Agile Baltimore on March 2, 2018

Agile Baltimore

We fought the wintery and windy bomb cyclone to meet for coffee and conversation.  Traffic sucked. There were trees down. Thankfully, there was power, heat, and coffee!

What we discussed

  1. *** Product First or Process First. How do you solve a problem?
  2. **** Requirements - From business translating to tech. 
  3. **** Why do organizations fail to address cultural issues before implementing Agile?
  4. Hands-on experience dealing with EPMO/Compliance and Agile
  5. What management practices impede Agile? How to address?
  6. *** Agile in FDA compliance environment
  7. * Bugs on Scrum Team
  8. Managers. How do you deal with them?

* Topics with the most stars were discussed first.

What are your thoughts on the topics? Conversation and respective dialog welcome.

Never Break The Chain

don't break the chain

With an ongoing quest to be as productive as possible and continue forming good habits, I decided to test a new strategy this last week. It's called “never break the chain”. 

Years ago, comedian Jerry Seinfeld shared the biggest secret of his continued success. When Seinfeld was a new television show, Jerry Seinfeld was still a touring comic. He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day. Specifically, each January, he hangs a year-at-a-glance calendar on a prominent wall of his office, and for every day that he writes new material, he gets to mark a big “X” over that date. After a few days, a chain of Xs begins to form. The goal is to NOT break the chain, and write every single day.

Keep at it and the chain grows longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when it stretches past a few weeks.  Your only job next is to not break the chain.

The goal of writing every day for a year, in the case of Jerry Seinfeld, sound impossible. But, if you can just focus on the single daily goal of "write something today", it becomes much more attainable.  

Not only does this approach program the body and mind to do something daily, it also motivates you to continue that long string of Xs. If you don't do your goal one day, you don't get to draw the X.  That pressure could be just enough to keep you going.

It doesn't particularly matter what your goal is. It can be anything, as long as you're actively and routinely pushing yourself.  Daily action builds habits. It gives you practice and will make you an expert in a short time. If you don't break the chain, you'll start to spot opportunities you otherwise wouldn't. Small improvements accumulate into large improvements rapidly because daily action capitalizes on previous improvements.

As I noted in a previous blog post, to be productive you need 3 things: A system, ritual, and habit.

System: Never Break The Chain
Ritual: Mark X on calendar for every day you accomplish your task
Habit: Complete your task every day without breaking the chain

Podcast on Leading and Lagging Indicators

Screenshot 2018-02-22 13.21.04.png

In this episode of LeadingAgile’s SoundNotes, Dave Prior and I take on the topic of Leading and Lagging Indicators. During the podcast we discuss how Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) can help guide you toward an understanding of what to track with the expectation that it will create a certain result in the future (leading indicators), and what to measure in order to confirm if that result has in fact occurred (lagging indicators). One example we touch on in the podcast is:  if you are trying to lose weight, tracking things like how much you exercise and how many calories you are consuming each day are leading indicators because it is reasonable to expect that if you are exercising regularly and limiting your caloric intake, that these actions could result in you losing weight. This is a way of tracking the actions you are taking to in order to bring about a desired change. But, we still need a way to confirm if the desired result has actually occurred. The only way you will know if you have actually lost weight, is to climb up on the scale and check your weight. That is a lagging indicator because it confirms whether or not the actions you took had resulted in the desired outcome.

Knowing your metrics

velocity variance
velocity variance

Know your metrics and the behaviors they drive

Everyone at your company should understand which metrics drive the business, and what behaviors they encourage. That's what Joe Nigro, CEO of energy company Constellation, said in a 2016 Harvard Business Review article.  He went on to say, “Everyone needs to know how each metric fits into the big picture…why and how we’re measuring something, and how it’s relevant to performance.”

More directly, I would say metrics should capture the changing environment of your business so you can make informed decisions. But how do you know your metrics are any good?

Encouraging behaviors

If you ask your fellow employees which metrics drive the business, would they know?  Would they care?  I believe their jobs should depend on them caring, though measuring that would be difficult.  If they are unwilling to do their part, perhaps they should "help" some other company.  Everyone should be held personally accountable to understand what helps drive the business and how they can help. If they knew what the metrics are, how could it change their behavior (in a positive way)?

Metrics executives may be thinking about

From an executive level, I can only imagine every CEO (from Joe Nigro of Constellation to your own) start by thinking about these metrics:

  1. Topline revenue - Money made from selling goods or services
  2. Customer retention - Attracting the right customer, getting them to buy, buy again, buy in higher quantities or at higher rates.
  3. Customer acquisition cost - The total cost associated with acquiring a new customer, including all aspects of marketing and sales.
  4. Gross margin - Calculated as a company's total sales revenue minus its cost of goods sold, divided by the total sales revenue, expressed as a percentage.
  5. Overhead costs - fixed costs that are not dependent on the level of goods or services produced by the business, such as salaries or rents being paid per month.

I hope executive management will help employees understand the metrics that drive the business and why they are important. I hope the employees will internalize these metrics and consider ways to help the company increase revenues, widen margins, or control costs.

One step deeper into the weeds

From a productivity level, be it manufacturing or software development, I think the staff (and the executives) need to understand (and improve) the system of delivery. To this, if executive management doesn't know these productivity numbers, then how can they know when they are making unreasonable requests of the system? A system of delivery in a black box and executives in an ivory tower are not a good combination.  A dissatisfied staff can put your company at serious risk, while on the other hand, a satisfied and productive staff can help drive the business.

  1. Cycle time - The total time from the beginning to the end of your process.
  2. Lead time - Starts when a request is made and ends at delivery.
  3. Utilization - 100% being the maximum, it's the act of making practical and effective use of people or things
  4. Throughput - The amount of material or items passing through a system or process. What did you get done or delivered?
  5. Cost of Delay - The means to calculate and compare the cost of not completing something now, by choosing to do it later.

I hope everyone will think of ways to shortening cycle and lead times while maintaining or increasing throughput. If maximum utilization is how you make the greatest topline revenue, how do you reach that utilization level without breaking your people or machinery?

Another step deeper into the weeds

From an individual level, I believe we are truly personally accountable. Let's ask the first two questions from this post again. Which metrics drive the business?  What behaviors do they encourage?

  1. Commitment/Completion Ratio  - What have I personally committed to? Am I meeting that commitment?
  2. Throughput (Velocity) Variance - Given the things that I've recently completed, am I predictable? Can others make commitments, based on what I do?
  3. Confidence Score - How confident am I that I will actually keep the commitment I made?

I hope individuals will be honest about what they think they can do in a given period of time. I hope they will be honest with their coworkers and with management if they don't think they can keep a commitment.

What behaviors do you think metrics encourage?

Image Source: Calculated Velocity Variance via Notion []