Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Habit 1 - Be Proactive

This is a part of my Introduction to Covey's 7 Habits series.

The first habit, the imperative "be proactive" is derived from the fact that Humans can think about thoughts. This self awareness, abstract level of reflection, empowers us so we may overcome some very strong powers that guide us by default.


These forces are often considered to determine our life.
  • Genetic determinism - grandma did it to me! no wonder I have such temper
  • Psychic determinism - mommy did it to me! no wonder I have stage fright
  • Environmental determinism - my boss / my spouse / the law / traffic...
Experiments with animals showed you can create stimulus-response relationships. This notion is often thought of as a system to influence human behavior with "carrots and sticks" (or MBOs).

We have a way out

Having self awareness, imagination, conscience and will - we can choose. We can always choose.
Viktor Frankl called that freedom to choose "response-ability". You could have Liberty, but without mastering Responsibility, the ability to choose your response - you do not have true Freedom.

Why is it called "Be Proactive?"

Proactive as opposed to Reactive. Being reactive means you let others drive your emotions and behaviors. Being proactive, you are driven by your own values. You take initiative and don't wait for someone to take care of you.
Reactive people often use a victimized language: "have to," "he makes me", "they won't", "it's just the way I am", "that's the way things are"

Circle of Concern  & Circle of Influence

Covey points out that each of us has a part of the world we are concerned about, and a part we can influence. Proactive people focus their energy in their circle of influence, and by doing that they increase their influence over time. Wasting energy on the part we're concerned about but can't influence is likely to be less effective and mostly filled with complaint, blame and negative energy, which in turn shrink the circle of influence with time.

The problems we encounter are either under our direct control (our own behavior), our indirect control (other people's behavior) or we might have no control over them (such as the past).
The solution to the problems over which we have any control lies with practicing the habits, while wholeheartedly accepting those outside our circle of influence. We might not be able to choose the reality, but we are able to choose our response and reaction to it.


Covey suggests some  things you can do to practice the first habit. Focus on being - when you complain about another you aren't influencing anything for the better. The only thing you control is your own behavior.

  • Try applying the principles of being proactive (while trying to avoid being reactive) for 30 days and observe new outcomes
  • Take a full day to listen to the language you and people around you use - tune to hear reactive phrases such as "if only", "I can't", "I have to", "they should"...
  • Use your imagination to visualize a situation you typically behave in a reactive way, and imagine ways you could response proactively. Replay this new scenario to yourself and commit to choose this behavior in the next opportunity
  • Choose a problem that frustrates you, and decide if it is in you direct control, indirect control or no control, and find the first step you can take in your circle of influence - and take it

Related reading

All I posted related to responsibility.

Introduction to Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Last month I posted Sharpen the Saw, which points at links between Stephan Covey's book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" and other ideas.

One comment triggered me to consider writing a series of more basic posts about each habit. I'll use this post as a cover post that links to the next ones as they come, so this one will be updated as I make progress.

Private Victory

The first 3 habits are in the realm of "private victory", growing from a dependent state, to an independent state. Become able to choose your actions, clarify your values and goals and plan and execute effectively towards those goals.

1. Be Proactive

How to beat the perceived determinism of our lives by choosing our responses.
See: Habit 1 - Be Proactive

2. Begin with the End in Mind

How to decide what you want, and lead yourself into the direction you choose.
See: Habit 2 - Begin with the End in Mind

3. Put First Things First

<coming soon>

Public Victory

The next 3 habits deal with going beyond what you can achieve independently. You can reach further by mastering interdependence, the ability to work with others towards shared goals.

4. Think Win-Win

<coming soon>

5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

How to really listen, to content and emotion, to build deeper relationships and communicate your own ideas more effectively.
See: Habit 5 - Seek first to Understand, then to Be Understood

6. Synergize

<coming soon>

Continuous Improvement

7. Sharpen the Saw

<coming soon>

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Agile Manifesto for Kids

This Sunday my daughter was born. While I'm busy with getting used to pink (after two boys) and until I blog again, I leave you with this. Feel free to download, print, connect the dots and try to identify who's who :)

If you didn't get it, you probably could spend more time here.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Christopher Avery's Leadership Gift Program

In some of my posts I referred to Avery's Responsibility Process. It's time to say some more, and let you know of a way to master it, if you're interested.


