PMO Analogy

As my tenure with the PMO comes to an end, I've had an opportunity to reflect on the last two and a half years.  What I realized was how much the PMO was like the U.S. Congress.  If I imagine the organizational structure of the PMO I've been supporting, I can imagine the CIO as the President and the PMO Program Director as the Speaker of the House or the Senate Majority Leader.  Beneath the Program Director are the Division Directors (Committee Chairs) and then members of the PMO (Congress in general).  What I've found interesting is many (not all) have their own agendas and motives.  Gridlock, not collaboration, is the norm.  Now, am I talking about the PMO or Congress?  I'm not trying to paint the PMO or Congress in an unfavorable light.  To the contrary, these people are all SMEs in their respective areas.  But they've seemed to have forgotten the common goal.  They've forgotten who the customer is.  In both cases, it's the American people. From my perspective, when you're trying to deliver value, you need to consider all of the options, regardless of your convictions.  I was the sole Agile evangelist in the PMO.  Think of me as a lobbyist representing the American people.  I did what I could to help the Government understand and to be receptive to new ideas.  But what the PMO failed to grasp was Agile is much more than a way to deliver software products.

I think Michele Sliger put it very well:

Being agile means that teams are working in ways that allow for change in order to better work together and provide a more useful and meaningful product to the customer.

My final days with the PMO will be like a long retrospective.  What went well during this engagement? What could be improved in the next engagement?

HT: Michele Sliger

Filthy Fishbowl

I read a really great post over at Mike Cottmeyer's Leading Agile blog.  To paraphrase, he wrote about his son having a fishbowl that was in desperate need of cleaning. He described the situation as

this poor little goldfish was swimming literally in it’s own filth. The water was yellowish brown and just gross.

Mike went on to use the fishbowl as an analogy, to write about an Agile adoption and transformation client. He wrote that it’s easy from an outsiders point of view to see what’s going on, but the folks inside a company have a difficult time seeing how they can transform their environment. The challenge is that sometimes there is so much that has to change to get healthy, it’s difficult to figure out where to start.  If you are that little fish, swimming around in that filthy bowl, how do you even begin to see what can be done about it?  Have you just gotten used to the filth?

If you are in the bowl, how do you imagine getting out of the bowl, emptying the water, cleaning the glass, refilling the bowl, and getting back into a healthy environment?

I would say, if you are that goldfish, either you learn to clean your own bowl, hire someone to do it for you, or you find yourself a new bowl.  There will certainly be some who will choose to swim in their own filth, until it chokes every bit of life out of them.  I see too many analogous goldfish swimming in filth, because they lack the skills necessary to maintain their own bowl, because they believe that someone will someday come and change the water, or they think they can just live with it.

If your fishbowl becomes filthy, what would you do?


HT: Leading Agile

Measuring (Project) Health

You'd think I would follow my own advice when it comes to my own health.  When dealing with project deliverables or tasks, I like to get feedback from the team as often as I can.  Ideally, I recommend daily feedback.  Realistically, there are extended team members who you don't deal with on a daily basis.  Due to their expertise, you may need to share this person with others on the program.  Notice I didn't call him or her a "resource".  Anyway, you need to make sure you do a few things, when interacting with these team members.  One, identify the maximum amount of time that will elapse between interactions.  Two, identify some threshold criteria.  Exceed the threshold and you should be interacting with this team member. Now, I've followed this prescription in the past, when dealing with experts like Software Architects.  Seriously, it doesn't matter the title of the person we're talking about.  What's important is you know you have maybe one or two of these types on your program.  The other important thing to note is if you don't do either of these things, you run the risk of this coming back and biting you.

3 indicators you've gone too far

  1. You have not interacted with your expert within the predefined timeframe
  2. You have not interacted with your expert after a threashold has been exceeded
  3. Your expert has prescribed Levofloxacin to you

The Agile Introduction

When you meet someone new and they ask you what you do, what do you say to them?  Do you have a prepared introduction?  Have you prepared an explanation of your unique qualities?  If you think that is hard enough to communicate to the layman, try explaining Agile. If someone says "Hi, I'm Bob. I'm a Project Manager", most people get it.  We've all had a generation to get it.  Oh ya, so you manager some one or some thing.  I get it.  Now, when explaining Agile and how it relates to what we do, there is an extra layer of complexity.

