Agile is people, pure and simple

Agile & Lean, Musings | Posted by Doc
Aug 27 2013

In the community of Agile practitioners and aficionados, there is frequently a focus on practices. Developer practices. Tester practices. Leader practices. Ceremonies and rituals. A lot of what we do.

Those who have passed the Shu level are aware that this is only a small part of what has led to the success of Agile.

Consider the value statements (

  • Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools
  • Working Software over Comprehensive Documentation
  • Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation
  • Responding to Change over Following a Plan

The first and third are clearly about people. The last is also fundamentally about people – mindset, attitude, and management.

Also consider the principles ( I’d say that seven of them are clearly about people, and two others clearly have implications about and for people. That’s 9 out of 12.

This says that the seventeen men who collaborated on the Agile Manifesto saw people at the heart of everything. As do I. I don’t think that has changed in the twelve years since they penned this historic document.

Coaches coach people.

Trainers train people.

Many of the many practices are obviously about people. For example:

  • retrospectives
  • daily stand-ups/scrums
  • planning
  • estimating
  • pairing
  • co-location

Quite a number of the others are also – directly or indirectly – about people.

When you get right down to it, the practices are Processes and Tools.

Think about the people.

Happy birthday to you

Musings | Posted by Doc
Aug 25 2013

gladiatorWhen I was young, I armored myself in arrogance. It was my protection against caring what others thought of me. It was my protection against hurt. It was false armor and false protection.

When I was an adult, I began to have an idea of what it meant to be a full human being in a world of other human beings. Thanks to the love and patience of my wife Debbie, the patience and efforts of my teacher Mather Karateka, and the community of my martial arts friends, teachers, and students – my family – including Chuck Phillips, I began to realize the importance of the people around me.

The day of my revelation came in my 37th year, when I realized that I wanted to be someone other people liked, respected, and chose to be around. It was a difficult transition, to take off the armor of my youth and embrace the naked vulnerability of wanting to be real and liked.

It’s been 26 years since I joined California Karate Academy and began this journey. The journey is not over. I learn more every day about what it means to be a full human being. Being Jewish by birth and heritage, I think of this as being a mensch.

Today is my birthday. Those who know me know that I enjoy and celebrate my birthday, and am happy to have others do so as well.

The revelation I had today is that the birthday wishes of others represent some success along the path on which I set my feet 26 years ago. Having children and a wife who profess their love and respect and appreciation, having a community of friends and colleagues who wish me well and celebrate with me, and realizing that I set myself a difficult path of great value and have worked my way along that path… this is, for me, noteworthy, remarkable, and a source of amazing joy.

Thank you.

Feedback (Norton)

Musings | Posted by Doc
Aug 23 2013

If you are not compassionate and honest in your feedback, you are complicit in the dysfunction.

From my friend, Michael “Doc” Norton (@DocOnDev)

Attitude (a little wisdom)

Musings | Posted by Doc
Aug 22 2013

From my friend Kris Landato:

Without question, the most important thing in your life is your attitude. Regardless of whether it’s good, bad or somewhere in between, your attitude shapes your day and molds your future. The type of attitude you embrace daily can make you or break you.

How many of you read that and said “well, of course!”?

How many of you said “well, attitude is important, but not the most important thing.”?

Either way, I suspect that most of you agree that attitude is important.

Do you check yours?

Get an extra person on your team

Career, Musings | Posted by Doc
Aug 22 2013

In my article “The Case for Masterful Meetings” (2006), I have documented that with a team of twenty people who spend an average of thirteen hours a week in meetings, just a 15 percent increase in the productivity of meetings is equivalent to adding another person to the team.

from The Secrets of Facilitation: The SMART Guide to Getting Results with Groups by Michael Wilkinson

I spend a chunk of my time in meetings. Do you? Do you find yourself doing one of the following?

  • Reading email on your phone
  • Updating your Facebook profile
  • Playing solitaire
  • Slapping yourself to stay awake
  • Thinking about how to look like you’re paying attention when your mind is doing something else altogether

Have I done those things in meetings? Of course I have.

An ineffectively run meeting is painful or boring or both. Ineffectively run meetings are the source of the moans and groans we hear whenever we talk about scheduling a meeting. The idea that a “meeting” is a forum for a lecture or a presentation is a cause for immense frustration.

Meetings should serve a purpose for all of the participants. More than that, I use the word participants deliberately, as opposed to the commonly used word attendees. A participant – well – participates. That individual is a part of the event, contributing and receiving in some balanced fashion. An attendee… attends. That individual is present. That individual may be passive, distracted, disgusted,…

Each of us has the opportunity to change this. Sometimes there are organizational or situational issues that present us, but it’s worth trying.

Welcome back

Musings | Posted by Doc
Mar 10 2013

No, not you. Me.

Yes, I feel like I’ve been gone, in some ways. Not from my blog (although there’s some truth to that too), but from my spiritual side.

Here’s the catalyst:

This reminded me of how small I am, and yet how much each moment, each movement, each word can change the course of my world and affect those around me. Each drop of water is lost in the tide, and yet each drop of water makes a difference.