I first encountered the model late 2009, when Software AG brought a consultant to help us learn and adopt lean and agile principles and methods. The funny thing, this guy talked about culture, mindset, emotions and psychology much more than process or technical skills or tools.
I had the opportunity to be part of a group that played a key role in learning and spreading the knowledge  in our R&D, across a good number of locations.

It would be ambitious to try to explain the Responsibility Process in a short blog post, when I usually take a three hour, experience rich, in-person workshop to give people a taste of it. What I can say, is it works for me. I use it on myself to choose my options in the face of problems, to keep myself engaged and caring about what I do and the people I work with. The people I work with know it, and it gives us a way to accept displays of blame, justifications, shame or obligation without taking it personally, helping each other out of those mindsets towards learning and resourceful action.

Christopher Avery teaches this model and more in his Leadership Gift Program, and the point of this post is to tell you about this opportunity. To be fair - I did not participate in it. First, because the timezone difference is demanding. But mostly because I was already underway on my own path: through the coaching I got at work, learning through audio recordings, teaching it over and over again, reading books and blogs, and attending Avery's workshop in Israel.


If you don't plan on taking such a path, here's another opportunity.
The Leadership Gift Program 2014 is a live, online, 17-week semester from November 2013 through February 2014 on which you learn this stuff and more with Christopher Avery. It's also a community of practitioners, supporting each other in mastering this stuff.
There's more to it. If you are interested, but not yet sure, here's what you can do next (until October 22nd):
  • Go to www.ChristopherAvery.com/vip
  • Enter your name, email and this VIP Code: LeanGuyVIP
  • Take the time to join a free, content rich webinar, on either October 22 or 24 to hear more about it
What's with the VIP code?
If you use this code to register to the webinar and later choose to enroll to the program, you'll get a 100 USD rebate. There are different pricing options, the most common would typically cost 800 USD, so for you (being a reader of this blog) it will cost 700 USD.

Here are all my posts that have anything to do with Responsibility.
And here is the poster I translated to Hebrew:

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sharpen the Saw

Last week I had the opportunity to meet face to face with a group of colleagues from around the world, after a period of working together as a virtual team. I had the privilege to share some ideas I learned in the past few years. During my preparation I noticed some interesting overlaps and touch-points between these ideas. Here is a sketch these relationships between ideas, using Stephen Covey's 7 Habits wheel diagram as an underlying structure, while other books, concepts and disciplines as elaborate and enrich certain parts of it.
Stephan Covey's 7 Habits mapped to other, overlapping ideas
Covey's 7 Habits, and Friends

Here is the textual version:

1. Be Proactive

The first habit is all about learning to choose your reactions overcoming automatic patterns of behaviors based on emotional triggers. I think Christopher Avery did a great job modeling our typical emotional transitions when we deal with problems with his "Responsibility Process". 

2. Begin with the End in Mind

Covey's most morbid habit urges us to explicitly craft our own personal mission statement. We have one life, make it count. Well, having one life is sometimes used to justify some questionable actions (YOLO), but lets say the message is - make your life matter, don't waste it watching TV. Memento Mori rather than Carpe Diem.
Having read "Drive" by Dan Pink, it seems there's a virtuous cycle at play - tuning to a purpose in what you do, kindles your intrinsic motivation, making you more engaged and therefore likely to succeed.

3. Put First Things First

Covey's quadrants, categorizing tasks on dimensions of importance and urgency have been a corner-stone to any time management system. Notable in that area:

4. Think Win-Win + 5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

Both relate to NonViolent Communication: seeking first to understand is all about emphatic listening, while thinking win-win could be thought of as aimed to address the needs of both parties assuming abundance rather than regard realty as a zero-sum-game (in which for me to win you'll just have to lose).

6. Synergize

A Hyper-Performing Team is a whole, being more that the sum-of-its-parts. To boost your team coaching skills, here are quite a few good sources of inspiration:

7. Sharpen the Saw 

This diagram and blog post is a result and a part of an ongoing, continuous search for new ideas and deeper understanding.

I suppose this may be over simplistic, and based only on some of the things I personally encountered so far. How would you improve it? What are you missing here?