For those in the Agile community, you'd be willing to take 10 minutes trying to explain Agile, rather than to be associated with the status quo.

But here is our problem as Agile proponents.  We don't all agree as to what Agile means.  There's a bit of a disconnect there.  I've heard people basically recite the Agile Manifesto when asked what Agile was.  The Manifesto (for Agile Software Development) hasn't been around long, being written and signed in February of 2001.  Though the authors signed it, I doubt they would all agree specifically what Agile is.

I've heard people describe Agile as "caring, loving, respectful"...  Though I don't discount you may see people exhibit this behavior, I don't go that far.  I'm talking Agile here, not my wife!  You see, to some, Agile is a living breathing thing.  But, I'm much more pragmatic.  I'm still passionate about Agile.  But, I'm not going to hold some dudes hand and sing Kumbayah by a campfire.

Let's get back on point.  The Agile Manifesto originally related to software development.  Some are now applying the 12 principles of the Manifesto and items the authors came to value to areas beyond software development.  This does not make these approaches any less "Agile".

I read a very interesting comment on the Agile Scout website, where someone explained how they use Agile as a Marathon Training Approach. One of the comments was: I think we are getting a little carried away here with Agile. Some say it is a philosophy (for developing software), but people seem to want to extend it to be a religion almost. I am sure that is not what the writers of the Agile Manifesto had in mind. This is a good way to get a good idea written off as a cult.

My response to this is an analogy.  For those who celebrate Christmas or think they know what Christmas is, ask them "What is Christmas?"  I am sure that is not what the creators of Christmas had in mind.

To summarize, Agile has become something bigger than what anyone could have imagined.  The concepts, approaches, and philosophies associated with it will continue to expand to other verticals as long as the Agile community (as a whole) accepts them.  So, how do I try to explain Agile to someone I just met?  Though I reserve the right to refine my introduction, I believe

I am a Agile Proponent

Agile focuses on the frequent delivery of something that works, by using small collaborative groups of people and small units of time to make sure whatever has the highest value get done first.  As each unit of time progresses, more gets done and more information becomes available to which future work can be done.

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The Cave of Zombies

The “Allegory of the Cave” by Plato represents an extended metaphor that is to contrast the way in which we perceive and believe is reality. Plato said what we see are actually imperfect “reflections” of the ultimate Forms, which represent reality and truth.  In his story, there is a cave in which prisoners are chained down and forced to look at the front wall of the cave.  Behind the prisoners is a fire and puppeteers, casting shadows on the wall in which the prisoners perceive as reality.  Being you and I know there are puppeteers, we know the shadows the prisoners are seeing are not reality.  But, it's their reality, none the less. Once a prisoner is released, he is forced to look at the fire and objects that once provided his perception of reality.  Only then does he realize these new images in front of him are now the accepted forms of reality. Plato described the vision of the real truth to be “aching” to the eyes of the prisoners. He added they would naturally want to go back to the cave and look at what they had always seen as a pleasant and painless acceptance of truth.

Once a prisoner climbs out of the cave and is fully immersed in the rays of the sun, the prisoner would suffer bewilderment, fear, and blindness to the objects he was now being told were real. The natural reaction of the prisoner would be to recognize shadows and reflections. After his eyes adjust to the sunlight, he begins to see things as they really are.

Plato's allegory made me think about zombies. Oh hell, what doesn't!?

We're not just prisoners in a cave, we're zombies.  Those who have left the cave come to visit once in a while.  They may complain that the food outside isn't as good.  But, they've taken the uncomfortable step of leaving the cave and merely want you to eat something other than brains.  If you are a zombie still in the cave, the other zombies are going to tell you to just eat more brains.

It doesn't matter what kind of zombie you are.  If someone offers to expand your reality with ideas foreign to your own, don't be so negative.  Don't just dismiss them. Don't eat more brains.

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