I feel like I’ve been somewhat lost from all of this, caught up in the details and the logistics and the sometimes-overwhelmingness of life and career. A few minutes on the beach, watching and listening to the tide, brought me back.

Welcome back, me.

Videos of memorials to my mother, Diana List Cullen, at All Souls Church, New York City, 6 Feb 2013

Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 09 2013

Click on the links (titles) to view the videos.

A Memorial to my Mother from my Sister-in-Law Kerry

Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 09 2013

DRGLC-422 I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to know and love Diana as a daughter-in-law, mother to her grandchildren, friend and colleague.

Through my work, I was fortunate to be able to visit New York quite often and have wonderful times with Diana talking, laughing, shopping, museum hopping and eating. There wasn’t a topic we missed that was important to us both and ranged from gender equity to spirituality to raising children. She gave me insight, wisdom, a time to reflect and companionship.

In recent times when we were both fighting cancer together she gave me courage and demonstrated how to have strength and dignity in the face of a pretty adverse foe. Her kindness and caring to me during this time eptomised the woman we know and love.


I will never forget her enormous energy as we traversed the wilds of New York City. I couldn’t keep up with her as she strode out with legs, littler than mine, with enthusiasm and glee.

Her childlike wonder at the world was amazing and admirable, everything worth pondering and enjoying as though seeing for the very first time. I have always admired her stylishness and her amazing eye and appreciation for beauty and culture, wandering around the MOMA and the MET, such special occasions. Our girls have inherited her love of art culture and performance and shopping!.

Diana not renown for having pets, on one of her visits to AUS, developed a special relationship with our dog, Wylby, and with great care and some anxiety took him on a beach walk and innocently wandered into a restricted area for dogs – this part we didn’t explain! She read the sign at the beach which said ‘No dogs on the leash’ as ‘dogs can roam free off the leash’. She then came across the ranger who about to fine her or at the very least chastise her for the breach of the rules, she explained her version of the signs, I wished I had been there to see his face. They rescued the dog who was now happily off the leash and she and the ranger came home for a cuppa – I think he was ensuring they both got home safely!

She had an amazing capacity to form relationships and was always happy to hear people’s stories.

She was generous to a fault, if I ever mentioned a product I liked but unattainable in Australia, I would then receive large care packages. ‘Graham’ crackers and wheat thins coming to the point where even I couldn’t consume them all, she wasn’t one for moderation.

She was so proud of her family, of which I was a member, she rejoiced in my achievements, I always felt special and loved.

DRGLC-353A wee story…
I am so grateful my daughters, in so many ways, reflect their grandmother and of course I am grateful to be married to her son who has the best of her in him.

And in joining two cultures, Australia and New York, she was a bonza gal.

Forever missed, forever part of our lives.

Kerry Ferguson

4 February 2013

A Memorial to our Mother from my Brother David

Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 09 2013

A Life That Mattered

Garrison Keillor once said that you spend your whole life wondering what people would say at your funeral, only to miss finding out by just a few days.

David's visit to AustinWhen I visited my mother in late November, only a couple of months ago, I was very apprehensive about what I could say to her. Despite the enormous support provided by Steven and Debbie and their kids, she seemed to have given up.

But then we talked about her living the life she could have for however long she had it. If she wanted to live, she could fight back against being victimised by cancer: she should do the things that made her happy, and to sort out what needed to be done. She carefully drew up a list of 18 things, from re-starting pottery to walking every day to getting some physiotherapy and consulting a lawyer. We agreed that she would do one productive thing every day. On the next day, we were having lunch and I remarked how much her life mattered, and tears started rolling down her face. She said that she had never been sure that her life mattered, and it was at that point that we agreed to title her list, “I Matter”.

DRGLC-754The start to her life gave reason for her to feel unsafe. Her mother was loving but more than a bit crazy, and her father suffered from depression and committed suicide by jumping off a bridge when she was a teenager. I think she had to take some responsibility for her mother and for her younger sister Madge before and after her father’s death. Later, she married two men both of whom proved to be unfaithful, and her two sons moved far away, especially me to Australia.

Our father left when I was 3 and Steven was 1, and she had to survive as a single mother with no money and two young children in New York City with all the employment skills gained studying modern dance at Bennington College. Nonetheless, she was warm, strong, very intelligent and determined, and became a secretary and then later on an administrator, and finally completed a master’s of social work late in life, becoming a psychotherapist.

She lived most of her life as an independent and capable woman, never really stopping work until very near the end of her life.

It saddens me enormously to think that she never knew the impact she had on the people around her, and that she suffered such self-doubt. Even in small ways, she would go for a drive with my wife Kerry and I, go into a shop, obsess about whether to buy the “red” or the “blue” earrings, choose the red, and then get home and recriminate herself for not having chosen the blue, driving herself and us a little bit mad in the process.

DRGLC-483So she didn’t know how much she made a difference: When Steven and I were growing up, I knew that she would give her right arm for us, and this always seemed critically important to me, even as a kid. She was just absolutely there for us, and we knew it. Her heart was huge, even though her culinary skills never rose above “if it’s Tuesday it must be meat loaf”. She had to put up with two challenging sons that often scrapped with each other, lit firecrackers in our apartment building, dropped baggies filled with water onto people from our third floor window, and generated threats from the landlord. She probably dreaded parent-teacher meetings. Nonetheless, we always knew she was proud of us, even when we would have sorely sorely tested any parent’s patience.

