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Perception

A post on this blog received a very interesting comment from a reader with the nom de pixel Malapine:

"…my problem isn’t boredom but fear: the codebase sucks, we have no idea whether the features are what customers want, and if the product doesn’t sell, some of us may get laid off. If that’s ever me, I am screwed: my resume will show two decades with the same employer, the vast majority of it on Waterfall or ScrumBut projects."

"Off the job, I read books on Agile, go to monthly dojos, etc.; but on the job I can’t even do TDD properly — builds take 20 minutes just to compile, and nobody else seems to care."

I felt this called for more than a response in the comment thread. It seems to me it illustrates that perception can be more important than reality, and that is of interest to me presently.

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Give me a lever, and…

An opportunity for improvement came up recently on a coaching engagement that reminded me of the book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath. The authors found that in a wide range of circumstances, people had approached very challenging changes in a similar way; basically, by finding the bits that were working well and using them as the basis for further improvement.

Sometimes the bits that are working well don’t look all that great at first glance. One of the stories the authors of Switch share is that of Jerry Sternin, who was charged with improving the nutrition of children in Vietnam. Rather than approaching the problem as a large-scale infrastructure problem, as had been done up to that point with poor results, Sternin went to a single village to learn how children were fed.

He noticed that some children were well nourished. Setting aside those who had Party connections, and therefore access to better food, he investigated how the well-nourished children were fed. He found their mothers mixed additional sources of nutrients into their rice, including wild plants, small shrimp and insects that could be found without cost. To a Westerner like me, mixing insects into my rice sounds rather nasty; but sometimes opportunities don’t come at you waving their arms and shouting, "Hey! I’m an opportunity!"

Continue reading Give me a lever, and…

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Fish gotta fly

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how’s the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"

None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death. The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head. It is about simple awareness—awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: "This is water, this is water."

(David Foster Wallace, commencement speech at Kenyon College, Ohio).

Yeah, so if you care to Google it, you’ll find lots of articles pondering the reasons why the majority of Lean, Six Sigma, Agile, Kaizen, TQM, and name-your-poison adoptions "fail." People you and I know from conferences and books and such tell the same stories over and over again of the one big success they had with organizational transformation. Everyone was stoked about their branded re-packaging of old ideas made new again through the magic of buzzwords. They achieved improvements of 4x, 10x, 50x, or more X’s than you’d care to count. One or two years after the consultants left the building, those organizations were back where they started. I’ve seen it happen myself. The organizations snapped back to their old equilibrium state. Maybe they always do. The buzzwords haunt the place like fading poltergeists, and the stories live on, but the substance is long gone.

If you’ve done much Value Stream Mapping in information-shuffling organizations (as opposed to thing-making organizations), then you’ve probably done a double-take a few times, unable to believe process cycle efficiency could really be as low as that, and the company doesn’t sink through the earth’s crust like the superdense slug it is. It seems they’re happy as can be to spend 3 or 4 million dollars and burn up a year of 75 people’s precious time to build a routine, web-based CRUD app, fundamentally no different from a million others, that could have been delivered by a team of 4 in 6 weeks for the price of a few pizzas. Nor do they seem terribly worried about the opportunity cost of having all those people duct-taped to their desks for all those months, busily waiting for each other to "review" or "approve" things.

I’ve been wondering, lately, why none of those people wants to shoot himself in the head.

Continue reading Fish gotta fly

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Paranoiac-critical project tracking

A recent tweet of mine in which I whined about the waste of tracking work hours garnered quite a few responses. The reaction surprised me, as I was only venting and didn’t expect any replies. Apparently, I’m not the only one who is frustrated by this. Not only is it useless to track individuals’ hours by task or by project, it is particularly annoying to use poorly-designed time tracking tools. I was complaining because I presently have to enter time in three different tracking systems. I wrote that the first seems to have been designed by a roomful of monkeys; the second, by a roomful of monkeys on crack; and the third, by a roomful of monkeys on heroin laced with rat poison.

The ensuing Twitter thread reminded me of the futility and waste of tracking individuals’ time at all. People shared their own experiences with the problem and how they had dealt with it. Later, I recalled having written a blog post on a related topic. I visited the Wayback Machine and located it. Here’s the post, dating from December 29, 2007. It lacks only the image of the Dalí painting Suburbs of the Paranoiac-Critical City; Afternoon on the Outskirts of European History, which I hesitate to reproduce in view of recent…er, paranoia about intellectual property rights.

Continue reading Paranoiac-critical project tracking