Thursday, September 27, 2012

Agile Cambridge session: Questions not Stories: Build a business-value oriented team

The last session I attended today was run by Adrian Howard. Going into it I thought that the session was going to be about replacing user stories, but this wasn't entirely the case. Essentially it was about starting with a user story and then conducting an experiment.

Adrian used the following example:

As a potential customer I want to be able to signup with my Twitter account so that I don't have to fill out a registration form.

The first step is to turn the story into a question.

As a potential customer I want to be able to sign up with my Twitter account so that I don't have to fill out a registration form?

The next step is to ask why the story is needed. Too many times we just assume that there are good reasons for it and don't question. After finding out the main reason why, we should design a hypothesis to validate that assumption and then conduct an experiment to prove or disprove it.

Adrian's team wanted to validate that a percentage of new users would want to signup using twitter.

To do this they put a fake Twitter link page which logged how many people clicked on it. The user was then redirected to a page saying that the Twitter signup was currently offline and redirected them to the normal registration page.

After the experiment was over they found that very few people actually clicked on the link, so they didn't build the feature. Traditionally the team would have just built it and no one would validate if it was ever used after being deployed.

This has potential to be a catalyst for turning an organization into one of experimentation.

I'm still mulling this over, but I think it has great potential.

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sleep, creativity and culture

Note: The following is a brain dump of what I currently understand and what I'm trying to understand.

I've been thinking a lot about time recently and how we're dominated by the clock. It controls every aspect of our lives, even during sleep. The following are my thoughts based on information that I've read and my own life experiences.

Due to the pressure of modern life, most of us function with less than the recommended eight hours. This is mainly because of our culture. The dominant work culture frowns on sleep, especially around the topic of entrepreneurship and leadership. Sleep is for the weak. There's time for sleep when you're dead. These are just some of the phrases that are indicative of that culture. There's an increasing amount of information about why we should get more sleep and we know that we should but we don't.

Sleep is extremely important for our overall health and especially for our brains. During sleep the brain basically reorganizes itself, choosing which connections to make and what to discard. Sleep also improves our creativity. It's also been shown that one of the times we're most creative is when we're sleepy. This is because you tend to make more connections between disparate thoughts at this time. To harness this creativity it's recommended that we ease into our day, not rush out the door. For example, I spend the first 15 minutes after I wake up just mulling over what ever comes to mind. I also take a leisurely walk to the station each morning in which I do the same thing. Those times are when I tend to have some of my most creative thoughts and I'm not a morning person.

Perhaps our sleep cycle is a result of our modern lifestyles. I've been reading a few articles recently which have found that eight hours of straight sleep isn't necessarily our natural sleep cycle. It appears that information is coming to light that historically humans would sleep in two parts. We would enter what has been called first sleep, or little sleep, wake up for a few hours and then enter a second deeper sleep. The single eight hour sleep cycle appears to have been a relatively recent occurrence in the grand scheme of things. This might account for people who often wake up in the middle of the night for several hours. Unfortunately because we are dominated by the clock this time awake. It also matches the sleep cycle of some children with autism. My son for instance will wake for several hours a few nights a week. He'll generally be content to quietly play or talk to himself for a few hours (though that wasn't always the case), before returning to sleep.

Waking up in the middle of the night can cause undue stress for some. We worry about not having enough sleep for work the next day which decreases the likelihood of getting back to sleep. This worry is caused by the the work culture I mentioned above and our lives being dominated by the clock.

So why do we stress about when we get into work? This is something I've never really understood for knowledge workers. If you have a meeting then it's a sign of respect to the other participants that you be there on time. Being late sends an implicit message that your time is more important than other peoples. Getting into work at some arbitrary time which doesn't seem to add any value and causes stress. If I've had a bad night sleep isn't it better for the company that I get in later so that I can perform better? Being exhausted at work does no one any good. We're all adults and should be trusted to put in the hours the company requires of us without having to stress when you're arriving or leaving. How many times have you sat at work at the end of the day, but you're too tired to do anything, especially late in the week? What happens is that people make themselves look busy. Wouldn't it be better for that person just to head home early and recharge?

Another idea is for companies to let people nap during the day. Several studies have shown that taking a nap, where you achieve a deep sleep, improves creativity.

All of the above mainly applies to people in creative jobs. We tend to need large blocks of time to concentrate and achieve flow. This is different from managers who generally work in smaller hour blocks. Getting these large blocks of time might require being on a different schedule from managers. For example, working late in the evening because there are less distractions.

We need to change our work culture and habits to help improve the creativity of knowledge workers rather than ruling by the clock.

What do you think?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Do not fear your Product Owner

The role of Product Owner (PO) is an essential one, but is also one that teams often fear. I've felt that fear myself in some environments.

Perhaps they are higher up in the org chart, but what does that matter?

Your PO is not your parent and you shouldn't assume a parent/child relationship. They are your team member in producing high quality software. Sure they might have different responsibilities, but you're all professionals and experts in your own domains. Treat each other as such.

  • Don't be afraid to ask them questions. 
  • Don't be afraid of making mistakes or taking risks
  • Don't be afraid of challenging them. 
  • Don't be afraid of telling them when they aren't doing what they need to be doing to help the team. 
  • Don't be afraid to tell them if their actions are detrimental to the team.
Try not to be afraid. If you are, recognise it and then push through. Work together as professionals.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

What do Kung fu and ScrumMasters have in common?

I look at being a ScrumMaster a bit like Caine from Kung fu, but without so much ass kicking.

Instead of going from town to town we go from team to team. We teach them, coach them, guide them and leave them when we're no longer needed.

This isn't the type of ScrumMastering that you're going to learn from a woefully inadequate 2 - 3 day certification course. This is what you're going to learn from practice, self improvement and others experienced in the field. That said, even if you're new to this, it's important to understand where your journey is going to lead you.

Firstly though we need to look at the primary roles of a ScrumMaster a little differently.

These are the ones I perform.

1) Guide the team towards self-organization.
2) Continually challenge the status quo and help the organization improve.
3) Help other ScrumMasters improve their practice.

Ultimately a self-organizing team will no longer need you. That's when you can walk away, head held high and say "My work here is done".