Update: I started A post series introducing Covey's 7 Habits.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Image Formats: a Quick Guide for the Perplexed

From time to time I find myself explaining the differences between some of the common image formats, and when you'd better use each. I thought it would be useful to post about it, especially since I'm sure I'm going to learn something new in the process.

Raster vs Vector

Raster and Vector images: zoom in
Most commonly used are Raster image formats, such as bitmap, jpeg, gif and png. Raster means, there are pixels arranged in a grid which makes sense because most if not all display devices are eventually made of grids of pixels. However, Vector formats keep the image represented as geometric shapes, rendering to pixels only when actually displaying. This way, there's no low resolution problems. Think of flash graphics, or PowerPoint, or PDF (when not made of a scanned document) - you can zoom in as much as you want, and the curves remain sharp. These formats are often used for print, by designers, CAD tools, games, etc.

So lets focus on the raster image formats.

Bitmap (.bmp)

Bitmap is as simple as they come - uncompressed. The data for each pixel is stored in a pixel array, according to the defined image color depth (from 1-bit per pixel which is just black and white to 32-bit which supports over 4 billion colors, and even transparency information). Being that simple, almost anything can display it, so that's the up side. File size is another matter - bitmaps can get huge. Ever got a 5MB email just because someone dumped a screenshot in it?
Usually bitmaps don't contain transparency data, and even when they do, most applications don't support displaying it properly - so for most practical means, it's fair to say bitmaps don't support transparency.

Graphic Interchange Format (.gif)

GIFs are limited to 256 colors (or 255 + transparent pixels). The image data is compressed in a loss-less algorithm - meaning the quality of the image isn't damaged due to the compression. If the original image contained more colors, the first conversion to GIF will reduce the quality, of course (this effect is called "posterization").
These attributes make GIF a light weight and widely supported image type that works well for simple images, logos, diagrams, cartoon style drawings, etc - but not for photos or graphics rich with gradients.
Oh, and GIF can be animated, too.

Portable Network Graphics (.png)

GIF was patent protected, and legal disputes triggered the development of PNG as an alternative. And a good thing too - it supports rich color, and a full alpha channel - and typically compress even better than GIFs unless the image is very small. Wait... what's an alpha channel? Well, remember how GIF can have transparent pixels? In PNG, each pixel can have any level of transparency, which is great for combining images. However, PNG doesn't support animation.
Note that while it can support photos, it's compression works best for images with large blocks of solid color, similar to GIF.

JPEG (.jpg, .jpeg)

Designed for photos, this is the default standard file type most digital cameras produce. Photos are assumed to have some unstructured noise in them, and typically low contrast color transitions. These attributes allow using compression which is lossy - when you save an image as a JPEG, some noise may be added to it. The more noise you are willing to take, the stronger compression you can have.
The compression uses the same math that's in MP3 - discrete cosine transform (DCT), which is similar to Fourier transform. In a nutshell, the image is broken to 8x8 pixel squares, and each is represented as a combination of frequencies (or cosines). The amount of noise can be controlled for trade-offs of size versus quality.  
No transparency or animation.

The Cheat Sheet

Format Extension Best used for... Compression Transparency Animation
Bitmap .bmp Anything if you don't care about size none none none
GIF .gif Simple graphics, logo, icon, silly cats, limited colors lossless boolean yes!
PNG .png Most graphics lossless full none
JPEG .jpg Photos lossy (noisy) none none

Useful Links

To learn more, here's a good start: Image file formats (wikipedia)
Cool free service for image size optimization: kraken.io/web-interface

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Collaborative office space

In preparation for some changes in our office layout, I was interested to do a little research on various ideas on the topic.

Caves and Common

In Agile Software Development (2nd edition) chapter 3 (and 3.1), Alistair Cockburn describes a possible office layout - with the team room (programming room) having a central cluster of tables where pairs sit facing the center, with some more private areas on the side of the room. This is known as "Caves and Common". There's research backing this up in the book, rephrasing the Allen Curve (communication exponentially drops with distance) as the "school bus rule".
That's the typical agile team room (blogged by Martin Fowler).
This is sometimes also called a War Room.
Another blog that argues for this setup with lots of references: The Ultimate Software Development Office Layout

Inward facing U-Shape

Another setup. Well, it probably goes with an open space for multiple teams. Cool idea of joining a whiteboard and special projector. Each team member can share their screens on the team board with a single button press.


