. Each decision changes the potential path of the project. The sum of all of those decisions can result in a project that is wonderful or one that will make you go OMG. In the Mythical Man Month, Fred Brooks wrote, “How does a project get to be a year late? … One day at a time.” [1] So, how do projects fail? One decision at a time. Projects run into trouble for a variety of reasons. A list of problems harvested from the famous Chaos report and other literature sources include the following categories:

  • Requirements problems
  • Lack of support
  • Technical mistakes
  • Lack of resources
  • Unrealistic expectations

These categories are not exhaustive, however in most surveys these categories are used to describe the root cause of the majority of projects that lead to challenged or failed projects. The symptoms of these problems are being behind schedule, over-budget, having poor quality, scope creep or lots of yelling and screaming. While highly observable, these are symptoms not causes. A few years ago I found that my cholesterol was higher than was acceptable. I had a choice of just treating the symptom (taking a pill, but still living on Buffalo chicken wings) or embracing a larger change of better eating habit and exercise (I ran my first ½ marathon in May 2014). The bigger change required not only new techniques, but a change in philosophy. Just like in medicine, just treating the symptom of a challenged project may not save the patient in the long run.

Why can Agile be used to save a challenged project? Projects can improve by implementing Agile techniques (or more coaching on previously implemented Agile techniques) because they can improve communication and help teams focus on what is important. The bigger improvement comes by when teams not only do Agile, but become Agile. Agile is both a set of techniques and a philosophy espoused in the twelve principles documented in the Agile Manifesto. Being Agile requires some combination of knowing specific techniques and embracing a set of organizational principles. Working based on the Agile principles yields results.

“Agile projects are successful three times more often than non-agile projects” – 2011 CHAOS Report from the Standish Group

When applied, Agile principles create an environment of involvement, strong change control, self-organization and short feedback loops. Agile reflects the application of an empirical process model.


In simple terms, a cycle of inspection facilitated by transparency followed by adaptation helps drive self-correction. Another example of an empirical model is the Shewart Cycle of Plan-Do-Check-Act, popularized as the Deming Wheel. These types of models are at the heart of all project rescues.


[1] Mythical Man-Month Anniversary Edition (2nd Edition), 1995, Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0-201-83595-9 Page 153

283037976_fa4d85f7ab_bAs the year winds down it nearly impossible not to begin contemplating the quickly approaching New Year.  Goals and objectives will be created, New Year’s resolutions made.  However, many times we set goals that do not support our vision.  Goals are steps along a path, while the vision is the destination.  If we were to write our goals in a user story format, the goal would the action and the vision or strategy the benefit. When goals and vision are not linked, it will be hard to achieve either.

First there is the abandoned resolution.  According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, 45% of Americans usually make New Year’s Resolutions and another 17% infrequently make resolutions.  Of all of those that make resolutions 8% achieve them.  While that there are many reason for the low success rate, goals and resolutions not linked to a vision or a strategy is one contributor. Without a strong link it is easy to lose focus and focus and progress are connected.  In my personal case linking goals and vision is highly linked to success.  Without a vision,  a destination, I am easily distracted. In Agile teams, we have seen the impact on motivation and velocity when teams that do not understand the big picture.  This is why it teams take the time and effort need to create and understand Agile Release Plans.

The second problem is when goals are attained only to find out that they don’t really move the ball forward.  I liken this problem to jumping in the car multiple times on the weekend to shop for food, go the dry cleaners, and the pet food store.  Each trip satisfies a specific goal, but does not support my vision of reducing my carbon footprint and leading a greener life.  Each goal is met but we end up in the wrong place. There is an old adage that say “without a destination any direction will do.”  Simply put know where you are going at all times, even if you have to pivot have a destination.

Last year I committed to losing 30 pounds so that my knees would stop hurting when I was running.  Without a vision pursuing that goal would have been even harder. I have learned that goals are great.  They are an integral part planning and progress but they are not enough. A strategy or vision is even more critical.  Do not confuse goals and vision.  A big goal is no different than an epic user story. Having big goals can be a great motivational tool, but they work better if you have a vision of where you are going.  As you begin considering the New Year begin by thinking about where you want to end up.  I believe Stephen Covey put it succinctly . . . begin with the end in mind.

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.

Ten miles, boom!

Ten miles, boom!

Motivational Sunday

Approximately fourteen years ago I decided to take up jogging as a means of moderating the weight gain that life as a traveling consultant can bring.  At some point the “exercise” that jogging represented became something else. It became the quiet time to reflect on the day ahead. It became a pleasure. At some point in the history of my running I began to run 10k events (some people call them races, however my speed betrays me).  Running with thousands of people and the surrounding events are some of the high points of my year.

Fourteen years ago I could only run the distance between two telephone poles. The difference between now and then?  It boils down to motivation and training. I believe that, with hard work, anything is possible. I will never win a 10k if I compare myself to the best runners, but I can compete against myself and continually seek to better my own expectations.

Earlier this year I decided to run a ½ marathon in 2014 (I can’t see the insanity escalating to a full marathon).  Saturday, after one aborted attempt and recovering from a minor injury, I ran ten miles (10.01 to be exact). Ten miles is a lot of telephone poles and in a few weeks I will add a few more telephone poles to the total to run a practice ½ marathon. I won’t set any land-speed records, but with motivation and a lot of training I will continue to prove to myself that my boundaries are only self-imposed.

In for a little, in for a lot.

PS. Look out for the pothole on Leer Road in Avon Lake!

Cleveland 10kAs many of you know, I jog.  It is a hobby with side benefits.  Four times as year I run in a race.  This morning I ran a 10k along with several thousand other runners (20,000 in total between the 10k and marathon events). The moments just before the race start is always emotional for me as I mentally prepare around all that pent-up energy. Starting a new, cool project has a similar emotional profile.  Project teams begin with the excitement of pent-up energy and the possibilities of a yet unrealized common goal.

In a race hundreds or thousands of people press toward the starting line; the press becomes greater as the time for starting gun gets closer.  Everyone is ready to go.  Project teams feel the same way.  Retrospectives from previous projects are completed, desks cleaned off and the team and the individuals that make up the team begin to build up restless energy that will be challenged into the next project.

At the starting line of a race everyone knows that the ultimate goal is to get to the finish line.  The possibilities of the run are as limitless as the runner’s imagination.  As a new project closes in on the starting line it is very much an unbounded set of possibilities. While we might have an understanding of where the finish line is, we know that the journey will be filled with learning and adventures.

As we wait at the starting line there have been no late nights, no failed tests and no arguments about design decisions, only possibilities of delivering value.  We might not run a four-minute mile, but we will learn something new about our self and our team.  Several years ago, at the starting gun I went out much faster than I normally run and suffered for the rest of the race. When your next project is green-lighted, use the excitement and energy that new possibilities bring, but remember to pace yourself.