Friday, January 25, 2013

Baby steps to BIG CHANGE

Transitioning to agile practices can be extremely difficult for an organization. It’s a BIG CHANGE.

I’ve spent many hours contemplating how to split the BIG CHANGE into smaller pieces of change, very much like the process of reducing epics into manageable user stories, and then into tasks. For example, how do you take baby steps from (original state) to (desired state)? How do you move from an environment of testers and developers who only communicate via email and bug tracking system, to a team who converse multiple times a day about what they’re working on, when it may be finished, and what’s in the way?

There have to be some small steps that can be taken from the original state to the desired state, right? What baby steps get you to the state you want? LifeHack recently posted a blog on baby steps - what baby steps work for agile transformation?

When I was first learning about agile, the IT department I was a part of was in this exact state. We rarely talked to each other. Our new manager (a change agent and expert scrum master) decided to get us started on the road to CHANGE with a small change. “Tomorrow, we’re going to try something called stand-ups. We’ll meet in my office for five minutes. Everyone will say what they worked on yesterday, what they’re going to do today, and what (if anything) is in the way. We’ll try this every day for a couple weeks, and then see how it’s going.” Hmm. Five minutes a day didn’t seem too daunting. We really didn’t talk much those first two weeks, but we started to understand the value of verbally expressing what we were working on. After the first two weeks our manager’s office got transformed into our scrum room, with our story board on one wall (the manager sat in the cube-farm with us). Our manager was quick to identify follow-up meetings (“Susan, can you and Amy work that situation out after the stand-up?” “Troy, help Clayton with the automation script.”), so we never went past 10 minutes (with a team of 6 people). This was our initiation into agile. Many people didn’t even realize it, until we had additional training a month or so later. Then the light bulbs went on. After two months, if we weren’t able to have our stand-up, many of us felt “off” the entire day.

A colleague described another example of the agile journey at a previous employer.  After being waterfall for many years, the team began its agile journey by having a dedicated “project room” where the team would do their daily stand-up, occasionally “huddle” to resolve questions and issue. After a few months, that project room became an open space work area for the team, where developers and testers regularly interacted but still had independent work areas. That environment/culture then started to include paired development (developer pairing with another developer, or developer & tester). From there the Product owners and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) began to embed with the developer and testers; forming a team that was constantly interacting, inspecting and adapting. This journey did not happen overnight, or in a matter of months; it covered about 2 years, and matured and adapted further for years afterward.

What other small changes have you experienced that helped you – or your team – dip your toes into a BIG CHANGE? If you'd like to share, please comment, or tweet your thoughts with the tag #AgileBabySteps.

Friday, January 11, 2013

All Time isn’t Equal

If you spend two hours on submitting your time card for the week, was that time well-spent? What if you spend two hours planning your strategy and goals for the year?

We all know that our time is limited, and sometimes we struggle to understand how or where to spend that time to our best advantage.

In a great blog, Elizabeth Grace Saunders takes a riff on the “time is money” tune, this time using our automated deposits and transfers as an example.

For important projects, where time really matters (strategic planning, time with the family, etc.), schedule blocks into your week to make sure you get these done. Perhaps just as important, don’t devote too much time to those tasks that don’t provide a great return on investment (two hours for completing a time card? There may be a way to automate the process, or talk with your manager about what’s really necessary).

And yes, if you schedule it into your week, you should really DO IT! I know I struggle with getting a sufficient amount of exercise on a weekly basis, so I have multiple opportunities for working out. Each week may be different, but I will still manage to make time for at least an hour of yoga. Ah!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Back to the routine

My son flew back to college today. Yesterday, we took the Christmas tree down. As we get back  into the normal routine of a "regular" weekend, I realize that the holidays are officially over.

But sometimes, routine is useful. It's nice to know that some choices are already made. I know exactly when to set my alarm for Monday morning, because my youngest son has to be at school by 7:15. I know how much coffee to make to fill travel mugs for my husband and me, and there's no need to determine if we'll have an extra cup or two.

You see, even little decisions like "how much coffee should I make for today?" take up decision power. There's evidence that making decisions - even little ones - is taxing on a person. It takes energy to make choices. So having a routine, where choices don't have to be made, frees the mind to make more complex decisions later.

It's nice to know that I am conserving brain-power when I automatically make a piece of toast with jam for breakfast.

By the way, working resolutions into your routine help you keep them. Making the workout, or the blog-writing time, part of a daily (or weekly) routine helps those new activities become no-brainers as well.

So, hurrah for the routine!