Martin Fowler blogged about another option of a U shaped space, where people face out side. While it is easier to roll over towards each other, it is harder to find a place for a team board. And avoid the corners, bad for pairing.
This is sometimes referred to as "The Bullpen".

Half Height Cubicles

Richard Cheng recommends half height cubicles. His slides show some additional options, considerations and aspects (I think he's missing the point of avoiding the corner made by Martin Fowler). In context of his slideshare, I think this is evangelized as an improvement to the previous single person cubicles. 

The Bionic Office

Right... Cool, perfect for focus and personal effectiveness, but totally optimized for working alone, inhibiting communication and collaboration.
After the first wow effect, agile teams optimize for team results rather than individual performance.


Dafydd Rees (the programmer) shares his experience with different arrangements covering more or less similar setups.
InfoQ cites Mike Cohn on Workspaces for Effective Agility - not so much about the physical layout, but some aspects to take care of.

My Conclusion

There are many variants, and some would be more effective than others depending on context, individuals, team size, company culture and office constraints. You'd want to consider:
  • Ease of communication
  • Ability to focus (reduce distractions)
  • Team ownership of the space (use of information radiators)
  • Adaptability when needs change
Oh, and don't sit in an L shaped corner if you're ever going to pair...

What's your experience with various office setups?  

A short clip case studying the Stanford design school, and their concept of the impact of the work environment on learning, engagement and teamwork.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Can you copy a culture? The NUMMI story

In 2010 I came across a brilliant radio show of This American Life - episode 403: NUMMI.
It tells a story that's taught in business schools, of a joint venture by General Motors and Toyota - in 1984 these competitors decided to build cars together, each for their own reasons. NUMMI is the name of the factory, it stands for "New United Motor Manufacturing Inc".

Act one tells the miraculous story of this GM factory in California - it was considered to have the worst work force, always striking, struggling against management, with no work discipline what-so-ever: drinking on the job, drugs, gambling. Then, Toyota stepped in and transformed this plant into a Japanese style plant, using the Toyota Production System (TPS) principles. The real miracle is that it worked - and that 85% of the work force was the same. This a truly inspiring story of human potential and how systems can be designed to bring the best or worst of of people.

Act two is a different story. GM was for decades losing ground to Toyota. It had every reason to want to learn whatever they could from NUMMI and improve their quality across their other plants. This didn't happen - at least not fast enough. In 2010 GM went bankrupt. This part reveals some of the reasons and dynamics that led to the tragic outcome.

I recommend investing an hour to listen to it. Act one tells you how to get it right, and it is really emotionally moving - the interviews with employees who went through the transition reveal NUMMI deeply changed the lives of many. It also describes some of the key aspects of the TPS and how it was successfully brought to the US.  Act two  is a handbook for nearly everything that can go wrong when you try to change an enterprise.

What I like about this radio show is that it demonstrates so well that the Toyota Production System is not a "business process", or "best practice" you can see and replicate. It is a culture, with it's own values. It is not something you can just perform, it is rather something you can choose to become.

Agile transformation often suffer from similar difficulties - you can follow the rituals, but if you don't get the underlying values and mindset, you just end up creating "cargo cults", or simply resistance.

I'd like to thank Elliot Holar who shared this episode with me soon after it was aired - aside from this specific episode, I became quite a fan of This American Life. They rock. Thanks, e.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Absolute Teamwork

I've been interviewing a number of candidates for our team recently. Almost every CV contains some pseudo-mandatory clause about great teamwork skills. I was wondering what teamwork meant for these people. So I asked. Too often, it doesn't sound much like a team.

My reference for the concept "teamwork" in the past year and a half is a team called "the Smurfs".  I was fortunate to have served as their scrum master for a few months when the team was forming after joining two teams together, and held a management role throughout the long project.

Things I love about Smurfs


The team has a distinct culture of asking each other for help and being immediately available to provide help. It's essential for doing peer code reviews, for getting new team members on board and for knowledge sharing. A special role of an "on duty smurf", a fire fighter dealing with customer issues and test failures for a whole sprint, allowing the rest more focus, is  unlikely to have been possible without this helpful spirit. 