She mattered: Her children, her grandchildren, her daughters-in-law, all felt special with her.  Even though her grandchildren (particularly in Australia) had limited time with her, they all felt a strong bond with her, and knew that she was there for them. In 2010, my daughter Caitlin travelled to New York, and my mother was ill with cancer and “chemo brain”. Diana needed help with shopping and cooking and the like. It was typical of her that, rather than ask her young, healthy granddaughter for a bit of help, her worry was that SHE couldn’t entertain CAITLIN. All the Austin grandchildren talked about how much their time with her meant to them too.

She mattered: Her friends going back more than six decades, including those here today, know what a positive, cheerful spirit she was, looking for the best in the world, and in people, and even in the difficult circumstances in which she found herself. She gave to everybody she loved, and she spent her life quietly caring for her family and her friends and the people she worked with, and, later, her patients.

She mattered: Even though she had little training, she developed a career, moving into administration in her professional life, business-like and capable and organised and looking after people and maintaining a commitment to social justice. Even later, with her patients, I have no doubt they felt cared for by her. Even though she was never a particularly sophisticated therapist, people trusted her because they knew she was there for them too.

DRGLC-1154She mattered: Her fun things were making and giving pottery, and making cards for people. Simple things that she enjoyed, and were part of her giving to the people she cared about. Even after her death, Steven and I gave a plate of hers to a friend and neighbor of hers at Renaissance, and the woman became tearful with gratitude.

This friend had called her “the little butterfly”, partially because she had shrunk to hobbit size, but more because of the lightness of her spirit and her capacity to spread joy. She maintained a childlike wonder at the real world that never faded, even though it meant that there were ways in which she was singularly lacking in practicality despite having latterly embraced the world of email.

So as her older son I see this gathering as a loving message to her, loud and clear, from all of us,to wherever she is, that this is the moment to celebrate a very special life that mattered much much more than she ever believed.

Are you an intelligent fool?

Agile & Lean | Posted by Doc
Nov 20 2012

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.   ~Albert Einstein

In the Agile community, there are many values and principles that relate to this. One of the twelve principles that comes from the authors of A Manifesto for Agile Software Development (a.k.a. The Agile Manifesto), is this:

 Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.

When I’m facilitating workshops about Agile and this comes up, the first place people go is this: “So if I understand this correctly, the less I do the better, right? So doing nothing is perfect, right?!?”

After everyone has a good laugh, we get down to really trying to understand this. Is it profound or simplistic? Is it meaningful or just noise? What the heck did those seventeen guys mean by this?

I had an interesting discussion with someone just recently. His argument was that the word “maximizing” should be “optimizing.” I can’t argue with that. I wasn’t there and I don’t know what the authors were thinking, but clearly “maximizing the amount of work not done” could readily be interpreted to mean zero.

wonderingLet’s consider what they might have been thinking and what that implies for the members of a project team. We have to begin with the context that a certain amount of the Manifesto’s authors’ drivers were reactions to the classic/traditional Waterfall approach in which as much work as possible is done up front: requirements, system design, database design, visual design, detailed functional design, test plans, project plan and Gantt charts…

I’ve talked with groups around the world about this. When I ask them how much time they spend before writing a single line of code – doing all the up front stuff – I’ve gotten answers that range from 25% of the total time to more than 75% of the total time! Wow. That says that in one of those organizations a two year project might not see a single line of code written from somewhere between six and eighteen months! Think about the investment, and how it plays into the return on investment (ROI).

Put it in dollars. If a project is estimated to cost $2M, that would mean that somewhere between $500K and $1.5M would be spent before there was anything to actually work with or experience. No code, nothing functional, no idea if we’re on track or not.

A typical agile team writes and works on stories that address the work – the functionality and features – in vertical slices. As a result, if we consider the underlying database, those teams only add structure to the database – tables and columns and indexes and such – that are sufficient to support the current work item. Those teams also only do sufficient visual design – page/form/screen layout, widgets, details – as is sufficient to support the current work item. Those teams also write only enough documentation to satisfy the real needs of the users, operations groups, and others, rather than everything they can possibly think of. And they only add enough documentation to reflect the work they’ve actually done.

What this leads to is another of the twelve principles:

Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale. 

So now we have an approach that emphasizes simplicity delivering working software on a regular basis. Let’s compare this to the numbers I played with above. A two year project leads to working software that the stakeholders and users can experience in weeks, rather than six to eighteen months. It also means that that working software has been produced for less that $250K – half the cost that would have been spent before writing a single line of code, according to various sources.

I am not calling advocates of Waterfall or other approaches fools. There are many outstanding examples of Waterfall success. I am saying that perhaps we should consider whether there’s a way that might be more effective. I am saying that Einstein and the authors of The Agile Manifesto might just have had something.

Simplicity, genius, courage… good words.

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