The team continuously demonstrated respect for each other. One aspect of it is that being passionate about the work led to passionate discussions. These were not ego driven, "my idea is better than yours" type of discussions, but rather real exchange that actually included listening. I could see it in technical design discussions, and in retrospectives alike.

Experimental Approach

A few examples:

  • When I stepped down from being a scrum master, the team tried to distribute the SM role between team members despite the consistently ominous warnings by non other than Jim "Cope" Coplein. It was a grand failure, many lessons learned, and a quick and successful recovery by identifying their next SM
  • The team kept trying out different new tools to support it's work - dashboards, testing techniques, clever code coverage measurements, experimental debugging techniques 
  • Being in the context of an enterprise level R&D, other teams benefited from the team's knack for improving tooling - many improvements to the main issue tracking system were made based on their feedback, and a whole new tool was introduced that supports code reviews, especially for distributed teams
  • A rich physical task-board (see prezi!) with many cool and useful ideas  
  • Convinced the office management to bring down a wall for us, to have proper space for a daily standaup
  • An evolutionary approach to discover how to deal with different types of work, specifically customer defects (described in my talk I gave at the Agile Practitioners 2013 conference)
  • Acceptance Test Driven Development (ATDD) - the whole way we define our stories was modified based on ideas a few team members brought from an Agile-Testing workshop 
  • Working together - swarming on work, by priority, was yet another experiment early on, that turned into a habit

It all boils down to safety and trust. Without a sense of being trusted, people are less likely to help or ask for help, and to experiment individually and as a team.

Last, but not least: fantastic results!

Besides the dramatic improvement in the response time to customer issues, the improved test coverage (quantity and quality increased), and quality - a new and exciting set of features, nicely balancing highly sophisticated capabilities with a rather straight forward user experience.


I'd like to acknowledge and thank the individuals who demonstrated to me what's teamwork.
The Smurfs team in this project are (in alphabetical order):
Dganit Keidar, Gad Salner, Ichai Luzon, Idan Zohar, Marwan Jaber, Michael Adada, Oded Nehama, Ofir Laviad, Ortal Balter, Rosalind Eidelheit and Yaniv Mualem.

Strongly affiliated and supportive of this team, locally: Assaf Appel who served as the Product Owner, Gadi Benedek, Asaf Broide and Lior Yaffe, together with a good number of people from the administrative staff. From Germany, we enjoyed the further support and collaboration with Andreas Goermer and Oguzhan Oezkut. And speaking of safety and trust, there's a big doubt if things would look the same without Christian Gengenbach, our VP.

The Smurfs continue to their next project in a different format. I'm certain they won't settle for anything less.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Re: Is it Safe to Fail?

Amr Elssamadisy (@samadisy) recently blogged, asking Is it Safe to Fail?
I strongly agree with his claim (and I paraphrase here) that the "skill of failing" is an essential factor in a team's ability to learn and improve. 
Interestingly, Amr identifies three categories in which this skill is cultivated: culture, individual human dynamics and agile practices:
  1. Leaders create a culture that rewards small failures and the successes that come after them. They celebrate the successes and failures and lead by example.
  2. Individuals understand that failure is a milestone the road to success. They have experienced it multiple times and are not intimidated by it.
  3. Teams use software development practices that make failure SAFE.
While Amr elaborates on the third category, of practices (such as TDD, TDR/BDD), I want to explore a few options on the first category. What could be the elements that support such a culture? It seems to me that the second category emerges out of the other two over time.

Cultivating a Learning Oriented Culture

How can leaders cultivate a learning oriented culture, one that expects such failures?
Here are a few concepts that with proper teaching, coaching and leading by example, can serve as foundations to such work environments.

Responsibility Process - out of the Blame Game

Christopher Avery (@christopheraver) and others developed the Responsibility Process. In a nutshell (seriously, I can go on for weeks about it), this is a psychological model about how human beings deal with problems. Being aware of it, one can acknowledge the tendency to react out of a blaming mindset, and choose to hold on until a better, more effective, state of mind is reached. The model describes a number of distinct mental states that are normal for humans to have, but might not be ideal to be in when trying to take action. Responsibility is the desired mental state - in which one has learning capacity, resourcefulness, eagerness, energy and courage.
The model is a powerful tool for self awareness and mastery, but better yet - it can be a great way for a team familiar with it to have a shared language to make working agreements that support learning, trust and safety.

Nonviolent Communication

NVC is the brain-child of psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg. It is aimed to show an alternative for the highly judgmental and competitive education most of us had.

During Agile Israel 2013, Bob Marshall explained violence using the acronym FOGS.
Violence is using or triggering one of the following emotions in others, to make them act in a certain way:
  • Fear
  • Obligation
  • Guilt
  • Shame

With this definition in mind, consider that many processes are violent due to their implementation. Why should we care? It might be the wrong way to reach our goals, to meet our needs.
Bob went on to describe NVC as a 4-step process, with a pre-requisite of empathy which is essential for diffusing a conflict situation. Try to understand the other side in an explicit way (or fake it...). The next steps are:

  1. Observation - what are the facts
  2. Feelings "how did it make you feel?" 
  3. Needs - violence originates by needs not met. What needs that are not being met cause those feelings? (or needs that were met, for positive feelings)
  4. Request - "would you be willing to..?"

A First Glance Comparison of the Two

I thought of introducing The Core Protocols as another culture hacking approach, but it suddenly hit me how similar NVC and the Responsibility Process are. I'd like to dwell on it for a moment.

Violence in Rosenberg's world is basically all that the "non-responsible" positions of mind are made to deal with. These are all coping mechanisms against the abundance of violence others emit. But this is poor protection - the aggressive party gets to "win" by triggering Shame or Obligation, forcing someone to action with fear. However, a person reacting out of Responsibility can distinguish between the stimulus (observation) and her own emotional state (feelings) and confront her own wants (needs) before picking a response.
The key difference (based on my very limited knowledge of NVC) is that while Avery's Responsibility is more about one's own state of mind, NVC is about dealing with others while dealing with ones own state of mind and creating an environment that supports the other to reach a Responsible state of mind.

Wait - How does it Relate to Safety?

Assuming the similarities I find between NVC and Responsibility aren't too far off, introducing such concepts (teaching, coaching and continuous practice and demonstration) to any community would raise the levels of trust and safety, and therefore of healthy, effective, honest and open communication. Roughly I'd say Responsibility is a tool for the individual to be more resilient and brave (inherently safer) while NVC is designed to reduce the levels of violence, therefore making it safer.

Thanks, Amr, for raising the topic of safety as an important factor for effective teamwork. It is also an ethical issue - there's little joy at work if you don't feel safe. But if you had to choose between implementing processes and practices that might generate some safety versus changing the culture - what would be more effective and long lasting?

Update: Amr recommended this blog post explaining Tech Safety - I love the concept, though the focus on the word safety might create an impression that it is not about quality, joy and respect for people. It is.

The Joy of Social Networks

In my post about the Agile Israel 2013 conference I mentioned Bob Marshal's keynote, and his principle of "Joy for All". I wanted to link it somewhere, but couldn't find more. So I found myself having the following twitter conversation with him:
  1. Guy Nachimson
    Guy Nachimson ‏@guynachimson18 May

    Did you ever blog of your "joy for all" guiding principle? I can't find reference to it as such
  2. Bob MarshallBob Marshall ‏@flowchainsensei19 May
    I don’t think so, directly. You can find the roots of it in e.g. Rosenberg’s spirituality of NVC
  3. Guy NachimsonGuy Nachimson ‏@guynachimson19 May
    thx for the pointer. Not sure I relate to that as I did at , but I'll give it a shot
  4. Bob MarshallBob Marshall ‏@flowchainsensei19 May
    I’ll take it under advisement for a future blog post :)

Guess what?
Today, Bob posted: Hyper-joyful, quoting Ackoff, Seligman, Deming and Rosenberg to support his debate with the prevailing assumption that work isn't supposed to be fun. It's a call for focusing on Joy at work rather than productivity. A joyful environment underlies hyper-productive teams.
Culture trumps Process, right?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Pushing Back

"If you want to shut down an organisation, the best way is for people to stop working. The second best way is for everyone to just follow the rules"  - Patricia McLagan

Ever did something just because "this is what management wants", even if you felt it is wasting your time and doesn't serve any purpose?

Jim and Michele McCarthy might say you are violating a core commitment:
"Don't do anything dumb on purpose"
When you know it is dumb, it is your responsibility to push back.
The easiest way might be to go with the flow, do what you're told - but you are draining on your energy and motivation. It is frustrating to do dumb things knowingly. You are also wasting your time, and possibly the time of other people, by repeatedly following a seemingly senseless instruction.

Another way is to... not do it. In some cases it will simply be okay. But in this case, you might be doing a disservice to your organization, by holding back your feedback, and by practicing disobedience in a non transparent way. If you hold a leading role, you are also sending a message to others that it is okay to not follow instructions without being explicit about it. Don't be surprised when people start passively sabotaging your initiatives.

In my opinion, you serve your organization best by pushing back. Apply intelligent disobedience. Don't do a dumb thing on purpose, but go back to the person who might expect you to do it and tell them why you're not going to. This way you might either learn more about why this is needed (and feel less frustrated about doing it) or allow the stakeholder to look for alternative ways that would work for both of you. This is especially valuable if there are many others who obediently follow the same imperfect process. You'll be their hero.
There are many reasons rules stop making sense after a while. Context, tools, markets, culture - these things all change, and even a perfect process might slowly become obsolete. Managers need feedback, though some might not like it or be used to getting it.

If you find yourself saying "yeah, but it's not MY job to do it..." or "why should I be the one.." or "someone ought to" I recommend investing 18 minutes listening to if you see it, you own it by the McCarthys (you can start at 05:45 or so).

The combination of noticing something is worth changing and caring enough about it isn't common enough - don't waste it just because someone else said so.

Monday, May 13, 2013

LEAN is not a way to lose weight. Or is it?

When I was first introduced with the principles of Lean thinking, my coach started off by making it clear we are not talking about a way to lose weight. A few years later, I would like to revisit and challenge that statement. Having learned more about the Kanban principles since, I think there are clear similarities.

Since the eating process is generally defined by our biology, I'll focus on flow

The starting point is late 2011, when I realized that unless I seriously change something I will continue accumulating weight. During my adult life I was always somewhat overweight, but at that point my weight was already a cause of grief and low self esteem. 

Establishing Pull

We often eat for all kinds of reasons: schedule, habit, availability, social circumstances, boredom. None of those is directly related to a biological need: first comes one of those reasons, next we eat. A Push system. The result is Fat, the biological equivalent of Inventory. This is where we store over-production. 

The natural Pull system is the Hunger mechanism. Our body needs more energy, so our minds signal "eat now". 
I don't know how it is for others, but I find it hard to free myself from all the social and psychological layers hiding and tempering with the basic hunger mechanism, so I needed to establish an alternative pull system.

To create pull, I needed to adjust the calorie intake to be just enough for the energy I spend. Since I didn't plan to rely on hunger, I needed a forecast of the energy demand, and a way to adjust the estimation.

Smartphones are great. A calorie calculator app provided an easy way to estimate a daily calorie budget, to visualize my calorie intake and my weight reduction rate.   

Keeping within budget meant I have an explicit policy. I would need to plan what I eat, and choose between alternatives in a conscious way.   

Seek Perfection

Once the first signs of success started to show, and some eating habits were established, I was ready to change further aspects of my diet. Here are a couple of examples.

While tracking my calorie consumption against a budget, I noticed it was much harder for me to keep to the plan on weekends and holidays. I realized that some habits are harder to change, but they surfaced only after I got the work days under control. For example, I didn't really have to take a serving of every single dish on the table at family dinners. It is not really an insult to the host.  

At some point I started adding sport to my schedule. It serves a few purposes contributing to value:  
  • Increasing the spent energy (while keeping the intake) gets rid of fat
  • More muscle mass burns more energy, not just during exercise 
  • Sport is another way to support the value of sustaining myself - a stronger body is valuable to me not only because it burns more calories

What Helped

Two things that supported this journey. 
  1. Intention - I realized being overweight wasn't acceptable to me anymore while preparing to hold a workshop about Christopher Avery's Responsibility Process. One of the things he teaches is getting clarity on what I want. This was a strong motivator for me.
  2. Visibility - I happened to get my first smartphone at the same time, on which I zealously logged everything I ate for a whole year. This made me very aware of the impact of each type and amount of food on my calorie-budget
I managed to lose 18 kg (around 40 pounds) within a year. 
I feel much better, can run faster and longer, and I'm proud of my achievement.

I can't say I decided to lose weight by applying lean principles, but I'm quite sure those principles were there to support me. Elements such as sustainable pace, explicit policies, visualization, continuous improvement, and discipline are common to both.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Agile Israel 2013

I thought to start blogging with a totally different post, but attending this conference was a good opportunity to jump right in, without a perfect first post :) 
I think this is going to fuel some future posts.

I've been attending AgileSparks conferences and courses in the past few years. There's always something new and thought provoking. Here are my initial notes from this year's event.
Over all, attendance was impressive, which caused some logistic difficulties (like missing chairs and some mess around lunch). Being of the twitting kind, lack of WIFI was a fail (especially blocking international participants from twitting), though I know vendors set ridiculously high price tags for this.

There was a rich, 4 track program, so obviously I had some hard choices to make.. here are my highlights.

Bob Marshall (@flowchainsenseiblog) gave the opening keynote, introducing rightshifting. The talk itself had a great start - I personally loved his guiding principle of "Joy for all". In my workplace we have the official "core values" (Trust, Win mentality, Communication, Responsibility and Innovation) and I often half jokingly suggest "Fun" is missing or should just replace the others... However, as the talk developed and time ran out, a long list of 18 approaches to organizational cultural transformation went by so fast with no context or advice which sort of felt the whole keynote didn't satisfy my expectation of a focused, practical, concept. 
During the talk, and later in a dedicated session, Bob introduced Nonviolent Communication (NVC). This was interesting, and correlated very strongly to me with the work of Christopher Avery on personal Responsibility and it's application to support and drive organizational change.  

Danko (@DankoAgile) talked about Planning - he can definitely hold a crowd, but the most of it was targeted for beginners. Still, some aspects to consider improving, and some hints to consider as potential future state such as blitz planning. I was missing the question - do you really need those estimates (Gil Broza got to it later..) and the topic of understanding the stories and preparing for the sprint was left out. 
While I don't think he mentioned it, for more on these hinted new ideas he wrote the free book AdvanScrum.

Naresh Jain (@nashjain, who is) talked about dealing with uncertainty in a complex adaptive world. The focus was to highlight how biased our minds are towards (false sense of) certainty, and overview of Dave Snowden's Cynefin model. He's suggesting certainty is not an option and we'd better get used to being more much empirical about things. For example, copying a process is like copying a haircut - you might end up looking stupid. Some parts very amusingly delivered - well done.

To hear Naresh, I had to skip Yuval Yeret's (@yuvalyeret) talk, which he blogged about here. Sounds like lot's of good stuff... Alas, the road not taken.

Rafi Bryl from SAP introduced Design Thinking and Lean Canvas. He compared D.T. with Lean, explained the key parts and origin of D.T, and the concept and application of lean canvas. An important take away is that the real innovation lies not in a product/technology but in the overall business model (great examples with Xerox and Sony betamax). Good intro to topics partially new for me.

Tony Gilling from Rally covered SAFe as a framework to scale agile. On one hand it seems quite straight forward, on the other hand could be too rigid for various organizations... Sorry to say this, but it felt like promoting consulting services rather than teaching something new.

Closing keynote by Gil Broza (@gilbroza) shared 10 ways (or, lessons) to put people before process. To be precise: Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools, as the intentionally first value in the Agile Manifesto. Gil covered patterns and anti-patterns with potential outcomes of following each. Once the slides are published, I recommend taking a good look for any manager - read it slowly, and check yourselves.

Later a small group had some good discussions in the Lean Coffee session. One of the participants asked:
"Is Agile going soft?"
He was referring to the relatively many sessions dealing with the "soft skills"/human aspects, rather than tools, metrics, etc. Just look at the keynote speakers: Gil, author of "Human side of Agile" and Bob with the soft-as-soft-gets nonviolent communication. I personally liked this focus a lot, as I strongly relate to the underlying ethics agile is built upon as personal motivation.

If you attended other sessions or can add to those I commented on, you are welcome to share your thoughts in the comments section.